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?

So Then This Happened…

How’s your summer going? Things have been busy here. In no particular order:

  1. Sewed a summer wardrobe.

PatternReview.com had a summer contest to sew so-called “Endless Combinations” where each item has to go with two other items. I sewed eight things in all, built around my need for some professional-looking shirts for work videoconferences and quick comfy shorts and skirts for decent work-at-home looks.

I didn’t win the contest and didn’t try, which is a big step for me. Rather, I competed for fun and really enjoyed it as it fit with my plans and needs. I sewed 100% from stash too in summery hues of aqua and teal, white, black and gray. If you’re interested, the patterns are (left to right):

A: The Creative Cate Top from Style Arc in a poly knit that includes all my wardrobe’s colors, finished on the inside to help the cowl neck keep its shape.

B: Jalie Elonore pull-on shorts in black stretch twill – the slim fit goes with all the untucked tops in this collection and makes a great short for biking on my lunch break or after work.

C: A white poplin cotton top from McCall’s 2094 coordinates with anything! It includes pleated breast pockets from Butterick 5526, so that I can wear it with pocketless RTW skirts not part of this collection.

D: Style Arc’s Gorgeous Gore Skirt is in teal ponte. I added pockets that nestled into the gores to support whatever’s inside without stretching out.

E: MariaDenmark’s Edith Blouse in crisp white cotton with a black and teal retro print, is finished with a bias hem for extra structure and polish.

F: The Jalie Drop-Pocket Cardigan in drapey aqua rayon jersey – coordinates with all the tops and bottoms.

G: Sewaholic’s Alma Blouse, in white and teal cotton lawn, is finished with French seams. The sash can also be used as a belt with the shorts.

H: Mock-wrap shorts from Vogue 9246 in a charcoal gray linen-rayon blend. I added belt loops and rear pockets for polish and utility.

2. I got a haircut and went gray.

Covid-19 finally convinced me to break loose from the tyranny of chemical hair dyes and hair straighteners.

I had not been to the hairdresser since February. My roots grew out a few inches. My annual straightening could not be done because salons here are only allowed to do basic cuts and colors. I had been slicking my hair back into a ponytail each day ( see pictures above).

Finally I went to the salon and got this:

My husband hates it, but then I explained to him that this haircut literally and figuratively was a weight off my shoulders, and I think he got it. Or at least accepted it. Hey, it’s only hair, it grows, and I can always dye it and grow it out.

So those are the fun things around here.

Some not-fun things have included:

3. Activist activities.

I’ve read and attended lectures about racism. Learning about racism has taught me a few things I’d like to share. One big issue is the way white people tend to regard racism – they tend to think racism is only super obvious hatred for Black people -like Klan-level, cross-burning types of hatred – and ignore subtler racist acts. It’s all racism, people. If you don’t know what microaggressions are, for example, that’s a good place to start to learn, identify bad behavior and change your own.

White people also tend to ignore racism when they see other people or situations perpetuating it. We tend to think it’s not our job to speak up. Of course it is! Say something! A couple of recent examples from my life:

At the grocery store before the 4th of July, I saw a boxed fireworks kit that had obvious racist imagery under the name “Savage Fireworks”. I am not going to post a picture of it here, but trust me, it was disgusting. I called over the (white) store manager to complain. She thought I was complaining about selling fireworks at all, and I had to literally point to the box and say “That is disgustingly racist and you should remove it immediately.” The look on her face when she finally saw it was priceless. She got a shopping cart and starting loading up the boxes. I certainly hope she didn’t put them back on the floor later but I didn’t check to be sure.

At the physical therapy gym, there are a bunch of solar-paneled bobbleheads in a sunny window. There are animal figures, cartoon characters, holiday-themes, and, yes, a “hula girl” complete with grass skirt and coconut-shell bra. I asked the therapist, a young white woman, if she thought it was appropriate. “I think it’s kind of cute,” she said. I asked her if she thinks her Asian or Polynesian patients would find it cute. She just looked at me, uncomprehending. Then I said, “Would you still find it cute if it was a Black woman instead of a Polynesian woman, or would you then see that it’s offensive?” She looked at it again and said “oh, I see what you mean.” She put it in a desk drawer.

These are pretty small examples of the kind of casual racism I am talking about – certainly not on the scale of police murdering Black people in the street, but still harmful and perpetuating stereotypes.

Also, I wrote emails to La Mia Boutique and Burda Style, asking them why they don’t use nonwhite models and telling them I won’t buy any more issues or promote the patterns I have sewn until they do.

I also was going to email StyleArc, which uses illustrations, not models. The illustrations are always of white women. Don’t believe me? Here’s a screenshot of all their patterns. Can you find any nonwhite women in these illustrations?

But lo and behold, how did StyleArc promote its latest dress pattern?

