It’s been a while.

I’ve been…not exactly busy, in the traditional sense, but I haven’t had both the energy and motivation to sit down here for a bit.

I often find myself feeling overly busy when my schedule actually isn’t all that full.  Instead, it’s my mind that is overly busy.  My thoughts get all tangled up and stressed and I feel totally overbooked, and actually, I haven’t been out of the house for days.  This is how I experience stress, apparently.

I’ve definitely been stressed out lately, and my stress levels were not helped by the nearing of a planned bike tour.  I was, in fact, seriously thinking of bailing out of the ride because I felt like I didn’t have the time, nor the money, to just take off for three days of riding.  I ended up going, though, because after thinking about it for a bit, I realized that the ride would do my mental health some serious good, and quite frankly, most of the cost of the trip was food, which I would have been spending anyway.

We took Amtrak to Fairfield, and then rode to Lake Barryessa, which is a lovely and hilly spot in the coastal range of CA.  We camped there, and had an epic battle against the local raccoons, which I found hilarious.  The campground itself was quite pretty, though I’m grateful it wasn’t very full, as the camping spots were mostly right on top of eachother.

The second day was to be our longest mileage day.  It also, as it turned out, was the most hilly ride I’ve ever done.  It was along a back road from Barryessa to Clear Lake, and the route was beautiful.  I spent most of the morning enjoying the feel of my body working, and the view.  We saw very little traffic until we got to Clear Lake where we stopped to resupply at a local grocery store.  After that, the rest of our ride was on highway.  Thankfully, the highway had a wide, nicely paved shoulder.

Our ride continued until well after dark, and I found myself dropping into an almost meditative state of “just keep moving”.  Ultimately, the ride was brutal.  We pushed on long past where I would have chosen to stop for the day because we actually had hotel reservations, so I pushed myself much more than I usual do.  I became very present in the moment, as any expectation on when the ride would end was not helpful (I didn’t actually know where we were vs. where we were ending, and had no way to tell).  I had a moment of elation when we finally turned off the highway onto the side road for our destination, but it was quickly crushed when I realized the road itself was unpaved.  Ew.

It turned out that the unpaved road wasn’t that bad; some of the pavement during our morning ride was actually worse.  It did just keep going, though.  I felt like I could just keep chugging on forever, and I eventually stopped even thinking about weather or not I would like to.  I have to wonder if this is what people mean when they talk about a runner’s high.  Given how long it took me to get there, nearly 10 hours in the saddle, it’s no wonder that I’ve never experienced such a thing if it is.

When we finally made it to our destination, my body felt surreal, like it wasn’t mine anymore, and my mind felt like blank slate.  I had no expectations, no desires.  It was quite weird, and it’s the closest I’ve ever been to what I think of as a deep meditative state.  !0 hours is the longest I have ever been in the saddle, though it wasn’t the longest ride I’d ever done before.  It was, by far, the most challenging day I’ve ever had, and it felt wonderful.

Sunday was roughly the same mileage, maybe three or four miles difference, and we did it in under six hours.  We were flying.  It was completely glorious to be able to just sail through the day.  We rode in a pace line, drafting off of eachother and taking turns “pushing”, or being the person in front, and it felt like we were building something beautiful, a piece of art or music.  Bicycles are wonderfully efficient machines, but a pace like makes them even more efficient; it’s the same principal as ducks flying in a V to help eachother.  The route was almost entirely downhill, and the last 20 miles or so were flat, so it was just a matter of dealing with wind.

Bye the time we made it to Davis, our ultimate destination, I felt elated.  Sunday was very much like being on a 6 hour long roller coaster, and it left me feeling powerful and able to tackle anything.  …after dinner.

All told, the tour was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done, a little more so because I wasn’t expecting it to be.  I spent a good bit of Saturday wondering if I actually *could* do it, and ultimately pushed through and finished feeling like I could have done more if I’d needed to. Sunday returned my faith in my own competence, and graced me with the exhilarating experience of working as part of a team to be better than I could be alone.  It was by far one of the prettiest tours I’ve ever done, and it was supremely satisfying.

I feel more clarity now, and much less stress.  The physical challenge was a pleasant metaphor for the mental challenge of my life and business, and I have now conquered the metaphor, so I feel much more ready to conquer the real deal.

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One person’s trash…

You’ve probably heard the saying that one person’s trash is another’s treasure.  In this age of disposable everything, this has become increasingly true.

I spent yesterday shopping at the Goodwill’s Bargain Barn, in Santa Cruz.  It’s a warehouse full of bin after bin of clothes that are being sent off to die.  In those bins, treasure abounds, if you know a few tricks.

