Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Stitch Fix #6 - Have I Mentioned That I Love This Service?

As spring turns into summer here in the Ozarks, you get about a week of perfect mid-seventy degree days and then it just gets hot. With those days descending upon us, I was scrambling to find something cool enough to wear.  When my sixth Stitch Fix arrived, my stylist Amanda saved the day!

I specifically asked for two pairs of shorts. I hate shopping for shorts (I pretty much hate shopping in general these days) and I usually end up with a couple of ill-fitting pairs in navy blue and black from Old Navy that I spend more about 25 dollars on and hate them every time I wear them.

Let's also take a moment to talk about the American obsession with cheap clothes.  We are buying more and more clothes, which are made quickly and as inexpensively as possible.  Our closets are stuffed full of clothes, we are hurting the environment at the beginning of the cycle to get more material, we are enslaving people working in terrible conditions and then we throw away all these cheap clothes in a short time (usually about 4 months or less) which also hurts the environment, and turn around and buy more. In the middle of all that, designers and creatives are also hurt because their designs are ripped off so often because factories are trying to make clothes so quickly. This is a terrible cycle which I have written about before.  For more on this topic, you can check out Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth Cline   or follow the links on this Pinterest board.

Choosing to buy less and spend more is less conflicting for my values and how they have changed over time.  Some of you have asked and so I am telling:  Altogether, I am spending about two hundred dollars on this fix.  The pieces are more expensive individually than I would feel comfortable spending in the store, but there is a large discount if you buy all five items. It's worthwhile for me to communicate a lot about my experience with my stylist so that I consistently get all five pieces that I like, and therefore get the big discount.

 I've already explained how this is a such a time-saver for me, but I would also like to add that it feels nice to have someone listen to my preferences and choose things for me.  It feels like someone is taking care of me. For example, I mentioned in my last review that I wished the sheer top I got had a camisole with it, and my stylist included a cami in this fix to pair with the tops she chose for me!  So instead of just the "rush" you get from buying, which tends to fade quickly, leaving you with the desire for more, I wear these clothes and feel a sense of satisfaction that I was heard and thought about.  It's a more lasting feeling than simply getting something new.

So, without further ado: Fix Six.

Fate Elyse Striped Sheer Sleeveless Top with
Liverpool Susie Bermuda Shorts 

First off, let's celebrate that Whimsy has been sleeping through the night pretty consistently now, and I am starting to lose some baby weight. That means I'm between sizes. These shorts are mostly cotton with just 2% lycra, which means they fit great, but aren't so stretchy they will ultimately fall off when the fabric gets tired and old.  I would never have picked the color, but it goes with so many of the previous pieces, plus the things I buy for myself (aka black t-shirts), so they are great.

I'm not sure how exactly this shirt was intended to fit, but again, I'm between sizes, so it blouses on me when it might lie flat on a slimmer person. It's not uncomfortable or unflattering, though.  I like the creative use of the stripes and the easiness of this top. It is so versatile, I can wear it dressed up or down. This is great for the all-too-frequent "Oh, yeah, Mom...we have a meeting at school tonight I forgot to tell you starts in a half hour."

Ark n Co Lucas Hi-Lo Embroidered Sleeveless Top
with Skies are blue Cambria Embroidered Shorts
 Next up, two more pieces that can be swapped with the other two, making 4 complete outfits from this set of 5 items. I am a fan of this versatility, and the growing feeling of cohesion within my wardrobe.

see the cute back? 
The top is nursing-friendly, but admittedly, a little itchy.  I have never purchased so many articles of clothing made of synthetic fabrics before in my life, but I do like that they are much less wrinkly than my clothes normally are.  I am always a fan of small details, and this top has plenty: not only the intricate embroidery, but the back panel is made of  coral fabric and hangs lower across the back, which is perfect for me.

The shorts are a linen mix and they are perfect in every way.  The elastic waistband is forgiving without being schlumpy, and the color is safe without being boring.  The embroidered detail is pretty without taking away any versatility.  And the length is appropriate for a grown up lady with grown up stretch marks (Thank you baby number 1)  Now, if I could just do something about my scratched up knees (from gardening) or my bruised shins (falling over a kid's bike in the garage).

