find your beach

Or, things I have been doing instead of sewing.

  1.  My Face

Really, my head, if you include my hair.  I remember when I bought my first bottle of cleanser.  This was probably eight years after I needed to.  Suddenly, my unibrow was the most prominent part of my face, not its light-reflective sheen.  Sigh.  Well, let’s just say, those were simpler times.

Now, I slough and balm and tone and peel and thread.  I don’t apply sunscreen, I anoint myself with it.  I stand on my tippy toes to tightline, wiggle-and-pull, and pat-not-rub my way into. . .looking potentially marginally better?  Who’s to say?  Well-meaning friends and strangers tell me that my skin looks great.  I think that’s cute.  Until someone is following you around trying to capture your essence in an amulet, there is room for improvement.

First Wives Club - Fill 'Em Up
Can we please agree that First Wives Club is the only film worth watching?

I have to say, the meticulousness one can bring to beauty and hair/skincare taps into the exact same part of my brain that sewing does.  There’s also a little bit of hopefulness to it.  You can never actually see yourself, your face especially, unmediated by something else.  It’s sort of. . .unsettling that just about everyone else can spot you from head on but you, the same way that, in abstract, most people don’t truly choose their own clothes.  With skincare, I suppose one could be putting on a mask to make outside match in, or maybe to protect the you you want to keep from the impressions and projections of the viewing public.  Petals on a wet, black bough comes to mind, oddly.

Nothing if not a sanctimonious jerk, I feel compelled note:  I don’t really think of taking care of myself, aesthetically, as self-care.  Audre Lorde would probably not come sit on the edge of my bathtub and listen to me kvetch about another well-paid, organic, grass-fed day at my moderately stressful job, after which I clocked maybe a whisper of time helping someone who isn’t me or doesn’t sign my paychecks.  I do massage my stress frowns as I listen to NPR in these troubling times, but I get the sense that doesn’t count.

2.  Art, maybe?

Look, reader, I don’t have the necessary degree of dirty-mirror-selfie earnestness to say, “Art moves the mind.  I try to spend every day experiencing more of it.”  Because, well, no.  HOWEVER, I went from a lifetime of pooh-poohing modern art and a few years of relegating myself to the west wing of the National Gallery of Art to being a person who actually cares about art and contemporary artists.

I went through the same thing with books a few years ago.  I think some people genuinely prefer things made by the dead.  That’s cool.  Others might be afraid to admit to liking (or even trying) something without years (decades?) of a well-respected chorus supporting them.  Also cool.  I just started to feel like I was doing a disservice to the present in a weird way.

Anyhoo, I’ve appreciated and loved work like Hormazd Narielwalla’s—he uses vintage and contemporary Savile Row tailoring patterns and makes the most stunning collages.

3.  Reading Watching television as I lie near-comatose in bed

I never used to understand the appeal of this, and yet, here we sit.

4.  Learning to ride a bicycle

Marx Brothers on a bike
Night at the Opera promo. I still say that probably would go better for them than bike-riding went for me.

Funny story.  I did not know how to ride a bicycle until this past December.  I suppose funny in this instance is tinged with equal parts sadness and amazement.  Have you heard about all of the differing pedagogical thought when it comes to adult bicycle riding?  Well, get comfortable, because I have.  I left my second group class with the local bicyclists association crying because I was regressed back to one pedal!  One pedal!  This was my emotional and moral nadir of H2 2017, in case you were curious.  I took my wounded pride and sniffles into a bicycle shop, determined to get my own effing wheels and teach myself.  That’ll learn ’em.  (Spoiler:  It won’t.)

Then, horrified at the idea of an enormous decorative piece of steel taking up valuable floorspace in my matchbox-sized apartment, I [lowers head] sought private instruction.  On two Saturdays in a freezing cold parking lot of a part of DC that has no name, a very nice man (from REI, to be clear, I did not solicit a stranger) set up halved tennis balls and caution cones and everyone emerged unscathed.  That and I can kind of ride a bike now.  Sort of.

Hm.  I do have a (forgotten, but coming in the nick of time) one-on-one with Kenneth King scheduled for Sunday.  (I know.  I must have been in a deliriously treat-yourself mood in November.)  We’re going to draft a trouser block.  Maybe there’s hope for me yet?


Version 2
From the Barbara Kruger exhibit at the NGA a few years ago.  On one hand, I love the idea of the eye being the site of mediation/conflict between the individual and the world at large.  On the other, it would have been in better taste to put the large print guides near any other leaflet.

As with all other things, I waited six years after everyone else to let KonMari into my soul.

For the uninitiated, in Marie Kondo’s book (empire, really), one modifies one’s external environment to suit internal needs.  In her world, ultimately, tidiness is about happiness and happiness is about you.  To that end, you divide your belongings by category, make a big pile, physically hold each item, and ask yourself, “Does this spark joy?”  Reader, I am joyless.  Had I kept on with this, I would have no socks, two sticks of furniture, and a pile of clothes that don’t fit.  It seems that my joy button is broken.  [[Not a word from you, Julie.]]

It should come as no surprise, then, that my sewjo is dead.  Dead, dead.  I spend as much time thinking about sewing as I do thinking about or doing anything else, really, but magically, I cannot spin thoughts into garment gold.