Shoes can be repaired.  If you find a gorgeous pair of shoes that are in good condition except for the sole, consider buying them and having the sole replaced.  High heels can often have their heel-tips replaced for very little money.  Leather can be re-stitched, buckles can be repaired.  Leather-soled shoes can have rubber put on to make them less slippery.  A good cobbler can be challenging to find, and you shouldn’t expect miracles, especially on shoes that were originally cheap, but often you can repair a nice leather shoe for much less than you could have bought it new.  Learn to clean, condition and polish shoes yourself to make them last even longer.

Stains are often easier to get out than you think.  Rust stains, blood stains, grease stains… these can often be removed with some patience and know how.  If the garment is in otherwise good condition, and the price is right, consider buying it anyway, and giving stain removal a shot.  My favorite tricks include using lemon juice and sunlight to remove spots on whites, and dish soap to remove grease stains.  Remember to use cool or cold water and don’t throw things in the dryer until the stain comes out, or you could set the stain and make it more difficult to remove.

Learn basic mending skills.  Learn to darn small holes in sweaters, how to replace buttons, and how to patch things.  Also, learn what is too big a job for you to bother with.  For me, rips in woven fabrics that are not wool, holes in knits that are larger than my thumb nail, and large scale repair of beading or embroidery is too much work.  No matter how good the price, I just won’t do the repair, so I don’t buy the garment.  Learn how to tell if elastic is replaceable; if it’s in a casing, it should be easy to replace, but if it’s sewn on, or through, or the garment uses elastic thread, don’t bother.  It’s a huge job to repair that sort of thing.

If it doesn’t fit, don’t buy it.  Trust me.  Alterations are costly to have done by a professional, and are time consuming and often look terrible if they’re done at home.

Hats can be refreshed.  It’s fairly easy to clean a dusty hat with a clothing brush, or to re-shape a hat with steam from your tea-kettle.  DON’T get a hat wet!  They will often become a soggy pile of fabric and be destroyed if you get them wet, so avoid hats with obvious stains or soiling.

Learn to ID cheap brands.  For example, if something was made for Forever21, don’t pay too much for it, and don’t expect it to last.  They’re often cheaply made and not designed to survive for more than a season.

Learn to ID fiber content.  Look for labels, and check the fiber content of your garment.  If it’s mostly made of synthetic fibers, it’s not going to breath well, and it will feel sticky and unpleasant to wear.  It will also be more prone to static.  The exception is technical clothing, like sunshirts, or bicycle jerseys.  They’re usually made of technical synthetics that are carefully designed to have specific properties like high SPF or wicking.  Fiber content will also tell you a lot about how to care for a garment; if something is 100% wool or silk, you’re going to have to very carefully hand wash it, or have it dry cleaned.  Cotton is rugged and easy to care for, and rayon is delicate and should be treated with care.  Linen is usually marked dry clean only, but can often be machine washed in cold water.  Sometimes, though, it will shrink, so just be aware of that possibility.

These tricks are useful in almost any used clothes shopping, and are also useful in keeping your already purchased garments looking nice.  It is especially useful to take the time to learn mending and to read care labels to keep your clothes looking nice.

Consider purchasing a clothing brush to keep your dry-clean garments tidy between trips to the cleaner, and a lint brush to get rid of pet hair or fuzz on most fabrics (be careful using either of these on sweaters, they can snag!).

My hobby is learning new hobbies…

When I was in High School, one of the most sought after elective classes was Photography.  I got lucky, and was able to take it my junior year, along with other fun things like Choir, and Physics.  Photography and Physics go really well together, in case you were curios.  Chemistry might have, too, if I hadn’t loathed the class.

I learned a lot of things in Photography, like what an aperture is, how to make a pinhole camera, and why the “dodge” tool in Photoshop looks that way.  I also learned about photo composition, and ways to manipulate your camera to get the effects you want.  I learned the old school way of photo editing and printing, using light and chemicals and blind groping in faint red light.

I owe my Photography teacher a debt of gratitude for those things, and more.  Because of him, I have been able to get the photos I want, if not because I remember how to get the effects, then because I remember that they’re possible and what they’re called and I can look them up.  It’s less that I still have the tools, and more that I remember that they exist, so I can go find them as I need them.

I like learning random things.  I enjoy picking up new crafts, just long enough to begin to grasp the possibilities, and then moving on.  It used to be that I picked up new crafts and dropped them again because I wanted to, and not because I felt it was a useful thing to do.  Now I realize that in picking up each of those crafts I’ve armed myself with knowledge.  It’s not that I have all those tools, but that I know those tools exist, and I can learn to use them if I want to.

