Saturday, September 28, 2019

Oh I could write a sonnet about my 1920s bonnet...

This summer, I was going to be attending a couple of events that involved wearing 1920s daytime fashions.  I planned to make my own dresses, from an original 1920s sewing pattern, but I was at a bit of a loss for how to find the perfect hat.

I wanted to wear a wide brimmed hat, rather than a cloche. It seemed that my light airy garden party frock wanted an equally lightweight hat.  These hats caught my eye. I particularly liked how the floral trim was off to the side of the hats.

This dark colored hat, with its billowing scarf was very appealing.  I like how there's no obligation to match the hat to the dress.  White dress and black hat?  No problems.

I like the woman on the left whose corsage matched the floral ornament on her hat.

It's one thing to know what I wanted.  It's quite another to find anything suitable.  I'd been unsuccessfully haunting the stores, looking for a modern hat I could sculpt into an appropriate shape all summer.  I'd had my eye on various auction sites.  There was nothing available for under $500.

And then this popped up. It was badly smashed, and adorned with some with truly tragic feathers.

Miraculously, it was in my price range.  While it was dented, it didn't seem to be broken.  

It's always risky buying antique garments online.  Hats are particularly tricky.  Not everything is flattering.  

(Certainly not that barbaric monkey-fur collar.  I loathe that stuff.  It horrifies me that our great grandparents thought it was the height of fashion to adorn themselves in the pelts of our primate cousins.  Thankfully, it's illegal to sell primate fur these days.  Likewise, it's illegal to sell the fur of big cats, or marine mammals, or other endangered species.  But given the political climate in the US, it's quite likely that our president will be dismantling these international treaties.)

Whenever I'm working on a hat for an outfit, I go through a phase of the project where I'm utterly convinced that I'm going to look like Professor Snape wearing Neville Longbottom's grandmother's clothes.  

But then I turn my thoughts away from Hogwarts and Neville, and toward Pride and Prejudice and Netherfield.

"Look here, I have bought this bonnet. I do not think it is very pretty; but I thought I might as well buy it as not. I shall pull it to pieces as soon as I get home, and see if I can make it any better."
And when her sisters abused it as ugly, she added, with perfect unconcern, "Oh! but there were two of three much uglier in the shop; and when I have bought some prettier coloured satin to trim it fresh, I think it will be very tolerable."

If Lydia Bennet could make an ugly hat look tolerable, so could I.

I carefully removed the wilted feathers, took off the squished hat band, and gently steamed the hat back into shape.

I sewed a batch of ribbon flowers using vintage ribbon, vintage instructions and some very weird-smelling vintage stamens.  I'm fortunate enough to live in a place that can boast several stores that sell vintage millinery supplies.  

I wore this hat for the first time at the Lake Tahoe Gatsby Festival.  My corsage was an antique leather flower.

I reworked the hat for the Gatsby Summer Afternoon.  I added a hatband, because I didn't like seeing my hairline through the transparent fabric of the hat.  I sewed more flowers, and rearranged everything so that the flowers were off to the sides.  And I made a matching corsage.  If I hadn't run short of time, I'd have figured a way to make flowing ribbons that trailed down my back.  But for now, I'm quite happy with how everything turned out.

We've Got All Sorts Of Baggage

The Gatsby Summer Afternoon has come and gone. The event was gloriously magical.  And we made a whole lot of crazy nonsense.

For those not familiar with this event, it's a day-long lawn party, where all the guest wear clothes from the 1920s and 1930s, and bring over-the-top picnics.  It's about the most insane party imaginable, a sort of Burning Man for the Downton Abbey crowd

Of course, someone has to schlepp in all those cucumber sandwiches, champagne bottles and vintage table-settings.  And once you're on site there's nowhere to hide anything that doesn't fit in with the aesthetic of the event.  

Robb started dreaming about a rolling cart that would break down flat to fit into our car, and that would also function as a serving trolley. He took his inspiration from the sorts of carts traditionally used at European railway stations.

The folks unloading those massive baskets are women, and they're wearing high heels.  This photo, presumably, was taken during the Second World War.  

This looks more like the Great War.  I'm not sure what's going on in this picture.  Is she working, or just goofing around?

Robb didn't make a direct copy of any particular cart. He took inspiration from a number of designs, and then built something that suited his fancy.

