New project: Finding My Style

A lot of advice about clothing and fit seems to include advice like “the best place to start is with something that you love that fits you well”. To be frank, if I could find clothes that fit me well and that I loved, I wouldn’t be reading advice.

Furthermore, ideas about what “looks good” are not universal. This project is partly about articulating what I mean by that for myself. I’m definitely not in the “hiding figure flaws” camp which is what the majority of fashion advice was when I was a teen and learning this stuff.

This blog project is about exploring the central issues:

  • becoming more aware of what I look like
  • becoming more aware of how my clothes affect what I look like
  • exploring “fit”
  • exploring “style”

I’m starting with photographs/selfies of myself in various things I already own. This involves learning how to take better selfies. (I have been inspired by my friend Kyeli’s explorations of self and identity using selfies. I also note that Amy Herzog recommends taking photos of oneself in her book Knit to Flatter.)

I welcome comments that help me with this exploration. I have a few rules though and will delete anything that doesn’t follow the rules.

No judgement.

Not even positive judgement. That means you can’t write “That looks great.” even if you think it.

I am trying to learn what “looking great” or “looking awful” (and all the gradations in between) mean for me. I do not think there is a universal standard. It’s great that you are clear on what those mean for you, but that doesn’t help me.

In addition to good/bad judgements, I’m also not interested in feminine/masculine judgements. Or old/young judgements.

It’s like when your math teacher wanted to “see your work” and you thought “but I’ve got the right answer, what difference does it make?” Only in this case there is no “right” answer. I want to know what you see that helped you come to whatever judgement/answer you come to (without telling me your judgement/answer).

No reassurance.

This is not a project about self-esteem. I’m fine. Really. I’m 50, well past the age where I give a damn what other people think. This is me trying to figure out what “wear whatever you like” means for me.

I am learning how to see. I would like some help seeing what’s there. This may seem crazy, especially to those who have these skills of seeing fashion, style and bodies. It probably feels natural to you to see what you see. You might find it easy to pick out outfits you like that suit your body (even if the manufacturers don’t always produce the stuff you want).

Let me reassure you. This is a skill. A skill I’m trying to get better at.

Be specific.

What is helpful is knowing what strikes people about a particular outfit. Things like “That top really draws attention to your bust.” or “This colour makes your face look …” or whatever are SUPER helpful.

Your first thought may be a judgement but I bet there is something specific that is making you think that. Try to think through your own thought process and explain it to me, leaving off your conclusion. Do not assume that “draws attention to your bust” or whatever is a good thing or a bad thing. And whatever you think of that, leave that bit out of your comment.

I’m okay with things like “hides your waist” or “makes [insert body part here] look smaller/bigger”. Those are factual observations. They do often come with judgements and sometimes the judgements are unspoken. However, in this context as long as you keep your judgement to yourself, I’m more than happy to hear the factual observation part.

Focus on parts

I’m assuming that nothing I own is going to hit all the right buttons for me or anyone else. I don’t mind if you only talk about one thing — the neckline, the shape, the length, the fabric pattern, the colour, whatever.

It all helps me see things I might not otherwise see. And it helps me figure out components that I might want to look for in things I buy or put in things I make for myself.

I’ll try and post my first photo post soon.

that high school thing

Recently, I’ve sensed a shift in my thinking about this. A shift deeper in the direction I was already going rather than a major change in direction.

Things have become MORE unschoolish. In particular, I have become less concerned about how what F. is doing would translate into a transcript. (In Ontario, I can’t award her a high school diploma anyway though I know I could use a transcript-style format to summarize what she’s done.)

I think this is a sign of how deschooled we’ve all become. This seems a bit strange since Mat is a university professor. But in many ways is consistent with the ways in which both of us have been frustrated over the years with the way undergraduate students approach university learning. Not that they are unprepared. But the ways in which what they are prepared for and what we think education is or should be are not really the same thing. That’s a whole other debate.

