Sunday at the Sewing Machine

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.

my Hallowe’en addiction

Granny WeatherwaxFor as long as I can remember, I have dressed up for Hallowe’en. I start in September deciding on and building a costume. mad scientistLast 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, medusaMedusa with pipe cleaner snakes in my hair, the “Deadly Sin” Lust (as a vampire),sneezy 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”),sosostris a unicorn, Jeannie the genie, and any number and variety of witches.

ElaineMy 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. raggeyann 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). autumnqueenHere’s a picture of both kids, my daughter as the Queen of Autumn and her brother as a little demon sidekick.

neutrino 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.dalek1

almost April

A day of almost 60 degrees. We are all antsy for Spring.

wintersowingaMy wintersown seeds are hanging in there. The sunflower seeds already have sprouted.

gardenprep1aMy daughter and grandson are outside starting to get the sunny earth ready for herbs.

peachbudsaThe peach tree has buds.

branchesaThe branches of the pruned Harry Lauder Walking Stick tree make an interesting temporary front yard sculpture in the container that eventually will feature flowers.

I got my windowsill garden started with some herb and berry seeds. Usually I think to start doing this in May, when it’s really too late. Hopefully I’ll have an abundance of heirloom edibles by the time Summer is in bloom.

my “walker purse” project

As I spend time trying to engage folks at the assisted living center and small memory impaired community, I notice that those using walkers seem to need a handy place to keep tissues, cough drops, and other small items. This seems especially true for the women; men seem to just load up their pants pockets.

So, my new project is designing and making “walker purses.”

An online search for “walker bags” turns up all kinds and sizes, even some hand made. One of the women in the memory impaired unit has a beautiful quilted one, which must have cost close to $40.

I like combining yarn and fabric, so I made a couple of samples that I’m going to ask some of the women to try and and let me know if they find them useful. If they do, maybe I’ll make more and try to sell them through the facility’s gift shop or online.

Like all walker bags, mine loop over the front bar, providing an accessible pouch for a few necessities. They are 10 inches wide and 6 inches deep, are lined with the fabric trim, and are fastened with velcro. I’m wondering if I need to add a zipper along the top — although that would be a lot more work and would therefore make them more expensive.

my latest yarn improvisation

front


back


hexagon motif

I layered it over a long sleeved shirt for photo contrast, but it looks much better layered over a white camisole — which is how I’m going to wear it when I go to Saratoga this weekend. No, I’m not going to the racetrack, although this is the season for that. I’m going to see the production of an original script performed by a new company with whose founder I worked and whom I’ve known since college.

After Saratoga, I’ll be spending a few days in Lake Luzerne with my long-time group of women friends. And, if all goes well, I will motor one afternoon over to Northville to visit another former colleague and still friend with whom I play Zynga on FaceBook.

I’ll be taking along my latest plarn market bag project to work on as we sit around in the evening drinking Comsos and getting therapeutically giggly.

But back to my latest improvisation, for which I had no pattern and no plan. I found a pattern for the hexagon and I wanted to try it with a lighter yarn that I had purchased ages ago on sale. I’m not even sure they sell it any more, so I’m glad I bought as much as I did, because I used every ball I had.

I started with one hexagon and just kept adding others, figuring out the shape as I went along. I wound up with it being too wide at the bottom. Hmm. I had to figure out what to do to make it work.

My mother had a saying in Polish that translated into something like “a dumb person will not even notice, and a smart person will think that’s how you intended it to be.” She used that saying a lot with me, since I’ve always embarked on projects by the seat of my pants and then had to improvise to figure out how to make them work.

So, I made a pleat in the back of the sweater to take up the slack. It looks like it was actually designed that way. Works for me!

On a whim, I tried to search for the exact saying in Polish, and, while I didn’t find what I was looking for, I did come across this wonderfully outrageous Polish crocheter whose work is on exhibit now until February at the the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC. Be sure to watch her short video.

I could learn a lot from her, on lots of levels.

I know that there are women who continue to be outrageous right up until the end. The extent of my outrageousness these days is wearing my latest improvisation with matching orange sandals and white cropped pants.

Oh, and I I’ve had my hair cut sort of like Andy Warhol. Well, maybe more like Sharon Gless on “Burn Notice.” But a little longer.

I’ll get around to a photo eventually.

my new invention: the bra-free t-shirt

When it’s this hot, you really don’t want to wear a bra, not matter how big or small you are, how perky or how droopy. But neither do you want your outline to pop through the front of your shirt. So, here’s my solution: a loose t-shirt with a lined front panel that totally and opaquely covers your boobs and allows air to circulate under the shirt.

Here’s my prototype, which has a strategically placed iron on image backed by a lining that has free-form quilting stitches on it to make the relevant fabric even less likely to reveal what’s underneath.

