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!

DIY Hair Gel

I have been really getting into instagram stories lately for some weird reason. It’s weird to me because I still don’t “get” IG stories. Maybe it’s because I’m in my late thirties and I’m just now about to enter that period of an adult’s life where your comprehension and appreciation for technology starts to wane, but I just never understood the point of them. The allotted space you have to make a video is super short, so by the time I press the start button on my phone and begin recording with my requisite greeting, giggle, and a couple of “ummms” thrown in to get my juices flowing, I only have 5 seconds left to actually communicate what I wanted to share in the first place! Inevitably I end up having to produce, direct and star in these 7.89 seconds of video, recording take after take and rehearsing what I am going to say so that I am concise and don’t end up taking 9 instagram stories to say two sentences. On top of that, the stories disappear after 24 hours, so all your hard work goes unseen to anyone who hasn’t logged into the app within a day of it’s debut. This was particularly disappointing to me after I produced about 35 stories earlier this month to show the process of making a pair of flat, closed shoes from start to finish. Although the videos were completely unpolished (and often very silly, ’cause that’s how I roll), I was proud of all the work I had put into documenting the process and excited for people to see it broken down into manageable steps. Those stories were not a tutorial for shoe making by any means, but sometimes seeing an overview of ordinary people doing things with recognizable tools in their own homes makes complicated projects seem totally doable. But 24 hours later, the whole thing was gone- poof! Inspo on a timeline. (But if any of you missed my shoe making stories, I have a fairly in-depth blog post here documenting a pair I made last year).

As much as the format irks me and as much as I still don’t really get the point of them, there is something kind of fun and efficient about IG stories. You don’t have to bother with a youtube channel or using a special camera and uploading your content, which is something I have personally never been interested in doing. In comparison, IG stories are quick and easy; you can record content and share with the world in a matter of seconds. And without a limitless amount of time to record your video, it makes you think clearly about what it is you want to say so that you can say it succinctly. Instagram stories force you to get to the meat of what it is you want to communicate to your followers, and this is way more in line with the kind of content I like to see and use myself. That said, I still don’t really understand the point of having it disappear so quickly. I’m sure there are a hundred think pieces dedicated to unpacking the culture of millennials that dissects their ability to Latch On and Move On with a quickness unfamiliar to most people of a certain generation, so I won’t bother. I don’t think the function is necessarily a bad thing, it’s just not my thing. Or is it?

It certainly was when I used instagram stories to share my recipe for DIY hair gel a few weeks ago! I had recently run out of my last batch and was preparing to make myself more when I thought, ‘maybe it would be fun to share this on IG!’ The recipe and process for making hair gel are so easy that it’s a cinch to show in a few simple steps, and, as I said before, seeing someone do something you are unfamiliar with tends to make it seem a lot more possible if you aren’t an avid DIYer. Followers were WAY more interested in the recipe than I anticipated, and I got more than a few requests to do a blog post about my DIY hair gel both from people who did watch the video and people who missed out on it but saw that I referenced it in an IG post. So here it is!

A little backstory about how I came to start making and using this hair gel: I went natural on my hair journey about 5 years ago, meaning I was no longer using chemical straighteners on my hair, (this in and of itself is a looong story best reserved for a separate blog post) but it took another couple of years to start using all natural hair products. I had been a huge fan of Deva Curl products for years (I still think they are great and their no-poo shampoo method completely changed my hair life), but I wanted to see how healthy I could get my curls using completely natural products with no sulfates, alcohol, dyes, perfumes, or chemicals. I tried a bunch of natural hair gels that I hated because they either made my hair too heavy with product or they didn’t have enough hold or they were so oily that I couldn’t touch my hair throughout the day without having to wipe my fingers off afterwards. Then, while perusing the VAAAAST number of videos by natural hair vloggers on youtube to get some hair inspiration, I came across a Hey Fran Hey video where she talked about making her own hair gel. She was enthusiastic about the product and her hair looked amazing so I figured it was worth a try. I’ve been a convert ever since!

The most important qualities I personally look for in a hair gel are

  • medium hold (too little hold and the curls get frizzy- too much hold and the curls feel like sticks and have no movement)
  • easy to apply
  • no flakes, crispiness, or greasiness
  • price conscious
  • all natural ingredients

This hair gel hits all of those points for me, and it’s only real con is that, since it’s made of all natural ingredients with no preservatives, it must be refrigerated between uses. I thought this would be a major fail for me before I started using it but it has been totally manageable. I’ve left my hair gel in the shower or in a suitcase for a few days and it was totally fine, but anything longer than a week and it starts to get a funny smell.