I think that this is where the internet really shines as a tool.  It’s very difficult to find a thing that you don’t know exists, but if you’ve learned enough to know the possibilities, the internet has the tutorial or video, or picture that you need to learn how to do it.

I will now spend more time unabashedly learning what is possible, and not worrying too much if I won’t remember how to do that embroidery stitch or weld that thing in six months.  I will remember that it’s possible, and so I can re-learn it anytime I want to, with a little practice.  And the more practice I get at the broad categories, like “manipulating things with your hands” and “make the computer do what you want” and “create food that is delicious” the easier specifics will be to pick up.

I suppose that I am suggesting one should spend one’s life learning a glossary of things, so that when one particular thing is needed, one will know what it is, and know what page to turn to in order to get more detailed information.  So, here’s to glossaries, and learning a sample of everything you possibly can.  Here’s to knowing some of the possibilities, and looking them up.  Thank you, internet, for having detailed instructions on things like light boxes and depth of field.  Thank you, High School Photo teacher, for sharing your knowledge with me.

Tricky job.

I like photography as a craft.  I took photography in High School and continued to play around with my old Olympus OM1 camera for a long time.  I stopped because film developing is expensive, and annoying; I rarely remembered to take my film to be developed and when I did, I’d take a dozen rolls and it would be astronomically expensive.  I’d also end up with prints of every single photo, since most places won’t make you a proof sheet and let you pick.

Now, though, with digital SLR cameras, I can take a dozen photos, each with a tiny tweak to some setting or other,and I can see the differences right away and just delete the ones I’m not excited about.  It’s *glorious*.  And, as it turns out, even almost 20 years on I remember a good bit about how to use a camera.  Thank goodness.

I spent this weekend, yes, basically the entire thing, taking pictures for my Etsy shop.  The photo above is a quick snap taken with my phone so you can see the setup I was using.  That tiny white chain on the black velvet is a necklace that I made.  It’s very very tiny.  It’s also very very shiny.  It is … shall we say “exciting”? to photograph.

Unbeknownst to me until yesterday, photographing jewelry is considered extremely difficult even by professionals.  It’s tricky because in many ways you’re photographing a mirror; the metal surfaces of a piece are shiny and reflect back light and shadow at you.  My pieces are at least small enough that there’s not full identifiable reflections in them, but they sure do shine light back well.  Most of my photos are overexposed and the chain has no detail because the silver is so reflective.  I briefly considered dropping it in some flour to make it less so, but that would bring on more problems than it would solve.

I’ve managed to get some decent photos of the chains, which is great.

Micro-beaded chain
Micro-beaded chain

The photos I’ve gotten are clear, and illustrate the chain well, as you can see above.  They are not, however, interesting.  I have yet to manage a photo that grabs attention and makes someone want to click to see more.  It is very difficult to imagine those red beads around one’s neck from that photo.  And it’s kind of a boring photo, to be honest.  At least the damn metal looks silver for a change.

At any rate, I just wanted to share some of the trials that go into photographing your work for Etsy.  I’m going dark for a few days while Christmas with my family blows over.  I hope everyone has a restful and low-stress end of 2014.


I’ve been running pretty hard for the last year to get my business up and running, and, the thing is, I’ve mostly been running in circles.  I don’t know what I’m doing, and I’m scared that I’ll fail, so I haven’t really felt like I know where I’m heading with this whole thing.  Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter.  Since I’m not sure where I’m going, *anywhere* is going to be better; it’s easier to change directions once you’re moving than to get moving in the first place, in my experience.

So today, I picked a direction.  I will be continuing to work on my custom sewing as jobs come up, but I’m going to make a push with the jewelry I’ve been making and get it onto Etsy.  I promised V that today I would take pictures.

Thanks to my awesome friends and our Communist approach to sharing, I have all the equipment I need.  D provided a DSLR camera I could borrow, and my housemate and resident artist provided lighting and a tripod.  Clever use of a dressform, props and some random things in my studio let me set up a background, and things to photograph the clothes and items on.  The little stepstool that V used as a child to do dishes helped me not shoot up at the dressform (She’s taller than I am, even when she’s lowered all the way).  Mo, my darling kitten, provided a needed reminder to take breaks.  As it turns out, it’s hard to take pictures while she does her parrot impression, seen above.

