Monday, June 29, 2015

From Pain To Equilibrium: Be Here Now

One of the unexpected upsides of the pain I am often managing is the new amount of body awareness with which it has provided me. I've been trying to understand my now physical landscape, well, for as long as I've observed it. At first, every time I thought about how the current Kristin struggles in yoga poses (in ways I never did before), I believed that I had likely been doing them incorrectly for many years, perhaps counter productively. (I should clarify that I have always struggled in certain poses - as do we all. Bodies are unique and yoga poses defined. It would be almost impossible not to meet roadblocks. But I'm speaking of the nuance of asana. How could things have seemed easy then and so hard now? How can things that seemed so hard then be so irrelevant now?)

Of course, with more consideration and over time, it occurs to me that my body was entirely different 25 years ago. My connective tissue, perhaps genetically destined to become over tight and brittle, was supple then. Years of dehydration - and I used to be so dehydrated given that I'm that girl who feels anxious about having to pee 3 seconds after she leaves the house and so, would opt not to drink on the go - really fucked me up. The stress of raising a child with a personality that isn't anything like mine, of working very hard, of having a life and all of the things that go with it, of plain "advancing age" (and yes, I know I'm not old) - these things have changed my body irrevocably. Maybe if you're north of 50 and you're reading this, you're somewhat amused by my realization. I know it stands to reason that life and age (and these things are one to some extent) change one's body. However, I'm just coming to this concept viscerally now. This is the first time I've been this mature.

When I say that my body has changed irrevocably, I do not mean to imply that it's on a steep trajectory in a particular direction. That may also be the case, but I don't think that life or bodies work that way when one proceeds with consciousness. One's body is a meaningful reflection of a particular stage. This is so clear when observing an adolescent who embodies the confidence of strength, borne of youth and the biological optimism it entails.

Right now my body is a certain way. It moves in a certain way. It feels a certain way. When I stand up, initially it hurts everywhere. When I propel myself into motion, that pain dissipates quickly. In the same way my internal self doesn't know why, all things being equal, my midsection had changed shape, I don't know why the pain is there. Yeah, there are lots of books to explain everything. I've read them. I've applied the principles. One outcome of that application is that my migraines are almost gone (at least I choose to ascribe this improvement to my actions), which is no small feat. Another is that, as I seem to throw up randomly after eating certain things, I've stopped eating lots of foods.*

The thing that's beginning to take shape, mentally - specifically when I do yoga - is that I am engaging with the body I have, not the one I had. Not the one I will have. This body, unlike the one of early youth, talks back. It's nervy (literally). It speaks to me in ways that require me to listen, or to suffer. But when I listen, we engage - this body and mind, and I am that much more present in the world.

Maybe the reason that I used to move so effortlessly into forward bends (not that I really did, I often felt stuck, even if no one but a good teacher could see it) is because I was pushing. Maybe the reason I felt stuck was because I was pushing. I have rather flexible muscles from a lifetime of "conscious usage". I also have fascia that sticks like a bitch. So I can take it easy and move annoyingly slowly into my flexibility, or I can push it and feel pain for days. I'm going with slow for the win, even if it's so at odds with my nature that I encounter endless dissonance.

This post was actually inspired by this photoessay which apparently chronicles the last practice of BKS Iyengar at the age of 95. As I've written about, he died in August and leaves the kind of legacy that few will ever achieve. I have no idea whether these photos really do show Mr. Iyengar's last practice (that seems macabre for no good reason), or simply one of his final physical practices (I suspect his final practice was in shedding his coporeal form), but when I look at them, I am galvanized to continue. None of us knows what's coming next. We can only be our best selves in our best bodies and play at the margins of discomfort. It's that edge which illuminates the sweet spot - even as it seems very close to the bone.

