Jian Ghomeshi, eh?

I’m not going to share (many of) my own thoughts. Instead I present for you, a massive collection of the thoughts of other people on this story.

No, it’s not sewing related. But who can think of sewing at a time like this?

OK, yes, I can. But not yet.

Background, for those of you thinking “Jian who?” or “don’t you mean John?” Though at this point, that might be two people total in North America:

Jian was a popular radio broadcaster at our national public broadcasting corp, CBC. He’s got quite a fan following. Last week we heard he was taking extended leave for “personal reasons.” On Sunday, CBC said they fired him because of “information” that had come to light. Late Sunday, Jian published this letter on FB, claiming he was let go as part of a BDSM Persecution Witch Hunt, where everyone knew everything he did was consensual but they disapproved so they canned him.

In order of relevance to the sections of his FB post, links!

Dear everyone,
I am writing today because I want you to be the first to know some news.
This has been the hardest time of my life. I am reeling from the loss of my father. I am in deep personal pain and worried about my mom. And now my world has been rocked by so much more.
Today, I was fired from the CBC.


For almost 8 years I have been the host of a show I co-created on CBC called Q. It has been my pride and joy. My fantastic team on Q are super-talented and have helped build something beautiful.

Also true. Not sure it’s relevant. See: Woody Allen, Charles Dickens, etc. Doing good work does not mean you are not an asshole.

I have always operated on the principle of doing my best to maintain a dignity and a commitment to openness and truth, both on and off the air. I have conducted major interviews, supported Canadian talent, and spoken out loudly in my audio essays about ideas, issues, and my love for this country. All of that is available for anyone to hear or watch. I have known, of course, that not everyone always agrees with my opinions or my style, but I’ve never been anything but honest. I have doggedly defended the CBC and embraced public broadcasting. This is a brand I’ve been honoured to help grow.

Does this link cause you to think that his behaviour, on and off the air, is dedicated to “dignity”?

And maybe think, while you read this letter, how much assistance the PR firm Navigator provided him in crafting this “deeply honest and personal heartfelt appeal.”

Plus, should it matter whether or not you like Jian Ghomeshi?

Anyway. This paragraph serves little than to cause people to react patriotically to his message, much like American Republican senators caught with some hanky-panky in their personal lives immediately try to wrap themselves in the flag.

All this has now changed.
Today I was fired from the company where I’ve been working for almost 14 years – stripped from my show, barred from the building and separated from my colleagues. I was given the choice to walk away quietly and to publicly suggest that this was my decision. But I am not going to do that. Because that would be untrue. Because I’ve been fired. And because I’ve done nothing wrong.

Please note, then, that the airing of allegations was his choice. He aired the allegations.

Also: CBC does not have a history of firing staff for their public sex lives. See Sook Yin-Lee.

I’ve been fired from the CBC because of the risk of my private sex life being made public as a result of a campaign of false allegations pursued by a jilted ex girlfriend and a freelance writer.

Jilted Ex Girlfriend
However, there were at least 3 women involved in The Star story
Plus a coworker
Plus the xoJane article from last year, linked above
As well as numerous rumours about his dating conduct for quite some time now (there are forum links all over the net to discussions among women sharing stories, but those are all password protected, so no shares here)

A beautiful piece from out west about the rumours circulating about Jian for over a decade.

And already, another woman has come forward with her own abuse allegations from a decade ago. Then, about an hour later, another three. God knows what the total will be by the time this gets published.

Here’s the “freelance writer

As friends and family of mine, you are owed the truth.
I have commenced legal proceedings against the CBC, what’s important to me is that you know what happened and why.
Forgive me if what follows may be shocking to some.
I have always been interested in a variety of activities in the bedroom but I only participate in sexual practices that are mutually agreed upon, consensual, and exciting for both partners.

Friends and family, huh? His FB followers? Are friends and family? Wouldn’t actual friends and family deserve something more than a post on FaceBook?

Response of BDSM community part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Really to me it looks like they’re just not having it.

As well, is this about BDSM, or is it about consent?

About two years ago I started seeing a woman in her late 20s. Our relationship was affectionate, casual and passionate. We saw each other on and off over the period of a year and began engaging in adventurous forms of sex that included role-play, dominance and submission. We discussed our interests at length before engaging in rough sex (forms of BDSM). We talked about using safe words and regularly checked in with each other about our comfort levels. She encouraged our role-play and often was the initiator. We joked about our relations being like a mild form of Fifty Shades of Grey or a story from Lynn Coady’s Giller-Prize winning book last year. I don’t wish to get into any more detail because it is truly not anyone’s business what two consenting adults do. I have never discussed my private life before. Sexual preferences are a human right.

LATE 20S??????

Late 20s? The man is 47.

According to the Star, all women who have come forward so far are in their 20s. I haven’t yet heard him denying that he was involved with them. So this is a man who likes to date women 20+ years younger than he is. Moreover, when he hurts them, it makes him come. Whatever else has gone on, he sure don’t like having women in his sex life who are his equals. That is the best-case scenario based on his own words.

Sexual preferences are a human right, but Canadian courts and law do not permit a person to consent to sexual abuse. Whether or not you believe it should be illegal, currently, it is.

Also, one’s personal human rights to one’s sexual preferences ends where harm to another person begins. See: pedophilia

Also also, see BDSM community reactions to Shades of Grey comparison in above links. I.e., not actually helpful. Because Shades of Grey misrepresents abuse and rape as consensual BDSM.

Despite a strong connection between us it became clear to me that our on-and-off dating was unlikely to grow into a larger relationship and I ended things in the beginning of this year. She was upset by this and sent me messages indicating her disappointment that I would not commit to more, and her anger that I was seeing others.