DIY FLAX SEED HAIR GEL

So let’s get down to it- all you need are two main ingredients:

  • 2 Tbs whole flax seeds
  • 1 cup of water, more as needed

The remaining ingredients are optional:

  1. Boil your water in a pot.
  2. Add your flax seeds and turn the heat down to a light simmer.
  3. Constantly stir the flax seeds as they simmer; the water will thicken and in a few minutes you will see a light foam begin to develop. The amount of time that you need to simmer your seeds depends on what you want the consistency of your gel to be; less time means a more liquid gel which will give you lighter hold, and more time means a thicker gel which will give you a stronger hold. I like my gel right in the middle and usually simmer mine for around 4 minutes. You can test the consistency of your gel by placing a spoon in the liquid and slowly pulling it out of the water- if the water drips off quickly like water, it’s on the more liquid side, and if it drips off slowly like honey, it’s on the thicker side. I like mine a step past honey where it’s just barely starting to coagulate.
  4. Once you have the consistency you want, remove the pot from heat and carefully pour the contents of your pot through a strainer and into a bowl (if you don’t have a strainer I heard that a stocking works well). Your gel should yield a little less than a cup of product and be liquid enough to flow through the strainer with ease. If you have more seeds than gel and are finding it hard to ease the gel through the strainer, you might have cooked the seeds for too long or had the heat on too high, but it’s easy to fix! Simply pour your seeds back into the pot, add another cup of water, and start the process over again on lower heat.
  5. Let your mixture cool down in a bowl for a few minutes before adding your essential oils so that they don’t burn off. I use about 20 drops total of a combination of oils, but you can add more or less to suit your preferences.
  6. Next, stir in a few tablespoons of Aloe Vera gel, which provides moisture and protection for your hair without making the gel too oily. If your gel is very thick, the Aloe Vera can also help dilute it a bit and give it a smoother consistency.

I pour all of my gel into a large plastic jar that I keep in the fridge, and then I fill a smaller container to take to the shower with me, replenishing as needed.

The only important thing to pay attention to is the consistency. I mentioned above my own preferences, but here is the truth: this gel is like a giant ball of snot. YES, that is disgusting, YES I mentioned it SEVERAL times in my instagram stories because it’s also hilarious, but it’s important to know. If a comparison to snot is far too gross to you, you can instead think of it like it’s the white part of an uncooked egg- that super viscous texture that is almost impossible to break up with your fingers- which makes sense; flax seed gel is what many vegan recipes use as a substitute for eggs. The thicker the gel is, the harder it is to emulsify in your hands (you know, that thing you do when you put product between your palms and rub it together to distribute it evenly?) Once I made a batch of this hair gel that was too thick and I couldn’t get the “snot” to break up in my hands in the shower, so I ended up splattering a palmful on the side of my head and combing it through my hair to break it up. I do NOT recommend doing that! Adding aloe vera to the recipe has worked wonders for keeping my gel from getting too thick. Once you are happy with your consistency, you can use it like regular gel. I scrunch in my gel on wet hair, post leave-in conditioner, finger comb my curls, then scrunch in a little bit more before I let it air dry.

Another great thing about this hair gel is that you can’t use too much of it. When I used store bought gels, I would have to be careful to use just the right amount, because if I used too much my curls would dry hard and crispy, and there is nothing I hate more than crispy curls. But I haven’t had that issue with this gel- no matter how much I use, my curls stay defined, but never hard. It doesn’t flake either, but you have to make sure your gel is totally emulsified when applying it to your hair- if a small ball of gel dries without being spread out evenly, it will definitely look like flakes when you try to remove it, but they brush off easily and I haven’t had to deal with them very often.

Lastly, as I mentioned in a post prior to this one, nothing can be everything to everyone, and the same rings true for this hair gel. Some people love it, some people don’t, and that’s okay! If you don’t like it, it doesn’t mean you made it wrong or messed it up (although I will encourage you to experiment with the recipe to find that sweet spot that works best for you)! From what I have heard from friends, this hair gel seems to work well for a variety of hair types, from curly to straight, tight to loose curls, and the mothers that I have shared it with tend to love it because it works well on their curly-haired children while also being super inexpensive.

If you’re trycurious about it, I hope you give it a shot, and if you love it, share it with your friends! I am all for decreasing our reliance on the beauty industry; while it provides much needed inspiration, confidence and joy within our community, their success is also based on convincing us that we aren’t good enough as we are, and that we need every single new product that they come out with in order to maintain the beauty ideals that they themselves have created. My own relationship with the beauty industry is fairly complicated, but I am chipping away at it one product at a time, and for the past three years I have made all my own soaps, body butters, face lotions and sunscreens, and my skin is better for it! Sidenote: I recently decided to try a new brand of sunscreen made for people of color that is not mineral based like my own homemade sunscreen and doesn’t leave the slightly gray residue that zinc oxide tends to. The company, called Extrashade, is small and independently owned, and I was happy to support their business. Unfortunately, within three days of using the product, my face and neck broke out in hundreds of tiny, pink, dry bumps, and once I stopped using the product it took another 5 days to get better (it happened during my birthday week, too- just awful!) I wrote Extrashade and told them what happened, explaining that I didn’t blame their company for my reaction since I know that everyone’s skin is different and carries certain sensitivities (while their product has some natural ingredients in it, it also relies on several chemicals to protect skin from the sun), and that I would like to send the remaining product back for a refund. They flat out refused, saying that they had not had issues with any other customers and that they couldn’t be sure that my reaction was caused by their product. Aside from the fact that using their product was literally THE ONLY thing I had changed about my dietary and skin care regimen, I was incredibly disappointed by their poor customer service, and I told them so, but unsurprisingly I got no response. It was a terrible interaction that had me feeling frustrated for days afterwards (their 4 oz product cost $35! what a waste!), but it has also made me feel even more vigilant about making my own products. I know exactly what goes in them, I know how they are supposed to work, and they truly make my skin look beautiful. This week is all about a fashion revolution but I urge us to consider starting a revolution in all areas of our lives where we are reliant on a system that is not always transparent. VIVA LA TRYCURIOSITY!!!!

