Friday, February 29, 2008

"Aim High!" - oh, and Knitting and Cheesecake

In the years since my dad's death, I have carried his business card around in my wallet. Don't know why, really... Just something I haven't parted with... makes me feel that he's with me. Recently, I cleaned our my wallet, and decided to put the card away in my business card file, when I noticed some writing on the back...

This must have been the reason I started carrying the card, or maybe it was to remember his work telephone number... but in the years since then, I just thought of it as my Dad's card. I know I put it every wallet since high school, and probably before... so at least a good 20-30 years now...

Well, apparently, the reason I started carrying it in the first place, was a short note written to me on the back. It read "Aim High!"

Did my Dad write me this note?


It was from Shirley Chisolm... the details of that encounter are fuzzy now, and I only vaguely remember it.

“I had something important to explain,” recalls Chisholm in the documentary. “I ran because somebody had to do it first. I ran because most people thought the country was not ready for a black candidate, not ready for a woman candidate. Someday – it was time in 1972 to make that someday come.”

Considering our current democratic candidates for the US presidency, isn't it funny that I would find this RIGHT NOW?

Okay, strangely enough, while looking for relevant links to flesh out this post, I came across a reference to a documentary film that I remember knowing existed, but possibly forgot about? Anyway, I clicked on the About the film-maker link. Uh... you're not going to believe me... we went to high school together.

Progress on the DNA scarf.

As an inexperienced knitter, I think I'm aiming pretty high with this DNA scarf pattern. Having completed my sample, and practiced the cable sequence, I bought the yarn for the scarf I actually intend to complete. I feel the width of the scarf is narrow for my taste, so instead of the 1:2:1 ration of border to cabled area, I am knitting mine in a 1:1:1 ratio, if that makes sense. Right now, I am 4 rows into my seed stitch, forcing myself to relax and knit slowly, only at night, to peacefully wind down before bed.

On Cheesecake

I don't like having tools that serve only one purpose, taking up precious space in our kitchen. So, I don't own a springform pan. I thought that meant I couldn't make cheesecake, which I love, and have been craving.

But... guess what? Disposable foli baking cups allow you to make cheescake cupcakes!
Man, I have eaten more of these than I care to admit today!

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Why buy the cow...

We all know the saying. I worry about this...

So many creative and educated people give away their valuable expertise... And then there are people who work very diligently to educate and train themselves, and then earn a living by teaching what they've learned. We all have choices, and I am not suggesting that no one should ever offer anything of value for free...


Try a web search for how to do just about anything, and you will be confronted by an avalanche of advice. This is both the beauty and the curse of the information age. Too many choices, and I freeze, surveying all of my options until I achieve a breakthrough, (or breakdown) and decide to seek a more organized, (usually purchased) reputable source.

And, you think you want something custom made? Now, there are more choices than ever...

Custom bags?
Custom books?
Custom T-shirts?

(No affiliation with any of the above...)

But, I find, many people don't have a specific idea in mind... just a desire for that unattainable "other" thing. Which leads to this endless brainstorming...

A trend I am now noticing, is this voracious appetite for expertise, followed by endless considering and weighing of options, followed by complete abandonment of the intended project. We expand our fabric stashes, pile up old issues of magazines full of "ideas", and buy new tools in hopes of completing projects faster, or building the best mousetrap.

Today's New York Times features a great article on the cost of keeping your options open. Maybe closing some doors is a good idea...

So, my point is, with no investment of our own, is this flood of free advice and expertise just something we will just consume and dispose of without a second thought? Free milk, so to speak? Or, willl the opposite happen, making us value the work of people who carefully put together (and charge for) presentations, classes, books and kits for us even more?

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Design your own dress

This is probably the best example of a design your own dress website I have ever seen. If it works, and you get what you envision in the timeframe they promise, these guys win!

Visit and feel free to comment.

No affiliation, of course.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Not for Sale

My hero! This was one of my favorite Oscar dresses, because you can tell, she wore it because she wanted to! ... And it really seems to suit her personality. This is an example of the personal expression and individuality I celebrate.

I haven't seen the movie she wrote, but I may... when I can watch it at home... maybe.

Explaining why she wouldn't wear the million-dollar Weitzman shoes on the red carpet, Juno's reasoning was simple...

No one asked her. They simply sent the shoes, expecting her to wear them.

She doesn't have a million dollars, and, if she did, that's not how she would spend it.

I love that! She's not for sale, and that's fantastic...

You probably have a special skill or talent. Something that, when you give it your all, is painstakingly difficult to do, but thoughroughly rewarding. There is no amount of money that it is worth.

There is an infitinite and ever-expanding amount of love, beauty and creativity in the world; and a finite number of million dollar shoes. Today, let's focus on expanding the infinite.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Sleight of hand

My brother-in-law's mother makes the most delicious cabbage I have ever tasted. It has a smoky, wonderfully deep-Southern taste I still can't quite describe. I don't normally enjoy cabbage on its own, but whatever it is she does, would make your "tongue slap your brain", as my Dad used to say. She has explained the recipe to my sister many times over, sometimes while demonstrating her process, and when she turns to the stove to add just a touch of water, her hand, like a snake's tongue, quickly darts toward the back wall of her countertop, and a small dose of something, (that she will not admit is there) gets added to the mixture. Whatever it is, it makes all the difference.

