Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The multicolor green girl: designer Carolina Wallin

Update! Read the Seattle Met article about Carolina and her studio in the May 2014 Behind the Scenes section.

Designer Carolina Wallin
Designer Carolina Wallin
I saw Carolina Wallin from halfway down the block, and she was a beacon of softened DayGlo, unassuming and Junoesque. “I love your colors!” I said as she passed, and she laughed and removed her stereo earbuds to say hello.

She immediately introduced herself, and we had a friendly chat right there. Carolina’s a designer from Sweden, and her line, The Green Girl, is a collection of jewelry, accessories, and clothes distinguished by clever meshing of geometrics, and unexpected color combinations. She was on her way to buy some plants for her studio, where Seattle Met magazine is doing a photo shoot of her designs this Friday. She and her husband just moved to Capitol Hill ten days ago, so she has been busy unpacking and preparing for the studio visit.

We talked materials—she designed her choker, comprising precision-cut craft foam—and gold vs. silver. I used to wear more silver, but have become more fond of gold over time. Maybe because of my wedding ring, which is a simple gold band. Carolina’s gold wedding ring is of her own design, and incorporates her grandmother’s ring.

She also designed her handbag, a mix of materials and hand embroidery on a gold chain. Gold and orange is a great combination, and the metal works so well with her blouse.
Carolina Wallin handbag
A handbag of Carolina's design

Carolina and her husband have lived in Seattle since this last January, and prior to that she designed for H&M after studying at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London.

I simply was struck by her bearing, color sense, and unique style. I’m sure she’s finding an enthusiastic audience for her designs in Seattle.

Stay abreast of Carolina’s work at, and follow her on Instagram and Pinterest.

And don't forget to watch for Seattle Met’s story about Carolina, which will soon be online in their Fashion and Shopping section.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Mysterious ham: Press-Rite tailor's forms

How about some mustard with that ham?

This last weekend, my mom gave me the tailor’s ham and sleeve roll she’s had for ages. The first thing I did when she offered them to me was the same thing I did when I was ten years old: I put the ham under my shirt and pretended I was pregnant. Alas, my poor mother, stuck with a perennial ten-year-old child.

The manufacturer is Press-Rite, and I spent way too much time today on the web trying to find out what happened to the company. But other than a completed sale on Etsy for a Press-Rite ham, I couldn’t find any other information on this Seattle business. Mom doesn't remember where she bought it 50-some years ago—there were so many little fabric stores in Seattle at that time. She lamented the disappearance of these businesses. There even used to be a button store in downtown Seattle. Just buttons—that's it. Heck, Portland has a button store downtown; get with it, Seattle! Anyhow...

These forms were always in use when I was growing up, lying around the laundry room like tidy, compact, silent pets, keeping my dad's sleeves crisply ironed and the seam allowances on sewing projects open and flat. Unlike most new hams, which have one muslin-covered side, wool fabric covers both sides of these forms. The plaids are carefully matched at the seams, and the closing-ends are hand-stitched.
Neatly matched seams Carefully hand-stitched end

I did find out that the forms were made after 1958. The giveaway is the label’s 2-letter + 5-digit phone number. Prior to that year, the phone number format was 2-letter + 4-number. Also, it was produced before 1963, when 5-digit ZIP codes were introduced. Up to that point, cities used 2-digit postal zones. It’s strange that I couldn’t find a web site that lists old Seattle postal zones; but let it now be known that West Seattle contained zone 16.
The tailor's ham still has its manufacturer's label.
The interwebs told me that the 44th Ave. SW property listed on the ham's label sold in 2008, but the phone number on the tailor’s ham label is still associated with that location! Now, how can that be? I mean, usually when a new owner moves in, they start new phone service, right? Of course, demographic info web sites often contain information which is a conglomeration of old and new data. Maybe the old number got pulled from one database and reassociated with the new owner’s name. But it’s kinda weird.

