In Which I Use 3 Hours of My Life and Nearly 5 Yards of Fabric

Yesterday was blustery and cold – seriously it’s like someone flipped a switch on the Connecticut climate – so it was the perfect day for the time suck that is the “Faye” Dress from the Fall 2019 Fibre Mood magazine.

To review, here’s the dress:

Faye Dress From Fibre Mood Fall 2019
Line drawings of Faye

The line drawings do a good job of showing the pleats and sweep of the dress, while the model photo shows the dress’ generous ease.

There are very few blogs or photos of this dress sewn up, and I think I know why.

  1. The trace-off was a nightmare. The skirt’s sweep is so wide (and the pattern pages so small) that you have to piece the skirt pattern together. The fronts are made up of four large chunks. I was so confused I almost gave up. Finally I figured it out.
Front piece – tape together four traced pattern pieces !

2. The dress is a massive fabric hog. My size calls for 400 cm of fabric that’s 140 cm wide. For those of us in the US, with our archaic measuring system, that’s 4.4 yards of 55 inch wide fabric. Oink indeeed!

3. The dress is massive overall – I am fortunate to have a big area to lay it out in. I don’t see how someone could manage with a small space.

Of course, I could not stop there. I had to buy this large-format print rayon challis because it was just so dramatic and edgy, with its asymmetical, animal-inspired, high-contrast look in my favorite colors.

5 yards to go!

I laid it out on the entry hall floor and got cutting in one layer. For such a big piece, a throw rug and a T-square are invaluable tools. Assuming your rug is straight, you can line up the selvage along its edge and use the T-square to line up the pattern’s grainline, like so:

Carpet makes a good cutting mat.

It’s not possible to pattern match this fabric for the skirt – at least not without buying many more yards than I’d already invested in. So I followed the next-best strategy of matching dark area to dark area, light area to light area. That should be fine, especially since the skirt has so much volume and drape.

Two fronts, pattern pieces complimenting each other if not exactly matching.

(Aside: At this point, you’re probably saying to yourself, “Gurl, you have a metric ton of Oriental carpets in your house.” Yes I do. I live in Connecticut. It’s the law.)

After the big skirt pieces were done, I could get fussy with pattern matching the sleeves and bodice pieces.

Sleeves, matched as a mirror image

At the end of about 3 hours, was exhausted from crawling around on the floor. I had a pile of pattern pieces, safety-pinned to their paper templates:

Pattern pieces

And a bit of scraps along a selvage and a few bits here and there – but less than I could have imagined when I started this project.

Scraps

(Another Oriental carpet aside – we chose this carpet for the entry hall and staircase in part for its roasted-chicken motif. Here’s a closeup:

This twin bird motif is supposed to be pair of peacocks, but they look like roasted chickens. If we were an aristocratic family, the roasted chicken would feature prominently in our heraldry. This is second-best.)

Then I had a gin and tonic and lay in a coma for much of the evening. Cheers!

Gratuitous Garden Photos

It’s rained so much in New England this spring that people are joking that it’s like “Old England.” I’m not complaining, especially when I see the results of this wet weather and milder temperatures.

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Perennials having their moment – with a weeping cherry and Japanese lilacs for company in the back

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More perennials – Shasta daisies, phlox, bee balm, coreopsis, veronica and red yarrow showing off.

This marks the second year for these perennial beds that line a walkway from the driveway to our back door. I am pleased with how it turned out, with a few issues. A few things didn’t make it over the winter, and a few things grew differently than my expectations.

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Coreopsis crowding out the veronica

When I bought the coreopsis and veronica plants, for some reason, I thought the veronica would be taller. Maybe it’s stunted from crowding or not enough sun. Anyway, it’s fun to see the purple spikes try to break through the sunny yellow coreopsis crowd. I’ll move them to the front of the bed in the fall.

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Phlox and red yarrow

Here’s another unusual color combo – pink phlox and red yarrow. I think the blue undertone of the phlox makes it work with the red. I also like the contrast in flower shape and structure. Even if it clashes, who cares?

