So Visible!

The fall and winter sewing pattern magazines and catalogs got a lot more colorful this year.

I almost dropped my tea when I saw this Burda cover:

November 2020 Burda cover

I don’t ever remember seeing a nonwhite model on a Burda cover – you Burda fans out there tell me if I am wrong, but isn’t this a major development? Anyway, I promised I wouldn’t buy Burda until they diversified their cover models, and now I feel I can buy this. It will take more than one issue, though, to convince me that Burda is committed to diversity.

If that’s surprising, how about a whole seasonal catalog full of nonwhite models? Check out the Winter 2020 Simplicity catalog:

Simplicity Winter 2020 Catalog

I have been buying Simplicity patterns since the 1980s and I don’t ever recall seeing a whole catalog like this devoted to so many nonwhite faces.

Not to be outdone, Butterick offered this catalog. Butterick is aiming for the older sewist, so we get older and nonwhite models:

Butterick catalog

Even Joann got on the diversity train. Its sale circular this week was almost exclusively nonwhite models, and some of them are older, too:

Montage of pictures from this week’s Joann circular.

It’s not as if these modeling gigs will end racism – in the sewing community or anywhere else – but I think it’s a start and a demonstration that large corporate interests in the US and abroad are listening to the desire for diversity.

What We Mean When We Talk About “Flattering” Clothes

Next to “old” (as in, “that style makes you look old,” or “that style ages you,” the next biggest put-down in fashion is the term “unflattering.”

“Unflattering” can mean:

Too big or baggy, meaning “we can’t see the shape of your body.”

Too small or tight – meaning “we see parts of your body we’d rather not see.”

Out of proportion with the wearer’s stature, meaning “we think you look short” or “wide” or “fat” (never “you look tall” or “you look slim”).

Out of proportion with the wearer’s secondary sex characteristics, meaning “we can’t make out your breasts, butt, hips” etc. (This includes “the male gaze.”)

Shaped or cut so that the desired body form is obscured, meaning “we want to see a normal body,” (whatever that is) or “we want to see you the way we usually see you.”

Don’t surprise us or challenge us, whatever you do.

“Flattering,” then, comes down to how others see us. After all, when someone flatters you for your brains, looks, accomplishments, character or any other trait, they’re really talking about their reaction to you.

You can’t flatter yourself.

Of course, you can wear and enjoy things that you think look good. You might wear those garments hoping to get compliments – fishing for flattery – or you might wear them because they make you feel happy, powerful, smart, kind, capable, or any other way that you want to feel. Or maybe you don’t want to feel anything in particular – you just want to put on comfortable clothes and get on with your day.

Which all leads me to this look:

Flattering on top, unflattering on bottom.

This top is the Brasov Wrap Top from Itch to Stitch. The pants are the “Discover Something Novel” pants from The Cutting Line. One guess which is the “flattering” and which the “unflattering” garment?

This top is designed to be flattering – a wrap style in stretchy knit that sits close to the body. It’s designed to make breasts and waist and hips stand out – textbook “flattering.”

Side view – breasts on display, but are legs in there somewhere?

The pants are the opposite – they sit away from the body, obscuring legs, hips and butt. Their width actually makes it hard to imagine the body parts inside. Surely I have legs and a butt, but where?

Back view… still not sure where my butt is, but my waist is hard to miss.

How dare I wear something “unflattering!” Don’t I realize that my body should be on view as much as possible for other people to look at and enjoy (as long as it’s conventionally “attractive” that is)!

Today I wore these pants to go shopping. I picked up some buttons and other items at a vintage store. I bought a sweater at a boutique. I stopped in an art supply store. I got groceries. And in all four places, I got compliments on these pants. WHAT? Aren’t they “unflattering?” How can someone lay some flattery on me then?

Because these pants are interesting, that’s why.

What’s more, I wear them for me and for no one else, and there’s magic to that.

Most people walk around in a state of total conformity – normcore jeans for miles, maybe some leggings or yoga pants at a stretch (and almost always in black) – and they are all ignored. Seen it a million times, dah-ling – and will see it a million more. But wear something different, and people react. Maybe the garment elicits an emotional reaction – makes someone smile, perchance, or makes someone frown – or maybe it makes someone think. Maybe these pants make Gen Xers like me nostalgic for the 80s. Or maybe someone thinks a Gen Xer like me is stuck in the past. Who knows? Who cares?

Anyway, it’s better than plain old flattery any day.

And if you really want someone to react, when they compliment you on your traditionally unflattering garment, say “thank you, I made them myself” and watch their eyes bug out of their heads. And enjoy the satisfaction of that!

