A Symphony in Indigo and Gold

Right before Thanksgiving, my sweetie picked out this scrumptious fabric for me to make a Christmas dress:

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Gorgeous! It’s one of the Les Fleurs patterns from Cotton + Steel’s collaboration with Rifle Paper Co., in a lovely deep indigo with a metallic gold print. It’s got a nice heft to it, and a good balance between structure and drape. Since I already loved Cashmerette’s Upton dress pattern (and I can always use more dresses with pockets), I figured that it was time to make a third one! This time I made it in a longish tea-length version, for extra twirliness. Because twirliness = holiday festivity.

I had a good time with the construction, and the inside looks almost as pretty as the outside! The bodice is lined with some Bemberg rayon that I had in my stash, and the skirt seams are all flat-felled.  I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out, although there are a couple of spots that demonstrate my continued struggle to sew a really straight seam. Let’s just say that I won’t be making topstitched jeans anytime soon. img_20161214_230020

However. I neglected to pay attention to the fact that almost my entire wardrobe is black, red, gray, or white – and that none of it went very well with my lovely new dress! Enter the cardigan:

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It’s a RTW cardi from Lane Bryant, found on a chance foray into the shops the night before the symphony to which I wanted to wear my new dress. It had sleeves, was reasonably warm, was in the right color range, and had enough metallic shimmer to be festive…but it was also too long, and the zipper looked a little cheap with the whole outfit. Then I remembered – I can sew! Which means I could certainly modify the cardigan enough to make it work.

As it turned out, it was a very easy alteration. I unpicked the zipper plackets, tucked the bottom 6″ or so underneath, and hemmed it to a cropped length by hand with a blind stitch. Leaving all the original fabric actually helped to weight it down enough to hang very nicely, too, so I’m glad I didn’t take scissors to it.

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And voila! It all worked out pretty well. It was a symphony of indigo and gold, which was lovely for going to the actual symphony with my mom for a Tchaikovsky violin concerto.

We’re fancy like that.

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Peace, love, and pretty fabric + good music,
Sumiko

The Straight and Narrow (Grain)Line: or, The Snow Falling Cardigan

I am a big fan of ignoring instructions in many areas of my life, but when it comes to making the first cut in coveted fabric (like this suuuuper soft and cozy ponte from Tissu Fabrics in SLC) I am a complete and utter chicken. It looks kind of like snow falling to me!

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I have been longing to make a waterfall cardigan ever since I saw Mary’s gloriously stripey version. And once I spotted this fabric, I knew I’d found the right match. The dilemma: I love this fabric, but it’s a single-border print and laying out the StyleArc Nina Cardigan to get the border along the bottom of the cardi would require cutting (gasp) cross grain. Eeek. Guys, I must have read two dozen articles with varying opinions on cutting against the grain on knits. Holy cow.

Luckily, the Curvy Sewing Collective also has a Facebook group (or as I like to think of it, the Amazing Internet Council of Wise Sewists) and everyone on it is very generous with both advice and encouragement. After some tips both on sewing knits on a regular machine instead of a serger, and a recommendation from Wise CouncilSewist Gillian on adjustments to make when cutting across the grain on knits, I took the plunge. The neckband, front bodice, back bodice, and hip band are all cut across the grain – the only thing that is cut on the grainline was the sleeves because I kind of liked the way the pattern looked that direction.

The only modifications I made to the pattern were adding some extra room on the bodice pieces to compensate for the less-stretchy cutting choices, lengthening the sleeves by 3″, and doing a double-faced front neckband. Since the wrong side of my fabric was very, very clearly a wrong side and the neckband is most likely to show the wrong side I figured it might be a nice touch. And, if I didn’t like it, I can always go back and unpick it! Ah, the advantages of making one’s own clothes, eh?

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Inside of the double-faced neckband on my cardigan. Pardon the weird wrinkling – the corner of the kitchen table was poking into the fabric and I didn’t realize it until I’d already uploaded the photos and decided I was too lazy to re-take them.

Turns out, it was a risk worth taking. I love how it turned out. The extra weight combined with the thickness of the ponte gave it a sort of architectural drape that I get all sorts of giddy about. You know, it’s funny – I never thought of myself as a “clothes” sort of person until I started sewing. As it happens, I just am not a shopping person (unless it’s fabric, red lipstick, shoes, or groceries). Okay, so I’m not a clothes-shopping person.