I’ve tried some of the old tricks:  Heading to the fabric store and bonding with the high-priced merch; doing deep dives on all of your (yes, your!) Instagram accounts for news on new patterns and all the nifty ways you’ve made them your own; I’ve even gone to see a professional—I went to hang out with Bex at Stitch Sew Shop to make some bias binding, because it is a pull-my-teeth-out task for which I need adult supervision.

Things were on the up-and-up, until I signed up for a coat class that I never got to go to because my dry cleaner and work schedule banded together and decided that happiness was just not in the cards.  (Yes, mine is a bottomless supply of self-pity.)  My top-stitching was uneven but too delicate to unpick!  I couldn’t find any muslin.  I found the muslin and interfacing, but work got busy so I had no machine time.  You know the drill.  (Are you cycling through it right now?)

There is more to this, of course.  I ended up needing two surgeries last year.  (Yes, I tore the other ACL just a month after laying the bricks for my triumphant returns to my primary two esses!)  A combination of medication, surgical complications, and post-op treatments have rendered me unable to exercise right now.  One should cut one’s self slack, sure.  One also is not complaining (god forbid).  But!  One could also fashion an unreasonable plan for one’s triumphant return to the machine.  I dunno, reader.  One of these things sounds more fun than the others.

The usual order of operations for when I’m in the sewing doldrums is:

  1. Find a nearly there UFO and fix her up.  [[All of my UFOs are too small now!  Which is okay, but just disqualifies this item from being a mood-booster.]]
  2. Go shopping.  Ogle the goods on the fancy floors of Neiman’s, maybe even smuggle some in for a quick fit, then delight in the fact that you could probably make (a serviceable) copy and without that weird butt ruffle/peplum thing.  [[I’m supposed to be babying the cement blocks that I call knees, so am limiting my galavanting.]]
  3. Read other people’s blogs!  This is actually where I’d love some help, if you don’t mind.  There are two people on the Internet (three, if you count the dearly departed A Sewn Wardrobe) who can coax me off the fence about a garment.  Gina from A Feminist Stitch and Mary from Idle Fancy.  I could literally be in the middle of an “Ugh, but seriously, another f*&kin’ peplum” rant, then come across their version of a garment and think, “That’s actually kind of all right.  Beautiful, even”  Poof—wallet out, pattern secured.  Who charms your wallet away from you when those two are otherwise engaged?

Because I am me, and I like lists and do nothing if not share too much, here’s what I’m thinking the plan should be:

  1. Make some muslins.  Indeed, I just bought a 50-yard bolt of muslin off of the Internet.  I think that knowing that I can sew for myself at not an Indie 8/10 or Big Four 14 would be super helpful.  I also think that sewing garments without elastic and with zippers would be somewhat heartening.  See ya, schmattes.  Have you been sewing anything fun lately?
  2. Take a class.  A hard one.  I think I might benefit from being out of my depth, a bit.  I’ve only ever been to classes for beginning sewers, even though I’ve been at this for awhile.  Thomas von Nordheim?  Susan Khalje?  Bueller?
  3. In a weird way, sewing has complicated my relationship with fashion.  In some ways, it’s been good.  In others, reading sewing blogs has supplanted a lot of the hardcore fashion editorial reading I used to do.  I know this runs counter to supra 3, but I think I may try to bring some more Uncle Dries into my diet.

Oh, reader.  Those were 800 words that added precisely nothing to your life.  I think this means I’m using you for accountability.  So, next time I pop round (in yet another year, maybe?), let’s talk progress.  Pinky swear.


we are all beside ourselves

At my first (and last) Weight Watchers meeting, the group leader stopped to talk to me afterwards.[1]  At one point, she leaned in and said, “Think of it.  If you conquer food, you can conquer anything.”  Well, actually, no.  If food’s your dragon, food’s your dragon, but it’s not really mine.

Let’s talk about last week.  On Monday, the boot fitter told me that my ski boots, which maybe had ten days on them before my accident, were incompatible with the six-size differential between my instep and the remainder of my foot.  If I didn’t have fifteen days of skiing planned within eight weeks of that discussion, I would have just rented and suffered.  Alas, I dropped a Babylock serger’s load of dough on new boots, in a way different size, that needed to be ordered in from New Hampshire.  Nothing unmanageable.  So, out I went on comped demo skis and boots, and found myself standing on a sheet of ice—not terribly promising for one’s first time back.  One of the ski school directors told me to come back to the school at 8:45 the next morning, as the day was licked.  You deserve rest.

It snowed 8-12″ that night.  Beautiful, fresh snow.  The next morning, at around 8, I called for a cab.  Cabs were off the road because of slick roads.  I couldn’t take the pleasant two-mile walk to the mountain from my inn, as there are nearly no sidewalks and said slickness made cars liable to slip off the road and clip into the shoulder.  They’d call when it was safe to drive.  Fill your lungs with this space.