 

Vintage Givenchy Vogue Gown in Silver

I made this dress over a year ago and wore it to an event already, so the details of the make are unfortunately not very fresh in my mind. I’m not sure why it took me so long to get it on the blog, but better late than never, right? Clearly it deserves some space here because it’s so pretty! What I love most about this pattern is how simple it is- no darts and only a handful of pattern pieces (sleeves, front and back and collar)- yet the effect is so glamourous! Everytime I see it in my closet on a hanger I’m like, “meh”, and then when I try it on I feel completely wowed by how stunning it is.

I used a silver silk charmeuse from The Fabric Store that was purchased quite some time ago, so they might not have any more bolts of this particular textile, but rest assured, they have a ton of comparable gorgeous silks and blends to choose from. Before I made this dress I thought that all silks were created equal, and I was pleasantly surprised to find out how wrong I was. I’m about to commit a huge personal sin here on the blog, which is to use food descriptors to better explain to you what this silk is like. I’m normally against this sort of thing, but I don’t know if the english language has enough words in it to accurately describe it for you otherwise, so here goes. Y’all, its buttery. It feels delicious. Some might even say yummy. UGH UGH UGH, I hated to do that, but it’s all true! The silk really does feel so good in your hands! It feels thick in a way, but it doesn’t LOOK heavy at all- see that drape?

It’s even more dramatic in person! When the fabric folds, it captures all the deepest tones in the silver color and it feels so luxurious against your skin. The inside of the silk (matte, compared to the right side which is shiny) has a greenish tint to it, and that might be why this color works on me, because, much like black, I am not generally a “silver” person. Again, my pictures are not doing this dress justice for how stunning it is in real life, but my skin has undertones of yellow in it and tends to look glowier when it’s covered in greens, yellows, mustards and chartreuses. This of course doesn’t stop me from wearing head-to-toe pink, but it’s nice to know I can wear a section of hues that the rest of the world doesn’t think it can. Whenever Claire accompanies me to a fabric store, her eyes immediately find the yellowy-greeniest fabric in the joint and then she convinces me to buy it. Gotta love a girl who knows what your most flattering color palette is, right?

Construction of this dress, although a vintage Vogue pattern which can come with it’s cons, was pretty straight forward as far as I remember. The sleeves gave me a bit of trouble, because as you can see they are very dramatic and they simply weren’t sitting right on my frame; turns out the shoulders were just set too wide (note to self, this is not the first shoulder adjustment you have made on a Vogue dress- maybe plan for this in the future with every new-to-you pattern?) The fix was fairly easy, I just took out my sleeves, cut away almost 2 inches of seam allowance at the top of the shoulders and halfway down the sleeve opening, then replaced the sleeves. If memory serves correct, I was able to get away with just taking that width out and not having to adjust it beneath the arms, which seems like a miracle because my side seams were french and it would have been a hassle to have to unpick them to take out some of the seam allowance.

Aside from the sleeves, my biggest obstacle was learning how to work with the silk, which sewed up pretty easily but because of it’s light color I was so scared to get it dirty and was therefore constantly carrying it around in my arms as opposed to picking it up with my fingers. This fabric isn’t super delicate, though, and it handled my hand stitching around the front slit beautifully. When glancing at the slit I had to do a double take when I pulled this out of the closet for this photoshoot because they were almost invisible.

Hemming was another issue for me. I’m not sure why, but I decided to use black lace tape to tack up the hem underneath the dress- I think I had discovered it for the first time and thought it was cool…which it is, but not for this dress. First of all, black was too visible a color to match with the gown (no, duh!) and I didn’t think about this when I was making it. Also, when I wore it to the red carpet event I attended, the little rubber knob on the heels of my shoes kept snagging the lace from inside and pulling it! Thank God it didn’t trip me up, but it did come close, and at the end of the night I saw that I had a long trail of thread floating behind me on the gown from a place that got snagged and started to unravel. I gracefully made my way to the bathroom and then cursed at it as I carefully snapped the thread off. As you can imagine, the lace on the inside of the hem looked a HOT MESS by the time I got home.

Since then I have removed the lace tape and re-hemmed the dress using a straight machine stitch which actually looks just fine on the outside, but in taking out the tape, I ended up having to cut some of my hem allowance off. So the finish is just a little jaggedy-looking down there, but only on the inside. That is actually my main regret about this dress- at the time I wasn’t as into clean finishes as I am now, so even though I did use a few beautiful french seams, I also serged the edge of the facing of my collar, which I think looks sloppy on a dress as fancy as this, and I used an iron-on interfacing at the collar instead of sewing in organza, which is what I use for all my silks now. Thankfully this charmeuse has so much body that you can’t see or feel the texture of the interfacing popping through to the other side, but I still would have constructed it differently if I were making this dress today. This silk, like many others, frays like crazy, so there are a couple of areas on the inside of the dress (around the hem and the collar) where the seam isn’t finished and it just looks messy. But again, none of this shows on the outside of the dress. And it’s a nice reminder of how far my tastes and abilities have come! I’ve said it before, but this bears repeating- I am all for serge-finishing seams on everyday wear, but for #redcarpetDIY projects, I like to step my game up just a bit. Last thing I would change about the dress? Finding nicer buttons! I love the look and color of the vintage-inspired buttons I used, but they are actually plastic- I could not find any black glass buttons of the size I needed for this dress so I settled for these. I think they look fine but they just feel cheap, whereas the rest of the dress feels pretty fancy. The good thing is that changing out buttons on a garment is pretty easy, so I’m just waiting for the perfect ones to fall into my lap.

