Encrusted CQ class project

Encrusted CQ class project

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Is there still such a thing as Women's Work?

Dear Reader -

I come to you today with a question.  Is there still such a thing as Women's Work?  I'll explain how I came to ask this question, and then I'd love your take on this.

It's the first month of my alterations business.  After a very nice article in our local newspaper, business has really picked up, and my shop is busy.  Orders are coming in, and people are making inquiries by phone and email.  I have had mostly good experiences, and met some lovely people.  I have met my real customers and I like them! 

I have also talked to a few older ladies who think that my pricing is much too high, and take that as justification to yell at me and scold me.  There is at least one older lady in town who has been sewing for years, and she does inexpensive sewing for her friends.  Some of these women like to tell me how "Bertha" (not her real name) has much better pricing.  I imagine that Bertha does good quality work.  But not one of her "friends" tells me that she does beautiful work.  Bertha is valuable because she works cheap. I just figured out that the unspoken message here is that these ladies will bring their sewing to me if I'll just cooperate and work even cheaper.

Let's do the math for Bertha's business, assuming she has an actual business where she declares her income to Canada Revenue......

Someone brings her a pair of pants to hem - that's at least 15 minutes for a consult - to discuss what the customer wants, have them try on the pants, and get them pinned accurately. Let's say Bertha can cut, hem, and press that pair of pants in 15 minutes.  Let's add another 5 minutes to make an invoice and bag up the garment.  Then her customer comes back in to pick up the pants and she collects payment - at least 10 minutes.  That's 45 minutes if all goes well.  The customer pays her $6.  That means Bertha is working for $8 per hour.  Once Bertha pays for advertising, shop supplies, insurance,  income tax, etc - let's be generous and say Bertha takes home $6. per hour.  Minimum wage in Alberta is $9.95.  This makes me sad for Bertha.

Certainly we all want to save money.  But I have a hard time taking the abuse of older women who think it's a good idea for me to work for less than $6. hour because I am "just sewing a hem".

Do people still view some professions as "just women's work", and therefore not worthy of even minimum wage?  Clearly, not every woman knows how to sew a hem, and those that know how don't always want to.  So I think my skills are valuable to some.  I was just quite shaken to be rebuked pretty harshly by  older women, for trying to earn a decent living.  I know I am taking this too personally, and it may be just a case of people who like to complain about prices.  Perhaps the bullying tactics work some of the time.  (There were other things said which I am not mentioning here.  These were not nice little grandmas.....) 

So, back to my question.  Are there certain skills which are perceived as traditional women's work, and therefore should not cost much money?  Am I in a profession where I will need to explain my pricing much of the time?  Or is my situation common to any business?  I'm not sure how to think about this.  I realize I need to develop a thicker skin, because not everyone is polite.  But why do older women, who I think ought to know better, push another women to work for free?

I was going to talk about overseas sweatshops, and the deplorable conditions there, which enable us to buy $7. jeans at Walmart.  But perhaps that's not the point.  We live in Canada, we have labour laws and a minimum wage.  We know that doctors made a certain level of income.  We understand that an automotive shop charges a hefty shop rate per hour.  We understand that the young person working at McDonalds works for closer to minimum wage. Do we have an expectation that sewing pays less than a fast-food job?  Should I explain the value in what I do, or do I politely but firmly end the conversation because this person is never going to be happy paying a fair price? 

Let me know what you think, I'd love your feedback.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Pegboard for the Win!

I am LOVING having pegboard in my shop, it's been really helpful for organizing and storing so many threads, notions, etc.  I may paint it in the future, because I've seen some painted pegboard on Pinterest that is really cute.  For now, the pale gray works fine with my Shabby Chic sewing room.

** If you're wondering, yes, my dress form is at a strange angle.  She's not assembled correctly since I brought her home.  I call her ......wait for it..... Aileen!

I have a plastic cutlery tray on my work table, which was much too full.  An organizer just doesn't work well if it's stuffed with too many items. It's much easier to grab what I need now:

Now my scissors are hung up, and not getting dulled by rubbing against each other. 

My cone thread sits on a rack I bought on our local online Buy and Sell. The pegs are too thick to fit regular small spools of thread, and those spools were getting very tangled sitting in a plastic storage bin.  Now they are separated by colour, and live in these cute Easter buckets and baskets, from Dollar Tree.  The pastel colors work with my decorating scheme, and each bin was 1.25!

From another dollar store, I bought these white baskets, 2 or 3 for a dollar.  On these hangers, they sit at an angle that is perfect for seeing what I have and easily grabbing it.  One bin for handsewing tools (thimbles, beeswax, etc), one for tracing wheels, and one is dedicated to bandaids.  The last thing you want is to get a minor cut and then bleed on a customer's garment - I have bandaids in a couple of locations in my shop.

And this little corner table was purchased at my very favorite thrift store, Nu2U in Olds, Alberta.  I think I paid about $8 for it, and it now holds my pressing tools - tailor's ham, clapper, spray starch, iron cleaner. 

