Category Archives: clothing design

Recycling: Why I can never throw anything away

Almost anything can be repurposed, renovated, re-invented, renewed.  With that realization I am going to have an even harder time clearing out my closet.

As an example: Sometime in the 90’s one of the shirts I made when I needed a nice wardrobe for work on the road  was an oversized military-style shirt made with purple silk charmeuse.  At the time I had discovered  ‘designer ease’ which fit right in with the extra large silhouettes of the time.  Ease is the amount of room built in to a garment.  Wearing ease is big enough to be comfortable, not too tight but designer ease can be anywhere from four to ten inches, huge in other words.

Why the big shirt?  Because it was the style, dude.  And I thought I was bigger than I am.  Who knew?

Why the big shirt? Because it was the style, dude. And I thought I was bigger than I am. Who knew?

I wore this shirt a lot in its initial form, long sleeves with cuffs and long enough to belt with skirts.  finally the cuffs were starting to wear and I was wearing shirts shorter so I cut off the extra length and made short sleeves and wore the shirt that way for maybe ten years.

I KNOW, who keeps shirts that long?  Well I do, for one.  If you take good care of your clothes they really last.  I always wash my silk garments by hand with a silk wash.  I like Forever New.  The clue is in the name, folks. The only real change over the years is that parts of the shirt more exposed to the sun have faded which just makes the garment more interesting.

So, in recent years I haven’t worn it much because it was still too big for my current look, wide through the torso, but the fabric is still good so I had a flash: why not turn it into a vest?  I’d been wanting a new purple vest to replace a finally worn out raw silk reversible vest that I finally gave up on.  I have a purple vest that reverses to olive green quilted silk but it’s more a fall/winter vest so My thought was; single layer for summer.

The shortened version before conversion.

The shortened version before conversion.

I opened the side seams and cut off the sleeves.  Then I removed the pockets and flaps because they were too high for the vest.  I also let out the inverted pleat in the back. then I used my pattern to cut the fronts keeping the front placket and buttons.  When I removed the pockets and flaps the holes from the original stitching were visible so I cut bias strips of purple silk chiffon and some tie material in a painted silk jacquard.  I added extra pieces for style then I repositioned the pockets and used the epaulettes instead of the flaps. A small scrap of another purple silk charmeuse became bias binding for the edges and the widest parts of the sleeves became the belts in the back.  Now I have a useable and fun layer for summer work.

Detail of the vest front.  Cobalt blue glass buttons

Detail of the vest front. Cobalt blue glass buttons

I like vests because they tie an outfit together, help to disguise my asymmetrical form, and take the place of a jacket when it is too warm to wear a jacket.  Of course this one will push the envelope for the business look but I go for the quirky, bohemian boss-lady image: firm but fun.

Vest back.  The vertical strips cover the previous stitching holes

Vest back. The vertical strips cover the previous stitching holes


Renovating a down coat

Finished!  Even though it's not really cold I'm determined to wear my renovated down coat.

Finished! Even though it’s not really cold I’m determined to wear my renovated down coat.

Twelve years ago I bought an ankle-length, black, Calvin Klein down coat at my favourite store, Winners.  It was a good price, $100, but it was a bit of a splurge since I didn’t really need it most of the time where I lived on Vancouver Island.  I got it mostly because I was doing a winter rail trip from Toronto to Vancouver and I thought it would be a perfect, light-weight coat for those times when you want to get off the train in the middle of the night on some lonesome, frozen prairie siding,  just to experience the cold.   A few years later I moved to Maine and it became my coat of choice for the morning walks with the dog in winter.

Drool stains the lower part of the original waterproof/breathable fashion fabric.

Drool stains the lower part of the original waterproof/breathable fashion fabric.

Fast forward to this year.  The coat still keeps me warm and is like walking around in a big sleeping bag but the outer fashion fabric was worn at the cuffs and

 no amount of washing seemed to be able to remove the dog drool on the sleeves where I get playfully grabbed or from the waist down where leaning occurs.  

