Monday, December 29, 2014

How To Boyfriend: The Gift Giving Edition

Every year in November, Doug reminds me how difficult I am to shop for. I'm a minimalist with reasonably good income and reasonably poor impulse control. This year, as he often does, he asked for hints. Hints I can do. List? No way. That turns the whole thing into a transactional obligation and banishes the magic.

Over the course of the last thirty days I've sent him these text messages at various times:

Thanks for the stemware, Baby. Gin-o'clock!
Red KitchenAid two slice toasters are so lovely. I'm quite distraught about mine being broken you know.
I feel so ratchet when I drink martinis out of ordinary glasses when I'm in Seattle. I just love the ones at The Olive and Grape with charming coloured glass stems.
Sometimes when I'm working on black fabric at night I wish I had a good task lamp for my table. I should ask for a recommendation the next time I'm in Fabricana.
To which my prince responded:
I see what you did there. 
And because he's the most awesome man ever known to me, he started following suit:
I find it annoying to do laundry so often since the laundromat in Inverness wrecked one of my two good pairs of jeans. I often get work clothes at Old Navy.
In learning a little Turkish I keep wishing I had a small dictionary that indicates long vowels and unusual word stress, because the standard orthography doesn't. I'd even get rid of a book or two to make room for it.
(Yes, he's learning Turkish now)
And I do so miss Babylon 5 and wonder if it ever came out on DVD.
And that, dear readers, is how you boyfriend. Can there be any doubt why I adore him so?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Royal Scottish National Mòd • Inverness • 2014

The view from Inverness Castle, which is actually
just the town hall and court house. Still pretty cool.
The official invitation came late last year, though we had heard rumors before then that Guth nan Eilean, The Gaelic choir in Victoria, BC was going to travel to Inverness to the Royal Scottish National Mòd to compete in 2014. It turns out they needed some more male voices, and more fluent speakers. With Doug and I, they got both whilst using up just one of the hotel rooms in their reservation block. We've known many of the members of the choir since 1997 when they formed, and Doug's hometown is Victoria, so it seemed like a very natural fit.

The first major task was taking our Gaelic assessment tests over Skype. I had taken one of these tests back in 1997 when I went to my first Mòd (also in Inverness that year) so wasn't too nervous about it. With the eight hour time difference, we wound up scheduling our Skype calls for midnight and 1:00am. Luckily, we're both night owls. The test consisted of a conversation with a native speaker that was being listened to by a third party, who in our case was the talented young singer Seumas Greumach. He was marking off the required skills while we chatted. Within an hour after finishing up, we got the e-mails informing us that we had both gotten gold card, the highest grade.
One of many selfie-with-castle shots from the trip.

Guth nan Eilean arranged three Saturday rehearsals over the Summer so that we could attend. We always stay with Doug's Mum when we go over to visit, and I think she was happy about the extra time with us. The rehearsals were plenty of fun and it was great spending some time with whole group.

We met up in Inverness on Monday, October 13th when we checked into the Thistle Hotel. Doug and I had decided not to enter any competitions on our own, and in retrospect I think that was a mistake. We would have met more people and probably had an easier time locating the nightlife if we had!

Outside Eden Court before our first
competitions. Spiffy!
Rehearsals started the next day. I had felt that telltale tickle in the back of my throat the night before we left Seattle, so I had already gone through my cold and was mostly recovered. Doug, however, was in full throes of it, as was his fellow bass, Alex. We were all nervous about the illnesses, but what was there to do but soldier on?

We were entered into two competitions, the puirt-a-beul, and the Margaret Duncan. The puirt-a-beul competition was at 9:00am on the Friday, so that was an early start, but everyone made it in plenty of time. All choirs big and small participate in that competition, so when our group - with me pretending to be a tenor and two poorly basses - finished in the middle of the pack, I was quite happy.

The second competition, I had thought we were better prepared for, but the judges did not agree. We came in dead last in the Margaret Duncan. Our Gaelic coach, Anne Riley, though could certainly hold her head high - our Gaelic score was 96/100, but our music score was only 92/100. I don't think of us has having lost anything, though, but only as having gained. We have renewed, stronger ties with the community in Victoria, wonderful shared memories, and ambitions for the future.

The view from the bass section looking up at the
conductors and the glitterati of the Gaelic world.
The last event of the Mòd is the massed choir, which in Inverness is held on the esplanade of the Castle. It was a glorious, sunny afternoon and the sound of hundreds of voices lifted in Gaelic song is something everyone should hear.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Taking Doug Home

Growing up in Poulsbo, I knew that when my Mother used the term "home" she didn't mean the farm where we lived. She meant the town she was born and raised in, Cleethorpes, England.

The Promenade in Cleethorpes at the mouth of the river Humber
Mom took us back there several times while we were growing up, but the first time I was old enough to really remember it was when I was 13. My cousin Karen, the daughter of my Mom's youngest sister Betty was getting married, so Mom took me and my brother Tom with her back to Cleethorpes for the summer of 1978. I got to know Cleethorpes a little, and formed relationships with my Mom's father, her brother and sisters, and their kids that have stood the test of time. My grandad, aunts and uncle and their spouses also made trips over to visit us and sometimes brought their kids with them, so we really did know each other pretty well.

