TryCuriousity and DIYing Your XMas

Hi, folks! There has been a really long hiatus from this here blog because 1) Claire and I haven’t made time to plan out photoshoots and 2) I have been neck-deep in Christmas present making for the past three months so I don’t have that many makes to share in the first place.

I have this fairly complicated relationship with the Christmas holidays, as detailed in this article I wrote for Autostraddle, but to sum it up for you, I hate the pressure of the holidays to consume, consume, consume and spend, spend, spend. Because I am not a religious person I wont resort to complaining about the true meaning of christmas or anything (since I don’t really have much of a connection to that), but I do have a real distaste for the idea that Christmas seems to boil down to adding more things and stuff to our lives and the lives of the people we love. To combat this disconnection and try to promote more meaningful gift giving for myself, I started DIYing the bulk of my Christmas gifts a couple of years ago, and I have to admit that it has been a real game changer. It has made me more excited about the gift giving process (and the holidays in general), it has given me lots of time to sit and think merry thoughts about the recipients of my gifts as I make them, and it has made me cherish the relationships with my friends and family in a way that clicking “add to cart” on amazon just doesn’t.
However, DIYing Christmas does NOT come without it’s cons. Making the bulk of my gifts is particularly tricky for me because about 90% of my friends and family member’s birthdays fall in the months of October, November, December and January, which I also tend to celebrate by handmaking gifts, so the tendency to get overworked and overwhelmed during this season is tremendous. By the time December rolls around, I am usually stressed, kicking myself for biting off way more than I can chew, and feeling more than a little antsy to get back to making things for myself. But is all seems to be worth it when I get a text from someone saying how much they loved the package of homemade bath and beauty products that I sent them, or when I see someone open a gift that was made specifically with them in mind and their face lights up with excitement and gratitude (I’m looking at you, Lawrence!)

I don’t intend for this blog post to be a pity party- I know exactly what I am getting into when I commit to making Xmas gifts each year and no one is to blame for the hard parts of that decision except myself! Instead, I wanted to share a new venture I embarked on at the end of the summer which ultimately contributed a huge part to my DIY gift giving: POTTERY!

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speckles_blogClaire suggested we learn pottery together because LACC was offering classes that took place at a studio in our neighborhood. I had never taken pottery before, aside from hand building clay pieces in my high school art class. My trycuriosity got the better of me so we decided to sign up, and it should come as no surprise that I was pretty much immediately hooked. Our teacher, Torros, is just LOVELY.

This is a terrible picture of me/ excellent picture of my beloved pottery teacher Torros!

A photo posted by Jasika Nicole (@trycuriousblog) on

He is the kind of teacher who offers advice when you need it, but who otherwise let’s you experiment and learn and grow at your own pace. I love having that kind of freedom in my art classes. With some artforms, like painting, I seem to have a very rigid idea of what constitutes as “good”, and I am very hard on myself when what I create doesn’t seem to match up to those ideals. But with pottery, I have had such a different experience. Maybe because I started out with low expectations of what I was capable of- I had never worked at a wheel before, and for all I knew I would be terrible at it. And if I was terrible at it, I wanted to be okay with that and still enjoy the process. So I just followed Torros’ simple instructions and figured a lot out on my own. When I made something that fell apart, I scraped it off my wheel and started over. And when I worked on a piece that didn’t seem to be turning out the way I had hoped it would, I wouldn’t give up on it. I would keep my hands on the clay until it morphed into something unexpected and cool or until it had been worked so much that it had no more life left in it. Working this way was SO much fun and it made the end results so exciting because I rarely started making any pieces with a prediction of how they would turn out.

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This is my favorite piece and the only one that I made sure didn’t get given away as a gift. Technically it’s supposed to be a sauce bowl (see the spout?), but I’m sure there are even more ways that I can use it. The result of the glaze was a huge surprise and delight.

My happy-go-lucky attitude with pottery was working wonders for my own creative fulfillment, but apparently it was not appreciated by everyone. One day I was at the wheel working on something that started out going in one direction, but along the way it lost steam and needed coaxing to be brought back to life. I slowed my wheel down and started carefully re-shaping the lip of my piece, which had folded over and needed to be cut off. It was working itself into a delicate opening and looked like the ripple of a wave, and I was enjoying the process of turning a mishap into a thing of beauty when I heard a man’s voice across the room yell out “Torros! Help this girl! She doesn’t know what she’s doing!” Surely this man wasn’t talking about me, I thought to myself, but still I slowed my pedal and lifted my hands to look up and see what was happening. The man was staring straight at me. He said “You need help! Torros, you gotta help her out!” I was immediately offended and I snapped back “This is actually EXACTLY what I want to be making right now, I don’t need anyone’s help, I am very happy with this!” Thankfully Torros glanced over at my work and backed me up. “She knows what she is doing, she is just fine. It is going to be very nice,” he said to the man, who in turn just kind of grunted and went back to making his beautiful, perfectly shaped containers with lids.

I couldn’t believe the gall he had! It’s one thing to privately dislike someone’s art- everyone is entitled to their opinion and I am certainly not interested in impressing him or anyone else by my participation in class. But to publicly declare that someone doesn’t know what they are doing when they try their hand at making art? I would never have the audacity to tell a fellow student in an art class that they didn’t know what they were doing, no matter how little I liked the work that they were creating. This is STILL boggling my mind. And believe it or not, I happen to have an actual time lapse video of the piece I was making right before he tried to call me out (see below)

https://www.instagram.com/p/-A3PQ1RF97/?taken-by=trycuriousblog

Despite this asshole’s unwarranted commentary, I proceeded to make about 20 finished pieces of pottery, and I am not sure that I could be more happy with how they turned out. This was such a unique experience for me, such a departure from the way I usually go about learning a new technique in a class setting, which is usually filled with a bit more self-criticism and bit less lightheartedness. All but two of these pieces I have decided to keep for myself, so this is a spoiler for any of you that got gifted a piece of hand made pottery and haven’t opened or received your gifts yet!

