Friday, August 25, 2017

Mending: The Underwear Edition

Three Pairs of Bloomers (mended), 2017
This morning I set about mending underwear.  These bloomers are wonderful to wear with dresses and skirts. I've sewn a few pairs over the years--for winter using soft merino wool and in finely ribbed cotton jersey for summer, trimmed with lace (see photo). Good design, good material--worth mending!

The channel that holds the elastic at the waist had come unstitched in incremental sections on two pairs. A third pair of bloomers had a couple small runs in the lightweight knit fabric--leaving horizontal lines of thread like a ladder missing the vertical threads. Usually when getting dressed in the morning, extracting one of these pairs of underwear from the drawer I'd notice the flaw and reflect, "this needs repair." Meanwhile they were wearable.

Yesterday I washed three yards of navy blue linen fabric in warm water to pre-shrink it before working with it, and added the unmended bloomers to the laundry load. Hanging them to air dry overnight, the cotton jersey fabric was slightly crisp in the morning, a perfect texture for sewing. Swapping the red thread in the sewing machine to black, I alternated between a zigzag stitch to close the gaps in the elastic channel, and a straight stitch to repair the runs in the material (sewing a virtually undetectable fisheye dart to encase the fray). With a few snips of thread it was done! Kind of cathartic. 

Monday, June 5, 2017


Lozenge Tins Hold Beading Supplies, 2017
Have been making leather tassels beading the neck of each one. Initially I wrapped the neck of the tassel. On an impulse I used beads for the next tassel. And the next.

A car's alarm is braying in the street where I have a studio. It's protesting being hitched to a municipal tow truck. On a block with a middle school and a high school, daytime parking is mostly limited to cars with education department permits. This regulation is posted on signs positioned next to trees that are now in full foliage. Parking regulations in leafy camouflage ensnare many a vehicle. I hardly intended to write about this; it's difficult to focus while a car alarm sounds.

Cutting and Assembling a Tassel, 2017
Tassels--entrancing to make and soothing to hold. Good thing...

3 Tassels, 2017
(suede, leather, beads)

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Burden of Marie Kondo's Joyful Crusade

Close the Door to Your Untidy Home, Our Messy World Needs Your Magic


Legions of households have taken Marie Kondo's advice as detailed in her best-selling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. She prescribes evaluating all one's worldly goods by asking about each possession: “does it spark joy?” Kondo promises transformative magic will result from eliminating any possessions that elicit a “no”. 

This approach has perilous consequences to the environment. If you get rid of whatever fails to give you a zing then happen upon other objects you love, acquire them and when their magic fades eighty-six them from your life you’ll still be participating in a never-ending cycle of acquisition and disposal. Over 10 million tons of textiles and 25 million tons of plastics end up in landfills according to the EPA. Our landfills are clogged with joyless refuse.

The range of prices for consumer goods has widened in recent decades. Goods are plentiful and acquisition has become easier. The pendulum’s lengthened arc swings from mass-manufacturing at rock bottom costs to luxury goods priced to add cachet to a brand by making it ”exclusive” (i.e. obtainable to very few). Today a tee shirt can be had for $3.90 at Forever 21 or $990 at Barney’s New York. Even if you can afford to spend $50 on a tee you might be tempted to buy three for $15 instead. Americans have come to regard shopping as entertainment and almost a form of patriotism.

The planet depends upon conservation. We must extend and preserve the usefulness of objects we own. If you’ve ever rewired a lamp or replaced a button you know fixing something to make it usable again is immensely satisfying. We can create beauty by transforming what is broken into something useful, in the process both personalizing it and restoring its value.

Follow Kondo’s advice and your home may achieve a minimalist chic, leaving others to sort through the bags of your charitable-minded donations to find the useful or to haul away your curbside garbage dumping much of it into a landfill. For stewards of the earth there is a hazard to seeking possessions that “spark joy” and jettisoning ones that don’t meet that ephemeral standard.

