Examining ‘To-Do’s, past and present

As I wrote on May 17th, I am Creating Space to Be Myself Now. A key part of that, and one which is probably a bit overdue, is letting go of thinking of my old lists of To-Do’s and projects as still current. What I’ve realized is that my experiences of the past few years are so significant that they change my priorities. If I ever decide to activate any of these ideas again—even to put them on a mental backburner with intention of doing them sometime soonish—they will be informed and altered by all that I have learned. That will make them better, should I ever want to do them later.

The first step to allowing new plants to grow is to turn under the old growth and let it turn to compost. I’ve been picking my careful way through a yard overrun with withered branches. Time to prune and put this fertile matter to better use.

The first category of stuff I want to clear away is the To-Do’s I set up for myself about good habits. Everything they tell you about only being able to install one, maybe two, new habits at a time and about it taking four to six weeks to get a habit into daily practice is true. Huge ‘New Year’s Resolutions’ style lists are only useful as a way of giving recognition to change you want to welcome into your life; honor them as that, but don’t try to tick all those boxes off every day.

The two, and only two, habits I want to work on now are about my wellness:

  • Meditate more often, because it eases my anxiety and inflammation.
  • Move more, because it feels good and promotes both my physical and mental health.

There are no other habits waiting in the wing. When these two are automatically happening more days than not, what I need next will present itself to me. I trust my future self to make the right decision.

So where do I have those old lists, clogging up my thinking space? The most obvious of them is the site Habitica, which is a combo of task manager, habit builder, and fantasy game. Fun! And it was useful at one time—my routine now of making the bed every day was formed using this tool—but I overloaded it. And why did I start using it in the first place? Because I’d overloaded the project and task tracker OmniFocus and needed something less overwhelming. Ha!

I still love OmniFocus as a tool, and find it particularly helpful for less frequent tasks (e.g., routine medical checkups; renewing business license) and big projects that take place over weeks, months or years. Since I’ll be keeping it, it’s time to thank Habitica for its service and let it go.

What load was I carrying in Habitica that I’m now setting down? Mostly lots of things that allowed me to check a box and feel like I’d accomplished something.

  • Habits I already have: make the bed, restore general order in the house, do laundry when it needs to be done, wash dishes every day, avoid caffeine, avoid Twitter, usually go to bed at a reasonable time, water the houseplants.
  • Habits I currently want to build, but for which I clearly need to find motivation in some way other than a checkbox: meditation, movement (listed here in many separate parts: strength-building, stretching, aerobic exercise).
  • Other commendable habits that I am not currently choosing to create as a daily part of my life: read all my backlog of books and digital articles, write letters and postcards, check my blood pressure every day (which seems to fall in the category of things that feel like they don’t provide a reward, only the potential for bad news), scan or document old papers or other souvenirs before getting rid of them, volunteer or do other helpful actions for a cause, learn computer game programming, learn another language, keep the area in front of our house swept and looking nice (much harder since fatigue as a side effect of my medications). (Oh yes, and losing weight, which is not a controllable project when your metabolism is being significantly affected by medication; I remembered this when I was unpinning and closing the tab that had Habitica and saw the pinned tab with Lose It! next to it. Not on the list right now. Bye bye!)
  • Pointers to the task list already represented in Omnifocus with encouragement to whittle that pile down.
  • Pointers to my inboxes, paper and digital, with exhortations to empty them. Ditto the stored collections of “to be processed” materials (e.g., genealogy and other family-memorabilia which I’d like to hand off to someone who wants it or document some of it and then let it go).
  • Creative work, which I am now choosing to routinely provide myself opportunities to do rather than assigning to myself as a repeating task. This includes writing, but also curation/sharing on my websites, sewing, D&D gamemastering,

Look at that massive load of expectations of myself I was carrying every single day! That’s way too much. That’s so much it’s just silly!

I am picturing myself laughing at a huge backpack, overstuffed and with all kinds of things hanging off of it on strings. Completely impossible for me to lift, let along hike along for day after day carrying it.

I wipe my eyes clear of happy tears and take the whole thing apart, tossing much of it away. It flies through the air, transforming into moldy applecores and old packed sandwiches, and lands in the trench I’ve dug down my mental garden, ready to be covered over and turn to new soil.

Why and How I Changed Paths

I was diagnosed with the mildest form of a rare autoimmune disorder in fall of 2017, the first symptoms of which had presented themselves at the end of that July. This was just over one year after my biological father had died and I’d suddenly become executor of his estate, and point person for all matters pertaining to cleaning out and selling his run-down and junk-filled little house.

I was prescribed a short dose of prednisone, a steroid which is highly effective at knocking disorders into submission, if not entirely into remission, but very hard on the body’s systems otherwise. I was a whirlwind of activity that fall—adding significant storage and worktable space to our home office most notably, but active on a great many projects in parallel—and the week of steroids only kicked that up a notch. The meds did their job and my symptoms abated. I felt a huge weight lift also as the estate officially closed and, with the scattering of his ashes, my duties as executor came to an end. I turned my attention with relief and eagerness to my own projects, and somewhere inside I began to give myself permission to stop scrambling so hard

Some of that slowing down was just plain stumbling. It was the fatigue of all the hard work I’d been doing and the shocks I’d been weathering, exacerbated by life under the Trump Administration. The anxiety brought on by the past few years—compounded by perimenopause and (though I didn’t understand it well then) the side effects of my medications for my disease—was showing its fraying edges.

Thanks to my years of practicing Discardia, my instincts in times of overwhelm and low mood are good. I began to create space around myself and turn my attention from that which drains me to that which restores my calm. I unfollowed a large amount of my Twitter list, already quite low, to tune my Twitterstream to a generally more positive mood. I returned to my love of games and began thinking about how to create happy, positive, calming games. But I was feeling very tired.

At the very end of December 2017 and in the first days of 2018 I began having symptoms of the more intense form of my autoimmune disorder and my life changed completely. Because my symptoms I had to change major aspects of my daily routine, even after I very rapidly got a confirmed diagnosis and began taking medication—twice the dose of steroids as before. Extreme sensitivity meant I had to change my wardrobe entirely, not only fabrics but the style and fit of clothes. Massive fatigue transformed me from a “these are the 30 things I want to do today, but here are the most important 10” person to a “it was a good day, I got 1 thing done” person. And increased anxiety and overwhelm (plus being on immunosuppressants) further limited my ability to participate in social and political life. The medications distorted my body over the months, bloating my torso and giving me ‘moonface’. But they did work to put the disorder into submission, possibly even remission entirely, though I won’t know until I fully taper off the medications.

And there’s the real challenge. Prednisone works great to knock disorders like mine into submission, but the hell it puts you through along the way is brutal, so you want to take it for as short a time and as low a dose as is possible while remaining effective. Other immunosuppressants like, the post-transplant medication Cellcept, can maintain that symptom suppression with milder side effects (for me mostly bloating and distortion of my lower torso, plus some fatigue). So as soon as my symptoms abated, I added Cellcept to my regimen and began the agonizingly slow process of tapering off prednisone.

You can’t just quit prednisone, you have to wind it down very, very slowly. And because—at the kind of peak dose I was on (40mg/day)—it says to your cortisol system, “Hey, I’ve got this, go take a vacation” you find that side effects continue to be life-disrupting for months and months. I dropped from 40mg a day to 30mg a day of prednisone on February 13, 2018, after taking that highest dose for just four weeks. My taper reached 20mg a day on March 27, 2018, and 10mg a day on May 12, 2018. But it’s that last part that is the most difficult to wean your body off of as you wait—and wait, and wait, and wait—for your cortisol system to wake up again. It’s May 24, 2019, and I am just next week hoping to bring my tapered dose down to 2mg a day.

Had I known then what I know now, I’d have done my taper differently instead of going too fast last summer and winding up needing to spend three months holding at 5mg a day. Now I taper ridiculously gradually by altering my dose within a week. I was at 3mg a day. Then after at least two weeks at that dose, I started taking 2mg instead every third day: 3/3/2. If that is giving me trouble at the end of the first week, I go back to 3mg a day for two weeks before I try it again. If it’s okay, then after two weeks of 3/3/2, I try 3/2/2. That’s where I am now and it’s going well. Next Wednesday I’ll begin a couple weeks of 2mg a day before I evaluate whether I can proceed to 2/2/1. Best case, which I’m learning is unlikely, I’ll be off prednisone in about three months.

