Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Kwik-Sew 1932 (1989): Black and White Stars and Stripes Sweatshirt

It was an easy decision to purchase Kwik-Sew 1932.  

The line drawings are awesome. The shoulder pads are so big the models look like linebackers!  But their big earrings and short haircuts are way cool.

I initially thought I would make View A.

(I both love and hate this. Only after making it would I know which emotion prevailed.)

At the same time I was ruminating on this pattern, I was doing some casual internet research on a short-lived British clothing company called Bodymap.  Founded in 1982 by friends Stevie Stewart and David Holah, they earned many accolades and were considered very avant-garde. But they were a bit too “out there” for some buyers.  Their oddly titled fashion shows (such as The Cat in the Hat takes a Rumble with the Techno Fish) and non-traditional models (they embraced all ages and body-types, and often the models cross-dressed) put off some of the fashion “establishment.”   But everyone else thought they were cool and they experienced great success.

Bodymap seemed to be about layering prints and textures.  A lot of their ensembles had an unstructured look and were made out of inexpensive, accessible fabrics.   Holes were placed in unexpected locations. Some pieces were oversized while others seemed to emphasize the contours of the body.  They worked predominantly in black, white and cream and stripes seemed to show up often:

Sadly, Bodymap was a bright star that soon fizzled.  Amid financial struggles, they closed down in the late 1980s.  

Although I don’t remember the Bodymap brand, I can see their influence in a lot of 80s looks and trends.  The layering of several different types of clothing at once (baggy, tight, ripped, stripes, tribal, shots of bright color) was definitely a look back then.  

Boy George in the Karma Chameleon video, 1983

I really liked a lot of Bodymap’s elements. Soon, those elements were inspiring me to see View B in black and white stars and stripes, and the rest is baggy sweatshirt history!  

Kwik-Sew 1932 is also a Kwik-Serge pattern, which means it is designed to be sewn on either a regular sewing machine or on a serger.  

I have stated on this blog that my mother has owned only ONE sewing machine her whole life: a Singer Touch n Sew gifted to her by my dad in 1966. But that isn’t 100% true, because for a brief time she owned a serger.

A serger is a sturdy little machine with 4 spools, whose threads are guided through a TV antenna-looking thing into a series of complicated channels and hooks.  The threads zig zag around inside the machine for a time before converging at the throat plate, where two threads enter two needles and the other threads enter some other metal thingamajigs.  

The E-Z Lock Serger that nobody wanted

As you push your fabric under the presser foot, a very sharp little knife, also at the throat plate (visible to the eye and rather near your fingers) chops off the edge of the fabric as the threads are loop-de-looping over the edge, so the end result is this:

You have a “professional” looking finish, much like what you see inside many RTW (“ready-to-wear”) items, especially knit tops and sweatshirts.

While many home sewists love sergers, the EZ Lock never really caught on with Mom and she gave it to me.  It didn’t catch on with me either, so I gave it back to her. Honestly, the machine looked complicated (and slightly scary).  It hung around in her house for another few years before I took it back again. I was ready to get serious about serging.

I learned the intricacies of threading the machine (large tweezers are required), and got used to the loud mechanical chopping and stabbing going on at the throat plate.  After a few practice runs, I was ready to start sewing my sweatshirt. And it did come together nicely. For the most part.

However, when it came time to sew the ribbing at the neck and sleeves, I had a problem getting the thread tension right.  My practice pieces connecting the sweatshirt material to the thicker ribbing were looking either very loose or very tight or some undesirable combination of both.

The tension on each of the four spools of thread is adjusted via the four corresponding color coded dials (the manual is helpful here in order to know if you are manipulating the upper loop, or the lower loop or whatever).  Although I fine-tuned the hell out of those dials, I never really got the thread tension on the ribbing the way I wanted it. I decided not to get tense about it (ha) and figured nobody but me would see inside the sweatshirt.  It was good enough (yet pride prevents me from sharing those inside shots with you).

Although there was a learning curve, this sweatshirt came together somewhat easily.  I got the black stars on white french terry sweatshirt fabric here. The striped fabric is a ponte knit, and the black ribbing is meant for cuffs and neckbands.  I skipped the shoulder pads (only because I didn’t have any!)

I had a certain pair of vintage earrings hanging around in my Etsy shopping cart.   I pressed the buy button when I could no longer resist the (possibly too matchy) matching opportunity the black and white stripes presented.  Plus I loved the shot of hot pink!

vintage 80s earrings from TreeMagicVintage

Should I keep the matchiness going and put on this hot pink bucket hat?

Black, white, pink, stripes....

This sweatshirt would be great layered over striped leggings and a mini skirt. You don't see me wearing that however because I can't stand how leggings feel on my body and might also make me feel like an age-inappropriate Pippi Longstocking. Baggy jeans folded over and cuffed (remember how we did that to "peg" our jeans?!) will have to do!

