Category Archives: Prose & Poetry

Review: The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World

The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World(The weirdest thing happened this summer, Dear Readers. I made some shorts and t-shirts for myself and Frances and Mysterious Others, and I thought — you know, I have enough summer clothes now. There’s really no need to sew another dress or skirt. Let’s do something else. You’ll probably be seeing bits and pieces of those Something Elses over the next little while, plus there are some unblogged clothes that I’m hoping to get to, but in the meantime, here is an unrelated book review on environmental philosophy.)
The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World by David Abram
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book makes absolutely no sense.

Look, I understand that the alphabet is a phenomenal technology that has transformed human thought and consciousness, but if you are able to make your argument using that technology then obviously the technology is not mutually exclusive with that argument.

The thesis of the book–so far as it has one–is that closeness with and participation with the earth as a thing with value in its own right was, for many cultures, enacted within a spiritual system that saw breath, air and spirit as all-encompassing and synonymous; and that, as the alphabet codified breath, it must also be responsible for the separation of breath and spirit, and our divisions from each other and from the world around us. But if you are capable of making that argument with the alphabet then obviously the alphabet is not to blame. He makes outright nonsensical assertions such as: “It was not enough to preach the Christian faith: one had to induce the unlettered, tribal peoples to begin to use the technology [alphabet] upon which that faith depended.” To which I can only say: oh please. The vast majority of christian converts throughout history have been illiterate, and for a good chunk of that time the bible was only available in a language none of them could read or understand!

Oh but that’s ok, because, as he says later on, “It is a style of thinking, then, that associates truth not with static fact, but with a quality of relationship …. A human community that lives in a mutually beneficial relationship with the surrounding earth is a community, we might say, that lives in truth.”

How about not. How about you say that, and I throw rotten tomatoes at you for doing so.

First off: truth is a perfectly good word already with a good, valuable, and necessary meaning of its own. You want a word that means “living in a good relationship with the earth?” Come up with a new one.

Second: Who gets to define what “mutually beneficial relationship” is or looks like? And how is that determined without reference to “static fact,” or outside, objective reality? How would anyone ever arrive at this relationship from the place we currently inhabit WITHOUT reference to truth using its current meaning?

Third: Even once that relationship has been arrived at, we are going to need to be able to reference “truth” as we currently understand it to pursue other important goals, such as human equality. For centuries now women and people of colour have had to fight slowly and with incredible push-back against inequitable and incredibly unjust systems by referencing external facts such as “in fact no black people are not stupid or violent” and “woman are not motherbots.” And let’s be clear: it is entirely possible, and has been the case for much of human history, that it is very possible for a human civilization to treat its constituent members like disposable shit while still maintaining their local environments in a fairly serviceable condition, so figuring out the earth-relationship part is no guarantee that it will lead to a just, equitable, meaningful or fair way of life for the people who make up that society.

But the whole book is like this, and his attitude toward “truth” as a concept worth preserving in its current state may be why he plays so fast and loose with actual truth.

Like this one:

“Of course, not all stories are successful. There are good stories and mediocre stories and downright bad stories. How are they to be judged? If they do not aim at a static or ‘literal’ reality, how can we discern whether one telling of events is any better or more worthy than another? The answer is this: a story must be judged according to whether it makes sense. And ‘making sense’ must here be understood in its most direct meaning: to make sense is to enliven the senses.”

Yeah. Ok. Find your nearest MRA or Nazi sympathizer and ask them what stories “enliven their senses.”

So you may be asking yourself then why I gave the book even two stars.

There are parts of it that are written beautifully, and I do feel that I learned a fair bit about the cosmology and spiritual systems of a great number of societies worldwide, which was interesting, though I’m not sure I trust his representations and I’d want to double-check his references before assuming that the information is fair or accurate. After all, maybe they were just stories that properly enlivened his senses. He presents a way of thinking in parts of the book that is fascinating–not his own, to be sure, but that of the cultures he writes about.

So that’s worth a star. And I do believe, as he does, that we need to re-embed ourselves with the rest of nature (conceptually and psychologically–we have never actually severed ourselves from it, but our belief that we have is responsible for most if not all of our environmental problems). But I believe that we need to do so with proper respect and relationship to the relevant facts, not on the backs of insubstantial just-so stories that can’t bear the weight.

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Not too tired to pontificate, thank god

Today I am walking into walls. Apparently I have lost the ability to manage a straight line. But why should this stop me from soliloquising about internet matters? No reason at all.

To that end:

I coincidentally came across two articles about when and how much to care about what other people think.

Dani Shapiro wrote “What do you do when the internet hates you?” for the May edition of Elle magazine (I read it originally in print where it had a different title, but I’m tired and I forget; forgive me). And then Emma Gray wrote “In praise of women who give all the fucks” for the Huffington Post. (She asterisked her title, but I can swear on my own blog if I want to.)

Says Dani: Care less. Says Emma: Care more. This would of course not be the first time that women receive contradictory advice on how to be properly feminine from the Professional Womanification Guild. Actually, if we got consistent advice, they’d probably go out of business. But anyway:

“I’d hear from my agent that they were going in a different direction. Someone taller. Or they wanted a redhead. Or whatever. All I ever heard, thrumming beneath the ostensible reasons, was that I wasn’t good enough, or talented enough—not even to smile fetchingly and hold up a can of soda. Look,they just didn’t find you appealing, my agent once told me. I lived in a debilitating state of chronic insecurity, which I dealt with by exercising more, starving myself further, and making myself blonder. I was operating under the dangerous delusion that if only I could burnish myself into some sort of perfection, I’d be chosen. Truth be told, I was a lousy actress. I was self-conscious, tongue-tied, prone to blushing and stammering in front of the camera. It would have been merciful for someone to take me by the hand and tell it to me straight, put me out of my misery. I was careening down the wrong path, trying with all my might to squeeze myself into somebody else’s life.

“…It may sound quaint now, but in those days you’d actually have to go to a newsstand to pick up a magazine or newspaper. I was living in New York City, and I would haunt the newsstand on the corner of 82nd Street and Broadway, because that vendor got his shipment first. There were lovely surprises, like opening up the new Vogue to see a glowing review of my book written by a heroine of mine. But the negative attention was swift and vicious. The word bimbo was used as a caption beneath my photo in the New York Observer. A male writer I admired wrote a highly personal character assassination of me in New York magazine—I’d quote it for you, but I didn’t keep a copy (and I can’t find it online, I swear). I cried for three days in my apartment. Once again I felt I was being judged not for what I wrote, but for who I was. My life, reviewed.

“Of course, you might say I asked for it. To be a writer—to do anything that involves putting oneself out there—is to invite criticism. And if you write about personal stuff, well, what do you expect?

“…It seems to me that when we inhabit ourselves— when we say, This is who I am in all my flawed humanity—we are taking a step toward being most real. And when we buy into the opinions of perfect strangers whose feelings about us may be based on random data ranging from something they read to what we’re wearing and even to their own projections, we are being assaulted and governed by the unreal. As I’ve written this essay, I haven’t once thought about how it will be received in the world. If I had, I wouldn’t have been able to write it—I’m revealing quite a lot about myself, some of it is quite painful and unflattering. But as I come to the end, now I can imagine some possible reactions: Humblebrag…Who the hell does she think she is?…How dare she dismiss all those online reviews just because she doesn’t like them? The ugly comments from the past may even be flung back at me. You are a spoiled, pretentious crybaby. But that’s okay. I’m no longer dancing for the shadows. I’m just a shot of whiskey—not for everybody.

