Posture Exercises that Seem to Work

In the effort to correct a lifetime of poor posture, I have tried various exercises and stretches during the past few months. I have been more mindful of how I walk and stand and have tried to be straighter. Finally, I hit upon something that seems to work pretty well to correct my uneven shoulders, at least temporarily.

Here’s what I mean by “uneven shoulders”:

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Uneven shoulders in their natural state

The left shoulder is quite a bit higher than the left, as you can see. It’s also rotated a bit forward and makes a bit of a hunching lump in the back:

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Shoulder issues – the shirt is on grain. I am off grain.

A workshop recently on “somatic movement” offered to help, so I signed up. At the end of a one-hour session, here’s what my shoulders looked like:

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Even shoulders?

Pretty even! Wow!

But I am a skeptical soul, so I figured I’d be back to normal the next day.

IMG_20191120_125716 (2) Still pretty good, right?

How about the next day?

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A bit of the unevenness is back

And four days later, I was back to normal.

Still, that’s pretty good. I am interested enough to try somatics again.

The workshop started with everyone taking inventory of our bodies standing still and lying flat. If you just stand in front of a mirror, barefoot, and pay attention, you notice things. Maybe you’ll notice how your weight tends to sit a little heavier on one foot than the other, or maybe a bit toward the inside or outside of the foot, or back on the heel or forward on the toes. As you stand there, you may notice other things – one knee feels more fatigued than the other, or one hip seems to bear the load more than the other.

As you look in the mirror, you may notice things like my uneven shoulders. Or maybe uneven hips. Maybe one knee bends more, or you feel hunched over.

The same “inventory” works lying flat on the floor – you feel one hipbone more than the other, or your arms may splay differently. For example, because my high shoulder also is rotated a bit, when I lie flat on my back, my arm tends to twist with the back of my hand on the floor, while my other shoulder is better aligned, so my hand rests on the pinky side, more or less in a straight line. I also noticed that I can look further over my right shoulder than over my left.

We did a series of exercises where we stretched and twisted and reached. It was effortful, but not painful (for me anyway – people in the workshop had different abilities and fitness levels). Every so often we’d rest and take stock of how we felt different. If you’ve ever done Pilates or some other exercises where you take turns stretching or lengthening one side of the body, then another, you may have experienced this sensation. Each stretching exercise built on the next, so by the end of the session, we were doing some fairly complex moves.

We ended the workshop by standing in front of the mirror as we had at the beginning to take inventory again. Several people expressed “WOW” moments, including myself.

This is not some chiropractic hokum or new age feely-goody nonsense. It really seemed to work. The effect is temporary, because you’re meant to do these stretches every day and build on them over time, and I just did them once. After I am done with my grad school course (next week – not a moment too soon) I am going to sign up for a private consultation and get started on a regular regimen to see if it helps long-term.

Holidays. Meh.

Today is Thanksgiving in the United States – our annual harvest festival where we all eat too much while giving thanks for all the stuff we have. In theory anyway. Some people follow the gorging ritual with midnight shopping sprees, to buy even more stuff.

Sounds like a job for The Distaff Side!

Women do most of the holiday work. “Wait!” You may say. “My husband loves to bake his triple-chocolate cake for Christmas,” or “My Uncle Joe makes the best turkey!” Sure, men do their part, but the brunt of the work – certainly the grunt of the work (the planning, the budgeting, the shopping, the decorating, the cooking, the hosting, the cleanup) piles overwhelmingly onto women.

Not that most women view this all as a thankless task. Most women I know – especially retirees and women who don’t work outside the home – LOVE holidays. They really look forward to them. Get excited about them. Work hard for them. Enjoy them. And then feel let down or resentful when it’s not as perfect, or as fun, or as appreciated, as they’d hoped.

Why? Two reasons, I think:

  1. If you have a busy life, whether it’s with work, kids, school, volunteering and other obligations, your days are full already. A holiday is fun and a break from the routine, but it’s also a lot of work – work that piles on to the work you already have.
  2. If you do not have a busy life, you have little to do and little to look forward to. Holidays, birthdays, vacations and other events take on epic levels of importance. You really want to go all out. But the busy people in your life don’t see it your way.

Each side of this divide needs to give the other side a break.