*FYI, I don't take this lightly - or any of a variety of other crazy things going on with my body. I am seeing specialists to verify what's up, if anything, other than the stupidity of perimenopause. Honestly, this phase is bananas awful. I can totally understand how people go crazy in midlife. It's taking all of my cognizance to keep it together. And FYI, I truly don't want to be that girl who puts a bad spin on a stage that we will all go through eventually - if we're lucky. I'm a problem solver! But fuck, it's really horrible for some people and I recommend that you should try to avoid it for as long as your genes will allow go into it with graceful awareness.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Weather Notwithstanding...

Greetings from the land of wet and cold. My only consolation (well, aside from being on vacation and all) is that it's even wetter and colder in TO. And I'm not there! To quell my weather-related malaise, I'm eating a phenomenal chocolate pot de creme with salty chocolate crumb topping from the patisserie up the road. Got me an espresso by my side and some wild strawberries from Jean Talon. Scott's trying to convince me to have a hard boiled egg (usual breakfast fare) but it ain't happening.

They are very pretty eggs though:

This was the scene for many tables. There was no type of egg you couldn't find.
Happily we made the most of gorgeous, sunny yesterday. We went up the mountain for our usual lunch at Pavillion. I swear, that place has to be some kind of front. I've never seen more than 5 tables full and I've gone there multiple times. And the food is good! I mean, it's not Zagat rated or anything, but everything is fresh and the desserts are awesome and you look over this:

I don't know about you, but I'd take mediocre food for this patio experience. The server, who's always there (they only need one - I mean there are 5 occupied tables in the whole place), is not the friendliest guy. This time, Nicole, M and Scott had a bet to see if we could win him over and, no joke, by the end of the meal, he came up to tell me that we were a delightful table the likes of which he rarely serves. Note: We are always delightful - manners being utterly relevant. And really, the subtext of his comment was that we were delightful for anglophones. So I don't know how much politesse we can accord to him. :-)

After that, M and Nicole went to the botanical gardens and Scott and I went walking on Laurier east, which is about 10 minutes from our place. The architecture is phenomenal, as everyone will tell you:

In case you don't already know this, the rationale for external staircases was to allow for more square footage inside some very tiny early 20th century flats. These days, some of the apartment duplexes (including the one where we're staying) have been converted to two story dwellings so the staircase has been moved, natch, to the inside. But you still see a lot of second floor doors and interesting features that weren't removed during remodel.

Got to love a modern infill:

The courtyard beyond this front gate was a secret garden. We didn't take pics because the front door was at the far side and we didn't want to be intrusive.
On our journey, we bought some tonic and cider and brought it back to chill while we embarked on our third adventure du jour, Parc La Fontaine. This is about 10 minutes in the other direction:

I told Scott not to photograph me (Lord, photographs of me, these days, are hard to look at), but he pretended not to and then did - which is why I'm at the very side of this beautiful view. Parc La Fontaine, named not for its fountain but for a former Chief Justice (like in the 1800s), is a total gem in the middle of everything.

I have spent a lot of time in the Plateau over the last 25 years so I can say with certainty that it really is amongst my optimal neighbourhoods. It is strangely like where I live in TO, from a convenience perspective and given its proximity to the downtown core. It's also a true residential space within an urban backdrop (if less urban that the tall/dense/pointiness of Toronto) - a quality I love about city-living. The laneways are better-groomed, and more treed than ours at home. There's less graffiti and much less tagging. The architecture is as distinctive as Toronto's though, in general, much more appealing (think NYC mixed with rural Quebec). The high-streets are replete with stores that sell the necessities and many fun spots (restaurants, bars, retail shops etc.). What it has in spades, over Toronto, is green space.

In my home-town they just love to chop down the trees. The minute greenery approaches the phone wires (and why the fuck aren't those wires buried at this point, as in the upscale areas??), say bye-bye. It makes for a rather so-so landscape, especially on the streets where the houses aren't so hot. Note: You'll still spend a million bucks on that ugly house.

