Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Book Review - The Knockoff Economy

Before I start, I just have to share this:
With love from the internet!

I've been reading about copyright. Not copyright rules as such - but the concept of owning ideas and how ownership or non-ownership of an idea or design can fuel creativity and spark innovation...
The Knockoff Economy - Kal Raustiala and Christopher Sprigman.

Our ideas about how things work are culturally framed. Often, our concepts of creativity and innovation are shaped by the prevailing perspectives on 'incentives'. So the incentive idea goes 'A designer invests a lot of energy and creativity into creating something. In order to recoup those costs and make a profit, copyrights / intellectual property rights should be available, otherwise there will be no incentive to create.'

The authors of this book look at whether that is actually the case - putting forward the idea that actually, knockoffs/copies and 'tweakers' can help creative industries thrive. There are a number of different creative industries examined in the book, each with their own dynamics and challenges and they look at the differences in the way these creative industries flourish. These areas include fashion, music, football, comedy and food, but also anecdotes on other forms of creativity.

They also effectively break down the question and look at it from a few different angles -
'Is copyright good for the individual?' 'Is copyright good for the industry?' 'Is copyright good for creativity?'. The music industry for example, is struggling because of piracy. But that doesn't mean there is a reduction in creative output, or that music itself is struggling.

Focusing on the chapter around fashion, since that's the subject of the blog here, copying is an integral part of the way fashion works. A trend or a fashion is only in fashion because people have copied it! There have been attempts to restrict copying, but the nature of clothing (being essentially utilitarian items) and the speed of fashion, and the high number of variations possible, mean that restricting copies is highly expensive, impractical, and difficult to police.

But fundamentally, would the fashion industry be better off if designs could be copyrighted?
Fashion needs copying. And at the same time, fashion is destroyed by copying. It is a cycle of reinvention, and a mix of people's desire for things which are both popular and unique.

For me, I don't love a cheap imitation of a 'luxury product' - and the idea of knockoffs pretending to be the real thing strikes me as unethical. To be fair, I've never really understood the brand thing anyway. I don't really love the designer industry's solution of slapping copyrighted logos all over things either - it just seems vulgar to me.

But I love a good homemade knock-off. The entire process - the reverse engineering, the adjusting, the reinvention  - strikes me as the whole point of self expression. It goes back to the history of fashion plates and sample dolls which served as inspiration for the latest fashions for the home dressmaker. To take something and make it your own. And to mix and match ideas. That's the fun stuff!

Of course, the other side of my creative process is the blog. I wouldn't dream of knocking off someone else's writing, or copying out someones tutorials. I know what's involved, and I respect it. I think (and these are my reflections rather than the book) we probably become more respectful of creativity where we are actively creative ourselves.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

The 'Make This Look' Dress - What's the line up?

This dress was a specific 'challenge' of sorts. When Claire shared this picture, and said she wanted to make this dress, I thought I'd give it a go too.

The original picture is from 'Make This Look'. Check it out here. It was a great little sewing inspiration series which paired commercial patterns and fabrics to replicate or at least imitate existing dresses. I don't know if it's still going. :( The original dress is from ModclothModCloth "is an American online retailer specializing in vintage, vintage-inspired and indie clothing, accessories and decor" - just ask Wikipedia. They have some cool stuff. And they give things silly names with puns. Which is double-y cool in my book.

I'm not, and never was, madly in love with this style. Horizontal stripes over the bust on my figure doesn't seem the best plan. But I am enthusiastic about the challenge of copying this dress. Partly because I love a good knock off; the analytical stuff appeals to me - and I like working with stripes in particular because they provide clues to the story of the garment's construction. Partly because I've been reading about copyright.
Book review coming your way soon.
And partly because I remember seeing some Chinese calligraphy once, which I was told translated to "If you memorise 600 poems, you'll write a pretty good one of your own." Even if I have that completely wrong, I like that idea. I think it applies to dresses too, right?

In any case,  I opted not to use a premade pattern, and drafted my own.

Of course, this is not a direct copy. This version has been made to fit me. Some tweaks and concessions have been made to adapt the shape, and I will elaborate on those in a later post.

For today though, here are some photos. And while it may not be my 'best style of all time', I think for a technical challenge, it's turned out ok. I'm going to give it a generous 7/10.



Here I go holding that imaginary thing again...



As I said - more detail in the next few posts so do drop by again soon!

