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Handmade: Philadelphia Independents

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Philadelphia Independents isn’t a wanted, local jaunt, but a needed establishment in a city that is known for its hometown pride, loyal sport fans (go Phillies!) and official cuisine – the cheesesteak (wit or witout wiznot wiz). In one of the largest small city in this country, it is also known for its handmade pursuits. While previous subjects of Handmade have produced, or sewn, items of their own namesake, this shop doesn’t. Instead, it sells a curated collection of handmade items from local artists – jewelry, handbags, accessories, home décor, candles, pillows, baby gifts, pet gifts and more – and that makes it just as admirable. As a maker myself, and as a maker yourself, we love seeing people, businesses and retailers highlighting and helping our home spun, grown, baked, sewn or whatever be the case, products.

After a long career in the art world, co-owner Ashley Peel Pinkham left her long-loved job, opening the shop in Old City with two other women. Since it opened in May of this year, word of mouth has spread, and its original roster of 35 makers has grown to almost 70, including herself (she has her own line of handmade jewelry). The quick blossoming makes one thing clear, that this space is more than a gift shop, but a harbor where parochial merchants can bring their good to share with in and out of towners.

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your story Handmade: Philadelphia Independents
Considering my career, it’s ironic that I wasn’t an artsy child. My grandmother was creative, but art was a hobby for her. My parents weren’t artsy either. My dad gave me his old, clunky 35mm camera from the 1960s, which spawned my studies in photography, but for the most part, our family was non-artsy.

I was introduced to jewelry making when I was student at The University of the Arts. My major was photography, but I took a jewelry class that included soldering and forming metals. It was inspiring to be among people who made not just delicate items, but adornment and sculptures for the body. After graduating, I worked in photography and printmaking, including for a nonprofit art gallery in Center City for 14 years.

Towards the end of my stint at the gallery, in 2012, I was searching for a necklace, but I couldn’t find it. I didn’t have the tools, machinery or knowledge of how to make exactly what I wanted, so I took a few courses on jewelry making. Anna Thompson, who owns Anna Beau Designs, took me under her wing and showed me the business and craft of owning a jewelry business. I vividly remember meeting with her many times with inspiration tear sheets, mission statements, etc. and she was very transparent and showed me how to achieve my goals. I launched my line, INDICAN, in October of that year. At the time, I still had a job, so I spent weeknights making product and weekends selling at craft shows. In the fall of 2013, I was at the Clover Market in Chestnut Hill when my future partners, Jennifer Provost and Tiffica Benza, casually mentioned they were interested in opening a shop. I had a vision of owning a store that only sold my line, but I loved the idea of having a store that celebrated Philadelphia. I told them I hoped they didn’t mind they have a third partner now! We rounded up a good group of artists and scouted high traffic locations. We considered Reading Terminal Market and Philadelphia International Airport, but landed on this spot in Old City because of its rich heritage and culture. On either side of our store are other small businesses that support small makers and the neighborhood is very receptive and supportive of our mission.

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your jewelry Handmade: Philadelphia Independents
I primarily make necklaces; they’re my thing. At first, I used mainly coral, turquoise or wood. As a vegetarian for twenty years, I wrestled with the decision to use coral, since it is an animal and is being harvested for adornment. But every vegan/vegetarian/pescatarian has their own reasons for living their lifestyle and mine is that I don’t consume living creatures. Each piece is inspired by traditional cultures around the world including African, Asian and Native American jewelry. It has a very indigenous feel to it. It’s a basic, minute detail, but every necklace has an extender chain. Women come in many shapes and sizes and it’s important to me that each item can be altered, or at least somewhat, to fit many women. When I first started making jewelry, I used mainly coral, turquoise and wood, but since then I’ve expanded my material choices to rose quartz, moonstone and lapis lazuli being just a few of the stones I’ve branched off and used.

favorite thing you made Handmade: Philadelphia Independents
A coral necklace. It was 6 or 8 strands with orzo-shaped beads. The beads were polished and smooth, as opposed to coral’s rough texture. It was very pet-able because it was so smooth!

mission Handmade: Philadelphia Independents
Our mission is not only to celebrate Philadelphia, but encourage others to celebrate their own city, whether that be Portland, Seattle or San Diego. Also, even though the word “independent” is a play on Independence Hall, it’s also a message to recognize independent artists and the art of handmade.