From my 2001 visit: Left to right: Eric,
his wife Lois, Karen, Betty, Me, My aunt May's
widower, Les, and Betty's husband Tom.
As time went on, we drifted apart a bit, though we've never been completely out of touch. When my Mom died my cousin Lynn wrote us a condolence poem that couldn't have been more perfect if Mom had written it herself. I decided then that I needed to make a trip back to Cleethorpes. I went in October of 2001 and had a great visit with my two aunts and uncle and most of their kids. At that time, Doug and I had been dating less than a year, but my cousins all wanted to know when I was going to bring him over to meet them. "Soon" I said. Irony. Anyway, I wasn't sure how receptive my Mom's generation would be to meeting the gay nephew's Canadian boyfriend, so I let sleeping dogs lie.

The years got away from us, and the next trip to Britain was in 2010. Doug and I signed ourselves up for a one week Gaelic immersion course in South Uist, and we didn't plan a trip to see my family. I will regret that decision for the rest of my life. Since then I've lost my last uncle and one of my two aunts.

And now it's 2014. Doug and I were invited to travel to the Royal National Mòd with the Victoria Gaelic Choir to compete this year and we accepted without hesitation. I insisted this time, however, that we spend enough time to make crossing the Atlantic worth the expense and the effort. Three weeks, and not a day less, and visiting family was non-negotiable. No argument. Doug had seen my face when I learned that my uncle Eric had died, and when I found my aunt Gladys' obituary online accidentally. No argument.

From my 2001 visit: My cousin Lynn, Her son Matthew
and his newborn son, Corben. Corben is in the
double-digits now!
We flew in to Heathrow on Monday and spent the first few days in London doing tourist and harp-related things. Thursday we hopped a train North headed for Ramsey to visit my cousins Lynn and David. I had asked them to arrange a birthday cake, since Doug was turning 50 while we were there. My cousins were just as warm and welcoming as I had remembered from my childhood, and they made it clear that under no circumstances were we to get married without giving them enough notice to come. Message received, cousins.

So, my aunt Betty, my Mom's youngest sister, is the last of her generation, and still lives in Cleethorpes, just around the corner from the house where they were all born and raised. She's in her eighties, and I had learned that she is on dialysis, so I was prepared to find her and her husband Tom in tough shape, and didn't want to be a burden in any way, so I only planned for us to spend a half day with them. Just enough time to see a couple sites, maybe have lunch and a good visit before heading off to Glasgow.

#19 Edwards Street where Mom
was born and raised
David volunteered to drive us to Cleethorpes, which meant that we would also get to make a stop at Lynn's mother's house. That's my Uncle Eric's widow Lois for those of you keeping score at home. We had a short but robust visit there, then back on the road.

When we arrived in Cleethorpes we got quite a surprise. Far from frail, Betty and Tom met us at the door looking like the picture of health and style. Tom took our suitcases and said he would bring them down to the train station for us so we didn't have to wrestle with them. My cousin Karen was there, now a woman in her 50s, with her grown daughter Kelly. We hadn't even sat down before Betty asked if we had eaten. No? Within thirty seconds we had a table reserved at their favourite restaurant down at the front (that's the waterfront for you Yanks) and we were in Kelly's car. Memories from the summer of 1978 started flooding back. Mary Lawless' house! The family home at #19 Edward Street! Saint Peter's Church! Ross Castle!

Over lunch, Betty shared news of the family. She talked about her brother Eric who had died in 2013; about what happened when her last sister Gladys passed away earlier this year. She told me about her and her Tom's illnesses. They had come close to death, but were both now doing very well. She also wanted to know about us and our lives together. She talked about having gone to a same-sex wedding recently and made it clear that she had no issues with it. Then she got quiet.

"I told her. I told her that Summer when you were here for Karen's wedding. I told her she needed to help you cope." she said.

And my understanding of my life changed. Someone in my family was advocating for me when I was 13, and she was still alive and sitting across the table from us, right there in Cleethorpes. Then she took an envelope out of her purse and handed it to me.

"Something for you and Doug."

Pounds sterling. Lots of pounds sterling. There's only one time in your life when relatives hand you envelopes of cash in England. This was a wedding present.

It was time for us to leave to make our train to Glasgow, so Betty walked us the two blocks to the station. Tom was waiting there with our cases. I put my hands on her shoulders and said the truest words I ever have.

"I don't want to go. I don't want to leave you." I said.

"I know. Don't be too long." she said with a smile that was at once happy and sad.

We got on the train and as it pulled away, my heart ripped out of my chest. I was leaving home again. When we reached Glasgow, we stopped at the first news stand and got some postcards. I wrote the first one to Betty and Tom, thanking them for the present and promising a longer letter when we got home. I included it in a Christmas card I put in the mail last Thursday. This is what it said in part:

Mom died on October 26th, 2000, as I’m sure you remember. I met Doug on April 7th of the next year - barely five months later. Within a few weeks, I realized that I had met the person with whom I intended to spend the rest of my life. It wasn’t too much later, on a Summer weekend when we were hanging new curtains in his house that it truly dawned on me that I would never be able to take Doug home to meet Mom. They would never laugh together; never make fun of my quirks together. I would never see them hug. She would never be there to accept him as a part of our family the way his mother and father have accepted me.
Thirteen years have come and gone since then. Doug and I have been through a lot and seen the days when first his country, and then mine, and now yours accept our little family as real and worthy. My heart is so full and I’m so grateful for my life that I didn’t think I had any wounds left to heal until you opened the door of your beautiful home and welcomed us in.
During our lunch at Steel’s, the things you shared about your conversation with my Mom that Summer when we were over for Karen's wedding, and about your own positive relationships with same-sex couples were a great comfort to me. That old sorrow that I had been carrying for thirteen years melted away. No, my Mother wasn’t there to accept Doug, but through you, my Mother’s family was. It meant so much to me, Betty. I feel more at peace than I have in a dozen years.
Getting on that train and leaving Cleethorpes was the hardest goodbye I’ve experienced in a very long time. I will return as soon as I can and we’ll have a proper visit if the fates allow.
I got to take Doug home with me where we were welcomed with open arms. Even here at the shaggy winding-up end of our stories, there are still miracles of grace to be found if you look. If the fates allow…

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

Holidays are complicated and hard. That's not actually a problem statement, though. Humans the planet over have evolved societies over time that set aside special days to contemplate our relationship to the universe and each other and labeled them holy. Since those relationships are the way they are, why should we anticipate that the days we set aside to consider them should be easy and straightforward? That seems to be an unrealistic expectation.