Buying everything we need deprives us of the happiness found in being resourceful and in the experience of making. Since late 2008 I’ve not bought clothing. I’ve been designing and constructing everything I wear. This might appear an austere practice. On the contrary, it has been fortifying and exuberant. Making adds value as it simultaneously slows acquisition. It presents challenges, requires developing techniques and offers the opportunity to connect with a community. It hones observation skills. If you see me staring at you, it’s not you I’m looking at per se--it’s the construction of your clothing, the seams, the fabric, curious about the elements of its design. As you learn to craft or repair something whether as a baker, woodworker or mechanic, you’ll gain greater awareness of and appreciation for quality materials and workmanship. You will attune to your surroundings in new ways.

Kondo insists in a tidy home will “allow us to clarify our ideals, and help us gain confidence in our ability to lead productive lives and develop a sense of responsibility to those around us…” (The New York Times, Dec. 2016)  The tidiest man I know has burned through countless relationships. A musician I admire whose career has extended into her 70’s, has piles of books on the floor throughout her home. Joyful possessions perhaps, but certainly untidy. A sense of responsibility for our world cannot wait for our closets to be neat.

Acquire less. Find ways to transform what you do not love into something you value. Mend and repair objects to extend their usefulness. We are makers and builders by nature. Close the door on your imperfect home. Go out into the chaotic world. The responsibility to those around us has never been more urgent. Make a difference.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Women's March New York

Protester with Lady Liberty: Women's March NYC 2017
It was unlike any protest or parade I've known. Others expressed the same. The streets were designated for the marchers, the sidewalks for spectators and pedestrians. But everyone was marching, filling the sidewalks and the street. Thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands. It was peaceful, united, as diverse as anything I’ve seen in New York which is already a fantastically diverse city. Children, people marching on foot and in wheelchairs, women wearing hijabs, a man in a tallit, the full gender spectrum and humans with ancestry from all places on the planet. In short: the human race.

Because leading up to the Women's March there had been an emphasis on making signs to carry, messages were on constant parade, a visual roar. All their humor, ferocity, frustration, anger and love funnel into a power-fist raised for humanity and liberty. Marching was like walking in sunlight though it was mostly a cloudy day.

The outcome of the election feels unreal. Today light radiated. It dispelled the dark fog that had dispersed into the hushed streets in the days following election and has kept the mood sombre for months. More light, even. Organizing is happening. It has been taking place since November. Anytime I'm working and get "in my head" too much I go outdoors quickly to move my body and interact with others, putting some air and light between myself and my thoughts. The Women's March brought us out into the open and let us see each other and breathe together.

Friday, January 13, 2017

To Have & To Hold: A Memory of David Antin

Tales of Angels Spirits and Demons
When I read David Antin’s obituary in The New York Times in October, 2016 I thought to share with you my memory of meeting him many years ago

I moved to New York City in the summer of 1995 after finding a tiny sublet in SoHo I could afford. One hot evening I was sitting on the floor working at my desk (a board elevated by cinder blocks on either end). I was using a computer program to balance my checkbook when I swiftly and inadvertently deleted two years of financial records. All the data I’d painstakingly entered each month was gone. There was no effective “undo” option to correct the error. As I frantically attempted to retrieve the files to no avail, the small apartment suddenly seemed smaller .

I decided to go outside for air. There was a second-hand bookstore on Mercer Street, around the corner from the Angelica Theatre. I headed there hoping to find a computer manual that would guide me through steps to retrieve the files. It was late, but the bookstore was still open. I entered the shop full, full, full of books, stacked on tables, on shelves almost floor to ceiling high, and in carts and boxes. I headed to the cart that held computer guides and looked through the titles. There was nothing relevant.

As I made my way to the exit I stopped before a bookshelf near the door. Though still alarmed about the files being deleted, I’m ever alert to books, like a pigeon to breadcrumbs. The fiction stacks, my customary haunt, were in the rear of the shop. Here in the front was a Judaica section. Resting horizontally on top of wider bindings was a pocket-size book, hardly larger than a postcard folio. I lifted it from its perch. Its cover was moss green, made of a heavy, uncoated, cottony paper stock. A quiet book. It fit my hand. Tales of Angels, Spirits & Demons by Martin Buber. I like Buber’s writings and opened the book. As I began reading it was like entering a verdant forest. I stayed no longer in the bookstore. I bought the book without hesitation and headed outside with lingering panic about the technological failure on my mind, the book of Buber stories in hand.

