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:
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:
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:
Even Joann got on the diversity train. Its sale circular this week was almost exclusively nonwhite models, and some of them are older, too:
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.
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:
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.”
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?
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
We must keep going – must persist – no matter what happens.
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.
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!
I intentionally maimed myself last week. At least, that’s what you’d think based on my decision to cut my hair short and go gray.
Some feedback on my new look and my snarky internal monologue in response:
Them: “What did you do that for?” Me: “Just to mess with you.”
Them: “I didn’t recognize you.” Me: “I am an international woman of mystery.”
Them: “You look older.” Me: “This is what 50 looks like.”
Them: “You look younger.” Me: “Stop lying.”
Them: “You look like a totally different person.” Me: “Still just me. Sorry to disappoint.”
Them: “You’re so brave.” Me: “This is some serious Joan of Arc action up in here.”
Them: “You’ll need a strong lip now.” Me: “Is GET LOST enough lip for ya?”
Them: “It’s…. cute…” Me: “You’re… full… of… it…”
Them: “Wow.” Me: “Yup.”
Them: “It’s good you have something on your forehead.” Me: “I’m glad I covered up enough of my head for you.”
Them: “It’s a mature look.” Me: “It’s Judi Dench drag.”
Them: “You have the bone structure for it.” Me: “Yes. I have bones in my face.”
Them: “Are you going to keep this or let it grow?” Me: “I think I’ll go shorter next time.”
Them: “You are just as pretty.” Me: “Just wait until I get my skull tattoos.”
Them: “Are you all right?” Me: “Short haircuts aren’t just for cancer survivors and brain tumor sufferers anymore!”
Them: “You’ll have to get trims more often now.” Me: “YAY!”
Them: “You’re like a pixie now.” Me (clapping my hands): “I DO believe in fairies!”
Them: “Men hate short hair on women.” Me: “My dream of repelling men finally comes to fruition!”
I suppose I could unpack all this, but really I can sum up my decision in two words – and you can quote me on this – “Screw it.”
Many people, in the United States anyway, have come to believe that women and men are equals. Most people would deny they are sexist. Women are no longer widely scoffed at for wearing pants, or playing sports, or having “manly” jobs, or many other things once viewed solely in the domain of men.
But get a short haircut? The sexism flag flies free!
To be fair, many people said they liked it. So that’s nice. But here’s the thing – I don’t care if you like it or not. I didn’t get this haircut for you. I got it for me.
From the moment females are born, they are conditioned to believe that their looks are the most important thing – more important than intelligence, character, personality, drive, empathy – anything. Pretty is paramount. Don’t believe me? Watch how people behave around little girls – always commenting on their hair, bodies, dresses, grace – anything that can be seen and judged will be seen and judged. People will try to “fix” what they think is lacking. And that “fixing” never goes away. Ever. The beauty and fashion industries churn it up nonstop.
An interesting thing happens after 40, though. The conversation subtly starts to shift from “looking your best” to “not looking old.” Because old is the worst. Old is unforgivable. Old is a reminder of death. Look old? Jump into your coffin, already. I’ll see you there!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’ve finished my quilt. It’s a hot mess, just like the women’s movement I’m honoring – in a good way.
The quilt is made of four modules, each using only fabrics, threads, batting and other materials I had in my stash. Many letters were scraped together from scraps of projects as far back as 20 years ago. I chose colors for each that were opposites on the color wheel, both to symbolize conflict and to make the letters stand out more against the background. The pattern is “The Proverbial Quilt” by Denyse Schmidt.
The textiles are mostly quilting cottons, but there are scraps of ultrasuede, silk, linen, African wax print, brocade, batiks, denim, shirting and upholstery fabrics in there too. Each quilt contains some fabrics that have metallic accents, and each has a bit of an overall rainbow-gradient fabric to tie them together. I 100% used stash fabric, batting and thread – truly a sustainable project. This meant that I had to compromise a bit on some fabrics and colors. Compromise is meaningful – some fabrics a teenage girl would like, some fabrics my grandmother would like, and all kinds in between. Kind of like the women’s movement. We don’t have to love every piece of it; we just need to love the overall message and the energy that sustains it.
I call the pink and green one “Preppy Is Forever,” because this color combo was big during the preppy fashion fad in high school. It’s for a friend who’s a bit preppy.
It was a little challenging to make this one because I didn’t have a lot of pink or bright green/lime fabrics in my stash. I resorted to some charm squares leftover from a quilt I made my nephew 14 years ago.