“And so I close the door. I write these words. I don’t click over to Google to see what people think. In the silence—in the absence of all those voices—here is where I discover who I am.”

I’ve quoted a fair bit of Dani here, and my apologies for that. But she makes an interesting point and she makes it well, in my opinion. The public criticism is of course painful and she’d rather have praise. But ultimately she recognizes that these people are allowed to dislike her and allowed to say so. That said, she’s decided to carry on being herself and doing what she does anyway.

People don’t like you? Dani says, don’t give a fuck! Fuck them fuckers. They don’t know what the fuck they are talking about. Or even if they do, so the fuck what? You don’t have to be something they like.

(And flip side: they don’t have to like you. It’s allowed.)

Whereas Emma argues that we have reached, in a memorable phrase, “peak lack of fucks given,” perhaps to our detriment.

“But it also can be deeply exhausting pretending not to give a fuck about everything — and at times, it may prevent us from fully embracing the fucks we do need to give. The simple fact remains: to affect real change, and feel anything deeply, you probably need to give quite a few fucks.

“…We might be closer to embracing “strong women,” but we also want those “strong women” to have an uncanny ability to “let it go.” Express messy emotion? Probably don’t. Show just how hard you try? Ditto.

“…Since when did caring the least about everything — or at least convincingly pretending to — become the most attractive quality a woman could possess? The only way you’re going to be able to rise above and give fewer fucks about the bullshit is if you actually give a fuck about something else.”

I think the two of them managed to say the same thing after all:

Decide what you do give a fuck about, and then don’t give a fuck about anything else. Dani gives a fuck about finding out who she is, being real, being herself, and writing. As a result she doesn’t modify her writing to appease her critics, because that would interfere with the more important goals of self-discovery and authenticity. Emma valorizes Amy Schumer, who has similarly decided to be bravely and authentically herself in public, and not allow the voices of others to detract from her self-confidence.

I can attest to this method. It works.

It’s also relevant that both Dani and Emma and the women they discuss have editors. Their work is not immune to professional criticism. They have gatekeepers who criticize their work, who have standards, and who can at least somewhat impose those standards on the work. In that sense, they haven’t decided not to care about what anyone else thinks; they’ve just decided to care about what a limited number of people in certain contexts think. If they didn’t, it’s unlikely that they would have achieved the professional success that they have.

These articles highlight something else that’s interesting and, to me, overlooked:

“Not giving a fuck” doesn’t mean “not disliking.” It’s an active, mental decision not to engage with something rather than a passive lack of emotion about whatever has gone on.

Dani is quite honest about disliking those negative reviews. Amy, in Emma’s piece, was very open about the dark place that criticism used to take her. Both of them are actively choosing not to engage rather than just not feeling any discomfort or unhappiness about the criticism. This also rings true for me: it’s not that I enjoy being disliked or criticized (or when a few hundred people at a public event start shouting that I should be fired, for instance). It’s not that I’m emotionally neutral on it, either. It’s that I’ve made an active choice about what I’m going to prioritize, and if something isn’t on that list, then whether or not I like it is irrelevant and I’m going to keep going.

Seen that way, “I don’t give a fuck” isn’t a statement about feelings but about values. And it is–I think this is overlooked too–a statement that contains with in it an implicit valuation of what other people want us to feel and care about. One doesn’t say, out of nowhere, “I don’t give a fuck about air mattresses,” for example, and if one ever did, it would immediately invite speculation about who exactly does give a fuck about air mattresses, and why. Whereas if I were to say “I don’t give a fuck about public transit” (a statement which I hasten to add is not true), it immediately brings to mind an entire debate about whether or not public transit is important, to whom, why, and possible positions.

Not Giving a Fuck is what happens when you’ve decided what you DO Give a Fuck about, when someone disapproves of your choices, makes you aware of that disapproval, and when you–regardless of how you feel about that disapproval–decided to carry on in the face of that disapproval. 

So to sum up, here’s How Not to Give a Fuck about Things That Are Not Worth Giving a Fuck About:

  1. Decide what it is you are going to give a fuck about. You can’t get around this step. What do you love, what do you care about, what are you willing to go to the mat for?
  2. When disapproval surfaces of something you have said, done, or made (or conversely, not said, not done, not made), re-evaluate: is there something going on here that should have been part of your Give A Fuck List? If yes, add it, care, and behave that way. If no:
  3. Keeping saying/not saying, doing/not doing, making/not making, what you were before. Go ahead and feel all the messy and uncomfortable feelings that come along with disapproval. One day they may lessen or go away, and maybe not. This is called “courage.” One does not get to the pinnacle of No Fucks to Give without quite a lot of it.

In the meantime, you have your work to do. You know what it is. Do it.

Not So Much with the Sewing Edition

“Where are our recaps, Andrea?”

(Because I know you have been waiting on tenterhooks.)

Well. A couple of things happened:

1. A weekend of yard work and painting = no me mades, at least no daytime clothing ones. Pajamas as always are me-made, but no pj selfies, thankyouverymuch.

2. Then a sick kiddo and a day spent at home.

3. Then a funeral. And if there is anything tackier than trying to keep up a gimmick like a month of me-mades and its related drinking game during a serious loss to one’s family, particularly when all one’s me-mades are brightly coloured and mostly floral, I’d like to know what that may be.

4. Then the mirror fell off my bedroom closet door and shattered into approximately 3,923,512 pieces.

I give up.

