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4 posts from August 2012

100 Acts of SewingAugust 29, 2012

I've been thinking a lot about clothing lately, as you know. I took the Seam Allowance pledge to make 25% of my clothing (which I'm already hitting, surprisingly). It's been really satisfying, paring my wardrobe down to just the items I love and wear, and then supplementing them with items I make myself. Here's the truth: We take clothes for granted and buy them at prices at which they are not sustainable. If you pay ten bucks for a dress, chances are good that the workers (all along the line of production and transport) weren't paid a fair wage. Hell, I can't say I haven't bought lots of ten dollar dresses. And I can't say I'm not tempted now. But I'm thinking about it more. A lot more. 

It's like eating. Yep, organic is more expensive. I can pay less for produce that's grown with the help of chemicals and pesticides, but then I'm buying those chemicals. I'm keeping that pesticide company in business by my own choice. It's less about eating healthily than it is eating right. 

Same with clothes. The ten-buck dress at Target is tempting, but how do I know what I'm purchasing? Whose hands did the fabric pass through to get to me? I'm getting a lot more satisfaction out of buying fabric (especially at thrift stores, where I know I'm a direct part of the recycling circle) and making my own pretty awesome clothes and knowing that my own two hands made the objects with attention and care. (I haven't missed the fact that most fabric, at its base, isn't sustainably made. One step at a time. I'm not up to weaving my own cloth, friends. I'm not completely aboard the crazy train. Yet.) 

(Photo: Sonya Philip)

Sonya Philip is someone you should be watching. She a complete inspiration to me. At the beginning of the year, she didn't sew much, if at all. She took a class and learned how to make a dress to fit. She made her first dress. It was awesome. So she made another one. And another one. They were tumbling out of her, and as an artist, it struck her: she was sewing an art installation that was not only useful and wearable, but meant something more than just handmade clothing. 

So she set a goal: 100 dresses in a year. Some she keeps, some she trades, some she gives away (I'm the EXTREMELY lucky recipient of one, and I can honestly say it's my favorite dress I own, hands down). The goal is to make us more conscious of how we live and how we choose to clothe ourselves. 

I love that she says, "When we know how to sew with our own hands, we can make and remake and make well." Today I wore for most of the day a little black dress I made out of an inexpensive knit. I made it for a cocktail party, and I wore it there a few weeks ago with pride. Today, I cleaned the house in it. You know why? It's my pattern. It took an hour to make. When it wears out, I can make another one if I want to. I can make it better next time, or just different. I come from a long line of people who changed into play clothes when they got home, saving the best for special occasions. I don't have to do that anymore, and I love that. 

I'm only posting one photo of hers here because I think you should click over to her site and spend some time wandering around. Check out her artist's statement and the clothing. I hope you'll be as inspired as I've become by her. (If you follow her on Twitter, she always posts the new dresses.) 

In the Outsidelands vs Cotati battle, Accordions Win! August 20, 2012

Weekend before last, we spent an ungodly amount of money on the Outsidelands festival (three days of music in Golden Gate Park) and managed to have an okay time despite the odds. It was crowded to the point of ridiculousness. Wine was nine dollars a glass. People stepped on our toes and didn't apologize.


This was the crowd for Alabama Shakes. We were front of middle. I never even saw the band, not even when I jumped.

Last weekend, in contrast, I went to the Cotati Accordion Festival for the first time ever. (Kids, don't be like me. I'd imagined every accordion-player-wanna-be wandering the streets of Cotati, forming pick-up bands and taking on the scourge of small town blight with a one-two oompah beat. I left my accordion in the car when I learned that only the performers bring their instruments. And cars, even parked in shade, are dangerously melty to accordions.)


IT BLEW MY MIND. For $17, I got all-day access to as many accordions as I'd ever wanted to see (which, for the record, is a crap-load). There was festival food (Spiro's Gyros! My favorite! Spiro always calls me "lovely" and makes me blush). There was plenty of lawn space for me and my friends to loll around on. Five dollar glasses of wine, and free tastes! There was music, on three stages, all the time. Polkacide killed it, as they do, bringing the crowds to their feet in a polka-fied frenzy.



But the very, very, very best part of the whole thing? The part that made me feel better about being a member of the human race again? There's this tent, see, a big one, and under the tent was a band. Five men played the accordion along with a piano player and a trumpet player. They played a little of everything, from Lawrence Welk-type tunes to cumbia to Stevie Wonder, under the tent, and what was magical was the dancing. EVERYONE danced. As a friend put it, it felt like we were crashing someone else's wedding. Fathers danced with daughters, friends with friends. I saw a very old man dancing with his ancient mother (seriously, when they spun off the dance floor, he gently placed her in her wheelchair at the side of the tent). A young, tall dark-haired dark-eyed boy waltzed with every female member of his extended family and looked as if he'd been born to do it. A sixty-plus year old couple danced and swayed, crooning the words to each other, and at the end, he dipped and kissed her.

Here's just a sample of what I watched for perhaps an hour: 

A young blond cowboy asked me to dance, and I did, and only THEN did I remember that I've never been able to two-step, but he was all smiles anyway. Everyone was grinning, as a matter of fact. Turns out it's impossible to dance at the Cotati Accordion Festival without smiling.

You can keep your Outsidelands. Next year I'm going to Cotati.

AnnaAugust 16, 2012

You know what I love most about a Cocoknits pattern? How wearable her clothes are. I've seen women trying on her trunk shows, and her sweaters flatter so many body types. I actually saw this on Julie and although it's not typically my style, I knew I had to have one. 

