All posts by Andrea McDowell

Start Where You Live

Right now, your body exists in a physical space: your feet, your back, your legs, press against some surface. Your lungs fill and empty with oxygen we don’t share. Your fingers rest against a screen or on keys; you can hear a furnace, or an air conditioner, or people talking or laughing, or a bus or cars going by, or the claws of a pet making its way around your home.

It may feel like you are a thousand miles away from all of that, with your mind and awareness hovering in some global ether-realm we call the Internet; but that mind and awareness are still in a body that exists in a physical place, so let’s start there, because that place is still the most important thing.

There is one thing you can do, starting today, to help fight climate change. It costs no money, requires no technology, needs no special education or data, and doesn’t ask you to march in the cold.

(Those are all good things too, and I may come back to them. But today, I want to start in a place where everyone is.)

Build community where you live.

Seriously. Start or join a book club. A hiking group. Toastmasters. The PTA. Your neighbourhood association. A wine drinking night. Paint Nite. A fraternity, for god’s sake. Anything.

Start forming community with real live human beings where you physically exist.

This is not the kind of climate pitch you’re used to. Let me explain:

1. Most of us never talk to anyone about climate change at all, let alone our feelings about it.

Most Canadians and Americans accept climate science and are either concerned or alarmed about climate impacts.

But it probably doesn’t feel like it in your day-to-day life, where it rarely comes up in the media, can be easily eclipsed by 20 disaffected climate deniers in yellow vests coming to town, and almost never comes up for us in our daily conversations. Over half of Americans have not talked about climate change at all in the last year.

(This isn’t my personal experience, because I talk about it all the time, for obvious reasons. To the point I expect people get sick of it and are too polite to say so. I can tell from the looks on their faces that this subject makes them very uncomfortable, and it is an absolute conversation killer on social media. If I post about Frances or Juniper, I’ll get dozens of likes and comments; if I post about feminism or social justice, I’ll get a handful; if I post about climate change, you could fly a solar-powered airplane through the middle of the resulting silence.)

There is a taboo about talking about climate change, which is weird, since we all talk about the weather all the time. Breaking that taboo in real life by bringing climate change up with your friends and acquaintances is itself a form of activism.

2. Our friendships and in-person social capital are declining precipitously.

But it’s not just climate change. It’s not just that this topic particularly makes us uncomfortable and shuts us up. Most of us have fewer friendships than we used to, and are having fewer serious conversations with those friends. The climate taboo is very real (says the woman who’s constantly running into it on purpose), but at the same time, how many of those people who haven’t had a conversation about climate change have actually not recently had a meaningful conversation with anyone about anything?

And if we’re not talking to people, how are we going to face this?

This loneliness and social isolation is bad for our physical and mental health. People need people, even though people are often unbearable shitheads. People don’t need all people, but, you know, we need enough non-shithead people in our regular daily in-person lives to not develop mental and physical health problems. Kind of like vitamin C and scurvy: you need a minimum amount to be healthy; this doesn’t mean you eat a load of rotten bananas because more is always better; but if you try to live without any fresh fruit or vegetables at all, you’re going to get sick.

It’s unbearably corny to call this Vitamin C as in Community, isn’t it? It is. We’ll pretend I didn’t write that.

3. Climate change is an everyone problem requiring collective, large-scale changes to our communities and economies.

Moving on: our social networks and friendships are declining. This affects us as individuals, and it also affects our ability to take on collective issues like climate change.

It affects even our ability to talk about it in a real and vulnerable way. Building those communities is the critical first step to having the conversations and eventually acting on them.

And we’re going to have to act on them as more than individuals.

North America has the most individualistic cultures in the world; I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we are consistently losing ground to other, more collective cultures on the fight against climate change. European social democracies, China’s totalitarian state, even small Pacific island nations are doing better at coming up with plans and transitioning their societies away from fossil fuels.

Whereas here, we seem to have a hard time even imagining what a non-individualistic, collective climate action might look like.

Climate change requires large-scale changes, collective changes, but in North America we seem unable to conceive of what those changes might be, beyond what we buy or don’t buy, or what government is in charge.

Lifestyle and purchasing decisions aren’t completely irrelevant, but they’re pretty close.

Think about it this way: if you went back a few hundred years and talked to people about abolishing slavery, and all they could talk about was buying fabric that wasn’t slave-produced, you’d think they were lunatics. Obviously the laws needed to be changed; it should be impossible to buy something made by slaves because slavery should not exist. Period (it still does, but that’s another post for another day). Same thing with carbon: it should be impossible for us to buy products and services with the potential to destroy the planet, and that requires legislative and regulatory change. You can buy low-carbon stuff and that’s fine, but it’s not going to get us where we need to go.

Similarly, yes, abolition and emancipation came from the government of the day, but they were pushed into it by collective action. Not by individual purchasing decisions. By letters, editorials, protest marches, lectures, and collective efforts like the Underground Railroad. By people doing things with their time in their actual biological lives and geographic location. Not on the internet. Not with their wallet.

Today there are examples of meaningful collective low-carbon actions all over the world. Renewable energy co-operatives that build, own, and retain the profits of solar and wind projects in communities. The Transition Town movement, reducing or eliminating the reliance of communities on fossil fuel energy. Divestment, pressuring institutions such as universities and local governments and pension plan investors to take their investments out of fossil fuel companies. Shareholder activism, where company shareholders force companies to reveal how exposed they are to climate risks and the carbon bubble. Lawsuits. Now the school strikes.

It is these actions and others like them that are going to eventually force the hand of government.

We need to work together. That means we need to know each other.

But frankly even just building the community without turning it into some kind of climate group has a vital climate impact. Here’s why:

4. Adaptation impacts are most keenly felt amongst the socially isolated; social connections are key to a healthy and adaptive response

During the European heatwave of 2003, 35000 people died. Many of them were elderly people with loving and caring families, but those families had gone out of town for their traditional August vacations. When the seniors found themselves in dangerously hot living conditions, they had no one to call.

During the Chicago heat wave of 1995, 750 people died. They were, again, mostly socially isolated seniors. They lived alone and had few if any friends or relatives nearby to see how they were doing.

It stands to reason, doesn’t it?

