Book Review: Clearing Spaces by Khi Armand

Clearing Spaces by Khi Armand
Root work + shamanism = a useful book.

The first time I was aware of how an environment affected me was in 1994-1996. I had moved to Laramie, Wyoming to go to school. The years I was there I felt unsettled, unraveling. I eventually moved away, heading for Chicago (which presented its own environmental issues) and didn’t really connect my unease with the town. Over the next few years, whenever I would travel home to visit, stopping in Laramie to see friends, the general sense of bad energy would hit me. I eventually came to recognize that the town, for whatever reason, just doesn’t jibe with me.

I think that is one of the reasons I related so strongly with Khi Armand’s Clearing Spaces.  It is a book full of advice in recognizing and diagnosing problems in one’s environment.  Armand then offers practical advice on how to address those problems.  He acknowledges, also, that some problems might not be fixed, and that, especially when dealing with genus loci, compromise might be necessary.

What I enjoyed about the book is that Armand discusses ways to treat the environment that don’t involve feng shui.  In fact, he introduces several concepts and practices that I had never heard of before.  For example, he talks about Ho’oponopono, a Hawaiian healing technique of reconciliation.  The idea of coming to terms with your environment, rather than trying to impose your will on it, was particularly interesting to me.

The book is grounded in root work, shamanism and paganism, with an understanding of and reference to the cultures that contributed to those paths or “modalities”. This blend of various paths feels organic rather than forced in his prose.  Armand also uses the term “technology” in references to practices like smudging, feng shui and the like.  It’s a call back to past times when spells and charms were worked as practical matters alongside other, mundane activities.

The greatest benefit I got from the book, however, was the introduction to the term “helping spirits.”  For years I have worked with Turtle, but eschewed the term “spirit animal” so as to not participate in cultural appropriation.  No other terms ever encompassed what Turtle means to me, though.  But when I read “helping spirits” it was like a light clicked on in my head!  It’s not an exaggeration to say that learning this term has helped my relationship to Turtle grow and deepen over the last few months.

Finally, on a completely aesthetic note, this is one of the most attractively laid out books I’ve read in a long time.  Flipping through it felt good.  I spent some of my time reading, just looking over the pages, admiring the design.  That sort of attention to the page space is completely in keeping with the rest of the book.

 

Event Report: Geek Craft Expo

Last weekend I headed over to Madison, WI for the Geek Craft Expo‘s Midwest market.  I had heard of the show from crafters I met at the Made in Nerdwaukee event, and it hit all of my buttons, vending wise.  Geek Craft Expo is a series of craft fairs around North America which focus on handmade geekery.  It’s the sort of craft fair where you find crocheted Yoda ears, dice boxes, fandom inspired bath bombs, and jewelry made out of circuit boards.

This was one of the best planned and run events I’ve ever attended.  There was a score of volunteers who helped vendors unload.  The background music that ran the whole gamut of fandom musical tastes: from “Real Folk Blues” to the Quantum Leap theme music.  The room was decorated with standard Halloween fare, there was a scavenger hunt for the kids who came by, as well as trick-or-treating, a make and take, and costume parade.  More importantly, for me, was the well-stocked vendor lounge with snacks and bottled water.

The last bit was important because I managed to lose my voice for the entire weekend.  I had been sick for the week leading up to Geek Craft, yet still managed to drag myself out to vend.  I spent most of the weekend behind my table, communicating with customers through notes and pantomime.

As well-run as the event was, traffic and sales were disappointing.  I don’t blame the event runners at all; their March expo was a huge success.  This time around, however, they ran afoul of football season.  I estimate that the total crowd over the weekend was a little under 1,000. By contrast, the crowd at their March event was somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,000.  On the one hand that meant I didn’t have to interact with as many people while sick and speechless, but that also meant lower sales than I had expected.  As my booth neighbor, Moira, pointed out: “The conversion from browser to buyer is right where I expected it, but there just aren’t enough bodies coming through.”

And to their credit, the people in charge acknowledged the low attendance.  When the show closed and people started packing up they made the announcement that future shows would be scheduled well outside of football season.  I appreciated their candor.

