Spring is here!

Today is my 30th birthday and it was 72 degrees and sunny, which is the best gift I could have gotten since winters are no fun for me and I’ve basically been hibernating for the last two months! Yesterday I saw some beautiful crocuses in Central Park so I went back today with my camera to take some pictures of them and whatever else I could find that’s starting to bloom. I get so excited in the spring when all the bulb flowers start popping up, it’s like, if those bulbs can survive under ground all winter and then somehow push up all these beautiful, perfect, vibrant flowers, I can do the same thing!

Grandma’s Tatting

I recently went to my aunt’s house in Florida to get some much needed sunshine in the middle of winter. In one of her guest bedrooms she has a framed, shadow-boxed piece of unfinished tatting that my grandma was working on before she passed away (in 1963). A year ago I blogged about my paternal grandfather, Grandpa Komm, who was a tailor and who I like to say I got my sewing genes from. But my mom and her mother, my maternal grandmother, gave me some sewing genes too.

According to my mom, Grandma Inez would sit down and tat lace whenever she had a free moment. She could never just sit still; she always had to be doing something, even when she was “relaxing.” She tatted only this particular pattern and used it to edge handkerchiefs and pillow cases that she would give as wedding gifts.

I never met my grandma, so having this beautiful piece of her handiwork makes me feel a special connection with her. And the fact that it’s unfinished, that the pearl cotton is still wrapped around the bobbin in the shuttle, ready for her to pick up the next time she had a spare moment, seems to make it that much more personal. Sometimes the most inspiring works are the ones that never get finished.

Sewing History, Part IV: The first time I ever got laughed at by adults…

After my mom had found out that I had been secretly sewing Barbie clothes with her old green Bernina (without having ever been taught how to use it) she actually sat down with me and showed me how to sew backwards and make a zig-zag stitch. I think she might have even explained what all the specialty machine feet did and that they were not, as I had suspected, miniature mouse traps.

Knowing that I had her support and I didn’t have to hide my new hobby from her (or anyone else) was quite liberating…

One weekend two of my mom’s sisters (both of whom were avid seamstresses like her) were visiting and the three of them were in the TV room, most likely watching some BBC costume drama, and — surprise! surprise! — I was off down the hall sewing. I had run out of bobbin thread and started winding a new one, which I had always done by hand. As I wound the bobbin — something I’d done seemingly a million times – I had this flash of inspiration: that I would invent a machine that could wind bobbins! Immediately, knowing that there were three very seasoned seamstresses just a few steps away who would certainly be dying to hear this amazing news, I ran down the hall to the TV room — bobbin in hand — interrupted their movie, and boldly announced that “one day I’m going to invent a machine that will wind bobbins automatically!”

They all looked at me and then each other and burst out in laughter. I couldn’t figure out why my genius idea had been met with such ridicule — why weren’t they showering me with praise for the obvious technological advancement I was going to contribute to the world?!

“You’ve been winding all those bobbins by hand?!” said one of my aunts.

“Your sewing machine already does that!” said the other.

I think my face probably went purple and I started to cry. I asked my mom why she didn’t show me this feature when she taught me how to use the backstitch function and everything else; in between her laughter she said that it had never occurred to her that I didn’t know how to use the bobbin winder because I had been doing so much sewing that I must have already figured it out.

They tried their best to restore my bruised confidence and took me back to the sewing room to show me how to wind a bobbin with the machine. I sat there, just thinking over and over again: I wish I had learned this such a long time ago… it would have saved me so much time. And embarrassment!

A Holiday Tribute to Steve Jobs

When Steve Jobs passed away in October it made me more sad than I thought it would. As a creative and artistic person I cannot imagine my life without Apple products; they are, quite simply, part of my family and I love them, so this year I decided to include them in this kind-of-a-joke Christmas card I sent to my parents (who don’t have any grandkids). I hope you enjoy reading it (or looking at my gingerbread snowflakes, if that was what you were looking for).  (Click the pictures to enlarge each page and read it in context, or just scroll down to read the text, which I’m pasting into the post.)

Merry Christmas from the Komm Family: Colette (almost 30), iMac (2.5 years), iPhone (11 months), iPad (5 weeks)

Christmas 2011

iMac has made quite the transition this year, going from being an only child for the last few years to suddenly being the big brother of two younger ones who are constantly trying to sync his music and documents, bombarding him with new photos, and trying to get him to charge their batteries. In January he also lost his lifelong best friend, iPod—who, sadly, was kidnapped at the gym (I think). It’s been hard for iMac; I have much less time to spend with him as I’m always chasing around after iPhone and iPad (those little ones are always on the go and so demanding of my attention!) but he and I spent some quality time earlier in the spring and then again this fall putting together some beautiful portfolios of my wedding dresses. In October, noticing that iMac was starting to feel a bit neglected, I upgraded his operating system and got him two new pets: Magic Mouse and Trackpad, which he just loves and they have so much fun together! iMac is also learning to use Quickbooks so that in the new year he can help track the finances of our family business: making fancy dresses.