Except not really because so many of my clothes are handmades at this point, I end up wearing them anyway. So technically I just about made the goal; if I include handmade pajamas and my leather work bag, I made it handily. And also I can’t play this particular gap in posting for laughs or shots, so here is a breather post before hijinks are resumed. God knows I could use a few deep breaths.

~~~~~

This Be The Verse (Philip Larkin)

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.

Not advice I have followed–clearly–and thank goodness, because Frances is hands-down the best thing that has ever happened to me. It’s a pleasure and a privilege to be her mom, and I feel like we are un-deepening that coastal shelf, slowly. But families, man. They can be so very complicated. The ties that bind can easily be the ties that strangle.

For a variety of coastal-shelf type reasons which I am only now, at 40, beginning to untangle and explain to myself, what felt like a very close-knit extended family during my childhood drifted apart during my late teens and early twenties. I was at a loss, and a very unhappy loss as well. What happened? Why no more christmas dinners? No more family reunions? To paraphrase a recent bestseller, were they all hanging out and having fun without me?

Well thank goodness for FaceBook.

I’ll let that sentence sink in a little. I know it’s not one that you usually read.

Again: thank goodness for FaceBook, because after running into a few roadblocks in trying to get more traditional contact information, I was able to reestablish contact with my aunts and their families over the past few years. It has been such a pleasure, Dear Readers, and what a treat that is–to connect again and find out that the people you remember from when you were a child are (or have grown up to become) funny, clever, caring, generous and kind people. That they’re people you would want to spend time with even if you weren’t related. It does not always work that way with families, as I’m sure you all know, and possibly from first-hand personal experience.

Last week my Uncle Larry, who had been in declining health for a number of years, passed away. His funeral was yesterday. His branch of the extended family tree was not one I’d been able to reconnect with recently. I’d met his second wife only a handful of times, never met her daughters/his step-daughters, and hadn’t seen my cousins–his sons–since my early teens, if memory serves. How painfully awkward this must have been for them. And of course, it wasn’t good enough. One can’t swoop in and claim a family relationship just at weddings and funerals. There’s no hope of doing even that now with my uncle, which is hard to think about.

I’m tiptoeing around a football-field’s worth of eggshells here, Dear Readers. When a person dies, it is the end of a world; and for their closest loved ones as well, at least for a time, the end of the world they knew. The distance had been so great that I don’t feel I can claim a personal loss. I can’t think of a better way to put it, but how dishonest it would be for me to talk about how much I missed him, when clearly I didn’t miss him enough over the past 20 years to visit. There are people I love who are suffering terribly from this, and for myself, I feel in addition to my concern and grief for them, very keenly the loss of any future potential of reestablishing that relationship. I shouldn’t have let it go by.

Frances came with me. It was her first funeral and she was, as always, a pearl. (I told her this and she said, “What does that even mean?” I said, “It means you behaved beautifully and I’m very proud of you and I can take you anywhere.”)

Regret is a terrible take-away from a funeral. I don’t want to let it happen again. In some cases it is well and truly out of my hands, but where it isn’t, the effort must be made.

More deep breaths. And I’d love to hear any extended family stories any of you have, if you’re willing to share them.

Woods (by Wendell Berry)

 I part the out thrusting branches
and come in beneath
the blessed and the blessing trees.
Though I am silent
there is singing around me.
Though I am dark
there is vision around me.
Though I am heavy
there is flight around me.

Women in Clothes: The Survey

I’ve got all the questions below, but there’s no way I could answer them all, so I bolded the ones that I answered.

I’m 100% sure that most of you will be completely uninterested in this, but there’s a few who might like it and maybe you’d like to answer some of those questions yourself, just to be thinky and wordy, which are both good things to be.

~~~~~

THE FIRST 20 QUESTIONS
1. WHEN DO YOU FEEL AT YOUR MOST ATTRACTIVE?

When I’m wearing clothes that fit well, in bright colours, with a bit of splash; and when my hair is behaving and I’ve got lipstick on and I don’t look like I haven’t slept in a month.

2. DO YOU NOTICE WOMEN ON THE STREET? IF SO, WHAT SORT OF WOMEN DO YOU TEND TO NOTICE OR ADMIRE?

Women who are doing their own thing, regardless of whether or not it’s a thing I would ever want to do.

3. WHAT ARE SOME THINGS YOU ADMIRE ABOUT HOW OTHER WOMEN PRESENT THEMSELVES?

“That’s really interesting! I never would have thought to do that!”

4. WAS THERE A MOMENT IN YOUR LIFE WHEN SOMETHING “CLICKED” FOR YOU ABOUT FASHION OR DRESSING OR MAKE-UP OR HAIR? WHAT? WHY DID IT HAPPEN THEN, DO YOU THINK?

5. WHAT ARE SOME SHOPPING RULES YOU WOULDN’T NECESSARILY RECOMMEND TO OTHERS BUT WHICH YOU FOLLOW?

Right now, I don’t shop for clothes. In the past two years I’ve bought underwear, socks, and boots. Shopping for fabric is much more fun.

6. WHAT ARE SOME RULES ABOUT DRESSING YOU FOLLOW, BUT YOU WOULDN’T NECESSARILY RECOMMEND TO OTHERS?

It’s ok to clash.

7. WHAT IS THE MOST TRANSFORMATIVE CONVERSATION YOU HAVE EVER HAD ON THE SUBJECT OF FASHION OR STYLE?

I’m not sure I’ve ever had a transformative conversation about fashion or style, but it sounds like fun. Would anyone like to have some conversations about fashion or style? I can’t guarantee transformative, but maybe it’s like the monkeys and the typewriters and if we just keep banging away about it, we’ll transform.

8. DO YOU HAVE A UNIFIED WAY OF APPROACHING YOUR LIFE, WORK, RELATIONSHIPS, FINANCES, CHORES, ETC.? PLEASE EXPLAIN.

God no. How boring would that be?

9. ARE THERE ANY CLOTHING (OR RELATED) ITEMS THAT YOU HAVE IN MULTIPLE? WHY DO YOU THINK YOU KEEP BUYING THIS THING?

Red sweaters and pink shoes. Why do I keep buying red sweaters and pink shoes?

I think with the sweaters, I know I need sweaters to be warm and presentable in the winter, but the colour options are usually boring neutrals (brown, grey, black) … and red. I don’t want to get the neutrals so I end up buying red over and over again. I’ve forbidden myself from buying more red sweaters.

The pink shoes are a mystery. They’re more versatile than you might think, though.

10. HAVE YOU EVER SUCCESSFULLY GIVEN SOMEONE A PRESENT OF JEWELRY OR CLOTHING THAT YOU CONTINUE TO FEEL GOOD ABOUT?

Nooooo. I wouldn’t dare give someone a present of clothing. Too many opportunities to get the size and style wrong and feel like crap because you made them feel badly.

11. IS THERE ANY FASHION TREND YOU’VE REFUSED TO PARTICIPATE IN AND WHY?

Anything that does not allow for substantial bra straps.

12. CAN YOU SAY A BIT ABOUT HOW YOUR MOTHER’S BODY AND STYLE HAS BEEN PASSED DOWN TO YOU, OR NOT?

Well now there’s a pickle.

My mother’s body has not been passed down to me, at least in part because she’s still using it. Also, I’m taller than she is, usually a bit slimmer, and with smaller feet. She is still in denial of all those facts and insisted on buying me clothing and shoes, when I was younger, that fit her instead of me. As a result I had a lot of clothes that were too big and believed I was a shoe size 8 until after my daughter was born (I’m actually a size 6.5).

I know she also likes colours, as I do; she says she doesn’t care about clothing sizes but she cuts all of the tags out of her clothes, so I don’t know about that.

But we really don’t have much in common. This could turn into its own book-length dissertation; I’ll just say that I hope not much has been passed down to me, and I have a probably unhealthy tendency to avoid doing things that remind me strongly of what she would do.

13. HAVE YOU STOLEN, BORROWED OR ADAPTED ANY DRESSING IDEAS OR ACTUAL ITEMS FROM FRIENDS OR FAMILY?

I don’t think so.

14. WAS THERE A POINT IN YOUR LIFE WHEN YOUR STYLE CHANGED DRAMATICALLY? WHAT HAPPENED?

Up until the end of grade 8, I dressed pretty much like an elderly bag lady. Please don’t ask why. I have no idea.

Between grade 8 and grade 9, I decided I should dress like a teenaged girl with a home instead.

I also got a job, which made buying those clothes easier. I had a green corduroy mini-skirt I wore a lot, and I cut off an atrocious perm I got in grade 8. And life got better.

15. IS THERE ANYTHING POLITICAL ABOUT THE WAY YOU DRESS?

No. I guess the fact that I don’t wear logos, but otherwise, I want people to have to get to know me before they know what I care about.

16. PLEASE DESCRIBE YOUR BODY.

It is perfectly adequate, except for the bum pancreas.

