Reworking the Workshop

I am currently behind on several skirt commissions, an alteration of a previous commission, and several personal projects.  The reason? My workshop has become unworkable.  In order to cut out fabric I have to clear off my cutting table.  In order to clear off my cutting table I have to find space for stuff.  In order to find space for stuff I have to shift boxes and bins and bags to other spots.  Before I can even get started I’m already exhausted by the process.

If you look closely you can see the cutting table under all that stuff. It is supposed to allow me to cut out fabric without hurting my back, but in order to use it I had to often clear it off first.
If you look closely you can see the cutting table under all that stuff. It is supposed to allow me to cut out fabric without hurting my back, but in order to use it I had to often clear it off first.

My workshop was originally the garage.  A space that has never housed a car in all the time I’ve lived here.  For years it was where we stuffed everything that didn’t fit in the house, the yard tools, and a small horde of mice and voles.  It provided an easy way into the house via the automatic garage door.  But that broke a few years ago, leaving us with an extra, unheated room where stuff got put to be forgotten.

The back of the workshop. Again, if you look to the left of the picture you'll see the conference table that was supposed to serve as a workbench. Instead it just became a junk magnet. Way in the back you can see the file cabinet that holds my patterns. Getting into it was like launching a expedition into a jungle.
The back of the workshop. Again, if you look to the left of the picture you’ll see the conference table that was supposed to serve as a workbench. Instead it just became a junk magnet. Way in the back you can see the file cabinet that holds my patterns. Getting into it was like launching a expedition into a jungle.

When we moved my sewing stuff into the garage, we cleared out a little space for me to work in.  And for a couple of years it worked, kinda.  Patterns and tools got lost.  Fabric got forgotten in various darkened corners.  The rodent problem was brought under control through traps, and my arachnophobia was went through a downgrade as I had accept Arachne’s kin had taken up shop in the work space as well.

Back of the workshop, window facing out into the backyard. This was the official sewing space. Note that several of the shelves required me to use a step stool to reach when I needed items.
Back of the workshop, window facing out into the backyard. This was the official sewing space. Note that several of the shelves required me to use a step stool to reach when I needed items.

Coming back from SLCC, though, it became more apparent that the situation just wasn’t working.  I was getting frustrated and falling behind because I didn’t want to work in that dark, crowded space.  I found myself having to use the dining table more often.  Finally, I said “Enough!” and marked off a weekend to completely overhaul the workshop.

This wardrobe does not lead to Narnia. It is where I would store bolts (and bags and boxes) of fabric. I would come across fabric that I don't remember ever buying, proving the fabric was breeding. The company up top are remnants of childhood and LARP.
This wardrobe does not lead to Narnia. It is where I would store bolts (and bags and boxes) of fabric. I would come across fabric that I don’t remember ever buying, proving the fabric was breeding. The company up top are remnants of childhood and LARP.

I knew what I wanted: more open space to move around, less flat surfaces for me to stack piles of stuff on, thus adding to the clutter problem, and everything up off the floor.   The process took three days actually, spilling over into Monday, and inspired a reorganization of our bedroom as well.  I had decided to recruit the closet system for the workshop, which left us without a place to put our clothes.  This necessitated moving the wardrobe in the workshop into the bedroom.  Stephan has manhandled this piece of furniture four times in the eight years we’ve been together.  Without his help all of this would have taken a week longer.

Back of the workshop. Check out how open everything is. I still have my window view and can pull out the cutting table when I need it and roll it away so that it doesn't become a dumping ground.
Back of the workshop now. Check out how open everything is. I still have my window view and can pull out the cutting table when I need it and roll it away so that it doesn’t become a dumping ground.

The biggest change was treating the front of the garage as a wall.  With the automatic door not working anymore, there really isn’t a reason to keep it clear.  And by moving the shelves against it, that gives me more floor space in the middle of the room.  I also stored away the conference table.  Originally, it was supposed to act as a workbench, but all it ever did was serve as a place for me to stack things.

