Tuesday, July 21, 2015

My adventures with mermaid hair.

Let me tell you that I am shocked, shocked I say, that the only internet tutorials out there on how to dye your hair with markers seem to be created solely by preteens, teens, and drag queens (and that was on dyeing synthetic wig hair with sharpies which, while intriguing, was not applicable to yours truly).  Not a one was by or for Women of a Certain Age looking to shed all pretense of middle-aged respectability by dyeing their gray hair something other than "what I vaguely and optimistically recall being my original color".  Needless to say, that required documenting my own experimentation.

Ironically enough for someone who has never been on-trend in her life, let alone fashion forward, "mermaid hair" seems to be very much on-trend for summer 2015.  Since I've been contemplating doing this for almost a year now, I'll just pretend that I'm a trendsetter.  Unless you count the gray itself, I haven't had an "interesting" color of hair since my sophomore year in college, which resulted in the following conversation with my organic chemistry professor:

Prof: Purple?
Me: Better living through chemistry, dude.

Things the tweenies on YouTube did right:

  1. Fresh markers (lots of pigment to work with; I used some random ones from my collection of random art supplies)
  2. Vaseline on the forehead (I used some Nivea cream, but as I was sweating like stuck pig throughout this process, it did me very little good)

Things said tweenies did wrong:
  1. Opening marker cases with teeth (Speaking as the contemporaries of the people who pay your dental bills, OH HONEY NO!  I did that shit when I was younger, and my teeth are chipped to hell now.  Just don't.)
  2. Not using gloves (purple fingers look very silly)

I seem to recall a hairdresser once telling me that gray hair is very pigment thirsty, and that seemed to be the case with mine.  Despite sacrificing several markers in my pursuit of blue-green hair, the color ended up way lighter than I was hoping (though, admittedly, quite a lot darker than my gray, which immediately made me want to dye my eyebrows due to loss of contrast definition).

Also, doing this in the blistering July heat may be inadviseable, as it may cause sky-blue rivulets of sweat to go running down your face.  I think I may go back into the shower, wash my hair again, and see how much of the color stays.  That said, I like the effect.  I may go for something like Garnier Color Styler or these hair chalk things I've been seeing.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

TIL: How to spin!

Back in late March, I spent a fantastic long weekend at the P3 (Plug & Play Pembrokeshire) retreat, learning all manner of interesting things about knitting design and so on. The Sunday morning of the retreat, there was surprise programming, in which the fantastic Amy Singer taught us about the wonders of silk hankies, courtesy of our fantastic sponsors at Blue Moon Fiber Arts. If you're wondering what on earth a handkerchief has to do with yarn, check out this fantastic article by Amy that will give you all the vital info. Being so inspired by this gorgeous material, I took it upon myself to order my first drop spindle so that I could turn these gorgeously colored, strangely cobwebby fibers (and I do mean cobwebby: very fine, rather sticky, vaguely what you would expect spinning cotton candy to feel like) into something resembling yarn.

 Having found various videos on YouTube on how to spin using a drop spindle, including this one which had the dual advantage of a) using a spindle identical to mine and b) being delivered in the most charming Scottish accent I've ever heard, I managed to spin all of my silk roving! It was rather a lot of effort for not a lot of yarn, but when I was done, I nevertheless felt about ten feet tall! At that point, I was left with a nagging feeling of "Um... now what do I do with it?" Ever since Knitty started featuring the KnittySpin-related columns, I've been skipping them since I didn't spin, but thankfully they were all there waiting for me! This article had a very nice summary of how to finish your yarn, which was exactly what I was looking for. Since I don't have a niddy-noddy and my swift is a bit fiddly, I just wound it around my left arm, and very deftly managed to tie stabilizing pieces largely one-handedly!