The upshot is that in our home(schooling) life, we are less and less concerned if F has something that looks roughly like what other kids her age have in terms of a record of learning or scope and sequence of specific subjects or whatever. She plans to go on to post-secondary education of some sort but not until she is at least 21. She has other plans before that.

I think the main change that I’ve noticed is that I don’t want everything to be judged based on some future state or future need that is not at all clearly defined. What is the purpose of high school if it is not, or not merely, to prepare one for entry into post-secondary education of some sort? What does it mean to be 16? Surely it means more than preparing to be something older than 16.

The occasional concern that I am failing her by not caring about this stuff is assuaged by 2 things. A friend telling me that she has the same worries sometimes about her son, who is in school. And Mat reminding me that if she doesn’t have what she needs to get into whatever it is she wants to do, the worst case scenario is a year of adult high school to get her Grade 12. As worst case scenarios, that’s not so bad. F. agrees.

I still make her do math. And she still does it. She doesn’t hate it. She doesn’t love it. She is competent and see’s the point. She does a lot of what she loves — music and art — much of which involves a lot of challenging and difficult stuff.

When I stop and think about it, especially when she goes away for a bit, I see that she is already not a child. If we were to die in a horrific car accident tomorrow (heaven forbid), she would be perfectly capable of independent living. We need to change the wills to reflect that, actually. At the same time, she will benefit from a couple more years at home with a focus on learning for a significant portion of her time.

We find ourselves increasingly referring to her not as “homeschooled” but as a “grade 3 drop out”. And she’s doing just fine.

you can plan or you can start

That bit of planning I did last week was just enough to confirm that this approach to the quilt might just work. I got over my fear of wasting fabric or ruining good fabric or whatever the gremlins were worried about.

Today, I decided to start by framing the 2 flower panels. (click the thumbnails for larger)

The poppy I framed in some dark purple. This is not a solid but a textured print. The band is 3″ finished.

The Sunflower I decided to use a narrow pale yellow print (not in the stack shown in the last post but I remembered I had a half-yard in stash) before putting the burnt orange (which has purple bits) on the outside. The combined width of the yellow and orange will be 3″ finished.

Not sure what the next step is but these are hanging on the wall where I see them regularly which I hope will spark ideas.

starting a new quilt

Back in August I went to the Lanark County Quilt Guild show in Perth. There is a market and this panel really struck me.

Actually, the panel was 2 flowers but that’s the one that struck me.

I stared at it for ages. So long that a vendor I know because she has a shop here in town walked past and told me to buy it even though it was not at her stall!

So I did, along with a pile of fabrics to go with it and make a quilt. I had no idea how much I’d need or what exactly I was going to do but here’s the stack.

The one on the bottom is a deep purple. It has a textured pattern. The yellow and green are only fat quarters because I wanted them mainly for small accents.

I dislike that colour green but recognize that it goes well with the colours I do like and a bit of it can make the whole thing come together nicely.

The one on the top (orange with purple floral pattern) I bought later from a different shop. I spotted it when I went to get my sewing machine fixed.

I realized a little while ago that I have scraps from a dress I made myself about 20 years ago that would also work with this.

I’d cut them into strips and squares so I can’t really fussy cut any to focus on the birds of paradise flowers in this print. But I think it might add some interest in a small way.

Today I sat down to do some designing. And as I did, I realized that maybe the other large flower from the original panel might fit. The quantity of green (and the blue and pink) had put me off but now…

This has been on my wall for a while. I’m not sure why the other one hasn’t been. I’ve now corrected that and can see both from my desk albeit at different angles.

For the design, …

I want to avoid a symmetrical medallion quilt. I’ve been experimenting with randomness and scrappy quilts. And now I think I want to experiment more with asymmetry.

One of the quilts in Sunday Morning Quilts gave me an idea. It is all squares within squares. But some are small and some are large. The large ones are placed asymmetrically in the whole layout and then the smaller ones are laid out in rows to fill in.

