Resolutions for 2020 – Distaff Style

Self-improvement plans – what else would we distaffers do on January 1?

A few quick resolutions then, before we get to work:

  1. Style: I did Me Made May for the whole month last year (even while on vacation) and for most of the year, really. Now that I have a reliable jeans pattern, there’s nothing stopping me from wearing Me Made Everyday. So I am going to go for it!

I got started this morning with a nice long walk in the park with the hubs and the dog in Me Made Jacket (Simplicity 8843), the Jasper Sweater from Paprika Patterns, and hat by Green Pepper Patterns.

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Me Made Cold-weather outfit

I made the sweater last week out of some poly-cotton blend sweatshirt fleece with a muted plaid design.

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Paprika Patterns Jasper Sweatshirt

To add interest, I did the cuffs, side panels and collar on the bias.

2. Gardening: My vegetable garden really put out this year. Amending the soil in my two raised beds helped so much. I found a reliable set of tomato plants and other veggies to grow from now on. I was kicking myself for not doing a better job of tending to the plants and harvesting. So I am planning to do less, but put more effort into what I have and not let anything go to the bugs or go bad on the vine.

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Tomatoes anyone?

3. Fitness: Seek out a real posture plan. I played around with various posture exercises and finally found something that seemed to work. I need to hire the trainer who did this workshop for some private sessions, to make this a regular thing. I am hopeful that I can stop my hunchback development and maybe even undo some of the damage I’ve done.

4. Housework: I have one simple goal. Keep the kitchen floor clean! With a dog around, it’s a chore. I always feel like my home is at its best when the kitchen floor is vacuumed and scrubbed. So that’s the big goal here. Exciting, right?

5. Sewing: For sure, I am going to continue with my “sew edgy” look for the office. I need to find a simple dress that I can make a TNT. I also need a few blouses, and I really need to make a proper suit. For casual wear, I will perfect the jeans. I realize that while I have been playing around with a lot of indie pattern companies, I have been disappointed with some results compared with results from Big 4 (although there are exceptions), so I am going to focus more on Big 4. I have plenty of fabric and patterns at this point – so I am going on a “fast” at least for the first half of the year.

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Sew Edgy office outfit – a favorite

6. Sustainability: A friend who’s a sustainability consultant really made me think about the nature of consumption and waste. I am proud that I don’t do fast fashion and that I will mend and alter clothing. I take public transportation, walk or bike most places. I have a few “upcycle” and “refashion” sewing projects in my head for this year. I feel I could do more, however, when it comes to food. We are doing Meatless Mondays as a family, and on my own I will do more meatless meals (my husband will be challenged to do Mondays as it is). I also am going to buy fewer prepared things in plastic containers – I am talking to you, deli soups and salads! Seriously, it’s not hard to make soup. I’ll probably save $100 a year! I sewed up some simple reusable bags for produce, and I always use tote bags at the store. And I am going to stop buying the occasional to-go coffee unless I can get it in a reusable insulated mug. I already do this with water – why not with coffee?

7. Diet: I just gotta kick sugar. I feel that very badly. I can go for weeks without any, and then I have some, and it’s just a spiral from there. I am not sure how to tackle this one, except to go cold turkey. I need to research more, but it’s happening.

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The last pie, for a while anyway

8. Career: I started last year doing a weekly work reflection on Friday mornings. I’d write down a few accomplishments, networking wins, personal achievements and other notable events from the week. This is a great idea because at work, weeks turn into months, turn into years, and then you have to get a new job, and you go to update the resume and you can’t think of what to say! This exercise takes 5 minutes and it really helps. I am getting started by updating my LinkedIn profile and resume with key accomplishments from 2019. Also, I am trying to network more. I need to be “heads down” at work and more collaborative and social.

9. Family: This is a tough one. I feel that I have neglected my husband and family at times, especially my in-laws. There’s no excuse – we live so nearby – but weeks go by without a word to or from anyone. Even with my husband, we have well-established routines that make it tough to break out. So I am going to make more of an effort on all fronts. Sometimes a simple call to say “hi” or an impromptu date night is all we need to get out of the rut. I will take care of my mother when she has knee surgery later this month, so I can use that time to visit a bit with others to get the year started off well.

10. Reading: I have done well with reading more female authors, but I feel I need to do more to read writers from different nationalities and races. I got a Barnes & Noble gift card for Christmas, so I plan to pick up a few things to get started. I general, I am going to try to read more and do less “faffing about on the mobile” while on my train commute. Now that my grad school is done, I will have time to open my mind more in other directions.

