The Little Red Dress

My favorite film in the world is a little critically-downtrodden piece of work from 2000 called Woman on Top. The film tells the tale of a Brazilian woman who has magical cooking skills, gifted to her by the sea goddess Yemanja. Her husband is a philandering machista, and when she finds him cheating, she finally leaves him and flees to San Francisco, where a myriad of whimsical hijinks ensue. Anyone on Rotten Tomatoes would say that it’s a ridiculous (and rotten) film, but hey, everyone’s a critic.

Red is one of my favorite colors. It’s the color of blood, the color of chili peppers, the color of fire. There’s something to be said about the power of red. As a child, I was very Catholic and believed that red was the devil’s color (I mean I saw the Loteria card and just assumed). Red also happens to be my aunt’s favorite color, and her entire bedroom was red, so I was legit scared to go in there as a kid. I mean think about it, while just a color, red is still seen as provocative. Little girls are chastised for to wanting to wear red; it’s too adult, too sexual, too everything. Naturally, it’s become one of my favorite colors.

In Woman on Top, color is key. It’s not my favorite movie because the dialogue is great or because the acting is incredible, but because of how it makes me feel. Heavy with blues and greens that revolve around its ocean theme, the protagonist Isabella appears in almost every shot in a red ensemble. She’s vibrant, she’s full of life and power and talent. Ever since I saw Woman on Top for the first time (which may have been back in 2006 or so I believe), I have wanted a little red dress.

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I’m also a sucker for tropicalismo colorful goodness.

Everyone is always on about how a little black dress is a closet staple, and that you can wear it with anything, etc. I agree with that. I, too, have a little black dress and it is perfect for almost all occasions. But has anyone given thought to the idea of a little red dress? The perfect little red number, a deep, rich red, that would stop traffic and make my childhood self burst into spontaneous prayer.

Oh yeah, that’s what I want.

For years I’ve dreamed of this dress. A slinky, tight little number that I could wear scandalously to a party, or take out dancing, or throw down on an unsuspecting first date. My little red dress would be my go-to dress. And like Isabella I would command attention in it, in all of my vibrancy and life and power.

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Simple yet eye-catching.

Finally, I decided to create it. Using the slip variation of Seamwork‘s Ariane bodysuit, I set out to create my little red dress. I had a chunk of jersey knit that I bought maybe 4 years ago, before I really knew much about sewing, in a rich red color that has been sitting in my fabric chest since. I knew that had to be the fabric I’d use, and as fate would have it, it was just enough material.

The body came together without a hitch. The cups, however, were an entirely different story.

Simple enough in their construction, for some reason they kept rippling at the seam where the cup and the body attached. Why? Why? WHY? Is what I continued to ask myself. It turns out that I had been pulling the fabric as I was sewing it, resulting in this overly stretching zig-zagged seam that wouldn’t lay flat no matter what I tried.

 

 

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My overlock tension is fucked also, so yay for a night of 1,000 threads.

As a rule, I’m trying to learn when to step away from a project. I have the habit of wanting to start a project, get in the zone, and finish it in a timely manner (ideally a day). To do this, sometimes I cut corners, and usually end up regretting it later. I’m trying to break this habit, or at the very least, set the project aside and allow myself to rebuild the energy to tackle the problem the next day or so.

This project was no different. I had already sewn the baste stitch of the cups, attached them to the body, and sewn the clear elastic onto the seam allowance. All in overlapped zig-zag stitches. I sat down, put on a couple episodes of Felicity, and busted out the seam ripper. It took an entire evening to get them all out, and the next day, I (very gently) sewed the bust cups again. Success this time! End result?

I had to take in a little here and there on the sides of the cups, and this was my first time using fold over elastic (and also the hem stitch is so not even because the fabric kept wanting to do an Olympic dive into my bobbin casing, blahblahblah, endless stream of errors I could name), but all things considered, I am super pleased with it! This was the first time I’ve sewn with knits (?! right?!), and it was definitely an interesting learning experience! But I’m v proud. And I think Isabella would be too.