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Anyway, I’m quite pleased with the way this turned out, and I can’t wait to wear it! All hail autumn, season of cozy cardigans, hot cocoa, and backyard evening fire gatherings!! I found the fit to be very comfortable – I have fairly broad, square shoulders and this has just the right amount of room to accommodate a wide range of movement. Lengthening the sleeves by about 3″ made them pretty much perfect for me, as I have gorilla-length arms and can never find RTW clothing with adequately long sleeves. collage

All in all, if you’re looking for a relatively quick and easy sew with the potential for high-impact payoff, try this cardigan out. Single-border fabric optional. 🙂

Love, peace, and carefully researched risk-taking,
Sumiko

Saving Vacation Fabric from My Enthusiastic-But-Rubbish Sewing

Vacation is the best. Meeting new people! Seeing new things! The being-away-from-work! The not-having-to-answer-your-phone! The lazy mornings! The late nights! The different food! And of course, the opportunities for buying fabric in faraway places. The last proper vacation I had was a trip to Fiji during the summer of 2015, which was every bit as blissful and amazing as one might imagine.

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Sunset from Ovalau, Fiji

I had just recently discovered an affection for sewing when this trip occurred, so I was excited to buy fabric – vacation fabric! – and then make something glorious out of it as a souvenir. However, with only the backpack I was carrying around, it had to be something that didn’t weigh much, and didn’t take up much space. So whilst rummaging around the shops in Nadi, I found a 6m long silk sari with a pretty teal/yellow/cream design and declared, “This shall be mine!”

Fast forward a few months, and I’m cheerfully hacking up the 6m length of fabric without a pattern. Because I like to live on the edge. (Or because I’m an enthusiastic idiot.) I made a maxi dress from this lovely silk, practicing my newly-acquired skill of making French seams, and it was light and floaty and delicious, and did not fit AT ALL through the bust. It was worn once to a reception, and has been languishing in my closet ever since. But can I bring myself to get rid of it? Heavens, no. This is vacation fabric.

So…the same annual reception is approaching this year, and I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be lovely if I could wear my Fiji maxi dress? Too bad the fit is all wrong.”

And then I realized that I had learned how to use patterns and had improved a great deal at sewing over the last year, so I should just take apart the old dress and refashion it into something that I would actually be seen in public wearing! A-HA! An epiphany!

(Side note: my sewing space is my kitchen table. Hence, I normally tend to lean towards easily-completed projects.)

So down I sat to unpick the French seams of the original dress…and lord almighty, unpicking French seams is the WORST. I streamed four complete episodes of Doctor Who whilst unpicking those unholy seams.

That was Day 1.

I’ll spare you the details of Days 2 – 6, but suffice it to say that after several days of staying up until 2 am, rubbing my bleary eyes and cursing my ambition, my kitchen table is back to being a kitchen table rather than a sewing room, and I have THIS to show for it!

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This is an Upton dress bodice from Cashmerette Patterns. It is my favorite thing in the world and I shall never stop making dresses with this. But since I was basically making this dress out of the scraps of my original dress, the back bodice is pieced together out of eight pieces instead of the intended four.

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Let me tell you…that took some doing. I’m relatively pleased with the pattern matching that happened serendipitously on the piece with the big leaves at the top. (Also, can I just say that learning about spray starch from A Fashionable Stitch was a complete game changer? That stuff is fantastic.)

But since I got lazy about unpicking seventy-billion yards worth of French seams, I just cut off the top of the original maxi, keeping the skirt, and then Frankenpatterned it onto the Upton bodice.

Which actually worked out pretty well, because it gave me these fun little swooshy secret side panels in the skirt!

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Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to swan about in a shiny new dress. Vacation fabric = SAVED. Hell yeah.

Love, peace, and Frankenpatterning,
Sumiko

Sewing is the Best Procrastination

You know that feeling you get when you have to do something, and you willfully decide to do something else instead? That giddy, delicious feeling of intentional disobedience to the dictates of society? In the last year or so I’ve discovered that sewing is the thing that I turn to when my brain says, “NOPE!” to whatever I’m supposed to be doing (ahem: grad school).