You can have a thousand FB friends and 10,000 twitter or Instagram followers, and when the power goes out, or the floods rise, or the wildfires are burning, or the heat is building in your apartment, none of them will be close enough to help you—nor will you be close enough to help them.

When climate impacts hit close to home, you are going to want to know your neighbours.

We are not just consumers. We are not just voters. We are not just Friends or Followers. We are human beings—mammals, animals who live in a geographic place with other animals and human beings who share that space. For hundreds of thousands of years, that was how we survived fires and floods and famine. We are going to need that again.

Losing the Plot (and maybe finding it again)

Those of you who have met me in the last few years, particularly online, especially particularly through the blog, may not know that I used to write. A lot.

As in, I started reading novels when I was five, and started writing them when I was seven. As in, I have an overflowing bankers box full of journals from elementary school through university. As in, I’ve published short stories, essays and articles.

And then, a few years ago, blogging aside, I completely stopped.

Occasionally I’d get an idea and write it down, but that was all.

What happened was–I lost faith in the narrative arc.

Doesn’t that sound weird? Who has faith in the narrative arc? But as it turns out, that’s the one thing I needed to have if I was going to write. Even non-fiction has a kind of plot, a series of events that link causally, a conclusion whether hoped-for or actual. Epiphanies. Breakthroughs. Progress. Injustice or obstacles overcome, whether internally or externally. Battles won, or lost. Something the book is trying to accomplish. Not just a series of  random, unconnected data.

And I lost the pattern. I lost the plot.

Everything was random and nothing meant anything. People didn’t change, not really; or if they did it was so rare, so obscure, so hard, so impossible to pinpoint, and so difficult to describe, it wasn’t really worth talking about.

Professionally, the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference just about broke me.  Nicknamed Hopenhagen, and widely discussed at the time in climate circles as the world’s last chance to prevent catastrophic climate change, which it ultimately failed to do. So here we are in 2019, with raging wildfires and hurricanes that maybe should be in a brand new category 6 and climate refugees and a political order that is barely doing the things it should have done 20 years ago but with so much pushback that every climate gain is constantly contested and under threat.

Copenhagen broke my heart. It felt like the world had died, or maybe that the world had been admitted to palliative care and I was waiting for either a miracle or the final passing.

Part of that was family stuff. Do you know what it’s like to watch people, for decades, determinedly entangle themselves with abusers? Who defend the people who abuse them? Who scrounge around on the floor for crumbs of attention from people who hurt them–who talk about this as “love” or “kindness”?

Watching someone cling to those who have been a source of immense pain and no pleasure would challenge anyone’s notions of change or progress or insight or epiphany. Not everyone wakes up “one day” and leaves an abuser, whether that abuser is a parent or a spouse or a partner or a sibling. A lot of people stay forever, by choice–and spend a fair bit of energy and time trying to get other people to stay too.

I used to think that I had changed. Yes I had a crummy childhood, and that crummy childhood left scars and quirks a mile wide and a mile deep, and yes it caused me to make a series of disastrous and destructive romantic choices, but I’m learning–right?

Oh, change.

No. As it turned out I wasn’t. Or I wasn’t learning as much as I thought, not changing as much as I thought, still had blindspots and quirks and scars nearly a mile wide and a mile deep. As hit me over the head like a concrete 2×4 when I broke up with a man who’d assaulted me, bugged the apartment of his ex-wife and hired a PI so he could keep tabs on who she was fucking, sold his house and moved to an apartment halfway between where I live and where I worked after we broke up, stalked me so well that I knew exactly who it was and yet had no proof.  Why did I ignore the signs? Had I changed or learned or grown at all?

Now. This may not be clear to you already. But I have treated change as something between a part-time job and a significant hobby since my teens.

I wrote lists of new year’s resolutions, with milestones, deadlines, checklists. I talked to therapists. I read self-help books and psychology books and neurobiology books and philosophy books and parenting books and how-to books of all kinds. I was never, ever going to turn into my mother. Not only does she hurt people as reflexively and easily as most people make a sandwich, but she is as a result almost completely isolated; there is no part of her life that I want. Change was more important to me than God, for the period in my life in which I was religious; change, overcoming, learning, and being a better person, was the single most important thing in the world to me before Frances was born. Nothing was too hard or too much in my quest to be and do everything she wasn’t.

And at 38, in the wake of this relationship, I was hit like a brick in the face with the realization that what I really needed to worry about was becoming my father.

It is very difficult to make change and progress your life goals and then realize at 38 that in some important respects not only have you not changed or progressed, but you were aiming yourself at the wrong finish line.

And the point of this isn’t actually to depress any of you, but to provide some insight into my state of mind beginning in 2009 and then building over the next several years. Climate depression (a real thing now, and nice to have more company, though I’d obviously prefer the alternative) meeting up with a terminally dysfunctional family and a personal crisis of faith, causing a killer case of writer’s block, and the inability to compose a single prose sentence except for sewing and book reviews for several years.

None of these facts have changed: the climate is still an actual global dumpster fire, and it’s possible–and even likely–that none of the work I do will make a measurable difference; my family on both sides is still a mass of enablers, abusers and mental illness; that I will almost certainly remain completely oblivious to at least some of my own blindspots, and damage myself or others in their shadows; and that no one wants me to talk about any part of this.

Everything I really want or need to talk about makes people extremely uncomfortable. You can hardly get people to nope out of a conversation faster than if you mention climate change, unless it’s to talk about a petite attractive well-educated well-spoken nicely dressed wealthy white woman completely lacking in empathy or conscience, especially when that woman is your mother. Both upend everything people want or need to believe about how the world is or works, and I get it, but also, I’m at a place and in a life where survival means looking at what’s there, actually there, not the pretty picture that was modge-podged on top of the festering rot.

Honest festering rot can be useful, if it breaks down into soil and feeds new life. Slapping a glossy photo on top, besides being a lie, prevents growth.

Anyway, here’s the thing:

Nothing I ever said to my family made a difference; it’s possible, even likely, that nothing I say about climate change will make a difference. Life is indeed meaningless and the values we assign to ourselves, our place in society, nature and the world are arbitrary.  I talked to my dad a hundred times about how he was being treated, and he still stayed, and he still died. I’ve been yakking my head off about climate change and what it means for us as a civilization, a species, and a planet, for twenty years, and scientists as a group have been talking about it since the 1800s, and CO2 levels are still going up and things are getting worse.

