About me

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I am a mother, a new grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My first book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge will be published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon


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Sunday, March 11, 2018

Tech glich, OK operator glich, and apologies to commentors

I have been having a few issues with my iPhone recently. A sticky screen owing to being dropped out of a pocket and onto the pavement one too many times.

As a result I sometimes tap it a bit too vigorously.

I did that this morning and by mistake deleted rather than published three fabulous comments. I felt terrible about that.

If those folks have the energy to re-comment, much appreciated. If not, my apologies. I did read your great comments but my readers didn't have the chance.

Quick reply to textile grandma. Of course you or any one can repost this post. I think it's an important subject and one that has generated, here at least, an terrific discussion.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Before we fit : how we see ourselves and the voices in our heads

I have been percolating this blog post for a long time. I know there are things I really want to say but I have been almost overcome by how many, and how intense, my thoughts are on this subject. To talk about body image I also have to talk about myself and mention my family and my mother and I am not sure how much I should do that.

Even now as I start to write this I can feel myself getting flushed and anxious.

That's what the voices in our heads have done to us.

Let's start with a sewing story and work on from there.

I have taught I don't even know how many sewing classes and measured I don't know how many women.

Not once, not once, not once did I ever move my measuring tape down to a woman's hips and not have her apologize for her hip measurement. Even one woman, I can even remember her name Joyce, who had a hip measurement of 35"

I even remember her hip measurement.

I can't count either the number of times a woman would pick a part of her body or appearance and use the word hate. I hate my legs, I hate my arms, I hate my nose, I hate my saddlebags.

Always part of your own God given body that has carried you through pain and love and loss and got you out of that door to the bus for work when you felt like shit, that has got you up out of that chair when you yourself were heartbroken because someone called your name, that hoisted some child onto your jiggly but comfortable lap, that lifted a million loads of laundry, rinse a million dishes, fitted tired feet into stiff shoes and walked you smiling into a million meetings where you had to listen at length to someone who was half as smart as you were making twice the money.

There is some part of this body that you hate.

So even when we sew the voices in our heads, those of ourselves and of our ancestors, come into the sewing room with us. 

We agonize for 30 years over pants that fit. Make a million muslins and take dozens of classes trying to fit what's wrong. We cover our whole bodies in tents like burkas to cover that one part that we hate, hiding the 90% for the sake of the 10%.

I thought this might even be worse among women of my generation. I know for certain that I grew up knowing that a normal woman was 5'5" 120 pounds and had a chin length blond bob (I still see those women now overpopulating the neighbourhoods where the doctors and lawyers live, jogging in small groups on weekday mornings). 

What I didn't know was what a person was to do if that was not them and never would be. 

My mother like many cared a lot about appearance. So did my dad. He had four daughters and was worried. On a teacher's salary we all were put in braces, as his investment in our marital futures. Our teeth to be inspected I suppose like horses as the summer fair.

My mother, bless her for all she did, tried to hide her feelings about our appearances but it came out. One of the truly terrible things every mother knows is that it is the offhand comment that children will remember, not the thousands of supportive things you say.

You know what I mean. 

Being told that dress was great on you because you look slim type comments. When I was younger I was too thin (apparently a neighbour once described me as cadaverous when I was a teenager my mother reported) and as I have got older it is that I am too heavy.

For me primarily it was my hair, and still is.

I have an autoimmune thyroid disease that on medication causes me no problems at all. I had half of my thyroid removed too at one point and the meds are not negotiable. Unfortunately one of the side effects in some people is hair loss and there is not a damn thing I can do about it.

Personally I quite like my hair. I know it does its best. There are worse things and I am grateful for my thin old hair sticking out randomly out of my head every morning ready to do another day.

What I don't like is having to deal with how other people view it.

The hairdresser who once asked me to get out of the chair because there was nothing he could do with hair like mine. The other helpful stylists who suggest vitamins from Costco. The fact that my mother's record for starting to discuss my hair once she sees me again is 26 seconds (my daughter once timed it). The fact that when I won the medal for the highest standing in my faculty in my university and my picture was in the newspaper, unfortunately with my hair messed up when I put on my academic gown, the first thing my mother said was with that hair people will think anyone who looks that dumb must be smart.

