DIY or die

When I was 19 my then-partner and I decided to make all of our own clothes. I can’t remember now what the reason was. The environment? Unethical working conditions in garment factories? Struggles with binaried clothing? Being small and angry queer humans who needed direction in life after dropping out of school? Being very very broke? Maybe all of those things.

I can pinpoint the beginning of this project in time because I was sewing (a bikini- made from a sweatshirt) during President Obama’s inauguration. The metal sewing machine that we used somehow interfered with the radio when I pushed the pedal, so I would sew a few inches and then pause to listen. I was terrified that he would be assassinated.

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My first forays into practical garment making were bumbling disasters (see above- bikini made from a sweatshirt… in January). Even bigger of a disaster was that we had committed to this project- and then given away a good portion of our clothes as incentive. In hindsight I can say that it was an ambitious project, and well intentioned. I can also see the support we had, in friends and co-workers and housemates who dropped clothing and fabric off for us to repurpose. At the time I felt so scared and frantic, but looking back I feel proud and know that I was loved. I don’t have a single article of handmade clothing left from that time. The tights I intended to knit never got past the shin and the one pattern we had for homemade underwear never did sit right on my thighs. But I have scraps of fabric from dear friends that still make it into quilts, and some of the garments I knit now grace the bodies of people I love.

I wish my 19 year old self could see my closet now. It took ten years, but I am living the reality that I so badly wanted to force myself into back then. I wish I could whisper in my own ear that these things take time and patience (and um, some learning of skills), and I wish I could say thank you to myself for planting those seeds as I took my first steps in my adult life. They have grown and grown and today they feed and quite literally clothe me.

(Photo from Victoria Weeber, roughly 2009)

2009 // 2019

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In 2009 I was 19. I lived at the Eugene V. Debs co-op in Ann Arbor, MI, less than a mile from the house I grew up in. I cooked vegetarian dinner for 23 people once a week and I ate full milk vanilla yogurt for breakfast and dessert and argued with my housemates about whether or not cereal was too expensive. In 2009 I had just dropped out of art school and I was beginning to grasp the full extent to which that decision damaged my connection with my family, who had anticipated a different course for my life. I woke up each day with my heart racing, excited and terrified to be so alone. In 2009 I thought they would probably come around. In 2009 I worked full time as a cashier at the People’s Food Co-op. My best friend was a grocery stocker and we had the same haircut. We would leave work on our bikes and race home to call one another on the landlines of our respective co-op houses. In 2009 I was beginning the relationship that would determine so much of my life for the next five years. I was beset by crushes, at home and at work. I was in love. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was queer, I was QUEER! I WAS QUEER! and I had cut all of my hair off to prove it. In 2009 I painted life-size portraits on cardboard on my lover’s bedroom floor and had my first art show. At the co-op. In 2009 I thought Mirah and The Blow were the same band and they were my favorite band, along with Daisy May.

In 2019 I am 29. I live in Chicago, IL, in a hundred year old apartment building 250 miles from the house I grew up in. I cook everyday and bake bread when I’m moved to. I still think cereal is too expensive, but make concessions for bulk granola. In 2019 I don’t have a degree in anything and I support myself partially on my own work- as a knitter and a quilter and occasionally I will deign to say: an artist- and I work a few days a week as a studio assistant. I wake up each day with my heart firmly in place and my tall-ass wife brings me coffee in bed to get it racing. In 2019 the only room I don’t work in is the bedroom, but all other floors are fair game. In 2019 I am five years into the relationship that I plan to determine the rest of my life within, and I am beset by crushes and I am in love. I’m a lesbian, and don’t let my long hair fool you, I’m still QUEER! as fuck. In 2019 my computer thinks I only want to listen to Bauhaus and half of an album by Shannon and the Clams and I don’t think I’ll correct it.

A quilt for your back...

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… or your tote or your front or your wall or your couch.

These four pieces are a study in using it up, but like really using it up. Not just the big scraps, but the little ones too. While most quilts are practical objects once finished, fully bound and wrapped around a body to keep warm, these little buddies have been practical in the making. They are whole and sturdy little quilts, made from what would be considered in a larger sense- trash. They represent two countries, three states, five women, and countless garments out wrapping up bodies in the world.

In the two quilts on the left the little colorful triangles are from Not Perfect Linen, where Tavi and I got our dresses for my sister’s wedding. The dresses themselves were a Big Deal for us, being new and full priced and… from Lithuania? They came with little 2 inch samples of every color of linen that the company carries and I spent the next three days spreading them out and looking at all of them in wonder.

The quilt second from the right is made from scraps I created while making box tops. Circles of linen cut out to make necklines, and the tiniest leftovers from hems and sleeves. The cream is an Irish linen, thrifted in a moment of disbelief that I am still aimlessly thankful for, because who donates un-dyed, handwoven Irish linen to the thrift? The blue is vintage linen, repurposed from a tablecloth and over-dyed with indigo. I keep it all, because linen is precious, and because the work I’ve put into reclaiming the fabric makes it doubly so.

The quilt on the far right is made with little slips of naturally dyed linen that Jessica at Sugar House Workshop sent me with an order. They are lovely, gentle shades. Just a little gift from one maker to another, but her kindness as a stranger-friend on the internet has made my day again and again and I think they’ll infuse some power into whoever is wearing them on their back (or front or wall or couch). That tiny line of brilliant red is a piece of my all time favorite thrifted linen, red and orange woven together to make actual flaming red. More power for the wearer.

The larger (tiny) pieces of fabric in the two quilts on the left and the quilt on the far right are scraps of hemp linen from Kellen, who owns/runs/IS Yoke Handmade. She’s a quilter herself, and her generosity with her scraps astounds me (as I hoard every piece of linen larger than a fingernail that crosses my path).

Quilts are magic.