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.

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.

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.

Making it Work: Myself Amplified

Well, we survived 2017, a feat that I think deserves a round of applause, or a stiff drink.  While last year was especially tough because of a few things I’ll get into in a minute, it was also a year of good things for me personally, professionally and mentally.

On the professional front, 2017 saw my best income ever.  I grossed $10,000 from sales at conventions, commissions, work on e-book and book layout projects and the sale of my first book.  And while my net was a little less than half that, it still is better than I have ever done.  I really wasn’t doing anything different from what I’ve done in the past, so I think this is more a result of the other gains I made over the year.

Creatively, this was the most full-filling year I’ve ever had as well.  I took on lots of commissions that required me to learn new skills and level up in my sewing technique.  I felt confident in my abilities and really enjoyed the work and the challenges it presented.  And getting back into writing with Sew Craft was like coming home.  I have wanted to see my work published since I was a child.  So fulfilling that goal has given me a boost that no amount of money can match.

It hasn’t all been awesome commissions and writing about magickal properties of fabric, though.  Emotionally, this year was rough.  My depression and anxiety are being controlled, but are still present and not being helped by the monthly uncertainty of whether or not I’ll have health insurance.  Also not helping is the situation with the house, and the custody battle with my ex-husband it has triggered.  I have spent a ridiculous amount of time pulling together documentation, talking to lawyers, and sitting in courtrooms when I could be working.

With all of those external stressors, it would be easy to write 2017 off as a bad mental health year.  I have had one success, though.  I have, for the most part, killed off my Jerk Brain.  It hasn’t bothered me for months, and the couple of times it has reared its malicious head, I have vanquished it easily.  This bugaboo has plagued me my entire life (my first memory of it comes from kindergarten) and I had resigned myself to living with it my entire life.  So to say that getting ride of my Jerk Brain has helped my overall happiness is an understatement.

It’s been mostly the happenings in the larger world that have been awful and taxing.  I’ve tried to not let things like the recent passing of the tax plan, or the repeal of net neutrality get me down.  I keep thinking about places like Puerto Rico and Flint and the people there who are living with far more imminent dangers.  The events of 2017 have pushed me further left, to the point where I am no longer coy about my more “radical”* beliefs: Universal Basic Income, universal healthcare, federal legalization of marijuana, federally mandated equal pay and family leave.  I used to keep these beliefs to myself, and I understand now that doing so has contributed to where the country is now.**

Overall, what 2017 taught me was that I needed to embrace what makes me happy and act on it apologetically.  The world as it is will put pressure on me to give up on my happiness.  It will be unmovingly cruel, it will try to break me financially and emotionally.  But I owe it to my past self to stick to my happiness.

I’m not the same person I was a year ago.  I am myself amplified.  That is what I take with me into this new year.


*”Radical” to the conservative members of my friends and family who still believe in prosperity gospel and bootstraps and the like.

**Not that I am blaming myself, individually, for the current state of affairs, but there seems to be a large, silent majority willing to let bigoted family members go unchallenged, for example, just to avoid confrontation.

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.

 

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.

Sew Craft: Dream Pillows

In my backyard I have a bower on which morning glories entwine in the spring and summer. I have always loved the cheerful face the flowers give to the day, especially as I am not a morning person. I can see the blooms from my bedroom window and so, no matter how grouchy I might be when I drag myself from the warm embrace of my bed, I smile when I catch sight of the blue and purple flowers.

Morning glory seeds added to dream pillows keep nightmares at bay. Perhaps this is because they carry in them a promise of the morning to come, when the sunrise banishes the monsters of the night.

Make dream pillows to help with prophetic dreams, or to ease your mind to sleep. Make one for the child who wakes up from nightmares. She can reach for her sleep pillow, inhale the scent of lavender and lemon balm and fall back asleep, knowing her dreams will be sweetened by the scents.  To refine your spell craft, use linen—dreams and linen both share an association with water.  If you want inspiring dreams, use silk thread for the embroidery for its association with the air element.  If you need deep sleep, make use of cotton’s grounding earth vibrations.

Materials

Dream Pillow Materials
I used the lavender linen spray shown here when I pressed the fabric before starting. It’s not necessary, but it gives the fabric a nice fragrance.

Dream Pillow Design ( pdf | jpg )
Blue fabric about 12″ x 12″
Lightweight fusible interfacing
Embroidery thread in blue, purple and silver
Embroidery hoop and needle
9 morning glory seeds
1/4 cup dried lavender flowers

Process

1) Print out the Dream Pillow Design by clicking on the links here: pdf | jpg. Use the pdf link to print the image as is. The jpg link is provided for you to manipulate (enlarge, reduce, rotate, etc.).

2) Transfer the embroidery design onto the fabric.  You can use transfer paper, or trace the pattern right on the fabric.  I pinned the design to the fabric and taped it to the window to trace it.  I use the Pilot Frixion Clicker pens because the ink disappears from fabric when ironed.

Dream Pillow Transfer
This part will take a little patience.

3) Stitch the design with three strands of embroidery thread (1 blue, 1 purple, 1 silver). Use a stem, chain or split stitch. Use an embroidery hoop to keep the fabric taut.

Dream Pillows: Almost Finished
Halfway to the land of Nod.

4) When finished, apply fusible interfacing to the back of the design.

5) With the design centered, cut the fabric out in a 6” square. Cut a back piece of fabric also in a 6” square.

6) With right sides together, stitch a ½” seam along all sides of the square, leaving a 3” gap for turning. Back stitch at the start and finish of the seam.

7) Trim the corners and seam allowances.

8) Turn the pillow right side out. Press.

9) Stuff the pillow with the morning glory seeds and lavender. Do not over stuff.

Dream Pillows: Stuffing Time
You can also add mugwort to your dream pillow to help promote prophetic dreams.

10) Edge stitch ¼” around all sides of the pillow. Work slowly, shifting the lavender and morning glory seeds to the center to avoid catching them in the needle.

11) When you are finished, hold the pillow in both hands and charge it with restful sleep intentions. Say:

“Lavender sweet and glory of day
Please keep any nightmares at bay,
Should haunted thoughts disturb this guarded rest
Please help usher in a sleep that’s blessed.”¹

You can call upon one of the gods of sleep or dreams to bless the pillow as well.

Place the dream pillow under your own. Should negative thoughts rouse you to wakefulness, grip your dream pillow, inhale the lavender scent and allow it to lull you back to sleep.

Finished Dream Pillow
And your dream pillow is done. Sweet dreams.

¹ Many thanks to my partner, Stephan, for putting together a chant to replace my clumsy attempts at ritual rhyming.

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.