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Here is a layperson’s rundown of the pottery making process:

  1. Get some clay.
  2. Put it on your wheel.
  3. Center the clay, which means spinning your wheel very fast and using pressure from your hands to make sure the clay is completely even and centered on your wheel.
  4. Form it into something you find beautiful, then cut/slide it off the wheel.
  5. Let it get a little dry but not all the way.
  6. Trim your piece, which means leveling off the top and bottom with tools to get them even, and smoothing the edges and sides. If you are making a mug, attach your handles.
  7. Let it dry completely.
  8. Fire it up in the kiln.
  9. Sand down any rough edges.
  10. Wax the bottom. Glaze it.
  11. Fire it up in the kiln one mo ‘gin.
  12. Sand the bottom so it doesn’t scratch the surfaces you set it upon.
  13. ENJOY YOUR CREATION!

The glaze part of the process is definitely the most fascinating, impressive and bizarre part for me. It’s kind of a mixed bag in that you don’t ever really know what it is you’re going to end up with. The colors of the glaze don’t necessarily match up with what the final effect will be, and when certain glazes touch each other, they create new colors and textures that you can’t always predict. For the glazing part, I just kind of give in to the universe and keep my fingers crossed that it comes out looking okay, which so far has worked in my favor. Most of my pieces have three different glazes on them, and some of the glazes really elevate the entire piece of work.

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This is Claire’s favorite. I used wax, which you coat the bottom of your pieces in so that they don’t get glaze on them and then get stuck to the bottom of the kiln, to create a leopard effect on the top piece of the jar. Everywhere the wax is, the glaze wont stick to, so the dotted parts are just unglazed, fired clay peeking through.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And there you have it! I am so excited to have the basic skills of working on a pottery wheel in my toolbox. In the new year I plan on making a 4 piece table setting for our home! Seems a little ambitious, I know, but I have faith that I can make it happen over time; the possibility of eating off of beautiful me-made plates and bowls is just too amazing to not attempt 🙂

Thanks to Claire for all the amazing non-instagram photos of the pottery!

To all, I hope your holidays, if you celebrate them, were bright and merry as can be! And happy new year!!!

Your pieces shrink a lot when they are fired so my perfectly normal sized mugs came out quite a bit smaller than I intended- next time I make them I will have to form them into giants!

Your pieces shrink a lot when they are fired so my perfectly normal sized mugs came out quite a bit smaller than I intended- next time I make them I will have to form them into giants!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Design*Sponge Feature!

An Actor and an Analysts Home- Design*Sponge

I feel REALLY lucky to have found my way into the Design*Sponge circle in the past few months. I am thrilled to announce that I will be in Grace Bonney’s new book In The Company of Women, coming out in Fall 2016. The book is comprised of interviews with a diverse group of women who are photographed in their “workspaces”, whether on sets, in lecture rooms or in offices. Grace and her team photographed me both in my craft room and in my garage, where I do most of my furniture and upholstery work (and also a lot of my shoe making since the garage offers more ventilation for toxic cement glue fumes). I wore my mint green ladybug dress since it was my most recent completed sewing project, and I had SUCH a great time; Grace is funny and thoughtful, she has a great laugh and she is and easy to be around- one of those people that makes you immediately feel comfortable no matter where you are or what you’re doing. I felt like I could hang out with her for hours. I cannot wait til the book comes out (I would be purchasing this thing even if I wasn’t in it- the caliber of women Grace interviews is really fantastic!) and I will definitely share it here on the blog when it’s ready for pre-order.

In the meantime, I am also happy to share (even though I am like a week late- sorry!) a tour of our home  on the Design*Sponge website: An Actor and an Anaylist’s Home. It was a lot of work putting this together because my friends and I were filming an indie feature (#SuicideKale) at our house at the same time we were trying to keep everything super clean and tidy for the photos. FYI I do not recommend doing two projects like this at the same time. BUT! The photos came out great thanks to Claire and I am so pleased with the lovely feature that D*S put together! Design*Sponge has long been a source of inspiration for me, particularly when I was bored and rained-in for 4 years in Vancouver, living in a furnished home and obsessing over all the fun DIY projects I would tackle when we finally moved back to the states and lived in our own place. Having our home featured on such an incredible site is basically a dream come true for me, and I am very grateful to D*S for the opportunity!

The ‘Assault Free’ Bodysuit: Nettie by ClosetCaseFiles

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I made a version of this Nettie bodysuit by Closet Case Files when it came out over a year ago. I had just started to get into sewing with knits at the time, so every completed project felt like a success. And I was thrilled with the fact that such a great pattern existed in the face of the entity that is American Apparel. People always talk about the good things this company has done over the years, namely employing Americans/immigrants in US-based garment factories with liveable wages and benefits, and that is undeniably awesome. But I always felt like the good the company did in terms of it’s ethical labor practices was vastly overshadowed by the countless cases of abuse, harassment and assault that so many people who worked within and for the company had to face. I used to read JANE magazine religiously when it was still in print and I remember seeing this amazing/disturbing piece of journalism by JANE contributor Claudine Ko and reeling from anger and shock. That was the first I had ever heard of the awful antics of AA founder Dov Charney, but it would not be the last; since then there have been tons of think pieces and essays and anonymous accounts of the habitual sexual misconduct within the company, not to mention the fat-phobia and body shaming that American Apparel not-so-secretly promotes.

All of this is to say that Heather’s Nettie didn’t just feel like another awesome pattern to add to my stash- it felt like a warcry. I had been empowered with the tools to make a garment that seemed to belong almost exclusively to a company I hated (American Apparel is known for their knit tees, leotards and gold lamé leggings), effectively shooting a figurative bird at their poor business ethics and misogynistic practices. Currently, American Apparel seems to be threatened with financial ruin, and the rumor is that they will be closed by year’s end. I hate that it happened this way. I would much rather the company had shut down the bad behavior as soon as it was discovered so that it could focus on being a great example in the global fashion market. But, alas, that is not what happened. The good news is that AA showed the world that it was possible to create a successful international clothing brand made on American soil; hopefully other companies will follow (some of) their footsteps in the future. The other good news is that, thanks to Heather, I don’t have to rely on any of those future companies to provide me with a great fitting bodysuit!