I barely made booth, which means I lost money once I took gas and expenses into account.  I am honestly not as upset as I otherwise would be about the low sales.  Everything else was so nice about the event, that it sort of washes out in the end.  If I end up being in the area when the next expo is planned, I will definitely be signing up to vend.

 

Client Spotlight: Sarah G.

If I were to have a patron, Sarah would be it.  Over the last year she has commissioned several skirts from me, choosing the most whimsical, geeky, STEMy fabric imaginable.  As a client, she is a joy to work with.  So, when she approached me about creating a Miss Frizzle cosplay, I said yes without hesitation.

What Sarah wanted was simple in it’s vision: a matching skirt and shirt that would look like a dress, with the wide elastic of the skirt acting as a belt.  Being a busty woman, Sarah wanted to avoid the problems she’s had in the past with fitting dresses to her figure.  We talked at length about what kind of shirt would work best for the costume.  Though she was hesitant when I brought up a button down, she said she trusted me to make it work.

I understand her trepidation.  Button down shirts can be difficult for women with large breasts.  Not only is there the button gap issue, but in order to fit a shirt to your bust you often end up with a garment that looks like a tent.  In this case I had the advantage because I would be sewing the shirt from scratch.

Simplicity 9818 Pattern
For an all purpose button down shirt, this pattern is about as easy as they come.

I chose a pattern I already had on hand: Simplicity 9818.  I’d used the pattern before to make a shirt for myself, so I was familiar with the instructions.  The pattern itself stopped two sizes short of Sarah’s measurements.  This is where having multiple copies of a pattern on hand helps.  Using pattern paper I first traced the largest size, then I slid the pattern paper over, matching the markings with the smaller, inner size, and traced the larger size again.  From that pattern I made a muslin to make sure the sizing was correct.

If I were making the shirt for every day wear, I would have added bust darts up from the waist to make it a bit more tailored.  Since it was going to be tucked into the skirt and needed to look like part of the dress, I didn’t.  When she got the costume, she told me she was over the moon with the fit.  For once she had a button down shirt that fit her measurements.  Her trust in me had been well founded.  And it’s responses like that, the feeling of pulling on a piece of clothing that just fits like it is supposed to, that make this job so satisfying.  As someone who got into sewing because I hated going clothes shopping, I love that I can help others in that regard.

Microbes - Lime & Teal by Erin Hayward
I love the retro future design of these microbes.

The fabric Sarah chose, Microbes by Erin Hayward, is what really made this outfit work.  The design is recognizable for what it is, and it has just the right cartoony look to it.  With her wig and plush lizard, Sarah said that people at DragonCon immediately knew who she was.

This is an aspect of cosplay that I really love: going out in a character that other people relate to on a personal level.  To see a beloved character in the flesh, so to speak, to be able to interact with them, get a picture with them, connect with them, even if only for a moment of pretend, is one of those small moments of joy that help offset the horribleness of our current reality.  There are shootings and poverty and people without health care or power and natural disasters and suffering the world over.  Those things need our attention and help.  But we also need to have moments where we can retreat and recharge.  And this one small action, dressing up as Miss Frizzle, had ripple effects.  While I made the costume I felt happiness.  When Sarah dressed up, she felt happiness.  Those who saw her, not only in person, but in pictures posted on the Internet, felt happiness.  That is no small thing.

I’m already working on more skirts for Sarah.  I’ve sewn enough for her that they almost warrant their own post.  For now, I leave you with pictures of Miss Frizzle, out and about at DragonCon.  I hope seeing them brings you a moment or two of happiness.

Miss Frizzle Cosplay
Look at that wig! Look at that lizard!
Miss Frizzle Cosplay
I love the saucy pose!

Making It Work: You Can Still Lose

My house is being foreclosed on. This comes as no surprise.  I have been fighting to keep my home since I got divorced in 2008.  One of my first battles led me to run a fire sale on custom corsets.  I raised almost $1,500 for my mortgage.  For nine years it has been a struggle.  There have been bad conventions and years of expensive car repairs.  I’ve dealt with financial sabotage on the part of my ex-husband.  And I’ve made mistakes, like with the way I tried to restart my publishing company back in 2012.

