Halloween Countdown: 8 days

This is me, but I think used nylon leotards are kind of nasty.  I have no objection to used tutus, but where does one find such a thing?  I surely wasn’t going to spend months of my life pulling gathers into yards of tulle and stitching them to elastic bands, so I sprung (I use the term liberally), for some new tutus and leotards on eBay.  Leotards are important for the whole mix-and-match concept.  Most of the garments I made were intended to be at least semi-un-out-grow-able, which means they were skirts.

Tutus.  The more the better!  If I had been the recipient of this box I would have been thinking snow fairy for the white one, and a plant fairy of some kind for the green.  Stay tuned for more tutus and fairy gear this week.  The problem with tutus and filmy fabrics in general is what to wear underneath.  Sometimes a leotard won’t do.  A selection of the humbler garments:

I think of aprons as humble.  I sewed this one because I had an eyelet remnant and thought, that would make a tiny apron.  It was one of those easy projects that turn out to be surprisingly time-consuming, what with the interfacing and hand hemming and basically figuring out how to make the thing.  So here’s what’s funny: according to my sister, among all the glitter, my kindergarten-aged niece homed right in on the apron.  To her, an apron is exotic–the perfect accessory for any number of olde-tymey characters.  I’m glad I didn’t waste my time on it!

A bright fringy shawl is, of course, a peasant staple.


Halloween Countdown: 13 days

You will have to trust me that this Chinese silk satin brocade cheongsam (eBay) is prettier than it looks in the picture and will exactly fit my older niece. The only flaw was a ballpoint pen line on the front which came came out with rubbing alcohol and blotting.

And try to believe me when I tell you this silk kimono-robe handed down from a college housemate is a worthy addition to The Box. It appears I myself only wear robes to keep warm–which could explain why this one sat in my drawer for 14 years.  Or maybe I kept it because it reminded me of another silk robe about the same size and weight in my granny’s costume box; it did duty for a lot of different outfits.

Big pieces of drapey fabric are also fun. I think the shiny green polyester was meant to be a window treatment. Honestly, the crap people will put on their windows! The rejected house-goods they will dangle themselves over the sides of the “As Is” bins at IKEA for! Have they no shame?

Moving right along. . .

A wrap from Goodwill that feels like silk but isn’t. Do you see those big bands of color blending from white to magenta to purple? Does anyone know the name for this type of dyeing?–I’ve always wondered. Anyway, it’s luscious, but after getting it home and running it through the delicate cycle I discovered numerous pink candle wax stains! Fortunately, I got them out (mostly) by ironing them between paper towels and spot-cleaning with detergent. Unfortunately, after washing the wrap a second time I found tropical punch stains. There is such a thing as too much fun for grownups.

Last and least, a homemade lace curtain, also from Goodwill. I bleached it, picked out the stitching, cut off the ragged edges. I thought the pattern was kind of classy for nylon lace.

Halloween Countdown: 14 days

My dearest granny, who didn’t so much teach me to sew as model it in such a way that I osmosed it, believes she once had a Completely Original Thought.  When she tells the story of her Completely Original Thought, I must hold my tongue instead of saying that I don’t think there is any such thing, and why do you care so much anyway, Gran?–because that is not the point.  The point, the moral, the ironic twist (once she has fully conveyed the grandeur of her Completely Original Thought) . . . is that Granny can’t be SURE she had a Completely Original Thought because on the way to write it down she forgot it.

Next she tells the story of her Really Important Thought About Everything–though not so important as the Completely Original one–the gist of which she can repeat, but which doesn’t convey its full profundity:

“Scale doesn’t matter.”

I am here with Goldilocks to say otherwise.

Surely we can all agree that in a world scaled to humanoid bears, some things are too big for us? Others, weirdly, may be too small.  Some are just right, but only by accident–which isn’t at all the same thing as being just right on purpose.  I know my granny wasn’t talking about chairs or porridge bowls or purses; my point is that scale always matters when you forced to live on someone else’s scale instead of your own, which is what children do, and which is probably why they like the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  I think it also explains their fascination with the miniature.  I know it explains mine.