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Additional support from Monica Jones and Watermelon Guy

Tchau,

Sam

On the Magical Mystery Quilt, Part I

Quilts. The word itself usually calls to mind images of grandmas (as does most sewing-related activity). As I’ve learned to sew, and expanded my knowledge of textile arts, I’ve eschewed these old ideas that sewing and knitting are just for the elderly among us. They can be new, fresh, cool. But quilting? If the quilting section of the fabric store is any indication, you’d have a harder time arguing that quilting itself can be new, fresh or cool.

Quilting, as defined by the all-knowing Wikipedia, is the process of sewing two or more layers of fabric together to make a thicker padded material, usually to create a quilt or quilted garment. Traditionally, they’ve been used as bed coverings and blankets, but, as with all textiles, the possibilities are limitless.

Sounds cool right?

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Sure looks cool. Quilted fragment c. 1900.

Yet I have not had the itch of curiosity to venture into quilting. Until now.

My boyfriend was clearing out his closet, and attempting to cull his ungodly t-shirt collection, when he had an idea. He thought, why not make a quilt out of these shirts? That way he wouldn’t have to say goodbye to them forever, but they wouldn’t take up all the closet space. Hmmm, I’m intrigued…

There’s a problem though. I don’t know how to quilt! I imagined that quilting is a specific skill with specific techniques that I am not familiar with at all. Have you seen quilts before? The precision, the clean lines! They’re a thing of beauty, with all those pinwheels and little geometric flowers and mathematical satisfaction. Math isn’t my strongest point.

But like I’ve ever let such a thing stop me! I thought, it might be simple, merely a bunch of squares, but I’ll give it a go. I’m pura chingona after all. How hard can it be to sew a bunch of squares together?

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Actually kinda hard it turns out.

First, how big would they be? I had to do some kind of planning, I thought. In reality,  I didn’t do that much planning. I have a 12×12 canvas that I just placed on top of the t-shirt logos and traced with tailor’s chalk. Then I proceeded to cut the pieces out giving some random seam allowance that I later measured and cut down to 1/2″ (with the exception of a few unfortunate pieces that I forgot to allot seam allowance to, RIP).

Then I proceeded to pin them and sew them. I thought I’d do 3 rows of 4, and while wide enough for a decent size blanket, it’s nowhere near long enough. While I patiently await the arrival of more t-shirts (pull the band-aid babe, you don’t need most of them), I can reflect on this first part of the process.

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I sense some crookedness in the force.

So as you can see, all of the corners don’t perfectly align, and the bottom row is crooked, which is bogus, because they matched up perfectly when I was pinning them! Oh well, I always give myself some margin for error when I make something for the first time. I guess the first step is kinda sorta complete? I know there’s some visual planning that goes into this quilting process, so I tried to place the squares in such a way as to keep the colors and tones pleasing to the eye. But you can only do so much when all of them are either grey, black or white haha. Overall feeling? Not too difficult!

Now I know the next step, once I’ve sewn all the squares together, is that some sort of batting must be used as a middle layer between the squares and whatever other kind of fabric I’ll use for the back. Fleece? Honestly, the boyfriend runs pretty hot, so a warm ass blanket doesn’t seem like a good idea. But since this is all jersey knit t-shirt fabric, I do think some batting would be a good idea, to keep it from rolling up into one giant t-shirt square. Thoughts? Recommendations? Does one have to do the fancy topstitch design after? Is that not to just hold everything in place basically?

With absolutely zero guidance in this department, I am well and truly winging it.

Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3, and to see if I completely botch this thing or make it werk, as the classic saying goes.

Happy stitching!

Sam

On Vintage Vibes

Dear reader,

I’m back! It’s been over a month since I’ve posted here on the blog, and it’s not because I haven’t wanted to. Life happens, as you know, and you get caught up with all manner of other things. In any case, I’m back at my sewing machine, finally, and now there’s a sense of peace in my life. Surely everyone has something in their lives that makes them feel this way? That when you’re not actively pursuing it, you feel just a complete mess? The world is a chaotic place, and everyone needs a place of solace where they can exercise a measure of control. Bring on the needle and thread.

I’ve always been fascinated by history and historical costume, and one era that sticks out to me in particular is the 1960s. It may be the music, the fashion, the attitude, or all three, but the vibe of that decade has always enamored me. And I’m not just referring to the hippie counterculture. From the bubblegum pop princess dresses of the early 60s to the sleek mod trapeze dresses that appeared later in the decade; the whole era has just been irresistibly cool to me.

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Give me mini skirt or give me death!

Some months ago I was browsing the entrails of Etsy, on the hunt for vintage patterns, and came across a ton that were unbelievably cheap. Original 1960s patterns for $1.50 (!!!!), and that all happened to be in my size, or very near to it. Naturally I snatched up as many as I could afford, and have just been sitting on them for months and months. It occurred to me that I could make vintage looking clothes, in modern, contemporary fabrics. A-ha!

I have this habit of making clothes sometimes just to make them. Not even taking in mind what I would actually wear. So I have quite a few things that I’ve made that are really cute…for someone else. I would never wear them, or have worn them out maybe one time. Pointless! And a waste. I decided to try and make a conscious effort to combat this. I want to start building my 1960s wardrobe, and I better damn well think of how I want it to look so I can actually wear the stuff!

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Nothing like a little neck tie to get you feeling fresh.

I decided to start with this one, since I had already transferred the pattern to my thicker paper ages ago. I decided to go with Dress B, because I live in Arizona and sleeveless is just always better in my opinion. I went to my local Joann to see if there was any fabric that wasn’t complete shit too boring, but I came across this yellow plaid and had to have it. It’s a nice medium weight, not that dingy junk from the quilting section, and it reminded me of a cross between a 1970s punk, and Cher Horowitz from Clueless, so I consider that an evolution in punk. Decided.

Another decision I made right off the bat was that I would not be putting in pockets. I’ve made welt pockets before and hate them, and was also lazy, so there’s my thought process for you.

Final results?

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Groovy baby!

I’m really happy with it! I have an hourglass figure and am used to always wearing things that cinch at the waist for maximum flattering effect, but the 60s are notorious for that loose, easy dress. Those mods! So the belt I added just to do it up my own way, and I’m really pleased with it! Maybe I’ll add those pockets at a later time (let’s be honest though, it’s not going to happen). One dress down, at least 5 more to go!

I’ve also been considering starting a YouTube sewing channel. Would you be interested in sewing videos with tips/tricks/tutorials, etc? Get at me in the comments!

Ciao!

Sam

On DIY, Costuming & Love

I was sitting in my room about 2 months ago, listening to my Discovery Weekly playlist on Spotify, when I heard a really catchy tune I’d never heard before. “Lil Red Riding Hood” by Sam Sham & the Pharaohs came on and I had a little light bulb moment.

Halloween is my favorite holiday. Quite possibly, the best holiday. Having grown up in Southern California and Arizona, there’s nothing more appealing to me than autumn, when the rest of the country is delighting in changing leaves and cool weather. There’s something inherently spooky about autumn, and I love spookiness. Rather surprisingly, I don’t usually get all costumed out for Halloween. Whaaat?! I know. Perhaps it’s that I’m a costume perfectionist, so if I know I can’t go all out, then I keep it simple. I usually go as a witch, because, well, I’m Pagan so it’s the simplest of all. But not this year!

As a complete costume geek, I put a lot of conceptualized thought into my Little Red/Bad Wolf hybrid. I’ve considered the psychology of Little Red being a werewolf, and perhaps murdering her own grandmother. The horror! Being a horror purist, I’ve taken the angle of lycanthropy being a painful process, both physically and psychologically, so I tried to communicate that to the best of my ability (and budget). As a DIYer, I’ve Frankenstein’d a good 50% of this costume together. #DIYtilidie

A little tour through the costume itself:

I first started out with the cape. I found a free cape pattern online from Fleece Fun, and decided that I wanted to make the cape double sided. One side with red for Little Red, and the other side with fur (ears and tail included!) for the Wolf. I’m heavy into this idea of duality, if that’s not clear.

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So warm…so unnecessary in the desert. Ears not yet attached at this point.