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growth Handmade: Philadelphia Independents
Our artist roster has grown a lot since opening and what’s really impressive about it is that it has been mostly through referrals. Locals, tourists and other artisans have come in, seen what we have to offer and then mentioned someone they know who would be a good fit for our assortment. We have tea towels, napkins and woodworking materials coming soon.

mentor Handmade: Philadelphia Independents
More than jewelry making, Anna Thompson taught me the business of owning a jewelry line. She was very transparent with sharing her best practices, methods for presenting jewelry and logistical strategies. She allowed me to tag along to gem shows when I first starting out and ask her questions like, is this a good deal? Should I pay this price? Are these stones good to work with?

experience Handmade: Philadelphia Independents
I came from a stressful work environment coming from the small nonprofit sector, so I traded one stress for another type of stress. It’s a different type of stress in that everything is on you (and my partners). I have a different sense of ownership now. I have always been a very dedicated person, so I’m not the type of worker that comes in for the time required and then leaves, so I’ve used to working long hours to make something successful.

co owner Handmade: Philadelphia Independents
Actually, owning a business with two other women has been great. We bounce ideas off of each other and of course, there is never a tie over a decision, since there are three of us. Another perk to having three sets of eyes is that our different backgrounds and experiences combine to come up with very creative ideas and strategies.

feedback Handmade: Philadelphia Independents
When people say that Philadelphia needs our store – that’s what fulfills me. Not that it’s cute or that it’s fun, but that it is a requisite establishment to our city. Residents who have lived in the neighborhood for decades have come in and said, “This is exactly was Old City needs!” And that was our second week we were open! People also ask where our other location is as if we have numerous stores. That’s definitely a compliment too!

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What i Made: Portia Blue

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When it comes to outerwear, there are a lot of choices. First, there’s the blanket statement, where one can wrap themselves in a draped number; opting for patchwork or embroidery would make the look extra boho. Then there’s sporty, or a boxy silhouette equipped with a hood and extra pockets that are ideal elements for braving even the coldest cold. Or one could be a caped crusader and battle wild, wild winter just like Little Red Riding Hood with a sleeveless topper. But if you want to channel your inner savage, grab the fur fabric and be one with the pack. Shaggy, baby! Not the most flattering choice, the down jacket is still going strong. Personally, I’ll pass. The Michelin Man was never a good look. As for me, I took my own spin on 2014’s outer selection and transported back to the 1950s. With the most sumptuous vintage brocade chenille, I made Simplicity 1505.

To bring the folks who missed my in-progress post up to date, I’ll reiterate a few details that have already appeared on the blog. For those more informed readers, hang tight. We’ll get to the fun bits below.

I scored this fabric on Ebay over a year ago, winning it for a total of $28.00. Because it’s thick, textural and has a weight similar to home dec fabrics, finding a suitable pattern required a search. The silhouette couldn’t have lots of seaming or details like pockets, epaulettes and/or darts because it would detract and break up the beauty of the fabric. After several long nights on Etsy, I finally chose the one – Simplicity 1505.

Released in 1956, Simplicity 1505 pattern is a misses’ one-piece dress and coat in 2 lengths. The ensemble features a slim lined dress with a v-neckline and short kimono bodice and skirt seam. Coat may be dress or hip length. Buttons trim lower edge of kimono sleeves.

Despite the fact that it was an easy silhouette doesn’t mean construction and patterning didn’t present a few obstacles. Because I only had 2 yards and there was no more available, I had to reduce the body length by 6 inches and sleeve length by 1 inch. Even then, the facing had to be broken into 2 pieces. Also, because of the fabric’s texture, ironing was out of the question, so all interfacing was sewn in. I spent many nights and morning hand sewing hair canvas and then cutting away the seam allowances to a perfect 5/8 inch. Also due to the texture, all seams were steamed and then fingered pressed open and topstitching (including understitching) was a no no. I wrestled with pattern alignment too. I only had enough yardage to have the pattern match in one place. So while the stripes don’t align at the overarm seam, they are centered at the center front and center back. I made a muslin, in which I added back waist darts to make it less sac like, but if I had to go back, I wouldn’t have included them. The darts break up the stripes to a point where it looks weird, like a mistake. I would go back and simply take them out, but because the intake was 2” total (1” on the fold), I clipped into it and cut away the excess. Other details include a back piece made of hair canvas, neck darts to have it shape to my frame, side seam pockets and 2 snap closures at the center front and 2 faux buttons on each sleeve.