Anyhow, I snooped some more, but couldn’t find out whether the previous property owner had a business at that address. So who was Press-Rite? Was it a home business? The hand-stitched ends tell me that it could have been. Can you see the basement, filled with boxes of dense cotton batting and rolls of wool melton in all shades of plaid? Then there’s a single industrial sewing machine—most likely gray or mottled metallic green—which weighs about 382 pounds. And a big, wooden thread rack on the wall. And a scratchy push-broom for cleaning up the jetsam.

Even if I didn't have a particular, fond history with these forms, I'd still find them interesting as objects, just as I do the button tin and seam ripper my mom gave me from her batch of well-used sewing tools. But our culture is at a strange place where we, well...objectify objects. We put them on shelves and admire their rusticity, yanking history's everyday utilitarianism into a realm of precious aestheticism, which sometimes seems obsequious to the object's creator.

What I'm saying is, someone sewed wool fabric ovals together, stuffed the form tight with batting, and stitched the ends together. By hand. Then put it aside, and started on another. And then my mom bought a couple of them, and kept them in a drawer to keep them free of cat hair, clean, and useful. And I like that.

After more than fifty years of use, these things are still as firm and new as ever, and ready for their next half-century. Which is more than I can say for myself, a tad less firm, following close behind them in age, chasing my ideals of form and function, aesthetics and utility.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

A Thousand Ladies in Puyallup: Sewing & Stitchery Expo

You can still make the 2014 Sewing & Stitchery Expo! Sunday, March 2nd is the last day. Get there at 8:30 for a breakfast of Fisher scones!

I've been wanting to attend the Sewing & Stitchery Expo in Puyallup for years, and this year I finally got around to it. If you like thread and yarn and fabric, this is the event for you.

I have to say I'd like to have seen a greater variety of fabrics and small patternmakers. I'm not too much into the machine embroidery and teddy bear thing. But if you groove on Crafty Church Bazaar Auntie Quilts, you'll be in heaven.
Stop by The Wool House for the most unique fabrics at the expo. Their "mostly natural" secret is out!

The most impressive fabric collection was that of The Wool House, which boated down all the way from Toronto to lure us into their cashmere-laden booth of pricey-but-worth-it yardage. If you've sought the best suiting fabrics alive, they've got something you'll like. Their stuff is quite gorgeous and high quality, and if you've ever considered getting a custom suit made by your favorite tailor, 30 bucks a yard is a good investment.
Blends of cashmere, silk, wool, angora...their stuff is super spanky.
Knitters and crocheters (that's an odd-looking word, isn't it) won't find as much here, but what they do stumble upon will be in the Pavilion, the same location as The Wool House. There are some booths with some really great felting tools and kits. You'll have a lovely, wooly time of it.

After you're done in the Pavilion, head on over to the huge Showplex, where you'll find endless opportunities to test the newest sergers and other machines.

And stop by the Sewing Workshop's booth to check out their cool patterns. My friend & I bought the Pearl and Opal jackets pattern to share, and I also bought the Balboa shirt. It's kinda 80s, but the short-sleeved version with horizontal stripes they had hanging on the sample rack inspired me.

And of course, I just can't help myself—I'm always on the lookout for Unique Grammar Moments, and the expo did not disappoint:

Real wood cabinets, huh? Suuuurrre they are.

Close out your day by purchasing a small lemonade from one of the despairing young people at the Showplex burger joint. Oh, the humanity! You want sullen, they got it by the bucket. Hang in there, kids!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Patterns of the Past: A Visit to Patrica Nugent Textiles Design Studio

This week our fashion design class visited Seattle's Patricia Nugent Textiles. Lucky us! It's rare for beginning designers to get this kind of opportunity to meet with an expert in historical textiles and design, and we're fortunate to have a teacher like Julie Snow, who set up the studio visit.

Pat has a textile archive that numbers in the thousands, dating from the 1790s to 1970; that's a lot of fabric and paper. Her customers are designers of textiles, apparel, stationery...anyone who wants a unique pattern or design treatment pulled from the fabric bolts and graphic artist imaginations of the past.

Stacks and stacks of fabric tied neatly with ribbon.
The studio space is brightly lit, with tidy bundles of fabric and baskets with swatches mounted on cards. The textiles are categorized by labels a customer would use to describe what they're looking for, so when someone tells Pat, "Show me something that's kind of floral and art deco," she goes right to the category they need.