I had two choices: replace the coat with a new one or make a new fashion fabric outer shell.  llbean makes a good substitution, a calf-length coat for $200.  I would recommend to a client that option since renovation is labour-intensive.  A new coat would have a removable hood, not a feature I really require, but would not have the extra tall collar that makes my coat perfect for wind-chill times.  I can pull it right up over my nose.  With a hat I’m toasty-warm.  And my coat is longer with zippers at the bottom of the side seams for walking ease.  I bought some dark brown polyester rain coating and started.

matching the new front placket with the old

matching the new front placket with the old

I opened both side seams from sleeve cuff to the zippers.  I have made vests from down jackets and re-covered vests as well so the optimum would have been to be able to remove the original fashion fabric, make a pattern from it and replace with the new fabric.  Alas, the fabric was sewn to the down casing making the channels so removal was not an option.  I made paper pattern pieces for fronts, centre back, side backs, side fronts and sleeves and assembled the pieces attached at the shoulders and draped on my form to see how the fit was.  I had to adjust a bit at the armhole, then I pinned the new outer shell to the coat at the collar and at all the channel stitching.

Pinning the new dark chocolate brown fabric on the partially deconstructed garment

Pinning the new dark chocolate brown fabric on the partially deconstructed garment

I decided to quilt the coat by hand for more control and so that I wouldn’t lose any loft with additional seaming.  I used some variegated silk thread warp ends that I got from the Sanderson Weaving Studio  on Granville Island.

The colours vary from taupe and dull purple to tan and pale green.  I started with  a sleeve, then quilted the adjacent front, then the other sleeve, it’s front and lastly the back.  I embroidered a decorative stitch around the pocket openings to strengthen that stress point.

While it was apart I replaced the walking ease zippers.  The originals never opened easily.  The main two-way separating zipper I replaced several years ago with a bigger sleeping bag-like zipper.  I also added reinforcement at the hems in the form of iridescent drapery fabric.  Hopefully that will contribute to longevity at the stress points.

Even using two thimbles my fingers are sore from all the hand sewing.  Except for the front zipper (which was basted then sewn by machine) and , the side seams, the new fabric was attached by hand for control and to maintain down loft.

Even using two thimbles my fingers are sore from all the hand sewing. Except for the front zipper (which was basted then sewn by machine) and the side seams, the new fabric was attached by hand for control and to maintain down loft.

It’s hard to tell from some of the pictures but the new improved coat is a dark chocolate brown.  The hand quilting  allows plenty of loft for the down.  I embroidered geometric lines and arrows down the front placket to obscure the places that covered the snaps.  I was going to heavily embroider around the lower zippers but decided they look fine without the extra embellishment. Besides, I was ready to be done and my fingers were sore from all the hand-sewing, even using my thimbles.

Hand pocket detaIl.  I wanted to reinforce around the pockets because there is so much wear there.

Hand pocket detaIl. I wanted to reinforce around the pockets because there is so much wear there.

Writing about this makes it all sound so easy, but making a pattern from a garment so loosely shaped is not easy.  Cutting out is always the worst part and I had a moment of wondering if I had enough fabric.  Usually I buy too much but this time I had just the right amount.  The bit of stretch in the new fabric worked well to help the new outer shell conform to the garment.  Overall I am really happy with the result.  Now if only the temperature would plummet again so I can wear my new brown down coat.  Looking good, because in my world, brown is the new black.

Styling in my renovated Calvin Klein coat.

Styling in my renovated Calvin Klein coat.

Adventures in over-dyeing

Variations on a tweed.  Underneath, the fashion garment, happily dyed with chestnut.  Scraps, left to right, Kelly green, original, spruce.

Variations on a tweed. Underneath, the fashion garment, happily dyed with chestnut. Scraps, left to right, Kelly green, original, spruce.

Over-dyeing is a good way to have a new wardrobe without spending a lot of money, but it is fraught with peril and potential for ruin, much like life, and I’ve found it’s best if I have no preconceived notions about the results, also, much like life.  

I discovered that a large part of my wardrobe was all wrong, grey, black and fuchsia should have been rust, brown and salmon.  I started my forays into over-dyeing last summer.   At first I mostly dyed cellulose fibres and some silks using fibre reactive dyes.  There is a lot of guesswork: taking into account the original colour in whatever mix for a hoped for end result.

 I started keeping a dye journal with notes about the mix of colours, how much salt I used, length of time in the dye bath and then the end results.  With fibre reactive dyes the water stays coloured and there is a lot of rinsing out of excess colour.  It would seem like a waste so I sometimes threw things in the dye bath well after the mordant had been added and the original garments removed.

