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.

Dying to Try Dyeing? Me too!

As a child, I grew up with lots of stories about dyeing. My French-Canadian great-grandmother, who lived to 106, used to make her own dyes. Her daughters worked in woolen textile mills in town, and would secret away scraps that my great-grandmother would dye for use in rugs and other home furnishings. I am lucky enough to have one of the rugs my grandmother made, using some of her mother’s homemade dyes in addition to upcycled wool from clothes and other uses.

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Wedding present from my grandmother, made of hand-dyed wool and other upcycled wool textiles.

The mint green wool in this rug comes from a suit my grandmother wore in 1945 when she took a train across the US to see my grandfather, whose ship came in to Seattle after World War II was over.

Dyeing is not a lost art, but it’s not exactly thriving either. I have no idea how my great-grandmother did what she did.

I experimented with RIT in high school – we made tie-dyed T-shirts and felt like hippies for about 15 minutes. We had no idea what we were doing. The dye came out in the wash and ruined other clothes. Fun times!

So when I saw a shibori dyeing class at the Creative Arts Workshop in New Haven, Conn. I had to sign up. The class was making four cotton napkins using different dyeing techniques. The instructor also allowed me to bring two yards of other fabric to dye for a top to other use. I was excited at the chance!

This was not a traditional class using real indigo dyes and twine and other techniques, but it was fun to try.

Here are the napkins I made:

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Shibori dyed napkins using four diffetent dyeing techniques

The triangle motif at the upper right is my favorite of these four. It’s made by folding the fabric over twice and then folding it into triangles. The trick is your first triangle fold is actually a half triangle – necessary to get the triangles to align properly. We practiced on paper first:

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Triangle motif folding practice

The one at bottom right is made by making narrow pleats and then rolling the fabric into a bundle, like so:

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Rolling technique for dyeing

The napkin at bottom left used a typical tie-dye technique of wrapping objects such as marbles within a fold of fabric and tying it off.

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Marble inside – pretty design outside

I covered the napkin with these little bundles – sometimes three marbles inside. The result came out like this fresh from the dye and rinse pots:

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Typical tie dye

The fourth napkin did not come out well. This is what it looked like when it went into the die pot:

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Popsicle sticks were supposed to make a zig zag pattern

I think my popsicle sticks came loose or something, because the end is a bit blotchy. Oh well.

Finally, here’s my cotton poplin, to be a blouse for summer:

I had to break it into two one-yard cuts so it would fit in the dye pot. Also it was the end of the day so the color is a bit faded. I need to find a pattern that will allow me to use the dye pattern to best advantage.

Sewing More for Mom

Last Mother’s Day, I presented to my mom a homemade gift certificate for her to choose any garment she wanted, and I’d make it for her, to measure. She was excited about getting a button-up top that fit her better.

When it came to taking measurements, however, she demurred. Instead, she tried on a RTW top she likes and explained to me what she liked and didn’t. She likes this top’s flared 3/4 sleeves and fit in the bust, but she doesn’t like the fit at the bicep, waist or hips, and she doesn’t like such a big collar, as she doesn’t like to wear anything close to her neck.

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Mom’s top idea, front view
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Back view

This top is exactly the kind of RTW mess that so many women my mom’s age put up with. It fits well enough – that is, she can get it on her body – but the fit is pretty poor overall. I told her I really needed body measurements to do this right. She put me off for months.

Finally, when I saw her a few weeks ago, she agreed to be measured, but she warned me not to be “shocked” at the numbers. My mother has always had a very negative body image, which she passed on to me from my earliest days. It haunts me still. We look a lot alike and I inherited her rather small bust and big hips and thighs. As a child, I marveled at her lumpy thighs and vowed never to have thighs like that. Guess what? Mine look exactly the same today.

We can’t do anything about the thighs, but we can do something about a shirt! Her measurements revealed that her shape has changed from a pear to a rectangle, with only two of inches difference between bust, waist and hips. I went on the lookout for a collarless button-up top with no bust darts and a swingy shape at the hem that would give her the curvy look she remembers. We settled on this design from Lekala:

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Lekala 4683

I went with Lekala because their patterns are made to the measurements you provide. I hope this works!

I think the front darts (or whatever this giant feature is called) will work as long as I can get the points to line up with her bust. The center-back seam will be good for shaping, as she’s a bit stooped. The notched neckline will be perfect for showing off a statement necklace. I will even out the hem and will add a flare to the sleeves after the elbow.