I pottered around my inn and had a truly marvelous breakfast.  I read some articles and tried to mope minimally.  Finally, I gathered my druthers and my innkeeper drove me to the mountain in the early afternoon. . .where the only instructor available for me—my first time back, petrified after reconstructive surgery—was a man who’d been a snowboard instructor for five years, but had only learned how to ski over this past holiday break.  Let’s just say, it ended poorly.  Indeed, it also started poorly, with me careening down the beginner hill in the wedge I never learned, my cries (screams) of “HELP!” going unanswered.

When I wrote last Sunday, I tried to draw a parallel between my illustrious return to skiing and a potential return to (sewing) blogging.  By Tuesday, I started to think that maybe shuffleboard was the sport for me.  I called my mother—from whom I did not get my nigh-debilitating sense of duty—to tell her that maybe I was too scared for the fear workshop.  Maybe I should just call it quits.  She told me to fold.  Meet the pain; watch it pass.

As a human, I’m the product of modern medicine, Joan Didion, and Jack Daniels.  Lately, though, my petty, individual stress and rings of larger, global stresses, have pushed my normally charmingly and quirkily high anxiety levels into the stratosphere.  Now, I feel like the product of constant friction.  What used to be a bunch of noise in my head has been ratcheted up to a frequency that can only be heard by dogs.  I find myself saying those trite GOOPy, yoga, SoulCycle sayings and meaning them.  Let’s find the stillness in this moment.

I’m going to go full Gilbert/Strayed on you now and tell you that the fear workshop kind of changed my life, or helped what’s left of it wash up on shore.  At first, I thought, “What business do I have going off into the woods with a bunch of broads to relearn a sport? ”  I get frequently accused of being a middle-aged white man.  This would end poorly.  Yet!  Yet, I found in these women partners in crime and, in the weirdest way, found myself.  I will follow both Karens and Patti and Mermer and Judy and Emily and almost fifty other women just about anywhere.  It reminded me a lot of what we do (did) here.  It did not remind me of Taylor Swift’s best friend beach house.  Mercy.

Later on that week, as shitty things happened, I actually shifted just a touch and found the stillness in it.  I lost my wallet on my second-to-last day after withdrawing a decent amount of money for tipping everyone.  A woman I’d known for three days thrust $40 in my hand and refused to take it back when I protested in the name of Lyft, Venmo, and ApplePay.  My innkeeper took a detour from the hardware store and picked me up at the mountain, telling me that no matter what, even if it’s the middle of the night, I should call if I need a ride.  After I couldn’t print my entire mandatory bus ticket, my bus driver let me on the bus, on the agreement I’d print it at Port Authority.  At Port Authority, a 4’11” woman in a neon vest (a Haitian immigrant, I might add) shepherded me upstairs to the printer and insisted on trying to help me carry my gear bag, which nearly took her down.  After I asked after the loo, she didn’t just escort me to it, but stood by my skis and bags outside because “Why would you take your things in there?”  I came back to the building where I grew up, feeling sick and exhausted (and covered in a thin film of Catskills mud), but got no fewer than a half-dozen hugs between the sidewalk and my apartment.

On a local level, I feel like I’m being flicked to death.  On a global citizen level, it’s more like a savage, back-alley thrashing.  Everyday, I’ve become increasingly unsure that I’ve got this.  But, in weird tiny ways, I wonder more and more if we’ve got this.  Or maybe I’m getting more and more optimistic that we can do this.  There isn’t a skeleton key that opens us up to conquering the world, but maybe the process of building an us and working for something matters.

God.  Now if only I were near a sewing machine, I’d be able to give you a more definitive verdict on this sewing blog issue.  To be continued, I suppose.


[1]  Fat is indubitably a feminist issue and I have so much to say about this that I can’t even shoehorn it into a footnote.

Thank you, Karen Joy Fowler (another Karen!), for the title.

second fig

And so I have this doctor.  He’s not really great outside of the room.  He’ll let my emails sit for weeks and weeks, miss refilling a prescription when I’m out of town, and is basically unreachable via telephone.  Indeed, I’ve been fighting off the sneaking suspicion that he’s some sort of hologram or perhaps is trapped in said room, bound and gagged when I’m not there.

I go in all wound up and tell him a story from the tragic, tragic time between our two visits and he’ll say, “It’s like in the Garden of Eden, isn’t it?”  Then I realize that this cardboard cut-out and his Welcome Back, Kotter ringtone and the Old Testament references and me and him and he and I are probably not going to change anytime soon, and maybe that’s not the worst thing.

I suppose what I’m saying is that we’re in the room now, reader.

I’ve been cheating on sewing with ready-to-wear and cheating on ready-to-wear with entertaining made-to-measure and then I left made-to-measure at the altar for the future promise of bespoke.  Really, it’s been a tumultuous year and change.

It’s funny.  Tomorrow, I’m on skis for the first time since my accident almost two (two!) years ago.  I am going to be bringing the skis that were getting waxed while I was having my accident, the ones I picked up while wearing an ankle-to-thigh immobilizer.  I’m nervous about falling, yes.  Surgery, kind of (I feel like I’m really good at having surgery).  I suppose the thing that’s really getting to me is the fear that I just won’t like it anymore.  It’s no coincidence, I suppose, that I’ve all but abandoned this space over the past 18-ish months, either.