One happy result was a bright, jewel-toned, silk scarf that I originally bought at an artisan store in Victoria.  I used antique gold.  The fuchsia became a muted coral, the royal blue a soft marine blue, turquoise became teal and the purple muted to blend with the others.  That same dye bath turned a piece of bright pink velvet  to orange.  I re-dyed the velvet with more warm black to get a yummy rust that I was looking for to trim a vest I was repairing.

My experiments were all leading up to dyeing my wool garments.  Wool is a protein fibre and is best dyed with acid dyes.  My method is to use a pot of hot water on the stove which can be tricky because too hot and agitated and wool will felt and shrink.

Wool is a fantastic fibre.  It is strong even when wet and maintains its ability to provide warmth even when 50% wet.  It’s resistant to moisture and to dirt and if cared for well can last for years.  I have a heavy tweed jacket I made in 1993.  It was one of a three fabulous pieces of wool I bought at a surprisingly great fabric store I discovered in Cranbrook, BC when I was there visiting the in-laws with the husband.  I made the jacket in a Japanese hapi style with modified kimono sleeves.  The original lining was a dark purply blue, iridescent acetate with two welt and two patch inside pockets besides the two welt pockets on the outside.

The jacket has been re-lined twice since I made it and I had recently replaced the bottom parts of the sleeves and faced the lining edge to delay the next change of lining.  Meanwhile the discovery of the new, improved palette meant that the black, grey, white and thread of blue tweed was not in my preferred colours.  I changed out the black velvet trim for olive green velvet and changed the dark grey  knit I-cord ties to green as well to give myself some time to feel more confident with dyeing.

I put a scrap of the tweed in with some grey wool jersey garments and a TBS of kelly green because I was trepidatious about how the tweed would behave.  Unbeknownst to me, I now think that the jersey was not 100% wool because when I added the acid to discharge the dye it all went into the one scrap of tweed and no change to the grey skirt and shirt.  That’s why the scrap is nearly black.  It has enough dye for a couple of garments.  That didn’t make me feel any more confident.

The discharge with acids dyes if very cool.  Fabric is first pre-soaked with synthrapol, that releases any excess dye and thoroughly wets the garment.  Then into the dye bath for 45 minutes, swishing around and bringing up to a simmer.  Then, I add citric acid mixed in water and continue to stir.  Within minutes all the dye in the water has gone into the fabric and the water is clear.  A gradual cool down so that the wool is not shocked, spin in the washing machine and voila!

There is a fine line of how much dye to use.  Conservatively, less dye and possibly several times of over-dyeing would be most prudent, but I am impatient with that methodical process so I guess what would be best.

Over-dued and re-lined.  Both outer wool fabric and lining were originally grey.  THe velvet trim was hot pink.

Over-dyed and re-lined. Both outer wool fabric and lining were originally grey. THe velvet trim was hot pink.

My first acid dye bath was teal and I dyed two soft light grey wool garments i’d made in 1989, a tunic and a vest.  I like the result; the colour is dark and mottled.  I could have used less for a more even look.  The vest originally had a fuchsia quilted flannel lining that was finally looking shabby so I replaced it with a soft moss green flannel (overdyed, originally grey) and trimmed with the rust cotton velvet.

Finally I felt confident enough to attempt over-dyeing my tweed jacket.  I removed the lining and partially  removed the collar, soaked the fabric in warm water and Synthrapol, then immersed in a dye bath with 1 TBS of chestnut.  The result was way better than I expected.  The white threads became chestnut, the grey a dark brown and even the black threads toned down to be more espresso than real black.  The overall feel is that the jacket is now a brown tweed.  Success! What a surprise.

The jacket, re-assembled with a new lining, re-lined pockets and new trim and ties.

The jacket, re-assembled with a new lining, re-lined pockets and new trim and ties.

I then dyed a black and white Harris tweed vest and some assorted wool scraps with spruce (sort of a greenish blue, unlike teal, which is a blue-ish green) and re-lined that vest as well.

I was on a roll so I thought, why not try to dye some of my knit garments?

I had a heavy pullover made of two ply worsted yarn from Briggs and Little in New Brunswick that I made in the 70’s.  It originally had a turtleneck that I changed to a mock turtle that was not good looking.  It looked like it would accommodate the neck of a gridiron linebacker.  I unraveled the bad neck treatment and decreased the stitches and converted to a crew neck then did a dye-bath with kelly green and some gunmetal to tone down the brightness.