How dare she! Plus, you may want to see the court documents, which have more detail. In that he claims they were dating non-monogamously by mutual consent, and he didn’t so much “end things when it became clear that it was unlikely to grow,” as cut her off when she decided that the non-monogamous thing wasn’t working for her anymore. So that’s two stories, that contradict each other, already from Mr. Ghomeshi.

After this, in the early spring there began a campaign of harassment, vengeance and demonization against me that would lead to months of anxiety.
It came to light that a woman had begun anonymously reaching out to people that I had dated (via Facebook) to tell them she had been a victim of abusive relations with me. In other words, someone was reframing what had been an ongoing consensual relationship as something nefarious. I learned – through one of my friends who got in contact with this person – that someone had rifled through my phone on one occasion and taken down the names of any woman I had seemed to have been dating in recent years. This person had begun methodically contacting them to try to build a story against me. Increasingly, female friends and ex-girlfriends of mine told me about these attempts to smear me.
Someone also began colluding with a freelance writer who was known not to be a fan of mine and, together, they set out to try to find corroborators to build a case to defame me. She found some sympathetic ears by painting herself as a victim and turned this into a campaign. The writer boldly started contacting my friends, acquaintances and even work colleagues – all of whom came to me to tell me this was happening and all of whom recognized it as a trumped up way to attack me and undermine my reputation. Everyone contacted would ask the same question, if I had engaged in non-consensual behavior why was the place to address this the media?

Well. When I broke up with the abusive/stalkery guy some women did reach out to me via email and FB, and I’m glad they did. Those conversations were helpful. Not sure what this proves of her, even if it is true.

And maybe she went to the media because our courts are broken, so far as sexual assault goes. If you don’t go to the courts, of course, you’ll be accused of making it up and trying to destroy an innocent man. But if you do go to the courts, you will still be accused of trying to destroy an innocent man. Plus, since so few accused are found guilty, the man then effectively has been publicly exonerated for his behaviour. He gets a shield. He gets to go around for the rest of his life saying, “Yeah, that crazy bitch accused me of rape, but the judge saw right through it.”

AND THEY DO. This happens. I’ve seen it. I have friends who were advised to this effect by their lawyers.

When I went to counseling to deal with my abusive ex, my counselor advised me to just wait it out. “Eventually he’ll latch on to someone else,” she said. “They always do.” So my best way out, according to a professional, was to sit tight until he started victimizing someone else.

Women who want to protect other women from rapists and abusers are better off using gossip. That is simply a fact of our current judicial system.

Now, how about this “vindictive ex-girlfriend” thing?

That he has friends who told him what was happening is quite possibly true. But it is not relevant. Plenty of famous rapists have friends. This does not mean that they are good people or don’t rape. Plus, at least one of his friends has publicly come out on the side of the victims. Plus a group of Canadian musicians put out a petition supporting the victims.  Whether or not you think this was appropriate is beside the point; his insinuation that his friends are unanimously in support of his version of events is simply not true.

The writer tried to peddle the story and, at one point, a major Canadian media publication did due diligence but never printed a story. One assumes they recognized these attempts to recast my sexual behaviour were fabrications. Still, the spectre of mud being flung onto the Internet where online outrage can demonize someone before facts can refute false allegations has been what I’ve had to live with.

This was clearly not true, as the Star’s decision to then print the story demonstrates.

And this leads us to today and this moment. I’ve lived with the threat that this stuff would be thrown out there to defame me. And I would sue. But it would do the reputational damage to me it was intended to do (the ex has even tried to contact me to say that she now wishes to refute any of these categorically untrue allegations). But with me bringing it to light, in the coming days you will prospectively hear about how I engage in all kinds of unsavoury aggressive acts in the bedroom. And the implication may be made that this happens non-consensually. And that will be a lie. But it will be salacious gossip in a world driven by a hunger for “scandal”. And there will be those who choose to believe it and to hate me or to laugh at me. And there will be an attempt to pile on. And there will be the claim that there are a few women involved (those who colluded with my ex) in an attempt to show a “pattern of behaviour”. And it will be based in lies but damage will be done. But I am telling you this story in the hopes that the truth will, finally, conquer all.

So what exactly are we to think that these girls would get out of it? The pleasure of seeing him unemployed?

And if she didn’t succeed in contacting him, how does he know what she was going to say?

Also, see analysis from this lawyer about whether or not his lawsuit is going to go anywhere.

And more analysis about why, when he must know that his suit is not likely to be successful, he would go ahead and file it anyway.

I have been open with the CBC about this since these categorically untrue allegations ramped up. I have never believed it was anyone’s business what I do in my private affairs but I wanted my bosses to be aware that this attempt to smear me was out there. CBC has been part of the team of friends and lawyers assembled to deal with this for months. On Thursday I voluntarily showed evidence that everything I have done has been consensual. I did this in good faith and because I know, as I have always known, that I have nothing to hide. This when the CBC decided to fire me.
CBC execs confirmed that the information provided showed that there was consent. In fact, they later said to me and my team that there is no question in their minds that there has always been consent. They said they’re not concerned about the legal side. But then they said that this type of sexual behavior was unbecoming of a prominent host on the CBC. They said that I was being dismissed for “the risk of the perception that may come from a story that could come out.” To recap, I am being fired in my prime from the show I love and built and threw myself into for years because of what I do in my private life.

Look at that last sentence a few more times. Does it seem familiar? Perhaps because it is the same appeal used by Rob Ford when the crack cocaine story first broke.  “I am the best mayor in the world and I am being persecuted for what I do in my personal life!” Maybe because every prominent abuser in recent history has used that line–“it shouldn’t matter what I do in my personal life!” Except that when you use your prominence to befriend victims, and carry out crimes, it very much does matter.

Also, it is legal to fire employees for what they do in their personal time, even if it’s legal, under some circumstances.