My next stop was the Kinko’s on Astor Place to buy a backup CD before returning to the apartment to try to recover the deleted files. Along streetlamp illuminated sidewalks as a way of keeping other thoughts at bay, I read the book as I walked from Mercer Street to Great Jones then up Lafayette. I found myself reading aloud. The language was beautiful. I savored it, transported out of the momentary into the unending--Art.

At Kinko’s I found the counter where I could purchase a CD. (In those days one waited in line; it was pre-self-service.) The customer in front of me was agitated, loud and impatient. He’d experienced some sort of computer frustration too. When it was my turn I obtained a CD then went to stand in line to pay the cashier. The very vocal customer had effectively ‘broken the ice,’ so while waiting to pay I chatted with the person standing behind me. He was holding a stack of photocopies. Picking up the thread of the frustrated customer’s lament, I spoke about our growing dependence upon computers. I mentioned deleting all the files of financial records and the ensuing panic. The man in line sympathized. Then I told him about my dash to the bookstore for a computer manual where instead I’d found a book that changed my perspective and mood with its enchanting language that caused me to read it aloud as I walked from the bookstore.

“What is it?” he inquired.

I held it up.

“I wrote that!” he said.

I paused unsure how to respond. The book was written by Martin Buber, after all. (Buber was both distinctive in appearance and long deceased.)

“I’m David Antin,” he clarified, “I’m the translator.”

I opened the cover. On the title page I read, “Tales of Angels, Spirits & Demons by Martin Buber, Translated by David Antin.”

“I haven’t seen a copy of that book in years,” he said in wonder. He asked whether I would like him to sign it.

Yes, yes, I would.

I treasure the book. Through multiple moves in New York City it has remained a constant, immune to the shedding of possessions. Crossing paths with David Antin one summer evening, first through his exquisite translation of Buber’s stories and then the man himself was remarkable.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Democracy in Action

 With Congresswoman Nydia Valzquez. Vote Sashes, 2016
Democracy is more than a concept: it is an action. I made a version of this sash in 2008. I redesigned it this year. Here my friend Elizabeth and I wear them. Congresswoman Nydia Valazquez is between us and on my right is a new pal. 

Throughout the world and in the country where I live, the right to vote has been hard won. Less than 100 years ago women in the United States achieved suffrage. Saudi Arabian women voted in their first election in 2015. (A monarchy, voting in that nation occurs in municipal elections.) In nations where public voting takes place, citizenship and voting rights have been denied variously to the children of immigrants, to those who do not own land, to specific ethnic or religious groups, to native inhabitants by settlers/colonists who built structures of ownership and power which excluded them. All this you know.

It is a duty and a honorable responsibility to vote. It isn't about one election. Each choice [a vote is nothing more or less than a formalized choice] we make by casting a vote in an election sets the trajectory of history in motion. It connects us to the thread of humanity's desire to realize its greatest potential.

It's a sash. Letters appliquéd onto denim. You'd never know it stands for so much conviction.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Interview on Styleposium

Styleposium Interview
Recently I was interviewed by the Styleposium blog. It was an opportunity to reflect on my Slow Style project, discuss the book I've been writing and share some teaching stories. You can read the interview here.

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Howl

Now new designs are emerging. Photographs soon.

There's an urge to do something radical with garments made at the beginning of this project-to slash into, write over, add meaning to them. No delicate reworking. There's a dress I've imagined cutting into with radical growling liberation from the staid limitations of form. Like a flag wrapped around the body--a declaration.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Writing a Book

More to share here. So much focus has been going toward writing a book. I want to share more here and starting next week I will. Balance. Oh balance.

Monday, March 28, 2016


Garbo Hat. Utah, 2016
If aliens landed at the base of this ski slope and saw the goggle-wearing crowd they'd have the impression humans are creatures with grey protruding eyes almost like houseflies. When the skiers take a break to refuel, removing their skis, they clomp in bulky ski boots to the nearby bar or restaurant.