20141219_153708 20141219_153705

I turned my sewing studio into a photography studio with a creme colored sheet and a white tablecloth; I added some small hooks into my ceiling so that I can easily do this again.  I’m fortunate; I’ve taken a photography class (waaaaaay back in High School, but I remembered some of it) and I had a friend who majored in photography who used to have me model for him occasionally, so I’ve seen lighting used, and had a reasonable idea of how to set this whole thing up.  I also remembered enough about how a fancy manual camera works that I wasn’t totally screwed.  Mostly, I remembered what was possible, so I was able to search for information on how to actually do it; things like making a narrow depth of field, and convincing the camera not to use the flash.

Unfortunately, all of this took me the better part of today, and while I did get some good photos out of it, I didn’t get any photos of my jewelry that I’m happy with, so I’ll be continuing that effort tonight and tomorrow morning.  I did, however, get a rather vivid reminder that my jewelry work is quite good, and extremely tiny.

It's a matter of scale.

The top chain is a commercially made chain that I purchased years ago.  It’s silver, but somewhat tarnished.  The lower chain is my handmade chain using fine gauge sterling silver wire and antique micro-seed beads.  The gold beads are some standard sized seed beads for comparison, and I included a ruler for scale.  I highly recommend clicking the photo to view it full scale.  My chains are difficult to see detail on unless they’re very zoomed in.

As it turns out, it is fairly challenging to photograph untarnished silver; it keeps overexposing and looking white. If I get the chain to look good, the background looks too dark; that’s a white tablecloth in that picture.  I guess I get to keep working on it.

Bias can be a good thing, Darling.

Those beautiful gowns that everyone thinks of when you say “Hollywood Glamour”?  Or if you’ve heard of the fashion designer Madeline Vionnet?  Or maybe you sew, and you’ve heard it should be your biggest fear?

They all have something marvelous in common; bias cut fabric.

So what does that mean?  And why might it be scary?  Bias cut means that your fabric is cut on the diagonal compared to the woven edges of the fabric.  The “true bias” is at a 45 degree angle from the warp and weft of the fabric, but anything cut on the diagonal is considered bias.

In the 1920s, Madeline Vionnet began cutting her dresses on the bias.  Bias cut fabrics had been used previously, but Mme. Vionnet took bias to a whole new level.  Her graceful and elegant designs became the iconic look of the 1930s, particularly for evening wear.

Cutting the fabric on the bias created a softly draping silhouette that stretched and moved with the wearer, providing comfort and ease of wear that had been unheard of prior to Mme. Vionnet’s designs.  The dresses were unlined so as to prevent unsightly bunching or seamlines, and rumor has it that some actresses of the era got into trouble because the dresses could be scandalously see-through.

If you’ve ever worn a close fitting knit or bias-cut garment with underwear, you know that the seams for your undies, as well as the elastic and any wrinkles will show right through slinky, clingy garments.   One would think that such garments would also show every tiny flaw of your body, but in my experience, that’s not even a little bit true.

Mme. Vionnet’s dresses were often cut from beautiful silk crepe, georgette and charmeuse.  Rayon was also used.  These fabrics were very popular for bias cuts because they drape so beautifully, but that same property is what makes them so terrifying to work with.  If you want to strike fear into the heart of your sewist friends, ask them to sew with bias cut silk.  It’s slinky, slippery, stretchy, and likely to fray.  It’s tricky, to say the least.

But it doesn’t have to be!  Mme. Vionnet kept her garment seams on-grain as much as possible, leading to so beautiful, graceful diagonal lines and chevrons in the seaming.  If your seam isn’t on-grain, then marking your pattern piece with chalk and sewing your stay-stitching BEFORE you cut will prevent warping, and cutting with pinking shears or a pinking blade on your rotary cutter(my preferred method) will control fraying and provide a period correct seam finish in one fell swoop.  Stay stitching, hand basting, and judicious pinning (be sure to remove your pins before you sew over them, getting one caught under your needle will cause disastrous runs in your fabric!) will help control unruly fabric.

Fitting your bias garment is also a snap, because bias stretches, providing a very forgiving and comfortable fit.  Fabrics with beautiful drape will fall close to the body and skim curves, creating that stunning Hollywood look.

If you’re worried about slinky, shiny fabrics like charmeuse drawing attention to aspects that you maybe would prefer not to draw attention to, bias gowns out of silk georgette are less sheer than crepe, and have an elegant matte finish.  Georgette also practically refuses to wrinkle, so garments of it are excellent for travel.

I have now made three dresses out of bias cut silk, one out of georgette, one out of stretch silk charmeuse, and one out of regular silk charmeuse.  Each one had it’s own trials, and I learned valuable lessons from each.   I also learned that I completely adore wearing bias silk, anywhere and everywhere that I can get away with.  The first gown is floor length, and a beautiful stormy gray, and now that I’ve worn it to its intended event, I have been wearing it most evenings as lounge wear because it’s just so luxurious and comfortable.  The stretch silk slip gets worn similarly.  The third dress will probably join the rotation once the holiday party season is over.