On top of that all, I’ve also been dealing with depression and anxiety.  At times I know people have wondered why I worked so hard to keep hold of this house.  What I tell them is that it’s not just the house.  If I lose my home I can’t afford to stay in the area.  And if I move I will have a custody battle on my hands.

This final notice of foreclosure, though, has brought with it an acceptance that this is just how things are going to be.  I’m not going to be in this house much longer.  Which puts me in a holding pattern.  Foreclosures can take years to be resolved.  I could be moving in six months or six years.  That kind of uncertainty makes planning for the future tricky.  I have the chance to vend at C2E2, but can I commit to an event in April when I might be states away?  Should I look at events in the area I plan to move to when I don’t know my move date?  I already anticipate losing money in 2018 because of this.

It’s harder with the house.  Is there a point in planning next year’s garden?  And just what should we fix around the place?  I feel like I can’t even properly mourn the home I will lose because everything is so uncertain now.  Making peace with what is going on is difficult when I don’t know what the future holds.

It’s funny, this happening now.  I haven’t posted a financial update in a while due to being so busy, but that doesn’t mean the news is bad.  This year is on course to being my best one yet.  Every month but one has been in the black and I’ve made my sales goals at the majority of my events.  Even better, I’ve seen an uptick in commissions and Etsy sales.

Professionally, I’m feeling very good about my work.  I have a book contract.  I’m even getting jobs doing e-book layout and design (my latest project was for author Richard C. White on his book Harbinger of Darkness).  It’s work that I really enjoy.

In my personal life things are wonderful.  I’ve got two lovely, smart and creative kids.  Stephan is the best husband and partner I could ever hope for.  I am slowly learning about living with cats.  My depression and anxiety are pretty much under control.  I even have a bit of a social life.

All of this is in stasis, too, now.  I can’t plan longer than a month out.  I can’t commit to long term plans, or make connections in the area I’ll be moving to.  I have to just accept that this is the way things are right now.  I have to be prepared for change, but not spend all my time waiting for it.

It’s a balancing act to be sure.  I try to keep grounded in the present as much as possible.  I tackle my October to do list, clearing the old growth from the yard, paying the bills, checking to see what linens need replacing before winter arrives.  I go into the workshop and concentrate on the handful of commissions I have to finish up.  And I tell myself a dozen times a day that things are going to be okay, it’s a transition and it sucks, but I will survive it.

I am sure that one day, in the future, I will look up from the present and see that I did, indeed, survive.

Book Review: A Witch’s Runes by Susan Sheppard

A Witch's Runes by Susan Sheppard Cover
She had me at the witch as gentle anarchist and lost me at “gypsy”.

In my wandering and varied research for my book, I kept coming across the witch’s runes.  You can find a plethora of them on Etsy.  I was really curious as to what they were, where they came from, their provenance really.  A little digging produced the book A Witch’s Runes by Susan Sheppard.  The subtitle How to Make and Use Your Own Magick Stones was right up my research alley.  I put in my request for a copy via Inter Library Loan along with the half a bajillion other books and waited.

I want to point out from the offset that I admire what Sheppard set out to do with the book.  With certain modern pagan paths’ penchants for making up traditions out of whole cloth there a real risk to viewing anything not steeped in hundreds of years of history as somehow lesser or illegitimate when it comes to the pagan faith.  I’ve read a lot of pagan books over the last year, and there is a trend of constantly looking back.  What Sheppard does in this book is create a new divination system, somewhere between runes and Tarot cards.  It’s an ambitious objective and it has certainly paid off: her book was first published in 1998 and the idea of witch’s runes has spread.

But (and you knew there was a but coming, right?) reading through the book was an uncomfortable stroll through cultural appropriation, slurs and handfuls of generalizations thrown in for good measure.  Sheppard’s approach is summed up on page 22: “But the witch honors all of the spiritual traditions that have preceded her.  She takes what works for her and makes use of its meanings.”  This set the tone for the book.

The thing is, it didn’t have to be this way.  Late in the book, on page 96, Sheppard mentions that her “…area of discipline is astrology.”  She talks about using the runes she has created “in the place of signs and planets and it works out fine.”  Knowing this, and seeing the table at the back of the book with planet, sign and element correspondences, I could see the potential for a divination tool made incorporating the zodiac and astrology.  I don’t understand why this isn’t what she did.