I started sewing haphazardly and cheerfully sans patterns a couple of years ago, mainly for the fun of it. The rest of my life (ahem: grad school; ahem: work) involves lots and lots of labor with very little immediate payoff. Sewing offered a form of labor through which I could immediately see the progress of my work. VERY SATISFYING! Then, a few months ago, I discovered sewing bloggers and indie pattern designers through Instagram, of all places – delightful little nooks on the interwebz like Oonaballoona, Cashmerette, Idle Fancy, Lladybird, and about a zillion more! After enviously stalking their blogs for a few weeks, I gathered up the courage to try my hand at sewing for reals – with patterns and everything!

As it turns out – patterns aren’t so scary. Also, they keep me from wasting quite a lot of fabric, and since I don’t particularly like wasting things, I have totally come around!

After some attempts at simple tank top blouses (which get quite a lot of wear), I decided to go for something more ambitious and bought Cashmerette’s Upton Dress pattern. Being impatient as I am, I went for the PDF version…70 pages of pattern assembly later, I was feeling appropriately humbled.

I wore this Upton dress as a bridesmaid in my friend Kim’s wedding! Since the main fabric is eyelet lace (procured from a really fantastic local SLC fabric shop, Tissu!), the entire thing is lined in a very lightweight black linen/rayon blend rather than just the bodice, as the pattern says. By the time I was finished with all that black thread and black fabric, my eyes were nearly crossed!

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This is fairly classic – as soon as a camera is pointed at me, I either close my eyes or start making silly faces. This pattern did fit right out of the metaphorical envelope, though! The only modification I think I might make is to narrow the back shoulders a bit – there is some gaping on the back neckline, as you can see below.

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Observe the twirly skirt! All the twirls! (Also the burn on my leg from my motorcycle’s exhaust pipes. First burn in a decade of riding. Grrrr.)

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Forgive the gratuitous rear-end photo (and the dust and little floaty lint thingies that stick to this dress like magic), but this is the second time I have ever sewn an invisible zipper and I am very proud of how nicely it lined up. Also, the fit-and-flare silhouette is insanely flattering. Every time I’ve worn this dress, strangers on the street have stopped me to say how much they like it. #winning!

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But I think my very favoritest part of this whole dress is the fact that I shamelessly cheated on the hem. I DETEST sewing hems. So fiddly, so annoying, so time consuming when all I want to do is put on my new clothes and prance around like a drunken unicorn…so I skipped the hem! Instead, I cut off the scalloped eyelet lace edge of the fabric and attached strips of that to the bottom of each of the seven gored skirt panels. I think this is my new favorite trick!

So, in summary: sewing is the best procrastination.

Love, peace, and #Uptondresses,
Sumiko

How Do You Do It All?

Yikes, it’s been far too long since I posted. I’m clearly not a dedicated blogger! Anyway…I could make excuses for my absence, but instead I’d rather re-direct your attention to the title of this post. Hmmmm. What an interesting question.

Truth be told, hearing this question makes my heart hurt a little bit. It makes my heart hurt because usually when someone asks me this question, I can hear a soft note of self-judgment in their voices, comparing themselves to their image of me. And usually the person asking me this question is a person that I love and admire and respect. I don’t want to be the basis of comparison, and I definitely don’t want to be a reason that someone thinks that they should be doing more. Should is sometimes a ridiculous word. We’re all doing our best here on this funny ol’ planet, okay? So despite living in a culture that’s obsessed and deeply invested in showcasing our inadequacies, let’s stop comparing ourselves to each other. It’s not really that productive.

Truth be told, I sure as hell don’t “do it all.” And I can’t emphasize this enough.

On most days, I’m doing a combination of these things that are pretty recognizable obligations: working, writing, reading, being a graduate student (whatever the heck that means), planning for post-grad-school endeavors, and volunteering/being involved in my community. I also try to squeeze in a couple of these personal, private obligations: exercising, riding my motorcycle, meditating, practicing music, relaxing, reading a novel for fun, drawing, sewing, and cooking. But I absolutely, unequivocally do NOT accomplish all of these things every day. I’d explode. We’ve only got 24 hours a day, y’all.