Tears of Joy

I was out pulling weeds in my garden Saturday when I heard that Joe Biden won the presidency. I looked at the alert on my phone and didn’t believe it for a minute – not like I thought it was a mistake or anything like that – it was just that after four years of exhausted anguish over the direction of my country, I couldn’t believe it was over.

Because it’s not over, you see.

Biden won, but still more than 70 million Americans voted for Trump. More than 70 million Americans took stock of the lying, bigotry, corruption, incompetence, and destruction and said, “More, please.” Voters denied him a second term, but they also reelected Trump’s enablers and boot-lickers, denying Biden the Senate and a strong majority in the House. Biden will have to fight with both hands tied behind his back, while Trump and his toxic brand of kooks throwing hand grenades from the sidelines.

What’s worse, Trump won’t even concede. And why is anyone surprised? Has he respected any norm of the presidency? Has he ever once admitted he was wrong or had failed? Or he does just keep lying, blaming, lobbing attacks at anyone who opposes him?

After I got the news, I sat down in the cool grass for a few minutes and looked up at the sky. We had beautiful weather all weekend, with the foliage at its peak in the brilliant sun against the bluest sky. I took a couple of deep breaths, then resumed pulling weeds.

This isn’t meant to come across as some overwrought metaphor – I literally was pulling weeds – but the truth is the work isn’t over and it may just get harder. Every weed I pull today is 10 I won’t have to pull in the spring, but I won’t eradicate the weeds forever, any more than Biden’s election eradicates the toxic Trump-led erosion of our Democracy.

I wasn’t going to watch Joe Biden and Kamala Harris make acceptance speeches Saturday night. I just didn’t feel I had much to celebrate. But my husband turned it on and I joined him to watch. I sat there with dry detachment until VP-elect Harris started thanking the marchers, the poll workers, the people who wrote letters, made phone calls, stood up, got out the vote, and made it happen. And I burst into tears – really ugly cried for a good five minutes in grief and exhaustion, in exhiliration and joy.

It was enough. For now.

Four Years On

I voted yesterday for Joe Biden. And as I stood in line to vote (we waited about an hour as a socially-distanced line snaked around the block) I took stock in all I have done during this past four years to unclench the dread in my stomach brought on by Trump’s election.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg mask for Election Day

Those of you not in the US may not understand or care much about what’s happening in the US, but for those of us in the US who oppose Trump, it’s all we’ve been able to think about for four years.

I used to be a journalist and was truly objective in my personal political views. I belonged to no political party, because I didn’t like either of the two choices I got. I found things to like in both parties, and things not to like. I trained myself to see both points of view. When voting, sometimes I chose Republicans and sometimes Democrats.

In 2016 I voted for Hillary Clinton for president. I was not an enthusiastic supporter, but there was no way I would vote for Trump. I posted on Facebook “Go Hillary!” It was the start of an awakening for me.

I arose after a sleepless night the day after the 2016 election in deep mourning over Trump’s victory. A mentor told me I’d better be prepared to fight like hell for what I believed in, for I’d better kiss it goodbye.

But what did I believe in? This crisis made it clear. I believe:

  • A woman’s body is her own.
  • Black lives matter
  • Love is love.
  • Climate change is real, and humans are responsible.
  • Science is real.
  • God is not real.
  • Greed is killing us.
  • Clean air and water are basic human rights.
  • Education is a basic human right.
  • A living wage is a basic human right.
  • Health care is a basic human right.
  • I could go on and on

In some ways, I have been radicalized by Trump’s election. I am responding to an existential threat. I don’t see how anyone can sit on the sidelines.

I sewed piles of pink “Pussy Hats” and participated in my first Women’s March that January.

Women’s March in New York City, January 2017, with Grand Central Terminal in the background

And I have been to one every year since. A sign I got from Planned Parenthood at a rally lives in my car trunk – I take it out whenever I need something to hold.

Women’s March January 2020

I opened my wallet to support organizations that were fighting against the Trump administration’s crimes against the environment, health care, education, immigrants, voting rights, and many more.

I wrote letters. I attended lectures. I read books. I made phone calls to strangers. I spoke out, early and often, to express my point of view.

Sierra Club’s letter-writing campaign

What good did it all do? Did my work convince anyone, move the needle one iota? Or did it just make me feel good? Was I naive to think that an army of women in pink hats was going to change anything?