We have all suffered through the public discourse on the 'War on Christmas" in which our culturally Christian nation(s) struggle with the erosion of their hegemony. When I was a kid, the identified problem was the commercialization of Christmas. The same people who are claiming now that they are being oppressed by the term "happy Holidays" are the same ones who cried bitter tears over stores being open on a Sunday. Now, of course, they don't want those damn un-Christian liberals interfering with their plans to mob Walmart stores on Thanksgiving.

Which brings us back to the subject of Thanksgiving. What a delightfully simple and straightforward holiday. No particular religious identity; just a day to spend with family contemplating gratitude for the good stuff. Unless you're a First Nation / Native American / Indigenous Person. Dang. Reality intrudes again with the complications of actual life and history. If you're ancestors didn't get to North America on foot, I suggest you educate yourself a little on how the First Nations think about the arrival of significant numbers of Europeans on their shores just a few centuries ago. You might not enjoy it, but you owe it to them. You can't undo the evils of the past, but you can bear honest witness. You must bear honest witness.

There. Enough finger wagging for one year. I would now like to write a little about the things for which I am grateful this year.

  • Diabetes diagnosis: Shocking, frightening, but ultimately good, since I got the disease under control and am doing well.
  • Trip to NYC: Any chance to visit the Only City That Matters is a blessing.
  • Tutankhamun Exhibit: It brought many people to Seattle who stayed with me!
  • Language Hunters: Learning this new method of teaching language has been a revolution!
  • Carmen's Surgery: My dear friend's brain surgery went well and has been an opportunity to demonstrate my friendship and commitment to her family.
  • Seirm's Trip to Vancouver: It had been more than seven years since the last major Seattle to Vancouver road trip; high time!
  • Olivia's Surgery: Doug's mother had breast cancer surgery, which went well, but is always a worry.
  • Féis Seattle 2014: And I had very little to do with producing it!
  • Wiccaning: My godson completed his year of religious education and charmed his Counsil into allowing him to continue. Softies.
  • Trip to Britain: 22 days in a row with my beloved pre-husband and he's still beloved. This trip was life-changing in many more ways than will fit into this bullet point. Will I write more about it in the future? Maybe, but you fucking Colonials won't get it anyway, so why bother?
  • Washington Area Folk Harp Society Getaway: Ending a year of music career frustrations with this out-of-the-park experience was a huge blessing.

And there we go. Long list. Complicated and truthful.

May we all give thanks and receive blessings.


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Project 41: Flying Clothes

Lingoman and I are headed out on our longest vacation yet this coming Sunday. Three weeks in England and Scotland and we're both very excited. It will also be the greatest number of consecutive days together in more than thirteen years.

We were invited to go with the Victoria Gaelic Choir to compete in the Royal National Mòd in Inverness, Scotland. They needed more fluent speakers and more male voices, and with us they got two of each for the price of just one hotel room.

We decided early on to make a big trip out of it since our last Scottish trip was only nine days and it felt like a waste of money to cross the damn Atlantic only to turn around and come back right away. We're spending three nights in London first, then heading up to my cousins' in Ramsey, Cambridgeshire with a side trip to my Mom's hometown of Cleethorpes to see my last living aunt. Then it's up to Glasgow for the weekend before the final push to reach Inverness. Six days there at the biggest Gaelic festival in the world is going to be spectacular. Inverness is where the Mòd was held in 1997 when I won the harp competition. When that's all done, we think we'll be heading out the Isle of Skye for a few days at our friend Alec's self-catering croft house.

Anyway, what does that have to do with clothes? I decided I wanted some nicer-than-t-shirts but still easy to travel with clothing for the trip. I picked up some polycotton interlock at Fabricana last weekend and made these colour-blocked raglan sleeve shirts in a single evening. The one with the black body and grey sleeves is the most successful v-neck so-far. The contrast stitching on the hems was a last minute experiment. Not quite sure I like it yet.

There are two more shirts on the cutting table so with any luck I'll get them done in plenty of time.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


I've just returned home from our godson's Wiccaning ceremony. It was the culmination of thirteen months of study on his part, and thirteen months of planning and worrying on my and his mother's part. I have practiced the religion of Wicca since I was sixteen, and though I clearly perceive its many shortcomings, I have a strong belief in its potential to evolve into a deep and beneficial religious framework for exploring the human condition.

But how does that evolution happen? At midlife, I have come to think that the evolution happens in the transmission of the toolkit from one mind to another. By necessity, when I think about the Craft, theorize about it, tease apart the syncretic underpinnings, I am doing so within the closed system of my own life experience. When I transmit it to another mind, though, something truly mysterious happens. It changes somewhere between my mouth and the learner's ear. In that leap, the Gods can reach down and give the sound a spin to reveal some further nuance of their reality before it lands in the next cochlea.

The Craft has almost no permanent structures. That means that each time we want to perform a ritual or ceremony, we must create a temple in which to do so. This has had an enormous impact on the evolution of our religion in that we have become really good at creating sacred space. That's the first thing that our young man was to learn, and learn it he did.