If you’re in the “busy” camp, practice saying “no” to whatever holiday obligations irk you most. The holiday won’t be “ruined” because you ran out of time or money or energy to follow some hallowed tradition. Decide on your priorities and stick to them. Outsource thankless tasks.

If you’re in the “not busy” camp, practice having something to look forward to besides holidays. There’s no reason why you can’t cook your special holiday dish anytime, or why you have to wait for a holiday to do some cherished activity. Recognize that not everyone has the time, money and energy you have.

Finally, both sides can eat less, buy less, decorate less and do less. Look instead for those moments that make a holiday memorable. No one’s going to remember in 5 years that the turkey in 2019 was especially delicious, but they will remember things that really matter.

Sew Edgy Winter Sewing Plan 2019 Edition

Instead of making new fall/winter “sew edgy” sewing plans, I am trying to still deliver on my plan from last year. When I make a plan, I expect I will accomplish about half of it. So, I planned for 10 projects, expecting to make about five. As it turns out, I did six.

Anyway, here’s the fall/winter “Edgy Wardrobe” plan from 2018 and how it shook out – I ended up with six items which can mix and match for outfits:

2018 fall sewing plan update

I ended up finishing heavy on the “cheap and easy” side of the grid and focused on  “needs” over “wants.” The one “want” – that goofy Japanese-style top – was the one fail in the bunch. The rest all have been great additions to my wardrobe.

Anything that didn’t happen probably died on the drawing board for a good reason – maybe I was iffy on the pattern, or I didn’t have the right fabric, or I lacked the time/energy/interest to get the thing done. I was also kind of indecisive about a few projects, but the fullness of time has sharpened my eyes.

Here’s why the plans fizzled out:

  • The navy wool fabric I’d earmarked for either McCall’s 6464 or Deer & Doe’s Arum is too heavy for a fall/winter dress. During the past year I’ve developed much more sensitivity to temperatures with the menopause hot flashes and whatnot. The fabric’s better suited for a jacket or maybe even a light coat. So it will sit in the stash a while longer.
  • I need a simple ponte jacket, but the Oki Style pattern is not going to play well with it. The Lekala one is the way to go.
  • The New Look skirt gave me trouble in muslin form. I found a true wrap skirt pattern that gives the same effect and is much easier to sew, so that’s the new direction (see below for more on that).
  • I still like that Burda dress, but the fabric I had earmarked for it is way too heavy and stretchy. Jersey dresses are not for me. I may have to forget about this one.

So… what does that leave me for this winter? I feel like my needs for work clothes are simple and few.

  1. I need a suit, so I am going to make one – but I am going to take shortcuts. I have some high-quality ponte in stash that will get me the look of a suit for less work and less fabric, and a lot fewer fitting headaches. I may jazz it up with faux leather to work on the “sew edgy” plan some more.
  2. I need a good workaday dress. The RTW ones I’ve worn to work for a few years are pretty worn out. So I am going to make one – but something simple and unlined. Maybe use some faux leather here, too.
  3. I also need a work blouse – something simple, again, but in a print for a bit of color and texture.

I started with the suit skirt – again taking the “cheap and easy” route. This is the Osaka skirt from Seamwork magazine (a Colette publication).

The two-tone look allows for some stash-busting fun. I had about 3/4 yard of stretch faux suede, which I used on the top. The bottom is black ponte. This is a bit bulky, truth be told. I am styling it with my black wool batwing sleeve sweater to even out the proportions.

The pattern calls for a reversible skirt, but I didn’t want any more bulk at this party, so instead I drafted a waist facing out of leftover wool twill from my Style Arc Jasmine pants. I tried a few stash hardware pieces on as a closure for this but nothing really worked well. Then I remembered that I’d picked up this vintage covered button set at my favorite second-hand store:

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Vintage covered button set – oooh

I gave it a whirl with a scrap of the faux suede. It barely worked, but …. success! (The fabric’s a bit bulky. Did I mention that already. Oh yeah, I did.)

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Covered button

It’s a cute look. I plan to do the same with the Lekala 4114 jacket – using scraps of suede for the yoke and cuffs (if I have enough). I also plan to add a zipper for a bit of bling.

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Lekala 4114

Three Goals in One!