I’m not saying I’m back, but shall we say I’m dipping a toe?  Let’s see how tomorrow goes and decide from there.


it’s handled

In the comments for “goodbye to all that,” Blogless Terry made an excellent observation.  Business casual is Olivia Pope.  There’s a difference between the way characters are portrayed in film and the way that real-life women of power dress, sure, but I think that media stands in conversation with the world of real life, and that it simultaneously reflects and molds the ways in which we consider powerful women.

I figured it would be an interesting experiment to look through photographs of professional women in film through the decades, and try to abstract generalizable rules from the images.  Fun times, guys!

[Note: Things are cited when I could, but it’s really tedious to figure out who we’d consider the source.  I look forward to some cease and desist letters.]

His Girl Friday (1940)
Columbia Pictures

His Girl Friday Rosalind Russell

Adam’s Rib (1949)

Hepburn Adam's Rib

The Best of Everything (1959)
20th Century Fox

The Best of Everything

The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1979)
CBS, MTM Productions


Network (1976)

Faye Dunaway Network

9 to 5 (1980)
20th Century Fox

NINE TO FIVE, (aka 9 TO 5), Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda, 1980. TM and Copyright © 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved..
NINE TO FIVE, (aka 9 TO 5), Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda, 1980. TM and Copyright © 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved..

Bear in mind that the ladies of Nine to Five are former secretaries who took over.  So their looks are something of a middle ground.

Baby Boom (1987)
United Artists

Diane Keaton Baby Boom

Working Girl (1988)
20th Century Fox

Working Girl Still

Sex and the City (1998-2006)

Cynthia Nixon S&TC Cynthia Nixon S&TC II

The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
20th Century Fox

Miranda Priestly via HelloGiggles

Up in the Air (2009)
Paramount Pictures

Up in the Air

Performance by an actress in a supporting role, Vera Farmiga in "Up in the Air" (Paramount in association with Cold Spring Pictures and DW Studios) This image is made available here as part of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' 82nd Annual Academy Awards¨ Nominations Announcement Press Kit. This image may only be used by legitimate members of the press.
Performance by an actress in a supporting role, Vera Farmiga in “Up in the Air” (Paramount in association with Cold Spring Pictures and DW Studios)
This image is made available here as part of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ 82nd Annual Academy Awards¨ Nominations Announcement Press Kit. This image may only be used by legitimate members of the press.

The Good Wife (2008-present)

Diane Lockhart Still

Scandal (2012-present)

Olivia Pope via Marie Claire
Getty Images.

What do we take away from this?  First off, holy pinstripes, right?!  Secondly, there’s a clear lineage here, especially reflected in the colors—grays, browns, blacks, and pops of red—and in the shapes.  If you want to be more elegant, you wear silk; if you’re lower on the totem pole, you wear cotton button-fronts.  Somewhere in the middle?  Do both.

Speaking of totem poles, let’s talk about hierarchy.  I wonder if people just starting out dress the way that they do because they don’t know better, because they can’t do better, or because you have to earn the right to the Diane Lockhart blouse.  Let’s compare Vera Farmiga in Up in the Air to Anna Kendrick.  Different companies, different ranks, way different outfits.  Late 1990s Miranda Hobbes is quite different from mid-aughts Miranda Hobbes.  It could be time, it could be a difference in savoir faire gained over time, or it could be the fact that as one rises in the ranks it’s okay to stop matching the wallpaper and start getting noticed.  Personally, if I were ever CEO of a company, I’d wear ball skirts and cashmere t-shirts every day.

Constrast that change—evolving into a more feminine style of dress as one rises in the ranks—to the image from The Best of Everything.  Joan Crawford’s senior status is projected through the fact that she is wearing a feminine silhouette in suiting fabric.  You can tell that she’s that the junior staff member is junior because she’s wearing something softer, more feminine, and more on-trend.

Shifting gears, am I the only person surprised by the enormous Internet literature on feminism, and with it clothes, in Working Girl?  Goll-ee.   There is stuff here, here, here, here, and here.  Probably more, who knows?  (Oh!  Read this one.  It goes from Working Girl to The Good Wife, and Teri Agins comments on the evolution.)  Here’s that famous quote everyone likes: Harrison Ford says, “Dress like a woman, not like a man would dress if he were a woman.”

But in 2013, when Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer reclines in Michael Kors in Vogue, a little feminine flare is more than tolerated, it’s an asset. “There is nothing more mind-numbingly boring than a matching jacket and skirt,” says Kate White, former Cosmo editor-in-chief and author of I Shouldn’t be Telling You This. By all means dress like a woman, and unlike Tess, there’s no need to tone it down and blend in: “If you look fantastic and fashion forward, you’ll feel more confident and people will notice and remember you.” Using the gender spectrum to your advantage is perfectly acceptable, but you still need serious hair. “You should have a cut that says you mean business,” says White.  (Rosemary Counter for Jezebel)

I’m not sure that that’s true, but we’ll talk about that in our next installment.  (Oh, yes, this is a three-parter.)

goodbye to all that

Today I decided that I’m not going to wear any florals to work.  Or fruit.  Or animals.  (Well, the occasional bird might sneak in, because I am a human of a certain sort.)  BFD, Charlotte.  HUGE EFF-DEE, reader.  This eliminates a solid 80% of my wardrobe. Forget about my homemade clothes, they’re just dead in the water.  Thankfully, I’ve developed a taste for stripes, checks, and dots which might just save me from the navy tidal wave that’s about to hit my house.

