Monday, September 17, 2012

One man's trash

I spoke to many people when I was trying to decide which school to attend for this degree, soliciting opinions about teachers and facilities, about the merits of staying in America or moving to another country, about anything anyone had to offer.  An overwhelming majority of those spoke rapturously about Toronto: "If I could live anywhere in the world, it would be there!" "Such a nice city!" "You'll love it!"

I have to confess that my opinion after one year is almost... "meh."

Toronto is nice enough, for sure.  Maybe--most likely--it's that I don't like cities.  Maybe it's that I don't live in a particularly beautiful neighborhood (sorry, neighborhood).  Maybe it's that I don't have a bus pass.  Maybe it's that the city is so spread out, the subway service is so minimal, and the traffic is so bad that getting from point A to point B seems even more daunting.  Maybe it's that the sun sets at about 4:30 PM all the overcast, grey-brown winter long, and I live in a basement.

Despite these misgivings, there are things I really do like about this city--especially now, with the long, sunlit evenings and green trees.  This neighborhood is actually kind of pretty at the moment: gardens are blooming, houses seem cleaner and less littered with trash, people sit out on their porches and watch others go by.  The weather is so nice (except when it's pouring rain) that I am happy to hop on my bike any moment and ride away.  Riding is a joy now, and I love using my legs to get around.  The longer ours of sunlight make me feel safer, too, both when riding my bike and generally being out in the city (let's ignore the man in my neighborhood who's been grabbing people at night).  I've finally had the time to explore some areas of Toronto that had been out of reach, either due to time or weather.  There's the West Toronto Railpath just a few blocks from my house.  It's sort of like a smaller, less-cool version of the High Line, but it's nice all the same. I've finally been to High Park, the large city park a little bit like a smaller, less-cool version of Central Park.  There are new places opening up in my neighborhood, coffee shops and restaurants, as it gentrifies.  And, of course, there's my favorite place of all (except for school): Economy Fruit!

But really what I wanted to write about in this post is the somewhat unique practice of giving things away that seems so integral to Toronto.  Instead of taking their unwanted belongings en masse to thrift stores, many people leave them outside their houses (especially, it seems, in my neighborhood).  I know they do this all around the world.  Montreal is known for September 1st, when many people change apartments, and the city apparently becomes one giant free bin.  I'm sure that other cities have their own traditions; even in Davis some of us would go collect things the UCD students were giving away or leaving for trash.  Still, in Toronto it seems like it's a way of life.  Sometimes it's something big (furniture) and sometimes it's a box of small things.  Sometimes it's stuff you really don't want (used mattresses) and sometimes it's exactly what you've been looking for.  Most of our place seems to be furnished with found objects.  A few days ago, the Comrades brought home a bookshelf that some people had left down the street.  It fits perfectly in the living room.  Ryan and I found a beautiful white armoire with golden handles that now serves as our pantry.  Comrade M found a big teal-blue desk/table back in June, replacing a less-satisfactory table that had been in the craft room for sewing, when she was out for a run.  She got a friend to bring it home, but we didn't have a chair to fit.  I had a rehearsal at a friend's house a few days ago and when leaving I noticed a wooden blue chair sitting on someone's front yard.  I couldn't take it with me to school but returned later in the afternoon to check if it was still there.  Sure enough it was, so I brought it home, cleaned it up, and put it in the craft room.  When I sent Comrade M to see the surprise she didn't even notice it at first because the color matches so perfectly.  The list goes on and on: cast iron pans, a weird piece of art, a microwave, a newer microwave to replace the old microwave, a toaster oven, a panini press, a nice metal basket that holds our fruit, a book I'd wanted to read, a dish to hold coins, a pink lamp, a toy piano I gave to the neighbors with young children...

Every few days, something new will show up.  If you wait long enough, it seems that the things you've wanted most will appear.  It reminds me of a story I once read, though I can't remember where.  In it, a journeying man comes to a place where the people are poor in possessions but not in spirit.  They set up nets in the stream and collect everything that comes to them, sorting and piling and holding for future use what they cannot value immediately.  Sure enough, the stream always seems to deliver what they're looking for: not just because they need it, but also because they know how to see value in what others toss aside.  It's not quite like that here, but some of the same principles apply.  Every time I pick something up, I feel grateful that someone else left it for me to find.  It makes me wonder about its story, about why it was discarded and about what replaced it.  (Usually these items are worn but not broken.)  Ultimately it makes me think about what I don't need, and what of my possessions someone else could use.

So, to those who have shared with me, thank you!  I hope to someday give you something of value.

... and I thought that you readers might be interested in checking out my new website!

Sunday, September 2, 2012


It seems that all of a sudden many of my friends, ones who are only slightly older, are having babies or getting married.  I'm not sure I can count how many have tied the knot or started hoarding pacifiers just this summer, though that could also be due to the difficulty I have counting... once I reach a certain point I just start saying numbers out loud which may or may not have anything to do with the preceding digit.  I wonder if this is related to my difficulty walking up and down stairs? Does anyone else get stuck in the middle?  Or perhaps that's a discussion best saved for another day...

Anyway, a friend of mine recently announced she was pregnant, so after being really excited, and then some thinking and exploring and cooing over the cuteness of little tiny things (Ryan had to save me by sending me pictures of ugly babies to counteract their charm) I decided on a free dress pattern from the blog Made by Rae.  She had originally designed something for a small newborn, but another blogger (Amber) resized it for a 2T-3T.  Now, everyone tells me that new parents consistently receive clothing for their newborns, who subsequently outgrow them and then they are faced with naked children or have to go shopping or something.  Thus I am always advised to get clothing that's a little bigger.  What confuses me is that everyone always says that parents have too much newborn clothing--so isn't everyone giving them clothing for the next year?  Who out there is causing the glut in newborn onsies?  Anyway, I decided to go for the 2T-3T because what if it's a really big baby?  What if they already have 500 little tiny shirts and little tiny dresses and little tiny booties and little tiny hats and sweaters?  Ooohh... focus... focus... (I almost got stuck in the Baby Gap I visited for inspiration--all those super adorable pea-pod patterned tiny garments?  Who could resist?)

