and I quote

may 2014

click for permalink May 31, 2014

I hate the fact that I've hardly posted anything here over the last month, but I haven't been entirely inactive... it's just that the flurry of furious activity would be entirely invisible if your only window onto it was through this website. (Do such people even exist?)

So, one of the things I've been doing now that it's spring—almost summer— is making clothes, especially jackets, from patterns I've found online. Summer always seems to find me on a quest for the perfect lightweight, casual, comfortable yet cute spring jacket (or several). It's the torso's answer to clogs—or for women who don't have a mental disorder preventing them from wearing flat shoes, maybe Keds or something... Does anyone still wear Keds? They were these flat, ugly white canvas things with thick rubber soles that were supposed to telegraph the message, "I spent the afternoon sailing," but the message they actually conveyed was, "I'm twelve." Or possibly, "I'm twelve and I have a chronic toenail infection." Ugh. Anyway...

I'm all set for the winter weather we no longer seem to have in Vancouver. Dressing for the cold is fun, especially since I work from home and don't have to drive in this hypothetical snow (and wouldn't know how to, even if I did). I bought my favorite winter coat more than ten years ago at a vintage store in Gastown for $25 and I've worn it every year since. I've repaired the lining, the hem and the buttonholes, rebuilt both pockets and replaced all the buttons twice. A couple of years ago I found an awesome matching hat at a different vintage store in Gastown. When I got it home and put the two side by side, I realized just how much my coat had diverged from the crisp white it must have originally been when it rolled off the assembly line. Wearing them together would only draw attention to how dingy the coat was now compared to the "matching" hat, and this realization was the catalyst for a chain of... well, learning experiences.

The first of these (which in retrospect was just incredibly stupid) involved soaking the coat in a bathtub full of "whitening powder" (that stuff that comes in a package that looks like Jell-O) but unfortunately, it also needs to be mixed with boiling hot water like Jell-O, and that had dire consequences for the heretofore -unidentified black fiber which lined the coat's under-collar. As soon as it came in contact with the boiling hot water, the mysterious black material (maybe a primitive precursor to imitation leather?) began to disintegrate. Within seconds, the water had turned an ominous grey and it took me a moment to comprehend what was happening—I don't think I'd ever actually looked under the collar before—but when my gloved hand stirred a new cloud of swirling, oily clots, that was obviously the source of the petrochemical disaster unfolding before my eyes. I dragged my coat, which now resembled an oil-slicked sea otter, out of the bathtub, grimacing as the clumpy black debris field coagulating on the surface magnetized to the once-white fibers.

After some environmental clean-up efforts (not involving Corex-It) and a bunch of research online, I found several "caring for faux fur" sites and very diligently read several different ones to rule out any conflicting advice. I eventually found myself kneeling in front of the bathtub again, this time soaking it in ice cold water and adding an entire cup of "brightening" detergent I'd only used once—long enough to notice my skin was breaking out everywhere (chemical brighteners are NOT for use on anything that makes contact with your skin... this is according to the MSDS, conveniently available online), but my options for getting the coat and hat to match again were running out. I had figured the effect would be minimal at best, but it couldn't be any worse than the Titanium Dioxide Jell-O fiasco.

After a very careful soaking and hours of drying on the "Fluff/No heat" setting (so THAT'S what that setting is for...) I was pleasantly surprised that not only did I not ruin it, but in fact it seemed very slightly whiter. I also took a fine-toothed comb and brushed aaaaaall the fur until it actually looked like fur again and not matted, half-melted plastic (which, although technically more accurate, is not an attractive look). Four (mild) winters later it's still my favorite. I call it the Cruela De Vil coat—or the roadkill coat, depending. I was wearing it when the Greenpeace activists handing out flyers about animal cruelty in front of the Art Gallery scowled at me and refused to force me to take one of their pamphlets. If I had to characterize the perfect demographic audience for this coat based on unsolicited feedback I've received over the years, it would definitely be girls between the ages of five and nine. (And yes, I always tell them it's not real fur.)

So even though we basically didn't have a "winter" this year—and trust me, I know this is nothing to complain about. I've seen the pictures and heard the horror stories of 6-month long winter from my relatives in Ontario, friends in New York and coworkers in Chicago, all of which are now experiencing 80-degree weather, with no spring to speak of, whereas in Vancouver we have a kind of perpetual spring/ fall thing happening—but anyway, now that it's summer-ish, I'm on a mission to make lightweight jackets.

