I Don’t Do Woo-Woo

My first stop in my effort to improve my posture was to seek medical advice. At least, I thought I was seeking medical advice. I really ended up seeking a practitioner of woo-woo.

I am talking about chiropractors.

“Woo-woo” is a snarky way to describe everything phony-baloney, magical thinking, pseudoscience, nutsy, mystical and downright bogus. I put chiropractors into that category. They are not doctors, and their practice has little to no medically proven benefit.

Yet, there are lots of chiropractors out there, and lots of people who “swear by” them. Swear all you want. That’s what happens when people are desperately in pain.

Anyway, the woman I saw was offering a posture clinic at my gym as part of a women’s health fair, so I thought I’d check it out. She didn’t bill herself as a chiropractor, which seems deceitful to me. She started by asking me a few questions about my age, health, exercise and eating habits. I showed her my uneven shoulders and my growing dowager’s hump. Then she poked around my back for a bit while I sat in one of those chairs where you plant your face into something that looks like a squishy toilet seat.

She filled out this assessment form for me:

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Woo woo !

It may be a little hard to read this, but basically it claims that all the health problems of humanity have their causes and cures in your back.

For example, let’s say you suffer from headaches, low energy, sneezing, nightmares and burning feet. This dog’s breakfast of symptoms is connected to your liver, don’t you know, and the cure is a chiropractic treatment of your 8th thoracic vertebra.

That was her diagnosis of me, along with problems with my 2nd thoracic and 5th lumbar vertebrae.

I can see how someone can get sucked into this. I mean, I get headaches from time to time. I struggle to maintain my weight. I have occasional aches and pains. It would be nice if the cure was a simple chiropractic adjustment, instead of dieting and exercising, avoiding headache triggers and otherwise succumbing to almost 50 years on this planet.

Some other health issues supposedly cured by chiropractors seem downright dangerous. If you’re craving sweets, feel tired after eating and get headaches if you get too hungry, your problem might be diabetes, not your 6th thoracic vertebra.

I asked the chiropractor if she could cite any peer-reviewed studies that proved these ideas. “No,” she said, “but I can tell you that my patients all feel better.”

In the first place, I don’t have any pain – it’s really more of an attempt to correct bad posture and its other effects that I’m after.

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Shoulder issues – the shirt is on grain. I am off grain.

If you are in pain, and if you believe the chiropractor can help you, then maybe it will. The brain plays a big role in the power to heal. Plus, maybe it just feels good to have someone touching you and showing you sympathy for your pain.

I don’t believe, so forget it. I probably insulted her when I told her that, but I don’t care. Hey, if you believe in what you’re doing, put some data behind it. Is that so hard?

I have my annual check-up in a few weeks with my real doctor, and I’ll ask her for a referral.

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I Feel Bad About My Shoulders

Stand up straight! Don’t slouch!

Did you hear that a lot as a kid? I did. I didn’t obey, and today I am sorry for it. My back and shoulder issues are worsening with age.

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Shoulder issues – the shirt is on grain. I am off grain.

I don’t wear a lot of striped or plaid tops for this reason. This shirt does a great job of showing the problem – my right shoulder is lower and forward of my left shoulder, and I have a bit of a hunchback developing on my left side.

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side view

Because the top of my body slumps this way, the bottom of my body hyperextends the other way to compensate. You can really see it on this pants muslin. Those drag lines from the front thigh around to the back calf tell the tale:

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Doomed from every angle!

Here’s what these back and shoulder issues look like from the front – note the two shoulder heights, plus drag lines on the right at the armpit, pointing to other fitting problems.

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Three issues conspired in my childhood to create this problem:

  1. I was very tall for my age – about 5’4″ in 6th grade – and I was very ungainly and self-conscious. I slouched and slumped to try to make myself look smaller.
  2. I had a mild scoliosis. I should have worn a back brace, but I didn’t get one. I don’t really know why my parents ignored this. My mother once said she was afraid kids would pick on me. Anyway, we had no money.
  3. I wore a backpack to school slung over only my left shoulder, which probably partly explains why it developed the way it did.

