Friday, October 31, 2014

Yoga for Pain Management

Here's the deal peeps: The chronic pain bullshit continues. I don't know why I'm all flippy about it right now. It's nothing new. But managing pain takes so much fucking will. There's no pill to fix it. Rather, there's a pill and a potion and supplements and body work and the mindful application heat and cold and exercise and (potentially) diet. Most of all, though, it's about fortitude.

Actually, as of yesterday, it's also about a jaw splint because, on top of everything else, I've been dealing with pretty significant TMJD for most of my life. It's hit a peak of badness lately, unsurprisingly. Life stressors, age and hormonal shifts have contributed to this. But the latest little life glitch to contend with is that my jaw actually dislocates when I open my mouth. (It does click back into the right spot thereafter, but this ain't a good development.)
I don't want to dwell on the bad right now. I have enough opportunity to do that in the wee hours of the night. The measure of a person is not in her ability to handle the fun times, of this I am certain. And, since I don't appear to be living a life of constant fun times, I'm going to focus on the gift that is pain. For example, you never have to wonder about the verity of the mind-body connection when you live with pain. It shows itself to you in every moment.

This is actually a relevant segue to a topic I've been meaning to discuss for a while: the specifics of the yin yoga method. I've discussed it briefly before. It's a system that's gained popularity in the last decade - and mostly in the last 5 years - though it's been around since the 70s.

It combines Daoist principles, elemental constructs of Chinese Traditional Medicine with long-held asana (many analagous to yoga postures you'd be familiar with). The objective is to work the body, in these postures, "cold" because you don't want to engage muscle groups - what active yoga practice aims to do. You want to by-pass muscular response so that you can stress (and thereby tone) connective tissue and fascia.

Yin practice works distinctly from active practice. They are complementary but different physical and meditative activities. Often, long-standing practitioners of active styles (Iyengar, Ashtanga) feel that yin yoga isn't "real yoga" because it functions on the plane of the passive. Yes - yin yoga is unapologetically, deliberately passive. The premise is that you do not want to engage regular physiological feedback loops because they're in opposition to those that stress the connective tissue. In this context, stress is a good thing. It implies new growth of healthy tissues and strengthening of existing structures. You cannot stretch connective tissue. That's the purview of the muscles. To stretch ligaments and fascia would be to damage them. So you stress them instead.

Any yoga can be practiced by any person at any stage of ability - but I warn you against embracing the yin style until you have a well-established active practice. The style assumes a certain amount of muscular flexibility and strength. Regardless of the passive intention re: holding postures for upwards of 5 minutes each, it takes strength and pliancy - both physically and mentally - to do so.

Unlike the Iyengar restorative method (and I'll discuss the distinctions between these in a moment), the yin method doesn't dwell on how to prop the poses to allow for long holds. Some teachers address this better than others - but a strong background in Iyengar yoga is the perfect complement to the yin practice. Iyengar yoga is particularly focused on muscular activity in the context of structural stability. Yin yoga focuses on non-muscular activity in the context of structural stability. Skillful application of props is germane to both of these goals.

Here's what I'll say about the yin style (as a person who is very experienced in the ways of the restorative Iyengar method):
  • The yin practice is entirely different than restorative practice in its intention. The restorative Iyengar practice focuses on improving health (mental and physical) by taking postures to balance the endocrine system. Those postures, while heavily propped, are not passive. They engage muscles inasmuch as the maintenance of muscular "tone" is inherent to remaining safely in the postures for long periods. The emphasis is on supported back bends and full inversions - which are known for promoting endocrine stability. There is no emphasis on Chinese medical principles. There is an emphasis on the movement of prana.
  • By contrast, the yin practice emphasizes complete passivity in the poses. The mantra is: With no expectation, every posture is correct. Time is the only meaningful variable. With long-holdings, comes optimal stress to connective tissues - if you can handle it. These poses focus on the large muscle-groups between the knees and ribcage, particularly the hips and the emphasis is on seated poses, modified standing poses and forward bends. As fascia is interconnected between all muscles in the body, stress on the largest muscles achieves the greatest result. And, as this fascia tones, via stress, one can feel the impact of yin hip openers widely throughout the body. Postures are explored from the vantage point of Chinese medical principles (meridians and elements) and also from the standard yogic vantage point of moving prana.
The last few years of pain management, and near constant meditation on the semi-regular pain-loop I experience, has led me to understand that stretching my muscles does nothing to help my pain. My muscles are pretty stretchy. I mean, I've been stretching them regularly for 25 years. They're also strong and fairly well-aligned. When the pain flares, however, my connective tissue grips like a mass of plastic that just doesn't want to move.

It's taken me years to figure this out. But I was totally shocked to discover that the premise of yin yoga (a method I'd heard about and arrogantly assumed was like "restorative yoga lite") is all about the very thing I cannot contain or work to my will.

Here's another way of looking at things re: yoga as pain management. (Note that yoga is about much more than pain management, of this we are all well aware...)

Iyengar restorative practice seeks to ameliorate pain by balancing neurotransmitters (the hormonal precursors in the brain). Talk about taking things back to the studs. It presumes a non-trivial amount of physical and mental self-awareness - and the ability to stay in some serious poses for a long period of time. When effective, biochemical balance leads to a significant decrease in pain.

Yin yoga doesn't go straight to the brain (well, even as it goes straight to the core :-)). It posits that passive stress to a sheath of tissue (which runs throughout the body) can elicit a change in the pain response. Does that go back to the brain? Yeah. But it's a more accessible vehicle for most peeps.

Is one better than the other? I don't think so. In as much as yin yoga and active yoga are different modalities, so is Iyengar restorative practice distinct from the yin method. One may work better for a particular practitioner at a particular moment. The pain loop is not static. Pain comes from and goes to different places depending on a myriad of factors that are so minute it's sometimes impossible to detangle them. In this respect, knowledge is power.

I often modify my yoga sessions (while in a pain moment) to include elements of active, supported and yin practice. I also modify my intention to suit that of the practice I'm doing. When I work actively, my meditation is on slowing breath and moving that breath to the muscle groups (to improve endurance and flexibility). When I work supportedly, my intention is to use inversions (and pressure points) to restore endocrine balance. When I work in the yin practice, my intention is to be entirely passive - which is almost impossible for me. It's to feel the pain I run from much of the time. To integrate it and to make peace with it.

