Monday, September 29, 2008

Austin City Limits tests my limits...of rock!

I just completed a marathon music festival. It has nothing to do with cooking, and nothing to do with sewing or crafting, but it has everything to do with South Texas being an AWESOME place to live. Sam and I spent the weekend at Austin City limits. I believe the tag line for ACL is 3 days, 8 stages, 130 bands... and ain't that the truth! Surviving (and enjoying) Austin City Limits was indeed a feat that tested the limits of my love for rockin' and rollin' and chillin' in Austin with about 75,000 other sweaty, hyper music lovers. But all in all it proved a great weekend with lots of great music, good company, and a shining badge of honor for completing all three days still standing.

Bands I saw, in chronological order:
  • Vampire Weekend
  • Del the Funky Homosapian
  • M. Ward
  • Jenny Lewis
  • G Love and Special Sauce
  • Old 97's
  • The Fratellis
  • Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings
  • Erykah Badu
  • MGMT
  • John Fogerty
  • Beck
  • Stars
  • Neko Case
  • The Raconteurs
  • Galactic
  • Foo Fighters
I have to tell you that the most amazing part of the festival was actually not the musicians, the music, or even the phenomenal people watching. Rather, the most amazing part of the festival was the sign language interpreters on stage translating the music and lyrics into body movements for the deaf. Now at this point you may be asking yourself why the deaf are attending a music festival. Yes, I asked that question myself. Then I decided not to worry about it, deaf like rocking too, and just enjoy the poetry of the hands. The sign language "singers" at the festival swayed their bodies, moved to the beat, and used rhythm, facial expression, body language and movement to translate songs into physical body language. It was absolutely stunning, and sometimes more fun to watch than the band. Look at these examples for an idea of how different the music can be when signed to translate the emotion of the song, whether its a techno Daft Punk song, Kanye West rap remix or a Busta Rhymes super fast version of Disturbia. These are really cool videos, but let me tell you that at a live concert the sign language interpretation is substantially more impressive, because the signer is moving at the tempo of the performance, and ad-libbing whatever the performer is doing as it happens. I was transfixed and so impressed.

The whole weekend was a blast, rounded out with a really breezy cool pedicab ride back to our car on Sunday night. If you don't know what a pedicab is, let me tell you, it is an awesome feat of human leg power that will make you feel simultaneously guilty and grateful as you roll down the street, mostly because another human being is using their own leg power to move your stationary, lazy hiney down the road. A pedicab is basically like a rickshaw, only the people powering the wheels do it by choice, and for a hefty bit of cash ($10 a person for a short ride!). The ride was a fun treat to finish up an exhausting weekend.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Vintage bed linens.

I recently discovered the best source with one-of-a-kind fabric... (drumroll please) the linen section of my local thrift store! I originally ventured into the Goodwill in search of a Pyrex bowl, and while there was no Pyrex to be found, I did see a sheet from across the way that caught my eye. I grabbed it, then I saw another one. Then a little ways down the rack there was a beautiful Vera pillowcase. Then anther vintage pillowcase. Before I knew it, I had a mound of gorgeaous, totally unique fabric in my arms and about a million ideas for their use in my mind. I am now completely smitten with the notion of using vintage bed linens as fabric for my projects. The best part about the find is that I took home yards upon yards upon yards great material for only $13.99 total!

Vintage sheets are so lovely. If you don't believe me, look at this and this. And check out this group of projects made entirely of vintage pillowcases in response to this contest. Wow, the potential for vintage linens is intense.

I love the idea of using vintage linens for my projects. The colors and patterns are so unique, and most importantly the fabric is so soft, so broken in, and so... vintage! I have heard warnings not to do use vintage fabric for fear that the fabric may already be quite worn and/or may have been cheap quality to begin with. However it just seems that there are too many beautiful vintage pieces begging to get re-used and recycled into something new to NOT to use them. My solution to the problem was to wash each found item in hot water with an Oxiclean soak, and I dried everything on high heat. I also give the pieces a once over and hold everything up to the light to look for any holes, thin bits or weak spots before using. I theorize that if the material can handle a hot-water wash without disintegrating, it ought to be strong enough to make a good sewn item. Plus, I know not to use this vintage material on a labor intensive one-of-a-kind project. I will save my Liberty stash for that.

