Sew Witchy: Shooting the Book

My new best friend, a baggie of rice
We’re going to Vegas some day.

If anyone had told me in March that my new best friend would be a bag of rice, I wouldn’t have believed them.  But after my marathon photo session for Sew Witchy I’m ready to name that bag Wilson and get matching tattoos.

The thing is, I’m a writer, not a photographer.  That didn’t stop me from saying, “Yes, of course,” when Llewellyn asked if I could supply the step-by-step and finished project photos for the book.  I’d snapped pictures for this blog and Instagram before with my phone.  How hard could it be?

Oh ho!  Let me tell you: I was woefully unprepared for how hard it was.  And while I think the final photos turned out all right, I have no desire to do this again.  (Famous last words, I know.  Although they’re easy to write now as I don’t have any ideas for another craft book.)

I went into my photographical journey thinking that the hardest part would be how much longer it would take to complete each project.  I figured it would take twice as long so that’s what I planned for.  Instead, I quickly realized it was taking more like three to four times as long.  I was photographing each step, even if I didn’t think it needed to be documented because the book was meant to be accessible to new sewists.

As an aside can I just talk about what a trip it is to write a book about sewing book when you are self-taught?  Several times I would stop in mid-stitch and question if my technique was “proper”.  Was this the sort of thing a beginner should start with?  I had to look up terms to make sure they meant what I thought they meant.  At every step I had to stop and make sure that I had adequately explained what to do.  Just writing instructions and then photographing the various stitches used in the book was a process that took days.

Measuring the tea pot
Other things I learned: double sided tape is super helpful when taking pictures.

So, back to the pictures.  I had sent sample photos to the art director months before and was told I needed to use a tripod and provide photos in both horizontal and vertical shots.  My local library had tripods I could check out which addressed the first issue.  The second was a bit trickier.  The tripod couldn’t hold the camera vertical leaving me at a loss of what to do.  I came up with the brilliant idea to shoot step-by-step photos on a white piece of foam board.  I’d take one shot and then rotate the foam board 90° and take another “vertical” shot.

I only got through the first day of that when my friend Randy, who does photo art layout and design for a living, kindly told me that my brilliant idea wasn’t really.  He’s the one who clued me in to the bag of rice trick.  (Actually he suggested a bag of beans but I’m more of a canned beans kind of witch, so I instead filled a sandwich baggie full of rice.)  I would take the horizontal pictures, then balance the camera on its side on top of the rice, which was balanced on the tripod.  This added to the time each picture took, but it meant that there weren’t as many pictures that looked like I had taken them during an earthquake.

As difficult as all the above was, getting shots of the finished wearables was an experience on a whole ‘nother level.  The sample robe was modeled by my son Benjamin.  He is a ball of chaotic energy, rarely able to stay still for even a microsecond.  A good 99% of the photos I took were blurry.  Eventually Ben ran out of patience and refused to pose any longer, leaving me with exactly two pictures I could use.  To all the child photographers out there, you have my utmost respect.

In the end I took over 1000 pictures.  (Not counting the pictures I lost one day when I returned the camera to the library without transferring the day’s photos over to my computer. Fun times.) Of those, about 350 were sent on to the art director.  By the end my everything hurt: back, legs, feet, head and hands.  My house looked like a tornado had hit a craft store and dumped the debris all over it.  Dishes didn’t get washed.  Floors had gone unvacuumed.  Cats had not been pet.  If my husband hadn’t stepped in to take care of things while I toiled the family would have been wandering around hungry and disheveled.

I’ve always been the type of person who learned by diving in the deep end.  This is no exception.  And I did learn.  The pictures I took at the end are world’s better than those I took at the beginning.  I’m in no hurry to put my newfound skills to use, though.  I’m going back to amateur camera phone photos.

UPDATE: After writing this post, I got word from my editor that I need to reshoot all of the finished project shots.  I sort of took their comments on my first sample shots a bit too far and ended up with very sterile shots.  Fortunately, the editorial team sent me a document with notes for each shot.  And, a friend offered me the use of a tripod that can do both horizontal and vertical shots.  So my best friend will be retired and I’ll be able to get the pictures done faster.

Client Spotlight: Justine

I am lucky in that I get to work with so many lovely clients. Justine is a friend from my LARP days, and an honest-to-goodness mermaid. And I mean mermaid in the old-fashioned way; the kind that would sink your ship while painting her nails.

Peter Pan Mermaid
Actual footage of Justine.

I’ve made a few pieces for Justine over the years, including two corsets and a bustle.  She approached me a couple of months ago about making her some dresses for an upcoming vacation.  Her specifications were: skater dress with a ballerina neckline and pockets out of knit fabric.

We started with the pattern.  I first considered the Simplicity 8396, but it is for woven fabrics, not knit.  In my search I came across this review of the Kitschy Coo’s Lady Skater pattern.  The review convinced me that this pattern was just what I needed.

Next was fabric.  Justine provided me with two “must have” choices from Spoonflower, and then a list of other choices from JoAnn Fabrics and told me to choose one for a total of three dresses.