Aside from that, I had only thought to just wear black underneath, to keep it neutral. However, after some feedback from friends (so important!), I decided to wear white to add that “touch of purity” so to speak (and white is a funeral color in some cultures so either way you look at it it works). Only problem, I don’t own anything all white. Savers to the rescue! Savers, for those who don’t have it, is basically Goodwill. So the day before Halloween, I went and scoured the racks at Savers and found a tunic and skirt that seemed to fit this sort of traditional peasant kind of look (the story of Little Red has ‘European’ origins, but no specific country so I just went with like a gauzy peasant idea).

The tunic fit fine, but problem. The skirt was an XL. Well, I guess that’s a problem for most people, but sewing and DIY skills to the rescue! You may think, how does one take a skirt with a 38 inch waist down to a 25 inch waist? Quite simple really. We lucked out in this case, since the waist band was just elastic.

 

Usually just seam ripping here and there would do the trick, but the folks at Old Navy stitched through the center of the elastic all the way around (I appreciate your commitment to construction Old Navy but uughhh). So I just cut open the waist band as close to the edge as possible, and pulled out the elastic. Trimmed it down, closed the waist band again with a zig-zag stitch, slipped the elastic in, and then presto change-o, it fits me!

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Considered just wearing it out like this. I think Jenny Lewis would approve.

I was going to sew the top and skirt together to make a dress, but once I tried it on, it didn’t seem necessary. I pulled together this little apron to tie it all together (also had to dye it red, true story). Even though there’s nothing period about this costume exactly (or at least not Victorian), I decided to wear my white corset underneath. The tunic is pretty sheer and I thought a white undergarment that would give it more of an old timey look would be appropriate.

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Corset not on in this picture. I’m lazy okay?

Next up were the more ‘wolfy’ aspects – makeup. I’m already pretty hairy in general, so for once my sideburns and teen wolf hairline kind of came in handy. I bought the werewolf fangs by Scarecrow, and was rather nervous about the purchase. I recall trying to put in vampire fangs some years ago in middle school that used a similar method, and they didn’t work at all. And for $25, these things better damn work. So I took the plunge, and they were actually great. The bloody scratches (Little Red – self-inflicted) were made with some liquid latex and then, no joke, toilet paper on top. I just laid down strips of the toilet paper, tore it to create the general shape I was looking for, and then painted them red with my foundation and various shades of lipstick (no budget for face paint).

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Not too bad for a test run. 

All that was left was to put on some black claws and I was ready to hit the town, biting civilians wherever I could find them!

I definitely spent too much time and money putting this together, but that was to be expected. I honestly just love doing it. That’s where the love in the title of this post comes in. I had an amazing art history professor in uni who once said, while speaking of John Constable paintings, that “you can’t imitate love.” Now at first thought, you might think that’s not true. But she was referring to how much precision, care and thought Constable put into his landscape paintings. He truly loved those landscapes, and it shows. And just like I love costumes and creating, I think it shows in how seriously I treat something as simple as a Halloween costume. You might be able to get away with pretending to like something, but true love…when it’s the real deal, it shows!

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Hey girl heyyyy 

Sam

 

On Needles & Art

Dear reader,

If you’ve grown up in the world, then chances are high that you know what needlepoint is. You know cross-stitching? I have a very vague memory of being a wee thing and watching my dad’s mom work on a cross-stitch of a rose, as I gazed upon her magically making an image out of just a bunch of thread. I mean, that’s what a large part of textile art is really. A bunch of thread.

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Behold, the beauty of a bunch of thread. Artwork by Faig Ahmed.

I started down the dizzying spiral of textile arts with sewing, but it was merely a gateway drug into this world of beautiful things I could make with my hands. I quickly signed on for an introductory course in embroidery, and immediately became obsessed with it. The precision, the attention to detail, it was positively dreamy. If there’s one thing I love about clothes and textiles, it is attention to tiny detail (which explains my particular fixation with historical costume…drool). I scrounged together some extra money and purchased a quilter’s hoop, and spent all of my free time outside of work trying to fill up my embroidery sampler.

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That says ‘great’ (as in big) in Farsi there. Don’t ask questions.

My adventures into embroidery have resulted in some pretty interesting projects. I get pretty enthusiastic about things, so I tend to tackle really big, and sometimes highly impractical, projects right off the bat (go big or go home!). I decided to encourage my patch addiction by starting to make my own, all hand-embroidered and had my first go at actually having an angle to the work I was doing.