This was meant to be an environmental blog, once upon a time, though even back then I wrote a lot about sewing and I can’t see that not continuing. These days, it looks like half the world is freaking out about climate change in the same way I did in 2009, and I find that there are things I want to say. That it is possible to look at the future we’ve made and say, maybe there’s no hope, but there’s still a point; I can’t solve this, but there is so much good that I can do in this crisis, good that only I–or you–can do.  That there is a huge difference between 1.5C and 2C, even though both are terrible, and another huge difference between 2 and 2.5; hell, even the difference between 1.5C and 1.6C can be measured in lives lost, and every single one of those lives matters, and one of those may be the one you save, whether you ever know it or not.

There’s no point. I grant that. I have no control over how my words are received or the impact they have, if any. Our world is engineered to strip almost all of us of most of our power, and then convince us that the powers we still have are irrelevant: boring, pointless, trivial, and weak, confined to our wallets and the periodic drama of the voting booth, nothing in the face of a new Netflix special or whether or not Jennifer Aniston is pregnant for real this time. I know it. You know it. And nevertheless. I’m going to speak, if only because if I don’t, I won’t be able to live with myself.

There’s no plot. We’re all sitting around like climate change is some Hollywood drama or Marvel movie and a hero is guaranteed to arrive in the 11th hour with a foolproof plan so the rest of us can sit back and wait, but we are not guaranteed a hero, and we’ve had plenty of plans offered to us over the decades, and we’ve decided none of them are to our liking.  Ok. So maybe out of some combination of hubris, denial, laziness, skepticism, neurological hijinks, unfettered capitalism, historical flukes, democratic erosion, colonialism and greed, humanity goes extinct and takes most of the world with it. Hell, trees almost did that, once upon a time.

There’s no narrative arc. The western story of social progress built on economic growth is, like Wile E Coyote, marching on thin air while the ecological basis of our species disintegrates beneath us, and will eventually plummet–is in some cases already plummeting. Maybe we’ll dash madly back to solid ground in time, and maybe we won’t, and in either case my words are unlikely to make a real difference. So be it.

I’m saying it anyway.

It Came from the Ends Bin: Jalie Basic Blog Tour

Please pretend the messy background doesn’t exist. I promise I have a good excuse.

It’s a good thing people sit down when they read blogs, because, Dear Readers, this post is part of a blog tour.

I know! But it’s a Jalie blog tour, and I’ve made a big deal before about how their sizing proves that it is possible to create a sizing system that is predictable and consistent between patterns and doesn’t have acres of excess ease, and their clothing patterns are generally beautifully put together and really meticulous, so when I saw that they were looking for another Canadian blogger or two to participate in this tour, I thought–why not?

They were also willing to be flexible and allowed me to get a paper pattern for the price difference between that and the pdf. I wanted to participate, all right, but not at the expense of replacing my broken printer to print out the pattern and tape it together. So up front, I did receive a $1+shipping Mimosa t-shirt pattern for this post.

(You can find all the details about the tour, including other participants, a sewalong and the prizes, at the bottom of this post. As usual, Dear Readers, I have a whole lot to say first. Happy scrolling!)

I had my eye on the Mimosa t-shirt since their last release. Technically I already have a well-altered basic t-shirt pattern in the Sewaholic Renfrew, but I really love the shoulder ruffle on the Mimosa and it’s a drapier, looser fit, which is nice to have as an option.

I had grand plans for this post, I’ll have you know: I was going to make two t-shirts each for my daughter and I, one for testing and a final one, and maybe one for a friend. This did not happen. I’ll tell you why.

I am exhausted, Juniper is confused: this is our new household status quo

This happened. Juniper happened.

Juniper is a Cavalier puppy, about two months old, having an absolute and intense love affair with her teeth. She chews everything she can reach–some of which we can move out of her way, some of which we can’t–and much like my human baby at that age, generally refuses to sleep unless she’s in physical contact with a person. Add in a few illnesses (on our part), a couple of major snowstorms, and some work deadlines, and holy cow. There were days I felt good if I had a shower and put on clothes. Finding five minutes to pin a seam felt like an unimaginable luxury. You all know what I’m talking about.

Fortunately I was able to get to the fabric store for fabric in advance, and get this: it’s t-shirt fabric from the ends table at about $3/metre, cotton/poly/spandex and rayon/spandex blends, and all very soft. I love a cheap project.

What I did manage to get done was a test t-shirt for Frances and myself, and a final t-shirt for me.

Test t-shirt: The Front

Frances alterations are always challenging due to her medical issues, but she liked the tie sleeves, so I copied out something in her typical size mishmash and we gave it a try. I need to redistribute some of the ease from the back to the front to make it more comfortable for her, but overall the fit was great, the neckline, shoulders and armscyes were perfect, and the tie tabs on the sleeves worked beautifully. I didn’t photograph it as the test fabric was much too sheer to be worn, but it did happen–promise. And I’m still going to make her a final version. It just might be in 2020.

For my test version, I traced my standard Jalie size of T through the shoulders/neck and the sleeves and for the back piece, but upped from my usual U in the bust to a V for the whole front side seam to give me extra bust room without having to do a full-bust adjustment. I wanted to see what would happen if I just let it be drapey and loose. I cut it out in this gorgeous wine-coloured rayon/spandex jersey and, as it was a test, left off the shoulder ruffle to save time.

The Side

It sewed up very quickly, and all of the notches and seam lengths matched. I did alter the construction order a bit by sewing one shoulder, then sewing in the neck band, then sewing the other shoulder, as I find that simpler than adding the neck band in the round afterwards. On the test version it ended up a bit uneven, but this method worked great for the green one. I used the coverstitch for hemming and the serger for construction.

The Back

It is definitely not too small.

The shoulder, back, and armscyes are fine. The front is quite big, but I think this is more to do with sizing up to a V to avoid the FBA. However it’s also an extremely stretchy, drapey fabric, and if I were to make this again in a rayon/spandex jersey I would size it down through the bust and waist. The sleeves are a bit long on me, but that’s normal for me in all sewing patterns. I almost always have to take out an inch.

