Book Research: 1949 Singer Sewing Manual

Advice from a 1949 Singer Sewing Manual
Text: Prepare yourself mentally for sewing. Thing about what you are going to do. . .never approach sewing with a sigh or lackadaisically. Good results are difficult when indifference predominates. Never try to sew with a sink full of dirty dishes or beds unmade. When there are urgent housekeeping chores, do these first so your mind is free to enjoy your sewing. . .When you sew, make yourself as attractive as possible. Put on a clean dress. Keep a little bag full of French chalk near your sewing machine to dust your fingers at intervals. Have your hair in order, powder and lipstick put on . . .[If] you are constantly fearful that a visitor will drop in or your husband will come home and you will not look neatly put together, you will not enjoy your sewing as you should.
Outdated, patriarchal claptrap aside I’ve always loved the above advice from the 1949 Singer Sewing Manual, not only because it is solid, but because it points out that sewing is serious business.  It also works, in many ways, as advice for ritual work.

When you are working a ritual, casting a spell, praying, collecting herbs, or what have you, there is a process of preparation, steps we follow to align their will with their goal.  We mentally prepare ourselves.  We gather our materials. We cleanse ourselves and consecrate our work space.  We make sure we won’t be interrupted.  Readying ourselves for magic and readying ourselves for sewing follow the same steps.

I mention this because I’m currently working on a book.  The subject matter is paganism and sewing.  I’ve got a good portion of it already written, and the goal is to finish it before the year is out.  The timing for November is just coincidence, this isn’t a NaNoWriMo project.

I’ll be posting bits and bobs of research over the next few weeks, along with more on sewing, cross stitch and whatever else strikes my fancy.  I hope you’ll find it as interesting as I do.

 

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.

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.

 

Baking with Dandelions

Dandelions are one of my favorite flowers.  They come up early, they bloom all spring and summer long and they don’t care where they grow.  They were brought over by European settlers for food and medicine and now people spend hours and tons of money to get rid of them.  They are flowers disguised as weeds, and anyone who knows me can probably understand why I like them so much.

Everyone gets dandelions from Ben.  Everyone.
Everyone gets dandelions from Ben. Everyone.

With two kids at home I am the recipient of daily dandelion bouquets.  Charlotte walks through the door every day with the ones she’s deemed prettiest and hands them to me.  Ben will come up to me with a hand behind his back and tell me that he has a surprise for me.  He’ll hand his dandelion over with a flourish and wait, expectantly, for me to gush over how it is the most beautiful one I’ve ever seen.  I do, and I mean it every time.  I can’t bring myself to throw these tokens of love out, so the house is littered with dried blooms.  Every so often I gather them up and into the fire they go, votive offerings of love to Hestia.

This spring, as I am working on learning more about the various flora in our yard, I thought I’d try my hand at some herbalism and baking.  So this morning I went out with two baskets and foraged the front and back lawns.  I’ll only take from my land because I know we don’t spray (much to the annoyance of the neighbors, I’m sure).  I thought Ben would love the activity, but he doesn’t like the dew on the grass.  He also forbid me from blowing on the white seed heads because then they wouldn’t e beautiful any more.

The fruits--or rather flowers--of my labor.
The fruits–or rather flowers–of my labor.

Even leaving the flowers on the parkway, by the property line and the driveway, as well as leaving plenty for the bees, I filled up the basked in about fifteen minutes.  The backyard yielded another basketful and you can hardly tell I was there.

Picking was a pain in the back, but the real work came once I was in the house.  I had to wash and then proccess the flowers.  Processing them involved snipping off the petals and discarding the leaves and buds.  That took the better part of an hour.  Most went into a jar to soak for dandelion wine.  One and a half cups of petals went into a batter for dandelion muffins.

Dandelion muffins!
Dandelion muffins!

The muffin recipe is actually for bread and comes from here.  I decided on muffins, because why not?  And they came out tasty.  The dandelions seemed to really only add to the aesthetics.  Or it might be that the honey hid any of the natural dandelion taste.  Either way, I think the muffins would work for use in pagan rituals, or maybe as an accompaniment to a tea and tarot party (since divination and dandelions are linked in magical herbals).

All in all, I call this my first success in backyard edibles.  I’ll have to wait six months to judge how the wine turns out.

Baking with dandelions, petals for the muffins.
I trimmed the petals with scissors. This was what went into the muffins.
Baking with dandelions, petals for wine.
And the rest of the petals went into water to soak for the wine.

Spiral Garden

A few months ago I got sucked into Pinterest, despite my long time resistance. I get annoyed by any platform that requires you to sign up for an account to view the content. But with Pinterest boards being the top results for searches, I finally broke down and signed up. I understand why it is such a popular site. Crowd powered research mixed with social media makes for a powerful and extensive source of information.

Which is where I learned about spiral gardens.  It started with this picture.  I was immediately taken with the idea of an herb garden that is vertical and circular.  Our backyard is all angles, which I have been trying to soften with curved beds and features.  I also wanted to relocate my turtle shrine from behind the arbor vitae in the back to somewhere more prominent.   With that in mind, we set out to work.

Keeping with the motto of “Use what you have.” we started with collecting rocks, stones and pavers from around the yard.  After thirteen years in this house, I had amassed quite a collection of yard masonry.  To that haul I added a clay pot that had cracked over the winter.  Half of the pot went to the spiral garden and the other, smaller half, was used to make a toad house.

Putting the spiral took about two days of laying stone and adding in soil.  The dirt came from two other raised beds we had dismantled.  Ben provided worms he scrounged from the overturned dirt.  I added bark and leaf debris to the space between the rocks and the wood fence, as well as inside the back of the pot, to provide a habitat for bugs and other garden fauna.

