Saturday, June 2, 2012

Red Dresses Aren't Always Red ( even when they are) ...and now I need a derby, or a top hat.

This is Katelyn.                                             Eliviya and Katelyn.                                          This is 'Livia.

'Livia and Katelyn are sisters. The girls and I went to the fabric store Monday morning and they each picked out a pre-gathered dress fabric that tickled their fancy (I am a fan of fancy tickling) and they went to spend a day at the zoo with their dad and brother and grandfather.

I think the two of them were humoring me just a bit but they picked thoughtfully and seemed pleased. If you don't sew it can be a bit of a mystery when you are shown flat, kinda wrinkly fabric and told that this will be a dress. But the girls are polite and well mannered children so they smiled, looked a teeny bit puzzled and went off for the afternoon.While they were gone I put together little cotton sundresses for each of them. It was easy and fun and I hoped they'd like them. I always hope that people will like the things I sew but I am always not sure. I have this inner double-think-monologue whereby I become convinced that it -whatever IT I am currently working on (even though I might like it) - has suddenly turned hideous and not at all lovely and it won't fit and it is stupid and ugly and all home-madey and not at all what they pictured in their mind's eye and it is flawed in unimaginable ways and burdened. Yep, the garment is burdened (poor thing) by my hyper critical eye and the knowledge that I just might have sewn this wearing pajamas and fuzzy slippers (and certainly Vera Wang never does that.) All of this attaches itself to the poor, blameless garment and weighs it down in my mind until it is an ill-fitting, plaid gunny sack, a short sleeved suit, high water mom jeans in orthopedic is just wrong. The thing I loved only moments before has become ...dubious.

*puts on getting back to the point hat*

ANYWAY, I laid the dresses out on my bed and and the dresses I hoped the girls would like them at least well enough. They came home many hours later aaannnd.......they loved them! And that's the pay off. That's the power of sewing. That's the mighty banisher of insecurities for both sewer and sewee (is that a word?) That is the RED DRESS MOMENT. Katelyn and Eliviya spun and twirled and posed and giggled and felt special and fabulous. They made my heart happy. Man, I do love that part!

My Traveling Red Dress is All Grown Up and Leaving Home

This is the Stig. She has cunningly disguised herself by wearing dark glasses because, unlike other pictures of the Stig she is also wearing her head (you'll see.) The Stig is wearing one incarnation of my Traveling Red Dress...I'll explain.
So now we are at the part where I need a derby...or a top hat. Up there. That's my red, Red Dress. I made it. I made a wrap skirt gathering of yards and yards of tulle with a big 'old satin sash so it'll fit most everyone. I made three different corset tops in three different sizes from Stig size through a medium and on to a more generous size ensuring (I's the plan anyway) that one or the other will fit most anyone. I made it so you can wear the skirt and your Jammie top if that's what makes you feel fabulous.

I made it coz I love it and now I've put it in the mail and I'm all "Gleeps"and "what have I done?" and so I need a derby (or top hat) coz the dress just cries out for one and I could wear a hat and hide under my sewing cabinet and chew on the electrical cord.  

The thing is...I've made a dress that requires printed instructions and numerous, headless, pictures of the Stig (for the uninitiated info on the Stig Can be found on Top Gear UK, which you should watch ) demonstrating the care and feeding of the dress. Instructions for heaven's sake! Thats's not weird. Not at all. Perhaps I should elaborate. 

....I really wanted the dress to be a fantasy, a fantasy that lots of people could share but people are all kinda different shapes so it couldn't be a real dress it had to be, well, this dress (and because I'm me) this dress needed instructions. Greaaat...I made a dress that requires illustrated photographs and a website. *gnaws nervously*

Funny thing is though, I still love it. I've seen grown-up-type women laugh and twirl just like '
livia and Katelyn did in their not red, red dresses. This dress, It feels like something you might wear to a Tim Burton circus or to run down the street or sit barefoot in the grass. It feels like a dress you'd never wear but you are. It feels special as hell even though I know where the mistakes are. I've sent it off for the first (not people I know) real world experience and I am beyond being all geeked out and blarrgghh. I want y'all to love wearing it and to send me pictures and to see that it's not a dress in the dressmaker sense it's a red's a moment.

This is Annie. We love her.  This is how the dress will find it's way to you.
Please leave requests for the dress in your comments I will try keep the dress traveling as long as it holds up and people are willing to forward it to the next address or back to me. I would love it if you would send pictures to me (all that info is included in the illustrated guide to dress management.)           
You can email me there for shipping information.

