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!

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

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

Here’s to living a Try Curious lifestyle together 😉

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.