The question is—and I’ve asked this before, and ask it constantly—what does it take to be taken seriously?  I have to be comfortable, obviously, but what else?  Because this is my first year at my job, and my first time having a job, I’m loath to try to change people’s minds, one floral fit-and-flare at a time.  Naturally, I came to this realization after having made quite a few crazy floral dresses to tame with cardigans.

What is business casual, anyway?  I ask because I went to an investment banking mixer (I’m on the back end in economic consulting, so the environment is more relaxed) which was supposed to be business casual.  I wore cropped navy trousers, a silk blouse, a cardigan, and nice flats.  One of the recruiters thought I was a member of the waitstaff (who were dressed completely differently than I was).  I’m obviously one to trust about this. So, I’ve been doing some digging, trying to come up with Charlotte’s Business Casual, That’ll Last Her for At Least the First Three Months of Employment.  I aspire to this on my first day of work: Peggy Which would require me to tone down and/or eliminate all of my Mindy Lahiri tendencies.

Mindy Project Uniform
Exactly, Mindy. Exactly.

So hearts, flora, and fauna are all getting the boot.  Instead, I’m channeling my more appropriate style icons:

Faye Dunaway Network
So, she was a little scary. But scary good, right?

Faye Dunaway and I totally have completely different but let’s say the same body type/s.  But, her camel, taupes, and grays from network are a thing to behold.

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 28:  Yahoo! President and CEO Marissa Mayer arrives at the White House for a meeting with President Barack Obama and other business leaders November 28, 2012 in Washington, DC. According to the White House, the American business executives met with Obama to discuss economic growth and deficit reduction.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC – NOVEMBER 28: Yahoo! President and CEO Marissa Mayer arrives at the White House for a meeting with President Barack Obama and other business leaders November 28, 2012 in Washington, DC. According to the White House, the American business executives met with Obama to discuss economic growth and deficit reduction. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

So, if I’m meeting with the president, that’s totally what I’d wear.  See?  Room for fun.

I can wear tweed!  But probably shouldn't show my undergarments.
I can wear tweed! But probably shouldn’t show my undergarments.

I can wear tweed and a sweater but without the bouncy haircut and the visible underthings. Do you know who Bonnie Morrison is?  Neither do I, really.  (Fashion PR person and/or consultant, I think.)  Yet, I am ob-sessed with her style.  I follow the fashion editor of Details on Instagram (@matthew_marden), and he constantly posts photos of Morrison (@fiercegrandma) and her street style.  The first time I saw a photo of her, I thought “Yup.  That’s what I want to look like.”  This was the first image, but totally not representative.

Bonnie Morrison via @matthew_marden's Instagram account, which is totally not stalkery.
Bonnie Morrison via @matthew_marden’s Instagram account, which is totally not stalkery.

This is my favorite:

My personal favorite.  Same source.
My personal favorite. Same source.

She wears a lot of neutrals, flats, and loafers, which might be just my speed for the first few weeks of work.  Then I’ll branch out a bit, I think. So, from what I understand, one can show one’s midriff at work.  False?  Only if you’re OscarPRGirl?

OscarPRGirl Bow Skirt
via the ODLR tumblr account

In all seriousness, I am contemplating a bottle green leather pencil skirt for fall.  It seems obligatory.  But is it pushing the line?

OscarPRGirl Leather Skirt
via the ODLR tumblr account

What about stripes on stripes, like Marissa Webb?  Too creative?

Marissa Webb at J. Crew via J. Crew Aficionada
Marissa Webb at J. Crew via J. Crew Aficionada

I think that I have to leave my Vlisco in my wardrobe, because can you imagine this dress with a cardigan?  Yes you can.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie via Vogue UK
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie via Vogue UK

Cidell of Miss Celie’s Pants did an excellent post about the Halston exhibit at FIT, and mentioned how much she wanted to make some silk knit shirt dresses.  I think this might something I think about going forward.  Then again, I am making crazy M6696s that might put Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Mondrian-lite look to shame.

via Vogue UK
via Vogue UK.  God, I love this dress.

What does any of this have to do with sewing?  Well, I’ve edited myself back down to ten patterns, based on the above images: (the pencil skirt, the shell blouse, the fit and flare (old habits die hard), the full skirt, the woven wrap dress, the shirtwaist, the jacket, and three wild cards that get to rotate—right now they’re Hawthorn, the new Butterick prairie dress, and a to-be-determined coat pattern), and am trying to pare my fabrics down to things that I can comfortably wear at work, like wool and silk crepes with muted tones.  I like buying button-front shirts and trousers, so they don’t make the cut.  I figure I can make an A-line skirt out of the pencil, and add a sheath dress into the rotation, should I find the confidence to tackle the fitting. Let’s see how well this plays out, team.

In which I publish our bimonthly half-hour-long video.

Because I was dragging my feet in answering the comments from “Shibboleth” and as my bottomless well of laziness bubbled its way to the surface, I’ve made our video.  I answer the comments, in helter-skelter order, as well as Craftastrophies‘ comment on “for those who think young.”  I forgot to answer Laura’s comment on “shibboleth,” because I’ve been so dreadful at keeping up with responses and am basically just going to write her an email.