Front of the workshop after the work. The file cabinet is reachable. I hung a rug over the garage door to help combat drafts come winter. Everything is organized and accessible.
Front of the workshop after the work. The file cabinet is reachable. I hung a rug over the garage door to help combat drafts come winter. Everything is organized and accessible.

I’ve had the chance to work in the workshop for the past few days and I have to admit that it is awesome.  I can reach what I need without having to drag out a step stool.  The cutting table can be pulled out whenever I need it.  I’ve got all my current commissions and projects hung up where I can find them easily.  And I’m not moving bins or bags out of the way to get at what I need.

A bookshelf provides a home for books, cross stitch supplies, and my minions. The luggage feels especially comfortable.
A bookshelf provides a home for books, cross stitch supplies, and my minions. The luggage feels especially comfortable.

It wasn’t easy.  I spent several days very sore from the work.  But I am very pleased with the changes.  It feels like a real workshop now, rather than one shoved into the only space available.

GNH

It’s been a couple of days since we decided I wouldn’t be doing any more conventions for the time being, and I feel pretty okay about that decision.  As much as I enjoy conventions (in a Leslie Knope kind of way) I feel a certain amount of relief that I don’t have to scramble to find a way to pay for more booth fees since SLCC didn’t bring in money for that.

We made another decision that has been more difficult to reconcile, though.  That night while crying in my wine glass filled with cheap cab, I said, “I would give up all my creativity just to be financially stable.”  At the time I meant it.  Living in the US sucks if you are poor.  There’s the being food or housing insecure, but there’s also an added layer of judgement that comes along with being unable to pay your bills.  Thanks to our Puritan roots that equates wealth to worth, happiness is seen as only deserved by those who have an emergency fund, credit card balances paid off each month, and a retirement fund.  If you struggle from month to month, or live paycheck to paycheck, you are expected to be miserable.

I have struggled with more than societal expectations.  My ex made several times more than I did our entire relationship, a fact that became a problem after I had Charlotte.  I stayed home because it was decided that my $10 an hour would just get eaten up by childcare costs.  And once I lost that income, my worth to the relationship dwindled.  It didn’t matter that I was cleaning and cooking (things I did before I left my job).  The time that I spent raising our daughter didn’t count either.  Because there wasn’t a dollar amount attached to my efforts, I became a sort of indentured servant, paying for my keep with maid, cook and nanny services.  There’re reasons we divorced, and that’s one of them.

Coming back to the other night: all of the above was swirling around in my head when I admitted that I would trade the thing that made me happiest, the thing that made me who I am, for a respectable living.  I probably would have kept thinking that if Stephan hadn’t asked me if sewing made me happy.

“Yes,” I said, not really seeing what that had to do with anything.

Well then, what if we took the money factor out of things, he asked.  Not that I wouldn’t still sell my work on Etsy, or stop taking commissions.  Just … stop worrying about making a certain amount each month. What if, for the next few months, I focused on the happiness that sewing and writing brought, rather than the money?

It’s not an easy idea for me to wrap my head around.  I’ve been told all my life that I am lazy and irresponsible with money.  Just working without an expectation of making money seems to align with those ideas.  Jerk Brain, too, has chimed in with all sorts of guilt-inducing comments about how others don’t have the opportunity to take a sabbatical, and that the idea “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” is just a bunch of privileged, white woman talk.

I’m trying to get around those obstacles, though.  I’ve spent the last twenty years of my life trying to justify my right to life through my income.  Taking four months to sew, write, bake bread, clean house and be the woman I want to be isn’t too much to ask out of a lifetime of being a wage slave.

After all, Stephan is back to regular hours at work after summer hours saw him working three days a week instead of five.  We can make that work to cover the monthly bills and any cash I make can go towards chipping away at our debt.  What’s the worse that can happen?  We won’t get out of debt as quickly as I had wanted.  But since I didn’t have any more conventions planned for this year, and since they weren’t bringing in the big bucks like I had hoped, it’s not like I am risking anything big.

