Shoe Bags + Self Interview

blue shoe bags

So, I made some shoe bags.

Why?

I want to protect my nice shoes from dust and cat hair when I’m not wearing them. I also want to protect clean clothes from dirty shoe soles when packing my shoes in a suitcase.

Shouldn’t nice shoes come with shoe bags from the manufacturer?

Some companies include them, some don’t. Plus, sometimes I buy used shoes, and used shoes don’t always come with bags.

Aren’t used shoes gross?

When they are taken care of properly and in good condition, I don’t think so. I would rather have a really nice pair of used shoes than a crummy pair of new shoes for the same money. Full-grain leather shoes with the type of construction that allows for soles to be replaced can be expensive, and shoes don’t grow on trees. Really nice shoes can be found at a fraction of the full retail price at thrift stores and eBay. Do some research, figure out your size, and be ready when a good deal comes along.

shoe bags with shoes inside

If they don’t grow on trees, where do shoes come from?

Many shoes “grow” on cows, and the animal lover in me isn’t quite sure what to think about this. I know, humans have been wearing animal skin for eons, and at certain points in human history, our lives probably depended on using animal skin for protection.

But, we live in a modern world with alternatives and synthetic leather, wouldn’t those be better than using real leather?

Synthetic materials seem (I don’t know for certain) as if they would be bad for the environment to produce (I do recognize that large scale livestock production probably isn’t so good for the environment either). But, synthetic materials don’t break in or wear like nice leather. Leather may crease, but synthetics crack, and peel, and look awful…meh….first world problems…but at least we wouldn’t be killing animals for their skin. Like I said, I’m not sure what to think about this. I guess if we are killing the cows for food, we might as well use the hides for shoes…?

shoe bags closed with shoes inside

Isn’t this a blog about sewing menswear, why so much shoe talk?

Because I like shoes. And if I’m spending all this time making clothes for myself, my shoe game had better be decent. Part of dressing like a grown up is wearing grown up shoes.

Why don’t you make shoes too?

Because my wife won’t let me. The machines are too big and expensive. The learning curve would be huge, and I don’t have time.

If you buy decent quality shoes to begin with and take good care of them, they will last a long time. You will probably save money in the long run. Put them in shoe bags and use shoe trees when you aren’t wearing them. Also, give your shoes a proper cleaning/conditioning when they need it. Nobody likes stinky feet or stinky shoes.

Spectrum o’ Shirts

hanging-shirts

Since this is a project about creating a wardrobe, I thought I would do a quick overview of where I am at as far as shirts go. I finally have a small collection of everyday casual shirts. The aqua/green-ish chambray in front, and the narrow blue and white striped shirt behind it are the two newest additions. I started work on them a month or two ago.

folded-chambray-shirt

I consider all of these shirts to be casual. The collars are on the short side, making them a little awkward to wear with a tie, and the button down collars aren’t something I would wear in a formal setting anyway. Plus, the fabrics themselves aren’t exactly the refined type from which proper dress shirts are made.

That being said, these are exactly the type of shirts I use most often, and have very few occasions to wear something more formal. I work from home, so I do not need dressier shirts for business, and hardly ever need to wear a suit. As a result, I’ve focused my efforts so far on everyday basic shirts that work with denim as well as a variety of chinos.

folded-striped-shirt

This doesn’t mean that I don’t like more formal clothing. In fact, there are times when I wish I had a collection of suits and ties hanging in my closet, but simply don’t have the need at this point. Since my sewing time is limited, I try to spend my time making things that are useful and that fit within the context of my everyday life.

shirt-sleeves

So…what to make next is the question. I may take a break from shirts for a while. I’m good on the denim front, but would like to make one more pair of chinos in a dark gray. The other option is to dive straight into jacket/blazer making. I made an attempt at a pattern a while back and may revisit that project next.

Worn in and Faded Denim

folded, raw, selvedge denim

folded, broken in, worn, selvedge denim

This is the exact same pair of jeans. I made these three years ago this January. While I don’t wear them everyday, and almost never wear them during the warmer months in Tennessee (June – October), these are my main go-to pair of jeans. The denim, which is a 12.5 oz, 100% cotton, blue line selvedge denim from Cone Mills, was very stiff and unforgiving to begin with, but once it broke in, transformed into an amazingly soft and comfortable fabric.

raw selvedge denim front

worn, broken in, selvedge denim front

I love seeing the progression from “clean slate” unwashed raw denim to something more personal that reflects a little bit about who I am. Denim and other indigo dyed fabrics are special in this regard. When cared for properly, they take on a life of their own and become more beautiful over time.

raw, selvedge denim back

worn, broken in selvedge denim back

One of my goals with learning how to make clothing is to try and create garments that last. I am much more interested in “timeless” (at least in my lifetime) menswear basics than I am fashion trends. While some may argue that raw denim has been in the spotlight for the last decade or so, I’d point out that this denim was woven on antique looms that date back to the 1940′s, in a plant that started operations in 1905 in North Carolina, long before the current trend started.

