Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Revisiting the tear-stained sun

“Her books are very emotionally difficult to read.”  It’s a phrase I say nearly every time I’m recommending one of Chimamanda Adichie’s books, most often for Half of a Yellow Sun or Americannah.  I know it to be true.  I spend a great deal of the time with my head buried in her books also with tears streaming down my face, an angry growl churning in my stomach, my face glowing beet red.  I always assumed it was the subject matter.  Her works contain a lot of violence, sexual abuse, domestic abuse; I mean, it’s war, and difficult relationships, and oppression and such.  It’s not supposed to be easy.  But that’s not the reason.

The subject matter isn’t what makes Adichie emotionally difficult to read.  What makes Adichie emotionally difficult to read is her writing.  She cruelly uses our humanity against us, her readers, plays with and preys upon our propensity to hope.  She presents something to us, makes it familiar, comfortable, happy even-- A calabash providing solid comfort to a terror-stricken young woman on a dilapidated train overcrowded with fleeing refugees; a bouncy baby girl that arrives into our view only a few pages after the characters who have become endeared to us decide together that they want to have a child; the expectant young relative whose joy and excitement is brought to us through seemingly excessive side-jaunts to her far-off village.  But the calabash holds a young girl’s head; the baby is only one of theirs; and the pregnant women are raped and sliced open before they are killed.

Adichie uses our innate hope for the good and beautiful, presenting a world to us that we do not even know is veiled, until we love what we think is there; and she pulls off the veil, daring us simultaneously to love the hideous reality and to hate the beauty we’ve already internalized.

And I simultaneously hate and love, her.  As I turn another page with tears streaming down my face, wishing the book were over, wishing it would never end.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Second Life Tights

H&M.  The label rather gives their history away, these worn-out black knit tights lying in the gigantic pile of mending on what used to be a place to sit.  Some people build mountains out of molehills; I build them out of clothes that need to be fixed.  Much like my mother does with items that need to be ironed.

I like H&M, too, but not as much as Munchkinhead.  Or, at least, I don’t shop there quite as much as she does.  And a pair of knit tights from there is most certainly in my possession as the result of a wonderful Christmas present from her.  I wonder what the label said.  Probably something about “to: long legs, from: short legs” or some such silliness.

The tights have been through a lot.  A present when I lived in Cali, in the Yay, where one needs to wear woolly knit tights nearly year-round.  Then put to good use again in Wisconsin’s bitter cold winter, likely serving as a layer of warmth buried beneath slips, long thick skirts, fuzzy socks and sturdy boots.  It’s no wonder the tights no longer provide any coverage for toes or that it is easier to see through the heels than through Betty’s rear window.

I’d given them to Munchkinhead to darn.  She’s quite good at darning.  “These cannot be darned,” she informed me.  It seems they were already damned; one cannot darn nothingness.  So she sent them back, via Mommy, to sit on Mount Sewme until I decided what to do with them.

Munchkinhead helped.  With the decision, that is, indirectly, sending a smattering of additional torn-up legwear after cleaning out the large filing cabinet in her living room.  Within the new stash, old hold-up stockings with their own holes and runs and perfectly intact whatever-you-call-the-garter-replacing-sticky-bands-at-the-top.  A seam ripper, a scissors, and a sewing machine later, I have new black woolly knit hold-up stockings.

If I have to shorten them again in the future, Munchkinhead will have new hold-ups.

 

tights

 

stockings

 

new stocking

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Fly Away with Me

Thirty-thousand feet up in the air a circle of sunlight on a plastic tray table transports me further than the plane I'm in ever could, to a time and place lodged in the happiest corners of my memories, where I keep Christmases and home-comings and everyday bits of my childhood that make tears well up in the corners above my smiling cheeks like dewdrops in the creases of a daisy.

The warm beam hugs my small frame as I lie on the floor, stocking feet swinging in the air, chin perched on tiny  hands above elbows planted in rough gold carpet.  The crowd from the tv screaming behind the roaring white noise of jet engines and oxygen circulation systems, as though even an Airbus can yell, "go Pack, go."  My mother cheers.  The man behind me snores. I ask my daddy for some more popcorn.  I take another sip of my hot tea.

