Monday, December 12, 2011

Project 21: Clerical Robes

My best friend and business partner Lance Davey learned several months ago that his younger sister was going to be joined in heterosexual matrimony to her second husband and was in need of someone to perform the ceremony. I was unavailable for many reasons which I won't go into here, so my buddy decided to volunteer to tie their knot for them. He signed up for a Universal Life Church ministerial credential and started practicing the solemn-but-joyous look.

When his birthday rolled around, I asked him what me might like as a gift. He said that he could use something to wear when performing his sister's wedding ceremony. I thought it sounded like an excellent challenge, so I accepted eagerly.

What I wanted to do was create a set of clerical garments that made the necessary references to the medieval silhouette, but stayed firmly grounded in modern materials and construction techniques. What would a business suit look like if the fashion trajectory of the 13th century had continued uninterrupted to the present day?

1) Knit fabric would be still have been invented.
2) Jackets would still be lined.
3) Pants would have stayed as casual wear.

The design I came up with was a two-piece look. The inner robe is made of thick cotton jersey. The neckline is wide and finished with a band of the same fabric, as are the sleeves and hem. The sleeves are moderately wide and straight. It is belted with a black twisted rope belt.

The outer robe is made of black wool and is lined with rayon. It is open in the front to reveal the inner robe, has a mandarin collar and flared sleeves.

The stole is made of red silk dupioni, which is both interfaced and lined, so it has substantial weight and drape. Attached to the ends are Celtic knotwork patches purchased from

The Inner Robe

Off The Rack Clerical

Mandarin Collar

Ready for the Runway
At least as soon as he's finished casting whichever spell is making his head glow like that

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Project 20: Hidden Dragon Pants

Recently, one of my friends and co-workers greeted me in the morning with a large piece of beautiful silk with Chinese dragons. He had purchased it on a whim many years ago intending to use it in some project that never came to be. I asked him what he wanted made from it, but he said he just wanted me to have it.

"Lounge pants!" I said.

"What?" he replied.

"You need some fabulous lounge pants to wear on weekend mornings when you've had a sleepover date with one of the nice ladies you meet on the Internet."

"If I say yes to the pants will you stop talking?" he asked.

"Now let's discuss your inseam!" I continued.

He was turning three shades of red, so I relented.

Working with silk is a trip and a half. It's extremely strong, but also comes unraveled at the slightest provocation. It took about a half hour to cut out the pieces and start serging them together. Frankly, I don't know how people work with this kind of fabric without a serger. Oh wait. I used to. It sucked. Total of about three hours start to finish.

Project 19: Jack of the Lantern Shirt

What happened to Project 18, you must be wondering. It's a two-piece look and not quite finished, but I leapt forward when this idea for a stealth Halloween costume came to me. I made an orange broadcloth dress shirt and sewed two big black triangles on the front. With one of my own silk ties on, it looks a little like a jack-o-lantern. When I put my jacket on, it just looks like a brightly-coloured shirt.

This is what I did wrong this time:

  • Put the placket on the wrong side AGAIN!!
  • used my serger to put a rolled hem on the bottom and missed a couple curves! Yikes!

After Halloween, I've offered it to my friend Carmen, who is fond of the colour orange. I'll put princess seams in the front, re-do the rolled hem and cut off the cuffs to three-quarter length and put a rolled hem there also. Oh. And I'll take the triangles off! I think it will look really cute on her.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Someone Like Me

How many times have I broken down sobbing in the last 24 hours over events in Hazard, Kentucky? I've lost count. Rather than just quoting the facts and then spiraling off in an invective-laced tirade I'm going to write down what I imagine the backstory might be as I think about what happened. What follows is a work of speculative fiction until our protagonist goes to his community pool. From there onward it is all too real.

Imagine you were born a boy in rural Kentucky to an ordinary family. You grow up just like the other kids in your neighborhood, but by the time you are three or four years old, your parents notice that you aren't learning things as quickly as the other kids. By the time you're ten you know it too. Everyone else can understand things that you struggle with. Their knowledge and ability rockets off beyond yours and you realize that you'll never be smart. Your parents explain to you patiently that your brain is different and that it's not your fault. They cry sometimes, but you know that they love you even though you're slow.

Time goes on and you make the best of the life that's been given to you. Good days, bad days. Your family creates a protective environment and makes it possible to forget sometimes that you're different. You mature into your teenage years. Your brain may be slow, but your body surges ahead just like the other boys. Other boys. You start to notice some of them. You wonder if someday you might find one that notices you. At some point, because you are an honest person and don't know any reason not to, you share these thoughts with someone. Maybe it's your sister, or Mom or Dad. You know something is wrong, but don't understand why people are so upset.

Maybe your parents tell you that your natural impulses are sinful and you must never speak of them again. Maybe they take the deepest breath of their lives and accept that they must help you bear another burden; you're gay. Let's play out the second scenario - I'm almost out of tissues.

Your family helps you make it through your teen years and with assistance from community services you manage to live a semi-independent life. You earn some money. You live in an adult group home with other people whose minds are like yours, but they aren't really like you and you have to keep quiet about your loneliness and desire for intimacy and romantic love.

And then it happens. A miracle. The greatest evidence imaginable for divine grace. You meet another developmentally disabled man who is like you. Someone who can truly understand what it's like to be you. And he's cute. And he's funny and he thinks the same about you. You have to be considerate of your housemates, but you two manage to have some tiny portion of the experiences that everyone else takes for granted. Dates. Flowers. The awkwardness of a first kiss. Even the pinnacle of human intimacy: sex.

