Monday, March 31, 2008

Subversive Seamster: a Book Report by Mary Beth

I really don't like to write book reports. They are boring. I rather write exciting stories with all sorts of interesting characters that get into trouble. Just like the movies. But my mom says I have to write this book report or I will not be able to go to library (my favorite place) or visit Daiquiri Queen to get a butterscotch-coated vanilla ice cream on a plain cone.

So here I go.

Melissa Alvarado, Hope Meng and Melissa Rannels are three ladies who wrote a book called Subversive Seamster: Transform Thrift Store Threads into Street Couture. I don't know what either words mean, although I do recognize the first part of the first word: sub. Anyhow, these authors know how to sew and shop at thrift stores. They all own Stitch Lounge in San Francisco, a city I really want to visit one day. It would be cool to ride the cable cars up and down the hills.

So they wrote this book about how to buy used clothes and make them look new. They cut them apart, and put them back together in a different way. It's like Lincoln Logs, only applied to clothing. I like this idea because I don't have a big allowance. I have to use my baby-sitting money to buy what I need. The only problem is that I don't live near too many thrift stores in Glenview. My mom might have to drive me there. Wait, I could ride my bike to this store on Waukegan Road that sells 1950s gowns and 1960s suits.

I like the sub-titles in this book. They are funny. "Corner Your Pivoting Skills, Lettuce Show You a Great Technique," and "Ruche Me Up, Ruch Me Down" make me laugh. "Ms. Double Trouble: the Duct Tape Dress Form" is really silly-looking. If I made that form, my brothers would probably use to practice their boxing skills and then Toby would chew on it. I'm not sure I would make it. It looks a bit scary because it's silver and has no head.

I could do some of the projects in this book because I just learned how to sew. I took lessons at this shop in Golf Mill. I ride my bike there for each class, and it's a long way! If I could, I would make "Ain't No Collar Back Girl!" My mom has a polyester blouse like that in her closet. I could take it, she wouldn't mind. I'd cut off the collar and then put that and a pocket on a t-shirt just like the authors suggest. My mom would be surprised by what I made, don't you think? "Launch Yo Poncho" is pretty too. I'd take a poncho I got from Mexico that I don't wear too much any more. It's too hot. Mom wouldn't care about that either. I really like "Salsa, Not Just For Chips Anymore" too. For this craft project, you're supposed to cut up an A-line skirt (what's that?), dye the fabric, and put on a ruffle. I'd use Kool-Aid instead of Rit Dye. It's cheaper, and I could drink what's leftover.

Finally, "Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Tie (or Halter)" is cute too. I've never been a bridesmaid yet, but I see all these women wearing these matching gowns after weddings at Our Lady of Perpetual Help. They appear gorgeous and they look like they're having lots of fun! I bet the bride buys those dresses. I want to be a bridesmaid a dozen times when I'm old enough.
Anyhow, I could take the rest of that blouse of my mom's that I think she's only worn once to a fancy-schmancy party for her wedding anniversary. She would be really impressed that I can make two things out of one top!

That's all for my book report. I think you should check this book out from the library; it's good. I wouldn't buy it because again, my budget is limited, and my mom and dad tell me I have to save up money for high-school and college.

Friday, March 28, 2008

French Words I Like Today...

Ever since I started taking lessons on how to brush up my speaking skills in a certain language at Alliance Française, certain words have been virtually leaping off the tattered pages of my Webster's Dictionary onto my tongue. Especially ones that have to do with fashion. Those I just love to toss up and down in my mouth, and pretend I'm a native, living in Paris, with a full-view of the Eiffel Tower from my window, where I can sit and eat brie cheese all day and not gain an ounce: (Who knows? It could actually happen, not the latter but the former.)
  • aigrette. n. a tuft or spray, as of feathers, diamonds, etc. the small white heron; an egret. The aigrette on your chapeau is just lovely, Madame. I do hope those jewels do not come from a South African mine.
  • ampoule. n. a small sealed glass container holding hyperdemic dose. The ampoule pinned on her lapel could not support a peony, it's so small!
  • amulet. n. talisman, a charm. The young girl considered the Hello Kitty necklace an amulet; she always aced her exams when she wore it.
  • arras. n. tapestry; tapestries, used as wall hangings. I don't have carpets in my atelier, I have arras from Ikea.
  • balletomane. n. an enthusiast for ballet. You're a balletomane? Me too! Don't you just adore Mikhail Baryshnikov?
  • bombazine, bombasine. n. a twilled fabric of silk and worsted or cotton. Do you think I could find some bombazine at Mood Fabrics in New York or am I just dreaming?
  • kepi. n. a light military cap. flat-topped with a straight peak. A kepi! That will be just the thing to wear with that Issey Miyake outfit. You don't know what a kepi is?
  • moiety. n. half. You can have moiety of my fabric collection. Really, I don't mind. No, wait. Am I on drugs? No, you can have a swatch, just one. That's it!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Maybe Baby

My sister will be giving birth to newest baby in the Klatt klan in a few weeks. I saw her at Easter, her hip-length henley bunching at her rounded belly. This will be my 12th niece or nephew.

Soon there will be a newborn crying at the next family get-together, squishing his/her little face and turning beet-red because she/he is hungry or her/her diaper is soiled. (Isn’t that how it is? I’m completely forgotten. It’s so odd how I grew up surrounded by babies as one of the eldest in my tribe of 10. I was the go-to babysitter. More or often than not, I dumped the youngest sibling into the stroller, strapped him/her in and off we raced to the library so I could get more books to read. Wearing a wrap-around red/blue plaid poly jumper I was once actually mistaken for a young mother while I was prowling for new reading material in the children’s section. I was so insulted.)

Babies crying in the crib or in the high-chair...well, it’s all as foreign to me as French (and I’m relearning what I absorbed in high school). Today though, I just cringe when I hear those high-pitch wails. When I hear them on the bus, I go to the farthest unoccupied seat and pray that that family gets off as soon as possible. Or I depart as quickly as I can. Unabated cries just wear on me rapidly, although I do feel for those mothers who can’t escape an unhappy child.

Now there’s nary a play-thing in my house yet when I was a teenager I was accustomed to stepping on Leggo pieces. Ouch! Wait, I take that back: there’s a stash of McDonald’s Happy Meal toys that I’ve received from my best friend in my linen closet. I give those to my nieces and nephews at Christmas. But no diaper bins in the bathroom or baby food in the refrigerator. My life is different: I can scarcely tolerate the sound of humans ages 1-10 in my immediate vicinity. Example: I become annoyed when my upstair neighbor’s kids scamper back and forth on the wood floor above my bedroom. If I’m lucky, I’m distracted by entertaining a guest in my own living room during that time.

So I’ve been thinking about this new addition. Do I make a hat? Knitting one takes a little more effort. Or do I stitch one up out of some inexpensive fleece on my sewing machine? Or do become one of the masses and buy yet another onesie to add to my sister’s already expansive selection in this clothing category?

If I leisurely knit a cap I’ll be thinking about that newcomer a little more. Developing an attachment if you will. It’s much like the time I made a little box embellished with a Victorian letter for my first niece. I had difficulty familiarizing myself to her name, which was pretty, but I felt like it clashed with her last name. So I decoupaged this tiny cardboard box, so I could get conversant with the sound of her name.

I might have to do that same with the newest baby, since my sister is prone to dub her second child after a natural object in another language native to South America. I never heard of her son’s appellation until he was welcomed on this planet. Perhaps I could stitch No. 2’s initial on a hat after the fact? Babies need hats because their hair is so short, it’s like peach fuzz. But I’d no sooner finished my handiwork than the baby would be on her/his way to accept her Master’s Degree diploma. No, I could complete my that hat faster than that - perhaps by the time she/he is in second grade. By then, my creation might be suitable for another person about to be born.

It’s funny how it’s taking me longer to warm up to a name than the bona fide physical presence of this new person. After all, I’m far more likely to ask how __ is doing than I am to be spending time in his or her presence. I’ll be shopping for gifts, sending personalized birthday cards far more often than I will be burping him/her on my cloth diaper-protected shoulder. I’m much more predisposed to be saying “God Bless What’s His Name” just like Sister Maria in The Sound of Music than actually spending time with this child bouncing up in down in a church pew.

