Post #3195: All the little jobs

Photo of a sliced loaf of bread

These days at home have been great for getting at all the little jobs, and the big ones, around the house. I’ve been baking all the bread of course, cleaning out closets, changing high-up light bulbs, and this past weekend started washing the studio windows and scrubbing the pollen and algae off the deck railings. This turned out to be a big job, needing an extender pole that I don’t have, so I am only one-third of the way into the project of sprucing up my studio exterior. Inside the studio I have also been cleaning, something I do several times per year (though I’ve never done the interior windows before). Within the next couple of weeks I should have a pretty nice space both inside and out to hang out in.

Like most everyone, I expect I’ll be spending a lot of time at home this summer and so I’m taking the time that I normally don’t have to spruce things up a bit. I’m even going to invest in a new chair for my studio deck.

I’m also looking at my weaving loom and thinking that it’s time to weave off the project that has been on it for months (the fabric is destined to become a sauna towel for my partner) and decide on some smaller skill-building projects for the summer. I sold my big loom in early March, so at the moment I only have the small Julia loom which is portable enough that it can be moved onto the deck in nice weather. With the deck cleaned up, I might actually do that this year.

Incidentally, I am in the market for a larger loom again. I had been looking at very wide (60 inches) and tall swedish countermarch looms in the fall, but since then I’ve done some thinking and have decided that a Louet Spring is the most likely candidate for my weaving needs now, and into the future. I realized that if – for example – we decided to downsize and rented out my studio space I don’t want to deal with finding space for or selling a room-sized loom. The Louet Spring is a fairly expensive purchase, and these looms rarely turn up used – so it will be a year or more before I have the money together to make the order. Before that happens, I hope to be able to travel to Salt Spring Island to try one out at Jane Stafford’s studio. So many contingencies.

On a podcast the other day, I heard the psychologist Mark Epstein remark that the people in his practice who are doing the best these days are those who can treat this time a bit like a meditation retreat – dissolving their expectations into present-moment work like cleaning, mending, and tending (my interpretation of his words). This, of course comes from a privileged place of having a home to retreat into, and not having significant tasks in caring for others – but it is exactly the place I find myself. If I think about the future, or the things I am missing and have had to cancel – I get very anxious. On the other hand, if I allow myself to sink fully into a cleaning task like my windows, I become deeply satisfied with my present moment and space, which frees me up from what might come next. And because the external pressures to travel, to see people, to work away from the home are alleviated – our lives at home feel much more integrated. There is no here and away, this and that life. There is only here and the 95% of activities that take place within our home and garden sphere.

Today I’m going into town to get my car serviced and pick up some things from London Drugs. This will be my first trip that involves errands and shops in over two months and it feels strange to venture away from home to go do things outside of my sphere. I worry that it’s just the beginning of the end of this time focused in one place – and though I would also like to visit friends and family freely again, I’m not quite ready to bring this time of home tending to an end. We will see what the summer brings, but I do expect it will be a quiet one, and that’s okay with me.

Post #3194: Improving on Instagram

It’s May 6th and I am well-into my @memademay2020 goals, one of which included improving my selfies on Instagram. A big part of participating in the online sewing community involves taking photos of self-made clothing and posting them on various social media, Instagram in particular. As much as I find the act of taking photos of myself annoying, and often somewhat depressing, this is the main way that makers interact online these days. I can blog all I want, but I don’t get nearly the interaction with other folks interested in sewing as I do on Instagram.

Up until this month I have shown off my sewing in one of two ways 1) On a dressmaker’s dummy or 2) With a mirror-selfie. In both instances I’ve been using my iPad or phone camera and I rely heavily on the Instagram filter “Mayfair” to smooth out the poor lighting and resolution issues. That works, and lots of people do this sort of thing to great effect – but I’ve never been overly happy with this presentation and because my studio is often a mess, my backgrounds are cluttered. On the one hand, my studio has great light because it is all windows, on the other, there is no blank white wall to photograph against.

So each day so far this month I’ve been playing with a different element of making a decent self-portrait. On May 1st, I got organized around using a tripod, on the 2nd and 3rd I took photos in my zendo of a specific aspect of my life (meditation practice), on day 4 I added the element of holding something (my morning coffee), and yesterday I swapped out the iPad for my real camera. You can see all these experiments over at @Birdsongworkshop.

Today I started playing around with a backdrop comprised of a room divider and a sheet that I can use for those days when I just don’t feel like leaving the studio (or when the weather precludes it). Up top you can see my experiments using the dressmaking form – first with the bookshelf as backdrop, then with lighting from the behind, and in the center is the one I settled on liking the best which deployed only natural light and the use of better photo editing tools.