There is something so appealing about repurposing vintage items. I love the idea of taking something that is old and making it new again. And when the something old happens to be vintage linens, it is extra special, because the feeling of soft, gently used linens is so spectacular, and so comforting. When you work with a vintage pillowcase you can tell it has been washed more times than I can imagine. It may have spent time flapping in the breeze and sunshine on a clothesline to dry. And the thing that makes vintage pillowcases extra special is that they are an intimate item that was personal to another person unknown to me. This means that in reusing them, I feel sort of like I am giving life to their history. Who knows how many sweet dreamers drifted off on these pillowcases? How many loving mothers kissed their babies goodnight with the pillowcase as a backdrop? How many happy couples bid their loved one "sweet dreams" and "don't let the bedbugs bite" to their spouse before rolling over and pulling up these vintage covers? How many forts were built in living rooms under these vintage sheets, and how many of these pillowcase made trips to sleepovers and overnight camp? I may never know the stories behind the sheets, but their well worn feel keeps my imagination vivid.

I am working on a secret project right now using many of these vintage linens, but I am not ready to debut the project until it is finished. However here is a sneak peak at some of the fabric. Don't let me catch you in my San Antonio thrift store linen sections though, because I am addicted to the vintage textiles now, and I just can't get enough of them!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Film and Paper Photo Essay

Years ago, I was an avid photographer. In fact, I was almost never without my camera. Instead of heading out to the bars and parties, I choose to spent Friday and Saturday nights in the darkroom, printing images until the wee hours of the morning. I loved the heft of hauling a big SLR camera up to my eye to focus a scene into the confines of a viewfinder. I love the click of an aperture opening at the push of a button, the whirl of a roll of film winding after the last frame was recorded, and I relished the anticipation of developing a roll of negatives in the pitch black of the studio, just waiting to find out if any of the images are what I expected.

I came across these images I took and printed years ago on my computer when looking through some old college files, and they make me smile. All of the images are from a single role of film, a roll of film that magically captured a frat party with my girlfriends in artistically, authentically, and most of all through my point of view perfectly. These photos are 100% film and darkroom originals. The only effects are from the manipulation of aperture and shutter speed, along with the magic of using real film and real photo paper. There is no Photoshop or graphic manipulation, which I think makes them very special and interesting.

I love this photo essay. It documents the carefree, blurry, energetic feeling of attending a fraternity party in college and drinking too much beer. It is as if the images themselves are intoxicated. You can just feel the slow decent into drunken joy as you gaze over the images, as if you can hear the music and the buzz of the crowd, and sense the camaraderie of a group of silly but genuine college kids having the kind of carefree weekend that they will reminisce on for the rest of their lives. I like how the contrasted black and while film takes all of the motion, action, and movement and frames it starkly into a context that tells a story.

These days, I shoot almost all of my day to day photography with a wonderful point and shoot digital camera. It is wonderful to see what I shoot right away and to have the flexibility to delete or re-shoot if something is not quite right. I enjoy sharing my photos online right away. But at the same time, something is missing from my photography experience when I use the digital that just cannot be recreated into the feeling of shooting film. I think it is the pause, the anticipation, and the now-or-never reality of film, knowing that when you hold a film camera up to take a shot, you absolutely must get the details correct or lose your ability to translate your vision into a permanent, two dimensional image forever. With film, by the time the film is developed and the image committed to paper, the original scene you photographed will be forever different, even if you returned to the exact same spot to re-shoot.

I am going to pull out my old SLR from the closet tomorrow and load it with film. There is too much beauty, action, and perspective in my everyday life to settle for digital forever. Wish me luck reinstating my photographic eye.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The power of public radio.

