Fight Back with Feedback

Do you ever see bad behavior, but you don’t call it out, for whatever reason? Maybe you’re scared. Maybe you don’t want to rock the boat. Maybe you don’t want to get involved. Maybe you’re not sure of what you’re really seeing.

There are a million reasons not to do something, but only one reason where you must act: when it’s the RIGHT thing to do.

Such a predicament happened during a business meeting this week, where some men displayed some very bad behavior against women. So I spoke up. Maybe something will change. Maybe not (these guys didn’t seem like the types given to introspection). But if something does change, it will be because of the way the feedback was received:

  • Done at the moment, not later
  • Based in fact, not opinions or emotions
  • Based on content, not people or personalities
  • Constructive to give people something to act on
  • Band together if you can\
  • Follow up

By “at the moment” and  “based in fact” I mean, sticking to feedback about things that were observed. For example, four men had loud side conversations while a junior woman was presenting at the meeting. It was hard to hear the presenter. The presenter glared at them a few times but they kept going. Finally, I spoke up and asked them to stop. Those are facts that cannot be argued with.

I offered some constructive feedback: the moderator should organize the meeting to provide ample time for presenters. Each presenter should agree to stick to the allotted time. The moderator should intervene if side conversations become noisome.

“Based on content” basically means, no personal attacks. For example, this one guy who presented was giving as “evidence” all these personal anecdotes that were self-serving and not useful. Basically, dude was a serious Baby Boomer blowhard. But that’s not constructive, is it? Better to say: “Your anecdotes help illustrate the issues, but do you have data to back them up? I need data to make decisions, so please provide it next time.”

Finally, banding together helps women navigate these issues. If one woman raises a complaint, it’s easy for the men to dismiss her as “crazy” – an all-purpose epithet for any woman who dares to speak up. But if several women come forward, all agreeing to be constructive, fact-based and focused on content, not personalities, we can get somewhere.

In this case, I had a couple of “off the record” discussions after the meeting with other participants. We agreed on the facts. Then we provided our feedback. We agreed that we will follow up in two weeks to see if our comments were addressed.

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One Tee, One Day

So I managed one T-shirt this weekend. Behold:

Why such a goofy picture, you ask? I woke my husband up from a nap in his man cave. He couldn’t be bothered to sit up.

Here’s a better shot:

Good ole Ruby saves the day!

This is the Breton Tee from the book “The Great British Sewing Bee: From Stitch to Style.” It’s meant to have long sleeves that go at the cross-grain, but I ran out of fabric. I was working with a panel I bought at Ann’s Fabrics in Hamilton, Ontario last summer.

I was too cheap to buy two panels of this interlock knit. Boo.

I lengthened the top 3 inches so I could use the most of the stripes and so I could do a split hem as the pattern in intends.

Figure out how to big you want the split to be when when it’s finished. Leave a gap twice as long on the side hem, then finish the side seam end about an inch – a mini side seam. You’ll have a gap as shown above. Clip into the seam about 1/4 inch at the top of the gap.

With the garment turned right side out, flip the hem up right sides together, matching the end of the side seam with the bottom mini side seam. Be sure the little tail of fabric from the mini side seam is out of the way.

Sew both sides of the gap closed with a narrow stitch. Flip to the right side and press.

Ta da! Now sew the hem all the way around.

Pretty easy and finishes nicely!

T-shirt Mania

I plan this weekend to sew up something really radical.

Wait for it…

T-shirts.

Yeah, sorry for the letdown.

Or am I?

I used to think T-shirt sewing projects were a bit daft. I mean, T-shirts are everywhere, they’re cheap, they don’t demand close fitting, and you can get them in just about any style and size you like. So why spend time sewing them?

But then I made a few and I realized they’re worthwhile because I reach for them time and again. I mean, my red ultrasuede moto jacket is nice and all, but my red and gray striped Breton T-shirt gets worn 10 times more. Plus, I can’t muster the time and energy to sew up something like a 23-piece jacket that often. But a 4-piece T-shirt? Oh yeah!

The frosting vs. the cake, indeed.

