Grace

Hi all! I meant to publish this on my birthday last week but I totally forgot, lol! This essay was originally published on the Welcome To What We Are blog and now I’m sharing here for my own followers. Thanks so much for reading!

Grace

I was 9 years old when *Anna Finch, arguably the most popular girl in my grade who occasionally gave me the opportunity to be friends with her, told me I didn’t “look black”. As the child of a white mother and black father growing up in Alabama, I immediately knew she intended this to be a compliment, which made me feel sick, but my 4th grade brain wasn’t quite capable of articulating the offense. I knew I couldn’t take it as flattery, but Anna’s saccharine smile let me know that she didn’t particularly care. I bit my lip. I think I probably responded with uneasy silence, a staple of our relationship by that point, and we continued playing on our school’s playground. When I was a kid and I didn’t have the right words to stand up for myself, or if I got overwhelmed by my own emotions, I just shut down. I told no one, kept it packed deep inside some space underneath my muscles, buried in the blood, and I carried on.

Years later, I found myself navigating these same brackish waters when I came out to my friends and began to hear “wow, really?? You don’t look queer!”, sung from the mouth’s of smiling faces, eyes bright and proud at the “praise” they were bestowing upon me. I was old enough now to know that there was a good reason I felt stung, a good reason I was never sure exactly how to respond; I grew up in the south, so I was used to people cradling me softly with one hand while pinching me with the other. But I had moved to NYC by this point and had started to find my community as I was finding myself, started to feel the real power of that blood splashing over my bones. I smiled tightly, changed the subject.

Now as a professional working actor in television, film, and stage with decades of work under my belt, I am more and more frequently confronted with the newest version of “Let Me Tell You Why Your Shame Doesn’t Make Me Uncomfortable”. It initially manifested itself as “You still look like you’re in college!”, followed in quick succession by “You don’t look 34 at all!”, “38?! You’re kidding!” and “OMG YOU’RE 39?!? THERE IS NO WAY YOU’RE 39!” Of course, they mean it as a compliment, every single time. They always have. But I stopped taking these unsolicited remarks at face value long ago.

These days when I share my stories with other people, describe the pain of all the tiny invisible nicks that cover the surface of my skin (which I now know to call microaggressions), their faces fall into the expected folds of disgust about Anna’s blatant racism, about my friends’ unacknowledged homophobia. But they get stuck when I talk about the damage it does to listen to people tell me I don’t “look” my age. They wrinkle their eyebrows in forced sympathy, but most of them don’t truly recognize how harmful it is- they still consider it a compliment. Yes, looking younger than you actually are is considered a privilege across many cultures; it’s called ageism, and I call bullshit.

What I understand now at almost 40 that I couldn’t vocalize in the 4th grade is that when Anna told me I didn’t look black, she wasn’t insulting me, she was exposing herself for the racist her parents and community had raised her to be (she eventually confessed that she didn’t want to invite our classmate Shauntay to her birthday party because Shauntay was black and actually looked it”. I paused, and stared at her, confused, until she explained that “black people steal” so she “didn’t want one” in her house). I also understand now that when my friends looked at me with pride in their eyes while congratulating me on the fact that I didn’t look queer, what they were actually saying is that queerness is something that clings to you, shameful, dark, and heavy, and that no one should purposefully want to be associated with that kind of indignity. They were telling me it was okay that I was queer, as long as it wasn’t an identity that was obvious enough for unassuming straight people to recognize.

I’m sure you are reading this and thinking how awful, how horrible, how obviously devastating it would have been to have someone tell you that the parts of yourself you had learned to take pride in held no value, that these cornerstones of your identity were shameful. Clearly blackness is nothing to be pitied, clearly queerness is something to celebrate! Yet here I am, trying to understand how age is any different. What is so despicable about looking 37? 38? 39? Why wouldn’t I want to look 50 if that’s how old I am? We spend so much of our lives eating foods to nourish our bodies and working out to keep ourselves strong and reading books to keep our minds agile and going to therapy to make sure we have long, mutually beneficial relationships so that we can enjoy living on this earth for as long as we can, yet as our age climbs higher, we feel more and more embarrassed about it. Who started this? Who told us we could have both? We can’t. We don’t get to work towards living our healthiest, most sustainable lives while also condemning the fact that we are getting older; one begets the other. So why do we waste so much of our energy fighting against and hiding from and disparaging the fact that we are aging?

Oh right, the patriarchy.

Our obsession with youth is a direct result of the patriarchal standards that have defined our culture for centuries, and aside from the fact that it inequitably impacts women and femmes, the standards are also patently false and impossible to live up to. When we comment on an older woman’s beauty, we often say that she is “aging gracefully”, but this, too is an untruth, because what we usually mean is that she looks young. We mean that she doesn’t seem like she is aging much at all. We mean that she makes us feel more comfortable about how many years she has been on earth. We mean, ‘maybe there is a chance that we can get older and not feel bad about it’. But we will. We will always be fed the false narrative that perfection is just within arm’s reach, that once we buy that serum or take that class or read that book or hire that life coach, we can elevate ourselves to our most youthful, attractive, energetic selves. But understand that there is no end to that reach. Behind that bottle of serum is another, more expensive bottle. The class never actually ends. The book is just one in a long series.

Most of us know that traditional standards of beauty are directly related to their proximity to European whiteness, but I am realizing more and more that they are also directly related to youth, and the further women get away from looking like 20 year olds, the less attractive most of society deems them. We are told that as we get older, our “grace” has nothing to do with the impact we have had on our communities, our art, our families, our relationships, our contributions to the world at large or our worlds at small. As a man gets older we treat the shiny salt in his beard as if he earned it steering ships through thunderous seas, the deepening furrow of his brow as if it made its’ appearance after years of battling international spies. Sometimes it seems like all a man has to do to “age gracefully” in our society is keep his hair trimmed and not wear velcro sandals. But women, on the other hand? Our gray hair and crow’s feet are proof that we have “let ourselves go”, our age spots remind everyone that yes, we will all die someday, our plump bodies serve as a manifestation of how asexual the world insists we have become.

Does it matter if we started writing poetry in our 60’s and found out we were actually good at it? If we helped save someone’s life, quietly and humbly? If we continued to show up for ourselves after years of timidity and finally achieved a level of peace that we had only dreamed of? Unfortunately, none of these accomplishments is more powerful in the eyes of the patriarchy than our breasts continuing to sit as pert as possible, even after bringing children into the world. I’m not a mom, but I imagine “can you believe they had 5 kids?! They look so good!” is another backhanded compliment that makes the rounds pretty frequently. Why have we internalized the idea that being an actual vessel for life is something to be embarrassed about? Why can’t we celebrate the map of our lives painted across our bodies for all to see?

I am still struggling with how to respond to these comments that frame being 40 as some dreadful, secreted fact that shouldn’t be spoken about in more than a whisper. In my industry, youth is currency, and I acknowledge it as a privilege, just like my light skin, my able body, my cisgender, my neurotypical brain. But it’s not lost on me that so much of what is considered valuable in our culture are things we are completely powerless over. No one can help how they are born, what their genes look like, who their parents are. And we shouldn’t. Our ability to age gracefully should rely less on our closeness to conventional attractiveness, less on our closeness to youth, and more on what we have done with all the years we were lucky enough to accumulate on this earth.

Anna Finch wrote me on facebook several years ago, before I deleted my account. She started with something along the lines of “You probably don’t remember me, but we went to elementary school together…”. Amazing how one person’s forgotten memories can be another person’s linchpin. Anna was the first person to express to me in words her disdain for my identity, a contempt I had felt from strangers often, my skin burning from the stares that disgusted white people beamed at me and my family as we walked down the streets of Birmingham. But I had never heard it articulated to my face by someone I knew, someone I wanted to be close to, someone I was so desperate to be seen by. Anna had written to tell me how proud she was of me and my career. I promptly replied with the most scathing, angry words I could form into complete sentences, years of fury and hurt and bitterness raining out of my fingertips and onto my keyboard. And then I deleted it and closed my computer. I know that people, especially children, have the capacity to change for the better, and my hope is that Anna found her way down a path that brought her to a place of less hate and more peace, more compassion, more love. But it’s not my job to be her welcoming committee.

I am black, I am queer, and I am turning 40 on April 10th. I am proud of all of these parts of my identity, and I will be celebrating not how I look, nor how other people think I look, but how I feel. I met my partner 13 years ago and in our time together we have created the type of healthy, loving relationship that was never demonstrated for me as a kid. That is grace. I turned a childhood rooted in anxiety and fear into an adulthood where I learned to channel my energy into making, creating art that has inspired and empowered me to no end. That is grace. I have always been guarded, suspicious, apprehensive of opening my personal world to more than a few people at a time, but I am consciously working to change that, to fight against the fear of being vulnerable to the most important people in my life. That is grace.

Aging gracefully doesn’t look like anything, it’s not young or old or ugly or pretty, male or female; it’s not on any binary. It’s just a sense, an awareness that we are striving to be better than we were yesterday and the yesterday before that. An acknowledgement that we can’t be where we are right now without all the years that came before it. A connection with the blood that has been racing through us from the moment we took our first breath up to this very day. A promise that we won’t ever disparage ourselves for being exactly who we are, where we are, when we are. Because we deserve nothing less. Happy birthday, y’all.

*name has been changed to protect this girl from my mom

More Color, More Curation! Part 2

That last post started so many conversations, both here and on IG, which I wasn’t expecting at all! Thanks for sharing your own experiences and enthusiastic responses- it’s been fun reading about your own forays into playing around with a color palette and being more thoughtful about your wardrobe planning- it feels like there is plenty of inspiration to go around!

In this post, I am sharing some of the exercises I completed from The Curated Closet! It’s kind of work-booky which is great if you’re into that sort of thing. Normally I just make mental notes for myself when I read books like this, but I figured why not just dive in deep and write all the important stuff down so I can have it to reference later on.

Once you have created a visual style profile out of images that you have collected, the author wants you to start articulating the specifics of your taste with words, which will not only make your style easy to describe to yourself and others, but it will also be helpful when you’re finally out shopping for clothes and accessories (or planning your makes). Knowing how to describe your style helps you know what to look for.

Here are some of the trends I noticed on my pinterest style inspo board:

  • clean lines
  • clashing patterns
  • simple silhouettes
  • rich fabrics
  • monochromatic looks
  • layers
  • interesting textures
  • unique features on simple foundations (cool straps, piping, bows)
  • tailored pieces

the design of this dress is pretty simple with it’s clean lines, and it has some really interesting details like the clashing fabric prints and the little buttons that go down the side. hubba hubba!

The individual items I need in my closet to pull off this look are as follows (and FYI I own many items already!):

  • classic structured brimmed hat
  • shawls and scarves with which to layer
  • simple gold jewelry
  • tailored/long line jackets, lightweight coats and oversized/long cardigans
  • skinny belts
  • sweat guards for all the silk I want to wear lol (more on this later!)
  • turtlenecks
  • a variety of blouses in different textures, solids, and prints
  • high waist pants
  • cropped trousers
  • high waist knee and midi length skirts
  • fitted, tailored dresses

honestly this whole look speaks for itself- love the tailored jacket worn so casually over the shoulders and the simple, feminine romper underneath. AND THAT HAT, OBVIOUSLY.