 Here it is soaking, to set the twist:
 Here it is, hanging up to dry:


 I love, love, love the candy-cane striping where the different colors come together in the overlaps. Given how much I love thick-and-thin yarns with dazzling variegated colorways, I'm extremely tempted to start playing around with dyeing my own stacks of silk hankies and spinning more yarn! I've been wanting to design a series of colorways based on the characters in the Merry Gentry books by Laurell K. Hamilton, and this would be a good excuse to do it.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Life Lessons at FC Nuremburg

I’d been facing the arrival of this day with a steadily increasing sense of dread, knowing what I’d agreed to subject myself to.  It would tricky enough were I to align myself with my adopted city of Munich, one of Nuremburg’s two archrivals.  It would be comparably difficult were I fan of the sport that I, but not most Europeans, grew up calling “football”.  It would probably even be problematic were I a fan of some other comparably popular competitive spectator sport, though I’d be hard pressed to come up with a single example that even approaches the popularity of soccer in Europe, especially in Germany where they call it “Fußball” (a word which still evokes for me a wrist-wrenching table game played with something like a cross between a ping-pong ball and a golf ball).  That I’d ever been a fan of any sort of team sport, be it American or European – indeed, I’ve never even understood the mindset of team sport participation, let alone sport fandom – promised to make the afternoon bizarre, at the very least.  Add into that my deep dislike of crowds, as well as the fact that the day’s match was against Nuremburg’s second greatest rival, the derby game against their twin city of Fürth, and it was rendered increasingly uncomfortable as we approached the security check. As with the few high school sporting events I’d been forced to attend, all the shouting and chanting filled me with a deep sense of discomfort, unease, and confusion.  I wasn’t certain whether the presence of Die Polizei in riot gear made me feel safer or more nervous.  At least the press of bodies eased up a bit once I’d been frisked and the contents of my purse inspected.

It’s hard not to think of another sort of potentially violent form of group-think, here in what was once the heart of the Third Reich.  The kilometer-long pilgrimage along the Dutzendteich lake would require wearing a blindfold, if one wanted to avoid any reminders of National Socialism.  Across the lake is the Volkskongress, the never-finished assembly hall which now houses a documentation center which preserves the history of that horrible time.  The half-razed Steintribune features in too many well-known film clips with tens of thousands of Nazis marching in front of the massive edifice.  The stone pylons around the Zeppelinfeld are surrounded by chainlink and razor wire, with an oddly familiar green sign stating “Emergency Exit: No Parking” auf Englisch, presumably mounted by my countrymen once they’d taken over the place in 1945.

At least it was an easy even to dress for: my wardrobe contains plenty of red and black, and none of the kelly green that would get me mistaken for a supporter of Fürth.  Nuremburg can’t seem to decide which shade of red is their color, oddly enough.  The uniforms are the sort of maroon color one could, at a stretch, call “Harvard Crimson”, one which says “Weinrot” on the nostalgic lace-up jersey we purchase for me to wear.  Equally represented, however, is a bright, true, primary-cherry red, the sort of candy-apple that perfectly graces a 1965 Ford Mustang convertible.  When I ask if this shade isn’t too close to the red of Munich’s red and white, that color is dismissed as “much more orangey” and “infrared”.  Neither do I get an answer to the question of why, if Nuremburg’s colors are red and black, the jerseys of both fans and athletes have white accents.  Apparently the nuances of athletic fashion are lost on me.  I enter the arena wearing a cherry-striped black scarf that clashes horribly with my burgundy shirt.

If my vague memories from deep in the mists of time are correct, this jersey is roughly the same color as those worn by my team during the single season I spent playing girls’ soccer in fifth grade.  I vaguely recall the mechanics of the game, though I find myself somewhat confused by the fact that the goalies don’t match their teams in this game.  American football played by far the largest role in my home, and the red to which I was encouraged to feel allegiance was the “Go Big Red” (my first complete sentence, according to family legend) of the Nebraska Cornhuskers.  Even though my parents’ alma mater was in the midst of its frequently victorious Tom Osbourne years during my childhood and adolescence, the appeal of spectator sports was lost on me even then.  My comprehension and success in participatory sports fared not much better.  My body, which could handle dancing and piano-playing with ease, steadfastly refused to acquire any of the gross motor coordination required to throw, catch, kick, dribble, or in any other way handle a ball.  If there is such a thing as orbophobia, fear of spherically-shaped sports equipment, I surely had it.  In short, I was hopeless.  While playing goalie, the ball got by me more often than not; I was equally useless as a fullback.

My anxiety grew as we took the bus from near the apartment of my friend’s brother, where we had parked the car, towards the Dutzendteich Bahnhof bus stop, where we would begin our inexorable march towards the stadium.  I started grasping for an out.  At one point, we passed by a forest; drawing on my years of attempting to be Danish, I suggested that we could go for a nice walk amongst the trees instead.  We passed the Tiergarten stop, and I piteously offered to go to the zoo for the duration of the game.  As we walked along the lake, my nervousness blossomed into the ridiculous.  “I could go play with the fishes... it’s not that cold!”  Signage advertised an “Erotik-Messe” in the building next to the stadium, which I will confess, despite its sleazy reputation, sounded vastly more appealing than spending my afternoon in the company of 50,000 screaming soccer fans.

Along with extant reminders of Germany’s racist atrocities are some rather uncomfortable reminders of atrocities committed by my homeland.  After seeing a few examples, I remark on the rather incongruous and unexpected experience of seeing the Confederate battle flag in Germany.  I am informed that there is a particular segment of FCN fans who have taken this symbol as their own.  (I later discover that this is widely spread around Europe, the soccer fans who use it are well aware of its racist overtones, and that they are usually sufficiently racist themselves that they don’t care.)  I find myself torn between the desire to beat my forehead against the nearest ugly Nazi concrete pylon, and the overwhelming urge to find one of these clueless douchenozzles and punch him in the nose.  In light of the fevered pitch of the day’s game, my hosts remind me that it would be ill-advised to start a fistfight.  Security was so tight I didn’t even dare to bring my knitting.

Most of the people in our section are sufficiently well-behaved that the panic attack I feared while in the security line never emerged.  One notable exception is the fellow across the aisle from me whom I have chosen to think of as “Mr. Shouty”.  He has one of the Southern Cross buttons on his jean jacket, and I imagine that he’d shout pretty loudly at me as well, were I to succumb to the compulsion to walk over, rip it off his clothing, and crush it beneath my foot.  Lower down and to my right is the Überfan section, which has not stopped singing, drumming, chanting, and waving flags since well before I sat down.  In a way, they make me think of practitioners of some ancient ecstatic religion, one where transportation away from the mundane is achieved via dance and vocalization.  I find myself wondering what the history is behind of the two shades of red, as the black and red stripes and crosses on their flags are uncomfortably close to the black and red of the Swastika.  It doesn’t require much imagination to envision them with slightly different flags, singing currently verboten songs, changing now unthinkable slogans, following their shouts of “Sieg!” with “Heil!”, and waving a banner with a picture not of Max Morlock (a legendary FCN player after whom the street outside is named, and after whom many fans want to name the stadium), but of Der Führer.

I’ve often wondered if there is something broken in my brain, some missing element that allows a human being to transform from an individual into one of hundreds or thousands, thinking and acting in unison.  Even my very left-wing and anti-authoritarian host, who later ends up in an argument with his brother about unthinking obedience to and compliance with the police, muses that he might have found it hard to resist the crowd-inflaming sentiments that were whipped up in this very place so many years ago.  While some might find it joyous, even glorious, to feel so unified in purpose with so many other people, whether for innocent purposes or not, I frankly find it frightening.  Where others might feel compelled to let go and get caught up in the moment, I tense up and retreat into my mind, always an observer, never a participant.  This much, however, is certain: nothing drives me to put pen to paper faster than being in a strange situation I don’t comprehend.  This essay was half begun mentally well before I dug my ever-present notebook out of my purse.  Perhaps it would be good for my writing if I made a habit of lurking in the corners of places I’d otherwise never venture, channeling my experiences into the written word as a means of processing all the unfamiliarity.  At the very least, it has been the only way I could cope with this, my first professional football match.  Nuremburg lost, 0-1; I gained something less compelling and definable than victory, but nevertheless useful.

A quick update before resuming regular posting

Suffice it to say, my business-in-infancy never made it to toddlerhood.  There are a number of reasons for this, but primary among them is the fact that I was trying to make a go of it all by myself, which plays to my weaknesses rather than my strengths.