Also also, even if BDSM were legal in Canada, it is impossible to demonstrate consent to an employer. A text message or an email would not mean there is consent. It would mean that, at best, in advance of the event in question, a woman expressed some interest or enthusiasm for the idea in concept. But that doesn’t mean that she consented to what actually happened once she was in his apartment, or house, or whatever. So that doesn’t hold up at all.

Let me be the first to say that my tastes in the bedroom may not be palatable to some folks. They may be strange, enticing, weird, normal, or outright offensive to others. We all have our secret life. But that is my private life. That is my personal life. And no one, and certainly no employer, should have dominion over what people do consensually in their private life.

That is not true. See above.

And so, with no formal allegations, no formal complaints, no complaints, not one, to the HR department at the CBC (they told us they’d done a thorough check and were satisfied), and no charges, I have lost my job based on a campaign of vengeance. Two weeks after the death of my beautiful father I have been fired from the CBC because of what I do in my private life.
I have loved the CBC. The Q team are the best group of people in the land. My colleagues and producers and on-air talent at the CBC are unparalleled in being some of the best in the business. I have always tried to be a good soldier and do a good job for my country. I am still in shock. But I am telling this story to you so the truth is heard. And to bring an end to the nightmare.

News on the CBC’s ongoing internal investigation.

This is a fantastic example of the pity-the-abusers story that gets trotted out whenever someone with a promising career is charged with abuse. See: Ray Rice, Steubenville football stars. Their “nightmare,” their suffering, is invoked as if it compares in any way with the suffering of their victims. It does not.

There are two possibilities here that I can see:

Jian Ghomeshi is telling the truth, despite the inconsistencies in his account. Three women plus a freelance journalist are out to get him. They went to his boss and complained. The boss, despite excellent legal and HR teams and a history of dealing with sex in more progressive ways, decided to fire their highest-grossing staff, even knowing that he was going to sue and that they had no real cause. At that point, another four women came forward, and the same rumours that have circulated about him for years–even where I am, and my connection to the Canadian arts scene isn’t even cobwebby, more where a cobweb strand might be if a spider decided to spin it–have become something like public knowledge. But it’s all a conspiracy.

Or Jian Ghomeshi is a liar and an abuser.

You are entitled to come to your own opinion, of course.

As am I.

Contrary to what you may believe, my brain is not a courtroom, and I am not obliged to apply the same reasoning to my opinions as judges do when making legal findings. “Innocent until proven guilty” applies to the legal system, not whether or not I like someone, or find him credible.

Another StyleArc Jasmine pair of pants: more pajamas for work

I have so many pieces cut out for so many projects … but instead I made myself another pair of Jasmine pants. Why?

Because I love the first ones I made. Super comfortable. Wearable and works for work.

Because also the first ones I made are red.

I love red. Red is a good colour. But when you realize, in front of the closet in the morning, that most of your shirts are red and pink and nearly all of your shoes are … well. Those extremely comfortable red pants become a little bit less easy. I have some shirts in the works that can be worn with red pants, but the red shoes are a bit more of a trick, and I would frankly rather sew up more pants than go shoe shopping.

No, I never did watch Sex and the City. Why do you ask?

Super shiny bemberg lining!
Super shiny bemberg lining! So shiny that you can’t actually see the colour of the pants. Fun! But still. It’s a nice fly. Right?

Anyway, so I made another pair in a camel colour. I made one–and just one–modification: extended the rise from hip to waist by 1.5″. Everything else was the same (including the fly pieces, which, woops. I had to re-cut them out while I was sewing them together because I forgot that, of course, they would need to be extended too). I suppose making a facing for the pocket from the pants fabric and assembling the pockets from bemberg lining scraps might be considered a modification, but every other pattern piece was used as it was before.

The clouds parted and the angels sang, Dear Readers, when I tried them on.

Here is me, climbing the corporate ladder in my snazzy new pants.
Here is me, climbing the corporate ladder in my snazzy new pants. Also: I match the wall! 

They go up to my waist, and there is plenty of room at the hips and in the rear. They were almost a perfect length; I hemmed them by 2″ instead of 1″. The waist is more comfortable now that it is at my actual waist, instead of at my hips.

I’m a little unhappy with the topstitching on the crotch seam; I used the lightning stitch and it caused the fabric to bubble slightly at the back. (I always top-stitch crotch seams when I use my serger to prevent the dreaded grin-through, even when I use matching thread.) One of the pocket facings likewise is less than perfectly flat. And the fly could have been a little neater, though you can’t tell from the outside. Also, given that it’s now at my waist, it could stand to be taken in by maybe 1/2″ all the way around; it’s a smidge on the loose side. Actually, it’s  a bit too loose after a day of wear, so I may take them apart at the side waists and snug them in a bit.

Short ladder, meet non-glass ceiling. Guess I'm not climbing any higher.
Short ladder, meet non-glass ceiling. Guess I’m not climbing any higher.

Otherwise, these are just about the most comfortable pants I’ve ever worn. I can (and have) scrunch myself into a little ball without feeling constricted in the slightest. I could do the splits, if I were capable of doing the splits. And all the while in a pair of pants that look for all the world like a pair of well-fitted khakhi business casual pants.

And now I’ve got enough comfy business casual pants to get me through almost an entire workweek. Hurrah!

If you can't beat 'em, sit down and have a cup of tea, I always say.
If you can’t beat ‘em, sit down and have a cup of tea, I always say.


Today’s photos riffing on She of the Smiling Ladder Climb

Can’t help but notice she has a nice tall ladder and no ceiling. Also, she is climbing a ladder in a pencil skirt and heels. Aren’t there workplace health and safety regs against that kind of thing?

Anyway. I tried for the white background but my dinky little house was not having any of it, in terms of finding a wall I could cover with a sheet or something. So you get to see my basement instead.