So let’s sew some cake, ok?

Since I got a serger for my birthday last year, I have learned how to use it pretty effectively to sew knits, such as jerseys and interlocks for T-shirts. One thing I learned the hard way: a serger is not necessarily a shortcut. It’s worthwhile to baste necklines and other tricky bits on the sewing machine before putting a T-shirt under the serger’s knife.

I have also learned a lot about different knits for T-shirts:

  1. Some of these fabrics are S-T-R-E-T-C-H-Y. Others, not so much. Some patterns can handle the stretch, some cannot. This T-shirt from McCall’s 7247 has an overlay that seems good in theory but hasn’t held up over time. It’s stretched out and hangs awkwardly. That’s because this knit had four-way stretch. Boo. This top would be best with a more stable, lightweight knit with two-way stretch only.
McCalls 7247 overlay t-shirt

2. Two different knits don’t necessarily play well together. I see a lot of fabric mixing and color-blocking with knits, but unless the knit’s weight and stretch are identical, you may have an unhappy marriage of fabrics in a garment. This top from New Look 6330 combined a basic cotton jersey with a viscose jersey scrap at the neckline. They are pressed into submission in this picture, but in real life, they are NOT friends.

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New Look 6330

3. Negative ease can be a good thing, except when it’s not. This took getting used to. The first knit tops I made were too small, because I misjudged the ease. Then I made some tops that came out too big because I over-corrected for the ease. There seems to be no hard-and-fast rule – each pattern and each fabric must be judged on its own merits, similar to issue #1 with the fabric’s stretchiness. If a pattern offers a “stretch guide” that’s great, but it often doesn’t help that much. Here are two examples using MariaDenmark’s Day-to-Night Drape Top, with different fabrics and different fits.

And this one  in MariaDanmark’s Kimono-Sleeve Tee was “just right” – made of viscose jersey.

Kimono sleeve t shirt
MariaDenmark Kimono-sleeve Tee

Finally, I want to make new versions of a new T-shirt patterns I tried earlier. The Deer & Doe Plantain is popular and looks promising. I sewed it up with a remnant of stretch velvet a few years ago and had a fit problem at the armscye. I think I can fix this. Also, I have some more striped interlock knit for another version of the Breton tee.

I am on the lookout for a good V-neck top. I think I will try adapting a TNT t-shirt for a V-neck. How hard can that be? (Famous last words!)

Dying to Try Dyeing? Me too!

As a child, I grew up with lots of stories about dyeing. My French-Canadian great-grandmother, who lived to 106, used to make her own dyes. Her daughters worked in woolen textile mills in town, and would secret away scraps that my great-grandmother would dye for use in rugs and other home furnishings. I am lucky enough to have one of the rugs my grandmother made, using some of her mother’s homemade dyes in addition to upcycled wool from clothes and other uses.

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Wedding present from my grandmother, made of hand-dyed wool and other upcycled wool textiles.

The mint green wool in this rug comes from a suit my grandmother wore in 1945 when she took a train across the US to see my grandfather, whose ship came in to Seattle after World War II was over.

Dyeing is not a lost art, but it’s not exactly thriving either. I have no idea how my great-grandmother did what she did.

I experimented with RIT in high school – we made tie-dyed T-shirts and felt like hippies for about 15 minutes. We had no idea what we were doing. The dye came out in the wash and ruined other clothes. Fun times!

So when I saw a shibori dyeing class at the Creative Arts Workshop in New Haven, Conn. I had to sign up. The class was making four cotton napkins using different dyeing techniques. The instructor also allowed me to bring two yards of other fabric to dye for a top to other use. I was excited at the chance!

This was not a traditional class using real indigo dyes and twine and other techniques, but it was fun to try.

Here are the napkins I made:

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Shibori dyed napkins using four diffetent dyeing techniques

The triangle motif at the upper right is my favorite of these four. It’s made by folding the fabric over twice and then folding it into triangles. The trick is your first triangle fold is actually a half triangle – necessary to get the triangles to align properly. We practiced on paper first:

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Triangle motif folding practice

The one at bottom right is made by making narrow pleats and then rolling the fabric into a bundle, like so:

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Rolling technique for dyeing

The napkin at bottom left used a typical tie-dye technique of wrapping objects such as marbles within a fold of fabric and tying it off.