A name takes some getting used to. My own name probably sounds quaint to those young ones; to me, it’s what I became acquainted with along with my dark brown eyes and long waist. While I might wrinkle my nose at some of what I consider strange monikers of the younger Klatts, you know what those kids do? They tell me to cut my fingernails. They think they’re too long. One actually bends back my nails when he gets the chance, not realizing that that hurts.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Not So Funny?*

First of all, when I write, I write for myself. It doesn’t really matter if no else gets “it.” I’m putting pen to paper (or in the case fingers to computer keyboard) to express my feelings, capture a moment in this fleeting life. My main purpose? I’m trying to develop my sense of humor. It’s a hard task, I’ll tell you.

I'm primarily of German descent, an ethnic group that takes everything so seriously. Which is wonderful if you’re trying to get a loan or get to school on time. Germans are quite good at punctuality. They’re also excellent at pastries. My Grandpa Richard and Grandma Rose made a scrumptious coffeecake. I can still taste the almond filling (which I actually suggested). Germans are also known for their incredible beers, although they can pose for those of us predisposed to alcoholism.

We Germans (although I do have some Polish blood too, thank God) have to learn to lighten up a little. I have an uncle who visits his mother’s grave every day. Yes, every day (or so he told me). I hope he eats a good liverwurst sandwich while he’s there. I read in Bob Newhart’s book “I Can’t Believe I’m Doing This” that Germans don’t make good comedians because they are so literal. It’s so true, and it’s also our downfall when it comes to relationships. We take everything and every word at face value. We, as a group, need to lighten up or we’re going to die young even if we are taking seven vitamins daily.

So while I’m blessed to have that Teutonic ancestry, it’s also a curse in some ways. We’re an incredibly independent and proud, we don’t like to ask for help. That must be why I'm working out so hard at the Y to develop my arm muscles. It's so I can lift boxes in my apartment on my own. There are days when I wish I were a little more Irish even Jewish because of the relationship issues my family seems to have. The Irish? They seem to be more easy-going, and they can joke a lot along with their pints of Guinness. Jews? Gosh. They have humor built into their food. No wonder there are so many Jewish comedians. Jerry Seinfeld is one that comes to mind most prominently. But there are others.

So I am trying to work on my sense of humor basically save my own life or I will go crazy. I read a lot of books along those line, most recently Newhart’s book. But I’ve also read late radio comedian Fred Allen’s tomes. He’s a hoot. Steve Martin’s recent biography isn’t so funny. He strikes me as more of an intellectual than a comedian. Late comedian Steve Allen has a couple of great books on writing comedy, and how to become more humorous. I highly recommend those!

Even better are funny movies - but not the crude rude movies by Will Ferrell. I like the silent films - Harold Lloyd works hard at being funny, so does Buster Keaton. They inspire me to practice writing funny every day. Some of it is on my blog. Other times I pen letters to friends and family. Letters seem to be the only real way to connect with people now - everyone seems to be in a rush. Emails are so impersonal. Consequently, letters - the kind you drop in a blue mail box on a nearby street corner - are more powerful. Lately, I've dropped into that box correspondence addressed to my best friend, a couple of brothers (I have 7), a sister, my mom, my nephew, my and sister-in-laws. A letter, especially one that I slaved over for 45 minutes, is a gift. If the recipient doesn’t like the contents, well, that’s not my issue. I have had some positive response (and some negative) response, but I’m still going to write missives and send them out like missiles. It’s fun, and I swear, my life is changing for the better or I like to think it is or I'm truly insane.
* The above top is another version of the Santa Monica T. This is sewn from another scallop-edge remnant at Vogue Fabrics.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Doing Something New*

For at least four years, I’ve been going to Vogue Fabrics every Monday night for the free in-store demo, even while I was working here, but not while I was at this company. So like Big Ben clockwork, I boarded the 6:52 p.m. Metra northbound, hopped off the train at nearly 7 p.m. at Main Street, skipping (yes, sometimes I really do, on the advice of this coach) into the store, breezing through two big rooms before plopping myself on a chair with a notebook in hand to dredge up the wisdom of ace seamstress, Mac Berg. What’s supposed to be a 20-minute quick demonstration sometimes turns into a 45-minute lesson. I feel like I’ve soaked up so much knowledge in the past few years. Want to make a hamburger-quick scarf out of yarn scraps on your sewing machine? Sandwich those scraps beneath two pieces of water-soluble interfacing (Solvy), sew a grid on it, wash out the interfacing. Ta-da! A scarf. I know how to do lace-insertions, make custom fabric on a serger, ruffles, blind and rolled hems, bias-bound seams and fool-proof zippers...I’ve learned it all in the tiny room between the upholstery and notions department, squished into between about six or seven other ladies all sitting on folding chairs. I didn’t have to pay a penny....although I did buy a sewing machine, and I’ve got a serger on lay-away.

In the past 12 months or so, I’ve gotten a ride to Vogue’s Evanston location with a fellow enthusiast, so I don’t have to board that train nearly as often, nor take the subway train home. Travel is so much more adventurous (at least in my sewing book) with a friend. I’ve also become friends with another regular attendee - we share a love for the Burda World of Fashion Magazine!

Last night though, I did something new. I had to for one thing. Mac is out-of-rickrack-trimmed-pocket getting ready for her daughter’s wedding for the next three weeks. So I tackled another goal: learning French. You know as much as I love sewing, it felt soooo good to be doing something different. I took the subway downtown as opposed to the suburbs, I walked into a building where people speak Français, not English. There’s nary a fabric bolt in sight, but plenty of movies, CDs, and books on the language spoken in this country. I didn’t see a sewing machine (although it would have been nice to see some native cheeses and bread on a platter), but it didn’t matter. I was doing something completely unusual from my habit on this evening of the first workday of the week.

Anyhow, so I walk upstairs to the second floor, sitting down in a classroom at a desk by the window. There’s about eight of us women, no men. Luckily, we had an attractive male instructor. He dressed European with a fitted suit, and a bias-cut pale pink and blue tie. If he looks like that every week, attendance will be no problem. Within a matter of minutes, he’s forcing us to speak French only. So there we were reciting the alphabet, learning how to give our e-mail addresses (which I’ve already managed to forget) and counting past 11.

Our teacher encouraged us to keep up with our homework and to watch French cinema. On that note, I’ve decided to see this movie at the Gene Siskel Film Center. I’ll be doing my assignment and fulfilling my fashion quota at the same time. Teacher will be so proud! Do you think I’ll get extra gold stars for that?

This little ritual (No. 96 bus to Morse Red Line Stop, Red Line to Belmont Avenue, Brown Line to Chicago Avenue., hop onto the no. 66 eastbound bus to my destination) will go on until June 2, after which I’m certain I’ll return to Vogue Fabrics once again at my regular time and day. By then though, I’ll appreciate the demos more, especially the one on June 9, which is titled, Pintuck Panache (“Add texture to your fabrics for designer interest”). Panache is the French word for a plume of feathers used as an ornament on a cap.

* The above photos have nothing to do with the topic (French), but I'll write about them at a later date. This is Textile Studio's Santa Monica Tee, which I sewed from a glorious remnant of galloon-edged stretch lace.