I already had the fabric because I'd gone to Jo-Ann's while at home in California and picked up some bits and pieces during their July 4th sale, some of which was just perfect for a little child.  What I lacked  was a selection of notions for binding or piping, but I figured I could easily make those myself with another coordinating fabric.

After reading over the patterns I decided I liked them a lot, but that it would be that much cuter (and not that much harder) to make it completely reversible.  I also added a wider band of material at the waist to join the bodice and skirt rather than deal with piping, and then added that as binding for the bottom hem.

So, my instructions for the "fully-reversible-not-so-itty-bitty dress" are as follows:

Print and construct your super easy pattern, either for the 2T-3T or for the newborn.  Also, you might want to download your instructions from Made by Rae (only found on the newborn pattern), though I'll provide my own here.  But I'm not used to writing instructions, so perhaps they'll be a little opaque.

Cut out four sets of the bodice, two in each color you plan to use.  (For cutting purposes you may be interested to know that the bodice is symmetrical on the vertical axis.)  If you want to cut everything now, you can also cut two pieces of fabric that are 36 x 15 for the skirt.  I actually did mine in four 15 x 18.5 pieces and pieced them together because of the pattern and size of my fabric, but really what you need are two big rectangles that are about 36 x 15.  You'll also need three strips of a contrasting fabric.  Two are twice the width of the bodice (the long flat edge) long and three inches wide.  The other is a long strip of 36 by 3 inches.

My cutting station, the floor (I did vacuum first).

Let's start with the bodice.  Make pairs with one of each color.  Pin right sides together and sew the curvy edge of the bodice, from armpit over the sleeve ties and neck to the other armpit, with 1/4 inch seams.  Turn and press each pair.  Then, to attach the "front" to the "back" of the chest part of the bodice, sew like fabric to like fabric, right sides together, along the sides (the short straight edges).

You can see the bodice turned inside-out here, with pins to sew the two fabrics together.  When you flip it right side out (and press), you'll have...
Ta da! Finished bodice! What's hard to see in this picture is that the inside and 
outside parts of the bodice aren't attached together so you can slip the skirt inside.  
That's why the last step was important!

Next, we'll work on the skirt.  Take your giant rectangles and sew a 1/2 inch seam along the side of each.  Press the seams open.  Then, fit them together, right sides out, and pin along the top/waist edge.  Since it's currently just a giant rectangle we want to put in some gathers to make it fit the bodice.  With the sewing machine making the largest stitches possible and with the tension on its loosest, sew one seam 1/4 inch from the top of the skirt.  When you're done, carefully tie together the threads from one end of the seam and then take one thread from the other end, pulling gently until the skirt gathers to the same size as the bodice.  

See those easy-peasy gathers up at the top of the picture?

At this point I start diverging from the Made by Rae pattern.  See, I didn't have any piping and I wanted  to make my dress reversible, so I figured that a band of fabric around the waist, concealing the join, would help.  I used the pattern for the bodice to measure out the length of a strip wide enough to go around the entire dress (so two bodice widths) and cut it three inches wide.  Then I made another for the other side of the dress.  I then folded each so that the two edges joined down the middle, pinned, and pressed it to stay.  See the photo of one above.

Next, I wanted to attach them to the bodice.  So, unfolding one side, I pinned it to be ready to sew along the crease (just like attaching binding tape!).  Sew like this on both sides of your bodice, being careful not to sew your bodice together.

After you're done you'll want to press the seams away from each other on both sides, as in the picture above.  

Now, there's probably a better way of attaching the skirt to the bodice that involves no visible seams, but I was feeling a little unsure of myself and the whole reversible thing, so I simply folded the bodice so it was right side out, matching the skirt fabric with the bodice fabric as I desired, and carefully inserted and pinned the skirt between the two layers of bodice fabric.  Then I sewed close to the edge along the bottom of the waist band and then along the top (about 1/8 inch).  

And now the dress is almost done!  The only thing remaining is a hem for the bottom.  I wanted to have it bound in the same fabric I used for the waist, so I took my strip of 36 x 3 inch fabric and turned it into wide binding tape.  (Which means I folded it in half and pressed, and then folded each edge in toward the center to fold it in quarters lengthwise.)  I then pinned and sewed just like regular ol' binding tape.  (For a tutorial on binding tape see this link, also featured on my last blog post, but know that I didn't bother with making it actual bias tape, so it's just a regular strip of fabric.)

Sewing away, with the other side of the skirt featured.

And that, my friends, is it.  So easy!  And hopefully it will fit my beautiful friends' beautiful baby... in a couple of years!  (Maybe it was weird to make something so big?)

Side one and...

... side two!

I did this over one evening and one morning, with probably about 2.5 hours of work each time.  Part of what took so long was deciding on the fabrics and figuring out what I wanted to do with the pattern, so it might not take so long if you were all decided ahead of time.  I had originally wanted to use another yellow for the skirt on side #2 and have a blue top, but unfortunately the pattern with the animals showed through on the other side of the fabric and you could consequently see it through any of my lighter colored fabrics.  I hadn't wanted to pick a dark color because I'm worried it might create some problems when doing laundry, but hopefully that won't prove to be the case!