17. PLEASE DESCRIBE YOUR MIND.

Clever, sharp, analytical.

18. PLEASE DESCRIBE YOUR EMOTIONS.

Hypersensitive. Easily exasperated. Cautious.

19. WHAT ARE YOU WEARING ON YOUR BODY AND FACE, AND HOW IS YOUR HAIR DONE, RIGHT AT THIS MOMENT?

I am at home in my pajamas. Nothing is done. It’s glorious.

20. IN WHAT WAY IS THIS STUFF IMPORTANT, IF AT ALL?

It’s important because we think it’s important. If we didn’t think it was important, it wouldn’t be.

Humans are pattern-seeking and we like to find meaning in everything, including the patterns on grilled-cheese sandwiches and the way tea leaves fall to the bottom of a cup, so it’s not surprising we would find clothing important and try to find patterns in that, too. That we also make the clothes that we later look for patterns in adds more complexity to it; there are meanings there, but they’re not always accurately conveyed or interpreted. Goodness only knows what people think about me when I wear my red winter coat with my pink winter boots and gloves. Maybe they think I’m colour blind, or that I’m stupid. Really I just like pink and red together.

21. WITH WHOM DO YOU TALK ABOUT CLOTHES?

Other people who sew. And it’s all about patterns and fabrics. It’s a very different way of talking about clothing, because it’s more intentional and more personal, at least if you want it to be.

22. HOW DO INSTITUTIONS AFFECT THE WAY YOU DRESS?

I strive not to get arrested or fired due to clothing.

23. DO YOU THINK YOU HAVE TASTE OR STYLE? WHICH ONE IS MORE IMPORTANT? WHAT DO THESE WORDS MEAN TO YOU?

I hope I have style. It’s more fun. Probably I have neither.

24. DO YOU REMEMBER THE BIGGEST WASTE OF MONEY YOU EVER MADE ON AN ITEM OF CLOTHING?

Actual finished clothing–there was a fashion corset I bought one year before Christmas and then ended up with no fancy parties I could wear it too. It’s so pretty–I still have it. But it wasn’t that expensive.

Clothing-to-be–so many beautiful pieces of fabric that aren’t clothes yet. I feel most guilty about the alpaca flannel and the cashmere suiting. Gorgeous and expensive and sitting nicely folded in my fabric closet.

25. ARE THERE ANY DRESSING TRICKS YOU’VE INVENTED OR LEARNED THAT MAKE YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE GETTING AWAY WITH SOMETHING?

Fuzzy socks in boots in the winter, worn to work.

26. DO YOU HAVE STYLE IN ANY AREAS OF YOUR LIFE ASIDE FROM FASHION?

I don’t know. I’m not sure if my house is cohesive enough–or tidy enough–to count.

27. CAN YOU RECALL SOME TIMES WHEN YOU HAVE DRESSED A PARTICULAR WAY TO CALM YOURSELF OR GAIN A SENSE OF CONTROL OVER A SITUATION THAT SCARED YOU?

Yes. Once when I broke up with someone, and a week later we got together for coffee to talk about whether or not we could stay friends, and I wasn’t happy about having broken up with him, so I wore his favourite t-shirt to see him. It was yellow and had pleats around the neck and was very, very flattering–not tight at all but draped perfectly. We ended up getting back together. In retrospect that was a very bad idea, so I should have worn the stained concert tee, probably.

28. WOULD YOU SAY YOU “KNOW WHAT YOU LIKE” IN THE AREA OF FASHION AND CLOTHING? IF SO, DO YOU ALSO KNOW WHAT YOU LIKE IN OTHER AREAS OF LIFE, THAT IS, ARE YOU GENERALLY GOOD AT DISCERNMENT? CAN YOU SAY WHERE YOUR DISCERNMENT COMES FROM, IF YOU HAVE IT? OR IF YOU DON’T HAVE IT, WHY OR WHY NOT?

I know what I like. But I like an awful lot of stuff.

29. DID YOUR PARENTS TEACH YOU THINGS ABOUT CLOTHING, CARE FOR YOUR CLOTHING, DRESSING OR STYLE? WHAT LESSONS DO YOU REMEMBER? OR DID YOU JUST PICK THINGS UP?

Not even a little tiny bit.

30. WHAT SORTS OF THINGS DO YOU DO, CLOTHING OR MAKE-UP OR HAIR- WISE, TO FEEL SEXY OR ALLURING?

31. MANY PEOPLE SAY THEY WANT TO FEEL “COMFORTABLE,” OR THAT THEY ADMIRE PEOPLE WHO SEEM “CONFIDENT.” WHAT DO THESE WORDS REALLY MEAN TO YOU?

32. IF DRESSING WERE THE ONLY THING YOU DID, AND YOU WERE CONSIDERED AN EXPERT AND ASKED TO EXPLAIN YOUR STYLE PHILOSOPHY, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY?

If dressing were the only thing I did, I would probably hurl myself from a tenth storey window. I also cannot conceive of a universe in which I am considered an expert on dressing.

33. WHAT IS REALLY BEAUTIFUL, FOR YOU, IN GENERAL?

Spring ephemeral wildflowers. That’s probably not what you meant, though.

34. WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER VERY UGLY?

Concrete, and the entire aesthetic of “modernism” which seems to mean “let’s pretend that what is churned out en masse by machines has aesthetic value.”

35. ARE YOU GENERALLY A GOOD JUDGE OF WHETHER WHAT YOU BUY WILL END UP BEING WORN? HAVE YOU FIGURED OUT HOW TO KNOW IN ADVANCE?

Usually. But then also, when I am buying clothes I’m not buying very much, so I usually ended up having to wear it by the end of a week if I liked it when I brought it home or not.

I’ve learned that I do not have a body type that can buy cheap clothing. I know how that sounds, but it’s true. Joe Fresh, H&M, etc.–their shirts are two-dimensional and, past a certain bra size, a shirt that does not account for breast tissue is going to be unflattering no matter how cute the style or fabric.

36. WHEN YOU LOOK AT YOURSELF BEFORE GOING OUT, AND YOU ARE TRYING TO SEE YOURSELF FROM THE OUTSIDE, CAN YOU DESCRIBE A BIT ABOUT WHAT THIS “OTHER PERSON” IS LIKE? WHAT DO THEY LIKE, DISLIKE, WHAT SORTS OF JUDGMENTS DO THEY HAVE? IS THIS “OUTER EYE” BASED ON SOMEONE YOU KNOW OR ONCE KNEW?

37. WHAT IS YOUR PROCESS GETTING DRESSED IN THE MORNING? WHAT ARE YOU CONSIDERING?

Will I be able to sit for eight hours at my computer in this outfit and work comfortably? And does it look ok enough, in terms of professionalism?

38. WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO ACHIEVE WHEN YOU DRESS?

For work: I am a smart person and you should believe what I say.

At home: I am your loving mother; let’s sit around and read books together.

Most of the time when I’m out: I am a regular person who you can safely ignore.

Rarely, when I’m out: Look!

39. WHAT, FOR YOU, IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN DRESSING AND DRESSING UP?

Dressing is putting on clothing so as to avoid being arrested once leaving the house.

Dressing up means arranging clothing, jewelery, make-up etc. so as to make a particular kind of impression.