Monday, March 24, 2008

My annual Easter Rant*

Every year at the last minute I tell myself, “I should wear a hat to church.” The night before I rifle through the boxes on my closet shelf. Hatboxes and purses happily rain down on me. Sailor hat! Marshall Field’s brown straw hat! Gold hobo bag with massive (ouch!) silvery loop handles, red boa-trimmed cocktail bag! They all clamor about for attention like children, the aforementioned cocktail bag especially. It releases a puff or two of feathers to catch my eye. It doesn’t usually work. I don’t really want to look like I’m going on a hot date on Easter. I want to appear classy, subdued. Of course, I had to look at the hats that were little less enthused for show-and-tell. That meant tearing into the zipped-up hatboxes, and rediscovering a black “winged” hat I made in a millinery class a few years ago. I call it winged because I swear the one-sided, off-center brim looks like a crow’s feathered limb uplifted. I embellished the class project with sparkly black vintage buttons and an equally old, black-felt curly-cue cut-out. All this makes the hat look like it’s from the 1940s.
I tried it on with this dress, which I thought really demanded and deserved something a little more understated. So I pulled out a 1960s oval pillbox that I updated with some grosgrain on the inside and a piece of elastic. Subtle stuff that just makes the hat more wearable. The grosgrain protects the hat from my make-up, the elastic keeps the hat on my head, and not up in the air, where it most certainly doesn’t belong.
I could have worn it plain and simple, and it would have complemented the black and white houndstooth perfectly. But I wanted more oomph! So I dug through my collection of netting. Off-white? Nah. Black? Absolutely. I swooped this wide, open-weave net around the hat’s base, ensuring a piece hung over my eyes, crossed the two ends in the back and pinned it from the inside. I stuck an 1920s rhinestone arrow on the front. My hat was complete!
Easter, I have to say, is the one day out of the whole year when I really, really miss my cream princess-cut wool coat (which I got rid of because it started getting light brown despite frequent trips to the dry-cleaner). Instead, I reluctantly wore my get-up with my puffy coat. The ensemble didn’t look bad, but I just wanted something more dressy to celebrate this holiday. Besides, it’s not often I get to blend in with the snow on Easter. I also wore my black suede Payless boots. I felt very mod with those boots and my short dress. On the way to the train, I saw two men and a woman openly drinking beer inside the local train depot. They darted out when they saw me call the cops on my cell phone, the one woman telling me, “----, I hope you have the worst day of your life.” That’s not all she said, but at least she didn’t tell me I looked terrible. I was happy to board the train and leave her behind.
I was also glad I wore the boots and not fancy-schmancy pumps when I visited a corner grocery store before stepping inside church. There were more than a few unshoveled sidewalks that my nice shoes wouldn’t have liked.
Inside church, I craned my neck to see who in the crowd would be wearing hats. No one! Not one in hundreds of people. Not one little girl dressed up by her Easter-loving mama. Although I did see one girl wearing a pair of bunny ears, pink coat and dress. I’m not sure this counts; it looks more like part of a costume than a Sunday hat. What do you think?
So there I was, looking a little more funereal than festive with my black-and-white attire. A little boy with the cutest blonde ringlets flirted with me from the pew ahead. At one point he asked, “What is that on your head?” A hat, I told him. His hatless mother laughed.
Afterwards, I tried to get pictures of hatted self with my niece, but my nephew was more busy trying to get pictures of the angels, and a friend in the background. So all the pictures of me and my niece have this boy in the back, making faces. He’s so close to me in background, it was difficult to crop him out.
My sister complimented me on my hat on the car ride to my mother’s; she too observed that I was the only woman in the congregation wearing a hat. My mother talked about how woman used to wear hats. “It was a nice tradition,” she said.
I understand that people don’t wear hats for the most part on a daily basis. Ok, I get that. But Easter is about tradition. It’s about egg hunts, lamb cake, church, and getting dressed up whether you like it or not. (My teen-age nephews were dressed in suits. When I asked them what would have happened if they didn’t wear them, they replied, “There would be severe consequences.”). For the women, it wouldn’t kill them to put on a hat on this one day. You will not fall over, you will not die of embarrassment. You might even have fun. You just might get some attention from men, some marriage proposals, a door opened on your way out. All because you wore a hat on Easter Sunday.
On the way to my mother’s, I joked that I might have to start a church ladies’ hat society. For a moment, I thought that might be what it takes to get women to wear hats on Easter. I just had another brilliant idea: maybe I should have a contest. The lady with the best hat wins a $25 restaurant certificate. Maybe I should do that. For a second or two yesterday, I was convinced I attend another church on Easter, but that doesn’t solve the problem, in fact, I’m just as likely to be surrounded by more hatless women (unless I attend an African-American church or a congregation with an active Red Hat Society). So that’s my impulse (not quite a resolution just yet) on this Monday after Easter. Do something different next year to get other women in the spirit. Maybe they just don’t know the tradition. Perhaps they just don’t know what they’re missing.
* The picture above? The pre-Easter brunch shot of me and my mother's dog, Molly (who has brown and blue eyes).

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Lined Dress - Oh my!

1) First: a disclaimer. I want to smile in my photos. Really I do. I'm not as serious as I appear. It looks like I need to spend more time reading this site, and less of this. But it was cold outside; it's 36 degrees (Fahrenheit), so I find it difficult to put a happy face on when I'm feeling chilly. I'd be much more likely to smile, act silly, maybe even dance if there I had a photographer prompting me. It's difficult to be cheery for a self-timer. That said, this lined dress made it much easier to pose outside. That second (unseen) layer of a gun-metal stretch charmeuse felt like my delightful and warm secret. How did I get through my life without lined dresses? Judging from my mother's closet, she wore (and made) lined dresses frequently in the 1960s and early 1970s. Not only does that second layer of fabric make the dress feel more finished, it actually has multiple functions: it insulates, it protects the main fabric, and it negates the need for a slip! For the slipless generation, I think a lining is mandatory, don't you think?

2. A close-up shot of the dress, Easy McCall's M5512, which is part of This pattern was easier than cooking up a pot of peas (isn't that where the expression "easy-peasy" originates?) although I still managed to make some designer touches. First, after I stitched in my lining for the bodice, I understitched at the armholes. Only after I aced that part, did I realize that this detail was for view A, not B (my dress). Oops! I left it alone, and stitched in the lined sleeves. Wonderfully my understitching detour didn't hurt the outcome. Hurrah! What else can I tell you? I rediscovered the blindstitch hem button on my sewing machine. I've used it once before - two years ago on a sweater coat. But I was afraid of this stitch. Was I doing it right? I got a quickie refresher course with Mac Berg at Vogue Fabrics, and the fluorescent lightbulb went off. I went home and tried it for myself. Wow! I'm going to use this hem trick a lot more now. The key thing to remember is to ensure that the raw edge is on the right side of the needle and the fold on the left. And use the proper feet (the D foot on the Viking Husqvarna sewing machine shank, my bunioned right foot on the pedal).

Here's a shot of the designer touch I mentioned above. As you can see, one side is gathered more than the other. I decided to just let it go, because it's A) In the back. B) The fabric is so busy, the gathering is not as noticeable. C) Anyone who's staring at that spot is a weirdo and better get away from me on the double or I'm going to call the cops!

That said, I do like the back slit, but you might want to make it a little less deep so your bra strap doesn't show or wear a bra that nearly blends into your fabric.

For the shoe fans: these are Natural Comfort wedgies, which I bought off of eBay recently. I have a pair of rust-colored ones, which I frequently wear with this dress. These suede shoes have padding, making them extraordinarily comfortable. I highly recommend them.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Hint of Things to Come...*

This is what I wrote on Jan. 30, 2007 for a proposed study plan at this university.
Obviously, I didn't get it because I'm here and not there. Still my dream to soak up American fashion from the post World War I era to the present is still very much alive. Anyhow, here's what I typed up more than a year ago:

