Archive for the ‘Art & Craft’ Category


Obsolete technology feature of the day.

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Cat and Quilt



So I’m back on the wagon, both with the blog and with the work. I’m not making promises anymore about how often I’ll post here – I’m trying to do my best to surrender to the wack-a-day rhythm that is my life, and just go with it. It’s nice finally to be working on something that isn’t a secret; something I can show to the interwebs!

I started this quilt in 2007, I think, or even 2006. Most of the fabrics came from Kaimuki Dry Goods in Hawaii. I visited in January of 2006, and bought half a suitcase of stuff with a vague plan in mind and not much more. I spent months staring at the fabrics before I finally worked up the courage to cut into them, and then made a small amount of progress before my brother and sister-in-law announced their engagement. I very carefully labeled all the pieces and put them away in a box so I could tackle the wedding quilt that would take two years to finish. When that was all over, I hadn’t exactly forgotten about this beauty, but I didn’t have any more quilt in me.

Since I have mentally declared 2013 as “The Year of Wrapping Up Loose Ends,” it was with satisfaction but some trepidation that I pulled that box off the shelf a few weeks ago. I’ve made several more quilts in the intervening years, and gotten much better at making the seams line up and the corners pointy. I was worried that I’d look at the old blocks and hate them. Luckily, I have declared the previous work “good enough” and thrown myself back into it, with an even clearer idea of what I want the finished product to look like.

Making a full-sized quilt with a cat around is harder than making a quilt without the cat. Inara loves to help with any project, but I’m having a hard time convincing her that the hot iron is not something she wants to smell and that I really just did wash all that fabric and would like to keep the cat hair content to a minimum. When we can declare a truce, she likes to hang out behind the machine, blessedly out of the way, and snooze. I’ve built four more blocks in the last three weeks, and progress in continuing apace.

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I credit my Mom with teaching me to sew. I remember in elementary school learning how to thread her old steel Singer from the 60s; how to raise and lower the foot and wind a bobbin. As I got older, I got lessons in grain lines and hemming, and how to put in a zipper. We made my prom dress together; she did the lined and underlined bodice, and I put up the miles and miles of hem by hand. I dove into fiber arts of all sorts in college, and when I graduated the only thing I asked for was my own sewing machine. My little plastic Kenmore from Sears isn’t fancy, but it’s been a workhorse.

Of course, my real lessons in fit, alterations, and the proper way to cut and stitch a pattern came under the tutelage of the incredible Rich Hamson at the Chanhassen Dinner Theater. Four years in the costume shop taught me all the niceties of lining up plaids, pad stitching, how to flat-line like a pro, and most of all: quality. The trick to making a costume that will last for 8 performances a week for six months at a time without needing a ton of repair or adjustment comes from making it right the first time.

The most important part of making clothes is know what size to make. This is true no matter how you’re doing it: sewing, knitting, pop tabs, whatever. Taking your own measurements can be tricky, so get a buddy to help you if you need one.

Edit: I’ve had this post finished for weeks, but I haven’t put it up due to my complete lack of time to take photos. I’ve finally decided to stop waiting for the light to be right or the time to be available, and I’m just going to steal from the best of the internet. I’ll include the sources of everything I post and links back, but if I’ve used your photo and you want me to take it down, please just ask. I hate doing this – I believe in using my own content, and not grabbing someone else’s – but time’s not been on my side lately.

Bust/Chest: The main bust measurement you need is around the fullest part of the bust. Run the tape measure around your back and over your breasts or pecs at the largest point. Wear the undergarments that you’ll be wearing with the finished piece (or none, if that’s the way you’ll wear it)! It does no good to take a measurement wearing a bra if you’re going to go au natural, or in a whole Spanx getup.

There are two other kinds of bust measurements that might be called for. For overbust, wrap the tape measure around your back and above your breasts. For underbust, wrap the tape measure around yourself under the breasts, where you bra band usually goes.

Waist: This refers to your natural waist, not where you wear your trousers. Look at yourself in the mirror and wrap the tape around the narrowest part – usually just below the rib cage. This measurement is essential for dresses that need to curve with the body, and may be where you want a pant or skirt waistband to go. For a lower rise garment, you can measure up from the crotch seam to where the waistband will fall, and then measure around yourself at that point.

