Clothes My Mother Made Me

3 photos of Chuleenan

Over the past week, I’ve been visiting my parents, who now live in Delaware. (I was born and raised in upstate New York so I don’t really have much history with this state.) During my trip, I’ve had a chance to see each of my three sisters (no boys!), which has been great. I haven’t had a chance to do any sewing since I’ve been here. My mom has two sewing machines so I thought I might be able to sew during my visit. I did bring the skirt I started before I left. (I wrote one post about it here: Bemberg Lining for a Skirt.) But with various family members coming through at different times, I’d rather spend time with them. I did flip through many old family albums though – so instead of blogging about my skirt, I’ll post about some of the clothes my mother made me!

This brief selection includes photos taken on family trips and at our old house in Horseheads, New York. I lived there with my family from kindergarten to fourth grade, then we moved to Elmira, New York, right next to Horseheads. I lived in Elmira from fifth grade through high school. My mom sewed nearly all our clothes when I was growing up. I wore stuff she made up until seventh grade when it became uncool and I just had to have jeans from a store.

There aren’t too many photos of me by myself. My dad mostly took group shots of all four of us kids or us and my mom.

Not everyone was thrilled to be photographed in the photo below so I cropped out my sisters. We were at a flower garden somewhere. This is a dress my mom made with an elastic neckline and cap sleeves.


This photo was taken at our home in Horseheads. I’m in the middle, my older sister to the left, and sister number three on the other side. My youngest sister is off-screen. I’m guessing that we’re smiling at her antics. See that door with the white metal frame in front of the wood one behind us? That was a dangerous door. One day playing hide and seek with the neighborhood kids, I ran out the front door to find a hiding place. My hand missed the metal bar in the middle and went right through the glass. My mom got a neighbor to watch my sisters and off we went to the emergency room. I sat in the backseat with a box of tissues holding a wad of them on my hand and telling my mom not to drive too fast because she didn’t have her driver’s license yet. I was seven years old and got seven stitches in my left hand – I still have a scar there – just below my middle finger.

Three sisters-horseheads

Here I am in a two-piece jumpsuit with puffy sleeves. I don’t remember this outfit but it is cute. I don’t think I’d wear a midriff-baring outfit today!

Jumpsuit - horseheads

A few summers we went to New Jersey so I’m guessing this may be New Jersey. Here I am in a swimsuit mom made.


Christmas plaid! Clearly my mom made us a lot of dresses. I imagine with four girls those were the quickest things to make. I wore a lot more dresses back then. Now I mostly wear pants and skirts and I only wear dresses on occasion.

Christmas plaid dress

I’m guessing I was in fifth grade here – this photo of my Halloween princess outfit was taken at our home in Elmira. I remember the sewing pattern – it was likely Simplicity or Butterick. This was made with pink flannel (gotta stay warm when you trick or treat!), trimmed with gold rickrack, and tied at the waist with a gold ribbon.


Can you guess which one is me? I’m wearing the blue culottes and knee socks. My youngest sister is on the left wearing the pink barrettes and top.

Culottes - 4 sisters

Did your mother sew? Did she make clothes for you when you were growing up? Did you have any favorite outfits? Do you sew for your kids? Feel free to share links to any photos or blog posts!

My Unofficial Me Made May 2013 – Week 3

Hey, I made it to Week 3 of Me Made May 2013! As I mentioned in my previous post (“My Unofficial Me Made May Participation: Weeks 1 and 2“), I’m unofficially participating in this handmade wearable challenge.  So far I’ve only had one repeat – wearing my red hat twice. But I think I’ll be running out of things I’ve made pretty soon. Meanwhile, here’s a recap of what I wore on days 15 through 21.

Day 15 - Wool cape made from a 1980s Vogue pattern I got for 25 cents
Day 15 – Wool cape (fabric from Britex Fabrics). I used a 1980s Vogue pattern 1980s I got for 25 cents.

Day 15:  The mornings can be chilly in San Francisco – so on this work day I wore this as my coat. The hat is a cotton Kangol my youngest sister got me for my birthday a few years ago.

Day 16 - Wearing my trench coat, which I made from Christine Haynes book Chic & Simple Sewing
Day 16 – Wearing my trench coat, which I made from Christine Haynes book Chic & Simple Sewing

Day 16:  I wore one of my favorite jackets. I got the wool fabrics from the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse – the bias tape is a wool houndstooth. I love the big pockets on this coat. I like to wear this wool hat with it. I got the hat on sale for $1 at Urban Outfitters about six years ago. Now I wish I bought more!