I managed a hat trick for my most recently completed sewing project:

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Jeans, bitches!

Yes, I sewed a proper pair of jeans with all the topstitching, fancy seams, fly front and whatnot. This has been a goal of mine for three years. I am delighted not only that I met this goal, but also with how well the jeans came out.

But wait! There’s more:

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Machine embroidery, bitches!

I also busted the embroidery unit out of its box (where it has been gathering dust for 4 years), downloaded a simple design and sewed it on to the pockets. I even did a fancy “mirror image” trick so that these ginkgo leaf motifs are somewhat mirroring the curve of my butt.

But wait! There’s more!

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Camp view, bitches!

I attended a hands-on sewing retreat, Camp Workroom Social in the Catskill Mountains in New York State to make these jeans. It was another goal I had that I can call “done!”  While the event was definitely “not for me” in some ways, the class itself to make these jeans was wonderful. I never would have done it without the help I got at the retreat.

We used a pattern made by Workroom Social, called the Claryville Jeans, after the town where the camp is held. The pattern is drafted for us pear-shaped women who have larger hip-to-waist ratios. It’s a really high-quality pattern with all those great details that make jeans look RTW. And the fit was great. After trying on a muslin in size 12, I made a few 1-centimeter adjustments to give my butt a bit more real estate, such as scooping out and extending the crotch curve and increasing the yoke at center-back. I also needed to take in the waist about 1.5 inches.

The fit is pretty great. These are a bit tight, but they will no doubt stretch out and conform to my bod over time, as jeans tend to do.

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Obligatory butt shot

The jeans have slightly forward seams and a bit of a bump-out at the calf for some nice fitting details. You do mock flat-fell seams at the yoke to reduce bulk. The only thing I haven’t done is to install the rivets at the front pockets. I am going to borrow a rivet-setter from someone to get that done.

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Obligatory inside shot

The topstitching is a chore, as you can imagine. Next time I make these, I will thread one machine for construction and another for topstitching to save my sanity with all the thread switching you have to do otherwise. It’s not perfect in any event – I could not get that second line at the fly to work – but who cares?

I used a kit from the subscription box Needle Sharp to make these. I won the box from a drawing at PatternReview.com (thanks again!) The box was a really nice kit, including  Cone Mills (made in the USA) stretch denim, fabric for the pocket bags, interfacing, regular and topstitching thread, needles, buttons,  a zipper and rivets. I can see this being a great service for sewists who make projects occasionally and can’t or don’t want to maintain a stash. The box also came with the Ginger Jeans pattern, which maybe I will use someday if I get tired of the Claryvilles.

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Needle Sharp jeans kit

For the embroidery, my recent “goofy for ginkgo” moments offered an opportunity to try personalizing the jeans a bit. I was in no rush to try my machine’s embroidery unit, since I don’t really like most embroidery. What can I say? A lot of motifs are corny. But I found this design on Urban Threads,which offers more modern and edgy designs, so I decided to go for it. More on that later.

(I want to say here that I don’t get any kickbacks, promos or other value of any kind from any of the entities I am linking to here. I am just telling you all about the pattern, fabrics, and embroidery that I found and used because I really liked it. I believe in ethically disclosing this stuff.)

A Little Retail Therapy

Shopping for fun is not really my jam. I mean, I don’t get a rush from buying things. But to lift myself out of my sewing funk, a trip to New York’s Garment District always works.

I like to start my trip by rubbing the handwheel on this sculpture for good luck:

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Statue in the Garment District, dedicated to garment workers

This statue, by the sculptor Judith Weller, is modeled after her father. It’s dedicated to garment workers from the city’s heyday – many were poor Jewish immigrants who toiled on piecework for pennies but gradually built themselves prosperous lives in the United States.

There’s a New York Fashion Walk of Fame that celebrates 28 New York designers. I meant to visit Betsey Johnson’s plaque, but I forgot where it was, so here’s another favorite – Diane von Furstenberg.