So instead I sent a email commending Style Arc – saying it was “about time” and hoping to see many more Black models.

I have not received a reply from any of these companies, so we’ll see.

A sewing friend from Canada took issue with my emails, saying that it’s unfair that someone from the United States (me) expects sewing pattern companies from other countries (Italy, Germany, Australia) to confirm to what she called “American sensibilities.” Guess what? There’s racism and bigotry in other countries. There are nonwhite people and models in other countries. These companies have nonwhite customers. Nonwhite people are people and must be included, not pandered to with tokenism or dismissed with Continental shrugs. I also expect pattern companies to show models of different ages, body types, abilities and other dimensions of our human race. It’s the right thing to do.

4. Health crap.

My work to fix my shoulder and posture was really paying off earlier this summer. Through daily exercises and stretches, I had leveled off my shoulders quite a bit and was standing taller:

And then I started feeling pain in my right knee. I put off going to the doctor because of Covid-19, but finally I went, had an MRI, and found out that I have some gnarly arthritis in that knee. So then I got the shoe orthotics, the physical therapy and the dietary supplements “for joint health.”

Turning 50 is a bitch.

Taking a Break, Then Taking Action

I took a break from all social media in June. I was so heartsick over everything – pervasive racism and discrimination, police brutality, the continuing death toll from Covid-19, the never-ending catastrophe of the Trump administration. It was too much to take. How could I spend my time sewing, gardening, and otherwise enjoying my life in the face of so much, pain, suffering and death?

I used the time instead to attend some rallies, read and attend lectures and talks about the issues, reckon with my own experiences with racism – times I have both done and said things I should not have, and have been silent when others did – reach out to friends and neighbors who are hurting, and planning sustainable actions for the future.

If you’re interested in these issues, here are a few steps you might want to take along with me.

  1. State clearly and often that Black Lives Matter. Don’t give me that “all lives matter” nonsense. If you don’t understand what Black Lives Matter means, guess what? It’s easy to learn. Start here.
  2. Call out people on their racism. I am tired of just ignoring crap I hear from other white people – those microaggressions, those little snide comments and “I’m not prejudiced, but…” statements. Guess what? You are prejudiced. And I am not taking it anymore.
  3. Learn about the long, long history of racism. As a starting point, I especially recommend “The 1619 Project” by The New York Times Sunday Magazine, as a primer to the history of slavery and how racism has poisoned all aspects of American life.
  4. Learn about conscious bias. All people have biases – it’s part of being human. But unconscious bias is what happens when we make snap judgments about people based on preconceived notions or prejudices. Unconscious bias is the quiet, nasty sibling of outright loudmouth bigotry. It affects how people judge one another based on their race, age, gender, sexual orientation, ability, nationality, religion or other factor. A useful tool is to “press the pause button” when I feel unconscious bias creeping in. Think – am I feeling this way because the other person is X and I am Y? Recognizing bias is the first key to stamping it out.
  5. Open your wallet. Instead of spending money to enjoy my white privileged life, I have been spending money to help others. There are many worthy causes. Here are a few national organizations I have supported – some longtime supporter, some new supporter: The NAACP, The Southern Poverty Law Center, The United Negro College Fund and The Black Women’s Health Imperative. Even better, support your local organizations. We love LEAP – a local educational program.
  6. Talk about it. Many white people – myself included – feel that they can’t talk about racism. They may think – “I don’t know what to say.” Or “If I say something it may come out wrong.” Or some other excuse. I encourage you to reckon with what the real reason is. For me, it was shame. I am ashamed that I have failed to see and fight racism in my daily life. I am ashamed of things I did in the past that seemed OK but now I know were not. Whatever your reason is, lean into it. Talk to your friends and family. Get them to understand your point of view, and get them to understand why it’s not OK to ignore it, or to say “it’s not my business” or whatever sorry excuses they may have. You are not going to get it right every time, but if you learn you will put yourself on the path to righteousness.
  7. Normalize Blackness in your life. This was a suggestion from a coworker who gave a presentation with others about racism in everyday life. By this, she meant that white people tend to view Black people as “others” – outside of their normal lives and experiences. Most white people, for example, will accept a Black person as an entertainer, or an athlete, or a servant in some way, as long as it’s on their terms and doesn’t make them uncomfortable. “Twelve Years a Slave” was a devastatingly powerful Best Picture Oscar winner movie few white people have seen. Too heavy for you? “Black-ish” is an award-winning sitcom about a wealthy black family that tackles racism head-on. about Do you read books? Shop at stores? Eat at restaurants? Are they all “white”? Seek out other perspectives of others.
  8. If they don’t get it, boycott. I have not been a strong advocate of sending a message through my wallet. Companies that do outrageous things – such as Hobby Lobby’s refusal to cover birth control for its employees – don’t get my business. But I have been less interested in policing the “rightness” of other things I consume. Now I realize that it’s not enough to plead ignorance or to claim I don’t notice, or not to care when, for example, a clothing designer never features a nonwhite model, or an older model, or a model who’s larger than a size 00. I need to pay more attention to what I buy and the message that sends. So, unless things change (and if they don’t after all the consciousness-raising that’s been going on, I am speechless) I won’t buy from businesses who fail to listen up. For me, that means some European sewing magazines and pattern companies are now on the “do not buy” list, along with companies that have a history of discrimination or pay lip service to racism in our society.

