Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Project 13: Collared Shawl

Shortly after the big Halloween event was over, one of my co-Workers, a woman in her 30s, approached my desk carrying a piece of clothing. It was a black knit shawl-like something. A rectangle with an opening up the middle and fringe at both ends. She asked me if I would make her something like it.

"Does it have to have fringe?" I asked, being a snot.

"No" she replied.

"Does it have to be black?" I asked, pushing it further.

"No" she replied. "I trust your judgement."

I told her to go to a fabric store and find some medium weight wool coat material that she loved and I would do my best. She brought back several swatches and we discussed them. She picked out her favorite and I got busy making a muslin. I actually made two because I had two different design ideas. One had a kimono-style neck / closure treatment and the other had a collar. She went for that one, which made my quite happy since it was a little more challenging.

The wool that she picked was on the cool end of the spectrum, so for the collar and facing I picked brown silk dupioni on the warm end for contrast. I made a long silk ribbon to bind the hem of the wool and used a blind hem stitch to secure the facing to the body of the garment for a fully finished, secure feeling. Nothing worse than trying to put on a garment and finding your facing flopping out for the world to see.

Once it was done, I realized that she was going to need some kind of a purse since there weren't any pockets in the design. In less than an hour I whipped up a little bag to go with it.

I gave it to her yesterday and she loved it. This morning she told me that her husband loved it too and slipped me a few bills. I can't believe that I've designed and sold a garment. Tim Gunn, if someday you read this, I want you to know that I made it work!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Project 12: Halloween Costumes

You've got to be kidding. I didn't sew a single garment between Halloween 2009 and Halloween 2010? My goodness it was a crazy year. Even if I didn't sew anything during most of the year, I certainly made up for it at the end.

I sent out an invitation volunteering to make a Jedi knight costume for the first six people who responded and wanted to come party with us in Vancouver. Four full-time Vancouverites, me and LCD Seattle wound up being the six. A very nice mix, I have to say. I had to be pretty creative, since there is not a licensed pattern, but by studying the movies and reading a lot of Star Wars costuming forum posts I got a fairly solid muslin together in August.

I made two really important fabric sourcing discoveries that month also. First, that there is a very inexpensive kind of fabric called Osnaburg which is made from rejected cotton fibres. It's thick, fluffy, textured and sturdy and dirt cheap. I bought a 15 yard bolt online for about $2 per yard. Second, I found that the retail mark-up on wool is criminal. I bought a three 12 yard bolts of absolutely exquisite dark brown 100% wool online for about $7 a yard. It would have been at least $25 a yard in a fabric store.

I spent just about every free moment in September and October sewing frantically, but I was having a great time doing it anyway. I think my sewing skill level jumped significantly and I know that I got a lot faster at cutting, pinning and pressing! The thing that really made the costumes work, though, were the Hasbro Force FX lightsabers. The have very high quality sound and light effects and were movie-ready replicas of the props used in the movie, as you can see here:

We got a hotel suite in downtown Vancouver so that no one would have to do any driving during the evening and also so that we would have a nice, central costuming location! I've never packed up my sewing equipment for international travel before, so that was an adventure in planning ahead as well.

I also booked us a limo so that we could first attend the Parade of Lost Souls put on by Public Dreams Society in the Commercial Drive area of Vancouver. It's a wonderful performance-art parade and community celebration which is alone well worth the trip to the city. We stopped at Vancouver City Hall on the way to the parade and took a few photos. Here's one of the better group shots:

When we arrived in the area and stepped out onto the sidewalks of Commercial Drive people went nuts. We had dozens and dozens of people take their photos with us, shout "May the Force be with you!" at us across the street, or just exclaim "COOL!" as we came into view. It was absolutely like being a rock star. When the rain started to fall we were glad our costumes had lovely big hoods as we made a beeline for a nearby Italian restaurant. After dinner it was back downtown to visit bars and clubs in the gay village where we were received with great enthusiasm.

Exhausting? yes. Expensive? yes. Worth it? beyond super-yes.

Friday, July 30, 2010

What To Do

The last post is not fair without this one. These are things you can do to help fight for a better future for people like me:

  1. Do you have a teenager? Have you told them that it's OK if they turn out not to be straight? That you will love them no matter what?
  2. Have you asked any High Schoolers in your life if they think that their gay classmates face harassment at school? If so, does the administration do anything about it?
  3. Join PFLAG and volunteer. Tell them I sent you.
  4. Find your local LGBT at-risk youth center and volunteer or donate.
  5. Contact the Trevor Project to donate or volunteer.
  6. Schedule a meeting with your church's minister to discuss LGBT inclusion in their ministry. Tell them that I want to hear back about what they are doing to help.

There's a start. Go.

Do Something

"If he turns out to be gay, we should cut his legs off so he can't leave the house and bring shame on the family." said my mother, slurring her words after a considerable amount of cheap blended whiskey. I don't remember what my dad said in response. My seven-year-old mind couldn't take any more in at that point.

Yes, seven. Yes, my mother.

I crouched in the dark living room listening to them shouting in the kitchen. Were they going to do it tomorrow? Tonight? Would that be how I woke up tomorrow? Would they kill me instead if it got too messy as they sawed through my leg bones? I had to go through the kitchen to get out of the house if I decided to run. Could I make it past them?