She also expressed interest in wearing some color for spring, so I bought some very pretty and high-quality cotton lawn in a rosy color. I hope she likes it!

Unselfish Sewing – A Christmas Gift for Mom

My mom’s look involves a lot of black and white clothes, with little pops of color in her accessories – glasses, nail polish, shoes or jewelry. So when I decided to make a handbag for her, I knew I’d make it out of black and white fabric, with a pop of brightly colored piping  – just for fun.

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A handbag for mom for Christmas

The pattern is the Swoon Ethel tote, which is free from Swoon Patterns. I really like this pattern! Especially for a freebie, it’s a good quality design, a pleasing shape and size, and it goes together quickly (once you get through all the tedious cutting and fusing of the interfacing anyway).

This is my second try at this pattern. I made one out of leftover denim and cotton for myself earlier this year, and because I had resolved to exclusively use stash materials, I interfaced the bag with leftover cordura nylon instead of the fusible foam interfacing the pattern suggests. This time, I sprang for the foam interfacing. I was a little leery of working with this stuff, but it turned out to be very easy to use. The pattern calls for Pellon Flex-Foam FF78F1, but I couldn’t find it, so I used Pellon Flex-Foam FF79F2, the double-sided fusible foam interfacing.

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Flex foam interfacing – squishy!

You’re meant to sandwich this stuff between two layers of fabric and fuse both sides separately. I just fused one side (the black and white bag fabric) and it worked out fine. I sandwiched the fusible interfacing between the bag fabric and a dry silk organza press cloth, and used a damp silk organza press cloth to fuse the bag fabric. The steam penetrated through to the other side a bit, but the dry press cloth peeled off easily.

To sew with this, I basted everything with my zipper foot for agility and then sewed the 1/2 inch seam allowances. It compresses pretty well under the presser foot.

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A bit awkward, but easy to sew

Then I used an edgestitch foot (Bernina #10C), which has a metal guide down the center. This helped prepare the needle for the bulk and prevented any skipping around or distortion.I used a size 14 jeans needle. And I trimmed down the seam allowances.

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Use an edgestitch fit and a hump jumper to control the bulk

Because I am pretty sure my mom would want a closure on the bag, I installed a two-piece magnetic snap. This was so easy! I coated the prongs of the snaps with tailor’s chalk to mark the place, made little slits in the fabric, then pushed the prongs through and bent them back. I cushioned the snaps with a scrap of leftover foam interfacing and gently pounded them with a rubber mallet to ensure they were secure.

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Coat the prongs with chalk to mark the spot

These magnetic snaps are so easy and useful that I could see using them on many things in the future.

As I did with my first version, I used a self-drafted facing because I didn’t want any lining peeking out. I wish I had made the facing wider – it’s a bit skimpy but wide enough for the magnetic snaps.

Other little details:
* I added some hot pink piping (leftover from a PJs project) to jazz it up a bit.
* To keep keys from falling to the bottom, I added a swivel snap hook, looped through a slim strap and sewn into the body of the bag.
* I did a double row of topstitching around the bag opening because I wasn’t happy with the way the lining was sitting in the bag with just the usual edgestitch along the opening.

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Swivel hook for keys

For fabric this time I used some cotton duck outdoor upholstery fabric. It’s been treated to resist water and stains, so I think it will clean up all right if it gets wet or dirty. Because my mom is a cat lover, I could not resist the lining fabric – design “Whiskers and Tails” #16340 by Neiko Ng for Robert Kaufman. Both bought at Joann.

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Meow!

I really hope she likes it!

Five Years Ago I “Leaned In”

Five years ago, I found myself at a crisis point in my career. I was feeling restless and dissatisfied. I vaguely felt underpaid and underappreciated, in a male-dominated industry and company. While I had been successful,  I was stuck.  I didn’t know how to move forward, nor did I have the energy or courage to move. I had started looking for my next opportunity, but without any firm direction or goal.

I read “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg shortly after it published, five years ago this week. So had a couple of work friends. We each invited five women to be part of a “Lean In Circle” at the office, to follow up on the book’s advice. A group of about 15 women met for two hours every other month to work through the program and support one another.

“Lean In” changed my life. Today, I am at a much bigger and more prominent company, in a bigger job, with more pay, responsibility, challenge and energy. “Lean In” didn’t do this alone for me, but it pushed me out of my comfort zone, jump-started my career and opened my mind to what was possible.