I assembled a council of five advanced practitioners of the Craft to observe him creating sacred space.  They were all people dear to me, whom I respect and admire as fellow Witches. They each also brought a unique perspective and role to the Council:

She From Afar: My husband-to-be's sister-in-spirit, so I suppose she is my sister-in-spirit-to-be-in-law drove down from Vancouver, bringing the both the Dianic and explorative mystic perspective. I find that having someone who traveled far to an event lends an sense of importance that nothing else does.

He Of My Own: My best friend, business partner, and someone that I myself introduced to the Craft. Having him there meant that as the ritual progressed, there was a member of the Council who knew all the chants and joined in quickly showing our godson that he was becoming a part of something that is bigger than just us two.

She On Her Own: My voice teacher, who is what in my tradition is called a natural Witch. She has come to her practice through her own explorations, but in a way that is very much in line with more formal Craft. She is evidence that our religious framework is a human reaction to our spiritual reality and not an invention of ego. Being a practitioner without external training, she also responded purely to what she saw and heard without preconceived ideas about the right way to do things.

She Of Great Renown: The priestess who created a new form of Goddess worship right here in Seattle. Our godson has seen her stand up in front of very large crowds and lead them in the veneration of the Divine Feminine, and she was there tonight just for him.

She Of Deep Tradition: One of the founders of the Windblown tradition of Witchcraft. A close colleague of some of the most influential Witches of this and the previous generation, and someone to whom I, his teacher, bow as an Elder. Perhaps most importantly, though, someone unknown to our godson; introducing mystery and the unpredictable to the ritual.

After performing the various parts of the ritual to create sacred space, he faced questioning by the Council. Their questions were thoughtful and probing, but also kind and took his age into consideration. After a period of quiet meditation, each also offered advice for him going forward and gave their assent to his affirmation as a practitioner of the Craft of the Wise.

Snacks, cake, presents, and coffee followed. It was lovely.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Project 40: Acolyte Robes

The completed look
A week from tonight, when the moon is new, our godson will stand in front of a group of elder Witches that I have assembled and perform the ritual to create sacred space as defined in my tradition of The Craft. Since he turned nine, we have met on each new Moon to learn another part of the ceremony. He has worked diligently, and I have every confidence that he will do well and that the council of Witches will assent to his elevation.

All that, however, leaves the question of appropriate attire entirely unanswered. Every occasion in life, I have found, is an excellent reason to create new clothes. Finishing the first year of your religious education is no exception.

This young man's love for the colour green shows no sign of fading, so I knew that green had to be prominent. More than a year ago, on a trip to New York City's fabulous Mood Fabrics, I happened upon some Kelly green microfibre velvet and seized upon it. Luxe and washable - what's not to love?

Neckline and closure
You may recall that this time last year, when I was making him a set of Apprentice Robes, I learned far too late that I didn't own the correct size of pattern for the garment I was making and had to draft my own smaller-sized pattern. I went OK, but I needed this execution to be better than OK, so I purchased the child-sized version of the pattern from McCalls.

I have learned quite a lot in the last year about the exacting science of pattern making, so I felt confident that based on his measurements I would be able to select the correct size on the paper pattern pieces when tracing my plastic sheeting pattern pieces.

Inner robe with rope belt
This pattern calls for just one part to be double-layered: the yoke. I selected some lining fabric for the inner part which was labeled "deep moss" but actually turned out to be more like a medium brown! Och!

Construction was smooth in general for outer robe. Surprisingly I ran into some geometry problems fitting the yoke lining to the shell. I don't honestly know how I went wrong there, but by hook or by crook I managed to fit the pieces together.

I added a hook and eye closure that matches my own recently finished ritual robe.

Next I needed to draft a pattern for an inner robe. It's essentially a floor-length t-shirt, and I had used the recent Stat Trek birthday present to make sure I had all the geometry correct. That went fine, though I think I need to improve my understanding of neck bands. This one stood up when I expected it to lie down. Hmmm. I added a green rayon rope belt too. If the inner robe is too long, hitching it up will be no problem now.
Inner robe neckline

Anyway, the two garments together make a beautiful combination and I'm very much looking forward to seeing him in them. The crowning jewel, of course, will be when I present him with one of the five remaining silver pentagrams made by the artists who made the one that I wear. To whom the remaining four will go I have yet to learn, but this one? This one is for him. He has earned it.

Vents for mobility

The actual point of all this

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Project 39: Tenth Birthday Star Trek Tunic

Today is our godson's tenth birthday, and he picked the theme of Star Trek for his party which will be happening this coming weekend. I'm already in the middle of several big sewing projects, but the guy's only going to be ten once, so I decided to make him a Star Trek original series uniform tunic. You know I'm big on honesty, right? They're the simplest design.

The first challenge was getting the fabric. All the command staff in the original series wore gold coloured tunics and that's not actually a very trendy hue just now. Lucky for me, my Google-Fu is strong. I found some ponte on that was the right colour, but 100% polyester. Ugh. Well, it's only really a costume and I couldn't find anything at all in a natural fibre.

Some weird colour thing happened.
The bedspread is the same one as in the photo above.
Next up the logo patch. I actually had one of those patches when I was his age. My sister Anne took me to a Star Trek event at the Seattle Center which was really great of her to do. Mom found a store-bought pull-over that was sort of like the original series tunics and sewed the patch on for me. I loved it. So, I knew that they existed and could be purchased. Again, Google led me exactly where I needed to go. You can get props, costume accessories, and even sewing patterns over at Not actually too spendy, either.

