Austin designer and garment sewing guru, Tina Sparkles shares her flair for eco-conscious fashion in her new book, Little Green Dresses. The book is filled with 50 fashion projects, all centered around using reclaimed or refashioned materials. Tina’s fun, edgy and very cool aesthetic is evident throughout the book, and her skills as a seasoned sewing instructor make for clear step-by-step instructions and handy tips for each project. Tina took time to talk to CRAFT about her desire to get people to rethink their wardrobe and take steps to a more socially responsible approach to fashion.
And, if you’re in Austin, you can join Tina for the Little Green Dresses Book Release Party at the Stitch Lab Sewing Studio on Saturday, September 18.
What do you hope people will take away from reading Little Green Dresses and completing projects from the book?
I really hope people feel empowered and inspired after reading the book and trying some of the projects in Little Green Dresses. That is how I felt when I started making my own clothes and it is so thrilling to be able to share that with everyone. Taking control of your wardrobe and creating an alternative for yourself from mainstream mass production is really powerful and exciting.
When/How did your interest in using “green” materials develop?
It all started around 2005 when I started hearing about sweatshops. It led me to do some research on how and where clothes are made and from there I went down the rabbit hole. In addition to learning about factory conditions overseas, I found out about fiber and fabric production and the whole supply chain that takes a piece of clothing from start to finish. It was really overwhelming and shocking to realize that something like clothing could have such a huge impact, not just on people, but on our environment and our resources. Since I love fashion so much, I wanted to be able to feel good about my clothes, but it was hard and frustrating to do that with most of what was being offered, so I decided to quit buying brand new clothes and see if I could be happy and fashionable by making my own stuff and shopping second hand. It was a little hard at first, but after the adjustment period I knew I would never turn back.
What serves as inspiration for your designs?
I am easily inspired by vintage shapes and details so a lot of times, the old garments and fabrics that I uncover from thrift and vintage stores will speak to me about what they want to become. I love math and geometry, so sometimes I just mess around with flat pattern drawings to see what I get and go from there. I also love looking at current runway fashions, old album artwork from the 80’s and art in general. Right now I am really into colorful geometric and optical art from artists like Mary Heilmann, Kandinski, Victor Vasarely, and Henryk Berlewi. Oh also, I think about the type of girl who might wear my designs….its so fun to have a specific muse!
What are some of your favorite projects in the book?
I have lots of favorites! The rompers for sure, the Disco Shorts, the Peek-a-boo Jumper, the Criss-cross Jumper, the Wedding Cake Dress, the Cha Cha Blouse, Peggy Noland’s Caged Hoodie, OMG, I pretty much want to list all of them!
What’s the most unique material you’ve worked with when creating a garment?
I guess that would have to be the computer wires that I used this summer to make a dress. That was really a crazy process and working with the wires was like nothing I have ever done before. It took me a few months to get the project finished up because I needed to take long breaks in between sewing sessions since the wires were kind of a pain to sew. In terms of really wearable everyday materials, I’ve come across some really wild and unique prints and textures from the past. I recently found an acid washed denim trench coat with white lace trim that I am excited about refashioning for the fall!
Have you had any experiences with materials that didn’t end up working out for sewing?
Oh yes and I have photos! I once tried to give new life to an old, tattered hot pink vintage fur jacket. I first spotted it for $12 on the discount table at the City Wide Garage Sale on a Saturday. I didn’t get it because I felt really weird about working with real fur. That night I had dreams about the pink fur jacket and the bunny that it used to be. I felt compelled to go back the next day and save it from possibly going to the landfill. It was in pretty bad condition with tons of gross stains and mats in the fur, so its no wonder I found it on the same table, marked down to $6. So I bought the pink fur and walked around to check out some of the other vendors at the garage sale and guess what I found? The SAME EXACT hot pink vintage fur jacket in mint condition for $300. It was really weird. Anyway, I took home my non-mint version and starting making plans for it. I looked into getting the fur cleaned, but everything I read pretty much said that I would need to take it to a special furrier to clean it so I decided to just fluff it and lightly vacuum it a bit and work around the really stained areas. Since a lot of the fur was unusable, I only had a limited amount of material to work with, so I decided to make a bunny shaped plushie to be adored – I was really into the idea of a bunny resurrection of sorts and making this project as a statement about the use of animal fur in fashion, which I am against. I started out by drawing my pattern shape and made a lining for it out of some recycled cotton fabric, then I spent a couple of hours deconstructing the coat, cutting apart the usable areas and arranging them on the lining pieces. That was it for one day of work and then the next day I woke up with an itchy, painful rash all over my hands that lasted for several days. Either the fur was covered in dust mites or I was allergic to the chemicals that they put on the skin side of the fur. I read that you can put fur in a freezer for a couple of days to get rid of dust mites, so I went ahead and did that, but after the itchy hand incident, I didn’t really want to touch the fur ever again and I thought it was a sign, since I never really felt 100% OK about the whole thing anyway. Total FAIL.
What’s your motto/philosophy for/on crafting?
I think crafting is a really powerful activity. It is therapeutic, brings people together in community, encourages awareness and appreciation for objects, it is a creative form of expression, a means to live, an avenue for exploration of ideas and on top of that it is just super fun and personally rewarding!
If someone is new to creating garments from recycled materials, where do you suggest they start?
I suggest they start at a cheap thrift store. Grab a couple of items with interesting fabrics and just go to town on them. It is good to start with items that you don’t have a huge attachment to otherwise you might be paralyzed with fear over cutting them up. Just start experimenting, have fun and see what happens. Perhaps another one of your first projects might be to find a really big mumu, long skirt or XL item that has tons of fabric and then take it apart completely to use the fabric with a pattern. One of the reasons I love refashioning with patterns so much is that you can add a bit of certainty to what you are doing and you can do just about anything imaginable.
Any favorite crafting tips you’d like to share?
When I learned this sewing tip, it changed my life: When you are sewing together a lined, sleeveless bodice or dress that has a center back or center front opening, you can stitch the lining to the outer fabric along the neckline and the armholes completely (do not sew the side seams yet) and then pull the center openings through each of the shoulders to turn it right side out. Once you get it right side out, you flip open the lining along the side seam and stitch the side seam of the lining and the outer fabric together in one continuous stitch crossing over the intersection of the bodice and the lining. Brilliant!
What’s your can’t-live-without craft tool?
I would not be able to live without a seam ripper, especially in the world of refashioning and I also really love my pinking & regular rotary cutters.
Book Giveaway Time!
Two lucky CRAFT readers will each receive a copy of the book, Little Green Dresses. Just tell us why you would like this book in the comments. All comments will be closed by Noon PST on Monday, September 20, 2010. The lucky winners will be announced later on the site. Good luck!