The value of intention cannot be underestimated. I spent years wondering about whether there's any specific correlation between outcome and intention. Trust me, cuz I've done the work. The correlation is significant. You cannot remove your mind from the pain equation. Nor can you remove it from the yogic one.

Today's questions: Do you practice all three types (active, yin and supported)? What is your experience? Do you manage chronic or semi-regular pain? What are your techniques for managing? How does intention alter your experience of yoga practice (if at all)? Let's talk.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

It's Bananas

I'm on this savings kick. You know, fiscal prudence. But the combination of a couple of wardrobe holes (and I do say this with my feet firmly in the first-world, it's not like I'd go naked without them) and a great sale propelled me to take a bit of a detour.

Specifically, what with my life being in the fancy-briefing realm more and more frequently, suits are increasingly de rigeur. I currently have 3 that fit. Two of those work in all kinds of weather. Yeah, I have a bunch of effective sartorial work arounds that do the trick, but I'm SO sick of those 2 suits. One of them is 12 years old.

My goal, for a year, has been to make a new suit. I have all of the bits and materials but I don't have the time. Mind you, I also don't have 800 bucks lying around. What's a girl to do?

(Ahem): Go to Banana Republic. Yeah, this place holds no appeal for me but, every time I walk in there, I find 20 things by which I could enhance my wardrobe. I am always surprised by the good quality. Finishings are lovely. For context, that 12 year old suit I wear is from Banana and everyone still tells me how great it is (perhaps the cut's a bit vintage now?). So these garments stand the test of time.

(FYI, just so we're on the same page, you know you must never buy full-price at this store. Any day of the week you can save at least 30 per cent, and often more.)

Another silhouette I've found myself wearing ALL the time lately is the tunic-length, slim-knit sweater, something with an interesting neckline that's small in the shoulders. It facilitates the semi-constant wearing of legging-like pants. Time was, I could wear those leggings with a torso-fitted top. I sense, these days, a bit of cover in the midsection is more flattering.

And finally, I've been looking for the perfect pair of denim trousers (NOT jeans) for 5 years. No, I'm not joking. Every time I walk into a store, I seek them out. No dice. I've made a couple of versions and they're fine but they're not fly-front and they're fairly casual. I've been looking for the right (very blue, but not dark) wash, the right fabric-tension (very snug-fitting with great recovery, thick-weight) and the right cut (slender through the hips, ass and legs).

Well, yesterday, I found all of those things at BR, on my lunch, for 45% off. Actually, the pants (originally 95 bucks) were on sale for 41 bucks and I had a 42.00 credit. So they were free. The other items, as a result, ended up being more than 50% off. To put it in context, I bought a new light-wool (three season) suit, a slim, fine merino tunic sweater and a pair of perfect work pants for 297.00 all in (including tax). It would have cost me 650.00 without the sale. At another store, the same combo of garments of this quality would have cost well over 1000 bucks. I really don't know how this store facilitates these prices - and really, I don't think I want to.

But onto some stock pics...

Alas, my sweater does not exist in photos, but here's a similar BR style...

Here's the suit (note: it fits me a lot better than it does the model - I went with the jacket in petites which works well with my proportions):

The skirt is particularly flattering:

And here are the pants - alas, sold out in almost every size...

It happens that there's one of those mega sales online today (though the discount applies to specific items).

Today's questions: Whatcha think these? Have you owned a BR suit (really, who hasn't?)? Do you wear it weekly? What's the last wardrobe staple you bought? Let's talk!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Custom Fit: Kristin's Basic Cowl

Y'all know I've written a bunch of times on Amy Herzog's latest venture - Custom Fit. The theory appeals to me a lot. Till recently, I felt there were too many unanswered questions so I was reluctant to take the plunge. Then it happened that the idea of math became more onerous than the idea of putting my faith in someone else's hands. Interestingly, Tasia just published a rather detailed post on her latest Custom Fit project. And Evie is the original adventurer. (Do read Evie's post to learn more about the mechanics of the system. I'm not going to dwell on that here as I've discussed it a bunch of times in the past...)

I am now the owner of my own Custom Fit recipe (a design of my choosing, based on a variety of Custom Fit templates). It's called Kristin's Basic Cowl and I've even knitted the broken rib border - so I'm well on my way. But nothing's ever that simple, is it?

For starters, I spent an entire evening just choosing my recipe (Note: I'm going to use this term interchangeably with the term "pattern", though in the Custom Fit universe they are different things.) I don't mean that I spent an evening entering in measurements, doing a swatch and designing a sweater. No, I spent another evening doing the first two things. I mean I spent 4 hours trying to figure out how I wanted to mix and match my options. And there aren't that many options!

The thing about buying a pre-designed pattern (the fitting for which you have to do painstakingly for yourself) is that it exists. You like it (in which case you decide to take the plunge) or you don't quite get it (in which case you walk). When you design your own sweater, there are so. many. variables.

I knew I wanted a close-fitting pullover with a cowl neck and 3/4 sleeves. I didn't know what length I wanted, where I wanted the neckline to start or what kind of edging stitch I preferred. And on that topic, the intention has always been to design a cowl neck pullover. The cowl is my spiritual neckline. Alas, it's not one of the Custom Fit template options. So I spent the evening considering whether a scoop neckline (a template) designed at a border height of 6 inches might turn into a cowl. I decided the likelihood was pretty good. Then it occurred to me that I should confirm that with the Custom Fit team and I'm waiting to hear back.

But let's postulate for a moment: Let's assume my cowl concept is sound  How, specifically, does one knit a cowl that is very drapey but not floppy, perhaps with an asymmetrical fall? FWIW, I'd be willing buy an Amy Herzog pre-designed pattern with a cowl neck to learn the technique and to apply it to my Custom Fit sweater (not exactly custom fit, I think you would agree), but she hasn't designed any cowl necks the shape of which appeals to me. Intriguingly, she has worn one (see the yellow sweater in this post).

Then there are, well, mathematical questions to consider when it comes to sort-of designing a cowl: Does one decrease the stitch count as one goes (to prevent a funnel look)? How long does one need to make a cowl drapey? Is 6 inches adequate? (I have yarn considerations to throw into the mix. I've got 1100 yards of yarn and the sweater I've designed is estimated to take more than that.)