In Mtl, numerous structural challenges are minimized by beautiful, urban landscaping. When you amble by, you can peer into "white-painted" houses that are inches from the sidewalks (not to mention that it's hot here in the summer so lots o' peeps keep their front doors wedged). The result is a pretty clear view straight through some gorgeous homes - tall ceilings, elegant plaster walls, updated kitchens and bright, well-maintained, tiny back gardens. Note: Just about all of the front-facing windows are covered with curtains or translucent film, so these very publicly-situated homes are still very private. But yeah, I'm one of those peeps who will peer beneath your curtains if there's a little view to be had. To my credit, I'd expect no less of you if you walked by my house (which is much more open to view, if set back much farther from the street and somewhat elevated from the road) on your vacation.

I have always wanted to live in this 'hood and, in my sweet vacation property, I'm once again having the experience. This is so much better than hotelling, my friends. Sure, hotels have their purpose but I am so done with them, in general. I love living like the locals.

Montrealers (or fellow visitors): What's your fave place in this city? Do you share my perspective on the Plateau? Let's talk!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Peaking in the Plateau

Scott likes to call this vacation: Toronto in Montreal. I'm disinclined, as the whole reason I've left Toronto is to find the otherness of Montreal. He has also been warning me, like, for years, that sleeping in a house, 2 inches from the edge of the road, in the Plateau in the summer, would be more noisy than I can handle (note my legendary noise sensitivity). Um, it was so quiet that I couldn't sleep. It was like the freakin' country.

We're situated slightly north of Mont Royal. As one approaches our residential intersection from the south, the hum of voices from the patios and restaurants with floor to ceiling windows, buzzes increasingly, like a hive. As one moves through it towards our pied a terre, it fades. There is no bass thud. Idiots aren't revving their cars nor speeding by. There is no drunken stupidity and disrespect.

What I love about Montreal is the cultural predilection to find and claim joy. This winter climate is amongst the harshest - harsher than most will encounter. It lasts, more or less, from December to May. Wandering the streets in late June, watching women with their babies in carriers and toddlers in tow (Lord, there are a lot of children in this 'hood), you can feel the vibrancy, the gift of ease. Everyone is eating ice cream. All the time.

Ain't nowhere nicer than Montreal when the weather's good:

These sidewalk gardens are ubiquitous...

One of those rare moments when my child is smiling (and I'm around)...
We're off to Jean Talon market today - not that we haven't already stocked up on the most fun of foods and wine - or to mention that we've got lunch plans at Quartier General and dinner at Salle a Manger. Friends of ours arrive today and tomorrow and we'll be having a little barbeque or two in our back garden away from home:

Yeah, it really is that nice.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Summer Sewing: The Finale

Well, I met my challenge (not that I positioned it that way): 5 garments in 5 days. Sure, one of them (Hepworth dress) isn't going to be in regular rotation (at least, I don't think it will - with new garments you never can tell...) The other 4 should be well-worn: a denim floral mini skirt, a long-sleved jersey dress, a three-season jacket (or 4 if you live in Ireland) and this one (the ubiquitous Jalie 2921):

Jalie 2921 - Scarf Collar Top
I do love this top for its utter wearability and serious chic-factor. It's like pyjamas that look great. Wanna eat a huge meal? No problem. Want to dress it up? It'll do that. I love it best with jeans though. It skims the full hip so it's waist-lengthening.

When last I made this top, I hadn't yet created my T shirt sloper (at least I don't think I had). So this time, when I went back to it, I had to review it against that sloper - even though my other 2921s fit well in the shoulders (purely by accident) - to ensure that it wasn't just good luck first time around. The only alterations I made first time were to shorten the whole thing and to make it a bit smaller in the waist (I wanted it to mimic my curvature). It's still a longer-T on me, but I like that about it.