On to pattern drafting. I studied quite a few photos from the original series, and the tunics basically look like there's only one seam on one shoulder, but I wasn't up for that radical a piece of architecture, so I drafted a raglan sleeve tunic with a very high V neck. I have never made a raglan sleeve so I purchased a couple yards of some blue cotton jersey at Pacific Fabrics for a practice run. It turned out so well that I ordered the Lt. Spock version of the logo patch to complete it. My guy will have a spare tunic to lend to a friend for their away-team adventures. The little pucker that I got at the point of the V neck on the practice tunic was because I didn't clip all the way to the stay stitching at the apex of the V. Lesson learned!

The gold ponte is actually a really attractive colour and the polyester is at least easy to work with. Doesn't feel great against the skin, but he's ten. I don't think he'll care. I didn't spring for the replica gold braid for the rank markings on the sleeve. I think the rick-rack looks convincing enough as it is.

Last but not least, I thought he could use a prop of some kind. Gun-shaped toys aren't allowed in his world, so I wasn't sure if a replica phaser would be a problem. I erred on the side of caution and got him a communicator instead. It's pretty cool! It lights up, makes authentic sounds and even has some voice clips from the show. He was happily ordering landing parties to beam up and down when I left.

Birthday mission accomplished, I think. Now back to sewing for his Wiccaning ceremony later this month.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Ding! Level 48

Well, 47, you were a kick in the pants. Several kicks in the pants, actually, and a few in the gut for good measure. In the words of my favorite internet meme of the last few months, "Dear Things That Won't Kill Me: I'm strong enough already, thanks."

Getting diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in December got this year off to a rollicking start. Thankfully, I've been able to lose weight and modify my eating to the point that I don't have to take any medications for that. They tried putting me on a statin drug for cholesterol, but my side effects were debilitating, so I took myself off it. Now it's just keeping my carbohydrate intake under 50 grams per day and taking a blood pressure pill. There an upside to it, though. I sleep through the night because I'm not getting up three times to pee. It's also nice when people notice the weight loss.

My close friend K was in hospital for several months with complications from a surgery to remove a tumor wrapped around her femoral artery, so that was another major negative aspect of how this year went.

Stressful at the time, but ultimately successful was my godson's mother, my close friend C having a benign growth removed from her brain.

Then Doug's mother was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time in her life. Not a recurrence, though, which would have been much worse. She came through with flying colors but it was yet another near-and-dear one in the hospital.

I learned later in the year that one of my two remaining aunts in England had passed away. I've got just one left, so I'm glad that Doug and I are going over to the UK next month. The Victoria Gaelic choir is going over to compete in the Royal Scottish National Mòd, and they invited us to go and sing with them to increase their number of male voices and fluent speakers. We're making a big three-week trip out of it. I can't wait.

I also got this awesome gig in November to teach and perform at the Washington Folk Harp Society's weekend getaway in Gettysburg, PA. I had hoped to use it as an anchor gig to build an East Coast tour, but the diabetes and other issues kept me from working on it back when I would have had to have been in order to succeed. It hurts like hell to feel like I missed such a golden opportunity.

I've made some progress on closing Mom's estate, though. Inching forward on that one.

I didn't make very many of my goals this year and I mostly feel like I've been run over by a truck. I sure hope that 48 is much better all-in-all.

Project 38: Ritual Robes - Part 1

This year, our godson is turning 10, and he has just finished his first year of religious study with me. We have taken a full twelve turns of the Moon to learn how to create sacred space as is done in my tradition of the Craft.

Being a learned Witch, I anticipated that time would continue to flow at the previously observed rate, and so had some idea that this day was coming. I knew that I would be confening an grand Counsil of elder Witches to obserfe him performing the charmes and spelles so-far learned and to render their auguft judgmentes.

Oops. Sorry. Got all Cotton Mathers on you for a moment there.

The biggest question, of course, was what in the names of gods was I going to wear? I had already produced a set of clerical robes for my dearest friend Lance, so decided to base a set for myself on those ideas. Plain black wool suiting was a little too staid for me, so I bought a bold of black cotton flocked velvet! Gayer than Halloween and Pride put together!

As the months rolled by and the now impending month approached, my thoughts turned to the subtle details of the outer robe. Pockets? Side-seam definitely, but how about an inner welt pocket for. my. WAND. Yes!

Flared sleeves, of course, but since the velvet was a tad sturdier than I thought how about elbow darts to ease motion? And facing, and pretty sleeve lining. Lining.

Lining. I hate lining. I have made too many perfect garment shells only to have them distorted horribly by bad lining geometry. I wanted to find a lining fabric that would be strong, but forgiving so that any lining design errors on my part would only be visible to a trained eye with a magnifying glass and a copy of a pattern-making text book at hand. Done! Radiance is a blend of silk and cotton, but with an interesting twist. It has one cotton face, and one silk face. You can work with the cooperative, sturdy cotton face, then turn and BOOM: Red carpet slink!

I added contour seams to the front, and some lovely brass-coloured hook and eye closures that I got at  Botani in New York. The inner robe will complete the look, but I'm already quite happy with the aesthetic of the outer robe.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Project 37: V-neck Pullover

I have an upcoming project that is going to require a well executed v-neck, so I decided to quickly design and make myself a v-neck pullover for practice. I had a beautiful length of cream coloured ponte and decided to contrast it with a black neckband.
Drafting the pattern was much easier than the last time I attempted a t-shirt because my understanding of garment construction has come so far. I knew to lengthen the shoulder seams, shorten the armseye, and add six inches to the overall length since apparently the default silhouette in GarmentDesigner is a cropped suit jacket with high cap sleeves.