Detail of cabled pullover with a ball of the original colour yarn.

Detail of cabled pullover with a ball of the original colour yarn.

My guessing turned out well.  I didn’t want the lighter, natural strand of yarn to be bright kelly green and the amount of gunmetal ( a purple-ish, blue/grey) was enough to darken but keep the overall colour green.  I  hanked up a couple of small balls and dyed them as well as a matching toque.

Then I dyed a variegated mohair shrug that had a bit of fuchsia that I didn’t want and a dark cranberry sleeveless cardigan.  I used spruce and gunmetal on them, maybe a bit too much gunmetal but I still like the result, especially the cardigan that is a very dark grape and seems to have lengthened a bit.

My leave and vine sleeveless cardigan, dyed with spruce and gunmetal.  THe yarn ball is the original colour, sort of.  The yarn is Malabrigo merino from Uraguay, hand dyed and spun so there is a lot of variation in the dye lots.

My leave and vine sleeveless cardigan, dyed with spruce and gunmetal. The yarn ball is the original colour, sort of. The yarn is Malabrigo merino from Uraguay, hand dyed and spun so there is a lot of variation in the dye lots.

It’s a learning process.  I make notes in my little book and maybe next time I’ll try the gradual dye thing and not go for the finished colour in one go.  I DO like the vest but I think it’s a bit dark.  Still I can wear it now and it was all wrong colour-wise before.  so the adventure continues and the future is uncertain from this perspective but I have a lovely renewed brown tweed jacket that ought to last another 20 years and should not need a new lining for at least five.  I hope.

It's roomy, the pockets are capacious and it is warm.  I can fit it over several layers and it is new and improved with great colour and the best lining I ever put in.

It’s roomy, the pockets are capacious and it is warm. I can fit it over several layers and it is new and improved with great colour and the best lining I ever put in.


Yay! Winter! and knitting! and new camera coolness!

New snow on rose hips

New snow on rose hips

Already this winter is better than last.  Just after Christmas we got a couple of dumps of snow, nearly two feet of powder, good enough for snowshoes.  Best of all it stayed cold for a while, but then , that dreaded warming and quite a bit of the lovely snow melted, alas.

Winter is  my favourite time of year.  No need to have excuses to be inside listening to music, creating, designing, or escaping in a good book with a cup of tea in front of the fire.  Meanwhile the necessity of dog walking means that I still get out twice a day, one early morning, before breakfast, down the road, and the other, afternoon, in the woods, up the hill.  I sense that, when I’m out at this time of year, that there are not a lot of others out, braving the weather.  Too bad for them; for me the feeling during the day is like late at night, tranquil, when most of the world is asleep.

Last week Murphy and I did a weekend road trip to Bonney River, New Brunswick to help my cousin with some computer things.  I brought my snowshoes but I couldn’t really let Murphy off the leash because the ice on the Magaguadavic  River (those who know call it the Magadavy) and the smaller Bonney River where we walked in the woods was not reliably frozen, so I trudged for miles in my big Sorel pacs.

THe preferred boot for slogging through two feet of snow, rated for -40.

The preferred boot for slogging through two feet of snow, rated for -40.

 It’s a good workout to walk behind a dog through the snow.  From Calvin’s we walked partway down the road, looking for a place to get off and into woods.  There is a good place a bit more than a mile or so toward St. George where the old railroad used to be, but in the winter there is not a place to park so we were limited to the nearby area.  I found a ATV trail at the back of a blueberry barren that looped to the near side of the Bonney River opposite the old railroad bed.  I almost let Murph off the leash but the moose tracks had me worried.  He kept stopping and gazing off into the deep woods and I had visions of him long gone on the trail of a cranky moose.  Not a good mental picture.
Murphy meticulously examining the tracks of a moose

Murphy meticulously examining the tracks of a moose

The not quite frozen Bonney River

The not quite frozen Bonney River

The Saturday of our visit was snowy all day.  I had hopes that there was also snow three hours south but it turned out to not be.

Sunday warmed up enough that under the snow was boggy melt, enough that Murphy could drink the water pooling in our footsteps.