Yes I was. I now see the depths my country can sink to. How so many people can disregard rampant corruption and incompetence, lying, cruelty, bigotry, misogyny, hatred, and embrace fantastical thinking, violence, and destruction, all because of what? A few more dollars in your pocket? A feeling of “white power?” The right to carry a gun anyplace? A stop to abortion? A gleeful feeling from making progressive thinkers cry?

And what about the Democrats? What a bunch of idiots! I really DO NOT like either party. They get a big share of the blame for taking votes for granted and for nominating some bland old career politican to fight Trump.

The next few days are going to be rough for me as the votes are counted and as challenges wind up in court. I have no sense of optimism. Regardless of whether Trump wins or loses in the end, this is my country – a place where millions and millions of people think he’s the best.

Martin Luther King said “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” It is hard to see that arc right now.

But, texting with a friend this morning, I was reminded that there will come a day when Trump is no longer President. Whether that’s in January 2021, January 2025, or some day in between, this too shall pass. And even if Biden wins, the work is not over – we will need to continue to fight, weary as we are.

For self-care I sewed some quilts this spring, as Covid-19 killed Americans even as Trump ignored it:

Persist!

We must keep going – must persist – no matter what happens.

Playing with Proportions with Crazypants

I like big pants and I cannot lie! You other sewers can’t deny – that these are kind of fun:

“Something Novel” pants from The Cutting Line

These pants from the “Try Something Novel” outfit pattern from The Cutting Line is definitely a LOOK straight out of the 80s.

I have been playing with proportions as part of my “Sew Edgy” wardrobe, and these sure fit the bill. These have an edge because the voluminous shape distorts the human form.

Side view

They are very baggy with seamlines on the lower hem and an interfaced hem facing to create an effect similar to a lantern sleeve, but on my shins:

Back view

The pants are elastic waisted, which is not a great look for me, but for a fun work-at-home trou experiment, it’s fine. I added patch pockets to the back and used silver topstitching thread to accentuate the seamlines.

The fabric is a 7-ounce Japanese cotton denim.

The pants are very comfortable and maybe on trend – at least I heard that 80s looks are coming back! Maybe not? Who cares? I like them!

Trying a New Way to Tape Together .PDF Patterns

OK, so I hate .pdf patterns.

Well, that’s not true. I like that .pdf patterns exist, I just hate the test printing, the messing around with the printer, the real printing, the cutting off of margins on two sides of the paper, the taping, the retaping when the first taping is cockeyed, and finally the folding and storage when the pattern is used. And I hate the additional cost of paper, ink, tape and storage envelope on top of the pattern I bought already.

As they say in ever infomerical ever: “There’s got to be a better way!”

I don’t know if this is a better way, but it’s a slightly less annoying way.

I started by laying out a cutting table’s worth of pieces. This pattern – the “Brasov Wrap Top” from Itch to Stitch, has 30 pieces of paper – thankfully with nested .pdf pages so I just printed out the sizes I needed. This is 18 pieces of paper:

.pdf plan round one

I looked over these 18 pages and identified several pieces that had odd shapes – bits and pieces of larger pieces, like the tip of the shoulder or the edge of a hem, with a page that was otherwise blank, or that had other little bits. I cut those little pieces out, taped the little pieces to bigger pieces, and threw the excess paper in the recycling bin.

Find the bits of larger pieces

To cut I used my rotary cutter with an old blade that I’d saved especially for this purpose.

Many pieces are mostly pattern with little bits gone, so those are good to go and I tape as usual, but without trimming margins! Here’s how:

I printed this on cheap copier paper – I mean the cheapest stuff at the office supply store – the stuff that’s in a sad pile in the corner in a plain paper wrapper, as far away as possible from the glossy, bright white expensive stuff. This paper is kinda see-through. So, instead of trimming two edges of the paper, I just looked through the paper and lined up the margins. Hard to see in a photo, but here it is on a finished pattern piece on a dark fabric.

See-through paper helps line up the lines

I needed less tape this way because I was just taping the piece, not the whole sheet of paper.

I think this 30-page top took 15 minutes to put together this way instead of at least 30-40 minutes with the old trim-tape-cut method. And it went together right the first time, without having to retape anything crooked.

I don’t know how well this would work – happy to say it did! I am not sure how well it would work with a multi-sized pattern, or with a very complex pattern.

Maxi to Mini in Five Infuriating Steps

I’ve been working on the “Faye” maxi shirtdress dress from last fall’s Fibre Mood magazine. I got it all together and left it for a week to hang so that the hem would relax. I had to jack up my dressform Ruby to 5’10” (I am 5’6″) so that there was plenty of room for gravity to do its thing.