Whenever I do finally break free of prednisone, I need to spend at least another month letting its influence leave my system before I can start to consider beginning my Cellcept taper. I’m hopeful (and pretty confident) that that is not nearly as rough a process. But even so, I can expect that the soonest I’ll be living without my body altered by these medications or the presence of this immune system disorder will be over a year from now.

My life has been radically changed for multiple years. My fatigue and anxiety forced me to bring my world to a standstill; to stop the ride so I could get off and evaluate things. And that evaluation and this experience have brought me new skills (meditation and acceptance, most valuably) and clarified priorities. I am not the same person I was, and for all the difficulty, I feel good about who I am now.

Even if I had my old energy and health back this instant, I would not resume the life I had before. I am closer to center than I was and I like that. I continue to work to regain my strength and vigor, but for new priorities. I feel that I am standing in the early morning sun beside a large field, shovel in hand and ready to continue the slow, satisfying work of turning the earth for a garden.

Redefining the Generations

GenX, the cultural generation I consider myself part of, wasn’t defined for decades. We were just “post-Boomers” or worse, and subject to the same derogatory attitude which has pervaded many headline references to “Millennials”.

But here’s the thing, what even is a “Millennial”? As Pew Research Center defines it, Generation X ended with kids born in 1980. Various lines have been drawn to create a subsequent group, sometimes weakly referred to as “Post-Millennial” or “Generation Y”. But those ‘damn you kids and your selfies and avocado toast’ articles tend to lump everyone under age 40 all together.

The concept of a generational cohort is fuzzy—history draws with blurry lines—but it is useful and points to the forces of cultural change. The breakpoints between the generations indicate our sense of when significant change occurred. We can use someone’s personal connectedness to that marker as a way of measuring how much they will “belong” to that generation. For example, my cousin is only two months older than I am, but because our different life paths (nurse vs. all the many hats I’ve worn) led us to different levels of engagement with internet culture and technology, I think she’s more like a Baby Boomer and I’m more typically Generation X.

So what are the breakpoints we need to be paying attention to after the end of the Baby Boomer generation? To my thinking, GenX is “early years in or after the tumult of ‘the 60s’ but before the fall of the USSR”, thus growing up in the shadow of potential nuclear annihilation plus the political disillusionment from assassinations and Watergate. GenXers were (at oldest) 3 years old when Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated—a major cultural pivot point—and experienced their formative childhood years in an era when the same worldwide sociopolitical framework the Baby Boomers experienced was being seriously challenged but had not yet transformed.

I disagree with Pew and think GenX should end two years later, in 1982. I draw the line there because it’s the pivot point when the home computer begins to arise. A kid born in 1982 is fairly likely to reach high school without a home computer or an internet connection (1997: 36.6% and 18% of households respectively). A kid born a year later is part of the rapid wave of both those numbers climbing fast.

The big cultural dividers of the generations after GenX are “doesn’t remember the world before the World Wide Web” and “doesn’t remember the world before pervasive smartphones”. (I am using ‘smartphone’ here as shorthand for ‘pocket-sized computer connected to the internet constantly at hand’.)

Note that this generational signifier shifts from being geopolitical or tied to birthrate, and is instead tied to probability of access to technology. It is thus bound up with economic class and other factors of privilege such as race. That observation goes a long way toward explaining why polling by age group is unlikely to be sufficient to predict probable behavior. Generational boundaries are becoming blurrier with increased lifespan, more personal choice over childbearing, and a host of other changes enabling individuals to self-select their group. That said, there are overall cultural trends which make it still useful to discuss generational cohorts.

If the cohort which Pew calls Millennials and I will call the Computer Generation starts in 1983, where does it end? I could pin it purely based on the rise of the smartphone, but there is another big change to take into account. What else makes the current generation distinct? I think it is growing up under the shadow of impending climate catastrophe, plus the cultural disillusionment of the recognition of how America is tangled up with white supremacy. Climate warnings have been raised repeatedly for decades and it is tough to identify a turning point, so when did the American conversation about race begin to change in the 21st century? Jay Smooth’s vitally important video “How to Tell Someone They Sound Racist” from the summer of 2008 is a good indicator of when it was all over the media (accelerated by Barack Obama’s consideration and nomination as the Democratic candidate). If the generation after the Computer Generation is about 3 years old when that pivot point hits, that would start them in 2005, the year of Hurricane Katrina.

The Computer Generation 1983 to 2004 then. And after them, our current generation, which I call The Awoken Generation begins in 2005.

We should look back as well as ahead, because there are some similar problems with lumping cohorts together and ignoring major pivots in earlier generational breaks. The term “Silent Generation” for those who survived the Great Depression and formed the core of the major social changes of the 1950s and 1960s is particularly bizarre. The Civil Rights Movement and Rock & Roll weren’t ‘silent’, and it’s unfair to label an entire generation with an epithet about not speaking up against McCarthyism.

So back to technology. I think about conversations I’ve had with my mother, her mother, and her mother’s father. He was born in the last decade of the 19th century and lived into the last decade of the 20th. I recall talking with his daughter, my grandmother, about all the technologies he and she witnessed transforming from innovations to everyday essentials within their lifetimes. Among these the telephone, the automobile, the radio, and the television stand out as extremely culturally significant. (You can see the growth of those along with other household technologies in the “Consumption Spreads Faster Today” chart from the New York Times.) If we want to peg a one-third of households tipping point for these as I did for home computers above (starting our cohort three years before it), we might see generational groups as follows: 1918–1929 (tv, electricity, auto, radio); 1930–1948 (the Great Depression and WWII, radio and the refrigerator); 1949–1965 (TV and the clothes washer).

So, bringing it all together, and filling in a little at the start:

The Breakthrough Generation born ?1880s?–1903
Electricity, the internal combustion engine, sanitation systems, photography, and the airplane all were realized in the late 19th century and the Wright brothers’ flight at Kitty Hawk took place at the end of 1903. What a time to be alive! Anything is possible!

The Suffrage Generation born 1904–1917
This cohort grew up during the fight for the rights of women and workers, surrounded by the optimistic trends of the generations on either side of them but in a world full of disasters, massacres, bigotry, and military expansionism.

The Modern Generation born 1918–1929
The 1920s and 1930s saw massive change in American households and their connection to the rest of the world. Sometime around 1925 over a third of them had a car, and by 1929 between 35-40% of households had a radio. In this same period, and several years ahead of automobile purchases, the telephone and electricity reached around a third of households. This is also the generation that saw the conversion of a craft-based economy into a mass-market one.

The Survivor Generation born 1930–1948
1933, as one of the worst years of the the Great Depression, is a key pivot point because those hard years massively impacted people’s access to technology. Take a look at the telephone and automobile adoption rates in the NY Times chart linked above to see the impact. Until after World War II, only the inexpensive radio and (in the early 1940s) the life-transforming refrigerator could break through and grow in adoption rates by a large percentage of American households. Many of the later portion of this cohort, who experienced the impact of the Great Depression less directly, and the countercultural elements of the next generation might together be termed The Breakaways for their role in instigating social change in the 1950s and 1960s. (Thanks to my Mum for her suggestion of that name and the reminder of voices raised in protest and song.)

The TV Boom Generation born 1949–1964
There’s a reason the 1950s are associated with television; household ownership of TVs in the U.S. rose from 9% to 90% in that decade, with a big chunk of the growth occurring in the first two years. By 1952, a third of U.S. homes had TV. [Tons of charts on this history can be found, unsurprisingly, on tvhistory.tv] The impact of the shared culture of television in this generation’s lifetime cannot be ignored; even the atypical Americans of this cohort who watched relatively little felt its effects throughout their daily lives. (And that remains true today for a large percentage of Americans, even those more likely to focus on online activities.) The clothes washer deserves a shout-out in changing domestic life for this generation’s childhood too, reaching about half of households by the end of the period.

Generation X born 1965–1982
Kids of this generation had their early years in or after the tumult of ‘the 60s’ but before the fall of the USSR. They grew up in the shadow of potential nuclear annihilation and the political disillusionment from assassinations and Watergate. The younger part of this cohort likely was further shaken by the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986. For all that, they often had very free childhoods with space and time for imagination and play.