Remember to post your pictures at  The Traveling Red Dress Face Book Page and if you post your pictures to your own Tumblr or site send me the link and I'll post it here.

Special thanks to Jenny Lawson, the incomparable Bloggess, whose  Traveling Red Dress Project made me do this.

Thanks to my darling girl who did the math and helped me wrestle the skirt around the needle and who mailed it out coz I might have thrown up at the I said "I'm all geeked out and blaarrggghh over here...under the table...wearing a hat...and playing with sharp things."

Monday, February 13, 2012

Today I Thought This Stuff

This morning, as I turned east on Hwy. 20 at 6:40 AM, I was beyond delighted to see the sun just cresting the horizon. For the first time weeks, no months, I would be arriving at work in almost daylight. In sunlight. Well, that makes me happy and so, in no particular order, it goes on the list:
1.) Starting work in the daylight. It is bliss. 
2.) The smell in the air and the quality of the light after sudden midwestern thunderstorm just before sunset. If you looked up delightful there might be this phenomenon instead of a definition. (If you could somehow make the page glow and smell awesome.)
3.) Those big clouds that aren’t storm clouds but are fluffy on top but flat on the bottom like they’re sitting on glass. Like Under the Dome might have looked but way super-higher up and not in a we’re-all-going-to-die, Stephen King way.
4.) When, all of a sudden, I can hear my mother’s voice in my head-not just remember it. That one feels harder to explain but trust’s wonderful and comes of it’s own volition.
5.) When Orion is starts to descend from the night sky. Orion is winter constellation ‘round here...‘nuff said.
6.) That random day in early spring. That warm day. That stolen day. The day that the air feels like velvet and you don’t need a jacket and the sun is warm even though the shadows might be cool. That day. The day that would cause my dad to inhale deeply and announce: “This is a day the Lord has made!” ..........that day.
7.) Really good mustard. That's all. I just love really good mustard.
I know there are others but these came quickly to mind. What things beyond your own control make you furiously happy?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

...and thanks for the lemonade

Sometimes, When Life Gives You Lemons...
You Just Have Lemons
(Which is usually better than not even having lemons-I think.)
Let’s investigate.
The past little while in my own personal life has been kind of, well, lemony. My dad always described the lemon-times with this example:
In my life if I inherit $400.00 it generally means that my car will be requiring a $450.00 repair. Lemons...but at least there were lemons.
Yesterday I got some news that, though it had some lemons-like quality to it, was pure lemonade.
Thanks Karma.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Sometimes I Sew Things

Note the "Not the Grapes of Wrath"
dress I am wearing.

Why make a red dress?  

In part because my  grandmother made several for me.

My grandmother (my mother’s mother) was a dressmaker. She was a business owner from an immigrant family at a time when women didn’t own businesses. She was amazing. She could take apart a man’s suit and make a little girl’s glen plaid school dress with interchangeable white linen collars. She sewed special dresses for my sisters and me through our childhood and as we grew up to be teenagers and adults.

School dresses, Easter dresses, Homecoming dresses, Prom dresses and Wedding dresses. Not home made looking substitutes for the real thing but beautiful dresses, custom made dresses, special dresses. Dresses for girls whose parents could never have afforded even the K-Mart version.

She kept up with fashion trends and made fantastic, fabulous, beautiful, one-of-a kind dresses. I remember how wonderful I felt. I also remember standing during fittings and alterations and meticulously measured hems for what seemed like an eternity and, when posture and attention flagged, feeling the quick poke from a dressmaker’s pin followed by “Stand still Kasha!”  The lady could sew and she was a dead aim with a stick pin.

I did not learn to sew from her. (I did learn to love sewing and what sewing could do and what it meant. I learned that it was powerful, magical juju but she never did actually teach me how to do it.) I learned to sew on my own by trial and error and (maybe) instinct borne of watching her.

I was fearless. Patterns? Pah! Who needed ‘em? (Well I did- but not always.) When I was sixteen I made an outfit in about an hour and a half for a date that same evening. The outfit lasted only just long enough to get home before the close-cut seams gave out.

As I got older and a bit more skilled and a lot more broke and I sewed like a crazy person. I even made jeans!

Right???.... I know! Crazy person.

I made this little person and her blue checked sunsuit

Percy Bear needed a night shirt
 and frequent bear surgeries
I made play clothes and school dresses and party clothes and doll clothes and birthday presents and Halloween costumes. If I couldn’t afford it I tried to find a way to sew it. I sewed a lot.

These days I sew less out of necessity and more because it the notion tickles my fancy or because I think it will be fun or because it presents a challenge OR ...