Gilli Gabbiey Sleeveless Maxi Dress   
Now, let's talk about this dress, which is made in the USA (a social justice YES!)  I feel 20 pounds lighter and 10 years younger.  The color, cut and fit are amazing.  You can get a dress similar to this made much more cheaply, but I don't think you would get the same luxe feeling from the cheap version.  It is made so beautifully and hangs flawlessly.  The fabric is thin enough to be comfortable in the warmest weather, but not flimsy.  I really cannot overstate how great this dress is... it might be my most favorite piece my stylist has ever picked.  It might be most favorite piece I have ever had in the last decade!

So here's a thought:  if you are on track to get a bouquet of expensive flowers and a burnt breakfast for Mother's Day this year, may I suggest you drop your family a little hint and ask for a Stitch Fix gift card instead?   It will take you a little time to fill out the survey and really get the hang of getting the most out of this service, but the lasting feeling of having one thing about your life simplified is definitely worth it to me.  You can use this referral code: 

Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn't mention Whimsy's favorite part of this fix.... you guessed it!  The box!  She played in it the whole time Mommy tried on her clothes!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Broken China Mosaic Cottage Sign - Two Years in the Making

More than two years ago, my friends asked me to make a mosaic sign for their cottage on Cape Cod.  I love making custom orders, but I always quake inside after making one, worrying that my idea and the client's idea might be too different (so far, that has only happened once, but it was not fun).  Making a custom order for a friend is even more intense because I want a level of perfection that I am never sure if I can deliver and my friends probably never even know I am shooting for. This leads to the inevitable procrastination that most artist struggle with.  In this case, that procrastination had some benefits:  in that LOOOOOONG  process of developing this piece, I created a new technique, found two new products that change the way I work, and ultimately ended up with a piece I couldn't have made two years ago.

my original sketch, from two years ago
We started the collaboration with a peek inside the cottage, which is decorated with beach-y pastels. My friend showed me a collection of signs he liked for inspiration. From there, it was a long wait, because I had just started to mosaic with words and was experimenting with techniques for the best readability.  And then I got pregnant with Whimsy and that REALLY slowed things down, because by that time I had begun cutting letters out with my wet saw.  A session with the wet saw means suiting up in a plastic apron because it sprays water all over the place, not to mention boots and safety glasses.  These aren't fun to wear in the hot summer months, but they are even less fun in the cold.  I couldn't reach the saw well enough with a giant pregnant belly and then I couldn't find a time when the baby was sleeping, but also somebody was home to help take care of her because the saw would wake her up.  It took a long time, but eventually, I got the letters for the double-sided sign all cut out of tile remnants I found at the Habitat Re-Store.  I chose the dark sandy color with an idea of how I would fill out the other colors, but once I cut them out, I realized my original idea was never going to work and had to abandon that idea. I also realized I wouldn't be happy with the sign unless both sides looked exactly alike. My lettering is usually free-form, but I would need to make them match, so I did a lot more drawing and guessing about the sizing, which is frankly just a lucky guess, ultimately. The other labor-intensive part of the lettering was using the Dremel to carve out the interiors of the letters. I didn't cut all the way through these, but rather just took off the glaze, which I knew would capture some grout during the final steps and add a nice weathered texture to the final project.

The other big challenge for the sign was creating something that would survive the elements of a northern beach.  I have finally developed a technique for mailboxes using silicone to attach the china, which allows for expansion in temperature changes. But that is on steel.  I would need to base the sign on wood; and wood and weather don't mix.  I knew from you-tube videos that there was a product that I could coat the wood with to repel moisture, but it took me more trips to Lowes to actually FIND this product than I care to admit.  I was thrown off the hunt because the video I watched showed a product that was pink when wet and dried purple and this product was green and turned a darker teal when dry. Also, the product in the video appeared to be rather gummy and this was more like a finger-paint consistency. And sidenote: after asking literally dozens of male salespeople for help in finding the product, it was a female worker who finally helped me find the product I needed, which had been under my nose in the flooring department the whole time.  (Sensitivity training in home-stores should be required. I can't tell you how many times I've been asked just what "my husband's project" is. A little pet peeve I should write about in another post. I digress.)