The hip split in the hem worked out very well too. It gives just the right amount of room in the hips. I think there’s a goof in the instructions; it says to hem the bottom at 1cm and I think it should be 2cm. At least, that’s what I did, and it worked out better for me that way.

The second, final make was in an emerald cotton/poly/spandex blend with a nubby weave; it had a lot less stretch, so I did not size down for this version. I did, however, remove an inch from the sleeve length and add the shoulder ruffles.

The Side, watching the dog on the stairs.

It’s such a pretty colour, and I really like the ruffles. It’s important to be careful when attaching the ruffles and sleeves, as it’s easy to be off a little and end up with ruffles of different lengths on the final product.

The Front

I wore the shirt with these high-waisted jeans so I could show what it looked like tucked in, and realized afterwards that the jeans are Jalie too–their stretch jeans pattern. So it’s a whole Jalie outfit, though not on purpose.

The Back

Overall I really like the Mimosa; in a drapey fabric the extra room is really pretty, the shoulder ruffles are well-drafted and attach nicely; it’s a beautifully constructed and published pattern, as theirs always have been for me. Highly recommend.

Sizing Note

I did what I normally do with Jalie patterns and went by the body measurements on the package, which puts me at a size T with an FBA for most of them. The insturcitons on the Mimosa say to choose a size based on bust measurement, and I think if your bust measurement differs little from your waist/hips, that is probably safe; however, if you’re busty this may not work for you. A size T for me is based on my waist, which is my smallest measurement and gives me the shoulders/armscyes/neckline I need, and then for the front I sized up to a V to give me some extra room across the chest. Because of the stretch in the fabric, this worked well, I should have gone for a Y if I was going by boobs alone and that for me would have been much too big.

Now on to the blog tour details:

GIVEAWAY!

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Are there some Jalie patterns you’ve been itching to get? Now’s your chance to WIN YOUR JALIE WISHLIST! Head over to Jalie’s website, create an account, add your favorite patterns to your wishlist, and complete the rafflecopter form below (patterns must be added by February 12, 2019 11:59pm EST to be eligible). Incomplete entries will be eligible for fabric prizes only.

For extra entries, join our Jalie sewalong! Make a Jalie “basic” between January 28 and February 12 and share it on Instagram with hashtag #basicallyjalie and/or in the Basically Jalie Album in the Sewing with Jalie Facebook group.

We are so grateful to our generous sponsors who have teamed up to provide the following prizes (please stop by their shops and show them some love!):

Grand Prize (Worldwide)
Win Your Jalie Wishlist – Up to $100 CAD in patterns!
Discovery Trekking Outfitters – One (1) x 50 USD gift card
D&H Fabrics co. – One (1) x $50 USD gift card

Sewalong Prize (Continental USA only)
Win Your Jalie Wishlist – Up to $25 CAD in patterns!
The Sewciety – One (1) Subscription box (value: $48 USD)
Simply By Ti – One (1) x $20 USD gift card

Sewalong Prize (Worldwide, excluding Continental USA)
Win Your Jalie Wishlist – Up to $25 CAD in patterns!
PatternReview.com – One (1) x $30 USD gift card
Discovery Trekking Outfitters – One (1) x 50 USD gift card

(Note: gift cards exclude shipping unless otherwise stated on sponsor website)

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Blogger Lineup

Be sure to visit these talented sewing bloggers during the tour:

Wednesday, Feb 6 – The Petite Sewist | auschick sews | Replicate then Deviate | Deepika Blogs

Thursday, Feb 7 – Sew What Yvette | Sew Cucio | Shalini’s Sewing Space | Curtiepie | A Jennuine Life

Friday, Feb 8 – SeamsLikeStyle | It’s Liesel | SewSophieLynn | Danvillegirl Sewing Diary | Skirt Fixation

Monday, Feb 11 – The Crafting Fiend | Sprouting JubeJube | its sew colorful | Diskordia’s Curvy Sewing

Tuesday, Feb 12 – All Things Katy! | BigFlyNotions | needle and the belle | Zoopolis

To think that once upon a time, I thought I didn’t like yellow (Burda 8/18 Jacket #111)

I saw this brilliant yellow scuba-weight stretch faux suede in FabricLand, and petted it a lot and left it there.

And then I saw this fantastic fun jacket in the August 2018 Burda issue.

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And then I determined that they were meant for each other, waited for the members sale, and bought enough of the faux suede to make it up.

The Front. Yes, we have entered Crappy Indoor Photo Season.

I’m not sure the fabric agrees with me: the pattern is meant, I think, for something lighter and drapier. This faux suede has a good bit of body. But I kind of prefer it that way: it makes for some dramatically puffy sleeves. It also is not at all keen on pressing. Nothing would make it lie flat. Eventually, I got out the double-sided tape from actual suede projects and used it to make the seams lie flat and, on curved seams, did some careful catch-stitching. It made it a more complicated and time consuming project, but it’s worth it to have nicely flat seams.

The Back

Standard 2″ FBA on each side of the bodice, rotated into the shoulder and waist darts.

There are a few issues with this pattern:

  1. It’s supposed to be a tall pattern? And yet here it is, not shortened or altered at all, and it’s kind of … short. I know I’m a bit on the tall side, but my height is not in my upper torso. I didn’t even have to shorten the sleeves, which is unheard of for me.
  2. I am 99% sure that the measurements given for the tie belt pieces are incorrect. They are barely longer than the corresponding waist measurements and certainly wouldn’t hang down, and the width is enormous (5″!) and it calls for 2. !! I basically cut one 5″ strip that is the fabric width and did the normal fold-and-sew, and I think this looks much closer to the pattern photo than what you’d get with the measurements they provide.
The Side

Otherwise it’s a fun jacket, it’s yellow, it’s stretchy so it’s super comfortable, and it’s thick so it is warm enough for fall … though not necessarily for the fall we’ve had. Still, I was determined to wear it to work at least once.

You can hardly see how tired I am what with all the colours. Right?

All day people were giving me looks, Dear Readers. Their eyes would widen and they would quickly take in the outfit, and then look away. I happened to wear this get-up on our municipal election day, and I’m happy to say that the lady manning the polling machine was very complimentary on this colour combination. But she was the only one.

Sizing Note

In Burda tall sizes I should be a 80-88 based on body measurements. This pattern had 76 and 80 on the tissue, so I traced the 76 and widened it to the 80 at the hips, then did my usual FBA on the bodice front. As I described above, I would be cautious about any length alterations: it didn’t seem particularly tall.