My apologies for the apology

One thing I have learned from reading about SBC blogs (as opposed to the blogs themselves) is that some people get awfully annoyed when bloggers post excuses about why they haven’t been sewing lately. To the effect of:

No one cares if you’re busy! Sew when you can, post when you can, forget the stupid schedule!

That’s not an actual quote, but I think it’s a fair summary, and it’s also a fair point. Dear Readers, if this describes you, avert your eyes. (Except for the last two paragraphs.)

It isn’t so much that I’ve been busy as that my dining table aka sewing space has been booked with actual, like, dinners. As in, I had guests for two weekends in a row, meaning that the dining table had to stay empty and the room fairly neat. Horrors!

Though, actually, it was pretty fantastic. This Thanksgiving I had several friends over, one of whom is new to Canada, and it was so lovely. I now want to do this every year. Plus, I got to use my fancy dessert plates and tea cups, which doesn’t happen often enough.

And then the following weekend was another meeting of the Dragon Tea Society, wherein some aunts and uncles came down, and we ate little sandwiches and pastries and drank tea. I won’t bore you with the details, but my Aunt Sue wrote about it on her blog, for those of you who may be interested. Frances got out her collection of hand-sculpted oven-bake clay dragons and her mounts of dragon stuffies and reveled in her role of Dragon Mistress. And who wouldn’t.

At any rate, it’s all been fantastic and so much fun, but I am itching to cover the dining table with fabric and cutting mats and patterns and the serger once again. This weekend!

In the meantime, I offer you this non-sewing related link: a Sci Am article about the importance of negative emotions.

Why? Because the more I think about this in my dotage (ahem), the more it seems to me that all of our emotions–positive and “negative”–would only exist if they had served an evolutionary purpose. Nature isn’t in the habit of giving us traits that get in the way of survival and reproduction. It bugs me (negative emotion) when I see people trying to wash away every trace of anger, dislike, irritation, fear, etc., because they’re “not good for you,” “irrational,” “dangerous,” “negative” or what have you. No. No, they are not. If they weren’t good for us, we wouldn’t have them. I say, be negative–and apparently, so do the experts.

Negative emotions also most likely aid in our survival. Bad feelings can be vital clues that a health issue, relationship or other important matter needs attention, Adler points out. The survival value of negative thoughts and emotions may help explain why suppressing them is so fruitless. In a 2009 study psychologist David J. Kavanagh of Queensland University of Technology in Australia and his colleagues asked people in treatment for alcohol abuse and addiction to complete a questionnaire that assessed their drinking-related urges and cravings, as well as any attempts to suppress thoughts related to booze over the previous 24 hours. They found that those who often fought against intrusive alcohol-related thoughts actually harbored more of them. Similar findings from a 2010 study suggested that pushing back negative emotions could spawn more emotional overeating than simply recognizing that you were, say, upset, agitated or blue.

(This scholarly paper digs a bit more into the various theories of the evolutionary psychology of emotions.)

Review: The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural HistoryI may have mentioned that 2013 was a steamroller of a year, and that Hibernation 2014 was basically me burying my head in the sands of sewing until I felt like I could look at the world again. After about nine months of denial, I thought I might be ready to test the waters of environmental catastrophe again–and I was right!

Have no fear. We are still mostly sewing here. But also, I read a book about one of the Ends of the World, and I survived, and I think I can even write about it.  So I will.
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As with all of Elizabeth Kolbert’s writing, it is beautifully written, compelling, meticulously researched, well structured, and absolutely terrifying.

The Sixth Extinction (which is happening now–you can be forgiven for not knowing that, since it is so abysmally reported on) is the tale of the many and varied ways humans are causing this latest mass extinction event. They’re all here: prehistorical and modern-day overhunting; transmission of invasive species; habitat fragmentation; climate change; ocean acidification. In keeping with the evidence, though very much against the preferences of human psychology, the book ends on a despairing note. While humans do expend a great deal of energy in identifying and saving particular endangered species when they are particularly beautiful or otherwise beloved, that is in no way up to the scale of what’s required, and it is very difficult to see how this could be turned around.

From page 214: “‘As a brief aside,’ he went on, ‘I read this news story the other day. A place called the Vermont Center for Ecostudies has set up this Web site. People can take a photo of any and all organisms in Vermont and get them registered on this site. If I had read that a few years ago, I would have laughed. I would have said, “You’re going to have people sending in a picture of a pine tree?” And now, after what’s happened with the little browns [bats], I just wish they had done it earlier.” (This after a chapter describing the collapse of bat populations from White Nose Syndrome, and bat researchers revisiting former caves where bats numbered in the hundreds of thousands, now not able to find any, walking through the empty caverns on a carpet of bat carcasses.)

I wish everyone would read this, or at least become more informed about it; not because there’s anything we can do by becoming more informed (there almost certainly isn’t:  many, and likely most, species will simply cease to exist). But because an event of this significance and caused by us deserves to be marked and mourned while it is happening. A biotic Holocaust is underway all around us, every day, species and families of species being shoved into gas ovens as fast as we can manage it; and outside, we celebrate sporting victories and royal babies and new gizmos to buy. I can think of no more severe condemnation of human nature.

That's a toad, eh?
That’s a toad, eh? Look at those itty bitty fingers!

Frances and I like to catch baby toads in the spring. They are itty-bitty, and they hatch en masse, so if you go to the right place at the right time of year, you will find dozens or hundreds of housefly-sized frogs springing all over the place like rubbery crickets. They’re adorable, and fairly easy to catch, and most children are entranced at the sight of these tiny little froggy things. You can have one perched on a fingernail.