The Computer Generation born 1983–2004
This cohort is likely to have grown up in a household with a home computer and unlikely to remember much about the world before the World Wide Web. The Cold War was over before they could understand the concept and even the youngest had a good chance of getting well into middle school before the magnitude of global warming’s impacts was inescapably evident. For them, school shootings like Columbine in 1999 and the endlessly repeated footage of the 9/11 World Trade Center terrorist attack in 2001 are more likely to be the source of their childhood nightmares.

The Awoken Generation born 2005–?
The current generation doesn’t remember a world before people had pocket-sized computers connected to the internet constantly at hand. They don’t remember a world when mass shootings weren’t a regular occurrence in the United States. They don’t remember a world that isn’t experiencing climate change and the various types of natural disasters it amplifies. They’re going to start coming of age soon, but we don’t have to wait until then to hear them beginning to raise their voices in protest of the world we’ve brought them into. It is a good, righteous anger.


Creating Space to Be Myself Now

One of the key lessons for me of the past few years is that it detracts from my wellness to try to have both my list from before the various crises in my life and my list of what I need and want to do now. However much I say, “oh well that old list is on the back burner”, it is still bubbling and using my mental fuel. I can’t have two #1 items, even if I tell myself that one of them is not active for the moment. I gotta recalibrate and bring it together in one calm vision for myself.

The best thing about accepting that is that the process of integrating my expectations of myself is an inherently therapeutic process. Though the enhanced calm is important, most of that benefit is coming from really giving myself permission to drop things. Not just shove them back ‘for right now’ (i.e., years), but let them go. Discardia is good for the soul and for reducing that overwhelmed, inflamed feeling.

The biggest change is re-orienting myself to my writing and other creating. I am refocusing myself on the creative work and away from the idea of producing products on a particular schedule. It doesn’t make anyone less of a Real Writer to give a work the amount of time it needs to come to fruition. Nor is it mandatory to bring out a new book every couple years. The publishing industry would like you to, but I don’t write for a publisher; I write for myself and my readers.

As I’m sure a lot of stay-at-home parents or others who are outside the paycheck economy have struggled with, validity is not measured by take-home pay. Much of our culture sends a different message, so it takes work to find solid footing to appreciate yourself and what you do. In my case finding that footing is helping me recognize a few “to-do” items on my list which were more cargo cult enacting of “being a publisher” than necessary to the process of writing and sharing my work.

One thing that prompted some of this change is that the medication I was prescribed about a year ago limits me to two cocktails a week. I find I really can’t be an active cocktail writer under that constraint and I don’t want my work and my wellness to be in conflict, so I’m giving cocktail writing a big “I love you, man, you’re the best, no I mean it, I love you, all you guys” sloppy hug and going home.

Not writing a sequel to The Art of the Shim: Low-Alcohol Cocktails to Keep You Level lowers the need for a lot of the capital P publisher infrastructure we’d created. Simplifying that part of my life is some of the work I’m doing this month and I’m already enjoying the lightness it is giving me. I don’t have to put out a book this year because it’s been “too long” since the last one. I don’t have to feel guilty over a long list of posts and essays I thought at one time that I’d write. Cool ideas! Okay to let them go!

This exercise in looking at where my time vs. where my mental energy goes vs. my actual current priorities has also unveiled some time sucks that I can prune away. Goodbye, Twitter. It’s not me, it’s you. You make me anxious and distracted and frankly, you have too many nazis and misogynists and racists and homophobes and paranoid dudes who think giving babies free food is gonna take food off their own plate. Ugh. Good riddance to that distraction.

I looked at the carefully curated list of accounts I followed, added a lot of them to the website feed reader built into WordPress.com, let go of the “need” to keep up with some, and made a monthly reminder to check the other two that couldn’t go in the feed reader to see what they’ve been up to. Then I added the Switcheroo Chrome extension to redirect me to my WordPress Dashboard every time I try to go to Twitter.com. It feels fantastic and I am already getting a lot more done with my day.

Yes, I’m on Mastodon, but both it structurally and my decision of the number of people I follow on there are designed to be very quick to keep up with. It doesn’t devour twenty minutes of my time multiple times a day in the way Twitter can.

I’m excited about this paring down and focusing. I’m excited about the space I’ve created for healing and for whatever creative projects I want to do now. I’m grateful to myself for the permission to let go, to be done with things. My shoulders feel lighter.

I’ll be posting more in the coming days as I part with some of these past projects. I hope you enjoy this somewhat random tour through my interests. 😀

WOTICETT companies: worker-owned, tapered-investment, compensation-equal, tapered-time

I’ve been thinking about economic systems and the huge problems with the way we handle work, employment, pay, and profit in the United States. Another way is possible.

The model of work I am here envisioning recognizes that:

• Sustainable societies are built on sustainable economies which are built on sustainable lives of the workers in them.

• Personal time is the key finite resource, not an abstract like money.
(If worker time is treated as the resource of greatest availability, workers are exploited.)

• Extractive capitalism is built on an unrealistic model of eternal growth and payment of ever-growing returns to investors. This is inherently unsustainable as it continually removes value from companies and their workers. Alternatively, worker ownership retains value within the company and among workers, and as a by-product strengthens local economies, which usually helps with long-term company success.

• Investment is still needed to start companies, though, so the initial extractive return on investment must be tapered to allow the company to become sustainable. One possibility: companies start with 52% worker-ownership, 48% investor ownership. Every three years 1% of investor ownership shifts to worker-ownership (dividends shifting to compensation, usually to new workers as the company grows). After 16 years the company is 100% worker-owned.

• Every human deserves dignity in their work and an equal opportunity for time away from work. Early attempts to legislate this fundamental right gave us the weekend and a cap on workday length. The next step is to pry apart compensation from hours labored; we live in a time of great prosperity and there is enough to go around if we divide it equitably. Therefore, this model assumes that the total company amount of compensation to workers is divided evenly among them so that all have at least a livable wage. There are no tiers of pay. All worker-owners benefit from company success or feel the squeeze equally when the business or economy is struggling.

• The minimum time a worker has to spend at work in a given week is the distinguishing difference between workers at different levels. An entry level worker commits 35 hours a week to the company. As they grow in experience and efficiency, this time tapers down. Every two years worked with the company reduces the minimum hours required by 1 hour. Every eighth year this drops an extra hour. Thus, after six years with the company, a worker’s minimum hours are 32. After eight years, they are 30. After sixteen years with the company, a worker only needs to work half-days (or however it makes sense to allocate their 25 hours). After thirty-two years, they’re involved a couple days a week. After forty-eight years, just 5 hours a week. This is enough for their wealth of experience to still benefit the business and for them to still be engaged in public life, but at a level that respects their reduced energy for work at their age. After fifty-six years as a worker, they have no further obligation and pensions kick in.

• Workers moving from one job to another will enter at a time level reflective of their experience with that kind of work AND the age of the new company. For example, a worker who has 20 years experience leaves to join a 10 year old company and instead of working their old minimum of 23 hours a week, they will work a minimum of 29 because the new company is still growing and everyone there works that many hours.

• Workers are incentivized to remain with a company and help it grow because switching to a new, younger company will generally mean committing more hours of time per week and delaying their pension (unless they subsequently switch to a more established company and are able to negotiate recognition of all their experience).

• Workers are incentivized to be more efficient (because they want to work only their minimum hours) and companies are incentivized to right-size their business to match their market (because they want to keep worker compensation good while those workers put in just the minimum hours).

• Some businesses will be more profitable than others as economic factors fluctuate. Their worker-owners will decide how to use those profits, either applying them to the company for improvements or growth, sharing them out to the current worker-owners, or adding new worker-owners to diffuse the compensation across more people (enabling further profit or growth and possibly allowing all worker-owners to commit below minimum weekly hours, thus realizing the benefits of long-term employment sooner).

A common pattern which might emerge under the WOTICETT model is that of workers of medium experience temporarily becoming involved in two companies (or double roles at one company) to increase their resources before dropping back to just one when they become parents or need to be more available for elder care.

For example, Chris started work young and joined a company at age 17. At age 27, with ten years experience and working 29 hours a week, Chris gets invited to participate in a friend’s new company. The first couple years are intense, working 64 hours a week, but then that number begins to drop until at age 37, Chris is working a total of 52 hours a week (23 hours a week at the first company and 29 hours a week at the friend’s company).

