Sunday, November 29, 2020

Thankful for another Designer DIY!

Our friends at the New York Times haven't given us a Designer DIY for a while, but how nice to save it for Thanksgiving!  And the fancy designer trick this time is -- wait for it -- mending!!  And not just mending, but mending with sashiko stitching.  Never mind that in June they got another famous designer to give us incomprehensible "advice" on how to mend jeans, now they're trying again, except this time we get a jacket for the pictures.  And never mind that in July, in a different section of the paper, they got a guy to teach us how to mend jeans with sashiko. 

I guess there's only so many good ideas that famous designers are able to come up with.

This week's advice comes from Sir Paul Smith, "known for his sharp suits and signature rainbow stripes," and who I suspect hasn't spent a lot of time actually mending anything.  But he did share with us that "In this day and age of excess and more, more, more, I am often reminded of my dear mom who always used to darn socks or elbow tears."  Seems that when Sir Paul would go to Japan in the 1980s he discovered quaintly mended old work garments, and brought samples home, and now wants to help us mend our duds with the same techniques.   

Illustrations from New York Times Style section

"Lay the garment flat on your working space," cut a patch "of material of your choice" with an inch and a half margin larger than the tear, and "pin the patch into place."  No guidance on how to lay the garment flat if the tear is on the elbow, as suggested by a later illustration, or whether the patch goes on top of the tear or underneath.  Not sure what the hands are doing in the corner of the illustration.

Anyway, you "start to stitch along the first seam of your patch."  Where's that?  More troubling, "make sure that the knot is on the inside of the patch for the first stitch and that it goes through both the garment and transplant patch."  Say again?  Surely they don't mean the knot goes through both the garment and the patch? Surely they mean the needle.  But wait -- if the knot is in between the two layers, how can the needle go through both layers?

Not to worry, the illustration shows you what to do.  Or does it?  Is that a knot in the middle of the patch?  Are we seeing the needle making three grabs and emerging under the left thumb?  What are the left fingers doing?  Looks like they're just underneath the patch and the stitching is going just through the patch.  Where's the jacket?  How do you hold onto the whole jacket while you're stitching the patch?  

Not to worry, the next illustration will clear things up.  Or does it?

Back to the stitching.  "The sashiko stitch can be a simple running stitch and can run horizontal or vertically."  (If you don't know what a running stitch is, maybe you can look it up online.) 

"Leave a slight gap (say, a quarter inch) between the stitches to create a warp and a weft."  Huh??  You might think a guy who has spent 50 years in the rag trade would know that warp and weft live in an entirely different ballpark from hand stitching.  

Skip a half inch and put another row of stitching, repeat till the patch is totally sewed on.  You can use a ruler if you want nice straight lines.  There are lots of sashiko patterns, we're told, and you can find them online. 

Now the beautiful watercolor of the finished project:

Hmmm.  How do you suppose they got the patch on the sleeve?  Especially since the first step is to lay the garment flat on the table?  Instead of those gauzy drawings of hands doing something to something in space, maybe it would help if the drawings showed how to do the tricky parts.  I wonder how many readers will stitch their elbow patch through both layers of the sleeve?

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Plague diary -- thankful in so many ways

Things are getting worse with coronavirus these days, our daily tally of new cases on a steep upward curve, hospitals again filling up and businesses being shut down.  Now the public health people are worried about family gatherings, fearing that Thanksgiving will become a bonanza of superspreader events.  I'm worried, of course, and my sons have organizing a fancy Thanksgiving dinner that will be prepared in our three kitchens, split into portions and delivered to the other houses.  (I'm doing mashed potatoes and cranberry-orange relish.)  

And yet, in so many ways, pandemic life has been good.  No, I can't see the grandchildren as much as I would like, although we sometimes get together for walks.  And no, we can't eat out as much as we would like.  The occasional carry-out is good, but it's usually easier just to cook at home.  

why is one person dressed for winter, one for fall and one for summer?? it's a weird family

But there's a good side.  As others have also noticed, we haven't had a cold all year, because who would we have caught one from?  We've both needed emergency medical intervention, one including an ER trip and overnight hospitalization, the other with four visits worth of dental work, and didn't pick up a single germ.  And lockdown has provided lots of time that I'm trying to make good use of.  I've read many, many books.  I've been making lots of art, and even some progress on cleaning the studio. 