According to The Sixth Extinction, this may not last. Amphibians are the most endangered class of animals globally, right now, due to chytrid fungus, spread from the use of the African Clawed Frog as an early pregnancy test, as well as habitat loss and fragmentation, water quality issues, climate change, etc. Over thirty per cent of amphibian species are at risk of extinction today, and the extinction rate for amphibians right now is 211 times the background rate as a conservative estimate. These are animals that have survived every mass extinction event since before the dinosaurs, but they may not survive us.

When I’m not sewing, or embroidering, or reading (or working or cleaning the house or making dinner or whatever), sometimes I do papercrafting. Not scrapbooking, per se, but it could be altered books or altered photos or painting  or calligraphy or some kind of multimedia project. When I was feeling particularly down about environmental issues last year (occupational hazard when you work in the environmental field), I made this.


At the time I thought I was exaggerating.

But apparently not.

And now maybe we need even more happy sewing talk than before.

View all my reviews

Be Polarizing

For those of you who’ve read and loved Learning to Love Criticism (and for those of you who haven’t, until just now), here’s a related idea: learning to love being hated, by at least some people some of the time: The Curse of Meh.

It is a simple mathematical reality that there are two ways of getting an average rating — either most people give you an average rating, or some people rate you really high and others rate you really low, yielding a cumulative middle ground. In mathematics, this concept is known as variance — the more spread out a set of numbers, the greater the variance.

What Rudder and his team found was that not all averages are created equal in terms of actual romantic opportunities — greater variance means greater opportunity. Based on the data on heterosexual females, women who were rated average overall but arrived there via polarizing rankings — lots of 1’s, lots of 5’s — got exponentially more messages (“the precursor to outcomes like in-depth conversations, the exchange of contact information, and eventually in-person meetings”) than women whom most men rated a 3.

Cool, eh? But what about those of you who aren’t interested in dating sites?

Indeed, the implications extend far beyond online dating and touch on the broader trap of public opinion. To play to public opinion or seek to please everyone is to aim at precisely that uncontested average, the undisputed and indisputable 3, obtaining which is a matter of being extra-ordinary rather than extraordinary. As soon as you aspire to be truly extraordinary, you begin aiming for those extremes of opinion, the coveted 5’s, and implicitly invite the opposite extremes, the burning 1’s — you make a tacit contract to be polarizing and must bear that cross.

The bitter irony of the human experience is that while most of us celebrate nonconformity, we tend to conform even in our nonconformity. In order to succeed in a mass-market business — perhaps the ultimate enterprise of catering to popular opinion — we’re encouraged to be “ambiverts,” smack in the middle of the introversion-extraversion spectrum.

I’m just going to repeat my favourite bit, there:

As soon as you aspire to be truly extraordinary, you begin aiming for those extremes of opinion, the coveted 5’s, and implicitly invite the opposite extremes, the burning 1’s–you make a tacit contract to be polarizing and must bear that cross.

Wow. I love that. And if you take a moment to think about any business, organization, cause, or person who has sincered and insanely devoted fans, it’s true, isn’t it, that they all have troves of haters as well?

I like data, and most of the time I prefer to come to my conclusions after careful consideration of all the evidence, giving it plenty of time to percolate. This time, hats to the wind: after one read of a pop-psychology internet piece whose references I have not reviewed, I’ll aim to be polarizing. Because, what fun!

Jalie Stretch Jeans for Frances, Theoretically

So I mentioned a few posts back about how Frances now wants to be wearing jeans again, and if you follow me on Instagram, you’ll have seen the picture of the jeans I started making, realized were the wrong size for her, and ripped apart.

And here is part 2 of that saga. I’m hoping it’s the second part of a trilogy, as I’d hate to have Jeans for Frances turning into a Wheel-of-Time-esque fourteen-volume epic fantasy. But time will tell. At any rate, it’s not done yet.

On the recommendation of some online sewing friends, I decided to give Jalie’s Stretch Jeans pattern a try. Jalie is a french Canadian company, and what’s more, there’s a small fabric store in Hamilton that sells their patterns, so hurray for no shipping fees. Also, their patterns have absolutely crazy multi-sizing: they start at about a girl’s size 5 and go all the way up to a woman’s size 3XL or so. All in one envelope.

In fact, all on one piece of paper.

This makes them very cost-effective, but it introduces its own challenges: for one, all of the nested pattern lines can be difficult to follow; this I solved by first tracing the size lines I wanted in a dark Sharpie pen so that I could then trace it onto pattern paper more easily. (It worked, if you’re looking for a solution yourself.) Also, the pattern pieces–some of them, at least–come kind of in a jigsaw-puzzle style, with for instance the top of the front leg on one piece and the bottom of the front leg on another piece, and you have to put them together before cutting out the fabric. It’s doable and laid out well, but it does take more time.

Proper metal blue-jeans button, pounded in with a hammer and everything.

I have no one to blame but myself and the dozens of nested pattern size lines for this goof, but: I accidentally traced and cut out the low-rise view.

It took me a while to figure this out, though, and by then I was already invested in them, emotionally and physically, in the form of cut-out denim pieces partially sewn together with front pockets and everything. But I’m getting ahead of myself:

I do like how the back looks. Too bad they're too low.
I do like how the back looks. Too bad they’re too low.

So, to deal with my bunny-girl’s sizing issues, I went with a straight size-7 for the back pieces, and at the front graded out a fair bit, as I usually do with knit pants and dresses (and it works well there). For these, it did not work. I’d assembled the front pieces and back pieces, done the top-stitching along the seams, and joined them up along the inseam, when I held them up to see how they’d fit. The front pieces seemed fine, but the back pieces were a good inch too short on each side.

Thus followed the very tedious process of ripping out the double top-stitching on the inseam and the serging.

I was lucky to have just barely enough of the denim left to cut out another set of back leg pieces and back yokes in a wider size (this was when I realized I’d accidentally cut out the low-rise versions of both the front and back, but I didn’t have enough to cut out new high-rise versions for the whole jeans, so I cut the low-rise again).