Chris’s partner, Devin, is five years younger. Devin helped care for child siblings when young and didn’t join a company until age 22. Now, at age 32, Devin is working 29 hours a week. Thanks to the resources they’ve built up through Chris’s decade of double pay, the couple has enormous flexibility should they decide to have children.

They might choose that Devin will become a full-time parent. In that case, when their kid is ten years old, Chris will be 47 and working 40 hours a week (17 hours a week at one job and 23 at the other), and Devin will be 42 and fully available for parenting and life admin tasks.

Or maybe after all those years of double work, Chris becomes the full-time parent. Then when the kid is ten years old, Chris at age 47 is fully available and Devin at age 42 is working 23 hours a week. They’re living on one income instead of two, but they have a lot of free time to make living cheaper more possible.

Or if they carry on as they had been, when the kid is ten, Chris at age 47 is working 40 hours a week (17 hours a week at one job and 23 at the other), and Devin at age 42 is working 23 hours a week. They still have three incomes and though they still probably need some assistance with childcare, they do have considerable family time.

In those three scenarios, when the kid is twenty, Chris is 57 and Devin is 52, and they’re either:

  • working 27 hours a week (10 at one job and 17 at the other) and not committed to company work, respectively, and living on two incomes;
  • not committed to company work and working 17 hours a week, respectively, and living on one income;
  • working 27 and 17 hours a week, respectively, and living on three incomes.

All of these scenarios—along with the variants in which Chris drops back down to just one job or where one of them returns to work when the kid is 15 or 20 years old—are vastly more appealing than the average options most families are facing today.

They become even more appealing as we roll out the scenarios into later years of life. At ages 67 and 62, Chris and Devin are either:

  • working 14 hours a week (4 at one job and 10 at the other) and not committed to company work, respectively, and living on two incomes;
  • not committed to company work and working 10 hours a week, respectively, and living on one income;
  • working 14 and 10 hours a week, respectively, and living on three incomes.

At ages 73 and 68, they are either:

  • working 7 hours a week (pensioned at one job and 7 at the other) and not committed to company work, respectively, and living on two incomes (or one income plus whatever level a pension is set at);
  • not committed to company work and working 7 hours a week, respectively, and living on one income;
  • working 7 hours a week, each, and living on three incomes (or two incomes plus whatever level a pension is set at).

At ages 83 and 78, they are either:

  • pensioned from two jobs and not committed to company work, respectively, and living on two incomes (or two times whatever level a pension is set at);
  • not committed to company work and pensioned, respectively, and living on one income (or whatever level a pension is set at);
  • pensioned from two jobs and pensioned, respectively, and living on three incomes (or three times whatever level a pension is set at).

That is a healthier life than most have now.

Would a model like this require some major changes from how things currently work? Yes. Is it realistically possible? Absolutely.

The current model has been staggering along for decades with a few exploiters buying IMAX screens for their superyachts (or whatever that decade’s equivalent of gross excess happens to be) while an alarming percentage of people struggle and suffer, working three jobs to be able to pay for childcare.

If we can limp along with this broken system, we can certainly afford a different one which, even if not ideal, lifts millions of people up to vastly better lives.

Zipper Pouch with divider and pen holder

My latest sewing project introduced me to

  • changing the foot on my sewing machine
  • using a zipper foot
  • sewing a zipper
  • modifying instructions without making additional pattern pieces or a mock-up

I looked at a lot of zipper pouch tutorials and then mostly followed these two:

I wanted to do a quick learning project that would also result in a gift for my mom’s cousin, author C’Anna Bergman-Hill and which would use a fabric she really liked from my remnant finds at Shaukat Fabrics in London.

This was fortunately on my mind last month when I went to Fabric Outlet, so I remembered to bring the remnant and get a matching thread and 9″ zipper. The next step was to decide which fabric to use for the outside of the bag. I wanted something sturdier than the light, almost-chiffon of the remnant to help give the pouch some structure. I hadn’t bought a fabric intentionally for this on that shopping trip, but a brown linen remnant I’d bought then (intending to try making fabric coasters with it) turned out to be perfect. I recommend fabric selection as a lovely “last thing of the day” activity; I went to bed that night feeling happy about the upcoming project.

Because I am kind to my future self, I had already washed both fabrics before putting them in my fabric storage area. Thus when I was ready to get started all I had to do was iron. Being a little nervous that ironing, even on the wrong side, might make the linen shiny, I tried using a piece of muslin between it and the iron as a pressing cloth and that seemed to work fine.

A narrow white table with a plush bath towel draped down it. A bright flowered print fabric and a plain white muslin are atop the table, with an iron to the right of the towel and various bits of sewing-related stuff pushed out of its way.
No ironing board, but a thick towel on my worktable is fine.

The idea of changing zipper length is a bit daunting, so I chose a pouch design where the pieces are the same length as the zipper tape (the fabric part of the zipper). I used that as the width and then decided on a height based on wanting to be able to fit a little notebook and a short pen pocket inside. I made one paper pattern piece for that and cut out four pieces of the lining (since I wanted to add a divider inside to create two pockets) and two pieces of the outer fabric using it.

Rectangles of bright flowered fabric sit on a white table. Blue tailor's chalk  has been set down after marking around a green paper pattern sitting atop uncut fabric. The point of a pair of tailor's shears sticks into the picture from the right.
I thought just holding the pattern piece down and then using tailor’s chalk would be precise enough for this, but next time I think I’ll at least put a few pins in, mark with chalk all around being more careful to keep the chiffon from shifting around, and cut more carefully with longer strokes. It’d just be a little easier in the later stages when lining up all the layers to have their edges very regular.

Then I cut out two 2″ squares to cover the ends of the zipper and a piece to become the pen pocket.

Rectangles of bright flowered fabric (in a pattern of gold, green, and coral colored dahlia flowers on a sky blue background) are neatly arranged with three smaller pieces beside them. A cheerful hot-dog-mustard-yellow zipper rests above the flowered fabric and the edge of  dark brown linen fabric rectangles is visible at the left of the picture.
Here I’ve got the divider pieces stacked and I’m playing with the pen pocket piece, folding over the ends so I can give it extra toughness to help withstand the pressure of having a pen shoved in, grabbed quickly, and rubbing on things while the pouch is inside a purse and moving around.

I gave the pen pocket a lot of extra folded fabric around the bottom where it will experience the most strain.

Dinah's fingers hold down the pen pocket piece in progress. It is a rectangle folded lengthwise to make a tall sleeve open along three edges. The top and bottom edges have been double-fold seamed, and the bottom edge has now been folded over again that same amount, ready to be sewn into that position.
Double fold seams sewn at the top and bottom of the pen pocket and then the bottom folded over to be sewn again.

Next I pinned the two divider pieces wrong sides together, stitched across the top, and flipped them around so I could attach the pen pocket by one edge (on a right side of the divider fabric) by stitching along its righthand side and bottom.

The pen pocket piece, pinned to the divider layers, is on the sewing machine. Its folded edge is under the needle, ready to stitch down the long side and around the bottom (in a reversed L shape), leaving the open long edges of the pocket even with the side edge of the divider where it will later be stitched into a seam. Dinah's fingers are holding the tails of the needle thread and bobbin thread out of the way to the left.
I’m still getting the hang of keeping my thread tails out of the way when I start, so that I don’t end up sewing one into the end of a seam or making a lump. Getting better bit by bit!

The folded design results in a two compartment pen pocket.

Dinah's fingers hold up the two folded sides of the pen pocket piece, now stitched to the divider layer, to show how they form a double pocket (the divider piece acting as a backing).
Such a lightweight fabric won’t hold up forever, but this ought to work for a while.

Note how it is placed on the divider piece as high up as will comfortably allow a small pen to fit in there (I tested with the pen I’ll be gifting with the bag) and will allow room to shorten the divider in the next step for a good fit.

Press the divider piece flat, wrong sides together, as it will be in the finished pouch. Then trim a bit off the bottom to allow clearance for the zipper to be used without constantly snagging on it.

On top of the plush towel, with the iron's edge just visible at the side of the photo, the divider piece and one of the side lining pieces have been arranged edge to edge, right sides up. The top edge of the divider has been positioned about half an inch shorter than the lining. A steel ruler rests in line along the bottom edge of the lining, sticking across the divider piece and indicating where its bottom edge will need to be trimmed. White tailor's chalk and large, shiny metal tailor's shears are ready to mark and trim.
I just eyeballed this, but it worked pretty well. I’d probably go another .25″ shorter in future, but this works fine.