Maxi indeed

When hemming time came, I stood on a stepstool while my husband pinned the hem to the desired length. The hem was pretty uneven – I didn’t get a picture of this on but it was doing that typical drapy thing where the most bias-y edge hung down quite a bit, almost like a handkerchief hem. I tried it on pinned up and it looked good, so I thought it was OK. I trimmed off the excess.

Uneven hemming trim job number one.

Then I pressed up and pinned the hem and prepared to sew it. But first I tried it Damn. Nope – it was very very uneven. Crap!

Crap uneven hem is way shorter in the front.

So we had to do it all over again. I wanted a LONG dress, but I figured I’d settle for a mid-calf dress. My husband repeated the pinning ritual. I again tried it on to be sure it was OK. It looked all right – shorter than I wanted but still OK. So I trimmed off uneven hem #2:

All these crazy uneven hem scraps!

I pressed up and pinned the hem again and tried it on. DAMN! The skirt was just too short to be long, too long to be short – it hit at this awkward length, hitting at the fullest part of my calves and dowdy as anything.

Well, this is awkward…

There was a great deal of swearing and door-slamming and some tears.

Then I put on my Big Girl Pants and trimmed another 3 inches off them hem so that it would at least fall at a flattering length. I pressed it and pinned it yet again, then lost the will to do any more.

Final length? Who knows?

This dress started the day grazing the floor, and now it’s above my knee. Plus, the proportions are all off. This humungous print demands an equally humungous amount of drama and scale, but now it looks like every dress I had in the 1990s. Also the drop shoulders and wide cuffed sleeves look dowdy as heck. I am very tempted to throw it in the garbage.

Who’s Afraid of a Big, Bad Dress?

I’m more of a separates sewist than a dressmaker. I’ve made a few dresses, sure, but I don’t love making them. When you’re pear-shaped, as I am, you run into fit challenges unless you stick to the old fit-and-flare look. And when your shoulders are uneven, as mine are, the calculus for the drape of a dress can be daunting.

But so far, so good with the Faye dress from the fall Fibre Mood magazine.

Faye dress, on its way

The dress uses more than 4 yards of fabric – rayon challis in this case. I finished the body of the dress, including the hidden button placket, while on vacation. I just need to put on the sleeves, sew the side seams and pockets, make the buttonholes, and hem it. OK, so still a lot to do…

The bodice includes a flap that adds interest to the top. They went in pretty easily, and the pattern matching wasn’t bad. One flap is sort of a mirror image of the other rather than a match, but I decided to live with it.

Bodice pieces with flaps

The only thing that gave me agita were the pleats – three on the bodice and three matching ones on the skirt. This was, frankly, a mess to do because here’s what the pattern looks like if you trace it from the magazine:

Which lines are for which pleats and which sizes? Who knows!

If you’re thinking of trying this at home, and you haven’t bought the magazine yet, I’d buy the printed pattern just to avoid this train wreck.

Moving on… I got the pleats in OK for the bodice and just estimated where the pleats should go for the skirt. But the pieces would not line up. The pleats for the skirt are supposed to be deeper, but I will be damned if I can figure out how. So there is an extra pleat on the skirt. With this busy print, I bet you can’t tell.

Extra pleat? Where???

Trust me, it’s there. I am living with it and moving on…

The directions for the hidden button placket aren’t very intuitive. Luckily, I have made hidden plackets before. In fact, I love them and it’s a reason I wanted this dress.

Now you see it
Now you don’t.

Since this dress is such a fabric hog (4+ yards, people!) you could eliminate the hidden button placket in favor of a regular one, and also shorten or remove from fullness from the skirt to save a yard.

Then the bias neckline binding went on. The directions say to cut the bias binding on the fold. Do not do this. Sheesh! How hard is it to cut a straight 22-inch by 1.5 inch strip of fabric on the bias? Sometimes I scratch my head…

Hoping to finish this weekend. Not that I have anywhere to wear it, but I can dream…

Pre-election Activism

I was on vacation last week, so in addition to sewing, painting, and other projects, I dedicated several hours to activism. There’s still time to get involved in efforts to defeat Trump and his Republican enablers, rally our side, and otherwise ensure a fair election, before the US election November 3.

Fighting voter suppression in Georgia. The Southern Poverty Law Center runs a phone tree every Thursday afternoon, where volunteers call Georgia registered voters to help them get absentee ballots for the election if they want them. Many people are worried about contracting Covid-19 at their polling places, especially if there are long lines. Georgia in particular showed horrible discriminatory election practices during the 2018 midterms and 2020 primary – voting systems broke down, people waited in line for hours, voting wards were consolidated and confused (especially in poor and nonwhite areas) and some voters found out after all this struggle that their names had been purged from the rolls.

