When my editor asked me if I had any ideas or suggestions for the cover art for my book, all I wanted was to make sure my name was spelled right. It’s not that I’m indifferent, but the publisher has a lot more experience about what kind of covers sell what kind of books. I trusted them to come up with the best cover for the book. And boy did they deliver. Just look at this lovely cover:
The book was originally called Sew Craft: a Sewist’s Book of Shadows, but the publisher changed it to Sew Witchy: Tools, Techniques and Projects for Sewing Magick. And again, I’m cool with the change because if anyone knows what it takes to sell a witchcraft sewing book it would be Llewellyn.
I am ridiculously excited to hold the final book in my hands. It has been a wild ride from the first query to this point. I’m sure there’s going to be more to announce over the coming months until it is released. And before the year is out I get to say that I’ve got a book published.
I’m working on a novel right now, and Hestia has inspired an idea for another pagan witchcraft book. I’ll have enough to keep me busy in the next few months while I wait for the release of Sew Witchy. It’s going to be an amazing year, is what I’m saying.
Despite having access to an experienced in house seamstress (me), my children have rarely asked me to make them costumes. For three years straight, when she was five to seven years old, my daughter Charlotte was a cat for Halloween. It was a costume that required only a black leotard, cat ears headband and some face paint. Up until last year, my son Ben wanted to be various Star Wars characters, using store bought costumes.
Still, I have made some costume pieces for my children. For my daughter it was a dress to wear to the Bristol Renaissance Faire. We don’t go to the Faire often, averaging about every other year, so we like to make the most of it. When Charlotte was eleven she decided she wanted to dress up for our visit.
I showed Charlotte a dress idea I had pinned on Pinterest. It’s a reconstruction of the dress worn by Kiera Knightly in the movie King Arthur. She approved the design and we headed out to the fabric store. I guided her to the kinds of fabric that would work and she picked out the color. We chose an olive green cotton drill. It was heavier than what was used in the pattern and movie costume, but I wanted something solid and a bit more hard-wearing.
The making of the dress was ridiculously easy. While drapey tunics use a lot of fabric, I love them for the ease of construction and customization. The belt was made from ribbon I had on hand, with a snap fastener as a closure. That day at the faire she had a great time swanning around, shooting arrows and eating turkey legs. She’s outgrown the dress now and I have it packed up. Perhaps one day there will be another child eager to use it for dress up.
Ben’s costume story is more recent. Last year he decided a week before Halloween that he wanted to be Purple Link. On such a short deadline I ended up buying parts of the costume and sewing the rest.
The leggings and shirt came from the girl’s section at Target. I used a Simplicity “Indian” costume pattern that I had inherited for the tunic. Both tunic and hat were made from purple broadcloth I bought. The belt was made of brown cotton drill from my stash as well as yellow and brown felt I had on hand. I used hot glue to tack the Velcro fastener for a closure. The hat was made from a self-drafted pattern. The whole costume took a couple of days.
He was pleased with his costume, even if his classmates didn’t know who he was supposed to be. And Ben has kept the shirt in his regular clothes rotation, always a plus. The various costume pieces have been worn since during play and pretend time.
I am certain these won’t be the last costumes I sew for my kids. We have plans to join a boffer LARP that runs in Colorado once the move is finalized. That will require costuming for them. And there are still plenty of Halloweens to be had. I do hope I’ll have a bit more time for sewing the next time, though.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You all may recall that I’ve mentioned before I don’t take on wedding dress commissions. It’s not out of a dislike of weddings (I’ve had two of my own: one with the white dress and all the trimmings and one with just me, my love and my daughter at the justice of the peace). I merely find that there are others who specialize in nuptial-wear and so really no need for my skills.
And yet, I have found myself once again working on a wedding outfit commission, and like the last one, it is not your familiar white satin and lace affair.
Before we get to that commission, however, I have a long awaited (well at least for me) update on the wedding tux I made for A.C. last December. As a refresher, A.C. is non-binary, and wanted an outfit for their wedding that was a) fitting to their tastes and style b) included some traditional wedding motifs and c) could be worn to other occasions. I made them a white satin vest suit with lavender lapels. Well, A.C. just sent me photos of the ceremony featuring their suit and I must say they look absolutely fantastic. Behold the glory of wearing whatever the frak you want to your wedding:
I’m am thrilled with how the tux turned out and it made my day to get to see the pictures of the happy day.
Now, let’s turn to the next commission, another wedding outfit, for one of my dearest friends.
I’ve known Moira going on eight years. I met her at the second convention I ever vended at. She helped spread the word when I ran a fire sale on custom corsets to raise money to keep my house. We’ve vended together at various events, we bounce ideas off of each other, and we are supportive of each others’ goals as artists, crafters and women. So when Moira told me that she was getting married to her long-time partner (another wonderful person I am lucky to call my friend), and asked me if I was interested in making her wedding dress I said yes before she had even told me what she wanted.
This weekend Moira came over and we hashed out some of the details. Before I get into a break down of what I’ll be making for her, I want to make a slight detour and mention that this is the first time I’ve had a client over since we adopted our cats*. I learned quickly that cats will: lay down on open patterns you are trying to discuss, attack dangling tape measures when you are taking measurements, and monopolize the attention of your client if they give any indication of liking cats.
On to the dress: Moira brought in several patterns she had picked up for us to discuss. We narrowed it down to the one she and her groom liked best: McCall’s 7086.
As with A.C., Moira wants a dress that she could wear after the ceremony to other functions. I love the idea of practical wedding wear. (My dress from my first marriage is sitting in a box in my parents’ home.) I took measurements, set up two future appointments for a tissue fitting and a second fitting afterwards.
Then we discussed fabric. This was honestly the best part of the whole meeting because when Moira asked if I had any advice on patterns. “Maybe not stripes or plaids because they would be a nightmare to match with this pattern.” Anything else? Fair game. As long as she found a print she loved, I’d work with it. My reasoning is that one should wear what makes one feel fabulous. If that’s big prints? Awesome! And if anyone makes any noises about how the print resembles furniture, then you sit your fabulous self on that person and smother them because you don’t need that kind of negativity in your life.
At this point you might be wondering, “Are you going to add pockets to this dress?” And that’s how I know you are new to this blog. Of course I will be adding pockets to this dress. I personally view any pattern that omits pockets to be a design flaw that should have seen the pattern sent back for redrafting. But fashion rarely makes sense, which is why I and other sewists are here to make up for the mistakes of others.
I’ll update as work on this dress progresses. I also have a few other commissions that are in various stages of completion which I’ll post on in the coming months. In the meantime, I’ve got some pockets to insert.
*I realize I didn’t mention this before, but in January I had to put down Trixie. While I am not ready for another dog, the house was feeling empty without a furry presence, and so at the end of April we adopted two cats: Barley and Jake. We got them from the Humane Haven in Bolingbrook and the house has felt in balance once again.