Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Making New Old Clothes, Very, Very Slowly


Back in 2016, I started knitting a cardigan from a 1950s pattern.  Most normal people buy clothes.  But apparently, that's too easy for me.  I need to make everything more difficult.

It wasn't complicated enough to knit a garment. No, I had to make things even harder for myself. I bought a sheep's fleece, washed it, combed it, and spun it into yarn.  This sounds pretty straightforward, but the process of turning a dirty sheep's haircut into yarn took me months.

I split the sheep's wool into the lighter and darker bits and spun them as discreet batches.

The yarn reminded me of tarnished silver, which I find really beautiful.  It's a good thing I like unpolished silver, because our housemaids are always busy with other tasks and tend to shirk their polishing duties.  Come to think of it, I'm not sure where the maids are at the moment. They're certainly not washing our dishes ...

I find every step of spinning yarn revelatory.  It's amazing how much work goes into turning raw materials like sheep's wool into actual garments. In a pre-industrial world, hours of effort would have gone into making even the simplest garment.  It's something we just don't consider anymore.

The pattern for this garment was fascinating, and unconventional.  Cuffs were knit straight as usual, and then the additional fabric was created diagonally.  Because the construction was so unusual, it was difficult to predict if the finished garment would fit.  Vintage knitting patterns are maddeningly sparse in their instructions, either because space was at a premium in printed knitting publications, or because it was assumed that a knitter knew what they were doing, and didn't require a lot of hand-holding.

Sleeves in progress.  It was always a bit nerve-wracking to wonder if I was going to have enough yarn to complete this project.  What can I say? I worry.  A lot.  I tell myself that I'm trouble-shooting, and considering all the ways that things might go wrong, in order to avoid heartbreaking errors.  But honestly, I think I just torture myself needlessly.  (I had plenty of yarn, because sheep are huge.)

As always, the cats were very helpful. I swear, our cats don't need catnip.  They get drunk on wool fumes.

I put a lot of effort into lining up the stripes in this garment.  I really enjoy sewing together my knitting.  I find it hugely satisfying.

Getting the sleeves to sit just right in the armholes was quite a challenge.  Thankfully, the costume shop at work let me borrow one of their dress forms.

I got the button bands sewn on, and then I simply abandoned this project.  All that was left to do was sewing on the buttons.  This project sat on the Pile of Denial for almost two years.  The button sewing ended up taking less than an hour.

I do this stupid thing where I bring a project almost to completion, and then I don't finish it. I suspect this is insurance against failure. If the project is never completed, then it’s still got the potential to be perfect. If I finish it, I have to admit my own lack of perfection. This is a stupid way of making things, and I’m trying to stop myself from behaving this way.

I'm going through a particularly rough patch, in terms of self esteem, these days.  I feel ugly and stupid, and I'm not really liking myself or anything I'm doing. I don't know what this is about.  The green-tinged antique mirrors in my house aren't helping with my self-esteem, as they make me look like the undead.

I should be celebrating this project, but I'm using it as an excuse to beat myself up. This his not healthy.  I need to find joy in my world, and in the things I've made.  But I can't get past thinking that I look like a hag, and agonizing over how rumpled my button bands appear in this photo.  Button bands are easily fixed.  But my feelings about myself?  I have no idea what to do about them.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

I'm Finally Ready To Talk About Politics


I'm not normally a superstitious person.  And yet, I've been completely unwilling to write about the political work I've been part of until all the votes were tallied.  I think this is some kind of holdover/hangover from the 2016 presidential election.  I feel that I can't let myself talk about political efforts, until I know how things have turned out.

Over the past two years, I have written literally thousands of political postcards.  I've written to politicians.  And I've written to voters, all over the country.  My friends have been collecting vintage postcards for me, which has added to my pleasure in this endeavor.

In the weeks before the midterm elections, I travelled up to Nevada with a group of volunteers from Indivisible East Bay to work with Issue Voters of Northern Nevada.  Nevada is an unusual state, in that the voters are equally divided, with one third being republican, one third being democratic, and one third being registered with another party.  Our campaign sought to activate these non-partisan voters, and get them to vote.

Over the past year, these two groups of volunteers contacted non-partisan voters, to find out which issues they cared about the most.  This approach, known as Deep Canvassing, wasn't about promoting a particular cause or candidate.  It was about helping the voters find candidates who aligned with their values. 