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Speaking of the bodysuit…I ran into a little problem with it when I made my first version. The pattern gives you the option to line the front with a shelf bra so that if you make the low back or scoop neck version, you don’t have to worry about wearing a regular bra with it, which would most likely peek out. But when I inserted my shelf bra in my bodysuit, it did this weird puckering thing at the point where the bottom of the “bra” met the side seams. Because the bottom of the shelf bra has a length of elastic sewn onto it, it was pulling the side seams taught, and it was very noticeable when I was wearing it. I realized too late that this was because I had graded the bodysuit to a smaller size in the waist, so the dimensions of my shelf bra were off and causing the elastic to make the sides pucker. I intended to immediately make another version to fix the issue, but I procrastinated, and it wasn’t til much later when the 2015 Sew Independent contest was announced that I found my opportunity.

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I made my most recent version of the Nettie bodysuit in a jeresy rayon fabric that was a mistaken online purchase (I thought I was buying supplex for activewear, but the fabric was too soft and pretty to return). This time I fixed my issue with the shelf bra by ommitting the elastic all together, which worked out beautifully- I have a small chest so I don’t need much (if any) support at all, and the fabric of the shelf bra lays down fine without the elastic. All other aspects of the construction were exactly the same as before, and I am SO pleased with it. Now that I have figured out my shelf bra issue, I just want to make this again and again and again cause this bodysuit goes with EVERYTHING.

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In these photos I paired my Nettie bodysuit with a circle skirt I made with instructions from Gertie’s Book for Better Sewing and fabric from The Fabric Store. And right before the pics were taken I had just finished an appointment with my acupuncturist so I have cupping marks all over my back that look pretty weird and perhaps even unsightly. It usually takes several days or even weeks before these bruises fully disappear so I took my pictures sooner rather than later before they got darker; thankfully you can’t see the REALLY dark red ones on the sides of my neck. Apologies to any squeamish people out there, and in case you haven’t experienced the process before, the cupping doesn’t hurt at all- for me they are the equivalent of giant dry hickies 😉

 

Quilting! Inspired by Quilting!

Like most of my creative endeavors, quilting is not something that I officially learned how to do. I was living in Vancouver and feeling miserable and bored because of the endless rain when somehow or another Claire and I stumbled upon a little fabric shop called Spool of Thread. It was bright and warm inside, the staff was friendly, and they had bolts and bolts of the cheeriest, prettiest fabric ever. At the time, the bulk of their fabric was quilting cotton (though I think they might have expanded their inventory to include more apparel fabric in the past few years) and just standing in the store felt inspiring. One of my co-stars and his wife were expecting their second child during our production, so I thought that this would be a good excuse to try my hand at quilt making. I looked online for patterns and found some remarkably cool projects, but they all seemed too complicated for what I was interested in doing. I appreciate ambitious designs, but I was more interested in the simpler quilts that had less pieces and less fussiness about them (or maybe I was just lazy and wasn’t interested in following those perplexing patterns). Whatever my reasoning, I figured that I only needed one important piece of information- what a quilt is made of. That was easy to figure out online: a quilt is one layer of batting sandwiched between two layers of fabric, with one of those fabric layers usually comprised of patch worked fabric. And the “quilting” action referred to sewing those three layers together, either by hand or by machine, using a variety of different methods and machine feet.

Education= COMPLETE.

firstquiltswatchesI headed back to Spool of Thread and bought small yardages of several floral prints, all in the same color family with a (surprise!) vintage aesthetic. I also bought my first rotary cutter and a small self-healing cutting mat cut because I read somewhere that those were helpful items to have for a quilter. I laid out all my fabric on the dining room table of our rented house and just started cutting out large rectangles and squares of fabric. I had drawn a very basic template of the design for the fabric pieces, and when I was happy with it, I sewed it all together. Easy peasy!

 

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I was intrigued by the freehand sewing feet that some quilters used to achieve the pretty curvy flowy quilted look on their blankets, so I bought one and I LOVED IT! I was really sore after my stints of quilting with that foot because you have to grip the blanket with both hands firmly and guide it through the machine in whatever swirly pattern you are creating, but it was so worth it- the final look was so professional and the swirls I created looked just like my lines of drawing.

The final step of my quilt making process involved sewing bias tape onto the edges, and I learned from the Colette sewing book that you could make your own bias tape with a special bias tape making tool and a little bit of regular fabric. So I went out and bought it (this tool has become one of my absolute favorite sewing tools) and made yards and yards of my own bias tape, and then I sewed it onto the edges of the quilt. My bias tape application was REALLY raggedy at the time- I have since learned of a much cleaner, smoother way to sew bias tape which involves machine stitching it on one side and hand stitching it on the other- and I am not a perfectionist, so I don’t mind barely noticeable mistakes in my makes.

hand sewing bias tape to second side of quilt.

hand sewing bias tape to second side of quilt.

I was so amazed with the look of the final quilt that I wanted to keep it for myself (true sign of a great gift, no?)  and my very next project was a quilt for us to keep.

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In the years since, I have made several quilts as gifts for our friends having babies, and the quality has gotten better with each one. My designs have gotten more ambitious, too, although I still don’t follow patterns. I no longer draw out quilt designs beforehand, either- now I just choose arbitrary measurements for my squares/rectangles, cut out lots and lots of pieces in those sizes, and then start laying them out together in a pattern that looks good to me, adding more fabric if needed as I go. It probably takes longer than knowing exactly how many blocks I will need to cut from the beginning, but it also feels like an adventure, waiting to see how the piece will unfold as I add each piece of fabric.