For me, the focus is on a quality American made fabric in its purist form, and a garment made in a way that stands up to the test of time, rather than any trend or particular movement (i.e. heritage) in the fashion industry.

selvedge denim coin pocket

broken in, worn, selvedge denim coin pocket

So far I haven’t had to make any repairs, but may need to reinforce the edge of the front pockets where contact with my wedding ring and keys are starting to fray the pocket lining. Hopefully these have a few more years of service in them.

Here is to a new year, and to making things with a purpose.

New Shirts, Mid-Project Update

mens shirt backs

I started work on two new shirts this week, and while these colors and fabric weights are more appropriate for spring and summer, I’ve had this shirting fabric in my stash for over a year and have been dying to use it. The left shirt is made out of a super light weight (almost see through) blue/white, yarn-dyed, cotton, and the shirt on the right is a green-ish/aqua chambray, also 100% cotton.

mens shirt fabric pieces

Since each of my projects takes several weeks to complete (sometimes longer), I decided to start doing some mid-project updates part way through the construction process. So far I have sewn the shirt backs and fronts to the yokes, and nearly finished making the collars. I like the casual and somewhat preppy look of button down collars, so the last step for the collars is sewing the buttonholes before attaching the collars to their stands, and then the stands to the shirt necklines.

shirt collars

Every time I start making shirts I pull out my copy of Shirtmaking by David Coffin. While I’m always looking to learn new things and try new techniques, this book is my “go to” for construction methods. Speaking of actually putting the shirt together, my focus this time around, and hopefully from here on out, is to sit back and really try to enjoy the construction process.

All too often, I get carried away with simply trying to finish a project, and forget that one of the reasons I started making my own clothes is that I enjoy working with my hands and creating. If all I wanted to do was acquire a new shirt, it would be WAY easier and probably less expensive to just go buy one.

Happy sewing and happy holidays!

Industrial Buttonhole Attachment

Industrial Buttonhole Attachment

There is lots of information about buttonhole attachments for old household Singers, but after a little research, I didn’t find many people talking about buttonhole options for industrial machines. Sure, there are industrial machines you can buy that do nothing but sew buttonholes, and while I would love to own one of those machines, they are expensive and take up a lot of space.

These attachments have been around for a while and seem to fit just about any single needle, straight stitch, industrial sewing machine.

Industrial Buttonhole Attachment

You can adjust the number of stitches (space between stitches) that make up the buttonhole, as well as the length of the buttonhole. The stitching generally turns out more consistent than what is shown below. I may need to adjust the tension on my machine.

Industrial Buttonhole Attachment stitch spacing

The width of the actual stitches can also be adjusted, as well as the cutting space down the center of the buttonhole.

Industrial Buttonhole Attachment stitch spacing

I’ve been using this in any place I need a buttonhole as I don’t like the buttonholes that my household PFAFF makes, but it isn’t perfect. The main issue is that the attachment doesn’t really do a proper “tack” at the top and bottom of the buttonhole. It does a little “side stitch thingy” before stitching each long side of the hole, and I’m not quite sure how this will hold up overtime.

I also wish that the attachment could create a keyhole style buttonhole, but it can only do the standard style hole. My last criticism is that while the attachment can be adjusted to create short and long buttonholes, the longest it can go is around 1″ or 7/8″. For large waistband buttons, I wish it could go just a little bit longer.

Overall though, it gets the job done, and is fairly reliable. I’ve used it on a couple of shirts, and the last two or three pairs of pants I’ve made and all of the buttonholes are still in good condition. For anyone with a basic straight stitch industrial sewing machine, this might be an attachment you want to look into, just to have another option for those pesky buttonholes.

Overdyed Denim Collaboration

Hands in an Indigo Vat

What we’ve got here…is a giant indigo vat. Isn’t it beautiful? I’d love to tell you that I’ve started dyeing my own denim, and that the above indigo vat is mine, but I have to confess that it isn’t. This pot of bubbly indigo goodness belongs to Drew from DIY Vat.

Earlier this year Drew got in touch about doing a collaboration project. He offered to send me some natural colored selvedge denim that he would overdye in his indigo vat, and I would get to make something for myself with the overdyed denim. Pretty awesome deal right? How many opportunities do you have to get to work with custom hand dyed fabric?