You can see why this project took forever.

Anyway. Sewed them up, did the double top-stitching again, assembled the front-fly, and basted the front and backs together and …

…it was too big. Not much, but too big.


Serged it down a bit on the sides for the final seams and back-tacked the side seams at the hips. It was also becoming clear that the low-rise version was not going to be high enough, but I wouldn’t know for sure until I got the waistband on, so I made up the belt loops, and put the last of it together, with a proper metal blue-jeans button and everything. And yes, it is too low.

It’s also too big. As in too loose. Which it really shouldn’t be, given all the trying-on we did while I was putting it together. But it’s the first time I’ve made blue jeans, so I expected some goofs and learning experiences.

blog-4-1Because they’re too loose and too low and I know Frances won’t wear them, I’ve decided not to finish the hem. I’ll just cannibalize them for denim scraps over time, and get some more stretch denim when I have the chance, and try again: high-rise; snugger in the waist.

The good news is that the rest of it went together pretty well and I got some decent practice on the contrast top-stitching and the assembly of the belt loops and waistbands and pockets etc. So the next pair will hopefully not just fit, but also look better. These ones were a bit messier than I’d like.

It’ll have to wait until I get more denim, though.

And hey, maybe after the conclusion of the Frances Jeans trilogy, I can make my own!

Photo Experiment Updates

One thing I thought would be fun with my experiment on blog photos would be a riff of the “working woman” stock photo. You know, she with the briefcase and heels, climbing ladders with a smile on her face.

(Such nice tall ladders.) And I still will probably do that. But first, a brief moment of WTFery for the ridiculous creature that is the Working Woman stock photo.

Yep. I totally go to work like this all the time.

Oh for sure. Babies are so cooperative.

Every day man. Dark suit. Hair up. Smile.

“Hi. I want this job so badly, I wore my nicest suit and exposed my breasts. Nice to meet you.”

To be fair, the fourth–dark suit girl–is the most typical shot: a young, slim, very attractive woman with a dark suit and a big smile. Because yes, in point of fact, we all do grin like idiots while we’re working. And our desks are as lovely as our faces, with no inconvenient traces of actual work to be seen.

I wondered, though. What would I get if I looked for Working Man stock photos?

For one thing, they’re older and they don’t smile so much.


For another, sometimes they’re women.

Very masculine.

ETA: How could I have forgotten the most important difference! The stock photos of Working Men don’t have babies in them. (Carry on.)

Trapped on the Island of Muslins

Well … trapped might be a strong word. But you know what I mean.

I have big sewing plans (for me) this season. There’s that suit, which means pants and a jacket. I want to make jeans, for me and for Frances. There’s the leather skirt. I’ve got fabric for some nice button-up shirts that I’m dying to sew, and another pair or two of knit pants for Frances, plus maybe a long-sleeved t. And maybe a couple of knit shirts for me, if I still have time after all of this insanity.

The thing is, it all requires muslins. Suits need to be fairly precise to be wearable; I’ve got the jacket pieces cut out, but need to find an appropriate lining (nothing too pricey; it’s just for practice) and get that cut out too. I’ve done up a test for the suit pants, and they’re ok, but they need some fitting adjustments. I’ve got a muslin sewed up for the leather skirt, and it’s pretty decent; but I want to be absolutely sure before I cut into that divine leather, so I want to finick over it a bit more and do some test sewing on some edge pieces to see what kind of seam would work best before I cut it out.

Figures I’d pick the $600 shirt–but if I make something like this, it’ll cost me >$50, notions included. Not bad, eh?

I sewed up a few muslins for some new shirt patterns. They fit pretty well, actually, so now there are cut-out pieces of the shirts in silk-cutton and double-gauze. Nice, yes? But I’m waiting for a Guaranteed Not To Shrink Interfacing to arrive before I can do much with it. Also, I want to do some embroidery on one of them, so there is much paging through of embroidery books and googleing of inspiration images to see what might look good to do. (Summary: colourful embroidery on a white shirt seems always to look very Western, which is not a look I’m going for, so I’m leaning towards whitework.)

I cut out and sewed up the front and back legs and crotch seam of a pair of jeans for Frances, then held them up to see if it would fit, and found out I’d badly misjudged the needed size of the back pieces, and spent many tedious hours ripping out the double topstitching and the serging, and re-measuring and cutting new pieces of denim.

I made her another pair of the Nature Walk Pants, sized better to her preferences. She loves them now.

Quiltalongs are quilting along. But yeah, how many of you want to see Farmers’ Wife Quilt Blocks? That’s what I thought. (Quick update: I’ve got like 40 blocks done! That’s almost enough for a quilt! Hurray!) (Quick further update: you know, patchwork is a fantastic lesson in precision sewing. I recommend it for anyone who’s looking to bone up on their details.)

And there was the dyeing with cochineal post, which both went on forever and managed to say nothing of interest to anyone but me. Right? Right. (You can still anticipate a nearly-identical post about woad at some point in the future. Don’t say you weren’t warned!)

The point being, I’m still sewing a ton, but I have no sewing that’s really blog-worthy. Like, as tedious as that cochineal post was (and I know it, you don’t have to spare my feelings), imagine how much more tedious half a dozen “hey so I’m making this but it’s not done yet and I can’t show you any pictures because I had to rip it apart before it was done enough that it could be modeled, so yeah, here’s a pile of stuff that might become a thing” posts.

So I have condensed them all into this handy summary post: So many muslins! All stuck in various stages of finishing! Nothing finished! Bah.