I’m particularly interested in learning how past designers influence current ones. It’s relevant because I would like to become an expert and write articles and books on fashion-related topics.
It’s important to study past fashions because they influence what’s being manufactured today. For example, the 1970s peasant-style dresses are back. Instead of being made in 100 percent or tacky polyester as you might have found during the height of the Watergate, you’re seeing them sewn up in soft silks and cotton/rayon knits that weren’t available thirty years ago. There’s also a revival of the high-waisted pants, first seen in the 1930s then again during the Carter administration. Now they’re made of stretch denim with pockets for iPods! That’s a far cry from wearing scratchy wool pants with little ease and you had to tote all your necessities in a purse.
Studying fashion is relevant to my current career objectives because I love making clothes. I live, eat, breath garment-making - it’s the first thing I look at when I sit down at my computer in the morning with my cup of Cappuccino Cooler, and eBay auctions of vintage sewing and knitting patterns are often the last things I look at before I close my office door for the day, a frothy glass of Guinness Stout in my hand. When I’m on the bus, I’m crocheting a skirt, after hours I’m stitching underwear on my Viking Husqvarna sewing machine. I fall asleep thinking about then next tiered skirt I’m going to make, the fabrics I want to buy at the local fabric store, even the notions I’ll need to complete the project. I figure I’ll die with a Simplicity pattern in my hand or slumped over my sewing machine, the light burning.
What I enjoy even more is writing about what I stitch. When I’m not creating something to wear with my hands, I’m sharing what I know about about my hand-crafts. I want the universe to know how much fun it is to create your own unique attire. It isn’t always the least expensive way to add to your wardrobe, but it’s the most satisfying. I want to share the journey of the making of a garment, even if the final product is a bust. Trust me - I’ve tossed out more than my fair share of half-sewn gowns bad, ripped back sweaters gone awry.
Sure, I could just simply sew, crochet and knit but I want to study know more about the clothes I’m making. I want to know their history. I’d like to immerse myself in the work of the great American designers: Bill Blass, Adrian, Jacques Fath, and many others. I’m particularly fascinated with U.S. fashion because I’m of of Polish-German descent. I would love to study how immigrants in the early 20th century forged their way and succeeded in the hurly-burly world of design. How did Claire McCardell come up with her imaginative swimsuit designs; Adrian, his incredible gowns for Hollywood star Joan Crawford? I’m eager to study every stitch, button and loophole on the vintage gowns and apparel created by fabulous American designers.
An old garment “has an emotional connection,” Karen Augusta, a North Westminster, Vt., vintage clothing dealer and appraiser told me for a Christian Science Monitor story I wrote on vintage wedding gowns. “Wedding dresses and baby clothes are saved more than any [other clothing]. When we look at them in a museum, and read about who wore them, there's a mystery and identity tied up in them. If you look at wedding dresses ... from the '50s, you think of Elvis Presley. Looking at furniture from the same period doesn't evoke the same connection."
Why not just study Kate Spade and Vera Wang? I have to agree with what Tori Gulisano, a vintage clothing dealer in Fort Myers, Fla. who I also interviewed for the Christian Science Monitor article: Vintage dresses "have more style, they don't fall apart like modern clothes," Ms. Gulisano says. "People want to look like Jean Harlow or Marilyn Monroe; they were icons. These women were the epitome of fashion. Nowadays you've got Britney Spears. Back then, the stars still had style and class."
I want to study the construction of these vintage garments so I can apply it in my own work and share my knowledge with others. Why is important to know technique? Well you know the saying “You’ve got to know the rules before you break them”? That’s never more true than in fashion. It’s helpful to know how to machine-stitch a zipper so you can put a zipper in an unconventional place: like on a hat where you would least expect one. Or a belt. What I absorb from the greats I can impart to other readers even if they never pick up a crochet hook or a knitting needle in their life. Lessons learned from sewing, crochet and knitting can be applied to real life.
Why do readers need to know about fashion? You might suggest there are more important things to discuss, but fashion is critical because it’s escapism at its best. Fashion used to be about uniformity, now it’s about individualism. Seen on TV, it’s entertainment:
“America’s Top Model” or “Project Runway.” Even in literature, ‘The Devil Wears Prada" the catwalk represents an opportunity to forget about terrorism, the cold weather outside, the nearly empty checking account, the cat crying to be fed even just for a moment.
It is the place where, when you’re swept up in the moment of creativity, you can create a piece of wearable art that no one else, not even a Martian, will have in their closet. Isn’t that amazing?
On that note, I think I’ll return to eBay, where I’m watching an auction for a 1950s crochet skirt pattern. If I win it, I’ll have to see how I can recreate it with contemporary fibers...

* My headline could be interpreted in more ways than one, since not only since I'm still pursuing plans to study fashion design, but I plan to cut this glitzy camouflage fabric and turning it into a lined shift. Stay tuned for more on that soon. By the way, I think I won the crochet pattern if it's the one I'm thinking of...

What Matters Most*

If you were to ask me what matters most to me, you'll get an earful. Beauty, aesthetics, appearance, historic preservation, individualism and learning how to make do are high on my personal agenda. Being a "Renaissance woman" (someone who's good at a lot of things) is not.

I think looks counts because I have a hearing loss in both ears. At an early age, I had to learn how to read other people’s lips. I also became really good at body language - even to this day I can tell when Hollywood couples aren’t getting along! I was also artistic as a child. I loved to draw, paint and make macramé. Even now I like things to “look pretty.” When objects look harmonious, I can relax and enjoy.

Saving old buildings is also a huge value for me. I think we should do more to save the old structures that define our neighborhood, town, state and country so that youngsters can see that there was a time when people didn’t shop at the local chain store, and not all high-rises were fronted with glass from the first floor to the pinnacle or even that all gas stations looked alike from coast to coast. This is also important for architects - they need to study the past so that they can create the future.

Even as a child I saw the need to save old buildings. I was distressed when I learned about plans to tear down the local hardware store, which played a significant role in the development of my hometown, Glenview, Ill. I was almost ready to get out there and picket the teardown. Even now I can still see the second-floor fireplace made visible by the bulldozers destroying this important place. A significant local landmark became a parking lot!

I’m also fascinated with an individual’s qualities, especially those have led to great success. For example, I found it fascinating that WBEZ jazz host Dick Buckley lost numerous radio gigs throughout life because he has narcolepsy - he’d fall asleep on the job and get fired! Still he has huge respect from a lot of Chicagoans for his radio show, which broadcasts every Sunday afternoon. He’s incredibly knowledgeable about all things jazz. Those kinds of anecdotes make for great journalism. It also keeps me going when I’m having a bad day.

I am a ‘go with the flow’ now person who takes things as they come and discovers future one day at a time. I think I’m an adaptable person largely because my father was an alcoholic. You didn’t know if he would show up on time to pick you up after school, so you had to find a Plan B even a Plan C just to make sure you got home. So I became a very independent person.

I also learned to make do with what I have and I know how to pitch in when the going gets tough. Growing up, I wasn’t sure I would have enough money to go to college, because my dad couldn’t get a job at one point for years. My mother worked full-time, and our family lived on food stamps and the goodwill of our local church for a while. Getting by was the name of the Klatt game, and I still take that approach years later, even though it’s been more than a decade since my father died. It’s certainly been a helpful attribute in the newsroom when there’s a murder or another catastrophic event. I’m quick to step up to the plate and help get the news out on time.

So perhaps it's not a surprise to hear that I am an achiever. I always have to be busy. I have a bottomless source of energy. There’s no sleeping in until 10 a.m. on Sunday mornings or taking the leisurely way to work. I walk fast and you better be able to keep up with me! That constant work-mode is a source of stress to be sure, but it certainly means my life will never be dull or I will lack for something to do. When I was working at the newspaper, that meant that writing anything less than five stories a week led to me feeling like I was a slacker! I’m certain that when I’m 120 years old I will be arranging and re-arranging my nighties in my drawer just for something to do.

Consequently, I like make something strong even better. It’s essentially taking a beautiful swath of chartreuse silk shantung, cutting and sewing it, turning it into a stunning wrap-around dress. The fabric was gorgeous before I cut it up, but it has become even more lovely because now it’s a wearable work of art. I like to do the same with words, especially when I’m editing. Few things excite me more than when a writer turns a great profile that needs very little editing. At the most, all I need to do is write a headline and drop the copy into layout. I don’t enjoy having to heavily edit an article for several reasons. I don’t want to disturb the writer’s voice but introducing my words or errors into it.

I also enjoy hearing that an interior designer or an architect got work as a result of a story I wrote. Or that story strengthened the opposition toward the demolition of a local building.