My shop is mostly set up and organized, but my new worktable is coming on Thursday.  The Olds College fashion program has moved to fancy new digs in Bow Valley College in Calgary.  So the sewing tables from the Olds campus are being sold - one of the tables I spent so many hours at in school will be coming to live in my shop.  They are huge, and heavy and I am so excited to have a worktable big enough to lay out fabric for cutting.  I used to be happy cutting out patterns on the floor, but my body reminds me that I am no longer 20.  Cutting pattern pieces at the correct height saves a lot of money in chiropractor bills! 


Here's my worktable, a whopping 4 by 8 feet!  I can get some serious work done now!

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

A few more projects

Well, spring has arrived in Alberta.  Yesterday it was warm enough to do some yard work, so I started in on some of the garden cleanup/preparation tasks.  I planted some pansies in the old metal washtub that's in front of my shop.  I know I am pushing the season by a month, but I am feeling starved for color, and I couldn't look at the tub of last year's plant corpses any longer. So much nicer to sit at my desk and see a tub of purple, yellow and cream blossoms!


The wind has picked up, so the flowers are a little blurry, but you get the idea.

What have I been sewing lately?  I'm so glad you asked :-) 
The baby boom in our church continues, with the arrival of two more wee girls this week. Not twins, two different families.  One of the little ones will be receiving this outfit:

I scrunch-dyed the onesie, and added hand-dyed lace at the neckline and burgundy trim at the wrists.  I had made the flower a few weeks ago, but then it was too pale, so out came the Distress Dye....and now it's perfect.  And the cupcake skirt is very simple, but that fabric puts it on cuteness overload.

The other little girl is premature, and might be in hospital a little longer, so I think I'll have a bit more time before I need her shower gift to be done.  I'm looking at patterns today, and I'm thinking of making a summer dress or a bubble romper. 

The next project is a necklace.  My friend Jessica W, from my Olds College sewing program, gave me an extra flower she made for her Couture dress project.  Electric blue organza, with coral seed beads in the center - very pretty!  And since I wanted a necklace to go with some of my blue outfits, I pulled out my blue beads and got stringing.  Here is the result - a long necklace to make two or more loops, depending on the look I want.  I love how the flower looks among the various shades of seed beads.


The last item to show you today is another "jeans into skirt" project.  This time I made the triangle insert by stitching neckties onto a foundation fabric (a piece of an old fitted sheet).  I got smart and used small pieces of fusible web to tack the ties in place, because I have learned how slippery those fabrics are.  I used machine embroidery to straddle the edges of the ties. 


After trimming off the narrow ends of the ties, I came up with this idea, for a baby boy outfit. 

I'll be making a pair of cotton pants to go with this, because our church has yet more babies on the way!

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Little Girl Bling!

When I saw this little girl's jean jacket at a thrift store, I knew I had to buy it.  A burgundy "fur" collar, sparkly denim fabric - how sweet!  And I knew it was crying out for even more bling.    Here's Burgundy Bling -

It's size 4T, and perfect for the little princess in your life!  And here are some closeups of what I added:

Yoyos, lace, buttons and beads.....I'd say this little jacket has it all.

I'll be back with new projects and ideas and pictures next week.  Wishing my readers a blessed Easter!

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Upcycled Vest

A productive afternoon = another Upcycled Vest!  This one started with a black pinstriped woman's vest.  Originally from Ricki's, I of course bought it at a thrift store.

I added a line of fuschia velvet ribbon that goes over one shoulder.  To this, I stitched handmade fabric flowers, embroidered wool felt leaves, and "vintage pearl" beads.  The beads were from a broken necklace bought at a thrift store - an excellent source for older and unusual beads.

So, that's another piece of clothing ready for the craft shows I will do this year.  I'm only planning 4 between now and Christmas, but I want to have lots of stock.  If the articles don't sell, at least they should draw people in to my table so that I can tell them about my alterations business.  And hopefully, I will get a good number of sales as well.


My next project - finish upcycling a little girl's jean jacket.  Another thrift store find that now has some major bling!  Stay tuned.....
And, as promised, a picture of the clapper/point presser my Dad made for me.  I love it!

Friday, 11 April 2014

Jeans become a skirt

There are many YouTube tutorials on how to make a denim skirt from a pair of jeans.  The technique was popular in the sixties, as in these photos:

I wanted the fabric inserts for my skirt to be more like godets, with extra fullness, something like this:

The best tutorial I found for the basic jean skirt technique was this -

I had some fabric that was like a soft burlap, which I dyed a fuschia/red colour.  It's somewhat sheer fabric, so I added two layers.  And here's the skirt with the godets in place.

I just needed to hem the skirt at that point,  and of course, I'll be adding some embellishments. :-D   These fabric flowers will go along the V shapes. As a side note, because the godets are cut on the bias, after inserting them, I left the fabric extra long and hung the garment overnight.  This gives the fabric time to relax, so I can get a more even hem.

And here's the finished skirt, which I plan to wear with my gorgeous cowgirl boots!




Boots (with pointy toes, for kicking things in corners)

I'm wearing my long skirt as I speak, and I love it!