I’ve developed a love for indigo dyed garments and fabrics since I started working with denim, which goes back to the beginning of the blog. Although I’ve never worked with indigo dye, I’m fascinated with the fabric dyeing process in general. So obviously I said yes to Drew’s generous offer and I am really excited about the collaboration. He is still dyeing the denim, but offered to do a little interview explaining the process, indigo, and dye vats.

indigo dyed oxford cloth shirt

Taylor: Could you tell us a little about yourself and your blog?

Drew: I’m a father of two and I live with my wife in Topanga Canyon, CA. I teach at a local university and I work as an interpreter in the Los Angeles area. DIY Vat is not focused on one thing exclusively. A little bit style blog, little bit daddy blog, little bit maker blog. I also occasionally get on my soapbox about the virtues of knowing who makes your clothes and how those workers are treated — but I try not to be too self righteous about it.

Taylor: What inspired you to start dyeing with indigo?

Drew: I had read quite a lot about the process around the time my obsession with jeans began. When my wife and I were getting married we did a lot of things ourselves including the invitations. We started a little vat in our back yard and dyed a bunch of watercolor paper — watching the oxidization process fascinated us. I started playing around with the paper, trying a bunch of different techniques and marveling at the results. We’ve had a vat going since then.

Taylor: What exactly is a dye vat?

Drew: In essence, it’s a vat of deoxygenated water with the PH altered a little. Under these conditions, the pigment undergoes some molecular changes that makes it cling to organic material. There is also quite a lot of history, folklore, and cultural significance behind indigo dyeing. I make absolutely no claim to be an expert on the topic — much of what I know I’ve learned from the book Indigo: From Egyptian Mummies to Blue Jeans by Jenny Balfour-Paul.

synthetic indigo crystals

Taylor: Are there different types of indigo?

Drew: Yes! You can find the pigment in a handful of plants that grow all around the world — the shade of blue you can achieve from this natural indigo depends on the species. Most things we see that are indigo dyed are made with synthetic indigo. Synthesized in a lab, it is chemically purer than what you can get strictly from harvesting from nature. It’s like the Walter White extra pure blue meth, but for making jeans. Natural indigo, as you might expect, has the higher status of the two.

Taylor: Could you briefly describe the dyeing process?

Drew: If you’re using natural dye, the process can take months. Growing and harvesting the plants and composting their leaves is one thing, but the vat has to ferment for a while before the indigo will take to anything. I’ve only ever used synthetic indigo so the natural process eludes me, but I imagine there are some parallels with home brewing. Synthetic indigo comes in a crystalized form which dissolves more readily. All you need is a large enough container full of warm water and a kit you can get at many art supply stores. Janome makes a box kit that can have you up and running in just a few hours.

Once it’s ready, the basic technique is to get your fabric wet, wring out any excess water, and put it in the vat. The next steps require a little more finesse — after you remove the fabric, you have to hang it open and make sure there are no folds or creases. Anywhere that doesn’t touch air won’t oxidize well and, thus, wont turn as blue as it can.

indigo_clothes_line

Taylor: What are your future goals and plans for your blog and dyeing projects?

Drew: My goals for the blog are not grand. I committed to a three day a week posting schedule a few months ago and have done well. The challenge now is to make sure the quality doesn’t drop. I also want to network with other bloggers with similar interests. I’d like to collaborate with others on projects like the one you and I are working on. I’m also kicking around the idea of a clothing swap project.

As for dyeing, we’re going strong with indigo. For my wife’s birthday we’re inviting some friends and their children over for a dye party. I am, however, itching to experiment with other natural dyes — weld specifically, so I can make Lincoln Green (interesting read here).

shades of indigo

All images provided by Drew.

Canvas Roll Top Backpack, Version 2.0

Roll Top Canvas Backpack, front

This backpack is roughly the same dimensions as the first pack I posted earlier this summer, but I changed the pattern and construction to allow for some different options for pockets and shape.

  • Simple roll top design
  • Made from heavy cotton duck canvas
  • Bottom portion brushed with latex for durability
  • Cotton webbing, with snap hook closures
  • Billow style front pockets are slightly expandable
  • Added side pockets
  • Fully lined, with removable back foam insert (for more or less padding/structure)
  • Carry-on size, fits in overhead bin storage, and under the seat on airplanes.

Roll Top Canvas Backpack, back

I am really happy with the way this turned out. Before sewing a single stitch, I tried to think through the entire construction process. My goal was to keep the construction as simple as possible: no button holes, no basting, no pinning, no changing sewing machine feet, and no pressing. I wanted simple, efficient, no nonsense sewing, and I was able to do just that.

Obviously that approach won’t work for every project, and I’m certainly not knocking basting or pressing when they are necessary, but I tried to factor the need for those practices into the design to eliminate their necessity from the beginning.