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Looking back, there were definitely some weird choices I made in the construction of my first few quilts because I didn’t know any better, but none of them were “mistakes” per se; as long as your finished item functions as intended, there is no such thing as a mistake, right? I have learned over the years to make smarter quilting decisions, like using 1/4″ seam allowance instead of 5/8″. As mentioned, my bias tape application has evolved considerably, and I have also played around with my quilting technique; once I used a regular straight stitch to sew lines straight across a blanket in small increments, and it gave it this stiff, mat-like quality that I really liked.

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Most recently I used the “handquilt stitch” function on my Bernina to give my brother’s new baby’s quilt some old-school dimension, and it came out beautifully. To work that stitch you have to play around with the tension a bit so that the bobbin thread (which is the color that you will see on the blanket) comes through to the other side, but the clear thread that you thread through the machine is essentially invisible on the top of the quilt. It’s a little tricky because the tension has to be really tight which ends up breaking your thread a lot, so it’s time consuming, but it is still faster than free hand quilting and certainly requires a lot less muscle.

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Jess_Levi_closeupWhen I first learned to sew I always thought that quilting was a boring project to take on- you don’t get to wear it, and there didn’t seem to be a lot of creativity involved in it. This, like so many thoughts I had in my twenties, turned out to be wrong wrong wrong. Making quilts for people has been one of the most satisfying gifts to create because I know that it will never go out of style, and if I have designed it nicely enough, it will stay with the baby for always. A couple of times I have made baby blankets with juvenile fabrics, which came out really sweet (because who doesn’t love those light pastels?!) but now I try to use more mature fabrics in the hopes that they will be designs the baby can grow up with.

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Bree’s mature baby blanket

I got really lucky with my most recent quilt I made for my brother’s baby. Claire and I stumbled upon an estate sale two blocks away from my house, and the occupant of the home had been an avid quilter with boxes and boxes of folded quilting cotton in one of her spare bedrooms. The sign said “$5 for whatever fabric you can fit in a plastic bag” so Claire and I went to town, choosing anything that fit in with a green and blue theme. When I got home I added pieces from my own stash to the mix, trying to choose fabric that had been used in some of the clothing I had made in the past. I’ve got the button down shirt I made for my brother Nick in there, the octopus fabric I used from Claire’s favorite button down, and the ladybug cotton I used for a vintage dress I made for myself a few months ago.

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Declan’s Big Boy Quilt

Sometimes when I am in a sewing rut and I don’t feel inspired to make anything on my To-Do list, quilting is the best remedy. It allows me to be creative without having to engage any complicated techniques, and there is something really straightforward and therapeutic about the process, especially when it comes to the actual quilting. A quilt, from start to finish, takes a little bit of time depending on the size of your project, but by the time I am finished with one I usually feel rejuvenated and ready to tackle more advanced  stuff. Ultimately, my favorite thing about making a quilt as a gift is how much I think about the recipient through every step of the process. I think about fun memories of my time with the parents and about what wonderful families they will make; I think about what the baby will look like, and I imagine them at different stages of their life with their blanket in tow. What if these quilts survived long enough to make it to the baby’s adulthood? What if they were displayed like wall hangings in their first apartments, or better yet, folded up into the crib’s of their own babies in a few decades? AHHH, THE POSSIBILITIES!!!

 

 

Side Boob DON’T into a Maxi DO

I don’t want to bore anyone with my tales of woe regarding Burda Patterns, because I know it’s not a solitary camp of one. I’ve read your blog posts about your love/hate relationship with them; I relate to how easily you fell for their dazzle and glam and gorgeous designs, and how disappointed you were when you read the instructions and realized that they were severely lacking…that they were missing some steps…that they might have even been missing some pattern pieces (true story). I have vowed off and on over the past few years to never buy another Burda pattern again, yet I have a collection of at least 20 unmade Burda PDFs in a folder on my computer, just waiting for me to feel weak and desperate enough to take another plunge into that dark abyss. Despite my issues with Burda, I find them to be a source of endless inspiration, and I have seen far too many beautiful makes by seamsters way more patient than I to write them off completely. But they get a lot of side-eye from me. So. Much. Side. Eye.

A few years ago when I was getting into sewing a lot and I hadn’t yet discovered that Burda patterns were an accurate depiction of my own personal hell, I  chose a gorgeous long dress pattern with a beautiful open back and lovely cap sleeves called the Open Back Dress 03/2013 #111.

Open Back Dress 03/2013 #111

The look was feminine and flirty and romantic, or at least that’s how the styling for the model was on the accompanying photo. When I pieced together my 100 sheets of printed paper and finally got to cutting the pattern out, I noticed that the skirt pattern required about half a mile of material at the waistline which was supposed to be gathered. I was worried that all this fabric would create unnecessary bulk at my waist and swallow me up, so I cut the skirt pattern down to half  it’s size in a gradual A-Line, and I felt proud of myself for catching this design flaw. This should have been a red flag right here, but instead of examining all the other parts of the dress to make sure they would work for me, I just kept going.

Finished dress. Note the angle of the camera so you DON'T see the side boobage.

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Construction was a nightmare: when I finally sewed all the bodice pieces together and tried it on, it gaped at the sides, but also needed way more coverage for all the side boob that I was showing (and I don’t even have that much boob in the first place). The front of the bodice seemed to float away from my body instead of laying down properly against my bust and I thought that carefully sewing bra cups into it would give it some shape but it didn’t at all- it just made it feel bulky.

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The bodice was so ill fitting that it pulled the skirt up in the back at the waist, so the bottom of my skirt drifted up higher behind me than in front. I was so excited about actually finishing this garment that I was in denial about how poor the fit was, and I even wore it out a few times. It was quite an ordeal though- in order to get the bodice to stay put I had to line my whole torso with stay tape so that the dress wouldn’t shift around and expose anything.

