Monday, December 14, 2015

Project 51: Happi and Obi

Close up of Turkish fabric
Last Summer, my friend Paola took a trip back home to her native Turkey, and when returned she brought me a length of beautiful Turkish fabric. I was unfamiliar with the weave, and to tell you the truth I haven't been able to learn much about it since my Turkish is limited to asking for things in a restaurant, hello, please, thank you, and good bye.

The fabric is thick and plush on the printed side and flat on the back side. The design is beautiful and to my eye reminiscent of the traditional Turkish charm against the evil eye. I spent some time with it and what really leapt out at me was the grid pattern, which made me think of rectangles, which makes me think of traditional Japanese garments. Most things like kimono, haori, hakama, etc. have some major pieces that are just rectangles, which combined with beautiful prints and drape produce the elegant understatement that we all love about them.

This Turkish fabric seemed to want to be made into a happi, which is the straight sleeved coat that you see sushi chefs and taiko drummers wearing. They wear them for good reason! They're easy to make, comfortable to work in, and look very smart.

I've written before about growing up visiting my Mom's best friend Kimiko Sakai and spending time with her mother-in-law, Botchan. When Botchan would go out to work in the garden, she always wore her happi so it has that warm memory attached to it also.

I was pretty sure I could make one from memory, but just to be safe I bought a pattern from Folkwear. It all came out just like I hoped, so I used some other fabric from my stash to make an obi to go with it.

It will be just right on Paola!
Here's the secret. I really made it for Paola. I hope she likes it

Friday, November 13, 2015

Project 49: Boys Underwear

Nine pairs of colorful boys underwear
Nine pairs in the picture, but one didn't pass inspection.
Yes, those are my toes.
A friend of mine has a young son who had a kind of rough start in life medically speaking, but he's doing well now and is the most adorable, cherubic lad you could imagine. He does, however, have some challenges and one of them is skin sensitivity. The poor kid and his lovely Mum have a terrible time finding underwear that's comfortable.

I became aware of this back when I did my big production run of mens underwear for me and Doug. My friend wondered if the simple design combined with the very smooth, very soft bamboo jersey might be the key to solving the problem for the young man. I made him a sample pair, and they did the job. He could finally be comfortable all day.

This last week I was finally able to carve out enough time to do a production run for him, so tomorrow he's getting eight pair of super-comfy Taigh Sheumais Fashions boys trunks. Cheerful colours, colour blocking, and contrasting stitching because who wants boring underwear?

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Project 48: Union Jack Shirt

 The third and final of my flag-themed shirts, the Union Jack. I really got excited about this design when Google revealed to me that I could order fabric from the Union Jack Shop with the Union Jack printed on it for the pocket. Making the DIY maple leaf was challenging enough, thanks!

I've executed this pattern enough times that I don't usually encounter any construction issues anymore. Mishaps, however, still happen. I rarely work with white fabric, so didn't really think about it when I pricked my finger with a pin and drew blood. Oops. I suppose a blood stain is appropriate for any imperial power's flag.

Being color-blocked, it was inevitable that some of the top stitching would be contrasting to the fabric, so I decided to use up some of my left over blue thread that was slightly lighter than the blue fabric. I like the fact that all of the top stitching is visible, rather than just where it crosses a white area.

I also completed the project from cutting to buttons in two evenings, down from a typical three for a shirt like this one.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


The following is an open letter to the membership of our Gaelic society, Slighe nan Gaidheal regarding my decision to retire from the Board of Directors after 18 years of service.

Mo Shoraidh Slan Leibh (fad greis)

My Fond Farewell To You (for a while)

Back in 1995 when the guys in my Scottish Gaelic class with Richard Hill started organizing events together I could not have imagined the joys, the challenges, and the love that the next twenty years would bring into my life. I have been called upon to grow as a student of Gaelic and it's history and culture, as a community organizer, and as a human being and I know that growth will serve and sustain me for the rest of my life.

Three years ago, when I decided that I was running for my last term on the Board of Directors this day seemed a distant dot on the horizon, but here it is. Deciding to retire wasn't easy, and last Monday evening when a new season of Seirm started without my help it was strange. Good, but strange.

I was one of the original incorporators back when we started Slighe nan Gaidheal in 1997, and there were a couple years of work before that also, so all told, I have served this community as an organizer for twenty years without a break. I have life goals that are sitting basically idle and I’m hoping that I’ll be able to accomplish some with the time I’ll have back by retiring from the Board, the Communications Committee, and the Gaelic Music Committee. I will continue to teach through the Zero to Gaelic program, though, so if you miss me, come sign up!

