Sunday at the sewing machine. The rhythmic hum of the needle slipping in and out of the fabric is hypnotic, meditative. In the background, Roy Orbison is “Crying” on the 1950’s hits Google Play station. I am working on my Bookshirts and slipping back into remembering what it was like to be feeling what old songs trigger in my memory. As an elder who lives alone without a relationship partner, I miss the emotions that relationships stir and that often serve as a catalyst to certain kinds of creativity (hence compelling songs like “Crying”). I have never considered myself visually talented; my attempts at painting and drawing are unaesthetically unappealing. I do like to play with fabric, however, which has become my medium, and as with most of my projects, the process is more enjoyable than the product. I play with the dozens of embroidery stitches that my machine has available, combining color and patterns on strips of various colored fabric before I even get around to working on an actual shirt. Hours go by, filled with music, and memories, and the pleasures of engaging in a craft that has both form and function.
I gave my writing circle the prompt “the coat was shabby.” And I gave them a challenge to use strong verbs and specific nouns. As I began to write my response to that prompt, I decided to put it someplace in history and do a little research for details. This is my result, my first ever try at historical fiction:
The Gypsy Coat Tale
The coat was shabby, but its aspect still spoke of nights thrown over a naked shoulder at a smokey Montparnasse cafe, or tossed onto the back of a scarlet sofa at a late night Paris salon. Its stained fabric revealed a careless pattern of absinthe, bathtub gin, and the mascaraed tears of its most passionate devotees.
They say it once belonged to Nina Hamnett, self-proclaimed and notorious “Queen of Bohemia,” who wore its gold satin lining next to her skin while she danced shimmering lights into the weave of the rich silk brocade. On those nights, the coat created its own melody, a mesmerizing harmony of color, texture, and pattern, the timeless echo of a Siren’s song.
Legend has it that the coat was created by the two Japanese weavers and the Gypsy woman whom Hamnett befriended during her brief stay in Paris before the war started, before everyone folded themselves into enclaves of creative ferment or else fled to the safer shores of England and America.
And that, they say is how the coat finally wound up in the window of the Fifth Avenue Parisian boutique on the afternoon that Zelda Fitzgerald walked out of New York City’s Palais Royale Hotel in search of the perfect evening dress.
She did find the perfect dress: a long black beaded silk with a sheer back that dipped down to her tailbone. But is was the coat that took her breath away – the coat and the legend and the fantasy.
The multicolored floral brocade boasted gleaming gold threads that reflected the bright city sunlight. Elaborate scrolls etched its lush black velvet cuffs and ankle-skimming border. A face-framing swath of black fox, added as an afterthought, brought the coat to the level of a work of art.
By the time I rescued the coat from the empty corner of my spinster aunt’s nursing home closet, its shabbiness was well-earned, having been Zelda’s constant companion through her bi-polar adventures played out over two continents and two decades, until both she and the coat began to unravel.
My aunt had been a nurse at the Highland Mental Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, where Zelda spent her final years capturing on canvas the remaining bright colors of her memories and telling my aunt the elaborate coat-tales that fed her lonely dreams of prodigal nights ablaze in the heart of a drowning Jazz Age.
Just days before the hospital fire that took her life, Zelda gave my aunt the coat to wear to a costume party.
And so the Gypsy Coat was retired to the back of my aunt’s closet, although she always took it with her whenever she moved, unable to dispose of its vibrant history. The Gypsy Coat is mine, now, to ponder on the relic that it is – a remnant of legendary lives lived with creative abandon, dazzling artistry, and deadly excess.
The day after I wrote this, as I was watching a “Friends” rerun with the family, Phoebe appeared wearing the coat I had described the day before.
I love it when stuff like that happens.
Well, I say I know her, but she’s really a friend of a Facebook friend. Well, I say that she’s young; she’s really my daughter’s age — just over 50. It’s all a matter of personal perspective.
Anyway, this young woman is very ill with a disease of the blood and will only get worse. She is very smart and creative and well-known and respected in the technical information/education publication world. That is not a world I know. I only know about her. And I only know about her because there is something in her brightness and bravery that moved me and made me want to learn more about her.
I needed/wanted to do something for her — because I can’t fix any of the things wrong with this world, with my country, with all of those folks hurting and trying and dying. Because I am a maker of things and because I wish — how much I wish — I could make magic.
And so I got on Google and downloaded images from her Facebook page and from her book covers on Amazon. I figured out how to do a simple world cloud using words from her various posts.
I printed out the images on washable fabric. I appliqued the images onto the front of a t-shirt.
Then, I appliqued a healing mandala on the back of the shirt.
And then I looked up her address on 411.com and put it in the mail.
And I included this note:
If Magic were something I could make,
I would spin you a spell of healing,
thread it with the strength and energy
of all of your best moments, color it
blue like water teeming with life,
the burgundy of blood, the red and white
of cells induced to dance again,
of a thousand loving thoughts
warming the fabric of hope.
