Saturday, April 24, 2021

Let’s start this again...

I love “aha” moments. I spent an afternoon at the kitchen table with a friend, sipping on an espresso, sharing life stories.  I was more interested in her back stories than recounting my own tales of wanna be hippie-dom, divorces, corporate life, etc. She is a lovely and brilliant African American woman whose life is nothing short of an amazing, gut-wrenching, and joyously rich collection of life experiences. We laughed, shook our heads, dropped the F-Bomb and discussed the commonalities that as women, we all share.

She wants to write a book. And though we have that in common, I have to admit that she has an entire span of human experiences from which to draw that I have never even imagined. It’s not a cultural thing, it’s not a political thing. It’s just about being a woman, being a mother or a sister; cultivating that compassion that we feel for struggle, while living in this upside down, media saturated, challenging thing we call LIFE...and surviving.

It made me think of why I started this blog years ago - I wanted to write. I read over some of my past blog posts and I was reminded how much I love humor and at the same time, I love sharing my passion for the beliefs that I hold dear. I’ve journaled over the years, but most of those scribbles were a little dark, intensely personal, and a precursor to Zoloft. I did not re-read them nor did I keep them, tearing out the pages and gifting them to Red Dog Shred. But even then, I wrote with conviction and good penmanship, choosing my words carefully, as if someone might actually read the entries. God forbid.

So here I am, fighting my computer, yet the desire to write is still within me. I'm not even a reader myself, so does it matter that no one else will read it either? Be honest, Laurel - of course you want to share it - that’s the whole idea. I’ve given up FaceBook in this CYOOL (Covid Year of Our Lord). I rarely “write” much on Instagram and have truly stopped obsessing about the whole Follower thing. I'm older now. (Queue laughing)

I just need/want/plan to write. Follow me or not. That’s it. Period. Hemmingway, but...

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

It's about a horse

Me, Alex, Doris and Karen

While I was on vacation this summer I spent several days at a beautiful ranch in Oklahoma. Besides having a great time with these lovely ladies, I rather fell in love with the idea of owning a horse.  Even though it was a pipe dream, I rather thought that even despite my life-long fear of horses I might be able to overcome some of that and at least I might learn how to "show" them. Fancy a Horsewoman. I laughed at myself at the time, but the ever so slight remains of my pipe dream must still linger...

Sometime last night...
"It's about a horse...I can't figure out how to work the whipping thingie...I take it out of its fancy foam lined case and it looks like a fly rod with an electric knife handle that releases the whipping thingie string... I can't find my horse in the vast barn and they point me to the quarter horse section and when I do, she's being mounted by a stallion...and I am frantically trying to figure out how I am ever going to learn how to "show" my horse in just a few hours...I've obviously given her too many chunks of raw potato because they are telling me she has a belly ache (she's on the ground)...I'm barefoot walking through the barn which has a nice squishy red mud floor, I'm not dressed properly...all the other ladies have perfectly coiffed hair, colorful cowgirl shirts and bright red lipstick and look like Patsy Cline...and it's late and almost showtime...and I see that my young horse doesn't have regular hooves, just weird abalone shaped feet with suction cups. I'm wondering if they require shoes.. Meanwhile, I have somehow tangled up my whipping thingie in a cleaning bag and my Horsewoman mentor is already adeptly casting her whipping thingie with great accuracy into a tiny square on the ground, and I notice that my whipping thingie must be defective as it doesn't have the giant hooks and shiny lures that her has...and I can't even get it untangled from the cleaning bag...all of a sudden I realize that I don't even know how to halter the horse and perhaps I'll  have to have someone else "show" her..."

I wake defeated...not a Horsewoman at all...and reality check: perhaps there's more to it that I thought and I am 71. 

Sisters and Horsewomen, for sure...Karen Torrice and Alex Strom, with Steve.

I guess I'll stick with chickens...

Laurel. Egg Fryer.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Sewing with Lipstick

I never considered myself to be "OCD" when I was growing up, and doubtless that I even knew what it meant. I didn't wash my hands a hundred times or lock the door repeatedly.  In fact I rarely cleaned my room, seeming to prefer wading through mountains of discarded clothes, scraps of paper that missed the wastebasket and shoes that were caked with country mud, rather than be tidy. I had a friend who's room was always immaculate...her mother cleaned it.