On the top is the divider piece, on the bottom is one of the lining pieces. Remember that the divider bottom is still unfinished and will need to fit into the seam between the lining pieces later, so make sure there’s some seam allowance room under the pen pocket.

Yes, my tailor’s shears are a work of wonder. I love them so much. And they return safely to their private storage box when I’m done cutting fabric so I never use them on anything I shouldn’t or knock them on the floor. You can watch how they were handmade in this wonderful 5-minute documentary. Supporting craftsmanship like that is very important to me and these make me happy every time I touch them.

The next step is when I started to feel myself pushing into new territory. I wanted to be sure I didn’t bring the sewing machine needle down on a metal part of the zipper, so I was ever so careful. First I put a pin into one of the little 2″ squares right at the zipper stop, the fabric’s right side is toward the zipper. And stitched as near that as I could without hitting the pin.

Yellow zipper tape ends protrude from under a pinned piece of bright flowered fabric which has just been stitched on.
Don’t hit the pin, you don’t hit the zipper stop.

Then I folded it back over and stitched it down again, now being able to see and avoid the metal stop. I just put a pin in there to keep the zipper tape ends flat and even and keep the square nicely placed.

The bright flowered fabric has now been folded over to show its right side, revealing the bottom stop of the zipper, and pinned so it can be stitched into that position.
You can see where I wasn’t happy with my first try at attaching this and seam-ripped it out. Perfectly fine to leave it rough like that since that bit of fabric will be inside the walls of the bag and never seen.
The zipper and small piece of flowered lining fabric after that stitch,  showing a neat finish that matches the lining which may or may not show on the finished piece (but looks much better than gapping zipper tape ends if it does show).
And that’s how it turned out.

The business end is a bit trickier, but here’s how I did it. First, I noticed that there are are stop pieces at that end too, they’re just more subtle.

A small square of bright flowered fabric sitting beside a partially unzipped yellow zipper.
Unzip a bit to get the pull out of your way.

Use your fingernail against those to figure out where to put your pin holding the tape ends and 2″ square (right side down!) to the zipper tape.

Dinah's fingernail pressing down just over the top stops of the zipper, with the square of flowered fabric under her finger and a pin just put in to secure it in that spot.
The needle of the sewing machine ready to descend into the pinned piece, about as far to the right of the pin as the pin is from the top stops.
I thought I was keeping as close as on the other end, but I think I placed it a bit too far beyond the zipper end.
The finished zipper piece, with flowered fabric squares hiding the tails at each end, sits in front of the sewing machine.
Perfectly fine, but still could be a bit prettier at the top end (on the right in this shot). In future, I’d pin at the top stops so that the stitch comes down about half as far from them as it did here.

Next it’s time to make the zipper sandwich. Just keep looking at your work, flipping things back, imagining the finished piece, and thinking about right and wrong sides of the fabric.

Dinah's hand peeling back a layer of lining fabric over the zipper layer over the exterior fabric layer.
So much mental gymnastics going on as I imagine the stitched result and flipping it open and using the zip!

I found it helpful to spin that around and pin the pieces with the edge I was about to sew facing toward me. It helped me get the pieces lined up evenly.

Lesson for the future: consider the position of the pen pocket in relation to the zipper opening. My concept had been that you’d unzip the bag just a bit and there would be your pen. When I’d pieced it all together and stitched it, I realized I’d put the divider the wrong way round and the pen is all the way at the foot of the zipper. Well, it’s less likely to get lost that way, right? 😀

The pinned pieces—exterior side, zipper, lining side—sit in front the sewing machine. The machine's manual rests in the open space in the body of the machine.
Notice also how, knowing the next step requires the zipper foot, I have stuck the manual into the machine to remind me to change feet before sewing the next part.

Those green lights in a wooden block on the top left are my Make Time Clock by Chap Ambrose. There’s a lovely metal push switch at the top that starts a light flashing while I do a session of making and when I’ve completed it, that light stays solid. When I come into the room and see all six lights shining, I know it is a good week. 🙂
The clocks are, alas, no longer available to buy, but I don’t blame Chap; as he says, “I walked the fury road of Kickstarter fulfillment and came out stronger on the other side.”

My first time with the zipper foot was an adventure.

ALWAYS LOOK AT THE PRESSER FOOT BEFORE YOU FIRST REMOVE IT AND THEN IMMEDIATELY TRY PUTTING IT (NOT SOME OTHER NEW FOOT) BACK ON.

I did not do that and so, having pulled off the presser foot with much more ease than I expected, I tried sticking on the zipper foot and was totally confounded. First I tried locking in the wrong end of the foot, then the wrong part of the right end of the foot (it’s the wee bar you’re locking onto it not any of the part of the foot behind that). I went back and forth with the manual, my fingers getting sore and nearly in tears afraid I’d break my machine pushing too hard. It turns out the Janome MOD-19 feet don’t so much “lock in” as “kinda softly sorta snap and you’re hardly sure you’ve actually attached it”. Sigh. Thank goodness for YouTube videos and extrapolation from other machines to my poorly documented model.

To help, here is a nice big picture of sewing with a zipper foot on the Janome MOD-19 sewing machine.

Fabric ready to be sewn rests under the sewing machine's zipper foot. The foot has two sections at the back part so that the notch the needle goes down into in the front metal plate can be just to the left or just to the right of a zipper.
See how just below the point of the needle there’s a gray plastic piece (that’s the foot holder) with a dark horizontal line in it? The horizontal line is the bar on the foot—you can see one in the righthand side of the zipper foot. THAT’s what you’re “locking” on to the Janome MOD-19 foot holder. Sigh. If only I had looked at it more closely and verrrry slowly removed the presser foot to understand this better the first time. Learning!

One of the videos gave me the tip about using the front part of the foot to target my seam (and I’m focused on the structurally solid part of the fabric to the left of the selvedge threads).

And here’s a zoom and enhance of that Janome MOD-19 sewing machine zipper foot.

A bar comes down from the sewing machine case and has a large screw attaching the foot holder made of gray plastic. There is a notch at the end of the foot holder that's fairly deep, but actually it's the very front of the notch that grabs the little horizontal metal bar in the foot. The needle comes down just a bit in front of that bar, going through a gap in the foot to reach the fabric. Under the foot, the jagged "feed dogs" move the fabric along ready to receive the next stitch.
The gray plastic foot holder is just holding the little metal bar of the zipper foot in its soft gray beak.

Oh my gosh it worked!!

Two rectangles of brown linen are connected by a bright yellow zipper, with floral fabric covering the tails of the zipper at top and bottom. The spacing between the pieces is slightly narrower in the middle part and wider at the bottom, but not by a lot.
My first zipper pouch top is looking pretty decent!

And from the other side…

Flipped over to show the flowery lining side, the wider spacing along the bottom part of the zipper is more obvious, but fortunately no one will ever be looking at this from the bottom of the inside of the bag. Ha!

Okay, so now we split the fabric types again, lining to one side of the zipper, outside to the other. That is “Refold the fabric so the matching sides are together”. And yes, partially open the zipper before the next sewing step.

Below we see layer 1 of the lining side, let’s call it “bag lining left” as we imagine looking at the finished bag edge on with the zipper at the top. “Bag lining left” will have its wrong side to the wrong side of the outside fabric of the bag.

A good view of the big bold flowers of the lining fabric at this step of arranging everything neatly to be pinned and sewn together.
Layer 1

Then we add layers 2 and 3, the divider.

You can see here I was lucky with my cutting (and the fabric design) to be able to beautifully match the flower pattern of the pen pocket so that it flows right into the pattern on the divider layer below it.
Layer 3, with its attached layer 2 under it, everybody’s edges all lined up.

And finally layer 4, a.k.a. “bag lining right”. Pin all four layers together, being careful to keep the pen pocket smooth.

Line up the outside fabric and pin it too.

The reverse of this fabric is more muted, but it's still pretty bold and exuberant. The sedate brown linen is a good visual rest from the stimulation of the flowers.
Here we see two white pins marking the correct location of the gap to leave in your stitching.