I was able to hone in on the colors I liked both by noticing trends on my Pinterest board (it was pretty obvious that I leaned toward earth tones) and working with my newly acquired seasonal palette. Here’s where I landed with the three primary color fields that the book suggests you create (there are some soft restrictions placed on how many of each color you can include, but I took liberties with mine because I do what I want):

Main Colors:

  • pumpkin
  • golden yellow
  • brick red
  • a variety of greens (moss, forest, grayed and honestly anything else I find that I love)

Neutrals:

  • tan/camel
  • deep chocolate brown
  • graphic prints in black and white  (totally outside of my color palette but it’s the only black or white I generally ever wear and I think it works as a neutral in my closet the same way that denim does for others)

Accents:

  • gold
  • coral
  • brick red (didnt mean to include it twice but whatever!)
  • chartreuse

ignore the white block of color here- I couldnt make a palette with less than 5 colors and I was hoping the white would blend into the background of my blog lol

In between landing in LA from our east coast Christmas vacation and heading back out to Vancouver just a few days later, I found enough time to pull out every workable piece of fabric I had in my craft room (no remnants or pieces less than a yard) and divide them into cool and warm colors.  I just wanted to see what my stash, which is practically hidden in bins and drawers, actually looked like. It was a remarkable experience to see everything laid out on my sewing table in piles- shocking no one, my cool color pile (or rather piles, PLURAL) dwarfed my collection of warm fabrics by at least 50%, probably more. The photos here don’t even show the full accumulation of my cool colored fabrics-when these photos were taken I had already pulled out everything that I knew would look good on Claire and stuck it in a bin for her, seeing as how I have labeled her a firm summer. So this fabric is all of what’s leftover, which I plan to donate.

I felt so validated looking at everything all laid out- I suddenly understood why I had such a hefty sized stash that I rarely sewed from, even though I deeply loved so many of the pieces in it. I think it’s because, on some unconscious level, I knew those weren’t the most harmonious colors for me- all the blue, gray and light pink garments in my closet sadly get very little use! But gosh I learned so much from this exercise! It was easy to figure out which pieces were cool versus warm but a little tough to figure out which pieces looked nice on me; some pieces were obviously good, but others I just wasn’t sure about- and then I had another realization: I’m really pale right now so some lighter hues in my palette don’t wake me up at all. But I can get away with lots more colors when I have a tan! Bright white, which is not in my color palette, looks good on me when I am in Hawaii or Mexico (and it obviously looks great on Kelly, too!).

Peaches and corals are the same- the lighter, more subdued the color, the less harmonious it looks on my winter skin (and let’s be honest, even though I live in LA I have winter skin a lot because I wear sunscreen like nobody’s business)…but the better it looks on my browned skin. This was so key to understand because holding up a lot of the lighter colored hues in my palette against my arm had me very confused- I wasn’t looking very lively or glowy at all next to some of them, but I think that’s because my shade changes with the seasons, and therefore so should my palette. If we are being honest I think that deep brown skin looks good in virtually every color on the planet, so the browner I get in summer, the more I will probably play around with colors outside of my palette.

Another source of validation I got from pulling out all my fabric and deciding what to get rid of came in the form of relief– relief to have such a (comparatively) small stash, which made me feel so excited about my future sewing projects! My stash had gotten so big over the years because I have been an ambassador to a few different fabric stores over the years which started piling up in my bins, but also (and maybe mostly) because people LOVE to give me their old fabric…and I LOVE to say yes to it! I had essentially just become a storage place for someone else’s unwanted junk though, and, more often than not, it became MY unwanted junk. I kept it thinking that I would use the fabric that I didn’t quite work on me for muslins, or that my sewing friends would come over and rifle through it and choose what they liked and take it home with them, but it just never ever worked out that way. It accumulated and accumulated until I got so overwhelmed by my stash that I barely made anything from it because I forgot what was even there. SO! Paring down significantly didn’t make me feel sad at all! And there were a few pieces in the cool colors pile that I kept, even though they aren’t in my palette, because I just like them a lot and imagine that I will still get joy out of wearing them.

Now instead of SEVEN bins of fabric, my entire stash can fit into my fabric bureau, with room left over! Here is what my new selection of fabrics that fit into my color palette looks like:

As you can see I kept a couple pieces outside of my palette: on the far right, a navy and white polka dotted gauze and a bright royal blue silk – these are pieces I couldn’t bear to part with, so it seemed reasonable to keep them around. Now that I have a smaller stash, I might actually make something with them, color palette be damned!

the light pink, black, and purple modal jerseys are not in my color palette but these were intended for undergarments so I kept them!

Another drawer of things that don’t quite work for my palette, but that I might be inspired at some point in the future to work with anyways…on the far right is Claire’s special NO GLUTEN fabric we designed lolololol- I mostly use it for linings for her pants. It has an image of a butt farting with a big red STOP symbol around it.

a few more pieces outside of my palette that I can use for linings, plus a mint green silk brocade that I refuse to get rid of cause its so pretty.

Okay! So next in the book you have to figure out silhouettes that best define your style. This is a list of what I found on my style boards and that I know I like to wear:

  • nipped-in waists
  • high waisted pants
  • cropped pants
  • blousy/full tops paired with fitted pants
  • shoes with a heel, slight wedge, or platform
  • midi-length figure skimming dresses
  • skirts with body and/or flare

Fabrics I want to wear:

  • linen
  • silk
  • cotton
  • denim
  • tweed
  • high quality velvets (although who am I kidding I HATE sewing velvet!!!)
  • soft blended merino wools and cashmere
  • solids with simple graphic prints like stripes, grids, plaids and polka dots

The significant ways in which I will style these pieces?

  • minimal jewelry
  • thin belts
  • layers
  • monochromatic color schemes
  • my kick ass hat from New Mexico (I’ve gotten more compliments on this damn hat than anything else in recent memory!)

After accumulating inspirational fashion images and culling my style list, I was surprised to find that I am not that drawn to clothes with bright, bold prints on them, even though I might be drawn specifically to the image on the fabric itself. I prefer outfits made of solids to most everything else, and the prints I do like tend to be graphic as opposed to floral or novelty, with a more subtle color palette. I guess I’m nowhere near as funky a dresser in real life as I am in my head, hahaha!

here’s an exception to the statement above: a bold fabric I’m in love with, but surprise, surprise- it’s all in my color palette!

Another surprise about my style boards was the lack of vintage looks I was drawn to. I’ve always thought of myself as being a huge fan of vintage, and while I still drool over those looks, it’s not exclusively the way I want to dress anymore. As I get older, my style seems to be transitioning to slightly more modern looks. I still love the cinched waist + full skirt silhouettes of 50s vintage styles and all the interesting detailing, but I have often struggled with wearing vintage in my everyday life that doesn’t make me feel like I’m wearing a costume (the people who do commit to a decidedly retro style profile are endlessly inspiring to me, and I love the way they successfully pull off such ambitious looks, it’s just not my right fit). I will definitely still play around with vintage silhouettes and detailing in my dressed up/red carpet looks, though!

The overall feeling of the style I want to present is a twist on the traditional lux, feminine, preppy, minimalist look-  I love that style but I also want to feel fun, unfussy, and comfortable. I want my outfits to look chic and tailored but be easy to wear, at least for my casual, everyday life- I LOVE going all out for a big event!

The styling tricks that I need to tackle for this style are finding different textures of fabrics in similar colored hues which will be a priority in making the monochromatic look work. I’m also not yet sure how to translate some of these ideas to the hot LA summers where less clothing is best for comfort, so I might just have separate seasonal styles where in warmer months I focus on simple sundresses in my color palette with interesting details.

My biggest fear with this new style focus is keeping the simple, chic ensembles from looking too bland and boring. I generally think of myself as someone who stands out, and I have often used my clothing to feel emboldened and empowered- I worry that subduing my palette and print choices will make me fade into the background, but maybe that’s just because everything I’m doing is a bit out of my comfort zone. I went into a store the other day where a friendly woman came up to me to say that she followed me on instagram because of my making exploits. The person behind the counter overheard our convo and chimed in to say something along the lines of “Sorry, I don’t know who you are on instagram, but as soon as you walked in I was paying attention!” That’s the kind of style I want to walk through the world with, the kind that makes you want to know more about the person wearing it.

Lastly, this is what I want to say with my style: that I love clothes and somehow manage to make putting them together look effortless. That I feel at home both in my body and in my garments, and can wear pretty much anything and still feel great…because the clothing isn’t defining me, it’s just enhancing all my favorite parts of me. I want to convey ease! confidence! beauty! I want my style to look and feel luxurious and refined without using any of the traditional methods of achieving such a look- I have never been very brand-conscious and I kind of abhor garments and accessories adorned with designers’ monikers. I want my clothing to look expensive because the fabrics are high quality, the pieces are well sewn, and the outfits are thoughtfully put together, not because the emblem splattered across the front tells you exactly how much it cost (now watch me get gifted a Gucci bag or something lol!)

I’m stumped on what to call this look: “Grandma Chic” has been defining my style for decades but I feel like I owe this new, more updated look a better name. Rich Bitch With Personality? Naahhh…but funny! Carefree Preppy Black Girl? Earthy Hipster With Class? Please. Help me.

Here’s what’s next, the most exciting part for me, the equivalent of going out and shopping for all the things needed to fill up those clothes in your closet once you’ve been honest with yourself and expunged it of all the things you don’t actually wear anymore because of fit or style or color or all of the above…MAKING SEWING PLANS!

Oh, and a word about those items I am getting rid of from my closet. So many people, and I mean SEW many, have “reminded” me that I can dye lighter colored items in shades from my palette instead of getting rid of them. I’m very well aware that this is an option, but I seriously dislike dyeing. Seriously. Dyeing has only been variably successful for me, it takes a LOT of water to complete from start to finish (something that is really hard for me living in SoCal where we are always in a drought) and, perhaps just as importantly, I don’t find dyeing to be all that fun. I don’t want to risk the chance of ruining perfectly good garments just to keep them in my closet- I would rather give them away or sell them for charity or something. If I’ve already gotten good wear out of it, I am mostly okay with sending it on to a new life. There are one or two items I’ve made in shades that definitely aren’t in my color palette, so I might work up the nerve to dye those items at some point? I dunno, it’s doubtful, LOL!

 

The third and final post in this series will be my sewing plans for the next year! I got myself an iPad Pro to replace my beat up old iPad mini so now I will be able to sketch and draw much more easily- hopefully I will be able to incorporate illustrations and drawings into lots more blog posts! And now I will leave you with this, a series of makes both in and outside of my color palette, since so many of you seemed to really resonate with that part of my last post!

this cream color is in the same family as the “oyster white” in my color palette, but it’s a bit too soft and I definitely think it looks better on tanned skin, so I might save this for just a summer wear if I can pull it off.

(oyster whit, btw)

this green is in my palette!

there are no blues in my palette but I think this looks great against tanned skin. But compare it to the green dress above…do you see a difference in the amount of harmony created in each one?

you would think that since the warm colors are based off of yellow there would be more of it in my palette, but there is only one: yellow-gold. Not sure if this buttery yellow with gold works but I think it looks amazing on me!

yes, yes, and more yes!

 

Sadly there are no purples in my palette, but this color does not look bad on me at all! Some might say it’s pretty on me! And here is the crux of working with a color palette: some colors outside my season look absolutely awful on me but more often they look totally fine! And I usually don’t mind looking “totally fine”! But right now, I’m interested in experimenting with a style that is more TOTALLY WOW than totally fine.

I don’t know if I ever blogged about this Burda jumpsuit because I was too overwhelmed by everything that was wrong with it to sit down and WRITE about it. The pattern for the jumpsuit is terrific but my fabric choice and the proportions of the garment were way off. BUt look at this color that is not in my palette! Its a greenish gray, more gray and definitely cool, and I think it looks just AWFUL on me lol. My purple-ish cool toned lipstick is not doing me any favors either but YOWSWERS no thanks.

 

I know I put this in the last post but just to reiterate: NO. This is a dress I would consider dyeing tho.

Jesus Lord NOOOOOOO

hard to tell in this photo because I am so washed out from the bright sun, but salmon is one of the only pink-ish colors I can wear and I love it on me.

Gold-yellow, yes, hello. I’m pretty pale in this pic but I think the yellow still looks good on me, which I cant say for most other colors.

This is a great example of wearing colors outside of your palette further away from your face- the skirt is white and gold which I can get away with, but the greenish gold of the bustier is def in my palette and I think it shows. I had no idea green looked great on me before I started delving into this color business, and it has been a sensational discovery.

Will obviously keep wearing this dress because I love the shark print so much, but c’mon! your eye gets drawn to the shoes cause they do more for me than the blue and white of the dress! what a shame!