Working to help build Slighe nan Gaidheal the organization and its community is without a doubt the most important thing I've ever done, and it has been hugely rewarding. The opportunity to meet and learn from our many tradition bearing presenters over the years is something that I will be grateful for forever. Just as importantly, knowing, working with, and sharing time with all of you has made my life into so much more than I ever thought it would be. Thank you.

Together we have built something extraordinary and precious. Féis Seattle, Seirm, and Zero to Gaelic are models that other communities are already starting to emulate. I know that whatever challenges may lie ahead, Slighe nan Gaidheal is strong and resilient enough to make it through with all of our help and the continuing leadership and dedication of our Board of Directors. It is especially comforting that our first president and another person who signed the incorporation documents, Richard, is back on the Board and steering the way to a bright future for our organization.

While I won't be involved in Slighe nan Gaidheal's day-to-day operations for the foreseeable future, I will most certainly be working hard for Gaelic in our region. Doug and I are already involved in the launch of Guth nan Eilean's inaugural season of their program, Conversational Gaelic, and we hope to be able to provide some organizational assistance to other groups as well.

Sharron Gunn and I at Folklife circa 1998
So it's really not farewell, it's just see you in different contexts. If you want to stay in touch, you can join my musician page on Facebook:

Or sign up for my e-mail newsletter:

Chí mi sibh uile a-rithist!


Sunday, August 9, 2015

Project 47: True North Shirt

After making my Old Glory Shirt for the gig in Vancouver on Independence day last month, I decided I wanted to try my hand at a couple more flag-themed shirts. Here's the second one in the series for my beloved second home, Canada.

I had some beautiful red poplin in my stash that I purchased at Mood Fabrics, so I went shopping at my local Pacific Fabrics store for some matching white and found a pretty good pairing.

The first challenge was making the pocket with the maple leaf. I decided to to full-on DIY. I purchased a package of Steam-a-Seam sheets, which are essentially two sheets of paper with a layer of fabric glue between them. I was really happy to read in the instructions that they are pinter-safe! With a quick Google search I found a vector graphic of the Canadian flag which I was able to re-size and print onto the sheet. I then peeled off the blank side of paper, stuck the fabric on it, then carefully cut around the maple leaf. I then peeled the printed side of paper off and voila! a very tidy iron-on maple leaf.

I determined during my last project that my pattern piece for the collar stand was about an inch too long for the neck opening, so in that one I shortened the stand piece, In this one, however, I increased the size of the neck opening and I like it much better because I button the top button on this shirt easily. Yay!

I also re-drafted the collar piece to make it a little smaller, which I think looks more modern. I really like it.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Project 46: Japanese Print Aloha Shirt

Remember the post about Doug's splendid aloha shirt that I made with fabric we bought while on Maui? Well, I bought some fabric for myself that day also, and now just three years later I've gotten around to making my shirt!

It's a beautiful medium weight 100% cotton poplin and the manufacturer's website describes the print as: "A metallic gold lined dreamscape of patterned fans, Japanese yew, Iris and crane silhouettes flow diagonally over a solid ground." I loved it instantly.

I used the same pattern as my Old Glory shirt, but corrected a pattern drafting error in the original; the stand collar was about a half an inch too big for the neck.

The pattern matching went pretty well, though I did wind up abandoning a completed set of right and left side fronts because I realized I had matched the pattern at the facing fold line instead of the center front. Luckily, I usually buy more fabric than I need because I make these kinds of mistakes.

There is one chuckle-worthy mistake in the whole garment and the first person to figure it out and leave it in a comment gets a big gold star.

I kind of like the big, retro collar.

Nailed the box pleat.
Can you see the pocket?
Enjoy the view as I stroll away.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Project 45: Old Glory Shirt

We have some friends here in Vancouver, who each independently found Doug and I for help working on their Scottish Gaelic. They are both musicians; Robyn is a professional music teacher and singer and Daibhidh is an ardent practitioner of rap and is becoming a fabulous singer also. We introduced them to each other and a natural alliance emerged. They formed a band called Can Cala and are working on their first recording project as I write this.

Earlier this year, they asked me if I would be interested in opening a gig for them at Skinny Fat Jack's and I accepted enthusiastically. The best date that was available, however, was Saturday, July 4th. What a delicious bit of irony, I thought to myself. Go to Canada to sing Scottish Gaelic songs on U.S. Independence Day. How to make it even better? Transform into Taigh Sheumais Fashions and get sewing!