We were bound to get to fall sewing eventually: Burda 2/17 Coat #103

After the summer sewing orgy and my decision to try limiting myself to two new garments for me each month, I thought I’d start with something nice and complicated and time-consuming … like a trench coat. This pattern from Burda was nicely tailored and classic, and my favourite local fabric store was selling some beautiful heavy linens that felt like they would make great transitional outerwear … and here we are.

Mind you, it took forever. This coat was the only thing I sewed for myself in September. (Yes, it is January.)

I did my standard 2″-per-side FBA, left in the side bust dart, and rotated the waist dart into the waist tucks.  I did a quick muslin of the bodice pieces to be sure it would work before cutting it out of the linen–not a step I usually bother with but I knew this coat was going to be a complicated sew and I didn’t want to get to the end and realize it didn’t work.

The Back

I did Hong Kong binding for the first time ever, and it was by far the most time consuming part of the entire project. It’s scrap from a silk/cotton voile from a couple of previous projects, so maybe a bit nicer than the standard bias binding, but super soft and lightweight and a great match for the linen. It’s a bit wonky but … well, hopefully people won’t be scrutinizing the interior of my trench coat while I’m wearing it.

Also, one side of the notched collar is a bit wonky. The linen is just heavy enough not to want to be tidy and small in complicated seam allowances, and it was getting to the point where my efforts to fix it were making it worse instead of better, so I stopped. It looks fine for the general public but I’m sure my fellow sewers would spot it a mile away.

The Side

This was one of those years where we had summersummersummersummer, approximately fifteen minutes of fall, and then winter. In other words, it went from too hot to wear a jacket to too cold to wear this jacket very quickly, but I did get a few good days of trench coat weather in there and it was comfortable and swishy and also nicely teal, which is all I really wanted from it.

The Front

Sizing Note

My standard Burda sizing: I should be a size 40-44 based on body measurements, and this was a size 38, graded to 42 at the hips, with a 2″ FBA per side on the bodice. Basically I sized down by 1 throughout except for the bust.

Selfless? Selfish? Self-agnostic? Sewing: Gift Bags for Xmas

In our house, there are two types of Christmas wrapping: presents from Santa, which come wrapped in paper with store bought tags, and presents from Mom, which comes in handmade fabric gift bags. When Frances was younger and sold on Santa, this was a great bit of holiday magic: *obviously* Santa was real, because otherwise where did the paper wrapping come from? Mom would *never* use paper wrapping. Now it’s just tradition (also I still have two rolls of pretty xmas wrapping to use up).

Everyone else gets a gift either in a previously received paper gift bag still in good condition, or a handmade fabric gift bag. There’s a hierarchy, I won’t lie: a fabric gift bag is a mark of trust. It’s saying, I know you will appreciate the time and effort that went into making this bag and keep it in circulation for the rest of time to displace the use of more wasteful wrapping types. It’s saying, if you leave this sitting in a heap in your basement storage area or god forbid *throw it out* I will come back from beyond the grave and haunt you with my fabric scissors and needlebook. And if you use this bag for trapping snakes, as happened to one friend’s handmade gift bags, you will spend eternity in a hell full of rusty fabric scissor blades with bent pins all over the floor. It’s saying, but I know you would never ever do such a thing.

But it is also kind of selfish sewing, because every year I sew four or five new bags, and half I use for gifts for friends, but the other half I use for Frances. Which makes clean-up on xmas morning super easy. Yes there’s paper to tidy up from the Santa gifts … but most of it is just fabric bags, and all I need to do is pick them up, stuff them all inside the largest bag, and put it in the closet. Hey presto, tidy floor. No recycling or garbage. Next year, the wrapping is basically taken care of, and there’s little easier than stuffing something in a drawstring bag and pulling it closed. I even reuse the tags; since they’re handmade they tend to be pretty robust.

This year’s new drawstring bags.

Most of the bags are simple drawstring bags: french seams, to keep the insides tidy and thread-free; occasionally serged if I’m running out of time; double fold at the top to make a channel for the ribbon, which doubles as a draw-string and as gift decoration (I make the ribbon quite long so that there’s lots to tie around the gift). It takes about an hour. There’s no pattern; I improvise the size I need for the gifts I’m wrapping that year. If the print is directional, as some of the ones above are, I cut the fabric in half lengthwise and sometimes add a matching width of a non-directional print at the bottom.

This year I decided to drastically complicate my gift bag sewing experience by turning some holiday cross stitch projects into quilted patchwork gift bags with handles. It took a lot more than an hour.

The cross stitch owls came from the November 2013 issue of Cross Stitcher magazine, which I think I’ve mentioned before is my favourite cross stitch magazine and I wish it were more easily available here. These owls are freaking adorable, and I cross stitched two of them, but had no idea what to do with the finished pieces until I got what seemed like a brilliant idea: gift bags!

The patchwork is an improvised sort of log cabin pattern; the fabrics came from Needlework, and the one bag is mostly leftover from this season’s other overly-ambitious holiday project: a new tree skirt. The insides are lined with leftovers from Fabricland. One bag has twill tape handles, and the other matching cotton handles.

The first bag is quilted. I know, what was I thinking? The process was:

1. Assemble the patchwork front and cut a back in a matching size.
2. Baste batting to the reverse of each with a 1/2″ seam allowance, and trim away the batting within that seam allowance.
3. Sew the front and back together; press seams open.
4. Trim a 2″ wedge from the bottom corners, and sew together to make a boxy shape.
5. Cut, sew, and trim a lining in a matching size, omitting the batting.
6. Baste handles to the bag exterior.
7. Sew lining to exterior, right side to right side, leaving a gap on the back bag to pull them through.
8. Pull through, press lining to the inside of the bag.
9. Edgestitch all around the bag top to close the opening in the bag back.
10. Insert a small cutting board into the bag, and safety pin the front quilt sandwich, being careful to make sure there are no folds or puckers in the lining and that both layers are flat and smooth.
11. Stitch in the ditch along the patchwork lines in the front to quilt.

I gave myself a break on the second bag and didn’t use batting or quilt it; it’s just lined patchwork. And it took forever, but it’s so pretty I have a hard time convincing myself not to make another one. Maybe a cushion cover next time?