(here we are going to devote a moment or two to the fancy tickling portion of our program before finishing this thought.)

Grace was obviously not as pleased with her boots as I had hoped.
You're kinda tickled tough, right?
Emma got a christening bonnet (she was unimpressed.) Monkey needed a jacket that matched Miles’s and they both clearly needed matching hats. Jack and Mary...well, I just felt like making them coz I love them on Jack's Big Music Show and Carl won his match in tiny pants with a Superman symbol. 
Like I said, it has to tickle my fancy (minds out the gutter please) or touch my heart.

Last summer I sewed terry swim robes like it was a calling coz they were fun and then this past Christmas I made aprons for nearly everyone I know (the cooks) and pillow cases for everyone else (the sleepers?).

I also started a big ol’ pile of pillow cases for Conkerr Cancer which is a really cool organization that makes super-duper, fancy, one-of-a-kind pillow cases for critically ill kids to have for their very own in the hospital. Anyone who sews at all has a fabric stash (you know who you are) that needs thinning and the pillow cases are incredibly satisfying to make and to give. You’ll make lots once you start. You don’t need a pattern. Just go here: HOW CAN I MAKE ONE?

(Now here’s the thought finishing part. We're back to the OR left dangling above.)

...OR because some little girl is all grown up and her heart’s desire is beyond her reach and because everyone should have that Red Dress Moment...

There they are up there. A few of my girls in their red dresses. Couldn't you eat those smiles for lunch?

When I read The Traveling Red Dress my fancy was well and truly tickled and my heart was emphatically touched. My own personal little girl (she’s up there on the right- the blue sunsuit doesn’t fit anymore) and I decided that we would make a Red Dress (a fabulous, fantastic Red Dress) and that we would send it traveling.

I make my dresses because I know what that one wonderful, just for you dress feels like. Everyone should have that moment. That dress. The one that makes you feel lit up inside. I can’t make y’all a wedding dress but I can send you a #TravelingRedDress so get ready to wear the living daylights out it when it gets to your house.

UPDATE: The Red Dress will be enjoying a brief engagement in it’s city of origin before it goes traveling first to the east and then to the west coast.
If you need a Red Dress moment just let me know. Trust me, it will fit you. Red Dresses are magical and also I’m making sure.

Thanks to Jenny Lawson TheBloggess on Twitter for fanciest tickle (again- out of the gutter- it’s a simple, if lame, turn of phrase) I’ve felt in a long time (man, I just keep digging that hole deeper) and to Maureen Johnson outstanding YA author and Twitter Icon (yes, that is blatant pandering and sucking up) for agreeing to wear my #TravelingRedDress.



I'm delighted and excited to show you the fabrics for our Traveling Red Dress. As I've said "red dresse (even when they're not red) are magical" and this one will fit just about everyone. There will be three corset tops which should lace or up or down to go from size nuthin' to size fabulously abundant with a fantasy skirt of matching tulle suitable for twirling.

I'm sewing as fast as my fingers can carry me and my fancy can tickle me (again with the mind in the gutter!). I'm excited...I hope y'all are as well.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

It’s Almost Christmas (and today I am heartbroken )

Today, two years after I first wrote this, I am putting ornaments on the Christmas Tree and it's the same- lovely, joyous, heartbreaking same. This was his time, his season, his holiday.

I don't miss the gifts...I miss the giving. I miss the man.

This title is a bit misleading but it’s also the right-on, accurate truth.

I love Christmas.

I know I learned to love Christmas from my dad. He loved Christmas more than anyone I have ever known (or will know or will be born or ever lived). He loved Christmas more than he loved summer (and he really loved summer <especially in his later years when he turned into one of those REALLY skinny old guys with coat hanger shoulders and parchment skin>) and the Farmers Market (he really loved that too. He and I, we went every Saturday every year for 15 years. We went from the day it opened till the last Saturday in October <which can be a mighty cold Saturday in these parts> when it closed for the winter. We went after he needed a walker; we went after he needed a scooter; we went the week before he died. He was a fixture, he adopted a Laotian great grand daughter, he got hugs and handshakes- he loved the Farmers Market. <I don’t so much go anymore> BUT, I digress)!