I started thinking about framing the large flower with some of the other fabrics and then making different sized larger blocks and arranging all of them and filling in with some smaller squares. Small and large are relative as this might not have anything smaller than 4″ finished.

I figured out a way to play with that idea:

I’ve marked out an 80″ x 80″ square (to scale) on a large sheet of graph paper. I’ve lightly marked the centres and quarters.

Pasting plain coloured paper to graph paper allows me to cut blocks of different sizes and arrange them.

This is still in progress but I think it might give me enough of an idea of the overall layout to start cutting fabric and making blocks.

I’d like the large flower(s) to be a focus so they will be in the middle somewhere if asymmetrically so. I’m also experimenting with borderless.

Since the beginning I’ve been thinking of this as a quilt for our bed. Today it also occurred to me that although I really like the poppy (if that’s what it is), Mat does really like the sunflower (which is also meaningful for him as a long time member of the Green Party).

Bright quilt

A couple of years ago I bought a pack of 4 x half-yard pieces of fabric from Flare Fabrics. They were intended to go together.

My vegetable placemats had got me thinking of a fractal 4-patch design. I worked this out for the 4 half-yards even though that ends up with a kind of odd sized quilt top — big (to my mind) for a baby quilt but too small for a lap quilt. Some borders might be added at some point to address that.

Fractal Cot Quilt -- orange, pink, yellow

Fractal Cot Quilt

Finished size 40″ x 54″

Fabric: ½ yard of each of 4 coordinating prints

these will be cut into 8.5″ (Large), 4.5″ (medium), and 2.5″ (small) squares (for finished sizes of 8″, 4″, 2″)

  • 18 Large
  • 34 Medium
  • 136 Small

When I started working with them, I swapped out one (which wasn’t from the same line as the other 3) for a collection of smaller pieces I had in my stash. That one didn’t seem to go quite the way I thought. And I had some solids and a few pieces of a print that had similar colours to the other three.

My quilt had 5 Large of each of the 3 prints plus 3 individual large blocks of coordinating solids. I did similar things with the other sizes.

Sew the small squares into 4-patch blocks. I did this randomly so there wasn’t a noticeable sub-pattern in the smaller blocks. These will be 4.5″ finished.

Then create larger 4-patch blocks using 2 Medium squares and 2 smaller 4-patch blocks. Again, I went for random.

You now have 18 Large squares + 17 Large pieced squares. Lay these out in a 5 x 7 grid with solid squares in the corners. Arrange as you like. Sew together in rows and sew the rows together.

[If you would prefer to have pieced blocks in the corners, you would cut 17 Large squares, 36 Medium, and 144 Small squares. Piece as described to create 18 Large pieced squares.]

Related ideas:

I have noodled on this basic design and I think it would work well to add 16.5″ squares if one was making a large quilt (e.g. Queen or King) size.

I also wondered about whether to piece some of the 2″ squares. To do this you’d need to cut some 1.5″ squares and piece them into 4-patches, which would be 2.5″. Two of those, combined with 2 of the 2.5″ squares would make the 4.5″ pieced squares, to combine with the 4.5″ squares, to piece into 8.5″ blocks that would be combined with 8.5″ squares to make 16.5″ pieced blocks to lay out with the 16.5″ squares…


more essay writing: History

Since the 2 Literary Analysis classes are each a month long with a month break in between, we decided to add our own essay based class in October.

Last year Freya expressed an interest in learning more about how ideas of homosexuality shifted in the 19th Century. She read the first couple of chapters of Jeff Week's Sexuality from the Routledge Key Ideas series. We watched the film Wilde and we talked a bit about it. But we never really went anywhere with it.

I suggested we pick this back up and be a bit more structured. Work over 4 weeks to research and write an essay.

Several years ago I picked up Essaying the Past by Jim Cullen which I thought we could use to guide the work. Freya has just read the first 7 chapters and the chapter where he goes through a sample student essay (to give her an idea of what she's aiming for). Our plan is that she will do some reading, find some sources, and refine her question over the first 2 weeks. We'll talk about things as she goes. Then she'll start working on the essay over the last couple of weeks with a view to finishing before the Gatsby class starts on November 4.