Hips: This is the fullest part of the hips and bottom, usually between 7″-9″ below the waist. Sometimes a pattern will call for a high hip measurement, especially corset patterns or things with a waist yoke. Take this measurement at the level of the upper curve of the hip socket.

Image from: http://www.bambersew.com/blog/index.php/taking-measurements/. Line 3 shows the true hip line, and line 4 is for the high hip.

These three are the essential measurements you have to have before you can make anything (well, ok, you don’t really need a hip measurement to make a shirt, but you know what I mean.)

Others that might come in handy:

Neck – Use a piece of string or yarn to make a loop around the base of your neck, then measure it. Tape measures are usually too stiff to do this one accurately.

Front Waist – Measure from the base of the neck down the front and over the bust to the waist.

Back Waist – From the base of the neck to the waist down the center of the back.

Inseam – I generally start this measurement about two fingers’ width from the crotchal area and measure to the ankle bone. The real trick to this one is just to cut everything too long and hem it on the body.

Rise – To find your true rise, start your tape measure at the natural waist in the back and run it between your legs and up to your natural waist in the front. Low rise pants will describe themselves as a certain number of inches below the waist, or a certain number of inches up from the crotch join. Having a true rise measurement will give you a better idea of how something will fit your particular body.

Once you have the proper measurements, you’re ready to begin. Now you need to think about ease. Ease is what lets you wear the clothes and not the other way around. A spandex racing suit has negative ease; that means it’s smaller off of you than on you. A caftan, on the other hand, has positive ease. If you’re working from a commercial pattern, the jacket will usually list the body measurements for a particular size, and then the measurements of the finished garment; subtract body from garment and you’ll get the number for how much ease you want. Check this for all three measurements – the number might not be the same for each. (A blouson top might have six inches of positive ease at the bust, but only one and the waist.)

If you’re making something up from scratch and you’re not sure how much ease you should leave, grab something out of your closet that fits like you want it to and measure it. Now, subtract your body size from those measurements, and you’ll know what you should be aiming for.

Next time: How to make the paper pattern look like you.

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Here at Thrifty Swift headquarters, there’s a virus going around. Well, two, actually.

The first is this wicked head cold that floored me on Tuesday but is gradually on its way out. There’s little I despise more than the chapped skin you get around your nose when you have to blow it every ten minutes. My neti pot and I have been fast friends this week, and I’m glad of it. Everyone else who has had this thing is telling me it hangs on for weeks, but two days in and I’m back up to my normal level of energy. Fingers crossed!

The other bug is a wicked case of Startitis. I have been buying yarn, patterns, and fabric like it’s going out of style. It’s the annual spring onslaught of the Webs anniversary sale, the Textile Center garage sale, and the impending Shepherd’s Harvest Festival. I am going to MAKE ALL THE THINGS!

This week’s exciting project is making this dress:

With this fabric:

I’m headed back to DC in early May for a bridal shower with the Church Ladies, so I’d like to get this done in time for the trip. I think it’s perfect for church, don’t you? (No, Mom, I’m not trying to be provocative. It’s effortless.)

Check back later this week for my basic tutorial on adjusting a pattern for a professional fit, and an easier way to cut and sew for accuracy and speed.

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Wow, have I been gone a long time! The last couple of weeks have been hectic, and I haven’t made the time to blog like I should. I’ve been entirely consumed by this:


This is the interior of our shower. Last fall, I noticed that the wall had started to bow inward. After Hay Fever opened, I took a week off to rip it all down to the studs, get rid of the mold, and start over.

I’ve never tackled this kind of project before, so the whole thing was a learning experience. The first step after the demolition (which was a TON of fun, by the by) was to replace the insulation and use a mold abatement product on the wood underneath. Luckily, the mold wasn’t too bad – most of it was in the fiberglass and went into the dumpster. It was in the 80s all week that week, and there’s nothing like hauling around fiberglass insulation in a respirator, goggles, long sleeves, and gloves to make you enjoy the hot weather.

After the new insulation, I hung a layer of roofing felt as a moisture barrier and then put up new wallboard. For wet areas like shower walls, regular drywall can absorb water and start the mold problem all over again, so this is Hardiebacker. That’s a brand name, but any kind of cement backer board will do.