I think you get the picture. No need for me to keep get going. And I know you have your own stories, and I want to hear them, I think we all do.

However I was reminded of this yesterday morning.

I knew I was going into my publisher to shoot videos. When I heard there would be overhead cameras the first thing I thought about was my hair. I decided I wouldn't bring my mother's attention to the video.

I thought I was doing just fine but you know what I did?

Without my glasses on picked up my bottle of nude nail polish, that is more or less the same shape as my foundation, and I put nail polish on my face. It was only when I put my glasses on that I realized what I had done.

Oh yes I was real calm. Kept thinking about those cameras.

So it seems to me that before we even talk about fitting we need to own our bodies.

A huge revelation, and a wonderful discovery, particularly today one day after international women's day, has been the indie pattern companies.

As you all know I have decided to explore indie patterns this year.

I need to say though that I am focusing a bit on what I would call second generation indies. The first would be any company like Stylearc or the independent designers you see for sale on sites like Patternreview.

The second generation are the home-based business type .pdf patterns who market themselves mainly through Facebook and Etsy and their Shopify websites.

These patterns, Patterns for Pirates, Rad Patterns, Stitch upon a time, Greenstyle Creations, Five before Four, etc. (this is a partial list only, look for reviews over the year) and others of this generation have a few things in common:

  • they come in a large range of sizes - XXS-XXL
  • they have many options obviously intended for adaption to different body types, a bomber jacket in a short and tunic version for example
  • the garment/sample pictures are collected from pattern testers, chosen as far as I can make out, by the range they represent - these are clothes on real people
Now after decades of seeing size zero models in the pattern books I was at first really struck by seeing real bodies. And not just real bodies but real bodies and happy faces. These were sewers not hiding themselves, not dressing to compensate for their flaws, as we were trained to do.

Hating your body or part of it on these women seemed to be over shadowed by the look of satisfaction, the "I made it myself" smiles that I think distinguishes sewers from retail buyers.

I invite you to check out some of these pattern companies and just give yourself time to look at the models. I want you to consider any reactions that these women have figure flaws.

I want you to look at a picture like those posted at the top of this post. I want to ask yourself when did you ever see these women in the pattern catalogue. Ask yourself if these women look like you or someone you know. Maybe ask yourself should this woman be in a tent if she doesn't want to, or in a house, or off the beach, or should she be proud of something she made, so proud she is sharing it, and that she is smiling at that person behind that camera who is proud of her too.

So look at these pictures and tell me what you think, what you feel, and share your stories.

Then we can I think we can talk about fit.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Video on trimming, clipping, grading and notching and one funny shirt story

Well folks today I was in at C&T, who are publishing my book, and was part of a Facebook live session on reducing bulk in sewing.

Here's the link.

It is aimed a new sewers and I hope it was useful to those who tuned in.

Those with shape eyes will notice the first thing I did. I am in my bare feet, very professional. Being tall I took my shoes off so it was easier for the person holding the phone - I am helpful that way.

And am I the only one who sews with her shoes off?

Hands up.

When I left the office my phone rang and it was my youngest son. He started off the conversation like this,

"Mom I have sort of bad news and I don't want you get upset."

Well any mother I knows heart stops right then.

He continued.

"Remember that wind energy conference I went to? "

"Well I wore that electrical circuit shirt you made me and the client went nuts."

"Give me that order and I will give you the shirt off my back I said."

"Well mom the p.o. just came in."

"Is it hard for you to make another shirt? I loved that shirt."

Sure kiddo.

Just let me kick off these shoes.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Quick pattern view : Trendy tunic from Love Notions

We have been on the road for a bit now, seriously amazing camping in the desert between Texas and California. However along with the cactus and mountains we lost a bit of connectivity so I have been only sporadically online.

I am brewing more on our style series but felt a review of this pattern was long overdue so I should do that first.

Continuing in my investigation of indie patterns I made my own version of Love Notions' Trendy Tunic.