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Artist’s Statement: I’m mixed and I like it! #vivalaraza

So back to the issue at hand. Textile arts are highly addictive. We all know the happy part of this addiction as “the zone.” Errbody knows when they’re in the zone. I’m not even exaggerating when I say that there are many days (most days actually) when I wake up and fall asleep at my sewing machine. Or I stay up way past a reasonable hour to just finish this one section of embroidery! And most often, I forget to eat and sometimes go pee. I personally love the zone. I love feeling productive and using my hands. I need to be occupied with something 97% of the time.

Which brings me to my latest project. For this blog, I wanted to make a little header instead of the current picture I have now. And I sat and thought and thought, and thought some more, about what would be the most fitting for a blog about someone who is a textile artist/traveler. And I thought to myself, oh! I could make a stitched world map! Huzzah!

But how the hell do I make this.

It being digital, I had a go at trying to make this with ProCreate on my iPad. However, while I drew a fairly nice looking rendition of the map, I couldn’t figure out how to get the realistic texture of stitches onto it. I scoured the interwebs for ideas, but could not find any way to make this possible in the way I had it envisioned in my mind.

So I decided to actually embroider it instead. How will I take this physical embroidery piece and turn it into a digital rendition? Not a clue. But I’m not there yet. I’ve barely just finished South America and Australia, so can we just hang on with the technical stuff?

 

South America, la tierra de oro.
My Aussie friend was much dismayed when he realized I had made this blue and gold instead of green and gold. S’oz!

 

 

I refrain from showing a picture of the entire map at this point, because it’s mostly just a bunch of pencil marks with random blue lines across it. I pause on that so that you may have the full of effect of being completely in awe once it is complete.

For those who want to get into embroidery, I highly recommend trying to organize your shit. One of my first purchases after the hoop and a packet of embroidery floss (yes they call it floss…) was an organizer as pictured. God it has been a lifesaver for my sanity.

 

And even then, as you can see to the far right, chaos still follows me.

 

 

 

Aptly decorated Floss Box!

If embroidery is intriguing to you, but you’re intimidated (for some reason) to try it, then I don’t recommend you go to Instagram.

There are some accounts on there of embroiderers that will bring tears to  your eyes with their beauty and precision. Or is that just me?

More progress to come on this, and hopefully this header will be all that I’m dreaming of!

Sam

 

 

 

On Stitching, Bitching & Magic

I have intentionally not deemed this blog a travel blog. Because it isn’t. It may include travel, because I do that a lot. I also didn’t want to call it a sewing blog either, because while I may include sewing things in it, that’s not all I do. I guess this may fall under the lifestyle category, because I plan to include both, and will write about…well, my life. So sure! That!

The first time I saw Sailor Moon at the tender age of 5, I knew I was a goner. The music, the magic, the girl power; it was life changing. Since then, I’ve remained a lifelong fan, and my otaku fervor over the years has bounced between me praying to Jesus to turn me into Sailor Jupiter (true story) and me eye-rolling so hard at the convention crowd that I see my own skull (stop throwing random Japanese words into the conversation!).

The first time I used a sewing machine was at the impressionable age of 19, and I knew I was a goner then too. I can look back at my journal from that time, and I asked myself if my desire to make costumes (for Sailor Moon cosplays, naturally) was just a fleeting idea for a hobby that I had, or if I was really, truly interested in it.

It has been 6 years since I’ve started sewing, and it has grown from just a hobby to an all-consuming passion. I can hark back to the first things I had ever sewn, learning everything from YouTube and just guessing for everything else. I employed what I now call the Hack & Sew method (which I still employ on occasion). This involves basically drawing a giant rectangle, trying it on, and hacking/sewing away at it until it resembles the thing you were going for. Some examples from my beginner days…

It wasn’t until I moved to Chicago and starting taking classes at the amazing Lillstreet that I learned the official (and far more efficient) way to sew and then some. I took classes in dyes, embroidery, screen printing, and basically anything else I could afford. My thirst for knowledge was unquenchable. Must. Make. More. Things!