The current gift bag stash

~~~

Of course, people who regularly sew gifts or decorations etc. for Christmas know that you don’t start in December, because if you do, you won’t finish in time. So there’s a pile of holiday sewing that doesn’t count, including the tree skirt:

A couple of tree ornaments made with scraps, which is a great scrappy project if you’re looking for something–and I don’t think it needs to be holiday fabric. This pattern is M3777:

Gifts in progress for Jenn
A finished bird–that we kept

Some of these were even made up completely during December. I traced the pieces out onto oak tag so I could reuse them endlessly without them falling apart.

A few new cross-stitch tree ornaments, Because:

And some cross-stitch gift tags, also Because:

A pair of ponte leggings for Frances, and a pair of cotton jersey leggings and a couple of t-shirts, and her annual Christmas Eve Pajamas:

Bought the tags at Needlework. They are, objectively, the best.

The leggings are modified from an Ottobre pattern to get the front-leg seam and waistband, and match some Old Navy leggings Frances wears to death. The pajamas are B5572; bottoms are Robert Kaufman flannel and the top is a bamboo jersey, so it’s extremely soft and comfortable. I ventured into fabric painting for the reindeer that Frances specifically requested for her xmas pjs this year. That was an interesting process.

Also made her holiday dress from red and white striped bamboo jersey, OOP pattern M7160. I didn’t want her to look like a candy cane, and what I like about this pattern is it gives options for juxtaposing stripes in different directions, which has a side benefit of reducing the need for stripe matching–though the bodice was a bit finicky.

Also! Cushion covers.

One with flannel scraps from Frances’s xmas pjs, in a simple star pattern, because this fabric is too delicious for the scraps to go to waste and it seemed perfect for snuggling up in bed with while making art or writing stories. It’s quilted, because, apparently, I have a seasonal incapacity to correctly assess available time. It wasn’t quite ready for Christmas, but I’m still counting it.

And this rainbow chenille pillow, backed also with flannel scraps. My favourite gay teenager is all about rainbows these days, and this is a particularly fuzzy rainbow, which is even better.

Welp. I feel like that’s enough.

Banana Pants: Burda 4/16 Pants #106C

If only I’d sewn these up in July! I could have used them for the Smarty Pants challenge at Monthly Stitch. Alas, these were finished in June.

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They are pretty Bananas. I’m not sure about Smart.

And I’m posting them in November. Oy.

These are purple rayon palazzo pants. They’re totally ridiculous. I can’t justify any kind of need for them. But I love them so.

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The pattern has an invisible side zipper, an angled front yoke, and some truly roomy front pleats. I needed most of 2m of rayon to cut these out. But they are truly delightful to wear. It’s like having an air conditioner on my butt, they’re so light and cool. This was great in July and August, though it’s not so great in November. Maybe I’ll make these again in something a little warmer? We’ll see.

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Slash hip pockets–and I wasn’t as careful as I was with the final version of the pink pants–so there’s a bit of gaping. Sigh. And I think one of the back legs is a bit off grain. :/ They’re pretty swishy so the only time it’s visible is when I’m standing still, posing for pictures.

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I can’t even tell you how much time I spent fussing with the hem. I’d press it to what seemed like the right length, pin it, try it on, and one side would be crooked or too long or short. Then I’d do it again. I’d compare one side to the other and mark a line where they should be equal, press and pin, and try it on again, and they’d still be uneven, so I’d do it again. And again. Etc. Hemming pants on one’s self is a PITA at the best of times; and there’s a lot of fabric here to hem. I thought I might spend the rest of my life on that one step. But here we are, hems done and, if not quite perfect, hard to see what with all the purple rayon swaying about my shoes. Good enough, I say.

Sizing Note

According to the Burda size chart, I should be a size 40/42; these are a 38/40 (waist/hips) which for me is standard in Burda sizing. I made my standard corrections to the crotch curve and depth; otherwise, they’re as-is.

All about the selvedge: B6100

I was so wrong. I have all kind of summer projects I haven’t posted yet. Dear lord.

On the other hand, we now get to see green growing things here on the blog for a little longer, and there isn’t too much of that left in real life at the moment.  Sigh.

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Anyway: This is a project that started as a pile of Mariner Cloth, the neon pink colourway. The colour is so fun, and the texture is very cool, and I thought this would make a really great casual shirt.

I was determined to use the selvedge in place of hemming:

Look at that lovely hem matching, too!

Because it is so pretty with all the loopy bits. And it did eventually work out, but first I needed to find a shirt pattern that had a nice straight hem, would work with wovens, and was pretty casual.

I could only get two out of three: I went with Butterick 6100.  It’s meant to be fairly fancy, but it’s also meant to use the selvedge edge of lace fabric, so it did have a good straight hem.

I made a few key changes to the pattern:

  1. I wanted it less boxy than it would need to be as a straight pull-over with only a keyhole closure, so I added an invisible side zipper under the left arm.
  2. The sleeves from the pattern were incredibly constricting and narrow and very puffy (it doesn’t show in the pattern photos but mine looked like Anne of Green Gables) so I subbed in an altered Scout Tee sleeve instead.
Side Zipper

This is a custom cup size pattern, but the D wasn’t quite big enough, so there is a small FBA in addition.

The Side

And without being too baggy at the hip, either.  There’s a facing and a button-and-loop closure, both of which worked out well:

Facing

The facing is from a cotton voile scrap, with the raw edge serged.

I got lots of wear out of it in the summer. It’s a very lightweight fabric, perfect for steamy days, and turned out very comfortably. Of course now I just need to pine for summer so I can wear it again. Sigh.

The Back

It is pretty boxy, but that’s what I wanted, so hurray! And the edge hits right on the high hip, which makes them perfect for high-waisted pants or shorts.

Sizing Note

In Butterick, I should be wearing a size 16/20 for tops according to the body measurement chart. This is a size 10, custom cup size D, with a small FBA, and a slightly raised hemline so it would hit me at the high hip.

Burda 2/18 Shirt #120: Second Time’s the Charm

I tried making this in the early spring in a very cool polyester with one maroon side, and one peachy coral side. It was slinky and soft and fabulous and of course the shirt was a total flop.

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The Front, in motion. But still pretty.

The neckband would not go on right. It twisted no matter how I attached it. And the sleeves were just long enough that when I bent my arms, it pulled the shoulders off.  And the front was too poufy. I’m still sad about the loss of the fabric.