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Marble inside – pretty design outside

I covered the napkin with these little bundles – sometimes three marbles inside. The result came out like this fresh from the dye and rinse pots:

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Typical tie dye

The fourth napkin did not come out well. This is what it looked like when it went into the die pot:

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Popsicle sticks were supposed to make a zig zag pattern

I think my popsicle sticks came loose or something, because the end is a bit blotchy. Oh well.

Finally, here’s my cotton poplin, to be a blouse for summer:

I had to break it into two one-yard cuts so it would fit in the dye pot. Also it was the end of the day so the color is a bit faded. I need to find a pattern that will allow me to use the dye pattern to best advantage.

Sewing More for Mom

Last Mother’s Day, I presented to my mom a homemade gift certificate for her to choose any garment she wanted, and I’d make it for her, to measure. She was excited about getting a button-up top that fit her better.

When it came to taking measurements, however, she demurred. Instead, she tried on a RTW top she likes and explained to me what she liked and didn’t. She likes this top’s flared 3/4 sleeves and fit in the bust, but she doesn’t like the fit at the bicep, waist or hips, and she doesn’t like such a big collar, as she doesn’t like to wear anything close to her neck.

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Mom’s top idea, front view
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Back view

This top is exactly the kind of RTW mess that so many women my mom’s age put up with. It fits well enough – that is, she can get it on her body – but the fit is pretty poor overall. I told her I really needed body measurements to do this right. She put me off for months.

Finally, when I saw her a few weeks ago, she agreed to be measured, but she warned me not to be “shocked” at the numbers. My mother has always had a very negative body image, which she passed on to me from my earliest days. It haunts me still. We look a lot alike and I inherited her rather small bust and big hips and thighs. As a child, I marveled at her lumpy thighs and vowed never to have thighs like that. Guess what? Mine look exactly the same today.

We can’t do anything about the thighs, but we can do something about a shirt! Her measurements revealed that her shape has changed from a pear to a rectangle, with only two of inches difference between bust, waist and hips. I went on the lookout for a collarless button-up top with no bust darts and a swingy shape at the hem that would give her the curvy look she remembers. We settled on this design from Lekala:

Lekala 4683
Lekala 4683

I went with Lekala because their patterns are made to the measurements you provide. I hope this works!

I think the front darts (or whatever this giant feature is called) will work as long as I can get the points to line up with her bust. The center-back seam will be good for shaping, as she’s a bit stooped. The notched neckline will be perfect for showing off a statement necklace. I will even out the hem and will add a flare to the sleeves after the elbow.

She also expressed interest in wearing some color for spring, so I bought some very pretty and high-quality cotton lawn in a rosy color. I hope she likes it!

I Won!

I finally won a contest on PatternReview.com, with my PolarTec PowerShield cross-country ski anorak.

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This was for the January “Sew Activewear” contest. The winner got a $100 gift certificate to Nature’s Fabrics. They have a lot of gorgeous stuff. I can’t wait to pick out some fabric!

When you win a contest, PatternReview provides you with a badge for display on a blog. I feel compelled to do this. Here it goes:

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Oooh. Now the victory is really sinking in!

Seriously, I am glad I finally won. I have entered several contests on PR and elsewhere during the past 20 years, and I have never won before. I came in second in the “Barganista Fashionista” contest on PR in the spring with my Hudson’s Bay blanket-turned-to-coat project:

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Upcycle knock-off of a $2,000 Monse coat

While this looked just like the designer coat I was knocking off, to be fair, I did not deserve 2nd place. This was a very simple project and my sewing was… shall I say it… half-assed. But, I’ll take it! I won a $50 gift certificate to Sulky. I don’t embroider, so I spent the gift certificate on scissors, stabilizers and other accessories.