My inability to stand up straight ruined my wedding pictures:

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Bride of 1999

And it’s starting to cause me some pain. Things will only get worse if I don’t work on it.

My winter self-improvement plan involves working on my posture. I am going to try a few things:

  • Medical assessment of my posture – how bad it is and what I can expect if I don’t address it
  • Exercises to fix it, or at least to stop it from getting worse
  • Gadgets and garments that might help
  • Sewing and alterations to minimize the cosmetic problem

I am curious if any readers have struggled with this and have tips or experiences that I might find valuable. Please drop me a line if you do.

Feeling My Way Around a Blind Hem

Every time I set out to do a blind hem by machine, it takes me half an hour of thumbing through the manual, folding and refolding the hem, marking, pinning, swearing, and at least one test run on some scrap fabric to figure out what the heck I need to do. My machine does a nice blind hem, so it’s well worth documenting the steps. If you also have this struggle, read on…

The blind hem is a duet of a special presser foot and a special stitch.

My machine’s blind hem foot includes a guide bar that you butt up against the hem. The bar wraps straight around the bottom of the foot, except for a little jog where the needle goes when it’s doing the “blind” part of the stitch. I believe that such presser feet are standard on most machines, but if you don’t have one, they are well worth seeking out.

Obvs, you need to use the blind hem stitch in conjunction. It’s a sequence of a few short straight stitches all the way to the right, followed by one long wide zigzag to the left, followed by more short straight stitches.

When you sew a blind hem, the short straight stitches sink into the raw edge of the fabric at the hem of your pants or skirt, and the zigzag takes a tiny bite into an anchor point along your pants leg. This stitch is “blind” because most of the stitches go into the raw hem edge, and the zigzag anchor point is so tiny you can’t see it from the right side. While this seems like a fragile, fussy stitch, it’s actually very secure. Even if a zigzag stitch breaks when you’re wearing the garment, the hem won’t fall because all those small straight stitches are backing the zigzag up. I usually want this for any dressy clothes where a topstitched hem would look too casual.

Where I get confused is when it comes to marking and folding the hem correctly for the blind hem to work its magic. Start by finishing the raw edge of the hem (I just zipped it through my serger) and mark the wrong side of the fabric where you want the finished hem to anchor to the pants leg. In my case, that’s 2 inches from the raw edge.

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Mark the anchor point for the blind hem

This is NOT the finished hem length – it’s just the anchor point – and you will need at least an inch below the anchor point for the finished hem. This means you might set the blind hem anchor point up higher than you’d do if this was a turn-and-topstitch hem.

Fold the hem in wrong side into right side along that anchor line, and press. Then, fold the hem back on itself so the raw edge just barely peeks out from under the anchor point line you just marked, like so:

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Folding is the key to a good blind hem

My picture here shows the hem half folded in. The top is folded in and pinned, but the bottom isn’t yet. The fabric that lies between the anchor point and the bottom of the finished hem is tucked up in between the anchor point and the raw edge.

Position the pinned hem along the special presser foot like this from the wrong side:

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Blind hem presser foot in action!

The bar rests against the anchor point’s foldline, and the raw edge is to the right. Stitch, and check to be sure the small straight stitches are going into the raw edge, and the long, wide zigzag is taking a tiny bite into the fabric on the left.

Sew all around the hem and press. If it’s all good, you’ll get a hem like this:

Occasionally the blind hem goes wonky for me if the tension is off. You want a rather loose stitch so there’s no puckering or drawing up. You might want to pay around with the tension. For the stitch length and width, I usually just go with whatever the machine’s preset sizes are, but if you’re dealing with bulky fabric, you can adjust the stitch – just be sure not to move the needle from its preset positions, or it may collide with the bar.

Besides the blind hem’s invisible appearance, it’s very easy to rip out if you want to change the hem of a skirt or pants anytime, since only the zigzag stitches into the anchor point are really holding the hem in place.

At Last!

I feel like Etta James….