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Personalized Lab Coat

While I was in school, we watched a video of one of the workrooms of a major fashion house.

We were impressed that the sewists in the workroom all wore lab coats.  Not only is it a professional look, it helps keep thread off the worker's clothes, and (more importantly) keeps the expensive couture fabric from being damaged.  I'm not (yet) the caliber of sewist that works for Chanel or Balenciaga, but I can look just as professional.

I bought my lab coat by mail order, and order a size that was excessively big. As in - huge.  Baggy.  Stupid big.  What was I thinking big.

I shortened the sleeves, took up a large hem, and added a strip of elastic at the back to pull in some of the excess fabric.  I added machine embroidery at the sleeves and bottom hem.  It's a lab coat with a wearable art twist - professional yet boho.  At least I think so :-)

**Update - After wearing this lab coat, it's still too boxy, so I'm going to add more elastic at the side seams.  Altering garments always involves tweaking and changing things until they're just right :-)

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Mr. Dressup Syndrome

As a fabric artist, I love to collect.  I collect new techniques - photo transfer, ruching, beading, dyeing fabric.  Whenever I see a new embellishment technique in a magazine, on a garment in a store, or on Pinterest - I feel a very strong urge to try it.  That is to say, I obsess about trying it, searching for the least expensive source for materials and pushing aside other projects-in-progress to try to recreate it.  It's somewhere between creative genius and mental illness....

Because I love these techniques, and because they require such a wide range of materials, I also collect a wide variety of supplies.  I've got fabric, patterns, and threads.  I've got beads, buttons and glues.  Ribbons, lace and vintage linens all live in my studio.  I do most of my collecting at thrift stores, flea markets and discount stores, so there is much less money invested than there could be.  But a girl only has so much room to store these things before they take over every empty space.  I have discovered I work better when my work table has ONE project on it, and there are some empty spaces in my sewing studio.  I don't like a completely empty, Spartan look.  But I am much more creative and productive when the room has some empty surfaces and when I can find things easily, without having to dig through layers of stuff.

My system now is to choose an appropriate size of container for each supply - say, an organizer drawer like this for my embroidery threads. 

 The Omnigrid ruler is 6" wide, shown as a size reference.  These plastic organizers are easy to find at dollar stores or Walmart.  And here's what you'd find in the top drawer of this organizer:

It's a jumble of threads, but it's not overstuffed, and this drawer contains yellows, oranges, reds and pinks.  To some people, this is way too many embroidery threads.  But it's an amount that works for me.  Four skeins of DMC floss isn't enough variety for the kinds of work I do.  On the other hand, I don't need to own every color of every weight of every brand of specialty thread.  So I use the confines of the container to keep me from overpurchasing.  If the drawers are getting too stuffed full, it's time to sort out what I'm not using and give it away.  Remember, it's about having the materials to make clothing and art, it's NOT about collecting enough supplies to start your own Michaels store.

Another type of material I collect is what I categorize as "recyclables and junk".   Let me explain - when our kids were small, they loved to watch Mr. Dressup.  Hey, I watched him when I was small.  Ernie Coombs was a wonderful children's entertainer, and also a talented artist. 

By the time our kids watched the show, there was a growing emphasis on "reduce, reuse, recycle".  Craft projects were created to show ways to reuse egg cartons, bottle caps, cereal boxes, and the like.  So, while we as parents were rinsing out milk jugs before recycling them, there was no way at the time to recycle the plastic cap from said milk jug.  Mr. Dressup to the rescue - use those plastic milk lids in fun crafts like these:

After 5 shows a week, over a couple of years, our kids learned to NEVER throw out milk jug caps, paper milk cartons, egg cartons, bottle caps, bits of yarn.....it was like living through the Great Depression.  It was wasteful to throw out used tinfoil or little bits of string.....why not make your home into a landfill instead?!  I loved doing crafts with my kiddos, but at some point you just want to throw out the garbage without a tiny recycling Nazi trying to rescue tiny bits of detritus.
My husband and I are still affected by what we now call Mr. Dressup Syndrome.  Empty jars can be so useful, it's hard to give one away or recycle it.  A coffee cup that leaks could be used as a plant pot or a pen cup.  I have used old CDs as the base for pincushions, and I use soup can lids or the caps from non-stick cooking spray as circle templates.  So, here again, I employ my container strategy.  I have one small drawer to hold all the tiny plastic containers, onion bag mesh, and twist ties that I "might need" one day.  I can keep whatever will fit in that small drawer. When the drawer is full, I stop collecting, or throw out something to make room for the new object.
So, quilters, sewists and crafters - you know what I am talking about.  It's time to pare down your collections of craft supplies, items to recycle, and sewing notions.  You'll never live long enough to do all the great projects you find on Pinterest.  At some point you need to say "Enough is Enough"!  Go through your collections and sell the extras at a garage sale or online.  Give the extras to your local thrift store, day care or kindergarten class.  Give your studio some room to breathe, and give yourself some space to work.  Don't be like Dory: