skirting past august straight into september

August 2021

Pretty much the whole content of this newsletter is about this patch skirt I made. It's image heavy. Here's the link to the original on patreon.

Click on an image to view fullsize!

Hahaha hello!! I’m typing on my laptop again this month because it has been fixed and it feels really lovely! Hope y'all are having a good Virgo season so far, I sure am!

Things are a muted chaos over here in our household. We came back from Olympia (where we had such an incredible time) and immediately had to put together our 2-page-spread todo list and then our 5-week-countdown calendar. As of this post’s posting, we’ll have precisely two weeks left in Moscow! Wild that my next transmission will come to you from a 26-year-old Fran living in Germany! (That’s the other benchmark between here and the next newsletter; I’ll be having my birthday the day we arrive!) And to set the lately-very-oft-repeated spiel in stone here, “We’ll be in Berlin from September 15th to mid-July, then we’ll come back to Moscow for a week or two, gather our stored things, then move to Minneapolis!”

So anyway, the main thing I’m going to talk about here this month is a special project year and dear to me heart that I finished this month! It was in good company: A tarot bag, a big important complicated mend job, a not-so-big-but-still-important mend job, and an apron logo cover-up. In time you’ll be able to read about all of them on my website, but, the centerpiece today is this beautiful messy patchwork skirt!

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This skirt project is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time, I might even venture that it was in concept stages for a whole year! Last September on the Peppermint Magazine newsletter, they sent out a new free pattern: the Pocket Skirt. I thought, “hmmm yes I have been wanting to make another skirt, this is the one!” and then promptly stowed the idea away in a pocket to percolate. Fast forward to last month. We’ve got a sewing circle and I’ve got no portable handicrafts to bring with me! I decide to start hand quilting the fabric for this skirt idea I’ve had kicking around. Let’s start our tour there…

Starting in the top left, do you see that pale green? This rare fabric appears only once on the skirt, and it hails from the high reaches of the UofI sewing studio. One of my projects in my sewing class was pajama pants, and after rifling around the spare fabric pile I found this nice cotton/polyester blend. Of course, I kept the scraps from my project but I decided the synthetic wasn’t good for patches, so this is all that’s left!

Underneath that is a fabric that appears several times. It comes from the first jacket I covered in patches, a coat I took ownership over from an ex-girlfriend. A surplus green situation with an oversized collar, patch pockets, a cinch waist, and black pleather arms. Not great, but better than anything else I had at the time. After we broke-up I found a patch company on instagram and started filling it up. Eventually the pleather started shredding itself apart, so I unpicked the stitching on the sleeves. It lived on as a vest for a while until I found my current patch jacket, a much sturdier tan affair with six quality pockets and a corduroy collar. I unstitched all my carefully sewn patches, then cut the old jacket up into patches to be reused. Patches to patches, Dust to dust!

(oops, all the photos of the jacket with sleeves were too dysphoric, sorry!)

Next to that green duo is a lovely olive-colored heavy-weight linen. Olivia got this fabric for a pair of pants (a pattern from the phoenix Elizabeth Suzanne), and had enough extra for me to make a boxy top (our second Seamwork Bo)!

Below we have four different fabrics in five strips. The bookends on either side are an unbleached flax linen we got from Elizabeth Suzanne as they were going out of business inside COVID. We got a whole lot of it, and it went into the Peppermint Wrap Skirt I made, and a dress I made for Olivia, and a pocket apron Olivia made for herself! And there is still so much left…

The lilac linen next in line is an old favorite. It became two tanktops and the first boxy Bo top, with scraps living as patches in quite a few of our other garments.

The yellow checkered section is an easy breezy cotton that came off the bottom of a friend’s (Laura’s) pair of overalls that I made into a romper, more on the importance of this later. Unfortunately the alteration was from when I wasn’t good at doing before and after photos, so I haven’t got any documentation of them! Then, along the bottom, a heavy-weight pine green linen that Olivia got for a pair of shorts!

This whole rectangle I french-seamed by hand. Wrong-sides together, stitch, trim, fold/shimmy/finger press, stitch. It looked a little weak and wonky to be honest, but I figured it’d hold up ok. At this point my fingers were catching up with my mind, and I was having trouble imaging what fabric to put on next when I didn’t even know what the pattern pieces looked like. Conveniently, an interim was provided by our Olympia trip, and when we returned a part of the to-do listing was squaring away projects I had left. The underwear and my work shirt mend were nixed, A hem, a take-in, and a whole pair of pants were postponed to Minnesota. What remained was ranked, then slotted into days on the countdown calendar. The first skirt step was actually getting the sewing pattern, and it turns out it wasn’t constructed at all like I thought it would be! The pattern had a front and back panel, and then two extra long side panels that get folded up to make the side pockets. I traced the panels from screen to paper, then spent an evening planning out the placement of all of my fabrics, pulling from the pile of options I’d selected the night before.

The hand-stitched rectangle came to rest near the bottom of the back panel, so let’s continue our tour from there.

At the top of the order is more of the unbleached Elizabeth Suzann flax linen, and to its left the lilac linen too. But to the right, what is this new creature? Not a linen but a cotton, part of a big pile of fabrics I bought at the Joann’s in Albuquerque for pillowcase making plans. I had inherited like, six naked pillows from a friend, and of course I moved all of them with us. I only ended up making two while I was there, but many of the fabrics have stayed. For some reason I didn’t use this dense floral for either of them, I think my tastes have grown more sophisticated as time has passed. Isn’t this a lovely fabric though? I can’t believe I didn’t see it before.

The machine stitching section of this project was speedy and great fun, with only a few fuck-ups (which I’ll point out as we reach them…) The join where the three fabrics meet near the top of the back panel is a weird one, and I ended up just following my gut on how to do it, and while it’s not perfect, I think it came out pretty good.

Below the trio and along the right of the hand-stitch section is more from my original patch jacket. It’s cool to me the way that the patches protected the fabric underneath from sunbleaching, so just barely visible is the trace of the crown of a big skull patch and a little circle that said “friend” (the first patches I ever got). Can you see it in the photo? The crown curves convex from the left and the circle is in the top right.

Moving down is an unbelievably charming green cotton fabric with little cats in a frenetic marching band situation. A few years ago we went to a fiber arts festival out near Viola as a sewing circle field trip, and way out at the back corner was a little stand selling vintage found fabrics. This is from that!

Next down is another from the pillowcase haul. A window of beautiful baby blue with sweet pale pink blossoms. Somehow I’ve never made anything out of it, but wow, what a lovely fabric! I honestly wish I’d put more in, it’s so nice to look at.

And then below that we’ve got a little bit of rich vibrant blue linen, left over from a hem on a Flax brand tanktop that I found in Albuquerque for a deal but ended up getting rid of recently because the fabric was cut on the bias and I couldn’t handle it! It baffles me still that a reputable brand like Flax would make a garment on the bias. Was it a mistake? A mystery…

Next is some more of that lovely checkered cotton from Laura’s romper, and then all along the bottom is a strip that I intentionally kept long and intact so I could re-use it, not having any idea what for. This is the first feature from the first time I was paid money in exchange for alterations! A funny situation really, the lease on our last place was going to be up and we still weren’t sure if we’d be going to Germany last August, so this new friend Alex said we could live at her apartment while she went, uh, somewhere else for a while because she was going stir crazy living alone in that early spring-summer pandemic space. The rent was too much for us, so we haggled down to less on the condition that I alter a bunch of stuff for her. I went ahead with the alteration, then she decided she was just going to leave Moscow! A logistical problem for us at the time, but it all worked out because we ended up living where we are now and she just paid me for the alterations! This white strip was left over from a hemmed leg on a most luxurious pair of linen pants. All of her items would so gorgeous, it was a great honor and pleasure to work with them.

Here we are at the right side panel. Starting from the bottom we find another piece from Alex’s things. The striped navy/gray come from what I think were a pair of shorts that weren’t short enough. Olivia was opposed to including the stripes in the skirt at all, but I was attached to the idea!

Above we see the dense floral and the flax linen, and along them a pale green pattern of overlapping leaves running up the side of them. Not only does this have a story, but it’s one of the mistakes left visible in the final skirt! For a while we were having monthly craft workshops through the sewing circle, and one frigid afternoon in early December we got together to make beeswax wraps in our apartment. Quite a few people showed up, and we ended up with an impressive production line (relaxed and cozy of course). Some folks brushed on the goop in the living room, some people hung the wraps to dry in the office, another group was in the heat of the action at the oven. Lots of folks brought their own fabrics, and this little leafy number got left behind. I’m not sure whose it was, but it’s mine now! The error here is that it’s one of the many moments I did that first stitch right-sides-together instead of wrong-sides-together, so the visible side is actually the wrong side, I just didn’t catch this one until the whole skirt was done! Whoops!

These leaves and another strip of lilac linen frame one of the centerpieces of the skirt: a beautiful embroidered butterfly that I found in a little tin of trinkets that used to be my mom’s. The tin had a Lisa Frank-adjacent tiger on the top, and inside was a small metal shop shuriken, a holographic cat token, several letters, an empty commemorative card from the 1988 LA Olympics, several photos of my birth, and lots of other stuff I can’t remember. The patch is a very loose weave, likely make for embroidery, and the edges were covered with yellowed tape to stop it from fraying. I had to trim those edges off to set it in place, and it was so scary for that little moment when the edges were all exposed. I worry that it will degrade by being in the skirt, but what else would I have done with it?

From here we dive down into the pocket and back out again. Inside is that same pine green linen Olivia made those shorts out of, topped with another instance of the patch jacket (this one with the tag stitch visible, you can see it in the top left), and with the waistband enclosed in the same flax linen.

Now immediately visible on this side (at least to me) is some glaring evidence of a mistake: a big long zigzag stitch down the side. What happened was I had all the pieces stitched together and I confidently went to cut the pattern. I got through almost the whole thing before I realized I’d cut it out of the wrong pattern. I was devastated! Such a simple and stupid mistake to make, and now all of my carefully portioned fabrics weren’t enough to fill the space I needed! I had to step away and collect myself. After some deliberation, I decided that the red side would be fine if I just added some more fabric on, but on the other side I was just too attached to what I had and decided to simply zigzag the cut piece back on. It might not be the most structurally sound in the long run, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it!

Starting again from the top are two more pieces of the flax linen, arranged in what I might call a pleasing diagonal that followed the shape of the scraps. These are joined to another nice long chunk of pocket linen. The olive from Olivia’s pants stretches down into the pocket and is met on the upswing by a few different fabrics. Furthest to the left is the thing that caused the zigzag: more patch jacket fabric. This one had a nicely centered outline from a circular patch that used to live there that I absent-mindedly cut through. :^( I had no choice but to stitch it back on or I would risk losing too much of the circle in the seam allowance! Don’t you think that justifies such a huge and obvious stitch? Anyway, next to it is a sumptuous strip of baby blue pillowcase, and it goes down with more of the dense floral to meet a big chunk of lilac linen. Running down the right length of these is another single-instance fabric: a slice of a once loved pair of jeans.

This length was once the lower part of a leg. If you look closely you can see some deep creases nearer the bottom. These are repercussions from too much time spent with my knees severely bent in them. You know, curling up in a ball when you sit in a chair? Using jeans as lounge pants? Squatting a lot? I’m fairly sure I found them at the Ross in Coeur d’Alene, and I remember being so entranced because they were the first pair of pants I found that fit me! At first I thought I’d stolen them from the same ex-girlfriend as the jacket, but no, they were properly mine. I must’ve worn them every day we were in Paris, so I thought I’d be able to find a photo of them in the 13 albums I have on facebook from the trip but, haha, how could I forget that I took almost all the photos and was also, lol, more dysphoric than I’d ever been in my life! So, no photos, sorry. I wore the hell out of them though (probably because they fit like women’s pants. I cuffed them non-stop. This meant that if I ever un-cuffed them they looked like bell bottoms. They had a rivetted button fly, and the highest button popped off in a bar bathroom in Amsterdam. Needless to say, they were worn out a long time ago. I fixed the button at the sewing circle, and in a fit of experimentation, I decided to transform them from low-rise to high-waisted by frankensteining another pants’ waist to the top of the existing waist. Can you guess how that turned out? Very badly! It looked like I was just wearing two pairs of pants… And so they reached the end of their life, and I cut off the fabric that seemed alive enough to use for patches. Dust to dust!!

Moving on down, this is the first proper “fabric patch”, and actually the most recent patch I acquired. Some friends were having a yard sale this summer and I stopped by on my way home from work. Many things enticed me, but I could hardly justify buying things, so I settled on this single lonely patch. Fiona asked for a dollar, I had none, she shrugged and said I could just have it. It says “Copse not cops”, and I’m so charmed by the simplicity of that message. Like yes I hate cops but mainly I love small groups of trees.

And to finish the bottom is a little strip of the bias-cut blue linen from the Flax tank top. The habdash zigzag did a number on this fabric down here at the bottom, so I’m considering stitching on something to cover it up, but time will tell on that one.

Filling in the space that I cut off on the right side is some more of that olive linen, finished with a sliver of the orange sister to the exuberant vintage green marching band cotton, rupturing the rhythm of bottom hem strips. More on this funky sister in a bit.

And finally, the front panel! I’m so satisfied by how nicely the corners got lined up on this one, I think it looks really slick, and I did save this one for last in assembly too so that I’d be most warmed up and have the cleanest stitches.

Right off the bottom we’ve got a big chunk of what was once the very bottom hem of Laura’s romper (notice the original side seam still intact). I wanted this here because I know Laura loves to live life in her clothes, and that means they can get a lil’ scuffed! I was originally considering a piece that was a little more worn through and dirt stained, but I decided the side seam was a nicer detail. The spirit is there though. Laura is a person who has always expanded my capacity to live fully and truly and sincerely and without inhibition, and I wanted that permission at my boot-line for whatever muck might come my way.

Up from there is another beautiful chunk of the baby blue pillowcase paired with the main example of the vintage orange sister I just mentioned. It’s got bunnies and chickens! A cat reading a book and a forlorn looking dog! Some lumpy animal with little ears that I cannot identify! and best of all I did carefully center a nice squawking goose!

But I’m sure your eyes were already drawn to the piece above that, the real conceptual centerpiece of the whole project. It’s the “Mend and Make Amends” patch from the Far Woods (the same sisters who put out the beautiful book Mending Life.) On that special pre-pandemo xmas, Olivia and I crossed our surprise gift streams by each making separate orders from the Far Woods for each other. I got an alpaca sticker for Olivia and Olivia got me this beautiful patch (and a matching sticker to boot!) Anyway, there’s something in the phrase that speaks to me about “making do” too. I know it’s the same simple beauty of so many quilting projects, but it’s just so incredible to me that one garment can hold so many histories, all at once, putting them in real-time conversation! I know it doesn’t make normal essayistic sense to tuck the thesis here in the middle end, but isn’t that how a quilt would do it? It’s all throughout, and if you look at the right spot at the right angle, suddenly there it is leaping out at you :^)

The patch is flanked by those fun loving green animals because yes, the mending and amending is a joyous thing too.

Moving up is another square of baby blue floral, equal in size to the two sturdy squares next to it (a brown and an off-white). These are more twinges of Elizabeth Suzanne history, two parts of a swatch set Olivia got far back in her slow fashion journey. She kept the black swatch for real repair patching, but released these two into the garment.

Up along the side are two slim pieces of the dense floral (I didn’t at first allow enough so I had to add more), and if you look closely you’ll see a topstitch on the right side. After I assembled all the pieces there was a weird excess of fabric there, so I decided to simply stitch it down, and it completely fixed the problem. No fuss no muss!

These last two fabrics are a few more rare solo appearances. Next to the dense floral is the elusive and sought after “not-very-dense floral”, which was the first fabric from the pillowcase haul that I actually did make into a pillowcase! Hand stitched on our floor in Albuquerque, without a doubt sitting on at least a few of those six naked pillows. And the final piece to hold the waistband in front is a wonderfully thick corduroy left over from a fairly severe overall hem for Olivia. I like how it kind of looks like a bib.

And that’s all! The elastic for the waistband was also left over from a pair of pants Olivia made, so truly all of it came from just holding onto things over the last few years. So much fun to make and so deeply gratifying to see it all come into being. I was honestly a bit worried it’d look like a fucking disaster when I finished laying things out, but to my relief it all seems to work when it’s on my body. It is a bit scratchy still, which is to be expected with putting so many mismatched things together. It’s mainly just having all those stitches crisscrossing my legs, but I’m optimistic it’ll soften up. Are you wondering why in the photos of me wearing the finished skirt it looks a little crumpled? Well, here’s a story to close the tale for you:

The night I finished it, a roaring storm swept through Moscow. When we came back from Olympia we had a brief few smoke-free days but sure as silt it came creeping in again and stayed there, AQI wobbling between 60 and 220. So the rain was a big deal. We were upstairs doing our after dark crafting when it started coming down. I threw the window open and knew I had to go! I put the skirt on, my sweatshirt, my raincoat, my rainboots, my new wool socks, my hat, and I set out. Across our parking lot and up another, I stomped around to find that spot between the buildings where I can slip up the steep slope to escape the built world for a moment. My head clears the ridge, opening me up to a blast in the face by the sheer force of the wind coming up the hill on the other side. At the crest is a path perpendicular and for a moment I consider the usual left, where it skirts up past an apartment building at a higher level, but I decide the right, for the first time. The path slopes down a tad and from this decisive vantage I can see a shack all run down, same as it has been, and I feel so compelled as to try taking shelter there for at least a moment. I stumble over and by the time I arrive I can already feel the wet on my skin through my clothes. My apprehension at ever approaching earlier was that I hadn’t wanted to disturb anyone, but this dramatic circumstance seemed like it would justify my wandering. There was no one there, just tumbled parts and broken wood. The nearer section was something like a porch and the rest was a single room open on the other side, all full. I sheltered a while but soon realized I could see no lightning, and had to venture further. The path quickly lost its coherence but I found my way to the underneath of a huge pine. Nestled up between its northeastern limbs I had marginal cover, but a far better view. The lightning cracked southwest, then northwest. I resisted the urge to cuddle up, or at least rest against the branches. Too many of my garments have had to learn that sticky lesson. At this point, the rain had soaked me through as far as it could. The raincoat kept my sweater fairly dry, but it slicked the rain straight down. My skirt was full, heavy, and I could feel my underwear plastered cold against me. As the thrill of the storm drifted northward, my vantage could not afford me the views I craved. I set out again, big boot steps and skirt soak clutched to keep it out of the weeds. I passed what must’ve once been a structure, but it seemed to have dissolved. The top of the hill was half covered by denser pines with me on the open side, skirting bushes. I plunged my hand up into the sky and lightning split across it, thunder shuddering straight down to me. On my wrist was yes, another new tattoo, a rope lemniscate, bound infinity just out of it’s saniderm. From here I veered back toward that first shack and found another structureless structure, this one just a rectangle of bricks arranged radially, like a mortarless brick roof gently lowered to the ground. They looked neat. I stepped on them. I plodded back up the hill and round the bush to what might’ve once been an orchard, just a few rows of squat trees. I could peer into the back of yet another apartment building. I continued along this back edge of it in a kind of no-man’s-lawn until it spit me out into those same familiar parking lots. Up and around I found my way back home, and by the time I got into our lot the high had faded and left me shivering, quivering, cold but happy.

I strip down inside on the door mat then bring my skirt straight upstairs to squeeze out. The tub runs with a few different colors. I fill the wash basin with lukewater and a few drops of soak soap, then plunge my skirt in. It soaks while I clean myself up, then I pull it and squeeze it again. I see so many murky panels through so many thin ones, and think already on all the ways I might augment it down the line. A backing here? An applique there? Maybe some decorative stitching over this patch? Time will tell. I hang it up to dry.

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Another quick vignette before I go. Just yesterday (the 30th), a fire started northeast of town, near Idler’s Rest. Olivia and I go for a walk up the hill behind our house and the road takes us to one of the south edges of town, currently under construction. We look out at the hills and get melancholy. Two weeks away means we’re starting to really really feel those feelings if you know what I mean. Goodbye Moscow I’ll Miss You and all that. We stand at the edge of an incomplete street. On the way back I stop because in a little V between to rooftops I can see a sparkling orange on the slope up Moscow Mountain. I line up Olivia with my arm and she sees it too. This is a different Moscow than the one we arrived in all those years ago, and I know already it will be a different one nine months from now. I hope everyone here stays safe. I hope everyone here chooses love. I hope everyone has grown into more beautiful versions of themselves when we get back. I can’t wait to see it :^)

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Love you,
fran <3