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I guess the design of the dress was dramatic enough that no one really noticed how wrong it was on me (I still got plenty of compliments) but I was never comfortable in it, and once summer was over, it went into storage and I forgot about it…until this year, when I begrudgingly hung it back up in my closet when it got warm again. I don’t know anyone else with my exact body size and shape, otherwise I would have given it away. My other options were to trash it or donate it, and I didn’t want to do either. Even though the fit left much to be desired, I really loved the fabric. I wanted a large print to balance out the length, and I found this sort of interesting cotton floral fabric at The Fabric Store that met my criteria, but it wasn’t bowling me over…until I turned the fabric over and saw that it had this hazy, worn, vintage look to the underside of it. This was one of the first times I thought outside of the box in terms of design choices on a garment, so saying goodbye to it felt weirdly sad.

fabric detailJust a few days ago, as I pushed this dress to the side of my closet for the umpteenth time and cursed it for taking up so much space, I had a thought- the bodice was awful, yes, but the skirt? The skirt was actually pretty great- it was the perfect maxi length to wear with flats, it was easy to wear and comfortable, and the fabric, as I said, was really cool. I decided that I would NOT throw the dress into my goodwill pile where it would most likely get sent to the dump anyways, and instead I would lop off the bodice and add a waistband and a button.

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Perfection!

Speaking of dumps, the bodice of this dress has NOT been thrown in the garbage yet, because I have not given up on this Burda design. I am keeping it in hopes of redrafting the bodice pattern into something that will actually work on my frame. All it needs is for the front piece to be extended on the sides to cover up that side boob and for the back bottom pieces of the bodice to be cut longer so that they follow the natural waistline instead of riding up. By the way, I am not a stark opponent of the side boob; like most design elements, side boob has it’s time and place. Like at a red carpet event with styled hair and lipstick and heels. But side boob does not (for me at least), belong on a dress meant to be worn to picnics and flea markets.

 

2.3For all my criticism of the fashion industry, I know am not blameless in the act of being wasteful and greedy for fashion’s sake. I still spend time and money on making things that are virtually unwearable, and if I can’t gift those end results to anyone, into the garbage they will go. This happens less often the better I get at sewing, but some things are simply un-salvageable, and I REALLY hate throwing yards of fabric into the garbage. It felt really great to take this dress, a garment that I was sure I would eventually throw away, and instead recycle it into another wearable version of itself. I would love to be able to do this with every single one of my failed makes, but that’s not realistic. I can at least attempt to salvage my disasters, though; if only a handful of them turn out as successfully as this one did, I could count myself lucky.

Viva la refashion!

Living a Try Curious Lifestyle

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It dawned on me recently that my interest in creating things was big enough to merit it’s own little world here on my website. Technically this site is supposed to put me in the ranks of modern actors who update their pages with information on upcoming performances and showcases and classes and resumes, but if I am honest, I have never felt quite “in the ranks” of modernity with my job anyways. My life as an actor is, in my opinion, the least interesting thing about me; I am not the most talented person in my field, and there are plenty of people with my job who are much more well known than I am. But what does make me special is my fascination with creating things with my hands, the incredible amount of patience I have with myself, my trust that there is little in this world that I cannot accomplish. So I (re)introduce to you TRY CURIOUS BLOG, a space dedicated to sharing in the delights of living a try curious lifestyle! I have Claire to thank for this fantastic title, which seems at once fitting and silly and inspiring, while giving a nice little nod to my own queer identity. So far my life in creative curiosity has acquainted me with power tools, shoes lasts, boom mics, vintage sewing machines, onigiri molds and bentonite clay, and I feel a thrill every time I have another opportunity to expand my world. The older I get, the more enthusiasm I have for the process as opposed to the final product, and this has diversified my artistic endeavors tremendously. Thanks so much for being a reader of this blog and for showing your support with comments and likes.

Here’s to living a Try Curious lifestyle together 😉

Ode to JNCOs By Way of A Birthday Suit

oh, hi!When I was in college, I finally came into my own with my sense of fashion. Not that it was a good sense, but it was my sense. I went to school a full 8 hours and 3 states away from the confines of my hometown, finally free to explore all the inner workings of my closeted fashionista without fear of judgement from my peers. That’s not to say that I didn’t make some pretty bizarre wardrobe choices in high school, but my outfits were generally tame; I lived in a mostly white neighborhood, so I didn’t intentionally try to stand out any more than necessary. In college, however, all bets were off. I was inspired by/obsessed with the girls in the Delia’s catalogs. I wanted to add sparkles and glitter to my body lotion to compliment my braces. I wanted to wear my hair wild and free in it’s naturally curly state instead of straightening it every week like I did in high school. I began to embrace an alternative look that seemed funky and cool, and very unlike the cookie cutter GAP riddled southern belles that I grew up with.
Enter JNCOs.

 

this is so embarrassing.

Okay, I never actually owned a pair of authentic JNCOs because I couldn’t afford them, but I definitely bought knock-offs simulating that wide legged shape. I loved the way guys looked in them with their requisite flavor-savors, hackey-sacks and pierced ears. I don’t say this with a sense of pride, but rather in hopeful solidarity with you readers….? Surely I am not the only teenager who fell into the JNCOs-adorned boy trap in the late 90’s. Right? I was so obsessed with the look that some of my earliest fashion-inspired sketches in my drawing diary featured boys and girls in those giant legged silhouettes. The only thing better looking to me than a slouchy, scruffy boy in a tight-fitting t shirt and sleeping bags for pants was ME in the same ensemble. My favorite “going out” outfit my sophomore year of college was my beloved pair of khaki colored JNCO wannabes, a belly-button grazing white cotton bandeau top with a ruffle on the edge, and my black Steve Madden chunky heeled ankle boots, big enough to make me several inches taller but small enough to stay inside the walls of my huge pants legs, giving me that coveted no feet look that permeated the early 2000’s. To top it off I would stuff my curly hair into Princess Leia-style buns, coat my eyelids in a some ice-blue shadow, and be ready to PARTY (fyi: for me at the time, party meant ALL dancing/NO alcohol/NO drugs. Interestingly, my idea of partying seems to have morphed into the direct inverse of this equation as I’ve gotten older. Go figure.)