In a worst-case scenario, I'll make a regular, 2 inch-edged neckline and call it a day. It's not a deal-breaker when it comes to appreciating this experience. Maybe cowl necks are to be part of Custom Fit 2.0.

Having said all this, after hours of thinking and wishing and planning (it was fun, don't get me wrong), when I saw the specifications of my pattern-to-be (prior to purchase), I was concerned.

Look, I'm a gal who doesn't shy away from the math. Or the work of fitting. But the proposed pattern dimensions were going to give me, among other things, a mere inch of negative ease in the bust, 2 inches of positive ease in the waist and an inch of negative ease in the hips (and this sweater is cut to the real, not high, hip).

By contrast, when I knit normally (aka alter pattern dimensions to suit my desired silhouette), I go for 5 inches of negative ease in the bust, 0 inches of ease in the waist and 0 inches in the hip.

Look, good fit depends on many factors - not least of which is the nature of the yarn you choose to work with (I'm using Quince Chickadee - a springy, all-wool, sport-weight that feels more like DK to me). Brief Sidebar: I'm the first to accept that my desired drapey neckline is likely not going to work optimally with the yarn I've got to use. But the one that Amy sports in that photo (linked above) is totally within the realm of its capabilities.

Measurements are another key factor. But good old-fashioned preference is a meaningful third. If you look at every modeled, Amy Herzog sweater in the land, you will see that they tend towards a generous fit. A well-fitted, generous fit, for sure, but her idea of close-fit is not mine.

What's very cool is that Custom Fit allows you to go rogue. Sure, it tries to dissuade you. It warns you up front. But if you can't get with what's being proposed, you have a chance to mess with the math. It's a bit like altering code.

I decided not to mess with much. If Amy feels that @ 2" of positive ease at the waist will work well with the design (given the yarn, which the algorithm also accounts for - if I'm not mistaken), I can give it a try. I'm totally agnostic about hip measurements, I rarely mess with them. I feel confident about the vertical measurements I provided and how the Custom Fit system will interpret them. In every example of Custom Fit sweaters I've seen, I've been completely impressed by how the system interprets vertical fit. Sure, this "real hip" length may be a bit long for my dimensions, but apparently the system takes proportion into consideration. I'll give it a go.

The thing I couldn't get with was the proposed, actual full bust measurement. 1 inch of negative ease is not adequate. (Note: I really hope I don't live to regret this perspective.)

Why is that?

  • Well, that preference factor comes into play. I wish Amy Herzog designs were a bit more, um, boob-highlighting (for want of a better term). 
  • One also shouldn't discount experience. I've knit dozens of sweaters, using all kinds of yarn and construction methods, designers and styles. Only one has been too small. And that was in the shoulders. With every sweater I've knit, I've refined my full-bust ease requirement. Currently, I hover at about 5 inches of desired negative ease, depending on the cut of the sweater and the drape of the yarn. 
  • Did I mention that one's gauge is apt to loosen over the course of knitting from the the hem of the sweater to the top (where the boobs are). 
  • And, given that yarn can easily be blocked to achieve 3 inches of additional ease, if necessary, I'm much more concerned about fabric laxity over time than I am about over-snugness in the bust.
  • Oh, and one other thing - my measurement set has changed slightly since I created the file in Custom Fit. Yeah, I know it would be prudent to make a new one, but who has 3 hours?? The only way in which it's changed meaningfully (by an inch or more) is when it comes to the big three horizontal measurements. Vertical measurements don't change (unless your body shape evolves tremendously). My shoulder-width hasn't changed. My arm circumference isn't particularly different. (Now I'm toned, rather than soft.) But as I'm the girl who likes to wear things snug, I'm positing that a little bit of extra ease will be a welcome change.

I just reread this post. You'd think I'm trying to justify something insane here. Really, this is all I did: I added another 1.25 inches of negative ease. The bust will fit at 35.75". My full bust measurement is 37.5". It's not crazy.

But I'm such a rule follower. And I paid to have someone do the math for me so, isn't the least I can do to let someone to do the math for me?

Not to mention, how hands off haven't I been in this experience? I'm not a lemming. I want to know why I'm doing what I'm doing. I have opinions. I need agency. Maybe this system isn't designed for me?

Mind you, maybe it is. This is my first experience. I have to get to know it and learn to trust it - or at least to interpret it. I will say that I LOVE the idea of making up some of the Amy Herzog pre-existing patterns in a way that will fit (particularly the cardigans - a tricky style for me, in general, given the distinction between my full bust and waist measurements. I also love the idea of designing a few more recipes from the basic templates. Really, how often do you wear something fancy? How many of your daily-wear sweaters are made in a fabric other than stockinette, for the most part?

And I've been impressed, if not blown away, but many finished Custom Fit projects I've seen.

I'll let you know about how the knitting progresses. About what feedback I get re: the cowl experiment. I may forgo it to save on yarn (or because my idea was flawed). And natch, I'll let you know what I think of the emerging fit.

On the plus side, I know how to alter. I could always just do the math and change this pattern on the fly. :-)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Easy Knits Project

I woke up this morning intent on making a plan. Don't ask me why. I've been plan-free for far too long. Sure, I may not have much time to craft - but I actually need a few things and I'm on a budget. I find myself in a circumstance where I have fabric and, Lord knows, I have patterns. I even have a few garments that I've invested the time to scale to my particular dimensions.

I started thinking. (Note: It's very good to have hobbies when you wake up stressing in the night.) And then it clicked.

What do I wear? Knits.
What looks good on me? Knits.
What's most comfortable? Knits.
What do I have all of the gizmos to sew best? Knits.
What tends to be quick (if you've got the fitting sorted out)? Knits.

You see where I'm going with this...

I'm not setting any timelines. I don't know when I'll have energy and I'm not desperate for any of this. But, as one might go shopping on a Saturday morning, perhaps I can shop the fabric satash, and get a fun activity in the bargain.

The patterns:

Vogue 8790:

The one I said I'd never make again. Why do I put these things in writing? Alas, it's seriously flattering and I wear the one I've got CONSTANTLY. I want another. With sleeves for winter.