I'm currently applying for jobs teaching English as a Foreign Language.  My mid-range plans waffle daily between going back for my PhD in linguistics, and opening a yarn shop.  At the very least, I'm going to convert this into my personal blog, and try to post more often about whatever topic catches my attention.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

NYC Shopping Report, Part II

Otherwise known as "Macy's and Bloomies and Mood, oh my!" (I saw Wicked while there, so naturally I had to crack an Oz joke.)

So, when last I had updated, I was on my way to the Fashion District to visit start-up designer Monif C's shop to purchase one of her convertible infinity dresses.  I ended up buying her ruched Marilyn model in a gorgeous shade of purple, thus using all of my early birthday money from Christian.  (He told me not to spend it all in one place, but I think I did...)  The link above doesn't seem to have the purple model, which I believe was a leftover from a previous season, so here's my own somewhat less effective picture (I'll add some selfies in several different variations later on):

From there, I eventually headed to Mood Fabrics together with a friend from college who now lives in NYC.  There I acquired enough of a lovely pinkish wool blend knit to make a slightly more upscale hoodie, enough silk jersey in a sort of raspberries 'n' cream tie-dyed look to make a summer dress, and enough of a black and white Missoni knit to make myself a skirt!  I figure, hey, Missoni doesn't make clothes in my size, but since they sell their fabrics on the bolt, I may as well make my own!  However, they sell their fabrics for $40 a yard, which is why I'm making a skirt instead of a whole dress, which is the more traditional Missoni format.  (Hmm... though it occurs to me, if I could find a complementary print or a nice solid, I could make a dress similar in cut to the one featured in this fashion blog post.)

The next day, I went to Bloomingdale's, the big one on 59th and Lexington.  I have to say: if you're a plus-size woman in North America (or just planning to head to NYC), and you have money to spend, go here.  I will not go so far as to say it was my dream shopping experience, but it's as close to it as I can ever recall getting.  The plus-size section (still called "Woman's", which is pleasant but inaccurate) occupies about a quarter of the fifth floor, with half going to home furnishings and another quarter going to evening wear.  (Deviation from Dream #1: My dream shopping experience would be a place with the whole floor of a department store that size.)  It had virtually no lingerie (and the lingerie section on 4th had very little in my size), though I did get two tops from a shapewear brand called Yummie Tummie, one I hadn't heard of before (think Spanx for your upper half).  (Deviation from Dream #2: My dream shopping experience would have a quarter of that whole floor devoted to lingerie, both everyday and special occasion with a nice sprinkling of naughty girl, as well as sleepwear and exercise clothes.)

I get the distinct impression their sales staff is either entirely or partially on commission, given the way they (very politely!) glom onto you when you enter the department, offer to open a fitting room for you, and put their card in a holder by the fitting room.  I had the assistance of a lovely older Peruvian lady named Fanny, so if you go there, look for the short cap of bright red curls, or ask for her by name.  My only gripe, about the sales staff in general, not about Fanny in particular: only one of the sales associates in the department looked to be of an actual plus-size nature.  This is especially tragic and wasteful on the store's part, as I saw at least two or three down in the lingerie department.  (Deviation from Dream #3: My dream shopping experience would have a shop staffed exclusively by fabulous fat-shionistas.)

The Bloomingdale's Women section carried the following brands: Ralph Lauren Woman, Calvin Klein Woman, Jones New York Woman, Tahari Woman, MICHAEL Michael Kors, and Eileen Fisher (which features several garments with organic fibers!).  The Bloomingdale's online shop carries a few other brands as well.  (Deviation from Dream #4: My dream shopping experience would have TONS of different designers and styles represented in the shop, hence needing to be housed in a space at least as large as an entire floor of a Bloomie's-sized department store.)  I was pleased to see that so many of their lines were plus-size extensions of name-brand designers, as SO FEW designers do this.  From what I could see from my peeks onto the 3rd floor, at least some of the Woman collections featured the same garments as the mainstream size collections, just larger (I was about ready to have a fit at Michael Kors for his tops being all baggy and shapeless, until I realized that his regular collection looked that way, too).