My dad’s love affair with Christmas started with not being dead (as good a place as any I’m pretty sure you’ll agree). He was a navigator in a B17 during World War II and he was (literally) blown out of the skies over Germany on Christmas Eve during the Battle of the Bulge (a significant and bulgy battle for all you history buffs). He lived through that to be taken as a POW which he also lived through (I guess that’s pretty obvious given that I’m here to tell y’all about it but well, I’ll keep it in coz it has repetitive impact, right?) to be liberated by George S. Patton himself (the General road into the POW camp standing on a tank- the guy apparently knew how to make an entrance <even in the middle of a really big ol’ war>). For a very long time my dad thought he was the only one who survived the explosion. Nearly fifty years later he found out that another guy had lived…MAN…my dad liked Christmas even more after that.

My father celebrated the hell out of Christmas. Even when things were tight (and there were eight of us little boomers- things got tight) we had Christmas. Joyous, infectious (not the icky kind), fantasy filled, Sunday Mass, Christmas carols, tinsel, ornaments, live tree (my mother always instructed my dad (as we piled into the car to get a tree, that THIS year <each and every year> was the year he would find a tree shaped like a telephone pole <so it wouldn’t fill up half the living room in our rather small house> and every year he got a monster of a tree <poor woman, she already had eight kids>) CHRISTMAS!

When my dad got older and a little better off financially he didn’t just love Christmas he became Christmas. In November (after the market closed) he would boot up his computer (He christened himself the old fart hacker. Well into his eighties he was a terror with a credit card and a web browser) and start to shop. He shopped for everyone he knew and many that he didn’t. Bundles for Toys for Tots, Christmas for a single mother he had met, food for St. Ben’s homeless shelter and boxes and packages for his children and his grandchildren and the dogs and the neighbor upstairs who looked kinda down- No one didn’t have Christmas if he could help it.

That first week in November the UPS driver and the FedEx driver and the letter carrier and the DHL Driver would start to come to my door (did I forget to mention that the man didn’t wrap? He didn’t wrap. He would very kindly provide paper, tape and ribbon and have everything he ordered delivered to my door for wrapping and my daughter, my niece and I would wrap and wrap and wrap and wrap…well you get the picture…our backs ached and our fingers were sore and we became BFFs till right on up to Christmas Eve). Then, on Christmas Day he would preside over the day he had created (only after he had taken in the splendor of the tree and the gifts and the food and the people and declared it all to be wonderful).

The last two years of his life he kept his Christmas Tree up year ‘round (he had gone to artificial by then) and had ornaments for every season and holiday. He sang Christmas Carols at full voice in shopping malls and grocery stores. He gave out gold dollars to random little kids saying “Merry Christmas peanut nose.” (Honest, it wasn’t creepy and he always asked the moms first.)

And so we come to today, this afternoon, when the process of putting up the Christmas tree made me sad (for just a little while), when the ornament of a goofy little lady he called his “floozy” made me cry (just tear or two) and when the Christmas elf who looks just like the old guy and now presides over Christmas in his absence broke my heart (just a little bit).

He’d be really mad if he thought something as small as dying could ruin Christmas and really, it hasn’t. I still love Christmas I just miss the hell out of him every Christmas since he died and for a little while John Lennon has the soundtrack instead of Bing Crosby.

“…and so this is Christmas…”

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Day My Father Died

I was with him in the afternoon. He was 85 and had been ill but wasn't then, that day. He was the same. His year round Christmas tree was decorated for summer and he was wearing shorts and a loose shirt and was barefoot.

He had hated the hospitalization of a few months earlier. It had meant a recurrence of the German POW camp memories and the PTSD was terrifying but that was behind him and he was the same. Nearly indestructible. He was the same.

I left then and drove the 10 minutes home and took the dog out and then the phone was ringing and it was him and he couldn't breathe and he sounded scared (a little) and he asked if I could come back and I said "Of course" and I went back and when I got there he was in distress and he put it in my hands.

I told him that I thought we should call 911 and asked if he wanted me to. He said that if I thought so then we should. He put it my hands.

I rode in the ambulance, in back with him (man it was so hot and I got so car sick) and held his hand. He put his hand there in my hands and he was quiet, thinking (I think) about being the same, seeking the same (if you will).

I called my sisters and I told them "Lights and sirens" and Mary raced to meet us at the hospital while Jeannie planned for plane fare.

At the hospital, in the trauma bay, the Doc said that a cut down line would do the trick. Put things right and my dad said okay, do it, go for it and we were surprised. We didn't expect the "yes". We watched, we saw bright red blood slip down his coat hanger shoulders and onto the floor and then we saw the change.

We saw his eyes come back to himself. We saw him become the same again. We saw him consider, look around and decide and then...he walked away.

I turned to Mary and said "He's dying" and the surgeon looked back over his shoulder at me  "Oh, no” he said “he's nowhere near death" and a few moments later he looked up and called us to our father's side. "He's dying" the Doc said. "He shouldn't be but he is. You might want to say good bye."