11. Giving back: We made an effort  in 2019 to give more to charities, and we succeeded in increasing our contributions by a thousand dollars over the course of the year. I also have done a bit more charity work with groups I support by in-kind contributions of time and expertise. In fact, I won an award from one charity I support with weekly editing and coaching of college students. I miss volunteering with local groups, though – I managed one event in 2019 – a bike-a-thon – so I am going to try to do two events in 2020.

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Biking for charity – $500 raised

12. Activism. I will admit it: I dread 2020. I am terrified that Trump will get re-elected. I have little confidence that the Democrats will get their shit together. I worry that the economy will thank, and while that would hurt Trump, it’s going to hurt a lot of other people too, so I don’t exactly wish it. After he was elected, I made a plan to so something once a week to #resist. I wrote letters to Congress. I attended rallies. I got educated on the issues. I sewed a shitload of pussyhats. I donated money to groups under siege – Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Anti-Defamation League – I could go on. I have kept up some of these activities but have let others slide. This is a do-or-die year. I need to step it up.

Thank you for reading! I wish you all a happy healthy 2020! (Except Trump.)

Books I Liked in 2019

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:

Science Fiction/Fantasy

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.

Nonfiction

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.

airport slum

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.

More Fiction

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.

Genji in Exile screen

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.

One Art Form Inspires Another

I was delighted when visiting the Cheekwood Estate in suburban Nashville, Tennessee to find a small exhibit by local fashion students. The museum tasked the students, who are in the class of 2021 at the O’More School of Design at Belmont University, with creating a garment inspired by a work of art in the collection.

Take a look:

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Dress and collage by Amy May, fashion student at Belmont University
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“Windy Day at the Sea” by Martha Walter

While this design is a bit on the nose, I love it all the same. Whenever I see those late 19th -century and early 20th-century paintings of women in flowing summer gowns at the seaside, like in this painting by Martha Walter, I can’t help but imagine the dresses as giant sails, blowing the women to freedom, away from what I imagine were pretty confining lives.

A close-up shows how the artist, Amy May, underlined the gauzy bodice with fabric in an antique map motif, like a secret underneath the proper summer white.

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This coat, by Justice Yberra, was inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe’s drawing “Banana Flower.”

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Dress and collage by Justice Ybarra
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“Banana Flower” by Georgia O’Keeffe

I liked how the artist included her muslin and pattern in the display, so you could see how she crafted the coat’s pleats to mimic the flower’s organic form.

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Design by Justice Ybarra

This showstopper was by Samantha Edington:

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Dress and collage by Samantha Edington

The collage includes imagery from the 1920s and metallic elements, reflected in the organza the artist chose. It creates such a mood!. You can see how the heavy gathers in the skirt were inspired by “The Feathered Hat,” by M. Jean McLane.

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“The Feathered Hat” by M. Jean McLane

I have sought out a few exhibits like this lately. I love the places where art and fashion intersect. I’d love to be more creative with my makes. As I gain confidence, I hope I can create a work of art worth wearing, someday!

Don’t Raise Your Hand, Part 2

Some recent interactions at work have inspired me to the list of “don’ts” as a woman dealing with in a male-dominated office. (See here for the original list.)

Don’t provide food. I have been in a series of training classes that wrapped up this week. I am the only woman taking the class, with a group of six to eight men. I have been trying to integrate a little better with the men, since they’re a close-knit group. I have to work with them once in a while.

I thought about buying doughnuts for the last class, as a way to celebrate getting through it, and to ingratiate myself a bit with the guys.

donuts

I actually stood in line at this fancy doughnut shop to get a $25 box of doughnuts. And then I thought, “What am I doing? Why am I spending my own money to kiss up to these guys? If the situation were reversed, would it occur to them – ever – to buy anything out of their own pockets?” Of course not, sister. So I went to the meeting empty-handed. All the men did too. Of course they did. We finished the training and said goodbye.

Speak up when you’re not spoken to. A male project manager I work as part of a larger group ignores me. A few times a week he drops by our desks to shoot the breeze with the men and absolutely never includes me in the conversation.

One day I posed a question to a male coworker (we’ll call him Tim) who responded that he didn’t know the answer. Tim then asked me what the project manager had to say about it. “Nothing,” I replied. “He doesn’t talk to me. He literally never acknowledges my presence.”