In fact, left alone to my own devices, I can still contemplate a pile of clean clothes precariously perched on top of my dresser for at least three days before finally putting them in the drawers below. I have acquired a modicum of neatness from my 34 year marriage to a man who likes everything in its place, so I tend to pick up after myself a little better than my natural proclivities toward slobdom would allow.

There are even areas in my life that have begun to border on obsessive behavior, if you want to use that term.  I rather feel compelled to sit in my nest (aka overstuffed easy chair) for at least an hour or so in the morning.  I need that "me" time to collect my thoughts, plan my day, journal and otherwise analyze what's going on in my life at the time (aka obsessing). I've also noticed that my frequent list-making has also taken a turn toward "if I don't write it down, I'll forget it" behavior.  I'm not sure if it's advancing age or just a desire to control everything around me - either way, it's kind of annoying, even to me.

I sew a lot. A lot. There is always a pile of unfinished projects waiting to be finished, fabrics to be paired with patterns and actual dressmaking to be done. Most of the time, my studio is in a state of disarray as I am sewing, but before I actually sit down to sew on any given day, there is an OCDness about my preparation. I can't just sit down and start up the machine, or mark a hem or cut out a pattern without first going through a litany of little things that have NOTHING to do with sewing.

1) There can be no dishes languishing in the sink. The counters need to be washed and clear.  This has nothing to do with sewing, unless I need to use my kitchen table for cutting out a pattern. Still, I can't concentrate on french seams knowing they are out there smelling up my kitchen.

2) The pillows on all the chairs and couches must be straightened and my nighttime furry throws must be folded neatly on the ottomans. This one is huge - I hate to walk into a room a see what appears to be the bed of my childhood in my living room... makes me twitchy.

3) I can't sew unless I first take a shower. That one sounds really lame, but there's something about a clean body and fresh clothes that makes me feel like I've already accomplished something...even though I haven't even started. Maybe it's because I'm a morning person anyway, and I would probably shower whether or not I sewed a stitch.

4) I must wear lipstick. Must. I know there's a whole "I'm who I am and I don't need to wear makeup just to please the world" thing going on these days, but I am not on that train.  Maybe it's my mother's voice in my head or walking by a mirror scaring myself ("who is that old lady in my house?"), but I need lipstick. Need it. I can listen to my sweet husband tell me how beautiful I am early in the morning, with my hair all nappy and yesterday's mascara smeared on my face, but I don't believe him until I put on my lipstick.

I went to one of those medical spas once, where they pump your face up with fillers to make your lips full and youthful.  I spent almost...well let's just say it's a very expensive process.  The results were lovely - youthful lips, smooth and ready for "Your Majesty" red lipstick.  It lasted for about a 6 weeks, then back to my normal self, feeling more wrinkled than ever, and poorer yet.  Let me say. it's not the answer when you're in your seventies...all you really need is a little "barn painting".

If I have my Bobbie Brown's on, I'm good.  I can think clearly and sew up a storm. Weird? Probably. OCD? Maybe. But the make-up artist herself said it best:

 "If I had to teach someone just one thing about lip color, it would be this: Find a lipstick that looks good on your face when you are wearing absolutely no makeup."

 And that's it in a nutshell.  I may add some blush, but the lipstick is really all I need.

Ready, set, sew!

Laurel. I am not OCD.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Five years, baby.

My poor little blog has suffered from neglect. Let's face it, keeping up with social media is work. Blogs require attention and by their very definition, posting is a non-negotiable. I wanted Laurel's Quill to be a place where I can write and share my life, but these days I think I'm too busy living it to sit down to document it.

And then I think who reads this stuff anyway?  I know I don't take the time to read blogs anymore, and I have read many that are definitely worth repeat visits. I?

I do spend a lot of effort posting on Instagram these days, and following my sewing community. IG is an easy and quick read, but even if you follow hundreds of cool sewists, friends and family, you can spend hours just catching up everyday. And somebody has to clean those toilets and make the bed, right?