As we contemplate the dire winter ahead and wonder how long it will be before we can receive a vaccine, when the economy will ever recover, whether a whole generation of children will be blighted by their interrupted education, my husband and I have nevertheless thought hard and often about how fortunate we are.  

Fortunate to be retired, so that we don't have to worry about getting sick at work or chained to a zoom screen all day or having our employer go out of business.  Fortunate to have our sons close by, even if we have to be careful about seeing them.  Fortunate that we have plenty of room to be housebound without claustrophobia, and each have our own TV, out of earshot of the other one, and that we each have things that interest us and tasks that we love to do.  Fortunate to have each other, so there's always someone to talk to about matters big and small and to help you up when you fall, literally or figuratively.  And so very fortunate to anticipate a grownup in the White House very soon.

I wish a thankful Thanksgiving to you all, and hope that we'll all be together as internet pals for a long time.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Plague diary -- security theater

I don't know what it's like in your neighborhood, but here the coronavirus is getting closer and scarier every day.  Our governor has put in new lockdown orders, a couple of friends and relatives are awaiting the results of covid tests, and this morning a contact tracer from our local health department called to say a visitor to PYRO Gallery on Saturday just tested positive.

The person taking the gallery shift this afternoon said she would make a point of wiping down all the doorknobs, light switches, furniture and fixtures.  I had a disconnect when I read her message.  A few hours earlier I had read in the New York Times that the public health people now have concluded that there is "little to no evidence that contaminated surfaces can spread the virus."  

In other words, all the ostentatious deep cleaning, all the guys in hazmat suits spraying down airports, all the washing of cans and bottles from the grocery, all the three-day quarantining of mail, probably didn't accomplish much in the way of keeping us safe.  

How does this happen -- the conventional wisdom from March turns out to be mostly wrong in November?  I think there are two elements in play.

First is that in March we knew so little about the coronavirus and how it operates, so we seized upon the few things we could pin down and measure.  Somebody in a lab somewhere determined that a virus particle could live on a surface for days, so it seemed like a no-brainer to splash bleach on all the surfaces you could think of.  Couldn't hurt, right?  And then when later scientific experiments and observations realized that the real danger comes from the airborne particles from sneezing, coughing, singing, yelling and otherwise breathing hard, it's hard to make people forget the terrified response that used to seem like a good idea.

But second, wiping down surfaces quickly became security theater.  You know, like making everybody take their shoes off to get through airport security, even though there never has been another shoe bomber since that one nut job was caught in 2001, even in all the countries of the world where you don't have to take off your shoes.  

It's one thing when those in power deliberately use security theater to put on a show of concern and action, even while they're doing very little about the real dangers.  I'd put taking-off-shoes in that category.  And I'd put some of the hazmat disinfection efforts by businesses in that category as well, as if wiping down the doorknob or the assembly line makes up for failure to have employees keep proper distance, failure to enforce mask wear, or failure to test and trace infections among workers or customers.

But what's really unfortunate is when we use security theater against ourselves.  When we spend lots of time and money on Clorox wipes and think our families are safe because we scrubbed the sink twice since breakfast.  Or the flip side -- when we persuade ourselves that masks don't stop the virus, that it's only security theater; when we persuade ourselves that a big Thanksgiving dinner is OK because we're only inviting our family members, and canceling festivities is only security theater; when we persuade ourselves that God won't let us get sick when we go to church, and online or at-home worship is only security theater.

I know it's hard to keep up with the changing dos and don'ts of the pandemic.  In March they were telling us to scrub the canned tuna but don't bother to wear a mask.  In November they're telling us to wear a mask everywhere but don't bother with the bleach.  It takes time and energy to keep up with the changing advice, and people who don't trust scientists may not follow it anyway.

So as a result, here we are today -- 57 million people sick around the globe, 1.3 million dead, more sick and dead in the United States than in any other country.  I say there's a particular place in hell for those who mislead us into doing the wrong things, or who urge us to do whatever we want, as if there were no pandemic at all. 

Wear your masks, people!  But probably don't bother with the Clorox.  