Sadly, by the time it came to take my actual selfie, the light was a bit weird and also I had to contend with the fact I don’t like photographing myself enough to spend hours doing it. So while I am fine with this basic backdrop for use some of the time, I need to go back to composition, camera angle and height, and lighting and work on that some more. Plus I’d like to take some more in situ shots on days when I am not working and have more time and access to the outside world.

Morning Me.

Now, I know I am not a very photogenic person which to a large degree is why I dislike this whole process so much. I am not comfortable or natural with a camera on me, and my features are much better appreciated in person than in a photo. But at the same time, why does that matter so much to me? Having taken lots of portraits of other people over the years I know that some people do not come across well in pictures, no matter how good looking they are in real life – it’s not a shortcoming to take a bad photo. Except I worry in this digital, image-obsessed world that it is and that so often we edit ourselves out of that bigger picture for no good reason at all.

I am reminded of Vivienne McMaster’s work on selfies as self-compassion and acceptance and that I have materials from one of her e-courses i bought years ago kicking around. I think I might have to take a look at that work again as I go through this process of scrutinizing myself through the lens and trying to create images that feel authentic and acceptable for showing off my the sewing, weaving, and knitting projects that I wear! It’s a bit of work to be sure, but preferable to being represented by a dressmaking form online 🙂

Stay tuned for more progress. I’m figuring this out one day at a time.

Post #3193: Turning things over

I’m having trouble with words these days. Or maybe it’s an issue of focus. The writing isn’t happening at all. This is a problem when you have a blog and a newsletter – so I’m still trying to eke something out that I can send for the latest installment of Comfort for the Apocalypse. But I’m not beating myself up about it. Things like canning, sewing, gardening, and offering support to those around me are taking precedence right now – as are working out, reading, and getting rest. I see what I’ve prioritized in the last few weeks, and I can’t argue with myself about it. It’s just what makes sense right now.

I’ve been posting a lot on Instagram and last week changed the name of my account to Birdsong Workshop to better reflect the diversity of things that happen in my home and studio. Birdsong Textiles felt a bit too weaving specific, and since it’s only one of the things happening here I thought a change was in order. There is a lot of sewing content right now, but I will start to include canning, cooking, and gardening content as well. Not being out in the world as much, I have more time to document little bits of our life here on Gabriola and something about Instagram appeals to me greatly in these times. I suppose it’s because I think of it as friendly social media and curate my feed to weed out political memes specifically (I get a lot of that content in all other parts of my life).

On the weekend I went through my closets and drawers and purged them of everything too large, worn out, or not my style. I also went through the shoes and removed everything I can no longer wear due to my Morton’s neuroma (basically, anything that narrows my toe-box is out these days and probably forever). While I have been quietly sewing a new spring/summer wardrobe that fits my smaller body, I had a rule that no new clothes could go into circulation until the old were cleaned out. When I was done I had a pile of “garbage” (some of which has been cut up into quilt squares), a bag of give-aways, an armload of me-mades that I am going to attempt altering down in size, and a small stack of clothes that are too big and also too complicated to alter that I’m not ready to let go of yet.

It definitely feels like spring when you start cleaning the closets out!

Even in these times I have a great feeling of refresh as the garden comes to life and the house gets aired out on warmer days. A new routine has emerged that involves daily yoga and workouts in my garage, trading on the local barter board (sourdough starter for kale, rhubarb crowns for canned chutney), and a weekly bread bake on Sundays. It’s not what I thought April would be, though in a lot of ways it’s better. The removal of external expectation that I be *other* places has been a bit of a gift.

But still, not everything is quite right inside my island bubble. I have trouble with focus and a hard time caring about things not concretely important, I am worried about a future where this virus is always a possibility because we can’t develop immunity but also about everything going “back to normal”. I don’t want to return to racing around all the time, but I would like to be able to go to a restaurant or an open mic again. I don’t mind working out at home, but I do miss going to my gym!

These times highlight my planning mind – one that switches easily from the logistics of work travel to maximizing food stores and community connections. Given that spring is the season of thinking ahead, I am well into turning over all of the things in my life although I don’t know exactly what I’m preparing for next.

Post #3192: Sewing through the spring

I took last week off work, which meant I took ten days off from sitting in front of my computer in any kind of concentrated way. Of course I scrolled social media using my phone, opened up the laptop to take my online yoga classes – but I didn’t sit down to write even once in those days off. I just needed to float around inside my studio and my head for awhile without recording it anywhere.

I finished warping my loom with the impossible sauna towel project (more on that in another post, I’m sure), got some sewing done, built some food growing boxes for the garden (now full of soil that my husband Brian wheelbarrowed into them yesterday), sorted some old seeds, did yoga every day, cooked some great dinners, and made a tiny bit of headway on the colourwork of the sweater I’m knitting. And I finally started to settle into the fact that this is the way things are going to be for the next long while, though I’m not going to put a number of months on that figuring right now because it seems pointless to predict.