Day 17 - Cotton print bias cut skirt - fabric from Britex Fabrics
Day 17 – Cotton print bias cut skirt – fabric from Britex Fabrics in San Francisco

Day 17: I love the fabric on this skirt. I wore a thick-brimmed black vintage straw hat and a vintage bracelet with this skirt.

Day 18 - knit top
Day 18 – knit top

Day 18: The fabric for this top was an imported cotton stretch knit from Italy, which I bought as a remnant from Britex Fabrics in San Francisco. It was going to be a really hot Saturday and I wanted to keep my arms covered. (I wore this sun hat all day – keeping my face in the shade as I listened to a lot of good performances at the Malcolm X Jazz Festival in Oakland.)

I initially had a piece of wide elastic at the bottom of this top but it didn’t look very good on me. It was too poofy on the hips so I took out the elastic and I either belt it or tie a knot like I did here.

Day 19 - My repeat day - I wore this hat again.
Day 19 – My repeat day – I wore this hat again.

Day 19: I also wore this hat on Day 4, More details on the hat are in my first Me Made May post.

Day 20 - Knit tunic and bolero - pattern from the book Alabama Studio Sewing + Design
Day 20 – Knit tunic and bolero – pattern from the book Alabama Studio Sewing + Design

Day 20: I wore my red knit tunic (hand pleating on the neckline!) with the black knit bolero, which I wore on Day 10. The hat is a really lovely vintage hat with wool lace that was made in France. I use a hat pin that I stick through a pony tail in the back to keep it in place.

Day 21 - Vest I made from home dec remnant I got a Britex Fabrics
Day 21 – Vest I made from home dec remnant I got a Britex Fabrics

Day 21: I wore this vest with a vintage velvet hat.

And that concludes Week 3 of my unofficial Me Made May 2013 participation. I’m not so sure how much longer I’ll be keeping this up but it’s been fun so far. It’s also been a good opportunity to show my hat collection. I’ve worn 18 different hats over the past 21 days!

I’ve drafted people at work to take my picture at the office. On the weekends, it’s been hubby or a mirror. ;o)


Sewing Books at the Library: Improv Sewing, Sew Retro and More

I love the public library. It’s a great source of free information for everyone. It’s also a wonderful place to check out new sewing books. Right now I’ve got five books out, four from the Berkeley Public Library and one from the San Francisco Public Library.

I flip through the books to see how many things I’d like to make and whether I’d learn any new techniques and ideas. Oftentimes I stick post-it notes on the pages of things I’d like to make or ideas that inspire me. If there are a lot of post-its, then I’ll very likely buy the book, which is what happened with Alabama Sewing + Design, reviewed here.

Here’s my roundup of the other books I’m reading:

Sew Retro: A Stylish History of the Sewing Revolution + 25 Vintage‐Inspired Projects for the Modern Girl by Judi Ketteler ($24.99). This is a fun book – a brief romp through fashion history (1880s to today) interspersed with profiles or interviews with women designers of the decades – from the 19th century’s Ellen Curtis Demorest to today’s Amy Butler. Alongside those pages, the author has projects (and patterns for them) that are supposed to be reminiscent of each time period. It’s a bit of a hybrid book with more pages devoted to history and people rather than sewing projects.

The projects were pretty basic, ranging from bags and purses to pillows and coasters – all things a beginning seamstress could easily handle. I’m not really interested in making most of the things in the book because I don’t need any more potholders, aprons, bags, etc. But I did like the needlecase – a nice design to store your hand sewing needles and thread snips.

Flowers I made from Petersham ribbon

Chic on a Shoestring: Simple to Sew Vintage-Style Accessories by Mary Jane Baxter ($22.95). This 2011 book has many ideas for embellishing tops and shoes – adding buttons, lace, rickrack, you name it – to refresh or refashion your existing wardrobe. Some of Baxter’s ideas aren’t really my style though. For example, I wouldn’t trim a hat with small pom poms or put lace doilies on a top. The author is a milliner.

The book also has several ideas for making accessories: belts from old neckties and necklaces as wells as detachable collars from a variety of materials — shoelaces, ribbon, fabric, beads and lace. I liked her idea for making flowers using Petersham ribbon that I made a few last month (see photo). I’ve attached clips to the back so I can wear them in my hair. She put several flowers on a purse, which looked quite elegant.

Sewn by Hand: Two Dozen Projects Stitched with Needle & Thread by Susan Wasinger ($19.95). This book has nice photos and illustrations on hand stitching, covering how to make knots (the single-hand, tangled knot vs. the two-hand knot) and a variety of hand stitches (running stitch, back stitch, stem stitch, blanket stitch, slipstich, overcast stitch, and so on). The book’s projects are all very nicely designed and photographed. Some of the usual things featured in sewing books are here: a tote bag and potholders. But the author gives them unique touches, such as the covered buttons and rope strap on the tote bag and the potholders with smocking.