Vogue 9075 (with sleeves)

I graduated from my JNCOs look pretty quickly- my junior year in college was comprised of mostly stretch knit leopard prints, feeble attempts at cleavage, and non-prescription eye glasses. By the time my senior year rolled around, I was taking so many dance and choreography courses that I pretty much lived in footless tights and leotards, and once I moved to NYC, my appreciation for a vintage aesthetic slowly started to form. But I guess my penchant for wide legged culottes never quite left me, because when I saw Erica B’s version  of the culotte jumpsuit pattern by Vogue (9075) several months ago, I was entranced! It was JNCOs all grown up! A midi length to update the silhouette, beautiful flowy fabric to soften the look, and a fitted, structured bodice to balance out the wide legs. AHHH, PERFECTION! Dare I try this look on me, 15 years after the JNCOs promptly entered and exited their way through my life? I am notorious for nixing certain shapes and design features that I don’t think will work well on my frame, and normally this jumper would be one of them (I always worry that short, wide legs will overwhelm my frame), but I couldn’t get the garment out of my mind. Eventually I decided that it was worth a try to sew it up and see how it worked on me- if it was hideous I would only be out the price of a few yards of fabric and the time it took me to make it.

pleat detailI bought a lovely navy viscose twill (not pictured in this post) from Michael Levine’s; it was my first time working with this type of fabric and I absolutely fell in love with it. It has a soft hand and beautiful drape while still giving the garment a bit of body. The end result of this fabric paired with this garment was not wonderful, though. And for some reason I forgot to buy fabric to line the jumper, so I used this cheap rayon stuff I had in my stash which was ALL WRONG ALL WRONG ALL WRONG. The colors were a terrible combo, it shed weird shimmery fibers all over my dark blue twill, and it had too much stretch so it got misshapen when paired with the bodice. All in all the design of the jumper had a lot of issues (on my body); the waistline was lower than I prefer, the crotch was WAY too high and giving me serious camel toe whenever I tried to sit down, the front middle of the bodice tugged down in this weird way, creating a tiny V that would extend below the belt I tried to wear with the jumper, the bodice was funky because the shaping didn’t really match my bust line, and the gold lining kept peeking out from underneath the bodice even though I understitched it. It wasn’t the best thing I had ever made, but, like any obsessed seamster, I was convinced it had GOOD BONES. After wearing my JNCOs Jumper to a dinner party and futzing with it all night long (and discovering that viscose twill wrinkles pretty easily), I decided that the garment would be my muslin and that it was definitely worth making again with some adjustments.
2Since my birthday was coming up, I splurged on a double gauze by Cotton & Steele and bought enough to make the jumper and the lining from the same fabric. I shortened the bodice, bringing it up to my natural waist. I took in all the bodice seams about 1/4 inch, I dropped the crotch of the pants about half an inch (although the end result is somehow several inches below my crotch). I took in the front edge of the armhole so that it wouldn’t stick out as much as it did on the first make. After making it, I realized I forgot to lengthen the pattern pieces for the pocket to match the longer length of the pants, so the pockets are usable but definitely too short for my taste. I honestly never thought that much about pockets before, so this was a nice reminder of how everything is connected- if an adjustment happens somewhere in a pattern, I need to run a checklist to make sure it doesn’t affect any other parts of the piece.

 

back detailMy favorite thing about this garment is that it looks like a dress when I am standing still and then just kind of magically transforms into pants when I start walking. The cotton gauze is beautiful and soft, and it (sort of) survived a laundry mishap when Claire’s cheap basketball jersey bled dye all over it in the washing machine. I had to do an emergency dye-removal wash with that weird smelling powder stuff but it worked well enough- the fabric is no longer as vivid as it once was but it doesn’t have as many purple splotches on it anymore. The double gauze is a little thicker than fabric I would make for this pattern in the future, but it is still one of my favorite things to wear. I completed this jumper right in time for my birthday this past April, and it was the first time that I had dedicated time and effort into making myself a birthday outfit. I don’t know why it took me so long, because I LOVE birthday celebrations (especially my own); making a special outfit to celebrate in seems right up my alley.

 

full frontal

I figured that to fully pay homage to College-Age-Jasika, I could at LEAST recreate my Princess Leia buns for these photos…

I had a great time on my birthday- it was filled with surprises from the moment I was rudely (but purposefully) awakened at 6:30 am that morning til my wife and I took an uber home from The Museum of Natural History later that night, covered in sweat from dancing to DJ Anthony Valadez at First Friday. We were running late to the event and worried that the party was going to end before we got on the dance floor, so we walked right past the bar and immediately planted ourselves in front of the speakers, dancing non-stop until the last song finished playing. All dancing/NO alcohol/NO drugs. I guess everything really does come back in style eventually.

 

Single Spandex Knit + Kielo Wrap Dress

I have been preaching here about the wonders of the online shop that is Girl Charlee for over a year now. I first learned about them in a post by Heather of Closet Case Files who suggested their store as a resource for making her famed Nettie bodysuit and dress. If I haven’t made it abundantly clear on this blog, I am a big fan of Heather, and pretty much anything she says I will do. Like, if she started a sewing cult I would most definitely run for secretary. Anyways, I have been buying up Girl Charlee stock like it was my job ever since. I love this online retailer because they have a huge variety of prints, their site is easy to navigate and their fabrics are affordable. Plus, they separate all their inventory by type, which has allowed me to learn the difference between a cotton jersey, a cotton lycra, and a jersey rayon spandex; two years ago I wouldn’t have even known that there was a difference between these fabric contents.

Recently Girl Charlee contacted me and asked if I was interested in a blogger collaboration with them and they sent me a couple of yards of a single spandex knit. I was excited to note all the differences this fabric had from the knits I had become accustomed to working with; for one, it’s slinky, but it hugs and drapes the body without looking (or feeling) clingy. It doesn’t wrinkle easily, and it was lovely to work with- the edges don’t curl up as much as with some cotton knits, and it didn’t stretch out under the foot of my sewing machine, so I was able to sew a lot of the pattern pieces together without the use of pins. As you can see, the right side of my fabric has a black background with a white rose-looking pattern printed on it (the roses kind of look like they are made out of zipper teeth, which is why I was drawn to this fabric- I liked that it was a floral print that didn’t look too precious). However, the back of this fabric is all white with a little bit of the black showing through, so this fabric is best suitable for projects where you wont be able to see the underside of it- unless that is what you are going for.