What you want to notice in this picture is the small bamboo and silk fan with a gold case (eBay), and that the small beaded satin evening bag (Goodwill) constructed in exactly the same manner as what would have been a much larger handbag in the 1950’s–perfectly scaled for a six-year-old!

Though of less interest, I will also tell that you that the dainty antique linen handkerchief trimmed with net lace is one of many to come to me from my great-grandmother–I am less attached to the ones like too small to blow my nose on.  And I must have bought these stretchy ivory gloves at St. Vincent De Paul when I was fifteen.  Am I right that these are the sorts of ladylike things you would keep in your 1950’s handbag?

While we’re on the subject, I’ll just toss this shawl out on the table.

What do you think?  Fringy black lace shawls–ladylike or floozie-eqsue?

Never mind.  Into the box it goes.  Now here are some scarves, so pretty!  Let me tell you how I got them.

Some vendor at the antique mall bought up all the clothes at an estate sale.  It was easy to see that everything in the stall had belonged to the same woman and that she had loved her clothes and had good taste and plenty of money all her life.  The ranks of immaculate gowns and tailored suits and coats went from the 1930’s through the 1960’s, and there were scarves and hats and gloves in staggering quantity as well.  I wish I had bought more scarves; they were marvelous and they were cheap, cheap, cheap!  Most of the ones here were made in Japan: three of those those crinkly sheer nylon squares everyone used to wear to protect their hair-dos, a long flame-red scarf of silk/poly georgette, slithery lightweight black silk crepe, and my favorite: an incredibly fine black silk with silhouettes of rose leaves.  Yesterday I walked by the same antique mall and saw that it had gone out of business.  Darn.

The textured yellow silk scarf with a print of playing Japanese girls was from Goodwill, however, not the good lady who so thoughtfully declined to be buried with her wardrobe.

Halloween Countdown: 15 days

About half a year ago I realized my nieces are just the age when playing pretend is most exciting.  This reminded me of how when I was their age, the very best pretend-play would sometimes turn electric.  It happened often when I could not only “be” whatever I was “being,” but wear their clothes!  I decided to make the girls a costume box.

The costume box of my youth was (is) a black tin trunk in my granny’s (the live one’s) basement filled with leftovers from my mother’s and aunts’ dress-up days.  Granny understands dress-up.  At nine she fashioned Barsoom costumes for herself and her friends from scraps of lamé and satin; they spent that whole summer running around each other’s yards pretending to be Edgar Rice Bourroughs’ Martians.  All through Granny’s childhood and teens, in fact, whenever she wasn’t sewing clothes and costumes for her dolls, she was sewing them for herself.  The Halloween costumes she made for my mother and aunts involved a yearly ritual of sewing, repurposing, and papier-mâché-ing on a par with Easter dresses for importance.  Later, when my aunts were teenagers and didn’t care, Granny gave away most of their old costumes and other dress-up things to a mother of young children who was going through a divorce–a gift the woman ever after credited with saving her sanity.  I liked to imagine what might have been in that Box Of Yore.  It must have been amazing considering what was left.

The tin trunk was (is) not big.  There were not a lot of clothes in it, but what there were stood out in magnetic strangeness by way of their antiquity.  In Granny’s costume trunk I found weights, weaves, fibers, and methods of decoration I understood had used to be part of people’s normal lives, but which I had never seen or handled in my own.  The first fabrics I loved were costumes.

Are you curious?  Well, there was my great-grandmother’s sheer Spanish shawl from the 1920’s, covered in satin-stitch peonies.  There was the embroidered silk dragon robe sent from China by Granny’s brother in the service, and the impossibly skinny blue-green moire 1950’s cocktail gown with a fishtail flounce, donated by the Cruella DeVille-like “Mean Aunt N___” who terrified my aunts as children.  There was the beautiful Japanese fan still in its disintegrating pre-war presentation box, the Moroccan finger-cymbals, the faux-Edwardian Mary Poppins dress with contrasting-lined bias-cut frills and shiny black buttons up the front.  My favorite as a small child was a Mexican peasant dress with different colors of rickrack going round and round–twirly!  Sadly, the rustling Renaissance “princess dress” of highly polished blue cotton was too big until I was quite old and then quickly outgrew it.  Its skirt was interlined with a stiffening buckram-like stuff, the lining was rose organdy, the sleeves trailed to the knee, and the square neckline was trimmed with perfect wee daisies–so typical of Granny’s loving attention to detail.