A lot of people like to disparage “Lean In.” I wonder, did they actually read the book? They complain that Sheryl Sandberg approached the topic from a place of extraordinary prestige, wealth and privilege, as a Harvard graduate and COO of Facebook. Yes, she did. So what? I don’t understand how that invalidates what she has to say, as if the only “legitimate” women’s viewpoint on careers has to come from some hardscrabble perspective. And I really don’t understand why a “women attacking other women” viewpoint in op-eds and blogs is somehow more valid. There is a special place in hell reserved for successful women who don’t help other women succeed.

Here are several real-world examples coming from me, who came from a hardscrabble background, of how “Lean In” opened my eyes and helped me move forward:

Sexism: My manager at my old job was an older British man. I liked him and we got along well. But he did three things that really bothered me:

  • He insisted I get a mentor.
  • He socialized after work only with other men on our team. Me and other women were never invited.
  • He said that me and another woman I worked on a project with lacked “gravitas” to present our project findings on the big stage at a department-wide offsite, so he recruited a man to present with us.

At the time, I didn’t see these things as sexist, but “Lean In” opened my eyes:

  • Sheryl Sandberg wrote a lot about and how older people are always encouraging young women to get mentors. This push makes young women feel inadequate and forces them into artificial relationships with senior people who… you guessed it… make them feel even more inadequate. Mentors can be wonderful, but such a close relationship must develop organically.
  • By not being invited to after-work events, I missed out on valuable face time with the boss.  The men had better relationships and more insight into what the boss was doing and thinking.
  • “Gravitas” is a fancy way of saying “you won’t be taken seriously.” The man who my boss pushed into the project ended up doing some harm to it because he had to throw his dick around.

Equal Pay: I pushed for better pay when I joined the company, but I was told “this is our offer, not up for negotiation.” I was getting paid more than at my last job and this was a big opportunity, so I accepted it. Once I got promoted into management, I got a small raise because it was in the middle of the budget year, with a vague promise I’d get more later. I wasn’t happy, but I was naive enough to trust the system. Then two things happened:

  • I realized that most of the men who reported to me made more than me, and the lone woman on the team with equal experience to the men and at a higher position made even less. My complaints got me nowhere. I was never made whole and each year I sank a bit further back in pay equality because new people were brought in at higher salaries.
  • I was a top performer and earned raises and bonuses regularly, but I still was underpaid. I earned about 85% of what peers from the “Lean In Circle” earned. And they were underpaid compared to men in similar positions.

“Lean In” opened my eyes:

  • I didn’t understand how compensation works. If you are underpaid today, you will always be underpaid. The compensation system is rigged against you and no one will fix it.
  • If you want to be paid more, you need to know your value and negotiate hard. I learned how to negotiate and how to calculate my value to get better pay and other perks at my new job.

Taking Risks: I am by nature rather risk-averse. I don’t seek thrills or take many chances in life. “Lean In” made me realize I was too comfortable where I was, not challenged enough or interested enough to find fulfillment at my job. I noticed a few things:

  • My job was in a female ghetto – an operational role that was viewed as a cost center, not revenue-generating or otherwise contributing much to the bottom line. My boss took another job and I had a new female boss, who in turn reported to a woman, “Big Boss,” who was one of only two women leading our entire division. Only human resources had a higher proportion of women than our group did. Men made the decisions, and we women (for the most part) executed them.
  • Women at my level within this group were moved around like chess pieces to satisfy whatever demand at the moment fell on Big Boss’s ears. These lateral moves were good for gaining experience, but they never seemed to lead to promotions or big opportunities, rather just putting out fires and shoring up crumbling walls. Some women had been at these types of tasks for 5 to 10 years! Strategic decisions came from a higher level they didn’t penetrate.

Because of “Lean In” I realized I needed to take chances in my career. The longer I stayed where I was, the harder it would be to move. There was a reorganization and Big Boss wanted me to take one of these lateral-move jobs. I had a meeting with her, where I laid my cards on the table and told her flatly what I wanted. She said no. So I left. I never would have had the courage to do this without “Lean In.”