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Walk of Fame

There’s also a big needle and button sculpture (there’s construction around the site right now – here’s a picture I took a couple of summers ago):

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We’re going to need a lot more thread

People are always moaning that the Garment District “isn’t what it used to be” and I’m sure that’s true. But it’s still a fun, vibrant place. Walk around and you’ll probably see fashion students, designers and models, people pushing racks of clothes down the street, and plenty of shoppers. Many sample shops offer unique experiences. Lots of little shops cater to certain kinds of fabrics or trims, including some that serve ethnic shopping niches. There are also some big stores – Mood is the most famous from its Project Runway sponsorship, but there’s also B&J Fabrics, Elliot Berman, and many more.

I stopped first at my favorite specialty shop, Lou Lou Buttons. It’s a store that just sells buttons, and wow what a selection! Everything is top quality, and you won’t find many bargains, but if you need something special, it’s the place to go.

I am making my mother a blouse for holiday parties out of some gold satin. I wanted something to bling it up a bit. I was delighted to snag these rhinestone-studded beauties:

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Lou Lou has all the button looks

Then I headed to Steinlauf & Stoller to get some interfacing. They have the best quality stuff – I will never use that dreadful Pellon junk again.

I also scored a big roll of patternmaker’s paper. This stuff is transparent enough that you can see through it for tracing off patterns, yet sturdy enough that you can tissue-fit.

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Patternmaker’s paper

I also threw a little love the way of some trimming shops. I can never seem to remember their names, but they seem to be run by families and they have great prices. I stocked up on more pins, elastics, tailor’s chalk and a few others odds and ends.

It was a great way to spend my lunch hour from work. If you’re ever in NYC and want to shop, give me a shout!

Projects for When You Don’t Feel Like Sewing

I haven’t felt like sewing much these past few weeks. I got into a funk and can’t get out of it. I have a lot of projects I want to try, but no energy to get started.

What to do?

Here are some ways I have passed the time while I wait for inspiration to return:

  1. Unpick It!

I made this Jalie Drop-Pocket Cardigan last January as an entry for the first round of the PatternReview Sewing Bee.

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Jalie Drop-pocket cardigan in linen knit, RTW dress – saggy pockets from beading and embroidery

I had earmarked the linen knit for the cardigan, so the contest fit my plans well (although it would be months before the weather was warm enough to wear it. But to ensure I got past the first round of the contest, I needed to bling the thing up a bit. So I did some split-stitch embroidery and bead work in the shape of a coral branch.

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This is supposed to look like a coral branch. Squint hard and maybe you can see it…

While it coordinated with the RTW dress and fit the “coral” theme of the contest, I didn’t love this. For one thing, it was heavy and tended to drag the pockets down. For another, it was an awkward color to coordinate with … pretty much my whole wardrobe.

So one night I turned on a Project Runway rerun and got to unpicking it:

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Now you see it…

The job left a couple of small holes and snags:

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Now you don’t (But holes holes holes)

But they mostly pressed out or were easily repaired.

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Ta – da!  Almost good as new!

Close inspection betrays a few goofs but who’s going to look that hard (except me, of course). I feel like I got a whole new garment for almost nothing!

2. Organize it!

I keep my fabric stash pretty well organized – I pin a note about the yardage,  fiber content and weave on each piece and catalog it all in a photo album. My scraps are another matter. I have been throwing them into a wicker hamper for a while. Time to go through it!

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Scraps hamper -all sorted

I decided to only keep pieces that were big enough to make a pocket out of. That may sound arbitrary, but I had to draw the line somewhere. I just can’t get too precious with a bunch of odd pieces and little bits of things. I am recycling the rest.

I also organized my pins, separating the fine pins from the regular ones, and throwing out any that were rusty, dulled or bent. Any that seemed salvageable took a couple of trips through the little strawberry-shaped sharpener on my pincushion.

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Strawberry pincushion sharpens pins and needles

Yes, my friends, that’s what the little strawberry is for! It’s not just a pal for the fat ol’ tomato. It has some grit in it that can file off little burrs and bits of rust on pins and needles. Try it!

Quite a few didn’t pass inspection! I realized I needed new pins.

Since was buying pins, I figured I might as well inventory other notions in stash. I was all set for needles and buttons. I needed more black lightweight interfacing, clear elastic and basic 1-inch elastic. I got a little shopping list started.

Finally, I took inventory of my zippers. I have some real oddballs in here. “Find a use for your weirdest stash zipper” would be fun challenge. As it is, I have a pretty good selection of basics that I bought cheap from a secondhand store a few years ago. Maybe someday the bronze zipper with the purple tape will inspire me. Until then, it can keep the ordinary zippers company.