Finally, I avoid people who want to “fix me” like the Bubonic Plague. I have no interest in being a well-rounded person. I’m not going to learn how to fill out my income tax forms in this lifetime even though there are umpteen computer programs that supposedly simplify the task. I’m not going to buy an automobile right now even though many people think I’m odd for not owning one. Furthermore, I don’t want to waste my life bemoaning my lack of a car, a husband, or even a decent tube of toothpaste. I rather capitalize on those gifts I do have: to see beauty in all things, even the spilled vase with scattered flowers. Besides, it’s much more fun and productive to focus on my blessings. What do you think?

*The picture above doesn't relate to the post except that this is the fabric that I used to make my latest dress. More on that when the weather warms up for some outdoor photography.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Funny Girl*

I want to be the funniest Chicagoan around. Well, at least the funniest person on my block. Heck, I’d even settle for being the best comedienne in my building.

I don’t know why I want to be hilarious. But I do. I see it as a great gift to make other people laugh. But gosh, if I could make myself crack up that to be great. I just see being humorous as the best thing I can do for myself, the world and the universe. Even Martians need to lighten up and I see myself as the woman to do the job.

I also think a sense of humor helps people remember you and it draws them to you like a moth to a flame...that gets burned! But it has certainly been helpful in the Internet world when I’ve been blogging. I think people want to visit the blogs that make them chuckle, forget about their everyday cares for a while. There’s enough out there about earning more money, terrorism, the war in Iraq, that what I really want to read and write is something that Erma Bombeck or Jean Kerr would write. In fact, it’s my goal in life to be invited to the next Erma Bombeck conference. Now, I’d really need to decide what I’d wear to this confab. I’m certain I’d be competing with other wanna-be clowns, but very few I’m certain would wear a cocktail hat or at least one shaped like a strawberry. What do you think? I think I’ll wear one for sure at the ASJA conference in April.** That way I know I’ll stand out, people will see me in the crowd. They might even gravitate toward me, if only to take a look at the French knots on my chapeau. That’s ok, I won’t take it personally.

I want to download funny MPs on my iPod or my iShuffle when I finally get around to buying one. I want to watch funny movies, when I get a TV again. I just want to surround myself with laughter constantly. Although how can I turn all that off when I go to bed? I might even hear guffaws in my sleep. That’s ok. I rather be chuckling (not upchucking) in my sleep than talking. I’ve been to known to betray a secret or two when I’m in la-la land so laughing would be good. Everyone, particularly my sewing machine, would want to know what’s so funny. Even the sewing patterns on the floor would want to know.

I’m more keen on listening to funny stuff than I am on getting an earful of music. Most of the songs on the radio are sad anyhow, about love and loss. I’ve been there, you’ve been there. Why even go there when you can go to a happy place just as easily? So I rather visit the land frequented by Jerry Seinfeld, Jack Parr, Charlie Chaplin and other funny folks. Life is so much better and richer that way. Just think, I can be as funny as Amy Sedaris even if I don’t make her kind of money. Yet. Hah.

If I didn’t laugh, I’d cry at all the fabric I’ve destroyed in my quest to sew unique apparel. I cannot tell you how much fabric I’ve tossed because I’ve cut it wrong or it looks just sew wrong that I cannot bear to fix it. Yes, I’ve even ditched completed tops because it looks like a gnome on drugs sewed themt. I might be funny, but I want my clothes to look halfway decent. I’m ok with wearing my mistakes, I do it all the time. There are uh-ohs I can live with, and there is the stuff that absolutely must go in the trash or at the very least in the bottom of my closet to be unearthed by my heirs.

That’s true even with my writing. Some of it is unbearably bad. I mean so horrible that even my brothers who love me very much would wince. I can’t have that. And I certainly don’t want those people who inherit my belongings to have to wade through that junk. Ditch. Fill a landfill in the name of simplicity or at very least saving my reputation as a writer. Now what about photos? I need to file those or get rid of them too. I’ve got pictures from the 80s that still need to go into albums! Help! Whatever does or doesn’t get done is fodder for essays. Right?

I’ve got one minute and I’m out of here to lighten up the world with my very bad jokes. I figure I can be just as bad as local Chicago funny man and trombonist Bill Porter. Right?
* the picture you see above has nothing to do with this post, unless you think you have at least 1/2 yard of this particular jersey in your stash. If you do, I want to hear from you. Email me ASAP. Please. And I mean that most seriously.
** I wrote this a year ago, so I might not actually wear this hat this year this time.

Friday, March 14, 2008

A Painterly Dress for the Artist Within

I'm not sure why this photo appeals to me so much. I'm looking off to the distance, maybe even looking a little sly. Perhaps I am ready to crack a smile? I just don't want to take myself too seriously. However, I'm not quite ready to put on my Happy Face just yet. It's still chilly out there and I took off my coat for this photography session. I might not look cold, but I am in the above photo. It's me, the dress, the girdle, a pair of beige-colored mesh hose from Target and my BCBG Girl wedgies.
Ah. Here I am playing The Serious Model. More on the dress, which I sewed using a dramatic black and white cross-hatch cottony jersey from Vogue Fabrics in Evanston, Ill. This fabric is really lightweight and airy, and I think it will be extraordinarily comfortable when the heat gets turned on here in Chicago, sometime in the middle of June. This print is all over the runways this season. If you're interested in purchasing some, Vogue has more of it on the bolt at $4.99 a yard. There's a similar print with more of a buttery, silky hand in a royal blue colorway that's parked next to the above fabric bolt at Vogue. Same deal. Check it out if you're so inclined: 847-864-9600 (that number is committed to memory and I don't work for the store although I could.) You might be able to find it at the store's web site, but there's a lot that's not online, so you'd be better off picking up the telephone.
The close up. This is Simplicity 3681, size D5 (4,6,8,10,12). I went for a straight size 8, which turned out to be a good fit. I opted to do a blend of view E (with the short hem) and view C (the three-quarter length full sleeve). I'm really in love with raglan sleeves these days; the shoulder seam seems to suit my petite frame better (this is a Misses'/Miss petite dress incidentally). I don't have to make any adjustments or use clear elastic to stabilize the shoulder seam. Now for the low-down on construction. The pattern sews up lickety-split (but not by itself). I did secure the inside facing on the collar with a line of stitching on the outside. It looks Ok, but I'm not blown away by it. I did a mock cover-stitch on the hem with my oft-mentioned Viking...

I think the dress is really shorter than I intended it to be. I'm wearing this with stockings, but I'd be hesitant to wear it bare-legged. I might buy a pair of black lace-edge leggings from Marshalls, and then wear with the shoes you see below....
The shot you all have been waiting for. These are a pair of BCBG Girl wedgies, purchased at Nordstrom's last year. They're very versatile, although a bit wobbly at times. I really take care of them and have the cobbler nail on little plastic cleats on the heels to reduce wear and tear. You can't see it here but these shoes have a black rattan exterior that gets chipped easily. My shoe repair man sprays them with a black spray for free every time I taken them into his store.
This is my third version of this dress. The first, made in the wrong size, is an essentially unwearable muu-muu in a cute brown and blue floral cotton jersey. The second? A beauty made from two complimentary fabrics from the $1 dollar at Vogue Fabrics. I call that my Gwen Stefani dress. I'll write up a story on it once it's a bit warmer. That one's short-sleeve...

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Spring Dress and Gratutious Shoe Shots

I was going to say that the first shot would be perfect if it weren't for my expression. I'm biting my lower lip and looking away, probably at the person I saw in a nearby alley depositing trash in a garbage can. I'm trying hard not to lose the pose despite the distraction. But it was my full-length photograph, so this is what you're going to get if you want to see the faux wrap dress I saw the way you would see it if you saw me walking down the street or posing in front of a camera on a tripod in a park (which is what I was doing). If I don't look completely relaxed, it's because I'm cold. Spring is on its way but it's still quite chilly at 43 degrees. I just looked at the temperature. I can't believe I took off my coat. Well, I can because I wanted to show off this dress (Simplicity 4074). Vanity always triumphs comfort, especially when it comes to shoes (more on that later).