Amazingly, this top is almost identical to my sloper. It's a bit roomier in the waist and hips, not that I'm complaining, and a bit longer. Other than that there were no changes to consider?! Well, of course, I'm a tinkerer, so there were a couple:
  • My other versions were a bit too low cut - as I'm short from shoulder to cleavage (remember my highly projected boobs are high-set on my chest. Yeah - I've got that centrefold cleavage). Also, I'm short (so there's less span for the boobs). To compensate, I raised the neckline by 1 inch and it's much better-fitting. The other version - esp. given the insane length of the ties and their consequential heaviness - pulled down on the neckline showing a bit too much skin.
  • A propos of that, I shortened the ties by 8 inches. Yeah, you read that. I basically shortened them by half and the new proportions are much better on my frame. Those ties are simply too long - unless you're tall AND long-waisted AND you intend to tie a bow (and even then maybe still). I don't want a bow. My preference is to string it through the opening underneath the neck (see below) or to tie it once and let the ties hang (also shown):

I think you would agree that one doesn't need ties that dip below the high hip. If nothing else, they get heavy and they fall into one's food!

Here's the back of the top - alas, the dress form is crooked (as is its wont), so it looks whack. I promise, when I wear it, the shoulders are of even heights.

I used a fuchsia rayon knit with about 40 per cent stretch cross-wise (and about 20 percent length-wise). The pattern calls for a fabric having 40 per cent stretch in both directions but I'm not long and the top is already long enough. It's also adequately roomy, curve-appeal notwithstanding, so it's not like it's going to ride up on me. The fabric was about 12 bucks a metre, on sale at FabricLand. Must say, fuchsia rayon jersey is a bit of a staple in this house. I have 3 other remnants and I can't figure out if they're actually the same fabric (or just slightly different), which is why I keep buying more. A gal can't have enough hot pink in the wardrobe, ya know.

So, I've got some practical, easy to pack, easy to layer, wrinkle free garments to take with me on my trip. Not bad for 75 - 100 bucks (which is what 2 dresses, 1 skirt, 1 top and 1 jacket) cost to make. I went through about 8 yards of stash fabric and now I'll get to wear those lovely yardages, which is the point, after all.

One thing I'll say about this sewing experience: I was very chill. Well, I was chill by my standards, which is still intense, I realize, but I like to view that as focus. I wondered if, given that I haven't been doing much sewing of late, I might be rusty and things might go awry. But if anything, it went better than ever it has done. I've spent a lot of time learning this craft over the past 6 years and, really, my skills stand me in good stead. I didn't feel inclined to freak out when things went wrong - as they always do - because I had years of work-arounds to apply to potential fatal errors. And they all worked. Even the hem on the Jalie top (one step above dog's breakfast - it's zig zagged, peeps) is not bad. I just didn't have it in me to set up another machine (the cover stitch) so I simply turned and stitched. I couldn't use interfacing, as I usually do, because T shirt hems get and look weirdly tight when it's applied. Rayon jersey is not my sewing machine's forte, so I just had to weigh the cost to benefits and make a call.

Over the years (and with hindsight - not to mention a few kicks up the head lately, which really puts perfection into perspective) I've learned how to do what works - not what I feel needs to be done to suit my vision of perfect stitching. And it produces a much better finished product - not to mention happier experience.

What do you think of Jalie 2921? Do you like the capsule collection? (I know, there's one thing you haven't seen - I will photograph it when I get home. I'm just not in the mood right now and I'm on vacation!) Has your sewing improved when you just decided to relax? Let's talk!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Summer Sewing: A Jacket and Another Dress

I've got good news and less good news and I'm going to take the initiative to lead with the less good cuz why not get it over with? I remade the Hepworth dress, that which served as the backbone of the Appalachian milkmaid bridesmaid dress (made for my sister last year). I did it as I said I would, in contrasting fabric skirt/bodice, the bodice being stretch Japanese dot cotton and the skirt a great rayon denim in dark blue.