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Poppies… you are getting sleepy…

The poppies have been gone by for a few weeks, but I couldn’t resist a photo anyway,

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Jake photobombing the roses

My roses really went to town. I didn’t get around to pruning them all – a few bushes to one side of the garden were left to their own devices. See what a difference pruning makes?

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Pruned roses

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Unpruned roses

Even my little yellow climbing rose is putting out.

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After years of frustration with this yellow climber, I decided to just let it do what it wants. It will never really climb onto the trellis. I will always need to tie it. Boo. Look at the flowers though!

Trees are also loving all the water. This redbud is a stunner:

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Eastern redbud with its variegated pink and green leaves

I have lots of peaches in my future:

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Elberta peach

And even my reluctant Cortland apple is putting out for a change.

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Cortland apple

And with some luck (and defense against birds) buckets of blueberries are in the future.

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Early Girl blueberries

I never water plants as much as I should. I mean, I will water annuals and my vegetables, and anything in pots or planters. But that’s it. I leave perennials, bushes and trees to their own devices. Seeing this year’s bounty makes me realize I ought to water everything more often, if Mother Nature hasn’t.

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?

Who Loves a Business Trip?

I’m on a business trip for a few days. Nothing fancy, just a hop on Amtrak to Baltimore for a couple of days.

I love business trips. Although I’ve been traveling for work a little for 20+ years, it’s still thrilling somehow. I feel like Peggy from Mad Men with her smug satisfaction, even if it means staying at a budget hotel, drinking low-quality whiskey.

Or, in my case, a fruit, veggie and hummus plate from Amtrak…

Business trips cure my craving for alone time. Something about a hotel room, all to myself, a flight without a companion, even a meal alone feels great. I get time with coworkers during the day, or I interact with lots of strangers at a conference, but any time after that is MINE. At home there’s always something that needs doing, or my husband wants to chat, or the TV is blaring… Always something demands my time. 

Most importantly, I get lonely after a few days, or I wish I was home again. And then I am – feeling refreshed.

The $5, 15-hour Cucumber

My reluctant garden finally turned out some produce. Behold! The $5, 15-hour cucumber!

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Are you saying to yourself, “This looks like every other cucumber I ever saw?” Well, yes. But this is a magic cucumber. It’s magic because I put some seeds in some dirt and out it grew.

Now, are you saying to yourself, “Um… Duh… Isn’t that how all cucumbers grow?”

Again you are right. It wasn’t magic. It was horticulture.

Happy now?

I estimate this cucumber cost me $5. I bought a packet of seeds. I also bought some mulch. So those are my raw materials. We don’t count wear and tear on other things, such as gloves and tools. We won’t count the soil in my raised beds, since that’s been in place for a while. We also won’t count the cost of water. What do I look like, an accountant? Let’s just say $5 and call it square, OK?

I estimate it took 15 hours of labor to grow this cucumber. The “stick seed in the dirt” bit takes 10 seconds. But you know what takes hours? Weeding, watering, shoveling, tilling, screening the soil, making compost and digging it in. Also peeking at the cucumber vine to see if it’s coughed up anything yet.

So that’s my fabulous cucumber. I’m going to eat it with some hummus. I may get another one next week.

Ceaseless Toil and Spring Cleaning

Yesterday was a marathon spring cleaning adventure. Five hours I spent washing and vacuuming and dusting and decluttering. And I’m not done yet.

Is there a more thankless task than housework?

I decided to budget my time. I set the oven for a five-hour self-clean cycle and gave myself five hours to do what I could.

The oven racks needed a good wash. How the hell do these things get so greasy? And why can’t I leave them in the oven in self-clean mode?

Bah.

We rotated the carpets and vacuumed, moving all the furniture out to do it properly. Aha! That’s where all the dead bugs went! 

Gag.

I filled two vacuum cleaner bags with lovely assortments of dust, spider webs, fireplace soot, carpet fuzz, dog hair, crispy needles from the long-gone Christmas tree, and whatnot.

Gross.

Another job for the distaff side done and dusted, literally.