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10 Jan '17

Upcycling a Leather Jacket

When I was a teenager, I had a black leather jacket from the late 1960s or early 1970s, one I bought at a thrift store near St. Mark’s Place (not Love Saves the Day, but someplace similar, the name now forgotten). I loved it. The dark red lining was fraying a bit when I bought it, and it was certainly in very sorry shape by the time I was in my early twenties and still wearing it. I had to give the dear jacket  up as the whole thing came apart.

I’ve been in search of a replacement ever since. Unfortunately, such vintage leather jackets now sell for more than I have been willing to pay—but I have also not found the right one. I did find a black jacket in a vintage clothing shop on the Lower East Side in February 2010: black leather, soft, nearly the same, but not quite. The original was not so soft and was almost shiny. The original was also more hourglass in shape. The new version is boxier than I would like, though it fits well and looks good with a long, colorful scarf.

This past summer, I found a red leather jacket from that same era at an antique (mixed with junk) store in Milbridge, Maine, for $25. It is different—not only is it red (a Doc Martens’ oxblood color) but also is shorter, a deficit I considered, and the lining was torn and frayed at the hem, but I bought it.

My first thought was Victorian inspired: give it length with a bustle-ish “skirt.” I then pictured a Mod-ish print fabric. Victorian plus Mod? I can make that work.

The finished product? The skirt of the pinwheel fabric repairs and extends the existing, damaged plain red lining. I measured and drafted the four pattern pieces, lined and pleated the resulting skirt, then integrated it into the lining of the jacket.

I replaced the jacket’s plastic buttons with buttons covered in kimono fabric. The four large buttons at the wrists had belonged to my mother; she used safety pins to transform them into brooches for her assortment of blazers. The two closing the front were part of a pack of five that my mother gave to me; I have three left for another project.

The effect is very different from the original, but such fun.

-Caitlin Adams

P.S.: I am still on the hunt for one just like the first.

21 Jul '16

Quietly besting the Jones'

We're well into summer, and among other things, it's real estate high season. Many of them were owned by families I didn't know.  But there are also a few sad ones.

Two houses over is a ranch house that is EXACTLY the same as the one we live in. The only difference is that there aren't anymore kids there. They grew up. Mom got older and older and finally was fully dependent on her son, who had quite a laundry list of problems of his own. 

A year or two ago, she died. Her son had more and more trouble walking and keeping things going. And then he fell, had multiple other problems and ended up in a nursing home. Probably forever. 

So anyway, an number of contractors passed through. They whitewashed all the walls a bright white. They removed the ancient appliances and fixtures manicured the grounds with care. At Open House, I was surprised to see a parade of curious neighbors and potential buyers. No doubt the bidding war is well underway.

Anyway, all the changes got me to thinking of a thought experiment. Absurd but highly desirable, to me at least. 

Realtors are in the business of selling houses to anybody with the most cash in hand. So it makes sense that they advise removing all traces of the seller's life and leaving just enough in the way of furniture and new appliances that anyone could just take over and make it look like they think it should. 

There are a few houses around with owners who don't give a hoot about their future erasure projects. One completely rehabbed the house giving it a look that almost anyone would like. But, her one telling act of rebellion was to put two dogs on each side of the front stare way, much in the way there are a few houses around that have lions out front. 

Another house (which we originally bid on and lost) sports a lovely lavender color for its Tudor-ish top section. And there is a house nearby that is built completely in the style of a Chinese pagoda, if a pagoda was supposed to be a small suburban home with character. It has sported a truly vivid kind of yellow all around, which may have something to do with why it's always on sale. 

Anyway, to get back to the real estate practices of a parallel universe, it would be very far from non-sensical to imagine that a seller could worry and fret if their house on sale did not have enough character. They might fret about the steps they need to take to make their dwelling as interesting as possible. Color is a good possibility. The right one can be striking and visionary in the midst of other visions.

House-hunting would be a matter of making a list of ones that promise the perfect installation for a new life at home. A crucial decision would depend on the decoded meaning behind the structure. The buy would need to feel a kinship and have an idea about where and how to develop it further. The passing of hands would be less a matter of the highest bid, than the question about whether the house and buyers were the perfect match in color, style, and world view. 

Sometimes one has to be prudent. No wild flights of fancy, Sometimes a subtle additions can say it all. Here's where I praise the laudable taste of Caitlin-the other boss around here 

(About me: ranches are a little difficult to personalize. They were meant to be identical. But I'm going to try and work my way from in to outside. The first sign that my exterior project has begun will be the turquoise enamel painting of the front door. They say you can tell everything about a house and family from the color of their door)


01 Jul '16

Making-is this what we do??

Posted by Clare Parsons in crafting, crafts, maker, making, STEAM, STEM


I’m probably going to end up annoying friends, family, and neighbors about this.

Someone is a “Maker.” They “make”________________.”

They do it in some kind of maker “space” or “incubator.”

 Obviously we’ve bought into the idea, Caitlin and I. For many different reasons. Caitlin is an artist. For sure. Her plates and decoupage pieces are really masterful. They require talent and a lot of patience to make.

 I wouldn’t call myself an artist. I know my limits and I am fine with them. Doctorate holders in Comp.Lit. are often not gifted with good fine motor skills.

If you’re lucky someone will assume that you know about writing. Chances are good you have some interest, at the very least. You might even write, but I’ll leave off the argument about writing and what it actually is. I’m pretty sure it’s not making in the tactile sense where you can get dirty and wrestle with some kind of “supply.”

 But to get back to the maker thing. There seem to be two worlds that sometimes intersect and often don’t.

 Science makers have really great supplies to work with. I’ve always envied the sciency types who have chambers filled to the brim with deficient motherboards and broken wires. I have no idea what any of it is but you can be sure that soldering will take place. Lucky for them, thrift shops are filled to the ceilings with broken electronics. Not much expense. So much to gain. If they have kids, they’ll spend many evenings and weekends reverse engineering rejected appliances. It’s obviously a public service ,what they do.   

The other side is occupied by the arty and crafty makers. The most skilled may be honored by the titles artist or an artisan crafter. Those with the less impressive fine motor are welcome as well. We’re lucky to live in an age where the legacy of found object art. Almost nobody questions the work of Max Ernst’s “Fountain.” And the shadow boxes of Joseph Cornell are exquisite. Almost nobody would question his work, or his thrifting and gathering talents.

 And this brings us to the curator tribe. They curate many different objects, most of which have nothing to do with merchandise and contemporary retail. I’m ok with the label but am starting to cringe when I hear too much talk using the term.

 Is this kind of coinage the sign of decline? Will Bed Bath and Beyond soon have merchandise “For the maker in you?” Maybe it’s not such a bad thing. Or maybe it’s disastrous. The maker movement might get a little more democratic, as it’s supposed to be. But maybe snobbery is a way to lengthen the life space of a movement.