Improv Sewing: 101 Fast, Fun, and Fearless Projects: Dresses, Tunics, Scarves, Skirts, Accessories, Pillows, Curtains, and More by Nicole Blum and Debra Immergut ($19.95). I put a slew of post-its on the pages of this book, which means that this one’s a keeper and I’ll definitely buy my own copy.

The book is full of simple designs for clothes (dresses, skirts, and tops), home projects, accessories and gifts. You make your own pattern for tops using your own shirt (or one you get from a thrift store if you don’t want to cut one up) as pattern pieces. Once you have your torso pattern piece, you reuse it again and again for the other designs

The majority of the book is devoted to clothes that you can make fairly quickly because they don’t have very many pattern pieces – and they look good! Some of the skirts use jersey knit fabric with foldover elastic over the waistband (no hemming necessary). How easy is that?

Sometimes I’m really impatient with sewing so it’ll be great to make something that I can finish in an afternoon. At more than 300 pages and with clear instructions and plenty of photos, it’s well worth the cover price. Oh, and the authors share a blog Improv Diary (in addition to their individual blogs) and they have an Improv Sewing Flickr group for folks to share what they’ve made.

Book Review: ‘Overdressed’ by Elizabeth L. Cline

I knew something was wrong last year when I saw the sale price of a floor-length black cotton skirt at H&M: five dollars. I remember asking myself: How was it possible to make and sell a long skirt – even with an elastic waist and lightweight fabric – for only five dollars?

I really couldn’t answer the question – though lurking in the back of my mind was the thought that labor costs must be really, really low. Despite that thought, I’m embarrassed to admit, I couldn’t resist the price and I bought it.

Now after reading Elizabeth Cline’s eye-opening book Overdressed (Portfolio/Penguin), I know why that skirt was so cheap. As as a result I don’t think I’ll ever buy anything else from H&M. (OK, I confess that that’s not that much of a sacrifice. I was never a regular H&M shopper because of the slipshod construction of the clothes – stripes that usually don’t line up, seams that looked like they would will come apart in a few washings, cheap fabric, and so on.)

The author spells out why chain stores such as H&M can sell clothes at such low prices – volume. After all when you can place an order of fifty thousand or a hundred thousand outfits from a factory, you can sell it at a low price and still make a profit. Keep in mind that people working in those factories are making their country’s minimum wage, which is likely not a living wage. For example in 2010, garment workers in Bangladesh demanded a 200 percent increase in their wages, which meant $71 a month. In the end, they got about $43 a month.

H&M in San Francisco

And with new stock arriving in some stores a couple of times a week or even everyday (yes, Cline says “H&M and Forever 21 get daily shipments of new styles.”), we have “fast fashion,” which encourages shoppers to buy more clothes more often. But this also means that smaller companies can’t compete because they can’t place such huge orders and must charge significantly more for their wares.

The book is packed with revelatory facts about our gargantuan consumption for cheap fashion and its negative impact on the fashion industry and the environment. Overdressed also provides a succinct overview of how the fashion industry has changed and how our attitude toward clothes has evolved over the past century.

“We are buying and hoarding roughly twenty billion garments per year as a nation,” says Cline, who also points out that the United States “now makes 2 percent of the clothing its consumers purchase, down from about 50 percent in 1990.”

I don’t know about you, but my jaw dropped when I read those numbers.

But Overdressed isn’t just about facts and figures, the author also includes her own personal experiences as a consumer of inexpensive clothes, confessing “For a decade, I only bought cheap fashion…” paying “less than $30 per item on average for each piece of clothing” in her closet.

Cline’s fascinating book is a combination of her first-person perspective and meticulous research (interviewing many people in the fashion industry in New York and traveling to to various places, including garment factories in China, defunct textile mills in the South, and a unionized garment factory in the Dominican Republic). She also devotes a chapter to the “afterlife of cheap clothes – and it isn’t pretty. A Brooklyn Salvation Army distribution center processes an average of five TONS of outcast clothing every day. Cline notes that every year “Americans throw away 12.7 million tons or 68 pounds of textiles per person.”

We can’t recycle that many clothes, folks. It’s just not possible.

Overdressed tries to end on a positive note by discussing people who design, sew, or refashion clothes. Cline describes taking sewing classes with Sarah Kate Beaumont of Very Sweet Life, and buys her first sewing machine a few weeks later. She visits stores that feature clothes made domestically and/or produced from sustainable fabrics, including the Echo Park Independent Co-op in Los Angeles and Kaight in New York, and says that local production is growing because “designers are realizing it gives them far beter quality control and speed to market.”