Mat has looked at what's available through the university library in terms of primary sources. She's also got some pages of Cullen dog-eared and plans to check out some of the things he suggests.

It feels like a good project. We've done a reasonable amount of 19th Century British and European history over the years so she has a reasonable sense of the period. While I'm a bit worried that at her level she should have a bit more scaffolding for the project, we're keeping an eye on things so she doesn't get overwhelmed.

She's definitely picked up on this idea of primary sources. I think there may be another history project in the spring, perhaps around WWII, Holocaust, and so on, another topic she's read a lot about and had a long time fascination with.

I think maybe I need to go back to that book I read about film and history, too, since she is particularly fond of historical movies and historical fiction. But that is for another day. First we need to get through this project and back to the Literary Analysis.

How it’s going so far, with a focus on Literature and essay writing

It's Thanksgiving weekend, which is about 6 weeks into the new school year and seems like a good time to reflect a bit on how things are going.

We had a family meeting at the beginning of September to talk about what we wanted out of homeschooling, what Freya's goals were, and how that all might work. I talked about about the things I said here.

Mat and I wanted her to do more writing and develop her analytic skills. This is based roughly on the kind of progression that Julie talks about in the Bravewriter Help for Highschool. In service to this, I registered her for 2 Bravewriter Literary Analysis classes — American Poetry (in September) and The Great Gatsby (in November.

The American Poetry one went pretty well, I think. I am not a looking-over-the-shoulder mom so I asked her about it and we talked about it a bit but she basically got on with it. She hasn't had comments back on her essay yet.

It did raise some issues about structure, following rules and doing things according to a plan. That led to some discussions about giving things a try even when they are uncomfortable and seeing if you can figure out why someone would make you do them.

In particular, Freya had a lot of resistance to talking about rhyming patterns. She doesn't find them interesting. However, talking about the rhyming structure was one of the required things, so she did it. I tried to talk to her about the difference between doing it to say you've done it and actually trying to figure out why someone might think it was important or interesting. I pointed out that the poet probably thought a lot about the rhyming structure and it is likely that is because the poet thought it related to the meaning. She has since reluctantly admitted that she figured out that rhyming structure might be important to meaning. I'm calling that a win.

We also had a long conversation about the ways teachers communicate criticism and the difficulty of taking criticism. This was tougher.

There is an inherent problem in the pedagogical approach that encourages students to communicate thoughts by saying “there is no wrong answer”. Because even if we think there isn't ONE right answer, we do expect students to move on from their initial thoughts. Where's the learning in having your initial ideas confirmed? The problem becomes how to nudge students to develop their initial thoughts, consider other interpretations, and maybe even change their minds, without sounding like that first “there is no wrong answer” was a lie. All teachers struggle with this. And I definitely recognize Freya's reaction.

I tried to explain the difficulty and how hard it is to communicate and that teachers are only human, etc. I tried to give her strategies for seeing the useful things in the teacher comments even if the way it was said annoyed her. Since it's an online course I suggested that maybe it would be helpful to look at the teacher comments on someone else's writing and then what they did with those comments as she'd have a bit more emotional distance. My hope is that that might give her enough distance to be able to identify what's useful.

I'm not sure what she did with what I said, but she did go back and try to engage with the comments differently. And she recognized that she is learning things in the class. This is good because her initial response was to ask to pull out of the 2nd class because she doesn't like the teacher. I'm all for validating my kid's feelings and finding what works for her, but Bravewriter is one of the few curricula that feels really aligned with our educational philosophy. I can't teach literary analysis because I never really felt like I understood it. I think this is likely to be the best option for doing some of this work. I told Freya this.