The Kitschy Coo pattern is as easy to put together as advertised, however it doesn’t give you much margin of error. I learned this quickly when I cut out the first dress and found myself without a large enough section to cut the front and back bodice pieces. It was my fault for not laying everything out ahead of time, a mistake born from overconfidence.

I dealt with that mistake by redrafting the two pieces. I added princess seams to the front and added a center back seam to the back, which allowed me to use the fabric left after cutting out the skirt and other parts. I made sure that when the new pieces were basted together they matched the size of the original bodice piece. I also reinforced all the seams.

These changes led to a slight complication when the dress was finished. There was an ugly gap at the back. A quick pin and seam fixed that.

Fixing a gap in the center back
The gap. The pin. The finished fix. The tacking in the neckline keeps the ends of the facing flat.

The other alteration I made was to the neckline. Justine wanted it just a little wider. This involved not only adjusting the bodice pieces at the neck, but also making sure the facing was the right length.

Despite figuring out the issue of laying out the pattern, the other two dresses had their own challenges. The fabric for both was a one way design, which meant making sure I was placing the pieces in a way that the designs looked good when sewn together. This isn’t a major issue, it just means slowing down and taking care. The whole project was a needed reminder that even seasoned pros need to remember the basics when working.

Adding the pockets meant altering the sewing instructions as well. Instead of one long seam from arm hole to skirt edge, I had to sew the top and bottom separately and then sew them together. If I had been using just my regular sewing machine, Kenny, I could have done the continuous side seam. But with my serger, Sergei, that wasn’t an option. This didn’t affect the look or fit of the dress in any way.

The most important part of all of this is that I created three dresses that fit Justine’s specifications. She has worn them several times since I made them last Summer and gets compliments wherever she goes.

Three dresses for a mermaid.
The finished dresses. Check out that pattern matching on the typewriter one.

Book Review: The Witch’s Cauldron by Laura Tempest Zakroff

The Witch's Cauldron by Laura Tempest Zakroff
This is pretty much the kind of book I hope Sew Witchy turns out to be.

Ever come across a book where you make satisfied “mmm” noises as you read?  Ever read a book that feels like a conversation between like-minded friends?  How about one that makes you feel a sense of comfort? That’s how I felt when I read The Witch’s Cauldron by Laura Tempest Zakroff.  When I got to the acknowledgements and saw my editor, Elysia Gallo, mentioned I was over the moon.  I immediately sent her an e-mail telling her how much I enjoyed the book and how it was just the sort of book that I wanted to write.

The Witch’s Cauldron is part of The Witch’s Tools Series from Llewellyn, which covers various tools used by witches throughout history, and deals with, as the title suggests, cauldrons.  What immediately resonated with me was Zakroff’s pragmatic approach to the subject.  Early on in the book she writes, “In dangerous times, it was safer to have a commonplace item that could double for a person’s spiritual needs while not outing them to those who might wish to cause them harm.”  This is the magick I’m here for, the mundane made magickal because “special” tools could be used as evidence against the witch.  This isn’t candle color or crystal magick that—while it might have a place in modern magick—didn’t have a place in historical witchcraft.

That pragmatism continues as Zakroff explores non-traditional cauldrons like crock pots, encourages supporting local businesses, and even cautions the reader to be aware of local laws with regard to collecting feathers and animals/animal parts.  That last bit is a particular pet peeve of mine, as so many pagan books will offer up correspondences for feathers, shells, and other fauna with no such caution.  Laws about this are meant to protect animals from harm and ignoring them is not being a good steward of the earth.

What really impressed me, however, was Zakroff’s recognition of non-binary practitioners and her address of cisgendered heteronormativity of the Great Rite.  Having worked with non-binary clients and having a several trans friends, it was gratifying to see witchcraft being addressed in such an inclusive manner.  I’ve been seeing more of this over the last year or so, but only online.  To see the topic come up in a book from a pagan publisher is encouraging.

I will be checking out the other books in the series, with the hope that they are as intelligently and thoughtfully written as The Witch’s Cauldron.

 

Making it Work: Marking it Alllll the Way Down

I’m getting accustomed to the unknown.  I have no idea when the bank will kick me out of my house.  I e-mail my contact there and don’t get any response.  My most conservative estimate is June 1.  But it may be a little later.  I don’t know when things will be settled between my ex-husband and myself.  We are arguing over where our daughter will live once I have to leave my house.  He’s also petitioned the court to throw me into jail and fine me for losing my home.  The legal wrangling has no end in sight.  I don’t know when I am going to be allowed to start the new chapter of my life, one where I am living back in the mountains, back on familiar territory, with my family.

With all that uncertainty around me, I am tackling the things I do have control over.  I’ve begun the process of packing up the house.  I am assigning my possessions to bins and boxes and piles labelled “Keep”, “Sell”, “Donate”.  I have gone back to the library for research material, this time on book promotion.  And I’ve spent the last two days listing every bit of inventory I have on Etsy and marking it down 50% in a sale that is meant to raise money for moving and legal fees as well as to help pare down what I will be taking with me.

So should you be in the market for a bag or skirt with pockets, some jewelry or a pencil roll, head to my Etsy store and you can find everything there 50%, no coupon necessary.