In part it was the FBA: I’d added my regular 2″ per side, but then rotated them into the pleats and gathers on the neckline, and it was Too Much.

And in part it was failing to mark the notches correctly on the neckband, so I couldn’t get it to line up right. The neckband is on the bias; you need to stretch it to sew it on right. And getting the right amount of stretch is critical to the way it slightly stands up or lies down, depending.

So I revised the pattern to put some of the neckline pleats and gathers back into a small side dart, and retraced the neckline pattern, and found this lightweight poly print for $3/m.

And tried again, about three months later.

The Side.

There wasn’t enough of the print, so I used a solid black for the neckband and tie. I think the contrast is a nice touch.

I shortened the sleeves by about 1″, and that works better for me, too.

The Back.

I don’t know if you can tell from this photo, but I accidentally sewed the back piece backwards; the wrong side is facing out. Oops. When I was sewing it up, it was dim in my sewing space and it didn’t look like there was much, if any, difference between the two sides, so I didn’t pay much attention to which side was in or out. And then in daylight the next day it was quite clear that it was lighter on one side than the other–only I didn’t have enough fabric to recut and wasn’t sure the pattern would even work so didn’t bother to unpick and resew.  I still love it, and wear it a bunch,

One suggestion if you’re going to make it up:

Cut the neck band out about 3″ longer than the pattern says. Even on the bias this fabric was not stretchy, and the original length was not going to work: especially in the back, the neck would have been gathered rather than smooth. Give yourself the extra room, pin it to the neckline, and then make it smaller if you have to.

Now that I’ve proven I can make this pattern work in something cheap, maybe I can try it in a silk crepe de chine?

Sizing Note

I should be a size 40 in the waist and size 44 in the bust according to Burda’s size chart. This shirt is my standard size 38 with a 2″ FBA on each side.

The Age of Angry Women

I’ve been keeping journals since elementary school, and they are, generally, what you would expect from journals: hard-back notebooks filled with lined pages covered in a not always legible scrawl of to do lists, New Year’s Resolutions, goals I had or things I wanted to try, quandaries I was trying to work through, and of course, what was going on in my life and how I felt and what I thought about it.

Or, often, what I thought I should think about it. What I thought I should feel about it. In my first journal from elementary school, I’d gotten the idea that girls were supposed to write about their crushes in their diaries, so I invented crushes so I could write about them in my diary, but not all of the things I thought I should think or felt I should feel were so entertaining. Often it was things that made me sad, or angry: I wrote about those feelings in the hope and expectation that by getting it out I wouldn’t be sad or angry anymore. It never worked.

In January 2017, I stopped writing in black and blue ink and brought out the coloured pens. I started to make charts, draw sketches, record dreams I’d had, write down quotes from books or poems I’d read.

This is one of those things that’s very awkward to say, and which I’ve been told is scientifically either implausible or impossible so I don’t mention much, but: I don’t have many memories of my childhood. I remember some friends, some teachers, school trips, other kids’ birthday parties, summer camp, the cottages. I have a handful of memories of my Dad and my brother. Of my mother, I have one clear memory before the age of 14, and a handful of other extremely unpleasant memories of things that involve her or where she was present–I know she was present–but her presence in that memory has been wiped clear as a white-board. For me, narrative memory starts sometime in middle school. Before then, I have my journals, and things people have told me, and weird snatches, and lots of stuff that doesn’t involve my family, and that’s it.

This image, for instance, does not resonate with me at all. I don’t have a childhood self to return to–though if you do, that’s great, and I’m happy for you. Apparently it resonates with a lot of people because it is all over my FB feed.

So early in 2017, in addition to watching the world slowly side into a dumpster-fire the size of Jupiter, I also was tired of trying to figure out what was in those missing years, who I would have or should have been, how I turned into who I am. Unlike most other people, I’m not tethered to a remembered history. It’s odd, it’s often uncomfortable, but it’s true, so I may as well make myself up. And my journals became a way to do that: to construct myself.  I still wrote to-do lists and plans and quandaries and what I thought I should think and how I thought I should feel, which still never worked, and pages and pages of — questions, quotes, the bits of myself that I inherited from trauma and wanted to keep (eg. loving nature), the bits that I inherited from trauma and wanted to change (eg. fearing people), the bits that might actually have nothing to do with trauma at all (eg. sewing), and what exactly I wanted to put in the empty spaces between them (eg. dancing).

We all engage in self-construction somewhat. The difference is, if you had parents who loved you, you had people from your earliest memories mirroring back to you a version of yourself you could flourish in. You might outgrow it, you might need to stretch or bend it, but there was part of that mirroring you could live in. When your parents hate you, the version of yourself they give you is ugly and contorted. If you try growing into it, it kills you.


In October of last year, I read through Adrienne Riche. Here’s some bits I wrote down:

it’s your own humanity you’ll have to drag
over and over, piece by piece,
page after page
out of the dark.

Which was as good a description of my project as I could ask for. But then, in relation to all those feelings I was trying to write away, this:

Anger and tenderness: my selves.
And now I can believe they breathe in me
as angels, not polarities.
Anger and tenderness: the spider’s genius
to spin and weave in the same action
from her own body, anywhere–
even from a broken web.

Maybe, I thought, I didn’t have to write them away. Maybe the anger isn’t the problem. Maybe I can let the anger be?

This, of course, is not a problem unique to me: We live in a world that delights in convincing women that we don’t have the right to feel our feelings, and if we do, we don’t have the right to express or act on them, and if we choose to anyway, we can’t expect anyone to take them or us seriously. We are hysterical, we are emotional, we are too sensitive, we are irrational, we are illogical, we are hormonal: if we want to be taken seriously in almost any context, we need to strip ourselves of any evidence of emotion, and then be labelled “cold.”

On the one hand, my upbringing made this worse: I lived in the same misogynistic culture, and was brought up in a misogynistic fundamentalist Church, and had a deeply abusive family. From all quarters, I got the message that I was not valued, and not valuable. It was awful. I won’t sugarcoat it. I’ve struggled with suicidal depression since elementary school (for which I was also blamed).

On the other hand, it’s meant I had nothing to lose in walking away.

Oddly, I’ve come to view this as a gift. Though maybe that’s the wrong word, because it came with a very steep bill.