Box pleat preserves stripe pattern
Initially I thought I would make myself a casual shirt out of some fabric with a US flag design on it, so when I got an e-mail from Pacific Fabrics announcing a sale on patriotic themed fabrics, I headed right in. What I found on the rack, though, inspired a new design. There were two different prints by the same textile artist. One was white stars on a blue field, and the other was red and white stripes. What was really appealing about it to me, though, was that they weren't exact matches to the flag. The red and white stripes were mottled, and the white was really more of a parchment color which also invokes the thought of the founding documents to me. The blue field behind the stars is also mottled and the stars themselves are askew rather than on a grid.

Facing enclosed by yoke shoulder seam
I got out my McCalls M4399 to use as a base and started drafting the pattern pieces. Stand collar, yoke with center box pleat, and short sleeves. Fronts back and yoke out of the stripes, collar, sleeves and pocket out of the stars. Two new tricks in construction; first, when constructing the collar, I left the two ends of the collar stand unfinished until I had fit it to the neck opening to be sure the end of the band would match perfectly. Second, I folded the front facing into place and basted at the neck so that when I attached front pieces to the yoke on the back, the raw edges of the facing were enclosed in the yoke shoulder seam. So much tidier than hand stitching them in place later!

Now I just need to get a Canadian flag lapel pin so I don't get killed on stage tomorrow night.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Another Chance to Say Thanks

The Quick Shuttle, which we have been using for the last fourteen years to get Doug back and forth between Vancouver and Seattle has temporarily changed their pickup location from the Best Western by the Seattle Center to the Washington State Convention Center on Pike street. No one, unfortunately, told me that when I made his reservation to get back home tonight, so thirty minutes after his bus was supposed to depart, I started to worry.

Checking on their website, we figured out what had happened and hopped in my car to zoom over to the new pickup location. There was one more departure tonight, so we anxiously waited for the bus to arrive, hoping that there would be a seat available for him, and that the driver would take my word for it that we had a reservation on the previous bus.

While we were waiting, a familiar face walked past us in the crowd.

"Doctor Savage?" I called out.

He stopped and looked at me, obviously trying to figure out who I was.

"I don't know if you'll remember me…"

"Of course I do, Mr. Gagne. Are you still playing the harp?"

Dr. Savage and I had a sometimes tense relationship when I was studying with him at Cornish College of the Arts back in the 1980s, but there was an underlying respect that grew into a warm teacher / student friendship by the time I graduated. He was my professor in several subjects including opera chorus, cultural history, music history, and more. The things I learned from him changed the course of my musical life in many positive ways.

Dr. James Savage
We quickly caught up with the basic outline of life. He had just retired after 33 years as the music director at Saint James Cathedral. I introduced him to Doug and told him about my complete immersion into Scottish Gaelic music and culture. It seemed we were about to part company, so I gave him my card.

"Since Fate has given me this opportunity…" I began.

He got a funny, apprehensive look on his face. Had other previous students found him years later and been negative?

"I want to say thanks. Thanks for everything you taught me. Thanks for the foundation you gave me. It has served me well."

He beamed. We hugged. He said it was the best feeling in the world to hear that from a former student. Then he looked past me to Doug.

"I'm allowed to do this because I couldn't when he was a student."

He kissed my cheek. Tenderly, sweetly, and we parted ways.

Doug's bus arrived, and the driver believed our story, and there was a seat for him on the bus.

"I think that was why this happened." I said as I kissed him goodbye.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Leaving Folklife

The first time I attended the Northwest Folklife Festival I was fifteen years old. I found out about it when I played my very first harp gig at the opening of an Irish restaurant on Bainbridge Island on St. Patrick's Day in 1981. Two other local harpers also played that gig, the late Ron Konzak and the very much not-late Karen Bruner. They both told me I should go, so I did.

For those of you who don't know, Folklife is a four-day festival that takes place each year on Memorial Day weekend at Seattle Center. Stages are set up all over the grounds and thousands of volunteer performers apply to be a part of it.

Not too long before my first
time performing at Folklife.
It's not an exaggeration to say that Folklife changed the trajectory of my life, though I had already found my direction. I was instantly surrounded with other traditional and folk musicians from whom I could learn. A smörgåsbord of instruments to try, handicrafts, clothes, food, dances, and everywhere fascinating people! There was even a particular tree under which Witches (there weren't any other kinds of Pagans around then) gathered. When I went back home to the farm, I had new eyes to see with. I knew there was another world waiting for me.