It’s these last chapters that are a boon to those who make their own clothes or who buy clothes from local designers. So in the spirit of supporting local design, here’s my plug for Field Day, an Oakland company whose mission is “to create an ecologically friendly, handmade, unique and beautiful world” while “[s]triving to minimize textile waste by offering wearables made from sustainable materials.”

Who are your favorite local designers? Feel free to add your suggestions in the comments section!

Chuleenan Svetvilas

UPDATE – October 15, 2012

I joined in a great Twitter chat (#EFCSRchat) today with Elizabeth Cline, Eileen Fisher, and Green Eileen, the recycled clothing initiative of the Eileen Fisher Community Foundation.

At the end of the chat I asked Elizabeth Cline (@thegoodcloset) “what do you tell your friends who are wearing #fastfashion?” She replied: “Lead by example, turn them on to ethical stores/websites. Go to for ideas.”

She also tweeted a follow-up reply: “check out my shopping directory for a list of alternatives.” Here’s a link to the shopping directory on her website, which includes “those fashion designers/brands who not only have a strong ethical vision, but are design/style leaders as well.” (You can send suggestions for the shopping directory to Elizabeth at elizabeth.l.cline AT

A few other pertinent tweets from Elizabeth from today’s #ERCSRchat:

” Even if you’re not into fashion, clothes matter! Buying responsibly has huge positive impacts on jobs/environment.”

“[W]e need to stop buying things we know are going to fall apart because textiles/fashion are huge polluters.”

“Ethical fashion has many components: Fair pay, environmental awareness, and smart/sustainable design.”

“It’s important for consumers to have their own sense of style NOT let the fashion industry dictate our choices.”

” Shopping compulsively and buying deals gets you nowhere fast. Check out my former closet:

“Now, fashion is split into the super cheap vs. insanely overpriced. We need more fairly priced, well-made clothes.”

And some of the comments from Eileen Fisher (@EILEENFISHER):

“We read in the book that clothes should be viewed as investments, not as trendy throw away items. Couldn’t agree with it more.”

“Problem is that we get into the habit of asking “why pay good $ for clothes that aren’t going to be in style nxt season?”

From Green Eileen (@GreenEileenShop)

“Best tip: Think of the Future! Buying fast fashion goodies offers instant gratification, but what abt long-term?”

“our teams fave OVERDRESSED quote is: “We are all stewards of our clothing, responsible for seeing it…

And finally, from Dr. Susan Rubin (@DrsuRu):

“If our kids understood where clothing came from, they might re-think their shopping choices. Once again, similar to food.”

“As with food, stick with higher quality clothing and it will serve you better. That’s why I shop at @GreenEileenShop.”

“Many Americans use shopping as a drug. Need to become more mindful and discover that less is more.”


Book Review: ‘Alabama Studio Sewing + Design’ by Natalie Chanin

I recently checked out this great book on hand sewing from the public library: Alabama Studio Sewing + Design: A Guide to Hand-Sewing an Alabama Chanin Wardrobe by Natalie Chanin. It focuses on creating a hand-sewn wardrobe – yes, everything from bolero jackets and wraps to dresses and skirts of varying lengths – from cotton jersey fabric. The various pieces can be layered for a striking appearance or worn with a pair of jeans for a more casual look.

These are all designs from Alabama Chanin, where a hand-sewn and hand-embroidered tank top retails for more than $1,000. But you can make your own versions with this book!

The photos of the models wearing the clothes in this book are gorgeous. And there are nice illustrations of the various stretch stitches you can use when you are hand sewing.

A couple pages from ‘Alabama Studio Sewing + Design’

The author recommends using button craft thread for hand sewing because it’s one of the strongest threads. It’s made “with a polyester core surrounded by vary finely spun cotton yarn,” writes Chanin.

I was so enamored of the clothes in this library book that I went ahead and ordered it from Amazon (and paid sales tax for the first time on an Amazon-purchased book – yes, California’s online sales tax law went into effect last weekend). I can’t cut into the patterns that come with a library book because other people will be checking it out. So I just had to buy it.

Featured in the book & available to buy on Alabama Chanin’s website

What makes the clothes unique is the appliqué work, beading, stencils, and embroidering. The stencils and various designs for embroidering and beading are all provided in the book along with patterns for the various clothes. You can also purchase the stencils from Alabama Chanin’s store. Cutting out the stencils yourself is certainly time-consuming so you may want to spring for a stencil if you intend to reuse it or just want to spare yourself the tediousness of cutting out the designs.