What are you going to do?

Persisting with a Quilt

My “Persist” quilt gas been on Hiatus while I sewed coronavirus masks. I have made 92 – mostly for nurse friends to take to work at a hospital and a nursing home. I also made many for friends and relatives, and donated a dozen to our neighborhood food pantry for whomever needs them. A sampling of those that I remembered to photograph before they went out the door:

I have a little elastic left that I will save for now, in case more masks are needed.

On to the quilt! The first of four rows is done:

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Here’s a close-up of how each letter is made, using the “R” as an example:

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The “R” in “The Proverbial Quilt” by Denyse Schmidt

I made cardboard templates of the letters and marked the positive and negative spaces (R for positive and G for negative, since my first row used red and green fabrics).

I got a but fussy with the cutting – with only six letters, and one word repeated four times, every piece needs to count, and I strive to find harmony in the chaos of colors, shades and prints. Or so I tell myself. I am working only with stash fabrics, so the look is not ideal, even if it is sustainable. I wish I had a solid orange, for example, but I don’t, so I’ve made do.

I cut the fabrics then lay them out to assess the look. Here’s the R with a mock-up of fabrics:

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Template with mock-up of fabrics

I am using mostly quilting cottons, plus a few other bits and bobs – the orange-and-blue line fabrics include some African Dutch wax with a metallic element, some plaid shirting and some denim leftover from the jeans I made last fall. Other parts of the quilt have bits of linen, silk, upholstery fabrics and ultrasuede.

To assemble each letter, sew the pieces in order; 1 to 2, then 2 to 3 and so on.

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Quilt letter assembly

The pieces include several bias-cut bits, so it’s s challenge not to stretch them while sewing and pressing.

Here are the modules ready for final assembly. I found that I needed to add 1/2 inch more seam allowance to long pieces that run the length of the letters, such as the left piece of the R, to get them to fit. Then I trim any excess.

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Occasionally the pieces need a bit of trimming too, such as the R crosspiece above. I am not the world’s most accurate quilter. Who cares? The little goofs add interest to the design in this case, which is intentionally a bit freeform in its vibe.

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PER-chance is this working out?

Here are the first three letters in the orange and blue colorway. The E is quite large and I don’t love it. The quilt includes two designs for vowels so that you can mix and match a bit, but I using just one here. I think I may trim down the E’s a bit – I will leave them as-is for now.

The “Victory Over Coronavirus” Garden

When it seemed like the coronavirus was really going to hit us badly and stretch into spring and maybe even summer, I figured I’d need to get into “homesteading” mode. I always do a vegetable garden, but I usually buy plants instead of starting from seed. Will there be plants to buy this year? Who knows?  Let’s get seedy!

I collected all the seed packets from around the house. Some were in the garage. Some were in the laundry room cupboard. A few were in the basement. Yet more were tucked in the drawer where we keep the dog’s things (brushes, harnesses, heartworm meds etc.).

Altogether, it was a motley collection:

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All my seeds

Lots of lettuces. Lots of peas. Lots of beets. A few tomatoes, cukes, herbs and other goodies.

“Not bad!” I thought. I found some seed starter plastic thingies to start the seeds indoors and got started planting. Then I noticed something:

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Old much?

How long are seeds good for? Centuries, under the right conditions, I imagine. I mean, there are seed banks that store seeds in case of an apocalypse, right? I figured I’d draw the line at 10 years – anything older probably would not be worth planting.

Next I ordered some seeds I didn’t have – tomatoes, squashes and peppers. When those arrived (and it took a while) I popped them all into some seed starter soil and set them to incubate on the radiator.

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Homemade seed germinating system

I despaired that they didn’t seem to be doing anything. Each day I’d water as needed and scrutinize the soil for signs of life. Then one day:

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Hello tiny plants

You can’t imagine how happy I was to see these tiny specks of green.

Shortly after they all started coming. Once the seeds sprout I put them in a sunny window during the day to catch the light and warmth, rotating the tray so the plants don’t stretch too much in any one direction.

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Stretching for the sun

It’s fun to watch the cucumbers especially (they’re the biggest of the lot in the picture above). They really move to capture the most light as the earth rotates around the sun.

From all the old seeds I had two duds – spinach and basil. I’ll have to see if I can get some fresh seeds the next time I brave the grocery store.