I already had a couple of patterns, but after making one of them flawlessly and then realizing the style is exactly the polar opposite of anything I should ever wear, and another that had serious sizing issues which looked great and drapey on the package but kind of like a gaudy fringed lampshade on me, I decided it was time to download a whole bunch of printable patterns because, to paraphrase Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally, when you finally find the perfect summer jacket pattern that you think might be the answer to all your warm weather outerwear woes, you want to get that sewing project started right fucking now.

The best part about this one brand (Lekala) is that you can order YOUR size. Unfortunately I didn't know about their website when I ordered them from here (if you want to bypass the custom sizing and newer styles, you can also download dozens of their patterns here for free).

So you enter your actual measurements, height, inseam, B/W/H and a couple of extra under and over type variations and voila! In five minutes without leaving your couch, you can begin printing 30+ pages of letter-sized paper which you then have to spread out on a very large, flat surface and scotch tape them together and cut them all out, and only then do you realize... Oi, what's this? They're all in fucking Russian.

So I emailed their Technical Support, even though I was pretty sure their reply would be neither. The automatic reply didn't boost my confidence.

if your account is displaying.
This Pattern Must Be Hand Processed.
Please check back soon.
our engineers are working on the problem now.

I wasn't holding my breath. The engineers eventually replied, but after writing back twice to try and explain the problem with all the patience and expectation of eventual resolution that I could muster, I gave up after their third message came back:

send me text is all in Russian, ill have it translate for you.
Thanks from Tech Support.

But of course, I couldn't select any of the text because the pdf was completely Information Rights Mangled. In fact, I couldn't even take a screen shot without a copyright error popping up and blocking the screen thanks to the proprietary bullshit PDF viewer I had to install just to open them. So it took me (and Mr. Pink, bless him) two days to cobble together the meanings of each and every pattern piece, including ten nearly-identical strips that comprised the waistband, which were all named a three-word variation on "middle piece" modified by a nearly-identical identifier with an important, distinguishing meaning like upper, lower, inner, right, left, back or front.

Mr. Pink went off and found me a reference sheet full of Russian sewing-related words. Unfortunately—bewilderingly—none of them appeared on any of my pattern pieces, but the list did at least provide me with a more legible font so I could begin to identify some of the characters which I hadn't been able to match before. I went back to Google Translator with my list in hand and all the disputed pattern pieces spread out in front of me and started entering words into the Russian-to-English module. I sat there hunting around on the virtual Cyrillic keyboard for the letter that looks like a lopsided triangle followed by a backwards "R," then a 3 and two backwards "Ns," and trying to figure out if the backwards Euro symbol is upper or lowercase or if it doesn't make any difference, and eventually had every last piece properly labelled.

Considering the absolute lack of reasonable instructions, diagrams or translations, it didn't turn out half bad, although I'm not convinced the custom sizing really worked for me. Maybe it's because I've been sewing from regular patterns and making the necessary adjustments (or not) for 10+ years now, so I'm probably conditioned to think things fit me when really they're too long or whatever. Besides, there's all this "additional sizing" which was baffling so I just left all of them on the default setting. Shoulder width (narrow, normal, broad)? How the fuck should I know? Broad enough to keep my shirts from pooling around my waist but not so wide that I'm asked to play defense? Distance between bust points (close-set, normal, wide-set)? Well, I've never had any complaints. Har har. Honestly, how is one supposed to know these things?

It did end up being a few inches shorter than I expected—but again, it might just be I'm accustomed to wearing jackets designed for someone taller. Oh yeah, and I can't really lift my arms very far. So that's a problem. Or maybe I'm not supposed to be able to lift my arms?

It also seemed to want rather monstrous shoulder pads, which I was unwilling to give it, so I had to alter around their absence (another blogger describes some of this company's designs as, "a bit 'oligarch arm-candy' for my tastes," which is awesome). And anyway, the whole printing and taping together of 30+ sheets of paper is kind of annoying, especially if the end result isn't going to be amazing...