Because I had such a miserable experience making this the last time (and that one didn't even have sleeves), I'm opting to muslin (with some canary yellow rayon jersey). Yeah, I know that kind of kills the fast 'n easy factor, but it's likely to create a finished product that I love. The yellow fabric has beautiful drape but the colour is crazy. I mean, if by some miracle it all comes together in the muslin and I love the colour at the end, I guess I'll call it wearable. But I do intend to make it again, kinks worked out, in a blue jersey I just received from Fabrications:

I swear, it's navy and it's LOVELY. Why does everything I buy look grey on screen? I photographed this 15 ways and it's either wan, or indistinguishable. Got 2 yards and it's 75" wide!

Here's a photo from the website (it's not accurate either, btw, the fabric is more black):

Note: When I got my recent Fabrications order in the mail, I had to laugh at how everything I'd bought was some shade of blue meets grey: "denim" ponte, modal/rayon navy jersey, rayon/wool knit in "dusty blue", slate grey ponte. I'm ridiculous.

Hudson Pant (take 5):

That tech drawing is gratuitous, right? You couldn't possibly not know about these. Oh, and if you're looking for an alternative waistband method, please do check out my Tutorial.

I'll do these in that denim ponte (I got the last 1.25 yards of the bolt and Fabrications sent it to me for free because it was vaguely dusty. They also paid to ship it to me. Note: They sent me free fabric for free. Can't tell you how much I love the client service...):

Or maybe in the slate ponte (though I might want to save this for a dress):

You can't tell in my photo but this is a very rich grey with lots of texture. And it's has a beautiful weight. I have just over 2 yards and it's 70" wide!

Highly-Modified, Vintage Simplicity 3302:

You may recall that I altered this to work with knit fabric. I made it in coral jersey last weekend and, while the fit is almost there (this thing has taken a lot of tweeking), the colour is just too much for a top that's this "present". There's a lot of fabric happening and the style is not modern. I think it warrants a neutral lest it become overwhelming...

I'll make this, potentially, in that navy modal/rayon jersey too. I'll have enough of it... (But not till I'm sure it's going to work because I really like that fabric).

Bronte Top:

Jennifer Lauren's second pattern is a cutie. Too cute for me, I thought, till I saw Jane's version. I don't know how this one will work out for me, but I did spend an hour modifying the pattern at the armscye and sleeve to match my sloper. Whether this works will remain to be seen - first time sewing anything is a crap shoot - but I've hedged my bets with some pre-fitting. I'll muslin using a stable grey sweatshirt fabric I got a while ago. I think it's horribly off-grain, so it'll take a bit of finessing, but I don't love the fabric and I'm ready to be done with it. I ordered a yard and I don't think that's even what I received... Note: I did not buy this from Fabrications.

My final 2, potential easy knits are Style Arc patterns: The Rosie top and Becky Yoga Pants.

Wait, you might be saying - haven't you tried to make that Rosie top 15 time now? And isn't meant for a woven? Um, yes and yes. I've finally decided to make it up in a knit fabric to see if it allows me a modicum of additional ease (but with recovery). I do believe I've finalized the fitting of the woven pattern - just can't take another woven failure right now. At least, if a knit version of the top fails, I can blame it on going off-road with the fabric.

The Becky is another one I haven't made before but I can use my Hudson pant crotch curve against it (or my Kwik Sew one) so as not to reinvent that wheel. This one is the outlier, truly, as I don't really need more yoga pants and I'm not sure what fabric I'd use. Good to have options though!

So that's where I'm at. This post has taken a ridiculous amount of time - time I might have spent cutting fabric, so off I go!

Please do tell which of these you like the best? What do you think of the Easy Knits Project - a little creative, a little bit easy and a whole lot of fun, no? Let's talk!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Yin and Yang

I'm having one of those times in life that's relentlessly busy. It's also stressful, in a certain way that hits me hard - my endurance is being tested, and simultaneously my ability to stand at the precipice of change. Yeah, I know we're all being pushed and none of us knows what's coming next. But for me, that confluence of feelings is tough.

Since I haven't got much to say on the craft front - though I do have some knit-sewing, basic projects up my sleeve - why don't I bore you delight you with a little update on the New Regime. It's quickly becoming simply "the regime". The shiny sparkle of novelty has faded. Happily though, my commitment has not.

I cannot tell you how grateful I am to have a practice to support me at this time. That practice isn't always the essence of conscious engagement. It sometimes suffers from my extreme tiredness at the end of the day, or my full-body muscle spasms re: the fun that is hormones. I inevitably follow it up with a glass of wine and, often, a treat. But hey, I'm doing it and I know it's keeping me sane. So let's raise a glass (and eat a bowl of chips) to that.

From the vantage point of shape-evolution, I wouldn't say I've slendered much more in the last month - mind you, I haven't lost any ground. As far as I'm concerned, that's ok. This transformation is a process and I've got time.

Truth is, I've also got a lot of cortisol running through my system lately because my job is flat out. What I do requires the ability to process and analyze large volumes of complex content quickly. Then to provide advice. Thereafter begins the potentially arduous (but worthy) time of negotiation. Simultaneously, I write a lot of documents and brief at a bunch of meetings. There's no acceptable margin of error and the pace is constant.

Those of us prone to the adhesion of fat at the midsection (the apple-shaped for want of a better term) are particularly susceptible to the impacts of cortisol. I can definitely feel, after a week of mega-stress at work, increased puffiness and a decrease in awareness in my abdominal region. No, that's not fat, but it's a warning sign and it's one I'm taking seriously.

As per usual, I walk to and from work daily. Moreover, I'm now practicing yoga 5 times a week. Would it help if I cut back on the nightly glass of wine (and half bottle on weekend days)? Um, sure - from the vantage point of continuing to slim - but I think my mind would be in way worse shape! Wine-drinking is a delicious, sensory experience that improves food and takes me from the stress of the day to the welcome calm of the evening. BTW, I do the yoga first, natch - and while it moves me from the stressed state to one of increasing tranquility, it's no substitute for the mood-alteration technique that is a glass of Chianti. (Note: My bet's on my mother calling me when she reads this post, just to ensure that I'm not descending into alcoholism.)

But let's talk more about the Regime...