You can see the echo quilting pretty well on this one – I stitched in the ditch along the letters in lime green thread and then echoed those stitches out 1 cm to the end of the quilt.
I call the orange and blue one “Sunrise to Sunset.” It’s for a friend who’s had a lot of physical, emotional, financial and relationship challenges in her life – she works every day against some major obstacles to keep going.
The orange, gold and lilac African Dutch wax fabric in here is leftover from a quilt I made for her 20 years ago. She lost it in a fire at her house last year. I am happy I still had a bit to use again. I was short on orange fabrics so I had to use a bit of coral. And I didn’t have enough to do the binding all in one fabric, so it’s pieced.
The purple and gold one is the prettiest, I think.
It’s titled “Family Endures” because most of the fabric came from family sewing projects over the years – scraps from niece’s and nephew’s quilts and Halloween costumes, a vest I made my mother, a craft project for a great-aunt, a quilt I made a cousin for her wedding, a Hanukkah table runner I made for my in-laws, linen pants made for myself, our Christmas tree skirt, fabric from kitchen curtains and placemats I made when I first was married. It’s a gift for my sister.
The final one, titled “Blow Through Stoplights” was for me:
The color scheme matches my sewing room and I had planned to hang it on the wall above the shelf where I keep my threads, manuals, buttons and whatnot.
But then a friend called me and she was really down. So I decided to give it to her instead. I’ll miss it, but I can always make another for myself. I still have scraps to spare, but not as many!
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:
Here’s a close-up of how each letter is made, using the “R” as an example:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
I haven’t made a quilt in years – about 15 years to be exact – when I made a baby quilt for my newborn niece. I had moved on long ago to home dec and then to apparel sewing, but every so often I would look through my quilting cotton stash and grow wistful at its possibilities.
That feeling grew stronger last week when I sewed up some stash to make masks for nurse friends of mine. I felt the pull to quilt again – partly to commemorate these homebody Covid-19 days, and partly to keep my hands busy, and partly because I had something to say in the fabric and colors and lines.
I heard about a Quilt-a-Long of this pattern by Denyse Schmidt, a quilt designer who lives nearby. I had bought this pattern years ago during a studio open house. While I loved it, the color choices and bias-cut edges daunted me. I thought, however, that with help I could do it.
The quilt includes an alphabet of block letters done in a slightly rustic style. The letters are cleverly constructed to nest together with design options for the positive and negative space. And while some letters are quite complex, each piece is numbered so that it’s easy to sew them together, step by step.
So I had my pattern. But what to say? I thought of one friend who had started me on quilting more than 20 years ago but cannot sew any longer because of illness. I thought of another friend who I’d made a quilt for back when I had been a raw beginner – she lost that quilt and her other possessions in a fire last year. I had sewn pussyhats for them to wear to the 2016 Women’s March. I wanted to make them something else. Finally, I thought of my sister, who I also made a hat for and have marched with a few times.
So I hit on this idea:
The entire quote is “Nevertheless, she persisted.” The vile Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell uttered this sentence while moving to silence Senator Elizabeth Warren during a debate on the Senate floor. It became an instant rallying cry for women everywhere who are told to stay silent, be obedient, and defer to the patriarchy. (For the whole story see this excellent Washington Post article.)
The whole phrase would be a lot to quilt – the thing would be over 10 feet long – but the simple verb says it all anyway.
I designed this as four quilts that can be tied together to form the whole or used individually as wall hangings or other decoration. Each word uses lettering in one color and negative space in the color wheel’s opposite side to symbolize struggle and opposition. I don’t know yet if the background will be black or white – it’s more graphic in black, but I don’t think I have enough fabric in stash and I am using all stash materials to be sustainable. I’ll decide that later. In any event, the binding will be in the opposite color of the background.
I had plenty of fabric to choose from, for most colors:
I needed four fabrics for each of the eight colors. I didn’t have much orange or pink, but I have enough to go on with some creative use of “near enough” colors.
The long piece at the bottom has elements of all the colors in it, so I will use it in all the letters as a way to tie them together.
The fabrics are mostly quilting cottons, some with metallic designs, but I am using some scraps of apparel fabrics too.
The reds include silk and ultrasuede from jackets I’ve made, as well as red and gold cotton leftover from a Christmas project and some upholstery fabric in a dragonfly motif. The greens include some Irish linen scraps.
I am using coral to fudge the oranges a bit. I also have some African Dutch wax with lilac and gold motifs. The blues include seersucker leftover from a bathrobe project from 20 years ago and velvet leftover from my husband’s smoking jacket.