The following year I performed at Folklife for the first time. It was at the stage set up next to the Kobe Bell. Some of my high school friends came, and before too many more years, attending Folklife was the official start of Summer.

That was thirty three years ago. Once or twice I missed the festival entirely, but usually I went. After that first performance, I didn't apply again until the formation of my band, Wicked Celts. We performed every year during the band's lifetime. By the time the it was winding down, Slighe nan Gaidheal was starting to fill up my calendar, so our musical group, Seirm, would keep me getting up on stages at Folklife. I never once had an application rejected.

In 2012 I released my first solo CD, and started looking for opportunities to perform so I could promote the recording and make some progress toward resurrecting my solo career. I applied to Folklife and was accepted. I even got a pretty good time slot.

The next year I applied again, and got a mediocre time slot and had the absolute worst sound engineering experience of my life. The stage was awash in feedback the entire show. Folklife 2013 was a nightmare for me.

Then, in 2014, the part of Seattle Center where Folklife programmed most of its British Isles content was going to be under construction and unavailable. This is the year I will always think of as The Blood Bath. My application was rejected, along with many, many of my best musical friends. We were all upset, but tried to give Folklife the benefit of the doubt and soldiered on.

Then, as if by fate, I found myself the recipient of a pair of complimentary tickets to a fabulous concert by Le Vent du Nord. Doug and I went, and we hadn't been in our seats too long before our hosts introduced us to another beneficiary of their generosity. The individual had only just left a position at Folklife that involved making application decisions, so before I could stop myself, I asked "So, what was up this year?" The individual hesitated a moment, then said: "Oh. You're that Seumas." Bingo.

The individual related the official Folklife narrative about how the usual British Isles content stage was unavailable and how only some of the customary acts could be accommodated on other stages... If they had stopped there it might have worked, but they didn't. After all, they continued, the British Isles genre did have a much higher acceptance rate than any other genre so leveling the playing field... [over to my inner voice] ...was an opportunity to cut the second rate acts who were just getting in for the sake of Celtic coolness... [back to the outer world]

I had been cut as a second-rate act. It was a bitter pill to swallow.

Since then, I've had plenty of time to think back over the last three plus decades of supporting Folklife and realized that there has been an evolving pattern of change from my first experience of the festival. Some examples:

  • There used to be one big hall of vendors where artists and craftspeople of all kinds, including instrument vendors were housed. First the instruments were taken out and isolated in a musical instrument emporium, then they were eliminated. That's right: you can't buy a fiddle at Folklife anymore.
  • Sandy Bradley used to run a musical instrument auction, which was a fantastic opportunity for musicians to sell unwanted instruments, and for aspiring folks to buy them; sometimes at excellent prices. Sandy retired. Folklife stopped holding the auction.
  • Folklife used to sell your CDs for you all weekend. Now you can set up a table next to your stage if you have someone to staff it for you while you perform.
  • Electric instruments used to be excluded from Folklife. Now they blare across the Seattle Center and drown out the traditional music.
  • There used to be a performer's appreciation party on the Saturday evening of the weekend held at a nearby venue with many spaces for musicians to mix and meet each other. Now it's held in the same hospitality barn that's open to performers all weekend. There's no additional effort made whatsoever.
  • Performers have long enjoyed having the instrument check-in room, and that continues today, but it's run by the local scouting council for tips, not by Folklife.
  • This year, performers were reminded that they are not allowed to use Seattle Center bathrooms to change in and out of performance attire. I plan on taking off my kilt in the lobby of the theatre.
I'm sure that every single one of these changes was for a Good Reason™, but from my perspective, each of them was a small step away from Folklife being an event at which traditional and folk musicians could find and inspire each other and a step toward what it is today. Last year, when I was still stinging from my first rejection e-mail I complained about the change in direction and an individual who had in years past been in a program management position with the festival stated "Folklife isn't a folk music festival! It's a community festival!" The irony was apparently completely lost on him.

Almost certainly my last performance at Folklife in 2013
In my opinion, Folklife sold its soul to preserve its life, and is well on the way to becoming the kind of villain that that choice typically produces.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Project 44: The Nightgown Challenge

I like my future mother-in-law a lot. We've forged a strong relationship over the years and I genuinely look forward to visiting her in Victoria.