  • I have stopped doing "gym fitness". I really hate machines and bright lights and weights. I gave it a good try, and I'm sure I'll try it again in the future. But it still doesn't work for me.
  • I have also stopped going to yoga classes the gym. Those classes were a means to an end, as I knew from the get go. While they are safe, and social - and while they enforce infrastructure - they are not "taught". They're also not adequately challenging. I sense the need to work more intensively to gain the kind of cardio-fix my body seems to crave. And, truly, my knowledge of yoga asana languishes in those classes. Sure, we're all beginners in the classroom, but I want to explore my body in a wide range of poses - not the 30 one encounters over and over in the average, mid-range vinyasa class.
  • So, although the gym is a thing of the past - and thankfully too since it's fucking crowded and you can't swing a dead cat without running into people you know - my practice is happily ever-evolving. I have researched yoga studios that are known for small class sizes and new formats. I've begun to visit a couple of those to take a weekly class.
  • I also practice in my home studio on 4 other occasions per week, averaging an hour each time. I either devise my own sequence or, when I'm very tired, and would prefer to be told what to do, I do a My Yoga Online class. This isn't my first foray into My Yoga Online, but the format really has improved dramatically (and it was a good resource to begin with). The site offers hundreds of classes - and new classes are added weekly. (Note: I always try to preview each class I intend to do, once in advance, because I practice without my glasses so I can't see what's happening on the screen. This allows me to weed out the practices that don't suit and to discover new teachers and sequences I prefer). The advanced classes are hardcore. The intermediate ones can be pretty hardcore too. And this platform favours the yin method (in addition to other styles though, alas, Iyengar is not represented). I'm going to do a post on Yin Yoga sometime soon but, in brief it is an excellent adjunct to active practice (which focuses predominantly on the development of muscular strength and balance) to improve flexibility and mindfulness. Especially given the extreme muscle and fascia tension I experience semi-regularly, as a result of hormonal shifts, I find it incredibly useful to practice in this style once or twice a week. Please note: Though it is sometimes classified as "passive", I do not recommend it for beginners. This style is very confrontational and it presumes a baseline of flexibility and structural body awareness. It is also quite distinct - though I didn't realize this before I started practicing the method - from supported practice in the Iyengar style. Both are very useful, btw, but they're not working on the same things in the same ways.
People have asked me lately how I don't get side-lined the minute I walk in my front door. What I'll say is this: I do not make dinner (if Scott doesn't cook, we forage - and that includes my kid). I do not listen to messages. I do not tidy things up. I do not talk to anyone. I wash my face, put on my yoga gear and walk into the yoga room with my computer. If those with whom I live try to talk to me, I answer them monosyllabically. If they ask me to do something, I tell them no. 

The only way to prioritize one's practice - at least if you work full-time - is to put on a shield of selfishness. I can only urge you to become comfortable with that construct if you lead the "modern life" and you don't want to fall apart from stress and/or get fat.

On that topic, you'll notice my blogging is less frequent and it may remain this way until December. I LOVE to write, but it takes time. And the less time I have to do the things I love to write about, the less I have to say when I do have time to write. It's a circular scenario, apparently.

So that's where I'm at right now... I'd love to know if you work-out at home and, if yes, how do you keep yourself on track? (I need pointers! Full-time working mothers, your experience is particularly welcome...) Have you tried the Yin Yoga method? If yes, what are your thoughts on it? Do you find that work stress contributes to abdominal puffiness (wine consumption notwithstanding)? Is this my own personal experience? Let's talk!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Hudson Pants Alternative Waistband Tutorial: Part 2

See Part 1 for instructions on how to create the waistband unit.

You'll be pleased to know that Part 1 is the tricky part (if that's what you were thinking as you followed along). For what it's worth, making the waistband unit is only tricky the first time as you're figuring it out. Thereafter, it's a rather pleasant activity.

Inserting the Waistband Unit into the Pants Unit

For clarity, the waistband unit is comprised of the waistband fabric and the elastic (now assembled). The pants unit is simply the assembled pants legs part of this pattern, now waiting for a waistband.

1. Get oriented. In the pic below I've aligned the centre back seams of the waistband and pants units. the waistband will be attached to the pants by sewing the two, right sides together with the raw edges abutting each other. Make sure that the wrong side of your waistband (the part with the zigzag stitch) is visible.

To clarify, in this photo the waistband is not atop the pants unit. It's sitting above...
2. Pin the waistband to the pants. You can repurpose the pins you used to pin the waistband, prior to pressing. You will likely need to ease the waistband, slightly, around the pants as the waistband will be smaller (by up to a couple of inches). If you've got a lot of easing to do, you can consider clipping the waistband (within the seam allowance only, obviously!) to give a bit of extra stretch. Mind you, the fabric is stretchy so you may not need to do this even with a moderate easing requirement.

When the pinning is done, it'll look like this:

3. Go to your sewing machine and stitch the waistband unit to the pants unit. I use a straight stitch because this is pre-serger basting for me. If you do not have a serger, consider using a zig zag stitch or an overlock stitch to ensure the plasticity of the seam.

You want to stitch within .25" of the elastic - the more confident you are that you won't catch the elastic, the closer you can go. I leave a bit of wiggle room because it makes me less nervous about the serging stage (to follow).

4. Here's how it looks from the right side when you're done. This is NOT pressed:

5. If you've got a serger, now's the time to neaten the raw edge... Serge with the waistband on top so that you can feel - and avoid! - the elastic as you go. Of course, following the basting line of machine stitches should be adequate, but you'll have more cues if you serge with the waistband unit on top.

You'll note that my waistband finishing is particularly lackluster. For some reason, my serger didn't love the double-thick waistband fabric (though it didn't mind any of the other double-thick seams). As a result, my finishing is wonky and I didn't approach the basted stitch as closely as I usually would. I was just trying to keep it together...

6. Press the waistband on both sides:

In the photo above you can see that the waistband is still a bit wavy. I'm willing to bet that, after 2 wears and a wash, this will be almost unnoticeable. While worn, the gathers disappear completely. Again, I'm still experimenting with the required width of the waistband fabric. I hope to be able to diminish any wrinkles still further.

I think you'll agree that it's very tidy, smooth and it's lovely not to see the stitching from the right side.

Here's a final shot of the completed pants (remember, I did not make the pockets):

And, so that you can see the flat profile of the waistband, here's a questionable selfie:

So there you go. I really do hope that this helps a few peeps looking for an alternative Hudson Pant waistband. Moreover, it works on all kinds of stretch waistbands!