Robb matched the stain to a 1920s walking stick he owns, that folds down into a chair.  (You can see it in the top photo, to Robb's left.)  He wanted to have curving lines, and rounded edges.

Everything had to break apart easily, to fit in our car.  This cart struck me as part military campaign furniture, and part IKEA flat-pack.


It coordinated nicely with the piece Robb built last year:  a hand-truck that converts into a chaise longue.

In the end, we were having too much fun, and failed to photograph our picnic set up.

I think there's so much pressure to take perfect instagram-worthy photos of one's social life.  I often think that people are so busy documenting their lives that they forget to savor the moment.  But that's a rant for another day.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

A Few Thoughts From The BORP Ride

Every year since his spinal cord injury, Robb and I have participated in the BORP Revolution, a fundraising ride for a local organization that uses sports and recreation as a catalyst to improve quality-of-life for people with physical disabilities.

We ride with disabled cyclists and their families, and over the years, we've seen some of the same people again and again.  Some folks make such an impression on us, that we remember them even if we haven't seen them in years.

We met this memorable father-and-son team back in 2012.  Clearly, the first thing we noticed was Zulu and his purple everything, but what really caught our eye was  Garnett cranking his kids' sized hand-cycle.  He was riding the 20 mile ride, powered by his arms, and a bit of a power-assist from his dad's tow-rope.  There was something about their energy and teamwork that really stuck with me.

Seven years later, we bumped into them again.  Zulu is as purple as ever.  And Garnett is still cranking hard, still full of positive energy.  He's now a young adult, with a circle of great BORP friends, and the support of his family.

Thanks to BORP, Garnett is a competitive athlete in sled hockey, wheelchair basketball, and wheelchair motocross.  (He's wearing the green-and-yellow Jamaica jersey in the video, which was shot at the WCMX & Adaptive Skate World Championships last year.  He won a medal in his division.)

Imagine seeing a disabled kid, and thinking "in a few years, this kid is going to be doing insane stunts at the skate park, flipping cartwheels in his wheelchair."

For BORP kids, that's totally normal.

That's why we keep coming back.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Finding Community

Do you remember a time in your life when you were a weird, awkward kid?  Maybe this was a long time ago.  Maybe -- for some of us -- this was last week.

And do you remember how it felt to find your people, to find the like-minded friends, and special adults who made you feel like you really belonged?  Didn't it change your entire life, to no longer be an outsider, and to have a community that supported you, and allowed you grow and flourish?  It took a lot of the sting out of life, and made you more resilient.  It made you the person you are today.  

Now imagine that you're a physically disabled kid.  You're likely the only disabled kid in your school.  You may not know any other kids like yourself.  Imagine how lonely and difficult that must be.

This is where the BORP (the Bay Area Outreach Recreation Program) comes in.  BORP works with physically disabled kids to provide mentoring and community, to help them flourish and not feel like outsiders.  BORP lets these kids be the rowdy, resilient, rambunctious kids they're meant to be.  

If you don't know any kids with physical disabilities, it may be hard to imagine the obstacles they face.  Let's look at the statistics.

  • 28% of disabled Americans drop out of high school.
  • Just over 20% of disabled Americans get a college degree.
  • 73% of disabled Americans are unemployed.
  • Disabled kids are twice as likely to be depressed, commit suicide, and use alcohol or drugs than their able bodied peers.

 In stark contrast, the young people who participate in BORP programs become educated, productive, engaged members of society.

  • Over 95% have graduated from high school in the past ten years.
  • Over 80% either have university degrees, or are in college now.
  • Over 80% are employed.

So how does this work?

BORP works with kids as young as five years old, and stays with these kids until they turn 18. Their often-disabled mentors -- many of them BORP graduates -- offer regular, positive guidance.  BORP works with disabled kids, their families, their schools and service providers. BORP expects a lot from their participants, and the kids live up to expectations.  

In addition to the serious work of mentoring, these severely disabled kids get to be part of a larger community, to be part of a pack of their peers, and to do fun kid stuff.  BORP kids may have a lot of challenges, but they've got the support network that will ensure that they thrive. 

So, as a former awkward weird kid, I'm asking if you can support this wonderful organization.  Every little bit helps, and it really will go a long way to make life happier for kids (and adults) with physical disabilities.