The only reasoning I can come up with is that urge I pointed out earlier, to try and tie any new Pagan ideas to the past.  For each rune, Sheppard tries to tie the symbolism to various older cultures: Egyptian, Pict, Anglo-Saxon, Akkadians, Mesopotamians, and of course the ubiquitous “gypsies”.  Occasionally she touches back on her astrological background, tying the Scythe to Scorpio and the planet Pluto.  But for the most part all the runes are presented as an amalgamation of symbols drawn from mostly western cultures.

I am writing Sew Craft with an eye to avoid appropriation, generalization, and giving Western traditions more importance than the rest of the world.  It is a fine line to travel, as I am aware that I can’t see all the pitfalls I might fall in while meaning well. As I work, reading books like A Witch’s Runes keeps me mindful of respecting the history of my sources.

 

Cross Stitch: SF Swear Words

I’m a word nerd and a science fiction geek.  I also love to swear.  Like, really fucking love to curse. My swearing is sometimes a problem (like when my children started dropping f-bombs as toddlers).  But mostly swearing offers me a release for frustration.  (Also, swearing has its benefits.)

Which is why I love science fictional swearing.  You get to express your anger in a way that won’t lead to judgmental looks from those around you.

This cross stitch sampler is my love letter to the swears used throughout fandom.  The pictured sampler was stitched on white 14 count Aida cloth using two strands of floss.  Download the free chart by clicking on the download button below, or clicking here.

Download Icon

If you get your stitch and bitch on, please post a picture in the comments.  I’d love to see how it turns out for you.

Sew Craft: Research Reading List

I have spent the last year on research for Sew Craft.  I’ve made liberal use of the interlibrary loan department of my local library to get a hold of various books on two main topics: sewing and magic.  As much as I love research, though, there comes a time when you need to put butt in chair and write (or sew).

Below is an incomplete list of the books I’ve read over the last year.  I left off the books on gardening, fashion and pattern-making that weren’t being used for research. They’re presented in no particular order, and mostly just as a demonstration of what is involved in writing a book.

  1. The Herbal Alchemist’s Handbook by Karen Harrison
  2. By Spellbook & Candle by Mélusine Draco
  3. The Point of the Needle by Dorothy Bromiley Phelan
  4. The Dress Detective by Ingrid Mida & Alexandra Kim
  5. Old World Witchcraft by Raven Grimassi
  6. The Book of English Magic by Phillip Carr-Gromm & Richard Heygate
  7. The Tradition of Household Spirits by Claude LeCouteaux
  8. Irish Witchcraft from an Irish Witch by Lora O’Brien
  9. The devil’s Cloth by Michel Pastoureau
  10. Trolldom by Johannes Björn Gardbäck
  11. Made from Scratch: Reclaiming the Pleasures of the American Hearth by Jean Zimmerman
  12. Clearing Spaces by Khi Armand
  13. Empire of Cotton by Sven Beckert
  14. The Subversive Stitch by Rozsika Parker
  15. A Grimoire for Modern Cunningfolk by Peter Paddon
  16. Nomadic Felts by Stephanie Bunn
  17. Printed Textiles by Linda Eaton
  18. The Good Witch’s Guide by Shawn Robbins & Charity Bedell
  19. A History of Witchcraft by Jeffrey B. Russell & Brooks Alexander
  20. The Hearth Witch’s Compendium by Anna Franklin
  21. Farmhouse Witchcraft by Penny Parker
  22. The Witch’s Cauldron by Laura Tempest Zakroff
  23. A Witch’s Guide to Faery Folk by Edain McCoy
  24. Grimoire of a Kitchen Witch by Rachel Patterson
  25. A Witch’s World of Magick by Melanie Marquis
  26. Hedgewitch by Silver Ravenwolf
  27. The Flame and the Cauldron by Orion Foxwood
  28. A Witch’s Halloween by Gerina Dunwich
  29. Earth Power by Scott Cunningham
  30. Cunning-folk: Popular Magic in English History by Owen davies
  31. Cunningfolk & Familiar Spirits: Shamanistic Visionary Traditions in Early Modern British Witchcraft and Magic by Emma Wilby
  32. The Cunningman’s Handbook by Jim Baker
  33. Green Witchcraft by Ann Moura
  34. Muslin by Sonia Ashmore
  35. Textiles: The Whole Story by Beverly Gordon
  36. Forgotten Ways for Modern Days by Rachelle Blondel
  37. Natural Color by Sasha Duerr
  38. Women’s Work by Elizabeth Wayland Barber
  39. Practical Sigil Magic by Frater U.D.
  40. A Witch’s Runes by Susan Sheppard
  41. Homemade Magic by Lon Milo DuQuette
  42. The Book of Forgotten Crafts by Paul Felix, Siân Ellis & Tom Quinn
  43. Witchy Crafts: 60 Enchanted Projects for the Creative Witch by Lexa Olick