There are about 8 million longish tunic patterns out there so this one attracted me because it was a little different. Here are the line drawings:

I liked the look of the pockets, I have said before that it reminded me of a clothespin bag (also useful). Since I am driving around in an RV not a fabric store (not that I'm not trying) I put this experimental version together out of bits and pieces.

Styled with hair that needed cutting and full living in the bush make-up which would be none.

It was clear that the pockets were going to require a fabric with body so I used a piece of ottoman I have stashed away in the space in the bunk area above the cab of the rv. It was part of the collection of bits and pieces I have not fully disclosed to the man who thinks we are travelling light.

For the sleeves I used some patterned jersey that was not enough to make anything but these two sleeves. 

And finally for reasons discussed in our conversation on colour, I squeezed the colour and cuffs out of some cotton lycra I brought with me under some impression that I would be making underwear in my spare time. As opposed to walking around looking at rocks and cacti which is actually pretty interesting.

I realize that the neck and cuffs of this top look a bit like a little boys jammies but then again I have always had a soft spot for little boys in their jammies.

I really wasn't sure if an A-line tunic would suit me, don't wear them a lot. However it turns out that the comfort and utility of this top really appeal to me. The large deep pockets are great for picking things up off the floor that you will put away later, for dog walks, and for sewing supplies like seam rippers that go off on their own if they are not in a pocket.

I also think this tunic could be easily lengthened into quite a nice practical dress. You could also add a cowl neckline if you felt one might be nice.

So when I get home I am pretty sure I will be making a few more of these for real life wear.

Now what do you think?

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

And the last word on colour

Wasn't that interesting?

Colour seems to be such an important topic because it is so personal (see comments, and note that teal has more fans than anticipated). Colour seems to be  part of the decision not be be neutral or the personal decision to compliment a neutral.

All of your comments have me thinking.

Here are some of those thoughts, or questions really:

  • How many of you wear your favourite colours a lot, or at least give them a priority?
  • How much of our basic colours are those that manufacturing has presented us with? We all know that cutting one colour for multiple garments sure saves fabric. How much more fabric would be saved if the colour range is contained? Look at this very interesting article from today's NY Times on how we are trained to feel the "Colour of the Year"
  • Really I think a person would be hard pressed these days to sew a wardrobe without black if she wanted. In the winter at least black dominates. Try even finding navy leggings for example, or yoga pants easily in any thing other than black. Can you imagine how much even harder that would be if you were trying to build a wardrobe around teal or say plum?
  • Only sewists have the choice to swim upstream colour wise, but then they can expect to stand out even more in the RTW sea around them.
  • Coordinating is stil tough for many personal palette sewists, which is why many who decide to do this sew in "outfits" rather than separates, or use colour more for stand alone items like dresses and coats than basics. This would be me.
The other thing that impressed me from your comments is that a few of you mentioned that colour often attracted compliments and attention. Just yesterday in a Walmart I complimented a lady on her most beautiful shocking pink sweatshirt - she just looked so happy.

So if you accept the idea that colour can communicate or at least create emotional connection this is a tool of life worth considering.

I hope that none of you who saw this series were expecting a brilliant what French women wear type wardrobe plan in our discussion of personal style.

I am pretty sure that is being done elsewhere and being done well.

I think what's going on here instead is a conversation on how we use clothes, and as sewists we can define those, to talk to the world about who we are, or more importantly speak to ourselves about who we really are.

What's up next of course has to be body image.

Brace yourself for that one.

It's a biggy and will be something I will be pondering as we head west out of Texas tomorrow.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Finding your style series part two: inside colours

First of all, aren't the comments great?

I want to thank all of you who took the time to participate in this discussion. I am sure I am not the only one who has come away from reading all the thoughtful comments left here, with new insights, something new to think about.

In fact it was the mulling over that has taken me a few days until I was ready to write this next post, on colour, which I think is an important one too.

To recap though on neutrals here are my take aways:

  • a neutral based wardrobe makes dressing easier and more efficient
  • for many of us neutrals are comfortable - we feel less dominated by what we wear
  • neutral dressing, at least as a component, is key to mix and match (what a great 60s term too bad no one but us uses it any more) separates dressing
  • a colourful wardrobe is more challenging to construct as a cohesive unit
I certainly would add that neutral based dressing also tends to hit the suitable for the occasion mark more easily.