And this is where I goofed up. Because Life Sew Savory had put two versions of the bag in the pictures at the top of the page and reversed the fabrics between them, I kept getting muddled in her pictures between what was the interior (hot pink, it turns out) and what was the exterior (stripey green). So I thought I had the gap marked wrong and flipped it over to the exterior. *sad trombone*

ALWAYS PAUSE AND THINK THROUGH WHAT WILL HAPPEN IN THE NEXT STEPS AFTER YOU SEW THIS ONE, ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU’RE FIGURING OUT WHERE YOU’RE GOING TO LEAVE THAT LESS ATTRACTIVE PART WHERE YOU TURNED SOMETHING RIGHT SIDE OUT AFTER STITCHING.

I did correctly turn the zipper end flaps down toward the lining side at least.

The zipper end cover sticks out to the side of the lining piece. It is folded down in this step so that its near end is stitched to the lining edges. The far edge, sticking out, will fold down into the bag when the outside is turned right side out around the lining portions.
The little 2″ squares that were used to hide the ends of the zipper pulls leave flaps that stick out on the sides. If it was a stiff fabric I would have trimmed it, but this stuff is so light it only adds a tiny bit of structure to the bag as it tucks into the body here.

Well, I turned it right side out and looked at that gap in the exterior and thought about seam ripping all the way around and if it was a fancy thing and not my rather imperfect first try at a zipper pouch, I might have. But then I thought, “Eh, C’Anna won’t mind and I’ve been wanting to try out decorative stitches on this machine anyhow…”

A simple brown linen rectangle with a stripe of bright yellow-gold zipper at the top and coordinating stitching across the bottom edge in a pattern of arrowheads pointing up.

One part of the bottom edge sticks down a little below the decorative stitching.
Good enough! And that orange on brown stitching looks really nice.
The flip side; the part that sticks out, where the gap was, looks a bit messier on this side, but it's okay.
Flip side. Yeah, oh well. Could be better and the next one will be!

Given how plain the fabric is—in a nice Shaker simple sense—even when I do this pattern correctly in future, I’d be tempted to add a decorative stitch to the outside fabric pieces before putting it together.

But the inside is a great success:

Looking into the bag from the top, the two sides of the interior compartment, with their soft, cheerful flowered lining are inviting to the eye and pleasant to the hand. The color of the zipper brings out the color of the matching flowers (one third of which are that same golden yellow).
Two sections!
Looking inside, at the foot end of the zipper, is the hidden pen pocket.
And a pen pocket!

Okay, C’Anna, it’s going into the mail to you Monday! 🙂

Sewing!

Hooray! I’m blogging again—at last the huge work of migrating over 8,000 posts on this blog plus all the associated media from Typepad to WordPress.com is complete. (Big thanks to the fabulous concierge team at WordPress.com for all their friendly and highly competent help!) It’s so exciting to be revitalizing MetaGrrrl.com and the first thing I want to write about is something that has been revitalizing me over the last year and a half.

Advisory: this post is huuuge because I’m catching up on all my projects, with instructions in some cases. In future I’ll do separate posts per project.

In June 2017 I did the Basic Sewing safety and machine basics session so I could use the sewing machines at TechShop, the makerspace here in San Francisco (now known as TheShop.build). During the class (which turned out to be a 1-on-1) my instructor taught me to make a clever little flip-top bag.

Janome New Home sewing machine on a bright red table next to Dinah's TechShop badge.
Sewing machine at TechShop.
A simple rectangular bag with one end folding over to form a closure. It is made of red cotton fabric with small, irregular, white dots and has a friendly, casual feel.
It’s a bit longer than a sunglasses case, and wider.
The same bag turned inside out, revealing the seam stitching.
It’s a little easier to understand how it is made when turned inside out.

It’s just a long strip of fabric (4x the finished length plus an inch of seam allowance) which has been sewn right sides together to make a loop.

Next the loop is flattened out with wrong sides together and the loop seam positioned as the back of the inside top edge of the bag—underneath at right edge in picture above—where it is least likely to be worn out by things stored inside the bag later.

Last, you fold the “lid” down, overlap it with the front body of the bag, and stitch down along each side. Lastly, turn it right side out.
The top of the bag held open to show how the part that folds over is arranged for stitching.
Here’s the detail of how to arrange what will be the top of the bag when you stitch the side seams. The “lid” is folded down first, with the front of the bag overlapping it just a little. When you turn the whole thing right side out, it makes the top closure work even without a fastener. (Not secure enough to keep things in if you shake the bag, but good enough to be put in a purse or backpack without disaster.)

I went back the next day and did more sewing, but I didn’t take notes (or haven’t unearthed them yet). I tweeted something the next day saying that I worked on two projects, but which? Probably it was this sewing tools caddy, which is super handy:

A flat board with three tiers of pockets across the front. The pockets contain a variety of sewing tools.
I didn’t have all these things at first (though the machine needles envelope was from my Basic Sewing class at TechShop) and I already had the fabric scissors and the two cases of hand needles. I’ve added bit by bit as I went along and am very pleased with how this caddy has accommodated my needs from the expected (a seam ripper and tailor’s chalk) to the unplanned (like the fashion curve ruler and the pinking shears).

(I figured out how to make it just looking at pictures and playing around with paper a little, but there are patterns available such as this one and this one. It’s basically a big flat bag with three folded over flaps of different heights sewn into the base and side seams as you make it. It gets its stiffness from cardboard slid down inside the big flat bag part. I could add on a little strap to keep it from relaxing completely flat if not leaned up against something, but so far I always have it at the side of my worktable with supportive things behind it.)

and that day I definitely worked on this Triplet Tote (made from a great online tutorial by The DIY Dreamer), because I have a picture of cutting it out.

A fairly flat blue bag with soft straps and bits of green peeking out at the sides of the bag.
You can see both my ability to carefully measure and mark out the pieces for cutting, and the quality of the fabric scissors at TechShop left something to be desired.

I recommend adding interfacing inside the handles and making them a bit longer. They squish up a bit over time, as you can see, and you want to be sure they’re long enough to sling the bag over your shoulder, even if it’s not your default way of carrying it; you’re going to need to juggle it, something else you’re carrying, and a set of keys at some point.
Dinah's fingers separate the top parts of the bag to show the three (fairly flat) compartments, the center in the same fabric as the exterior of the bag and the other two in the "lining" fabric.
Three compartments! Great for putting your tablet in the middle, or reserving that for your “live in the bag” items while switching out the side pockets for today’s book, that mail to go in the postbox, etc.
Traditional subtle arrow-patterned Japanese fabric in off-white on dark blue. The fuzzier, bright moss greeny-yellow lining fabric shows at the side.
Detail of the fabric pattern. Loved it on sight! It’s not as black as it appears here, the photos above are more accurate.

I must have gone to Britex Fabrics beforehand and raided the remnants bin, because that’s where I got that fabulous African-print wax fabric for the sewing caddy and the lovely Japanese fabric that is the blue part of the tote. (I hadn’t learned yet to wash fabric before sewing.)

A table with a cutting board on top of it holding unironed blue fabric with an intricate pattern like arrow feathering. The edges of the fabric are held flat with little pink sandbags and there is a pair of scissors beside the fabric.
About to measure, mark, and cut for the triplet tote. I also hadn’t yet learned to properly iron fabric before cutting.

Doing creative projects was a huge emotional release for me after all the heavy work through the latter half of 2016 and the first half of 2017 as executor of my biodad’s estate and volunteer with MoveOn Text Team. I wasn’t feeling able to do much in the way of creative writing, so being able to exercise my creativity and see a project to completion was an enormous lift.

Janome New Home sewing machine on a bright red table next to a small red bag with white dots and some bright green and yellow African print fabric.
TechShop sewing machine with a completed project and the fabric for future projects beside it.

Around age 19 I knew how to sew well enough to make myself a complete set of Elizabethan clothes for working at the Northern California Renaissance Faire, but all those skills had pretty much evaporated. Given how much more patient I am now, it is for the best that I am beginning again from scratch and learning to do things right.

In June and July 2017, I visited SCRAP, a fantastic scavenger paradise of materials for projects. In their fabric area, I found a cool embroidered table runner along with some other remnants. This turned into my next project, another tote bag, this time with an interior pocket and a very pretty strap made out of a necktie off the racks at some discount store like Marshall’s or Ross Dress-for-Less. I think the table runner cost something ridiculously great like $1 while the tie may have been $10, but it was still a good deal for the nice bag that resulted.

