Friday, May 15, 2015

Are We All Still "Beginners"?

Me at 17, wearing a top and jeans I made myself

  Some of us have been sewing a long time, but still think of ourselves as beginners, or maybe just intermediate level sewists. But I've been thinking maybe we do ourselves a disservice. Sewing involves so many skills, there's no way if asked that I would call myself "advanced", yet this picture shows that at age 17 I felt confident enough to sew jeans with a fly and a waistband (pretty good fit too, if I say so myself), a fitted empire waist top with set in sleeves, and a button in back with a hand made loop. Not too shabby at 17. But I didn't know that these things were considered difficult, I just sewed the things I liked and kept learning as I went along.
In yellow crepe formal

  If you don't know something is supposed to be difficult, or you have crazy teenage confidence, you'll try new things all the time. I made several formals when I was in high school and college, and never thought twice about how they might be more difficult than just sewing a dress, because my mother said,"oh they are just longer dresses". This one is crepe, with a high collar that rolled over (I forget the name) empire waist ( that was the style then) back zipper, long sleeves gathered into cuffs and a full lining. I hand-hemmed the bottom, and I recall it took a long time because the skirt was full and I was taking care that the stitches didn't show, and I had to hem both the lining and the outside.
 Those set in sleeves look smooth and unpuckered , and the fit looks good. Well done, 17 year old me.
   But on a survey the other day, the question was, "what level sewist are you?" and I thought "Advanced Beginner, or Intermediate" when clearly that's not exactly true. But most sewists would say the same, because the more we know, the more we know what we don't know. Sewing has so many levels, there is no way to know everything. I'd never tell anyone I was "advanced" because in my mind that would mean I could do tailoring, or make a suit, and I've never done those things before even though, with the right instructions, I think I could. Would that make me "advanced"? No, then I'd think about how I don't know how to do smocking or heirloom sewing or whatever challenge I'd never done before.

  Maybe I still think of myself as an advanced beginner because I still make mistakes (even though no one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes.) Just this last year I've made the following bone-headed errors:

  1. set in a sleeve backwards
  2. sewed the wrong sides together on pants (both front side seams to each other-oops)
  3. Put in a zipper upside down
  4. sewed the bottom of the skirt to the bodice, instead of the top. (in my defense, they both looked almost the same, but still, label your pieces, people. Learn from my mistakes.)

Although upon further reflection, I see that these are not errors in which I lack skills so much as I get distracted and lack mindfulness. Perhaps my weakness is a lack of concentration, or perhaps sewing hubris? (As in, this is EASY, I've done this before, no need to focus here?)

On Colette's blog this morning, she wrote about the difficulty in rating patterns, which made me think, What level am I really?  Compared to a real beginner, I'm an advanced sewist. I could probably sew a boned ball gown or a tailored jacket if I were so inclined. (Maybe we should rank ourselves not by beginner, intermediate or advanced, but instead by hubris levels? Like instead of those labels we use:

Instead of Beginner, Timid = I'm scared, hold my hand.
Instead of Advanced Beginner, Overconfident = I'm not afraid to make a huge mistake.
Instead of Intermediate, Seasoned = I know enough to know where my weaknesses are.
Instead of Advanced, Patient = I pay attention to what I'm doing and am a more mindful sewist.

  What about you? Do you still think of yourself as a beginner? Would you ever say you had advanced skills? What new definitions would you use?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Lucia


Here is picture of my great grandmother Lucy, (her full name was Lucia, a common name in Sicily), taken around 1904-1906. Grandma Lucy had emigrated to the US from Sicily around 1900, in the great wave of Sicilians leaving poverty and lack of opportunity to come to America.

I met her once when I was about nine; she was learning then how to write in English well enough so she could finally take her US Citizenship test. She had been too busy raising my grandmother and her six other children to take it when she was younger.

I love her sensible shoes.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

My Weekly Reader

Picture from the National Gallery of Art Exhibit

I loved this walk through of the Matisse exhibit.

"Surgery had left Matisse debilitated, basically chair- and bed-bound. Painting and sculpture had become difficult. His solution was almost child-simple. He picked up more manageable materials and tools: sheets of paper paint-washed by assistants, sturdy scissors and plain tailor pins"

Proof that you have to make your art with the tools you have, to paraphrase a famous musician.

Men care more about out fancy kitchens than women do.

Well of course they do. In this survey, they asked single women and single men. My guess would be single men would see a fancy kitchen as a trophy, and women would see it as a workspace,
Just a theory. Women don't dream of kitchens, sexist researcher people. Kitchens =work to most women. We've been stuck in there for centuries. We'd like to spend less time there, on the whole.
Just sayin'

The story behind Irving Berlin's "Always" is even more romantic than I imagined.

It snowed six inches last night, which is small potatoes compared to New England, but is a state of emergency for Virginia. Stay warm!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Proof of Time Travel


Cora Brown-Potter was a famous beauty, admired by the Prince of Wales

She looks a lot like me:


The pictures on the right are Cora. The pictures on the left are of me. These were taken almost 100 years apart.

Other evidence:

She lived in Tuxedo Park, NY. I have been to a wedding in Tuxedo Park.