40. IF YOU HAD TO WEAR A “UNIFORM” WHAT WOULD IT LOOK LIKE?

41. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS “YOU” AND WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS “NOT YOU”?

I could not possibly answer this question. There are too many Mes.  Sometimes what’s Me is the tight pencil skirt with the rear flounce and a button-up snug peplum blouse with heeled boots; sometimes what’s Me is the stretch jeans with the concert t-shirt and a ponytail; sometimes what’s Me is a weekend in my pajamas, sewing.

42. WHAT IS YOUR CULTURAL BACKGROUND AND HOW HAS THAT INFLUENCED HOW YOU DRESS?

43. DO YOU REMEMBER A TIME IN YOUR LIFE WHEN YOU DRESSED QUITE DIFFERENTLY FROM HOW YOU DO NOW? CAN YOU DESCRIBE IT AND WHAT IT WAS ALL ABOUT FOR YOU?

44. WHAT SORTS OF THINGS DO YOU DO, CLOTHING, MAKE-UP OR HAIR-WISE, TO FEEL PROFESSIONAL?

Eye makeup. Hair back in a clip.  No jersey below the waist. No blue jeans.

45. HOW DO YOU CONFORM TO OR REBEL AGAINST THE DRESS EXPECTATIONS AT YOUR WORKPLACE?

46. DO YOU HAVE A DRESS CODE, A SCHOOL UNIFORM, OR A UNIFORM THAT YOU WEAR FOR AN EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITY?

47. ARE THERE WAYS IN WHICH YOU CONFORM TO OR REBEL AGAINST THESE UNIFORMS?

48. DO YOU FIND IT COMFORTING OR CONSTRAINING TO HAVE A UNIFORM?

49. WHAT IS AN ARCHETYPAL OUTFIT FOR YOU; ONE THAT YOU COULD HAVE HAPPILY WORN AT ANY POINT IN YOUR LIFE? WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT IT?

50. DO YOU EVER WISH YOU WERE A MAN OR COULD DRESS LIKE A MAN OR HAD A MAN’S BODY? WAS THERE EVER A TIME IN THE PAST?

No.

51. IF THERE WAS ONE COUNTRY OR CULTURE OR ERA THAT YOU HAD TO LIVE IN, FASHION-WISE, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

52. DO YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF PHOTOGENIC?

Not particularly. I have my moments.

53. WHEN YOU SEE YOURSELF IN PHOTOGRAPHS, WHAT DO YOU THINK?

“I look tired.”

54. ARE THERE ANY FIGURES FROM CULTURE, PAST OR PRESENT, WHOSE STYLE YOU ADMIRE OR HAVE DRAWN FROM?

55. HAVE YOU EVER HAD A DREAM THAT INVOLVED CLOTHES?

56. WHAT WOULD BE A DIFFICULT OR UNCOMFORTABLE LOOK FOR YOU TO TRY AND ACHIEVE?

Boyish.

57. IF YOU WERE TOTALLY COMFORTABLE WITH YOUR BODY, OR YOUR BODY WAS A BIT CLOSER TO WHAT YOU WISH IT WAS LIKE, WHAT WOULD YOU WEAR?

I don’t think it would change much.

58. IS THERE ANYONE THAT YOU ARE TRYING TO ATTRACT OR REPEL WHEN YOU DRESS?

59. ARE THERE ANY DRESSING RULES YOU’D WANT TO CONVEY TO OTHER WOMEN?

God no.

60. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF PERFUME? DO YOU WEAR IT?

It gives me a headache. I don’t own any.

61. WHAT ARE SOME THINGS YOU NEED TO DO TO YOUR BODY OR CLOTHES IN ORDER TO FEEL PRESENTABLE?

A good bra.

62. HOW DOES MAKEUP FIT INTO ALL THIS FOR YOU?

I am usually wearing some when I go out. I have very light eye lashes that are not visible unless I put mascara on them, and it makes me feel self-conscious. Often I’ll wear some bronzey or coppery or goldy eye shadow. Sometimes lipstick.

Makeup can be fun to play around with. Unfortunately I have very sensitive skin that makes most products off-limits most of the time, unless I want to deal with major reactions. Yes, I’ve tried everything, including what you’re about to suggest. My skin just wants to be free.

63. IS THERE A CERTAIN LOOK YOU FEEL YOU’RE EXPECTED TO LIKE THAT YOU HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO INTEREST IN? WHAT IS IT? WHY AREN’T YOU INTERESTED?

Groomed eyebrows.

Yoga pants.

64. CAN YOU DESCRIBE IN A BASIC WAY WHAT YOU OWN, CLOTHING AND JEWELRY-WISE?

Hmm.

Jewelry, very little, most of it odd. Embroidered necklaces, hunks of rock on a chain, a sapphire hourglass, bright beads on strings. A ring from my maternal grandmother by way of my aunt that has a lot of sentimental value for me, and which only fits on my left pinkie finger. A gold or brass oak leaf vein tracing. A little brass bear and a heart on a chain. That kind of thing. This is making me want to go out and buy jewelry. Thanks! ;)

Clothing, I don’t think I can. I have clothes for all the different Mes.

65. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PIECE OF CLOTHING OR JEWELRY THAT YOU OWN?

66. TELL US ABOUT SOMETHING IN YOUR CLOSET THAT YOU KEEP BUT NEVER WEAR. WHAT IS IT, WHY DON’T YOU WEAR IT, AND WHY DO YOU KEEP IT?

A pair of Guess boot cut jeans that I bought when I was 23. They fit perfectly, when they fit, even though the knees are torn out and the ass is going. So I don’t get rid of them. Currently, they don’t fit, but I have hope.

67. LOOKING BACK AT ALL YOUR PURCHASES OVER THE PAST FIVE TO FIFTEEN YEARS, CAN YOU GENERALIZE ABOUT WHAT SORTS OF THINGS WERE THE MOST VALUABLE TO BUY?

68. IS THERE AN ITEM OF CLOTHING THAT YOU ONCE OWNED, BUT NO LONGER OWN, AND STILL THINK ABOUT OR WISH YOU HAD BACK? WHAT WAS IT, WHAT HAPPENED TO IT, AND WHY DO YOU WANT IT BACK?

69. IF YOU HAD TO THROW OUT ALL YOUR CLOTHES BUT KEEP ONE THING, WHAT WOULD YOU KEEP?

The one-piece jumpsuit with a built-in bra that would be somehow suitable for sleep, work, and relaxation, which I do not currently own.

70. BUILDING UP YOUR WARDROBE FROM NOTHING, WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY THIS TIME?

71. WHAT’S THE FIRST “INVESTMENT” ITEM YOU BOUGHT? DO YOU STILL OWN OR WEAR IT?

Can I shoot whoever decided that wardrobe items can be “investsments”? They’re not investments. They do not appreciate and they do not pay dividends. Let’s kill this phrase forever, please.

72. WAS THERE EVER AN IMPORTANT OR PARADIGM-SHIFTING PURCHASE IN YOUR LIFE?

73. WHAT ITEM OF CLOTHING ARE YOU STILL (OR HAVE YOU FOREVER BEEN) ON THE HUNT FOR?

74. WHAT ARE YOUR CLOSET AND DRAWERS LIKE? DO YOU KEEP THINGS NEAT, ETC?

75. WERE YOU EVER GIVEN A PRESENT OF CLOTHING OR JEWELRY THAT ESPECIALLY TOUCHED YOU?

My grandmother’s ring.

