Today in my series of interviews with sewing bloggers on their connection between sewing & style, I’m delighted to feature Duane of the Japanese Pattern Challenge. I’ve oohed and aahed many a time over his exquisite tailoring and have learned from the detailed way he shares his process. I can certainly relate to many of his responses, especially his final words of “There is an enormous amount of inspiration, education and support within the online sewing community. In a very small way, I’d like to think that I contribute to that.”
Hi, my name is Duane aka Mainelydad and I’m one of those rare guys who sew. Yes, we exist! I sort of fell into making my own clothes about 3 years ago and there seems to be no turning back. What started pretty much as a whim (I wanted a winter coat that wasn’t black) has morphed into something that I never imagined.
Describe your style
I have always lived in New England and, therefore, been surrounded by conservative “prep” style. We had a dress code at school and, hard as it is to believe, I never owned a pair of jeans until I went away to college. I’ve managed to ditch the penny loafers for desert boots, but I’m still a pretty “button down” kind of guy. I’m also, shall we say, “a man of a certain age”, so I make an attempt to dress in an age appropriate manner. I won’t wear baseball caps, cargo pants/shorts or any shirt with writing on it! Still, I don’t want to dress like an old fuddy duddy either.
What I sew
I only sew menswear, and only for myself. I really love outerwear, and fortunately I live in an area where it’s needed all but three months of the year. There are a couple of drawbacks to ready made men’s outerwear, (1) anything even slightly out of the ordinary is very expensive, (2) outerwear for the masses is dull, frequently black and looks the same year after year. My solution? Pull out the old Singer 301 and make what I really want.
I started my sewing adventures with the Japanese sewing book Making Men’s Coats. It has a very seductive cover with a Burberryesque trench coat that’s hard to resist. I approached it as a giant puzzle to solve, and started blogging about it as a “breadcrumb trail” for those following in my footsteps. Eventually I made all of the four designs in the book.
Of course a guy needs more than coats, so I’ve started making all my own shirts. Nothing could be more basic and, in a way, under appreciated. A man’s shirt is really a sewing tour de force. I love the technical challenge and the precision that’s required. Picking out unique fabrics, colors and patterns is the icing on the cake. Plus, there are some serious ethical issues surrounding the abundance of cheap ready to wear clothing. I’m trying to make a concerted effort not to participate in that marketplace. For some reason I’ve been avoiding pants (zippers terrify me, and how silly is that!), but that will be changing soon.
What influences my style ?
Honestly, I never paid much attention to fashion before I started sewing for myself. I’m a RN in a small ER on the coast of Maine so I don’t have to think about dressing for work. I have a closet full of navy blue scrubs, so I just toss on a clean pair and head out the door. My at home “uniform” has been plaid shirts, khakis and jeans forever. Since starting to make my own clothes, however, I’ve started looking more closely at designer menswear, primarily on Style.com. I’m not interested in slavishly trying to replicate anything. Instead I focus on the details, which can springboard me into my next project. Lately I’ve been intrigued by the patchwork of Junya Watenabe. I incorporated some patchwork elements into a safari jacket last year and hope to be doing more of that in the future. Just a little tweak, a flash of color or a contrasting fabric can take something basic and transform it into something that I love to wear. I don’t want clothes that shout, rather clothes that subtly stand out from the crowd.
How do I play dress up?
I love to wear the clothes that I make! I wear my victorian frock coat to the laundromat. I go on safari to the supermarket. I made a linen sport-coat to wear to my niece’s wedding. I wear my shirts to staff meetings (I love it when my female coworkers say “wow, I love your shirt”!) I like to think that all us home sewers are making the world a much more interesting place. I, for one, am always thankful to see someone wearing something just a little bit different. It has a way of bringing joy to life.
Has your sewing ability changed over time?
Boy, has it ever! I really thrive on the challenge. Prior to making clothes, my sewing experience was making drapes and slipcovers. That experience was helpful, but sewing clothing is a completely different animal, especially menswear with its tailoring / structure issues. I believe
all of us, both female and male sewers, want the best possible results in our projects. In the world of menswear, that frequently depends on the under structure of a garment. So to get the results I really want, I’ve had to learn traditional tailoring. Thankfully, Roberto Cabrerea has written the definitive texts for both men’s and women’s tailoring which make the techniques accessible to the average home sewer. I’ve become enamored by the whole tailoring process, and feel that in some small way I continue a rich history of tradition and craftsmanship.
Has my ability to sew affected / changed my style?
Absolutely! Sewing has allowed me to have the kinds of clothes that I could never afford. It’s a control freak’s dream. As home sewers we get to control it all; the fabric, the colors, the buttons right down to the thread. Sewing also allows me to play with styles that have disappeared from the marketplace. I frequently search on Etsy and eBay for vintage men’s patterns. I’ll have a silk dupioni Nehru jacket one of these days! As I say on my blog, I AM my own luxury brand.
Does my passion for sewing influence those around me?
In my real life, probably not. I’m still the only guy sporting a safari jacket at the laundromat! In my virtual life, via my crazy blog, I hope that people are encouraged to take the plunge and try something new. There is an enormous amount of inspiration, education and support within the online sewing community. In a very small way, I’d like to think that I contribute to that.