My first job in high school began as an internship at a small shop in Nevada that made costumes, wedding gowns and casino uniforms. I fell in love with a Brother single needle industrial machine whose push-button start up and whining motor stood my arm hair on end. I was also smitten with the gravity fed industrial steam iron (I once forgot to turn it off and left it smoldering on the ironing board...overnight). Loading cones and rethreading a 5-thread serger with its zig-zagging internal paths became as navigable as learning to drive a car -- which happened at around the same time -- and for a girl whose father worked with loud equipment and flying sparks all day, yet kept his daughters safe from this, it was a way to harness industrial energy and wield power over a machine at a moment in life when a young woman is vulnerable to dismissing her own capabilities.
That was all the fun stuff (except maybe the casino uniforms), but the bread and butter work in that shop were the alterations. I've hemmed more Carole Little knit pants from Macy's than I care to count, and learned to make way more small talk in a fitting room than any other 17-year old I've ever met (I'm still not great at it, but I can probably still make a half-naked lady feel pretty comfortable. Wow, except that came out wrong).
To rip into another person's worn clothing has an intimacy rivaled by actually making clothing and fitting a person's body. I've found used tissues in pockets (into the garbage), money and jewelry and keys (into the small return baggie) and seams filled with dust, lint and scales of skin. I've been gagged by cologne and perfume and cigarette smoke. A woman once delivered several vests to be copied and remade, only to discover that her male cat had sprayed on them just that morning. She tried to leave them anyway, and when I explained there was no way I could hand them over to the woman who does the alterations (me) before dry cleaning (her), she snorted and craned her neck to see who this picky "alterations girl" in the back room might be.
During the 12 years I was in the clothing industry, doing everything from alterations, to running a commercial cutter, to fitting custom gowns, to sample sewing PVC raincoats/stretch jeans/metallic halter tops for 14-year olds, to marching to the bank to try and deposit paychecks (9 of those bounced at one factory), to making patterns, to crying on the bus, to finally being mentored by a master tailor for 4 years in the '90s (more crying), the constant hum for me was the intimacy of cloth. And the years that this intimacy was absent (factory work), it bothered me that clothing was so disposable. Later in my career, when returning to custom made wedding gowns, I thought I'd be creating garments that would be revered.
Some were. Most of the clients were lovely women. And I try really hard to remember their smiles, vast embraces and impossibly smooth shoulders.
But the fond memories are often overshadowed by mothers telling daughters how fat they looked, or girls bad mouthing the size of an absent friend's ring ("...you know that marriage won't last... "), or bridesmaids who (I'm not kidding) pushed each other out of the way to vie for the mirrored walls, the ruined gowns returned for fixing ("... we got such a great photo in the hotel fountain!"). It's comical now. But for a girl from a small town, brought up to sew and respect the work of the hand, it was devastating. My last boss, a mentor and man I respected and loved like a father, called me "Provincial." The hardest part was realizing my own lack of skill when it came to matching wits with princesses.
For Pete's sake, who even knew that was a thing?
All this to say: alterations don't bother me. Neither does the prospect of incredibly time-consuming work.
(And I steer clear of Princesses).
Girl Story and Girl Story #3 have been accepted into Focus: Fiber 2016 at Kent State University Museum. If you are in Ohio between February 12 and July 3, 2016 I highly encourage you to check out the exhibition (and send pictures please, because I won't get down there for this one, unfortunately).
One of the notations in the exhibition agreement stated, "Velcro is preferred but not mandatory." A few months ago, I met with the textile curator at the Anchorage Museum and she had mentioned this very thing in terms of displaying tapestries and textile work.
So I ripped off the sleeves.
Adding velcro to a piece and the accompanying mounting bar is easily reversible, protects the fabric and will eliminate curling and bulging at the bottom edge once installed by allowing for minuscule adjustments at the top until the piece hangs straight across the bottom.
So while I didn't have to make this alteration to two pieces of artwork before shipping, I chose to.
"When we mount quilts, we use 2" velcro stitched by machine to a muslin strip. The muslin strip is then hand sewn - carefully and lightly - to the quilt backing so that no stitches or muslin show. Put the soft side of the velcro on the strip sewn to the quilt and staple the hard side to a 1" x 2" piece of poplar. 2" velcro gives us a better chance to get the piece hanging straight since most quilts are not perfectly square."
Jean Druesedow, Director
Kent State University Museum
If making clothing for people taught me anything, it's this: there is no one way. Every body is different, every mind is different.
Every show is different.
(But darn it if male cat pee is always the same).
I'd love to hear your comments about successful mounting/hanging techniques. I'd also love to hear what went terribly wrong so we can all learn from each other.
This post is filed under the How To category in the side bar. There are a few other how to posts available there, although I'll never walk you through anything by blah, blah, yaddah-yaddah because there are lots of other verbose bloggers out there breaking sewing steps down. I know you're on your game, so I show you lots of pictures instead.
And I tell some stories.