A few years ago, I introduced her to Deva Lifewear when I bought her some new nightgowns for Christmas. She loved them, and has worn them basically out. At our last visit she asked me if I would help her order some more online. When I did, we found out that after many years the company has closed up shop.

Being the intrepid seamster that I am, I decided that I would use Garment Designer to make a pattern by measuring the existing garments. It was a bit of a challenge figuring out how to start with one of the basic templates in the software and move specific points to match what I was measuring on the garment, but I got it in the end.

Then, we took a very fun excursion to Gala Fabrics in downtown Victoria. They have a very nice selection in general, and she didn't have any trouble finding some cotton flannelette that she liked.

Back at the sewing table, I printed out the pattern and decided that the sleeve caps looked too tall. The taller the sleeve caps, the more steeply the sleeves will slope downward from the shoulder. A shorter sleeve cap makes the sleeves go out straighter from the shoulder. I'm not completely convinced that I went far enough with that adjustment, but we'll see in two weeks when we go back over.

In construction, I made two mistakes. First, when I constructed the collar, I turned it and topstitched it before attaching it to the neck, and I realized that if I had left it wrong side out I could have adjusted the seam at the end to match the neck more perfectly. Secondly, when I built the gauntlet opening in the front, I tried to use the fabric edge as a sewing guide instead of marking the rectangle like I would on a welt pocket opening. The result is OK, but the junction of the inside and outside pieces at the bottom has a small gap.

If she likes it, I'll make her a couple more and I think I'll be able to address my two construction errors and produce very close to professional level garments.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Maureen's Letter

This is the story I premiered at a concert last night in Seattle. The song described will be on my next CD, which will only be made when my first CD is sold out. Hint. Hint.

When I started learning Scottish Gaelic and our society, Slighe nan Gaidheal, was just a glimmer in our eyes, our teacher, Richard Hill, encouraged us to get on up the road and attend events at the Vancouver Gaelic society to meet and learn from the community of Scottish expats there, many of whom were native speakers.

I did so along with my classmates, and got something out of it I wasn’t expecting. I was already giddy with excitement at having started to learn this language and music which I had been looking for since I was a child, and with the beginnings of a community of people here in Seattle that were just as excited about it. Through the friendships we made in Vancouver, though, we discovered that we were connected to something that spans the globe and the centuries. I found a culture in which because I play the harp and sing, and was studying Gaelic I was automatically valued.
My first teacher, Richard Hill and Maureen circa 1996.

My first native speaker teacher was a woman from the Isle of Lewis called Maureen Lyon. Maureen was a high school teacher in her working years, and was a driving force in organizing events at the Vancouver society. She has an easy laugh, a bright spirit, and is a woman who gets things done. The more times I made it up North to study Gaelic with her, the more I felt like we were becoming real friends.

At that time, I was single and had been for most of my adult life, so the fact that I was Gay was pretty theoretical. That was, until I had a short affair that happened to coincide with Mòd Vancouver 1999. His name was Glen, and he has sadly since passed from this world –may his spirit find peace– and I brought him along. People noticed, and my deep-seated insecurities surfaced. These folks were mostly from the previous generation or the one before that and I don’t know if you know anything about the Isle of Lewis, but the Free Church of Scotland is a big part of island life and their outlook on many subjects is black and white. I became worried that my friendship with Maureen and the others would evaporate if they knew.

In true Gaelic fashion, somebody told Maureen that I was worried. The next time I was up in BC for a weekend I got a call from Maureen on Sunday morning as I was packing up to drive home. “Stop by the house. I have something for you.” Seemed perfectly normal. Probably a tape (we still used tapes then) or book or song or something.

Maureen lives in White Rock, right on the border. I drove into her drive way and got out of the car, but then something strange happened. She came out of her front door and closed it behind her. She had an envelope in her hand. I walked up and greeted her. She handed me the envelope and wished me a safe drive home, then went inside and closed the door. If you know anything about Highland culture, you know that is exceedingly strange. No tea?

I went back to the car and then the metaphorical bucket of ice water went down my back. This was a letter telling me to take my abominably sinful lifestyle choices home with me and never come back.

When I got in line at the border, my hands were shaking as I opened the envelope. Inside was a half sheet of paper with a poem in the format of a letter. It began “a Sheumais Chòir,” – Dear Seumas. I won’t translate the whole thing because it would sound like I was praising myself and that’s simply not done. Suffice to say that she gave me a long list of all the things she likes about me told me that she would never want me to be heavy in mind, but full of light for my whole life and true to myself always. She signed it “le gaol agus tuigse” – with love and understanding – “do dhéagh charaid” - your good friend, Maureen. It’s one of my most prized possessions.