The bright light creates rainbows on my paper at the edges of the window's shadow, rainbows on the golden carpet fibers enthralling my curious young eyes.  I glide my hand, smoothing the paper, watching a hundred dazzling, sparkling stars dance and twirl on the plastic wall and someone else's seat, my aging eyes behind corrective lenses still enthralled by the magic splendor of prisms in the sun.

Outside, the dark ridges of the Appalachians flow under a sheer veil of mist as a river winds off in the distance. Outside, the world is brilliant in the gleaming white of a Wisconsin winter, clear and cold.  Skies of the brightest blue.

I am grateful to be tucked inside, in my sunbeam, warm and glowing, from the love around me, from the memories inside me.  In my mind.  In my heart.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

For Rain or Shine

“Mommy, can we do the umbrella class at Bungalow?”  “Well, ok,” she said, neither of us realizing what we were getting ourselves into.  I don’t know what we thought making an umbrella entailed.  A couple hours?  Some scissors?  Magic?  Well, it turns out to be a little more than a couple hours,  a little more than some scissors, and no magic.

The hardest part was choosing the fabric.  I had a concept in my head, but nothing was singing out to me, and the fabrics I kept finding myself drawn to didn’t match a thing in my wardrobe.  Mommy, however, little over achiever that she is, found her fabric right away.  She was a good deal of the way into assembling her umbrella before I had my fabric selected.

Mommy chose two complimentary fabrics: a cute  print on white with 1950s-style Parisian women doing things around Paris, shopping, sitting at a cafe, standing by the Champs Elyse or near the Eifel Tower; and a large grey polka dot on white. 

I chose a black and white print of cityscape silhouettes, people in business clothes going here and there with briefcases interspersed with large round clock faces and park bench scenes. WP_20150328_018 I liked the modern, busy city feel of the images combined with the old-fashioned simplicity of black & white.  It seemed perfect for a busy city like D.C.  I had some trouble choosing a complimentary fabric, but eventually went with a black, grey and white flower on a variegated pink background.  I hedged a bit, looked at lots of fabrics, and pretty much just went with this combo because I was tired of looking and race-horse Mommy was on her third lap.  And being the little trouble-maker that I am, that wasn’t enough.  I decided I wanted a binding along the bottom and picked black with small white polka dots.  Mommy and the lady helping us, Peggy, cut the polka dots into strips and ironed it into double-fold bias tape.

attaching binding First step to making umbrellas is to cut out your 8 panels.  Then – here’s where things seem a little backwards – you hem them each individually.  Since I was putting on binding instead of hemming, I had to sew each bias strip onto the bottom of my panels while Mommy hemmed hers (well after Mommy hemmed hers cuz I’m a slow poke).

Next, you sew all the pieces together, being sure to leave an opening at the top for the umbrella post.  You also make a strap to wrap around the umbrella and hold it closed and stitch that onto the umbrella.  It turns out those are the easy parts.  Then, you put your machine away and take out the hand needle.  Oh boy.

WP_20150328_025The umbrella frame is kind of scary on its own, like a giant pokey spider.   It comes with 9 parts to be assembled onto the frame, 8 little metal tips and 1 cap.  The metal tips are sewn onto the umbrella covering and then lock onto the ends of the metal frame.  The tips are sort of like little metal tube socks.  At the top end, there’s holes in the metal across from each other for stitching the tips to the umbrella.  It’s a little tricky at first, and it helps a lot to safety pin the tips to the umbrella covering and slip onto the frame first, then slip them off the frame one-at-a-time to sew individually, removing the safety pin after a few stitches.  The really cool part about this step is you get to see how your umbrella’s going to look!

We had to go home before I got to sewing on the tips, but Mommy was able to finish her umbrella during the class.  After she sewed on all the tips, Peggy helped her glue the cap onto the top of the umbrella.

gluing the top

button Next, Mommy sewed each seam to the umbrella frame.  When she got home, she added a button and button-hole to the closure strap.

 

 

Voila!  A beautiful umbrella.

