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.