Please do let me know if you get some use from it. These things are grueling to put together. I'd love your feedback!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Hudson Pants: Alternative Waistband Tutorial (Part 1)

In the stress of recent times, I've been making a lot of Hudson Pants. There's something very meditative about their construction. The cutting is simple (and even more so as I don't make the pockets). The finished product is utterly comfortable and comforting. I realize that this is not high fashion - at least in the fabrics I've employed so far - but the cost-per-wear factor is through the roof.

I've been threatening to do a tutorial, something I appreciate so much whenever I come across a useful one, but you know... Anyway, excuses be damned. The time has come. I will not apologize for the vaguely amateur photos cuz I am working solo and I'm simultaneously sewing! If this helps anyone, I'm thrilled.

This post covers Part 1 of the waistband assembly - creating the waistband unit. Part 2, to follow, shows how this is attached to the pants unit.

Who's this tutorial for?
  • Those who find the waistband, as instructed, to be on the bulky side
  • Those who don't like visible zig zag stitching on the right side of the fabric. You will only see one line of zig zag stitching in the centre of the wrong side of the waistband unit.
  • Those who don't like waist ties 
  • Those who aren't nuts about shirring of the waistband around the elastic.
What You Need To Consider Before You Cut Your Fabric:
  • This version assembles the waistband independently of the pants. You can start with the waistband construction and add it to the pants at the end.
  • There is no insertion of the elastic into a finished tube.
  • This version depends on a closer proximity (than that directed in the pattern) of dimensions between the waist elastic, the waistband and the assembled pants unit (to which the waistband unit will be attached). 
  • You should aim for no more than 4 inches difference between the elastic and waistband (elastic is smaller, obviously). The difference in circumference between the waistband (prior to elastic insertion) and assembled pants unit should be no more than 1-2" inches. 
  • Vis a vis bullet above, the waistband will sit lower than the natural waist so you don't want to size the elastic in accordance with your natural waist measurement. Add an inch or 2 to account for where the Hudson pant waist will hit (and depending on your own shape, of course). This method favours the slim-hipped.
1. For starters, sew the elastic according to pattern instructions. Then pin, for reference, the circular elastic at 4 equal points. The original point should be at the elastic seam (where you stitched one side to the other to make a tube).

2. Cut the waistband fabric, sew it as instructed and fold the waistband in half (parallel with the direction of stretch).  

Note: I'm using 1.5" thick elastic (not 2", which the pattern recommends). I prefer the width and I find it creates less bulk for the short-waisted among us.  If you choose to work with this width of elastic, you will need to slim the thickness of the waistband by approximately 1" (0.5" on either edge). Modify your pattern piece before you cut so that you don't waste fabric. There should be @0.5" seam allowance at the raw edge of the waistband unit once the elastic is sewn into the band.

3. Press the fold well on both sides. Then re-open the waistband.

4. Use a ruler to chalk the fold crease. This is to ensure that you can see the fold line clearly when you sew the waistband elastic into the waistband fabric.

You'll want to pin the waistband fabric in quarters, as you did in step 1. for the elastic. Remember, the initial pin is at the seam which connects the band.

5. I like to chalk the wrong side (at the centre of the fabric on the side into which I'll sew the elastic) because it allows me to reposition my pins at the raw edge of that side. These pins are going to assist me in easing the elastic into the waistband unit.

6. Now - with the waistband UNfolded, you're going to sew (using a medium zig zag stitch in the centre of the elastic) the elastic into the waistband fabric. No need to pin things together. Just ensure that you start so that the seam of the elastic is atop the seam of the waistband fabric and that the inner edge of the elastic abuts the chalk/fold line of the waistband exactly.  

I ensure that the zig zag line remains straight by aligning the raw edge of the fabric (on the right side of the photo) with one of the ruler lines on the plate of my machine. If you don't have ruler lines, determine where you want the line to be and use a piece of tape to act as the marker.
The beauty of this method is that all you need to do, as you sew, is pull the elastic such that, as you go, the elastic pin meets up with the corresponding quarterly pin in the waistband. No need to pin elastic to the waistband.

7. Here's what the unfolded waistband unit looks like after you've sewn the elastic into what is now the wrong side:

 The folded, finished right-side looks like this:

See, no zig zag and no channel (cuz there won't be a waist tie).

The folded, finished wrong side looks like this:

Note: Until it's sewn into the pants unit, the waistband unit will look somewhat gathered. The puckers are diminished by decreasing the differential between the size of the waistband fabric and the elastic tube. What I mean specifically: If you make the waistband smaller, you'll get fewer gathers.

However, the smaller you make the waistband unit overall, the smaller you'll have to make your pants unit (at the waist edge) so as not to have too much of a differential between the pants and waistband raw edges. For reference - the differential here is @4 inches - the waistband fabric is 35.5" and the elastic is 31.5" (I DO NOT like tight elastic around my waist and keep in mind that this sits at the low waist - so it's not at the thinnest part of your torso, cut accordingly).

I'm experimenting, over time, with making the waistband fabric circumference smaller. Next time I make these, I'm going to aim for waistband fabric at 34.5". That'll mean I'll have a higher differential between the circumference of the waistband raw-edge and the pants-unit raw edge (36") but, if I can ease one into the other successfully, I sense there will be no ruching in the finished waistband.

8.  Now steam the pinned-closed waistband unit on both sides. No need to press. You just want to make sure that the fold hugs the top edge of the elastic closely.

Note that I pin in the seam allowance close to the elastic but not on top of it. This will act as a guide when I eventually sew the waistband into the pants.

The way I attach the pins (and I use many of them) is by stretching the elastic slightly as I go, to ensure that both sides of the folded-over raw edges are being caught without ripples. I want the raw edge of the waistband half, with the elastic sewn in, to be entirely flat against the raw edge of the waistband half that is unencumbered.

One more thing: You don't need to be utterly perfect here. Note how I didn't ease the elastic in particularly well - which is why you can see small puckers (the natural impact of easing) on one side and a totally smooth section on the other side. Yeah, I should have been more even when I pulled the elastic taut as I eased, but sometimes things don't go perfectly. It will be practically unnoticeable when the waistband unit is sewn into the pants unit. It won't be observable at all when the waistband is worn.

Next up, sewing this into the actual pants unit.