 

oh god, no! BUT WHOA I LOVE MY HAIR, now I’m gonna be obsessed with getting it cut short for the next three months ugh.

 

This has a lot of navy in it but it’s predominantly a bright orange which is totally my color! Pops of non-palette colors work just fine on me as long as the main shade is my season.

 

god I love this dress. Again, not terrible! It’s such a gorgeous print and I will absolutely keep wearing it! But, you know…I’m not popping, especially with that pale pink lipstick.

 

 

This whole look is very, very weird. The hair looks like I’m trying to copy The Supremes. Don’t have much to say other than that the dress is what is popping here, not me at all.

 

 

Are we on the same page yet? Do you see what I see? Are you picking up what I’m putting down??

 

I can wear blues that are closer to green, like aqua and turquoise. I think this color really works on me.

 

 

sadly, no.

 

 

 

 

I didn’t make this dress but I’m posting it because it’s the only red I had in my closet for years and it totally works on me because it’s an orange red. The lipstick I think is something I already had on with something else because it obviously doesn’t go, but in general Im gonna steer clear of those Barbie and pale pinks- they make my mouth recede so much and just don’t GO.

You will have to rip this non-Deep Autumn dress from my cold, dead hands.

 

Not the best shot of my face and the lighting is atrocious, but hopefully you can already tell that this deep earth toned dress looks way better than say, that last silver dress.

 

Let’s end on a high note, shall we? This two piece yellow and blue works great on me, and the yellow is more lemony than gold, but I think it still works- my face looks clear and bright and harmonious with the colors radiating from the blouse!

The Curated Closet and Color Me Beautiful

I took a strong cue from my friend Renee of the Miss Celie’s Pants blog to read The Curated Closet, a lovely little book about how to cull your personal style and create a closet that works best for your tastes and lifestyle (full disclosure: I haven’t finished it yet because it was due back at the e-library before I was done with it, lol- consider this blog post part 1). Although I heard lots of good things about the book since it’s publication, I avoided reading it for a long time and I haven’t yet pinpointed exactly why. It might have something to do with protecting “freedom” in my making life, freedom to just make whatever I want to make when inspiration hits, freedom to create without boundaries, without plans, without expectations.

I also tend to connect the terms “curated” and “minimalist” together, and the word “minimalist” is not one I am usually very comfortable with. Again, not exactly sure why, but if me and my therapist had to guess (HA!), it would have something to do with growing up poor and hating not having access to all the things that my peers did. When you’re poor, you’re often living a minimalist life out of necessity, and while I made it through intact, the important thing that was absent from my life was choice. It’s possible that I wouldn’t have changed much about my material life at all if I had the power, but I still would have loved the opportunity to choose; choice is a privilege. And now, all these years later, as a working adult with financial freedom, I still carry this strange burden with me.

I have a tough time figuring out whether certain colors are warm or not, blue being one of them. Not entirely sure if this is in my palette, but I think it looks great anyways.

Anyways, I’m deciding to try something new, even if it feels a little weird at first. What is drawing me to this idea, after so long, of curating my closet with my makes? Well, I started asking myself how pleased I was with my closet in its’ current state, and although I anticipated being perfectly happy with it, after really marinating on it for a while I realized that I wasn’t. My dissatisfaction had little to do with the specific items I had made over the years, but rather the lack of cohesiveness. There were some items I had sewn that only paired with one other garment in my closet, but I seemed to have sewn even more items that went with nothing in my closet! A button down in a funky print that matched no bottoms, pants I never wore because I had no blouses or shirts to match them with, and so on and so on. The most successful “outfits” I had in my closet were just jumpsuits and dresses, things I could wear on their own. I did have a couple of ensembles comprised of more than one item that looked really cute, but because they were so few and far between I ended up getting sick of those outfits because I wore them (and wore them out) to death.

the top color in my sweater looks to be close to an oyster white, which is in my pallet, but maybe because it’s paired with the greys and black, it’s just not doing me any favors.

So what was I doing wrong? Besides, you know, making every new sewing pattern I thought was cute in every inspiring fabric I fell in love with? Well, turns out…that’s pretty much it. I wasn’t putting any thought into how my clothing worked together, I was only waiting for inspiration to hit, and then sewing impulsively from there. Guess what. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this method of making! You do what works for you and what feels right! For some reason, this stopped working for me so I am excited about exploring a different approach- I’ve seen all kinds of sewing wizards on IG and in the blogosphere who dazzle on either end of the spectrum, and I’m sure I will continue to be inspired by them all!

I love this pale, snowy pink in the Camus blouse but it is nowhere in my color palette lol- I never end up wearing it because it makes me look so pale and boring.

I hadn’t gotten very far into the book before having a couple of big revelations: 1. curating my closet was going to require me to start paying attention to color, an area in which I am mediocre at best, and 2. I did not actually dress at all like my preferred style! Shocker!!! Because I love pretty much all the things I have been wearing! But when I took an honest look at my wardrobe and tried to define my style, I couldn’t do it no matter how hard I tried. And that is because my “style”, as disappointing as it is to admit, is all over the place.

holy shit I am so tan here! Thanks for the sun, hawaii!

I had always prided myself on not caving to fads and being thoughtful about the styles of clothes I wore when I shopped RTW, but I think that when I transitioned into sewing my own clothes, that intention got lost. As I moved out of sewing strictly vintage-inspired garments and started wearing more modern silhouettes, my focus broadened-  suddenly I was excited to make the shiniest, newest patterns, no matter if it fit in with a certain “look”. It was great in terms of learning new techniques and discovering new silhouettes that I never knew I liked on myself, but unfortunately it also led to lots of garments made over the years that weren’t sewn with much intention, and therefore didn’t get a lot of wear. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with following trends and fads of course, but this method of making made no sense for my closet because not all of the newest, coolest patterns actually worked for my tastes.

I am so in love with this dress but I have only worn it once…it is not in my color palette!

I figured all of this out after starting a Pinterest board (as recommended in the book) to gather all the outfit images and visual inspiration for the style that I envisioned for myself. Again, I was shocked to see how far off I was! My closet had several individual items from my board of inspo, but hardly ANY of the outfits, so my closet and my pinterest board were practically unrecognizable to each other. One big reason for this was because the color palette of my closet and the color palette of my dream style were waaaaaay off. I mean, I had never even thought about a color palette in my life til I read about it in the Curated Closet! But sitting down and looking at the dozens of images I had compiled onto this board, my color choices were pretty clear. I liked earth tones, oranges, peaches, tans and really soft pinks, with bursts of interesting colors. It was surprising how consistent the styles and colors were on my board (because that’s not what my closet looked like), and I started getting excited because this meant there was an actual direction that my curating could take.

Here are the main takeaways I got after examining the themes in my style board:

  • I preferred simple, graphic prints over florals, so there were lots of polka dots, plaids, stripes and grids. The florals that showed up were in medium to large prints and in a subdued palette.


  • I was drawn to a playful look that still felt sophisticated. Instead of relying solely on novelty prints or bold color combinations to get across my quirky tastes, I want to experiment with pairing different kinds of textures together and mixing and matching prints. This seems like a fun way for me to mix up simple silhouettes and classic garments while not looking boring (which is how my entire closet has started to feel the more I have honed in on my personal tastes!)


  • I LOVE MONOCHROMATIC LOOKS! But I don’t have one true monochromatic outfit comprised of separates in my entire closet! What gives?!? When Katie of What Katie Sews started the #dresslikeacrayon hashtag earlier this year, I would drool over every single photo she shared and make a weak promise to myself that I would try it out myself one day, but of course I never could because nothing in my closet matched! My board also had many versions of matching print top + bottom separates, or pieces paired together with fabrics within the same color family but with slight variations in texture or shade.


  • I love dresses in two silhouettes: a simple, fitted shape with delicate but interesting details in luminous fabrics…




    …and I like midi and maxi dresses that are well proportioned to my body with a close fitting bodice.



  • The other trends I noticed were ensembles with thoughtfully layered pieces,

    big blousey sweaters and tops paired with fitted trousers and jeans,

    playfully preppy looks,

    and pattern clashing.

Seeing all this together might seem like way too many variations in style to be cohesive at all, but trust me when I tell you that it absolutely is more focused than whatever is currently going on in my closet, lol.

In her book, Rees mentions color a few times and refers to a person’s specific palette and how some people have found a lot of power from only wearing “their” colors. I of course had heard the theory of people having “seasons” before but I didn’t know much about it, so I googled to learn more…and then I went down a whole color rabbithole! It just so happened that my mother in law heard me and Renee, who was over for a visit at my in-laws house over the holidays, discussing the theory of seasons of color. She then went on a hunt to find her copy of the original book that started this trend in the early 1970’s, Color Me Beautiful by Carole Jackson. It eventually fell out of fashion but at it’s height it was considered the “bible” for fashionable women.

I read the thing cover to cover within a couple days. It was jam packed with both a wealth of thoughtful and helpful information and some of the most antiquated, racist, sexist and fatphobic tropes that you could imagine. In short, the book shares a simplified theory about how skin tones can be categorized into 2 main groups, warms and cools, and 4 sub-groups, a.k.a. seasons: Winter and Summer (the cool side of the spectrum) and Autumn and Spring (the warm side). Cools have a blue undertone and therefore benefit from wearing cooler colors that make their skin and face brighten and look alive, while Warms have yellow undertones and look best in their own specific palette of colors. In addition to understanding how color works with hair and skin and eye color, there is a section about the kinds of styles women in the strictest binary sense of the word “should” wear and how certain clothes and shapes can “make you look fat” and how that should be avoided if at all possible. Sigh. It was appealing and appalling in the same breath, and I marveled at the mess of it! I’ve been told that the book has been updated for modern times and is less problematic now, which, if true, is great, but I can only comment on what I read in the version I recieved.

The biggest issue that I noticed right off the bat was that there were only 2 models of color out of maybe 19 or 20 images throughout the book, so determining the seasons for anybody not white or light skinned has proven to be pretty much impossible for me. There are several factors used in determining what your own undertone is, but the most common way seems to be looking at the veins on the inside of your wrist/hand/arm to see if they look greenish or bluish. If you have more pigment in your skin, the color of your veins might not show up that well or at all, and there are essentially no ways listed in (my version of) the book to apply any of the other the rules to brunettes with dark eyes and brown or black skin to figure out their season, a fact that the author essentially refuses to even recognize- I guess she doesn’t understand that black and brown people can be brunettes, too.

green is in my color palette but im not sure if this blush is

I knew what my color was before I even read the book because I found information online to figure it out (I’m a deep autumn!), but the book goes into detail about WHY your color palette exists, how it’s helpful and how to apply the use of your specific colors in your wardrobe, so that stuff was helpful to me. For folks interested in reading the book who have skin color that might not be accurately reflected in the pages, try figuring out your palette with some of the quizes available online first and then using the book to supplement that knowledge.

The most helpful part of the book for me was seeing “right” and “wrong” color photos with some of the models. Although not many of them looked downright bad in the “wrong” color (and obviously there should be a different descriptive word than “wrong”, but I digress), seeing them in a hue from their specific color palette really did have a positive effect on them, which could be hard to describe in words. Sometimes it was obvious that a color washed a model out or made her look sallow, but other times I couldn’t articulate why the other color looked better on her, she just suddenly seemed to pop and look alive in the “right” color.