With the insights gained from hours of conversations, Issue Voters of Northern Nevada created simple handouts that showed the actual voting records on the particular issues that Nevadans mentioned again and again.  They also made easy-to-understand documents, explaining the complicated propositions on the state ballot.  They sought to help voters draw their own conclusions about which candidates and issues would best represent their values.

And then an army of volunteers hit the streets of Nevada.  We knocked on thousands of doors, and spoke with huge numbers of registered non-partisan voters.  We asked them if they had questions about the election, and let them lead the discussion.  We respected their independence, and never told them who to vote for.

Of course, we hoped they'd vote for the progressive candidates and issues.  But we knew these voters had to make their own decisions.  It was a huge gamble.  

In the end, the gamble paid off.

In the end, an even number of democrats and republicans voted in the mid-term elections, each casting 44% of the votes.  It was the non-partisan voters who decided the election.

Nevada was the one state (so far -- come on Arizona!) to flip a Senate seat from red to blue.  Jacky Rosen beat the incumbent senator, bringing the number of women in the US Senate up to 24.  Furthermore, Nevadans elected Steve Sisolak as their governor, defeating a dangerous far-right candidate.

Participating in this effort with such wonderful people has been a truly gratifying experience.  I may be just one little snowflake, but I was part of a vast blizzard. I may have been just a tiny drop in the ocean, but I was part of a steady blue wave.

Eating Old Food


Because I'm a total weirdo, I've been dragging home vintage cookbooks. Robb is a total champion about this, and gamely cooks the recipes I flag.

This morning Robb made Gingerbread Waffles from The Household Searchlight Recipe Book, which dates from 1938.  It's interesting to see what people were cooking in the Great Depression. There are more recipes involving canned pineapple than you could possibly imagine.  Likewise pimentos.  And chopped-up marshmallows. As far as I can tell, these particular ingredients were pantry staples for decades.  The amazingly named A Thousand Ways To Please A Husband With Bettina's Best Recipes dates to 1917 and is chock-full of recipes that include marshmallows, pimentos and canned pineapples.

(If anyone ever comes across copies of any of the Thousand Ways/Bettina cookbooks, call me immediately and tell me how much they cost.  I've been hoping to buy these books, and can't find them anywhere.)

Things We Changed

We only had blackstrap molasses on hand, so we used 2/3 blackstrap molasses and 1/3 honey from our hives.

We used chopped crystallized ginger, instead of powder, because we didn't have powdered ginger.

Since modern milk is ultra-pasteurized, we did not have sour milk.  We just used our regular lowfat milk, and added a bit of orange zest to increase the acidity of the recipe.

Finally, because this batter is so lean on fats, we had to seriously butter the waffle iron.  The first batch got badly stuck, which has never happened in the many years that we've owned our trusty waffle iron.  (Thanks Barbara and Arnold!  Your gift is still going strong!)

I've had this idea about hosting vintage dinner parties, based around the recipes in a particular book.

I can't promise that I won't make Apricot Horseradish Sandwiches.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Help Us Help People With Disabilities

It’s hard to believe, but Robb and I are doing our *twelfth* fundraising ride for the Bay Area Recreation Program (BORP).

BORP is a Berkeley-based nonprofit with a mission to improve the lives of people with physical disabilities through sports, fitness and recreational programs.  BORP’s programs help people with disabilities gain skills and confidence that lead to success in school, work and life.

In the years that we’ve been connected to BORP, we’ve seen frail disabled kids blossom and become strong resilient teenagers. And much of their success can be attributed to the intense mentoring provided by the BORP family. It’s always lovely seeing young people grow and mature, but these folks are really special. These kids have a supportive network, which is hugely important for people with disabilities. They're playing hard, and they’re thriving.

A few highlights of the past year for kids in BORP’s youth programs were playing an opening game for the Golden State Warriors at the Oracle Arena, winning the National Championship at the Disabled Hockey Festival, and sending two teams to the National Power Soccer Tournament in Indiana. All of these activities require specialized gear, transportation, coaching, and a huge amount of logistical support.