This is the story of a swimsuit project... An original swimsuit design with semi-circle cutouts at the waist, a mostly-open back, partially lined with powernet for a girdle-like fit. This is a swimsuit with a lot of inner structure, support, and strength.

So, yeah, right... nice dream, huh? That swimsuit was not for me, but for a client. My own swimsuit fabric remains in the "I'll get to that pile" for now...

Okay, let's talk about sewing instruction/patterns/directions of any kind that promise "quick-to-make" or "easy"... If the end result is what you actually want, it probably wasn't easy. Ready for the real deal?

I made two swimsuits, two cover-up tops, and two skirts over the course of about 10 days. Although it had been on my schedule for a while, once begun, I felt like this project took me an embarrassingly long time to complete. All told, about 18 hours of actual sewing work. Circumstances did not cooperate with my plan AT ALL. My beloved machine popped a mysterious spring, my fabric store had run out of the fabric my machine ate, sick kids, sick me, cold weather, Early Intervention meetings, unplanned schedule changes, not a single minute to myself, and lots of tension surrounded this project. Happily, my client really loves the red suit. The turquoise one (now finished) has some issues still to be worked out... I've made my client several of these over the past two years, so these weren't individually fit this time around.

To get my work done, and to get my brain in order, I took a much-needed technology break. Just signing on briefly for very specific tasks, I tried not to read email, blogs, or take on any additional responsibilities. Still behind schedule, but not as awful as before, I am back, and spending this time while my son naps, and my daughter draws pictures of airplanes and flowers. I have more work to do tonight, when everyone else is asleep. Happily, I am finishing projects accepted long ago, so I will accept no new work, keep the projects I have, and I'll begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The fact is, anything special takes time... and we all would love to make it look easy. We all love the promise of "Easy". reality, it just isn't...

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I stand corrected!

This is my daughter's drawing. She calls it "News Reporter". Think she's aware that women are being made a bit sexier to report the news? She doesn't miss a thing, that kid!

So, this post is about things I need to clarify, correct, or comment on.

You know I'm not much of a knitter, nor do I get too excited over what I perceive to be common, everyday knitted items. But, just when I thought there was nothing new under the sun, I saw this...

Children's knitted "neckies" from Oeuf. Mind you, this news item was recently reported by the blog, so maybe it isn't new, but it sure is new to me. What a great idea... and affordable, to boot!

Ever realize after you've written a blog post that some aspect of it was wrong or misguided in some way? Well, I have been meaning to do this for a while, and here goes...

On fabric shopping in Queens (in New York City)...

This is to correct my claims to some of you after writing the New York Fabric stores post. If you don't shop with any particular requirements, expectations, or time limits, shopping in the outer boroughs of NYC can be fun. Once you are looking for specific colors, quality customer service, specific fabric types, a reasonable guarantee of certain fiber content, or any kind of consistency in their offerings (like, you might want some more tomorrow or next week), you should catch the next thing smokin' into Manhattan!

On Glovemaking...

As a follow-up to my first post on this topic, I can see absolutely no reason to make gloves from a fabric with no stretch. This is more of a challenge than anyone needs. I was going for handmade, not homemade, and I never got there. I wanted to challenge myself... well, consider me CHALLENGED. Enough... Into the UFO pile they go, and the next ones will stretch!

On the Golden Mean, mathematical formulas, and beauty...

This whole post should be rescinded. I now firmly believe that there are no mathematical formulas for beauty. The study of it is a waste of time, in my opinion.

And... what was I thinking?

Keeping this sofa cover kid-friendly for even one week was just about impossible. Two super-active kids? The answer is leather. That's it.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Too much in my head...

I have sooo many half-written posts, but so much to say, that I have to find the peaceful head-space to sit down and write. More posts will come, and I will really try to make them worth the wait. Life is messy at the moment.

On Friday night, I went to see The Diving Bell and the Butterfly with my sister and one of my very best friends. To call this a "movie" just doesn't seem to do it justice. It was an amazingly beautiful work of art. The reviews I've read, and even the trailer on the movie's very own website make me wonder how anyone could try to condense this film into a brief advertisement. The truest and most accurate endorsements of the film I've seen, have been interviews with the film's director, Julian Schnabel. He also wrote and directed Basquiat, but don't take that as any indication of the quality of his work on this film. It is a beautiful story, and, I think, no matter who you are, it can definitely change your perspective. This is one of the very best films I've seen in a long time.

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Grainline (Things to know - part 9)

As I was saying... I made this dress in early 1995... and while I preserved its length and shape, mine was a whole different animal. I made the top (above the empire waist) of a camoflauge fabric, and the lower portion of a flowing, army-green rayon challis. I wore it with combat-inspired boots. Since I worked in the garment district at the time, it was appropriate for work. I considered it to be my "bad mood" dress, which I wore on the days I knew would require courage.

