Down in the Hole

Almost three years ago I started to realize that I wasn’t okay.  Stephan was the first to notice it and suggest that I needed help.  That kicked off a period of introspection on my part where I started to recognize what I was going through and drawing parallels to a period in my life, almost twenty years earlier, where I had dealt with the same issues.  At that time I ended up trying to kill myself, dropped out of college and moved 2,000 miles from my home state of Wyoming to start over in Chicago.

Even though I recognized the signs and had a supportive husband, I still could have ended up in a very bad place.  We didn’t have health insurance at that point so I couldn’t get professional help.  In fact it would take about eight months after deciding I needed help before I could see someone.  And when everyday you alternate between feeling like you are being buried alive or that your head is going to explode from all the anxiety, it’s hard to function, let alone jump through all the hoops of finding the help you need.

Much like with my move to Chicago in 1996, I started cataloging my struggles with depression and anxiety out of desperation.  I made posts to my Facebook page about what I was dealing with, what it felt like, what I was going through to find help.  I needed to express what was going on in a place that was safe for me.  And even though I have a tightly locked down Facebook page, with a highly curated friends’ list, I still spent a lot of time agonizing over whether or not to post.

What helped was another friend posting first about going to therapy and then later about taking medication.  It was just two little posts, snuggled in between stuff about politics and books and life.  But it made a huge difference.  Here was someone I looked up to, someone who, to my eyes, had their shit together.  And they were seeing a therapist for anxiety.  They were taking medication for their mental health.  Holy shit!  Maybe I wasn’t the only one!

I come from Wyoming, a state that has a high suicide rate for its population size, and where the most distinct cause of death in the state is the flu.  It is a place where you suck it up and work through the pain, no matter what.  It’s no wonder that we don’t talk about things as uncomfortable as mental health.  My own mother, when I had brought up depression and therapy in the past, cautioned that I had to be careful because therapists would “just want to blame all your problems on your parents.”  The concern with image trumps any pain or suffering you are feeling.  Add to that the belief that mental illness is more about personal failings and irresponsibility than an actual medical condition and you can see why it’s hard to talk openly about depression and anxiety, let alone other mental health issues.

Posting, first only about the arduous process of finding doctors that took my health insurance, but later on my medications and my reactions, had an effect that I had expected.  I started getting private messages from people who I had always seen as, again, having their shit together: people who were working, paying their bills, engaging in life.  These people told me about the medications they were on.  They told me what worked or didn’t work for them.  They wrote to me with support and encouragement.  It was so damned important for me, because I got to see that it wasn’t abnormal to take medication, that there was still life beyond depression.

As I kept writing, people started commenting openly.  Again, all these friends who I thought of as awesome, put together adults, were sharing their own struggles and stories.

And something else happened.  Friends started telling me about how my posts helped them with their own mental health issues.  They recognized their symptoms in my writings.  They went and sought help because they read about me taking medication.  They were feeling better, more hopeful about their own lives because they saw someone else going through the same things.

That realization suddenly made it so much easier to write the posts about what I was feeling.  To mention when I felt I was backsliding, or my worries that my medication isn’t helping.  I was doing the same thing I have been doing when I post about whether or not I am making money in this whole living a creative life endeavor: I am standing in the dark, holding up a light for those who might be otherwise lost.  And that’s a kind of healing as well.

 

 

Sew Craft: Fabric Magical Properties

One of the challenges in researching this book has been the lack of information on very basic topics.   While magical correspondences of everything from animals to minerals, colors to plants have been studied and recorded, textiles have slipped through the cracks.  When it comes to magical crafts, fabric has been given little if any consideration of its magical properties.  Yes, fiber content isn’t as exciting as, say, feathers or shells, but I feel that taking time to consider the type of fabric you’ll use in projects can give added meaning and energy to your work.

There are some people who have given some thought to the magical properties of textiles.  One such, Deborah Snavely, has two in depth articles on the subject.  I have come to use different correspondences than hers below.  Also, I don’t use the standard system of assigning male or female genders—I find the whole idea not particularly useful, and potentially harmful to my practice.  However, I include the link to her articles as I found them helpful in my own research and as a place for others to look to for their own investigations.

