Friday, 19 April 2013

sewing : three jersey tops and a new overlocker

After years of trying to justify the expense, I finally took the plunge and bought myself an overlocker for my birthday... it has revolutionised by sewing and was worth every penny.

I justified the purchase by convincing myself it would mean I could make lots of quick, easy and comfy clothes for the boys. But instead all I have done since buying it is make clothes for me, a luxury which I am very much enjoying.

So, here are my first three garments...

Each different but each related - two share the same fabric, a very pale, creamy peach with thick black strips, and the other is a soft and stretchy dark pine green which these photos fail to do justice to. Two also share the same pattern #4 one piece sideways top from the wonderful English translation of Drape Drape 2.

The dark green and the striped top with the shorter sleeves are the ones from the Drape Drape pattern. Tracing out the pattern from the sheet in the book took a while. The patterns have seam allowances a built in (yay) but on are printed in a limited palate of colours which makes the pattern sheets look elegant but tracing the pattern lines a bit tricky (boo).

The other top, striped with longer sleeves, is copied from a top I already own. The original top is comfy, flattering and would be the easiest thing ever to wear, if it weren't for the fact that it gets grease stained from just being near a small child.

All three tops also share the same neckline as the longer sleeved too. Every review of the Drape Drape pattern said the scooped neckline was too deep. And as I've never really got on well with scooped necklines, I knew I'd have to change it to the same as the copied top (which has the best neckline of any top I own).

Of course there has been a learning curve to using my overlocker, but thankfully it's not been as steep as I had feared, particularly with the shared wisdom of the Internet to assist. And my skills have improved with each project.

So, here are the things I've learned so far:

Sewing with an overlocker isn't anywhere near as scared as I feared.

Lots of people use their overlockers to finish seams seven with a regular sewing maching... even when sewing jersey. The two main reasons for this seem to be a fear that mistakes using an overlocker are harder to fix and that serged seams aren't as secure and tended to come undone.

I got round the first problem by sewing with four threads (less stretchy, but more secure) and the second by going slow, using cheep and/or old fabric and making things with enough give in them to now worry about the odd mistake. Tactics that seem to have worked so far!

Using the right needles and threads makes all the difference

Whilst you don't need to finish jersey seams, taking the time to do so, and doing it well, makes all the difference between something 'hand made' and 'hand crafted'. And to do this well, a double jersey needle and a bobbin full of wooly nylon makes all the difference (again, great tips I found out from the ever helpful Internet!).

And be brave

Don't be afraid to try new things and make a few changes along the way... There's nothing wrong with a mistake or two as this is exactly how you learn and improve going forwards.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

reading : on The Browser and decline of the editor


This year I read a thought provoking article, Net Wisdom which appeared in the FT on February 2013 (where it can be accessed with a free login). It was written by Robert Cottrell, the editor and creator of one of my favourite websites, The Browser.

Essentially The Browser is an edited selection of long-form web articles where the common theme is excellent writing that is 'worth reading'. On a personal level, The Browser has had a significant effect on what, where, when and how I read - it is the source of much of my bed-time reading (and a good portion of my daytime reading too) - and is a site I would recommend to anyone who loves intelligent articles on eclectic topics.

I would also urge you to read the FT article itself - it is well written and thought provoking. Its main theme is how reading and writing have been affected by the internet which, surprisingly, is something I have spent relatively little time considering.

For some reason, much of my thinking about digital and creativity has focused on physical making. Perhaps I am just too close to the subject of the online written word to have the necessary perspective to look at it objectively - my day-to-day work involves managing web content for an art and design museum. Whatever the reason, I am happy to say that this article caused me to pause and reflect on how the internet has affected the creative world of reading and writing.

Clearly the internet is a vast place, so when Cottrell says 'only 1 per cent is of value to the intelligent general reader', this still reflects a lot of writing and explains why he considers now to be 'a great time to be a reader' - a fact I had not consciously considered before.

As well as commercial sites such as the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, the Financial Times and the London Review of Books, Cottrell explains that much great writing is by professionals 'who find the time, the motivation and the opportunity to write for anyone who cares to read' by blogging.

I had an 'ah-a' moment when he explained that he considers businessmen and politicians to be the worst bloggers because they are afraid to be wrong. He quotes Felix Salmon, Reuters’ finance blogger, as saying 'If you are never wrong, you are never interesting'... something well worth remembering when one is going through a period of writers'/bloggers' block.

The decline in the role of the publisher is concisely explained by Cottrell as due to the publication no longer being the 'unit of comsuption' which leaves the article free to take on a life of its own and the reader free to read it on their own terms, where they choose (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, Flipboard and my own favourite, Instapaper). Indeed, Cottrell optimistically envisages a world where the reader is free to directly reward the writer, cutting out the middleman and thus removing then publisher from the equation altogether.

Another insight of Cottrell's I had not previously considered is that 'we overvalue new writing... and we undervalue older writing'. He anticipates a possible disruptive force of 'archives editors' bringing less current writing to the fore, of potential relevance to museum digital content. He also explains how the web has created a counter-intuitive move towards brevity with authors no longer compelled to write to fill a set amount of space, allowing for the rise of short digital books.

After reading the article, it stood out in my mind that Robert Cottrell's job title is give as 'editor' of The Browser, a title which I feel has more gravity than the now often used term 'curator'.

Much has been said in recent years of the rise of the term 'curator' in the digital sphere to refer to someone who 'collect[s]... and assemble[s]' material for digital publication. Unsurprisingly this has caused quite a stir in the world of museums and galleries where some staff cling to their traditional meaning of 'curator' and are reluctant to yield to any changes.

Personally love the way words change and morph over time - a process clearly necessary to keep a language living, breathing and relevant - I can't help but feel that there is something wonderful in observing a word in a state of flux as it evolves into something new. And, perhaps controversally, I also think it is a good thing that 'curation' has been embraced in this new way and has become something the 'cool kids' aspire to.

Yet with this rise of the word 'curator', there is a flip side where much of what is called online 'curating' is just good, old-fashioned, editing.

Perhaps being an editor is just no longer something many people in digital sphere aspire to? Tellingly, in this Guardian article, Micke McCue, founder and CEO of Flipboard, even talks about people 'curating' their own digital magazine. Perhaps over time 'curate' will replace 'edit' altogether in the digital realm... but I am pleased that we are not there yet.