Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Project 28: Yule Ritual Robes

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I'm pagan; more specifically, Wiccan. I honour the old gods of nature and my ancestors and have done so since I was a small child.

I attend a pagan congregation called Gaia's Temple, which is organized by a brilliant and talented priestess named Judith Laxer. Judith contacted me in November and asked me if I would be one of the celebrants for the Yule ritual this year. I told her no, since the schedule of meetings included a Saturday, which would mean missing a weekend with Lingoman. The ritual itself would happen on a Friday this year, which would also mean arriving up in Vancouver for a weekend extremely late. All in all, it seemed too big a price to pay though I was otherwise willing.

Judith wrote back that she could move the meetings off weekends and that perhaps Lingoman might like to travel down to attend the ritual… I replied that it seemed unlikely, but that I would broach the subject at the following weekend. When I arrived in Vancouver that Friday evening, about the third thing out of his mouth was "You know I have Solstice day off work. I could come down on the bus and go to the Gaia's Temple ritual with you if you wanted."

I wrote back to Judith when I got home. "You are some kind of Witch. I'll do the ritual if you'll teach me that spell."

At the first meeting I wound up offering up lots of opinions (are you surprised?) and volunteering to make vestments for the central figure in the ritual drama, the Sun King. Real gold lame was out of the question due to its cost. You actually have to use gold if you want something to look like gold, it turns out. I did, however find some semi-sheer costume fabric at Display and Costume in gold and crimson for a reasonable cost. I also found a very nice looking costume crown, which with the addition of some LED lights really said Holiday Deity to me. I got right to work. For the Sun King, I re-used the pattern from Project 11: Halloween Costumes for my giant hooded robe without the sleeves and added an inner robe and Venetian sun mask.

For myself, since I was asked to invoke the South and the spirits of Fire, I re-used the red inner robe from Lingoman's costume from Project 11: Halloween Costumes and added a new giant hooded robe in Winter white to represent Fire in the season of Winter.

Working with the shiny costume fabric wasn't much fun because it was so delicate that even with my serger I could just barely stabilize the edges with narrow 3-thread hems. The stuff wouldn't take a crease, either, so making the fold-unders for the neck and cuff facings on the inner robe was a spectacular pain in the behind.

I didn't want to spend a fortune on the white robe for myself, since it is likely to get just one use. I purchased a 100% polyester woven slubbed fabric, which frankly was only a little easier to work with than the costume lame! I'll be glad to get back to working with quality natural fibers on my next project.

This is the invocation I wrote:

Invocation of Fire

I send my voice through time and space
In all directions from this place
to summon the spirits of Fire!

You who are Summer's Southern Midday Heat
You who are the self-perpetuating release of energy from matter
You who excite atoms until they yeild their beautiful photons
You who liberate elements by breaking their bonds to each other
You who power every cell in our bodies
You whose discovery by humans began our technological journey
You who comfort us all through the cold days of winter

Arise and come forth!
I summon and stir you!
Respond to your sign!
Be here now!
Blessed be!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

Oh my goodness, where do I begin?

This year has brought a fundamental transformation in the way I view myself and my future. Before the CD and After the CD are really two different worlds. At 45 years old I went from doubting myself as a musician and waiting for the first person to be honest and tell me that I'm not very good, to honestly believing that I have talent and skill that rivals professional musicians. I'm grateful to everyone who helped me get through the recording project in one piece, most especially my cherished companion in life, Doug Barr.

Then, as if that weren't enough, another huge boatload of great things happened this year. If I go into detail about all of them this post won't be done until First Footing, so I'll be brief:

  • 11th Anniversary trip to New York - Manhattan is my idea of heaven. Being with Doug is my idea of heaven. I had a double-heaven week.
  • Played Folklife for the first time in a very long time as myself!
  • Féis Seattle 2012 - a respectable success by any measure
  • The Ohio Scottish Arts School - It was even better than 2011 and has gifted me with lasting friendships.
  • Team Member of the Year Award from NOAA's National Ocean Service
  • First trip to Hawai'i - I wasn't expecting to fall so deeply in love with the place
  • Last minute opportunity to be a presenter at Dusty Strings Harp Symposium
  • A full year of funding for work at NOAA
  • My favourite presidential candidate was re-elected
  • Marriage equality won at the ballot box for the very first time in my country
  • Lots of opportunities to sew and grow my tailoring skills
  • Lots of opportunities to perform, and more yet to come this year
It hasn't been a perfect year, of course, but on balance it has been the best one in a very, very long time.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Project 27: Resort Wear Mini Collection