Major complaint:  TOO MUCH F'ING POLYESTER!  There were SO many dresses and tops that were just gorgeous to look at, but as soon as I touched them or read the fiber tag, my heart sank.  Admittedly, there was one top that was so silk-like to the touch that it had me fooled until I read the tag, which speaks volumes about what really, really good polyester can be like; however, most designers don't use really, really good polyester.  Most designers use mediocre or crap-level polyester, and way too much of it.  (Deviation from Dream #5: Any designers trying to slip polyester into my dream store would be given a stern talking to, and strong encouragement of the "or else we won't sell your clothes here anymore" variety to discontinue their use of polyester.)

The one exception here was Ralph Lauren Woman.  Almost everything was in natural fibers, or natural blends with very small portions of synthetics.  For example: I got a wonderful pair of jeans, which were 98% cotton 2% elasthane!  They were $75, but I've paid more in Europe for jeans I liked less.  They seem to be a good, solid denim, and I have high hopes about how they'll wear (I frequently achieve inner-thigh blowout in less than a year).  They're a bit higher-waisted than is currently fashionable (which I prefer), but straight-legged rather than tapered, so as not to be the prototypical Mom Jeans.  (If I hadn't spent so blasted much already, I'd be tempted to order two more pairs from the Ralph Lauren website, have them shipped to my mom, and have her bring them with her when she visits in August, as they're currently on sale for $30 on the website!)

I also got the adorable Roma dress from Tahari Woman, which would look extra cute with a suitable petticoat underneath it to give the skirt additional flare:

And this gorgeous sheath dress from Jones New York Collection Plus:
Here's me trying it on in a 22, which was too big:
And here's the 18 (!) I actually bought it in, a bit wrinkled from being in my suitcase, I'm afraid:
I truly love service staff who go the extra mile and take pride in their work, which Fanny clearly does.  Even though it was obvious from my accent that I'm American, we had enough friendly conversation that she learned that I live out of country.  Since I could produce ID of foreign origin, she popped down to the Visitor's Center to get me the voucher for 10% off all purchases, and complimentary Bloomingdale's tote bag (not in the style of the classic Brown Bag, but very nice nevertheless).

Truly, by this point, I was tired of clothes shopping, and what little remaining shopping-oriented energy I had went into books.  On the last day of our stay, the morning before our flight, Christian and I popped by Macy's just for the sake of seeing it.  I have to say, I wasn't all that impressed.  Sure, it's big, and the plus-size section occupies about a third of its floor.  It carries most of the brands that Bloomingdale's carries.  But the additional brands it carried seemed to be the usual assortment of "meh", "ugly", and "grandmotherly" that makes me want to scream and tear my hair out when I shop for plus-sizes.  As far as I could glean from brief observation, the salespeople seemed dramatically less helpful, and the overall impression I had of the store was just nowhere near as pleasant as my impression of Bloomingdale's.  So, obviously, I didn't buy anything at Macy's, not even an ice cream from their Ben & Jerry's scoop shop, since Christian had been there a previous day, had said it was the slowest ice cream shop he'd ever been to, and we were in a hurry.

All in all, I have to count myself as pretty pleased with my New York shopping experience, disappointments notwithstanding.  I came back with some great clothes, some clothes cheap enough to make up for being not-so-great, and some fabric from which great clothes can and will be constructed.  Although it left me with fairly overwhelming sensory overload, I really loved NYC, and I can't wait to have the money and opportunity to visit again!  (Next time, more theater!)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

NYC Shopping Report, Part I

My NYC plus-size shopping experience got slightly derailed even before it started. The midtown Lane Bryant was listed on Google Maps as "permanently closed", something I'd swear it wasn't last week when I made my maps. ReDress NYC, the only plus-size vintage shop I've ever heard of, closed its doors in November. The midtown branch of Avenue is having an everything must go sale prior to closing its doors. Perhaps there just aren't very many fat women in Manhattan...?
I had to go to Avenue regardless, as I was about to run out of underwear. I find shopping at a going out of business sale to be rather depressing. It makes me feel like a scavenger, picking over the body of someone not quite dead for valuables. Still, I got four pairs of panties, a set of summer jammies, two tops, and two pairs of jeans for $132, so I can't complain too hard.
Now I'm off to Monif C to buy an infinity dress, and to cruise the fashion district with a friend from college!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