If you couldn’t tell already, I LOVE THIS DRESS! My favorite things about this pattern are the gorgeous tulip sleeves, the front slit, the elegant collar, and the amount of ease included in the pattern, which is just perfect for me- plenty of room for my hips, butt and thighs to move freely without feeling constricted, while still giving a figure-grazing silhouette.

Now, take a look at the shoes I am wearing in the photos. Although not my usual style preference, the color matches the dress pretty well and the crystals offer a little bling to contrast with the understated gown. But that’s not the point. The point is that these are are Badgley Mischka shoes, bought during a mad-dash to find appropriate footwear for this dress after I got a last-minute invite to the event from a friend. This is significant to me because I used to work at Badgley Mischka. Yep, waaaaay back in the day, when I was single and living in NYC and my heart was set on musical theatre, not film, and I had no agent, no manager, and no bigger goals in my life beyond paying my rent on time. I had been in an Off-Broadway musical which closed unexpectedly (as they tend to do) and I suddenly found myself in immediate need of employment. A friend suggested I call a temp agency to try and get work as a receptionist, which was surprisingly easier than getting a job waiting tables, and within a few weeks I found myself as a perma-temp fixture at the studios of Badgley Mischka. I manned the phones, accepted deliveries, buzzed people through the glass doors and chatted with my friends on IM for hours. The job was easy and Mark and James were kind to me, which is probably why I stayed there so long. I had moved to NYC to be an actor, but I found myself becoming more and more comfortable with my survival job and worrying less and less about how I was going to make it to auditions with a 9-5 job.

Sometimes if I arrived to work early enough, I was responsible for walking through the studio and turning all the lights on before the rest of the employees (mostly sales team members and a couple of assistant designers) showed up. I would pause at the racks of gowns that were dripping in crystals and run my fingers down them, completely enchanted. The dresses were not exactly my style, but there was no denying how exceptionally beautiful and well-made they were. I wondered if I would ever wear a thing of such beauty, if I would ever even have a need to wear it. Celebrities and stylists were popping in and out of the office all the time to borrow Badgley Mischka gowns for red carpet events- I remember the office being abuzz for a whole week because someone named Anna Wintour was stopping by for an in-person discussion with James and Mark. I had no idea who she was at the time, but when she stepped off the elevator it didn’t matter; her energy, her clothes, her demeanor told you everything you needed to know about her. A week later I picked up The Devil Wears Prada and devoured it in a matter of days, thankful that I had no idea who she was before I met her, as the chances of me embarrassing myself would have been multiplied.

I didn’t necessarily want fame, exorbitant wealth, or even celebrity-status, but it was easy to equate the gowns hanging in the back of the studio with fortune, substance, success. And I did want to be successful! I had made my way from Birmingham, Alabama to New York City by the skin of my teeth, graduating college with a degree in the arts and then working 4 jobs for 8 months to save enough money to rent a U-Haul and pay a deposit plus one month’s rent on a one bedroom apartment that I shared with two other girls, an apartment we were not even legally supposed to be living in. I hadn’t settled when I first started dreaming of living in NYC- I set my sights high and made it happen by any means necessary. So why was I settling now?

A few weeks later, I turned my notice in to Badgley Mischka, and they seemed genuinely sad to see me go. They supported my dreams of wanting to be a professional actor, but I don’t think they really believed it would happen. How many young girls had sat at that same reception desk with dreams for something bigger than that studio could hold? I had no idea. But I did know was that I was no longer going to be one of them.

I am intrigued by the intersection of what we dream for ourselves and what we make reality, because, as you fellow sewists and crafters know, we are only limited by what we are afraid of trying to do. Whenever I put these shoes on, I am reminded of the connection I had to that studio, of how Badgley Mischka introduced me to a world that I wanted to be a part of but which felt unreachable. I had no way of knowing at the time that I would be a part of that world in ways that I never even imagined possible. My connection to it isn’t necessarily through a calendar full of high profile events with paparazzi following me around and photographers shouting “who are you wearing?”, but rather through the ability to bring beauty into the world, for myself, with my own hands. I don’t have to rely on anyone to make me feel beautiful, or successful, or fortunate. I can do it all by myself.

 

New Etsy Shop to Support Charities

I posted about this on my instagram, tumblr and twitter accounts, but I neglected to write anything about it here- unfortunately when I have an idea that is implemented quickly, my actual blog is rarely the first place I share it. I assume that most of my readers here followed me on social media first and know about the shop, but in case there are any blog readers who don’t, here is a little information about it!

After the election in 2016, I, like many people, felt overwhelmed and fearful about what our future as Americans would hold. I was tired of waking up everyday feeling depressed and anxious, and I wanted to practice self-care (which for me was mainly deleting my Facebook) while still feeling like I was actively fighting on behalf of the movement to protect the rights of all current and future Americans. After returning to LA from Savannah and being confronted with a small pile of handmade things that weren’t getting used and needed to be given away, I wondered if anyone would purchase them if I put them up for sale. I have never been interested in making things to specifically sell for a profit, but I had never before considered making things to sell for charity. Thankfully I didn’t stop to think too long about whether or not anyone would want to buy my stuff, because if I did I probably would have talked myself out of it.