I wish you could see what I saw. (I wasn't carrying a phone/camera. Drat.)

I was approaching the path to the restaurant when I saw emerge from the slope a figure that stood out to an extreme. Against the snowy white background dotted with skiers of all ages dressed in vibrant shades of magenta, pink, orange and blue and the occasional more subdued black or white ski pant, there appeared the silhouette of a man in somber grey and black, his body wide and round. He was pulling a large white plastic rectangular box twice the bulk of a full size cooler, hauling it behind him with a rope as though it were a child’s sled with heavy passengers. On the snowy terrain he was not wearing boots, but nondescript grey rubber soled work shoes. In contrast to the skiers and snowboarders gliding past, his steps were slow and deliberate. It looked as though he was wearing a black calf-length kurta over grey pants. Here was an anomaly.

He neared the bottom of the slope where I stood. The rope with which he was dragging the cooler was in fact made of clear packing tape. It had been wrapped multiple times around the belly of the container to seal it, then extended to form a long loop to use as a tow line. (How far he had been pulling it? He couldn't have walked from the top of the mountain; the evidently heavy plastic cooler would have pulled him down any steeper incline. I wondered where he had come from.)

I had rented a ski jacket in which I felt entirely conspicuous although I probably blended into the crowd better than earlier in the day when I wore a dove grey ten gallon hat, a long floral dress and overcoat. That attire, however, is more natural to me. While I love being outdoors in winter, I find Jello colored ski clothing even in muted tones, disorienting to wear--disorienting not from my surroundings but from myself. Because of this I watched him with curiosity as he descended the slope. He looked as alien on the slope as I felt in the electric raspberry ski jacket.

Up close I saw he was wearing a kitchen apron, not a kurta. It was faded from black to charcoal grey, splotched and grimy. It wasn’t a waiter’s crisply starched apron but that of a cook or dishwasher. An acrylic yarn knitted hat with a wide stripe of blue, orange and white (a sports fan’s team colors) was practically perched on the top of his head. It reached only to the top of his ears, stretched and pulled down slightly as though it were made for a child and straining to fit an adult size head.

As our paths crossed, I smiled and inquired about the load he was hauling. He explained the container held dishes he was transporting from a restaurant in which he worked, located higher up the ski slope. His name was Euro, “like the money.” He was from Venezuela where he had worked in oil fields as a supervisor. When he came to the US he worked as a laborer on oil fields and now had a position in a kitchen.

I am engaging in conversations about dress and style while working on a book. As we spoke, Euro quoted an expression I'd heard earlier that day. The first person who used it was a fellow in his twenties who, when I asked about the clothing he liked to wear, said in French, "L'habit ne fait pas le moine." Euro recited it English then repeated the phrase in Spanish: "The froth doesn’t make the monk,” he said. (I was momentarily baffled: froth? I realized he meant “frock” or “habit”.)

When he was growing up Euro’s family went to church every week. He had to dress formally for the occasion. One day, when he was about eleven years old, he determined to go to church in comfortable clothing. His father objected when he saw what Euro was wearing.

Defending his choice, Euro proudly proclaimed,  “El hábito non hace al monje!” (The frock doesn’t make the monk.)

His father’s rejoinder? “Pero lo indentifica.” (But it identifies him.)

Euro smiled telling me this story. I wanted to know more. “So what did you end up wearing to church?” I asked.

As though seeing it in his mind’s eye he said with humor and resignation, “A black tie. A white collared shirt. Black pants and dress shoes.”

I laughed. “Your father won!”

The habit doesn't make the monk. In English the expression is, "the clothing doesn’t make the man." Yet attire matters. It is a signal to the outer world and/or a reflection of one’s sense of self. It is the eighth year of making all that I wear--of not buying clothing. At this juncture many of the clothes I have [made] belong to a former expression of myself. Seven years is the point when a sabbatical is declared. What would a sabbatical from this project, Slow Style, look like?