A flat, green fabric bag with a handle made from a flowery Hawaiian print necktie.
Table runner folded over “wrong sides” together, stitched up the sides, and then turned right side out to make a very simple flat bag. Flap and strap added separately.
The same bag flipped over to show how the flap was a separate piece stitched on afterwards. Some decorative embroidery from the table runner it was made from shows here.
The flap as a separate piece. And the embroidery of the table runner.
Dinah's hand holding open the bag to show the interior pocket and soft lining, and where the tie ends are stitched in to secure them as the bag straps.
Ah, right! As I look at this I remember I did something sneaky with how I made the lining, but I’ve forgotten the details. It was a tricky puzzle for a new sewer, though. The pocket is at an angle on purpose, to make it easier to access when wearing the bag. At least I think that was on purpose. The tie-as-bag-strap thing worked amazingly well and the bag is holding up great. Joe used it a week ago to carry an iPad for doing crossword puzzles together at brunch.

Not sure now (in January of 2019) when I began the work on turning a cool locally-made bag with cork ends which had worn out into a new tote, but it might have been the same day I made the table runner tote bag.

A project in progress: The bag portion is partially stitched together and sits on a table with the cork top (with straps) and footer above and below it, and a button for looping a fastener beside it, waiting to be sewn on.
A bit funny that the lining and exterior of the cork-detailed bag wore out before the cork parts. It was a prototype(which Joe bought something like eight years ago at a little SF shop called Peasants and Travelers, out of business as of the last few years alas), so I bet they changed materials.

I trimmed off the fabric which had begun to shred itself. The plan is to do another triplet tote. The body is mostly ready, I just need to figure out how to attach the cork pieces both securely and attractively.
The material is folded back to reveal the whimsical fabric inside with little drawings of Mt. Fuji, a whale, a torii gate, passport stamps, etc. on a gridded background like white graph paper.
The exterior is very understated, but great bags often have surprises inside. When I saw this Japanese travel-and-graph-paper-themed fabric at Britex I knew it would be a source of future delight. I think my skills have just about improved enough to finish this pending project.

My need for stress relief grew, while, unfortunately, my energy to get out of the house or do projects reduced. Like a lot of folks, 2016, 2017, and 2018 were pretty rough for me.

On August 4, 2017, I received a diagnosis of the mouth form of an autoimmune disorder, followed by diagnosis of the skin form in January 2018. Dealing with that medical stuff ate up most of my non health and wellness project energy, though in fall of 2017 I did do a massive change to our backroom, where our desks and potential guest space are. I added eight Ikea Besta cabinet columns on two walls, with a two part work table extending from one of them. That was the foundation for the lovely sewing project area I have now.

No sewing, but thinking about sewing… On June 16, 2018, I got various soft knits and other fabric remnants for about 2/3rds their regular price: 1 5/8 yards taupe cotton, 1 3/8 yards white bamboo/lycra, and something else from the bin, plus from the new bolts 1 yard of another cotton knit for $8.99. Looking back from January 2019 I was perhaps over-hasty in getting knits without knowing how to sew knits yet, but at least I was thinking about sewing and how I might be able to make more comfortable clothes for myself. I will be using these soon.

In mid November 2018 I bought myself a sewing machine; a Janome MOD-19, but didn’t unbox it until the start of December. I eyed the box all around Thanksgiving-time with anticipation tho’. 🙂

A friendly looking white sewing machine with some decorative geometric patterns on the body near the dials

(This machine was the recommendation from Wirecutter in their “The Best Sewing Machine for Beginners” article, which pick I agreed with after some additional research.)

I also bought a used copy of the (alas out of print) book Sew Everything Workshop: The Complete Step-by-Step Beginner’s Guide by Diana Rupp. It’s a great intro and useful even if you find one where the paper patterns in the envelope in the back are missing.

My first project as the machine and I got acquainted December 2, 2018, was a pincushion. I made it out of a leftover end piece of that table runner I got at SCRAP. 🙂

A tiny pillow-like pincushion with a variety of pins and needles sticking out of it.
It’s a pretty stiff fabric, but I expect with use it will soften up and the sturdiness will be good in the long run.
The same little pillow pincushion tilted up to show it has some embroidery from the table runner it was made from on the underside of it.
Embroidery from the table runner source of the fabric.
The same pillow pincushion tilted the other way to show the inexpert hand stitches in white thread where it was closed up after being turned right side out and filled with stuffing.
Not exactly elegant hand-stitching and I didn’t have the right thread color, but I made a thing I still use all the time!

I also finished up the open end of the back support of the sewing caddy I’d made back in 2017.

On December 13, 2018, I had the pleasure of another trip to Britex, this time with a shopping list derived from my readings in Sew Everything Workshop.

A shopping list divided into sections "Thread & Notions" and "Fabric" with detailed notes.
The recommendation for Coats & Clark or Gutermann thread came from Diana Rupp’s book and I’ve since seen the same recommendation from others. I stocked up on some basics—bias tape, interfacing—so I’d have a better chance of being able to dive into future projects without having to make a shopping trip.

When I bought the oilcloth for the sewing machine cover, I asked if I’d need a special foot for the sewing machine and she said no (and turned out to be right). I skipped getting the velcro because I realized I wasn’t sure I was going to immediately make walker bags (which I’d picked as a good practice project I could then donate to the senior center a block away).

Because I haven’t gotten the filling for it (the dust-free kitty litter), I haven’t made the draft dodger yet. Nor have I worked on pillows, but I did steal fabric from that for making part of a toy for my nephew.

This is when many of the items seen above in the sewing caddy picture were purchased. I also got a bunch of fabric, some with a plan and some remnants with only the vaguest plan, and four cool graphite-colored rectangle buckles for attaching the straps of a bag. Along with a dust-resisting solution for my sewing machine cover project, I got two charcoal gray fabrics with intent to use them for a new laptop bag, (the shinier, silkier one for the lining). I also got a bright orange flannel intending to use it to pair with a bright print I found in the remnant bin to make a microwaveable heat pad for a relative (but over the holidays, after not doing the project in time for gifting, found out they already had a couple of them so I ditched that plan).

The next project was a better illustration of why I got the machine. I began reclaiming my comfort in clothing by converting a pair of “yoga pants” which have a waistband I can tolerate* but which make me feel dorky into something I’d happily wear through an airport. (*I have a rare autoimmune disorder which makes my torso very sensitive to the pressure of elastic bands and other tight constrictions.)

TSA Pants

Waistband is great—wide and soft—and they have pockets…

The top of a pair of pants made of very soft, stretch fabric in charcoal grey.

… but the cuffs are gathered into a narrow band which insists on settling about three inches above my anklebone. Not elegant. The cuffs must go!

Two legs of a pair of pants of soft knit fabric, one cuffed, one with a ragged edge where the cuff has been removed.

Fortunately, I have a seam ripper. 🙂

My pincushion sits beside a large piece of shiny charcoal gray fabric held down with little faux stone blocks. A rectangular paper pattern sits atop the fabric.
Dwarven Forge miniature terrain elevation blocks make great fabric weights.

More skill practice: I made a paper pattern and used it to cut out the new cuff pieces.

I added a band of the shiny graphite-gray fabric (originally planned for a new laptop bag) which makes them just a little dressier, while actually also making them more comfortable. Slept in this on a red-eye flight in a lay-down seat and they were great. Success!

The same pants with shiny cuffs in a matching gray color. One of them is a little uneven along its bottom edge.

It took me hours to do this very simple project and there are definitely errors, but I learned so much! Very proud of myself for letting go of perfectionism and for making something I really needed.

The other side of the pants showing the unevenness from the other side and a bit of unintended gathering at the join between the leg and the cuff.

I followed this guide to lengthening pants. In the course of this project I learned these new (or completely forgotten) skills:

  • “Stitch the ditch”
  • Pressing as guidelines for later pinning and stitching.

And re-acquired these skills:

  • Making a paper pattern piece
  • Taking something from idea to plan to measured to pattern pieced to cut to pressed to completely sewn in one session (with a dinner break).
  • Going slower when it gets challenging

My “oops” moments included not cutting TWO fabric pieces for the cuff as I have TWO legs and letting the combo of knit fabric and slippery silky synthetic take over when I was going too fast stitching the ditch on the first leg and having to seam rip about 3 inches. (If it was a fancier garment and higher than the ankle it would have been necessary to seam rip the whole piece as it is a bit twisted compared to the other. I may re-do with a longer, better sewn cuff at some point.)