My helpful data entry gig lasted until noon on Monday, then a last lunch and we headed back as the temperatures were going down, again.  Home in Maine, most of our snow was gone, the driveway a sheet of ice and so cold that my little woodstove could barely keep the temp inside above 15C.  Upstairs my thermometer read 9C, inside one morning.  A hot water bottle  helps keep my feet warm.

The morning walks are a challenge when it is this cold.  My extra long scarf wraps around my face but that means I can’t wear glasses because they steam and then ice up.  I wear long fingerless gloves inside my heaviest mittens, wool socks inside my felt pac boots, full length down coat and two hats.  Thus garbed, I can walk for hours if I want but my vision is a bit blurry and the two hat thing is not my best look, so I decided to make a heavier proper earflap Fair Isle hat.  I found a good pattern on, The Juneau Fair Isle Hat, by Jenny Dolan that I used as a starting point.  I liked the I-cord edge and I’ve done enough two-stranded hats and mitts that I thought I could come up with a decent, warm hat.

Meanwhile, I bought a new book at my LYS (Local Yarn Store, to non-knitters) about using up stash yarn.   A Yarn Stash, is like the the loot in the secret caves of the thieves that Ali Baba followed.  I have heard there are knitters who buy only enough yarn for a project at a time, use it, then get more.  Weird, I say.  I have yarn that I bought in the 70’s (I think that ‘s the oldest) and have accumulated enough that I could probably knit my stash for a couple of years (doing nothing else) before I needed more.  But there is always something more.

My LYS is the fabulous Heavenly Socks in Belfast, Maine.  It’s a dangerous place for yarn lovers.  I have the same affinity for yarn stores as for fabric ones.  (reference my post: A change agent, lamenting change, May, 2011).  Colour, texture, possibilities.  Best of all, most things you knit can be unravelled and knit again, changed, mistakes corrected.  It’s a most forgiving art and my default activity when I  have a problem to solve in another arena.  Knit for a while and suddenly the how of constructing a pocket that works from two sides, or some other problem, becomes evident.

The stash-busting book had a tip that I wanted to try.  There is a newish item in the yarn stores called a Zauberball that has long colour changes that fade into each other.  Zauber means magic, and the book suggested making a magic ball from coordinating colours of yarn, creating a variegated ball that would stripe fairly regularly.  I had just finished a fabulous pair of socks with yarn from Good Karma Farm so the small leftover ball was the inspiration.  I don’t have lots of sock yarn so I doubled anything that was fingering weight or sport weight to match the knitting worsted weight that is most of my stash.  I lined up the colours on my desk then started roughly measuring lengths and knotting them together.  The beauty is that if you knit plain, all the knots will go to the back.

I made a BIG magic ball.  First, to try it out, I knit a scarf I saw on Ravelry, Wingspan Scarf.  Of course, my yarn is thicker than most so mine is a bit like a long collar.  Because it is garter stitch the knots show everywhere but I sewed a shell button on every knot, used big shell buttons so that it can be buttoned up and beaded the pointy ends.  I also did the yo, lace-ish version; helps with the buttons.

Angora, mohair, alpaca, and a bit of acrylic chenille in olive, purple, taupe and gold.

Angora, mohair, alpaca, and a bit of acrylic chenille in olive, purple, taupe and gold.

It’s kinda old man, 1940’s colours but I like it.

Then Hat or another pair of mitts?  I went for the hat so I could stop the two hat madness.  I knit the hat in 2.5 days, using my magic ball and natural worsted from Briggs and Little  in NB.  I started with the ear flaps and figured my gauge from them, calculated how many stitches to add and unlike the pattern, I moved the earflaps back a bit.  I also made the earflaps longer because they didn’t seem long enough by themselves, so now they are super long.  Because of my stitch count I used a 16 stitch repeat pattern that was 15 rows for the main pattern but it was getting too deep so I started decreasing with the pattern, lost six more stitches in the plain rows then did regular decreases with a tree pattern.  Someday I’ll make a plain hat (Hunh!) I finished the top with a flower, purple with green mohair leaves.  the flaps and a head band are lined with purple stretch velvet.  I paired purple mohair with a purple worsted for the cord edge and made a loop and button closing at the points of the earflaps.  The flaps are too long to have ties.  And I think flaps always look cooler, loose.

Somehow I have once again channeled my inner Mongol horde ancestry with my take on the ancient warrior of the steppes hat.

I used the timer on my new camera for the first time today.  What a revelation!  It has a face recognition feature.