Last year, as I was thinking about putting together material for another CD, I glanced at it up on the wall and wondered why I had never done anything with it. It’s kind of short for a song, I thought, and then it dawned on me. I would write a reply, and so I did.

My reply begins “a Mhaureen Chòir” – Dear Maureen. Your enduring faithful friendship is more valuable to me than I can tell and I want you to know how important that poem was to me that you wrote twenty years ago. It’s in my mind and heart still encouraging me every day. – And I close my reply with “le gaol agus cuimhne” - with love and memory. “do charaid gu bràth” - your friend forever, Seumas.

The song I made from these two verses is titled “Gaol agus Tuigse” – Love and Understanding and will be on my next CD. As soon as my first CD is sold out. Hint. Godsdamn Hint.
Just to prove this a true story.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Project 43: Work Shirts

Doug asked me to make him some shirts to wear at work, where he provides direct assistance to disabled people. He wanted something comfortable and casual, but a little more tailored than a t-shirt. He really enjoys wearing the aloha shirt I made him, so I went back to that pattern as a starting point.

An aloha shirt, by definition, is made out of a statement fabric. This (these) shirts, however, were to be made out of simple, solid-colour broadcloth. There are two features of the aloha shirt pattern that I think are themselves a little too plain to be executed in a plain fabric.

First, the collar. An aloha shirt usually has a rolled collar, which consists of one part, with lapels forming from the points of the neck opening rolling back. (see here, here, and here) In a plain fabric, I wanted a stand collar, which is what you typically see on a mens dress shirt.

Second, the back. The simple aloha shirt design has a one-piece back which looks just great in a Hawaiian print, but in plan broadcloth looks more like surgical scrubs than a tailored shirt. Although the original pattern didn't include one, I drafted the pieces for a two-layer yoke with a box pleat, again like you're used to seeing in a mens dress shirt.

Construction went really well. I think it looks pretty darn close to RTW. (ready to wear - store bought). Once I have the official sign-off, I'll go into production mode and churn out a half dozen of them. Don't worry though, Dear Reader. I won't bore you with blog posts about each one.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Diversity on the Dance Floor

red headed woman playing the fiddle smiling at the camera.
My teacher, Susan. Taken during one
of the tunes I didn't know.
I have been casually learning to play fiddle for about twenty years now, and after my diagnosis of diabetes in December 2013, I decided I was really going to get serious about it. I officially signed up to be a student of Susan McCroskey Burke, whom I have known for many years. She encouraged me to join her student performance group, called Fiddler's Green.

I've been attending their practice sessions for a few months now, and last night I performed with them for the first time. We played for a Valentine's Day contra dance. It was a lovely hall out in Kirkland and it was nicely decorated with hearts and flowers. I only knew about half of the dance tunes that we played, so I spent lots of time with my fiddle in my lap trying to look more comfortable than I felt, but all in all it was a good experience.

The caller was absolutely brilliant. I took some serious note of how she managed the dance floor for the next time I have to do that job.

One of the things I liked best about the evening was the diversity on the dance floor. Ancestry from several different continents was in evidence. There was one young woman wearing an insulin pump at her waist and she was a very strong dancer. There was also a broad range of ages present.

Two of the best male dancers looked like they were in their twenties. One had long hair in a ponytail and the other was wearing an insufferably adorable porkpie hat. At one point in the second half of the evening someone zigged when they were supposed to have zagged and Ponytail and Porkpie wound up dancing together. Neither of them missed a beat. Other than a moment of surprise it was a non-event. Then, having switched lines, Ponytail proceeded to dance with most of the rest of the men as well.

The last dance was a waltz, and people changed partners several times. At one point, Porkpie made a point of waltzing with Ponytail. They were beautiful together.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

A Family of One

Back before I met Doug​, I struggled with being single. I remember my 30th birthday in 1996 very clearly. My friends and bandmates threw me a lovely party, but I had never been in love with a man who was in love with me and I felt that made me a failure as a human being. Surely I was a warty horror that no man could ever love.

Warty horror circa 2000CE.
Time went on, and I did eventually have a stormy nine month relationship with a very nice and completely ill-matched man. It came to a crashing end on Winter Solstice in 1998, but no matter how painful that experience was, I'm still grateful to it and to him for all that I learned.