Seeing my Color Me Beautiful color chart for the first time made me audibly gasp- although the variety of colors seemed limited in comparison to the other seasons, it was hands down my favorite group of colors. And again, big shocker, but I hardly have any of these colors in my wardrobe. Autumns don’t have pink in their chart, nor is there much gray, two colors that show up a LOT in my closet, but there are lots of oranges, golds and browns, and more shades of green that I could even imagine! I hardly ever make things in green! There was also a lot of red, but it was orange-red, not blue -ed, and now I realize that I don’t actually despise the color red at all, I’ve just always been envisioning the wrong shade of it. Cherry red is no good on me, but brick and rust and sunset reds, all reds with a yellow undertone, are terrific. These little epiphanies were so exciting once they were revealed! I was getting direction on how to hone in on my ideal style, and instead of feeling overwhelmed about how to tackle the next steps, I was feeling focused. I mentioned this years ago in a blog post here, but earth tones, which my mom always said looked so good on me, just made me feel boring when I was a teenager- I always gravitated towards sparkly turquoises and purples and fuschias (colors not in my palette). But today when I wear those jewel toned shades, I feel like the color is what pops, not me. Well, guess what- I’m officially ready to pop!

while purple is absent from my chart, it doesn’t mean I can’t wear it- every season can wear any color they want, it just has to be in the right shade and intensity. This purple is warm and I think it looks really pretty against my skin, but I definitely should have chosen a different lipstick lol

While on the east coast visiting family for the holidays, I took a trip down to Alexandria, VA to go to Fibre Space and Stitch Sew Shop, both well reviewed yarn and fabric stores, respectively. Neither one disappointed; the moment I stepped into Fibre Space I felt overloaded with all the beauty! I wanted to touch every single skein, brush every fibre against my neck to test it’s softness, shroud myself in each sample on display. The store was cozy, beautiful, and well-designed, but the yarn selection was outstanding. The colors were exceptionally vibrant in the well-lit space and I got dizzy whipping my head around to behold everything, but then I remembered that I’d brought my color palette chart with me.

I pulled out the book and started comparing the squares of pigment on the page to what I was most drawn to in the shop, within the parameters of my palette. The bright golden yellow on the page (surprisingly the only yellow listed for my season) matched perfectly with the chunky, soft yarn I was eyeing to make a hat for myself, but the pinkish-purple-y red I liked didn’t make the cut because it had blue undertones, not yellow. Instead, I opted for a variegated mossy green with flecks of gray and forrest throughout. Easy peasy! I still brushed my fingers over all the pale pinks and powdery blues and grays because I adore those colors, but I didn’t waste my time with them- I’ve made so many sweaters in these hues that never got much wear, and now I know why!

 

the brick red hat and golden yellow velvet dress are both in my palette!

One line in The Curated Closet book stuck out for me a lot- the author says that she has always been drawn to dramatic floral prints, but that they don’t really suit her personal style so much. So instead of forcing herself into a print that didn’t make her feel her best, she started incorporating florals into her home decor, which means she still gets to see and experience the beautiful prints she loves. I love this simple twist of perspective so much. I am always, always going to love pale pastel pinks and heather grays and aquas and lemon yellows, but not having them in my color palette doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy them; if it’s in a color that it is too cool for me, I can simply try scooting them over to other places in my life, through accessories or garment linings or jewelry or home decor, and see how that feels.

My trip to Stitch Sew Shop, a curated fabric and patterns store with a space for sewing classes, was just as successful as my yarn store visit. Stitch Sew Shop store was so beautiful and upscale that it felt like an atelier! The selection was considered and alluring- instead of being bombarded with a giant selection of textiles of varying quality, I got to revel in each carefully selected bolt, which of course made me want to buy everything I saw. But I showed restraint because I had my color chart with me, and I already knew what holes from my closet needed to be filled! I bought a grayed green medium-weight corduroy (which will probably become a pair of Landers), a pumpkin colored ribbed knit that I will most likely turn into a fitted turtleneck, and one yard of an expensive and incredibly lux 3-ply silk in the deepest, most vibrant shade of rust I’ve ever seen. I plan to make a simple blouse with this one, possibly a cami or tank. Looking at my stack of yarn and fabric together was the first time I can remember making a purchase where everything actually looked like it belonged together, which I think can only bode well for getting my wardrobe into better shape.

Thanks for joining me on this very verbose journey about style and color and clothing- I have been sharing stories about the Color Me Beautiful book on my IG all week and so many people have been writing to ask for more details about it that it seemed smart to write a blog post- after all, this new method is changing the way I make and dress, and that’s what this blog is about! Once I am back home in LA, I plan to go through all my fabric and keep only the pieces that I know are in my color palette and the pieces that I am most fond of (if I don’t want to use it on myself it might still work for Claire or someone else I know).

this pink is so far away from my color palette, GOOD LORD- it’s just not doing me any favors at all.

In part 2 of this subject, I plan on actually finishing The Curated Closet and sharing some of the things I’ve learned about my style goals and what I need to do to my closet to implement them. I’m also starting a list of the key, basic, and complimentary wardrobe items that are missing from my closet that I want to make, plus any accessories I can buy to round things out and help complete certain outfits so that more of my items can work well together. Stay tuned if you want to know more about the next part of curating my closet with my color palette!

 

 

let’s close out on the positive note that is ME in this CHARTREUSE, a color that is luckily in my palette and one that I always feel terrific in!

Hacked and Wrapped Peppermint Jumpsuit Take 2

It’s Thanksgiving and I have a LOT to be grateful for, y’all! Thanksgiving has always been a tricky holiday for me, which I think I have discussed before on this blog at some point. It’s one of those cultural traditions that I just accepted when I was growing up without giving it much thought, but as I got older and started questioning so much of the history that I was taught in the Alabama school system I attended, I began to realize how complicated it is to uphold traditions that are dear to us while also being aware and even critical about where they come from and what they represent. On the whole, spending a day with family (chosen or otherwise) to break bread (gluten free or otherwise) and celebrate all you are thankful is an absolutely honorable and lovely thing to do. But it is so closely tied with excess and consumption (both of food and black friday deals), and so often separated from the horrors of all the indigenous life lost in the name of this holiday, that it can be really frustrating to know how to celebrate it appropriately. Of course I don’t have an answer for how to do it, and even if I did, that would assume there was a “right” way. All I can do on this day is try and make enough room for all the contradictions that exist within and around me- being thankful for my wonderful, supportive relationships with friends and family, for my loving, encouraging wife, for my health, for my body and all it is capable of, for therapy, for the roof over my head, for the food being cooked in the oven at this very moment, for my brother’s recovery from illness, while also saving space for the fact that so much of what I am thankful for is rooted in privilege- financial privilege, class privilege, able-bodied privilege, gender privilege, geographical privilege and more.

It’s interesting to imagine what all I would be thankful for if there weren’t so many inequities among us all.

Today I am also thankful for the firefighters (both incarcerated and not) for all the hard work they do to keep us safe. I am thankful for the sewing community- the support, encouragement and laughter generated from almost every interaction I have with some of you brightens my days and continues to inspire me. And I am thankful for being an ambassador to The Fabric Store, which keeps challenging my sewing practice, elevating my makes, and ensuring that my stash is stocked with so many divine textiles. Which leads us to our regularly scheduled blog post…

Normally I don’t put several versions of the same make on the blog, because I don’t often have all that much to say about a variation on a pattern, other than “I must really love this thing to keep making it” and “ooooh, look at this pretty fabric”! But the Peppermint jumpsuit that I hacked (thanks to inspo from some other amazing sewing bloggers) got so much attention that I figured it was smart to talk about it on the blog again, especially since I knew I wanted to make it in a slightly dressier fabric compared to my casual, summertime striped linen version.

I really do love seeing how much a pattern can be transformed when you pair it with different textiles and prints. Cotton and linen tend to have a crisper feel against the skin and a more relaxed vibe when sewn up in designs like pants and jumpsuits, but a softer, drapier, more luxurious fabric can make the same design look red carpet ready, and I was excited to see how elevated this fun (and free!) Peppermint/In the Folds jumpsuit hack would look in this gorgeous crepe rayon I got from The Fabric Store. The color I used for this make is lapis (french blue) but they have several stunning hues in this fabric and I have a couple other cuts in my stash that I have yet to dig into- I’ve just been waiting for inspiration to hit! The fabric is silky and flowy but the crepe gives it a nice surface texture that I love, which also makes it shimmer a bit in the light. It’s not transparent but it is lightweight, so I think it works best for a garment that has some ease or some pleating/gathering/folding which allows the fabric to move and dance and catch the light.

Since I had already made the hack once before, this garment was pretty straightforward to create, but I did adjust the legs a bit; the original drafting of the Peppermint Jumpsuit has a significant amount of ease in the legs (particularly around the thighs), which can be seen in all the folds created around the midsection of the garment, which is cinched in by the belt. I made the legs a bit narrower in my first hack with the striped linen fabric, but I brought the seams in even more (on the outer leg) for this crepe rayon version. They tend to bulge out a bit at the sides and look like clown pants, perhaps because of all the other adjusting I did to the top half of the pattern, so tapering them in on the sides gave a much cleaner, more classic silhouette. Everything else was pretty much the same- I created french seams on all the main seams since rayon tends to fray a lot and I prefer clean finished insides for this kind of fabric. Surprisingly I didn’t need to sew in bra strap tabs (I don’t know what the real name for this is, but it’s when you sew snaps onto a little cut of ribbon and place it inside the shoulder seam to keep your bra straps connected to the garment when either one of them likes to slide down) like I did on my striped linen version- I would think that a slinkier fabric like rayon would want to slide down much more than linen would, but the opposite turned out to be true!

One question I got asked a lot about this hack was whether or not you could create bias strips to enclose the raw edges of the neckline/wrap, and there is a way you can do it, but it will involve adjusting the way the front wrap gets attached to the crotch seam, and possibly a redrafting of that area- I think you would need to add seam allowance to the top of the crotch seam edge so that you can flip the bias-edged wrap under and connect it to the seam that way. But I haven’t tried it on this pattern and I’m only working it out in my head so that could be totally wrong, lol. I actually prefer creating a facing for the neckline that gets sewn to the jumpsuit and then under stitched because it provides a lot more stability to that area, which is cut on the bias and has a tendency to stretch out like mad. In fact, I learned after making this second version that it is essential to stay stitch the entire front and back necklines of your pattern pieces as soon as you cut them because they will want to morph out of shape as soon as you start moving the fabric around.

To create my facings, I just traced the edges of my front and back necklines on transparent pattern paper, and then I widened the shapes so that they were about 4-inches all the way around. I interfaced all the pieces, sewed the back halves together, then sewed the back piece to the front pieces at the shoulder seams. Next, I sewed the whole facing piece onto the jumpsuit, pausing at the area where the belt is attached so that I could sew it in the way I like (I prefer my wrap front to maintain it’s triangle shape at the edge, which means I can’t sew it to the belt like normal and just flip it to the right side- but if you don’t want to go through the trouble of all that, you could sew the edge flat instead of pointed).

And that’s all she wrote! I love the way this jumpsuit fits and feels (although this fabric gets a little wrinkly!) and I think I might add a little vintage romper slip (to match the fact that this is a jumpsuit) to my list of future makes because I wouldn’t mind having one more layer of fabric under this thing. I love the color, I love the effect, and I love how I look in it- I can’t wait to wear this for an #auditionlewk when I go in for Recently Divorced Mom In A Small Town Trying To Get Her Groove Back While Going Back to School to Become A Beautician 😉

Happy Thanksgiving if you celebrate it, and Happy ThanksLiving if you don’t!

 

 

 

 

See ya, 2017!

My first completed make of 2017

 

I can’t lie, I did not enter 2017 with much hope at all. After the Cheeto won the election, I had a brief surge of unfettered optimism that we as American citizens would rally together and fight for the rights of disenfranchised communities, not just here on our soil but the world over- everywhere that our capitalist, greedy, short-sighted government could reach it’s murderous talons. And then I went to the Women’s March and had my first (and so far, only) panic attack. I felt overwhelmed and angry and confused. While I have never liked being in large crowds of people, I was more anxious than usual, paranoid and scared; the march just didn’t feel like a safe space for me. I felt simultaneously proud of all the people standing in the streets to make their voices heard and terrified that this movement looked and felt so white- I wondered where the outrage was on behalf of all the women and girls of color who have been forced into sex trafficking, for the disproportionate numbers of black men spending the better parts of their lives in our for-profit prison system for non-violent misdemeanor drug charges, for the shockingly high number of infant deaths in black communities, for all the trans POC who are murdered every year who never get justice, for the effects of police brutality destroying the lives of so many black families all around the country, for the victims of the Flint water crisis.