Now all that said I am not sure it is enough, at least for me.

Over time you come to terms with yourself I think. 

At some point if you are lucky you outrun the school system and societal standards (your body has flaws that need to be disguised for instance) that it was all about compensating for your "weaknesses" and realize that you will go a lot further if you just forget about those and build on your strengths. 

If you are a bossy older child become a manager, for instance rather than try to learn to settle down. If you ponder this long enough you are able to apply this to other people in your life too - see what they do really well as an expression of themselves rather than on the things you wish they would do differently.

Nurture their natures, as my daughter says about parenting.

Thinking about this has made my think about neutrals.

The thing is I don't feel neutral.

It has occurred to me that if you look at the above neutrals list of virtues that it is mainly about functionality and how clothes look from the outside.

But today I want to talk about how clothes feel from the inside and I think that's about colour.

About three years ago I saw a photo of myself all dressed head to toe in black - in my mind I was marvellously coordinated - but when I actually saw myself dressed like this it just looked so severe.

Not who I am at all.

I am just not that serious a person. The one quality I value in my friends is that they make me laugh. If someone is funny I more or less can forgive all other character flaws. I am random and am pretty sure things will all turn out. I eyeball it through life and get wound up about things I care about, about things I am making. I cry easily but not for very long. 

I think you get the picture. I am also sure that these aspects of me aren't going to change any time soon.

So within this context head to toe black, despite the fact it sort of suits my colouring, is not an accurate representation of me, a misrepresentation actually.

So about the time of this revelation I had to think about colour schemes for my book. The text of the book is pretty anecdotal and handy hinty and the one thing I wanted readers to do when they read it was to smile and to feel sewing was fun and not that hard.

As a result I decided to make all the garments bright, light and colourful. Probably more so than most people would wear (oh yes and a bowling shirt too, but I do like to bowl) but I thought it would look cheerful on the page. Maybe this was a dumb but at the time I thought this was a great idea.

During this process I decided to let myself just feel the colours I was drawn too. 

I realized this was a lot of colours I didn't often wear but just felt to me like a juice my insides craved. 

This ended up being a Lilly Pulitzer palette:

These reminded me of these colours, another thing that makes me happy, Bollywood dance scenes:

Yes I know this isn't heavy stuff but theses are the colours I feel inside.

So I am under revision.

I no longer wear black on its own. Best I can do is always wear it when I do with a lighter colour, like I did the other night when we went out, Jalie top, Style arc Brooklyn pants and Beshari jacket in off white silk:

Not really me but O.K.

I am also shifting over to grey as my base neutral. It goes with the palette above easily and I have discovered as far as one colour dressing different shades of grey look fine with each other, which is something you can't say about black or even navy.

I am opening myself up to colour these days and it resonates with me and who I am.

For example I was thrilled to see that the rivers here in Texas, Austin and area at least, are turquoise:

I have been swimming here in the unbelievable Barton Springs pool and you can't imagine how happy it makes me to be in water this colour.

Just like this shoes I wear to walk there along the river trail:

Now you tell me about colour.

What colours do you feel inside and how do they make you feel?

And even what is your favourite colour?

This so often the first question children ask when they are making conversation and something adults never ask each other. 

Think about that fact.

What is your favourite colour?

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Finding your style series part one: Life is not a funeral and the neutral dilemma


Well remember when I did a hemming knits series?

I really enjoyed doing that but even more I enjoyed the comments.

I like this blog best when it is a discussion, not a presentation.

So before I do a series on hand stitches, and I am still going to do that, I thought it would be interesting to open up the floor to a discussion of finding your style.

This is an issue a lot of women think about a lot.

Like me.


And today.