BORP's youth sports programs are as much about mentoring as they are about physical accomplishments. Because almost half of the Bay Area's 686,000 disabled people are people of color, BORP puts a particular emphasis on crafting programs to serve a diverse population. Likewise, there are programs for people with low English proficiency. There are programs for veterans. There's an unparalleled cycling program, a "lending library" made up of the nation's largest collection of adaptive cycles. BORP hosts wheelchair basketball teams for both kids and adults.  They offer soccer for motorized wheelchair users, sled-hockey, and goalball for visually impaired players. BORP have a calendar full of outings, from rock climbing, to boating, to skiing. They operate a beautiful fitness center, across from the Ashby BART.

This organization is very special to me and I have been so grateful for the support of my theater friends.  If you can possibly help this organization, which is so special to me, I’d be so thankful. Secure donations can be made, by clicking this link.

Thanks for your kindness!

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Full Tweed Ahead


Over the last year, Robb and I have been participating in Tweed (and Seersucker) Rides.  This has been such a delightful addition to our lives.  It combines so many of the things we love into one  activity.  Really, where else can one share one's love of cycling and vintage bikes, knitting and sewing from vintage patterns, vintage clothes, vintage cooking and cocktail with delightful like-minded people?

This was our first ride, through the streets and parks of San Francisco.  I made a pair of knickerbockers for the ride, and did some advanced-level reweaving on the moth-holes in Robb's antique plus-fours.  I designed, dyed and knit my cardigan.  You can read about that project here and here and  here.

Robb really looks like he just wandered off the moors, doesn't he?  Our picnic gear looks pretty cute as well.

After a somewhat hair-raising ride on San Francisco streets, we ended up at a lovely cafe.  I was unreasonably delighted to see the Pogacsa delivery wagon.  (Only a Hungarian would appreciate this, I suspect.)

Our next outing was in Chico, which was glorious.  I rode Robb's father's single-speed early 60's Schwinn, and our friend Gary rode a Monark from the late 1940s.

There were some truly spectacular vintage bikes at this event.  This Spacelander is incredibly rare.  There were fewer than 600 ever produced.

Somehow, I found myself the proud owner of a riding costume of uncertain age and a late1960s Raleigh All-Gold.  Three whole gears!  What a luxury!

We met up with friends and family in Sacramento.  Sacramento is incredibly bike-friendly, especially on the weekends.

We picnicked on the grounds of the California State House.  It was a glorious day, spent with lovely people.

When the weather turned warmer, we headed back to Chico and traded tweeds for seersucker.  It's a little hard to see, but I'm wearing a handmade linen outfit, which I sewed from a 1930s pattern, as well as a striped cardigan, which I knot from a 1930s pattern.  (I'm wearing a red kerchief, and standing at the base of a column.)

The folks in Chico have lovely vintage bikes.   I reckon that they have more storage room than we have in the Bay Area.  

And speaking of storage, Robb built a travel case that folds out into a table.  Tweed riders take their picnics very seriously.  Robb brought enough Pimm's Cocktails and tea cakes to share with friends.

 This photo was from the San Luis Obispo Tweed Ride.  A very similar photo was featured in the local newspaper.

I can't say enough about how lovely it has been to find this community.  Before we joined our first ride, I was worried that we wouldn't be accepted.  Maybe our outfits wouldn't be quite right.  Or maybe Robb's adaptive trike would not fit in with the vintage bikes.  But all my fears were unfounded.  I cannot think of a more inclusive group of people, or a more pleasant way to spend a day.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Re-Visiting Abandoned Projects

For a variety of reasons, which I may discuss later, this blog has been languishing. I’ve arrived at a place where I’m ready to pick it back up, again.  And to start this off, I'm going to take a look at some other projects that deserve to be re-visited.

Inspired by my excellent friend Emma, who blogs at What Would Jane Sew, I’m going to post photos of my many, many unfinished projects, as a way of getting things back on track. I’m going to split these into categories, to keep from getting overwhelmed.  I'm also going to write about knitting at another time, to keep this from getting overwhelming.


A lap-sized quilt, that I believe is entirely quilted.  I think I just need to deal with the binding, and give it a good washing.

Another lap-sized quilt.  I need to examine my quilting on this one.  I am not actually sure I like the pattern I sewed.  I either have to sew a lot more, or pick out some of my stitching and call it done.  After that, I need to figure out the binding.