The hardest part is giving myself permission to focus on what makes me happy.  I’m not comfortable with that idea.  And the fact that I am uncomfortable makes me sad.  I have to let go of the idea that I can’t really enjoy what I am doing until I am successful at it.  I’m not sure I will ever be okay with the emphasis of gross national happiness over gross domestic product.  For the next four months, though, I’m going to look at that discomfort through a lens of challenging my societal upbringing, and assure myself that at the very worst I can go back to measuring my worth by my bank account come January 1.

Geeky Skirts with Pockets

Sometimes you get an idea that is so obvious you wonder why you didn’t think of it before.  They’re the kind of ideas that when you tell people they say, “Holy shit, yeah! That’s a great idea!” I don’t think these moments of inspiration really pop up out of the blue.  They might seem that way because the inspirational components are so buried in the background they’re forgotten.

I don’t want to overlook the inspirations for these skirts, so I am going to first give a shout out to the three fairy godmothers of this project.

Justine, a real life mermaid, sparked the idea by asking me about making her some skirts.  Nothing fancy, no bustles or flounces, just some comfy circle skirts.

Shortly afterwards Moira, an artist of Victorian morbidity, mentioned seeing skirts with pockets at an event where she was vending.  They weren’t fandom or SF/Fantasy specific, just simple A-line skirts with pockets.  Women were buying them up in armfuls.

Finally comes Jennifer, a savvy lady who has run vending halls for various events.  While I was at Anime Midwest a couple of weeks ago, I lamented to her about how there was all this awesome, licensed fabric that I wanted to use but I couldn’t because of the fine print on the selvages.  I felt it was unethical to make projects to sell from licensed fabric when the companies wouldn’t get compensation.  And it always bothered me that it seemed so many others didn’t have those same qualms.

“You can use that fabric for projects you sell,” she told me.  After some research I realized that she was right.  The fine print on the selvages was unenforceable by the companies.  But more importantly, the companies got their licensing fees in the first sale of the fabric.  After that First Sale of Doctrine kicks in.  Never have I been so happy to be so wrong.

So skirts + pockets + licensed fabric = geeky clothes for Salt Lake Comic Con.  If it hadn’t been for these three friends I wouldn’t have spent the last four weeks experimenting until I came up with this:

Geeky Skirt with Pockets Star Trek Sigils Edition

I started off with dirndl skirts (rectangles gathered to a wide waistband).  But those really only look good on kids and teens.  I played around with a simple A-line panel pattern which came out looking much more grown up.

I have drafted six sizes from small to 3XL (fitting waists from 22″-59″).  Each one features two interior side pockets and a wide elastic waistband.  I’m spending the next few weeks making up as many as I can for SLCC.  I’ve got an album of what I’ve made so far and the fabrics used over at the Idiorhythmic Designs FB page.  Check it out.

When I’m back from SLCC, I’ll put together a tutorial on how to make one to your own measurements and post it here.

2015: The Year of Slightly Less Poverty

So 2015 was supposed to be the year I returned to sewing and started living a more creative life.

How did that work out?

More or less okay.  I overestimated how well I was, thinking that my mental health was fine now that I was on medication. That wasn’t really the case, though.  I spent most of 2015 battling my anxiety, at times unable to leave the house.  Since I was working from home, that wasn’t a deal breaker.  But it made getting supplies, sending off packages and the like more difficult.  Not impossible, but requiring a greater amount of scheduling and having things go right.

The depression was a bigger problem to contend with.  It would sap me of motivation and energy.  Coupled with the insomnia, I had to fight for every productive moment for the first half of the year.  It has only been in the last two months that I have found myself more often stable than not.

On the financial front, things fared about the same.  My grand plans for a limited number of large conventions hit speed bumps.  Two of them costing me money.  Those pretty much knocked the wind out of me economically speaking.  It’s only been in the last month that I have caught up on my bills.