When I moved to Baile Ard​ in 1999, I decided that I was going to change my life; that I wouldn't wait to have a husband before making a home and being a family. I would be a family of one. Each time I worked on the place, cooked for myself, decorated for a holiday, or entertained friends I became happier. I had my friends, my band, my family, my coven, my Gaelic society, my job, my health, and a home I loved. What earthly reason did I have to be unhappy?

I became unreservedly content, joyous, and satisfied as a single man. Maybe being authentically happy is what changed my luck in love. Only the gods really know, but I can tell you that even if I had remained single I would still be a family of one with a very rich and fulfilling home life.

If you're struggling with being single, lay down that burden and make yourself a home and a life that you love. You don't need anyone's approval or permission to do so but your own.

With love,

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Project 42: Seahawks Jester Hat and Gauntlets

One of my co-workers at my day job, Justin, is big fan of the Seattle Seahawks. They won the Superbowl last year, and may possibly play in it again this year. Even for a non-sports person like me, it's a little exciting.

Several months ago, Justin asked me if I could make him a jester's hat in the Seahawks' team colours with a logo on the front. I was a resistant to the idea initially. Millinery is it's own field of endeavor for a very good reason. He said he had one he liked that I could use as a pattern, so I agreed to look at it.

I added the widow's peak in front. It looks very fierce.

Hemming the thumb opening forced
me to resort to fabric glue. Boo.
It turned out to be very simply constructed. It consisted of a head band with ear flaps seamed at the back which was attached to a simple three lobed top which was just a front and back side stitched together. I accepted the challenge.

Justin was unable to find a source for just the logo patch, so he bought a baseball cap that had one he liked on it and I had to figure out how to deconstruct the hat to get the logo without destroying it. Once I took a pair of scissors to it, I found I could remove all the surrounding baseball hat material and peel the patch off pretty easily.

I measured the model hat and used my Dritz Styling Design Ruler to create a pattern with symmetrical, attractive curves.

My usual haunt, Pacific Fabrics, had an entire display up front in their store of all their produce in Seahawks colours, which are lime green and navy blue. I picked up some blue fleece and green velveteen and off I went.

Super fan!
Construction was dead easy; nothing too it other than tolerating the ungodly amount of fluff that the velveteen exuded from its cut edges. I was never so glad that I bought a Babylock Imagine serger! By the end of the project I was in a rush to get all the cut edges of the velveteen serged closed while I could still see my carpet! I kid, I kid.

In addition to the logo patch that I harvested from the baseball cap, Justin purchased two commemorative patches from the Seahawks' Superbowl victory that he wanted attached to the earflaps on the hat, but I just couldn't do it. They were too big for the available space and I was afraid they would ruin the look. I felt bad just saying 'no' to something he wanted, so put my thinking cap on and came up with the idea of gauntlets. I could make elbow length gauntlets and attach a championship patch to each one.

And he's single, ladies!
I had enough fabric left over, so I quickly made a pattern from my own forearm, then added some room for his considerably more beefy ones! I thought I would show them to him before attaching the patches to make sure he liked the idea. He loved the gauntlets, but wants to wait on patches until the next Superbowl, just incase he could have one patch from each victory on each arm.

I told him that if any of his friends wanted copies of the hat, that I would make them for $25 plus materials. Bespoke team wear isn't cheap, and Taigh Sheumais Fashions has to put bread on the table too.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

House Protection

This is the fourth and last of the enchantments that I designed for my House Blessing / Spell Casting party when I moved to Baile Ard in 1999. See Spell To Attract A Cool Boyfriend for more details on the event.

This business of being a Witch is a funny thing. On one hand, you must have absolute confidence in the truth of your words; so much so that the deepest part of you, where you are connected to the fluid underpinnings of reality will respond and make things as you say they are. On the other, you must have an absolute and unflinching dedication to the truth and that means looking honestly at your failures, taking your lumps, and learning from them.

This spell was an utter failure. Harm, grief, and sorrow were regular visitors to Baile Ard. That's where I woke up on the day that I endured the most sorrowful experience of my life so-far: the death of my Mother.

So, I don't offer this as a good example of protective magic. I offer this rather as a quaint remembrance of a time when I thought a safe home and a well-protected life were much simpler things to achieve.