That is just a sample.

I could not and would not wish to duplicate the costume box of my youth.  Like Granny, I love attention to detail in garment construction; unlike her, I do not love to sew and would never have the patience to interline a princess dress.  Another issue is utility.  Granny’s costumes were too old and special to wear while tearing around outdoors, but tearing around outdoors is (I always found) a prerequisite for really good pretend-play.  I wanted my nieces to have costumes they could play with anywhere, anytime; yet which still had incorprated the variety of fabrics and real-garment quality of construction that made my Granny’s costumes so magical.

The best outfits for pretend play are ones with mixable pieces, so my other goal was to give the girls lot of components that lent themselves to being draped and tied and swapped out, as well as a few good base garments that fit them.  (Nothing is more frustrating than something pretty you can’t wear because it’s too big and looks all wrong and dumpy on you!)  Most of all, I wanted them to light up with a sense of dramatic possibility the way I would have done if someone had given me a big box of purpose-gathered costumes when I was their age.

So then I sewed and thrift-stored and laundered and mended for longer than I like to admit.  Now that all 26 pounds of costumes are in UPS truck speeding to my nieces, I will share them with you.

Starting with . . .

The Queeny Wizardy Robe

This fabric, which you can’t see properly, is a cross-dyed polyester taffeta that shines black one way and wine red the other.  It came from a set of curtains in a clearance pile at a discount store; I thought the taffeta would be perfect for a wicked queen or wizard.  The matching valance made up into a  pointy princess hat which you will see at a later date.

To cut this thing out I combined different views from Period Patterns No. 16: “Tunics, c. 650-1310 A.D.”–redrawing the pointed sleeves to be shorter, unlined, and more bell-like for lack of fabric.  I refused to set-in the sleeves the way the pattern directions directed.  Sewing the sleeves to the body and then sewing the underarms and side seams in one go with a clipped, reinforced curve worked just fine, so nyah!

Here you can see it with a big piece of iridescent chiffon I squared up and hand-hemmed along the raw edges for a Queen of the Night veil.

The Ugly Muscovy Scarf

December 23, 2009

By the way you can still trade me a hat for this scarf by leaving me a comment and e-mailing a picture of the hat.


I guess nobody has unwanted merino wool hats just lying around! It also occurs to me that I chose the wrong time of year. I forget how busy people who are putting together family celebrations are this week, as opposed to childless holiday slackers like us.

Which brings me to the scarf / stole I told you about back in November, which I am calling the Ugly Muscovy. Last week it was mailed, received, unwrapped, and much appreciated by its recipient. And that was my last Christmas package, so I’m done!

“Muscovy” doesn’t refer to the region in Russia, which isn’t ugly at all, but to the name of a kind of duck originating in South America. We never had Muscovies when we were raising our own ducks, though we often visited some at a local homestead park. After moving we noticed a pair of them in a neighbor’s yard in our new town. Muscovies are a popular low-care breed for small gardens, as they are great slug-eaters and (unlike most ducks) have a fighting chance against predators, since they roost to sleep. In terms of scientific classification they are actually more closely related to geese than to ducks. Maybe that’s why I never wanted any–they didn’t charm me with their dauntless incompetence the way our Indian runners did. (Also, Der Mann thinks the bubbly red caruncles on the males’ bills are cute. I do not!)

I named the scarf for the inlay: it is a common motif on South and Central American folk textiles. Probably only duck fancier would notice, but this motif isn’t just a fantastical “bird,” it has the shape of a Muscovy duck! I found it graphed out by M. M. Atwater in this July 1936 issue of The Weaver, in an article about loom-controlled leno featuring a Guatemalan huipil–she spells it “hupel.”

I have a small stack of these wonderful magazines. They belonged to the original owner of my loom, and after my shuttles and my antique swift from Sweden, they are my greatest weaving treasures.

