Saturday, 22 August 2015

Handmade Wardrobe Inspiration: Interview with Cal Patch

One of the most awesome things about being a craft blogger is having the perfect excuse to talk to the creative people you admire. I'm delighted to bring you an interview with an expert enabler and advocate of handmade clothing. You'll see that Cal Patch is not only a teacher but an inspirational woman who is able to make just about anything. She brings some thought-provoking insights into the world of 'fashion' too...
Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us. For those who aren't familiar with your work, can you start by telling us a little about your background as a designer and teacher? 
I majored in Fashion Design in college, reasoning that it was a practical form of art and that I could probably make a living using it, whereas I wasn't so sure that was true of an art degree. So I've been designing clothes since 1991 (whoa, that's almost 25 years!) when I graduated and immediately moved to New York City. I worked in Fashion for about a decade, but very early on I began to become very disillusioned with the way that the clothing manufacturing industry works, and especially the direction it was moving in. Eventually I left and opened my own boutique where I sold my own and other artists' handmade clothing and objects. It was a really fun project which lasted nearly 4 years (1998-2002), during which I learned that I'm a terrible salesperson and a pretty good teacher. People kept telling me they would love to learn how to sew and crochet, so I started offering classes as a way to draw interest into the shop. That's when I found out how much I love to teach. From there, I opened one of the first indie craft schools with a friend in 2002 and teaching has become a major component of my work ever since.

You seem to be able to turn your hands to anything - from crafts to teaching, to playing the ukulele! Have you always been this way? When did you start 'making'/ who taught you?
I have always been a maker. I grew up in the 70's which was a very DIY time. My grandmother was super crafty and never without a project in her lap. My mom was always re-finishing furniture she brought home from a flea market or putting up wood shingles on the bathroom walls. I was constantly into some artistic endeavor: paper maché puppets, macrame, ceramics, woven ribbon hair clips, embroidery... and I loved drawing, painting, or any kind of art. I really wanted to be an artist as a career, but I had no idea what the reality of that looked like, which kind of scared me off. But generally I grew up believing I could do just about anything I set my mind to!
Ukulele has been a very recent addition to my repertoire (thanks to my pal Alisa who put one in my hands and showed me one chord) that's been very interesting because it's completely out of my comfort zone. I had always wanted to play an instrument (I played violin as a child for 2 years, and have always regretted giving it up) but it seemed like it would require too much dedication which would take away from my fiber arts. But it's actually such a good "gateway" instrument because you can pick up the basic skills fairly quickly and play some simple songs (as you also recently learned!). I'm fascinated though by the process of learning something from the ground up, and being a true beginner. When I learn a new fiber technique, it's pretty easy for me to understand the principles and grasp the skills quite easily because I am so immersed in the fiber world already. But music is a whole different realm that I know nothing about, so playing with my uke feels more like a hobby and an escape from my usual pursuits.

You had (what many would consider to be) the dream job of being a designer in NYC, what prompted you to move upstate to become a 'crafty farmer'?  
It was totally my dream job! Until I saw the dream for how it really operates. I'm appalled by the way the clothing industry has evolved since moving the manufacturing overseas, which has allowed the huge chain stores to take over with their cheap, disposable clothes that most people are addicted to. The term "planned obsolescence" is usually attributed to electronics, but the fashion world invented that concept. I see fashion as a scam. The combination of making us believe certain styles are "in" and then very quickly "out", and producing very cheap clothes that soon fall apart, is like a perfect storm of corporate profit. But it's our own fault as shoppers that we support it. I used to fall for it myself, but somewhere around the early 2000's I started to realize that it was hypocritical of me to be making and selling handmade clothing while wearing H&M. So I basically stopped shopping. For the last few years of living in Brooklyn, I was working from home, making dresses and selling them in my Etsy shop and at craft fairs, and teaching at shops all over NYC. I realized it was crazy to live in one of the most expensive cities while working from home, which I could essentially do anywhere. And I really craved nature and outdoor space and a garden and chickens, not to mention a whole house and more studio space. So when I met someone who was willing to make the leap with me, we jumped! That was in 2008 and I've never looked back. The quality of life and cost of living are infinitely better here, about 2 1/2 hours north of the city.