She was admired by the Prince of Wales. A former president's son once flirted with me. And several Congressmen (but for this, I admit, the bar is low.) Also the Dalai Lama (although he may just have been really sweet. It's hard to tell.)

She became an actress in London. I was once asked to pose by a photographer from a famous men's magazine. (I declined. My father had, shall we say, objections.) 

She had a daughter. I have a daughter.

Her husband popularized the Tuxedo. My husband looks great in a Tuxedo.
It was in summer 1886 that James Brown Potter, a Tuxedo Park resident, and his beautiful wife, Cora Potter, a Southerner, went to England to meet the Prince of Wales. The prince, indifferent to American social climbers but fond of pretty women, invited the Potters to spend the weekend at Sandringham. Dress-code quandaries are nothing new, and when Mr. Potter asked about what to wear for a country dinner at the 20,000-acre Norfolk estate belonging to the royal family, the prince dispatched him to his London tailor, Henry Poole & Co.
Potter returned to Tuxedo Park wearing the new truncated version of the once-requisite tailcoats, which was quickly taken up by other members of the club for informal dinners. Eventually, the new suit went into wider circulation and came to be known as the style that gents preferred nowadays for dinner “up in Tuxedo.” And in the mystifying organic way neologisms have of entering the language, the coinage stuck
Winston Churchill had a Ginger Cat named Jock. I have a Ginger Cat named Harry. 
Harry and Etta in a box because boxes are the coolest

I am a Time Lord


Thursday, February 12, 2015

An Under-Appreciated Resource: Dr. Rose Frisch

Picture of Dr Rose Frisch from the New York Times


Henry Frisch, a physicist, said his mother also benefited from that environment, because, not expecting to receive tenure or equal treatment, she and other women were “free to follow paths that weren’t conventional.”Still, she was paid so little that her son said the National Institutes of Health once called to say that a grant application she submitted should list her annual salary, not her monthly salary. “That is my annual salary,” she replied.
Please read Dr. Frisch's obituary, and see if you aren't overcome with frustration at how such a brilliant scientist had to work three times as hard as a man to get the support she needed to continue her work. How many talented women scientists, researchers, professors and others have to leave their work because of lack of financial support, flexible jobs, and tenure?
If we want more young people to choose careers in the sciences, stories like hers will hardly encourage them, because associates of mine who are scientists say it is still pretty sexist out there.
We can do better.

Friday, January 30, 2015

My Weekly Reader

Picture from Public Domain Review

What I've been reading this week:

Make your own yoga bag from Spoonflower (I know someone who might like one of these. Maybe you do too?)

Interesting article about the history of chocolate.

An amusing article about poor, disadvantaged men who quilt, struggling to have their artistic voices heard. "Luke Haynes, pictured, says there is no gender bias in his quiltmaking."  
This article is a little bit clueless: men have been sewing for centuries; men sewing and doing art is nothing new. There have always been men who sew, design clothes, quilts, and are textile artists. Do men really need more attention when they do art? Are they really oppressed? 
 As opposed to our culture's long bias toward disrespecting and ignoring the domestic arts of women, who have been making something out of nothing for centuries, with little or no acclaim? Just sayin'.

Relatedly, here's a controversy about the value (or undervaluing) of handmade art quilts (or any women's art).

Oh wait, the artist undervalued the work herself!   Many of us undervalue our work. This is a common mistake. I read an interview once where someone asked Caryl Bryer Fallert how long it had taken her to make a prize winning quilt. She laughed and said she was asked that all the time and her answer always was however many hours/days it took to sew it, plus twenty years of learning how.
The artist above should read Caryl's statement on pricing your work. "You are so right, too many people undercharge and give their work away." Yes, they do.

I've had people ask me, when they see a baby quilt I had made as a gift, how much I would charge them to make one for them. I would always say that they could not afford that, I would have to charge them $1000 or more.  This has happened several times; the coworker is always shocked and says something like, "But I can get one at Target for $30!" 
Then do that, I'd tell them.

Have a great. (or should I say Super?) weekend.


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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Eat Your Books

The upstairs books ready to be added to the new database


  I read about this new database today in the Los Angeles Times called Eat Your Books and immediately wanted to sign up.

  "Fast forward to yesterday when I decided to go to a site I'd discovered weeks before, but never really examined closely. It's called  Eat Your Books and is billed as a search engine for your cookbooks. 
Sounds too easy: add titles of cookbooks to your “library” and you can search for recipes in any of the books therein. You get to add up to five books for free, which would be fine if that’s all I had. Then again if I only had five cookbooks, I wouldn't need this site at all.
But after inputting five books and running a quick search, I quickly saw how easy and useful having all of my considerable collection in the database would be."
   Earlier this week I wanted to make that old-fashioned chocolate cake that has the chocolate pudding sauce on the bottom, but I couldn't remember the name of the recipe or which cookbook it was in. I had made it before, but I have hundreds of cookbooks (not an exaggeration) and I wasn't sure which one it was lurking in. I must have looked in five or six cookbooks until I found it. But, if I had had the Eat Your Books database, I could have found where it was in under a minute.
  It also searches blogs. This might be the best invention ever.