In December I pulled out all my handmade things that were in great condition but were no longer being worn (or had somehow just never made it into my wardrobe rotation in the first place), took lots of photos of them with Claire’s camera, and opened JasikaIsTryCurious on etsy. Some of my first items included the famous Octopus sweater I made for Claire which she had outgrown, a brand new blue linen dress I made from a vintage pattern, and prints of some illustrations that I usually only sell at comic-cons. I was (and am) very transparent about why I opened the shop and where the money is going- this is my small way of contributing to the cause, which is a phrase that was used by abolitionists referring to the work they were doing to end slavery. Obviously the circumstances today are different than they were hundreds of years ago in this country, but there are still MANY parallels- we are still fighting for freedom, still fighting for the rights of all bodies, and it is a cause that I feel passionate about. To paraphrase an age-old call to arms, no one is free if all of us aren’t free.

After collapsing into a ball of anxiety (my first panic attack? jury’s still out on this) at the Women’s March on January 21st and having to leave early, I was reminded that #resistance doesn’t look the same on everyone, and that is okay. Action takes many different forms in our communities and in ourselves, and we should never feel guilty if our personal fight looks different than our neighbor’s- so long as the fight is still there.

My fight is to use my hands, which have fed me, clothed me, nurtured my loved ones and quieted my fears in times of distress, to create art in as many different forms as they can muster. My fight feels powerful, and familiar. My fight may change and grow according to what it is the movement needs from me and what I can offer to it.

All proceeds from my shop will be donated to various charities that will benefit the most under our current presidency. In December, strangers and friends alike helped me raise $500 through my etsy shop, which was then doled out to organizations like Black Lives Matter, the legal defense fund for Standing Rock, and kids of Flint, Michigan. I have several other charities on my list that will be rotated out whenever I have more money to send (I intend to donate in $100 increments) like Planned Parenthood, the Trevor Project, and a legal defense team for immigrants under threat of deportation. The list of charities will be updated as our country continues to find ways to fight for communities at risk.

The shop has been virtually empty since most everything sold in December, so I have been working for much of January to add more items to it, with a current focus on making macrame hanging planters/holders, an artform that my friend Adrienne introduced me to last year and that I am having a lot of fun with (as you can see, I have included a few shots of some of the makes in this post). I have some more ideas of future items to bring to my shop, including a series of drawings inspired by all things sewing, which I am terribly excited about. In all honesty, my emotions have been a bit of a roller coaster since the election and it’s been hard to find balance- I find myself feeling either completed dejected and helpless about the state of our country, or incredibly hopeful and empowered by the movement that so many people are joining. I am hoping that as time goes on, I will find sturdiness. And for all of you experiencing the same emotional turmoil and fear as me, I wish you the same.

POWER TO THE PEOPLE!

 

Campus Pride Speech/ Autostraddle Article

I mentioned in this post a couple of weeks ago that I recently had the opportunity to give a speech for Campus Pride, an organization that does a lot of important work in the LGBTQ community and beyond. It meant a lot to me that they gave me a platform to speak a bit about my own experiences living as an out and proud queer woman, and I am thrilled that autostraddle.com has published the essay on their site. If you care to read a bit more on how intersectionality, class, and race play out in one queer girl’s childhood, click here for the article! As always, thanks for reading!

 

Living a Try Curious Lifestyle

trycuriousblog_graphic

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

Here’s to living a Try Curious lifestyle together 😉

Love (& Marriage?)

Although my recent wedding (if one could even call it that) was small and private, as a queer woman I feel compelled to share some of the details of our decision to get married. It’s really important that members of the LGBTQIA community are able to contribute their own experiences to the world, regardless of their subject matter, because we have lived so long in a society where our collective experiences have been suppressed rather than encouraged. Ours is a very simple and familiar tale of love, not unlike the stories that so many same sex couples have, and that’s where it’s significance lies; we want to be relatable and understood without people losing sight of the differences that make us unique. The more we share our stories and who we are, the less stigma I think there will be to recognize people from my community as whole, full formed individuals. We are not OTHER, we are others.

 

As a child, I never ever dreamed about having a wedding, and therefore never ever wanted one as an adult. In fact, my feelings about weddings have always been unromantic and complicated and they became even more so after finding myself in a loving relationship with a woman; who even wants to entertain the idea of having a marriage that your government won’t technically allow?

The beginning of my distaste for marriage in general was born out of defense. As I have mentioned before, I grew up poor in the deep south with parents of different races, but what seemed at times to set me apart more than any of those things was the fact that my parents were never married. The horror on people’s faces, adults and children alike, was obvious. “Why don’t you have the same last name as your Dad?”, they would ask. “Um. Because my parents never got married so I just have my Mom’s last name,” I would answer sheepishly, and then they would look at me like they didn’t know how a child like me could possibly exist.

This seems to be a recurring theme in my life.