GC fabric close up

The pattern I used for this project is by indie company NAMED CLOTHING. I always thought that their patterns were a little too modern for me since I prefer more traditional silhouettes. But I gotta tell you, I am now a convert.  With only 3 pattern pieces and 4 darts, I was very skeptical of how the Kielo Wrap Dress was going to look. The instructions suggested either a knit fabric or a woven, which inspired significant side-eye from me. A knit OR a woven? How do you get a successful look from one design using two very different materials? But I ignored my fears. Why? Because I am TRY CURIOUS, that’s why! Armed with my single spandex knit and 3 pattern pieces, I went to work. This dress was cut out, sewn and hemmed in a matter of hours. If you are anything like me, you know exactly how satisfying it is to start a project in the morning and have it ready for wear that night- not like I had any place to go on a Wednesday evening, but it’s the principle, right?

3The dress turned out to be stunning.

HOW?! Magic, I tell you! You can’t imagine how many vintage patterns I have sewn that say things like “Easy Sew! Make It In An Afternoon!”, only to look like I am wearing a giant fabric bag with a matching belt by the time evening rolls around. NAMED seems to have taken the concept of simple, straightforward construction and injected enough thoughtful design elements into the patterns to make the results look elegant, no matter what your body type (and I have a sneaking suspicion that those vintage Easy-To-Sew patterns look so amazing on the envelopes because the illustrated women are 11 heads tall and have 16 inch waists).

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2Here is what I love about this dress:

  • It doesn’t look like a traditional wrap, because you can actually see the wrap (most wrap dresses wrap inside of itself).
  • It can successfully be made with a woven or a slightly stretchy knit fabric, so the possibilities are limitless; depending on your fabric and print, this can be made into a casual or a dressy look.
  • The instructions were uncomplicated and the whole pattern was a quick and easy sew.

And here’s something unexpected- the dress looks really cool even without the ties. It’s definitely a modern kind of silhouette, but left untied, the sides hang down and give the dress a really interesting look that is not unflattering. This is the kind of pattern you can play around with, by either leaving off the ties or color blocking the back and front pieces to create some visual interest.

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I am so happy with this dress; matched with this uniquely printed fabric, it came out looking a lot fancier than I anticipated. This is being added to my #DIYredcarpet wardrobe, and hopefully I will have the opportunity to wear it out soon.

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Dixie DIY Bonnell Pattern Review

Mercury must be in retrograde because I have been feeling SUPER out of the loop these past couple of weeks. For one, I was completely unfamiliar with the sewphotohop hashtag until it started showing up all over the new (public) instagram account I started that is dedicated to my TRY CURIOUS lifestyle (a more in-depth post about that is on it’s way, but in the meantime you can follow me here!) Once I saw all my favorites like Heather of closetcasefiles and Erica from Erica B’s Style posting great photos, I wanted to dive right in and join them, but it was already several days into the month-long process and I was too far behind. But in addition to that, I thought this would be a great opportunity to read/look/learn/be inspired instead of immediately joining the social media fray. I enjoyed participating in the #memademay challenge for the first time this year, but I don’t want to get in the habit of adding my voice to so many choirs that I can’t even understand the music anymore. Hm. That was…a weird analogy that I just made up. Apologies. But the right sentiment is there. With so much access to social media, it’s really easy to want to make a lot of noise just to keep up and feel like you are an active part of all the hub bub. Which is totally okay! But it’s also okay to take a backseat and absorb all the wisdom and insight that others are offering.

Okay, so the sewphotohop hashtag had been underway for days before I even knew what it was, and then I notice everyone in sewingblogworld talking about this pattern bundle offered by Sew Independent, an awesome tiered package of PDF patterns by indie designers for a really great price- the more money you spend, the more patterns that come in your package, and a percentage of the proceeds are given to a charity called the International Folk Art Alliance. Apparently this is the second year they have done this, and not only does your money go to an awesome organization, but you are (or at least I was) introduced to several indie pattern designers that you may not have been familiar with before. To be honest, NO, I DO NOT NEED ANY NEW PATTERNS. However. I do love celebrating and supporting designers in the online sewing community, and I also think it’s nice to get pushed out of your comfort zone every once in a while- I usually stick with what is familiar to me, so this was a nice way to get some new blood flowing into my craft room.

Last weekend some friends and I went to the Rose Bowl flea- it was my first time in a while, and I made sure to stop by the fabric and notions vendor who is usually set up in the same place. I’m not sure if her fabric is actually vintage or just old, as in, kept folded in a drawer for a super long time. Either way, the fabric is of great quality and priced better than most of the stuff for sale at the flea. I got about 5 yards of fabric for less than $20. I also scored a lot of beautiful glass and vintage buttons still stapled onto their original cards. I ignored my normal rule of not buying any fabric without having a specific idea of what to make with it because the fabric was so cheap and so vintage looking- I knew it would be perfect for a lot of different projects. And when I got home, I realized that the Bonnell Dress from Dixie DIY (included in the Sew Independent pattern bundle) was just such a project!

yay general view!