 

Plarn: It’s Crafting and Magical Uses

I’ve written before on the magical correspondences of various fabrics.  My focus there was on natural fibers (cotton, linen, wool and silk).  Not all crafters and sewists limit themselves to natural materials, though.  In fact I’d hazard to guess that very few do.  One could, I suppose, use only silk or cotton thread, eschew plastic buttons for only metal, wood, bone or horn, leave out zippers or plastic snaps, as well as iron on interfacing, etc.

There is an emphasis on only using natural materials in ritual and magic crafts.  While I can understand the reasoning behind it, I find the insistence to border on classism and elitism.  Not everyone can afford or has access only natural materials.  And, when we get down to it, everything comes from the earth in one form or another.  Everything is ultimately natural when it’s roots are traced back to its beginnings.  Even plastic.

Magick in the Plastic

Our witch ancestors didn’t use colored candles, or have access to the array of crystals and herbs available online.  And some might have turned their noses up at colored ribbons, grocery store herbs and store bought besoms as not “traditional” tools.  I think it behooves modern witches to see how the practice of witchcraft and magick have changed over the centuries, adapting as new technologies and products have come available, and be open to using materials that might strike us at first as non-magickal.

I’d go even farther to argue that plastic is decidedly magical.  It is alchemy at its most refined.  Taking the remains of dinosaurs and creating a material which is named after its defining characteristic: its shapeshifting ability.

Yes, plastic does have its drawbacks, its production and longevity make it a serious hazard for the environment.  This doesn’t exclude it from being considered a natural material, though.  The elements have their destructive aspects.  Sheep rearing, silk making, cotton farming and linen production all have their affects on the environment as well.

So, how do we approach plastic as a magical tool?  One way is through making and using plarn: yarn made from plastic bags.  Many crafters have found clever and practical uses for plarn, from making lightweight and rugged bedrolls for the homeless to arts and crafts to sell to support their families.  Plarn has the added benefit of removing plastic bags—one of the hardest items to recycle–from the system.

Plarn Correspondences

Let’s start with a few correspondences.  These are associations I have made on my own through study and meditation.  They are not meant to be set in stone, and if they don’t ring true to you, feel free to form your own correspondences.

  • Deities: Cerridwen, Janus, Kali, Oya (deities of change and transformation)
  • Element: Air
  • Color: White
  • Themes/uses: transformation, durability, flexibility, change

Making plarn is a straightforward process that lends itself to a meditative practice.  Use it just as you would yarn to crochet or finger weave a variety of items, or spin it into thread.  You can make tote bags, mats, jewelry, and baskets.

Client Spotlight: Moira

While sewing, for me, is mostly a commercial pursuit, I have long associated it with love, not money.  I don’t mean that in the sense of I’m not getting rich as a sewist.  I mean that the first sewing I was exposed to were the stuffed animals and doll clothes my grandmother made for me and my cousins.  My mother sews clothes for my children.  My aunts sew quilts for their families.  Sewing has always been an expression of love in my family.  And though the majority of my sewing goes to items for sale, that doesn’t mean I don’t also sew for love.

The dress I made for my friend Moira is no exception.  When she approached me to make her wedding dress, I was so happy and excited to do it.  And though my entry here is listed as “client spotlight” and though Moira paid me, that doesn’t negate the love I put into making her gown.  I wouldn’t be at her nuptials in body, so my joy and well wishes for her and her beau would travel along in the dress.