When I try to explain to straight people what it's like to grow up gay in America I try the metaphor that we are raised in 'enemy territory.' Most gay people are born and raised in straight families and we learn to hate gay people before we know we're gay. I don't think most of them realize how severe the physical and emotional violence we face is.

Why is this coming up now? The debate over the Employment Non-discrimination Act (ENDA), marriage equality and the effort to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell is forcing people like my late parents to say what they really think of people like me out loud. Into microphones. When I hear them, or read transcripts of their ignorant, hateful, twisted little words I get angry. I remember what it was like being crouched in the dark living room wondering if I was going to wake up to my parents amputating my legs.

My parents never committed that act of violence against me. The next morning they were just hung over and I had to act like everything was OK and go on with life, but the damage was done. A moment in the making and decades in the repairing.

Now polls say that people think gays have too much influence on society. That we're too powerful, too rich, too successful. Is that why we can't get married? Is that why welfare mothers and absentee fathers vote our existing marriages away? Why ignorant hicks vote to ban us adopting children?

Yes, I'm angry. I'm angry at every preacher of every religion that teaches people that we're sinful. I'm angry at every person who sits quietly and listens to them. Somewhere out in America another little boy or girl is going through what I went though. One of you knows that child and if you do nothing to help, you're the one who is sinful.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Independence Day

I didn't post this yesterday because I was deep in a project, but July 4th is my independence day also. In 1994, my bandmates Stan and Marisa bought a house in the University District which had a partially finished studio apartment in the basement. They were looking for someone to rent it, and I was more than ready to get out of Poulsbo, so at the tender age of 27 I left my parent's home.

That first night was pretty intense. Stan and Marisa and I went looking for fireworks on the spur of the moment. Probably doesn't seem like a big deal to a normal person, but to me the freedom to do that was like something out of a dream. No guilt trips. No ferry hassles. Just climb in the car with good friends and go. Later, as I was laying in bed in the dark in a basement the fear started to settle in. Would I be able to afford this life? Will my parents be OK? Is Mom laying in bed crying because I'm not there?

I lived in Stan and Marisa's basement for several very important years. I had some catching up to do in terms of learning to be a good housemate, but it worked out in the end. I started learning Gaelic while I lived there, got my Yule harp, and lived through the joy and heartbreak of the heyday of Wicked Celts.

When Stan and Marisa sold that house in April of 1998, things moved rapidly and I wound up settling for a dingy studio apartment in Northgate. At the time, I thought life had taken a terrible turn for the worse, but the gods had a plan. Slightly over a year later, in June of 1999 I moved from Northgate into my little rental house in Baile Ard. If I had been living somewhere less depressing, I might have hesitated to move and missed out on some of the happiest years of my life.

Thanks for helping me get out on my own, Stan and Marisa, and for taking me out in the Ford Explorer to celebrate my independence day all those years ago.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The New Normal

March 13th. Really? I haven't written anything since then? I've got a couple essays in mind, so wish me luck in putting fingers to keyboard.

In my own defense I will note the following events since March:
  • Lingoman and I took a semi-last minute trip to Scotland for our ninth anniversary in April. Documentary to be released on YouTube soon and linked from here.
  • The Deepwater Horizon incident happened (and is still happening). I contract with NOAA you see, so I have had a total of six days without some kind of work since April 20th.
  • Féis Shiàtail 2010 happened. I was a co-chair so in addition to the oil spill work, I helped run this 100+ person residential Gaelic festival.

But I still can't believe I haven't written anything. Yes, the recording project is about to take a leap forward. Yes I'm thinking about Halloween costumes already. No, I didn't go to Pride in Seattle, but will be going to Pride in Vancouver. OK. That about covers it.

Here's a teaser to keep you interested: The upcoming essay is about the difference between freedom of religion and freedom to force your religion on others.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Holiday Greetings and Bad Feelings

Now that we're safely months after the stress and excitement of the holidays, I want to share a thought that occurred to me during this last year's seemingly inevitable conflict between people who wish others well broadly with Happy Holidays and those who wish narrowly with Merry Christmas.

I'm confident there are many layers to this strangely divisive conflict. When I was a child, I heard both greetings, and it was understood that Happy Holidays meant Christmas and New Year, not holidays from other religions or cultures. It seems to me that a portion of both Christians and people I refer to as "culturally Christian" feel very threatened by our increasingly diverse society. Even though they are and likely will remain an enormous majority of the US population, they make claims of being 'oppressed' by anyone who doesn't say Merry Christmas. It has always seemed childish to me.

This year I had an experience of conflict with a Christian friend, however, that gave me an insight. In the midst of the usual go-round of "I say 'Merry Christmas' to you because you're Christian - why do you say it to me, knowing that I'm not? It's rude!" it occurred to me that when I offer a holiday greeting to someone, it's about their identity because I'm offering it to them. Maybe there's another perspective in which I offer my religion's blessing because it is mine to offer. I'm not sure what guidance that gives me about how to manage religious diversity in my circle of friends, but it's interesting to me anyway.

One of the arguments that my Christian friend put forward this year, however, feels wrong to me. Something along the lines of Christmas having become a secular holiday. What? No! Keep the Christ in Christmas! It's important to you guys! Besides, all the trappings of trees and gifts and lights feasts are from my religion. If you're going to steal all our beautiful practices to dress up your Middle Eastern desert religion, at least have the courtesy of making good use of them!!!!