They were wondering how I GOT here without a wedding, as if love and marriage were not mutually exclusive. I knew from a young age that a marriage didn’t equate love, a marriage didn’t validate a relationship, a marriage didn’t make you more important than any other couple that loved each other, but I didn’t know how to not feel embarrassed about my illegitimacy in other people’s eyes. So, like any other child, I internalized my feelings, and I grew into an adult who had a deep aversion to the idea of marriage, without ever really bothering to unpack it. This isn’t to say that I didn’t go to my friend’s weddings and cry uncontrollably as they walked down the aisle. I have always been so happy for my friends who found love, but I was happy for them BEFORE their wedding announcements, not because of them. I was happy for them on their seventh date, and happy for them when they moved in together, and happy for them when they talked passionately about their future. To me, that was legit as it got.

Claire and I had been together three years when we got our domestic partnership in NYC, and contrary to popular belief, we didn’t do it because we wanted to have a legal declaration of love for one another; we did it because we wanted to be protected by the law when we both moved to Vancouver for my work. Getting a legal partnership was about security and safety, and this was the first time I recognized that this was the most basic benefit of a legal marriage. The fact that religious doctrine said we were not allowed to get married in the church was fine with me, cause my union with Claire had NOTHING to do with the church. It had everything to do with planning for a family one day, buying property, filing for taxes, getting insurance coverage, making sure that we would be taken care of should something awful happen to one of us. A union in the eyes of the law was a pragmatic decision, and had nothing to with God. I was angry that we couldn’t have this same basic right as other couples, because I didn’t even want a wedding, I just wanted equal rights! Although our decision to get a domestic partnership was a sensible one rather than a romantic one, it was still an incredibly special day, and I will never forget it. We had chosen a pair of very simple, inexpensive rings to exchange over dinner at our favorite restaurant in Prospect Heights where we lived at the time. We enlisted my closest friend Larry to accompany us to City Hall who posed as our photographer as we filled out the necessary paperwork. We took silly pictures next to the “Marriage Licenses” sign in the hallway. When we were finished and we had our paperwork, we stood in the elevator and cried with each other as we looked down at our certificate. Despite the practicality of our legal partnership, we knew we were absolutely committed to each other, and although that piece of paper didn’t dictate the importance of our relationship, the decision to get it did. It wasn’t the domestic partnership itself that was significant, it was the circumstances that encouraged us to get the domestic partnership in the first place; Claire was leaving her job and her friends to move across the country to share a life with me, and I wanted her to come with me more than anything in the world.

As legit as it gets.

Now, fast forward four years to when we moved to our new city and moved into our new home that we own. Nothing much has changed between us, except that we have survived some very difficult experiences and transitions, and thankfully flourished because of them. I still wanted to spend as much of my future with Claire as our love would allow. But guess what. That domestic partnership we got years ago in NYC? It didn’t mean anything here in California. It didn’t mean anything outside of the state of New York. We had to go through the whole process again. We marveled at the fact that this was taken for granted by so many same sex married couples; what if, whenever a married couple moved to a new state in the US, they had to get married again? I began to think that maybe this was a smart idea, that maybe some couples who weren’t really happy together might feel more inclined to separate or re-think their relationship if they were forced to go through the process over and over again. But it didn’t feel smart to us at the time. It felt like a hassle. It felt like no matter where we were or where we went, we didn’t ever count for real.

In late June, we are in Beverly Hills at a lawyer’s office drafting up our wills when we find out that they cannot be executed until we get a civil union in the state of California. This is the very week where the constitutionality of DOMA and Prop 8 are being reviewed by the Supreme Court, and Claire is pessimistic. She thinks that Prop 8 has a chance of working in our favor, but that DOMA will never be struck down in our foreseeable future. A few days later we are both literally awestruck when we wake in the morning and read the news headlines that the federal government is making same sex marriages legal. Speechless. We just hug tightly as my tears start to fall. Now, instead of having to get a Civil Union in the state of California, we are going to get an actual marriage. We will be recognized in the whole country as a legal couple. We wont have to keep filling out the same paperwork every time we move to a new place. If something terrible happens to one of us, we wont have to worry about whether or not the other person will be well taken care of financially. We don’t have to worry about being allowed hospital visits if one of us is sick. We don’t have to worry about who gets to be the legal guardian of any children we might adopt in the future. We don’t have to pay thousands of extra dollars annually for Claire to be be entitled to health insurance simply because she is viewed as a taxable dependent instead of as a spouse. We have always known that we were the same as other couples. But now we will be treated as such. This is what I am elated over.

The strange part about announcing our union for the second time is dealing with other people’s reactions; not everyone has the same attitude about marriage that I do, and marriage means many things to different people, so merging their expectations with our reality was a bit tricky. Most everyone was really happy and excited for us, which was certainly understandable in one respect, but it also reiterated the idea that our domestic partnership we had gotten several years ago didn’t count, that THIS was the real deal. I had never thought of our first legal union as a marriage, but I did think of it as our first public commitment to each other, and that mattered, and still matters, so much to me. In some ways, that one counts even more because we had to take a leap of faith to move forward with it. Making a commitment after seven years is easy when you’ve known each other for that long, when you’ve have had seven years of ups and downs, when you’ve learned to love all the difficult parts of each other for so long. But a commitment after three years with an immediate move to another country? That was dangerous territory, something we could have easily fallen apart over.

We told a few friends and family that we would be getting our marriage officiated soon, but most people didn’t find out till I posted pictures online the day of our wedding. It wasn’t an attempt to exclude any of the important people in our life, but rather a continuation of keeping the spirit of the event low key; we wanted an intimate experience, and that’s what we got, with only our officiant and our friend Kelly (who acted as witness) present.