The election was certainly a cause for public outcry, but our system was broken long before he was elected. And I felt a deep, uncontrollable sadness standing in the middle of a crowd of thousands that I wasn’t convinced would have showed up for people that didn’t look like them. Of course, it’s more complicated than that. The election was a breaking point for many people who have constantly decried the effects that institutional racism has on POC in this country, and there were sooo many people on the frontlines of the marches that have dedicated their lives to inciting change in our government and in our collective hearts. And I am so thankful for them. But on that day, all I could do was feel what I was feeling. Marches aren’t for everyone, and there is no shame in that. Lesson learned.

I started an etsy account where 100% of the proceeds of my memade items went to charitable organizations- it’s popularity has since declined lol, but I raised over $500 in a month!

I got back into therapy. I worked. I made. My creative pursuits continued to be a source of healing for me in a world that felt increasingly chaotic. And then in June I got a call from my Mom that my brother was in the hospital for a common condition that had suddenly and unexpectedly turned life-threatening. My precious, funny, kind 29 year old brother who had only recently become a father, who had married his middle school sweetheart: Nick. I wrote all about that experience here, and if you have been keeping track at all, I am SO SO happy to tell you that, 6 months later, he is recuperating from his last and hopefully final surgery to permanently cover the hole in his stomach, and he is healthy, hopeful, and excited for his future. I am so proud of how beautifully and unselfishly my sister in law and my Mom and my Dad cared for him during those relentless days where every breath he took sounded like it would be the last one, where we sat quietly in his room in the ICU holding air in our own lungs, hour after hour, willing it to fit inside Nick’s body and bring him some peace.

When I think back on how traumatizing the whole experience was for us, each in different ways, how it changed our dynamics with each other, how it trudged up secrets and shame that none of us were ready to confront, I will never forget how one his doctors stood in the waiting room with us as we all sat in chairs, listening to him, grasping onto kernels of information that he was carefully doling out. “It’s a good thing you have those pictures of his family all around the room,” he said. Tori’s mom had printed out photographs of Nick and Tori and Levi, their two year old son, and taped them high on the walls so that when Nick came out of his coma, he would see the best parts of his life beaming light right back at his broken body. “That way,” he chuckled, “the nurses and staff who are taking care of him will know he isn’t just some thug off the street.” To this day I’m not sure how that doctors head didn’t explode on the spot because the venomous daggers that my Mom and I threw from our eyes were enough to rip through more hospital walls than I could count. How dare this white doctor insinuate that my brother, or ANY person in that hospital, be a thug, a descriptor that I am assuming has everything to do with my brother’s brown skin. I thought that the hippocratic oath specifically ensured that doctors would provide the best care that they were capable of, regardless of skin color, religion, gender, ability or class, but here we had proof that this wasn’t so at all, that it was apparently my family’s responsibility to convince the hospital staff that Nick was worthy of the best care they could give. I thought so much of Trayvon Martin’s family in that moment- how I had felt so lucky that Nick wasn’t the victim of some violent crime because of someone else’s racism, but how racism was still playing a part of his life while he lay unconscious in a hospital bed.

Mom, Nick (with his wound vac), me, Dad, Tori, and baby Levi a few weeks after Nick was released from the hospital.

My time with Nick in the hospital is the only occasion I can think of in my life where making didn’t serve as a therapeutic passtime. I packed some sock yarn and needles for the trip but I couldn’t concentrate on what I was doing and my hands would shake whenever I pulled them out, either from the cold of the hospital or the fear of the unknown, I have no idea. I couldn’t manage to spread myself out, I felt best when I was a lump of focused energy aimed in Nick’s direction.

And now, here I am on the other side of what has easily been the scariest year I have ever experienced, and I feel so lucky. Bad things don’t happen to people who deserve them, they just happen, but things could have been much, much worse. As I write this blog post I think about Lladybird losing her father this past year, how sad I was for her family and how happy I was to see her keep on living her lovely life and working through the grief, how my introduction to Renee of Miss Celie’s Pants was a blog post she had written about her mother’s passing and how much I appreciated her sharing her sorrow with me, a random stranger on the internet. People like to talk a lot of shit about the narcissism of  blogging and social media and selfies, but for me, writing and reading and sharing on these platforms is way for me to connect to people, to find comfort and kindness in places that don’t always manifest in my regular life, to remind myself that yes, I was here, and by the way, my hair looked great.

These yellow overalls are definitely my most worn item of the year!

I don’t make new year’s resolutions, but, as I shared on IG recently, I am committing myself to making my living spaces more balanced and pleasant to be in. And I knocked a bunch of things off my list before the New Year even began: I got longer tables in my craft room so that I can have my 4 favorite/most used machines out at once, organized my button stash, logged in a bunch of patterns into my evernote app, and eventually I am going to get some cabinets installed on the other side of the craft room to get all my random craft materials and tools neatly stored away. I built a shelf for the guest closet, installed another shelf in our bathroom vanity, and transported all my #redcarpetDIYs to a portable closet unit in our storage area since they were just taking up space in the house. Hopefully 2018 will give me more opportunities to wear them!

And now, a bulleted year in review….

Best of 2017

  • SURVIVING IT
  • Seeing my two good friends Alex and Mary get married in Costa Rica. The wedding was scheduled just two weeks after my brother went into the ICU and I was so torn about whether or not I should go, but my Dad told me I should, and although it took a few days to get out of crisis mode, I am really glad that I got to share that special day with them. Remind me to tell you what happened when we heard a scary noise outside our airbnb in the middle of the forest….LOL
  • My friend Carly got accepted into the AFI program!
  • I got to go back to Vancouver to work on a really great show and make new memories in a city that I had once come to loathe
  • I got to hang out with Renee and Jordan in Vancouver (those hangouts are probably why I don’t loathe Van City anymore)!
  • AND Jenny of Cashmerette was there, too!
  • Claire continues to thrive in a job that she loves and it has been so exciting to watch her grow
  • My brother is ALIVE AND DOING AWESOME!
  • My Dad got really specific about what he wanted me to make him for his birthday/ Christmas and those gifts have been some of the most fun selfless makes that I have ever created
  • I taught some people how to sew/reupholster/make
  • MIMI G!!!! My new road dawg!
  • hanging with my nephew, Levi
  • getting my tarot cards read for the first time
  • sharing some political, feminist writing and feeling so supported and encouraged by most everyone who read it
  • the movie Get Out
  • finishing my Octopus sweater
  • learning ASL
  • being a guest on the Love to Sew podcast

Worst of 2017

  • the ban of trans people in the military
  • everything else the government did
  • Claire having to go vegan
  • not enough making/creating time for myself
  • fatphobia
  • so many mass shootings
  • the entire Saga of Nick’s Pancreatitis, obvi
  • my summer hair cut. I loved it for 3 days then I wanted every single inch back. I need to get a tattoo to remind me NOT to cut my hair off every time I want to cut my hair off
  • those goddamn orange corduroy pants

What’s Happening in 2018, Jasika?

  • more shoe making!
  • at least two bags!
  • so many vegetables. so. many. vegetables.
  • a possible secret project with Mimi G! #Mimi&J
  • positive and sustainable political change!
  • pants making!
  • cute workout clothes!
  • Renee said she is coming to visit! Let’s all hold her accountable to this!
  • my first screenplay!
  • reupholstering some vintage dining room chairs!
  • house upgrades/renos (??)
  • getting the backyard garden together!
  • meeting my shining light and inspiration Heather Lou in the flesh!
  • “work work work work work” -Rhianna
  • Camp Workroom Social (??)
  • A CONSISTENT AND CONTAGIOUS SENSE OF PEACE EMANATING FROM MY BODY AT ALL TIMES (??)

As always, I am grateful for your readership, your encouragement, your thoughtful comments and your ability to laugh with me. My wish is that, no matter how your year went, you are looking forward to what 2018 brings. Genuine hope for the future is at once both empowering and soothing; let it carry us into the new year, and beyond!

Essay for the Sewcialists Blog

After so much thoughtful and supportive feedback from my NOLA Skirt post, I was excited to have a chance to expand a little bit more on the concept of intersectional crafting. Thank you Gillian for giving me a platform to share with your readers over on the Sewcialist blog and for urging me to contribute something- these ideas have been rattling around in my head for a while now and this was the kick in the pants I needed to put pen to paper pixel to screen and fashion them into something cohesive and hopefully relatable. You can click here to head over to the Sewcialist’s blog and read my piece, My crafting, like my feminism, is intersectional. To all who have read it already, thanks so much for your support and for continuing the dialogue amongst your own crafting buddies!

Whitewashing NOLA

I made this skirt a while ago, and honestly there isn’t much to it. It’s a self drafted dirndle skirt, one long skinny rectangle sewed onto a longer and wider rectangle with gathering on one side- about the easiest garment you can make. What is significant about this make is the fact that it was made with fabric that I purchased from Fabric.com. It’s called “Stof France New Orleans Multi-color” which is incredibly ironic considering that once it arrived in the mail, I didn’t see any kind of “multi” in the identities that it represented. Sure, it’s decked out in purples and oranges and blues of the most dynamic shades- it’s one of the reasons I purchased the fabric in the first place, because the colors were singing to me through my computer screen, and also because I love a good print, and also because it’s neat when humans are slyly integrated into textile designs. But I assumed (incorrectly, it turns out), that the vibrance of color shown in the environment of the print would be reflected in the skin color of the ladies peppered throughout. On a whim I had bought one yard of this fabric that was supposed to represent the color and magic of New Orleans, but in actuality it was just a portrait of several white women painted onto a brilliant background. I mean, did the person making this fabric not even see Lemonade??

Honestly I didn’t think much about it at first. Yes, I assumed that the ladies printed on the NOLA fabric would be representative of the black cultural hub that is and has always existed in that part of the country, but I am wrong about these things all the time. It’s a side effect of growing up in a white supremacist society, to be a person of color constantly forced to recognize yourself in whiteness because that is all that has been available for so long. But the older I get and the more I surround myself with people who want to have these difficult conversations about what it feels like to be starving for yourself, the more validated and empowered I feel to call out the problematic stuff when I see it. There are bigger injustices happening in this world than a company printing a fabric illustrating the beautiful women of NOLA that doesn’t imagine any of them as being non-white, I get that. However, this little stuff is just a side effect of the big stuff, and it still impacts our community. With young brown kids not seeing themselves in the novelty firefighter sheets they want, not seeing their skin color in the people that play doctors on TV, not seeing their hair on Barbie Dolls. It starts to feel like they don’t matter, like they can’t achieve great things, like they will never be first in line for anything worthwhile. I know this is true because it’s what I felt growing up. Sometimes it makes these kids have to work harder to get to the same level that their white peers are at. But other times it makes them feel overwhelmed and tired and not motivated to try at all because the deck already feels so stacked against them. In a general sense, representation in the media has gotten better. But better doesn’t carry much weight when you were so far from good in the first place.

I stewed about this whitewashed fabric for a few hours and then I decided I would try to fix it. I pulled out some of my nicest, most vivid markers: a deep yellow, like the color of my skin in winter. A bright coffee colored brown, what I look like after a day at the beach. A dark cocoa colored marker that looks like my cousin Kaylan’s beautiful skin. A deep brownish red that matches the color of an old friend from high school. I took the markers and I slowly, very carefully, filled in the arms, the cheekbones, the hands, and the feet of some of the women on the fabric. I made them various shades of reds, yellows and browns, the way that my family looks, the way that my community looks. I had to be careful so that the colors wouldn’t bleed through to the other side, and I promised myself I would never launder this skirt so that the marker colors wouldn’t spread pigment everywhere in the wash. But after about 30 minutes of sitting on my living room floor, meticulously coloring inside the lines, it looked pretty good, and I was proud of it.