On any given day, I’m deliberately choosing NOT to do any of these other things: cleaning my house, sorting the mail, returning voice mails/emails/text messages, preparing balanced meals (know what I ate for lunch today? half a bag of popcorn), spending time on unnecessary grooming rituals (shaving legs = waste of time), comparing myself to what other people do, spending time working on my career, managing my finances (thank goodness for autopay), thinking about building wealth and my retirement investments, repairing broken stuff around the house, and doing yardwork. Oh, and writing appropriately frequent blog posts.

What I’m very clumsily trying to say here is this: I don’t do it all. I don’t even come close. There are deliberate trade-offs: I will never, ever, ever have a spotlessly clean house, because it’s rock bottom on my list of priorities. Then there are inevitable trade-offs: while I’m in grad school, I will not have a lot of time to spend with family and friends because eventually finishing my Ph.D. is very, very high on my priority list.

So – next time you start to compare yourself to someone else, next time you think I should…stop. Give yourself a mental hug, and remember that we all have much more complicated and opaque lives than appear on the surface. Nobody does it all, and that’s okay.

Love, peace, and non-judgmental kindness,
Sumiko

Tropical Punch Green Smoothie

So this morning, I was making a smoothie for breakfast, when I realized that I was out of avocados. Oh no! What would give my smoothie that nice creamy texture? I improvised a bit, and when I finished blending it up and took a sip – wow! This smoothie tasted like tropical punch. Not too shabby.

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Tropical Punch Green Smoothie
1 c fresh spinach (you could probably sub other leafy greens here, but bitter greens like kale or chard would change the flavor)
1/2 frozen banana
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 kiwi
juice from 1 lime
1/2 c coconut water
1/2 c coconut milk
ice cubes, to taste

Blend everything except for the ice cubes until very smooth. Throw in the ice cubes and blend to desired texture. Slurp with happiness!

Love, peace, and vitamins & minerals,
Sumiko

What I Wish I’d Known When I Started Grad School

After I wrote my last post, Confessions of a Struggling [PhD Student] Writer, I was pleasantly surprised to find that what I’d written was helpful to people! One of my friends even shared it with her students, who were (reportedly) comforted by the idea that good writers are made through painstaking and heartbreaking labor, not born. As I was reading about the uses of epideictic rhetoric in the service of war, a few other things were rattling around in my brain as well.

One is that I’m over the halfway mark on my PhD program – huzzah! But now I am faced with the fairly terrifying task of getting everything lined up so I can write a dissertation and graduate without taking a whole decade to do it. And that got me thinking – what do I do now that I really wish I’d started doing the day I began grad school? Predictably, I thought this might be fun to write up in a list.

  1. Write a quick summary of EVERY SINGLE THING that you read – include the main points, the theoretical contributions by the author, and key words – and keep it all in the same place. I am intensely envious of people who seem able to recall the highlights of everything they’ve read in the past, but my brain does not work like that. My brain is very fond of keyword-searchable banks of information, especially when I have to write a lit review.
  2. Use some kind of citation management system. I use Zotero, which is a free, open-source program that you can use across operation systems and access from the web. Even after my institutional affiliation changes, I’ll have access to this.
  3. Figure out how to take notes – fast. I can’t even begin to say how hard this was for me. I rarely studied anything in high school; in college the only things I studied for were chemistry and organic chemistry (my downfall!). So when I got to grad school and found that the volume and complexity of the work before me were actually a challenge, I had to figure out how to take notes. I didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell. I experimented with typing up my notes, but found that handwriting was better because it forced me to summarize and make decisions on the fly about what was really important about an article or a seminar lecture. I am still working on some kind of decent note-conversion system and I suspect I will be for quite a while.
  4. Prioritize self-care. American culture tends to glorify busyness and that bleeds over into grad school. If you let it (and I have – sometimes I still do) it will eat up ever moment of your life, cannibalizing your sanity, your relationships, the non-academic parts of yourself to fuel the pressure to be doing something all the time. For me, self-care looks like no-guilt trips to a spa on occasion, drinking quality tea and coffee while staring into space, snuggling with world’s most adorable man and the world’s most adorable dog (see below), and riding my motorcycle. If I don’t have these things, my sanity starts to crumble and I can’t even string together sentences. The point for me is that I need to remember to put these things first, I won’t be able to achieve much academically. IMGP0083
  5. Build friendships within your program, but don’t neglect friendships elsewhere. My friends in grad school have helped me through when I felt like quitting, inspired me to do better, and sympathized with me when I felt like an incompetent idiot. My friends from outside grad school reminded me that in the grand scheme of things, grad school is a very privileged position to be in, and to stop whining please, because most folks don’t give a damn about the rhetorical significance of anything Foucault wrote.
  6. If you lend books out, take a picture of the person you lent it to holding said volume. I still have no idea who has my copy of Becker’s Writing for Social Scientists. If it’s you – can I please have it back?
  7. How to ask good questions. This one is still really hard for me. It takes me a while to formulate a careful question that is relevant to anything. I’m not an instinctively critical person, and I usually tend to agree with academic articles.