Billie Holiday

I work in public radio, behind the scenes, as the fundraising guru for San Antonio's local jazz station KRTU 91.7 FM. We are a non-profit station out of Trinity University, and we focus our programing on mainstream, straight-ahead jazz, the likes of John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers (one of my favorites), Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday as picture above, and others. This past week we were in our annual Fall membership drive, which is basically a grueling, 12-hour-a-day-eight-days-straight on-air campaign to raise money and members to support the station.

The membership drive is exhausting but important to me, both becase it is my job, but also because the station is something I am proud to represent. In addition to my desk job in development, I also host a show on Sunday night... Estro Jazz. The show is all about the ladies of jazz, featuring female composers, musicians, vocalists, and all of the many women who contributed and continue to contribute to this traditionally male-dominated musical genre. You can hear my show on the KRTU audio archives, just find the Estro Jazz link on Sunday at 8 p.m. and click to open. I am by no means a jazz expert, but I am learning so much from hosting the program and sincerely hope that my show brings a new perspective to listeners, opening up their minds to the music of talented women.

I think that is what public radio is all about, opening up our minds to new ideas, perspectives, and stories. As a mass communication medium, I think radio succeeds at maintaining a level of personalization between the listener and the broadcaster. For the most part, when people listen to the radio they are listening alone in a car, at their desks at work, or maybe in the kitchen. That means that the words, music, and programming feel like they are being delivered just to you. That is a special feeling. Listeners begin to feel a kinship to the hosts of their favorite programs, and look foward to sharing time with the radio and their favorite host on a regular basis.

Me for example, I love Love LOVE to listen to This American Life while I sew, and I get a kick out of The Splendid Table on my weekend errands around town, probably because it is all about food and cooking and eating! I have Texas Public Radio - San Antonio's NPR affiliate - on my car dial almost all of the time. Of course, the other times my dial is on jazz at 91.7 FM. It is a bit weird to enjoy public radio as much as I do now, because I remember a time when I could not stand it, but now, I cannot imagine living without it.

After spending eight days in the studio on-air speaking the fundraising message and coaching my on-air talent in their delivery of the reasons for giving to public radio, I can say without a doubt that public radio is something I truly believe in, and I am happy to support it professionally, and personally as a donor.

Well, it's back to work for me. We are in the final hours of the last day of the fund drive, and that means the phones are busy and there are donations to take. Next time you hear your local public radio station make the call for support, seriously consider joining, at least at the basic level, because the power of public radio is harnessed only by the contributions of supporters like you.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

1930's Butterfly Blouse: Pattern Review

I truly love this pattern. I have already completed it twice, and I have fabric purchased for a third. In fact, I find myself actively restraining my urge to make it again and again and again. I think I might be happy to make at least 7 of these shirts, one for every day of the week. Why do I love it so much, you may ask? Let me count the ways: 1) It is a simple shirt to make, perfect for a beginner and a quick sew for an advanced seamstress, 2) The style is utterly vintage yet integrates very painlessly into a modern wardrobe, 3) The shirt is flattering, I imagine, for all shapes, sizes, and body types, 4) The pattern comes from Decades of Style, run by a small-business owner who is invested in resurrecting inspiring vintage patterns and making them available for ALL sewers. These are a lot of good reasons to love the pattern, and even better reasons to make multiples of this top. Below is my full pattern review.

1930's Butterfly Blouse: Pattern Review

Pattern Description:

Straight from the pattern envelope: "It is a wrap blouse with a saddle yoke at the shoulder and flowing, elbow-length sleeves. There is shirring at the shoulders in the front and ties that wrap around the back and meet at the front waist." My own ad-lib is to describe the sleeves, which are gorgeous and give the shirt its "butterfly" description. The sleeves are long (elbow-length), full, and flowy and utterly feminine and pretty.

Pattern Sizing:
The highlight of this pattern is that it comes in such a variety of sizes, from a 30" inch bust through a 46" bust. I sewed the largest size, designed for a 46" bust, 40" waist, and 49" hips. It's wrap styling allows for a flexible fit. If you like it tight, cinch the waist ties. If you like it low-cut, make a smaller size and the wrap will not overlap as much across the bust. The power is yours to create your perfect fit.