I do apologize. I know my wordy rambling about non-project related matters is of little interest to most of you. But project posts will return, someday soon. And there will be ridiculous photos of me wearing things I made that are not imperfect but that I’m still willing to take credit for in public. In the meantime, I offer you these wordy ramblings as a sign of my commitment to future picture-y ramblings. TYIA

Blog Psychology Pt 5: Susceptibility to Normative Influence

And at last the marketers enter the picture; or more specifically, what the marketers make out of this social psychology research, and their own research into social marketing.

Here’s what we have so far:

1. People don’t know why they do what they do nor why they believe what they believe. Oh, sure, we all think we do.  And sometimes we may even be right. But there is no relationship between certainty and the actual likelihood that your beliefs are true (I LOVE that research finding)–certainty is just a feeling, like anxiety or adoration, and it can be completely irrational and unfounded.

2. People’s memories of what they used to believe are basically crap. Just because someone remembers thinking that Product X was terrific before they were given one, or that Service Y was dreamworthy before they experienced it, doesn’t mean that they actually thought that way. We are all unreliable narrators.

3. The mere act of owning or having been given a product or item will cause most people’s opinions of that product or item to improve. And before you say, “Yes, MOST people; but I/my favourite sponsored blogger is/am an exception,” keep in mind that 75% of adult drivers think that they drive better than the average person, a clear mathematical impossibility. Most of us over-evaluate ourselves and think that we are exceptions to this kind of thing. But probably, almost certainly, you’re not.

4. And peer pressure is a real thing with deep roots that makes it very difficult for people to disagree with a group. A solid majority of us will change what we say to go along with a group at least some of the time.

So if you were a marketer in this brave new internet era, maybe you’d like to take some of your products and services and give them to bloggers for review. The act of having received the item or service will cause the blogger to have a higher opinion of it than they would otherwise–an honest higher opinion; they might even revise their memories of their previous opinions–and they will then share that opinion with their readers. Get enough influential bloggers to do this at the same time, and you create the impression of an online majority who all like your product or service, bringing conformity imperatives into play. However, this internet marketer might want some proof that this advertising will work.

And as it turns out, marketers have been researching this very question for a long time now: who pays attention to testimonials (which is what sponsored posts are, after all)?

The answer is found in something called Susceptibility to Normative Influence (aka, one’s “readiness to conform to others’ expectations regarding purchases, and the need to identify with others, or enhance one’s image by acquiring products or brands (Bearden, Netemeyer, and Teel 1989)” (Martin et al, 2008 )).

You can get your own SNI score here. My  SNI, if you are interested, is very very low: I got 1.1 on valuing others’ opinions, which means I don’t give a flying fuck what other people think about my purchases. The average for happy people is 1.8, and the average for unhappy people is 2.2. Which means, in other words, that caring about what other people think about what you buy is going to make you less happy. Or that it’s mostly unhappy people who do this. In either case, it’s something to avoid.

Honestly, until I came across this, it would not have occurred to me in a thousand lifetimes that someone might go around buying things because they think it will make other people like them more. What insanity is this? Anyone who’s going to like you more because of your jacket/magazine/sewing machine/dining room table isn’t someone you want in your life anyway.

Regardless, it all comes together like this:

1. Companies buy a lot of sponsored posts with a number of influential bloggers, for the cost of a bunch of books or free patterns and a few metres of fabric, plus postage.

2. The influential bloggers, thanks to the Endowment Effect etc., shift their opinions of the products and services in a positive direction, and then write about it.

3. This creates the impression of an in-group who all like the same thing.

4. The impression of an in-group who all like the same thing influences the purchasing behaviour of their followers or fans, particularly the ones who are highly susceptible to normative influence.

I mean, think about it for a minute: companies hire Social Media directors for, on average, $45,000 CDN. Over the course of a year they will spend even more on freebies and postage. Why are they doing this? To be nice? Of course not. They do this in the expectation that they will make back at least the salary + benefits + training costs + marketing and material costs in additional sales. Companies exist to make money, period.

But, you might say, isn’t it possible that all this social media marketing is just to increase awareness of the product or service?  But if that’s all you want, you’d just buy an ad. You wouldn’t risk a negative review by sending out the free stuff and giving the blogger free reign to write something damning–unless there were, in fact, not much risk of that happening at all.

Is it really realistic that of all the sponsorship arrangements currently in place, all of the compensated posts out there, that so few would be negative just by chance?

This isn’t the first time I’ve made these arguments, so I anticipate that some people will think (and not say) that I must be against free enterprise, capitalism, and women being paid for their labour. Not so. One of the things that most irritates me about these arrangements is how cheap they are. In sewing blogs, for instance, women will quite frequently spend $60+ of their own money on fabric and notions and hours of their own time to sew up a “free” pattern they received in exchange for the blog post, which constitutes marketing for the company in question.

What would make me happier is two things:

1) Bloggers being paid fairly for the actual work that goes into their end of the sponsorship agreement, and,

2) Being honest about its likely influence on the content of their posts, whether conscious or not, and allowing for the critical questioning of their readers.

Egos need to rise far enough on the one side that we (you–it’s unlikely I’ll ever get sponsorship, given my perspectives on it) demand fair pay for the work, and on the other side, need to bend enough to allow that it’s not a personal attack for someone to believe and state that the sponsorship deal might actually have shifted our opinions.

It’s ok to be questioned. It won’t kill you.

A long, mostly boring, very pointless, story about dyeing with cochineal

Lots and lots of cactus bugs.
Lots and lots of cactus bugs.

Last fall, almost exactly one year ago, I took an introductory class in natural dyeing.

It was a little disorganized, but I enjoyed it overall. We dyed linen, cotton, a cotton-hemp blend, and wool, using onion skins, cochineal, logwood and black walnuts.

Black walnuts made for some very pretty browns. Logwood (seriously just wood chips from the logwood tree) made brilliant indigos and purples. Onion skins made this amazing marigold yellow. And cochineal made fuchsias and pinks.