Yellows include some gold linen from a pair of pants, batik sunflowers from a quilt I made for my cousin’s wedding, and sunflowers from a vest I made my mother years ago. The purples include more leftover Christmas fabric and some brocade from a Halloween costume for my niece.
Because I am using green opposite of red, I needed a grassy yellow-green to go opposite the pink. Some of this fabric is leftover from a quilt I made my nephew. The pinks include a red seersucker that reads pink.
In truth, the quilt is going to be kind of ugly – I mean, this is a metric fuckton of colors, textures and styles for one quilt. But that’s also the beauty of it. My friends, sister and I are all different people, after all, united in some things but with plenty of individuality.
Tied up with grad school and work obligations, I had to be choosy about what I read in 2019. As in past years, I made it a point to read more female authors’ work. Here are some recommendations:
I started the year re-reading “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeline L’Engle. Over Christmas, I saw the movie directed by Ava DuVernay, and it was … not how I remembered one of my favorite books of childhood. So I hit up the library and re-read the story. It’s still a fabulous story with a message that really resonates with me today much as it did when I was a child.
That put me on a science-fiction/fantasy kick, so next I re-read Ursula Le Guin’s masterpiece “The Left Hand of Darkness.” (Again, with the library.) The book is famous for exploring gender issues in science fiction. It’s strange and beautiful and I highly recommend it.
Then I re-read “Dune” by Frank Herbert – one of the most popular books of my youth. This book did not age well. While the planet and culture Herbert created are fascinating and inventive, the characters and story arcs seem pretty dated and even offensive today.
I continued to plow through the library’s science fiction/fantasy section with “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman – a deliciously funny and scary send-up of the way religion warps societies.
At this point, I gave up on my library visits and sought out some new sci-fi books. I bought “The Power,” an award-winning book by Naomi Alderman, about a new deadly power that evolves in women, changing tipping the battle of the sexes to women. I highly recommend it, too.
I highly anticipated Margaret Atwood’s sequel to the Handmaid’s Tale, “The Testaments.” The original book changed my life in high school, and I re-read it recently in light of the never-ending shitshow that is the Trump administration. Sadly, the Booker Prize-winning “The Testaments” disappointed me. While some might find the story satisfying, I think it missed something deep and true about human nature and the American psyche, unlike the original, which cuts very close to home.
I had read a lot of sci-fi at this point, so it was time to get real. What better way than with a book about people who live in a slum in Mumbai, India? “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” is a prize-winning nonfiction book by the journalist Katherine Boo. I was drawn to this book because I noticed these slums in Mumbai, right alongside the glittering modern airport.
I was both fascinated and horrified – I took myself on quite a guilt trip but also came to understand more about Indian culture and ways of life. The book is dark and devastating and also funny and sweet in places.
For nonfiction, I also read “Feminism is for Everybody” by bell hooks, the pen name of the feminist professor and activist Gloria Jean Watkins. The book is an approachable primer on what feminism is – and isn’t. I love hook’s simple language explaining how feminism is an antidote to the patriarchy’s institutionalized sexism. I also like how she challenges white cis bourgeois women (such as myself) to basically get our heads out of our asses.
I started but could not finish “The Tale of Genji,” an ancient Japanese work – a kind of proto-novel – written by a woman, Murasaki Shikibu, in the 11th century. The book follows Genji, a beautiful and charismatic young prince, through his loves and losses, victories and sorrows. The book starts with young Genji, dishing with his friends one rainy night, about the “ideal woman.” I read this in English translation, which included copious notes to help the reader understand the intricacies of 11th-century Japanese life.
I tried to read this after I saw a beautiful exhibit inspired by the book at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. I stood a long time looking at this screen, depicting Genji in exile.
I was fascinated because not only was the text ancient, but a woman wrote it! Sadly, for me the book was hard to get through and follow. There’s a lot of what we modern people would consider misogyny, rape and child abuse. But I imagine it’s a realistic picture of what was going on in Japan at the time.
I was interested in reading something new after that. Unfortunately, “My Year of Rest and Relaxation” by Ottessa Moshfegh was not what I was looking for. This novel tells the story of a beautiful privileged young woman who basically sleeps and shirks her life for a year, with no consequences. She emerges from her year richer and happier and more beautiful… blah blah. Awful.
My final recommendation – saving the best for last – is “The Overstory” by Richard Powers, the 2019 winner of The Pulitzer Prize. I loved this so much I bought copies for many friends and relatives. It was so beautiful and unexpected and thought-provoking. Please check it out.