Next comes thin-set mortar and the tiles – aren’t these white ones so much better than the brown that was in there before? We also decided to add corner shelves for storing shampoos, etc. The old tub had one crappy soap tray right in the stream of the shower, so the soap would melt three times faster than it should have. I use this luscious olive oil soap that my Mom imports from Nablus as part of a fair-trade organization supporting women in the Palestinian refugee camps, so I want it to last as long as possible. It’s the only thing that keeps my skin from completely peeling off my body during our dry Minnesota winters.


The tiles going up!

Tiling is easy, but a little tedious. Things have to be checked for level and square every couple of rows, and you have to work on small areas so the mortar doesn’t dry on the wall before you get the tiles on. I made liberal use of little plastic spacers to keep everything even, and a co-worker loaned me his tile saw so I could make decent clean cuts. Don’t do this job without one! It made all the difference between a professional-looking finish and a crappy one.


See how I moved the soap dish there? So much better for my fancy soap. I’m not quite done – still waiting for caulking to dry so I can put on the new tub fixtures that R bought. It’s definitely not perfect, but I learned a lot during this process, and I feel confident that it’ll be water tight – hopefully it’ll last for the next 30 years.

Do you ever take on DIY projects? How have they gone?

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She walks in beauty, like the night

   Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
   Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
   Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
   Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
   Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
   How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.
And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
   So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
   But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
   A heart whose love is innocent!
George Gordon, Lord Byron

This poem, dredged from old days as an English major, has been playing through my head for the last couple of days. The celebration of these two are always the most problematic for me, because I think they’re the least straightforward. Flowers, jewelry, dancing, even luxury are open to a certain amount of interpretation, but in the end pretty concrete. Love and beauty, however, are notoriously difficult to pin down. Every year these two lead to a great deal of introspection and a certain amount of navel gazing, and in the end I do them a little differently each time.

Today I thought about beauty all day long. It ranged from the simple – putting on a favorite shirt and my moonstone earrings – to complex thoughts about the nature of art (or Art) and finding beauty in the most mundane parts of our days. I set aside the never-ending parade of chores for a few hours (work that produces its own kind of beauty) and concentrated on some projects that often get neglected but are the essence of the person I think I am. That person is a Maker, a crafter of beautiful objects and ideas, a sculptor of light, and a fashioner of grace from old, unwanted, and broken things. My workroom has been piled under a combination of junk and treasures for the last few months and essentially unusable; I’ve been working hard to get it clean for the last few weeks and I’ve finally reached a point where it’s not clean, but it’s livable. Today I played with yarn, washing and blocking the swatch for the green sweater, winding off some skeins for my next project, and putting things away. I opened up one of the boxes of my Great-Grandmother’s linens and washed a few things, and looked at how to clean and use a lovely piece of woven wool tapestry that is damaged and fragile. And I read some Byron, and thought about the ideals of beauty that people have had and changed for the last umpteen thousand years.

Yesterday was my day of Love. In Vodou, there are many Erzuli and each has her own complicated relationship with the idea of love. Erzulie Freda wears three wedding rings, one for each of her husbands. Erzulie Dantor embodies mother love, and is a protector of women and children – and often associated with lesbians. Other Erzuli deal with hiding secrets, revenging wrongs, or helping women though childbirth. Some are fierce and some coquettish, some dangerous and some nurturing. All of them love passionately, though, and all of them weep tears of pain and sorrow for the heartbroken, the wronged, and the downtrodden. I think that for all the celebration, the central image of Erzulie is of a lover with a complicated relationship to the things she loves. The practitioners of Vodou recognize with their Spirits the realities of love that are sometimes overlooked in other religious or philosophical contexts.