First, the fabric. I loved this fabric that I snapped up when I visited Metro Textiles in New York City last spring. I love paisley, and this orange/turquoise/fuschia colorway is simply flattering; the pattern is so busy it does indeed cover all those "lumps and bumps" as Ann says on her web site. I really had no idea what I was going to make when I bought this, just something smashing. Then I read about this mock-wrap dress pattern and I decided I had to make it.
I cut a size eight all the way through. To prevent gaposis at the neckline, I stitched on clear elastic before I twin-needle stitched the neckline. The rest of the pattern was a angel cakewalk (and I like mine with fresh strawberries, by the way). I did a faux cover-stitch on the hem and sleeves with my Viking Husquvarna 735. If I were to make this dress again (and I will with another Metro Textiles jersey), I'll probably stitch that clear elastic closer to the raw edge so less cleavage shows when I fold over the fabric. As it is, I think it's modest, but if it weren't, I just might wear this. However, I think I'm ok.

Here's a final gratuitious shoe shot that I thought you might enjoy. These are a pair of 1940s beige pumps that I got for $40. They are not in the best condition as you can tell. They are well-loved - and constantly visiting the shoe repair shop for a little TLC. These are one of my more comfy retro pumps. They are sumpremely comfy. I even wear them without stockings during the summer. I think this might be a 7 1/2 - I can squeeze my 8 1/2 feet into these because of the adjustable back strap and the pee-toe. If you love vintage shoes, but feel that you can't find any in size or price range, think again. Just put the word out there, and I'm confident you'll begin to find some!

By the way, if anyone has a 1/2 yard of this wonderful fabric, I will gladly buy it from you. I started to make a kimono-style wrap top for a friend but I can't find the bottom half of the bodice. Help!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

No TV for the Past Decade!

I must be one of the few people in Chicago without a television. How’s that for weird, strange or just plain out of touch? How will I know if a nuclear bomb has exploded or what Nick Lachey’s girlfriend Vanessa Minnillo is wearing today?

You’re right I won’t know. My body will be fried before I even know what hits me. That’s life. Quite honestly that’s a better way to go. One minute I’m on earth. Pouff! The next my body is exploded into a million bits and I don’t know where the heck I am. But I’m not sure a television set would prevent the actual explosion just the knowledge thereof.

At least with Vanessa’s dress I could probably find an image online the next day. So seeing the actual garment real-time is A-OK with me as long I get to study it on People, the pages of Lifestyles Weekly or some other such rag.

But I’ve been TV-less for 10 years. I’m not trying to make a political statement. I’m not even anti-TV. I don’t even belong to a religious sect that forbids watching that little box with moving images. I’m just lazy. Really plain and simple and embarrassing too.

You see, the little black and white TV that I had since college started smokin’ sometime during a segment where Al Gore was complaining about the election results. Now, Al could have been so mad at Bush that there really was smoke emanating from my television set, but I think the electronics in this machine were cooked. I smell something worst than my morning toast burning. I quickly unplugged the TV, and got rid of it shortly thereafter.

A part of me got unplugged in the process. No more John Tesh or even his replacement twin Bob Golan on Entertainment Tonight. I was hooked on Seinfeld and Friends at the time. No more, prime-time television shows. Now what was I going to do during the evening? Count the cracks in my ceiling? Sweep cobwebs because I’m bored out of my skull?

No, I didn’t do either. I was just got busy. Either talking on the phone or going out. I was able to catch up on my sleep. Getting rid of the television for that reason alone has been worth it! It was odd not having a TV to turn on at 6 p.m. but after a while I got used to it. I didn’t miss John Tesh or Jennifer Aniston. There haven’t been any good shows since 1998 anyhow unless you want to count Project Runway and that’s not even a conventional show.

I think about getting a television set again. I want to watch Project Runway in my home not in a bar surrounded by smokers.* I want to see Tim Gunn’s new show. I don’t care about Grey’s Anatomy, although I’m certain I would get hooked on the new dance shows since I love to lindy-hop. i don’t even care about Entertainment Tonight since it’s been so long since I broke my habit of watching that show.

But I worry I might get too sedentary with my new acquisition. I might get fat sitting on the couch, Doritos in my mouth and hands. I might start smoking. I might start getting anxious about world events, watching Katie Couric giving us the latest lowdown on Iraq, global warming, and what not. I know terrible things are going on in the world, but I really rather not know the details. Headlines are fine. Let’s just get on to the funny stuff, which is partly why my computer browser’s home page is I much rather read about Prince William’s girlfriend or how this season’s Fashion Week will be different than the past. They say Ignorance is Bliss, and I’m here to tell you it’s true. So don’t ask me any hard questions about the news because I honestly won’t know enough to give you an answer.

I feel sorry for people who have TVs, flat-screen or otherwise. If your toys can’t make you happy why bother?

* this was written before the ban on smoking went into effect this year in Chicago's bars. Now I can happily knit and drink my Guinness while I'm out on the town without having to worry about using Febreeze when I get home.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Sewing Unmentionables

While I was living the lonely life of an Illinoisan in exile in Des Moines, Iowa, I did lots of sewing. Mostly tops, and at least one skirt. I even made the segue into stitching up a pair of underpants using a vintage 1970s-era Stretch and Sew pattern. The model on the pattern cover even had a pair of pigtails, that’s how quaint it was.

So I cut the undies out of this scrap blue petal stretch fabric, a remnant from a bell-sleeved crew neck blouse. I bought the elastic at the local Jo-Ann Fabrics. One very quiet Saturday afternoon I stitched up my very first pair of underwear.

It was a bit bunchy in the wrong places, but it definitely looked like something you would wear beneath your outer garments. I was so proud, I enclosed a fabric swatch in a letter home to my 6-year-old niece. I wrote about the joys of sewing your own undergarments.

The next time I saw my sister-in-law (my niece’s mom) she mentioned those undies straight out. “I would never bother to make something like that,” she said, not in awe but more like she was thought I was straight out crazy, like I had taken a round-trip to Jupiter without wearing a helmet.

But then there’s other end of the spectrum. Those folks who are clearly wowed by any effort to make something that can’t ordered out of a Victoria’s Secret or the press of a button on a PC. These are the same people who ordered a jumbo pack of white cotton socks and t-shirts by the dozen at Old Navy.

When I tell them that I’ve stitched undershorts they’re amazed. It’s almost like I’ve put in a bid to run for president against Hillary Clinton or if I completed the Iditarod with my hands tied behind my back. These same humans don’t realized how easy it is to assemble and stitch this most basic of garments. A front and back, a piece of white cotton jersey for the crotch, stitched together. Elastic in three holes - leg, leg, waist. Secure the aforementioned material with another row of stitches on your sewing machine. Done. Faster than you can find parking on a non-football Sunday at the local mall. Really. If underprivileged men and women in China can make these things assembly faster than you and I can brew a pot of Twinings tea, why couldn’t Americans with multiple degrees craft something like this? Honestly, I rather sew, knit or crochet my undies than duke it out in the parking lot at Old Navy or the Gap just for the privilege of wearing briefs just like Madonna.

Not only do I get the satisfaction of pairing pretty pastel elastic laces with my favorite fabrics, but I can revisit projects past as I cut and sew. The brown-leaf hued stretch lace? That was last seen in a Textile Studios raglan long sleeve top that’s a tad tight on me but I still wear. I bought that at Vogue Fabrics. The sparkly springy fabric? Another find at Vogue - I actually called in my order from the middle of Tornado Alley otherwise known as Iowa. Finally, there’s the uncommonly soft fuschia knit, a remnant that I gleefully purchased on site at Vogue. It’s so amazing to see the lace applied to my textiles, together they become works of art.

What’s more, I look even more forward to wearing those panties. At work, play or home, no one will known what I’m wearing beneath my jeans - a pair of gorgeous unique underwear made for less than five bucks by ME! Lordy, I’ll be so proud that I’ll have to actually people show off my pantaloons. My only fear is that they’ll ask me to make their undergarments. I don’t want to do that. How likely is that?