Without a venerable Cunningham to guide my studies, I have had to cast my net outside the metaphysical seas into those concerning the practical aspects of textiles.  The correspondences outlined below are based on my research into the origins of the fiber (where the raw material comes from) and the processes used to make the fabric.  My focus is on the most basic of correspondences: the elements.  I’ve also limited myself to the four most common natural fabrics.  Man-made and blends fall outside the scope of this entry.  Other natural fabrics: nettle, hemp, the new faux leathers made from pineapple leaves and mushrooms are best considered in another article as well.  Leather, fur and feathers have been left off as their associations are intrinsically tied to the animals they come from.

With that preamble out of the way, please check out the correspondences below.  Again, these are all based on my own research.  So, if anything doesn’t resonate with you, ignore it.  In the end, magic is a personal matter, and it is your own intuition, symbols and reasoning that fuels your spells.

Cotton

Cotton fabric is made from the boll of the cotton plant. The fibers are plucked, mixed, beaten in cylinders, carded, drawn, roved and then spun into thread. As such, it shares some of the qualities of plant from which it comes: it is associated with the Earth element; it can be used magically in spells of healing, luck and protection. According to Cunningham, “Cotton is the best kind of cloth (next to wool) to use for making sachets, or for any time cloth is needed in magic.”¹

One type of cotton fabric, muslin, was once a fabric highly prized in its native India and throughout the rest of the world. In her book, Muslin, Sonia Ashmore writes, “Muslin is an open-textured cloth, thin and sheer, woven to varying degrees of fineness depending on the quality of yarn used and the skills of both the spinner and the weaver. The surface, particularly of hand-woven muslin, has a softness to the touch that has been described as ‘mossiness’.”² This description of “mossiness” along with its origin of the cotton plant, places the fabric into the Earth elemental realm.

Use cotton fabric for any project, from robes to altar cloths to spell bags. It is well suited for spell bags as it is breathable, allowing the magic to flow in and out of the pouch.

Linen

Linen is created from flax; a laborious process that includes “retting” or fermentation in water. Because of this and its water absorption properties, it is associated with the Water element. It is a fabric that suggests purity and wealth. As it was historically used for bedding, linen is used in many healing spells. One such use involves tying a strip of linen from a sick person’s bed to a tree. As the exposure to the elements destroy the strip, the illness will be similarly destroyed in the patient.

Linen is associated to the goddess Hulda through its flaxen origin. It is used in spells of beauty, healing, money, protection and psychic powers. Linen is especially well suited to robes and other magical attire.

While pure linen is expensive, there are several “linen like” synthetics available at a lesser price point. These can be used in place of the authentic fiber. These faux fabrics require less ironing than pure linen meaning they can be preferable for use in items worn.

Silk

Silk is made from the cocoons of moth caterpillars. The cocoons are soaked in hot water from which loose fibers are collected and then twisted into thread for weaving. As a fabric it is seen as a luxurious and sought after material for garments. Magically, silk is considered to deflect magic, and to protect the magical energies and contents inside it, making it especially useful for creating bags used to hold and carry tarot cards, runes, and crystals.

Caterpillars, moths and butterflies, as well as their cocoons represent transformation, thus making silk suited for spells and magic pertaining to change, movement, and growth. Because of its association with wealth, luxury and prestige, silk is a good fabric to use in money and prosperity spells.

Silk is associated with the element of Air due to its airy quality and its origin. Because of its great rate of shrinkage and loss of strength when wet, it may not be suited for spells or rituals involving the Water element.

Wool

Wool sheared from sheep is bathed in a chemical bath, mixed, spun, washed and pressed to felt it. It is known for being impervious to cold and is often used for clothing meant to protect from cold weather. Coming from sheep, it is associated with the astrological sign Aries and the planet Mars. All of these properties align it with the Fire element.