Modelling my Mongol Warrior, Fair Isle Hat

Modelling my Mongol Warrior, Fair Isle Hat

The countdown to snap doesn’t start until you look at the camera.  How amazing is that?  No more rushing to get in the pic .  I wanted to take a picture of the back and had to look at the camera before I turned around.  The only hard part is figuring out where to stand so that I am in the frame.  Murphy participated as well because he was jonesing for his second afternoon walk and wanted to make sure I did not forget.

Hey, Supreme Leader, remember that patrol thing we do every day?   You walk your loop and I occasionally surprise you on the trail, remember?  Then there's cookies....... isn't that NOW?

Hey, Supreme Leader, remember that patrol thing we do every day? You walk your loop and I occasionally surprise you on the trail, remember? Then there’s cookies……. isn’t that NOW?

So now I have a super warm hat and scarf that is sort of matching, and still enough magic ball to do another…… and that didn’t even dent the stash, so  much for stash-busting.  Still I  put the idea to good use and learned more about my camera.  Now to stash bust my fabric…… that might take a decade!

MY chaotic studio; in response to’ I’ll show you mine’ by Pattern Pandemonium

I dream of a warehouse space with lofty ceilings and huge cutting tables, bins for fabric sorted by colour, type…….


What I have is less space than the house I sold several years ago;  the back of the garage.  Skirt in progress is on the near chair.  Pieces for a vest are on the big sewing machine table and possible blouse fabrics on the far chair in sight so I can think of them, subliminally.

Yet another view of the surfaces, disappeared under fabric.  I admit I have a fabric addiction.  I could sew for years without ever buying another yard…… except that there is always another interesting design or texture that suggests something wonderful.

It’s hard to tell, but I recently did a re-sort of my attic storage area.  This is just what can be seen from the door.  Visible floor is an improvement.  One of my interior lights is broken so I will have to get an electrician here soon……

So, back to the machine and the gypsy/steampunk  skirt I’m working on.  Then I will dare to cut fabric; always the hardest part.

Alright, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my closeup

Just eyebrows today, dressed for comfortable blogging and designing

“Alright, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my closeup.”   One statement to paint a complete picture: dramatic entrance down a gracefully curving stair, self-applied make-up, some of it askew, maniacal gleam discernible about the eyes through the slash of heavy liner and mascara, and a bizarre, over-the-top garment suitable as a costume worn to the party in The Masque of the Red Death.  The thought crosses my mind that I may be standing on that edge.  One should not be one’s own reality checker, methinks, but all my fellow fashion mavens are far away and mid-coast Maine is not a haven of style; I stand out anyway.

I ruminate on appearance, style, and dignity among other things these days as I update my wardrobe and organize myself.  It’s really about eyebrows, you see.  I’d noticed several years ago that my eyebrows were disappearing but I didn’t do much about it.  I never had any early instruction about makeup from my mother.  She wore makeup, but I wasn’t allowed to in high school when I might have been interested.  By the time I fled the nest, the style of the time was very natural(no makeup, no bra.)

I was a bit of a hard ass toward my mother and her use of makeup and hair colour.   One of my favourite aspects of life is how ironic life is.  Beware of what you criticize or where you take a strong stand because chances are you’ll find yourself experiencing the flip side.  So here I am, occasionally colouring my hair, (it’s fun! And it’s not really to cover the grey but because I don’t have enough grey yet to be all silvery and family elder-ish).  Since my colour and mini makeover in early December I’ve been doing a basic ten minute face, even though I don’t really go anywhere.  But! I’m ready.   So I learned that eyebrows are really the key.  Not enough and you look old, too much and you risk the wild old person look. So I at least have to do my eyebrows daily and one thing leads to another and most days I go the lot including lips and it takes me ten minutes.

But eyebrows are weird.  Not only do I not have enough, naturally, I still need to pluck some hairs.  And the light here is not great so I got a lighted (and magnified; that’s a scary view) mirror so I can see what I’m doing.  Still, they never look exactly the same, which I think is normal, but when is it too much, too dark, too thick?  I’m making this a daily occurrence so that I can get used to seeing myself with eyebrows but I wonder if I’m doing this properly or at all in the ballpark.  I can’t consult with Ann.  She’s way less of a girl than I am and has serious eyebrows and would never waste her time trimming and plucking.  She looks the way she looks and gets on with life.