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AT LAST a pair of me-made pants that fit really well! Here they are, the Style Arc “Jasmine” trousers:

 

 

To understand why this is such a big deal, remember my three-muslin doomed effort earlier this year?

 

 

I decided that instead of trying to adapt any pants pattern to my body – with its heavy forward thighs, wide hips, ample butt and small waist – instead I would seek out a pattern that is as close as possible to some decent RTW pants I own already. I have this pair of Calvin Klein stretch gabardine pants that fit pretty well. They work for me because of the angled front pocket, fly front, darts in back but not in front, curved waistband, and tapered legs. A long search uncovered the Style Arc Jasmine pants, with the same pocket, fly and dart sitch:

 

 

The pattern calls for stretch gabardine or other bottomweight woven fabrics. As a bonus, the Jasmine trousers have a yoke in the back, kinda like jeans. This seemed to offer good fit options for my rear and waist. I had some really nice wool gabardine in stash. Let’s roll!

I have not used Style Arc much because they can be hard to get in the US, the patterns are only one size, they use a 1 cm seam allowance (I prefer 1.5 cm, especially for pants) and their directions are … shall I say … “minimal” and “open to interpretation” (or, to be blunt about it, “crappy”). I also think Style Arc has less ease than Big 4 patterns – the two Style Arc blouses I’ve made were a little too close-fitting. So I ordered the Jasmine pants a size larger than I thought I would need.

The first fit was encouraging. They were too big on the sides but pretty good along the crotch curve and butt. So far, so good. I widened the back darts 1/4 inch, took in the waist 1 inch on each side, tapering to 1/2 inch from the belly to low hip, then graded out again to 1 inch from just above the knee to the hem. Viola!

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Style Arc Jasmine fronts

These pants are not perfect. But they fit better than most RTW pants I can find, and I am very hopeful for future pairs. For the next iteration, I will deepen the front crotch curve a tiny bit and pinch out a tiny bit of fabric at the hip crease in the front to remove that little bit of whiskering.

In the back, I will pinch out that bit of extra fabric under my rear, and I will grade the top of the yoke up 1 inch so to remove that little dip down at center-back.

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Butt, baby!

I really want to try these also in denim, a full size smaller since I can wear jeans tighter. I may be getting ahead of myself, but I hope that I have found a true TNT pattern for dressy AND casual pants.

By the way, I am wearing the blouse from La Mia Boutique that I made earlier in the year. I keep hoping I will love it, but nope. Note the awful distortion of the back stripes because of my scoliosis and shoulder issues. (A topic for another blog someday.)

Cultivating a Culture of Sewing

During my trip to Ireland and Scotland, I was delighted to see how cultures of sewing and quality craftsmanship were still going strong. I was on the lookout for this, yes, because my plans included shopping for lovely wool fabrics. But I did not have to look far at all to see so much more. Here are a few objects that tell the story:

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American flag sewn by hand on Islay to honor sailors who died at sea

On Islay, off Scotland’s western coast, there’s a little museum to the history of the town. You know the type of place – the candle molds and butter churns, the arrowheads and stone tools, the old-time photos and other bits and pieces donated by the community.

And then there was this flag, in a place of honor. It was sewn for the funerals of American sailors whose ship, the Tuscania, was sunk by a German U-Boat off the coast. Islanders nursed the wounded and retrieved bodies for days, then prepared those who died for burial.

The museum’s plaque explains the story of the flag better than I could, so here it is:

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I examined this flag for a long time. You could see how different women sewed different parts, based on the skill and style of stitches. Some stars are a bit off-kilter. I could imagine them pushing through to complete the project. But it’s sturdily made to withstand Islay’s wind and weather. The islanders are proud of this flag, and rightly so.

In Glasgow, the city of Scottish industry, the museum had a sweet exhibit on sewing.

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Exhibit on the Singer Sewing Machine factory

The museum also had a hands-on exhibit where you could tread the pedals of a sewing machine. I enjoyed trying to film it, but I confess my video skills suck, and I am too cheap to pay for the video upgrade on WordPress. Imagine the squeaky foot pedal anyway:

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Every morning, I tuned in for a few minutes to a quilting show on TV, and reminisced about the days when PBS regularly aired several sewing and needlework shows.

Ireland abounded with sewing treasures too. Besides the ancient Viking distaff, there were exhibits about weaving and knitting. And loads of sheep, of course. We also visited a shop that sold 100% Irish-made goods. There are plenty of cheap stores selling tourists junk, but we sought out the real thing. The shop had bolts of fabric in the back, and I was sorely tempted, but I’d already budgeted out my sewing money. My husband bought this cap, thoughtfully labeled:

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My husband has worn it almost every day since we got home. I can’t wait to go back.

#IPM Anything but Clothes? How About a Bag to Go with My “Edgy” Wardrobe?

As the clock ticks down on my 40s, I crave a new look. I have been working on an “edgy” wardrobe to take me into my next decade. I’ve made some skirts, tops and jackets, so how about a bag to go with it all?

This is the Ethel Tote from Swoon Sewing Patterns, with some modifications:

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I am proud that I made this almost entirely with materials leftover from other projects. The main fabric is black denim, leftover from wide-leg jeans I made from Simplicity 3688. The lining is leftover from a tunic I made from the Japanese sewing book “Happy Homemade Sew Chic.” Yes, that is an abstract snakeskin print!

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Using remnants – tight squeeze!

The lining’s interfaced with stash interfacing and the denim with leftover cordura nylon from a bag I made years ago. The bottom is reinforced with leftover buckram from yet another bygone bag project. The only new material is the faux leather piping, which I bought earlier this year to jazz up projects for my “edgy” look.

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Telfon foot works perfectly to apply faux leather

To sew it on, I used a teflon presser foot to baste it, then used a zipper foot to edge up close to it when I joined the seams. I think the piping adds a lot of interest to an otherwise basic black bag.

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Side view with piping

My major modification to the bag itself was a facing around the opening. While I love the purple, pink, black and gray snakeskin print, I didn’t want it peeking out, and I worried that it would get dirty over time, so I wanted a facing as a buffer. To draft the facing, I just removed the top 1.5 inches from the lining to make a template, added a 1/2 inch for a seam allowance, sewed it on, pressed and topstitched.

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Facing under construction

The bag has two big, deep pockets in the front and calls for two more inside. I sewed three on the inside – a skinny one in the middle perfect for holding a pen. I thought about sewing in a zipper, but the bag’s so deep that I don’t worry about things falling out.

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Inside view with pockets

Overall, this is a great bag, with clear and well-illustrated directions. It’s not a quickie project – altogether there are 33 pieces because you have fashion fabric and lining, with interfacings for each. (Plus 8 more pieces for a facing and interfacing for the facing if you go this route.) The bag calls for quilting cotton and foam interfacing, but since I was using heavier denim, I used the cordura.

Here it is with my other recent “edgy” makes (Oki Style “Joker” shirt and skirt made from Vogue 1312). I am sure this bag will get a lot of use!

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One of many “edgy” looks – now complete with bag

 

Making a Buck from International Day of the Girl Child

October 11 is “International Day of the Girl Child,” a day the United Nations designated to to celebrate girls and to raise awareness about their challenges and triumphs. Since most cultures on earth greatly favor male children, and since girls have to persevere despite inadequate health care, education, discrimination and violence, it seems like a worthy “day” to me.

It also sounds like a great day for a male-dominated business to make a buck, don’t you think?

Steam, the PC game platform that’s overwhelmingly male and that hosts plenty of antagonism against women, offered a big sale today on “female protagonist” video games. “Ooh,” I thought, “let’s check that out!”