Wool is associated with protection and comfort. It can be used in protective, prosperity and healing spells. Wool felt is useful for crafts from poppets to altar decorations. Wool suiting is useful for ritual cloaks, which will keep you warm during rituals performed outdoors during colder weather.

Cut edges of wool don’t unravel, making it useful for quick circle pouches or for when you don’t have time for finishing edges in a project. And though expensive, wool is a durable fiber that will last a long time, making it a worthwhile investment for spell and ritual tools.

 


¹ Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs, p. 84

² Sonia Ashmore, Muslin, p. 8

Book Research Quote: Web of Wyrd

Two of the most ancient human handicrafts are weaving and pottery, and in ancient scriptures, both of them are used as metaphors for the human condition.  The ancient bards perceived the multiple interwoven strands of experience symbolically to be a textile woven by the powers they called fate.  the crafts of spinning and weaving are the heart of our linguistically embedded understanding of our being, for our existence is envisaged as a part of a universal interwoven pattern, known in the northern tradition as the Web of Wyrd. — Nigel Pennick, Pagan Magic of the Northern Tradition

There will definitely be a section on weaving and weaving deities, with an emphasis on Arachne, whose descendants tend to hang out in the window by my sewing table telling me to adjust the tension on the sewing machines.

Medea’s Invocation

Oh night thou confidant and guide
Of secrets, such as darkness ought to hide;
Ye stars and moon, that, when the sun retires;
Support his empire with succeeding fires;
And thou, great Hecate, friend to my design;
Songs, mutt’ring spells, your magick forces join;
And thou, O Earth, the magazine that yields
The midnight sorcerer drugs; skies, mountains and fields;
Ye wat’ry Powers of fountain, stream and lake;
Ye sylvan Gods, and Gods of night, awake,
And gen’rously your parts in my adventures take.

—Medea’s invocation
The Metamorphoses

I’m not one for calling the quarters or even much talking during ritual or spells, but if I were, I’d take a page from Medea.

Yule Cross Stitch

Tis the season to park your butt on the couch and watch all the traditional holiday movies: Die Hard, Scrooged, Hogfather, etc.  Why not put some of that time to use by stitching a small ornament or festive wall hanging?  I’ve put together a short gallery of cross stitch samplers that is certain to make your nights merry and bright, at least until the eggnog kicks in.

The Sense of Loss in Paganism

I have about a dozen or so back issues of Sage Woman in my library, bought mostly in 1999-2002. I spent a good few hours the other week going through each issue trying to find a quote I half remembered, but I didn’t have any luck.

The quote, as I remember it, was from a Native American woman, asking a group of white women why they tried to learn and emulate Native spirituality. Why didn’t the women look to their own heritages for magic and ritual? It’s a quote that has stuck with me for years, coming at a time when I hadn’t yet heard the term “cultural appropriation” but I had a vague sense of it. Having been raised in Wyoming, with no sense of where my family was from, I didn’t have a personal answer to that question.

I’ve been doing a lot of research for a book I’m writing, and in my reading I came across this quote that expanded on my thoughts and feelings on the above.

I feel a sense of loss over this distance between American witches and their European heritage because even if a person studies and learns about these things, the culture was not “lived”.  What is attractive about the Craft is that the expression comes from the experiences and feelings of the practitioner.  For example, it is fine to learn Celtic (all knowledge is a delight), but there is a difference between learning Celtic and growing up Celtic in Wales. — Ann Moura, Green Witchcraft

I feel that sense of loss sometimes.  Even if I researched my ancestry, I would still feel removed from it.  I identify as American, a national identity that is still primarily “Christian-esque” with a heritage that has little in the way of pagan faith.  And those few groups that have nurtured a pagan faith, or developed one over the years, are not groups I could be part of without feeling like an interloper looking to appropriate something that does’t belong to me.

And if I feel this way, I am sure there are others who do as well.  Wicca certainly fills the gap between European heritages and those American pagans who have only the most tenuous claim to them.  But Wicca isn’t without it’s own problems with “borrowing” from other belief systems without due credit.  (As an example, look at candle magic, which was largely developed in the hoodoo and rootwork traditions.)