I know that my path has something to do with fashion. Maybe not high fashion. There are plenty of designers that make highly conceptualized work, and I respect that. But I am much happier making classically feminine silhouettes or retro-looking things. Basically, I love to make clothes that I always wished I could have had. I am a freak about customizing (if my old Converse or my patch/pin obsession are any indication), and expressing myself through what I wear with as much DIY as possible. As long as I can work with textiles in some capacity, and continue to make things, I will be happy as a clam. The making is truly a magical process, and I enjoy it every step of the way (even if I’m telling the project to go fuck itself…I swear I’m still enjoying it on some level!). To gauge my growth over the last 6 years, I shall display a small gallery of recent pieces (Hack & Sew only utilized once!):

I’m wondering if doing some tutorials and things up on the YouTube channel would be cool? I did say I wanted to start vlogging as well. I do want to kind of keep a consistency and coherency about this blog, not just have it be a random mess of stuff (like my journal ayyy). Does a sewing/travel/rad girl doing rad stuff blog exist?

It does now.

 

Sam

On Road Trips & Going with the Flow

I love a good road trip. If there’s one thing that can be said about the US, it’s that it’s the perfect place to take one. Sure we don’t have good public trans, or even a decent, reasonably priced railway system. But we do have amazing interstate highways. The American highway is like an endless, winding river, and can take you through all kinds of amazing nature that you’d completely miss via plane travel.

So I took a road trip earlier this week. A small one, just an hour and a half north, to Flagstaff. I used to hate living in Arizona, but I’ve grown to hate it less now that I have 4 wheels to traverse it.

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Am I in Wyoming?

The road north to Flagstaff is like going into another state practically. If you’ve been to Phoenix you know that it’s pretty barren of what most people consider natural beauty (i.e. trees and greenery in general). Northern Arizona gives us Phoenicians a rare site, such as this.

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A tree. In autumn. WHAT.

I spent the better part of my day in Flagstaff with a dear friend, also named Samantha. We sat in a coffee shop and co-wrote a song about her chai. Then I got to browsing about her notebook, and discovered this little gem.

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Sam’s Goal List – DIFS: Do It For the Story

Sam and I met during a 3 week-long ESL summer camp we both taught at in Sedona. There, the staff truly impressed upon me the importance of “going with the flow.” Sam is kind of the embodiment of that (the girl can literally not make plans a day in advance. love you!). And I have been trying to embrace the concept more and more these days, because I may take a while to make a decision, but once I do, I really don’t like to change it.

Must repeat: Go with the flow, go with the flow, go with the flow…

My plan, as outlined in my last post, was to go to Latin America for a few months. Afterwards, I wanted to go to Berlin, to go back to school (uh, it’s free, hello) and just kind of get my life started in terms of finding a cool place where my ideas can be fostered by a creative community. However, the Latin America idea has caused quite a bit of unexpected friction in the fam. And so, only partially reluctantly, I am switching my plans. Rotating, rather than cancelling.

Come January, I’m moving to Berlin, and merely postponing the Lat Am trip. Honestly, I can’t complain, because I still get to move to Germany. This is one of those small sacrifices that must be made in the name of peace and harmony (tho not a sacrifice I could even begin to complain about). I had a friend do a tarot reading for me (clearly the only way to make any important life decision), and it turns out, this seems like a good choice according to the universe. So I feel at peace with it, and also very excited. Great, now I have to learn German — probably the only language I’ve never had any desire to learn. It sounds like you’re trying to speak Swedish while trying to chew like 10 pieces of gum.

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The sky on fire, as seen from my car.

My tarot reading said that I was in a situation where I was beginning to feel worn down and stagnant, and that I had a lot of creative energy that was trying to be unleashed. The cards suggested that I may be considering a drastic or impulsive choice, but that this choice may be the best thing for me actually, and that I should eschew all self-doubt.

I don’t believe in God. But I do believe in the universe, and that the universe brings you certain situations where we must decide which fork in the road to take. I feel like the flow is taking me in a very obvious direction so repeat after me:

Go with the flow, go with the flow, go with the flow…

Sam

P.S. I’m not sure this is even a concept in Germany, but mit dem Strom schwimmen I guess.