Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Old Sewing Books

In my nearly endless wandering around Hodges Library at UT (the library's big and it hides its books in deep, difficult to navigate corners), I found a wall of books on textiles, design, and sewing. Nearly all of the books, with the exception of some highlighting current celeb designers, feature copyrights dating back to the 1910s.

The audience for these books is women, unequivocally, unquestionably, unalterably - and not just women, but the only kind of women allowed to exist in American society in 1910. Leafing through the yellowed pages of diagrams and sizing charts, I read little snippets of unasked for advice written throughout the books. Here's an excerpt taken from a chapter of Mary Picken's The Secrets of Distinctive Dress called "The First Requisite"(copyright, 1918):

"Once, at a Y.W.C.A. bathing pool, I was shocked to see a vest so unclean that it looked exactly like the color of the cement floor. When the girl who wore it was dressed for the street, she was half presentable; but, though I met her many times afterwards, the vest was the first thing I thought of, and I could never summon the respect I should like to have had for her."

And another:

"Elderly mothers have come to realize that they look ten years younger and are ten times more comfortable on a warm summer's day in a pretty, soft white dress, and it is pleasing to see a group of such mothers dressed in pretty, light wash dresses, as they appear many times as attractive as a group of young women."


"In a dietetics class held in the forenoon in a classroom, a young woman of good family wore a bedraggled afternoon dress, doubtless with the thought of wearing it out and getting as much good out of it as possible. The dress was distracting to the other members of the class, and the criticism she subjected herself to was costly - more costly than a simple businesslike dress befitting the occasion."

And one last one:

"In America, there are no such class distinctions. Here daughters from every country are blended in the making of American women; but even in this great Democracy appropriateness of dress should be understood and observed."

It's subtle, isn't it? If I had to deal with all these soft, guiding rules every day of my life and bear the criticism for detracting from these "guides," I would feel clubbed to death before a week was out. Certainly my modern goggles cannot view this without the rising hackles of feminity; that should be expected. But reading this as any person of any age, one should, I think, be provoked in the same way.

Every line reads to me like this: Be a good girl. Be a good girl. Be a good girl. Be a good girl. Be a good girl. I don't deny the value of lovely clothing and its power to create a mood, an authority, and to give the wearer a higher overall look. But it's the motivations here that are killing me.

There's more to this - an essay in it, I should think. I'll let you know when I write that one. (Note: here I sit in my $4 Target pants, my husband's old sweatshirt, and slippers. Mary Pickens is turning over in her grave.)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Scenes from a Pig Roast

All hail the pig roast. And thanks to the lovely Gilmore family of Pigeon Forge for letting us join in their annual pig roast event. Michael and I thoroughly enjoyed it and are thinking in terms of what annual event we should begin a tradition of. And of course it made us think of the crawfish boil last summer that Nat and Zach had. I hope that's an annual tradition as well.

It was good to see friends and be outside, wrapped up in pillows of campfire. The roast was held at a barn a little ways down from where Birkin's parents live. Getting to their house involved a precariously narrow stretch of dirt road winding up a slight ascent of mountain. No street signs, of course, because that would make life too easy, but we made it there unscathed.

We pulled into a field of cars where pumpkin carving was well underway. Not long after our arrival, the pig was pulled from the ground, then plopped on a long table where an army of men hacked away at it, making quick work of deskinning and removing fat. I was struck by all the layers - a fact made all the more prominent as Katie, the med student, was naming the different muscular stratification as it was pulled away.

Guests pulled up a hay bale and ate macaroni-n-cheese, baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, endless salad of infinite varieties, and piles and piles of pink pig flesh. I'm rarely in such a friendly group of people. Every person within a foot of me wanted to know who I was, what I did for a living, and how I liked Tennessee. It was the introduction to Tennessee I've been waiting for.

There was an outhouse of the variety one usually only sees in movies from the 70s or something. Yes, I took that picture from the inside. Don't judge me.

After eating and chatting, the band began. They set up in the open barn and people danced all around the fire. It was a lovely, delightful bacchanal. I can't wait 'til next year.

The Obama O'Lantern was a highlight for me. The artistry! The political statement! The likeness!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Dress Two

Here is my second dress, same pattern. It took me two and a half hours as compared to the several days the first dress took. Ay Caramba. That's the difference between struggling through a near indecipherable set of directions and having finally cracked the code. Seriously, who writes those things? I think they have monkeys writing them. No, seriously. I think they do. Monkeys in tutus that they sewed with their own monkey hands.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Project Become a Good Sewer

The word sewer is funny. I meant that title to mean "one who sews" and not a "receptable for waste." Now that we have that clarification out of the way, here's where I'm going with that.

I started a sewing class at the adult home ec center here in Knoxville. It's pretty cool. It reminds of Craft Night with my girlfriends in Kalamazoo, minus the free-flowing wine and Benny falling asleep. My first project is a dress that took me forever. Here I am in it:

I worked really hard on it. I like it. I am proud.

Sunday, October 5, 2008


... in which Sarah Silverman requests that you visit your Nana in Florida to make sure she votes for Barack Obama.

... in which Sarah Silverman refers to Barack as circum-super-cised!

The Great Schlep from The Great Schlep on Vimeo.