I don’t know where that leaves me.  I want to practice a faith that isn’t rooted in appropriation, that isn’t taking the bones of Christianity and dressing it in a magical flesh.  And that becomes part of the research as I work on this book.  For, if nothing else, all knowledge is a delight, and if all I get out of these next couple of months of research is new information, I will be content with that.

Client Spotlight: Chris Gerrib

Chris Gerrib is an author I met a few years back at a convention.  He contacted me in February of 2015 about a commission for a writing cruise he was going on.  There was going to be a Regency ball one night and he wanted to go in costume.  He was looking for a naval frock coat with epaulets.

Naval Frock Coats
Providing pictures and research helps your costumer get as close as possible to what you want, with the least amount of back and forth. Be a good client. Be like Chris.

Chris is the kind of client I love.  He provided me with pictures, research and was clear on what he wanted.  After some back and forth we had a plan.  For the frock coat I used the 1795-1820 Men’s Tailcoat Pattern from Rocking Horse Farms. For the pants, Chris picked up a pair of painter’s pants.  And for the cravat I used a Burda Style pattern I already had on hand.

As with any costuming project there were alterations and changes that had to be made for fit and personal preference.

The painter’s pants were a cheap alternative to making trouser’s from scratch.  All they required was removing the tool loop on the outside and hemming. However, going with them meant forgoing the high waist that is period appropriate. With the lower waist line, a good portion of the his shirt would be visible.  We discussed a couple of options to cover the gap, like making a waist sash, a solution that was used by some at the time.  Eventually we settled on lowering the front of the frock coat.  This required extra time and fiddling with the pattern, but it kept his costume pieces to a minimum and kept the lines clean.

Chris Gerrib Frock Coat Front
Frock coat front showing off the floofy cravat.
Chris Gerrib Frock Coat Back View
Back view of the coat. Check out that trim!

I used a suiting blend for the coat.  Wool would have been the historically appropriate, but as the cruise was going to be in the Caribbean we nixed the wool for the sake of avoiding heatstroke.  Going with a suiting also reduced material costs, and gave us more options to work with.  It took a couple of fittings to get the redrafted front right.  It wasn’t just a matter of lengthening the entire pattern, only the front needed adjustment.  But getting it to align with the side pieces and the tail at the back required some work.

Chris Gerrib epaulet construction detail
Binder clips are one of the most useful non-sewing tool out there.

I used this tutorial for the epaulets.  The base was chipboard cut from a notebook.  I covered the chipboard with white cotton, and then used gold fabric paint to cover the entire thing before adding the trim.  At first, I used snaps and hooks and eyes to attach them to the coat. This proved problematic in real world conditions, however.  It was hard to attach them by oneself, and they would come loose when Chris walked around.  He brought them back later for me to replace the fastenings with Velcro.

I used plain white cotton for the cravat.

All in all Chris was pleased with the final costume.  It hit all the points he wanted: appropriate for the event, comfortable, and flexible enough that he could use it for other events (there was talk about altering the buttons and epaulets for a steampunk look). He received many compliments on the outfit.  What do you think?

Chris Gerrib in full naval frock coat attire
Very dashing, indeed!

Looking to fill your Kindle with science fiction? Check out Chris’ novels on Amazon.com.*

The Mars Run by Chris GerribThe Night Watch by Chris GerribPirates of Mars by Chris Gerrib


*These aren’t affiliate links. I just like to support friends’ work.

My Soul is a Dark Forest

This is what I believe: That I am I. That my soul is a dark forest.  That my known self will never be more than a little clearing in the forest. That gods, strange gods, come forth from the forest into the clearing of my known self, and then go back. That I must have the courage to let them come and go. That I will never let mankind put anything over me, but that I will always try to recognize and submit to the gods in me … — D. H. Lawrence

Client Spotlight: Jon Pessin

Jon Pessin is a self described “Balloonatic & Licensed Goof-Off“.  He entertains at children’s parties and came to me needing a new party look.