So I started browsing some of the many purveyors of vintage patterns available online and I found one called Lanetz Living, which is a delightful pattern store with stock that's 100% vintage and customer service that's 100% present-day and which gives off a very happy vibe. It also has great, user-friendly search options (now I want to know why every clothing site doesn't let you search by bust measurement, style and era all at once).

You see, I'm trying to recreate this perfect 1970s wide-lapel, princess-seemed mid-hip length blazer I have in my head... Actually, I have one in my closet too, but it's very much an artifact of its time, 100% Polyester (I think the original tag just said "Esso") in an almost-but-not-quite navy shade that I will always think of (affectionately, with the fondness of many childhood memories) as American Airlines Stewardess Blue (most emphatically not American Airlines Flight Attendant Blue). Nostalgia aside, if I'm being objective, that color hasn't really been fashionable outside of uniforms since, possibly, ever. In fact, pair it with anything other than black and you run the risk of appearing to endorse the unforgivable "nautical" look that manages to reincarnate on the runways and in fashion magazines every spring. As if entire fleets of Kennedys and Rockefellers were secretly controlling the textiles and publishing industries... Well. Nevermind.

So I ordered this one (you have to picture it without the weird ascot and Dorothy Hamill hair). I've also realized after making these last two jackets that I should probably start researching a new sewing machine because apparently some models made after 1970 actually come with a one-step "automatic buttonhole" feature. If I buy one, I will know exactly what all those women in the 1930s felt like the first time they put a load of laundry into an electric clothes dryer and sat back and watched while the big, noisy, miraculous machine did all the heavy lifting and spinning.

Anyway, we'll see how it goes...


click for permalink May 10, 2014

I swear to god, if that distinctively blackened-bitter, shipping container-ripened, third-world lowest-bidder blend hadn't branded its battery acid into my taste buds at an early age, I would happily throw off the shackles of consumer loyalty to the wily Siren and seek caffeine in the welcoming shadow of an independent roaster's awning. Well, if that and also if their lemon-cranberry scones weren't pure pastry crack cocaine.

Last weekend I went to no fewer than six Starbucks locations in one day just to exchange a bag of decaf espresso that they gave Mr. Pink by mistake... which he'd bought to replace or at least "water down" the espresso I bought the previous week which they'd ground on the wrong setting. It looked less like espresso and more like Folgers crystals and resulted in a super-quick pour of incredibly weak, shitty-tasting coffee. I thought I might as well go exchange it first thing in the morning since there's a Starbucks just around the corner less than a block away...

Well, it turns out they're not a corporate store but a franchise (and so was the one a block away on Granville St.). I'm not sure how you're supposed to be able to tell the difference but anyway they wouldn't exchange it, so by the third location I was desperate for an Americano because I still hadn't had any coffee and I wasn't about to buy one at the unhelpful franchises. The fourth (and farthest) location was the place where Mr. Pink was originally sold the dreaded decaf, which they exchanged unapologetically but without incident, and here I got a glimpse of the two bags side by side and immediately realized how this happened in the first place. Seriously bad idea putting regular and decaf in nearly-identical packaging. So now I was hungry and while I'd seen lemon-cranberry scones at the first unhelpful franchise, this one had none, so even though I hated the idea of going all the way back there, I was irresistibly compelled (and I mean irresistibly... have you tasted those things?). By the time I got there, of course, they were sold out but by that point I was on a mission so I kept walking and it took me three more locations (walk in/ buzz the bakery counter, see nothing there, don't make eye contact, beeline for the door) until I finally found one that had two lemon-cranberry scones left.

Starbucks street musicianI know it rings a little hollow when I say that I've known the ol' Siren since long before she was an evil empire but back in the early 80s she was the Mom & Pop roaster with one location at Pike Place Market and a line all the way out the door on the weekends. Assuming I could actually find a viable alternative, a fair trade establishment run by the proverbial Mom & Pop, I would still have to endure that inevitably long and painful reprogramming process in which my taste buds would need to be completely broken down and forced to learn to taste all over again (not to mention sandblasting their proverbial logo off those hard-to-reach bitterness receptors all the way at the back).

And as evil as she is, she's so damned convenient... I can bitch all I want about making the rounds to six locations to correct a mistake they made (well, okay, two mistakes), but the fact is they were all within a six-block radius and I never had to stray more than half a mile from my apartment. It was like the saddest Family Circus maze ever. (Also, I know... white people problems.)