And I love it. 


I was super careless making this. I made most of it poolside in LA and finished it at Outsidelands in Golden Gate Park, and there are dropped stitches (whoops!) and strange decreases, and the front is longer than the back (or maybe that's the back... Hmm). And it still looks great. (I made it in Shibui Knits Heichi, wonderful heavy silk.) Super easy pattern with interesting construction. Good summer knit. 


Cocoknits page here, Rav link here.

PensiveAugust 5, 2012

I'm a bit pensive tonight, having spent the last few hours going through things of my mother's. She died four years ago, but sometimes it aches like it was just a few weeks ago, and other times it's still impossible that it's true. How can a mother just go away? It's unthinkable. Unbearable. 

And then you think it, and you bear it. 

This past weekend, while Lala and I were camping in Bodega Bay, my sisters went south to go through some boxes that had somehow been overlooked when we tried to go through Mom's things four years ago. It turns out there were a lot of boxes. 

Guess what they found? 

The sweater I made her. 


The sweater I wrote an entire essay about in my book, A Life in Stitches. I wondered about lost things in that chapter--how a mother devoted to losing nothing could lose something I knew she cherished, the sweater I'd made for her from wool from Ashburton, New Zealand, her hometown. 


Seen tonight on our dining table

Yeah. She didn't lose it. It was packed away. She died in June; she'd probably packed it with her other winter woolens in April or so. Twice a year, she went through her closet and packed up the out-of-season wear, putting it in the garage to wait for the appropriate heat/cold to roll around again. How could I have not thought of that? She loved routines. Lists. File folders. (I spent this afternoon writing out a massive, thorough camping checklist which made me giddy.) 

My sisters also brought some more of her writing to me. We shared that, Mom and I. Both of us wanted to be writers so badly and we both achieved that dream. In fact, before either of us were published, she took me to my first writing conference at Cuesta Community College in San Luis Obispo. We went to the same classes, and both of us took detailed notes that we saved. We ate lunch in the cafeteria and goggled at the published writers (she was more suave than I was, having met many of the local authors through her bookstore jobs).

And tonight, sitting with her papers, I found her most authentic voice, the one I've been looking for for years now. It was in a surprising place. She published dozens of articles and wrote a newspaper column for years. Every time I'd read a piece, I'd start with hope and then begin skimming, hoping for the meat. The feeling. The fear, the joy, the loss, the confusion, the happiness. 

Instead, Mom wrote like a journalist. Everything was beautifully well-written and impeccably well-researched. When asked to present a speech on her most recent trip to New Zealand to the Arroyo Grande Ladies' Club, she prepared a talk on the history of the islands (not on what I hoped I'd find: how she felt about seeing her own mother's grave for the first time). When she wrote about going through Super-Typhoon Kim, she discussed how to dry books on a lawn after a 200+ mph typhoon, not how it felt to live through something that hadn't happened in more than 500 years. 

Then I opened her file folder from the creative writing class she took a few years before she died. And I found her there. 

In the in-class, handwritten, uncompleted essays, I found my little mama. She started an essay about the typhoon by saying she "was as frightened as I've ever been in my life." She remembered giggling with her friend Helen in the forties as her father drove them to the beach, a once-a-year delight. In an essay about her daughters' high school graduations, it's what she doesn't say that's telling. She starts to write how she was a bit more teary when her second daughter Christy crossed the podium--but then she stops and veers to a description of how girls in heels totter on the grassy football field. She automatically self-censors something that might be wrong to share (but it's okay, Mom! Christy was valedictorian in a school of 2,000! We were all more teary that day, as we should have been). 

It makes me think about my own writing. No one would ever accuse me of not sharing my feelings. It's possible I share them too much. But in the same way she kept to herself, because it was what made her feel good, I run here to the blog, or to my journal, to drop my feelings all over the place because it's what makes me feel whole. 

Feelings like: I've been blue, and I think it's the hormones (or lack thereof). Running has been helping, and I'm exercising every single day, and monitoring my moods as best I can. See how easy that is for me to tell you? Although my menopause is surgical and not natural, I don't know how my mother's was, because I never asked her and she didn't volunteer things like that. (Ladies, if you can, call your mothers. Ask.) I don't know if she felt blue, and I don't know if she had terrible hot flashes or not. Did she lose sleep? Did her migraines stop? Not knowing makes me sad, which is exactly what I'm trying to crawl out of, and THERE I DID IT AGAIN with the telling you about how I feel. 

But that's what we want, right? As people? We want to know how others feel because we're all basically selfish at the core, and we want to compare those feelings to our own and then talk (or not talk!) about them. 

In the back of that class's binder, I found a complete, typed essay for the class on how my middle name was almost Shea, after the dump-truck driver who helped my father make sure she was safely out of the Corvair they'd been trapped inside during a flood (my mother, full-term with me, couldn't get out the window as my father had done). A helicopter (the dump truck's boss) followed them overhead as they walked home, to make sure they got there safely. 

I loved that essay. And then I noticed its title, and I pretty much came undone. 


She might not have talked much about emotion, but when she did,  it packed a punch. That's another kind of writing power, one I could learn from, I think. 


Clementine, almost home from camping. Another kind of happy.

*By the way, I'm teaching three classes at that same writer's conference down south at Cuesta College in September. That is just...that is just amazing. And that is all.