And you think to yourself that maybe you get to have a some small measure of happily-ever-after. Maybe just once the brave knight gets to marry the handsome prince.

One day you decide to go swimming together at your community pool. You pay the $3 for you and the $3 for him because you want to be a good boyfriend and that's what they do. You're having a great time in the pool; being goofy as always. Maybe you hold hands for a little while. Maybe he leans over and kisses your forehead. You both smile.

A few minutes later a man in a maintenance uniform comes over and tells you that you have to leave because gay people aren't allowed in the pool. You understand enough to know that this is wrong and you argue that it is discrimination and you have rights even though you are not smart. The man becomes angrier and tells you that they have the right to kick you out because it says so in the Bible.

You're both confused and embarrassed. People are staring at you and you think maybe you've made a mistake. You both leave in tears. Ashamed. Alone except for each other.

Story time is over. I have to go get some more tissues.

If you would like to contact the manager of the Pavilion community pool in Hazard, Kentucky, here is her contact information:

Deaton Street
Hazard, KY 41701
(606) 436-4200

Director: Charlotte Sizemore

Be Nice

And if you would like to read the account of what happened in the media, here is one version:

Bible cited as reason for kicking gay men out of public pool

Update:The 83-year-old mayor of the town has apologized and the city is investigating.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Project 17: Black Linen Dress Shirt

Well, that was fun! I just made my first dress shirt and it came together easily. I drafted myself a new pattern, taking all my favorite features from my current crop of dress shirts and combining them with some ideas of my own. The base material is black linen, which I purchased in bulk online from If you can buy the whole bolt, you save a great deal of money. This material would probably be about $18 a yard in a fabric store, but I got it for about $9 a yard by buying a 12 yard bolt.

I made the placket and collar band out of black silk dupioni. I hoped to add a touch of pizzaz, but it's too subtle, I think. My humble mistakes this time were:
  • Not turning under the seam allowance on the inside of the collar band before constructing it. That would have made the topstitching on the inside of the band come out much better.
  • After serging the side seams closed, I stitched them to the body of the shirt, but went a little quickly on one of them and made a swerve.
  • I put the button holes on the cuffs on the wrong sides again!!!!

I'm really looking forward to making the next dress shirt. If I've learned my lesson from the mistakes listed above then the next one is going to be hard to tell from a professionally made shirt. So. Excited.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Project 16: Neckties

I have to admit that I love ties. They are one of the only pieces in menswear in which you can use shiny, colorful fabric. They are also such an icon of masculinity, which to a gay man is very inspiring.

The most difficult aspect of this project was pattern and construction method selection. I watched videos on YouTube, looked for patterns online and from the big pattern manufacturers. Nothing was quite right. I wanted a traditional lining (also called 'tipping') that folded over the bottom edge, but I didn't want to do the hand stitched seam up the back. I finally gave up and drafted my own pattern, which after quite a few botched attempts works well.

Just for fun, I purchased some labels for my creations that read "Taigh Sheumais Fashions." They make good keepers for the backs of neckties, I've found.

I've gotten all the usual questions. "Why make a tie when you can buy one for $10 at Macy's?" Because, darling, the $10 tie you buy at Macy's is made out of polyester. It looks cheap. Look at the silk ties for $60 and up. I can make one of those for about $12 now.

I love sewing. I love ties. I love men wearing ties. I love men absentmindedly stroking their ties. Oops - was that my outside voice?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Project 15: Silk Basket Weave Vest

So I was in one of my local fabric stores late last year, cruising for bargains at the remnant table when I spied a stack of beige silk dupioni pieces at 50% off the normal price. They weren't big enough to do much with, but out of the blue a vision came to me. If I cut the silk into strips and made bias-tape ribbons I could weave them into larger panels and use the panels to make parts of garments.

Making the bias-tape ribbons was pretty easy. I cut the strips with a rotary cutter and a straight edge, then got a magic folder thing that I just ran the strips of silk through on an ironing board and followed with the iron. I wove the strips on a cork bulletin board and used fabric glue to secure the outer border squares. When I had a piece big enough, I placed the pattern pieces for the front of a vest on them and drew around the outside with a sharpie. (don't faint)

The real trick was figuring out how I could cut the garment pieces out without the whole thing falling apart. The answer came in a flash. I had to stitch around the outline of the pattern piece to fix the upper and lower ribbon squares together at the edge before cutting. It worked like a charm.

I had plenty of silk left, so I made myself a matching necktie. Some critics have said that the look is too matchy-matchy, so I've since purchased some more silk in other colors to make contrasting ties. See! I can take criticism!

Project 14: Long Sleeve Osnaburg Shirt

When I was making our Halloween Jedi Knight costumes in 2010, I discovered this incredible textile, of which I had never heard. Osnaburg is named for the city that invented it in Germany, and was historically associated with the slave culture of pre Civil War America. The material is woven from the left-over bits of cotton after making finer weaves. It's thick and fluffy and strong and is usually unbleached and un-dyed. I think it's beautiful, and so did Lingoman. He dropped several hints in November that he would like any article of clothing made with osnaburg.

I decided to try something new to stretch my skills, so I made him a long sleeve version of my standard Seumas Shirt. I had no serious issues, I'm pleased to report! The little placket on each sleeve where the opening is was a little tricky, but both of us were pleased with the result.