Per usual, the rules sit thusly: This video is long. as. all get out.  I ramble.  The three of you who make it to the end get cookies.  Or undying gratitude.  To-may-to, etc.  Shall we?


just beginners

Announcement: Anyone interested in drinking with me?  If any of you DC-area sewers (or readers) are interested in commandeering the back of a bar after work or sitting on a porch somewhere on a weekend afternoon, then shout me a holler here or at  I am only sort of using you for companionship.  I’m not calling it a meet-up, but a “let’s kick it over sazeracs and see where the evening takes us.”  That sounds like I’m hitting on you.  Let’s keep it that way.

Per usual, I’m answering old comments late, but you should find responses (t)here shortly.  End of announcements.

I’m trying out a new sewing philosophy—you may have heard of it.  Giving no fucks?  No?  Unfamiliar?  I’m going for the proverbial quantity over quality, in hopes of technical improvement over time.  So, I’m taking a lot of deep breaths and just sighing through the suckage.  Usually, I rip seams and throw tantrums and agonize over the topstitching.  Now, I’m just sewing through it.  Waistband didn’t catch with topstitching?  Just slipstitch it down.  Topstitching uneven?  You’re the only one who cares about that.  Collar stand a little lumpy?  Character is what that’s called.  Naturally, it’s healthier than my old hair-pulling ways.  Obviously, it’s killing me.

All of this preamble to say: This dress sucks.  I know it does.  You probably won’t, just looking at it from afar, but deep in my soul, I understand that this is not my best.  It’s all made up in a Japanese salt-shrunk cotton gingham (read: those ain’t wrinkles, but are intentional).  It is the second of three M6696s I’d made within a seven-day span, and for some strange reason, the calamity kept coming.  (The other two are bangin’, if I may say so myself.)  Skirt pieces were attached the wrong way, the hem grew unevenly, my perfectly matched skirt rebelled against me.  That waistband comment was not a joke, this em-effer would. not. catch. because I ran out of fabric glue.  (Let’s bow our heads and thank the universe for glue basting.)  But, you know what?  I’m going to wear the shit out of it this summer, I just know it.

It all used to line up, I promise!
It all used to line up, I promise!  The buttons screwed everything up.
Before the buttons of horror and woe.
Before the buttons of horror and woe.  Collarbands, button of waistband, and hem lined up.  GAH.

Plus, after I put the buttons on, the pattern in the front just stopped matching up.  Don’t get me started on how every single thread I snip seems to have a dozen more rise up to come to its funeral.

Waistband of doom
Waistband of doom.  The placket is not smushed, it just doesn’t overlap all the way.

And the waistband!  It actually, believe or not, lines up when I line it, the collarband, and the hem up, but because one side is 1/8″ larger than the other (for serious).  But!  The buttonholes ruined everything.

And speaking of good old Bernina buttonholes:

That old Bernina buttonhole.
Perfection.  (And, yes, the collarband is symmetric in real life.  Miracle of miracles.)

My machine went ape on the last one, which happened to be the uppermost buttonhole.  APE.

This gets me to thinking about the Coletterie post on being a beginner.  Now, there is a part of me that thinks this is a gender thing, but the more I think about it, the more I think that it is a U-shaped curve.  True, rank beginners, in my experience, tend to be really confident.  As in, “I’m going to make an evening gown on a Saturday” confident.  Some people can do that, sure, but it takes a while to know your strengths, and to actually sew rather than simply put together a wearable-enough garment.  Then, after a while, you start realizing that it’s not that easy.

Then, you see really good sewing.  I mean, really good home sewing.  Then, you realize that your stuff just isn’t that.  At the same time, you’ve got the cacophony of sewing noise, the Susan Khaljes (who is still mean in my head, I don’t care what you all say), the Threads features.  You start really looking at your department store finds, and not just comparing your stuff to the goods at Forever 21.  This, friends, is the nadir.  The quitting point, even.  Some people get so discouraged here that they either stick themselves in a playpen, never to expand their skills outside of pinking and a whole bunch of the same garment, or they just flat-out quit.  Others see this as a challenge.

All of a sudden, after a really long time pounding at it, you lift up your head and see.  Hey, your topstitching isn’t that bad.  Same goes for your hand-stitched hems.  What’s that over there?  Is that a welt pocket?  You did that without a second thought?  Yeah you did.  And up that little ladder you climb.

I think that a lot of people end up in the doldrums, and either keep that doldrums mindset as their skills develop, or corral themselves into a certain sort of sewing that does not leave room for a lot of development.  I think I’m in the doldrums right now, and I’m trying to power through with sheer volume and force of will.  But, truth be told, I wonder if that welt pocket moment is going to come.  We can’t all be Ann of the Sewing Bee, can we?  But, should we try?


[I started writing this last year, and, in the spirit of cleaning out my drafts folder, refuse to change any of the anachronisms.  You’re welcome.  Also, still in the middle of answering comments, but thought I’d get this out while it’s on my mind.]