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing it?
Absolutely. Everything about it is dead-on, include the beautiful saddle yoke and the gathering above the bust. You must choose the right material to get the same drape as the envelope, but it is totally possible. You will want a medium to lightweight fabric with a nice drape. Silk, voile, rayon, gauze and chiffon are all great.

Were the instructions easy to follow?
The instructions were very clear and easy to follow, including a diagram of each major step. The instructions also come in a 8.5x11 booklet form, rather than as a large multi-folded sheet like most commercial patterns, which I found easy to deal with in the midst of sewing chaos.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern?
Likes: I ADORE the style. The sleeves on the finished garment are so dramatic, elegant, and eye catching. I think the top is very sexy, not because it is revealing, but because it is so feminine. The voluminous sleeves hint at the shapely curves of a lady without showing a lot of skin. Plus, the deep V neckline and the waist-defining sash give shape and structure to balance the volume.

This is a unique pattern. You will not find other women wearing this style, especially not in ready to wear. And I love that the pattern is available in a variety of sizes!!! All ladies deserve to wear vintage, and this pattern is so egalitarian in its sizing.

I found the directions very clear, and overall the top was quick and simple to sew. It only involves a few pieces - 5 all together including the sashes - connect by just a couple of simple seems, so it is quick and good for an advanced beginner.

Dislikes: I am very pleased and do not have dislike.

Fabric Used:
For both versions I used a very lightweight, 100% cotton, semi-sheer fabric. The first time through was a bold floral, the second time this soft, demure yellow. Both versions are finished with 1/4 cotton bias tape to finished all edges (instead of hems). Read below for my description of the bias tape modification.

Pattern Alterations or any design changes you made:
The original pattern calls for top stitching along all the bodice pieces, but after a few practice tries at top stitching, I realized I am pretty bad at straight, even, controlled top stitching and I resorted to trimming every edge with bias tape, then top stitching the bias taped finish to the edge of the other pieces. Thus, I did not have to fold a perfect 1/8 hem on the noticeable front yoke of the shirt. I am VERY pleased by the bias tape results, because I think the trim adds an extra bit of detail and sophistication.

I used tiny quarter inch biased tape, which is really, really small. It took me several feet of pinning, sewing, messing up, cursing, and starting over to devise a plan that worked better than pins. So, fellow sewers or anyone who might ever work with bias tape, here is my tip of the day: IN ORDER TO PRESERVE YOUR SANITY AND YOUR FINGERS, USE A WATER BASED GLUE STICK TO BASTE TINY BIAS TAPE ON DELICATE FABRIC. Don't use pins. Pins don't work. But glue, use it!

My yellow version of the shirt was created using significantly less fabric than the pattern calls for, so I shortened the length of each sleeve by 6 inches all around. To achieve a shortened sleeve, I traced the sleeve pattern onto a new piece of pattern paper. Using my hem gauge, I marked a dot six inches in from the pattern edge every inch or so, making sure to match the angle of the edge with my mark. I then traced the dots together, snipped the pattern shorter, and proceeded with the construction of the shirt per the standard instructions. I am pleased with the shortened sleeves, as they saved fabric and have a more "day-wear" or "work-wear" wearabilty to them, however the original long sleeves are still my favorite, and they are the way I plan to use this pattern the next time I sew it.

For the yellow version, due to lack of fabric, instead of cutting a single back piece on the fold as indicated, I converted the center back fold into a seam, added seam allowance, and cut two pieces. You can see the seem in the back photos. This worked very well, and since I used a french seam binding for my seam finish, it looks very nice in the back of the shirt. On the floral version of the shirt I cut the back as one single piece, fussy cutting to center a big floral right in the center of the back.

On my yellow shirt I also made the wrap ties extra long so they tie in back, rather than in front. Both front of back ties look great, it is nice to have variety.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others?
Yes, and I did. I have made two versions of the shirt, and I already have fabric chosen for teal blue knit to make a third. Plus, I am utterly convinced that somehow I can convert this into a wrap-dress... although I am not sure about how to do that yet. The sleeves the the saddle yoke are just so great, I would like to incorporate it into all of my wardrobe!