I do write these days...I picked up journaling again, but most of the brain dumps that I do on paper are not really fodder for cyberspace (definitely TMI). Besides my IG posts, I also am a contributor to Fabriclady's blog, encompassing a 5-year collaboration that has fed my creative spirit - it details our sewing adventures and mutual love of all things fabric. Our collaboration is the best of both worlds for me - I write and sew for her and she keeps me involved in the fashion industry, which has also been a dream for me. I can live vicariously through her and her awesome store without really having any responsibility! LOL!

At any rate, I thought you might like to see what we do together - I co-wrote this latest blog about our monthly get-togethers in Berkeley. In Zan speak, she would say "How the Magic Happens!"

Laurel. Five Years, Baby!

Monday, January 15, 2018

We all need to get "Schooled" once in a while...

I hope that I'm never too old learn.  I'm 70, and even though I got my BA when I was 47, I still have daydreams about going back to school. God knows, it would be a challenge the way my brain is working these days. I've been sewing for 60 some years and you would think that I know just about all there is to know about sewing, designing and making wardrobes. You would be wrong.

Today I saw the cutest top on Instagram made by a gifted designer and I was immediately smitten.  It was made using a technique that many sewists have employed - patchwork. You take all your scraps and sew them together and make a unique design.  Over the years I've seen jackets, tops and dresses using this particular technique...always thought that my Ikat scraps would make a cool garment. And it's Sunday and I have nothing else better to do.

So in my haste to let inspiration run away with me, I asked if I might "copy" it - the designer (thinking that I was smarter than I am) said yes. And so off I ran. However, somewhere in the midst of posting a picture of what I intended to do, we both realized that my drawing looked very similar to the design I saw. I was never intending to copy the exact piece, but it was a little too close for comfort for both of us.

Dang. Lesson learned.  Read the IG background profile, Laurel.  If I had done this FIRST, I would have realized that the sewist was actually a designer and sold the garments under their own label...thus, I probably never would have even asked, or at least made it clear I had no intention to copy it exactly. The "yes" was a qualified yes - be inspired by all means but please don't actually copy. As sewists, we imitate other designs and ready-to-wear all the time.  We buy the same patterns, the same fabrics and try to make them uniquely "ours". A case in point, Chanel is very protective of their jacket stylings, but we all copy them, and call them "Little French Jackets".

It's a lot different for fledgling businesses, as I am well aware. The designer was very kind in the "schooling" process, but I felt horrible. (At least I DID ask, so I thought I was cool.) I used to make one-of-a-kind jewelry, and when Charming Charlie came to town, they were making "my stuff" as far as I was concerned, albeit cheaper, and my little cottage industry closed shop. They were not copying my designs, as they didn't know me from a hole in the ground, but I was pretty sure my customers would think I was copying them.

Hence, to complete my Sunday project, I was sent back to the drawing table post haste, confident that my garment would not resemble the designer's...just perhaps capture the spirit of the patchwork/piecing idea. I chose a pattern that I have used twice before - The Sointu Kimono Tee by Named Clothing.

Oh, and yes, sewists do pattern hacks all the time...I changed the neckline to a "boat neck".

 When I say "hack", I mean it.  I chopped my pattern into little squares and strips. 

I picked fabrics out of my scrap stash.  I even used a fabric that was already cut out in a skirt pattern.  The polka dots were never going to be cute as a skirt - what was I thinking?

So even after the pattern hacking, my design changed several times (more hacking my own design) 
as I switched around the fabrics.

By the time I finished, my sewing studio looked like a cyclone touched down.  Did I mention that I still love my new wood floors - perfect for cutting.

In the end, it was a great project for the holiday today.  I think it says me.  It actually reminds me of a dress that I made back in the 80's using this piecing technique.  I wish I had a photo of it, as I loved wearing it.

Put a turtleneck under this puppy and some leggings and call it a day.

Now all that remains is to clean up the mess.

Laurel. Considering myself Schooled.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Godfather's Lament...or mine?

Image result for godfather 3 quotes just when i thought i was out"Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in"... Of course Michael was talking about getting out of organized crime and finally operating only legitimate businesses, so though my 2018 lament is hardly comparable to killing and mayhem, I am regrettably and forever tied to social media.

Last year in a heroic effort to cut myself off from all the political mudslinging, the never-ending barrage of memes and the bazillion Tasty food posts, I drastically cut back my Facebook involvement, opting to only follow family members.  I rarely posted myself and I was marginally successful in curtailing my two dozen or so daily peaks into the app, limiting myself to one or two peaks a day.