It is so rare to find regular novelty print merchandise like fabric and linens and coffee cups and pencil cases and lunchboxes that depict a whole range of nationalities; white is simply the default here in the US, and everyone outside of that community has to find a way to see themselves in that default whether it pertains to us or not. Recently on instagram I posted an in-process photo of a brightly hued chartreuse dress that I was making, and someone (innocently enough) commented that they had never thought that the super intense yellow color would look good on anyone, and they were surprised that it looked great on me. I found this very telling.

When you are white in America (and certainly other places, too), there is a tendency to see everything through the lens of your own experience. Since neon chartreuse doesn’t look good on your skin (and presumably the skin of most white people you know), you assume it’s just a terrible color, period. You neglect to recognize that there is a whole other community of other shades of people whose skin is absolutely radiant when you pair it with bright, bold colors; just because something doesn’t match your personal idea of what works certainly doesn’t mean it won’t match gloriously on other people that aren’t like you. And that is the crux of my issue with this “multi” New Orleans fabric; so many privileged people are unused to being challenged about their concept of the world because the world has historically operated to suit their needs, and the effect that this has on the people who don’t fit into their group is devastating. This goes beyond skin color obviously- gender, sexuality, ability, religion, all of these identities are affected when the dominant group in power does little to recognize other communities’ existence and importance. That said, it’s amazing how far a little compassion for people who experience the world differently than you can go.

I know that the aforementioned instagram commenter meant no harm when she made her statement about the chartreuse color, but that’s not the point; ignorance is hardly ever intentional. Like many people of color, I have grown up learning how to make room for my own preferences in addition to the preferences of people unlike me  (I still have a long way to go in recognizing the privileges I have as cisgender, able-bodied, etc). This is a skill that so many people who identify outside of white/heterosexual/binary + cisgender has honed: an ability to recognize the universal qualities of  love and relationships, even if they don’t identify with the people presenting them. And it’s a skill that many people who ARE white/heterosexual/binary + cisgender rarely have to use; they aren’t forced to see the similarities between themselves and people not like them because they are inundated with examples of love, loss and life that already match up with their identities and experiences in the world.

Here’s an example: I remember having a conversation a couple years ago with a famous comedic actor whose work I absolutely LOVE. We were at an audition when we met and we quickly realized that we were fans of each other’s work, which got us to talking and laughing and wiling away the time in the waiting room together. While in mid-conversation, I realized that Erika Alexander, a QUEEN and an amazing actor from a ton of hit tv shows was also in the room, and I was (quietly) squealing in delight to my new friend about how excited I was to see her in person.
“Can you believe she is HERE in this room with us?? I’m freaking out!” I said.
He looked at me quizzically and asked “wait, who is that again?”
“Huh?” I implored. “You don’t know who Erika Alexander is?? First known by fans as Cousin Pam from the Cosby Show but most notably as Max from the fantastic 90’s sitcom Living Single?
And he looked me right in the eyes, chuckled, and said “Oh, that was a black show right?  Yeah, I don’t think I was really the demographic for that one.”
Oh boy. OHHHHH BOY! If you could have seen how deflated I was, how absolutely gutted that this charming, funny guy had let such disappointing words come out of his mouth. It’s one thing if you had never heard of the show or didn’t like it, but to be familiar with Living Single (which, by the way, was a BIG hit in it’s day) and to have intentionally stayed away from it because you didn’t think it was for you? Now THAT is a shining example of privilege if I have ever seen one. I wanted to ask him ‘Do you think FRIENDS was meant for me? Do you think I was the show’s intended demographic? Or the demographic for Who’s The Boss? Or 90210? Or Melrose Place? Or the X Files? Or Step By Step? Or Growing Pains? Or Full House? Or virtually any other hit network TV show that I obsessed over when I was growing up? No! They weren’t made for me specifically, but I watched them anyways because I wanted to be entertained, and since diverse casts that DID represent me were so rare, I didn’t have much choice in the matter! But guess what, I STILL managed to find myself in the shows with all white casts because love and relationships are fucking universal and one of the most perfect depictions of this was the fact that Ross and Rachel’s tumultuous and hilarious relationship on FRIENDS was every bit as nuanced and relatable as Max and Kyle’s on Living Single, but guess which TV pairing gets praised and talked about more often in nostalgic articles about TV of yore? YEP, YOU GUESSED IT, THE WHITE ONE, and wonder why that is?! Because people like you insisted that shows with black casts simply were not meant for you to watch!”

Of course, I didn’t actually say this. I never do. Because, you know, angry black woman trope and all. It was probably just one of many microaggressions that I experienced that week, no use in raising a fuss. Instead I just pursed my lips, smiled, and said “that’s a shame, Living Single was a really terrific show, you might have liked it”. And then I went and introduced myself to Erika, trying to hold back tears from springing to my eyes because it’s hard not to get emotional when you’re in the presence of a legend.

I don’t know how to wrap this post up, and I barely know I got started, since this is clearly more of a “Musings” post than a “Sewing” one. But as I was thinking of how to share this skirt and what it was I REALLY wanted to say about it, I remembered this great quote that I recently came across. It went something like, you don’t stand up to ignorance in the hopes of changing anyone’s minds, you stand up to ignorance in the hopes that the others around who might be too scared or uncomfortable saying something will hear you, will feel empowered, validated and less lonely. That idea really resonated with me. I am absolutely uninterested in debating with people to try to get them to agree with me on such sensitive topics; more often than not, ignorant, racist, homo/transphobic people don’t want to get it, and me wasting my breath trying to educate them about their privilege and hoping to incite in them some sense of empathy and compassion is a losing, exhausting battle. But I do like the idea of being a conduit for  someone else who might not be comfortable using their voice yet. At the very least, hearing hateful rhetoric or seeing problematic behavior might not inspire you to speak up if you are alone and afraid, but if you hear someone else doing it, that might change over time, and perhaps even compel you to speak up when it happens again.

So. If you are reading this post and feeling unbearably offended, then clearly it wasn’t meant for you (and I would imagine nothing on my blog is, lol- what are you doing here??) This post is meant for any people out there who have felt invisible, ignored, misheard, interrupted, quieted because they don’t fit in with what is considered “normal”. It’s for the parents of brown kids who went shopping for firefighter sheets and who didn’t buy them because all the faces under the helmets were white. It’s for folks who understand the power of institutional racism but don’t always recognize the trickle down effects it has on communities and individuals. It’s for the print makers out there who might consider broadening their understanding of what they think their audience wants to see.

I’ve only worn this skirt once but I got several compliments on it, and I am making sure that when I wear it again, I let the person complimenting me know that this New Orleans fabric arrived with only white women depicted on it, and that I made it better by coloring in some of those faces with different shades of myself. Representation isn’t just for the marginalized, it’s for the betterment of all of humanity, and I am hoping that we all find the power to continually stand up for what is right and fair, in our lives and beyond, for ourselves and others, no matter how tiny the impact feels. Because it matters, I promise, even if it’s just to you.

An Interview with Claire!

Someone wrote a comment recently on my post about making Claire a bro/binder– they thought it would be a fun idea for me to interview Claire and post it to the blog. Claire and I had joked a bit about doing that very same thing, not thinking that we would actually do it, but after I read the commenter’s suggestion, I thought, WHY NOT? Initially I was just going to ask Claire some questions and then type out her answers, but it seemed like making a video would be quicker and more fun. Also, I can’t ignore the importance of queer visibility across any all platforms- these days, whether you’re taking a knee during the national anthem, correcting people on their use of your preferred pronouns, or calling your senators to demand that they provide smart and affordable healthcare options to ALL their constituents, making yourself seen and heard on your own terms feels revolutionary. So here we are! Talking about binders, bros, intimate apparel and the gender binary! Cause my sewing is just as intersectional as my feminism is!

I hope you enjoy!

Nick

https://www.instagram.com/p/BV1C42DhYYq/?taken-by=jasikaistrycurious

It is Monday morning in Los Angeles and the traffic is bad and I am in a Lyft on my way to the airport and I know for absolute certain that I am going to miss my flight. It’s my fault. It has been an excruciating week and in my frenzy to prepare for this unexpected trip to Florida I miscalculated the time I needed to get to LAX on time. I try to breathe slow and deep because I do yoga and this is how someone who does yoga is supposed to respond to stressful situations. I check the time on my phone in between my deeply slow breaths. My flight is at 8:11AM. It is now 7:32AM. Me and Ze, my driver, are at a complete standstill as we merge onto the 405. I look out the window at the other cars and marvel at how calm I probably seem. My phone rings and it is my Mom who is waiting for me in Florida. I open my mouth to tell her that I am going to miss my flight and that I will try to get on the very next one that is available but her sobs break through before I can say anything. She is crying so hard that I can barely understand her. Nick has to have an emergency surgery, she says. It’s so risky that the doctors are telling her to call all the family members to FL so that they can say their goodbyes in case he doesn’t survive. Nothing has changed about the bright, already hot sun beating through the window of the car but it feels like everything around me has gone dark- it’s as if my eyes used to hear and suddenly my vision is silent. Dim. I know I am alive but I think my body must have stopped working. But after the jolt of my mother’s words hits me, I come back to life and start sobbing in the back of Ze’s car, deeply and slowly, and telling my Mom that I will be missing my flight but that I will be there as soon as I can, to hang on. I hate that she is having to go through this alone. I hate that I am having to go through this alone. She asks me to call our Dad, whose week has been as horrific as mine has, and tell him this news so that he can fly to FL and be with us. I hang up and start calling him, my fingers moving from memory since my eyes are too blurry to see clearly. He won’t answer his phone. I call him five more times. Then I text my wife and tell the news, that Nick might not survive. I wonder what Ze is thinking because he won’t meet my eyes in the rearview.

****

When my Lyft car pulls up to the departures terminal, I am overwhelmed. I am about to have to navigate one of the most densely populated public spaces in the city, one that I am barely successful at handling even with a week of good sleep and good news. Ze hurriedly gets out of the car, pulls my suitcase from the trunk and tells me to have a great day before speeding off. I can’t believe he is saying that to me when I know for a fact that he could hear my moms screams traveling through the phone and soaking the backseat of his car. I want to punch him in his gut. Inside the airport, my fear stricken, teary face makes most people look away from me while others stare, unashamed. I don’t try to hide my emotions. I’m used to performing grief because of my job, but I realize I haven’t ever felt it, not for real, not for something so big. I wonder if this crisis will make me a better actor. I immediately feel ashamed at the thought. I don’t understand how there is enough room in my brain for terror and ego. The woman behind the Spirit Airlines counter tells me I have not checked in in time to make my flight. I nod yes, I understand. The earliest I can get you on a flight would be at 5:43 this evening, she says. My eyes are buckets, I have no idea what to do to keep myself upright. I don’t want to blubber in front of her, I want to be clear and concise. “My…my….my brother….is dying”, I sputter, “and I need to get to Tampa as soon as possible. Please.” My voice comes out quiet, and I am still breathing deeply and slowly, but my face has exploded all down the front of my shirt, on top of the Spirit Airlines counter. The woman behind the desk averts her eyes and doesn’t say anything, she just types away on her keyboard, and I am afraid she didn’t hear me, that I am going to have to say those words again, words that not even my Dad has heard me say yet. Finally she tells me that she can get me on the next flight, which leaves in an hour, and hands me my ticket. My relief only lasts for a few seconds before it gives way to fear again. I will be on this emotional seesaw for weeks to come.

*****

My sweet brother Nick, eight years my junior, who was not always sweet, who was actually kind of a butthole when we were growing up but who ended up becoming one of the most compassionate and lovely people I’ve ever known, lives in Tampa, FL with his wife Tori, his girlfriend since middle school, and their 18 month old son Levi, who I adore to no end. My Mom lives in the same apartment complex  as they do with my sister, Sedi. Nick and Tori had gone to the ER a week prior when he started vomiting and experiencing painful stomach cramps that wouldn’t let up. He was admitted to the ICU and diagnosed with acute pancreatitis, which was scary, but fine, and then told he would need to have a massive diet and lifestyle change to address his health from here on out, which was surprising, but manageable. I decided I would fly down for a few days to see him in the hospital and help cheer him up, maybe offer some help to Tori by picking Levi up from daycare and making dinner while she was at the hospital. But within a couple of days Nick’s organs started shutting down, and then his kidneys were failing, and then we were told he might need to go on dialysis, or have a plasmapheresis, or get a blood transfusion, and then he was having trouble breathing and he got aggressive with the nursing staff and threw an IV pole at a window, shattering it. It turns out that his liver was shutting down with the rest of his organs and leaking ammonia into his brain, which causes this kind of erratic behavior, but the doctors didn’t know that at the time. They just strapped him down to his hospital bed for being a “danger” to the staff.