So bring it on old man winter. I’m ready for your polar vortex!

*vintage dress from Chariot Marie*

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Weekend: What’s Your Routine?

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In her book, The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp talks a lot about routines and its effect on creativity. I start my day with the same ritual, which I don’t share often because of its eccentricity. I wake up at 4:00 AM, sometimes earlier, and after quickly checking emails, I put on my workout clothes. Sports bra, leggings and t-shirt on, I tie the laces on my sneakers and walk to the gym. For the next hour and a half, I stretch, lift weights and run. It’s a no-brainer act, but doing it the same way every morning impels me to not only live a creative day, but a creative life.

Whether conscious of it or not, everyone has their own unique routine
. While the composer Igor Stravinsky played a Bach fugue in his studio before moving onto his own work, Beethoven doodled in his notebook each morning musical ruminations he had in his head that day. There are many days I wake up and think to myself why the hell I do this? But the power I attach to my routine keeps me from going back to sleep and it induces some sort of on switch that gets me started, motivated and excited to lead a creative life, sewing included in that formula. In my feature for Coca Cola in which I documented a day in my life, it was only after I ran that I could then sew. As I wrote, “Post 10 mile run, I shower and eat a carb and protein loaded breakfast – homemade granola with bananas, dates, chai seeds and almond milk. I am now in the right headspace to sew.”

Whether it’s putting creamer into your coffee every morning or playing a certain song while getting ready, routines make us do something. At the same time, routines replace doubt and fear with comfort and stability because you know you are doing the right thing (if you’ve done it before with success, you do it again).

Do you have a routine for the day? What about a routine for sewing? Must you position your ironing board a certain way, or lay out your tools in a certain order before beginning a project?

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Bra Making: A Short Guide to Choosing Fabric

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Before giving bra making a go, it’s important to have a firm understanding of how each part of a bra should function – cup, cradle and wing – because this is what will guide you when making fabric choices. Many sewers get stalled even before starting because selecting different fabrics for each section is too daunting. Stretch lace for the front? Powernet for the back? Tricot for the lining? Contrary to what many beginners think, both woven and knits can be used to make a bra, and hopefully after reading this, you’ll be comfortable and confident to choose between the two.

First concept to understand is direction of greatest stretch, abbreviated DOGS. In a woven fabric, grainline is used to indicate the direction that has the least amount of stretch, and in most cases, patterns are aligned with this line. In bra making, patterns are cut according to the direction of greatest stretch (DOGS). So, when you’re looking at a bra pattern, lines with arrows indicate the DOGS, not the grainline. To find the DOGS on your fabric, pull on the lengthwise and the crosswise. What has more stretch? That is the DOGS. On stretch fabrics, there is either a stretch in one direction, called a 2-way stretch, or a stretch in all directions, called a 4-way stretch.

With this understood, let’s walk through the parts of a bra and its function.

Band: The band must have stretch running around the body because if not, there will be no room to breath. So, the DOGS is perpendicular to the hook and eye. Also to note, the band is not stabilized in most cases (the bridge and cups are; more on that below).

Bridge: The bridge must be stable from side to side and from top to bottom. Why? Because the bridge is where the bra’s support comes from. While we allow the back to stretch for breathing, we stabilize the front so that it can support the breasts, which sit right above it. The bridge is stabilized in two ways. First, the DOGS is placed parallel to the center front, then the bridge is interfaced with tricot, fusible or something similar.

Cups: The placement of the DOGS on the cup depends on the type of support desired, and that’s a whole other post in itself. You can change the direction of the DOGS to meet a particular need, but in most cases, the DOGS on a horizontal, cross cup seam bra is parallel to the neckline on the upper cup and perpendicular to the cross cup seam on the lower cup.

Now, let’s match the performance with fabric.

Band: Remembering that the band is supposed to stretch, choose a stretch fabric such as powernet, lycra, stretch lace, etc.

Bridge: The bridge can be either a woven or a stretch fabric. Duoplex, Simplex, woven cotton, woven silk, satin, or lace are popular rigid fabrics, and stretch lace is a popular stretch fabric. Whether the bridge is a woven or a stretch, remember that it will need to be stabilized with a lining or a fusible interfacing.

Cups: Just like the bridge, the cups can be made with woven or stretch fabric, and it depends on the type of support desired. The recommended fabrics are the same as the bridge. The fabric of the bridge and the cups can match, or they can be a different fabric to add contrast.

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