Given the increased home time, I’ve been thinking about #MeMadeMay, an annual sewing tradition (this is year 10) in which home-sewists set goals to develop a better relationship to their self-made clothing. It was started by Zo at So, Zo What do you Know as a way to see how much one can rely on self-made clothing in a given time period. To participate, one signs up for the annual challenge (there isn’t a sign-up post yet), sets some self-defined goals, and then uses the hashtags #memademay2020 and #memademay on Instagram to alert others to posts that relate to the challenge. This is *not* about sewing a bunch more clothes or posting incessantly on social, though one might incorporate both of those activities. It *is* about approaching our wardrobes and sewing plans thoughtfully and with intention.

The last time I participated was in May 2018, which I documented with daily posts on Instagram and weekly round-ups on my blog. My goal then was simply to wear me-made garments and photograph myself wearing them.

This time around, I’m going to use the month to spend a bit more time thinking about my style, gaps in my wardrobe I’d like to fill, and what things need to go in the donation bin. I’ve lost close to thirty pounds and three dress sizes since October, and while some of my clothes are still wearable, others are not (and some are just looking old). I am also in the process of sewing an all-new fitted wardrobe, and would like to start documenting that as well. Given these factors, I’ve set myself the following sewing-related goals for May:

  • Evaluate every piece of self-made clothing in my collection for wear, fit, and whether it works with my current personal style.
  • Remove garments that don’t meet my needs any longer.
  • Dress in self-made clothing every day and document on Instagram, include measurements and sizing where possible.
  • Work on a set-up for photographing myself. (If I had one straightforward way of getting decent pictures, I would document more often which increases my participation in the online sewing community).

I’m glad to have time to participate in this challenge for 2020, and also to spend sewing new clothes. Up until a month ago April to July was looking like wall-to-wall activity but now I am staying put for awhile. I can’t say I mind getting this unanticipated time in my studio, garden, and makeshift fitness studio in our garage. Sewing is one of the things I find myself turning to as I expand into my life at home fully, feeling rooted in the activity that sustains rather than going through the motions expected of me in the world outside. #MeMadeMay feels like a way to celebrate this time outside of normalcy, a time in which there are less daily demands that pull me away from home.

Post #3191: Small decisions daily

Do you find yourself doing things a bit differently these days? I mean, besides the whole not going out of the house thing.

I sure am. There is no question that before all this I was throwing out tons of useful things. Carrot ends and onion skins, for example. Bones from pork chops and chicken thighs. Plastic netting from bags, twist ties, and those tiny elastic bands that come wrapped around green onions. The food scraps go in the freezer for stock making, the other odds and ends into the drawer of all things in case I need them even though I am pretty sure I have enough of that stuff stashed already. I’ve never been a minimalist with all my canning jars, garden implements, and stacks of books to read – and am I ever glad of that right now.

I’ve stopped tracking things – how much I write, the days I meditate, what exactly I am doing when I work out. I still turn the FitBit on to record walks and rides, but all the tracking of my days that I used to keep myself motivated, has fallen away. Because I am almost always at home, not trying to fit in this or that appointment, I am living my days more as they come to me with less need to plan all my activities so my schedule “works”. Although I don’t like the reason, I appreciate this shift, finding myself much less panicked about my lack of time to do all the things. I also note that I don’t feel the need to do as much, even though I have more time to be “productive” if I choose.

Although I am sleeping well, I am tired a lot though I’m not sure if that’s pandemic or perimenopause. There is a lot of focus in our house on what we are going to make for dinner the next day. I’m eating the occasional cookie, though my big treats I make sure I pick up during my weekly grocery shop are gala apples, sparkling water, and dried apricots. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so fixated on sparkling water before. Because of shortages, I’ve stopped eating eggs as often, a daily staple until recently. I’ve started growing small bits of food again after vowing I wouldn’t do that anymore once we moved next door to a farm.

I notice the gaps in our home supply, what I had run low on without thinking about it – canning jar lids, all-purpose flour, cold and flu medicine. I purchase an order of worms with a neighbour to see if I can fix the soil the previous owners of this place destroyed with moss killer. I’ve stopped thinking about my relative importance or success in the workplace, stopped worrying about how my teleworking life distances me from others now that we are all in the same boat. Instead I’m focused on the small daily decisions of how to organize my pantry, what canning should be done to ensure available food supply should things get worse, what garden or household projects I should turn my attention to next.

Because I’ve remote-worked for four years, my days have not changed much. I still get up early, meditate, go to work, get some exercise every day. But my life, the whole shape of it, what feels important and demands my attention – that’s what’s shifting. Saving scraps for making soup stock, planting sprouted potatoes in earth instead of throwing them in the compost, pressure canning another 10 pints of beans for the pantry – these activities situate me in the midst of the big unknown we are all living in, and remind me again of what a real life is made of.

%d bloggers like this: