Who Loves a Business Trip?

I’m on a business trip for a few days. Nothing fancy, just a hop on Amtrak to Baltimore for a couple of days.

I love business trips. Although I’ve been traveling for work a little for 20+ years, it’s still thrilling somehow. I feel like Peggy from Mad Men with her smug satisfaction, even if it means staying at a budget hotel, drinking low-quality whiskey.

Or, in my case, a fruit, veggie and hummus plate from Amtrak…

Business trips cure my craving for alone time. Something about a hotel room, all to myself, a flight without a companion, even a meal alone feels great. I get time with coworkers during the day, or I interact with lots of strangers at a conference, but any time after that is MINE. At home there’s always something that needs doing, or my husband wants to chat, or the TV is blaring… Always something demands my time. 

Most importantly, I get lonely after a few days, or I wish I was home again. And then I am – feeling refreshed.

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Exorcising Demons in The Artist’s Way

I’ve hit a roadblock in my efforts to follow the book “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. The roadblock is unexpected, scary and very hard to get through. I have been thinking about it since June.

In brief, the book recommends readers follow a multistep process to gain increased creativity. (For some old posts about the process so far, see Trying “The Artist’s Way”An Artist’s Date to the Vintage Shop and An Artist’s Date on the Linear Trail.) I am doing this to try to break through my fear and inertia to do more creative writing.

One of the early steps involves exorcising demons, in a way. You’re meant to write down times in your creative life when you felt discouraged, ridiculed, scared, or otherwise blocked by someone else from living the creative life you’ve wanted. Maybe your parents discouraged you as a kid. Maybe classmates tore your work apart with criticism. Maybe your husband or kids or job gobbled up your energy and will.

This exercise brought up a memory of college. I recently ordered my transcript to see if I could do a little fact-finding into this episode. There the class is – MET EN202, Creative Writing, spring of freshman year. I got an A-.

I was a full-time student at Boston University, but I took a creative writing class at the BU night school (called Metropolitan College) to ease up my schedule a bit so I could work at my day job more hours and make more money. Adjuncts taught these classes. The professor was this older guy – a tall, skinny man, with a long face and a short gray beard. I can’t remember his name. He had published a few short stories, including one in The Atlantic of The New Yorker or something prestigious. I vaguely remember one of his stories – about some short guy who wore a fez around to attract women and to make himself look taller.

I was working on a story about this kid I knew in high school. I don’t remember anything about it. That is, whatever that story was about, it wasn’t memorable. I once had to go to the professor’s office hours, which were at night of course. His office was on one of the upper floors of a crummy building in this campus no-man’s land along Commonwealth Avenue. He didn’t sit behind his desk but rather sat in this little sitting area to the side, and I sat opposite him, where I could watch the neon Citgo sign from Kenmore Square grow and shrink and grow again over his shoulder.

The other thing that was growing was his erection. I was no virgin as a freshman in college, but I was still pretty inexperienced. I knew and yet I didn’t know what was going on. He talked about what a great talent I was. He talked about how the publishing world loved the young. If I could publish my first novel before I was 21 or 22, I would have the literary world at my feet. All I needed was someone who could help me. Of course, he could be that someone. I was 18.

I was wearing this peach-colored L.L. Bean mock-neck T-shirt that I’d had about a year. I remember it because I wore this shirt one of the first couple of times I had sex with my high-school boyfriend. My boyfriend didn’t like the shirt because it pulled on over my head. He wanted to a button-up shirt so he could watch my breasts emerge as he unbuttoned it. I never wore it with him again. He was well out of the picture by that spring. But all I could think about was how my breasts looked in that shirt and how I wish I’d kept my jacket on for the meeting with the professor.

Nothing happened. That is, he didn’t touch me or proposition me directly, or expose himself or anything like that. He just sat back in his chair, his legs crossed widely, ankle to knee, and displayed his bulging crotch through his khakis while he spun a story of my swelling genius.

I was majoring in journalism, not creative writing or English or anything impractical and doomed to unemployment. I came from a lower-middle-class family, which regarded college as the place to get skills to get a job, not as a place to sit around and write great thoughts. I was conflicted about journalism. I threw myself into it and I liked the writing, but I didn’t really click with it my freshman year. The professor discouraged journalism, saying newswriting’s flat tones and deadline pressures would “ruin my voice.”

I left that meeting and finished the class and got my A- and never went to his office hours again. I did very little creative writing after that. I took another writing course in the English department, called “Advanced Composition,” (for which I earned an A) but the pull toward an English major was over. I got instead into literary journalism, finished up my courses, got my diploma and started at a small newspaper making $300 a week. Journalism did not work out for me in the long run – I was a journalist for about 12 years and then gave it up for corporate jobs.

The next time I wrote fiction was just a couple of years ago, when I tried NaNoWriMo. I had forgotten about this tumescent professor and his promises. I really forgot. Maybe I blocked it out or maybe the significance of this event faded with time. But now I remember it well enough to ask: Is this the reason I gave up the hopes of a literary life? Did he scare me enough to kill my ability and desire to write? I really don’t think I was any child prodigy genius, but did I have something that smothered before it sparked? Or, am I blaming him for my own failings?

I’ll never know. That’s the problem with introspection – you can ask yourself questions all day and never get answers.

“The Artist’s Way” encourages you to write letters to people who held you back, then destroy them, as a way to exorcise any demons that whisper to you that you’re not good enough. I have been wanting to but unable to write this letter to this professor. I have been stuck for since June on this problem. I figured I’d write about it here to see what happens, before I plot my next move.

Yes, I Do Windows

The windows in the kitchen badly needed cleaning, so who cleans them? Me.

Another job for The Distaff Side!

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My husband didn’t even notice when he got home this afternoon. He’s a pretty clean guy. When we were dating, he’d always spruce up the kitchen and bathroom, freshly vacuum the carpet and sweep away clutter. But there would be dust everywhere. And the windows and mirrors were never washed. He really just doesn’t “see” it. I guess like how some people don’t “see” that they’ve gained 50 pounds. Willful ignorance is more like it.

“I don’t do windows,” is one of those catch phrases that comes from a life of ceaseless toil. A housekeeper or maid was expected to do all kinds of jobs, but windows were such a thankless and irksome task that they could reasonably refuse. It’s the kind of job you need to hire special for.

When we first bought our home, built in 1908, I guessed that the windows had not been cleaned since 1970. (That’s the year I was born, and I am old as dirt, so it made sense at the time.) I called around to some window-washing companies to get a quote for doing our house, and I was laughed right off the phone. I lived with the dirt.

Years ago we replaced the drafty, rattling old wood windows with newfangled ones that tilt in for easy cleaning. Excuses over, time to get out the Windex and paper towels. Don’t tell me that vinegar and newspaper are the way to do this, in an effective and environmentally responsible way. All you get for your troubles is a big mess. Hey, I take public transportation and bike whenever possible – so what if I burn through half a bottle of Windex and half a roll of paper towels?

Anyway, the windows are nice and clean now. I can look forward to looking through them all winter. And in the spring, they will probably need to be cleaned. Again.

Getting Started on the Fall Wardrobe Plan

Using my magic quadrant for sewing planning, I came up with some priorities for my fall sewing time, by considering the ease or difficulty of each project and the cost involved, and factored in things I “need” vs. things I “want.”

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I decided to start with “cheap and easy,” and something I needed, which left me with a cardigan or a sweatshirt. I tossed a coin and got the sweatshirt. I have all the materials and pattern in hand – two yards of bright red 100% cotton sweatshirt fleece, a sport-style nylon zipper and Kwik Sew 3452.

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This pattern is copyrighted 2007 and I believe it’s out of print, but you can get it online. A fellow member of PatternReview.com sent it to me for free, when I put a request out there for something like it. This pattern calls for a stretch fleece, but I prefer 100% cotton, and the fabric I have stretches enough according to the envelope guide. It’s a bit close-fitting, so I graded out a size in hips, to be safe.