Cutting and sewing went exceptionally smoothly; taking in total less than four hours thanks to an excellent tutorial on YouTube about v-necks by Melly Sews.

I wore it to work today and got several positive comments, so I am well pleased. Before I do a production run, I think I will make a few adjustments to the neckline. I really don't have the necessary set of pectoral muscles for such a plunge!

There is upon reflection a certain Star Trek The Original Series feeling to the overall garment, so I will refrain from producing any red ones.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Project 36: Jersey Skirts

My close friend Carmen, the mother of my godson (my god-baby-mama) handed me an interesting challenge a couple weeks ago. She has several knee-length cotton jersey skirts that are staples in her wardrobe and getting near the end of their useful life. She hasn't found any equivalent, so asked me to try to duplicate them.

I made the first one out of some black cotton jersey that I had in my stash to be sure that I had gotten the fit in and shape right, and I hadn't. It was usable, but wasn't full enough at the hem for daily wear. I re-drafted the pattern with more flare (room, not style) and made a second one with some red jersey for which I had no particular plan and it worked great! A side benefit is that my stash of knit fabric is shrinking, bringing me closer to my next New York trip to Mood Fabrics!

We made a trip to our local Pacific Fabrics store, picked out some lovely blue material, had a couple martinis at Saffron on the way home, and voila!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Project 35: Mandarin Collared Dress Shirt

Several years ago, my best buddy and business partner had a mid-week birthday, so we made a casual evening of it and went out for dinner. As a gift, I told him I would make him a garment, and he chose a dress shirt with a mandarin collar. We made a beeline up to the top of Queen Anne Hill and visited Nancy's Sewing Basket, which is the only high-end fabric store in the area. He picked out some black Tencel fabric and some square buttons that had something that looked like a Chinese character on them, but I'm guessing was just an Asian-looking squiggle. (Thirteen years with a linguist rubs off on you)

Why, you might ask, did it take multiple years to produce a dress shirt? Pattern making. I have a program that makes patterns, but it turns out that you actually have to understand garment construction in order to use it successfully. Coming up with an original pattern for a mens dress shirt wound up being a steeper learning curve than I bargained for. When, dear Reader, will I realize that everything has a steeper learning curve than I bargain for? A fair question.

After some false starts early in the year, I did manage to produce a credible pattern. I decided that I wanted to make a welt pocket to continue the mandarin collar theme, as well as a differently styled front placket and cuffs. Having barely survived the construction of the sleeve plackets (which I now understand are called gauntlets) during Project 25: Sparkly Dress Shirt I resolved to learn how the sleeve gauntlets on every damn dress shirt I had ever owned were constructed.

Side note: Why in the hell did some idiot in the home sewer pattern industry decide to come up with a different way to make sleeve gauntlets that is super hard and never looks good when done? Huh? Why? AAAARGH! I feel very fortunate that mere weeks before I found myself desperately searching the web for a tutorial on proper sleeve gauntlet making that this brilliant blog post was made.

Things generally came out like I hoped. The collar is great, the sleeve gauntlets are beautiful, the placket is handsome, and the welt pocket is pretty good. I'm well pleased, as is my buddy. Time for a martini and an episode of Game of Thrones.

Hovering over my George Foreman grill, I might add.

A bit wrinkly, I will admit. 
And there is one of the buttons. See what I mean about simulated characters? I mean, there's no radical to tell you the semantic family. Did you notice that, Doug?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Project 34: Mens Underwear

Now, everyday I will be wearing something I made, even if I'm the only one who will see it.

It started as a simple idea. I was going to use up some of my big stash of cotton jersey by making myself underwear. As with all my projects, there was a learning curve that I didn't anticipate. I should start anticipating them, I think.

The first part of the quest was finding a pattern. Believe it or not, there are very few home sewers out there who are making mens underwear. Shocking! I wasted several hours trying to convince my pattern design software to do it for me, but to no avail. After many fruitless Google searches, I finally came across this pattern from a French Canadian company: Jalie 3242 - Underwear for Men, Women, and Children.  I also found this awesome YouTube video showing you each step in making the trunks: How to Make Men's Trunk Underwear

I ordered a copy of the pattern, but it wasn't just for the smoking hot French Canadian underwear model. After making my first attempt at the garment, I realized that had underestimated the importance of the difference between two-way stretch fabric and four-way stretch fabric.


Knit fabric that you use in an outer garment should only stretch in one direction - sideways. That's why your t-shirt sleeves can accommodate bulging biceps, but not droop down to your elbows, or in my case, accommodate bulging love handles, but not droop down to my knees. Undergarments, however, need to stretch in every which way to provide a comfy home for our bumpy lumpy sexy bits.

None of the jersey in my overflowing stash was four-way stretch. So much for decreasing the overall inventory. Reluctantly heading to the fabric store (ha ha ha) for four-way stretch fabric, I soldiered on. There, I discovered a textile previously unknown to me which has changed my understanding of life.

Bamboo Jersey

Bamboo fabrics have been the darling of the green textile movement for several years, and there are some good reasons for it. Growing bamboo is much less demanding on the soil and water supply than cotton, for example. The downside comes at the fabric production stage. The cellulose in bamboo has to be extracted and made into a fiber, and that process currently involves nasty petrochemicals. Balancing those pluses and minuses is a task for someone else. I will testify, however, that bamboo jersey is the perfect midpoint between silk and cotton jerseys. The drape and hand are extraordinary but the cost and ease of use are perfectly reasonable.