The Bonnell Dress has a lovely, simple shape with some interesting details: cutouts on the waist with a higher jewel neckline on the front. This, coupled with the traditional dirndl skirt and a thin waistband, give you a lot of room to play with the design elements. I went super simple with this on my first make, but now that I have sewn it up and seen how a) it fits like a dream and b) it’s got a modern-meets-classic look to it in a very ModCloth kind of way, I really want to make it again using some contrast prints or color blocking.

cutout close up

The fabric I used for this dress is a lightweight cotton, which is soft but still has some stiffness to it, and that lends itself to the nice body in the skirt. I lined the bodice with the self fabric since I had so much of it, and I only made one adjustment to the pattern- I graded from a size 2 in the bust to a 4 in the waist and hips. I should have left the whole thing as a straight 2 because I ended up taking it in at the waist since it was too big.

front bodice

The bust lines fit me beautifully and the length is spot on. This dress was cut out and sewn together in a total of about 5 or 6 hours (probably the fastest garment I have ever made from a woven material), and the instructions were very clear and easy to follow. The only thing I will change about this dress when I make it again is to make the pockets deeper. I love that this dress comes with pockets at all, but they seem designed more with the intent of putting small items in them as opposed to resting your hands inside of them (am I the only person who never puts things in her pockets besides her hands??)

back view

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am pretty surprised at how well this dress fit me. The woman behind Dixie DIY, if she uses her own measurements to draft her patterns, must be my perfect body doppelganger, which makes me want to make every single thing she ever designs. It’s so exciting (and quite a privilege, I know) to be introduced to a pattern maker that designs clothing that fits you right out the box, and I (selfishly) wish DixieDIY continued success as a designer in the sewing world!

another side close up

A Vintage Dress Covered in Bugs

It has not gone unnoticed that I have made at least 3 garments in the past year featuring ladybugs. I have never considered myself particularly drawn to bugs, but every single time I see a pretty fabric adorned with them, I am instantly smitten, and I can’t get the fabric out of my head until I purchase it. I guess the heart wants what the heart wants!

So, onto the make! I have known my friends Kristy and George for years. I met them before they were a couple, when we were all single in NYC and floating around in the same online and real-life social circles. And then, scandal of all scandals, they started dating each other! It was right around the time that I met Claire, so all four of us double dated and threw all-day dinner parties for each other at our places in BK. A few years into their coupledom (on Claire’s birthday, no less!) Kristy gave birth to a sweet baby named Eli. When Claire and I left Brooklyn that next summer for greener pastures in Vancouver, they too left Brooklyn to make a new life for their family back in Kristy’s hometown of Atlanta. I have hated being so far away from them, but over the years we have had visits and skype sessions and letter exchanges and mile-long text convos to make up for the distance. On one recent Christmas, I sent them a care package of homemade soaps and cookies and body butters, and one of the lotions worked so well for Eli’s eczema that K & G put in a standing order for it (apparently it has worked better than any over the counter or prescribed ointment they have tried- behold the butter of shea!). Every few months I whip up a batch of “Eli’s Special Skin Cream”, and in exchange, they started sending me surprise boxes filled with stickers and magazines and flea shop finds and…vintage sewing patterns! BE STILL MY HEART!

vintage pattern

This is a pattern that looks like it came from the deep, deep 80’s, and it’s one that I would never ever have suspected would come out looking so amazing if I hadn’t actually made it myself. This was a fantastic lesson to learn- sometimes you have to put your trust in the details of a design instead of in the drawing/styling on the pattern envelope- although this pattern gets major bonus points for having a woman of color in the illustration. I could count the number of vintage sewing patterns I’ve seen featuring POC on one hand, and honestly, modern patterns aren’t that much better. And to find a POC and a plus size person on the same pattern envelope?? That is like sewing pattern gold!

Anyways, K & G picked this pattern out because they loved the back cut-outs (who knows, they probably  loved the brown woman on the front, too!) and the lovely button closure all the way down the dress. The fabric that we thought would look best for this garment was all sold out, so the mint green lady bugs were my second choice, but I think the fabric is perfect for this silhouette!

fullviewfront

you must must MUST excuse this weird look I have on my face. we snapped this photo at the gym before Claire’s basketball game and I hate taking photos with other people around and as a result I make weird faces so that I don’t look like I take myself too seriously. Even though WHO CARES WHAT STRANGERS THINK. Except I care. I care.

Because the fabric (purchased from Hart’s Fabric– one of my fav online sources) is a cotton voile and pretty see-through, I omitted the facings and made a lining for the bodice out of a white organza (I didn’t want to face the bodice with the self fabric since you would have seen soft, non-distinct blobs of black ladybugs showing through on the right side of the dress). I didn’t need to line the skirt- since it was a dirndl with a lot of gathering at the waist, I knew there would be enough volume to keep the important parts opaque.

I wanted to do something cool with the buttons but I was stumped as to what- I thought of choosing buttons in an unexpected color, like red or yellow, but I ran the risk of making the dress look too juvenile (ladybugs on mint green fabric is already toeing the line for me). I didn’t want to do black buttons either because I didn’t want them to compete with the black ladybug print.

button auditions.

button auditions; was thinking all red or all back or all tortoise shell and was testing out how each looked.

My friend Sarah suggested I get all of my crafty friends to send me a cool button and have a variety of types and colors and styles on the dress. I liked this idea, but I am impatient and wanted to wear this dress immediately. So I kind of morphed her suggestion into another cool idea; using a variety of different types of buttons in the same green color as the dress.

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JoAnn’s has a bazillion options for buttons, but I settled on buying an inexpensive package of same-hued buttons in different sizes. I chose buttons that all had the same diameter, but different details on them. I like how the buttons are all over-sized and add interest to the dress without taking away from the already dynamic fabric and color.

The bodice back requires one button to close the flaps together but I added another small button on the underside of the outside flap near the edge- it keeps the end of the flap from flipping open.

largebackview

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I love this dress! I love that it is comfortable! I love that it looks pretty and dressy but it feels breezy in this hot ass desert! Which is funny, because in the middle of making this dress I started to doubt every single thing about it- I thought the way that the sleeves winged out was going to make it look dated and I was worried that the color of the dress looked too much like hospital-scrubs-green. It really wasn’t until I tried the dress on the in the mirror, right before the hemming and the button sewing, that I saw what a lovely and unique design it was. I’m so accustomed to putting darts in my dresses made out of woven fabric that I assume anything without that design feature will look frumpy or basic, but it’s (fortunately) not true at all.  I keep finding more fabric that I want to make this dress out of, but I’m gonna hold off on buying any; rumor has it that I am due for another surprise box from Kristy and George soon 🙂