But when I’m finished sewing for myself, I might some panties for my mother and my nieces. My mother’s a little vain, so I wonder if she wear colorful underwear when she’s accustomed to the inexpensive but beige, white and black varieties. But as one friend likes to say in her email signature, “Life is Short. Wear pretty underwear.” I plan on living a long time, so I better get stitching.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Sewn, Not Knitted

I have this lovely multi-hue sweater coat that I sewed up using a Lois Hinse pattern. The fabric really looks like it was made by hand - it’s got the rainbow of colors you’d see in a Lion brand yarn: peach, purple, brown, and orange. Except this yarn is already knitted by machine. Instead of pulling out the mean 'ole knitting needles to work up a swatch and then spend 24 months making a $200 sweater coat that ‘s finished right about the time summer begins, I went to the local fabric store (in my case, Vogue Fabrics), where I pulled out the lengthy spool of yarn fabric, trotted up to the counter, and asked for “Three yards of this, please.” That's my material for the sweater coat.

Then I laid out the pattern. Back, front, sleeves, and belt. Pin, cut. After, I fed the pieces into my sewing machine, which thankfully doesn't eat fabric for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I finish the edges of the fabric so they don’t unravel faster than a bad joke told at the dinner table.

There’s the sweater coat. Made in two days. No sweat, except for the grit on your knees from kneeling on soiled carpeting to pin the tissue pattern pieces to the fabric.

The compliments rained down faster than a late-spring storm over Chicago. First it was “Did you knit that??” You can virtually see the multiple question marks just like in a cartoon bubble and hear the awe in their voices. When I explain to them I made this sweater coat on a sewing machine, they can’t quite believe it. “Oh, I thought you knitted it,” they say. You can hear the disappointment in their voices, which I don’t understand. Is it easier to admire someone’s wearable work of art if they slaved over it for days, months and years with knitting needles than if he or she whipped it up faster than a college student can finish a term paper? I don’t understand that part - so I didn't rip this puppy back three gazillion times, or wince at the cash register when they rang up the yarn purchase. Is it less worthy of admiration because I made it for $15?

I had one friend suggest, “You should just tell them you knitted it.” But I cannot, cannot tell a lie. It’s genetically impossible. I’m too nice. I’ m a good Catholic girl. I cannot lie. I go to confession regularly. Can you picture me in the confessional: “Bless me father for I have sinned. It’s been two weeks since I last went to confession. I’m really sorry for telling people that I knitted a sweater coat when I really sewed it.” The priest would laugh at me, and tell me not to waste his time or other good Catholics’! Instead I must explain to disbelieving people (I can only imagine how the apostles must have felt trying to educate folks about Christ) that I stitched this coat. I practically have to pantomine. I demonstrate a swath of fabric with my arms outstretched and pretend to cut it with a pair of scissors. Yes, my sweater coat was cut from a huge piece of knitted fabric about the size of a scarf for the Jolly Green Giant.

Even when I explain how easy it is to make a sweater coat that appears to be made to be knitted, people look at me like it’s really hard. It’s like I’m reinventing the rocket or inventing a new language. Knitting a garment seems easier in their view, than sewing it. I think the yarn fabric is intimidating. Which is probably why I got it so cheap. It’s a little scary to look at the fabric. As I said, it's ravelly, (not Ravelry) However, you know you just tame the beastie with a row of quick stitching. Stops unraveling like a fireblock during California's dry season, most of the time. Works like a charm bracelet every time. Your fabric is practically like a sturdy woven textile then and easy to work with.

It's possible to that people can't fathom sewing a sweater coat because knitting is so popular. Nearly every mother and her daughter does it. It's all over the Internet. It's quite possibly more trendy than sewing. People getting knitting, sewing not so much, unless it's on Project Runway. Then they comprehend.

As much as I enjoy the wearing the sweater coats, I’m getting a little tired of
explaining how I made them. In the future, I'm just going to tell 'em they were made in China.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

All Folded Up and Ready to Go*

That's the skirt designed by Kat Coyle up there. It looks better folded something you might see on a Victoria's Secret shelf. You know how they've got all the panties creased just so? That's this skirt for you. Sometimes I'd just as soon stare at the lacy edge, pet it (it's that oh-so-soft and expensive Margrite Karabella yarn). I'm really trying to remember where I was in my life when I made it. I hadn't done anything in a lace pattern at this point. That was about a year and half ago. I was living where I am, my hair was a little on the darker side, and I weighed about the same. I didn't have bangs at that point, I know that much. It's been a long while since I've experimented with fringe benefits on my forehead. I like it. (It's a perfect way to dodge the forehead shine that seems to nearly always surface when family and friends take my photograph. The Shine seems to just go somewhere else - perhaps it takes to the street and bothers passerby? I don't know. )

I'd show you how the skirt looks on me but I'm a little embarrassed. This skirt really clings to me. I'm not used to that kind of fit. I'm a yoga pants, stretched-out pair of jeans kind of girl. Nothing that's too tight. My curvaceous figure doesn't need that kind of attention. I was thinking that the book Big Girl Knits might be suitable for me given my pear shape. Even at my widest point (the hips), I'm not a candidate for this book. (I looked last night at an edition on sale at this shop, and I'm definitely not up their alley and down their lane. Hip measurements for their type starts at 47 inches. But I better watch it. I ate a package of Girl Scouts Thin Mints this morning for a snack. Keep it up and I'll be modeling for the book's sequel.)

In fact, I started making this skirt in the small size with only three lacy panels. (You're supposed to have more if you're not a size 0). So...we had to adjust the pattern and make it more of an hourglass silhouette just so that I could wear the thing and it wouldn't end up as a pretty "look what I made but I don't wear!" I finished it with some trepidation...could I really wear this without ripping it?

It turns out my fears were well-founded. I can only take miniscule steps wearing this skirt. Jumping jacks or even leaping over a sidewalk puddle is out of the question. Only dainty, geisha-like steps are possible. I swear I'm walking like my high-school principal Mrs. Keenley in her plaid-wool pencil skirts. At least she had some wiggle room with a slit in the back.

There's no slit for me. I'd could easily make one though with one false move. So that's in a nutshell, why I 'm afraid to wear this skirt...although I have, a couple of times. I constantly picture the knit unraveling and unraveling until I'm down to my skivvies and all my office mates are laughing just like in my bad dreams (which I refuse to call nightmares. Why give them that power?).

I wore this skirt to a meeting in New York last year, and then one day a couple of months ago to show my masterpiece to a fellow knitter. But I just felt so self-conscious all I had a lightbulb on the bottom half of my body. I know in the Big Apple I wore Kat's design for a couple of hours and took it off the first chance I had. I didn't have that same opportunity the last time....I was in the office all day. I had nothing to change into.

However, this wasn't the last time I made this skirt! I did it again, knitting it up in Berroco Ultra Alpaca. This time I made more panels. The skirt is much more comfortable, but now I think the style's a bit dowdy. It's more of an A-line, and it doesn't have that same "let's stick together when it's cold" quality that the Karabella yarn had. It too sits on the shelf next to its plush pink cousin.

But wait there's more. I want to try this skirt again. I figure the third time will be a charm. I know the lace pattern by heart. I will tweak, tweak and tweak the fit so it's somewhere between sexy secretary and dumpy frumpy. I think I'd give a summer version a shot too. Seems somewhat appropriate given that spring is on its way (I know there's snow in the forecast, but so what!). I firmly believe with all my heart (and tears are beginning to form in my eyes now) that I can make a skirt that I will love, cherish for forever and a day. If it can happen for other knitters, I know I too can have a Cinderella least with my clothes, forget about the guys, at least for the moment. It's all about what I can control, and I can definitely master the contents of my wardrobe.

* I've folded up the skirt for display for a yarn crawl to take place during this conference. If you want to see how it looks in 3-D, you're going to have to find it. Hah.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Imaginary Hat...

Yes, an imaginary hat kept me warm today. I walked out at lunch time to return two books to the library and grab a bite to eat. As I stood on a mound of ice encrusted with dark brown dirt and rusty-colored pine needles, I thought, "I could really use a hat."

