Monday, June 18, 2012

Patterns? We Don’t Need No Stinking Patterns!

It didn’t take long for me to realize that a small sewing box wasn’t going to cut it.  Only a month into Peace Corps training, I knew I needed to do more than small mending.  And then the opportunity came. 

The Peace Corps had to send me into town to remove a different type of stitches from my leg (see 3rd-last paragraph), which meant me and the driver and the big min-bus.  “Is there anything you’d like to get while we’re in town?” the driver asked.  “Yes, a sewing machine.”  That wasn’t quite what he had in mind.  I wasn’t sure he’d go for it, but he did.  I returned to the training center with a beautiful Butterfly treadle machine. Even with my better-than-the-locals Peace Corps salary, I couldn’t afford a Singer. 

When I moved into my village, I had a mattress, a handful of dishes, and my sewing machine.  The corner store in Monze sold fabric, on a table across from the breakfast cereal and powdered milk, next to some farming gear.  Notions like buttons and zippers were available behind the counter or at a few stalls in the market.  Now, I could sew, except I didn’t have any patterns.

I had made my swearing-in dress by hand, without a pattern, but it was very simple.  That was different, impromptu, improvised; there was hardly any cutting involved, just stitching rectangles together.  I was ready for more.  I wanted a nightgown.  A light, breezy nightgown for the hot Zambian nights.  A romantic nightgown that would fit my romantic village surroundings, that would allow me to play in my pretend Pride and Prejudice or Little House on the Prairie worlds.  A nightgown that would make me feel like a princess when I carried my golden old-fashioned candle holder with the curled handle from my living room to my bedroom.  Such a nightgown needs a pattern.  And so, I made one.

I made a pattern, and I made the nightgown.  Long and flowy with a ruffle along the bottom – getting the ruffle and the bottom of the nightgown to be the same length was the hardest part – a thin yoke neckline and simple white buttons down the front.  The cream fabric, although not cotton, was still light and a loose enough weave to be cool.  It was everything I wanted.  I did feel like a princess, and a Bennet and an Ingalls.

nightgown in front of round hut

As I sit here now, years later, in that same nightgown, it no longer has the Bennet-Ingalls-princess effect.  Something about electricity and computer screens and carpet ruins all the romanticism.  But it is still light and breezy and cool and perfect for these unusual (and delightfully) warm summer nights in the Bay.  Maybe if I turn off the lights and get my old-fashioned candle holder from my nightstand, I can feel like a princess again.


Another non-pattern item I made on the Butterfly:

Thursday, June 14, 2012

It’s Cold Inside, with No Kind of Atmosphere

Ok, ok, we have atmosphere in the office, but we don’t have decent temperature control. I have a space heater and a fan at my desk, and on any given day, I use both of them.  But using electrical appliances to maintain body temperature is not my first choice.

Dressing for such disparate temperatures isn’t very easy. Sure, there’s layers, sweaters, jackets and such that one can take on and off. But that means carrying the appropriate sweater or such back and forth with me between the office and home. I have enough to carry.  So I devised a plan.

Sleeves! No, not the normal sleeves that come on your clothes. Removable sleeves. More like extra long gauntlets. Warm enough when the office vent blows cold air on my bare arms. Easy to take off when the sun beats through the large glass windows. And best of all, I can leave them at work.


Photo by my coworker, Anna

I got the idea from knitting group where Amy was teaching the young children something called tin-can knitting. It’s a can and a series of two-penny nails, covered in duct tape. Pairs of nails form a loom around the top of the can. It works basically the same as a hat loom. As the item is knit, it comes out the bottom of the can. The young girls at knitting group were making short gauntlet gloves with colorful thin yarns. I took one look at that and thought it’d be fun to try.

Using some bulky, cream yarn and a single knitting needle, I can-knit up a storm and soon had two beautiful, cozy sleeves.


Really, I wanted to make some stockings, but wouldn’t you know it, my legs are a lot fatter than a tin can. Maybe if I get a coffee can…

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Congratulations Lewin and new-Mrs. Lewin!

When all your friends have the same first name, you call by them by their last names. This works fine until they get married and suddenly there’s a new person in the group with the same last name.  And the new last name can’t really be called Mrs. last name because that’s the friend’s mom.  I’ll figure it out eventually Smile.  In the meantime, big congratulations to one of my oldest and dearest friends and his new wife.


Bride and groom at the altar

Another beautiful Wisconsin wedding.  I think it even rivals Alfred’s in terms of perfection.   The ceremony was sweet, simple and short.  The bridal party was gigantic and stylish. (And I don’t mean gigantic in numbers; I mean gigantic in stature. There was an usher so tall he was nicknamed Tree, and he wasn’t the tallest person there.  Ah, Wisconsin.)  The reception was completely relaxed and everyone had a good time. The dance floor was never empty, even up to the last song at midnight.  And the DJ included the required wedding polka.


The Bridal party (for reference, the groom is 6’3”)

I loved the speeches, especially the one by the best man and the one by the groom’s sister.  Their speeches were completely different, each being very them, but both fabulous.  The bridal party’s grand entrance occurred sometime in the middle of the reception – which was nice from an I’m-hungry point of view – and they entered with silly glasses to Teach Me How to DougieThere was also a girls’ dance competition (for which I hid in the hallway) and a guys’ Carlton Dance Off.  The food was simple and delicious.


Cake cutting

The most entertaining part of the night happened after the reception had been going for some time.  The Best Man – who the groom and I have known more than 20 years since we all started playing trombone together in grade school – was sitting and talking with me and Mommy and Daddy and the Great Ecclestone.  We were lamenting the groom’s insistent attempts at match-making when a small blonde in a short dress bounced next to the Best Man. After confirming he was the person she was looking for, she jumped into his lap, “I heard you’re cute and single!”  Just as quickly, she bounded away to the dance floor.  We couldn’t hold our laughter.  The Best Man wasn’t long to follow to the dance floor.  What else could he do?


Mommy and the Best Man on the dance floor

Yes, it was a fabulous wedding and a very joyous day for all involved.  By the end of the night, the groom wanted to do it all again the next week because it was so much fun.


Congratulations Matt and Christy!