76. DID YOU EVER BUY AN ARTICLE OF CLOTHING WITHOUT GIVING IT MUCH THOUGHT, ONLY TO HAVE IT PROVE MUCH MORE VALUABLE AS TIME WENT ON? WHAT WAS THE ITEM AND WHAT HAPPENED?

77. HOW AND WHEN DO YOU SHOP FOR CLOTHES?

78. DO YOU LIKE TO SMELL A CERTAIN WAY?

79. HOW DOES HOW YOU DRESS PLAY INTO YOUR AMBITIONS FOR YOURSELF?

I’m pretty happy with who and where I am, so most of the time, I’m dressing for the life I’ve already got.

80. HOW DOES MONEY FIT INTO ALL THIS?

Less than it should.  When I buy my clothes I go shopping only twice a year, so it’s cheap, relatively speaking. When I sew my clothes I am forever in the fabric store adding to my stash, and I end up spending a lot more money on it.

81. IS THERE AN ARTICLE OF CLOTHING, A PIECE OF MAKE-UP, OR AN ACCESSORY THAT YOU CARRY WITH YOU OR WEAR EVERY DAY?

Mascara. Insulin pump. Wallet.

82. DID ANYONE EVER SAY ANYTHING TO YOU THAT MADE YOU SEE YOURSELF DIFFERENTLY, ON A PHYSICAL AND ESPECIALLY SARTORIAL LEVEL?

When I was in grade 9 or 10 and walking home with a friend, we were talking–I can’t even tell you why at this point–about our legs, and I mentioned that my legs were long in proportion to my body, and if my legs were in proportion I’d be a few inches shorter. “It’s a good thing,” she said; “if you were shorter you’d be much too voluptuous.” I’d always thought of myself as too skinny and very flat, so it was the first time I’d ever thought of myself as curvy. It took a while to accept it, but yeah, voluptuous is (or at least was) probably not a bad descriptor.

83. DO YOU REMEMBER THE FIRST TIME YOU WERE CONSCIOUS OF WHAT YOU WERE WEARING? CAN YOU DESCRIBE THIS MOMENT AND WHAT IT WAS ABOUT?

Nope.

Review: Women in Clothes

Women in Clothes
Women in Clothes by Sheila Heti
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I finally finished this book.

It took me several months to make my way through it; this was not, for me, a pick-it-up-and-finish-it-in-one-go kind of book. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; I have a lot of books in the slow-read category that I work my way through in bits and pieces over the long haul, sometimes years.

But in the case of Women in Clothes, it wasn’t necessarily a good thing, either.

It aims to legitimize the concerns about dress–what to wear, when, why, and what that clothing communicates–that specifically women have as something that it is possible for serious, intellectual and successful women to think about. It certainly makes the case that women largely do think about this whether they should be or not, and that women put a fair bit of thought into what their clothing says about them, their lifestyles, their aspirations, and so on.

But the sheer variety of voices somewhat undercuts the success of this central message: one of the things that is most inescapable to conclude after reading Women in Clothes is that different women attach different meanings to the same clothing, so we’re not all speaking the same language. It raises the question, what’s the point?

Unfortunately this question–and others raised by the book–is never answered.

The book is a (very large) collection of completed surveys (you can find it here) by about 640 women, as well as essays, photo essays, stories, conversations and interviews with women about clothes. I’ll be posting my own answers to some of the survey questions, for no reason at all really since I’m sure it won’t be interesting, in a couple of days.

Given the variety, there’s sure to be something in Women in Clothes that interests and resonates with you. Unfortunately, there isn’t a conclusion, or any kind of unifying discussion. I’m sure that was their point, but it was also a drawback.

The book would have been vastly improved if it were cut by half and organized in some fashion–by theme, perhaps, or socio-economic group. It’s an interesting book (in parts, anyway) but it could have been a lot better.

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I do have some sewing projects ready to post. I just need a weather-cooperative day off, and in the case of one or two garments, some hemming time.

Review: Climate Changed: A Personal Journey through the Science

Climate Changed: A Personal Journey through the Science
Climate Changed: A Personal Journey through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first 25% of the book did nothing for me. It was a very dry recitation of the climate facts I already know, in graphic novel format. If you’re the kind of person who gets most of your climate news from the newspaper, this section may be more informative or interesting for you. But at the 25% mark I put it down and almost didn’t pick it up again. I had no real interest in reading 500 pages of climate science presented as speech bubbles on pictures.

I’m glad I did pick it up again, though (under pressure of a library returns deadline). Once the book gets into the author’s own struggles with and reactions to that climate science, it developed more narrative push. There’s still an awful lot of climate science–and interviews with experts in various political and social fields about the implications of that science for our reactions and in the 21st century–but there is also a story of his own acceptance of that information and the meaning it has for his own life, and how he reacts to it.

I don’t agree with everything that he or his experts say, but it was credible and well-informed and thoroughly researched, and I enjoyed it. I even learned something new! which is not a given for me at this point with a climate book.

That being: Did You Know that even if the nuclear industry developed to its fullest extent, the total possible reduction it could make to global carbon emissions is around 6%? Not the silver bullet it’s proclaimed to be. Interesting, no?

The art is exceptional, and there’s a lot of visual metaphor and meaning packed into his choice of imagery.

Anyway. If you are interested in the climate change issue, want to be more informed about it, and find climate change science books too dry or dense to read, this is probably an excellent choice. I’d highly recommend it.

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The Next Blazer, Eventually, While Analyzing the Walking Dead

I found myself in possession of more free time and less money in February than is typically the case, which I decided was the perfect excuse to figure out my next blazer, the Vogue 8333 Claire Schaeffer pattern.

After the difficulties of working with fusible interfacing on the poly-wool blue blazer I made in the fall, I decided to go whole-hog and go the hair-canvas/pad-stitching/tailoring route. This meant many, many hours parked on my butt with a needle in my hand, and how better to spend it than feeding a new netflix addiction?

Now: I cannot in any way watch horror and I have not been able to since I was in elementary school. I know that for most people it goes the other way round, but I aged out of my ability to tolerate violence and now if I see someone bleeding and in pain on a screen, large or small, I will probably have to get up and leave the room, or at least shut my eyes and try not to listen. This is precisely why I’ve never watched the Walking Dead before (that, and the fact that I would have had to pay for it, but the blood-and-guts is the big reason), but the villain in the last season of Farscape is pissing me off so much* that I can’t finish watching it and I wanted a new show to occupy my eyeballs during workouts and hand-sewing sessions. So the Walking Dead it is.

(Pro Tip: Do not watch the Walking Dead while holding a fresh hot cup of tea in your hand, unless you want to end up wearing the fresh hot cup of tea and mopping it off the table and floor.)

Now, I am an inveterate environmentalist with a long, long history of hugging trees and espousing the virtues of various squiggly critters, and that may (almost certainly did) colour my perceptions of, well … just about everything. But. That first long weekend watching The Walking Dead non-stop convinced me that the show is a thinly-veiled metaphor for environmental collapse.

(Shocking! I know!)