I am copying an old sweatshirt I bought at a cheap tourist shop on Cape Cod years ago. It’s a half-zip pullover style with a kangaroo pouch and a collar, not a hood. There was NO pattern exactly like this anywhere, and this pattern is not exactly right. It doesn’t have a kangaroo pouch, just  fold-over pockets for the full-zip version, view A.

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Simplicity 8174 to the rescue! I bought this pattern for the bomber jacket (which is AMAZING, by the way – I made it in cranberry red ultrasuede earlier this year). I couldn’t help but notice that the jersey dress has a kangaroo pocket, and I was happy that it sized up well with the Kwik Sew sweatshirt.

Now I need to decide if I will use my sewing machine or serger for this job. The pattern calls for 1/4 inch seam allowances, since it assumes you’ll either serge it or use an overlock stitch on a sewing machine. I don’t have any red serger thread. Do I spring for it, or do I keep the spirit of “cheap and easy” by using my sewing machine?

Fall Sewing Wardrobe Plan

I went through my closet this weekend – sorting out summer things that I’ll either pack away for next year, sell or donate to charity. There’s a hole in my closet now – time to fill it up again!

Wait…. not so fast….

What do I need? What do I want? What do I sew myself? What do I buy? What’s the budget for time and money?

Oh no. This just got a lot more complicated.

Start simple. What are five things I need?

  1. Jeans. I have three pairs of Not Your Daughter’s Jeans. They fit well and are comfortable, but they are pretty faded and worn out.
  2. A fall/winter dress for work. I don’t have anything that I can wear without a blazer or cardigan, and I really need something for meetings and business trips where I need something easy to pack.
  3. A casual sweatshirt. I have one sweatshirt. That’s it. I bought it on vacation on Cape Cod 4 years ago. I love it but it is worn out.
  4. A white long-sleeved button-up blouse. Guess how many of this wardrobe staple I have? One. I got it from Stitch Fix last year and it’s a pain to iron. The fabric wrinkles when you look at it.
  5. A cardigan that’s nice enough to wear to work and casual enough to wear with jeans.

OK. So far, so good.

What are five things I want? Hm. This is harder.

  1. I want a new winter coat. I made a long dress coat a couple of years ago, and I love it, but I want a new shorter, more casual coat. I don’t need it. I bought a perfectly good wool coat a couple of years ago and it’s in great shape. I am just sick of it.
  2. I want a below-the-knee skirt for work that I can wear with tights and boots. Again, I have a few and I am tired of them.
  3. I want some fancy PJs in a nice soft knit. Again, I am tired of the store-bought PJs I have.
  4. I want a new blazer for work – something that goes with black pants and skirts and also packs well for trips.
  5. Finally, I want some new activewear for Pilates. I have been wearing the same two pairs of yoga pants from Target for eons. They’re also in great shape, and hey, I just wear them to work out, so it’s not a need.

Plotting these 10 items according to sewing ease or difficulty, and expense or thrift, I get this:sewing plan 3“Difficulty” includes:

  • Experience sewing such a garment
  • New pattern or TNT?
  • Closely or loosely fitted?
  • General complexity of the project – number of pieces, linings, trims etc.

“Cost” includes:

  • Pattern new or in stash?
  • Suitable fabric in stash?
  • How much fabric do I need?
  • Typical cost for the quality of fabric I want
  • Expensive extras, such as zippers and fancy buttons

The simplest thing to do is just choose one “want” and one “need” from each quadrant. There are no “needs” in the “expensive and difficult: quadrant, so I’ll choose between the two “wants.”

I am going to think about this and draw up a plan next week.

Sari Refashion Completed!

Here’s my completed project for the second round of the PatternReview.com Sewing Bee: New Look 6498 done up in a refashioned sari. I got it in India in April (more here about this).