This is a fun and simple shirt from a great pattern company. I am very loyal to Decades of Style because of the extended sizing and variety of design. I recommend this pattern to all sewers, vintage enthusiasts, plus sized sewers, beginners looking for a unique project, and basically anyone who wants a dramatic and very wearable shirt.

p.s. All photographs taken by my very talented husband Sam at the Olmos Perk Coffee Shop on McCullough in San Antonio, and in the adjoining abandoned boxcar yard. It's my new favorite coffee shop in town, their espresso is rich, bold, and authentic and the vibe in the shop is relaxed, local, and hip.

The sexy and yet subtle 1930's Butterfly Blouse, I love it so much I just want to kiss it!

Saddle yoke, gathered front, bias trimmed edges, and wrap shirt front.

The saddle yoke, flutter sleeves, and shirt back.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

And then, we toobed!

Anchoring to the all-important coolers of beer.

To be honest, Sam and I selected our wedding date based on one all important factor... our ability to go tubing the day after the wedding. Was it non-traditional decision-making? Yes. Can it be considered viable and legitimate grounds for hosting a South Texas outdoor wedding on one of the hottest weekends of the year? Debatable, but ultimately, YES!

So on Saturday September 1, 2007 Sam and I celebrated our wedding between fits of downpours and lulls of crushing humidity. The wedding night cleared up in the nick of time for our outdoor ceremony and reception in the garden. That night we danced with glee, hair matted with perspiration to our brows and upper lip sweat prickling the corners of our smiles. But the heat was worth it, because the next day the entire wedding group entouraged to the Comal River near Gruene, Texas and floated the river, beers in hand, recuperating from a night of dancing, eating, revelry, and sweating!

A quick guide to South Texas culture for all your non-Texans and those unfamiliar with tubing. First, the leisure activity is commonly referred to as TOOBIN' rather than the more formal tubing. Yes, I know it is incorrect spelling, but just roll with it. Guadalupe is really pronounced Gwaaaa-dah-LOOP, so ignore your urge to use the correct Spanish pronunciation. By the way, the Guadalupe is a lovely river just north of San Antonio, ripe for lazy afternoon toobin' trips. The Lone Star is both the great symbol of Texas independence AND a mildly-delicious, cheap beer for the river. Y’all is acceptable to interject at both the beginning and ends of most any sentences, for example “Y’all, we are going tubing after the wedding!” and “Don’t splash me with the river water, y’all!” Finally, nothing tastes as good as Rudy’s BBQ after a hard day of toobin’!

Sweating in my wedding dress was a small sacrifice in exchange for the delight of sipping beer and lounging in an inflatable tire tube with friends and family the day after my big day. Cheers for Texas!
Anne and Lucy and Mr. Bud Light.

Cousin Michaella, a fish at heart.

Jon Stern, with Sam in the background.

Blake and Anne.

Sam and Kate, post wedding, pre honeymoon, and relaxing on the Comal.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The happiest day.

What a wonderful feeling to wake up on a Monday morning and realize it is a long weekend. What an even better feeling to roll over, yawn, and smile at the person sleeping next to you before waking them with a kiss and a "happy anniversary." Today is Sam and my's first wedding anniversary, and on a long weekend to boot!

I loved our wedding. Of course I love our wedding day because the day is symbolic of my union with the man I love and will love for all of my livelong days. But I also love it because I am so proud of our wedding as an event. I feel our wedding wrapped into a night of dinner and dancing the pure essence of our personalities. It was playful, a bit classic but also uniquely original, with a great emphasis on sharing with friends and family and a minimal emphasis on pomp and circumstance.

Our Clauddah rings.

The ceremony went by in a blur, but the lasting memory of the marraige ceremony is still very important to me and I wear it every day on my left hand. The story of our rings is very symbolic of the mood of our wedding. It was more about being with each other and the people we love than the traditional bravado of a wedding. Our rings are traditional Irish Clauddah rings. The design is a heart, held between two hands and topped by a crown. This is a traditional Irish design symbolizing the qualities of the best relationships. The heart, in the center, symbolizes love. The hands surrounding the heart are a symbol of friendship, and the crown atop the heart is a sign of eternal loyalty.