But social media is an insidious parasite, feeding upon your starved ego and regularly clamoring for your attention.  So as much as I would love to say I'm "over it", I'd be lying. It seems that all I really did was substitute one habit (Facebook) for another (Instagram).  And it really doesn't matter how you try to rationalize that Instagram is "so much better" than FB, it still hooks you.

As I began evaluating my life (as one always pretends to do on January 1 of any year) I realized the things that I wanted to change and or continue doing are tied to social media.  Perhaps I am being to hard on myself (as is my custom) as we are in the tech age and it's not going away. I'll never be tweeting like the Donald, but Facebook and Instagram are powerful tools that I can use to further my personal goals.  It's not like my brain will atrophy if I'm on my "devices" a few hours a day...or that I won't pay attention to my hubby or forget to cook dinner or even bathe. Besides, there are some very positive things happening in my little corner of the cyberspace.

For instance, I am halfway through my fourth year of collaborating with Suzan Steinberg, owner of Stonemountain- this week I will be making our 200th garment.  Our hard work that we have invested in the Fabric Lady blog is really paying off - women are coming back to sewing their own clothes, all because we have made sewing a wardrobe popular. I'm always amazed that people recognize me in the store and talk about how we have inspired them to sew again. We rely on our social media connections to inspire, communicate and teach.


In January I joined an Instagram challenge sponsored by Sarah Gunn to refrain from buying any ready to wear clothing in 2018. Sounds like a tall order, since I love me some Nordstrom's.  But I am an impulse buyer anyway and granted, I do make most of my clothes, so I thought I'd give it a go. One whole year! There are over 1,000 women participating in this challenge and we can track each others successes within a private Facebook group. (I should mention that there are regular prizes and giveaways during the year and if I hadn't been on FB I would never have WON the first giveaway of the year!!! A $100 gift certificate to Mood Fabrics in New York City!!

Image result for mood fabrics

I feel like I'm cheating on Stonemountain, but I have always wanted to go to Mood, ever since I started watching Project Runway.  So for my gift card I will have to settle for online shopping.

I also track some five or six hundred women on Instagram.  It's sound excessive, but most of them are sewists and designers.  IG is a wonderful way to see what other people are working on and to see their completed projects.  Another plus is that they have a "live" element that you can just scroll through and not not have to "click" on anything. No hands peeping.

I also joined a group of sewists on Instagram who sponsored a "secret Santa" kind of thing in December, where we would make a particular pattern and send it to another sewist as a Christmas gift.  It was an international group, so I made this Linden Sweatshirt (that was the pattern we were all to use) by Grainline Studios and sent it off to the UK to Charlotte (aka the English Girl at Home)

And finally, I am reminded of how much I love to write, just by seeing my old blog posts pop up in my FB memories.  I should be writing more. Maybe even keeps my head straight, so to speak. I hope to revive this blog in 2018 (do I say that every January?) and try to capture some of that wit and humor that I used to have on my blog and not take myself so seriously. I'm 70 afterall, and we're supposed to do and say what we want. This isn't one of those witty posts, but at least it's a start.

I look forward to seeing more creativity, seeing more beauty in the world and hearing about your me-made garments, and of course sharing my own stuff.  So here's to a great Social media year - 2018!!!

Laurel. I'm back.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Celeste est fini...The Secret is in the Chain

The Chanel jacket is a commonplace garment worn by the well-heeled and best dressed, but only dreamt about by the likes of middle-America people like me. If we are blessed with a gift for dressmaking, then we can copy the styling of this iconic jacket with the help of pattern makers. My goal was to make a "Little French Jacket" using the couture techniques that make the big fashion houses famous, before I turned 70.

I started my jacket in March of last year and named her Celeste. Though I didn't spend a year actually working on it, it was a time consuming and challenging project. I can normally make a complex garment like jeans or a lace dress in roughly four to six hours, but couture sewing techniques take time and patience, and lots of hand sewing. I tracked my time, documenting the various stages just to see how close I would come to the 100+ hours it takes the designers to whip one up.