I want to get back to making clothing soon, but right now I’m having too much fun with backpacks!

Roll Top Canvas Backpack, side

Roll Top Backpack Prototype

reverse denim backpack

I have a thing for backpacks. Actually, I like all sorts of bags as long as they are useful and serve a purpose. Maybe it’s their utility, maybe there is some nostalgic, deep rooted tie to my school days. After all, a properly packed backpack that had the right books, homework, and lunch for the day ahead meant the difference between having a great day and a crummy day at school. The backpack in many ways is a survival tool, and I love that there are seemingly endless variations on the same concept.

As a result of my obsession, I’ve decided to spend some time working out the design for a new pack. I had a great time making my waxed canvas backpack a while back, but as always, there is room for improvement.

reverse denim backpack

This is a basic roll top design made with reverse denim. I had lots of denim scraps lying around, which is really the only reason I used denim for this prototype. The next version will probably be made with heavy canvas instead. It features several exterior pockets as well as a few simple interior pockets for small items. The backpack is fully lined with another layer of reverse denim. All of the webbing is cotton.

Most of the pockets need to be re-evaluated. The loop/button closure on the outside isn’t ideal, but I was simply using supplies and materials that I had on hand for this first version. There are SO many things to think about in terms of webbing placement, weight distribution, finishing seams, pocket closures, etc. I actually love this challenge, and have already starting making plans for the next version.

I recently had a chance to “field test” the pack on a quick trip to Philadelphia and the surrounding area. It makes a great carry-on, and has enough space for three, possibly four nights worth of clothing depending on how you pack.

reverse denim backpack

A few iPhone shots from the road. The upper left is Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence was signed. I truly enjoyed seeing this historic building and being in the same room where history was made.

The bottom right is the Reading Terminal Market, home of DiNiC’s, which won Adam Richman’s Best Sandwich in America in 2012. It’s a roasted pork sandwich, with a broccoli rabe topping and sharp provolone cheese. Serious business. It was only 10:00 in the morning, but I had to have one. If there is one thing I like better than backpacks, it’s a well crafted sandwich :)

Taylor Tailor on Denim Hunters

Denim Hunters Screen Shot

I’ve never seen any other fabric elicit the type of passion and dedication from people that denim does. There are entire websites, online forums, and numerous books all dedicated to denim. New boutique denim brands seem to appear out of nowhere on a monthly basis.

Even though I haven’t made anything with denim in a while, it is still by far my favorite fabric to work with, and is really what got me interested in learning how to make my own clothes. My interest in making shirts, chinos, backpacks, etc. all started with a pair of jeans.

So I was thrilled when Matt Wilson, from the online lifestyle magazine Denim Hunters, contacted me and wanted to do an interview about my sewing projects and work with denim. The magazine focuses on denim and jeans, but also has articles about other well crafted products, and denim related events and stores. Matt did a wonderful job with the piece. You can read the interview here.

Lightweight Summer Chinos

summer_chinos_1

While summer in Tennessee can be beautiful, the weather is usually hot, humid, and sticky. When I first moved here from a drier climate about six years ago, I used to joke that I needed a snorkel to go outside. The air was that thick, or so it seemed to me at the time. My body has acclimated somewhat, but when the temperature reaches 70 degrees I start sweating. At 90 degrees I am ready to pass out.

In an effort to stay cool during the summer months, I decided to make some lightweight spring/summer pants, or pantaloons, chinos, trousers, breeches, slacks…whatever you want to call them. On a side note, I think all the different names we have for “pants” are sort of funny. I’m sure there are some historical and cultural reasons behind the different words, and I bet that there are people willing to argue the finer points that distinguish pantaloons from trousers. If you are a pants expert, let me know.

I found a really nice summer weight twill for the project. The fabric, which was originally off-white, is an organic cotton/hemp blend. Like my t-shirts, I decided to dye it for some variety. This time around though, I dyed the fabric first before cutting and sewing, rather than the completed garment. The dyeing process is always a gamble as far as the final color goes, but I am happy with the way these colors turned out.

summer_chinos_fabric_dye

The main change I made to my pattern was adding a cut-on waistband. So rather than a separate waistband piece, I extended my pattern at the top of my pants by the height of my original waistband. Then I finished it off with a facing that was sewn to the top, folded to the inside, and top-stitched down. This didn’t change the fit at all, but I wanted to try and see if the construction was a little easier than attaching a regular waistband. I’m not completely sure which method is actually easier. They both have some tricky areas, but I think the cut-on version might be a little faster.

summer_chinos_fit

My plan is to work on some basic “polo” shirts next. I already have the fabric, but need to work on the pattern and choose some dye colors.