Top 5 Sewing Reflections of 2016

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This is going to be the longest of the 2016 #SewingTop5 posts. When I reflect, it is like holding two mirrors up to each other — the thoughts bounce back and forth to infinity.

1. A Year Without [new] Cosplay

To break the cycle of stress and and creative constipation, I resolved to not make any new costumes for myself in 2016. I left the door open for a couple commissions and favors for loved ones, otherwise my priority was sewing everyday apparel for myself.

The absence of cosplay-related stress was immediately obvious to me and to my husband. I had time on the weekends to spend with friends and to think about other aspects of my life and creativity. I felt lighter, unburdened. I smiled more, I think.

At the conventions, partly because of schedule conflicts (work and a wedding) that reduced my time on the convention floor, I didn’t feel quite as engaged in the community. I felt like an outsider watching my friends bound by in their themed cosplay groups. But the thing was, when I did run into friends, they were still excited to see ME, regardless of what costume I was in. My FOMO (fear of missing out) was unfounded.

My costumes weren’t “current” and thus weren’t the hot photograph subjects. I did miss the attention, and this realization required some soul searching. Attention isn’t my primary motivation for cosplay, but it is nice validation for my efforts. Eventually I told my husband that I was probably done with cosplay as an annual thing. I’ll make costumes and cosplay when the mood strikes me, when something about the character or my life calls for it, but I won’t make cosplay a necessity to enjoying conventions. And if I can’t enjoy conventions outside of cosplay, then I will reevaluate their place in my life.

That said, I’m totally making Jyn Erso for Emerald City Comic Con 2017. I am because I like the character and I want to honor what she stands for, in the face of imperialist regimes.

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Nevertheless, my year was not divorced from costumes. I created the Gold Dragon costume for Wizards of the Coast and the money I saved on making new costumes, I spent on quality photo shoots of my past cosplays.

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Reflections – photo by Lou Daprile

 

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All grown up and saving China, again. – Photo by Kirin Photography
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Receiving Inquisition scout reports – Photo by Giosia Photography

The greatest byproduct of my costume moratorium was having more time to sew for myself – not just sewing for me as opposed to sewing for someone else – I was sewing for my personality, my job, my everyday clothing needs. I was sewing for ME. After sewing so many amazing costumes to become someone else, sewing for myself was a surprisingly welcome change.

2. Pinning my way to self discovery

This is a Pinterest-based epiphany. An e-PIN-phany, perhaps?

Eh? Eh? 🙂

I have 2,384 pins spread across 69 boards. This is FAR TOO MANY to be useful. I’ve been pinning (or “saving,” now) with regularity since I took up the Wardrobe Architect Project in 2014 and after two years these boards for clothing preferences and sewing inspiration were out of control. There were duplicates across all of them and an outsider looking in might not understand the difference. Hell, I barely could tell the difference.

A couple random glances at my recent pins, outside of their board categories, showed me ways to reconsider how to put Pinterest to use for me again. I began to see certain style identities coalesce in the pins I save. I have a number of different sides of my personal style and it was time to tease those out from generic boards and create categories that I can use to inspire sewing projects and purchases. Halfway through 2016 I reorganized my fashion and sewing pins.

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First , I abandoned the idea that I will gain followers on Pinterest. I’m not going to be an influencer there, and I don’t care. Pinterest is most useful to me when I can create project-based boards. The hope that people would seek out my boards and follow them for inspiration has kept me from deleting or changing boards too much, and that has led to clutter and redundancy.

I deleted sewing projects that didn’t interest me or that were no longer useful to me (like sewing 101). I deleted clothes that I didn’t like anymore. I had pinned some aspirational images that were the clothing styles I thought I wanted to be. I grouped fashion inspiration and sewing patterns together based on the emerging new themes and general styles.

In going through my pins, I did call up the first worksheet from the Wardrobe Architect Project that invited each of us to really look at who we are, what we do, where we live, what we believe, and how that all impacts the clothing styles we gravitate toward. I saw two main style categories rise to the surface: the Romantic Historian and the Casual Cosmopolitan. (Oh you know I spent a weekend brainstorming those board names.)

Once these boards took on their own lives, I saw how my current wardrobe reflected these styles and I also can see ways to accentuate my wardrobe with statement pieces and accessories to embrace the styles more fully.

What’s most important is these styles feel like me. I am a [lapsed] historical archaeologist who enjoys the dusty library as much as the dusty excavation pit and who is practical and still likes to be romantic, glamorous, and sensual. I am also a progressive city girl from the laid back Pacific Northwest, who (like Apple, Inc) tries to “Think Different” and intends to be both comfortable and sophisticated while pushing at the glass ceiling.

Curiously my personal style epiphany came at a time when I was grappling with my identity and learning to distinguish “who I want to be” from “who I always have been”. (This is all around the same time I was looking for a new job.) If I wasn’t as in love with cosplay anymore, what kind of a seamstress was I?

I’ll write more about these style identities in a future post about my sewing plans for 2017. I already feel like I have a clearer vision for sewing and my wardrobe design.

3. The Joy of Sewing is Back! 

This is what a happy seamstress looks like!

This is pride and joy.