Love can also be controversial. All we have to do is open a newspaper, turn on the radio or tv, or do a little web surfing to find people from all ideological camps arguing about who may love whom, and how, and whether or not it is up to God, society, or individuals to even make those decisions. I certainly have strong opinions on the subject, and I’m not shy about them.  R and I are planning a September wedding, and we think it is a travesty that many of our friends and family who will be in attendance cannot enjoy the same privilege in most of our country. The entire point of the American Dream is that we strive to be more free, not less – and we certainly shouldn’t try to make others less free. Yet in the US we have a long lineage of “moral” tyranny including slavery, indentured servitude, Jim Crow, miscegenation laws, disenfranchisement of the poor, the indigent, and the different… the list goes on and on. The United States isn’t alone in this history by any stretch of the imagination, but we may be the biggest hypocrites, since our nation was founded on the preservation of individual freedoms. In Minnesota, there is an amendment to the state constitution on the ballot in November that would codify institutional homophobia here. These so-called “Marriage Amendments” have been cropping up in states all over the country, and in every state to this point the people have decided to ban same-sex marriage. It’s hard to guess what will happen here. The Twin Cities are two of the most gay-friendly in the US, and yet they’re ringed by the suburbs that elected Michelle “Pray-The-Gay-Away” Bachmann to the US Senate. People in the Upper Midwest are conservative by nature, if not by politics; I fear that those are the people who will take their uncertainty and distrust to the polls with them this fall.

I’ll wrap up this already-too-long post with a lighter note: a Litany of What I Love. These are the things that were circulating around in my head yesterday as I mulled all this stuff over.

  • R, the idea of getting married, and the joy of having a partner in life
  • The Kitties, who are still trying to kill each other but getting better
  • My family who keep me honest and my friends who enable me
  • God, in the complicated way that you come to after many years of disagreement
  • Having a job where they pay me to play
  • Having space of my own and time in which to work
  • And last, myself, my journey, and the gratitude I have for life

Thanks for hanging through this whole thing with me. See you tomorrow for DANCING!

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Chinese Year of the Water Dragon

Semi-Calligraphic Script for "Water Dragon"

Happy Year of the Black Water Dragon! We celebrated at the dojo this year in our traditional way – with a calligraphy class from Shifu. I’ll be the first to admit that I know nothing about Chinese calligraphy, and I’m sure that anyone versed in proper technique or who reads Chinese fluently will look at my little piece of paper and find a million things wrong with it. Still, I’m pretty pleased with what I was able to learn in just two hours, and this sign will go up in my workroom to remind me to keep the spirit of the water dragon with me until next year.

It was a great class, and we had plenty of students this year participating. Everyone made a beautiful piece in their own way, with a mixture of styles of script and ability levels. Some of my fellow students have studied this art form in-depth, and you can really tell in their work because they have a masterful control of their brushstrokes and are developing their own styles of writing. Us noobs are just desperately trying to get the bristles facing the right direction and the basic strokes down. Still, it’s a lot of fun, and made me want to practice more on my own. (Because I need another hobby.)

FEMA students and their projects!











The Water Dragon is said to bring prosperity and great change, and I know that there’s at least one HUGE change on my horizon, with R and I getting married in September. We’re hoping for a little prosperity this year, both for us and for the world as a whole. A little certainty and comfort this year would be a blessing; it’s been a long time coming. R was well under-employed for the better part of a year, and with me covering his health insurance, it’s really taken a toll. Now that he has a job and I’ve gotten a promotion, I think things are looking up for us!

Happy Chinese New Year to you and yours, and best wishes for positive change and prosperity in the coming months.

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FOAMing Along

One of the delightful knitting blogs that I subscribe to is Alice Yu’s lovely Socktopus. I love reading the work of such talented sock designers (as I’m an addicted avid sock knitter myself).  Today on the blog is the beginning of her FOAM-along; that is, Finished Object A Month. As I have quite a few WIPs languishing around in baskets gathering dust and cat hair, I think I’m going to play along, at least unofficially.

Of course, January’s objects (yes, two of them) are secret knitting, since they should have been done in December in time to give to my brother and sister-in-law. SIL’s project is actually done except the end-weaving, but Bro’s has a long way to go yet. Once they’re done and in the mail I’ll post photos and descriptions of the machinations of these two objets d’art, but you’ll just have to guess in the meantime.

Of course, this doesn’t mean I’m immune from the annual wicked case of Start-itis; and I’m itching to get my fingers on this pile of Classic Elite Pirouette. (So is Inara, check out the little paw on the left. She’s helping.)








My plan is to hold this together with a dark charcoal gray cashmere from a thrift store sweater I’m unraveling. I’m hoping that will tone down the GREEN a little. First thing first, though — FOAM!

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