The inlay was my favorite part of this project. I thought it would be tiresome. I’m going to have to try some more; I have an idea for a different way to use the inlay circles. I wasn’t as pleased with the Danish medallions, which I learned to do using Robyn Spady’s February 2008 article in WeaveZine. They don’t seem a very stable decoration when you are making them on this scale. For a little color and some textural interest in a fine linen, I can see them being very nice.

Scarf / Stole: Ugly Muscovy

Plain weave on rigid heddle loom with inlay and Danish medallions

Warp: German worsted weight superwash wool.

Weft: multicolored mystery wool, don’t know the name for this kind of yarn where the bulk is wrapped loosely around the core yarn like a telephone cord, without the extra twist forming loops as in bouclé. Do you know it?

Inlay and medallions: fat natural wool flammé with regularly spaced slubs.

Ends: forgot to count ends or measure width in reed!

Heddle: 9-and-a-bit dpi

Ends per inch: about 4 5/8.  I skipped every other hole-slot pair.  First time I’ve done this, and it worked fine with the puffy yarn.

Picks per inch: 4.

Length on loom: 85″ excluding fringe

Woven width: 14″

Woven length: 77″

Finished width: 12 3/8″

Finished length: 74 1/2″

Finishing: Machine wash warm, tumble dry warm.

Conclusions: I wouldn’t call this scarf the ugly duckling that becomes a swan, but I wasn’t ashamed to give it as a gift after all, mostly because I really enjoyed having woven something figured. As much as I love repeating patterns and stripes, there is something about little pictures that pleases me.  The clothes I remember from childhood are the ones with little pictures or applique.

The superwash was educational. If I ever use it for warp again, I’ll have to remember to run a line of machine stitching along the fringe to keep the the cut ends of the yarn from unraveling. (And wear a dust mask.) Its non-shrinking, non-felting characteristics were not useful here, but could be useful combined with regular wool for a differential shrinkage effect.

Keeping Up Appearances

December 21, 2009

I just had to tell the world I darned four wool socks this morning.  You can’t see the darns in the picture very well, but they are extensive. I should have done them in contrasting yarn to show off. Next to setting sleeves, darning is my least favorite kind of sewing. I learned how by watching my Granny do it. She uses an old white glass doorknob. I used a small rounded drinking glass.

The socks had been waiting in my sewing basket for 3 years. I wouldn’t have bothered but they are Rohners, and would have had a lot of wear left if I didn’t have these stupid high-domed toenails that saw through socks like dull penknives no matter how short I cut them.

More information than you needed, right?

Then I cleaned my sewing basket. Out with all the fraying snips of fabric and yarn wrappers and crumbled dead leaves and stray buttons I was going to sew on and never did.

Altogether, it was more work than weaving a scarf!

Speaking of keeping your workbasket tidy, here is something fun.


I got a perfect score as a gentleman, but missed several as a lady–and I protest that the answers were phrased to mislead.  Reading Victorian novels is good for something after all.  Anyway, it was easier to be a man in the late 19th century than a woman.  Especially if you happened to be a Monty Pythonesque animated character in a computer game.


December 7, 2009

I finally got some pictures, so here’s the first scarf I wove in November; not the ugly one.

Scrapple involves cornmeal and organ meat and is not something I’ve actully eaten. I would if it came my way. In my family the term is “hash,” but the principle is the same. Hash is a catch-all word for a fry up involving chopped leftover meat, potatoes or hominy, maybe an onion, and whatever is in the fridge that would not make it too unappetizing. If you’ve got corned beef, that elevates the meal to “Corned Beef Hash.” Otherwise: Ham, Pot Roast, crumbled up leftover hamburger patties. Turkey run through the grinder. Homemade chili sauce and cabbage relish are the proper condiments. No, we do not break an egg over our hash. That would be a waste of an egg!

Since this is one of the last two scarves I managed to squeeze from the scraps of Great Granny’s small stash of wool, and it is meaty colors, scrapple seemed like the name for it.

Scarf: Scrapple

Plain weave on rigid heddle loom

Warp: old knitting wool of various sizes, wound on upside-down ironing board legs one notch back from narrowest setting, then cut (therefore doubled in length.)

From Great Granny’s stash:
pale eraser pink baby yarn
burgundy worsted

From thrift store:
rust DK weight
scarlet baby yarn

Weft: antique weaving wool–very fine, springy hot pink–about 20/2

Ends: 99

Heddle: 9-and-a-bit epi

Picks per inch: about 7

Length on loom: 62 1/2″ excluding fringe

Width in reed: 10 7/8″

Woven length: 56″ (w/o fringe)

Woven width: 9 3/8″

Finished length: 51 5/8″ (w/o fringe)

Finished width: 8 1/2″

Fringes: hemstitched in bundles of four, trimmed to 2″

Conclusions: I wound off all the yarn then composed the stripes by rearranging the separate threads around in the grooves of my rigid heddle loom’s cloth and warp beam until I got something that had some definition and broke up the burgundy sufficiently. This method worked pretty well.

To separate the warp, I used flimsy beige wrapping paper which I had taped together into one long roll. It got slightly crooked. Cumulative effect was enough to stretch one side of warp noticeably. Need some beaming sticks or better paper–possibly shorter sheets.

This scarf is for one of my half-sisters. I don’t know if she makes hashes. I’ll have to ask her. Our mom was more into casseroles than skillet meals; hash was something we ate at granny’s house. Der Mann and I see it as a treat because we don’t usually cook big enough pieces of meat to have leftovers.

Can you guess what I’m making with this? If you’ve been reading Dot’s Fibre to Fabric blog, you probably can.


Last year Granny was cleaning out her sewing drawers and found yet another stash of sewing/knitting notions that had belonged to her mother. Great Granny was such a pack rat, it took Granny about a year to clean out her small house after she died, and she’s still finding pockets of Great Granny’s stuff that she hasn’t had time to sort and disperse–things that weren’t valuable, but were somehow so infused with Great Granny that she couldn’t bring herself to throw them out. I have happily taken some of them, like the collection of bobby pins and various kinds of toothed 1920’s-1940’s metal clips that Great Granny used to set her hair for pin-curls and marcel waves every morning. It was amazing to watch how nimbly she did this; it was her signature hairstyle most of her life. The way it fell in place when she combed it out was sheer magic. Now I use the clips to hold back the layers when I cut Der Mann’s hair. For a long time they smelled of her.

This particular stash had some knitting markers and gauges, a celluloid tracing wheel that belonged to my Granny’s granny, Nanny, and this handmade copper letter opener. Granny didn’t know anything about it except that her mother had always kept it in her desk. It seemed the sort of thing someone might have made for her when she was a girl in rural Idaho, but Granny couldn’t say for sure that her mother had been its first owner. As Granny was telling me this I was turning it around in my hands, and found the initial at the end of the handle.


Great Granny’s name was Kathleen, so it was definitely hers. In normal light the embedded copper is nearly the same color as the wood. I’m not surprised no one spotted it. I can imagine one of the old coots who came to her father’s general store making it, or her mother sending it to her at boarding school, or picking it out for her in a souvenir shop someplace like Yellowstone in the 1910’s. I’ll never know.

I love this tool. Aside from loving the look of it and the way it’s put together, with the little copper wedges holding the blade into the handle and the braided copper wires binding it, it is almost perfectly balanced, and I like the way it fits in my hand. As soon as I held it I knew immediately what I was going to do with it.

But that’s not the only project I’ve got going. I’ve also warped up the Spear’s rigid heddle loom for another scarf out of scraps of Great Granny yarn, padded with a bit of Goodwill yarn from the same era. Perhaps you remember the three scarves I made last year for my aunts and mom? I’m not sure who this one is for. Maybe one of my sisters. The urge just came on me to use up ridiculously small scraps of yarn. Maybe because it’s autumn. Waste not, want not. The past. Family. Dissolution. Time.


When I had the warp on I the loom I remembered something about weaving on the Spear’s. It turns me into a moaning hunchback. If your rigid heddle loom doesn’t have blocks, that means you will be holding up the heddle with either your left or right hand, at arm’s length, against the tensioned threads, for every other pass of the shuttle.

I knew I would regret it if I put off making heddle blocks any longer. Milled 1x2s are the wrong size to make proper attached blocks, which need to be a true 1/2 inch thick for this loom, so I made some free-standing ones. (Again the scraps!) They don’t hold the “down” shed in place as attached blocks would, but that doesn’t really matter: the Spear’s heddle holds the down shed by itself if you just let it dangle. It is heavy enough for that because you can’t weave at very tight tension anyway on a Spears, due to the bolt-and-wingnut mechanism it uses for advancing and securing the warp.

I was going to tell you about the hellish spring-summer-fall that accounts for my blog silence, but it isn’t over and I’m not in the mood. Maybe later? I’ll leave you with a genuine out-the-window picture. Yes, that is is a Fisher Price McDonald’s playset circa 1978. It was buried four feet underground. If plastic could talk…


Season of Shreds and Patches


March 23, 2009

Der Mann and I have been watching The Avengers on netflix with Great Relish.  We just saw the one where Mrs Peel goes on a fox hunt with the aristocratic baddies, and either she or Steed repeats that jab about fox hunting: “The unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible.”  It sounded like Oscar Wilde or George Bernard Shaw to me; I looked it up: Wilde.  I had already been thinking about class, and hearing a good aphorism tends to get me thinking in aphorisms.  After a weekend spent in antique and junk stores, this one came to me:

The difference between the rich and the poor is that the rich aren’t ashamed of their ignorance.

You heard it first here.

Through a series of college jobs I had a lot of experience with very rich people–enough for several lifetimes–but not so much in antique stores.  The last time I went around to antique and junk stores on a regular basis was in my early teens with my grandmother.  Since then I’ve been mostly either too busy or too bitter to enjoy them the same way.  I loved getting a feel for what people thought was beautiful at different times–what sort of teapot they might have saved up to buy at the corner drugstore in 1939, what colors they liked in 1880.  I didn’t have the collector mentality and still don’t; anything well-designed made my little heart go pitterpat regardless of value.  Though I did learn a special weakness for the workmanlike: pegs, hand-sawn dovetails joints, little asymmetries, the expert quickness of a hand-painted line.  I fantasized about owning primitive chairs at an age when other girls fantasize about having a boyfriend.  I bought chipped Czech pottery instead of make-up.  The first summer I was made to work on my dad’s farm for more than a couple weeks (money made a horrible trade for freedom!), I spent my entire earnings on an antique English cherry wardrobe.  I was fourteen, I think.  At the time I just loved the wardrobe; now I suspect an unconscious element of protest.  Of course what I really wanted wasn’t just the wardrobe, but to be grown up and living far away from my parents, surrounded by my own things.

The wardrobe is sitting across the room from me.  I’m still very fond of it, thought it’s been kind of an albatross through all the moves.  I’ve never seen another like.

Wow, I should stop to be thankful for adulthood more often.  It’s great living far away from my parents, with my own stuff!

Now that I have the space to buy some non-throwaway furniture, I can’t find anything I want to buy.  Twenty years ago, as long as a person didn’t mind some serious patina (I don’t) or need things to match (no thank-you!), there were all kinds of pretty, sturdy, ideosyncratic late 19th and early 20th century furnishings to be had for not much money.  Now everything is a lot uglier and more broken-down.  Have certain types of antiques simply stopped circulating, enthroned for eternity in someone’s twee-ly restored “Craftsman” bungalow like grave goods in an Egyptian tomb?  Has anyone else noticed this?  It would make sense.  The middle class keeps growing, boomers are living longer, and there is a limited supply.  I’m positing a cut-off point of about 85 years ago, because waterfall veneer bedroom sets are just this side of the cut-off.  (If you like waterfall veneer, now’s the time to get it.  As soon as it’s all been left out in the rain and dumped because the veneer is peeling, it’s going to get wildly popular!)

Aside from being in bad shape, most of what I saw in Portland and Aurora (with the exception of one store in each, which had much higher prices) was very alike.  Dime-a-dozen Empire side-tables.  Wobbly walnut-stained chairs.  Pressback chairs.  Pine wash stands.  Imitation Queen Anne footstools.  Waterfall vanities and warped Deco wardrobes.