Today's Questions: Will you try this version of waistband or do you like the waistband on the Hudson's as instructed? Do you hate inserting elastic into a waistband tube (after attaching the pants unit to the waist unit? How do you feel about the highly-ruched and tied waistband of the Hudson pants? Curious to know if I'm in a small camp of ruched waistband naysayers :-)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Low Down

Rather oddly, over the past couple of weeks, I've heard three people refer to their "low set busts". It's not like I've never heard that phrase before. I mean, I am a girl who reads and talks a lot about boobs. But I wonder if we're about to have a moment wherein that's the popular boob complaint.

I really hope not. And let me tell you why...

In the biz, the low set bust refers to the relative position of the breast root on the chest wall. I highly recommend this post for more info on the topic. What you'll note in the article, is that the impact of the breast root position is not as simple as mere height. The horizontal position of the root impacts whether one's breasts are wide-set, for example and symmetrically placed. To further complicate matters, the length of one's torso is germane to the appearance of one's breast height.

The fact is, we tend to think of breast placement as a kind of static, one-size-fits-all scenario. In fact, there are many "types" when it comes to how the breasts sit on the body - and just as many outliers.

Getting back to breast-root height specifically: The average person's root sits about 5-7 inches below the armpit. If yours are higher than that (and my root is), you may be one of those peeps whose boobs are up to her chin, especially if you're full on top and petite in stature. If your root is lower than this, you may feel like you've got one of those "low set busts" - especially if your waist is short. Really, these are the peeps (when the breasts are projected and relatively large) who are most likely to feel boobs at the navel.

The average bra is designed for a breast-root of average height (it's all about the sales). So the high-set ladies often struggle with under wire poking into their armpits and digging at the centre gore - not fun. This can be a tricky issue (again, depending on how wide-set the bust is and other factors). My bust is very close set and narrow, so wire height is rarely a problem for me despite a high root on a short frame, thankfully.

But back to the low-set ladies. A low-set breast root is NOT the same thing as a low bust. A low-set breast root can contribute, with other factors, to the potentiality that the breasts will not sit as high as one might prefer. But I'm going to tell it straight: 95 per cent of the ladies complaining about this condition don't have low-set roots to any deleterious extent. They have bad, often super-old bras with bands that are way too stretchy (like often 4-plus inches) and cups that are shaped or sized incorrectly.

An 80-year old woman, who's had 4 kids, can easily look uplifted in the correct bra. A 25-year old, prone to sag, with low breast density and a projected breast shape can look terribly matronly in the wrong bra. And yes, low-set. Add a kid or two, significant or fast weight-loss and gain or other hormonal shifts and the look can be less than youthful.

Here's the thing: You don't have to look like your boobs are at your waist when you're wearing a bra. (When you take that bra off, all bets are off - that's when genetics are unmoderated.)

Kristin's Guide to the Non-Surgical Breast Lift:
  • Figure out your true size. Do that any way that works for you: Visit A Bra that Fits for a pretty sound methodology; go to a well-respected boutique. Figure it out.
  • Determine how your breasts are positioned on your chest and how you're actually shaped. Do you need shorter wires because your breast roots are high? Are your breasts wide-set? Is your waist long or short? Look at yourself as a technical drawing. Don't judge. Learn.
  • Pay particular attention to the optimal tautness of your next bra band: 
    • If your breasts are large and projected, chances are you'll need a tighter band to account for the required cantilever. 
    • If the ratio of back circumference to breast circumference is on the high end of the scale, you will also likely want a tauter band, breast size notwithstanding.
    • If your breasts are shallow or your back is muscular, band tautness is less of a requirement to ensure bust lift.
    • Please note - and I regret to be the one to tell you this: It doesn't really matter if that taut band is uncomfortable (from the vantage point of the job it's got to do). If you need it, that's how it goes. Initially, required band tautness to achieve liftedness can be very notable, even uncomfortable, for many women. The sensation tends to dull over time. I, for one, have never minded tight bands - I love the feeling of compression on my rib-cage. But that simply makes me lucky in this respect. Cuz I'd have to do it whether I liked it or not as I do not intend to walk around with breasts that appear to be low-set.
  • Tighten the straps adequately - though not to cause pain. Yeah, most of the lift comes from the band but there's a reason that bras with straps provide a more uplifted silhouette than those that are strapless.
  • Note where the straps sit relative to the edge of the cup. If the straps are too wide for your frame at the outer bust or the shoulders, lift will be compromised.
  • Make sure you have enough bras to rotate. Those that have stretched out in the band or cups (which is what happens quickly when you wear the same 2 bras day after day) are no longer useful. 5 bras in regular rotation will last much longer than 2 bras. In the end, with more bras, it will be less expensive to maintain a lifted silhouette.
  • Unless your breasts are on the small end of the spectrum, do not wear padded, seam-free bras. A three-piece cup provides optimal lift for many breast shapes because the fabric can conform to your shape (not the other way around). Shape mismatch (whether the bra is seamed or not), which produces gaping at the base or upper cups, implies that the breast is not adequately supported in the cup. That's going to contribute to a lower look (and probably other unattractive fit issues). See bullet point 2, above. You have to know your shape to know how to find a cup that fits it perfectly (and looks great, of course). That cup is out there. It's your job to find it - and to make peace with it if it's not the kind you have always envisioned is the perfect one for you.
  • Four-piece cups with vertical seams tend to provide maximal uplift. If your boobs are deflated in the upper bust (something that I often note in the women who insist that their busts are low-set), then a vertically-seamed demi-cup might be just the thing, especially if you're evenly-shaped / small-moderately-sized.
I'm almost ready to promise that if you do everything suggested above, your perspective on low-set boobs will become a distant remnant of the past. But of course, there's always going to be someone out there with extreme tendencies at all ends of the spectrum (and even that woman will look infinitely more lifted having followed these guidelines).

Today's questions: Have you gone from a place of low-setness to lovely liftedness by implementing any of these suggestions? Do you have any additional advice on how to achieve a lifted profile? Care to disagree with my perspective? Let's talk.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


So I was pretty productive on the weekend - despite the fact that things didn't go as planned. I finished the Indicum pullover. Here it is (still blocking):

I don't know why I'm so ambivalent about it. It's nicely made. It fits well - on the edge of tight but not so that it pulls. I embellished it with that cuff of pink above the corrugated rib on the sleeves. Perhaps this is one of those items I'm going to have to wear in order to appreciate. One thing's for sure, if it doesn't get worn, then off to a new home it will go.