I have entered 12 other contests since 2015. Once I came in second to last (deservedly so.) To be fair, I didn’t always give it an honest effort. I am more in the “it’s fun to participate” than in the  “I wanna win” frame of mind. I enjoy contests more for the camaraderie than for the thrilling prospect of victory. I’ve met people and made friends. I also like the deadline that contests impose.

On the other hand, I have gotten a bit carried away with contests. A few years ago I entered several that I shouldn’t have. I wasted money, fabric and time. So I decided starting last year that I would only enter two a year and only if I was prepared to put in an honest effort – basically, only if I had a project I thought I could win with, sewing something I needed and would wear.

I don’t have any other contests on the horizon for 2019. I might participate in Indie Pattern Month again, assuming The Monthly Stitch does it again this fall.

Stretches for Posture Correction

For the past few weeks, I have been doing a series of stretches designed to correct posture problems and limber up the ol’ spine. When I am done, I feel about an inch taller, for a few hours anyway. I also feel less stiff in the morning and after a lot sit on the commuter train.

Here are some tips, broken down by the three major spinal regions – cervical, thoracic, lumbar and sacral. Let’s go to the map!

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Cervical Spine

My favorite moves involve sensations of lengthening the spaces between the vertebrae of your neck. Start by nodding your chin toward your left shoulder as far as you can, comfortably, while keeping your shoulders down. Then raise your chin to the left side, again, as far as you can comfortably. Do this a few times to the rhythm of your breath.

When you’re nodded toward your shoulder again, move your chin in a diagonal through space so that you’re raising your chin as far as you can comfortably to the upper right. Repeat the diagonal move a few times.

Then repeat the whole sequence on the opposite side. Be sure to keep your shoulders down! You may notice that you’re more limber on one side than the other. As you complete a few moves, you may find that your ability to nod or rise increases as you stretch and warm up. Finish with a few movements that go shoulder to shoulder in a wide arc, like a big smile.

Cervical and Thoracic Spine

toes (2)

This move gives the sensation of elongating the neck and upper back. In bare feet, stand straight on a non-slip surface, with a chair or table nearby in case you need help balancing. With feet facing forward and arms at your sides, rise onto your toes and stand, balancing, for 10 seconds. Then lower your heels until you’re standing flat on the ground, while continuing the sensation of lengthening so that you feel as tall as you were when you were on tip-toe.

It helps to imagine that a string emerging from the crown of your head is keeping you up, like a puppet. Repeat this several times with feet facing forward, and several times with feet in a V position. Reach out for support if you think you’re going to fall, but try hard to balance.

Thoracic and Lumbar Spine

I love a classic Pilates roll-up for helping me stretch and strengthen the core spine.

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Stand straight with arms at your sides and shoulders down, knees slightly bent (not locked). Nod your chin to your chest, and slowly roll down, vertebra by vertebra, allowing the weight of your head and arms to pull you into a forward folding shape. When you’ve gone down as far as you can, bend your knees a bit and hang like a rag doll for a few seconds.

Then, roll up, articulating and feeling each vertebra as you go, from bottom to top. Your head rises last. Repeat several times. You should be able to hang further at the bottom with each try.

The Whole Spine

Pretty much everyone who’s had back issues ends up doing pelvic tilts as part of a stretch routine for recovery. Stop me if you know this one!

Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat. Take note of where your head, neck, back and butt touch the floor, and where there’s space between your bod and the floor. You will probably feel space around the middle of your back where the natural curve of your spine hovers above the floor.

Gently tilt your pelvis so the space disappears and your spine feels imprinted to the floor. Use your abs to do this move. It helps me to imagine I’m balancing a bowl of soup on my pelvis, so that when I tilt my pelvis, the imaginary soup would spill all over my belly.

Then tilt the other way – exaggerate the space where your spine is off the floor. That imaginary soup would now spill all over your crotch. (Sorry for the dumb imagery, but it helps.)

Repeat a few times – each time try to feel each vertebra articulate up and down. You can also nod your chin towards your chest to elongate your cervical spine.

Try all these and let me know if you feel a little taller when you’re done!