Friday, 17 January 2014

January - New Starts

Have you been missing me?

I've been missing you. I've been crazy busy. Not the 'I've been avoiding you' kind of busy, the kind where I've been moving house.

I had this crazy notion that since it took us about 3 days to chuck everything into boxes at one end, it would take us 3 days to chuck it back out at the other end. I was going to arrive in the new place on the 11th of January, and be into the swing of things by the 14th. I was desperate to get back into things. I haven't even come close! Are you laughing at my naive optimism?

Moving is fun and all, but I wouldn't want to do it every week. Our stuff is a bit worse for wear, we're a bit worse for wear, and stupid things happen, like finding this at the other end.
For pity's sake...
It's certainly reminded me of how much stuff I have. Especially books, and fabric. And books about sewing, where I have no self control whatsoever. And fabric.
I'm starting to think a stash grows with some kind of compound interest.
But the lovely, lovely thing is that I now have my own sewing room. Check it out.


Sew much kitschy awesome right here.
So new home, new town, new job... I didn't make any new years resolutions this year because a) I'm pretty cool as it is, and b) There was plenty new going on already.

There's going to be a bit of 'new' happening on the blog as well. For one thing, I've been thinking of having a post each month on a theme of sorts. I think I will be doing a few different things too.
There will be some decorating.
The wallpaper says 'I'm fab!' and the curtains say 'I don't even care what you think of me!' They don't close properly either. 

Not so bad, but we can do better.
I will be working with woven fabric a bit more. And I've got a few 'beginner' projects in the pipeline too.

So bring it on 2014, as soon as I figure out where the heck I packed my tape measure, I am ready for new adventures.

Monday, 6 January 2014

What Things Do You Need To Start Sewing?

I love the internet. I love the way it connects people, and makes it possible to share ideas. I love that I can offer advice and ask questions - tapping into the collective brainpower of a bunch of enthusiastic people! Which is great when I'm boring the pants off the people around me in real life, who may not really understand why anyone would want to make their own clothes.

One question which comes up a lot seems to be 'What things do I need to start sewing?' along with 'What kind of sewing machine should I buy?' 

I kind of feel qualified on this one. I've moved around a bit, and sewn a LOT. I've acquired and received a multitude of tools, given some away, lost some and not even noticed. There are things I don't have which I acknowledge would be useful, and plenty I don't miss. So I thought it might be handy to share my views on the essentials to get started. I am only talking about equipment here, not materials. I'm not going to discuss my drafting tools either, I will go into that on another occasion.

When I arrived in the UK I came with two bags. I brought my block patterns, but otherwise I had no sewing gear whatsoever. That was something I intended to fix. I've been here for over 18 months now, during which I have sewn and blogged like crazy. Now I'm moving again, and it turns out I haven't needed a great deal more than I started with.

Here's my basic kit.


1. Pin cushion. The little 'strawberry' on the side is an emery pin cushion. You can use that to keep your pins and needles sharp.

2. Pins.

3. An assorted packet of needles for hand sewing.

4. A needle threader. I don't actually use this, but if you're starting out it would be helpful.

5. Fabric Scissors. Out of all of the above pictures, this is the thing to spend a little more on. Keep them ONLY for fabric. Make sure everyone in the household knows that they are only for fabric.

6. Paper scissors. You will use these on paper to protect your fabric scissors.

7. Measuring tape. These stretch over time so replace them every so often.

8. Chalk. There are lots of different kinds of chalks. As long as it's dressmaking chalk, it works.

9. Thimble. It is definitely worth getting used to using a thimble. While it may feel weird at first, it will save your fingertips. This one came as part of a cheap 'pocket sized' repair kit, and it fits my finger nicely so it's as good as any other.

10. Thread snips. Handy for keeping by the machine.

11. Unpicker poodle. Known to the rest of the world as a seam ripper, or quick-unpick. I've got a nice big sturdy one, because I use it often. So will you.


12. Something to store your equipment in. This lovely sewing box was a gift from Jon. But prior to that I used a shoebox, and it worked.

13. An iron and an ironing board. Absolutely necessary. You can get specialist mini-irons, but mostly it's important that it has steam. I once used a hair straightener on a hem, but I'm not proud of it. Gotta have an iron.

14. It's worth getting some iron cleaner. This will make sense the first time you iron the wrong side of your iron on interfacing.

If I was going to do patchwork/ quilting, I would also consider a cutting mat, rotary cutter and ruler essential items.