House Protection 
Take a handful of salt from the kitchen and proceed to sprinkle it on the front or back doorsill while repeating the following charm: 
I cast this salt upon the ground and by this act my spell is bound.Keep out all harm, grief, and sorrow on each today and each tomorrow! I mean this for this sill and door and throughout this house forever more! Heed this charm! Cause no harm! So mote it be!
I have since devised a new domestic ward spell which is far, far more demanding to cast and so-far, more effective.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Kitchen Witchery

This is the third of the four enchantments that I designed for my House Blessing / Spell Casting party when I moved to Baile Ard in 1999. See Spell To Attract A Cool Boyfriend for more details on the event.

My relationship with cooking fundamentally changed while I lived in Baile Ard. I had never been particularly enthusiastic about it, but there was something about the combination of having a place I was proud to invite people, having a kitchen that was open to the living area, and a decision I made not long after moving there that changed everything.

The decision was that I was not going to wait to have a man in my life before making a home. I was going to be a family of one, if that was my fate, and that included homemaking, home cooking, decorating for holidays, and entertaining.

I started off by delving back into my childhood memories of cooking Japanese food with my godmother, Kimiko Sakai, and with her mother-in-law, Botchan-san. I was still vegetarian at that time, but managed to pull together a couple six-course Japanese dinners. I don't know if my guests stopped for burgers on the way home or not, but we had a laugh anyway.

The epitome of my culinary adventures was the Winter Solstice Banquet, which I and my friend Pandora started as a collaboration. There's a little more about that in this post: Happy 10th Ballardiversary!

This transformation of ingredients into food was a new form of magic for me, but the spell that was cast by so many friends that night which led to my embrace of it was classic Seumascraft:

Kitchen Witchery
Take your favorite of the cooking implements from the kitchen and go back and forth between there and the dining table waving the implement and intoning the following:
By wooden spoon and crescent Moon
By spice mill, sieve and knife
By spinach, potato and garlic clove
All foods that nourish life,
All meals and snacks and feasts herein
with any tool employed,
Shall be full-well nutritional,
un-fattening, and enjoyed!
Heed this charm!
Cause no harm!
So mote it be!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Blessing on All Future Guests

This is the second of the four enchantments that I designed for my House Blessing / Spell Casting party when I moved to Baile Ard in 1999. See Spell to Attract a Cool Boyfriend for more details on the event.

Blessing on All Future Guests
This one's a snap! Sit on the couch and hold your drink up as if to make a toast while repeating the following:
On this couch my ease I take
And hereby conjuration make:
All who do likewise from this day hence
Shall never lack for common sense.
They shall not want for food or drink
Nor thoughts worth the time to think
But live in wellness and contentment
Free from worry and resentment.
Heed this charm!
Cause no harm!
So mote it be!

Of all four of the spells, I think I'm proudest of the intent and aesthetic of this one. I had countless wonderful social evenings in that home, and I'm just crazy enough to think that all the times this spell was cast on that Friday evening in June 1999 had something to do with it.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Spell to Attract a Cool Boyfriend

Back in June of 1999, when I moved to Baile Ard, I had a clear sense that I was entering a very special period of my life. I knew that the experiences I had there would be a touchstone for everything that came after. As it turned out, I was right on the money.

I decided that this move warranted more than just a house warming party. I wanted an all-weekend affair, so I decided to hold three events. On the Friday evening there would be a House Blessing / Spell Casting party, followed by a House Warming Ceilidh on Saturday evening, and Survival Brunch on Sunday.

For the House Blessing / Spell Casting party, I settled on four enchantments that I wanted for my new home and I wrote instructions for each and made copies for all the guests. They were free to perform any or all of them in any order they wished. I plan on writing a short piece about each spell, and to start off, here is the one I called: Spell to Attract a Cool Boyfriend.

Gather two friends together and get a condom each. All three wave the condoms over the bed while one recites the following charm. The other two should chime in on the "COME YE NOT" parts! 
I send my voice through time and space
in all directions from this place
And call upon men who themselves love men
to arise and come hither!
lest ye bring honesty
lest ye bring youthful maturity
lest ye bring good health
lest ye bring a sense of humor
lest ye bring faithfulness
lest ye bring a love of all Gaeldom
lest ye bring a recent pay stub
NOW, by this charm so nimbly wrought
and with many gifts from Ikea bought
come hither and shower love on Seumas
and should this work, may he never blame us!
Heed this charm!
Cause no harm!
So mote it be!
That was in June 1999. I met Doug in April, 2001. Considering how many conditions I placed on the spell, I think that less than two years was an exceptional turnaround time.