After I made the first pair and wore them for a day, I was hooked. The fabric was so pleasant against my skin that it gave me a happy feeling all day long. It wicks moisture away from the skin faster than cotton and is hypoallergenic, so ones nether regions are kept dry and comfortable in even the most trying of circumstances.

With some interruptions, I entered full production mode, and am pleased to report that both I and Lingoman are now well supplied with bamboo jersey trunks in a variety of colors.

No, I will not model them. Don't be a perv.

Coverstitch Appreciation 101

Three needle coverstitch joining waistband.
This project was the first real workout for my new Babylock Coverstitch machine. You may not know it, but you're wearing a ton of cover stitch seams right now. At the cuff of your t-shirt sleeve you'll see two rows of parallel stitches, and on the backside a knitted stitch binding the raw edge of the fabric. If you explore further into your underwear, you'll see that the fabric is attached to the waistband by a trio of top stitches that are woven in the background into a cover stitch.


Two needle coverstitch finishing hem.
Two needle coverstitch finishing hem
  • Use the double-stick dissolvable tape when you need to. No one will judge.
  • The thread that no one sees doesn't need to match perfectly.
  • There are many kinds of elastic and they are all somehow problematic.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Luckiest 13

Today is the fourteenth of April, in the two thousand and fourteenth year of the common era. That might not mean much to you, but it does to me. Thirteen years ago today was my first whole day spent with a certain Canadian.

These were those anguish-filled times long ago.
My schedule has kept me in Seattle for the last two weekends, so I haven't woken up next to him since the 30th of March. Our anniversary, or date-a-versary as I often call it, taking place in the midst of a period of separation would have, at an earlier point in time been the cause of great anguish. Today it is still uncomfortable, but we've got this.

I'll be in a surgical waiting lounge tomorrow with my godson's father while his wife has a tumor removed from her brain casing. I'll be 110 miles from the only set of shoulders that fit my furrowed brow, but we've got this.

My siblings are in a tricky situation that I may have to get them out of despite the fact that they HATE asking their baby brother for help, but it will be OK. We've got this.

Himself just heard that his mother (whom I adore) has gotten some troubling medical news of her own, but we will rise to meet whatever need comes, because we've got this.

Reaching middle age comes with challenges. There are creaks and groans where before there were none, but there are also powers and rewards. There is a sense of satisfaction that comes when you walk into a situation where people you love are struggling and they heave a sigh of relief because "The boys are here."

Yes, I would rather spend every remaining day by his side. Yes, it costs us to be apart so often, but we're OK. We've got this. What can we do to help?

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Diabetes Update: Moving in the Right Direction

On March 4th I went to see my primary care physician (first time I've met her face to face) to go over my quarterly hemoglobin a1c test results. For those of you who don't know, it's a blood test that tells you what your average blood sugar levels have been for the last three months or so. For people with type 2 diabetes, it's the most important report card you get.

This was my first one since diagnosis, so I was nervous that even more bad news was on the way. You see, I test my blood first thing in the morning, and I had been getting perfectly acceptable results for quite a long time, but there are always the dire warnings that your blood sugar might be spiking later in the day even if it's OK when you wake up.

The test results had been available to me for a couple days via the Group Health web site, but I had decided not too look at them until I had a qualified medical professional to help me understand their implications. I didn't want a repeat of the week after getting my diagnosis results imagining the worst and torturing myself with images of blindness and amputations.

I had prepared a long bulleted list of everything that was going horribly wrong with my body which I attributed to the medications, and my doctor was happy to go through them all, but first she wanted to share the a1c results: They were great. The a1c number was 4.9 (my diagnosis test was 9.9) and the calculated average blood glucose level was 94, which is in the lower half of the normal range.

She said it was the most dramatic improvement she had ever seen (admittedly, she's about 12, but still). She said I could stop taking the metformin, but we decided together to cut the dose in half instead and watch the results to be sure. The last thing I wanted was to go off that horrible medication only to have to start it again.

We did go through my list of horribly bad things, and some of them she attributed to how suddenly I had lowered my blood sugars. Some of them were likely due to the cholesterol medication. I left there feeling optimistic.

Weeks later, the body aches and fatigue had only gotten worse. I missed work on two occasions and spent the days curled up in a ball on the couch whimpering. I just couldn't take it anymore, so I decided to stop the statin pills and make an appointment to discuss other options for managing cholesterol, as well as my growing skepticism about its importance. (paging Dr. Gagne, paging Dr. Gagne)

So, I'm heading back in next week. Blood sugars have maintained in an acceptable range, so I'm going to talk about a further reduction in metformin and let her know that I refuse to take those cholesterol / torture pills ever again.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Project 32: Skirting the Issue - Continued

These are the fourth and fifth in the series of skirts I'm making for my beloved friend K, who has trouble shopping off the rack due to decades of courageous struggle against Cushing's Disease. You can see the first three skirts here: Project 32: Skirting the Issue

Each of the pieces is inspired by a different aspect of my friend's life and story as I understand it. Number four is my comment on her history as a child of missionaries in the Andes mountains of South America.
Continuing within my triptych framework, I selected three prints again, but decided to piece together the first and second panels to suggest the peaks of the mountains against the night sky.

The print around the bottom should look familiar. It's the same one I used in the Seattleite design to suggest the perpetual clouds we all enjoy so much. This time, though, the clouds represent the ground of the composition with the mountain peaks and stars rising high above.