On sale were seven games. Seven. Out of the tens of thousands of games available through Steam, these alone were notable for their female protagonists. And I already had played four of them – all first-person adventure types of games where the protagonist is a young woman. Here are some quick reviews:

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Screenshot of a “Gone Home” poster
  • Gone Home – A college student returns home to find an empty house and no sign of her parents and sister. Players explore and follow clues to figure out what happened. The story unfolds slowly and builds to a climax, sort of like a novel in video game form. The game includes some lesbian themes. This game is a bit basic, but I liked the story.
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Screenshot from “What Remains of Edith Finch”
  • What Remains of Edith Finch – A young woman returns to her ancestral home to investigate a so-called curse on her family. She steps into the shoes of various relatives – from infants to old men – to learn about how the curse affected them. This is a gorgeously made game – full of laughs and tragedy in equal measure, with a good surprise at the end and some deep ideas about the unbreakable bonds of family ties.
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Screenshot from “Life Is Strange”
  • Life Is Strange – A high school student navigates the intersection of school, friends and the supernatural in this game, which unfolds somewhat in a “choose your adventure” style. Players decide how good or bad they want to be, interacting with many complex characters. Actions have consequences. This game includes disturbing episodes of violence against women. It also makes many strong points about the nature of lifelong friendships. I enjoyed playing it, although it was difficult to take at times.
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Screenshot from “Tacoma”
  • Tacoma – In this game, from the makers of “Gone Home,” the female protagonist investigates a mystery on a space station. It’s gorgeously and inventively made, including good, diverse characters (race, sexuality, body type, ability) and some good female roles. This game also includes some lesbian themes and unfolds much the way “Gone Home” did, but with more wit, inventive gameplay and  imaginative detail.

Who made these games? Only Fullbright (the makers of “Gone Home” and “Tacoma”) has women in leadership positions (the privately held company’s leaders are half women, half men).

The developers of “Edith Finch” were all men at the company Giant Sparrow. A female-led company, Annapurna Pictures, published it. Annapurna is better known as a film production company, whose president, Megan Ellison, has been nominated for Academy Awards for producing “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Her,” and “American Hustle.”

“Life Is Strange” also was developed all by men (Dontnod Entertainment) and published by SquareEnix (all men, yet again, but you knew that already). The developers say that other publishers pushed them to make games with male protagonists and that they weren’t trying to “make a statement” by using a female lead. Having played the game, I can tell you they needed to make the protagonist female, because otherwise the whole violence-against-women theme would not pan out. So, yeah, no statement to be made here.

When I play a first-person game, I play as “me.” With most video games, “male” is the default. Why? Because men don’t think it’s important to have a female character, and because they’re afraid that men will be turned off by anything with  whiff of “girly.” They’re trying to sell to men, so the characters are men. If women want to play, that’s fine, but it’s playing in a man’s shoes. Aren’t most animated things like this? Why are all the Minions “male”? Why is there only one female Smurf and one female cartoon M&M? And why does the one female character have to be sexy?

Some games let you choose an avatar for your character, and I choose a female character then. So do a lot of men, only when the avatars can be sexed up in ridiculous costumes. If they play games were they spend a lot of time looking at their avatar’s backside, they’d rather see a woman’s backside in a thong. This is not progress.

If you want to explore games with female characters and feminist themes, I highly recommend the “Nancy Drew” series from HER Interactive. HER is largely run by women.

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Nancy Drew game cover art

Nancy’s a feminist icon, to be sure, and she’s fearless and capable in the games, too. The games have a kids’ mode and an adult mode. They’re popular among parents because there’s no sex or bad language, and the violence is pretty benign compared to most games (Nancy gets trapped someplace and has to escape, or has to flee some threat). The games usually have equal numbers of male and female characters of various ages, races and body types, and a recent game had a lesbian character. I also like the games because they display remarkable affinity for rational thought. Nancy’s often called to help solve mysteries where someone attributes a problem to the supernatural – you know – a ghost is haunting a house or whatever. Nancy is clear that she doesn’t fall for ghosts and other woo-woo but rather sticks to the facts until she uncovers that – just as in real life – people use others’ superstitions or religious beliefs to cover their own misdeeds. The games are great stories to bash magical thinking.

It’s interesting to note that even when there are female protagonists, they are thin and young. Would the entire gaming world explode if a game featured an overweight 48-year-old protagonist?