*****

I get to my gate and try to call my dad again, who still isn’t near his phone, which is a relief honestly because how can I tell him this news? So I sit down on my suitcase and begin texting everyone that would want to share this pain and worry with me. My closest cousin Kaylan, Mandy from high school, Larry from college. I talk to my wife, Claire, who asks me if I want her to catch a flight and meet me down in FL. I tell her no. I want her with me so very badly, but I realize, with tears streaming down my face, that she might have to come down later for a funeral and I don’t want her to have to take off more work than necessary. Even through my grief I maintain my high standards of codependency. I board the plane right as my brother is being wheeled into the surgery that doctors aren’t sure he will recover from. The surgery entails cutting open his abdomen from his ribs to his belly button so that they can relieve the pressure on his organs, which have been shutting down because they are so swollen from all the extra fluids that his pancreas isn’t properly processing. This is why he can’t breathe, because his body doesn’t have enough room in it for his lungs to work. After they cut him open they will cover his stomach with a piece of plastic called a bogota bag (don’t google this thing unless you’re the kind of person who googles these things) and wait for the pressure to subside. But he has to make it through the surgery first.

*****

Two hours later we begin our descent into Chicago where my layover is, and my world dims again. My heart is beating fast and steady, despite these deep breaths I am taking. I am terrified for this plane to land, because I know that when it does, I will find out whether Nick survived. I am so afraid of bad news that I think I would rather live the entire rest of my life on this plane than be vulnerable to it. My eyes are welling up again, and I feel conspicuous, packed into the middle seat between two strangers who have no idea that my life seems to be collapsing at a rapid rate. The plane touches down. I hear phones dinging and beeping as passengers turn them on. I hold mine in my hands tightly, still in airplane mode. I squeeze my eyes shut. I am an atheist, which I am not ashamed of. I don’t pray because it doesn’t feel real in my heart and offers me no relief. But I am ashamed that I don’t know how to handle the deep waves of fear flowing in with each (deep) breath I take. I have to do something; no matter how terrifying it feels, I still have to show up for my life. I tell myself that this is what it means to be brave, to find yourself stuffed into the darkest part of your fears and to force yourself out of your hiding spot. It seemed like such a small thing to do, turning my phone on, but I had to trust myself, had to have faith in my own power, in my own ability to handle whatever came next, whether good or bad.

I turned my phone on. The first text I saw was from my Mom. It read “He made it!”

*****

When I finally made it to the hospital in Tampa late that night, my Mom, surprisingly calm, greeted me in the lobby and took me up to his room (my poor Dad couldn’t get a flight til the next morning). Nick was in a medically induced coma with a tube coming out of his mouth that was connected to a machine that was breathing for him. He was feverish, his blood pressure kept spiking, and his body was massive from the swelling. It would be days before I saw him open his eyes and even longer before I would hear his voice, which came out gruff, pained and scared. Once he was finally conscious, he drifted into ICU psychosis, a fairly common but sometimes dangerous response that occurs when physical trauma is combined with lots of meds and a 24/7 loop of beeps, whistles, and nurses. His poor brain just wasn’t clear and he was paranoid, confused, and constantly asking why his arms were tied to the bed, which at this point was more for his safety than the staff’s- he didn’t understand that he had just had a surgery in which the contents of his abdomen were completely exposed and he kept pawing at the mound of bandages on his belly.

Me, Mom, Dad, Tori, and Tori’s mom and little brother Tate cried on each other, laughed with each other, took turns holding Nick’s hand. We were exhausted and we felt powerless, but all we could do was share the space with him, be witnesses to his labored breathing, his pain. We tried to remember all the funny stories we would tell Nick about the experience once he was on the other side, like how he made me lean in close before quietly asking me to please make an announcement to the hospital. Sure, I said, what do you want me to say? “Drinks…are on meee!” he rasped. The television in the waiting room of the ICU was playing Steven King’s IT for what seemed like days and days and days. That movie never scared me, but compared to the agony of what was happening in Nick’s room, it seemed like a romantic comedy.

I never got comfortable with praying, but I came up with something that kept my thoughts out of the dark realm and into something that felt more optimistic. For father’s day, I had made Nick a leather wallet, cut and stitched by hand and stamped on the front with his initials. But he had gone into the hospital the week before father’s day and had not had a chance to open the package beforehand. Instead of obsessing over the possibility that he might never open it, which I would do late at night in my hotel room, I would close my eyes and visualize him holding it. In my head I could see him sitting at a table, with the same patient grin he always has on his face, slowly taking out all the cards and pictures and bills out of his old wallet and moving them into the crisp slots of his new one. Out with the old, in with the new, over and over again. It wasn’t a request or a wish. The scene never changed, and it became a bit of a mantra for me. Whenever I felt scared about what the doctor was telling us or worried about his lack of progress or stressed about having to leave Tampa without seeing him fully healed, I would imagine Nick at his table, chillin’, not a care in the world, holding his new wallet. It was another way for me to be brave, focusing all my energy into visualizing him as healthy and happy rather than letting my negative thoughts create a narrative that felt too hard to escape, which is unfortunately a much easier thing for me to do. And I guess that is like prayer, a little. It didn’t get rid of the fear. But the hope felt good.

*****

It is nearly two months later, we are in his living room and Nick is sitting up on his couch. He spent a month in the ICU, a couple of weeks in a rehab hospital, and now he is home, surprising each of his doctors with his tenacity and dedication to recuperating. He is 40 pounds thinner, and he moves slowly because his stomach is, unbelievably, still open, though this time the hole is covered not with a piece of clear plastic but with a mesh material that works in tandem with a device that squeezes his belly closed a little each day. After weeks of laying down with his stomach open, gravity has made his insides splay out and it will take time to smoosh everything back together again. A tube hangs out of the bottom of his tank top which is connected to a small machine that continues to suck fluids out of stomach. His energy is low, he takes long naps each day and we are waiting to find out the details of the last surgery he will need, a skin graft that will close his stomach up for good. But his sweet grin is still there. His sense of humor is still there. His eyes sparkle whenever Levi runs up to him to give him a hug. It’s still Nick, beautiful and alive. He opens the envelope that I put in the mail what feels like three lifetimes ago and releases the wallet from bubble wrap. “Aww, cool!”, he says. I am staring at him with an intensity that is probably unnerving. He has no idea how much of the last two months of my life have been balanced on whether or not this moment would come to fruition. The buckets behind my eyes are teetering, but I steady them, and this time I am successful. I want this moment, for Nick, to be normal. Because I can feel how important it is for him to move forward from the crisis we have all endured. I can feel the distance between us when we try and tell him the stories we collected during those weeks when he was “out”. He wasn’t really there, and he doesn’t want to be. Those are our war stories. He just wants to be here now. Me and my brother are such different people- I like to bask in my bottomless cauldron of emotions and Nick likes to take it all in stride, get through it with a grin, meet me on the other side. We are both right.

I give him a kiss on the cheek and I say “I am so glad you like it!”. He deserves for this moment to be normal, because he has been the bravest of us all.

________________________________________________________________________

 

 

This post is obviously different than what usually goes up on my blog, but it definitely belongs here, as Nick’s health scare was a really big part of my life this summer. When I sat in the airport waiting for my first flight, I felt helpless and terrified and I surprised myself by sharing what was going on with my brother on instagram- I had already made one post about Nick when things were initially looking bad earlier in the week, but I didn’t imagine I would bring so many people with me on the bumpy journey that followed. It was one of the best decisions I made. My heart was warmed by the kind words, prayers, and virtual hugs that strangers shared with me from across the globe. Many of these people contributed to my brother’s family’s Go Fund Me page, too, which was amazing and which we are all so thankful for! I think we can safely say that Nick is out of the woods now (although we are still waiting for that skin graft surgery), but he has been out of work for months and we are unsure of when he will be able to go back (even though he is itching to get back to his regular life ASAP). A recuperation of this magnitude obviously will take many months so he is trying to be patient while he gets his strength back and does physical and occupational therapy. We are continuing to raise money to help pay for their bills while Nick’s body keeps getting healthy. Tori has been steadily working and supporting the family since Nick first went to the hospital, but without his additional income they need all the extra help they can get. During these VERY TRYING times, I know that our pockets are stretched thin donating to hurricane relief, political candidates, civil rights and advocacy groups, etc. So if are unable to donate, a share of their Go Fund Me on social media or a kind thought in the direction of my brother’s family in Tampa would be so appreciated! If you are already a follower on IG, I thank you so much for your support thus far, and I thank you all for reading.

A Weekend in Hell, or How to Organize Your Sewing Patterns

There are many, many, many awesome posts by sewing bloggers about how they organized their massive collection of sewing patterns, and if I’m being honest, I don’t think the world necessarily needs another one. BUT! I have decided to add my 2 cents anyways because I found a lot of annoying issues with the method that I used that not many bloggers mentioned in their posts. You, dear reader, deserve to know exactly why I was so frustrated with how I organized mine so that you don’t make the same mistakes that I did! Or at the very least, so that you know what you are getting into from the beginning and can be fully prepared for any frustrations that may result!

I bought an IKEA filing cabinet for all my physical patterns last year and organized them in a simple but efficient manner- my top drawer has all my pattern envelopes divided into loose categories (bottoms, dresses, jumpsuits, etc) and the bottom two drawers have all the copied pattern pieces in ziploc bags since I trace all my patterns to keep the originals intact. I don’t have a ton of vintage patterns so I didn’t get the nice cardboard backs with plastic sleeves that many sewist opt for, I just have mine standing up in their drawer with a few tabbed cardboard dividers and it works great.

My oversized patterns (like Jalie and the designer ones from Vogue) are in an open box on top of the filing cabinet. I have been happy with the physical organization of my patterns ever since they made their way into the cabinet, but I have hated how all my physical patterns were in a separate space from my digital ones, of which I have even more. I desperately needed to find a way to have all my patterns in one place so I could easily see what was in my stash.

I knew I had two options in organizing my patterns: to 1. store them digitally, by transferring all my physical copies of patterns into a digital format or 2. store them physically, by printing out the images of all my PDF copies of patterns and storing them with my physical copies. This is a matter of preference, of course, but for me the choice was easy- digital all the way! Now I just needed to figure out what app would meet my criteria for optimal organization. My needs were:

  • having a clear image of the pattern envelope or line drawing of the pattern that I could see when I scrolled through the database
  • an easy way to catalogue different types of patterns (sewing/knitting/crafting) and a way to create more categories within those groups, like socks, sweaters, hats, etc. under KNITTING and pants, dresses, tops, jackets, etc. under SEWING
  • a way to tag each pattern with key terms like “vintage”, “casual”, “red carpet DIY”, “summer”, etc.
  • search function for tags and sewing company names
  • a way to add notes about the pattern if necessary
  • access to the app from more than one device (I want my patterns available on both my phone and iPad)

I did a bit of research on the interwebs to get a better grasp of all the fancy ways people organized their patterns and found that most people used one of three apps: Dropbox, Evernote, or Tap Forms. There were other apps that came up, including one specifically developed for sewists and their pattern cataloguing, but the app was defunct by the time I found it, no longer available to buy or use. The Dropbox option seemed interesting to me since I already use Dropbox for sharing and sending big files like audition tapes and photos for this blog, but I didn’t like the interface for the app and it’s not really designed for organization. Dropbox’s main use is for storing files and sharing them easily, so it’s search functions were pretty rudimentary, it didn’t show photos or a cover image of the files that were stored depending on what device you were using, and it was generally a bit clunky.