I’ve already worn my comfy sweatshirt a few times out and about.  I had wondered if the stars would look too cutesy or “twee”. I have decided they do not, and wear my Bodymap-inspired sweatshirt with pride!

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman (1985)

While flipping through my mother’s copy of Family Circle Magazine last summer, I came upon an article by Andrew Postman addressing parents’ concerns about children and the encroachment of “screens” in family life.  

“This all feels so familiar to me….” writes Andrew.  “A few decades ago, my father, Neil Postman, was America’s best-known “critic” of television and its effect on culture.   His 1985 book, Amusing Ourselves to Death suggested that the dynamics, “grammar” and economics of television were turning us into a perpetual audience...”

The moment I read that sentence, I got a flashback to the 80s.  Yes! I remembered that book! (Not reading it though.  Probably too busy watching TV). It made a huge splash and deservedly so.

The copy I got from the library is the 20th Anniversary Edition of Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business.  The book, published in 2005, includes an introduction by his son Andrew discussing present day media that is already out of date: the iPhone was not introduced to the public until 2007. 

His father’s book on the other hand, is timeless.  On page one he states: "Our politics, religion, news, athletics, education and commerce have been transformed into congenial adjuncts of show business, largely without protest or even much popular notice. The result is that we are a people on the verge of amusing ourselves to death."

Neil Postman continues: "Other culture watchers and worriers...have observed and recorded the dissolution of public discourse in America and its conversion into the arts of show business.  But most of them, I believe, have barely begun to tell the story and meaning of this descent into a vast triviality.”   

He lays the groundwork for his argument by discussing just how enormous an impact means of communication have on the content of a culture.  Why is it so enormous, even history-altering? Because the content of what is expressed by any means of communication is regulated and dictated by those means.  To illustrate this point, Postman uses the example of smoke signals: “While I do not know exactly what content was once carried in the smoke signals of American Indians, I can safely guess that it did not include philosophical argument.  Puffs of smoke are insufficiently complex to express ideas on the nature of existence, and even if they were not, a Cherokee philosopher would run short of either wood or blankets long before he reached his second axiom.”   

The author then takes us on a tour through time, examining those moments in human history when those means--our mediums of communication--changed forever our culture and its contents.  When the written word was invented, culture changed. When the printing press was invented, culture changed. And our present day media overwhelm, with its endless flood of disparate images and sound bites, all started with the invention of the telegraph in the 1830-40s.

The telegraph collapsed space and allowed information to move faster than humans could carry it.  In the 1800s, the average American was not only literate but routinely read and listened to complex subject matter.  Via the printed word (and public talks), coherent, relevant information was shared, discussed, utilized. It served the people.

On the other hand, the telegraph "gave a form of legitimacy to the idea of context-free information,” writes Postman.  “That is, to the idea that the value of information need not be tied to any function it might serve in social and political decision-making and action, but may attach merely to its novelty, interest, and curiosity.  The telegraph made information into a commodity, a “thing” that could be bought and sold irrespective of its uses or meaning.”’

And basically, it’s been pretty much all downhill from there.  The invention of the photograph soon thereafter “was the perfect complement to the flood of telegraph news-from-nowhere that threatened to submerge readers (of newspapers) in a sea of fact from unknown places with unknown faces...it provided the illusion that “the news” had a connection to something within one’s own sensory experience.”

Sound familiar?

Telegraphic sound bites and de-contextualized photographic images laid the perfect groundwork for that most American of pastimes: Watching TV. American television bombards viewers with millions of images, juxtaposed haphazardly within an endless variety of unrelated subject matter.  And the subject matter, writes Postman, “requires minimal skills to comprehend and is largely aimed at emotional gratification” and amusement. Indeed, entertainment is “the supra-ideology of all discourse on television.”

All of it?  Even the news?  Yes. Especially the news.  Good-looking and amiable newscasters share fragments of tragedy and barbarism, then smile and urge us to “join them tomorrow!” Jaunty music is cued, the commercials start and the tragedy is forgotten.  In this universe of strangers and fragmentation, nothing is connected; depth of meaning is lost.

Hopefully by now, you’ve gotten the drift of this convincingly argued and elegantly written book.  There is much to learn from it and reflect upon, and here I have only scratched the surface. Neil Postman, by the way, was not TOTALLY anti-TV.  He understood that it could give comfort and pleasure. He didn’t have a problem with it as a vehicle for straightforward entertainment.  

What really upset him was how people did not see that the news shows and “educational programming” (oh yes, he takes aim at that sacred cow, Sesame Street) are “stylized dramatic performances” staged largely to entertain.  The format of television dictates that this be so. No matter how good the intention, the ingesting of any “serious” or educational programming cannot hold a candle to actually reading (and writing). No, it is far better for those who make the commercials that we turn on the TV (or scroll on our smartphone) rather than open a book.

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