But you aren’t here for value updates on how the year went.  You want the nitty gritty.  Just how much money did I make on this quest to earn a living by my creative endeavors?

When it is all said and done I made a gross income of $3,858.86.  My expenses equaled $3,976.53.  So my year ended in the red by about $120.  Up until I paid for my Anime Midwest booth I was in the black for six months of the year, though.  Not great, but not catastrophic.

How did I make my money?

Commissions $1,185.00
Etsy Sales $759.21
Direct Sales* $1,475.50
Other** $407.46

With that $120 in the hole sitting there, the question some might ask is: Why are you going to keep this up in 2016?  I’m asking a different question: Having made almost $1,500 in convention and direct sales with two awful events as part of the mix, how much more could I earn vending at two larger, more established events this year.


* The include sales at conventions as well as sales to people who contacted me directly rather than through Etsy.

** Stuff sold on E-bay, E-book formatting work, etc.

A More Pinteresting Life: Shoulder Wrap

Ben has been in preschool for a month now and I’ve been making good use of my couple of hours of alone time every other day.*  That mostly means working on commissions, but I have started going through all those sewing projects I pinned and giving some a try.  Some have turned out awesome.  Some have been … less so.  I’m going to document my hits and misses here, starting with a hit.

I have an ungodly amount of fabric sitting in cupboards, on shelves and stuffed into grocery bags.  Some is destined for projects.  Some are scraps from projects.  And some are pieces that I am not quite sure where they came from or what they were meant for.  (I suspect these pieces were born from clandestine trysts engaged by bolts of fabric in dark corners of the workshop.)  I tend to look upon these random pieces of fabric as just waiting for the right project to come along.

Which brings me to the several lengths of purple velvet corduroy I had sitting in a bin.  Like some creature from a Piers Anthony novel, it is a chimerical creature combining the textures of velvet and corduroy into a confused tactile amalgam.  I’ve made a couple of dice bags from it, but otherwise just left it in the bin.  Then, late one night, I pinned a tutorial for an oblong oval wrap.  It looked simple enough, I liked the button-hole loop to keep it closed (no fussing with stuff draped over your arms) and I have a lovely brocade that might work for it.

When I headed into the workshop to try my hand at the tutorial, I decided to start first with a mockup.  I’ve already had a couple of Pinterest fails and I didn’t want to ruin a length of fabric on something that I was translating (both from Portuguese to English and from centimeters to inches).  So, out came the chimera fabric.  It was the right weight and it was already cut into strips close to the right size.

First thing was to draft the pattern.  The directions on the webpage are laid out pretty clearly.  I converted the measurements to an oblong 62″ in length and 12″ in width.  I cut out a piece of pattern paper the right length and width and then set about working on the curve at the end.

This is where I screwed things up.  I had converted everything from centimeters to inches (rounding down and up haphazardly because I like to live life on the edge, and I prefer even numbers in my sewing).  What I forgot to convert was the 5 centimeters for the curve.  Instead I marked the corner of my pattern paper 5 inches down and across.  Then I used a plate to draw the curve.  I folded the pattern in half length-wise and cut out the curve to complete one end of the pattern.  Then I folded it in half width-wise to cut out the curve on the other end.**

So, just to make things more confusing I then marked the button-hole opening converting the 6 centimeters noted on the tutorial to 2 ½”.  (Seriously, it shouldn’t be a wonder that I have Pinterest fails.)  Below are pictures that might make my ramblings above make more sense.

Now I had a pattern, I cut out my fabric and sewed them together.  Clip the curves, turn it inside out and press and then top-stitch around all the edges and I was done.  Even though I had completely fudged up the curved edges it looked pretty good.

Now came the tricky part: the button-hole.  I have a button-hole foot for Kenny, but the longest it goes is 1 ¼” inch.  Undeterred by not having the proper equipment, I forged on.  I used the zigzag foot and button-hole setting and it worked, pretty well, actually!  All that was left was to open the button-hole and try this purple-y, velvety monstrosity on.