All the pragmatism and utility in the world couldn’t keep this day from being special. On a whim, we drove down to San Diego a few days before the wedding to visit my high school friend, Henry, who works at a beautiful jewelry store, and he and his wife helped us pick out two simple, lovely rings to exchange. I wanted the most non-clunky, non-showy, functional ring I could find, so that it would never get in the way of what I was doing or where I was going; it seemed to perfectly symbolize my union with Claire- always present but never a burden. On Oct. 5th, Claire and I woke up, had breakfast, and picked out what we were going to wear, outfits that (magically!) matched. Our officiant arrived at our home while Claire was still in the shower, and she sat on the couch patiently as we finished getting ready. Kelly showed up looking radiant in a beautiful lacy white dress and served as our photographer while Claire and I stood in front of our homemade coffee table and listened to each other share her vows. I cried like a baby. Claire doesn’t write very much, but when she does, it speaks right to my heart. Ours was the briefest ceremony perhaps in the history of the world, but it had all the important parts we wanted: our declaration of love for one another, our “I Do”s, and a kiss. We exchanged our perfect rings, mine rose gold, Claire’s white gold, we had a toast, and then we took some fun, casual pictures on the front lawn of our house, with our dog, Rosie. There were a few parts in the day that I had wished our families had been there to witness our exchange of love, but we plan to have a party some time this year for all our friends and family to celebrate with us. I have no idea what the format will be, and honestly, I don’t care. We got the important part done already- the rest is just fun.

It was really important for us to stick to our wishes and be selfish about how we wanted this special day to be, despite the protestations of a lot of well intentioned people in our lives. I had the dream wedding I had never even realized I dreamed up, and nothing could be better than that.

Commencement

A year ago I had the honor of  returning to my alma mater to deliver the commencement speech to the graduating class of Catawba College, Class of 2013. Since then, parts of that speech have been shared in various forms over the Internet , so I am officially posting it here in it’s entirety on my website.

 

It has been exactly 10 years since I sat in the very seats you are sitting in now, and I remember everything about this day, from what I wore, to where my family sat, to who I hung out with at the parties I went to later that evening. What stands out for me most about my graduation day however was not a sense of accomplishment, as I had anticipated, but rather a sense of disconnectedness. I felt like I was outside of my body, watching everything that was happening to me, but not really taking part in any of it. I had been prepared to feel overwhelmed with happiness and excitement on this special day, and I did feel those things, to a certain extent, but I also felt disengaged. I never examined why until I was asked to be here today to give this commencement speech.

 

This day, the one you are living now and the one I lived a decade ago, marks a very extraordinary time in a person’s life, in ways that I wasn’t able to articulate until now. We spend our entire childhoods waiting to graduate to the next level. We start off in diapers and then we graduate to big boy or big girl underwear. We start off eating mushy foods and then we move on to solids. We all know what is supposed to come next- it’s taught to us, like a story. Once we master one thing, we get to graduate to another thing that is a little more challenging, and so on and so on. We start off looking at books with pictures and then we move on to reading books with words. We graduate middle school and then we graduate high school and then we graduate college. But see, that’s where my story stopped. Ten years ago I was graduating. I was sitting on this very campus with some of these very same professors who supported me and cared for me for 4 years, and I realized that my college graduation was as far as I had been taught to go. I didn’t know what came next, and my parents and professors couldn’t tell me, either. Everything felt bizarre to me on my graduation day because I no longer had any guidelines to follow, and I felt really lost.

 

Some of you will be able to relate to this and others will not. Your plans might be set already to go to grad school right after Catawba, or to look for a job, or to plan an engagement and start a family. But to all of you that think you have your stories figured out, I want to assure you that you do not. Your story cannot be figured out yet, and you don’t want it to be. At my own graduation I was frozen with fear and unable to fully take part in what was happening because of it; the end of my 4 years at Catawba had suddenly brought me more freedom than I knew what to do with, because it was now MY turn to map out how I wanted my story to go. It was my turn to write it. I got to decide what I was graduating to next. It’s one thing to tell everyone that your story is about moving to New York City to be on Broadway, but it is quite another thing to make that story a reality, to believe in it with all your heart and to make it come true.

 

For a while after I graduated, my story was to work at Chili’s selling baby back ribs to newly married, pregnant girls that I had gone to high school with. My dad is a postal worker and my mom is a property manager. They both have strong work ethics and weak bank accounts, so though they always supported my dreams of becoming a professional actor, I knew that it was going to be all MY responsibility to make it happen. Which meant moving back to Birmingham and working three jobs to save as much money in as short a time as I could. I was miserable having to live back home in a city I no longer felt comfortable in, working at jobs that I hated, but I knew that writing my own story would not come without its’ sacrifices. Eventually I saved up enough money for two month’s rent and a UHaul, and, along with fellow Catawba grad Amy Stran, we both graduated from living at home to living on our own in Manhattan.