I put some machine embroidery around the transfer to make it less likely to peel off. This is a close-up of a corner of the transfer and the free-form quilting stitches.

Now that I’ve made this one, I’ve come up with ideas for better techniques for the front. The next one will have an Alphonse Mucha image for the transfer, and I’m going to try a softer transfer material that feels more like knit.

After I perfect the design, maybe I’ll make them for sale to special buyers. Stay tuned. And stay cool.

my life as sweater metaphor

I’m not the first knitter to come up with the idea that “knitting is like life.” (Google it and you’ll see.)

Even if you’re not a knitter, you probably get the point. And if you are a knitter, you might find my experiment in intuitive, no-pattern knitting something you might like to try. (“Intuitive Knitting” will also come up in a Google search, but what you’ll find is not what this post is about.)

One of the reasons I knit is that I prefer to have a useful product as the result of my creative efforts. And I prefer to play with processes that don’t come with patterns of exact directions. I like to wing it and see what happens. Thus, the title of this post.

For this particular intuitive endeavor, I experimented with techniques I had learned from two books: “Modular Knits” and “No-Pattern Knits.” Mitered squares, triangles, and the simple garter stitch became the basis of my improvisational project.

I started out with a few skeins of Vanna’s Choice yarn that I bought on sale a while ago, although I had no specific plan for their use. I just liked the variegated color scheme.

As I expected, I ran out of the yarn and went back to Joann to get more — but the store didn’t have enough of the dye lot, so I wound up buying a few skeins of a different dye lot as well. And a complementary solid color in case I decided on a contrasting trim (which, obviously, I did).

As I continued to improvise, I discovered that not only were the two dye lots of what was supposed to be the same yarn a little different in color; they also were a little different in thickness. Connecting one with the other was a mathematical challenge (the number of stitches per inch changes with the thickness of the yarn), but I persevered.

I began by using one of the dye lots to create a mitered 12 inch by 12 inch garter stitch square that became the center of the back of the sweater. The dimensions were arbitrary; it was just a place to start. And this is what the back of the finished sweater looks like. You can see the differences in the shades of color in the variegated yarn. And because I never did figure out the stitch gauge exactly, the bottom ballooned out a little and I had to take in the extra “fabric” with my sewing machine. (Sometimes I REALLY have to improvise!)

Coordinating the two thickness of the same dye lot of yarn worked better on the long panels that I knitted as the basis for each front side of the sweater. And I made the two sides different from one another. (I find asymmetry aesthetically pleasing.)

By using the solid color yarn to pick up stitches along the sides of the variegated panels, I added to the width of the sweater so that it would fit around me. Then I picked up the stitches around the top of he square armhole and used the Norwegian technique to knit the sleeve from the top down. I added the solid color cuffs and the variegated color pockets later. The neck band was definitely an intuitive romp — garter stitches with arbitrary decreases made on the right side.

This is a photo I took of me in the sweater (with my i-phone, in a mirror; but you get the general idea). It’s oversize, so I’m wearing a hooded sweatshirt under it. It was in the lower 40s today, and I was toasty warm when I went for a walk this afternoon.

I’ve already gotten unsolicited complements on the sweater. After all, it’s the only one of its kind in the world.

I suck at canvas and paint. My efforts at quilting have yielded marginal results. But give me a few hanks of mismatched yarn and I’ll amuse myself for months, playing at coming up with something that’s uniquely mine.

Some people make lemonade out of lemons. Me? I’d try for a lemon tart.

The Deathwatch Diary (Four)

Atheist though I am, I still marvel at the awesomeness of synchronicities.

All afternoon today, as I cried and blogged and cursed, and my brother argued, and my mother lay still and panting in her hospital bed, the fat gull flew and strutted around the roof outside my mother’s window, screeching, The sound was like fingernails on a blackboard. There was no ignoring it.
So, I googled “seagull totem” and found this, which I share here:

Spiritual Messengers

Sea Gulls are messengers from the gods, especially ancient Celtic deities.

They bridge the gap between the living world and the spirit world.

Opening yourself to their energy enables you to communicate with the other side.

Sea Gull can also give you the ability to soar above your problems

and see things from above. Seeing all the different viewpoints.

Better than any fortune cookie.

And then, went I went outside to get another book from my car, I found the item in the photo below in my book bag, and I hung it on the rack on my mother’s bed that is supposed to hold IV bags.

It’s the talking stick that I and my five women friends jointly and ritually made from a root, stones, feathers, ribbon, yarn, thread, spangles, and even a golf tee. Crone magic of a very special kind.

My daughter chants to set my mother’s spirit free. And I embrace roots and wings for my own spiritual sustenance.

Such everyday magic, these synchronicities.