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.