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Calligraphy update -- coke can pen

I've written before about how in my daily art I have tried to emulate what you might call calligraphy brut -- strokes and letterforms that look like they were written with crude tools by a caveman.  In the summer I tried to accomplish this by using a pen made by cutting and folding a chunk cut from a coke can, but wasn't pleased with the results.  I did other things instead, but in the last several weeks the coke can pen, sitting in my pen-and-pencil cup on the dining room table, has called out to me.

I want to love this pen for its uncontrollability, but it was behaving too well.  It was giving me smooth lines that almost looked like they came from an actual commercial-pointed pen.

This wasn't bad, but it wasn't brut.  I kept trying, but still wasn't getting the results I wanted.  This next writing improved when I whapped the pen against my finger to splatter some ink spots over the page at the end.

And then one day, out of the blue, look what happened about halfway through the writing -- the pen started to stutter on the upstroke and give me some beautiful ripples.  (I'm still surprised at how symmetrical they are -- the pen seemed to fall into the same vibrating rhythm on so many of the lines.)

I loved it!  And have been trying to get the same effect ever since.  Some days the pen stutters and the writing looks totally brut; other days it refuses to cooperate and just gives me smooth lines, like the example below.

I finally deduced that to get the stutter, the two flaps of metal at the tip of the pen have to move independently.  When I run a knife blade in between before writing, to clear out any dried-on ink that might be pasting the two flaps together, the chances of stutter/splatter improve.

But not always.

I guess if you're in love with accidental effects, as I most definitely am, you have to embrace the fact that they're accidental, for heaven's sake, and they don't always come when you call.  

Meanwhile, I'm continuing to use the pen most days and hope for brut.

You can check out all my daily calligraphy here.

Friday, November 13, 2020

For my tombstone

Last night I received one of the strangest and loveliest compliments I've ever heard.

My beloved daughter-in-law, after coming over loaded with groceries, cooking and serving dinner, and cleaning up the kitchen, said to me "I love coming over here.  It kind of reminds me of my grandmother's house.  It smells so good, like... like a house full of neatly folded textiles!"

We laughed at the weirdness of the simile, and yet I thought what a wonderful way to sum up my life! The rest of my house is a jumble, a game of musical mess, with piles of stuff moved from one place to another as I need to clear off this table or that counter -- but my textiles are always neatly folded.  

What character flaw has made me compulsive about the sheets and towels and sweaters and fabric and so laissez-faire about everything else?  

I don't know, but there it is.  Maybe that should go on my tombstone -- HER TEXTILES WERE ALWAYS NEATLY FOLDED.  You could be remembered for worse.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Plague diary -- ordering online

One of the huge economic changes of the pandemic has been a shift to ordering online instead of going to the store in person, and people who follow this sort of thing for a living expect that we'll never go back to the olden ways.  Not that remote shopping wasn't a big deal even before the coronavirus, but it has skyrocketed this year.  Just one statistic: Amazon Prime Day sales were up 45% over last year.  

I know there's a generational gap in here somewhere; my children are totally comfortable with buying things sight unseen, whereas my husband and I hardly ever think to do so unless we've first tried brick-and-mortar.  I like to feel the goods, try on the shoes, find the reddest pepper.  But even I am getting more willing to get with the 21st century.  Especially when it comes with free shipping.   

But there's a big downside, namely all the damn packaging.

Here's a box that arrived last week (after we encountered empty shelves at the local big box).

You might expect it to be chock full of big things...

...but no, here's what was inside.  And that's not the worst of it -- when you get down to the actual products, here's all it was:

So will we run out of landfills before we all succumb to coronavirus?


Sunday, November 1, 2020

Plague diary -- election day

So many things are different this plague year, especially the election.  And many of the changes are for the better.  In Kentucky, for the first time we've been having early voting for weeks, including on weekends and late into the evening, and mail-in ballots for anyone who has reason to avoid going in person.  Thankfully, we've been spared the meanness of lawsuits trying to block any forms of alternative voting that have plagued so many other states.

But whether it occurs in a school gymnasium, a church basement, somebody's garage or your own dining room table, it all comes down to the ballot.  We Americans have a chance again this week to exercise the ultimate right of citizenship -- no, not the right to bear arms or the right to low taxes or the right to drink maskless in a bar any damn time you want -- the right to vote.

I was looking through some of my files of found poetry and came upon this one made two years ago.  I think it's still relevant, maybe more now than ever.  If you haven't done so already, vote.  The future awaits your choice.