I 'discovered' you from your beginner-friendly sewing classes, and only later did I realise that we share many other passions too. I especially love the way that you encourage people to "DIY". For those who haven't seen your classes or book, can you tell us about your approach and why you think it appeals to so many people? 
Sewing isn't hard. A lot of people have a memory from childhood, or Home Economics classes in school, where they had some difficulties with sewing, and the teacher (or, often, a relative) got frustrated and maybe did some cursing and it left a bad taste in their mouth about the idea of it. I have exorcised many a Sewing Demon! I seem to have a knack for breaking things down to the bare bones, and seeing through the eyes of a beginner, and explaining things clearly. Plus I have a great deal of patience! My goal is to teach people that sewing is fun, practical, and not intimidating. And so empowering!
My biggest contribution to the sewing movement is showing home sewers that they can actually draft their own patterns, and that it's not nearly as hard as they might think. It's actually very straightforward and logical, and allows you to make exactly what you envision, rather than be at the mercy of what commercial sewing patterns are available, and the pattern will be made using your measurements, so the fit is practically guaranteed. Also, learning how pattern drafting works will help you alter your commercial patterns to fit you better.

Your latest Creativebug offering is 'Crochet for Knitters". I know that many knitters are put off by patterns which include crochet, so I think this is a really great idea for a class. What can people expect to learn from it?
Yes! Crochet is my other passion, specifically trying to show the world all of the GOOD and lovely crochet that is out there, because there's been a lot of Bad Crochet out there since the 1980's, and so people have a stigma that crochet is the ugly, tacky, cheap stepsister of knitting. I've seen some bad knitting out there, but for some reason it's not held against the craft of Knitting as a whole. Anyhoo, I have a lot of Pinterest boards showing beautiful crochet, for example: my "lovely crochet" board, if anyone needs convincing! And I have designed a few crochet patterns and have more in the works.
Crochet for Knitters is a class I've taught for years, after many a knitter told me that they avoided any knit pattern that even mentioned the word "crochet", because they didn't know how. It's funny to me how a knitter will pull out all their reference books and watch 37 YouTube videos to find the right stretchy cast-on for a sock, but wouldn't do the same for a single crochet edging on the neckline of a sweater. There really shouldn't be a Great Divide between Knitting and Crochet; they are both wonderful, and they both use the same yarn, and each has its strengths and weaknesses, and we should all know both. That's my opinion! So in this class I teach a few simple techniques that can be very useful additions to a knitter's toolbox, like crochet button-bands, edgings, and joining or seaming techniques, plus a quick flower tutorial. And my secret plan is that learning some of these tricks will lure a few more knitters over to the dark side. MWA HA HA!!! (rubs hands together with evil grin)

Finally, what's next for you and where can we find more of your work? 
I have another Creativebug workshop coming out in September that's another work-along (multi-session) class to follow up from last year's Pattern Drafting one, which shows you how to make 2 master patterns (shift dress and skirt) and then how to manipulate them into a whole wardrobe's worth of styles, and how to sew them. I can't say what the new one is yet, but it does build upon the first one so if anyone's interested, now's a good time to work through that one as you'll use those patterns for the new one!
I'm also teaching some live-in-person classes coming up: later this month (August) I'm teaching a Make Your Own Dress Immersion Weekend at Drop Forge & Tool in Hudson, NY (and resident artist Lisa Congdon will be there! squee!) 8/22-23 and Print & Sew Folk Dress with Maya Donenfeld at Craftstitute in Ithaca, NY, 8/29-30. In September I'm teaching Sew Your Own Leggings at Fiber College of Maine. and in November I travel back to Texas to teach 4 classes at the super fun Lucky Star Art Camp! All of the links and details can be found on my teaching page which I update regularly. 

I've got some new book ideas in the works, and I could be coming to teach at a retreat or shop near you, so keep an eye on my website and facebook page to keep updated! And for those who aren't ready to whip up their own handmade wardrobes quite yet, you can always commission a handmade dress or leggings from me in my Etsy shop. Handmade doesn't only mean made by your own hands! We can't all do ALL the things, so supporting other independent artisans is a big part of changing the system.

It's been really lovely to chat with you Cal, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule for us. I can't wait to see all these new things you're working on, and am very envious of everyone who will be on your weekend course. Your class AND Lisa Congdon *gulp* -  have fun!

I hope you all enjoyed reading this interview as much as I loved putting it together - if you've been reading the blog for a while, you'll understand that a knitting/crocheting/sewing dog-lover with a ukulele feels like a kindred spirit! Feel free to leave a comment for Cal below and please check out her links: Hodge Podge Farm BlogFacebookCreativebug Classes, Etsy, Pinterest and Ravelry.


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