I was so inspired that when I saw that the Fabric Outlet in San Francisco was having a sale this week (everything 40 percent off!), I went shopping for some black cotton jersey. I also picked up several spools of button thread. I’m not sure if I’m going to hand sew the entire thing – my zigzag stitch on my sewing machine may be employed for this endeavor. But I’m certainly going to give it serious consideration.

I’ll be sure to post about what I make from this book. Though it may take a l-o-o-o-ng time because of the hand sewing!

Chuleenan Svetvilas

C Sews StyleEye – Prints! 23 August 2012

I’ve seen many interesting prints over the past few weeks. Here are some that caught my eye in San Francisco and Berkeley. I spotted these women on the street, on the BART platform, and outside a grocery store. You can see my previous StyleEye posts here.

Most of these women are in motion so they aren’t always in focus but I think you can see why they caught my eye. Enjoy!

I like the print on this jacket – rather alligator like (spotted in Union Square, SF).
Great palette of bright colors along with black stripes (seen on steps in the Montgomery BART station).
This is a vintage dress – unique fabric (photo taken in Berkeley).
I love this jacket’s “plaid” pattern (seen in downtown San Francisco).
Cool print on this top (seen at a Tully’s coffee in San Francisco)
This skirt was a chiffon or silk fabric (spotted in Berkeley).
Lovely flowing skirt (seen in downtown San Francisco)
I like the combination of grey and lemon yellow polka dots on this silk top (seen on the BART escalator in San Francisco)

All Things Vintage in Oakland

This is my favorite place to browse and find vintage hats in person. It’s truly a hat lover’s delight with a wide variety of styles in excellent condition – everything from wool hats trimmed with feathers and sequins to bonnets with velvet ribbons and netting. But hats are just one of many things All Things Vintage in Oakland, Calif. carries. You’ll also find plenty of clothes, shoes, and accessories, including a range of vintage jewelry.

The only catch is that the store is only open two weekends a month, 10 am to 4 pm. The two lovely ladies, Claudia and Lucy, who opened the store in 2009, have full-time jobs so it’s essentially a labor of love. They call it their “hobby.” In fact, Lucy told me in an email, “We both have so much fun meeting our customers and finding our merchandise that the store is not work for us.”

Claudia and Lucy of All Things Vintage

Claudia and Lucy love to go to estate and garage sales, flea markets, auctions, Goodwill, and other places to hunt for their wares. They also bring back finds from their travels. Claudia goes to Germany twice and year and Lucy often visits family on the East Coast. A good portion of their merchandise is consignment. “Often our vintage-loving customers will bring in their items when they are cleaning their closet,” says Lucy. “We also are approached by people who find us in the web or Yelp.”

I heard about All Things Vintage  last year from the wife of a colleague at work who knew that I wear hats a lot. She had been to the store in the spring and noticed that it had many hats on display. So she gave him a printout of an upcoming sales notice to give to me. And I’m so glad she did – except that each time I go, I can’t resist buying another hat. I was there two weeks ago for a great sale and got two vintage hats at 50 percent off, including tax (a whopping 8.75 % in Oakland), for less than $30. I took these photos during that visit.

The store is having another sale this weekend – so if you’re in the Bay Area, be sure to pay them a visit at 3506 Woodruff Ave. Here’s a list of the weekends they’re open: All Things Vintage Calendar. And bring your checkbook or plenty of cash because they don’t take credit cards.

One of many eye-catching displays
The vintage hats I bought

Vintage jewelry galore!
Hats, clothes and purses on display



C Sews StyleEye 23 Jan. 2012

I saw a lot of fun clothing combinations and nice details over the past month. These photos were snapped in San Francisco – usually in the Financial District or around Union Square during my lunch break or after work.

What you’ll see below is:

  • grey knit tights with a snowflake pattern worn with a knit dress and a fun cat-face backpack – spotted on Market Street, near Powell.
  • a nice detail on the back of a grey sweater – seen on Kearny St. at Sutter.
  • a woman on the BART train holding a rose and wearing aa combination of purple and pink accessories (sunglasses, scarf, purse, arm warmers)
  • and two photos of lovely ladies selling their wares at the Renegade Craft Fair in San Francisco this past December: Laura Bruland of Yes & Yes Designs, wearing a perky Girl Scout outfit (she makes unique jewelry from recycled book covers), and Trinity Cross of Field Day who makes lovely dresses and other clothes from reclaimed fabric. Both companies are based in Oakland, California. (Yay for the East Bay!)
Woman holding a rose on BART
Laura Bruland of Yes & Yes Designs
Trinity Cross of Field Day