Lingoman and I decided to take an impromptu extra trip this year. It came down to a decision between Montreal and Hawai'i. He has been to both places but I haven't so that couldn't be used as a deciding factor, but we eventually settled on Maui since I love mountains and beaches so much. Shortly after making that decision we found ourselves (read: I drug us to) Fabricana in Richmond. They have a great selection and very helpful staff. As we were strolling by the sale table I spotted a bolt of black crinkle-cotton for $4/meter. Pretty good deal, even with the unfavorable exchange rate just now. It's light weight but strong with lots of texture.

I made three pieces to mix and match with my existing wardrobe of summer clothes. Two of them I know I'll wear and the third… well… it might turn out to be just for lounging around in private!

black crinkle cotton tank top on hangar.
First is a tank top. Pretty basic, but I finished the neck and armholes with bands of the same fabric and topstitched every serged seam which gives it much sturdier feel than the lightweight fabric would otherwise. Even though it's a woven fabric, the crinkles give it just enough stretch that it works in this kind of garment. It is really comfortable and just the right length to be worn tucked into pants or left out.

Black crinkle cotton bowling shirt on hangar.
Second is a bowling shirt with a single breast pocket for cash, hotel key card and ID. I've made quite a few of these now, so the basic construction isn't a challenge. In the interest of ease-of-wear, especially when on vacation, I topstitched the front facing to the body and also put a line of topstitching around the collar and down the opening on both sides. On flat woven fabric it would look kind of weird, but on crinkle cotton you hardly see it. The biggest benefit of doing that extra stitching is that the collar and front don't need ironing. They're just a little wrinkled and they look fine. I think this piece will be especially nice for lounging poolside.

Last is my experiment. It was inspired by the King Tutankhamun exhibit in Seattle right now. I've been once and am going a couple more times, I'm sure. The pharaohs are always shown wearing beautiful gathered kilt-like garments that look so elegant. I wanted to create something I could wrap around my waist over a bathing suit, or wear on its own for that matter as loungewear. I'm not sure the result would make anyone think of the pharaohs, though, even if it were being modeled by a 20-something with a striking physique. It has a wide waist band with two ties. One on the inside a little to the right of center-front and one on the outside that ties just to the left of where a side seam would be. If it were either longer like a sarong or stopped at the knee like a kilt it would look more masculine. Anyway, It's super-comfy and will make for awesome loungewear on warm summer evenings when nobody has to look at it but Lingoman.

Together, they are Dark Aloha, the 2012 Autumn resort wear mini collection from Taigh Sheumais Fashions.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Ding! Level 46!

As I've been thinking about writing this birthday blog post I have reached the conclusion that this year for me was about recording Baile Àrd and producing the CD release concert. Lots of other things have happened, but this was a life-changing experience.

I stopped writing updates about my recording project a really, really long time ago. From the point at which I realized I needed to do serious work on my singing skills I stopped most activities that weren't directly related to the project because I had this horrible anxiety that I was going to fail and that it would break my spirit to do so. I was terrified of how deep a depression I would fall into if I gave up on my CD. I went into a strange kind of survival mode and it has had some repercussions.

I finally started recording at Empty Sea Studios last September. Getting all my harp tracks down was just the beginning. As I ran into obstacle after obstacle I got very good at letting go of long-held wishes and finding a different way forward. I probably wouldn't have made it through without the wisdom and support of my engineer, Michael Connolly. He reassured me that what I was going through was normal and that it would be worth it, and he was certainly right. He expressed his view of the process once by saying "Making a CD is like pooping a diamond. It's really, really hard, but then you have a diamond."

CD package design, liner notes, and convincing the manufacturer that I really had the necessary license to record the copyright protected tracks took lots of effort and time while I was simultaneously producing and promoting the concert.

Posters, postcards, rehearsals, volunteers, CD sales, AND a big vinyl banner! It's one of those experiences that I look back on and wonder how I managed to do all those things. One at a time, I suppose. It was a magical night from load-in to cast party. There so much more I could tell about it, but maybe this is enough to make the point and bring me back around to the subject of my birthday.

It is my birthday, and in sharp contrast to many others, I'm actually feeing OK about it. There's something about having proven myself by making this CD that I love and am proud of that has changed everything. I can finally say to myself, "Self, have a happy birthday. You've earned it."

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Perfect Pants Pattern: An Unfinished Quest

Ever since I finished Project 26: Boy's Kilt, I have been working on drafting and executing the perfect pair of pants for myself. I'm using Garment Designer 2.5 and discovering that even though there is a drop down sizing chart labeled "men" I have to keep a lookout for womenswear silhouettes. I made the mistake with the first pattern I drafted of going straight to fabric. I had a length of beautiful thick black linen that I had purchased back in January to make pants for my concert. Didn't quite make that deadline, but oh well!

The really great thing about Garment Designer is that you can set up slopers* for different people and then invoke them from the size drop-down and everything gets re-sized for the person's exact measurements. I, unfortunately, trusted that process a little too much. I got a pattern that fit me and I executed it with ease, but when I went to try them on, the waist was up where a woman's pant would be, covering my bellybutton. Not a good look on a man.

Back to the drawing board! I was heartbroken to have wasted that gorgeous fabric, so I decided to just use left-overs until I was absolutely sure the pattern was right. I had some of the beautiful brown wool from Project 12: Halloween Costumes left over, so after shortening the waist I printed out the new pattern, taped the pieces of paper together and made my plastic pattern pieces. Again, I executed the garment very well, but did so at night. With dark brown fabric and black interfacing. Imagine my horror when I had a very well-fitting pair of wool pants with one of the back pocket welts in black interfacing instead of brown wool. Grrr!

At least the wool was used up. Next I made a couple tiny adjustments and tried again with the leftover black linen from Project 17: Black Linen Dress Shirt . The execution was even better this time and I was sure that I had a hit. I wore them to perform at an event up in B.C. and my brave and wonderful fiancé informed me that the fabric was a little too light for pants. Ooops! Thank gods we have the kind of relationship that allows him to say things like "Honey, they're beautiful and everyone can see your underwear" without fear of repercussion.

So I'm taking a short break from the perfect pants pattern quest to sew up some resort wear for our upcoming trip to Maui. Stay tuned for my all black resort wear mini collection! After that, I'm conquering pants. Really.

* A sloper is a two-dimensional representation of a body which allows two-dimensional patterns to be adjusted precisely.

Project 26: Boy's Kilt

My godson and youngest harp student decided that he wanted a kilt to wear to the various highland games in our area this summer, so I volunteered to make it. He's growing crazily fast, so I didn't spend the money on real tartan, but used some less expensive nearly-Dress-Gordon that I found at my local fabric store.

I need to get a better photo while it still fits!
It all went smoothly as soon as I realized that the secret to getting the pleats to be exactly where they need to be was to use the basting process to make them. Easy as pie.

I did discover that there are different opinions on how to deal with the pleats in the drop from hip measurement to waist. Some kiltmakers take in each pleat a little bit across the back, but my kilt which was made by the spectacular North Channel Kilts, takes in all the drop at the first and last pleats on the side. That way the pleats stay absolutely straight along the tartan pattern all the way up.

My measurements were a little off, so the flat apron across the front is a little too narrow, but I have a feeling I will get the chance to make more kilts for him as he grows up. By the time I make him his wedding kilt, it will be world-class.

What agenda?

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Project 25: Sparkly Dress Shirt

When we were in New York for our anniversary vacation in April, I visited Mood Fabrics as I always do when in the city. I happened on a bolt of beautiful white shirting that had metallic silver pinstripes. There was something so completely over-the-top and yet subtle about it that I immediately put it into my cutting pile.

Working with fabric that has perfect, parallel stripes means that you have to be extra careful about cutting out pieces. This was where the genius of Paula Pay-La-Renta's pattern method paid off. After I have a pattern ready on paper, I lay contractor's transparent plastic sheeting over it and trace the outlines with a sharpie. The plastic pieces are what I use when cutting. The great advantage is that I can see the fabric through the pattern piece.

In all honesty I can say that I have no "lessons learned" from this shirt. It came out exactly right and I will just keep on making them with the same pattern as long as my sizes support it. I'm going to look into learning a more sophisticated way to finish the laps on the sleeves where the opening for the cuffs is, but that's really about it.

I did as much sewing with my serger as I could this time. I thought about making real flat-felled seams on the shoulders, but really, who is going to know but me? I just machine-basted, serged and top-stitched. Same with the side and arm seams.

In the photos you can see the silver stripes. They don't all catch the light at the same time, so it never gets too garish. Just a few sparkles to help a guy get through his day.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

When You Get The Chance, Say Thanks

While I was at the Northwest Folklife festival today, I got an extraordinary opportunity to thank someone who helped me through some difficult days.

When I originally left Poulsbo to go to Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, I had no job, and no real understanding of what it would take to get and keep one, and so I didn't! My Mom paid for outstanding school fees after financial aid, and covered all my living expenses. Then, at the end of the year, my Mom's place of employment burned down. She was out of a job and since I had not become any more independent, I had to move home.

For a young gay man in the 1980s, it was the worst case scenario. I had escaped my hometown, but due to my lack of initiative, skills, and maturity, I was falling backward into the gravity well of anti-gay from which I had only recently escaped. There was no hope left.

On the last ferry trip back to Poulsbo, I encountered two musicians. Steve and Kat, whom I had seen many times busking on the Seattle to Bainbridge route. They were as charming and folksy as ever, but they sensed somehow that there was a troubled soul in their midst who needed their help.

Kat asked me if I was OK, and I told her my story. She nodded and had a short conversation with Steve. They ended their set with a song called "The Mary Ellen Carter" about a sunken ship that was raised again by its faithful crew. The chorus goes "No matter what you've lost, be it a home, a love, a friend, be like the Mary Ellen Carter: rise again." There was something in the way that both of them emphasized the word "home" that told me that the song was for me.

Time passed. I finished my college years in 1989 and went to work in the student loan industry; still commuting from Poulsbo each day. Those first couple of years were rough. I didn't actually "rise again" until 1994 when my bandmates Stan and Marisa Lanning offered me an affordable basement suite in their house.

Tonight at Folklife after my set, which I thought of as extremely important, I did something that was actually important. I walked into the beer garden and Kat was standing there with some mutual acquaintances and I knew that I was being given an opportunity.

I approached her and told her about the day she and Steve gave me the gift of reassurance on ferry from Bainbridge Island. Her eyes widened "That was you?" I didn't have any expectation that she might remember. She did remember, though. I finally got the chance to tell her about all the nights and days that the refrain of the song she and Steve sang for me rang in my ears and kept my spirits up until it was time for me to move back home to the city again.

The upshot of this story is that if you get the chance to speak with someone who made your life better as a young person, say something. Tell her or him that she or he made a difference in your life.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Project 24: Green Silk Vest

My friend Eileen had a dreadful problem with the plumbing in her house, which necessitated her going though and emptying all her closets and storage areas. While going through her fabric cache, she came across something that she decided to give to me. When she handed me the unassuming shopping bag at a rehearsal one night I confess that I didn't look at the contents too closely. "Some silk for you" she said. I did notice, however, that it was a lovely shade of forest green, which made me think of my godson, who is obsessed with the color.

His mother and I discussed various possibilities, and she suggested a vest. He has outgrown the little tuxedo jacket that she got him a few years ago, and the kid does have occasions to dress up. Through his parents, our Gaelic society, and his school he is surrounded with musicians, actors, and performance production professionals. The idea for this dress-up vest was what inspired me to take on my previous project, the Boy's Tweed Vest. I made that one first since tweed is a little more forgiving and I wanted the practice.

I used Garment Designer 2.5 to draft the pattern. It's an awesome piece of software, I must note! To use it you do have to already be familiar with garment construction, since all you get is a pattern and you have to figure out how to put it together yourself. I decided to have notched lapels and welt pockets in contrasting black silk. The lining is simple black Kona cotton.

When I went to start cutting the pieces out and took the silk out of the shopping bag my jaw hit the floor. It was at least four yards of 60" wide medium weight dupioni. Absolutely gorgeous. At least $100 worth of fabric. Thanks, Eileen!

The vest came together smoothly and easily in one long evening, I'm pleased to say. He looks like a movie star in it too.

So, now that I've made lapels, lined a shell, and made welt pockets, there's only one construction element in a man's suit jacket that i haven't made - a two-piece sleeve. I'm really looking forward to the first time I make a three-piece suit, dress shirt, and tie for myself.

Then, and only then, a tailor will I be.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Project 23: Boy's Tweed Vest

My co-worker that commissioned the Collared Shawl recently brought me back the leftover wool, since she didn't think she would have any other use for it. It was sitting peacefully in my stash until I got the idea of making a vest for my godson.

I used Garment Designer 2.5 to generate the pattern, and made a couple muslins just to be sure. I had some left over silk from another project, so I used that for a lining. I figure that if the shell is going to make it dry-clean only, why line it with polyester?

The construction went fairly smoothly. I used the same pattern pieces for the fashion fabric and the lining, but I remembered to trim the lining pieces where they were to be seamed with the shell so that the shell edge would be pulled over making the lining invisible from the outside.

I'm still a fairly new serger user, and I have to admit that going around sharp corners is still a bit of a Hail Mary affair. I cut one of the corners around the neckline a little wide, and after I turned the vest and lining, pressed and was topstitching, I noticed that I had actually run off the edge a tiny bit at one point. Undaunted, I got out my needle and thread and did some hand overcast stitching to disguise the problem and bind the raw edge that was peeking out. After all, he's only going to be wearing this vest for a year at most before it's too small for him.

I stopped by his parents' house this evening to give it to him. You would have thought I had handed him a magic carpet, he was so excited. This business of being the Gay Uncle (Guncle) is turning out to be pretty fabulous.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Project 22: Black Wool Vest with Welt Pockets

This project is somewhat embarrassing. I'll explain why as I go along. My wonderful pre-husband (or phusband, as I call him) wanted me to make him a vest out of the leftovers from The Hidden Dragon Pants.

I decided to make it as one of his Winter Solstice presents. I quickly realized that it needed to have welt pockets if it was going to look polished and sophisticated. Mens' clothing typically has intricate, detailed pockets and you might not know why, but if you saw menswear with out them, it would look wrong to you. The problem was I had never made a welt pocket.

I found a great tutorial on YouTube, and watched it a at least ten times. I still wasn't confident enough to try it on this delicate brocaded silk, though. I decided to use some of the beautiful black wool left over from this project to make myself a vest first to practice.

My vest came out pretty nicely, so I proceeded to start on my phusband's one. Foolishly, I decided to line this delicate silk vest with sturdy green broadcloth. Why foolish? Well, I never clued in to the fact that if you cut your lining pieces out with the same pattern as your fashion fabric, then you have to trim 1/8" off the lining pieces where they are joined to the shell of the garment. If you don't (and I didn't) the lining is too big and distorts the shell.

I realized what I had done far, far too late in the process and I was out of time. What could have been a beautiful moment of gift-giving was instead an apology. So I have a spiffy new vest to wear with my kilt when I go to play out for Robert Burns suppers in a couple of weeks and my love has a nothing.

I feel like a bad phusband.

Project 18: Blue Linen Shirt with Inset Silk Basket Weave Panels

AKA The Missing Link.

This project started with a simple idea. Weave panels of silk ribbons, inset them into panels of linen and use those panels to make the front of a dress shirt. While you're at it, why not make the collar from the same silk? With that kind of a lead up, you're probably thinking that it was a stressful disaster, but it actually worked. I washed it by hand after it was done and the silk basket weave got a little funky, but it's as strong as heck.

On my weaving cork board I made a muslin frame, and glued the ends of each of the ribbons to it first. The frame and all the excess was trimmed away when I serged the linen to the panel on each side. With a row of top stitching to secure it, these panels were ready to use.

Here is the finished product. I also made the white (blindingly white) jersey shirt underneath.

The two-piece look was originally for the first guy who was going to play cello on my CD to wear in the concert. The young fellow who wound up doing that recording and will be in the upcoming concert is about the same height as the first guy, but significantly more athletic of build. Undaunted, I was able to take in the side seams from the under arm to the hem and make it fit really well. I was proud of myself for figuring out how to take out the hem, make the new vents and put the hem back together.

The only thing I would do differently is pre-wash the silk. I know that silk isn't washable, but shirts have to be washable.