With a suitable weather-proofing agent found, I could use a simple birch board as the base for the mosaic, instead of a cedar board, which I couldn't find in my local home-store in the dimensions I needed.  This kept the sign from being too thick and too heavy. I should note that in hindsight, I wish I had attached the eyehooks for hanging at this point, but I was still shopping for sign holders at this point, and was uncertain about the placement.  I ultimately decided that there were more sign-holder options than sands on the shore and I decided to just make the sign and let the sign-holder be a secondary project.

Next came the layout plan.  Since my original sketch did not include all of the words that my friends wanted on the sign, I needed to do a lot of tweaking.  The color of the water-proofing agent really distracted me and more than once, I thought about painting over it with white paint just to help me with the layout. Everyone always asks how long a mosaic takes to make, and this is the time I always think of when they ask. It involves a lot of moving things around, standing on chairs and squinting. In this case, several four-hour sessions passed before I landed on a layout I deemed suitable.  It needed to be friendly, but not juvenile or crafty; and it needed readability without sacrificing beauty.  It should feel like a beach-cottage without being cliche'.  Finally, it needed some structure, or else it was going to be the worst thing ever... boring.

In studying the inspiration signs we first looked at, I noticed a star as a nautical motif that wasn't completely overwhelming and it provided the structure we needed.  Drawing a star on that scale really made me wish I had paid more attention in geometry class.   I finally abandoned my ruler and compass and went with free-handing and eyeballing.  You
know...really technical.

This started the exploration of color and pattern that would have me trying on dishes like my daughter tries on outfits in the morning.  More standing on chairs and squinting, more questioning the universe, and second guessing my life-choices and abilities.  This is the part of the project when you are fully convinced that you are over your head, you will never make this work, and you have made a huge mistake.

So you eat some chocolate and keep at it.  You can give up at this point and take a break, but I have found that this is pretty much the moment when success kisses failure.  If you walk away, you only prolong the agony.  Better to breathe through the pain and hope the labor isn't too long.



I was a little fixated on the address part of the sign "124 L.C.R" being done with the mosaic dishes, by Pier One.  They literally look like small mosaic tiles. I wanted them to be a nod to my client's love for New York City and the subway signs there. The "sign within a sign" was also one of the motifs in the inspiration pictures.  It's a small allusion, but it was a big deal to me.

At this point, I knew I was close, but it was still lacking the real flourish it needed.  I don't know what set off the sunset gradient idea, but maybe it was my own honeymoon on Martha's Vinyard.  We stayed long enough to watch the sunset before taking the ferry back to the mainland, and consequently almost ended our week-old-marriage by falling asleep at the wheel on the drive back to our Scranton apartment.  

So starting with the cobalt waves, I used some Fiestaware and some not-so-Fiestaware to create the blue.

Next, I use a lovely rare coral-red dish, with a hand-painted effect. I topped this with a salmon color, which has an antique wood crackle design, made by Wedgewood, "Sara's Garden." The pink is a 1950s Luray Pastel.  The yellow is by Royal China, c. 1960s. 
Above the yellow, I used J & G Meakin, English Staffordshire Sterling "Renaissance;" one of my favorites of all time. Green and blue come together in the next pattern, also by Royal China, c. 1970s. I topped it off with a sky blue, unmarked mid-century dish.  Top and bottom are capped with an aluminum channel to help with moisture and to give the eye-bolts strength. To each side, I added a series of small aluminum squares. These are the remnants from the process of making decorative aluminum railings. A sweet friend of mine gave them to me to work with after her husband passed away. It was his business in New Jersey that produced the oddly dimpled little bits of metal. I applied them with silicone glue as well.

Finally, I grouted the piece in white, and applied the eye-bolts. I then added some more silicone to the top seam to divert moisture, and sealed the entire piece, front and back, with professional grade sealer.   I also added a bit of acrylic paint to the interiors of the letters, which will certainly wear over time, adding a nice patina of age that seems appropriate. 

I can't wait to see how it looks in its new home.  Packing up a piece of this size feels a little bit like shipping one of your children, and I am resting better now that I know it arrived safe and sound at its destination.