And that’s just the actual old stuff.  A lot of it wasn’t even old.  More than ever antique dealers are making up for the lack of merchandise by mixing it with country crap: new cupboards and stools from China and India made to look like old stuff from Somewhere Vaguely European, or The American Heartland.  Candles.  Silk Flowers.  Bath salts.  I guess people are buying it or they wouldn’t be selling it.  But why aren’t they just buying it at the mall?

The apogee of this trend is Shabby Shite I mean Chic.  Come on!  This is SO DONE now.  Or, I thought it was until I started looking on Craigslist for a cupboard.  Shabby Chic, for the blessedly uninitiated, is the process whereby dealers take perfectly functional (if pedestrian) 1920’s, 30’s, or 40’s cupboards, tables, dressers, chairs, and beds; slather them with pink, white or black latex paint; distress the edges (not too hard to do when you paint latex paint directly atop oil-based varnish, as the edges basically distress themselves as soon as you look at them); drape them with doilies and 1950’s hats; and violá!  Add $300 to the price tag.

Slathering paint on antiques used to be something people did at home.  I have no objection to painting antiques.  I just think it ought to be purposeful.  And done behind closed doors.  With a mask on so God can’t see your face.

Seriously, I don’t object to paint.

So, I was people-watching in the antique stores.  Like grocery stores, antique stores are levelers.  I wasn’t going to the high end ones, and the low and mid range and upper-mid range ones attract everyone.  There’s always the possibility of a hidden treasure in the junky places, and the really rich love getting a bargain as much as anyone else.  And as long as the atmosphere isn’t too intimidating, Normal Joe will go into stores where he couldn’t hope to afford anything, just to look around.  Someplace like Aurora, the expensive stores look just like the cheap ones from the outside.  There’s a strange dynamic, and the overheard conversations can be really interesting.  What one learns from these conversations is that nobody–rich or poor–knows Shabby Shite about the past.  And nobody really cares about it, except insofar as they don’t want to look stupid.  But Normal Josephine cares a little more, because she can remember how her mom really treasured her pyrex storage dishes when she finally got them.  And then Josephine will buy some herself for sentiment’s sake, even though she prefers plastic.

So, my aphorism could have been something about how rich people are less worried about whether or not they appear stupid than poor people are.  Which also makes sense.


Social Class Brain Twister

Social Class Brain Twister

Clean Clothes

March 13, 2009

My adrenals say I have some explaining to do after last month.  I picture them standing in a nipped-waist floral house dress, tapping their high-heeled foot.

I am almost too tired to write a post, but not quite.  The momentum will keep me going once I start.

One weird thing about this move is that it leaves me very uneasy in a way that goes beyond the boxes and the construction-zone-ness of the space.  Uneasy and guilty.  It’s as if I am waiting for the gods to send a lightning bolt.  The hubris of living in a house three times as big as our tiny apartment!  It’s weird, but consistent with my character.

Likewise, as I was shopping for a washer I felt I was doing something wrong.  Decadent.  (Roman aristocrats, not chocolate.)  As I searched for the ideal washing machine to coddle the products of my expensive, intellectual, upper-middle-class hobby,* I thought of the women all over the world who wash their clothes in rivers, on rocks.

Actually, my parents made us a gift of the washer, which was lovely.  But then I felt guilty for parents who could afford to make a present of a washing machine.  Isn’t it dumb of me to have combined the over-sensitive perceptions of an aesthete with Evangelical guilt?  It’s a recipe for discontent; the trappings of Pietism are too ugly to bear, but Epicureanism has no moral rigor.  Ah lack-a-day.