Frida Esperanza by Alexander Henry
The fabric features cartoon renderings of several of Frida Kahlo’s self portraits.

Moira is an artist of the beautifully macabre.  This of course means she wasn’t looking for a white satin gown for her wedding.  What she came to me with was the idea for a 1960s cocktail dress that she could wear to other events.  We took measurements and she went on the hunt for fabric.  That fabric happened to be a cotton print by Alexander Henry called Frida Esperanza.

My first order of business was to do a tissue fitting.  Moira is a tall, curvy gal which made a couple fittings necessary to make sure everything fit perfectly.  I use the method I learned from the book Fit for Real People which involves pinning the tissue pattern together, trying it on, and marking any changes directly onto the paper.  For Moira we had to take into account that her bust apex was lower than in the pattern, widening the back and waist, and making sure the kimono cut sleeves allowed her ample movement.

After the tissue fitting I put together a muslin.  When you are altering a pattern there are so many adjustments that need to be made, a muslin is the only way to make sure you don’t miss something.  And since Moira had brought me just enough of the fabric to make the dress, I didn’t want to make a mistake that would put me in danger of running out.

Moira's Muslin
I have no clever reason for using two different colors of muslin here. I just grabbed what was closest and had enough yardage from my stash.

The muslin fitting brought to light other fit issues.  I had dropped the bust darts down, and had made the waist darts in the bodice narrower.  I had also added an inch to the center back.  Even so, there was still a large gap at the midsection.  This seems to be a common problem for those of us with larger busts.  Unless we are employing bras that also double as rigging for a sloop, the weight of larger breasts pulls them lower than those of our perkier, smaller busted sisters.  This means that the point of largest width ends up lower than patterns take into account.  By adding the extra inch to the back, I ended up with a gap that overlapped at the neck, but couldn’t close the rest of the way down.

I marked a bunch of notes right onto the fabric as Moira patiently waited, turning right and left, lifting her arms or sitting as I made my notes.  I kept telling her not to suck in, as I wanted the dress to fit her, not try to fit her body to the dress.

Now it was time to commit to cutting out the adjusted pattern from the final fabric.  Even here I had to make some more changes.  The original pattern calls for cutting the front bodice in two pieces and then sewing the center seam together.  Doing that with the print would cause a headache of trying to make sure I didn’t have Franken-Fridas on my friend’s bust.  Instead I cut the bodice on the fold.  Eliminating the center seam gave me a little extra room, too.

I dropped the back waist darts, which gave me the room I needed to make sure the fit was right, and there wasn’t going to be any tightness.  For the extra fabric at the top of the bodice, I put a box pleat in each shoulder.  This kept my center back straight.  Sometimes a tuck or a fold is just what you need to make things fit, then it becomes a design element!

I will be honest that when Moira showed up to pick up the dress I held my breath while I zipped her up into it.  I wanted so very much for the dress to fit like a hug from a friend.  And it did!  She looked so lovely twirling around in my workshop, staid Frida’s looking on in approval.

Moira Wedding Dress

And here is the bride in her dress at her wedding at a mini-golf course / wedding chapel.  I can’t express how much it meant to me that Moira asked me to make her wedding dress.  Again, I never thought I would work on bridal gowns, and I really am not.  Instead, I am adding my love for my friend to her wedding, helping to amplify the happiness of the day.

 

Book Announcement: Sew Craft

I’m excited to announce that Llewellyn Worldwide will be publishing my book Sew Craft: A Sewist’s Book of Shadows.  If you want to see what kind of book it will be you can read my posts on the magical properties of fabric and dream pillows.  There will be projects and rituals, as well as much of the lore and information I’ve picked up in the last year of research into magick and sewing.

From as long as I can remember I have written.  Before I could form letters or words I would scribble stories.  To finally realize my goal of getting my work published is amazing.  This project is going to consume most of my waking hours over the next few months.  Fortunately, now that summer break is over, I have more time to devote to it.

I’m not going anywhere, though.  I will still be posting here about commissions and events and whatever else pops into my head.  And I’ll be posting about the book, because eventually I’m sure that Stephan and my kids are going to get tired of me goobing over it.

A very happy Solar Eclipse to you all.  I hope it sees the start of something good for each and every one of you.