A flannel plaid quilt I started when Robb and I lived in Baltimore, which was more than fifteen years ago.  I was interested in the patterns created by combining plaids that I had harvested from used flannel shirts.  This was a bit of an experimental quilt, and I never really figured out how to expand the composition.  I think it might work better if I could find some plain flannel, to contrast with the riot of plaid.  I've got a pile of flannel shirts that I've been dragging around, with the intention of chopping them apart and using their fabric for the quilt.  I was really, really broke when I started this project.  I had more time than money, so the idea of harvesting fabric from second-hand shirts made sense.

(I need to take a photo of this project.)

This one makes me really sad.  I bought this fabric on the trip Robb and I made to Hawaii.  When Robb broke his back, I set it aside.  The problem is that I'd gotten the idea to use masking tape of mark my stitching lines (do not do this -- ever -- it's a terrible idea) and after sitting in a bag for a a year or two, the adhesive from the tape transferred to the fabric. I have never found a way of removing the adhesive residue.  I should try a few more solvents, and if they don't work, I should throw this in the trash.  This one is really hard for me emotionally, because it symbolizes all the travel Robb and I are no longer able to do, and also the things I've ruined due to my own neglect.  It's a huge bag of negative emotions that haunts my closet.

A strange bit of assemblage that I sewed when I was an intern scenic artist.  (I did not sew the cross stitch.  It came from a thrift-shop, once upon a time.) . At the time, I was living in a double-wide trailer with a dozen other interns, no internet, no cellphone, no car, and no access to a library.  I was  in a tiny town that was home to the theater where I worked, a private airport, a very fancy hotel, and a lot of very, very, very fancy private homes.  I went for a lot of long walks, taught myself about Connecticut wildflowers, picked a lot of black raspberries, and baked them into pies.  And I sewed this weird thing, because I needed something to do.  It was all very 19th Century. A well-educated young woman sewing decorative nonsense together, to ward off loneliness.  If I make this into a pillow, it will be destroyed.  I don't know what to do with this.  There's at least one more unresolved project from this time in my life.

Another scrap fabric project, also dating back to our days in Baltimore.  I don't know what this wants to be.  I'm not even sure I like any of the colors.


I'm not even sure If I can still fit into this 1940s cocktail dress.  One of the studs has fallen off, and I need to move one from an inconspicuous spot to make up for the loss.

The buttons on this dress originally had rhinestone centers, which have all fallen out.  I need to replace these buttons.  I also need to repair the seam that attaches one of the sleeves to the body of the dress.

I need to secure the dangling fringe in this 1940s suit jacket.

The stitching on the back of the neck of this shirt is a sort of chain-stitch, and it has pulled out.  I need to re-sew it.

This Edwardian shirtwaist has a button that needs to be moved slightly.  It gaps a bit at the moment.

Clothes I've Made

The skirt I pair the Edwardian shirtwaist with needs to have a closure sewn on the waistband. Currently, I'm holding the skirt closed with a safety pin.  This outfit needs a sash, as well.  The blouse should be worn tucked in.

I sewed this dress from a 1940s pattern.  It still needs a belt.  I made shoulder pads, but I'm not sure where they are.  I'm pretty sure that there's still a bit of the hem that's unfinished.

This blouse needs one more buttonhole.  I sewed one on badly, picked it out, and need to re-sew it.  For some reason, I'm not confident about sewing buttonholes.  I also need to sew on the actual buttons.  This is the first button-down shirt I'd ever made, and I want to wear it.

There's a tiny flaw on the center back of this blouse that needs to be re-stitched.  We will not comment on my Resting Bitch Face.

This dress needs something, but I'm not sure what.  Maybe a belt?  Maybe a gallon of gasoline and a match?  It's horribly frumpy, and I don't know how to fix it.


This has been sitting on my loom for over a year.  I just need to finish it.  I'm not actually sure I know where my notes are for this pattern.

I tried to repair the weaving on these rugs, which I bought from Amish weavers  back in New York.  This was not a success.  If I had access to a loom, I'd seriously consider re-weaving these rugs.  I don't know what to do with these.  I don't want to throw them in the trash.

I need to sew this onto a backing, so that I can wear it as a scarf.  It's a bit to itchy to wear without a lining.

I'm sure that this is just the top layer of what I like to call the Pile of Denial.  But really, this is more than enough unresolved projects to occupy my mind for the moment.


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