When a customer buys a design from Pat's archive, they have exclusive use of it. And often, they're not getting just one design. For example, say a print has separate floral and paisley design elements. The customer's designer can take apart the design elements and create new motifs. They can create a border treatment, make a new repeating design, reorient the elements—with one swatch purchase, they're getting as many different designs as their imagination allows.

In addition to fabrics, the archives contain original designs on paper.
Pat showed us some designers' books from the early 1900s, and for me these are some of the most fascinating parts of the archive. A book had page after page of designs from a single, unnamed designer who likely worked for a textile manufacturer. Painted in gouache, many of the designs were no larger than a half-inch across on a paper swatch not much bigger. Who were these designers? Were they artists in their off-hours? Their creativity and skill at the small scale was amazing. There was one tiny illustration of a man and a horse on its hind legs enclosed in what looked like a Hula Hoop. What the...? I should have got a picture, but didn't.  Coulda woulda shoulda.

Today I was telling a friend about the studio visit, and we talked about how common it is for artists to use their skills for making a living in a job that's not really related to their art. For example, my friend has worked as a graphic designer, but painting and photography are where her heart is. I've worked for years as a technical writer, but that's not why I studied Comparative Literature and poetry. But we all need to buy groceries and cat food, right?
Martin: house painter, artist, all-around Dude.

My husband's grandfather was a house painter, but an artist as well, and painted a mural of exploding Mount Vesuvius in his living room. Here he is at his easel; I wish I'd met him. Look at this guy! He's grooving on painting on canvas, and he'll get up in the morning and go paint someone's grocery store. I like to think that it's unnecessary for artists to fall into some sort of Gordon Comstock despair and think they're selling out if they make a living using a portion of their natural skills to put food on the table. That said, it's a pain in the rear to not get any time in one's life to work on one's art and instead use all one's skills to describe software menus.

Pat Nugent shows us vintage Suzani textiles.

Anyhow, there were plenty of designs to look at. After showing us some highlights of her collection, Pat was kind enough to let us (carefully) peruse the categorized baskets. If you have any interest in vintage textiles or design, this would be your candy store. Just looking at the swatches is inspirational, and got me thinking that instead of solids, I'd like to use some vintage patterns in my designs. I'm a big fan of prints from the 20s through 50s, and somewhere in Pat's archive is the perfect design. I think many of the students in our cohort will be returning to the studio as customers.

Thanks for the tour, Pat! And thank to Julie for setting up a very fun and educational evening!
UW students peruse Patricia Nugent's archives

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Arc'teryx Makes Its Mark

Last month I saw this Arc'teryx ad on a Seattle bus. If I'd seen it before I'd enrolled in UW's fashion certificate program, it wouldn't have been as interesting. But the program has stuffed my head so full of useful information, I thought, "Look! It's a marker!"

A marker is a layout of pattern pieces that the pattern maker creates to ready the garment for cutting and production. The layout is printed full-size on a plotter. Here's a good example of a marker on a pattern maker's Style Portfolios page:
A goal of a marker is to leave as little unused fabric as possible, as wasted material = more yardage, which increases the cost of the garment.

I've been sewing since I was a kid, and know how to lay pattern pieces on fabric, but until I started at UW last fall knew nothing about garment manufacturing. I enrolled in the program because I have some specific garment designs I want to work on, but I'm also really interested in the processes involved in taking a bit of fluff off of a plant and the tasks involved before it ends up in a garment on the store shelf. There are so many things that have to happen to accomplish this. It's all very cool.

When we buy apparel, we usually don't think about all the work that goes into designing, reworking, and manufacturing a garment. I like that Arc'teryx is giving the average consumer a glimpse of the process. The tagline "every piece with purpose" is good marketing: the Arc'teryx customer wants reliable, quality outdoor gear, and is function- rather than fashion-focused (although Arc'teryx has done a great job of combining the two attributes in their designs). Nice job, Arc'teryx!