Still, not bad for sewing knit and slippery fabric when I don’t know how to work with either!

That was a luxurious day of getting to work on my own projects, so I also began making a sewing machine cover, following the instructions in Sew Everything Workshop. It was another success and another source of learning.

A sewing machine under a cover with a pattern of cute cartoon foxes.
Isn’t that oilcloth fabric fabulous? How could you not want to go play with a machine under a cover like that? The pattern is “Fabulous Foxes” by Andie Hanna, part of the Robert Kaufman Collection. I got it at Britex in San Francisco.

This one went together very well. I slowed down. 😀

Still need to learn how to wrap bias tape for a more finished look around openings. I cut separate pieces and stitched them down and the gaps show.

It came together in three stages on different days:

  • Marking it up to cut using tailor’s chalk directly on the wipeable side of the fabric, cutting the pieces, creating and finishing the handle opening, and then assembling the body pieces onto the top.
  • Cutting the cord slot and pinning the bottom seam. (Double folded seam style, folded over and then over again, so when you stitch you leave a clean edge on the interior.)
  • Sewing round to finish the bottom edge (which I did on January 8, 2019, after the bustle of the holidays and travel).

Making this was so fun, I want to work more with BPA-free PUL (polyurethane laminate) fabrics. I had no problems with the sewing machine feeding this even though I wasn’t using a special foot, I guess because I was going slow. I’ve got a bit left so I’m thinking of making some little zippered pouches.

I was definitely hooked at this point. Went back to Britex on December 20, 2018, where I bought an “ironing ham” (used for ironing curved things like sleeve cuffs), zippers I could use for making pouches of various sorts, cotton cording for lacing for other small projects, polyester fiberfill, and more remnants. (I looked at thin, cheap quilt batting, but then didn’t find the kind I needed so I skipped it.)

We traveled to London over the holiday time and I made a special trip to Shaukat Fabrics, which I knew from Erin McKean’s Dress A Day blog (which I’ve been re-reading) as a great source of less expensive Liberty fabrics.

Stacks and stacks of Liberty fabric. This section is labeled "Liberty Poplin £18 per meter".
So much lovely fabric…
One shopping bag of loot in hand, a dazed Dinah emerges to the sidewalk.

I bought 5 meters of a Liberty cotton poplin and 3 meters of a Liberty lawn I plan to use for garments for me once my skills permit me working with something that’s £18 a meter. I also bought 28 remnant pieces (mostly about 8-10″ strips around 45-55″ wide), about a third of which were gifts for my mother. For a few I found two pieces. These are all amazing fabrics and will be really fun to use, even in small amounts.

Intricately patterned fabric in a variety of styles, from subtle earthtones to splashy pinks, many of them with motifs of flowers and foliage.
These intricate patterns make me very excited about sewing!

On January 8, 2019, it was a pure joy to have things so well set up that I could just turn on the lights and the machine and start sewing when the mood struck. This is when I finished the sewing machine cover. Only took about half an hour. I turned off the machine, covered it up, turned off the worklights, and went on with my day. Glorious!

My next projects were organizing my sewing materials and making a toy for my nephew Charlie, beg pardon, Space Commander Charles G.

An orange flannel space rocket with curved brown twill fins standing up on its flat base (and kept vertical by the even spacing of the fins)
I used this pattern from sewgrown.blogspot.com. Their pattern includes flames that tuck into the bottom and can be extended on blast off, but I left those out for safety since Charlie has a very little brother.

The tricky bit for me with this one was cutting the pieces of the fins since the fabric for those had a distinct right and wrong side. I had to recut one piece, but fortunately it was small and didn’t waste much. (This fabric was originally going to be used in repairing the pillowcases in our front window, but I know I can get more and it was ideal for a sturdy section of a toy like this.
I also wasn’t paying enough attention to lining up the direction of the diagonal pattern of the right side of the twill while I was cutting these, but fortunately 2-year-olds aren’t too fussy. 😀

One tip when using poly fiberfill: stretch out a glob of it a little to make a flat pad rather than a lump and place that flat against the sides, then when you’re jamming into the center at the last to finish filling it up entirely full, the flat pads keep lumps from forming on the exterior. This of course will also make the rocket more aerodynamic and require less fuel.

Along with having a good sewing day, I ordered some pieces from Ikea (storage boxes for fabric, an organizer for notions, extra shelves to make the cupboards work better) and threw in two cheap duvet covers that were on sale at a price making them a great price for printed cotton fabric. One of those is a fun fabric I’ll be using for my first clothing project (see below). Ironically, the fabric storage boxes have been lost by FedEx twice between Ikea and my house, but the rest is turning out fine.

On January 18, 2018, I gave myself the treat of a visit to a new-to-me fabric store, Fabric Outlet, on Mission Street. Very friendly staff and I was such a happy Dinah puttering around and finding things. I got fabric and buttons for a present I’m planning to make (shhh, for now), fabric and twill ribbon to make myself a new apron that’s proportioned correctly for me (no more apron-side-boob!), a flamingo pink satin remnant that will be perfect for the belt for my next project (below), some linen and twill that may work to make coasters, fusible interfacing (a proper, non-remnant sized piece this time), thin batting, and a few interesting remnants.

On January 20, 2018, I began thinking through a more complex project, my first complete pieces of clothing: a set of lounge pants and a matching kimono jacket for an upcoming trip to very warm weather. (I’m sure these will also come in handy this summer, whenever we get one. It was never entirely predictable in San Francisco even before climate change.)

A pair of soft, loose lounge pants lies beside an open notebook with a pen laid by from making notes. Next to it is a piece of green craft paper with the edges folded over like a seam allowance.
Thinking through how to add a soft, fold over waistband and using a piece of craft paper to work through my ideas.

I washed the fabric, and while that was going I figured out the best of my current pairs of lounge pants to use as the basis for a pattern.

(Yes, these are pretty fabulous pants—best of all I bought these tropical wonders at Marks & Spencers in Yorkshire!—but the elastic top isn’t comfortable for me these days.)

Figuring out how to get this three dimensional object to lay flat enough to be captured in two was a real test of my wits and patience, but, taking breaks when I needed, I did succeed eventually. I marked and cut all the pattern pieces and will take a photo of those when I write up the sewing part of this project in a future blog post.

A quick and rather silly project was my diversion on January 22, 2019, when we had to cancel our usual D&D game and I had bonus time. I used a faaabulous girl’s t-shirt I found on clearance to make a pool tote.

White t-shirt with a pair of pink unicorns with gold horns under fluffy blue clouds.
Why don’t they make more stuff like this in adult sizes?
This was one of those shirts where the back fabric is a bit longer than the front. I used this to my advantage to create the base of the bag.
With the shirt inside-out, I lined it all up so that the shirt was smooth and the back was flat.
Then I folded the longer part of the back over the front, and pinned it.

After I stitched across to secure this bottom seam of the bag, using a flamingo pink thread to match the unicorns and removing pins as I sewed of course, I had to do two separate small bits of pinning at each side to close up the gaps of the shirt vents. (I sometimes bring a pen and notebook to beach or pool and don’t want the pen escaping through a little hole in the bottom of my bag.)
Then I cut off the sleeves, being careful to leave the seam that had attached them to the body of the shirt intact. This will add body and stability to the straps.
Next I used tailor’s chalk and an oval dish of the right size to mark where I’d extend the neck opening to create the other side of the straps. The goal is to use as much of the shirt’s shoulder strap as possible width-wise and to bring the opening down parallel with the armpit of the shirt. (If I hadn’t had the ideal oval dish, I would have used my curved fashion ruler.)

Cut out on the oval, pinning if necessary to keep the cut even on the two layers.
Do a double fold seam around the rough edges of the former armholes and neckhole. Go very very slow, probably hand-turning the needle, as you pass over the thickness of the seam at the top.
If this were anything but a cheap, loosey-goosey, rather silly pool tote, I would have pinned it, but for this I just folded the double fold as went along (playing the part of a double fold machine foot, I guess).
Despite being very slapdash, it turned out dandy. I look forward to laughter and envy on vacation with friends.

I’m still working hard on learning the basics. Figuring out what the different kinds of seams are (plus using more professional-looking techniques for the one I’ve been using most, the double fold hem).

And I’m really happy!

Dinah, wearing overalls and smiling in front of her sewing machine as she works on the fins for Charlie's space rocket.