Thanks so much!
((slightly awkward hug))

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Wearing our Hearts on our Sleeves

After simultaneous but unrelated medical emergencies for two of our cats, Cardigan and Smog, I badgered Robb into taking our third cat Sleeves to the vet for a routine checkup.  Something was awry in his blood-work, so the vets ordered a kitty EKG.  Goodness only knows how the vets attach the electrical sensors to a cat's body to get the readings.

Thankfully, Sleeves was just fine, and there is nothing wrong with his heart.

My heart may be a different matter.  For the last week I've been experiencing constant annoying chest pains.  I finally decided to contact my doctor on Friday, and WHOOOO BOY did they take this seriously.

I got my own EKG in my doctor's office and was sent across the street to the emergency department of the hospital.  I've spent my share of time languishing in the waiting areas of hospital emergency rooms, and so I was glad that I'd packed my knitting.  I figured I'd be sitting around for hours and hours.

I was actually worried about how little yarn I had with me.  In fact I was a whole lot more worried about my knitting than my heart.

My healthcare providers had other opinions.  I was whisked right into a room, where I got another EKG.  And almost immediately, I was sitting on a hospital bed getting blood drawn and an IV inserted.

(The ER nurses were kind enough to place the IV in a way that would allow me to keep knitting.  It's actually remarkably difficult to tension one's yarn while hooked up to monitoring devices.)

I had a series of chest x-rays, and was scheduled for a battery of further tests the next morning.

My blood tests showed that I hadn't had a heart attack recently, which was good to know.  Heart attacks present very differently in women than they do in men. Many women don't go to the doctor because their symptoms aren't very dramatic.

My emergency doctor allowed me to go home for the night, but I was back at the hospital the next morning.

It took three unpleasant attempts and half an hour to connect me to the IV this time.  Apparently, I have very squirmy veins.  I'm not great with injections, under the best of circumstance, and we had to take a break when I started getting a bit woozy.

I was pumped full of radioactive drugs, and things that would extra-stimulate my heart, and lots of scans were administered.

At the moment, it's all very inconclusive.  I've got more tests scheduled.  I'm feeling pretty awful, probably from the heart-stimulating drugs.

Let's hope this is all much ado about nothing.

The Lake Tahoe Gatsby Festival

Really, what's more delightful than playing dress-up with like-minded weirdos?

The lake and sky look like a painted backdrop in this photo, don't they?  It was far too cold to swim in this snow-fed lake.  I'm not sure the antique swimsuits would appreciate the wetting, either.  If you're at all into vintage clothes, you'll know Debbie (on the far right) from her website, Vintage Dancer.  When I met Debbie last year at this event, I could not stop myself from acting like a total fan-girl.  I may have said something stupid like "You have caused me to buy so many shoes."

And speaking of shoes, it's totally normal for two people to pack six pairs of shoes and a half-dozen antique champagne glasses for a weekend getaway, right?

Another shoe-themed photo.  The crew from American Duchess.  I have so much respect for this company, who make superb historically-styled footwear.  Click here for American Duchess shoes, and here for Royal Vintage shoes, their sister company.


Making My Own Vintage Clothes

In the last few years, Robb and I have been going to more and more events where we can wear vintage clothes.  I've been buying vintage frocks since I was in high school, but even then I really could not afford to buy wearable clothes from the 1920s.

I've been challenging myself to improve my sewing skills by sewing garments from vintage patterns.  My most recent project was a 1920s frock, sewn from an original pattern.

From what I understand about the history of sewing patterns, McCall was the first company to have printed pattern pieces -- and they guarded their patent on this fiercely.  Other companies sold tissue paper patterns with a coded system of perforated holes.  

I was surprised to see photographic instructions on a pattern from the 1920s.  Usually, these patterns come with beautiful, if perplexing, technical drawings explaining the various steps of the project.

In this instance the instructions were printed on the pattern pieces, which meant that I had to do a bit of hunting to figure out what I was supposed to do.  No doubt an experienced sewer could have made this dress with one hand tied behind their back.

I was very pleased with ho this dress turned out.  It was a test-run for a future garment.

I wore this with an original 1920s hat that I revived with some careful steaming and a lot of hand made flowers.  I wore it at the always-wonderful Lake Tahoe Gatsby Festival.

It was a wonderful way to spend Robb's birthday weekend.


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