I’m in good company on the metaphor bit: The Walking Dead has been analyzed as a metaphor for just about anything people don’t like, from gun control to Obama’s America (I mean, seriously. People. You may not like Obama but you are not living in a post-apocalyptic landscape of zombies and disintegrating infrastructure). But every one of those think pieces (and there are a lot of them) admitted that the metaphor broke down on one or two key points.

But environmental collapse? It works pretty damned near perfectly.

For one thing, consider that over the past several decades, we’ve been obsessed with apocalypse. The number of apocalyptic television shows, movies and books has been increasing every decade, regardless of who is in the White House or whether government spending is going up or down. We’re very good at covering them up with just about anything but environmental collapse–alien invasions, robot insurrection, massive flu epidemics, nuclear warfare, and now zombies–but we are as a society spending more and more of our time entertaining ourselves with stories about the end of the world. I’ve made this point before, but in the 1960s, science fiction was about the golden age that technology and American Values were going to unleash on the entire universe, likely populated with savages who needed a good ray gun or teleporter.  The idea of coming out with something like that now–would you watch it? Could you now suspend your disbelief on something so optimistic?

Zombies, though, make a particularly good foil for anyone who wants to think about environmental collapse without consciously thinking about environmental collapse. Think about it: zombies are the past eating the future. The dead rise up and consume their young, in zombie stories quite literally. In the environmental stories that surround us every day, our past is constantly consuming our present–the industrial revolution devouring the climate, our forests, the oceans, the collapse of all of the world’s major fisheries, the coral reefs, and so on–and we are in turn becoming the present that is devouring the future mostly through failing to grapple with it all.

I’m not suggesting that this was a conscious decision on the part of the comic book writer or the show’s creators. But I do think that these stories, of what has been done to our present by our ancestors, and what we in turn are doing to our descendants, make a very fertile ground for zombie apocalypse stories to grow in.

I would also like to lodge a formal complaint that, for the love of god, where are they getting all this gasoline from? Why are they still driving around in cars? They live in a warm climate–hasn’t a single one of them thought to steal a bicycle?

Meanwhile, back on the blazer:

I’ve been using a combination of the V8333 couture instructions, the Craftsy class on classic blazer tailoring, stuff I’ve found in various sewing books, and chocolate. I made up two muslins (one full, one half) to check the fit and it was a bit of a bear, though starting with a princess seam is the way to go if you know you’ll be doing significant adjustments to the bust. The fabric on the real version is a wool tweed I picked up at King Textiles in the fall.

Dear Readers, Behold My Mistakes:

Ouch.
Ouch.

The Craftsy class suggested using muslin for underlining, whereas the pattern suggests silk organza. The Craftsy class also self-drafted the underlining pattern pieces for the shoulders and back, and they cover just the top area, whereas the Vogue pattern has the all of the main pieces underlined, including the sleeves. And–Vogue! I’m looking at you!–the pattern layout shows the underlining pieces laid out on the straight grain, and the first third of the instructions cover the underlining pieces and fusing them to the main fabric, and then buried as a “couture tip” a third of the way through the instructions they mention maybe cutting out the underlining pieces on the bias. Not funny, Vogue. Not funny at all.

Anyway, I used muslin because it was what I had, and I cut it on the straight grain because … that was what the instructions said to do. And I’m thinking that may have been Mistake #1, because I know I underlined the pieces properly, and yet this is what the back looks like. Which if that’s not stretched out wool (or shrunken underlining) I don’t know what is.

There is seam ripping in my future, I can just tell.

Otherwise it’s gone pretty well. My pad-stitching is a thing of beauty, or more like a thingless, because you can’t see it.

Pad-stitched under collar on the right, non-pad-stitched upper collar on the left. Not bad, eh?
Pad-stitched under collar on the right, non-pad-stitched upper collar on the left. Not bad, eh? Please ignore thready bits–they will be removed before it’s done. Also, that’s not top-stitching at the edges, it’s basting, and it’s all going to be removed.

It fits well.

The collar and lapel are joined in this weird backwards way I’ve never seen before.  I’ll cover that in a future post.

I added in the shoulder reinforcement as suggested in the Craftsy class.

Taming the corners of the lapels and collars followed V8333. I tamed the corners or the lapels etc. as suggested in the V8333 instructions, and it worked pretty well too.