So, that’s my list! For now, at least. Maybe I’ll write an update when I’m finished with my dissertation. What things do you  wish you’d known – either before you started grad school, or before you started some other major undertaking?

Love, peace, and 20/20 hindsight,
Sumiko

Confessions of a Struggling [PhD Student] Writer

I’ve come to the conclusion that we (go ahead and formulate that ambiguous pronoun to suit your own ends) don’t talk about the process of writing as much as we ought to. Of course, this isn’t news to writing teachers and professors or those who conduct extensive research on writing. I have fairly frequent conversations with people who doubt their writing abilities and hold others’ writing abilities in high esteem, as though a well-written essay is something of a genetic gift, much like being beautiful or having a photographic memory. So I thought maybe this would be a good thing to talk about (and I really do welcome conversation on this particular topic, since I spend a good deal of my time writing, thinking about writing, or reading the products of many hours of writing labor.

Nobody expects to be brilliant at the violin, or racquetball, or painting, or cooking without any practice. So why do we expect ourselves to be great writers without decades of practice?

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Exhibit A: I wonder how many hours worth of writing went into these?

One of my favorite quotes about writing is from Hemingway, who despite his many flaws, was admittedly a hell of a writer. It goes something like this: “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” I think he may have also compared writing to bleeding into a typewriter – thank goodness we don’t have to use those behemoths anymore. My wrists hurt just thinking about it. And while there may be some truth in those analogies, they are both irritating because they make writing seem effortless. For me, it is anything BUT effortless. So here are some things – confessions, lessons, what-have-you – that I have figured out about writing for myself.

  1. There are some things that I am really terrible at writing. And by this, I mean that there are some genres or formal conventions of writing that I struggle with mightily, to the point where I avoid them if I can. For example, the academic literature review makes me want to stick myself in the eye with a pencil. It’s like slogging through thick mud for miles on end, and when it’s over there isn’t even a shower to wash the mud off.
  2. There are some things that I am less terrible at writing. Such as academic theoretical pieces on some arcane topic. I get nerdily excited at the chance to speculate wildly, erm, I mean theorize seriously, about stuff like radical heteroglossia or rhetorical subjectivity or mediated representations of domestic violence. Everyone (I hope) has things that they are naturally drawn towards. And usually when I’m drawn towards something, I am better at it than I would be if I were forced to do it (see #1).
  3. There are plenty of “rules” of writing that I am bad at remembering. Commas are one of these; apostrophes are another. I have to look up the rules for plural possessive its’/its all the damn time. (Fortunately, hilarious writers like The Oatmeal have given me illustrated comics by which to remember this stuff. Or at least give me a laugh while I’m looking up the difference. Why are the shortest words in the English language the most troublesome?) Luckily, humans have produced the internet and many websites on grammar to save our asses when these things come up.
  4. The difference between a shitty piece of writing and a good piece of writing is time and drafts and editing and revising and proofreading and maybe some more coffee, please. In no particular order.
  5. Spell check < proofreading. Point in case. At the end of #3, I had originally written “to save our assess” instead of “to save our asses” and spell check was supremely unhelpful. Of course, being able to proofread depends on setting aside time for it…which leads me to…
  6. Although last-minute “panic inspiration” the night before a deadline is helpful as far as adrenaline goes, it’s not really a sustainable writing practice. You know what is a sustainable writing practice for me? Writing. Even if it’s dreadful and terrible, the act of pounding out words on a keyboard is something that somehow (magically, I suspect) leads to decent work. And then of course, there’s all the stuff in #4.
  7. Sentence structure is still a bitch. Something that makes perfect sense in my head sounds grotesque when read aloud. I frequently find myself going back and revising tortured sentences. There’s some perverse part of my brain that apparently really loves multiple clauses in a sentence.