Outside, I started the peas. My neighbor, who has the greenest thumb I ever saw, insists that peas are planted on St. Patrick’s Day. I didn’t quite do it that early, but I still got them in the ground on the first warm day.

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Peas – all wrinkly and ready for action

They still have not sprouted. I don’t know if they’re duds or if it hasn’t been warm enough (I strongly suspect the latter). I want to brave a peek at my neighbor’s garden to see if she’s had more success, but I am too chicken. I will try with another packet if I don’t see action soon. I also will start the lettuces and squash directly outside once the last danger of frost has passed, whenever that is.

Too Much Time on Your Hands? Ha!

I have now been self-isolating for 25 days. As the days have worn on – and as the virus has ravaged New York and other parts of the United States and the rest of the world – I have been trying (and partly failing) to Keep Calm and Carry On, as the British say.

It’s hard to concentrate at work. I have been giving myself something to look forward to at the end of every work day as a bit of a reward. One day I took an online Pilates class. Another day I tidied up the perennial beds. At some point, I dug out the yogurt maker and cooked up a batch:

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Homemade yogurt – not worth the effort, but a way to kill time

We ran out of bread, so why not bake some?

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Multigrain bread – tasty!

This recipe from Cook’s Illustrated was excellent. You use a multigrain hot cereal mix as a starter. We ate the last of it this morning in French toast – divine!

Then I got cocky and tried to make hamburger buns:

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Hamburger buns – not rocks – honest

They came out like hockey pucks – edible but dry and misshapen and dense. At least the toasted sesame seeds were tasty.

I’m not one to be defeated, so let’s play around with the Instant Pot! I tried making a turkey barley soup.

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Barley-palooza

I misread the recipe and put a pound of barley into the pot instead of a cup of barley. It swelled up every drop of turkey stock and affected a risotto-like texture. So why not call it “bar-zotto” and eat it with some grated Parmesan? It wasn’t half bad. There’s still plenty left if you’re peckish.

The sun came out – time to hit the garden. For years, I have been meaning to relocate some blueberry plants to encourage better cross-pollination and protection from berry-thieving birds (if the plants are grouped tightly, one piece of bird netting should cover the lot). So I dug up some plants and moved them, replanting with a good dose of fertilizer for acid-loving plants.

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New home for blueberries

There is so little traffic and noise in my neighborhood – we live on a normally busy street – that I can clearly hear all the spring birdsong. In an hour or so I counted 18 species, a few by call alone.

My house is old, with the ghosts of gardens all over the place – a wisteria vine here, a decaying stump there. In the middle of the lawn, this blue-striped quill appeared, ready to delight anyone who came across it:

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Squill making an appearance

Every night after dinner I sew 10-15 cloth face masks. My nurse friends take some to work, while others have been given to relatives, neighbors and friends.

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More masks

Finally on Friday I had to go to the supermarket. There’s only so much barzotto and hardtack a gal can eat, amirite?

The trip took 2 1/2 hours and cost me $330. I wore a mask, gloves and a hat. When I got home, I stripped to my undies in the laundry room and threw everything – including my sneakers – into the washing machine to scrub on the “sanitary” cycle.

The market was out of all kinds of weird things – no salt, no Romaine lettuce, no flour or cinnamon, no chicken breasts, no macaroni and cheese mixes, no 1% milk, no cleaning supplies of any kind, except for some feeble-looking “all natural” stuff that might be a bit better than vinegar or lemon juice.

I figured I might as well live it up – I bought a rack of lamb, a kosher chicken, an organic pork loin – all the cheaper cuts were sold out. I bought a $5 jar of applesauce and four funky-looking oranges called “Sumo” for $1.50 apiece. A big bag of Costa Rican coffee. A bag of frozen wild-caught shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico. Organic onions and potatoes and milk.

Americans have been hoarding toilet paper. We are not guilty of this (we conserved – as a child, my grandmother admonished me that “a lady only uses four squares.”) Still, we were down to our last two rolls. The store limited each shopper to one 12-roll bundle. I felt lucky to get it.

elaine

In the diary aisle by the display of creams, a man was arguing with someone on the phone. “They don’t have quarts of heavy cream! They only have pints of heavy cream! I looked and looked and that’s all there is!” This went on for a minute, while he shouted  all the various creams and quantities available into the phone. I stood by  (six feet away, natch), waiting for reason to arrive on the scene. Finally I suggested that he buy TWO PINTS of heavy cream, as each is 16 ounces and a quart is 32 ounces. He looked at me like I was crazy for 10 seconds. Then his face lit up like I was an angel from heaven. I never have received such fulsome gratitude in my life. He grabbed two pints and bolted for the checkout.

My good deed done for the day, I approached the display and took a pint of half and half. Upon returning home, I realized I grabbed the fat-free shit instead of the real thing. Bah!

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No good deed goes unpunished