An inspirational talk by Neil Gaiman

I'm a huge Neil Gaiman fan, have been for almost 20 years.  I got to meet him once at a signing in Champaign-Urbana about ten years ago, and he was so kind as to sign every last volume of my Sandman graphic novels (I went through the line four times, the last time going back behind about two people).  He could have turned me away, but he chatted amiably with me, and was so incredibly kind and gracious to my friend Ava, who'd brought him a Chinese-dragon beanie baby.  (He asked if he could give her a hug!)  I consider both him and his wife, Amanda Palmer, to be the two luckiest people in the world for being married to each other, and I've never read anything he wrote that I didn't love.

This is Neil giving a commencement speech recently at The University of the Arts.

He makes some great points about making mistakes and breaking rules, but I've transcribed my two favorite passages here.

Remember, whatever discipline you're in, whether you're a musician or a photographer, a fine artist or a cartoonist, a writer, a dancer, a singer, a designer, whatever you do, you have one thing that's unique: you have the ability to make art.  And for me, and for so many of the people I've known, that's been a lifesaver.  The ultimate lifesaver.  It gets you through the good times, and it gets you through the other ones.  Sometimes life is hard.  Things go wrong.  In life, in love, in business and in friendship, and in health, and in all the other ways that life can go wrong.  And when life gets tough, this is what you should do: MAKE GOOD ART.

I'm serious!

Husband runs off with a politician? MAKE GOOD ART.
Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? MAKE GOOD ART.
IRS on your trail? MAKE GOOD ART.
Cat exploded? MAKE GOOD ART.
Someone on the internet thinks what you're doing is stupid or evil or it's all been done before?  MAKE GOOD ART.

Probably things will work out somehow, eventually time will take the sting away, and it doesn't even matter.  Do what only you can do best: MAKE GOOD ART.  Make it on the bad days; make it on the good days too.

Sometimes I feel like I'm still figuring out my medium, figuring out my voice, figuring out what in the hell I want to be when I grow up and what to do with my life.  I'm definitely in the stage where I make more bad or mediocre stuff than good stuff, and make mistakes by the dozen.  But I figure I can't go too wrong if I just keep on creating, whether it be words, or drawings, or fashion, or fiber.  I need to get out of the habit of waiting, or doubting, or self-editing too soon, and just CREATE.

Words going around in head?  Write them down.
Something I want to be able to draw?  Learn how to draw it and practice, practice, practice.
Something I want to have to wear?  Design it and make it.
Fiber speaking to me?  Get it on needles and see what it becomes.

Every day, rain or shine, happy or sad, energetic or tired, whether it becomes a piece of gold or a piece of shit, JUST CREATE.

And also, document it and get feedback.  Use my dusty DeviantArt account.  Blog, whether it's here or on my comparably dusty LiveJournal account, or in some other location entirely.  Put pieces up for sale, on etsy or Dawanda or at Farbspiel if they'll let me.  Create because I yearn to create, but share my creations with the wider world.

Neil also had some fantastic wisdom to share about making sure you can keep working:

You get work... however you get work.  But people keep working in a freelance world – and more and more of today's world is freelance – because their work is good, and because they're easy to get along with, and because they deliver the work on time.  And you don't even need all three! Two out of three is fine.  People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver on time.  People will forgive the lateness of your work if it's good and they like you.  And you don't have to be as good as everyone else if you're on time and it's always a pleasure to hear from you.

Hmmm... My stat levels aren't maxxed on any single one of these, but they're closest to full on "on time" (at least, I was usually pretty good at turning in term papers on time in uni unless I was having serious health issues) and "easy to get along with" (as long as I don't totally bowl people over with the force of my personality).  I'm high up there on "good" with non-fiction writing, but in all other pursuits, I don't feel like I'm there yet.  So while I work on "good", I'll do my damndest to be extremely prompt and likeable, I guess.

So, the take-home lesson of Neil's talk: MAKE GOOD ART.  I'll do my best.