Mommy's umbrella

 

Mommy and her umbrella

Mommy’s going to spray hers with waterproofing so that it can actually be used as an umbrella.  I want mine to be a parasol for the hot D.C. summer sun, so I’m not spraying it with waterproofing.  I originally wanted to add lace to it, before I picked out my fabrics, and am still toying with the idea.  But for now, here’s my parasol.

business outfit cropped 

It wound up perfectly matching the outfit I had on that day, the polka-dotted side of my wrap skirt and a light pink blouse with black and white spectator stilettos.  Goes ok with my suit, too.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Apparently, the Okapi Says “Meow,” Too

People seem to always think my Halloween costume is a cat.  At least this year, it was only one person.  There were a lot of interesting guesses: cat, reindeer, giraffe.  The giraffe was actually the closest.  And I’ll cut them some slack; a lot of people don’t know what an okapi is, unlike a zebra.
So yes, this year, I was an okapi.  My second-favorite animal, after a giraffe.  Okapis are actually the nearest living relative to a giraffe.  They have shorter necks, but very long tongues.  Look ‘em up; they’re pretty neat.

Here’s an okapi.
okapi cc by charles barilleaux Okapi CC-BY Charles Barilleaux, available on Flickr.

And here’s me dressed like an okapi.
okapi shot at home

As is the custom, I made my own (um, custom) costume.

amazon dressI ordered a brown sweater dress from Amazon, figuring at least when I’m done I’ll have a nice new sweater dress.  I wear my sweater dresses a little longer  than was suitable for okapi-making, so the first thing I did was tack the hem of the dress up quite a bit.   (Right: actual length of  PattyBoutik Women’s Cowl Neck Long Sleeve Knit Dress.)

okapi legsI had ordered women’s brown tights and white leg warmers from Amazon as well, but the leg warmers were cream and the tights were dancer-leg brown, so neither of those worked.  I decided to go with an old pair of brown tights I had even though I was originally thinking I wanted something thicker.  They worked.  (Left: Okapi legs.)

For the bottom of the legs and the forearms, I used little girls’ tights.  I got size 12-14 for the legs and toddlers’ 2-4 for the arms.  I cut the feet off (and hemmed them and sent them to Munchkinhead) and cut leg lengths suitable for their purposes.  Then, I cut rings out of the rest of the leg.  It worked really well.

first bum stripe
one side of bum stripes For the bum stripes, I used the top of the toddlers’ tights because they had the cable-knit pattern all the way up to the top, unlike the girls’ tights, which had a sort of control-top looks-like-tightie-whities thing going on.  I hand stitched the whole thing with big stitches in back so it’ll be  easy to remove without snagging the dress.  I sewed the bum stripes with the dress on my dress dummy to ensure everything would stretch correctly once on me.  First, I sewed the top down on the full piece.  Then, I cut one stripe, sewed it’s bottom and the top of the next.  Then cut the next stripe, and so-on and so-on.  (Right, above: Okapi bum stripes in progress.)


tail stitchingtail bastingThe bum needed one more thing after that, a tail.  I bought some chenille, fake fur and quilt batting at Jo-Ann’s.  I cut a wide strip of the chenille, making the stripes in the fabric vertical.   I cut a matching width of  batting and basted the two together.  I cut a piece of fake fur about two inches long and basted that to the center of the bottom of the fabric and batting.  I folded it in half, including the fur, and stitched across the bottom and up the long side.  (Right: basting and stitching tail.)

 Then, I had to turn the tail.  This was almost as difficult as turning a Barbie sleeve, and on top of that, I could hear my friends @tromboneforhire and @jackgibson laughing hysterically in my head.  Eventually, I got it fully turned and sewed it to the top of the bum.
finished okapi bum
ears in progressLastly, I needed headwear.  Mommy and I realized while looking at photos of okapis and the stuffed okapis in her zoo, that okapis have horns.  I needed horns and ears.
For the ears, I found giant brown pipe cleaners at JoAnn’s.  Who knew such things existed?!  (Probably Munchkinhead…)  They were super easy to bend into the right shape and wrap around a brown headband.  I have enough left to make a nice monkey tail if anyone ever needs one.  (Right: Ears in progress.)
okapi headshotFor the horns, I used another  brown headband and Styrofoam cones covered in brown felt.  I tacked the felt to the cones with small pins and used scraps of felt pinned to the bottom, around the headband, to attach the cones.
 
I found out the day before Halloween that only male okapis have horns.  I wasn’t ready to give up on them because 1) they took some effort, and 2) the cones were expensive!  I had to buy a pack of 6 for $9.  One of my coworkers saved the day by declaring that it was fine, I was just a transgendered okapi.

One thing I know for sure, I was a happy okapi.
harley, okapi and joker
Okapi with her friends at their Halloween party.