Similarly, I would probably get a folding ruler if I was doing curtains or home furnishings.


The Sewing Machine


If you're serious about sewing, you'll need one of these. I heard a lady in a shop the other day tell the shop assistant "I know how to sew, I just don't know how to use a sewing machine..."

With a lot of effort, I was cool enough not to say anything, but I'm pretty sure my face twitched visibly. It is possible to sew a garment without a machine, but why would you do that? It's like cleaning the whole house with a toothbrush.

This is my 4th (I think) machine, and it fit in my budget and does the job. My favourite machine was probably my Husqvarna Viking Prelude 360. It is sitting in storage in Australia. Having said that, I'm not going to give a brand recommendation. I think it's important to consider your specific needs. But here are some points to consider.

A Sewing Machine - If You Want to Start Learning to Sew.

1. You don't need to own a sewing machine to start. There are plenty of machines languishing in the back of spare rooms and coat closets. Ask around, and borrow. Some people might even be relieved to have their cupboard space back. It might be good to have a go before making a purchase.

2. You don't need a lot of fancy stitches to do a lot. I would want a straight stitch, a zigzag, a three step zigzag, stretch stitches, blind hem stitch, and absolutely a 4 step button hole. I wouldn't buy a machine without a buttonhole function. But I wouldn't be too concerned if I didn't have 20 different decorative stitch options.

3. Expect that this is an investment. You're probably not going to upgrade your sewing machine in a few years - this is it. Do some research, ask friends what they like. It might be worth borrowing your aunt's machine for an extra month if it means you can save a little more get something nicer.

4. If you buy through a dealer, you will get additional service, like free lessons and a warranty. Take the free lessons! They will help you with some basic troubleshooting, and that alone is worth rocking up for.

5. If you buy second hand through ebay or similar, there are lots of good machines out there in good condition, and prices are lower. You will need to pay for servicing though. Many sewing machine manuals are available online.

You will need some bits and pieces for your machine.


Most of these come with your machine anyway. The machine feet that you need will differ depending on what kind of sewing you do. So my collection reflects my dressmaking focus.

1. Basic foot. This one does most things, and will be on the machine most of the time. I find this one a bit frustrating because it blocks more of my view than I'd like - it isn't great for pin stitching.

2. Zipper foot. This clips on to the machine on either side, so that the needle can be as close to the zip as possible.

3. Invisible zipper foot / concealed zipper foot. This wasn't included with my machine. But for what I do, and because I like invisible zippers, this was well worth getting. It has two grooves underneath, and the zipper teeth sit in the groove as you sew the zip in.

4. Blind hem foot. Also not included, but again relevant to dressmaking. I wouldn't need one of these if I was interested in quilting.

5. Button hole foot. You slide the foot to accommodate the size of the button you are making the hole for.

6. Needles. There are lots of different kinds of needles. But to get started, you need universals. If you're sewing with jersey, get ball point. Needles come in different sizes, and you can get packets which are a mixture.

7. A brush. I did have a much better brush than this at one stage, this one is also a seam ripper. The brush is for cleaning the lint out of your machine, which should be done regularly.

8. Bobbins. Different machines use different bobbins, so you need to know which ones to get.

9. Screwdriver (not pictured). Generally included with the machine for changing needles and feet, unless your machine has snap on feet.


Sewing Space.

When you sew, you need an appropriate space. I would love to have a full sewing studio, and I am super excited that there will be a space for my sewing in the new place. But it isn't necessary to get started.

You need.

1. A table.
Bet you've already got one too! I use my dining table, in the corner of the living room. It needs to be sturdy, and it's important that it isn't too precious. If you are cutting out and pinning, your surface will pick up scratches. For cutting out, a table is better than a desk, since it's easier to pull it away from the wall and approach your cutting from all sides. For sewing, you want the machine to be a comfortable height to work at.

2. A comfortable chair.
I used to have a wheely chair, but now just use the dining chair. I actually prefer the dining chair because the wheels get threads caught in them!

3. Good lighting
This is really important!

So all up, those are my essentials.

There really are some lovely tools out there, and many of them can help improve your finished garment. But so does practice! You will pick up additional tools and great gadgets over time. In the meantime, get yourself sorted for the basics, and get into it.

Happy sewing!


PS. Did I miss anything that you think is absolutely necessary? Please pop a comment below, I'd love to hear your thoughts.