This is where reality and Pinterest collide.  Go back and check out the model in the pin.  She’s got some very narrow shoulders going on.  I … do not.  Once I pulled the free end through the closure, it looked like I was wearing a handkerchief.  I ended up putting it on Mildred just so I could get some decent pictures.  Mildred’s shoulder measurement is 39″ and the wrap looks almost like the one in the picture.  My shoulder measurements are a good ten inches larger than Mildred’s and I’ve got some serious boobage going on.  This doesn’t equate to a fail in my mind, just something to take into consideration when redrafting the pattern for me.

Finished wrap

Finished wrap
Like a majestic purple unicorn!

All in all, though, I count this as a success.  The finished project looks very much like the picture, in shape if not in hue.  I’m confident I can tweak this pattern a bit more so it fits better.  And the pattern is pretty forgiving, able to deal with conversion screw-ups and still look good.  This, along with a matching bag, will look good over a corset/skirt combo, I think.


*The first week I enjoyed being able to go to the bathroom without an audience.  It. Was. Glorious!

**You could just cut out one end, cut the length half of what you need and cut the fabric on the fold and save some paper.

 

Good Things

Over the last week or so I’ve been struggling to find the positive in life. News of people being killed, lions being poached, politicians being politicians and my country’s insistence on not addressing any of its problems has worn me down. Today I found out I’m not the only one. A friend on Facebook mentioned he was having a hard time finding positive things to share. He asked others to post something positive and the first few comments were of people searching and failing to find good things.*

I am making an effort here to list the good that has happened recently. This is mostly an exercise for myself. Perhaps it will give someone else a well-needed smile or boost.

  1. Since Enya passed, Trixie hasn’t been eating regularly.  Before she would have to eat everything in her bowl on a schedule because a) Enya insisted on staying on schedule and b) Enya would finish her food and then go after Trixie’s if there was any still in the bowl.  Now that she is an only dog, she seems to have taken to eating only when she feels like it.  I can’t leave her bowl out with food because that is, indeed, how you get ants.  The last couple of days I’ve taken to putting a bit of peanut butter in with her dog food and joint supplement, and that’s just the motivation she needs to eat as soon as the bowl hits the floor and finish everything.
  2. As silly as it sounds, the new IKEA catalog is out and that makes me happy.
  3. While our gardening exploits haven’t been as fully realized as we had planned we have still managed to harvest a modest amount of greens and herbs.
  4. Stephan loves his work and his work loves him.
  5. I went to the library on Sunday and spent almost three hours writing with minimal anxiety.  This Sunday I am going to try it again.
  6. One of my dice bags was featured in a treasury on Etsy.
  7. Speaking of bags, I got my first order of Spoonflower fabric last week and made bags from it.
  8. I am going to the gym again.
  9. This .gif:

WTF Baby Jesus .gif

In the grand scheme of things a catalog or workout or dog isn’t much.  They won’t make the world a better place overnight.  What they will do, is shore up my ability to deal with the anger and sadness and frustration I experience every time I read the news.  They’re what keeps me from flipping the world the bird and hiding in a bottle of Scotch until the rising sea levels drown us all.  It is an element of self-care and it is important.

Tonight I am having a glass of wine and flipping through the catalog.  Tomorrow I will wake up to more atrocities and fights and causes, some of which I will be able to feel like I can do something about.

I hope those of you reading this can find more good to offset the bad.  It’s a rough world out there.  Take care of yourselves and each other.

 


*Eventually his post was overflowing with good things, including a link to this Tumblr.

Eighteen Panel Skirt

Stylish Skirts by Sato Watanabe
Stylish Skirts by Sato Watanabe. Look at the prettiness!

I was walking through my local Jo-Ann Fabric store a couple of months ago when was seized with a fiery passion of the sort that overcomes a baron for the new stable boy.   Usually it’s a piece of embroidered linen that stirs my creative lust.  This time it was a skirt.  More specifically, the panel skirt show on the cover of Stylish Skirts: 23 Simple Designs to Flatter Every Figure.