 

I continued to write my story, to lay out all the things I wanted to do so that, one by one, I could conquer them and move on to the next level. Everything went smoothly for a while- it was a miracle that we found an affordable place to live that didn’t have a bathtub sitting in the middle of the living room, but we did. Within our first month in the city, Amy met her future husband and I got cast as a lead in an unimpressive (but paying) Off Broadway musical. The next chapters I planned to put in my story were to get an agent, to join the actor’s unions, to become a Broadway star, and then, I guess be happy forever and ever. But it did not happen that way. Here, my story started writing itself without my help at all. After 6 months, the Off Broadway show I was in closed unexpectedly, and just like that, I was jobless and having to scrounge in our desk drawers for change so that I could have enough money to eat. I survived on peanut butter and Wendy’s Dollar menus for weeks.

 

I was auditioning all the time but not getting cast in anything, and eventually I knew I had to either get a “regular” job or move back home to Birmingham, which I could not bear to do. So. I started temping as a receptionist at a high end fashion house that makes VERY expensive gowns for celebrities to wear at red carpet events. Every once in a while I would get to the studio early to walk into the show room before the designers had come into work, and I would run my fingers over the silks and sequins on the dresses, imagining myself wearing them as I received one Tony award after another. If I stayed at this place, I knew I would have job security and benefits and a steady paycheck for the first time in my young life, but I also knew that working there would ensure that I’d never write the story I originally wanted for myself. It was a tough decision, some might even say a stupid one, but I trusted my gut, and within a week of quitting my receptionist job, I was hired as a waitress and cast in the chorus of a tiny production called “Believe In Me, A BigFoot Musical” in which I had two lines. I had no idea at the time, but Bigfoot was going to change everything I knew about where my story was going.

 

I spent my first few years in NYC trying to manage everything that I wanted to happen to me, mapping out exactly how I wanted to succeed. Some of it happened and some of it got derailed, but at one point I realized that the trick was not to get so caught up in the writing of my story, but to get caught up in the living of it. To recognize that there was power not only in changing the things I was unhappy with, but also in relinquishing control and letting myself get swept up in this beautiful life I was making for myself, the good AND the bad parts. Any normal person probably would have said no to accepting such a small role in a show like Bigfoot the Musical, but I had just spent several months behind a desk answering phones all day, so there was comfort for me in returning to what I had spent so much time nurturing at Catawba; a passion for storytelling onstage, sharing a rehearsal space and harmonizing with beautiful voices. On our final night of performance, there was a man in the audience named Frank who for some reason was riveted by the delivery of my two lines I had in the show, (more proof for all you theatre majors out there that there really are no small parts!). Frank was friends with a producer who was looking to recast the title role in a musical he was working on, and within a week I had auditioned and been cast.

 

I graduated from chorus member of Bigfoot the Musical to my very first starring role at a prestigious theatre in Philadelphia, and over the course of the next several years I joined the actors unions, got an agent and a manager, and started working regularly in commercials, film, and television. This is how my story has gone. I never anticipated that film or tv was something that I would be a part of, was something that I would even enjoy, but it is, and I do. I graduated from steady employment in the entertainment industry to falling in love with Claire, my partner, who has supported and loved me courageously, and who has become an even bigger part of my story than I ever imagined another individual would. I graduated from falling in love to feeling brave enough to take my art seriously, starting my own web comic and freelancing as an illustrator. As of last week, I am officially a published author and artist, having contributed a comic I wrote and drew to an anthology called “The Letter Q”, which is a book about queer writers penning letters to themselves as young adults. Of all that I have accomplished in the 10 years since I have graduated from Catawba, this is the thing of which I am most proud, sharing my story with the LGBTQ community in support, in love, and in solidarity. It turns out that my story isn’t about one trajectory at all. My story bounces around; it has highs and lows, it veers off in one direction and then reverses and revisits areas it passed by in other years. So far, I still have not made it to Broadway; instead I have found immense joy in crafting my own story-telling technique, connecting with other people who may not have a voice of their own, and I cherish this more than anything my 22 year old self could have ever conjured.

 

My hope for you, class of 2012, is that you embrace the responsibility of drafting your own stories with gratitude and grace, that you allow yourselves to get swept up in the beautiful, unexpected moments of your life without losing sight of what makes you feel both happy and whole. I urge you to write your stories with vigor and commitment. To allow yourself to make mistakes. To relish in the journey of your story, and to remember to always write in pencil.

 

Thank you.

 

Facelift!

For those of you revisiting my site, you will see that much has changed!
I loved my old site so much, but because it was in Flash and I am not so adept at utilizing the html code that was required for me to operate the site myself, I thought it best to move forward and join the tried and true wordpress community. So far, fixing this site up to my specifications and updating all the information has been a breeze compared to working my other site, and I am so grateful for Kate McMillan at Outbox Online for revamping this site and teaching me the ins and outs of wordpressing.

Like my old website, this space will be a place for me to post up new artwork, share comics that I am working on, and news about events and upcoming tv/film appearances. I am also going to incorporate a few new things into this updated site, like posting blogs and pictures of some of my DIY/crafting projects, and creating a space to sell quality prints of my artwork that people can purchase directly from this site. Initially I was invited to comic cons to sign pictures and participate in panels on behalf of Fringe, but on a whim a few years ago my team and I decided to bring a few pieces of my artwork to try and sell to convention attendees, and they have sold like hotcakes ever since. I am so grateful to Fringe fans not only for their appreciation of my role on the show, but also for their ability to embrace all the other facets of my artistic endeavoring!

Thanks so much for following my progress, both on and off screen, and I hope to keep this site updated so that there is always something new for you to see here!