At the end of January we welcomed our long anticipated iPhone into the family. He’s been such a blessing in my life; helping me to keep in touch with business contacts while i’m out and about—he can even process credit card payments and make client invoices! He loves to go running with me in Central Park while listening to music and he’s gotten really good at playing Tetris. iPhone and I made it to level 25 of Tetris together—what a bonding experience! But what I appreciate most about iPhone is that he has helped me find a cure to my insomnia: before bed we log into Netflix and put on a documentary—usually about dinosaurs or deep space; something that’s interesting enough that my brain doesn’t get caught up in random thoughts, but not so interesting that I have to pay too much attention—then I stand him up on my night table (I’m so proud that he can stand up on his own!) and drift off peacefully to sleep. Most nights I’m asleep within a half hour—something that I never thought possible!At the end of January we welcomed our long anticipated iPhone into the family. He’s been such a blessing in my life; helping me to keep in touch with business contacts while i’m out and about—he can even process credit card payments and make client invoices! He loves to go running with me in Central Park while listening to music and he’s gotten really good at playing Tetris. iPhone and I made it to level 25 of Tetris together—what a bonding experience! But what I appreciate most about iPhone is that he has helped me find a cure to my insomnia: before bed we log into Netflix and put on a documentary—usually about dinosaurs or deep space; something that’s interesting enough that my brain doesn’t get caught up in random thoughts, but not so interesting that I have to pay too much attention—then I stand him up on my night table (I’m so proud that he can stand up on his own!) and drift off peacefully to sleep. Most nights I’m asleep within a half hour—something that I never thought possible!

The most recent addition to our family came the day before Thanksgiving. From the moment I brought iPad home from the Apple Store he has loved to read! All he wants to do is read (and play Fruit Ninja), so I thought it was only fitting that the first book we read together would be the biography of iPad’s biological father, Steve Jobs, who sadly passed away before iPad came into our lives. It was a wonderful experience to read that book with iPad, curled up in bed, sometimes for hours, and even in the dark! Now iPad knows that he is the offspring of a real genius, something of which he is very proud!

Like any family, we’ve also had our share of bumps and bruises this year. Just a few weeks ago I went to wake up iPhone from a nap and he was completely unresponsive to my touch (and iMac’s attempt to charge his battery). Fearing that he might be in a coma, I rushed him to the Apple Store where multiple resuscitation attempts failed and he was given an emergency full-body transplant. Luckily, between his personality being stored on iCloud and all of the syncing that he’s done with his big brother, iMac, by the time I got him home he was, quite literally, as good as new and back to his old self. Then, on iPad’s one month birthday it became evident that although he is exceptionally gifted at reading, he has some developmental deficiencies with writing, so for Christmas I got him a wireless keyboard, and now he is helping me write this letter from the comfort of my bed!

All three of the kids love to play around on the internet and waste time on Facebook and I’m hoping that iPhone and iPad will start wasting more time on Twitter and WordPress to help the family business grow in the new year. All three of them have also been helping me figure out my next big website redesign for 2012; each of them has ideas about what they’d like to see and how it should be formatted so that they can each enjoy it on their own. Right now iMac is the only one in the family that can see it but that will soon be changing!

Colette has had a very busy year—especially the last few months—so she has really enjoyed taking some time off this week to celebrate Christmas (and make this letter). She’s enjoying playing with the new toys Santa brought her: a red 7-quart KitchenAid mixer (she’s made snowflake gingerbread cookies so far), and a Canon 60D DSLR camera with assorted lenses (with which she eventually plans to capture detail shots of the gowns she makes but is practicing right now by taking pictures of the cookies she made and all the Christmas decorations she put up in her apartment).

Well, 2011 has been a memorable year for our family and we hope it has been for yours too. We are looking forward to 2012 and wish you the very best this holiday season, and a very Happy New Year!


Colette (almost 30), iMac (2.5 years), iPhone (11 months), iPad (5 weeks)

Gingerbread Cookie Teaser…

I know Christmas is officially over, but at my apartment it’s still going strong due to the fact that I was too busy right up to the 22nd to do anything remotely resembling a holiday tradition… Last year I made some fancy snowflake gingerbread cookies and have been waiting all year to make some more. Here’s what they look like right now, before I go at them with the royal icing!