Just look at it over there, all stripy and swishy, with french seams!  Now, that skirt is swoon-worthy on its own, but my mind was going off into another direction.  I had, buried in my stash of fabric, several yards of soft, knit fabric in three colors: grey, heathery-purple, and a smokey-blue.  They had been sitting in a cardboard file box for years, waiting for the time when I would get around to making them into something awesome.  Well, their time had come.

It has been years since I’ve made any clothing for myself.  Which is funny as I originally got into sewing for just that reason.  So, it was with a lot of giddiness, trepidation, and wine, that I set out this past weekend to make myself a new skirt.  The skirt started off very close to the original pattern, which is where I ran into the first obstacle.  Stylish Skirts is translated from Japanese, and there are some glitches in the transition. Fortunately there’s the internet, and I wasn’t the first person to run into problems.

Creating the pattern took about half an hour once I figured out the issue.  I didn’t take into account any changes to the pattern with regards to using a knit fabric.  I drafted it to my waist and hip measurements, and drew it much longer than the book calls for.  I like long skirts.  I don’t care if they’re not supposed to look good on short girls.

Skirt Panel Pieces
Skirt panel pieces, assemble!

The actual cutting out of the pieces took an hour or so, due to the fact that I wasn’t working with intact yardage.  At some point in the past I had cut out two one-piece tunic style dresses for Charlotte out of the blue and purple fabrics.  As such I had to take some extra care to get it all cut out.  Even so, I ended up with only four panels of the blue, six of the purple and then ten of the grey.  The original pattern calls for six of each, but I wasn’t going to let a little thing like that stop me.

Sewing the skirt together took a couple of hours.  The original pattern calls for a zipper closure, but because I was using knits my plan was for an elasticized waistband.  Remember how I drafted the pattern as suggested by the book?  That didn’t take into account the need for the waist to fit over my hips with an elastic waist.  So when I sewed the panels together I dropped the seam allowance down to 3/8″ of an inch, which gave me the necessary room.

I gave the hem a rolled edge because I was tired of sewing by then, and also I didn’t want to sacrifice any of the length.  (Did I mention I like long skirts?)  The resulting skirt is soft and swishy.  I have to kick the hem out of the way when I walk, or pull it up—a bonus in my book.  I have been twirling around the house in it for a few days making little noises of happiness and satisfaction.

Skirt Selfie!
And here is the finished skirt! Super soft and comfy and requires me to kick my feet out when walking.
Lounging in my Skirt
Lounging in my comfy skirt.

I’ve already settled on the next skirt I’ll be making from the book. I’ll post pictures and a write up when that happens.  In the meantime, please enjoy the playlist I put together for the skirt:

  1. Not an Addict – K’s Choice
  2. Got You Where I Want You – The Flys
  3. Creep – Radiohead
  4. Linger – The Cranberries
  5. Iris – Goo Goo Dolls
  6. Soul to Squeeze – Red Hot Chili Peppers
  7. Who Will Save Your Soul – Jewel
  8. Building a Mystery – Sarah McLachlan
  9. Celebrity Skin – Hole
  10. Santa Monica – Everclear
  11. I Don’t Need a Hero – Concrete Blonde
  12. Happy Phantom – Tori Amos

 

Making it Work: The First Obstacle

Our plan is pretty solid: I sew like a despondent Disney princess.  Then, instead of hitting multiple small conventions throughout the year (as I did before) I only vend at one or two large conventions.  In theory this gives me time to make plenty of stock, and will let us walk out of a convention with a fat stack of cash.  There’s plenty of risk with this plan, though.  It means that our cash flow is severely low for months.  As we are living hand-to-mouth as it is, we don’t have any room for the unexpected.

Which, of course means the unexpected happened last week.  I was working in the workshop when my cutting table collapsed.  It was a slow motion sort of disintegration, like a building that had been dynamited.  I stood next to it torn between laughter and annoyance. Continue reading Making it Work: The First Obstacle