I’m taking you to Sunday School today, reader: we’re going to talk about shibboleths.  Now, the contemporary dime-store definition of a shibboleth is that it is a password, or a means of distinguishing one group from another.  The contemporary dime-store definition sucks.  Here’s how the story goes: We’ve got Ephraimites and Gileadites, who, much in the style of the Jets and the Sharks, do not get along very well and live separately (there was a war, a ford was captured, bing bang boom: we’re got a rift).  The Gileadites have possession the neighborhood’s Jordan River crossing/s, so whenever an Ephraimite escapes Ephraim and wants to get out of Dodge, s/he has to pass through Gileadite territory.  Ruh roh.  The Gileadites, when faced with someone trying to make a crossing, say, “Cool.  Just one thing: Say shibboleth.”  Sad story, though: Ephraimites can’t pronounce it.  Sadder story: the Ephraimites would then get killed.  This is the Old Testament, after all.

What’s the moral of that story?  The hell if I know, reader.  I’m not a theologian.  My point is, it isn’t that the Ephraimites didn’t know the password, but rather that they couldn’t say the word.  This is not a  matter of knowledge or skill, but one of basic, constitutive identity.  Here, the individual was inextricable from his/her nationality.  An Ephraimite couldn’t change into his/her Gileadite costume and call it a day.  A shibboleth isn’t a way of saying, “I understand you,” but rather, “I am one of you.”

Bee eff dee, Charlotte!  Actually, reader, HUGE eff dee.  Let’s talk about clothes now.  It’s on-campus recruiting sea-soooooonnnnnn!  (That was my Oprah voice.  The more I use my Oprah voice, the more like Oprah I will become.  It is science.)  I was in the waiting room this morning, waiting to be interviewed, and I couldn’t help but look around at my fellow applicants.  Black poly-blend suits (no wrinkles, y’all), button-front shirts, black shoes, vinyl portfolios.  I wore a navy wool skirt suit, a bronzed olive silk blouse, and kept my papers in a recycled paper folder that cost a nickel.  That’s just how I roll, reader.

The first time I went to buy an Hermès scarf (which I mention specifically because I hate it when people are coy about this sort of thing.  I bought a fancy scarf.  I can’t decide if it is more obnoxious to mention it, or to avoid mention for fear of. . .seeming as if you bought a fancy scarf?  I’m socially tone deaf, so forgive me, either way), I wore track pants and a heathered gray t-shirt.  I was seventeen, and was so excited to buy myself something that nice.  But, the people at the store were less excited about me.  Well, not excited at all, quite frankly.  Then after quite a bit of throat-clearing and my best attempt at eye contact and a level tone, a sales associate summoned this gem of a woman (truly), who was the regional expert in scarves or somesuch.  She spent an hour with me, poring over the book, telling all of the scarves’ stories, and helping me pick just the right one.  At the end, she handed me my bag and said to me, “Next time you come in, wear your scarf.”  Shibboleth.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that it is really difficult not only know that you don’t know a language, but knowing that you, being you, can’t speak the language.  I cannot walk into a store wearing that store’s wares just because it will make the sales staff like me, or wear a poly-blend black suit (mostly because I’d sweat my makeup off) so that I can arrive wrinkle-free and banker-like to an interview.

This post originally contained parts of what would become “Difficult Women” and “Written on the Body,” and I suppose the issues overlap.  Do we sew to transcend the shibboleths, the Gordon Gartrells, or do we sew in order to gain a whole new set of codes with which to operate?  Am I the only person plagued by this question when I’m on Instagram?  The difficulty is, for me, that the non-sewer world isn’t fluent in makerese (makance languages?), and this is where the problems start.  (All that preface for this?  Yup.)

where i’m calling from

[Thank you, Joan Didion.  In your spirit (or, as an affront to it), I did not proofread this.]

I remember exactly when my shirtwaist dress obsession started.  It wasn’t with Betty Draper.  Indeed, it was with a three-year-old.

OLS Jumprope

A really flipping creepy-looking three-year-old, at that.  The Purl Bee did a now-missing post and used Liberty Fairy Clock to make a shirtwaist dress, maybe seven years ago, and I thought, “I could get on board with that.”  Then I went on a mad search for a similar dress for adults and found. . .nil.  I found 30″-bust vintage patterns and Big-Four patterns sans collar stands.  When I caught wind of Colette releasing the Hawthorn I got super excited, but was a little (okay, more than a little) disappointed by how non-traditional it was.  Then, my ship came sailing in.  M6696.  The Platonic ideal.  My east and my west.  The alpha and omega.  Since then, I think we’ve been living in the golden age of the shirtwaist dress.  Mary hosted the Autumn/Spring of 1000 Shirtdresses, and every time I turn around, there’s a pattern release with MOAR SHIRTDRESSES.  Hallelujah.

So, when Wendy from Coser Cosas asked for recommendations, I had no choice put to shamelessly parlay it into a blogpost.  You’re welcome, everyone.

I’ve arbitrarily divided things up into three categories, because I have to get up at the crack of dawn, and this is just the way I roll. Deal with it.  The first is waist definition.  Since I am currently doing the whole “post-surgical schmatta” thing, waist-defining dresses actually have become an independent category for me.  The horror and shame, I know.  Let’s talk starting from top left and moving counter-clockwise, shall we?