Nice, sharp, flat corners. Huzzah!
Nice, sharp, flat corners. Huzzah!

~~~~~

*the villain in the last season of Farscape is a woman who defeats the good guys with some scent gland in her boobs that turns them into bumbling, hormonal, ragingly lustful idiots. Say it with me now: That’s Sexist! As well as boring and gross. And it just made me lose all interest in seeing where the show ended up.

Embroidering Stuff: Purses

If you’re thinking about dipping your toes into the pool of decorative hand-stitching, purses and bags are a great place to start.

You don’t need to worry about flattering placement, or layering other pieces on top of something embroidered if it’s dimensional, or whether or not it’s “professional” or “appropriate;” you don’t need to worry about fit (if what’s holding you back is spending a lot of time decorating something and then having the final product not fit well). And there are some really good books and patterns out there that you can use as-is, or modify to be more your taste.

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This is my winter work-bag. It’s a good size (almost, but not quite, briefcase-length), and the inside is the top of an old pair of blue jeans, so it’s got lots of functional pockets. I sewed the bottom of the jeans-top shut, gusseted the corners, added a facing to the top, then measured the outside of this to cut the outside pattern pieces, added handles, top-stitched and voila. Construction-wise for the bag, not very tricky (except for sewing through multiple layers of boiled wool and denim). But to me, the embroidery makes the bag.

The pattern is based off of one in Bags in Bloom by Susan Cariello, a really fantastic embroidered-purse project book that includes patterns and instructions for the bags and for the embroidery. I chose one part of a nice pattern and scaled it up for use on a slightly larger bag.

Another project from the book.Gorgeous, isn’t it?

Given the heaviness of the boiled wool, heavier embroidery fibres were called for: primarily yarn (as in, for knitting) in wool, bamboo and angora, regular stretch lace, perle cotton for the finer details, and freshwater pearls and glass beads in the flower centres.

No, working worsted-weight yarn through boiled wool was not the kindest project on my fingers, but the end result was so worth it; and if you started with something like heavy linen, cotton canvas or a good stiff silk, it would not be so hard on the digits.

I’ve heard that Bags in Bloom has been recently republished under another title; if the cover looks the same and it’s by Susan Cariello, it’s the same book. But there’s a few other recent embroidered-bag project books, and while I haven’t yet had a chance to make up a project from them, they both look very solid from my reading: Artfully Embroidered by Naoko Shimoda and Strolling Along Paths of Green by Yoko Saito. Both are Japanese craft books recently translated into English.

From Artfully Embroidered

 

Artfully Embroidered includes a variety of embroidery styles, and bag projects beyond purses, including coin-purses (above), wallets, tote bags, and so on. Strolling Along Paths of Green is more of an applique/quilting book, but the projects look beautiful.

From Strolling Along Paths of Green
From Strolling Along Paths of Green

If you find my bag amateurish, that’s fine, and you can exclude it from your memory for the next question:

Looking at them, do you think that either printed fabric or regular solid fabric would have been as lovely?

I don’t. You’d miss the texture that the stitches add, and the effects their fibres can create, whether shiny, sparkly, matte, fuzzy, or variegated. You wouldn’t have the same opportunities to customize, either; adding or omitting beads, shifting or outright altering the colour scheme, changing the scale of the image, using only a portion of the pattern. Certainly my work bag (and yes, I’m bringing it back in) would have been just a grey sack.

That grey bag is the one project I can count on to get a “You made that? You know you could sell those” response, including from gallery and store owners. Not that I made it for the approval of others, or that I would enjoy it less if I didn’t have it, and of course I have no intention of making them to sell. But it is something that, if executed reasonably well, adds a lot of punch to an otherwise simple and unremarkable project.

Review: Stumpwork Butterflies & Moths

Stumpwork Butterflies & Moths
Stumpwork Butterflies & Moths by Jane Nicholas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am incredibly impressed by the level of research in Jane Nicholas’s insect embroidery books. I don’t read them expecting to learn more about the critters she embroiders, but I do: The natural history and basic biology of the insects are included; she also includes the history of the use of those insects in art, design & embroidery; and all of the projects are based on specific species of insects, quite true to life, with background information on their classification, habitat, and life cycles. It blows me away.

I’ve now completed one of the butterflies–the Chalkhill Blue Butterfly.

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Below is a photo of an actual Chalkhill Blue Butterfly, to give you an idea of how realistic the embroidery is:

Wow, right?

The instructions were detailed, thorough and accurate. This time, I used a much finer gauge of wire, and it was much easier to couch to the fabric and buttonhole stitch over it.

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The instructions for shaded satin stitch in the wings also made sense, and made a final product that looked mostly like the photo in the book (any discrepancies I’m chalking up to my poorer relative skill level).

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The wings cut out well and inserted through the background fabric no problem, and the remaining instructions to embroidery the body and antennae were simple and accurate. Voila, the final product (beside the ladybug I embroidered from her beetles book a few weeks ago):

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Some imperfections to note:

-I didn’t have the stripey thread she used for the antennae, so mine are solid.
-I also didn’t have and couldn’t find 3mm beads for the head, so my head is not quite the right proportion for the body–still, I think it works
-I also didn’t want to pay shipping on the brand of chenille thread she used for the body, so I used a fuzzy thread I could buy locally. It’s not quite right but it’s better than the shipping charge would have been.
-And lastly, you can see the pencil tick marks on the background fabric showing where the butterfly ought to have extended to, according to the “finished size” photo/diagram. Mine is clearly smaller. I followed the patterns for the wings quite carefully, so either the photo/diagram of the finished project is a smidge off, or you’re supposed to buttonhole stitch around the wing shape, and not directly over it. In any case, it’s a minor thing, and won’t affect my ability to use the butterfly pattern on anything else I choose.

Five stars. I’m having a fantastic time with stumpwork so far. Yes, it’s small and fiddly, but the smallness means that each element works up really quickly, and I can see lots of potential for including little bits like these on clothing and bags and other projects.

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Review: Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message

Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message
Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message by Tara Mohr
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Boy, am I ever glad I didn’t pay for this.

Mohr’s heart is in the right place. She wanted to write a book that would help women overcome a lifetime of socialization and learn to believe in ourselves, so we can pursue our own big dreams and goals. And that is wonderful. But the execution fell apart somewhat.

To begin with, it is pretty well a standard self-help book, with standard self-help advice: make friends with your inner critic, find and follow your inner mentor, step depending on praise or running from criticism, deal with fear, stop undermining yourself, figure out what your big dreams and callings are, chase them down to the ends of the earth. All fine, so far as they go, but not earth-shaking. I’ve read enough self-help books over the course of my life to know that making friends with your inner critic is the first piece of advice offered in almost every self-help book, and whether you call it your Inner Mentor or your North Star or your Peaceful Place or your Future Visualization or whatever, finding it is always the second.

(Aside: I had three stages in my own self-help book journey: 1–I was young and proud and much too good for self-help books; 2–I was older and sad and decided maybe I could use help even if it came in the form of self-help books; 3–I am even older and either through the books I’ve already read or just the process of increasing curmudgeonization, I feel like I no longer need it. The Fuck-Off Fairy has been and gone; now I figure if I do something and it turns out to be ridiculous and everyone laughs at me, well, at least I’ve brightened their days.)

For another, the feminist portion of the book seemed half-thought-out, at best. She acknowledges the reality of discrimination and sexism in shaping our world, our lives, and our personalities, but then doesn’t really consider how that sexism will react to us in our new, fearless, uber-confident and self-mentored-up selves. If we are taught self-deprecation in order not to seem uppity, for example, it stands to reason that when we no longer self-deprecate, the world will not take it well. In my exeperience, one can absolutely expect a significant backlash to any move away from the feminine Norm of Nice.

Most of the research that forms the basis of the book is anecdotal and personal–of course, since this is self-help; one can’t expect double-blind studies and statistical correlations. However, it is less that convincing, particularly when some of the anecdotes are of the “I listened to my inner voice, and it told me to send my first ever written piece to Forbes, and it got published!” variety.

The chapter on fear, though, angered me.

Mohr states that really there are two kinds of fear: pachad, which is the fear of things that don’t actually exist, like monsters under the bed; and yirah, which is the fear felt when we confront the divine or other things larger than ourselves. Pachad we should ignore because what we fear isn’t real. Yirah is telling us we should move forwards.

You may notice that there is a distinct lack of any discussion of the fear of real, present and immediate threats, like sabre-toothed tigers, abusive ex-husbands, or the imminent prospect of foreclosure on one’s house. Both of the kinds of fear she does discuss mean, in her view, that you should move forwards towards your dream; but look, terrible things can happen and sometimes our fears are rational and realistic. The Universe is not a cosmic vending machine and we are not all guaranteed to have our dreams come true if we are nice people who want reasonable things. The worst can happen, and sometimes it does. Sometimes people fail, and it is irresponsible not to even discuss what to do when one’s fears are realistic or even probable, and it boggles my mind that however many people read this manuscript and no one thought to wonder about the whole fear thing.

Here’s my own personal advice on fear:

As yourself three questions: What is the most likely outcome? What is the best case scenario? What is the worst case scenario?

If you can accept the most likely outcome, if the best case scenario is something you truly deeply want, and if the worst case scenario is something you can recover from, it’s a good risk.

If the most likely outcome is not good enough, if the worst case scenario would crush you and you aren’t sure you could recover, or if the best case scenario isn’t amazingly fantastic, it’s probably not worth it.

By all means, do some research or talk to people to figure out what those scenarios are; but just plunging ahead on the expectation that the Universe takes care of people with good intentions is silly and irresponsible.

~~~

There was a time in my life when a lot of this book’s contents would have resonated with me and I would have dragged out my journal and earnestly completed all of the journaling prompts. If you are at that time in your life, I wish you good luck, god speed, and it almost certainly isn’t as bad or as scary as you think. Keep breathing. You’ll get there.

Somehow or other, I did; or at least, I think I did. I did more tagging of pages that I agreed with than tagging of insights–in fact, I didn’t tag any insights. Yep, still scared of things; no, it doesn’t stop me; the inner critic is still vicious but I just smile and nod at her and keep on plugging; praise and criticism don’t tell me what to do; etc. Maybe I’m just a smug and self-satisfied brat. In any case, I’ll be sending this back to the library, where it can hopefully inspire and console someone else.

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