Nice things about the house:

  • small town
  • central heat (We had individually controlled electric wall heaters in the duplex, some of which didn’t work properly.)
  • the space (lots of it)
  • happier husband (eventually)
  • the yard (large enough to plant big plants and even select a tree or two–my most favorite game!)
  • no always-at-home creepy landlord stealing my shovel ‘n stuff

Not so nice things about the house:

  • small town (Der Mann’s very apt comment when we were walking around it after first seeing the house was, “R___  looks like it has a Hell Mouth.”
  • central heat (improperly installed, it sends all the heat upstairs to make the bedrooms sweltering, while the downstairs is cold)
  • the space (ugly and inconvenient new placement of walls and fixtures from a no-permits, down-to-the-studs remodel, ruined/lost woodwork)
  • the yard, which I’m trying not to think about.  Literal tons of mostly-gravel fill dirt which discourages plant life and causes drainage toward the scary basement, topped with egg-sized river rocks.
  • radon (not uncommon around here, but I sort of wish I hadn’t got the test since there is no way to reduce it when it is just barely within “acceptable” limits.)
  • costs more to live here
  • all the work we will have to do
  • long bus commute for Der Mann

Best things about the house:

  • troupe of half-grown wild kittens which provide constant entertainment when we look outside
  • my new washing machine

The washer guilt faded as I had my first gigantic laundry day.  Thank you, thank you, and thank you again for your comments!  They gave me good things to think about.  After we returned the first washer, I realized that I am a clothes-washing anomaly.  You could call me an “active launderer.”  Or maybe a laundry witch?  I own a laundry stick*, for heaven’s sake!  I like access and control at every stage of the process.  This is because learned my textile-care habits from my grandmother, who learned them in wringer-washer days from her grandmother.

Granny loves clothes and fabrics, and she taught me to wash them in a case-by-case intuitive way, like cooking.  She grew up in the depression, and has never had much money since, so she is very attuned to making things last. . .  Pre-treating with Fels Naptha and other strange preparations, checking the water temperature to see if it feels right and adjusting the taps, stopping the machine mid-cycle to check on things.  Repeating cycles.  Manual extra rinses.  Always machine drying on low heat and hovering over the dryer to snatch things out at just the right moment.  Drip drying.  Flat drying.  Blocking.  In fact, she still has her grandmother’s copper wash boiler, and I have seen her use it!  So, I ended up with a top loader.

Older, more primitive machines are better match for “active launderers.”  Their faults are just the same as modern washers–some of them are too harsh or too wimpy with everyday loads–but you can get more customized results with fewer settings.  It’s pretty clear what your machine is doing at any one time, and you can step in to alter the process without much trouble.

That’s what I wanted: a durable machine that would allow me to make my own combinations of temperature, agitation speed, spin speed, and cycle length; though I also liked the idea of useful pre-sets, like the alternating agitate-and-soak of a handwash cycle.

I would have liked a water and energy efficient machine, but it appears (unless you have a front loader) that these things are in direct conflict with having brilliantly clean clothes.  I took the Epicure’s route.

It turns out one U.S. company still makes old-style washers.  My Sad Washer with the “automatic temperature control” was a top-loading Maytag Centennial.  My Happy Washer is a Speed Queen.  It’s dreamy.  My only objection is that the higher of the two spin speeds, though it is more RPMs than a standard washer, seems to leave the clothes damper than I’m used to.  Unless that is in illusion propagated by the fact that they aren’t twisted around each other and plastered to the outside of the tub.  Perhaps the spin cycle is shorter?  Anyway, they dry quickly in the dryer I bought off Thistledown-who-was-kicked-out-of-the-duplex, and the fact that they come out less wrinkled means that when I get a clothes line I can line-dry a lot of things without having to iron.

I washed a handwoven gauze shawl (not my own weaving) in the handwash cycle, and it came out fine.


*Sorry for the stereotyping.  Most of us don’t totally fit, but I was thinking how weaving looks from the outside, and to my guilty conscience.

*Dyers probably already know this, but a laundry stick is a roughly 1″ x 1″ by 20″ piece of milled hardwood with the sharp edges sanded down.  In wash-boiler days you’d use it to lift the wash from the boiler.  Now it is useful when you want to open up the washer after agitation starts to stir in laundry spells I mean soap preparations and prod down things like wool shirts that have just enough water resistance to balloon or float partly out of the water instead of immersing.  Last time Grandpa made her a new one, Granny asked me if I wanted one too, and I said, “Yes!”  I’m afraid I lost it in the move though.  Maybe to the landlord’s lumber pile.