The fifth was a request from K for a warmer skirt made from knit fabric. Luckily I was on my way to the Sewing and Stitchery Expo in Puyallup when her message came in. There was an exceptional fabric vendor there from Evanston, Illinois called Vogue Fabrics and they had an excellent selection of textiles at prices I have not seen outside of Manhattan before.

I selected two colors of double-knit cotton jersey that had a beautiful hand and a lovely sheen to them. The photograph really doesn't do the colors justice. They really evoke the green and blue of crocus leaves and flowers. Of all the pieces, this one has the least narrative / editorial content, but it will serve its purpose and keep her boo-boos warm and toasty until the weather here starts to cooperate.

I used a two-thread flat lock stitch on my Babylock Imagine serger to join the upper and lower sections together. As promised, it produced a slender join with the needle threads visible easing the transition between the colors. If you click on the photo you might be able to see what I'm writing about.

The layers around the bottom edge were supposed to be more lettuce-edged than they turned out. Live and learn, I suppose! I do like the piece, but am starting to feel ready to move on to the final skirt, since it promises to be the most theatrical.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

A Moment of Grace

Last Sunday night was shaping up like many before it. Doug was at work until 5:00 pm, and I had everything ready to make a nice dinner of oven roasted chicken and vegetables with a side of red quinoa with butter and salt.

I picked him up from work and we came home. I busied myself in the kitchen while he unwound and caught up on what had happened on the Internets during the day. I set the table and laid out dinner, which all turned out well. While we were enjoying it and talking something dawned on me that transformed my experience. I realized that this was one of those times that in future I would look back on as a rare and wonderful moment of perfect intimacy, peace, and enjoyment together. Through some unknowable grace, I could see the timeless divine light shining through each moment. We finished dinner and being the wonderful man that he his, Doug did all the dishes while I stretched out on the couch.

Dear gods, if I have served you well, when my last night on Earth comes, somehow let it be that night again. That's all I need.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Project 33: Ms. Executive Hoodie

I made this piece at the request of a co-worker from NOAA's offices in Washington DC. She was out in Seattle on a business trip and saw me wearing my Dress Hoodie and remarked on the fact that she didn't own anything with a hood. She asked if she could try mine on, so I slipped it off my shoulders and on hers. She decided she liked the style and asked me to maker her one.

Having never made a woman's jacket before, I decided to make a muslin first out of cheap broadcloth. I was certainly glad I did! The shoulders, princess seams, sleeves, and pockets all needed major changes.

This is where my Garment Designer 2.5 software really comes in handy. Being able to keep all the basic measurements intact and just make adjustments is an incredible timesaver.
Construction was slow but smooth. The sleeve caps are the best I've ever made. Very hard to tell from ready-to-wear. The welt pockets are also pretty darn tight for a home sewer. I added a hanging loop, which I feel gives a certain completeness to it.

My favorite part is how the zipper worked out. The shell closes over it so neatly, and because the traveler is bright shiny silver, it adds an accent to the front that I really enjoy.

Working with the silk charmeuse lining was intimidating at first, but as the project went on I learned not to panic when it wiggled out of shape and just wiggle it back in.

I'm hoping that I can talk her into modeling it and getting some good pictures, since you can't really see how cute the shape is on a hanger. I suppose that's why women's clothing is so often displayed on shapely mannequins.
I hope she likes it! She is a stylish young professional woman in our nation's capital and if she sees something appealing in my aesthetic and skills I am going to hold my head up high for a long time.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Project 32: Skirting the Issue

One of my dearest friends is a woman about my age whom I met when she joined our Gaelic choir in 1997. After being close friends for several years, she was diagnosed with Cushings Syndrome, which is caused by a tumor on the pituitary gland in the brain. She had probably had it since her late teens, and since the net effect of the syndrome is to flood the body with cortisol, it explained her slow but steady weight increase over time and her difficulties managing severe anxiety. It's hard to be calm and relaxed when you have enough adrenaline pumping through you to alarm a small village.

It has been an honor and privilege to be her friend and walk beside her during her long struggle against Cushings. I can say without hesitation that she is the bravest, strongest, and smartest person I know.

Last year her doctors made an alarming new discovery and she needed urgent surgery. There were complications. There are almost always complications for Cushings patients, and very few people have ever lived as long with the disease as my friend has, so there is little science to help her care team along. At this point, she has been in the hospital for almost three months trying to recover from surgery and has reached nearly 500 pounds. As she continued to work toward going home, one thing became clear. She was going to need new, comfortable clothes that work with her medical appliances, and when you're a certain size, shopping becomes a challenge.

I knew it was time to take on the challenge.

I decided to design a small collection of skirts for her to get her started post-hospital. Early in the process, I had the inspiration to use a different part of my vision of her and her life as the guiding idea for each design. I have completed three of them, and have a vision of another two, so this is a collection still in process. I call it Skirting the Issue:
Frida's Garden is the name of the print


The first skirt was inspired by my friend's passion for the visual arts and her love of Frida Kahlo. I found this awesome print paying tribute to Frida's art and used it as the center panel framed in black.
Some kilt references, but hopefully not too literal


Part of my friend's heritage is Scottish, and that was the context in which we met, so I naturally wanted a design that was inspired by that. I found some Nova Scotia provincial tartan and used it for this design. The navy blue linen around in the third panel has pleats for ease of motion.


In this design I combined three prints. The bottom panel is leaves, both evergreen and deciduous. The middle panel is sea creatures, and the top is clouds.
Peasanty, yes, but I like it too.
Closer view of the prints.
I wish that it was a different and happier circumstance that moved me to work on these garments, but it wasn't. In the face of a situation about which I can do almost nothing, the only things that remain are love, friendship, and art.
And there they are.