Which leads me to Henry David Thoreau and his words,’Beware of ventures requiring new clothes and not a new wearer of clothes.’  Yah but, every day I’m newer than before.  I’m a change agent and as I become more myself I’m different from who I was.  It’s all stuff to do and play with while we’re here experiencing so-called reality.  Even our bodies, while they are vehicles for spirit (Energy? Consciousness?)and can be considered a manifestation of that spirit, still,  are ultimately cool tools for experiencing this consensual reality.  So why not have fun with the vehicle, trick it out?  The current generation has embraced that big-time, with piercing and especially tattoos.  I’m still too much of a naturalist to want to permanently mark my body but clothes are another thing.  So fun, changeable costumes.    And eyebrows.

It occurs to me that eyebrows would be a good thing to tattoo but what if you ended up permanently surprised?  I like to think that I can figure things out so surprised would be not so good……. Which leads me to dignity.  The original definitions of dignity were all about status.  My Short Oxford English Dictionary, 1964, lists as the first definition: 1. The quality of being worthy or honourable; worth, excellence, desert.  And the related, Dignify: to make worthy or illustrious, to ennoble, to honour.  ( I like the illustrious part.  Having lustre, luminous, shining bright.)  However, my Random House Unabridged (1987) lists the first definition of dignity as: 1. Bearing, conduct or speech indicative of self-respect or appreciation of the formality or gravity of an occasion or situation.  And dignify: to confer honour or dignity upon; ennoble.

I think that most people endeavour to behave within accepted norms so as not to lose dignity (in the newer sense)to avoid being vulnerable to ridicule.  Worrying about the potential loss of dignity doesn’t sound like a lot of fun although by the older definition having worth and excellence are good things.  I’ve always thought that it’s best to go for the laughs and so amuse myself and if others laugh at me (evidence of undignified behaviour) then I’d planned it all along, hopefully adding some mirth to the world.

Today I’m modifying that idea a bit.  Five years ago today my mother died in the SICU of a hospital in San Diego.  I spent time with her before she ended up there, when she was recovering from her surgery, and then saw her briefly, lying vulnerable and mostly unclothed, unconscious and really mostly not in her body in the SICU.  My mother was concerned all her life with what others thought and a younger self might have judged both of those versions of herself as being without dignity.  But I’ve come to realize that dignity ( worth, excellence) is connected to the spirit and as long as the spirit is there, in the body, there is dignity.  As she was closer to not being, her dignity was also thready, but not gone until she was.  Our spirits dignify (make worthy or illustrious, luminous and shining bright) our corporeal beings.  From this perspective, everyone is imbued with dignity, illustrious beings of shining energy.  How cool is that?

So I will continue to garb myself stylishly, even if all I’m doing is walking the dog up the hill in the woods.  Maybe I’ll try some surprised eyebrows for the laugh factor…….. The idea alone makes me giggle.  And I’ll work at creating new, interesting designs for clothing to dignify the idea that life is about play and fun and what feels good.  Thanks, Little Mommy.

And I’m ready for that closeup now……

"Go On" by Polly Hunter, © Gallery FIve 1997. A most appropriate card I was given that lives on my cork board as a reminder.

Pros and Cons of Mastectomy-related Asymmetry

Taking a break partway up Healey Pass in the Canadian Rockies. Picture by Celine on my camera

I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about my mastectomy.  It’s been fourteen years since the surgery and I’m comfortable with myself, in fact it’s really fun to be me; always has been.  It occurs to me, however, that there are plenty of women new to the cancer dance who might feel trepidatious about the prospect of being asymmetrical and consider instead reconstruction despite the possible problems later (harder to diagnose a breast cancer reoccurrance, evidence of other cancer linked to implants,⁠1 and the fact that it is another surgery.)  With that in mind I thought I’d lay out the pros and cons of living with a mastectomized body from my peculiar point of view.

So, pros first or cons?  I’m always one to save the best for last although as I get older I wonder if that is the best scenario.  My aunt Lucy’s never-never drawer comes to mind.  All the best quality things she ever received went straight to the never-never drawer, never to be seen again.  That’s not really my style.  I wear fine wool and silk whilst chopping firewood and tea really tastes best in bone china.  Still, getting the bad news out of the way first is always good, so, on to the cons.