And so we did. I (we) cried because he would be gone from us- not that he was going, choosing. We knew it was his to decide. Only his hand was in my hands then. I told him I knew he was leaving and I said goodbye.

I remember thinking at the time, in that moment, that he had done it on his terms. He had considered the future after the "life saving" and that he had walked away. That he had become the same in that moment of decision.

They offered us time in the trauma bay. "As long as we might need,” they said. But we didn't stay. He was gone; he had left on his terms.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Barbie and My Bad, Bad Hair Day

When I was in grammar school (somewhere in the early-middle grades, I can’t be sure) my grandmother took my sister and my two “girl cousins” and me to Gimbel’s Department Store Beauty Salon for our first PROFESSIONAL HAIRCUTS (this was my father’s mother- she had four sons and may have imagined that this would a wonderful “just us girls experience” <my mother’s mother sewed dresses for us and baked cookies but would never have taken us to a SALON, I seriously doubt she went herself>).

I imagine that we were excited but the way things ended I don’t really remember (wait for the end and you can judge) but the day started out well enough.

My grandfather picked us all up in his big blue Lincoln Continental (my sister and I were first because we lived farthest from Gimbel’s and because we both got car sick so we needed to spend the maximum amount of time possible floating around unrestrained in the giant back seat too short <well I was too short- Mary was older so maybe she could see> to see out of the side windows with the heat blasting and my grandmother’s perfume filling the super-heated air insuring maximum quease factor) and dropped us off at Gimbel’s for the BIG DAY (clearly he was not hanging about while four little girls got their hair done).

We had lunch in the Gimbel’s Lunch Room (a thrill on its own back then <in my world kids didn’t go to restaurants very often>) and I know I had a strawberry malt coz, well; I had a strawberry malt every chance I got. I have no idea what else happened at that lunch. I know I was car sick and nervous. We were all nervous. This was big.

There we were: two gawky redheaded, freckled girls with long, THICK, coarse, wavy hair and two ungainly little blondes with long, THICK, coarse, curly hair handed over unknowing and unsuspecting to four different beauticians (they were not stylists back then- oh no- these women were making BEAUTY).

I don’t remember much about the actual haircut. I have images of my waist-length hair coming away by the handful. I recall the smell of someone’s permanent wave solution. I recall that my lady teased and ratted my hair and that it hurt when she did it. I remember that the hairspray made me feel all “chokey” and I remember being turned around to face the mirror and well (even at the age of 7 or 8 or 9) being horrified and too well brought up to say anything.

To quote my mother here I looked like “a little girl under a middle-aged woman’s head of hair”. I had a ratted and teased bee-hive-like mound behind super thick bangs that started at about my crown and dropped to my eyebrows. All of this splendiferous beauty was lacquered firmly in place by layers of hairspray in an attempt (a rapidly failing attempt) to constrain the bristly-thick little girl that was trying to re-assert itself.

My cousin Laurie suffered a similar fate but her mop of bangs was desperately trying to coil half way up her forehead and she had been embellished with a bow.  I have no memory of what was done to the older girls (they both wore glasses poor souls- I may be blocking whatever it was).

I have to assume that my grandmother was a little horrified because she whisked Laurie and me off to the toy department and bought us Barbie Dolls (the only Barbie Doll I ever owned) before my grandfather picked us up.

My mother burst into tears when she saw me. I remember that part clearly. I know that my mother and my aunt were not well pleased that my grandmother had not supervised these “transformations” a little more closely (poor woman, she was probably the one getting the permanent- she raised boys). I remember what a mess it was getting my beautiful “do” undone and I remember Barbie.

My poor, sad Barbie...I was really nearly too old for Barbie (even though girls played with Barbie at little older ages back then) I remember that and I only got the doll herself clad in the striped one piece suit, no clothes, no shoes no nothin' but permanently “high heeled feet”, a pony tail and a blank cat’s eyed stare (and she had brown hair- not even a perky, peroxide blonde). It made it kinda hard to play with her. I did take her to my friend Theresa’s house once (Theresa had everything Barbie- she was an ONLY CHILD in a baby boom neighborhood) but (like I said) we were getting past Barbie play and well, my poor under privileged Barbie still had to go home, half naked in a swim suit, shoeless and disgraced, from the prom.

Me and Barbie, we didn’t fare well on beauty day.

I didn’t set foot in a SALON again till I was an adult.

I don’t know what happened to Barbie...I fear for her sometimes…I had five brothers y’know.