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I am standing all dramatic like this to accentuate the sleeves. The theme of the second round was “Fabulous Sleeves.” I don’t know how fabulous these are – certainly they were not as creatively done as many other entries into the contest – but they are voluminous and eye-catching. They’re twice as wide and about 50% longer than the pattern called for. They’re done up with a simple gathering stitch and attached to the sleeves – no fancy needlework required. I did my usual full-bicep adjustment to accommodate my dinner lady arms, but I did only a 3/4 inch instead of a full inch because I wanted the sleeves a bit close-fitting, in keeping with the style of the blouse worn under a sari.

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 I am delighted with how the bust turned out. When I made a muslin of this in April, I ran into a big fit problem with the bust. It was too high and too low at the same time. Yeah – no problem! That is, the waistband sat about a quarter of the way up my bust instead of just under the bust, and the neckline was too low and a bit too revealing.

The only way to fix this was to get the bust to fit perfectly. I lengthened the bodice 1.5 inches all around so that the waistband would hit right under my bust. Then I redrafted the neckline a bit so that it was not quite so low-cut. Finally, I took in the waistband 1/2 inch on each side so it was more close-fitting. The bust fits perfectly now!

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My dog, Jake, likes to photobomb pictures.

The sari is very gauzy and hard to work with. I finished the inside with French seams everywhere I could, and I used fusible stay tape and transparent dissolving stabilizer instead of interfacing for the neckband and waistband.

Here are pictures of the inside on my dressform. You can see how transparent it is. The traditional sari is draped and wrapped and pleated many times so that air moves through it yet it covers completely. I wanted to stay true to the spirit of the sari, so I didn’t line it. This might have been a mistake as far as the contest goes – I think that lined dresses are expected – but that’s not what I wanted. I wear it with a long princess-seamed slip I bought at a vintage shop years ago.

I only wish that I had made this earlier in the year, so I could have enjoyed it this summer. It’s getting autumnal very fast in Connecticut, so this may have to sit in the closet unworn for a while.

Refashioning a Sari

Have you ever seen a fabric that weighed only about 2 ounces a yard?

That would be this sari I bought on my trip to Hyderabad, India in April. It’s 7 yards of fabric, 45″ wide, and weighs 15 ounces. Here it is drying on my lawn after a soak in water to remove the starch that’s applied during the manufacture.

I got started yesterday on refashioning this sari into New Look 6498. I am doing a mash-up of View A (the ankle-length version) and View B (with the frilly sleeves) for the second round of the PatternReview.com Sewing Bee. The competition is to make a garment with fabulous sleeves. The fabric I have is certainly fabulous, but the sleeves themselves won’t be anything special.

New Look 6498

I made a muslin of this dress back in April and ran into one two big fit problems that inspired me to shelve the project:

  1. The bust was too high. This is a problem for me with a lot of Big 4 patterns. The midriff band is meant to sit right under the bust – you can see how it’s meant to be on the pattern envelope, with the bust tucks giving it some shape, before the midriff band nips it in. Then the gathered skirt flows out again. On my muslin, the midriff band hit across my lower bust, causing the skirt to balloon out very unattractively. I had to lengthen the bodice, including the neckband, 1.5 inches so that the midriff band landed just under my bust, allowing for some space for the tucks.
  2. The neckline was too low and a bit baggy. Obviously, I can’t both shorten and lengthen the bodice at the same time! Now can you see why I put this in the “UFO” pile? I took in the center back a tad, and I hope that by fixing problem #1, problem #2 will go away.

The sari has a long decorative band of peacocks, which I am using as a border print along the hem, the bodice and for the sleeve ruffles. I am also using the pillau – the most decorative part of the sari (see close-up above) – for the sleeve ruffles. And I am using the other end of the sari, called the choli (the solid green part in the picture, closest to you), for the contrasting midriff and neck bands.

I spent all day yesterday cutting this out. Today I need to sew it up. The fabric is very loosely woven, with a bit of a burnout texture in places. It’s not hard to sew, but it ravels and it’s just unstable. Here are a couple of close-ups:

I still need to work out a lining – obviously, this dress is see-through as is!