The biggest drawback for me is that with only one breast there are some styles of clothing that just don’t work anymore.  In the beginning I tried to take one triangle off my string bikini top but the horizontal tie really needs two boobs to keep it in place.  And I tried cutting out one side of a bra but that wasn’t happening either.  I was never offered a prosthetic breast so I don’t know how that works.  Maybe the weight keeps everything in place but it still seems that things might go awry and off kilter to me.  Meanwhile, I could use the support on the other side, so I resort to very tight tank tops and camisoles.  Also, V-neck tops really don’t work.  The one breast draws the V off centre, alas.  Same with T-shirts with a picture or message; they become lopsided in a not good way.  I still wear my University of Gallifrey, Fighting Time Lords one though, remembering to tug to the right once in a while.

As a result, I favour tankini swim suits but finding ones without built in bras is not easy.  One really does not want to look filled out and supported on one side with a collapsed souffle on the other.  Not a good look.  Also, not a BIG deal, but I was close to actually having cleavage before my mastectomy but now there will never be cleave to my ‘vage.  Sigh.

Another possible con is that many men have a predilection for breasts, having a propensity for visual stimulation, and so are likely put off by the Amazon-warrior shape of the single breasted woman.  This I’m sure leads to many women feeling less than attractive at a time when they feel like their bodies are harbouring the enemy.  There’s not much I can say to that scenario.  Our society is overly concerned with ideals of physical beauty that few can live up to anyway.  I would not want to involve myself with someone so shallow as to not see the me, intrinsic, as opposed to the me, blatant.  Self-esteem is a problem for everyone to wrestle with.  We don’t have any control over how we are perceived, only how we react to the world and how we feel about ourselves.  I think the best thing is to find creative outlets and passions that fuel your spirit;  you’ll feel good about yourself and fabulous people will be attracted to you no matter your outer shell.

That’s it for the cons; now for the good news: benefits abound for the one-breasted woman.  First, I’m all set for a striking Victor/Victoria Halloween costume.  If I really wanted to I could make one side a sleek and styling tuxedo and the other a sexy ball gown ala  Julie Andrews.

With my penchant for garments of all kinds, costumes, really, I find that my clothes hang nicely on the flat side and I can add interesting detail to balance out the prominent other side.  Big cargo pockets, embroidered details and other things.  I do wear a lot of vests (waistcoats, as it were) and layers can obscure from the casual observer.  I’ve found that most people don’t notice my asymmetrical figure.  I am still working on blouse designs that accommodate both sides, flat on one and darted to hang properly on the other.  I performed a mastectomy on a fiberglass mannequin so now I can drape on something other than myself, so that’s cool.  (I’m certainly glad my surgeon,”The Highlander” didn’t use a jig saw.)

My surgical scar is on the right so that when I drive my seatbelt lies across the flat part and does not cut into me at all.  I guess if you were the opposite it would be great to be a passenger.  Also, when I wear a shoulder bag I cross it from my left shoulder and  it too lies nicely across.  It’s easier to see what’s inside without a breast in the way.

On the positive side of close encounters of the intimate kind, one breast is really better than two, I think.  There’s always the problem of one getting more attention than the other.  I don’t know about other women but I always had one more erogenous breast than the other and lucky for me that’s the one I still have.  With one only there’ll never be that idea of, well, get on to other body parts, like, right now!  And there is no confusion as I imagine there is where reconstruction was the option and one of the objects experiences no sensation.

Mammograms are half as bad.  That squeeze is excruciating, but even worse when, after one, you know the other side will be tortured as well.  For me, no second side torture.  Bonus!

If you find yourself with both hands occupied and someone asks for directions you can indicate direction without dropping anything.  Almost like having a third hand.  Well, maybe not.

Plainly, there are more advantages than drawbacks.  The biggest is, I’m still alive and well and my brush with mortality has only increased my appreciation of all that is good and fun in the world.  Many years ago I was asked at a party, What do you do? To which I replied, Everything I like, as much as I can.  My mastectomy is a reminder that enjoying now, is most important because there is no knowing how many more nows any of us have.  Attitude, Baby!  Feeling good feels good and my mastectomy does not affect that in any negative way.


1 Breast Implants and Cancer Revisited: Plastic Surgeons Cover Up New Evidence of Human cancer From Implants, Public Citizen Health Letter, February 2011- Vol. 27. No. 2