Fashion advice for students of Greek


ebay item 8305987417

Marian went to see a languid Mr. Worth to order a new gown. "He was standing pensively by the window in a long puce-colored dressing gown with two exquisite black spaniels—twins—sitting on two green velvet chairs. This is what he wants me to have: the main dress gold color, the velvet only to lay the lace on and at the bottom in front. I have become bored with the idea of getting any new gowns, but Henry says, 'People who study Greek must take pains with their dress.'"

from Henry Adams: A Biography.

Marian is Marian Adams, Henry's wife (also known as "Clover"). Marian committed suicide in 1885. I'm afraid to say that Henry Adams, for all his scholarship, sounded quite difficult to live with and a prime example of the kind of man who believes women make fine ornaments or pets, but are certainly not people. The statue above is the memorial Henry had built in Rock Creek Cemetery; click on the image to read more about Marian and the memorial——both are very interesting.

Off-Label Uses for Bicycles


stella houndstooth check fabric

I'm heading home today, and while I can't wait to be home, I love traveling. It's not just the possibility of finding new and amazing fabric stores, and seeing friends I haven't seen in a while, or even just the appreciation that yes, the light IS different in different places, even though it's all coming from the same sun. What I like about traveling is that it seems to reboot my brain a bit. I have a lot of good ideas while traveling, including the idea to buy this fabric, which I can't wait to make into a skirt. (With brown piped pockets, of course.)

I also love hotels. (Well, I don't love the one I'm in right now, because even though the room is HUGE and there was really nice soap, I have the heat set to 85 degrees and the vent is still spitting out a tepid exhale. But hotels in general, I love.) There's something about the anonymous and low-key surroundings of a hotel room (combined, usually, with an unaccustomed late-day ingestion of caffeine) that flips a switch in my head, which means that about five times a night, JUST as I'm about to drop off to sleep, the thermostat in my brain turns on the fan and I HAVE to wake up and write something down. Luckily, the hotels provide little pads and pens for just this purpose! Also, I can write in the dark.

Of course, the things I write down tend to be highly metaphorical (one day I will have described everything existing in terms everything else existing, and will then be stuck in the bell tower of my own personal tower of Babel, looking down at the disarray below), like the title of this post. But it makes sense to me! And that's what matters, right? That, and having the idea to make this fabric into a skirt.

Secret Lives of Dresses Vol. 10


secret lives of dresses plaid red dress

Sometimes, when the hunched shoulders of the mountain behind her cast their long shadow over the little ranch, she stands in the doorway, and looks down to where the road disappears into the butter-light of the valley.

She doesn't just stand there, of course; she's always doing five things at once. But when she stands in the doorway, looking out, the cup she's drying gets very, very dry.

She doesn't do it too often, or at least not too often when she's wearing me. I don't know what she does in her other dresses. Maybe she does this once a month, when the light's right. More often in the winter, of course, when the shadows are longer and there's less to do on the ranch.

She'll stand there, drying that cup, and looking off down the road. I don't think the road has a name, or at least, I've never heard one. It's the only road, so calling it "the road" is good enough. I've never been down it. I came up it in a box, carried by her husband, who picked me up at the post office in town, or so I guess. He gets the mail, if there is any, every month or so. I wasn't really paying attention on my way up. I would have if I'd have known I'd never see much of anything but the kitchen of this ranch.

It's not a bad kitchen. It's very clean, and everything's handy, and the stove is good, but there aren't any extras. Not a frill, not a speck of paint not necessary to keep things decent. No curtains; you don't need curtains when you've got no neighbors. The floorboards are polished only by use, and the walls are whitewashed every year whether they need it or not. But there are no pictures on them.

It's quiet here. Well, not exactly quiet; her husband's voice booms, and of course the children chatter like the magpies they are. But she's quiet. I hardly ever hear her voice. Sometimes I feel her chest rising to speak, but she almost always stops, unless it's just to tell the children, softly, to take their elbows off the table, or to stop speaking with their mouths full. The oldest is six; they're talking about her going to school in the fall.

If she's alone, she'll hum. I like it when she does that. It feels good. She never sings out loud, though, and I wish she would. I bet at least some of those songs have words.

Her being quiet makes me quiet, and the other dresses too. We never talk to each other. We hang in the closet on our own hooks, in our own thoughts. I think about the road, and what might be down it. You can't see another house from the doorway, and I've never seen a car go by on the road, or someone walking, even. Looking out that way, your husband out somewhere on the ranch and the children playing in the back yard, you might reasonably think you're the only person in the world.

She has a treasure, a good-luck charm she keeps in her pocket. It goes in every morning, and she puts it on her dresser every night. I can't believe the children haven't gotten to it, but so far they've left it alone. It's a little silver sixpence. How it got all the way out here, I don't know. Maybe it was her bride's sixpence, for luck? All I know is that when she looks out down the road like that, she'll sometimes put the cup down and hold the sixpence, tight, just for a minute. Then she closes the door and starts the cornbread for dinner.

I think someday she's going to leave the cup, and the dishtowel, and step out into the yard. She'll close the door carefully behind her, and just start walking towards the road. She won't look back. I hope she's wearing me when she does it.

A Indeterminate Amount of Time Late and a Comparable Amount of Money Short


brown dot dress

I totally missed this dress. Lisa sent me the auction link, but the auction ended, oh, hours ago. I don't know if I would have won it, but I might have bid. I might have bid A LOT. It's brown polka dots! They are my kryptonite, if by "kryptonite" you mean "substance that causes the spending of large amounts of money."

I've been on the West coast for days and days and days now, and I don't know how you Pacific Time Zone people DO it. I have been chasing the tail of the Central and Eastern Time Zones, huffing and puffing to keep up! (Sorry, I don't usually have much dealings with the laconic and self-reliant peoples of the Mountain Time Zone.) And forget about the UK; by the time I get back to THEM, they've been through an entire other news cycle, featuring their special UK-only ludicrously dressed celebrities. My pitiful little electronic mutterings are then just the rustling of old papers in a drafty corner.

Anyway, I've been out here doing various and sundry things, including doing some stuff for a really fun documentary (not ABOUT dresses, although I do WEAR a dress in it, about WORDS), seeing wonderful people (you know, the kind where you can go out to dinner and talk about television and books and Legos and the inherently comedic nature of the deviled egg and then you leave feeling like you've just built a little roadside shrine to happiness together? Those kind of people?), and answering email sent HOURS and HOURS earlier.

And none of those things were bidding on brown polka-dot dresses. I guess I'll live without it …

Sewing-related etymology

From the marvelous publication THE OLDIE, which purports to be for the elderly but whose demo is actually the merely cranky of any age:

An old seaman named Tom Carr, who sailed from about every fishing port in England, Scotland, and Ireland, once sent me the word riv, a verb which means to sew roughly. He first heard it in the fishing port of Killybegs in Donegal many years ago; it was used only be the ancients, survivors of the days of sail. From Old Nors rifa, to tack together.

[from Diarmain Muirithe's October WORDS column]

Now, not being an etymologist of any stripe myself (one thing working on dictionaries teaches you is to be highly suspicious of every etymology), I can't say anything about what the Old Norse did or didn't say, but I love this verb and would like to suggest a revival. Rivving is what you do when you sew up something quickly and sloppily–a garment you need for something but don't intend to wear often, a fast alteration not intended to hold forever, a mend that's only barely better than the flaw it's fixing. "Oh this? I just rivved it up. I should really take it apart again and do it right …"

Why should crusty old sailors have all the fun? They won't mind if we borrow this word …

One that got away


Simplicity 4147

Well, my resolution to NOT buy any patterns for a while was sorely tested by this one — tested to the point of bidding on it. However, the universe saved me from myself, and some person who had not resolved not to buy more patterns (as far as I know) got it. Isn't it dreamy, though [sigh]?

The seller, Lisa's Pieces, has tons of other great patterns, in a range of sizes …

I'm traveling now, and besides reveling in the warm temperatures (I'm in California), this has also been a great trip for Positive Sewing Reinforcement. PSR is when someone gives you a compliment on something you've made (and are, at that moment, wearing). Thursday I was hugged–yes, that's right, HUGGED–but a young man of the punk persuasion who said he was moved to that display of physical affection by my camouflage skirt. (And considering I am old enough, in a strictly-biologically-possible way, to have been his mother, I believed him.) Three random folks complimented Friday's Duro, and the girl behind the counter at the In-and-Out burger (omg, everything you've heard about the greatness of In-and-Out? All true!) last night came away from her station to tell me she liked my Liberty neurons dress.

Of course, all this PSR just moves me to even greater effort. "If they like *this*," I think, "boy, would they like what I have planned NEXT!" The only problem is … where will it all end?

Great Dresses in Mediocre Literature (a continuing series)


gone with the wind barbecue party dress

The troublesome question was–what dress should she wear to the barbecue? What dress would best set off her charms and make her most irresistible to Ashley?

The rose organdie with long pink sash was becoming, but she had worn it last summer when Melanie visited Twelve Oaks and she'd be sure to remember it. And might be catty enough to mention it. The black bombazine, with its puffed sleeves and princess lace collar, set off her white skin superbly, but it did make her look a trifle elderly… It would never do to appear sedate and elderly before Melanie's sweet youthfulness. The lavender barred muslin was beautiful with those wide inserts of lace and net about the hem, but it had never suited her type. It would suit Carreen's delicate profile and wishy-washy expression perfectly, but Scarlett felt that it made her look like a schoolgirl. It would never do to appear schoolgirlish beside Melanie's poised self. The green plaid taffeta, frothing with flounces and each flounce edged in green velvet ribbon, was most becoming, in fact her favorite dress, for it darkened her eyes to emerald. But there was unmistakably a grease spot on the front of the basque. Of course, her brooch could be pinned over the spot, but perhaps Melanie had sharp eyes. There remained varicolored cotton dresses which Scarlett felt were not festive enough for the occasion, ball dresses and the green sprigged muslin she had worn yesterday. But it was an afternoon dress. It was not suitable for a barbecue, for it had only tiny puffed sleeves and the neck was low enough for a dancing dress. But there was nothing else to do but wear it. After all she was not ashamed of her neck and arms and bosom, even if it was not correct to show them in the morning.

from Gone With The Wind, by Margaret Mitchell.

with thanks to Julian, who sent in the excerpt …