But I didn't want to risk missing the bus. So I stood there, waiting on a street corner, the brisk, cold wind sweeping through my faux fur coat. Shivering, I thought perhaps I could don my imaginary hat. Yes, this hat would have special powers far beyond what I ordinarily put on my head when the temperature drops below 32 degrees Farenheit.

This hat would of course be warm, and keep my gray cells moving like hyper-active speed skaters. My ears would retain their natural color, and not turn red. There'd even be a pair of retractable ear muffs for when the weather turns extra cold.

Of course this chapeau would not cause hat-hair. No, my hair would look like it had just been styled at this salon every time I take off my Super-Powers hat. Every time. That way I'd be ready for my close-up always - every follicle in place. It goes without saying this particular hat would not cause my hair highlights to fade. The color would remain just as vivid as the day my locks were dyed.

Get this - my Super-Powers hat would keep also keep those pesky grey hairs at bay. Any time I'd wear my hat, those grey hairs would have to go to another person's head. Probably the person next to me on the bus. Or maybe a mouse underneath the seat.

My hat's special attributes don't stop there. When I get on the bus, I don't have to swipe a bus pass in the meter. My hat automically deducts my ride from my checking account. Oh yes - I forgot to mention once I put on the hat, my bus of choice speeds to my location. Yes, it operates on the express schedule, which continues until I get off. How's that for a hat on a chilly day? I know! Don't you want this hat? It's a special order, I must tell you.

So I get on my bus, the no. 96, still dreaming of my imaginary hat which I'm thinking needs to be made now. But what of? I see my materials while I'm later on the elevated train - aha! A streetlight with vines twisted all around it. I figure I'll knit those together pronto with some ramdom pens in my purse. That'll keep me warm, although the hat wouldn't be imaginary the moment it's visible.

Then I think what if I drew my hat just like I drew that hamburger I was yearning for yesterday? Yes, what if I pull out the pen to sketch a hat on a piece of paper - say the bus schedule? I snip it out with the little pair of folding sewing scissors I always carry with me (even on airplanes), I put it on my head (the hat, not the scissors). I'm warm, even with a paper-thin hat. Who needs a hat knitted out of chunky fiber or sewed from shearling? Not when you cut out a hat on the double from a newspaper or even a bus advertisement.

This hat can be worn year-around. Yes, this very same hat can be worn in the summer. The fiber automatically transforms into a lightweight textile with a 40+ SPF sunscreen already built into it. Those earmuffs I mentioned earlier? They convert into two little fans, which come very much in handy when you're standing on the aforementioned street corner at mid-day when the temperatures are in the 90s. I should mention that you don't want to get your hair tangled up in the fans. Be sure to pull your hair up into a pony tail, pigtails or braids when you want to turn on the fans. There's a big warning label about that right next to the manufacturer's label. It says, "Do Not Remove This Warning or You will Be Sued if We Ever Find Out."

The fans also light up at night, making the hat ideal for bicyclists who don't want to wear a helmet but want something stylish that can be seen from afar on the ride home. You can opt for dancing neon green lights, but I personally like the flourescent pink lights, they're just prettier.

When it rains, this hat converts into an umbrella, as wide as you want to be! Just pull out the brim. No more carrying around pesky, bulky and heavy umbrella. One hat does it all for you! It can even withstand strong gusts of wind. It won't blow away either - as soon as it senses stormy weather, the hat clamps onto your head until you physically remove it. You don't even have to worry about drying out this accessory - it does that automatically thanks to a chemical in the fabric.

This hat turns into a flotation device when you go to the beach. Yes you can inflate it like a balloon. You turn it on right there, see that little switch next to the gadget that engages the fans? Yes, that thing.

You don't even have to recharge the hat. Ever! Just let it sit under the sun for a few hours and it's good to go. It's the ultimate environmentally friendly hat. It'll last forever too, so be sure to give it to loved one after you're finished using it. It's an heirloom all right. Good for the ages. Do you think my product will sell on this TV station?

Monday, March 3, 2008

More Photos Are Coming, I Promise

The photos are coming. I assure you my blog isn't going to be all calligraphy and cartoons. It's just that my digital camera isn't the best; it's two years old and always insists that I use the flash when I take photographs, which makes for washed out images. My Kodak EasyShare C530 is like a typical toddler, if you ask me. I'm going to purchase a much more fancy and less stubborn camera when I get a chance. I'll get one where I'm in control of the lighting, one that allows me to take close-ups (an impossibility with my current tool) as well as far-away shots so that I will be able to capture signs of life on Mars just by standing on my wooden back porch. Just kidding about that last part. Besides, I'm not sure how fashionable the Martians are just yet. We (and I'm talking about the inhabitants of this planet Earth) are ahead in that department; how much, I can't ascertain just yet. If this trend of wearing serious, dark clothing continues just because there are serious signs of a recession, then I think we humans need some re-education.

In the meantime (and I might snap some outdoor shots of my handiwork with my antique if the weather warms up just a wee bit), I thought I'd tell you a little about how I've been working on my cartooning skills. I actually had an editorial cartoon published when I was a student at the Daily Illini. It featured goons in sun glasses. But the editorial cartoon chief, Michael Hawkins, made a unilateral decision that my drawings weren't up to snuff and that was the first and last time that my artwork appeared on the same page with syndicated and local columnists. But I did later get the last word with my own column. Not just once, but twice!

Even though I don't draw as much as I write these days, I still love a good scribble (not Scrabble, mind you). Especially when I'm on hold and I'm absolutely furious at the lengthy minutes I've been waiting for a live voice to come on the telephone. It shows in my art. Over and over, I'll trace a box, overlapping it with more boxes, scraping through the paper down to the table. If I'm feeling less's all girls, all the time. I haven't really figured out how to draw men yet. However, I think I've aced the feminine features: big eyes with lush lashes, pert noses, full lips and flippy hair dos. And of course, cute little dresses. Somehow, I'm fairly good at those drop-waist 20s-style dress with jabots, even though this is hardly something I would wear in real life. Oddly enough though, I do have a Depression-era hair cut which could come in handy if I decide to go to a casting call for this movie Thursday night. So you see I'm quite adept at drawing gals with a fringe of bangs just like mine. Likewise, I'm certain I wouldn't have a problem capturing this editor with my Sharpie. I'd just add some expensive shades and designer shoes, and I'd be all set.

I love drawing, and now that I'm doing more of it on this blog, well, I want to get better at it. I checked out Drawing Cartoons by Colin Cacket from the library. It's an enjoyable read, even if it's a bit dated with lots of sketches of Jimmy Carter. Still the advice is timeless. Cacket recommends practicing everyday (I'm trying), capturing your subject from different angles and poses (I'm getting there with the ladies; the men are another story). I am somewhat surprised at my ability to draw animals. What's nice about four-legged mammals is that you can make them somewhat lumpy and imperfect and they still look like mammals. My cats look feline, and the dogs have a definite canine quality.

Back to Cacket. He also suggests networking with other cartoonists. I know one already, but I haven't seen him on the dance floor in a long while. There's another one at a local advertising agency. That makes two that I could add to my LinkedIn connections.

It would be fun to go to a cartooning convention. Can you imagine? All those paper napkins would be colored in faster than you could get a glass of shiraz on the table. Those etchings would be even entertaining once the alcohol really started flowing. I wonder how many women would be at such a meeting? Then again, that might be a good thing, given that I'm really want to be in a serious relationship, and my feeble at attempts at meeting guys on the Internet has been sorely disappointing. Now I'm not so sure how it would good it would be to have two cartoonists in the household, but if it's socially acceptable for two scribes to share the same roof, I'd imagine my family, friends and relatives would be fine with me having a partner who scribbles and draws for a living if I did it too. They don't really care what I do as long as they get some money when I kick the garbage can for good. If I could leave behind some half-finished drawings that could be sold for thousands, that would be excellent, but not necessary. Dollar bills are much more useful.

I really don't know what else to say right now as dinner-time approaches, but it would be very useful if I could draw a hamburger, cut it out and when I bite into it, my cellulose burger would taste just like the real thing.