People who are thinking about their personal style, in my opinion, have just had one of these life experiences:

  • they catch sight of themselves in a window on the walk down some street. They see that reflection and they think "is that dowdy/fat/schleppy woman me?" They realize at some point they have become the person their younger selves promised they would never be.
  • they go to an evening event where all the other women seem to be wearing high heeled boots and tight black sheath dresses and they feel they have a sign on them that reads "I got my pants at Costco and I spend most of my nights in bed knitting while I watch Netflx." As opposed to say drinking Nergronis.
  • they get out the clothes they save for good to go out to a meeting, or to meet folks they used to work with, and realize while they were waiting for good the same clothes got way out of date and way too tight.
  • they realize that if they had to pull together a favourite outfit there is nothing they have in the closet that they really like all that much, in particular those things that they put on their bodies most days.
  • they go to parent teacher and they wish they could be as fashionable as the grade three teacher.
  • they show the kids pictures of themselves when they were younger and the kids say "Mom you were so stylish!" in surprised sort of voices.
Women start to think about personal style when they suspect they don't have any.

Real style that is.

I have been reading, as we all have, a lot of wardrobing and style advice. 

My idea right now is that we consider, on a large and philosophical level, some of the big ideas in the style advising world, kick them around and explore what isn't and is true.

How does that sound to you?

To start with I want to talk about a central concept. 

And that is that every wardrobe, every plan of a bunch of clothes that express your own personal style, begin with some neutral basics.

As a common sense approach neutrals make a lot of common sense. Here, in my view, are those sensible ideas:

1. Economic. If you want to save money and cover the something to wear to a lot of events territory, then neutrals will do that. I know when I worked a fairly dressed up job my two black skirts and two black pants were worn in some incarnation nearly every day. No one in human history has ever said "Hey aren't those the same black pants you wore just Tuesday this week?" 

Who can tell? Who would remember? Who would even care?

You wear the same orange mohair sweater three times a week for six months and someone is going to say something eventually, guaranteed, as in "Gee you sure must like that sweater (I sure don't)."

Black separates are the ultimate invisible man garments.

2. The neutrals go with everything, assuming you can contain yourself to some sort of a colour family. Navy, grey, brown, beige, black. Except for navy which is sort of its own territory reserved for the navy I guess, most neutrals can even be extended into neutral pairs, black and grey, beige and brown. In this case the neutral even can go with itself. Economic and practical.

Mind boggling in its efficiency.

3. A lot of neutrals, particularly those that go with themselves or something nearly like itself, really reduces dressing thought. Put it on, it goes with everything, and no one will remember it anyway. Men have this down pat. Maybe twice a year a man might think "navy suit or grey suit" and his wardrobe plotting is done for the rest of that calendar year. If you are too tired or too busy or too thinking about more important things than clothes neutrals take the pressure off.

In general taking the pressure off IMO should always be a major life aim.

4. Neutrals are classy. We are back here to that orange mohair sweater. Neutrals are elegant. Monochromatic neutral outfits are dignified in particular and always appropriate. The same cannot be said for clown pants for example. And since pretty well no one I know, myself comes to mind, are really on the inside all that elegant, dignified, or always appropriate, it surely is helpful to have clothes disguise you out in these areas.

Now all of this leads us naturally to press conferences.

In my other life, one of my several other lives, I had to go online and watch a press conference on the local news so I could comment on it.

I can't show you the whole panorama but here is a small part of the view of the folks on stage:

Now there were about 40 people there and remarkably every single one of them was wearing black, all or mostly. 

This is in Nova Scotia in February which is itself pretty dark and depressing to the point that folks either end up in RVs down south or are sitting at the kitchen table in front of seasonal affective disorder lights (I sold mine on Kijji when we decided to go south in the winters and spent the money on fabric).

I looked at this press conference and thought, well life isn't a funeral and maybe this whole neutral thing has got out of hand.

Really it as enough to make this girl go put on this top made out of some nice poplin bought in New York at one of this tiny shops that sadly is now out of business. The pattern Stylearc's Maggie Shirt

Not one of my more flattering pictures, so just look at the top not the face. And of course the navy pants.

So my questions to you for tonight is this:

How important to defining a personal style and building a wardrobe to reflect it are neutral colours. Do you think you have to pick one, or two?

Is your position on neutrals settling in or changing?

What advice would you give anyone on the subject of neutrals?

Over to you.