Leaning In at Home: Sheryl Sandberg inspired the most vitriol with her insights into how to manage a work-life balance. Such a powerful and big earner of course could have endless nannies, maids, assistants and other helpers. She didn’t understand the struggles of single mothers, or of women whose partners also have demanding jobs and are unwilling or unable to take on more responsibilities at home. This is a valid criticism.  And Sandberg herself viewed these challenges through a different lens when her husband suddenly died a few years ago. Also, I don’t have kids, so I can’t comment on the working mother dynamic. But this doesn’t mean that all of Sandberg’s ideas are bullshit.

  • Just like at work, at home you also have to ask for what you want. Your partner and kids won’t read your mind.
  • Your husband needs to be an equal partner, or you will tote around resentment along with all the housework, shopping, cooking and child care responsibilities. If he won’t meet you halfway before you’re married, you have no hope after you’re married.
  • Don’t put your career on hold because you might get married, might have kids, or might have to care for aging parents. Do what you need to do at work. If personal life throws curveballs later on, deal with them then.

When I took my new job, which has a long commute and longer hours, I told my husband that he must take on some responsibilities at home, such as making dinner two or three nights a week (including cleaning up after), vacuuming, paying some bills and shopping for groceries as needed. He doesn’t like it, but he does it, and he acknowledges it’s fair. “Lean In” helped me craft these discussions with my husband, to get to a satisfactory agreement.

What’s next?

I think I will reread “Lean In” this month to see what else I could learn or other places where I disagree with Sandberg. I also wonder what other women think. Have you read the book? Did it help you?

Eight Sewing Resolutions for 2018

I realized this week that I sewed about 30 items in 2017 – a record for me and a major step forward in my growth as a sewist. I almost always had a project in the works, I learned to use a serger, and I made a lot of garments that I wear regularly as well as items for gifts, charity, home dec and upcycling.

 

I also wasted time and money on a few things, so I am circumspect about what I might accomplish in 2018. I will have less time to sew in 2018. I have enrolled in a graduate program related to my job, so that will take priority, at least from January to May for the first class.

Eight resolutions for 2018, then:

  1. Participate in fewer sewalongs and contests. In 2017, I entered 8 contests on PatternReview.com, sewing 20 items in all, and sewed garments for five sewalongs with The Monthly Stitch and one with the Sewcialists. (Some of these overlap.) The PatternReview events included stash-busting and wardrobe contests, which account for much of the volume, as well as the annual PR Sewing Bee. In discussing the contests with friends on PatternReview, I am have been in the “it’s fun to participate” camp while many are in the “in it to win it” camp. I never win. I never come close (OK, I came in a distant third once). I was pissed that I didn’t make it to the third round of the Sewing Bee – that really hurt my pride. I did win one random drawing prize this year, which was nice, but I lack the skill, fit and finesse to really compete against the experts. I am going to sit out all the contests and sewalongs this year unless they happen to coincide with my established sewing plans. There’s also no Sewing Bee this year to tempt me. I volunteered instead to moderate a contest.
  2. Make jeans. I really need to do this. I need new jeans, for one thing, and I also really want the challenge. I might take a class at Workroom Social in March.
  3. Bust the embroidery unit out of its box. My husband bought me a Bernina 580 for my birthday two years ago. It came with an embroidery unit, which I didn’t really want. I am just not in to the whole embroidery thing, and I really don’t want to spend a ton of money on special threads. But I see a lot of RTW with nice embroidery details, so I figure I should at least try it. Perhaps if I make jeans, I can embroider a cute detail on the pockets?
  4. Truly Do Me Made May this year. I have participated in past years by doing “me-made” 4 or 5 days a week in May. This year I am almost ready to do it every day. I have almost enough seasonally appropriate garments, although I could use more pants  for work and definitely need jeans (see #2).
  5. Stop making so many damn mistakes. It takes me a while to sew garments because I make a ridiculous number of mistakes. “Sure,” you’re thinking, “we all have a seam that goes awry once in a while. Quit being such a perfectionist!” That is not what I am talking about. I am talking about sewing things wrong-sides together. Upside down. Accidentally pleating or tucking. Slicing off chunks of fabric with the serger. Stuff like that. I usually buy fresh seam rippers in January because they get dull with use. No more! in 2018, I will baste, double-check, triple-check and baste some more to be sure I have it right.
  6. Go on a sewing retreat. I want to have a long weekend away from the house where I can just sew and learn and maybe make some new friends. It would be ideal to attend a retreat that’s far enough from my house that I will stay overnight but close enough that I can drive or take Amtrak (East Coast, as far south as DC). It seems like a lot of retreats are for quilting. Any garment-sewing retreats out there? Let me know!
  7. Try charity shops. So many sewing bloggers come back with great finds from charity shops. I donate to these shops all the time, but I never shop at one myself. I want to try out a few this year to see what they have to offer, either for yardage and other sewing materials and patterns, or for upcycling opportunities.
  8. Sew something for my mom. She gave me the sweetest Christmas gift this year – a bunch of sewing supplies including a fabulous pair of Kai scissors, some Swedish patternmaking paper, a snap kit and a new quilting ruler. IMG_20171228_122726I asked for these things through an app we use to manage our family’s Secret Santa gift exchange. I was happy that she listened to me about what I wanted and that she read over all the info I provided in the app. “I never knew your favorite color was red!” she said. I want to make her something, both to thank her and to give us something to do together. I thought I’d try to replicate some garment that she really likes or wants. It will be challenging to sew for a different body type and size, but I am up for it.

What are your resolutions?

Fun with Vintage Piping on New Jammies

I have a couple of TNT sleepwear patterns, but I was hankering for something new for my “easy and cheap” jammies project. I chose McCall’s 7297 because I like the close-fitting top, and I thought the cute neckline detail would give me a chance to use some vintage piping from my grandmother’s stash. Plus, Joann had a $1.99 special on McCall’s patterns – must be thrifty! I had everything else for the project in stash, including four yards of 100% cotton jersey in sky blue.

My grandmother’s favorite color was hot pink. She had hot pink tiles in her kitchen and bathroom and an oriental rug prominently featuring hot pink. I inherited that rug, but I had to get rid of it when I realized the color was the exact shade of Pepto-Bismol.

We found a small stash in her home when she died – a few patterns, some thread and needles, a baby-food jar full of buttons, and a few odd trims, like iron-on hem tape. We also found a couple of packages of piping, including one in hot pink, natch:

 

Three yards for 19 cents was quite a bargain! I love the offer to send 3 labels and 15 cents to Wright’s in Massachusetts to get a bag of trimmings for doll clothes. I wonder what would happen if I tried that now?

I walked the pattern with a measuring tape, and I thought I had just enough to add piping to the neckline and cuffs (wrists and ankles) of the PJs. I sandwiched it with some fleece binding for extra comfiness. I got the top done and went on to the pants. Oh no!

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Six inches too short for the second pants cuff! CRAP!

The vintage piping is color #67, Rose, 100% cotton. Wright’s does not make this color anymore, but it offers something similar, color #1232, Berry Sorbet, a bit more purply than the original. And it’s a cotton-poly blend. Boo.

I toyed with the idea of buying some cording and a fat quarter of quilting fabric in as close a color as I could find, and making my own piping for that second leg. But what a chore for one pant leg!

Then I wondered if a vintage store near me, the English Building Market, would have something similar. I’ve had fun looking through their antique buttons and I’ve bought old zippers and trims there before – could lightning strike twice? Behold!

 

The original cost 15 cents for 4 yards. The vintage shop sold it to me for $1 (I think a new package of 2.5 yards costs around $2). It’s the right color but uses slightly smaller cording than the original from my grandmother. I don’t think it’s noticeable. Can you tell on the pants which is the larger?

This piping was even older than my grandmother’s, to judge the packaging. You can get a bag of trims for doll’s clothes for 10 cents! They also call the fabric nainsook, which I had never heard of. The dictionary says nainsook is a fine, soft cotton fabric, originally from South Asia. Cool!

And I love how these old-timey packages would have a picture of the moldy founder of the company – like, “If some old white dude’s face is on the label, it’s got to be good!” Later Wright’s put a model “of a certain age” on the label, Notice her blouse uses no trims of any kind that you can see, but she does look like she knows her way around a sewing machine.

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And now there’s no model at all. Double boo. Maybe if I send them a picture of me in my new jammies, they’ll make me a cover girl?

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I wouldn’t count on it. Nonetheless, here I am in my finished project. Note the geeky owl-face slippers.

Jammies are a great project for beginning sewists because they’re relatively loose-fitting and they require few complex construction techniques. This pattern, for example, has an elastic waist and no buttons. You can use nice soft cotton that’s easy to work with. And if they’re not perfect, you can still wear them. For example, I goofed a bit on the legs and there are a couple of small tucks in the fabric where the cuffs went in. So what? Also, the topstitching at the neckline’s a bit wavy. Who cares?