concrete and moss, cancer and survival

This week I learned of not one, but two people I knew who lost battles against cancer. My mom told me she had learned on Facebook that Jason Pascal passed away. Jason was approximately the same age as me. His mom, Carol, was my mom’s best friend. Carol had four boys; my mom had four girls. We spent hours and hours in the Pascal’s log cabin on the plateau of Issaquah when I was young. Jason’s uncle lived on a lot next door to the log cabin, and operated a fruit stand on the side of the road. They had a corn field. Jason’s dad George Pascal taught me how to pack sand for a sand castle. Mark, Jeff, and Jason, the three oldest boys, obsessively collected baseball cards and tried (unsuccessfully) to get me interested in all their baseball trivia, which of course they had memorized. The boys were peeing outdoors once while we were all playing; I decided I wanted to try it. Even though I was mere steps from their home and a toilet (and the busy roadside), I pulled down my pants and peed behind a bush in their front yard, only I didn’t realize I needed to squat—none of the boys needed to squat! So I peed on my own pants. I learned an important lesson that day: Girls don’t pee the same as boys.

I played in the front/side yard with Jason; we played tag, and I ended up in “jail” (under their wooden picnic table). I pretended to be upset about being stuck in jail by pulling up blades of grass. “Don’t do that,” Jason admonished. “It’s not good for the grass.”

My mother remembers Jason as gentle. I don’t remember much about his personality because kids are in their own little worlds. Except any boy who cares for grass must have had the capacity to care for other things.

Gazing into the hazy past, that is pretty much my only distinct memory of Jason, but I think of it every time I sit on grass. Jason Pascal and green summer grass go together in my mind.

When my parents divorced and we left that church, I didn’t see the Pascals again except for once or twice as a pre-teen. I thought of Jason only from time to time, until my mom told me this week that he had fought and lost his battle against cancer.

Jason’s older brother Jeff came into the kitchen once when Carol and my mom were making brownies. “MMMMM!” he said. “I smell the flesh of brownies!” My mom and Carol laughed and laughed.

Lee, the youngest, and my sister Jody, had a little romance when they were five years old. Jody would sit on their hard-wood floor when she was still in diapers, and suddenly fling herself backwards, smacking her head on the hard floor. Maybe she felt the need to burst out. Her impact was cushioned by rag-rugs Carol had braided by hand.

The boys all shared one dark messy wooden-walled bedroom with four wood bunks, each topped with a ticking-striped mattress in blue and white. I imagined their bedroom was a caboose.

Years ago I drove up to see if the log cabin was still there. It had been replaced by a development, 200 homes, all squished in and identical, tall and plain. The corn field had been replaced by another development.

Time passes, and the things we loved when we were young simply disappear without anyone checking to see if we mind, and without us noticing until it’s already done. I’m sorry, Jason. I’m sorry you didn’t make it. I’m sorry I didn’t notice until it was done.

I had previously conceived of a runway collection inspired by my neighbor and friend and survivor Autumn’s breast-cancer scarring. This was the first week of the fashion program where we were asked to actually start committing to a runway mood/collection. I had been debating whether to have my first runway show be the Moss/scarring/cancer collection, or a collection based on sepia-toned historical photographs.

On Tuesday morning this week, at 7:52 a.m., Dixie, my step-grandmother, passed away from cancer. We were on strained, awkward terms with each other. I hadn’t seen her for a couple years, because we disagreed on some issues that are important to me. However, when I learned she had cancer I sent her an email and tried to connect with her the only way I knew how: to tell her about the idea I had for my Autumn/scarring/Moss runway collection, and to tell her it was inspired by southern fashion designer Natalie Chanin (Dixie was a southerner too). She responded in kind, telling me she thought it sounded like a lovely and creative idea.

The collection is centered around two textures: concrete and moss. It’ll be gray and green, with some other forest accent colors mixed in. The concrete is the cancer, the calcification that happens in all of our lives, the hardness that makes us grow old too soon, or breaks us down, or sometimes even defeats us entirely. Disease, pain, fear, hatred, depression.

But under concrete there is soil, and life forces itself up through the cracks. Moss in cracks of pavement, city sidewalks carpeted in green. Even in the city there is natural growth. Moss is a survivor, and a beautiful scar, an irregularity imposing its wabi-sabi imperfect beauty upon perfect/ugly uniformity.

We all bear scars on our bodies, from small or great injuries. Each scar has a story or a memory, a physical manifestation of something we hold inside ourselves. Scars are like blooms, moss marring and decorating us for better and for worse.

I’m sorry you didn’t make it, Dixie. I’m sorry we didn’t have time to let our old wounds mellow and re-unite later in life. You did your best to welcome me and my sisters into your family, and even if the transition was rough, you invited us into your home and made beautiful food for us and shared stories with me about your mother, when I was going through a difficult time with my mother. I’m sorry your mother marked you with scars, but by sharing them with me you helped me heal from some of my own. Your life was spent in service to others; even if your own scars didn’t heal, you helped heal others.

Another dimension to the Moss collection was that I conceived of it during the upheaval time when I was leaving teaching. I walked the neighborhood of my school during breaks to clear my head, to escape, to re-center. That was when I first noticed the moss, and felt emboldened by it. I was the moss, struggling to escape from the confinement of cement, feeling I was losing the battle against standardization. I grew on the sides of trees, rocks, I was everywhere, surviving and living and feeling vibrant despite being trapped. Finally I realized there was no trap, the only trap was in my own mind. I broke free, lifted myself from the pavement, and stepped off the sidewalk into the wild.

That’s what the collection is about: breaking from the confinement of our minds and the city sidewalks, taking to the wild forest to renew and restore ourselves in the abundance of nature. It’s not always safe, dry, or warm out there, but there’s strength to be gained from taking risk and trusting the universe for a little while.

The day after my last day as a teacher, I drove to the Olympic peninsula with my husband, and we ended up driving around Lake Crescent in the dark in a wild rain/windstorm. We came around a bend. A tree had fallen across the road. We turned back, realizing we were in actual danger. But we made it back home okay, and spent a restorative night in Port Townsend. The next morning we awoke to realize our hotel room had a vast sweeping view of the Salish Sea and mountains. I couldn’t believe I was done with teaching, that I didn’t need to go back, that I had my entire life ahead of me and that my only limitation was my fear.

As a teacher, I took kids to the Olympic peninsula a few times, for a week at camp. We learned about nurse-logs: big old trees that have fallen, but whose bark and trunk and roots, rich in nutrients, feed and provide homes for new saplings. In the forest, death fosters new growth.

So the decision was made for me, that I will do the Moss collection and wait until later for the Sepia collection. Dedicated to Autumn, Annette, and Jackie, who survived, and Jason and Dixie, who did not. All of you inspire me and remind me to be stronger.

how to keep your sewing studio functional when it’s actually a dining room

Living in a small city condo,
I’ve learned a few tricks to keep my sewing space/dining room tidy,
and thought they might be worth sharing.

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1. Like a campsite, pack in and pack out.
I only put my sewing machine on the table once I’ve gotten to the construction phase of a project.
If I’m done with scissors or tube-turners,
they go back inside my sewing backpack.

Speaking of my sewing backpack, it’s where I keep everything I need.
It’s actually a  diaper bag, with lots of pockets.
And it’s mobile, so I can lug it back and forth from home to class.

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2. When laying out fabric and pattern pieces,
I sometimes can’t get the entire length of fabric on the table.
Instead, roll the yardage off the back end of the table.

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3. Keep a garbage bag on hand,
for threads,
pattern and fabric scraps,
and bent pins.

I would like to honestly tell you I clear out the bag after each project,
but instead I let it accumulate until the bag is stuffed
and then I belatedly sort all the paper into recycling and hold onto fabric scraps that are big enough to re-use,
and it’s all just a big ol sorting mess.
So, my new idea is: Empty the bag after each phase.
After pattern-work, empty the paper scraps that accumulated during that phase.
After construction, toss thread and save scraps.

And so on.

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Final tip: Get yourself one of these delightful purse-hook contraptions.
I was embarrassed when I purchased it–
There are people starving in other parts of the world and purse-hooks exist?
Is this a thing anybody really needs?

The answer is: Nobody needs a purse-hook.
BUT.
It’s not a bad thing to have around if you want to keep your floor clear during sewing.
So get yourself a purse-hook, and then
donate at least an equivalent amount of money
to people who need more important things than purse-hooks
.

summertime and the sewing is easy

I visited my very good friend and former team-teacher, Alex, today.
She asked me what was the most fun thing I’ve worked on since quitting teaching.

The most fun thing?
Hm…that’s a head-scratcher,
because I’m enjoying all of it.

But if I must give an answer…

Since I left teaching,
all of my sewing has been related to the following:

1. Homework for New York Fashion Academy
2. Alterations and custom work for clients

Which means, no new clothing for poor little me all summer!
I can’t complain–I do NOT need more clothes, I can barely fit them in my closet already.
But there’s such a sense of fulfillment and pride when you finish a garment
and then wear it out the door.

So I suppose that makes this peasant blouse THE MOST FUN THING I’VE SEWN THIS SUMMER!

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It’s also fun to wear, because I modified it ingeniously to have adjustable waistband and adjustable sleeves.

The sleeves can be gathered like puffy Snow-White sleeves,
which makes the top more snug and warm,
or let loose for a more 70’s boho look
and a nice breeze that goes right through.

I put the blouse to the test a couple weeks ago and wore it on
one of the hottest weeks like ever in Seattle’s history.
We walked to a comedy open-mic on Capitol Hill
and I let out the sleeves for a breeze,
then after the show we walked through the chiller night air
and I gathered the sleeves in.
Worked like a charm.

In this prototype, I made thin strips of remnant fabric into the drawstrings,
but ribbons would also be super cute.

You can see more photos of the construction process on CUP & PENNY’s Instagram.

Fabric: Moda, lightweight, purchased from Dry Goods Design in Pioneer Square.
After working with bemberg rayon the past couple weeks (slippery as a fish!) this cotton was so nice to work with.
Pattern: Martha Stewart, with my own waistband and sleeve drawstring variations
(I added a half-inch seam allowance for the drawstring tubing)
Photo shoot location: Olympic Sculpture Park
Photographer: My lovely husband who put up with a cranky model

twig and snip

I am in love with Twig and Snip
(as I love all Seattle businesses with two nouns in their name)!
Sara Breakfield is the owner.
She uses items she finds in the outdoors,
to make…

 

Fascinators (a skull fascinator!)…

 

The most amazing lapel pins I’ve ever seen…

Viola Ring - Plant Dyed Cotton Cloth

…and fabric!
I love this so much:
Sara dyes her own fabrics using found natural objects, like berries, leaves, and rust.
Yes, rust!
We’ve talked about a future collaboration;
her fabrics would be so exciting to work with for my Moss/Fir collection.

Check out Sara’s work! Her Instagram is gorgeous.

inking for my first window display

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This week, I concentrated most of my homework efforts
on an assignment I want to finish before I start working on my runway collection:
My first window display, in a real window, on a very busy street!

After a 12-week Fashion History course,
for which we were required to illustrate at least two designs per week
based on the historical period covered that week,
I pulled together my illustrations
and realized they’re the beginning of my September 2016 collection.

For my window display, I’ll be showing 35 designs that came out of that Fashion History course.

I’m installing the display on Monday-Tuesday (July 12-13),
if you’re in Seattle, please visit and check it out next week!
New York Fashion Academy
5201 Ballard Avenue Northwest

i’ve got a silver ticket

foil frame

You’re looking at the last uncovered portion of our bar wall.

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And after!

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Foil wrappers from chocolate bars + glue stick = extremely cheap version of silver-leaf + chocolate-having

It’s so shiny, you guys!
The afternoon light slants in and bounces all around.

Want your own?
Contact me:
CUPANDPENNY@GMAIL.COM

Painter at pike place

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Edited with #aviary > http://avry.co/_getAviary_

thoughts on the 4th, and nina simone

On Saturday, the 4th, hubby and I walked to South Lake Union to watch the fireworks. Packed in among people of all colors and orientations, each of us unique but also united, we gazed up into the sky together. How many of us found ourselves hoping that next year’s 4th would be a little less heart-breaking? There were some big successes this year (gay marriage!) but failures, too. And postponements. Our greatest failures: when the majority fails to advocate for the minority, when the powerful fail to advocate for the powerless, when the wealthy fail to advocate for the poor.

Do you know that six churches have burned in ten days in the south? Predominantly African-American congregations. I found it difficult to concentrate while the music accompanying the fireworks blasted five songs in a row about fire.

Among other American songs (and Coldplay, go figure), the fireworks show included a country song called “Made in America,” about the narrator’s father, who only purchases American-made objects (fair enough) and was himself “made” in America (whoa). I looked around me, and many of the people who stood around me in the crowd were not “made” in America. They are, nonetheless, as American as someone who was born here. I thought of Puerto Rico, and other territories asking for increased rights under the US Constitution, who are part of this country but nevertheless do not enjoy the same rights. I thought of immigrants, legal or illegal, who felt compelled enough to leave their home and all that they know, and risk everything (even death) to come here hoping for something better, who may or may not find it when they get here. They weren’t “made in America,” but their stories are part of the American story. I thought of all the tribes of people who were “made in America” before country songs or America existed, who’ve been displaced and whose women continue to experience, disproportionately, sexual abuse that goes ignored by law enforcers.

For that reason, the music selections at this year’s 4th seemed almost aggressively chosen and out of place. They did play this one song, “Birds in the sky, you know how I feel…” that I like…

After walking back home through the smoke-suffused streets of Seattle, in our darkened living room, sea-salt air wafting in through windows open to the hot summer night, hubby and I watched What Happened, Nina Simone?

What’s weird is, for the past two weeks, I’ve had that song “Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood” stuck in my head, and also my yoga teacher plays the song “Birds in the sky, you know how I feel…” I didn’t know either of those were Nina Simone. I’ve heard so many of Simone’s songs before and never knew who they were, or that they were the same person. To be honest, I’ve heard her unique voice before and hadn’t known if she was a man or woman. It doesn’t really matter, because every Nina Simone song I’ve heard is more about authentic feeling than who is singing it. She doesn’t have a perfect voice, but it’s the most expressive thing I’ve ever heard. From the movie, I got this impression of a woman so full of feeling that it just burst out of her, from her voice, from her piano-playing fingers, from her words.

Later in her career, as the Civil Rights movement gained momentum, Simone became an outspoken advocate–and sometimes drew backlash for it. But she seemed to not believe she had a choice, that she had an obligation, a duty to speak out. At the same time, it was clear from the film that her husband was exploiting her, that she allowed him to, and that their daughter suffered the most from her parents’ limitations.

Nevertheless, Nina Simone is a hero, an imperfect person–a person!–and a hero. She Did Something.

It was a sad story, but also exactly the perfect thing to watch on the 4th of July. I recommend the movie (on Netflix streaming!).

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