Tap Forms came highly recommended by the Colette blog, but when I researched it, it cost $16.99 for the premium version, and I thought that was just too high a cost for something that I wasn’t going to be using frquently. For the record, I have the utmost respect for app developers and I see no problem paying good money for something that I will use often that will make my life easier, but I knew I wasn’t going to be using the app more than a few times a month, so after perusing the app details in iTunes, I passed on it. This decision ended up sort of biting me in the ass later, which I will get to shortly.

Evernote seemed like a much better fit for me for several reasons. Firstly, it was free, but I also liked that it was so popular. Much like Tap Forms, it showed up in my research as an effective way to catalogue all sorts of collections, from recipes and writing to sewing patterns, but it also seemed like the app that I was most likely to use in other aspects of my life. The interface was very intuitive, and without reading any tutorials or instructions I was able to quickly figure out how to create a “note”, put it in a “notebook”, and create “stacks of notebooks”.

A notebook stack with a list of notes inside

For my purposes, I created a note for each pattern, and I used the name of the pattern as the title of the note, for example “Waffle Patterns Cookie Zipper Blouson”, as seen above. The notebook that this pattern went into would be called “Outerwear”, and the stack that contained this notebook was called “Sewing Patterns”. The app basically allows you to create categories and sub-categories that you can easily see at a glance and move around. Adding tags for each note is easy, and the app stores each of the tags you use so that if you start typing a previously used term, the whole tag pops up automatically (see below).

Tags

In the beginning, everything seemed to be going smoothly, but that didn’t last long! The first issue I ran into occured after I had catalogued about 10 patterns. Suddenly a message popped up in the app saying that I had already met my monthly allowance of data entry and that if I wanted to input more I would need to upgrade to a premium account, starting at $3.99 a month. I thought it was free!!! I can’t blame this on the app because I clearly had not paid attention to the fine print that said that the free subscription was only allotted a certain amount of space in the app per momth, but I was still very annoyed. Even if I had read that part of the description, I probably would not have known how much space that actually was (I don’t know a GB from a MB from a TLC). Turns out, it’s about enough space for…10 patterns. I briefly considered switching to the Tap Forms app since it also cost money and in the long run seemed like it might be cheaper than paying a monthly fee, but I had already familiarized myself with the Evernote format and I didn’t want to turn back after getting such a good start. I begrudgingly upgraded to the premium account for Evernote and had entered maybe two more patterns when I ran into my next (and most frustrating) problem with the app.

When creating a new note in Evernote, my first step would be to

  1. type in the name of the pattern,
  2. create tags for the pattern,
  3. take a photo of the pattern envelope and then
  4. take a photo of the back of the pattern envelope with the sizing, yardage and technical drawing.

In the beginning I was using my phone to complete these tasks, which was quick and easy- each note took about a minute or so to complete. But as I started to scroll through the notes I had created, I realized that the second photo I took, the one of the back of the envelope with the pattern details listed, was showing up first. Evernote has a sidebar on the left side of the app that allows you to scroll through your list of notes, and if the note contains images, that’s the information you see first. It’s one of the things I was attracted to most about using this app to categorize my patterns: when I click on the Notebook for dresses, a get to scroll through each pattern’s image, which feels just like flipping through the actual envelopes. So you can imagine how frustrating it was to scroll through 5 patterns with images of vintage dresses that are followed by 3 patterns with photos of envelope backs. I couldn’t figure out why the wrong photos were showing up since I was making sure to take the photo of the front of the envelope before I took the one of the back, and uploading the photos to the note in the same order. I searched in the app for a way to set an order to the photos used in a note, like if there was a way to designate one of the photos as the “cover” image, to no avail.

 

see how in the upper lefthand corner the top image is of the pattern BACK instead of the pattern front? I DON’T LIKE THIS!

Finally I did some googling and found out that this was an issue that many users had with Evernote, and apparently it was designed to operate this way. Evernote doesn’t give you the option to order your photos in a certain way, and it doesn’t matter which photos you upload first- the image with the largest amount of data automatically shows up first in the note. So to get around this, I needed to make sure that my first photo was the “largest” file and my second photo (the back of the pattern) was smaller. I tried taking a photo very close to the pattern front, filling the frame of my camera lens, and then taking a photo further away of the pattern back, but this only worked about half of the time. Sometimes I had to take a photo so far away from the pattern back that I could barely read the writing in the image, and even then there were many times when that photo was still larger than the pattern front photo. I rigged a backdrop for the envelopes, thinking that a blank background would make the image “smaller”, but that didn’t seem to work either. I tried many different things to figure out how to keep my second photo from being too big, and sometimes they worked, other times they didn’t. It made an already laborious task take even longer, taking photo after photo and cropping it repeatedly to try and get it to be the right size for the note. I couldn’t believe that I was now paying for an app that I initially thought was going to be free and putting in all this extra work into it when I also thought it was going to be easy. There were SO many swear words being thrown around my craft room as I stood at my cutting table for hours, capturing each pattern piece on my iPhone. Eventually I started using my iPad which made it easier to see what the camera was capturing and made the work slightly more manageable, but dealing with the app was still a pain in my ass. I couldn’t turn back at this point though, because by now I had logged in about 50 patterns and I didn’t want all my time to have been wasted.

Documenting all my physical copies of patterns, despite Evernote’s poor design, was the easy part- next came categorizing all my PDF patterns, and I knew that was going to take even more work. Instead of using a phone to capture the images for these patterns, I just opened them up in my Notability app (which is where I store all of my PDF instruction booklets) and took screenshots of the pattern and the pattern details, which I then had to crop perfectly so that the design image would show up in the note first. It was much easier to get these photos in the right order since I was working with screen images instead of actual camera images, but it still took extra time.

A quick note on Notability- it’s been the app I use to store and view my PDF patterns on my iPad ever since I knew what a PDF pattern was. It would have been awesome to use it exclusively for storing and viewing all my patterns, but it is missing a lot of the functions I was looking for in an app, like tagging search terms and viewing the pattern designs easily and quickly. Like Dropbox, it’s great at it’s main function but doesn’t do much for me beyond that.

After all my downloaded PDFs were logged in, the next order of business was to collect all the patterns that I had NOT downloaded yet, essentially a slew of Seamwork designs that I accumulated when I had a subscription to the magazine. After I downloaded them onto the portable hard drive where I keep my patterns, I took each pattern’s screenshots and put them into Evernote with the appropriate information. Lastly, I had to hunt down the images for a bunch of Burda patterns I had purchased years ago (I don’t sew often with Burda patterns, but years ago when I first discovered the online sewing community I caught the Burda bug and bought a bunch of patterns that I quickly learned I wasn’t quite skilled enough to complete…yet). The Burda patterns took a long time to log in because there are no images that come with their “instruction” booklets, so I had to use their weird, date-specific pattern names to find the design on their website before I could screenshot the image. I omitted use of the yardage requirements for the Burda patterns since they don’t give much information or have the sizing included in the instructions, and I filed the photo, the name of the pattern and the “instructions” into my Notability app before putting the necessary information into the Evernote app as well.

And then I was DONE.

All in all I spent about 16 hours or so over the weekend on both my phone, my iPad, and my computer, which was another reason I liked the Evernote app- you could access your account on a computer as well as your portable devices, which made typing the information for each note a lot easier. Halfway through the process I realized it was faster to take the photos/screen shots of the patterns with my phone or iPad, create a new note with the images, and then type the information for each note on my computer. Thankfully the app synced quickly between all my devices which made everything run more smoothly. By Sunday morning when my project was finished, I had logged in 220 patterns, which is not a lot by many sewists’ standards, but felt massive to me, considering how long each pattern took to get documented.

Once I was done, I knew that, unless a sewing angel sent me a gigantic haul of patterns to keep, I would never be logging in that many notes at once again- I don’t buy patterns that often, so I would only have a few to add to the app every couple of months. This meant that I might not need to pay for the monthly Evernote premium subscription since I didn’t need all that data. I double checked with google to make sure I was correct, and I was; the premium subscriptions allow you to upload more data than a basic (free) account, but once that data has been uploaded, you don’t lose it, so you can go down to a basic subscription and still have access to all your information. There are a few caveats, mainly that you only have access to the Evernote account on two devices (and I have been very happy accessing it on three), but that access isn’t necessary; in the past few weeks that I have organized my patterns, I have only used my iPad or iPhone to peruse them. The computer made it easy to type in the information for all those dozens of patterns, but for actual use of the app, I much prefer using a smaller device. So I will be canceling my premium Evernote subscription at the end of the month, and if that sewing angel does end up sending me their imaginary haul of amazing sewing patterns exactly in my size (hey, it happened, once!), I can just buy a premium subscription for the month to upload all the patterns, and then go back to a basic account when I am done.

Here is what I love about having all my sewing patterns organized:

  • It shows holes in my pattern stash- for months I have been thinking that I had the perfect blazer pattern somewhere in my stash and it turns out, I only pinned it on pinterest and I didn’t actually own it!
  • It keeps me from buying similar pattern designs by different companies/designers. Despite having over 200 sewing patterns, I don’t consider myself much of a pattern hoarder, and I would rather have one great pattern with a specific silhouette that I can make small adjustments to than 5 patterns that are variations on a theme.
  • It allows me to see exactly what I have in my stash, which makes me much more prone to sewing up unused patterns. I definitely have a lot of TNT patterns in my sewing history, but sometimes I make a pattern over and over again just because it’s familiar in my mind and I have forgotten all the other patterns I own that would also work.
  • I was very familiar with all the physical sewing patterns I owned because I didn’t own tons of them and when looking for inspiration, it was easy to walk over to my sewing cabinet and simply flip through the envelopes. I loved having patterns at my fingertips to make the experience visual and tactile. Having all my PDF patterns spread out over several devices, apps and hard drives made it impossible to account for everything I had in the same way, and if I didn’t sew something up immediately, I would legitimately forget about it. Now I can have the same experience with my PDF patterns as I have with my physical ones, and more importantly, they are all in one spot which makes looking at them and searching through them more satisfying than I ever dreamed. Seriously! Sometimes I scroll through the Evernote app not to look something up, but just because it gives me such a sense of calm and peace. WEIRDO!
  • I love that buying new patterns and cataloguing them in the app is so easy. I bought a couple patterns recently and didn’t have to put them in a pile in the corner of my craft room and wait til I had accumulated more so that I could log into my account and record them- snapping the pictures and adding the extra info is super easy on my device and it makes maintaining the database way less daunting than if I only had the option of doing it on my computer.
  • I love having access to my 220 patterns when I am not at home. When I am in a fabric store (or The Fabric Store! HA!) and I have an idea about a project but I can’t remember the yardage info, it takes mere seconds to look it up on my phone. If I see a RTW garment on the street and want to know if I have something in my stash that is similar or that could be the base for copying the look, I can look up the pattern that is most closely related to it and add whatever notes about the outfit that I don’t want to forget.

Evernote still needs to do more work on their app, most specifically allowing the user to rearrange their photos in the note, but I also think that having separate areas within the note would be amazing. Right now an Evernote note is just a blank space where you can add pictures, text, or links, but there is no organization inside of  the note- the information just sits stacked in a long column depending on what you put in there and what order it goes in. It would be so cool to have a note with designated areas inside of it, like an area to put photos (and obviously order them/caption them), and separate areas to insert text and or links. I’m sure there are other helpful ways to organize all the information within the note, but these are all the ones I can think of now that match the purposes of what I use Evernote for.

Despite all the hours I put into this project and all my frustrations with the Evernote app, I am so happy that I took on the task and completed it over a weekend instead of letting it drag out forever and ever!!!!! It really makes me feel less cluttered in my sewing space and in my brain (both of which are interchangeable, it seems) and I can only imagine that it will make my making more efficient.

If you have organized your patterns successfully and want to share how you did it, feel free to comment below the post in case readers are looking for more ideas. Although I am ultimately happy with the way I chose to organize my own stash, options are always great and I want everyone to know that there are lots of different ways of getting it done!