This is finding the fun and making things on a more relaxed schedule – not crammed in between big costume projects.

In 2016 I experimented with making time to sew every night and finding opportunities to sew in between the natural ebb and flow of life’s activities. I tried patterns that I initially disregarded, being pleasantly surprised with the flattering results almost every time. I spent more time thinking about fit, alterations, and fabrics than I had in the past. I slowed down, I gave myself permission to make mistakes, allowed space to walk away from projects until it was time to pick them up again.

With a few exceptions, my sewing room was a place of joy and refuge in 2016, not stress and sleep deprivation. I’m not going back.

4. Slow Fashion Movement, Me Made May, and Intention 

Why do I sew? I asked this question a couple times this year. Once during Me Made May, again when I learned about slow sewing and Slow Fashion October from an article in Seamwork Magazine.

During Me Made May, I just wasn’t having fun. Even though I already wore most of those clothes, I felt like I was forcing myself to wear handmade garments. I wasn’t really able to formulate the thoughts, but I felt at odds with the unspoken implication that each year you participated you upped the ante with more handmade goods. I wasn’t sewing  to achieve a 100% handmade wardrobe.

It wasn’t until October, reading about the Slow Fashion Movement, that I really remembered what my original intentions had been when I started sewing. I sew to be sustainable. And I’ve lost track of that aspiration.

 

5. I also sew to express myself

Project Runway entered my life for a brief time and while the reality tv antics grew tiresome, the show’s focus on the design process was inspiring.

Around the same time I went to a local Lean In chapter event held at a small clothing boutique, Visette. The owner’s vision was to help women find clothing they felt beautiful in. She challenged them to try on clothes and colors they had sworn off. The conversations that day focused on body image – you can watch the video here:

 

At the event I was one of the few seamstresses in the audience, at least based on the people I spoke with. I was grateful for all that I had learned about my body and how clothes fit me through sewing. Even with these skills I am not immune to body negativity. Earlier this year I wrote about being hesitant to sew clothes with my current weight fluctuations. I had been looking at the investment of time and materials and felt that if I was changing, why sew something now and possibly not be able to wear it in a few months. I have since reversed my stance, and I appreciate the feedback I got to my thoughts. Sewing brings me joy and wearing clothes I made fills me with pride and satisfaction. I am not going to delay that.

A recent TIME article about women’s clothing sizes included a quote from a tailor, “some designers say here is a dress, lets fit people into it, they should say let’s fit the dress to the person”. I see this not just as a physical fit, but also an emotional and personality fit.

This is all to say that I think it is time to spread my design wings. One of the things I missed the most this year was the creative puzzling and problem solving that came with cosplay projects. I am really good at following instructions (pre-designed patterns) but so much of what I want to make doesn’t exist as a sewing pattern. I think if I were able to design clothes from the block up, I’d feel more like me. I think I am up to the challenge.

I am the Fabric Alchemist, am I not?


Next – Top 5 Sewing Goals for 2017

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4 thoughts on “Top 5 Sewing Reflections of 2016

  1. YOU ARE AN ARCHAEOLOGIST? How did I not know this? I grew up around an experiential archaeology summer camp that my dad ran, where students spend half their time digging and half their time making baskets/flintknapping/foraging/researching etc. I’ve also been a dedicated fan of Time Team since it started in 1993… and my #1 form of entertainment is watching BBC history documentaries or YouTube’d lectured by history profs. In other words, you had my theoretical dream job… except in practice, the actual digging is so not my cup of tea! I’d love to hear more about what you did, and also what your museum role is now?
    This is such a good reflection post – I wrote mine last night, and it’s nowhere near this, well, reflective! You’ve had a gamechanging year in sewing, and I wish you all the best and happiest sewing in 2017!

    1. Thank’s Gillian. That sounds like such a cool camp to grow up around! I did my graduate research and early employment at Hudson’s Bay Company fur trading fort in Washington State. I focused on the architectural remains of the employee housing, were the French-Canadians, Scottish, Native Americans, and Native Hawaiians lived at various points in the HBC’s tenure there. I worked for a private archaeology/environmental firm for 4 years. And for the last three years I worked in public programming at our local history museum. It was fun and fulfilling, but nonprofit pay in an expensive city like Seattle forced me to make a change. I would LOVE to chat more with you. When I was a grad student, I went to a conference in January in Toronto and got to go on a tour of a couple historic forts in the area.

      1. I didn’t realise that HBC had outposts into the states! They are such a Canadian icon! No hard and borders at the time though, so makes sense. Neat!

  2. Such a great, insightful post, Meris! Even though I really hate the Marie Condo bandwagon, there is something in that whole ‘bringing joy’ malarkey, and in the end, we sew for pleasure, right? I really can’t wait to follow more of your journey. I am hopefully getting my British passport soon (my Romanian one does not get me very far) and visiting the US is on my to do list for 2017 or 2018. I have a strange lust for the Pacific Northwest, though I’m not an outdoorsy person at all, so Seattle is definitely on my bucket list. So who knows, maybe we’ll one day meet in person. I have a history major and both my parents were history teachers, so there are a few more things to talk about other than sewing :). Happy New Year 2017!

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