Because this was a costume for work it had to allow for maximum movement (there’s a lot of arm movement when manipulating balloons), be practical (pockets for supplies), but need not be historically accurate.

Simplicity 4923
It can’t be easy to be a pattern model.

For Pessin’s purposes he decided the Simplicity 4923 would work perfectly.  We discussed the pattern and made a few tweaks (no collar on the shirt, adding patch pockets to the coat for supplies).

With yardage and material notes in hand, I hit the local JoAnn Fabrics store.  This is the fun part of the job.  Even when faced with varying shades of gold and forest green.  Sending pictures to Pessin we chatted back and forth about the choice for coat fabric.  It was proving difficult to convey the choices color and pattern wise, through cellphone camera pictures.

Eventually, he went to his nearby JoAnn Fabrics and sent me a picture of what he wanted, which matched one of the ones I had already photographed.  Being able to also feel the fabric in question helped.  Fashion is so much more than the colors of the fabric.  The texture, how it drapes, even how it smells all need to be taken into consideration when you are making an outfit.

With fabric decided upon and materials gathered it was time to sew, sew, sew.  The outfit came together pretty easily.  The only real drudgery was sewing all the darn buttonholes.  (I also had to plunder three different stores to get the forty-five buttons needed.)

Things I learned with this project: don’t wait till the last minute to attach buttons. It is far more enjoyable to sit in the evening watching Ripper Street and hand sewing, rather than trying to do it all in one go the day it is due.  I won’t be making that mistake again!

Fortunately, Pessin is an understanding client.  And his glee showed on his face when he came to pick up his new costume.

Jon Pessin Balloonatic & Professional Goof-Off
Arr!

A few months after I delivered the outfit, we hit a snag.  Being a robust gentleman, Pessin needed a little extra ease in his clothes.  While I had built in what I thought would work, trying on a vest in the workshop is a different beast than wearing it to work.  All which led to a few buttons popping off where there was strain.

Pessin brought the vest back and I went to work.  First I reattached the buttons, this time watching new episodes of Black Mirror as I worked.  Then I added a panel to the back of the vest.

Historically, back lacing was used to give a custom fit to clothing.  However, I decided adding lacing would end up being more of a nuisance with the possibility of slipping laces and the requirement of an extra set of hands to adjust the fit.  Instead, I decided to add a back panel to the bottom portion, giving him an extra fit that could be adjusted just with the tie already present.

I ran into an obstacle in that I couldn’t find a matching lining fabric, so I went with something close that coordinated.  And then I turned to the sewist’s magic bag of tricks.  There is one universal truth: a fancy trim will turn any alteration born of necessity into a matter of design.  The result was something that was very pirate-y indeed.

 

Client Spotlight: A.C. – Pockets!

(You can read the first part of this spotlight here.)

The first obstacle I ran into with this commission came as I gave the pattern my first thorough read through. Like so many women’s fashions, there were no pockets provided.  This is a topic I feel passionately about.  Your typical wedding dress can possibly, maybe be excuses for not having pockets.  the assumption being that the wearer will have attendants to hold keys, wallet, makeup, what have you.  This outfit, however, is meant to be worn on other occasions, so pockets are necessary.

Fortunately, I’ve had experience the last few months with adding pockets to normally pocket free patterns.  Other than that alteration, the construction of the outfit for the fitting was straight forward.  The top is an unlined vest and the pants were much easier than I had anticipated.  The newly reorganized workshop helped immensely.

Having room to maneuver also made the fitting a more pleasant experience.

A.C. has a very slender build, meaning a need for some alteration to the bust to eliminate a gap at the armpit and taking in where the vest hits the hips a bit to reduce the flare.  The pants, however, could stay a little loose to accommodate the pockets.

Marking the hem was a little tricky as the fabric didn’t want to cooperate, but we got it figured out.  And that was that.  For a wedding outfit, this has been one of the easiest going projects I’ve done in a long while.

Next time I’ll have pictures of the finished outfit.