It only looks easy from the outside when nobody talks about their writing processes! During my time in grad school I’ve received the most beautiful gift of honest feedback from my fellow writing group members, and I’ve learned to be a better reviewer and commenter on other people’s work in progress. Just simply SEEING other people’s drafts was a revelation at first. When I learned that one of the people whose writing I really admire was once an outline/prose mix studded with “write about XYZ here” and “need something else” and “this is a terrible word choice” I was immensely comforted. Suddenly my works-in-progress, replete with phrases like “blah blah blah” and reminders to “CITE THIS!” didn’t seem so shoddy, so unintelligent, so unworthy.

I’ve also learned to do a word search for “blah blah blah” before submitting any drafts to professors.

Love, peace, and honesty in writing,
Sumiko

P.S. In an effort to be honest, I must also admit that as I write this, I’m procrastinating a research project proposal that is due in less than 24 hours. I am also terrible at taking my own advice. I’m going to rationalize this by saying that I’m following my advice from #6 instead…and now that I’m done pounding these words out on a keyboard I will go back to my other work. No, really. I totally will.

September in Utah is Awesome: A List

September in Utah is awesome. Even though it’s a bit on the hot side this week, there are plenty of things to make up for it.

One: The SLC Fall Farmer’s Market is open on Tuesdays, and there are SO. MANY. PEACHES.

There are Angeles peaches. These gorgeous things have a beautiful red heart, and they are so bold and so scrumptious I can’t even stand it.

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And there are Lemon Elberta peaches. If you’ve never had a Lemon Elberta peach, I am so, so sorry. Because thees peaches are quite plainly the most delectable thing on the planet, and they are only here for two or three precious, rare, golden weeks of late summer and early fall. They are so delicate, so light, so juicy, and so sweetly tangy that it’s impossible to believe even if you are eating one. I’m in love with Lemon Elbertas.

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Peaches also remind me of the story of Momotaro, which my mama used to read to me when I was little. Momotaro was a boy who came to an elderly couple who were unable to have children, and he floated to them down the river in a peach.

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Two: Speaking of good stories, my mama’s birthday is in September! That’s definitely something good in Utah. If you don’t already know how amazing my mama is, you can hear about why she’s a total badass and why I’m super-duper glad that we got to celebrate this birthday with her.

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Three: The only herb I grew in my garden (okay, my weed-patch) this summer was basil. But you know what? Basil’s all I need. Exhibit A:

 

 

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Four: sunflowers. They’re everywhere, man. How can you see a sunflower and not be happy about it?

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Love, peace, and September happiness,
Sumiko

 

You Might be a Graduate Student If…

Ahh, fall is almost here! But school has already started for the semester. This is how I know that I’m definitely a graduate student at heart. What are your cues?

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You might be a grad student if…

…you turn in a paper, and immediately want to go back and tinker with it. There was that one sentence that you couldn’t get the right wording for, and now you have it! Thank goodness for rewrites.

…you are happy when the title page doesn’t count towards the page limit, because dammit, you can’t bear to kill any more of your darlings.

…you think that your textbooks are “page-turners” and you stay up late reading them because you must. get. to. the. end. of. this. chapter!

…you can’t find that one particular book right at the moment you realize it’s THE perfect theory for your final paper.

…you have dreams about prominent rhetoricians and dead French theorists.

…you make grad school/academic related bets with your friends. Need some motivation to submit that paper to a journal? Bet your friends you’ll do it by a certain date or you owe them a drink. Magic.

…you take your sleep whenever/wherever you can get it. Like occasionally on the floor of the cubicles in the grad student offices. No shame.

…when traveling with several other adults, it’s not uncommon to share 4 to a hotel room to cut down on costs and pack an inordinate number of protein/energy bars so you don’t have to eat expensive conference hotel food.

…you long for the end of the semester with a fierce yearning, and then two weeks into “vacation” (i.e., catch-up time) you find yourself uttering the words, “I can’t wait for school to start again.”

Love, peace, and happy back-to-school,
Sumiko

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