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.

When the Deadlines Are Done

The first months of 2018 have been the busiest that I can remember.  January was taken up by finishing the Sew Witchy book manuscript for a February 1 deadline.  And then February and March saw me:

  • Sewing up a box of projects from the book to get out to my publisher for a cover photo shoot (deadline April 1)
  • Editing the manuscript per editorial input (deadline April 2)
  • Prepping to vend at C2E2 (deadline April 6)
  • Taking photos for the book (deadline April 16)

At one point I was awake and working for 48 hours to meet the photo deadline.  And in between my professional obligations I had to fit in being present for my family, dealing with the loss of my house, and defending myself in court (along with the custody issue, my ex is petitioning the court to punish me for losing the house, including asking for me to be incarcerated). Fun times.

Blackberry whiskey and ginger ale
Blackberry flavored whiskey and ginger ale tastes like freedom after months of work.

Now, after meeting my last deadline, I have found myself suffering from temporal whiplash.  As soon as I uploaded the photos we climbed into the Jeep and headed to a camper owned by friends for a weekend of campfires and whiskey.  I spent a lot of time Saturday and Sunday just sleeping.

Come Monday morning, after I had gotten Charlotte off to school, I found myself at sort of a loss of what to do.  I cleaned the kitchen and family room.  I did the dishes and made dinner.  I spent a lot of time thinking about all the stuff I had to do and realizing that I had plenty of time to do it in.  The rest of the week has been the same.  I have stuff to do.  But there is no urgency.

It’s a strange position to be in.  In fact it weirds me out not to have a deadline constantly pushing at me.  I don’t have to rush my kids through bedtime so that I can get back to work.  I’m not staying up until three in the morning sewing.  Right now my To Do list is full of items like “make dinner” and “pack up one shelf of books”.

A friend posted a link to the article “This is the Reason So Many Unbound Women Fear They’re Lazy” on Facebook the other day.  Reading through it, I found myself nodding in agreement.  I’ve spent so much of my life trying to fill my every waking hour to justify my existence, especially once I stopped working outside of the house.  Shifting to a focus more on what I and my family need done to serve our lives is a big, scary step.  Many times throughout these first few days I have found myself sitting down with nothing that needs my immediate attention.  My busy brain would kick into gear those times, trying to kickstart anxiety over the fact that I was just sitting there.

I am working to reconcile my busyness with this lack of deadlines.  I am trying to actively enjoy, rather than making a show of tolerating, this less frantic pace.  I still have a move thousands of miles away to arrange.  I still have legal wrangling to deal with.  I still have a book and family that needs my attention.  That is more than enough right now.

Sew Witchy: Finding an Agent

I am an example of the saying “There’s no road map to success.”  I posted earlier about how I wrote the proposal for my book Sew Witchy.  It was accepted by the first publisher I submitted to.  That’s not the way it usually works out and I found myself caught off guard.  Once I got over the surprise of Llewellyn Worldwide‘s acceptance, I realized I needed to get started on finding an agent.

I have experience with publishing contracts, but I wasn’t under any illusion that I would be able to negotiate a contract on my own.  Also, I want to have a writing career, and having an agent will help with that.  Finding an agent now would help with both those issues.  And, I figured, having a contract in hand would make it much easier to attract an agent.  So, much sooner than I had expected, I found myself once again engaging in caffeine-fueled Google searching. Continue reading Sew Witchy: Finding an Agent

Sew Witchy: Pitching the Book

When I decided to try to find a publisher for my book, Sew Witchy (née Sew Craft) I had a vague idea of what I was doing.  A few year prior I had done a round of submissions on a fantasy novel.  I knew writing a nonfiction proposal would be a different process, so I did what I always do: turned to Google.  There is a wealth of information out there on what should go into a nonfiction proposal.  Most of it talks about what information to include and how to organize it.  Not many have actual samples of actual proposals.  I spent several caffeine-fueled days researching comparable titles, market demographics and making notes of those points I thought were the most important take-aways from the book.  What I ended up with was this: Continue reading Sew Witchy: Pitching the Book

Intentional Energies

” … it is important to keep in mind the Aristotelian notion that ‘nature abhors a vacuum.’ When we have emptied a space of that which once occupied it, if we aren’t intentional about how we want it refilled, we are simply leaving things up to chance. So after intentionally clearing a space, it is just as important to be intentional about the energies that will fill the area.” — Clearing Spaces, Khi Armand, p. 28

Making it Work: Updates

I can’t believe it is April already.  January seemed to drag on forever, and now it is Spring (well, in theory, it’s still occasionally snowing and cold here).  I spent much of the last three months waiting on one thing or another, working towards deadline after deadline.  Now, with the last deadline almost here, I have a moment to catch my breath.

My house is still working through foreclosure.  I’ve made plans to move in June, presuming I can get things settled on the custody of my daughter.  By the time of my hearing later this month I’ll have spent nearly $4000 on legal fees to sort things out.  It might end up costing me even more and drag on past June.  I’ve contingency plans for housing in case that happens.

The housing and custody issues have only occupied 3/4 of my time.  The rest has been spent on my book.  The publisher, Llewellyn, has given it a new name: Sew Witchy.  I spent most of February and March making edits.  I added a whole new section on sewing basics, including descriptions of various stitches use throughout the book.  My editor also requested that I add a few more projects so I spent several weeks buried in mountains of muslin to make a robe and hooded cape pattern.

It’s eye-opening to write about basic sewing stuff when I’ve been sewing for so long.  Stopping and having to describe things that I do automatically now required a lot of effort on my part.  Fortunately, my editor is a self-proclaimed sewing newbie, so she pointed out all the spots that needed expansion.  Even so, I spent a lot of time second-guessing my writing, wondering if I was explaining things adequately.

This week I’m busy taking the last of the photos for the book.  I understand now why so many sewing books rely on illustrations rather than photos for step-by-step instructions.  You don’t have to deal with lighting or fabric that won’t lie flat or wrinkles that won’t release no matter how much you press them.  I have an even greater respect for people who can work a camera now.

I’ll be posting over the next couple of weeks about the book.  I figured people might be interested in reading the proposal I sent out when I was looking for a publisher, and how I got my agent.  There will also be more customer profiles and book reviews and sewing weirdness.

Dealing with the Change: A Witch Ladder

Life, being life, has kept me dancing, jumping, skipping, crawling and occasionally crying the last few months. There is the house situation which may or may not be resolved in the next few months. There is the custody battle that has sprung up like a stop animation monster from the house situation. There is the book, which has a new title and release date (which I’ll write about later). There is an upcoming move several states away that is also a result of the house situation. There is C2E2 coming up in a couple of weeks. And there are the daily ups and downs of depression, anxiety, parenting my children, being with my husband, writing, sewing, remembering to eat, responding to the demands of two cats who have come to be much loved members of our family.

It’s been busy, you all.

Unexpectedly, I’ve found my daily practices becoming more necessary and more relevant to me. Lighting a candle to call on Hestia, or sitting at the family altar for a few minutes just to breath have provide signposts along the way. Part of this can be explained by my work on the book. I have been going through edits and working on projects for pictures. This last week I’ve been putting together a box of projects to send to my publisher for the cover photo shoot. Working this much on the theory and practice of magic and paganism is bound to reinforce a more mindful practice.

Today’s job was to put together a witch ladder to go into the photo shoot box. I had in mind what I was going to make: a ladder in shades of green and silver and gold, something rich with ornate ribbons and sparkling buttons to hold wealth and prosperity magic. After all, this would possible go on the cover of my first book, so I want to put as much energy as I can into ensuring its success.

I went through the workshop, pilfering bins of all the odds and ends that I’ve squirreled away over the years. All the bits of ribbon and lace, all the buttons that have never been put to use in a vest or skirt. I dug out beads and charms that have lain, undisturbed, like a fairy tale princess waiting to be awakened to their destiny. I piled them up on the sewing table, after I had shoved everything else out of the way to make space. I pulled out a piece of fabric twine and thread and needle and got to work.

I had several false starts. Ben kept interrupting for snacks and drinks and to make him a bandolier for his NERF darts. Every time I had to stop and start again I found my original intentions scattered and had to pull them together. And every time that happened the renewed intention was changed slightly. I clipped out black and white edge lace that I had used on a set of corsets, isolating the designs. I found a set of silver butterfly charms I had picked up on clearance, or perhaps from a thrift shop who knows how long ago. Felt charms–a heart and a skull–I had created almost a decade before ended up pinned to the twine. By the time I added the silver heart-shaped button at the bottom, I knew that what I was creating had nothing to do with prosperity.

I was praying for the strength to come out of the near catastrophic events I’m going through. I prayed for change, for transformation, for finding a life after the end to this latest chapter of my life. I was making that prayer real in ribbon and buttons, thread and lace. By the time I had tied the last bits of embroidery thread in red, white and black, I felt a profound sense of release.

This witch ladder will go into the photo shoot box, and I hope that it makes it onto the cover. I have plenty of magical and practical energy already going into helping the success of this book. What I need now is to give a bit of effort to keeping upright and moving forward while things around me are torn down. That way, when the destruction ends, I will be able to pick up the pieces and create a new life.

Convention Report: Midwinter Gaming Convention 2018

I’ve been vending at Midwinter Gaming Convention since the first year they opened up a exhibit hall in 2011.  I missed two years, 2013 and 2014, when I had stopped sewing for a while.  It has been a pretty family friendly event.  My family and I have LARPed and played games there so that it was a bit of a mini-vacation while I worked.  All that said, this is my last year vending at the event.  I’ll be moving out of state in a few months, although even if that weren’t the case I doubt I’d be back.

It comes down to money, really.  The first two years I vended I made a great profit, enough to pay for the trip and then some.  My gross was never spectacular.  But it was a nice first of the year convention, and again, I treated it as a gaming retreat that I could enjoy with my family.

However, over the last three years I’ve made less and less each year.  I attribute this to falling attendance.  It’s hard to judge membership numbers from exhibit hall traffic, but this year’s lack of attendees was painfully obvious.  The trickle of people strolling through the hall was never more than twenty at a time.  There wasn’t even the usual rush of people between events.

With a lack of traffic, vendors and exhibitors had plenty of time to gossip.  Scuttlebutt was that some of the larger LARP groups hadn’t come back.  Last year a largish vampire LARP group had set up their own event the same weekend, which happened again this year.  One game developer said she shut down demos in the game room at 8:30 pm both nights because no one showed.  Wandering outside the exhibit hall it was much the same.  Lots of empty tables that were set up to host pick up games and a game room that was only half full every time I peaked my head in.

The lack of marketing didn’t help, either.  In year’s previous links to vendors have been posted on the Midwinter Gaming Convention website, as well as blurbs posted to its Facebook page in the run up to the event.  This year none of this happened.  There was a new vendor room director, although I don’t know if their job duties included online marketing or just onsite organization.  Either way, the running of the exhibit hall left a lot to be desired, too.  There was never a final call to inform people that the exhibit hall was closing each day, so people were still wandering around as vendors were trying to shut down to go eat.  Similarly, people were allowed in early on Saturday and Sunday before the official start time.*

I didn’t lose money on this weekend, but that’s just because I was there on my own, I was able to crash in a friend’s room, and people fed me all weekend long.  As it was I made a third of what I did that first weekend in 2011.  And as disappointing as that is, I’m upset with the way that the whole exhibit hall is being run.

From talking to other vendors I found out that the convention is charging $200 a booth for new vendors. I am a legacy vendor so I only pay $50, which is what a booth cost in 2011.  Seeing the drop in numbers, I don’t feel the new charge is justified.  Especially when it seems that the convention is inflating its number of attendees.  I have e-mailed the convention a couple times in the last few years asking what the end number of attendees was for that year’s event.  The answer has been a steady “thousand”.  This year I heard that the convention was telling some people that this was their best attended event to date.  The highest badge number I saw was in the 960s and was a Sunday day pass.  Yes, technically, one could round up and claim a thousand attendees, but that then leads me to question how this can be the best attended event.

Look, I get the semantic tricks one can employ to make an event look larger than it is.  But for vendors and game developers, having accurate information is essential in deciding which events to attend.  Travel, hotel and food costs all have to be taken into account along with the booth fee.  When you are told that an event gets a certain amount of attendees, you can figure how much you expect to make and decide if it is worth your time to go.  You can’t do that if conventions mislead you.

Charging $200 for a table at a general gaming convention that gets less than 1,000 members is too much.  Midwinter Gaming Convention has just announced it will be expanding the exhibitor hall for 2019.  That announcement makes me nervous because I doubt they’ll lower their booth fees, and so they’ll be making more money off the wallets of vendors.  If this expansion isn’t met with increased outreach and marketing on their part, it will hurt future vendors even more.

Honestly, I want Midwinter Gaming Convention to succeed and grow.  It would be great if they played up their family friendly atmosphere; perhaps offered some sort of family pass.  Reaching out to the Gothic Lolita and steampunk crowd would help as well.  I know that at least one year they had a Lolita fashion show.  I also hope they reconsider their booth pricing.  Otherwise, I suggest other vendors take a pass on this show.


*I’m not referring to the early hour on Friday when VIP are allowed into the exhibit hall and hour before official opening.  Instead I’m talking about coming in ten minutes before the hall is supposed to be open on Sunday and finding members browsing.