My cookies from last year turned out really nicely but then when it came time to photograph them my crappy little point-and-shoot didn’t do them justice. For Christmas this year I got myself a real camera, a Canon 60D, with which I eventually plan to take detail photos of my dresses, but right now I’m practicing by photographing all of the Christmas decorations I put up (and the cookies I’m making). My apartment is red and green to begin with, so it’s the perfect backdrop!

More photos coming soon! And blogging more often, that’s my new year’s resolution! I hope you all had a wonderful holiday!


Remembering September 11th, 2001

September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday; the second Tuesday of my sophomore year at Parsons — and because the first week of classes never really counts — my first real day of fashion classes. (At Parsons everyone’s freshman year is the same and you don’t declare your major until the end of that year.) For me, Tuesdays were like Mondays because I had arranged my class schedule to have Mondays off — a permanent three day weekend! — so I woke up that morning especially excited to start the week; I was finally doing exactly what I had dreamed of for so many years: studying fashion in the heart of the garment district at Parsons’ storied Seventh Avenue fashion campus.

As I got ready for school that day I emptied my backpack of the contents of my trip to the beach the day before: an empty canister of Pringles, a whole bunch of sand… As I went to take my camera out I hesitated, wondering, is there any reason to keep this in here? I probably won’t need it. I can’t imagine there will be anything worth taking pictures of today… so I left my camera on my kitchen table and went of to catch my train to midtown, proud of myself for having left early; the week before our teacher had stressed how crucial it was that we all be on time for class and that she always started class promptly at 9 a.m., and I was determined to make a good first impression on her and show what a serious student of fashion I was.

I can remember remarking what a beautiful late summer day it was while walking to my subway station, how bright and blue the sky was — more blue than usual. To this day, whenever I go out on a clear day I compare the sky to how it was that morning. If it’s that same deep, brilliant bright blue I’ll say to myself, it’s September 11th blue, and then feel a pang of sadness, confusion and anxiety and wonder if anyone else does the same thing.

I got to my classroom early, around 8:46, and while unloading my backpack realized that I needed to get some things from my locker downstairs. I debated whether or not to take my cell phone with me just in case someone called — but who’s going to call me in the next 5 minutes? — so I left it on my desk. When I got back it was blinking; I had missed a call from my parents and there was a voicemail waiting for me. Why would they be calling me at 5:50 in the morning, their time? Without bothering to listen to the message I dialed them back but the call wouldn’t go through. So I tried to call my voicemail but I couldn’t get through to that either. Oh well. I thought nothing of it and spent the next ten minutes looking over my notes from my very first fashion-design-at-Parsons homework assignment: a Shopping Report, and rehearsed all the keen observations I had made the previous week while “studying” at Bergdorf’s, Barneys and Saks Fifth Avenue.

At about 9:03, I looked at the clock and wondered where in the world was this teacher who had made such a big stink about starting class right on time. It’s past 9 a.m., who IS this woman?! Everyone else seemed to be wondering the same thing, and within ten minutes we had gone from a room full of strangers to bonding over the fact that our teacher was a complete hypocrite and had just given us license to be as late as we wanted for the rest of the semester.

Around 9:15 she finally appeared, and, with no apologies or explanation as to why she was late, immediately led us into a discussion about our Shopping Reports. I had taken the assignment very seriously, and was really excited to share all of my insights: how each store used lighting to create a certain ambiance depending on the price point or target customer of the particular clothing on display, how various brands or types of merchandise were clustered next to each other and all these other things, which at the time, seemed of the utmost importance. I jumped right into the conversation and for the next twenty minutes or so, I was completely engrossed, but not so much that I didn’t notice that there was a bizarrely constant stream of fire engines, police cruisers and ambulances blaring their sirens below our third floor window on Seventh Avenue. But again, I thought nothing of it. Since that day, however, every siren I hear makes me cringe and wonder if it’s all happening again.

At about 9:40 our guidance counselor and Tim Gunn, who was then just the recently appointed chair of the fashion department, came into our class to announce that, “Two planes have crashed into the World Trade Center towers and it’s possibly a terrorist attack and the city has shut down all trains and tunnels and bridges in and out of Manhattan, so we’d like for you to take a ten minute break to gather your thoughts, make some calls if necessary, then come back and continue your class.”