Tim had a strange look on his face that said, “this bitch be crazy.”  So I thought I’d do a little test. I told Tim: “Don’t say anything, but the next time the project manager comes over, you watch what happens.”

Sure enough, the PM came by later that day, gabbed for a while with Tim and another guy about a project that I am involved with, never once turning toward me or including me in the conversation.

Wow,” Tim said when the project manager left.

Yep,” I said, “people think women make this stuff up.”

I wondered – just wondered as I said this – if it would get back to the project manager. Of course. A couple of days later, the project manager came by my desk and asked how I’m doing, what’s going on, blah blah. Not talking about work, mind you, just talking to show the other guys that he does talk to me.

Of course the PM reverted to ignoring me after that most of the time. Occasionally, he realizes he’s ignoring me and he makes a show of including me. One time when he came over to talk to Tim and the others, I looked up and listened in. He apologized for not coming closer to me, saying it was too far to walk. I sit right next to Tim. I just gave him a look – hey hang yourself with your own rope, dude.

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Now, this is a shitty passive-aggressive way to deal with the problem of being ignored. Going all Glenn Close from “Fatal Attraction” isn’t the answer. The second I realized this was happening, I should have told the project manager, “Please include me in conversations about this project, as I am on the team too.” And if he “forgets,” I should remind him, this time in writing: “Hey, I asked you to include me, but you didn’t just now. Why not?” If it happens again, escalate to his manager.

 

Fight Back with Feedback

Do you ever see bad behavior, but you don’t call it out, for whatever reason? Maybe you’re scared. Maybe you don’t want to rock the boat. Maybe you don’t want to get involved. Maybe you’re not sure of what you’re really seeing.

There are a million reasons not to do something, but only one reason where you must act: when it’s the RIGHT thing to do.

Such a predicament happened during a business meeting this week, where some men displayed some very bad behavior against women. So I spoke up. Maybe something will change. Maybe not (these guys didn’t seem like the types given to introspection). But if something does change, it will be because of the way the feedback was received:

  • Done at the moment, not later
  • Based in fact, not opinions or emotions
  • Based on content, not people or personalities
  • Constructive to give people something to act on
  • Band together if you can\
  • Follow up

By “at the moment” and  “based in fact” I mean, sticking to feedback about things that were observed. For example, four men had loud side conversations while a junior woman was presenting at the meeting. It was hard to hear the presenter. The presenter glared at them a few times but they kept going. Finally, I spoke up and asked them to stop. Those are facts that cannot be argued with.

I offered some constructive feedback: the moderator should organize the meeting to provide ample time for presenters. Each presenter should agree to stick to the allotted time. The moderator should intervene if side conversations become noisome.

“Based on content” basically means, no personal attacks. For example, this one guy who presented was giving as “evidence” all these personal anecdotes that were self-serving and not useful. Basically, dude was a serious Baby Boomer blowhard. But that’s not constructive, is it? Better to say: “Your anecdotes help illustrate the issues, but do you have data to back them up? I need data to make decisions, so please provide it next time.”

Finally, banding together helps women navigate these issues. If one woman raises a complaint, it’s easy for the men to dismiss her as “crazy” – an all-purpose epithet for any woman who dares to speak up. But if several women come forward, all agreeing to be constructive, fact-based and focused on content, not personalities, we can get somewhere.

In this case, I had a couple of “off the record” discussions after the meeting with other participants. We agreed on the facts. Then we provided our feedback. We agreed that we will follow up in two weeks to see if our comments were addressed.

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!

Happy St. Distaff Day!

OK, there’s no “Saint Distaff.” Although, any woman who had to wield a distaff when spinning wool or flax is a saint in my book.

Rather, “St. Distaff Day” is Ye Ole Catholic Church’s way of saying: “Get back to work!”

Back in the day, Christmas partying lasted until the Feast of the Epiphany (it still does in some Christian cultures). You know, the old Twelve Days of Christmas” racket.

The day after the Epiphany, the fun was over. Women picked up their distaffs again and resumed their lives of ceaseless toil. Men resumed their ceaseless pastime of tormenting women, which on St. Distaff Day included stealing the spun wool and flax and setting it on fire.

There’s even a snatch of doggerel to mark the merry moment:

“Give St. Distaff all the right;

Then bid Christmas sport good night,

And next morrow everyone

To his own vocation.”

I am on a business trip, so no textile work for me!