Seriously.  Get ye a pattern for a bias cut dress.  Either draft it yourself, or go find a simple slip pattern somewhere.  It’s scary, and it can be challenging, but it is SO utterly worth it once you learn to sew on the bias.  The result is a beautiful, comfortable and classy garment that you’ll love for years.


You know the saying “it fits like a glove”?  I’ve never had gloves that I would apply that to.  I’d be willing to bet that you haven’t, either.  I wanted to fix that, because I really like gloves, particularly unexpected and loud gloves.

Years ago, I decided to make a corset for myself.  I couldn’t find any information on it.  I spent months researching, and finally tracked down a couple of suppliers where I could get metal boning, and a pattern, but the internet failed me when it came to troubleshooting, or fitting, or even pictures of other people’s work.  Now, though, there’s information all over the place.  It’s fairly easy to find directions for drafting your own pattern, and information about what corset goes with what period, etc.

Gloves seem to be in that first phase.  I have found a very small amount of information about making gloves, and most of it is… bad.  The best I’ve found is what appears to be a transcription of directions to draft your own gloves from someone’s aunt, and the diagram that goes with it appears to have the thumb backwards.  It is… frustrating.  Also, because I’m working with leather, it’s terrifying in a whole different way; I’ve never worked with leather before, and leather is EXPENSIVE.  And unforgiving.  Once you sew it, there’s no going back and ripping things out; you’ve got permanent holes.

So, here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Tracing your hand doesn’t work.  It seems like it kind of might, but it doesn’t.  Your hand and fingers are a lot deeper than you think.

Fourchettes (the bit of glove on the sides of your fingers) can be either cut per finger and sewn together at the base, or cut as one piece.  Cut them as one piece, that is not a place you want a seam, and sewing the tiny bits together is a pain in the ass.

The thumb is both the most complicated bit, and the most important.  If your thumb hole and thumb piece are wrong, the whole glove will sit wrong.

If you’re going to sew leather, use the right tools.  Get a walking foot, and leather needles, and some scrap leather to check your tension on.  Also, make sure you’re using the right leather for the job; upholstery weight leather does not make good clothes, and there is special leather to make gloves from (it’s more stretchy than the regular kind, apparently).

If you’re going to sew gloves, make sure you have good lighting, and an awl.  The awl is not to punch holes.  It’s to help you control teeeeeeeny tiny pieces of glove while you’re sewing without risking sewing over your fingers.  Seriously.  The pieces are LITTLE.  And the spaces you’re working in are tight.

There are a lot of teeny corners in a glove.  Practice sewing your square seams.

Practically speaking, I might have done better to just buy a glove pattern, but I’m me, and I’m sure I can manage to draft my own, damnit.  I mean, really, how hard can it be!?  Well, if round one was any indication, pretty hard.  The first pattern was so tiny it would barely go over my hand, and the fingers were not even a little bit going to work.  The thumb piece did actually work, though the thumb hole on the gloves was facing the wrong way and slightly too small.  The fourchettes were irritating, but I expected that.  Thank god the seams are mostly straight; sewing in such tight spaces on curvy or odd seams would be hellish.

You don’t get a picture of round one of the pattern, because I did manage to get the glove on my hand, and then I couldn’t get it off and had to cut it free.  I’m saving the bits to use as decoration on later attempts, though, because I’m using some rather lovely green leather who’s only crime was being the cheapest and largest skin I could find.

Round two will go better, I hope.

Do one thing, every day, that scares you.

What scares you?  I, and probably everyone I know, suffer from Impostor Syndrome.  This is the fancy name for the feeling that you’re not good enough, and the only reason they haven’t hauled you out of your job for incompetence is because somehow nobody’s noticed yet.  And so one of the scariest things for me is to say “I’m a professional sewist, I can make that for you,” or to otherwise put myself out there as knowing what I’m doing.

I *do* know what I’m doing.  I’ve been sewing in earnest for nearly 15 years at this point, and I dabbled before that.  I tackle projects that others feel are quite advanced, and I find them easy, like corsets.  I tackle things like gloves that others refuse to even try, though I will admit that I’m terrified of cutting the glove pattern I’ve now drafted; I have no way of telling if what I’ve done is correct until I cut it out and sew it.  There’s just not much information out there on making and fitting gloves.

Nevertheless, it’s difficult to say to someone “yes, I know what I”m doing.

Adventures in Sewing and textile nerdery