Cochineal, if you’re wondering, is the female of a beetle species that lives on the prickly pear cactus. Not to be overly specific, eh? Do you wonder how exactly this dye was discovered? I do. “Say, Bo: what happens if we dry out these bugs, grind them up into a fine powder, and disolve them in boiling water? Do you suppose they might dye our fabrics red?” “They might, Sep. But just to be sure we know what we’re doing, let’s separate out the male from female bugs.”

I mean, how would they even know which were the males vs. females?*

And they say that our ancestors weren’t scientific. What is this, I ask you, but science and experimentation?

Anyway, cochineal was the world’s foremost source of bright red dye prior to chemical dyestuffs. It still is used very commonly as a food colouring and as a dye for cosmetics. This apparently has caused big problems for some cafes and restaurants, because vegan customers would order bright red foods or beverages, apparently under the misconception that bright red=artificial. But no. Bright red=beetles. And actually all that bright red food your child is eating that you think is making them hyper? Probably bugs, not Mystery Chemical #9 or whatever.

Because cochineal is made out of ground-up lady beetles on one particular cactus species from one particular corner of the world, it was very rare and very expensive, and it still is.

Last year for Christmas, Santa** ordered me my very own jar of lady beetles.

Then I needed to set up my dyeing studio. I needed a burner for the basement, to boil the dyestuffs well away from my food. I needed cheap large pots to boil and soak things in.

I needed washing soda, to scour the fabric. Mordanting chemicals, to allow the dyes to bond with the textiles. Chalk (!!!) to bond the mordanting chemicals to the fabrics. Textiles to dye. Sieves and strainers, to drain things. Rubber gloves, to handle dyes and dyed fabrics and mordanting things without hurting myself or turning my hands pink.

All of these things I slowly collected over a few months, as the budget allowed. Washing soda I found most easily procured at the local health and organic food store. Mordanting chemicals I purchased through the internet (potassium sulfate and aluminum sulfate). Chalk is … well, chalk. You know where to get chalk. Textiles dye better when they aren’t already bleached or dyed, so I bought a few metres each of undyed linen and cotton off of Maiwa.

And then, bit by bit, I plugged away at each step of the dyeing process in the free time not already dedicated to sewing.

Scouring. No retouching on the photo--all that brown gunk came out of my nice clean textiles.
Scouring. No retouching on the photo–all that brown gunk came out of my nice clean textiles.

First, scouring: boiling your fabrics in large pots with dish soap and washing soda, and being pleasantly disgusted at all of the dark brown gunk you’ve dislodged from your pristine and never-used fabrics. Yuck.

Scouring them another time or two to make sure that no more dark brown gunk is hiding in them.

Mordanting: boiling them again, if you’re using potassium sulfate, in a large pot for an extended period of time, and hanging them up to dry. Or soaking them in a not-boiling pot with aluminum sulfate, if you’d rather, allowing them to dry and then soaking them again in chalky water to get the aluminum sulfate to stick.

(Fans of the BBC’s Victorian Christmas shows will be relieved to know that stale urine is no longer a part of the natural dye-er’s process. Instead, we have these lovely sulfates.)

And then you have fabrics you can actually dye.

Ground-up lady beetles, with my fancy-pants mortar and pestle (aka old teaspoon and small bowl)
Ground-up lady beetles, with my fancy-pants mortar and pestle (aka old teaspoon and small bowl)

Choosing the first dye to experiment with was not easy. They’re all so much fun, yet so time-consuming. Sigh. I decided to start with the pink-reds of cochineal, and set to grinding myself some lady beetles. (The amount of lady beetles to grind to powder is determined by the weight of the fibres you plan to dye, or WOF. You want about 3-8% of WOF in ground-up lady beetles.) Then dissolved them in boiling water, added the dissolved lady beetles (absolutely a brilliant red at this point) to a big pot full of water, set it to simmer, and added some fabric swatches and a few of my great aunt Annette’s doilies.

bug juice
bug juice
The original linen on the left, the dyed linen on the right. Subtle but you can see it.
The original linen on the left, the dyed linen on the right. Subtle but you can see it.

And they turned pink! But not pink enough, so I tried it again with a higher concentration of ground-up lady beetles. The shade of pink was better, but not as good as I would have liked. I think this is because both the doilies and some of the swatches were previously bleached (cotton and linen, respectively). The undyed linen swatches turned out a darker pink the second time.

I’m also wondering if the mordanting didn’t take the way it should.

This first time, I used potassium sulfate, which doesn’t bond with plant fibres as well as it does with animal fibres. To address this, you’re supposed to use tannin before the sulfate; but I didn’t, because I didn’t remember doing that at the class I took and that turned out pretty well so I thought maybe I could skip it. Then the dyed products were weaker than I expected, so … maybe that was it?

So I mordanted another set of fabric with aluminum sulfate, not supposed to need pre-tannining. But you do need to after-bond it with chalk. My goodness. How people used to do this in the days before chemistry degrees is beyond me.

I mean, who was the first person to think, “Say. You know what I should do, if I want these ground-up beetles (or chunks of wood, or dried skins of onions, or fermented woad leaves) to make my leathers and textiles a brighter colour? I should store my pee for long enough that it goes stale and stinks to high heaven. Then I should soak the textiles in that. THEN I should dye them. That’ll work!”

Anyway. The dyed bleached linen was for a particular project, so I’m not going to re-do that; but I am looking forward to some dyeing experiments with unbleached and properly mordanted fibres to see how punchy the colours can get. Stay tuned!


*Now having looked at the Wikipedia article, the differences between the males and females are rather striking.

**One of the most interesting parts of single motherhood, is that you have to be your own Santa. So in this case Santa=me. At least he always gets me exactly what I want, even if I do have to pay for it.

dispatches from the Greater Toronto Bioregion


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