I’m not sure what was more shocking: that any of this had happened and was perhaps going to continue to happen or that we were expected to come back to class in ten minutes and continue talking about the subtle things that high end department stores do to make you feel special while you are shopping. People were losing what matters most while I was sitting there talking about what matters least. I felt absolutely horrible, and felt even worse when our teacher acknowledged that she had known what was going on and it was why she had been late. She came down here and started this most superficial of conversations knowing that our friends and neighbors were being blown up?! I couldn’t comprehend it. All the excitement and hope I had felt that morning on my way to school about my future was gone and replaced with a complete sense of futility about everything I was doing and the fashion world in general, which would take years for me to overcome and make sense of.

With some hesitation, I went outside and looked down Seventh Avenue, not sure what to expect. Up until then, on a clear day in New York the Twin Towers were the topographical equivalent of Mona Lisa’s eyes; it didn’t matter from what avenue you looked at them, they always seemed to be directly at the end of that avenue, glittering in the distance like the Emerald City at the end of the Yellow Brick Road. As a New Yorker, nothing made you more proud than that sight. This day should have been such a day, but all you could see looking south was a deathly gray fog obscuring all of Lower Manhattan. After this surreal “ten minute break to process things” I went back upstairs still somehow thinking I was supposed to finish class. No one else was there so I packed up my stuff and started walking with a girl from class to her high-rise apartment which was within walking distance of the school — maybe we’d be able to see something from her roof. Maybe seeing it would make it real because it didn’t make any sense.

We were on Eighth Avenue and 41st Street when a random passer-by (I can’t say stranger because no New Yorker was a stranger that day) announced incredulously that Tower 2 had just collapsed. How could that happen? and if that really had just happened how much worse would the death toll be now? I imagined the next few weeks being full of funerals, possibly now of people I knew (but thankfully it wasn’t). And what would New York City be like with only one tower? Of course at the time I never even considered for a moment that its surviving twin would fall down too. But it did, and before we even got to her apartment. By the time we got to her roof there was nothing to see but a vast grey fog of dust and smoke over Lower Manhattan that was wafting over to Brooklyn and a horribly sickening, empty space above it where the Twin Towers, and all the people in them, should have been.

Sewing History, Part III: The First Time I Ever Got Busted…

Me, looking very intense – and matchy-matchy, at age seven. It could be a mug-shot, right?

As with any criminal, addict, or person engaging in some kind of unscrupulous behavior, I got sloppier and sloppier about covering my tracks. (My tracks, of course, being that I was seven years old and using my mom’s sewing machine to make Barbie clothes without her knowing.) The more “high-risk” sewing I participated in, and the more excited I got that my little Barbie clothes were turning out to actually look like real Barbie clothes, the lazier I got about keeping the whole thing a secret. At some point, every addict wants to get caught; the possibility of being found out, of tempting fate and authority, only adds to the rush…

So I took my little Barbie clothes and my Barbies out of the sewing room — which was out of the way at the end of the downstairs hall where my mom never went — and started playing with them… In my bedroom, in the family room, on the staircase; all places where my mom, were she to pay me more than a passing glance as she went about her day, would find me out and get me in big trouble!

Or so I thought.

Eventually she did pass by me and did a double take, “Where did your Barbie get those clothes?!” At this point my mom probably was thinking that I was a criminal, that I must have stolen them from somewhere because she knew she didn’t buy them and how else would I have acquired them? — but I was too excited to worry about what she might really be thinking. The moment I’d been anxiously anticipating had finally arrived!

“I made them myself.”

“No you didn’t. You didn’t make those.”

“Yes I did. Don’t you recognize my old pink corduroy pants?”

Flummoxed, she took a closer look and the expression on her face went from confusion and shock to amusement and even pride as she recognized my old pants, repurposed and scaled down to fit a Barbie.

“And see this one, Mom, this is your old shirt!” I said as I pointed to my favorite outfit on my favorite Barbie, which had this very Yves Saint Laurent Safari Collection thing going on. It consisted of a pair of khaki colored trousers, an off-white t-shirt, and this little shawl that I had made from a scrap of open weave grass-cloth that came from I don’t know where, but it sure added a nice textural accent to the ensemble.

“But you don’t know how to sew…” she started to say.

“I taught myself!” I replied, before she could even finish, “I couldn’t wait until you thought I was old enough for you to teach me, so I went and figured it out all by myself.” I was brimming with pride, and by the time she had processed what I had just said, she was too.

An Illustration of Susanne’s Dress

Here’s an illustration I did this weekend of Susanne’s dress. My original intent with this was just to practice rendering white duchesse satin and lace on a darker ground as a study for a larger 18 x 24″ illustration that I’m planning (this one is 11 x 14″). It’s rendered very simply in graphite and acrylic paint (I would normally use gouache but it was all dried out).