how I’ve changed my story

It’s been a long time since I wrote a blog post. A lot has changed. The highlights:
– My co-parent started a gender transition at the end of 2018. Our relationship was already struggling, but that kind of pushed it over the edge. I was supportive as a friend, but I’m pretty straight. We tried to make it work for about a year, but finally called it at the end of 2019, right before the pandemic started.
– Splitting up the household took some time because of the pandemic, but I moved out last summer & am now living in a cute little apartment above the shops right in the heart of the Alberta Arts District. I have a double-sized living room, so I’ve divided it so one half is a living room & the other half is my sewing studio. The studio half has huge floor-to-ceiling windows, which gives me lots of light for working, & I can still keep an eye on Ramona while she plays in the living room.
– I have primary custody, but Ramona is with her other mom (Jeanette) a couple of days a week. Co-parenting is going great. Obviously splitting up with your co-parent is always a difficult transition for a family, but Jeanette & I still get along really well as friends & Ramona is handling the changes remarkably well.

As far as sewing goes, I made a big decision once Jeanette & I decided to end things. I decided to go back to school for apparel design. I figured, I love sewing, it’s all I really want to do, I might as well get some real education in it & see if I can parlay it into a thing that can provide me some financial security. I’m scraping by with the help of child support, but that’s not a forever solution for paying my bills.

So I enrolled at Portland Fashion Instiutute. I’m wrapping up my third term now. It’s a technical school, which means there are no general education classes, & I will finish with a certificate as opposed to a degree. The benefit is that every class I take is laser-focused on apparel design. There are lecture classes on topics like the history of fashion or color theory, there are studio classes in which we sew garments & familiarize ourselves with sewing techniques, there are classes on draping, grading, etc. There’s a whole patternmaking series where we develop our own set of blocks based on our own measurements & then use those blocks to work through more & more sophisticated patterning techniques. I have to take some business classes focused on entrepeneuership & the financials of the apparel industry. Everything is very focused on setting students up to actually be employed within the industry by the time they finish, whether they are looking to start their own boutique or fashion line, or work for an established company as a designer, pattern cutter, Optitex specialist, whatever.

When I started school, I didn’t really know what I was looking for, exactly. Usually I don’t like to jump in to big decisions like this without first formulating a game plan for myself. I felt really confident in my sewing skills & wasn’t sure there’d be much value from some of the required courses, like Dresses or Activewear (which involve sewing specific patterns developed by the school to industry standards). I didn’t harbor fantasies about becoming a fashion designer. It’s a lot of hustle, & I’m not exactly young & energetic (I turn 42 next month), & I didn’t think I had a lot of fresh ideas of my own.

Turns out, I have learned a TON from my practical classes. I do already have a solid foundation with the sewing skills I’ve developed on my own, but I’ve definitely upped my game by getting hands-on instruction from professionals. For instance, right now I’m in the Knits/Activewear series. We sew six garments: a t-shirt, a knit dress, a sweater, a hoodie, knit pants, & a sports bra. I’m no stranger to sewing knits, but I’ve learned a TON & my work is a lot more professional-looking now.

But what has really surprised me is how much I’ve fallen in love with patternmaking. I have sewn my own patterns before, usually by taking a base pattern & hacking it into something completely different. One of my more successful projects was when I took a basic pajama pants pattern that had the hip ease I was after & hacked it into a pair of shorty overalls. I had to figure out the bib, straps, facings, closures, etc, on my own. I made those overalls in 2016 (before there were a million overalls patterns on the market) & I still wear them a lot.

But now I have a block drafted to my measurements that I can use to come up with designs. & my understanding of the geometry of the way clothes fit around the body is way advanced from 2016. I LOVE my patternmaking classes. I’m in Pattern 3 right now & our final is to use our blocks to pattern an entire garment of our choice from scratch. We have to turn in our completed pattern pieces, fully marked with all the relevant notches, awl punches, et al, a pattern record, & a completed sample of our garment. My project is really ambitious. I’ve been looking for utility suit pattern I like for a few years now, but every pattern I see is not quite right. Like it has patch pockets & I want in-seam, or there’s an exposed zip closure, or the collar is too big, or whatever. Any of these things can be adjusted by an experienced seamstress who doesn’t mind making some hacks & adjustments, but now I have the ability to just draft exactly what I want from scratch. I’m doing a utility suit with a princess seam top, dropped shoulders, short sleeves with cut-on cuffs & a cuff tab, slightly cropped & tapered pants with a princess style line down the front & pockets built into the side panel, elasticized back waistband, cut-on pants cuffs, an over-the-shoulder yoke, a zip closure with a hidden snap placket over it, jeans-style back pockets, & a Napolean collar. It’s a lot to resolve, but I’m really enjoying the process.

I’ve been discovering that I actually have a lot of ideas for garments I want to make, & I just can’t find existing patterns for them. I have an idea for sleeveless tee with a ruched shoulder secured with ribbon, & for a voluminous drop-shoulder collar with an elaborately elasticized waist & a shawl collar that resolves into a hood. Again, these things can be hacked from existing patterns…or I can just make the patterns myself.

I think this is what I want to do when I finish school…or even as I am finishing school. I want to make patterns. I especially want to make patterns for really cool, interesting garments in an inclusive size range. If I’m starting from scratch anyway, why not just build that inclusivity in from the ground floor? I’d love to do sizes 0-40, just as a matter of course. It bums me out so hard when I see plus sewists making garments from companies where they are at the top of the size range, or beyond, & saying things like, “It’s a roomy design so it can work for bigger sizes.” I don’t think design ease should ever be substituted for wearing ease! I want to make patterns that fit bigger sewists, as intended, not where they are sewing a design intended to be loose & unfitted & squeezing themselves in & calling it good enough. Everyone deserves to be able to make beautiful, fashion forward clothes for themselves! To me, wearing ease is about basic respect. It’s what allows a person to move & breathe & be a person. Design ease is the gravy on top, the fashion piece. Substituting the gravy for the movement is…honestly, it feels dehumanizing to me. It feels like saying, I don’t care enough about you to give you the room to just be in the world. It really, really bothers me.

Also, as a busty woman, I want to accommodate that. I’m an H-cup for sewing purposes: there’s an 8-inch difference between my high bust & my full bust. (My high bust & my underbust are the same measurement, but I never choose a size based on underbust. A garment that covers the bust is usually hanging from the shoulders, not the rib cage, so that’s where the garment needs to fit.) I have to do an FBA on everything. Even pattern companies that offer a “plus” or “curve” range usually draft based on a C- or D-cup block, which is still too small for me. I think my alternative would be for my smaller range to be based on a C-cup & the bigger sizes to be based on an E-cup. I’m just spitballing, but I think that could be some real value added for a lot of people.

I took a leave of absence from school for the summer because the summer classes are on an intensive schedule, where you’re in class everyday for like two or three weeks. I can’t do that with Ramona with me all the time. In a normal year, with in-person day camps operating & at full capacity, I could do it, but a lot of those services have decided not to re-open this summer because oif Covid. Instead, I signed up for the Pattern Workshop program so I can keep learning about these patternmaking ambitions I have over the summer.

So that’s what’s new with me! Hopefully I’ll also revive this blog to some extent while I’m on this new journey!

Published by Ciara

Ciara Xyerra wrote zines for the better part of two decades. She has a brilliant & adorable preschooler named Ramona & sews as much as she possibly can. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas with her boyfriend. She enjoys catching up on "The New Yorker", meatball subs, keeping it cranky, intersectional post-third wave feminism, dinosaurs, & monsters. If you have nothing nice to say, she recommends that you come sit here by her, so you can say not-nice things together.

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