I’ve made calls for three weeks for the SPLC, which is a group dedicated to fighting racism and teaching tolerance in the Deep South. The calls go to people age 50 and up – people who are most at risk of serious illness or death from Covid-19. Most of the time, the calls go to voicemail, and so I leave a message with the Web address of the absentee-ballot request system for Georgia. Once in a while, someone answers the phone, and I have had a few nice conversations with Georgians. Several people I spoke with already had their absentee ballots and were ready to use them. One man I spoke with said he would vote in person.

“I always believe in showing up at the polls and making my mark,” he said. Good for you!

Remembering Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. I attended a conference call by the Black Women’s Health Imperative, a nonprofit group, that discussed the legacy of the Supreme Court justice and provided ideas for activism. One key takeaway was to have a plan for voting well in advance of the election. My husband and I decided to get up at 5:30 a.m. on Election Day, walk to our polling place (at a nearby fire station) and wait in line for as long as it takes.

Don’t wait until Election Day to figure out how you will cast your ballot.

Make a plan now.

The women at the BWHI call also reminded people of threats to women’s healthcare with yet another arch-conservative justice on the court. People think a lot about abortion rights, of course, and it’s poor women who are hurt when clinics close. Rich women can always travel – even to a foreign country if necessary – to get an abortion. Poor women don’t have that luxury. Also at stake is the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, that tried to provide health care options for people who aren’t covered by employers or other government programs. And efforts to stamp our racism and sexism in the health care system also are at stake.

For the birds with the Sierra Club. A letter-writing campaign sponsored by the environmental group the Sierra Club aims to connect with voters through a personal touch. The letter-writing campaign targets voters in certain battleground states (that is, states that Biden needs to win to defeat Trump).

I chose to send my letters to voters in Florida. The Sierra Club provides names and addresses, and a form letter with space for a personal message. I’ve been doing a lot of backyard bird-watching this year (56 species and counting) and have been enjoying “Vesper Flights” by Helen Macdonald, so I decided to add a few sentences about projecting Florida’s beautiful bird habitats.

Letters for the Sierra Club (blacked out names and addresses)

Each week, I pledged to write 25 letters. There’s still time – they get mailed out in October.

I would love to get involved with other activism. I can’t do any specific fund-raising or campaigning for a candidate, but I can for a cause such as the environment and voter rights. Please drop me a line with any ideas. Thanks!

Climbing Ladders

Earlier this year, a friend liked a photo of a sewing project and added a comment: “Too bad your neighbor’s ratty garage is in the background.”

StyleArc Gorgeous Gore skirt… with ratty garage backdrop

Umm… that’s my ratty garage.

I guess a painting project was in order this summer. What else is there to do in our Covid-19 quarantine? Another job for the distaff side!

Here’s a close-up view of the rattiness.

Garage, pre-paint job

Out house was built in 1908, which is pretty old for a house in the US, and we expect that the garage dates from the same time. The garage originally was a barn and carriage house. Long ago, for security reasons, we boarded up the window that the horses could look out of (bicycles and power equipment tend to disappear from garages in my neighborhood).

While we have dragged our house into the 21st century, we have let the garage lean into the ravages of time (literally – it leans a little). We hope that one day our neighbor’s sickly tree will fall on it. Until then, the garage is held together with spiderwebs and mildew. And now a new coat of latex paint.

Everyone believes there’s a right way and a wrong way to paint. Doubtless, that’s true. But there’s also the “get it done” way, which is my way. No need to get precious about it.

I began by scraping down bits of loose paint – a new occasion to wear a mask!

Mask up!
Scrape down!

I had to get on a ladder to reach the top of the garage. My husband kept an eye on me, so that he could dial 911 if I fell. I was fine. It was exhausting. Now I know why people who work on ladders all day are so lean and fit – you keep your balance using muscles you never knew you had.

I primed the bare wood. (Did I sandpaper the surface first? Ha! Who are you kidding?!?) Then I painted the trim, in a charming color called “Puppy Paws.”

Puppy Paws in action!

Then it was on to the clapboards, painted in the much-less-charming color “Tudor Brown.” It looks like melted milk chocolate. When I was done, I was jonesing for a Hershey bar.

Tudor Brown, getting the job done.

Altogether, the job took about 10 hours, spread over three days. Each day I’d do as much as I could and I rested in between.

What unusual home-improvement projects have you tackled during quarantine?