As you know, I also completed a pair of Hudsons in black sweatshirting (with rib cuffs and waistband). I've worn them constantly (at home) since the minute I serged the final seam. Can I just say - and I know this is shocking - cuffed, fleece-lined sweatpants are INSANELY warm. I had no idea that yoga pants are so ineffectual in this respect.

I also used some of my new Fabrications order (have I said I love those people - and now they're having a 25% sale!) to construct a kimono sleeve top that looks like nothing on a dress form or the floor:

FWIW, I took a bunch of photos of myself wearing it and not one was usable. The lighting here is miserable right now...

The top is based on Simplicity 3302 (the vintage kimono/Dolman sleeved top that I snatched from the edge of disaster, first time I made it, by attaching a self-drafted skirt to the bottom - and shaving off lots of volume). Turns out that it works well in its own right when you shave off even more volume through the waist and arms - like tons - and add a 3 inch double fold cuff that acts as a waistband. There's not much of the original sizing or styling in this vintage pattern given my extensive alterations. The only original elements are the basic shell of the pattern (the starting off point) and the shoulder proportions (which were very good from the get go). They do say that shoulder sizing is the only thing that matters...

I used a grey ponte with a very soft hand (and almost fleecy interior) and, while I like it a lot, it's a bit heavy (feels more like a chic yoga topper than kimono top for work-rotation). Mind you, in the right light-weight, drapey fabric I suspect that this pattern may become a new everyday TNT*. I'm very glad I sorted out the proportions of this vintage style. It was originally devised for a woven fabric, which is no doubt the primary reason that I've had to cut so much width from the original. I'm really grateful that I have the technical skill (not that this was complicated), the design-sensibility and fit awareness to create a modern version of a vintage top that's perfect for my shape. That's an extremely satisfying outcome. I love that I didn't need to look at directions as I made this. I fitted as I went.

Additional mods determined by this wearable muslin:
  • I will make the waistband (cuff) @6 inches in length next time - I'll offset this (and improve a delicate proportion) by removing 1/2 inch of length from the blousey bodice.
  • I will remove a small amount of additional underarm width from the back piece.
  • I'll remove a bit more width from the bodice (respecting that it is a blousey cut).
  • I'll open the neckline up slightly - but not much. I love a high crewneck. So old school!
  • I'll raise the bust dart by 1/4" (how often does that happen?!)
Once I implement these final alterations, and adjust the fabric, I sense that this will be a truly chic, modern take on a vintage standard.

So, whatcha think? Do you like the Indicum pullover? Can you see potential in the kimono top? I want to know!

*Happily, I purchased another 6.5 yards on sale from Fabrications (which also gives me a 15 dollar coupon to use against a future purchase in November, should I, ahem, choose to buy again next month). So... I've got lots of fabric coming that should fit the bill.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

An Update on The Hudson Pants

OK, I've made 3 pairs of these and I really should do a tutorial on my version of the waistband. It's completely flat, there are no stitches visible on the front. The wrong side is tasteful (though there's no getting away from one row of zig zag stitching).

I have refined the sizing now on each version. I've been working with very stable fleece (sweatshirting) so I'm pretty sure that these mods will be workable on a ponte or knit that has a higher degree of stretch.

My main change: I keep making them smaller. At this point I've cut a 6. I started with a 10.

I'd love to tell you that my reasoning for this is that I've become so outrageously slender that I just cannot fit into a larger size. The truth: These things are cut very large. Like, go down a size at least.

  • These really are drafted with my shape in mind. If you muslin them, and you find it's a bad match, then you've got to work with your own scenario. The pattern suits my body almost perfectly with no shape mods. How often have you heard me say that?
  • I have not included the pockets. I don't feel the need. Maybe when I make a ponte version I'll feel differently, but I don't see the point in bulk near my abdomen. Note: I have RTW fleece sweatpants, with pockets and the fit is very slim and not bulky. If I could find the fabric they used to make these, I would buy the factory. Alas, what I've got to work with, while soft and nice, does not have the hand or drape of the RTW version. That's why I spend 100 bucks on the store-bought ones...
  • I'm not trying to hide anything so a slender cut is not problematic. My body type tends towards slim, proportioned and toned legs. If you are concerned about cellulite or lumps and bumps then you might want to cut a larger size to start. And, natch, work with a thicker knit with less stretch. 
  • I've recut the waistband and I'm using a totally different insertion technique. I don't know to what extent this impacts size. I sense, not much, since I've cut down every part of the pants (over the course of making them 3 times) - not simply the waist.
I don't think I'm going to make these with fleece again (unless I find some with the perfect hand). Fleece makes a fine, authentic finished product but it's not chic - it's functional. I want some drape in my next version.

If you've made the Hudsons, what's been your experience of size and shape? Let's catalogue.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Mash Up

Peeps, I'm checking in to tell you that I'm stressed. Between a cold (that lingered) and a month at work that has been relentlessly busy, I have very little energy to write. Mind you, I'm doing a lot of yoga still - which is probably keeping me sane.

A few weekend goals that are likely to fall by the wayside if anything more compelling grabs my attention (sitting on couch with glass of wine, for example):
  • Finishing the last half sleeve of the Indicum and then blocking it. I ripped back one of the sleeves and redid it. That pissed me off. I'm not overly motivated. Mind you, now's the time to wear that thing...
  • Making more Hudson pants. I used the rest of that grey fabric to make a pair for M and she loves them. Then I was compelled to buy 3 yards of fabric (black fleece, "denim" ponte and gunmetal ponte) to make more. My Fabrications order arrived from US to TO (via USPS) in 2 days. I love those people. Best client service ever and the shipping is a flat 20 bucks. Oh, and the fabric is terrific.
  • Remaking this mash up dress I didn't like when I constructed it the first time, but which I wear because it's very comfortable and everyone loves it. I'd wear it more, if it weren't too small in the midsection. Note: It was always too small.
  • Baking these. (Let's see if this is a gluten-free baked good I don't have to throw out...)
Sure, the garden is a disaster. I'd like to tell you I don't care. I care. But I don't care enough to spend half the day fixing it.

I'm trying to find some way to accept the incompleteness of everything - the disposition of things to fall apart (cuz the centre cannot hold, and all that). Of course, I'm not living through the horror and aftermath of war so it strikes me I should shut up and buck up. This is the way it goes. How will I come to terms with the fundamental nature of disorder?

I guess this is why I'll never be bored in this life. But will I ever be content?