Skip to main content

Sarah Cannibal: Because I Would Eat You If I Had To

Sarah Cannibal hunting jacket label for Hippik
Because I was raised by wolves.
Not really.
But sorta.
Ok--maybe cats. I was raised by cats.
I was a difficult, fat, scabby, feral child. The youngest kid of those old-school big Catholic families--the one who crawls around under the piano, eating everyone's homework, teething on old cigarette lighters and rubber grapes. I was an early talker--mostly obscene--because by the time the fifth, sixth or tenth kid comes along, everyone is tired of watching their mouths. Mostly I was in the barn, searching for the new litters of kittens. We had a rotating herd of barn cats. And there were always new kittens.
But cats really aren't good as surrogate parents. If you have retractable claws, they might teach you how to kill mice, but other than that, they don't have a lot of useful life skills to pass on to young girls.
My mother did not teach me to sew.
In fact, she thought I was a bit tetched in the head for wanting to even bother with it--"spend all that money and time and it comes out looking like something you could have bought at Sears," she'd mutter, lighting a cigarette on the toaster.
Which was true. In the first place, by the 1980's, unless you lived in a large city, or had some sort of straw-into-gold-lamee sorcery, it was fairly impossible to find high quality fabric. My older sisters, who had taken actual sewing lessons, had left many many piles of unused fabric from doomed and abandoned projects from the 1960's and '70's. But all that cheap poly blend satin or sleazy acrylic tweed pretty much doomed your project before you even found your scissors. And you could never find those. Also: our sewing machine--an old Necchi--never worked properly. Or maybe it was because I had no idea how it worked. (Or--as likely--I may have busted it.)
Still--I read all those cozy little stories in sewing magazines about women learning to sew from their mother or their grandmother with a mix of wistfulness and cynical befuddlement unsuited to my age. I had been told that my mother and grandmother could sew. And even I vaguely remember going to my mother's "sewing club" as a toddler. It seemed a bit light on needles and thread and a bit heavier on the cigarettes and coffee. (But that could just be the haze of memory and Pall Malls.)
If my grandmother had taught me anything, it probably would have been how to play craps and blackjack. Or how to bet a trifecta or make a grasshopper.
I learned thrift shopping from my mother. Rather--I sorta picked up the skill after years of being dragged to thrift stores by my mother. It was, as it turned out, preferable to paw around for one's own clothing from a bin of castoffs than to have to suffer the humiliation of girls' "husky" sizes. Fuck Sears.
Unsurprisingly, none of those cozy sewing magazines have been interested in my essays about my memories of learning to sew, which was an unladylike, solitary combination of slash-and-burn sartorial espionage, dumpster diving and stain removal techniques that resembled witchcraft by the ubiquitous experimental potions and unintelligible swearing.
And because I was, as mentioned, "husky", I had to learn how to make all those baroque, wasp-waisted 1950's dresses and the fantastically sexy pencil skirts from the 1960's fit my thick waist and flat ass. I learned how to move buttons, let out seams and add gussets, replace busted zippers. And, because it was the 1980's, I figured out how to make all those groovy bell-bottom jeans from the 1970's into peg leg pants and capris. I was a boss with safety pins.
For school plays, if I couldn't costume the players in authentic vintage pieces from my own growing collection, or connive a friend's mother or grandmother into sewing something, I could find some reasonable facsimile at the Salvation Army, hack apart the collar, staple up the hem, soak it in RIT dye, aaaaaand ta da!
But, like every youngest kid who grows up with a plethora of hand-me-downs and garage sale garb, had to go through the phase of wanting something new for the simple sake of wanting something that no one else's ass had been in--eventually I had a closet of faded Gap crap and schlocky rayon dresses from The Limited and American Eagle. I learned to make things with that cheap acrylic tweed and sleazy poly velvets and horrid calico cotton blends and damned if they really did look about as good as stuff from Sears.
But eventually, I dusted off the thrift chops and, as a costume designer for shoestring budget theater companies, I earned my advanced degree in thrifting with a minor in alterations made with curb finds (As it turns out, old PVC tubing makes excellent caging for hoop skirts and bubble wrap does nicely for bustles as long as no one pinches your ass).
And so, surrounded again by all the carefully curated thrift store stuff, the eBay business and the inevitable wistfulness for  rich fabrics, professional tailoring and designer finishes. If only, one thinks, this beautiful tweed jacket were a wee bit wider in the shoulders so you could hunt in it, a bit smaller in the waist, a bit more shaped in the back, had a leather lining that you could wipe off...
So why start from zero when you can take a bit of this from a moth-eaten vintage Brooks Brothers' blazer, the finest leather lambskin from a dated 1980's leather skirt, carved ivory buttons from a shattered silk Victorian-era dress and somehow--after much swearing and ripping of stitches--put them all together?








Comments

Popular posts from this blog

5 "Thrift Store Find" DIY Craft Projects They Keep Showing, for Things You Haven't Been Able to Find at Thriftstores Since 1987.

Me love Pinterest.
I know it's all a big, fantastic lie, but like every other pretty magazine catering to our fantasies before it, it makes us feel like we can achieve the same, heavily worked-over, fantastically styled, filtered, and photo-shopped perfection in our own lives. And sometimes that's enough.

But as a professional builder of ridiculous, up-cycled things, and a veteran thrifter (I can show you the scars!), some of these Pinterest DIY are just a parade of despair, false promises and dashed hopes. There's no call for that.


1. Vintage Suitcase Crafts:

Not only is this type of vintage suitcase VERY rare at your garden variety thrift store, follow this link to see how much rather highly involved work went into it.


2. Stuff made with old "thrift store" silverware.


Here's what you'd hope to find:












Here's what you're most likely to find: Oh, this stainless steel crap will bend alright--most of it already has the scars of the church community cen…

The Lost Designer of the 80's

Claude Barthelemy seems to have been one of those if-you-needed-to-ask-you-didn't-need-to-know designers. In the '80's, he was listed as a young, hot couturier alongside go-the-distance blue chips like Karl Lagerfeld and Lanvin with his oversized sweaters, minis, leggings and fur-trimmed stoles. Exclusive stores carried his soft-edged jackets to shoppers in the know.

And then what happened? His pleated skirts, intarsia sweaters, and naughty, zippered wool catsuits still fetch high prices in vintage world and any dealer with his elegantly simple, Gallic tag on her racks raises a flutter in second-hand seekers. He designed for Barbie, for heaven's sake! But the designer himself, who seems to have cut a meteoric swath across the runways and then...?

So what's the story with this wasp-waisted pleated skirt? I wondered what else this woman could have dropped off on her Goodwill drive-by--a Chanel original? A couture Pucci? Surely someone this linked in wouldn't just h…

Change Your Tone!!

I know I have a "unique voice."
But I can count on one hand how many people I know who can stand listening to their own voice. (That is not saying there aren't those guys who seem to love talking just to hear the sound of their own voice; but if you literally played it back to them--they'd cringe and crawl under the sofa.)
When I was in the 3rd grade, I was chosen to be in some experimental speech/voice therapy at our school. They tried for many weeks to raise the pitch of my voice by having me go up and down the do-re-mi scales until I hit one that they thought sounded pleasing. I had a deep, true contralto voice somewhere a few notes below "do." With the sort of rasping, old-chain-smoker undertones of a freckled Billie Holiday. The experimenters settled on "fa." For 20 minutes three times a week, I got to leave Ms. Foster's third grade classroom and go to the convent living room where I would sing "do-re-mi-fa" and say and sing eve…