Start to finish, Celeste took roughly 70 hours. I think part of the reason my time is shorter is that I didn't count in any customer fittings and I did use my machine in some parts of the construction.  And, as much as I tried to make hand sewn buttonholes, they looked like crap, so I opted to make machine bound buttonholes instead.  That would have probably added another 10+ hours to the total, plus the cost of a bottle of bourbon.

I have already documented some of the couture stages of the jacket construction in previous posts, but I wanted to give you a picture of some of the many aspects of the making of Celeste...and her final debut. It's funny that I finished her in a record setting heat wave in California, so I'll not be wearing her any time soon. She will just have to hang on Colette in my new sewing studio.

I won't even make you wade though the construction details to wait for a picture - here she is, up front and center...
Celeste est fini...

And here below, for all the sewing junkies, are some of the construction details...I made plenty of mistakes during the process and "would do it differently next time", if I were ever going to make another jacket.  I will admit as much as I loved the hand sewing, I'll not be making another. Celeste is a one of a kind, once in a lifetime adventure, thank you.

Recall that the couture method starts with rectangles big enough to fit each pattern piece, the outlines of which are thread traced onto the rectangle.  You don't actually cut the seams until after you match up the thread tracings and sew the seams...very opposite to standard garment construction.

The silk lining pieces are basted to the woolen fabric along the "quilting lines"
The bound buttonholes which I chose to add were made with grey organza and reinforced. Wished I had used a darker organza,

Passable, but not Chanelish.
 The center front edges were also stabilized with organza "tape".

After the quilting on each piece was completed, the princess and side seams were sewn together, matching the thread tracings.  The lining was then hand sewn at all the seams

The hem was also stabilized with some special bias tape that JoAnn's doesn't carry,  and not wishing to drive to Stonemoutain  or Britex, I ordered it off the Internet. Pick stitches hold it in place.

All the trim is sewn on by hand

The three piece sleeves are sewn together using the conventional method.  (I must have laid awake for three nights trying to figure out how they would be constructed...until I went back to the book and saw that they are just a normal sleeve construction.  I cut a narrow strip of that fancy tape to stabilize the sleeves, then hand sewed the hemline and sleeve vent.  I did cheat on the vent - no buttonholes...another Chanel faux pas.

Adding the trims...

The lining is basted in and the quilting lines are added by machine.

I love the doing the "fell" stitch...all the lining pieces are sewn together and hemmed using this stitch. The trick is to keep them tiny.

Sleeve innards...

Finished sleeve...

I have put in so many set in sleeves in my life, they are not a problem for me.  And any time you are sewing with a rich woolen fabric they are that much easier, as the fabric has a lot of give. (Be sure to always use a basting line to ease the sleeve into the armhole.  I just pinned the sleeves in my normal fashion and sewed them with my machine.

The hardest part of this method is that the sleeve lining is all over the place and basically in your way. Once the sleeve is sewn in, the sleeve lining is then pinned to the bodice lining and hand sewn together.

The entire lining is hand sewn to the jacket fabric...and those dang buttonholes. Not very pretty.

One of the last steps is making the pockets. Originally I was only going to have two pockets, which is not very Chanel, but I ran out of one of the trims - the selvage edge of the fabric (the fabric was purchased three years ago at Stonemountain).  As it was, I had to open up the back seam and cut off that selvage to make enough trim for the sleeves and pockets.  But after sewing on the two lower pockets, I knew I needed to add the two upper pockets.  Otherwise it's just another boxy jacket. I had one piece of the selvage edge, but it was cut too narrow. Solution - I just cut down the width a fraction of an inch and was able to make trim for the two upper pockets.

The pockets are lined and hand sewn to the jacket.
 When all is said and done, it's not a Chanel-styled jacket unless it has a chain at the hemline.  The Chanel chain gives the jacket it's "weight", and makes it hang better on your body.  Plus the weight of the jacket is one of it's endearing features when you slip it on.  The silk lining caresses your body...I can understand why you see a lot of sleeveless blouses underneath one of these jackets.

Even though I have enough fabric to make slim skirt from the wool, I'm just not that into suits anymore...and I can't even imagine a time that I'd wear one.  My Celeste will look fabulous with a pair of leather pants or skinny jeans, some sling back pointy toed heels and a huge string of pearls. Fall can't come soon enough!!

Laurel. Check that off the Bucket List!

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