Anyway, one rainy, miserable night in November of that year, I had a cold, and a commitment to babysit a friend's child, and an invitation to a dinner party thrown by a friend. Feeling tired and overcommited, I wore that dress.

I entered the party, which was actually a "set-up" I didn't know about. Three guys, three women. Directly across the room, sat a man with what seemed to be a golden halo... Is that even possible? He was sitting next to a lamp that cast a heavenly glow around his head... or maybe there was a cosmic arrow pointing to him... who knows which?

He had on a pair of really interesting, Pilgrim-inspired shoes, with big buckles, just days before Thansgiving... and a big, nubby, beige knit sweater hugged his wonderfully broad physique. We made a bee-line for each other, attracted to the quirkiness of our clothing, and the positive energy we felt. We introduced ourselves, and were married nine months later. Twelve years later, I'm still smitten.

Maybe I exaggerate the importance of the dress... maybe not. However you want to look at it, it was exactly "me" that day, and that's who he met.

I bring up this dress specifically, because it was only shortly before making this dress, that I really learned the importance of grainline in the construction of a garment. I had already been sewing a long time, but adjusted my layouts to accommodate whatever quantity of fabric I was using. Among the fundamental, practical rules of sewing garments, in my opinion, this is where sewing approaches carpentry. Grainline REALLY matters. It matters for fit, durability, breathing and movement, symmetry, and visual effect. This was by far, one of the most comfortable dresses I have ever owned, and in this "mixed-message" dress, the soft fabric of the skirt fell into gentle cones at the bottom, that danced when I moved. That is because the side seams of that skirt were on the "bias", or diagonal grain.

The effect that using the proper grainline where the designer intended has on the finished garment is significant. It may not always be obvious when you shift your pattern pieces somewhat to accommodate a fabric shortage, alterations you've made to a pattern, or a less than strict adherence to the directions... but just wait till you wash it... and your fabric bumps, twists, and wrinkles in ways that betray all of your hard work. Then you will know the pain...

I have tried to make a video for this entry, but after viewing my attempts, I decided that the Threads site probably explains it much better. And they do... so you will find the information at

On creativity, and paying it forward (again)

As I have said many times throughout this blog, you don't just have a desire to create; your creations have a desire to be created...

Like this dress (I made my own version of the purple one), which served a very important role in my life circa 1995. See my next post for the full explanation, and find out how it relates to my next "Things to Know" entry...

It is crucial to your emotional (and physical) health to make sure you do not stifle your artistic urges. Creative flights of fancy, ridiculous projects, funny, awful, beautiful and wonderful projects can all coexist in your life. The things you make have a life of their own, and they can work in the lives of those you give them to, or those who see them being worn or used. You can brighten someone's day, give them a laugh, inspire them creatively, start an interesting conversation, or change their mood with a simple (or complicated), handmade item. It is worth doing. And, it is worth doing well.

I finished my second "Pay it forward" gift today, and am anxious to send it. The only hint I will give, is that it is related to this post, entitled "A Room of One's Own". The recipient will receive it shortly. This challenge has been such a wonderful gift for me... Mimi's ( reaction to the first one I sent was fantastic. I certainly receive more than I give by participating.

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Celebrating the kids!

Nadine's (age 6, above) "Bugs Bunny and Sylvester" drawings... made while I was sewing.

My kids have just been amazing me at every turn.

About our son:

(For background info, Aaron is our 2 1/2 year old child, who was diagnosed with Autism last Spring.)

For about two months now, Aaron's ability to focus on a task has increased to the point that we can work with flash cards, getting him to repeat... or, well, approximate, the words we say... Until very recently, some of the words sounded like what we were saying, and some continued to bear no resemblence to the words we are asking him to repeat.


One morning last week, I discovered Aaron in his bedroom, trying to play "teacher" with a stuffed bunny. That was a HUGE suprise to me, because it revealed that he didn't need the words to repeat... he knows exactly what those cards say... he is just having a very hard time pronouncing the words. He frequently gets frustrated, and wants to stop. Occasionally, his brain gets "stuck", and he just keeps repeating the previous word, but the fact that we can now ask "What is this?" and get an answer... just makes me want to scream for joy! Video example below...

Last week was a grueling one. Meetings, visits, appointments... We visited a potential school for Aaron, which seems just perfect, provided he qualifies for the program and there's space in the Fall... But between therapies and my other responsibilities, I feel like I could just collapse right now... I have an awful cold that I can't shake, and my voice is completely gone, but my schedule hasn't permitted me to nurse it thus far, so I can't wait to take a breath...

As for Nadine (our six-year old)... she is just blossoming. She is doing beautifully in school, her swim and gymnastics classes. Let's hope this trend continues! Today, she actually swam a few strokes without assistance... we were thrilled!

Because we have run out of room on the refrigerator for her art, we made this art display wall yesterday...

We will suspend her pictures fom the clothes pins dangling from golden cords. I haven't steamed the wrinkles out yet, but this gives you the idea. Total materials... a whopping $8!