Waist-Defining Shirtwaists

McCall 6891 – Everything I used to hate about shirtwaist dresses.  Circle skirt and no placket and no collar band.  No thanks!  But, now that I have that beautiful little blue number on the bottom left, I can see the appeal of the 6891, and have bumped it up in the old queue.

Colette Hawthorn – SEW THE COLLAR WITH A 1/4″ SEAM ALLOWANCE.  I don’t know if the instructions have been corrected yet, but sweet baby james, I almost pitched mine into the nearest ravine when I realized that error.  Ahem.  Other than that, I am rather smitten with this dress.  I have PTSD from it, and  have yet to sew another one, but I am jonesing for a navy iteration with brass buttons.  We shall see.

Butterick 6090 Is this a shirtwaist dress?  Is it not a shirtwaist dress?  You know what this is?  My rodeo, and it is what I say it is.  I’m saying it’s a shawl-collared shirtwaist dress.  So there.  I think this is one of the more interesting offerings I’ve seen on deck, but I need a good sacrificial lamb to make it up before I take the plunge.*  Anyone?  You, madam, in the back?

Pauline Alice Camí – So, if this dress were out four years ago, I would have lost. my. wits.  It is pretty fabulous, though I haven’t seen many of them floating around.  Waddup, shirtwaist lovers?  Why y’all not making these up?  While we’re on the subject, I’m thinking about just lengthening a Carme blouse into a dress, as if I’m the sort of person who can get away with that sort of look.  Let’s just call it youth, for now.

Vogue 9077 – First off, I am endlessly amused by the fact that BMV use real fabrics for their stylized technical drawings.  This guy?  Was available on Fabric Mart, but snatched up right from underneath me before the sale.  Curses!  Anyhoodle, isn’t this a more adult version of a shirtwaist dress?  I can’t decide whether or not I’ll look as if I pocketed this from my mother, though.

McCall 6696 – I almost don’t even want to link to this one.  How many have I made thus far?  Three or four real deals, seven muslins through two sizes, one full version in voile lining.  I love this dress.

The second category is a bit misleading.  It’s non-traditional.  Which is to say, stuff that I couldn’t shoehorn in elsewhere.

Nontraditional Shirtwaist

Simplicity 2215 – My school has a truly daft song that we sing for special occasions called “How Long’s It Been?”  But, really, S2215, how long’s it been?  I’ve loved and used this pattern for at least five years, I’d wager.  Those asymmetric pleats ruined me for others.  I’ve never made up the full dress version, though.  Pity.  I should.

Merchant and Mills Dress Shirt – I just bought this!  Shall report back to HQ on how it goes as soon as I muslin it.  We need to have an M&M discussion, though.  I just muslined the Dea dress, it is one of the most stunning and body-complimenting things I’ve ever sewn, and yet almost no one ever makes them.  I am an official fan girl convert.  Plus, no zippers!  One size!  Cardstock!  Exclamation point!

Grainline Alder Show of hands, who among you has not made an Alder?  Yes, my count is hovering around a dozen.  Dozen and a half.  It is a popular pattern for a reason.  I thought I’d look dreadful in it, but I actually like the way I look.  Gina from Feminist Stitch loves the second view, I can vouch for the first.  I realized too late I messed up the interfacing on my really lovely silk, but I’m sure I’ll figure out a way around that.  Optimism, etc.  Where were we, before we started talking about me?  Yes.  The pattern.  If you don’t mess up royally, I’m sure you’ll love it in any view.

Simplicity 1755 This isn’t a shirtwaist dress!  It’s not the messiah, it’s just a very naughty boy!  Fine.  This one barely makes it in under the wire, but I quite like Leannimal, so I had to include it.  Plus, I’ve been looking for any excuse at all to make it up, and have come up with nil.  Nada.  Nunca.  This is one of the few, “That’s just not my life, bro” patterns that exist.  Even the Brooklyn art teacher patterns from Marcy Tilton can squeeze it in, should they choose.  But, I maintain hope.  If you live a more fabulous life than I, then this is the shirtwaist for you.

Princess seams are the last categories.  First, we should review my method for doing an FBA on a princess seam.  First, I use Mary or Alana’s FBA tutorial, which I am too lazy to find and link.  Then, I invariably end up smashing down the 3D piece with my flat palm.  Having an eff bee is not a pleasant life experience, it seems.  But, these dresses make up for it.  Sometimes.

Princess Seamed Shirtwaists

Butterick 6091 – Collar stand, covered placket, seams that release themselves out into pleats in a way that I cannot explain.  Can you say skill builder?  I sound like I’m advertising for it.  Now we know I’m getting sleepy.  These are going to get shorter.  No one on PR has made this one, though.  Really, Pattern Review community.  How am I supposed to free ride if none of you offer a ride?!

McCall 7084 This fabric again.  Princess seam dress with a v-neck and an A-line skirt.  Seems legit.

Deer and Doe I-Passed-French-Proficiency-But-Misspelled-Bleuet-Dress I’m going to sleep.  What Anna said.

*There’s a really good Ezra Pound poem called “The Plunge.”  I mention this because it might inspire you to take the plunge and make up this stupid bloody dress for me.