To keep our dog, Enya, from climbing into the spiral from the sides, I moved two other large pots to flank it.  They’ll be useful for mint or other plants that need to be contained.  The turtle went on top of the pot and we called the whole thing done.  I would like to propagate moss on the stones and the turtle, but that’s proven a bit difficult.  Enya, the dog who treated the compost heap like a salad bar, found the moss slurry (moss and buttermilk blended together) and licked most of it off the rocks I had spread it on.  I may have to put some fencing up to keep her out until it has gotten established.

Now all that is left is to plan what will go on the spiral while I wait for planting time.

Planting the Seeds

I don’t feel it is an exaggeration to write that the recent warm weather has been like a miracle to me.  Last year winter lasted long after it was welcome, and I was worried we’d spend another six weeks gripped by freezing cold.

After the disappointment of Fan Fest I have been struggling with a sense of futility.  Jerk Brain has been having a field day, telling me all the ways in which I suck and am a failure.  I’m having a hard time combating all the negativity.  It feels like my well of optimism has dried up.

So on Tuesday, when we went grocery shopping, I added two more items and two more stops to our list.  First we swung by the Home Depot and picked up a bag of soil.  Next we hit the Dollar Store and picked up a couple of bags of accent stones.  We hadn’t planned on starting seeds until next week.  But the warm weather signaled it was time to do something productive that would shut Jerk Brain up.

All winter long I have been collecting empty toilet paper rolls, plastic containers, egg cartons, plastic bags, and other items I could use in gardening.  I have quite a collection by now; it takes up several shelves in the workshop.  I laid newspaper down on the dining table and set to work.

Toilet Paper Starter Pot
Cut an empty toilet paper roll in half. Make four cuts, about halfway up from the bottom and fold over. Voila! You have yourself a biodegradable starter pot.

I made starter pots from the toilet paper rolls.  The instructions I first followed has you taping the bottom closed, but I found that folding the cut edges together works just as well and then you don’t have the added step of pulling the tape off when it comes time to plant.  In those I planted tomatoes, cucumbers, yellow squash, honeymoon melons, bell peppers, hot peppers, marigolds and zinnias.

The egg cartons help hold the starter pots upright.  I spaced them out after learning the hard way that mold can grow if they are touching.

I also started some lemon seeds (because of Pinterest) and ginger.  I repotted some houseplants and started cuttings of more.  I planted three pecans that I gathered from a neighborhood tree last fall.  I hope at least one will sprout so that we can plant it in the front yard.  Finally, I started two containers of trumpet vine from seed, again collected from a plant in the neighborhood.

Marigolds in Detergent Caps
Marigolds started in washed detergent caps. I poked drainage holes in the bottom.

All of the seedlings went into plastic bags to start them.  When it was all said and done, I didn’t make much of a dent in my collection, there’s still numerous cans, yogurt containers, egg cartons, toilet paper rolls and more.  I have to pick up more seeds, as well.  But it is a good start.

The whole effort took a couple of hours.  Hours where I didn’t worry about how we would get by.  Hours where my Jerk Brain didn’t give me grief.  If the weather can continue to warm, I can start some outdoor work next week.  I’ll keep moving, keep planning, keep working: using what we have, doing what we can.  Maybe I’ll find my optimism sprouting as well.

Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, etc.
After a couple of hours work, this is what I have finished.
Ginger and Houseplants
The started ginger, as well as houseplant cuttings.

The Making of Things

By bringing positive intention to the making of things and creating to soothe our own as well as others’ emotions, we can discover what it’s like to create for the greater good.  By making intentionally ugly things, we question conformity to media beauty standards, and we can see how difficult (and important) it is to create without pure aesthetics in mind.  Finally, by following our roots and connection to the DIY ethos, we see how our own work can unfold and allow us to find our best selves.

—Betsy Greer, Craftivism: The Art of Craft and Activism

Operation Overflow

There’s a mermaid who swims laps in the local rec center. I see her some mornings when Stephan and I sit in the hot tub. I’ve never felt the need to engage her in conversation, to ask her name, or compliment the green of her tail. I just appreciate her presence, the little boost of magic it gives to the rest of the day.

I feel the same way about our morning visits to the rec center’s gym. Or, more precisely, I feel that way after our visits.  Getting there is a struggle: the cold, the morning, the constant reminder of things to be done, they all work against me making the trip.  Stephan goes most days, taking Ben along so he can take advantage of the free childcare on site.  When I do make it, though, I am always happy that I did.

We have a week to go until Wizard World’s Fan Fest.  It’s our proof of concept convention: where we will peddle our wares to a larger audience than before.  We’re excited and nervous and scrambling to take care of the final details.  In all the hustle and the bustle it would be easy to loose sight of why we are doing this.  I’ve been there before, so wrapped up in getting to the convention that self-doubt gains a foothold when I’m not looking.  The next thing I know I’m heading to the event convinced I’m going to fail.  It’s a mindset that not only undermines my ability to sell, but it makes me miserable the entire time.

To combat those negative thoughts and feelings I’ve adopted a new strategy: Operation Overflow.  The idea is it fill our lives with so much joy and positivity there’s no room for negativity to flourish.  I have made an effort to concentrate on what is going right in our lives, to keep the house lit with candles and clean and good smelling, to feed us food that is good and warm.

It takes a concentrated effort to remain positive, while also working to get ready.  It’s an effort that has paid off so far.   The atmosphere in our home has been relaxed and happy.  We’re looking forward to the event, rather than dreading the looming deadline.  Even facing uncertainty as to whether this plan will work or not, our confidence has grown.

Over the next couple of days, should I lose that positive state of mind, I’ll head over to the rec center and watch the mermaid swim.