Then you could wear it like armor
a curative cloak, medicinal mantle,
that primitive sympathetic magic
powerful in intent as any prayer.
I did it as much for me as for her. We are both powerless against the arbitrary surges of fate that drag us into those dark places where we would not choose to go and then leave us, spent, to find a way out. Only she has no way out of this one.
I finally got off my lazy butt and organized a “writing circle” at the public library. It’s held every other Wednesday afternoon and is loosely based on the Amherst Writing Method. I say “loosely” because, while I have participated in the program in the past, I have not been officially trained to lead a group. But we follow the suggested “prompt, write, respond” method, and it is working very well for us, I think.
So, today the folks each brought in an object for someone else to use as a prompt. I chose a pair of very worn women’s shoes from the turn of 19th century. I had posted it here but removed it because I am submitting it to a poetry journal.
For as long as I can remember, I have dressed up for Hallowe’en. I start in September deciding on and building a costume. Last year I was a mad scientist. The year before, a Lady Bug. The year before that, a Hogwart’s Professor. I have been Elaine of Camelot, a 1940’s gangster in a double breasted suit, Medusa with pipe cleaner snakes in my hair, the “Deadly Sin” Lust (as a vampire), Sneezy of the Seven Dwarfs, Madame Sosostris (T.S. Eliot’s “famous clairvoyant, had a bad cold but was known to be the wisest woman with a wicked pack of cards”), a unicorn, Jeannie the genie, and any number and variety of witches.
My once husband, being a playwright, actor, and director, could occasionally get into the costume thing. One year we went as Elaine the Lily Maid of Astalot and her Jester — with masks. When my kids were little, I made their costumes too. My daughter, as Raggedy Ann, won a prize in a costume parade (an actual parade down the night streets of the small town we lived in then). Here’s a picture of both kids, my daughter as the Queen of Autumn and her brother as a little demon sidekick.
As my son got older, he opted to be some kind of super hero, including one that he invented and designed the costume for. He called himself “Neutrino.”
I am not dressing up this year. I just don’t have the energy, and I’m out of ideas.
But my daughter and grandson are not, and they are in the final stages of building the Dalek that my grandson will sit in and propel around the neighborhood, using my mom’s old transport wheelchair as the base. Don’t know what a Dalek is? Here’s a clue.
I have always approached “clothes” as “costumes.” I had my office worker costume, my funky weekend wear, by ballroom dance outfits. What I wear has always been an extension of who I am, and apparently I have passed those genes on to my kids and grandkid. What they wear is who they are (at that moment).
But what about me? What has changed so that I am no longer excited about a new costume — for Hallowe’en or otherwise. There is very little I seem to be excited about these days, and my Hallowe’en addiction seems to have disappeared. It’s it age? Is it some kind of depression?
Meanwhile, I am getting a real kick out of watching the birth of the home-grown Dalek, made all of cardboard, duck tape, bits of styrofoam, wire wreath frames, cup lids, spay paint, and an awful lot of imagination and determination.
A friend of my daughter has become a grandmother for the first time, so I decided to make the baby a flannel “quilt” that I happened to see online. But I forgot to bookmark the instructions, so I just winged it (as I seem to do everything)!
The result is flawed but functional. It consists of three layers of cotton flannel fabric constructed of three double sided panels that you sew together after each is layered and sewn down the middle. It’s easy because all you use is a straight stitch. One side has a raw edge between the panels; the other was sewn with the right sides together.
I took the easy way out binding of the edges and just used a decorative edging stitch.
It’s soft, it’s washable, it’s colorful, and it’s pretty indestructible. It can be used as a quilt of a floor mat. It works.
The other thing I made recently was a t-shirt that has a panel of strip-pieced fabric in the front. (This is another of my experiments to adapt t-shirts to be worn without a bra.) I used strips of fabric to reflect the night sky and hand appliqued an image of Dr. Who’s Tardis, which I will wear when we go to see the Dr. Who season premiere in the movie theater tonight. I can take the applique off after.
The panel is not quite squared off. Flawed but functional.
I just changed the image header on this blog to reflect my new motto.
I found a cap-sleeve cropped sweater pattern that was knit from side to side and so I decided to follow the pattern, since it was exactly what I wanted. I made a swatch to check the gauge. I followed the directions.
It came out much larger than it was supposed to, and I had to fudge to make it fit. It’s certainly wearable, but not really what I wanted. I just don’t do well following a pattern; I do much better if I figure it out as I go along and then it fits the way I want it to. I’m going to try the side-to-side idea again, but this time I’ll do it my way.
I saw something like this at a fiber exposition and tried to copy it. I didn’t have the pattern so I had to improvise. I started with the center panel and worked out from there. It didn’t turn out like the one I saw, but it turned out very wearable. And it keeps my core warm. It’s a Cascade Superwash acrylic and wool yarn and it’s been machine washed and dried several times already.
There’s another sweater I finished for myself but I have to take a photo of me wearing it so that you can see how it works.