Sam and I bought these rings together in Gallway, Ireland in 2003 and we have been wearing them for the majority of our relationship. I spent most of my semester abroad (and our first few months in love!) away from Sam, and the ring on my right hand was a constant reminder for me of our stable and meaningful relationship. We have worn them together, apart, in the best moments and the moments that can be hard, and we still wear them now as a symbol of our union. For me, my Clauddah ring is the only piece of jewelry I feel comfortable wearing on my left ring finger, so instead of swapping the jewelry for another ring when we wed, we kept them and turned them into our wedding bands.

As a couple, we believe in the importance of friends and family. At our ceremony we passed our rings through the crowd and asked each of or guests to briefly hold our wedding bands and give them their blessing. It was our sincere hope that as each guest held the rings, they took a moment to reflect on this symbol of marriage and commitment. Sam and I know that our individual relationships with all those that we love were an important part of who we were when we met and fell and love, who were were when we stood to get married, and who we will be as we move forward as a couple. Now, when I look at my ring, I see it as a symbol of love and support from both my husband, and from all of the people in our lives that contributed to our journey to this point and who will continue to support us through our marraige. Our rings have an extra level of symbolism from the wedding day.

While the ceremony is a blur in my memory, the reception is a gleaming, vivid, whirlwind memory of laughing, eating, toasting, dancing, hugging, smiling, and celebrating. The reception was nothing short of a riot. We feasted on a dinner featuring herbs and summer garden ingredients, including peach tarragon gazpacho, basil caprese salad, herb marinated lamb loin, creamy polenta, sage cloverleaf rolls, and of course rum wedding cake. I tucked rosemary sprigs into each napkin because rosemary represents fidelity. And we put out jars of cookies and old fashioned bottles of milk after dinner because, well, because people like cookies, and we wanted everyone to be happy.

We danced all night long on the rooftop of the historic Guenther House to Lil' Bit and the Customatics, only THE BEST local rockabilly band in town. They played a special rendition of Patsy Cline's "Walkin After Midnight" for our first dance, and Sam and I put to work the months of swing dancing lessons we, enjoyed, before the big day. Just kidding, we loved learning to dance and putting it into practice that night. I heard it rumored that our band was initially concerned that our wedding was going to be a flop of a night when they first started playing, because they were set up and performing on the rooftop while we dined demurely in the garden below. But... by the end of the night vocalist Lil' Bit and bassist Tom Cat said we were the MOST FUN wedding they have ever had the pleasure of playing because our guests were so enthusiastic with the dancing, the drinking, and the rooftop revelry. They might not have known how to swing, but that did not stop anyone from bustin' their moves on the old tile floor. There was even a pinata in the shape of a wedding cake. We closed the place down with our merrymaking, leaving me with sore dancing feet, a huge smile, and one excellent husband to have and to hold for ever more.

And that, in more words than most will read but thousands less than I could write about the day, is the reason that Sam and I share the most wonderful wedding memories one year later this September 1. Happy Anniversary my love.

Maid of Honor and my dear sister Anne, and my mother Sarah.

My wedding dress bodice, adorned with hand embroidered silk florets. The dress is most beautiful garment I have ever worn.

Best Man Roger, Groom Sam, and Groomsman Jarret waiting out the rain inside before the outdoor ceremony.

We feasted under the arbor of the Guenther House, aglow under hanging lanterns.

Champagne for toasts!

Guests feasting at the banquet tables under glowing lanterns in front of wheat grass and garden flower living centerpieces.

Reading: On Marriage by Kahlil Gibran
Read at our ceremony by my sister and Maid of Honor Annie Eden

Then Almitra spoke again and said, "What of Marriage, master?"
And he answered saying:
You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when white wings of death scatter your days.
Aye, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous,
but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone
though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together, yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.