So now you know how a double-sided mosaic sign is made and you can order one for yourself.  It probably won't take me two years to make another one. Probably.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Stitch Fix #5 - The Best Yet

I was feeling guilty for wanting more clothes, but with the season-change, it was apparent that I had very little to wear.  Even cobbling together something to go and do the remodeling and painting that needed to be done in our new church building was a challenge. I broke down and bought two "fast fashion" t shirts from Walmart to wear for this work, but after days of dust and sweat, I needed the assurance that I can be pretty too.  I asked Amanda to help me with something that reflected my work so that I would be sure to have an outfit to wear for the upcoming spring Little Craft Show at the end of May.  Here's what she came up with:

Skies are Blue Brie Printed Dress
 This was the last thing in the box and the first thing I tried on. I was very unsure of the pattern on this when I saw it.  It's nothing I would EVER pick out for myself.  I'm super sensitive about patterns, especially patterns with a kind of theme.  I am creative, but I am also a little rule-driven, which my kids could tell you.  Just like I don't allow food smelling candles in the bathroom,  it's a stretch for me to have theme prints outside of their expected context. These palm trees are waaaay out there for me. However, I found myself just wearing the dress for more than an hour the first time I put it on. It is so comfortable and well made,  it occurred to me that maybe I didn't need to wear it only on a beach. Maybe I needed a beach vacation so much that the dress just made me FEEL like I was at the beach!  The Stitchfix  suggestion cards showed the dress with a jean jacket and with a blazer, so I tried it with both and was somewhat surprised.  I didn't need to style it with theme-y accessories, but rather, could contrast the print with more serious and neutral pieces for a perfectly acceptable look.  It feels a little foreign to me still, but it also felt like I could grow in this area (more like my daughter Mattie, who mixes pattern, feel, theme, texture, color, and shape completely fearlessly.) What, I'm the only one with candle rules?  I don't believe you. 

Daniel Rainn Kailynn Split Back Blouse

Next up, this sleeveless blouse with such pretty florals on the sides. I adore this.  The details are hard to see in the back, but the construction is interesting and effective. It is slimming and fluttery and long in the back.  Again, the pattern is much bigger than I would naturally choose for myself, but florals are easy to love, especially in this season.  I love it with the jeans from my first fix and it looks so dressy with the black skirt I got in an earlier fix as well.  I have still not lost baby weight (thank you, breastfeeding), so this top just feels really good and hides the bad.

Brixon Ivy Diaz Embroidery and Crochet Detail Cotton Top
Can you even believe the detail on this top?  I love it.  I wore it immediately on a date with my husband, pared with my grey jeans, heels, and pearls, and I felt pretty.  It looks a little sleepy with my plain black skirt, although appropriate for some occasions, but mixed with jeans, it has just the right mix of tough and sweet that I like to wear.  I love the sleeve length, the fact that it is cotton, and the vintage-y feel. 

Skies are Blue Vilmer V-neck Blouse

Speaking of pretty....this color is so lovely.  It's the color I wanted my bridesmaids dresses to be almost two decades ago, and couldn't find them anywhere. It's the color of a vintage cameo. I wish this came with a built-in cami like the the sheer blouses I got during the winter, but this is otherwise perfect.  This is more the scale of pattern I am used to and I feel perfectly at ease in this. Sure to be a favorite. 

Mystree Batya Textured Skirt

I wasn't sure if I could pull off a lace skirt, but I pinned a bunch in hopes that Amanda could find something for me, and she did!  It is fully lined and is comfortable to move in. I knew I wanted to pair it with something tough right away and I quickly reached for my navy blue/black cotton voile shirt from another earlier fix.  The result is something I feel good about, and Whimsy also approved!

This fix was particularly meaningful and helpful to me because it was a real time saver.   The last few weeks have been far busier than what is sustainable, and I needed help to transition to a slower pace.  Having something nice to wear on a much-needed date with my husband made our dinner out doubly enjoyable and maximized the good that came from resting from the physical and emotional work we have been so heavily involved in lately.  Not worrying about clothes is something that frees me up to enjoy my family more, and to accept this season of my life when I'm still not physically what I would like to be.  

As always, if you decide to try Stitchfix, you can use my referral code to give me a little discount.  Just use this code:

Thanks, friends!