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3. Take Stock from the Season

Summer’s O-V-E-R. And I realized I needed to say goodbye to some summer clothes – me-mades as well as RTW – that were pretty worn out. So long, my pretties! Anything decent I donated to Goodwill.

While I was at it, I asked my husband if he had anything to donate and he came back with a giant pile. So I made a big trip to the donation center.

4. Reap It!

A few things unsuitable for donation were going to be thrown out. This bra for instance:

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Sad old bra

Then I realized that the sliders, hooks and other findings were perfectly fine! A minute with the scissors and I had a good start on a new bra kit:

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Bra parts – ready for a project someday

I also cut buttons off a few of my husband’s old dress shirts and harvested a drawstring from a pair of old sweatpants. The textiles themselves will be recycled.

5. Clean Up!

Finally, I gave my whole sewing room a thorough cleaning. It looks pretty good, right?

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I am hoping to get inspired to sew again this weekend. I needed to finish a project and get started on a birthday gift for my mother (her birthday is in December). I also really want to get started on a winter sewing plan. I feel that these things are more doable when I have a clean, organized space to work in.

Finally, about my sewing funk… I went to a sewing retreat a few weeks back and I had a terrible time. The event itself was an action-packed, high-quality experience, and I am happy with the project I (almost) finished, but I found it very stressful. It was very much “not for me.” But I learned a lot about myself. Maybe I will write about it someday.

 

Picked Green Tomatoes and Garden Plans for Next Year

We were set to have our first hard frost this weekend, so most of the plants in the garden had to have a last hurrah. I picked all the green tomatoes and  hot peppers.

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Tomatoes galore!

Anything red was processed and frozen, either as spaghetti sauce or as chopped peeled tomatoes to use for cooking another time.

Anything unripe and green went was invited to party in the piccalilli pot.

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Piccalilli pot – ready for action!

Piccalilli is basically a sweet and sour relish made with whatever’s left in the garden at the end of the season. (See here for the ancestral recipe.) The veggies are ground finely and cooked down a bit with vinegar, salt, sugar and pickling spices. I usually make some every fall, mostly to give as Christmas gifts. This year I went overboard.

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Piccalilli a-palooza!

I don’t know what I was thinking. It didn’t seem like so much, and yet it kept coming and coming… Altogether I think it was 30 pints, but I admit I lost count. The good news is that I won’t have to make any next year if I don’t feel like it.

I  also have results of my tomato roulette experiment. At the end of the season, I decided that these tomato varieties worked best, so I will plan on planting them next year:

  • Fourth of July – An early variety, not quite ready to harvest at July 4th, but a week or two later (still pretty good in my book). Each plant produced at least 100 billiard-ball-sized tomatoes of 1.5 to 2 ounces. The flavor was a bit acidic with a sweet finish, and the tomatoes have a good texture – not too wet, not too dry.  The skins that were neither tough nor delicate – a nice balance that made for easy picking and storage.
  • Brandy Boy – Has a similar flavor to the heirloom favorite Brandywine, but the skin is not as delicate, so it’s less likely to crack and get moldy. The plant produced twice as much fruit as the Brandywine, at about the same size – 8 ounces to over a pound. The fruit was ready to harvest two weeks earlier. A great win! I’ll plant this instead of Brandywine from now on.

My husband and I differed these two: Big Beef and Big Boy. Big Beef was ready to harvest a week before Big Boy and the tomatoes were all about a pound – one slice covers your whole sandwich! Big Boy’s size varied from a half-pound to a pound. Big Boy showed some wilt about halfway through the season, while Big Beef didn’t. Both kept producing until late September, but we got a few more Big Boys. Both were very sweet – everything you’d expect from a summer tomato. But Big Boy was rather wet and seedy, while Big Beef was meatier but drier. I liked Big Boy’s texture better, but the hubs preferred Big Beef.  I suppose I will plant them both next year.

These two were total flops:

  • Better Boy: Very poor producer, and what we got was mealy and malformed. Pass!
  • Yellow Pear: Very pretty to look at and a heavy producer, but totally flavorless and dry. Even cooked they were no good. Pass!

I am already looking forward to next season!