Let me say, my workmanship is stellar. Honestly, I could wear this thing inside out and it would look good. I used beautiful fabric, the properties of which I predicted fairly well. I took my time (well, the fucking pattern gave me a run for my money and it took 10 hours over 2 days). Point is, I had nowhere I had to be so it was, ahem, relaxing. When something didn't work, I ripped it back and fixed it (Lord, the tedium). There are about 8000 steps to making this thing and it doesn't even have sleeves?!

In the end, I put it on my dress form to photo for y'all and I was SO underwhelmed, I couldn't stand it. Admittedly, it looks like shit on the dress form (the trajectory of my bust is not adequately duplicated, by it, to show off the perfectly fitted princess-seamed bodice and you know I'm not taking a picture of myself this week). But seriously, it's the most boring dress on the planet. Last time I made this (over 63 muslins and a version for my sister), I thought it was the materials and colour schemes that brought out its conservative side. But honestly, it looks almost as boring in my sassy black dot / dark denim combo and I don't know how it's possible. There's just something weak about the Hepworth. Don't misunderstand - it's well-drafted; it's a good pattern if you like "suburban traditional". For me, alas, there's no edge.

One other thing: The fit is good. I mean, I could certainly continue to refine it if I made it again (though why would I?). I managed to produce a woven dress (yeah, with 10 per cent stretch woven fabric, but still) that fits pretty darned well. Isn't that my holy grail (sort of)? But I've just spent 4 paragraphs talking about something I can't be bothered to show you. So let's call this the not so good news.

The good news is that I also made the StyleArc Harper Jacket for the third time and I've really got the hang of it this time. Literally. (I gave away the other two versions to people who liked them as I wasn't convinced about a) the fit on me or b) the finishing techniques.)

One jacket 3 ways!

Open - which is actually very pretty and drapey on a real person. It doesn't grip on me like it does on the fabric dress form. Trust me, it's flattering.

Half-closed - I've opted to use the interior closure to show you this version (but you could do it either way)
Fully closed - this version has an interior eye (attached to the seam allowance on the right shoulder) and an exterior one (that pokes through the seam allowance on the left side). Both hooks are on the edges of the tails of the cardigan jacket.

 In case you want to see how the interior closure works, here you go:

The eye is attached to the seam allowance and the hook reaches up to hang from it. If you finish the seams, you can stitch the hooks directly onto the seam allowances at the bodice hem (where it meets the centre front) and you won't need to bother with the fabric patch (designed to rest over the top of the finished area to conceal the stitched closure). At least I think that's what it's supposed to do.
Note that I can't confirm this is how it's supposed to work. I find StyleArc instructions practically useless and their photos inevitably confuse me but I think this is what they were getting at.

The back:

A lot of peeps have indicated that they don't like the jacket closed for themselves but I find it very flattering and practical. I made this for Irish weather (which is apparently 16 degrees and partially cloudy, pretty well constantly).

Unfortunately you can't see how pretty the fabric is in real life. I got it for 10 bucks a metre (half price) at FabricLand. (It was one of the pieces I had to buy twice because I confused it for another material I needed 0.5 a metre of and, if I hadn't bought more, I'd only have had half a metre of it to work with). It's got great drape but it's really structured. And the colour is rich. This garment looks expensive, which is just how I like 'em.

On the topic of fit. I've written about this jacket on a number of occasions. Here you can see how it was originally way too long and big, but on the second go round (scroll down to the stripey version contained within the same post), I was starting to get a sense of the right proportions for me. The Harper fits VERY large, out of the envelope. You should size down and then be prepared to make it smaller still if you're slim in the arms or narrow in the shoulders.

My latest version is more compact still. I made the arms and shoulders a little bit narrower, shortened the height of the armscye and finished all the seams (turned them under), which shortened the overall length by another half inch. The pattern instructs that you leave all of the seams unfinished. Look, I like a raw seam as much as the next girl, but the outcome of NO finishing is that it looks, well, unfinished, like something you made using a beginner pattern. If you're new to sewing (though not too new) - this is a great pattern as written. Otherwise, it's easy enough to turn under a seam. I agree that the seams are long (and it's hard to keep the topstitching entirely consistent) but it really clarifies what finishing actually does for a garment. There's not much to look at on this jacket so every detail counts.