Regardless, when I came across the message–and when it then proliferated across the literary landscape like a climate change-fueled wildfire–that my anger was not the problem, I could embrace it, without facing unpleasant pushback from people in my life who would tell me that the anger was ugly and uncomfortable and I should shove it back in its box.

In June of this year I fell into Jan Zwicky again. I don’t know why she isn’t a better-known or more-loved poet. Here’s some bits from Beethoven: Op. 95:

…You were right: stupidity
surrounds us, and our own
splits the skull most sharply.
Also: that nothing
is achieved without the grimmest labour
on the slenderest of hopes. …

…you were right
about discipline, and politics,
the steep well of fury, and finally
what the fury goes through to: love
like a hand through the wall of the chest,
like a hand in fire, fire
tearing itself, in the hand’s flame
a heart, in the heart’s fist
an ear.

That image!

What the fury goes through to: love like the hand through the wall of the chest.

There’s been, also, approximately a hundred books written very recently by women about women being angry and getting shit done using that anger as fuel, and I’ve read three of them: Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper, Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister, and Rage Becomes Her by Soraya Chemaly. I recommend all three, and I recommend reading them close together because they bolster and complement each other beautifully. Rage Becomes Her is approximately 250 pages of all the shit making women angry followed by 50 pages of what to do with it; Good and Mad is a historical and present-day journalistic narrative account of women using their anger to achieve positive change for society; and Eloquent Rage is a personal exploration of the uses of justified rage in the life of one Black Feminist activist. As well, all three provide an intersectional viewpoint that, while not complete, at least makes a conscious effort to broaden the scope beyond the most privileged.

Spoiler: they’re solidly pro-anger. Anger is justified, anger is fuel; anger tells us what’s broken and gives us the energy to try to fix it; and we live in a world that veers between discomfort and vilification where angry women are concerned, where it is hard to believe in the validity and uses of our anger. Where we still feel the necessity of bottling it up and slapping a smile or a joke on it. Where if you aren’t angry whatever happened didn’t bother you that much and if you are angry, you’re the problem.

Chemaly, Cooper and Traister would all like you to be angry, to express that anger, and to use that anger to propel activism in service of making a better world.

Cooper:

“This is a book by a grown-ass women written for other grown-ass women. This is a book for women who expect to be taken seriously and for men who take grown women seriously. This is a book for women who know shit is fucked up. These women want to change things but don’t know where to begin.

“To be clear, I’m not really into self-help books, so I don’t have one of those catchy three-step plans for changing the world. What I have is anger. Rage, actually. And that’s the place where more women should begin–with the things that make us angry.”

Chemaly:

“See your anger not only as a possible symptom but also as a way to recover yourself. If you are among the millions of people who have experienced abuse in childhood, for example, or physical and sexual violence in adulthood, anger is inevitable. Women who suppress this anger suffer more deleterious effects related to that suppression. Recovering from these assaults and their memorizes is hampered by ignoring what your anger represents as an agent of better health.”

“Anger is an assertion of rights and worth. It is communication, equality and knowledge. It is intimacy, acceptance, fearlessness, embodiment, revolt, and reconciliation. Anger is memory and rage. It is rational thought and irrational pain. Anger is freedom, independence, expansiveness, and entitlement. It is justice, passion, clarity, and motivation. Anger is instrumental, thoughtful, complicated, and resolved. In anger, whether you like it or not, there is truth.

Anger is the demand of accountability. It is evaluation, judgement, and refutation. It is reflective, visionary and anticipatory. It’s a speech act, a social statement, an intention, and a purpose. It’s a risk and a threat. A confirmation and a wish. It is both powerlessness and power, palliative and a provocation. In anger, you will find both ferocity and comfort, vulnerability and hurt. Anger is the expression of hope.”

Traister:

“‘It’s so powerful and kind of reminds me that the other side of the anger is the hope,’ Morales wrote to me. ‘We wouldn’t be angry if we didn’t still believe that it could be better.’

And if it gets better in part because of women’s ability and willingness and need to feel their anger and to let it out into the world, then what we would be living through right now would not be a trend or a fad or a witch hunt, but an insurrection–a righteous revolution, led by angry women.”

These books are fabulous and necessary and inspiring and, yes, enraging. I graduated from tea to wine to whisky while reading them, because believe me, they made me want to burn the world down. Traister, Cooper and Chemaly are right: women have a lot to be angry about; and our anger is not only justified and useful but necessary if we are going to fix the mess(es) we’re in.

But they missed one thing.

Anger isn’t just accountability and revolution and hope and optimism and power and independence and motivation and clarity and purpose and the place we should begin. It isn’t just good for our health and our souls to feel and own our anger.

Anger is love.

Fury is love, the hand going through the wall of the chest to the heart.

What you are angry on behalf of is what you love. If you are only ever angry on your own behalf, you only love yourself. If you are never angry on your own behalf, you don’t love yourself. Everyone I know who is never angry is a victim of abuse, usually starting early in childhood, that convinced them that they’re not worth defending and it’s selfish to defend themselves and it’s hopeless to even try. My father never got angry at the way my mother treated him, or very rarely, because he’d been convinced and then continued to convince himself that it was wrong and bad to value himself enough to feel anger on his own behalf. There are others in my family who are much the same–all women, mind you.

Think of when you have been angry in your life, and why, and look behind that anger, and you will find what you were defending–what you love. Anger on behalf of the poor, the exploited, on behalf of victims of assault or abuse or misogyny or racism; anger on behalf of children, of the environment, of the future, is a positive expression of love. You can’t love those things and not be angry when they’re threatened.

(And yes, the white man who only ever gets angry when his comfort and position are threatened only loves himself, and his comfort and position. It is absolutely a reflection of a person’s values and their heart.  Similarly the person who only ever gets angry on behalf of victims who live on the other side of the world, and can’t be bothered to react emotionally to victims in their own life.)

Anger is an angel. Anger is tenderness. Anger is what allows us to spin and weave a better future, even from a broken web. Fury goes through to love like a hand through the wall of the chest. Be as angry as you need to be.