All is well. We'll work on those strategies for getting the most out of a class even if it isn't perfect for you. It also turns out that she is really not keen on writing essays though she accepts that there are good reasons we want her to do this kind of work. Also, she's already read The Great Gatsby and loved it. She's seen the film. She's talked about it and tried to write about it. I pointed out that she won't need to work at understanding the book and doing the literary analysis because she knows the book. The purpose of doing the class is precisely to help her look at the book differently and write something she couldn't write without having her ideas challenged.

Being challenged is always uncomfortable but I think this is what this next phase of her education needs to include.



I'm not much of a small project knitter. But I'm discovering that I might be a small project quilter. Or maybe it's just my exploratory approach to the medium at the moment that is making small projects seem appropriate.

I also have a completely unrealistic view of my stash. It is paltry. But I think it isn't. I've been thinking I need to use stuff in the stash (which is good) but I really only have a stash that can support small projects. (With the exception of that scrappy trip around the world quilt which might have had more scrappy trip and fewer borders if I had a more substantial stash)

My first bag

I attended the Lanark County Quilters Guild biannual show this August. At the Flare Fabrics booth, I noticed that there were several patterns for bags that used 6 fat quarters. I have fat quarters …

This is where that line of thought led …

The pattern is Carmel. These fat quarters were purchased last winter on a whim. They seemed to go together better in the stack than they did when I started to lay things out. I'm not dissatisfied with this bag but I'm not completely happy with it either.

It has interior pockets but they are just that tiny bit smaller than my iPad, which is kind of annoying. I probably should have checked before cutting. I am impressed with the strap construction which makes a very sturdy strap. It may become a knitting bag. Or a gift.

It didn't end there

And then I stopped in at the big bookstore one day after dropping Freya off at the Park & Ride and picked up a magazine. It contained a pattern for a cute bag using 32 charm squares. I looked through my cut stash (I've been cutting smaller bits of fabric into commonly used sizes: 5″ squares, 2.5″ squares, 1.5″ squares, 2.5″ strips, 1.5″ strips) and it seems I don't have 32 coordinating 5″ squares. Hmmm.

Last week I was in one of the local quilt shops and saw a charm pack of batiks… I bought it along with some coordinating fabric for the lining and…

I love this bag. It makes me happy to look at it. If I were to use this pattern again, I might make an interior pocket but otherwise it's just fine. Most importantly it's “me”.

More bags may be in my future.


First homeschool field trip of the year

One of the joys of homeschooling is that you can do things off season. This year Freya and I took a trip to the Stratford Festival the weekend after Labour Day. The timing was dictated primarily by the combination of plays available.

We used the format that a group trip she's been on has used: 4 plays over 3 days with 2 nights accommodation.

The plays we saw:

  • Measure for Measure
  • Merchant of Venice
  • Fiddler on the Roof
  • Blithe Spirit

All were excellent. Freya was particularly excited about the Chagall inspired set for Fiddler. This was nice for me because she was ambivalent about the first Chagall exhibit we saw (in Switzerland in 2007) though I think his work has grown on her since.

Her grandparents introduced her to Noel Coward a couple of years ago by taking her and 2 UK-based friends to see Hay Fever in Keswick. She was an instant fan and the production of Blithe Spirit reinforced her views.

I think seeing some Coward in the same year we saw Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan was also thought provoking. They share some larger themes about the relationship between middle-class propriety and reality. And some comedic strategies.

We also had lunch with an old family friend that I hadn't seen in years but had run into at a recent funeral. It was so nice to see her and we agreed that the next time we go she may join us for a play, too.

There was also a nice bonus on the quilting front. In the upstairs lobby at the Avon Theatre hangs a quilt made by members of the wardrobe department as a fundraiser. It is gorgeous.



more high school ideas

This is mostly a placeholder to remind myself about a couple of Julie’s posts on the Bravewriter blog: 5 principles for one-thing-ing high school



The principles summarized

  1. Teens need adventure.
  2. Teens aren’t lazy. They’re bored.
  3. Teens have interests that interest them.
  4. Teens deserve a social life.
  5. Teens live in a wired world.

Also one of her FB posts on Boredom