At any rate, while this isn't my most gorgeous stitching (it's adequate, but not perfect), the fit and fabric are great, which is all anyone's going to care about. I'm glad I gave this one another go.

Thoughts or feelings? Have you made either of these garments? Do you like the Harper?

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Summer Sewing: Lady Skater Dress

There's no way to take a good photo of this dress, when unworn. It's one of those garments. And y'all know that navy just doesn't show its stars in my photography. I've given it a go though, just to prove what I've been up to :-):

My love of this pattern is boundless. It's so aptly drafted for my specific body that it's as if I devised it myself. In truth, I did numerous rounds of alteration, so in some ways it has been drafted for me.

What makes it good?
  • I've used the right fabric. It's got some heft but it's still quite light. It also has very good recovery.
  • All of the vertical proportions are perfect. That real waist seam, the one that everyone has to lengthen? Well, I don't.
  • The unmodified skirt length is one of my best: just below the knee. I don't hem this dress. I like the raw edge as I feel it gives it an extra dimension and modernizes it. Furthermore, the degree of fabric undulation (dictated by the properties of the fabric and the angle of cut) is just lovely. It's full but minimally so.
  • The neckline is a great depth and, because the shoulders are cut narrow (like me), it sits in a flattering way.
Alas, I started this too early in the day, without coffee, and I made a couple of tactical errors that cost me time. One of my challenges was my fabric layout, which was in no way carefully considered and which left me with a need to cut the back skirt in 2 pieces, rather than on the fold. I have made this garment with 1.5 yards before but this time, due to my lack of forethought, I only had a (total) mess of 0.3 of a yard remaining. My piece of jersey was also messed up at the edges so I lost a bit of fabric. I don't know why I was so laissez-faire. The piece seemed large enough before I started cutting.

I also feel that I could have made the waist a bit smaller. I'm having a body dysmorphic moment and I appear to be overestimating slightly in the hips and waist.

At any rate, this is today's wardrobe addition. I feel that this and yesterday's skirt are going to be very useful wardrobe additions. Thoughts or feelings?

What You Can't See

If you use any commercially-available cosmetic or personal care product - and you're in the VAST minority if you don't, you might want to read this post. Cosmetic preservatives are not a "nice to have", they're a must. Toxins be toxic, peeps, and the only way to keep them out of hydrous (water-containing) products is by preserving those products. (Note: those oil-based products can be as natural as natural gets - that's why I love them so and sell them!!)

There are no proven, all-natural preservatives on the market at this time. That's not to say that there are no natural options or that they definitively don't work, but they're not well-studied (potentially cuz there's no profit in it for the Man, I realize). FYI, the leucidal preservatives (relative market newbies that are made from plants and are on the more natural end of the spectrum) have a pretty bad rep and you need to use them in very high concentrations, by comparison with the synthetic versions.

What I didn't realize till recently is that many commercial "natural" brands hide their preservatives in the ingredients list under the INCI nomenclature "Fragrance" (which is a preservative containing product).

You often can't see or smell mold and yeast and fungus and gram negative bacteria in a hydrous product until they're rampant (and sometimes not at all). But put a sample under a microscope and it's a horror show!

I'm not going to suggest that test-tube cosmetic preservatives are something you'd want to eat. I'm certainly advocating that they be used in the recommended volume (which is always a very small amount). I stay away from the ones that seem unnecessarily evil (those containing parabens), though I'm not a scientist - so I read and make my determinations at a layperson level. It is possible that Big Cosmetic Pharma is fucking us over. But it's absolutely certain that nature will, if we use an unpreserved hydrous product more than 3 days after it's made.