The Great Closet Cleanse

Like many women, I had things lurking in my closet or drawers that I was hanging on to because I had worn them a few times, many years ago, and hoped that I would eventually be able to wear again.  I, like many larger size women, also had a rather vast collection of things that just didn’t really fit very well or weren’t really my taste that I was hanging on to because I wear them every 6 months or year or so only to realize how much I dislike them and resign them to the back of the closet again.  And I also have a small collection of things I genuinely like but that I have worn until they are barely hanging on by a thread.

I’ve been sewing some new things for myself, things that I like and that fit correctly, and that I enjoy.  It was time.  I purged my closet and dresser of all of those things that I simply never wear.  And it’s a little shocking to look at what my functional clothing collection actually looks like.  It’s tiny.  And just begs to be added to.  I’m sewing more, and I know I need to purchase some things as well.  My undergarments, for example, are quite alarmingly small in number.  I barely have enough to get through a week before I MUST do laundry again.  And some of those really need to go away too.

I’ve also got a few peices that are really nice, things I made for myself, but that I just can’t bring myself to donate.  Like a silk sleeveless blouse I made about 2 years ago.  It’s just a smidge too small through the bust for me, and it’s too short for me to wear comfortably.  I’ve been tossing around the idea of making some things to sell on Etsy, and I think these few things will probably find their way to etsy too.

I’m slowly working through everything I have, and getting organized and better set up to sew as a business.  It’s a tough process, but it needs to be done.  The system I have now just isn’t functional.  And system is quite a generous description.  It’s more like “everything thrown haphazardly into the closet, under the bed, and into two boxes at the end of the bed”.  See, not working.  I’ve also got an entire box full of projects that are in various stages of completion that I just need to bust through and get done.  Another thing to work on.

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The Sad Reality of Fashion

High Fashion, haute coture, fashion week, the magazines… fashion is almost it’s own religion.  I often equate haute coture to painting to explain some concepts to the less knowledgeable on the topic.  Fashion is an art where about 100 years ago or so, a certain size was selected as the “right” size and all else is mocked as not being true fashion.  It’s like painters getting together and deciding that only canvases that are 11″ by 17″ can really be considered serious, true, fine art.  Every once in a while someone will use a larger canvas to “make a statement” but it could end their career unless it’s something completely sublime.  Just imagine that for a few moments.  Ridiculous, isn’t it?  Imagine telling Jackson Pollock that he’s not a real artist because not only are his paintings too large, they’re also “just paint splatters”.  Or deciding that Michelangelo wasn’t really an artist because, hey, he just painted some ceiling, and it was in some church anyway.  Can you imagine a world where visual art had been stunted in such a way?

You’re already living in that kind of world, but chances are you’ve never thought about it.  Roughly 100 years ago, the slender, waif-like model began to be the accepted norm in the fashion world.  With few changes through the years, mostly to further restrict the “look” that was considered “right”, this same model has dominated the world of fashion.  We, as a culture, have dictated that high fashion can only take place when the “canvas” (the body displaying the clothing/art) meets very rigid size requirements.

That one stipulation has had massive effects on the art of clothing design, and on our culture as a whole.  Now some may quote the whole “art imitates life” bit at me, but in the case of fashion it’s more of a life imitates art situation.  Because the vast majority of women value looking fashionable (to some degree), our culture puts tremendous pressure on women to look as much like the fashion models as possible.  As a result, millions of women are trying to achieve the size 2 or 0 look, when in reality the average American woman is a size 14.  Television, music, film, and other pop culture have embraced the tiny sizes of high fashion, so women are confronted with a visual world where those smaller sizes are the “norm” and the actual average size is “huge”.  This leads to an amazing amount of distorted thinking and imagery.  So while these fashion models fall into the narrow end of the bell curve at one extreme end of the spectrum, we’re led to believe that the vast majority of people can achieve this look, or close to it.

And in turn, since the one end of the bell curve is seen as the “right” size and completely achievable by everyone, those who fall at the actual average or above are downright vilified and completely excluded by this art form.  So much so that there is a commonly held belief that fashion design students simply have no interest in designing for “plus size” customers… “plus size” being anything over a size 10… so they have no interest in designing for the average American woman.  But I wonder if perhaps they haven’t created an environment where that is true by not taking student submissions designed for an average or plus size body seriously.  Because these people don’t see “plus size” fashion as haute coture, students are forced to draw sketches depicting this tiny size ideal in order to be taken seriously enough to be admitted to the school.  Actual designers will tell you that the difference between designing for fashion models and designing for “plus size” is like comparing apples to paprika… they’re extraordinarily different.  So I would submit to you that while a person might be a talented designer under the current paradigm, they may not have the faintest clue how to be a talented “plus size” designer, and the current fashion school curriculum does nothing to change that.  In turn, a talented “plus size” designer may not thrive on designing for current fashion models and thus not be able to gain entrance to fashion design school… where they would receive no support or assistance in developing their talents under the current methodology anyway.

I tried searching for a plus size fashion design program.  After typing “fashion design school for plus sizes” in a Google search, I was unable to come up with a single program meant to train people specifically to design “plus size” clothing.  I’d like to take a moment to remind you that in the fashion world, “plus size” is anything over a size 10, and that the average American woman is a size 14.  So in reality, I was unable to find a fashion design program aimed at designing clothing for an average size woman.  That even further excludes what is commonly termed “plus size” in clothing stores, i.e. anything over a size 20.  The one program I found that even mentioned “plus size” in one of their class descriptions lumped “plus size” in with also learning how to adjust designs for juniors and petites.  One class, one semester long, that lumps “plus size” in with two other special size groups.  Let’s be generous and assume that a semester is 12 weeks long.  At best, 4 weeks of a single class’ time in a two year program are devoted to “plus size”… and from what I understand from fashion students, they are unable to practice “plus size” in any of their other design classes… projects must be done on the “standard” mannequin that is a size 2.

No wonder “plus size” fashion is in such a crisis.  I was considering going back to school to get training in fashion design to make my dream of a plus size clothing line that is fashionable and accessible to many sizes a reality.  But now I know that it would be pointless.  I have no interest in learning how to design for a size 2 model.  I don’t want to waste 2 years of my time, and thousands of dollars on a training program that doesn’t let me practice the skills in the way that I plan to use them.  Thankfully I’m rather good at self directed learning.  So I’ll take the pattern-drafting texts my grandmother gave me (she took flat pattern drafting classes in the 70’s to help her learn to alter patterns for my mother who was in a full body brace to correct a bad case of scoliosis) and just work through the exercises myself.  Why not just purchase any other textbooks I need and learn on my own?  Maybe someday we can develop a specific plus size fashion design school and start training designers to work in that area from the start.  Until then I’ll be self taught.

The Last Days of Summer

It’s nearing the end of August, and in Oregon that means that I have to grudgingly admit that we’re nearing the end of the summer.  The rain has started coming back, and I can no longer deny that the leaves are beginning to change and it isn’t just one random branch of a tree dying.  I haven’t spent nearly as much time at the pool as I would like to have done, but knowing Oregon I’ll still get several chances between now and mid-October.

As a kid, my whole family was involved in 4-H.  So the highlights of the summer were county, then state fair.  State fair is always the two weeks ending with Labor Day weekend, and school almost always started the day after Labor Day.  Many years, as a teen, I would spend all of August frantically preparing for, then competing at State Fair, often going to the first few days of school with leftover supplies from the prior school year because I hadn’t yet had a chance to buy my school supplies. Yes, I purchased my own school supplies from the age of 10 on.  I also paid all the fees for any extracurricular activities, year books, student body cards, class ring, letterman’s jacket, etc myself as well.  Each year I raised a lamb to sell in the auction at county fair, and I had to spend the money responsibly, on things I needed.

Fairs are so much a part of the yearly cycle for me, that I really can’t imagine not going.  This year, I took my boyfriend for a day at the state fair.  He reluctantly admitted that he’d never been before.  With all the things that have been going on this past year, I didn’t compete at all this year, which feels a little sad for me.  So I was determined to give him the full experience.

We wandered around the 4-H exhibits, and I explained the various project areas and contests that youth in this program participate in.  I told him the story of the summer after my sophomore year when I made a formal dress for the modeling competition, then fell down the stairs in the public show.  We looked over the competition kitchens and I told him about the various challenges set for different age groups.  He then asked how big the fair was.  I had to stop for a moment.  There’s really no way to describe it.  So we went outside to the fair lift (it’s a ski lift, essentially, but it’s set up to run diagonally from one end of the grounds to the other.  It’s a flat area, but the lift gives you a nice arieal view of the layout and what all there is to see.) and rode round trip.  I pointed out the various attractions, we debated the merits of various fair-food offerings, and I told him a little bit about the history of the Oregon State Fair and the grounds.

Having gone so often, many times spending multiple long days at the fair, I’ve come to boil down the experience to some highlights that I try not to miss each year.  I always look through the 4-H and FFA exhibits.  Both youth programs are close to my heart, and I look forward to seeing how those programs grow and change through the years.  I always enjoy looking through the “creative living” open-class exhibits too.  Things like baking, sewing, embroidery, cake decorating, knitting, cross stitch, crochet…they’re always fun to see what others have made (and see how I placed if I’ve entered that year!)  In the same building there are always several of the craft guilds or organizations demonstrating their skills.  This year was the spinners and weavers, and the woodworking group.  I’m always inspired to take up yet another hobby that is dying out.

A newer tradition for me is to have a (temporary) henna tattoo done.  With my various allergies, I was afraid of this for a very long time.  Several years ago my mom had one done, and the woman kindly explained how the product is processed, what’s used in preparing it, and put a little bit on my skin to test for reaction while she worked on my mom’s piece.  When I had no negative reaction and was satisfied that none of the ingredients are known allergens for me, I happily sat for my own art.  I’m too big of a chicken to get a real tattoo, but I enjoy the temporary stain left by henna.

Having raised and shown animals at fairs for many years, I do enjoy walking through the barns.  As my allergies have become more assertive, I’ve had to take some precautions.  I don’t spend more than an hour at a time in the barns, so I usually break it up between looking at other things and make several trips to the various barns.  I also have to take additional allergy medication throughout the day, which makes driving home hard…I get very sleepy by the end of the day.  And I keep a fast acting allergy medication on hand in case I start having a serious reaction.

Most of the time I avoid the overpriced, and often poor-quality food from booths at the fair. But with a relative newbie in tow, we had to have some of the fair classics.  We had a brick of fries for a snack in mid-afternoon.  Mmmm…fry brick.  Then for dinner he had a bacon wrapped corn dog, and I had noodles and teriyaki chicken.  I knew there was no way I could eat gluten free at the fair without bringing my own food with me.  So I accepted the probable results and just enjoyed.  The one bit of fair food that I can’t possibly do without is stopping by the Oregon Dairy Women’s booth for ice cream on my way out.  It’s something that my siblings and I always did with our Grandpa before he passed away, and was one of his favorite parts of the fair.

I was skeptical of the bacon-wrapped corn dog my boyfriend ordered.  When it arrived, it was a standard hot dog on a stick, with bacon wrapped around it, then breaded like a corn dog and fried.  I had a bite.  It was delicious, in that very fried way that still makes me vagely guilty because it’s so unhealthy.  Several days later, at home and back to gluten free, I wanted one of those yummy corn dogs.  With bacon.

I started by using the corn dog recipe from Gluten Free Girl and the Chef.  My only alterations initially were to use Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Flour instead of the whole wheat mix that they call for, and to string a piece of bacon on each of the dogs before dipping.  The first two… didn’t come out as well as I would have hoped.  The batter just wasn’t sticking to the dog or the bacon or the stick.  Hmmm…. then I remembered a trick from frying food… dredge in corn starch, then dip in batter.  I tried it on the second two I made and it worked wonders.  The other trick, especially if you’re making these at home in a heavy skillet rather than a proper fryer is to let them cook undisturbed until you see that the sides are getting golden brown.  Then, with a pair of tongs, gently release from the bottom of the pan with a sort of rolling motion.  It’s important not to lift straight up, the batter will just stay stuck to the bottom of the pan and you’ll have naked dogs on a stick.  The second side won’t look quite as pretty, but it will at least still be covered in breading.

This is one of those things that works really well for making up a batch of, and freezing the extras for a quick meal another day.  Have kiddos who love corn dogs?  Spend and afternoon making a bunch of these up, have some for dinner, and pop the rest in the freezer.  To keep the nice, crunchy exterior, heat them up in the oven at 350 for about 10 to 15 minutes from frozen.  (I do the same thing with gluten free chicken strips.  I make up a huge batch, have some for dinner, and once the rest are cooled I pop them in a freezer bag and stash in the freezer for quick meals later.)

Paranoia?

Being a car-less, fat woman in a small-ish city is an interesting proposition.  While I don’t go out of my way to advertise that I’m anything in particular, I frequently have the feeling that others are making judgements about me as I’m going about my daily business.  I am a fat woman on a bright yellow bicycle, after all, I’m sort of hard to miss.  While this is something that I try very hard to avoid doing, attributing judgements to people who have not made their opinions known, it’s a little difficult to do sometimes.

Take this evening for example.  I had gotten caught up in a project at home and looked up to find that it was already 6pm, and I was starting to feel the effects of the lack of food I’d eaten for the day.  A light “brunch” of turkey slices, cheese, almond crackers, and grapes at noon simply wasn’t enough fuel for my body for the day, even if I wasn’t doing much of anything.  So I made myself presentable to go out in public (while my pajama bottoms known as my ‘crafty pants’ are comfortable enough at home, I do not feel comfortable going out in public in them…unless I’m very, very sick), I hopped on my bicycle and went to the small shopping center about 1/4 mile away.  I stopped off first at my favorite burger place and had both a regular bun (my stomach is already yelling at me over that one, less than an hour later) and a cup of good old national brand cola.  That’s only the second cola I’ve had in the 3 weeks since I made the decision to cut cola out of my habits completely.  Dietary choices aside, I wanted something quick and yummy, and it fit the bill.

After being mildly dismayed to find there was no bicycle rack anywhere near this store, and choosing a seat where I could see my bicycle in case of trouble, I placed my order and started to settle at my table.  No sooner had I began rearranging things in my bag than two young men (late teens I would guess, early 20’s would be generous) stopped directly in front of me, one holding his phone up and presumably typing, the other looking over his shoulder giggling hysterically.  The phone being held up was pointed directly at me, which to be honest made me really nervous.  Paranoid, you might say.  They stood directly in front of me with this smart phone pointed in my direction for what had to be the longest 2 minutes of my day.

Why the fuss, you might ask?  While these two weren’t openly heckling me, they could very well have been.  Not too long ago in my city, a young woman was followed, harassed, hit, and had trash thrown at her because she was fat.  And Latina.  And breathing in their general vicinity.  She didn’t provoke them.  She didn’t make eye contact.  Hell, she was just carrying her groceries home from the store.  But in one of the most progressive cities in the nation, one that prides it’s self on staying “weird” and embracing all sorts of different-ness in people, this young woman was still attacked.

Still not sure why it was upsetting, even though I wasn’t being overtly attacked?  Because these things can turn ugly in an instant.  From having insults, animal noises, and even trash thrown at me by passing cars while taking a walk, to having men on dating websites pretend to be interested, act polite and respectful, then suddenly become insulting, rude, and harassing at a moment’s notice, I’ve been on the receiving end of my share of ‘sneaker attacks’ of fat hate.   I had to stop and think about that last sentence after I wrote it.  “My share” of fat hate?  Why should anyone have to deal with that sort of public attack?  For any reason?  Back to the point, I’ve also seen a number of instances where people take pictures of others in public settings, without the other person’s knowledge or consent, then use those images to ridicule the subject of the photo without their knowledge, often online.  Think about it.  Think about the “people of Wal-Mart photos” that we’ve all seen and laughed at before.  Do you really think that those “Wal-Mart people” gave consent for their photo to be taken, posted online, and publicly ridiculed?

I sincerely hope that the young men at the burger joint were simply sending stupid text messages and not covertly filming me for future ridicule.  I hope that the chubby lady in the dress and leggings didn’t even register on their radar.  I hope that one day I won’t have to be paranoid about phones with cameras pointed in my general direction.

Pizza Night

It’s pizza night at my house.  Which in most American households brings images of sullen teenage pizza delivery boys dropping off luke-warm, greasy, floppy pizza about an hour after they said it would be there.  In my house, it’s a bit different.

Tonight will be a full house.  My boyfriend is here, as is my roommate’s boyfriend, and the third roommate’s girlfriend is here too.  So that’s 6 adults, most of whom are in their mid-20’s, all eating.  Then there are the food allergies and dislikes.  A (female roommate) can’t have onions and doesn’t like anything made from pigs…except peperoni. I can’t have wheat (gluten).  Thankfully M (our male roommate) and all of our respective significant others are intolerance free. 

So first the trip to the regular grocery store down the street.  I swear I’ve seen gluten free pizza crusts or mix there before.  But alas, none to be found.  So we picked up what we could of the supplies, loaded it in the basket of my big yellow bike, and made our way home.  There’s another grocery store nearby, one of those fancy natural food store chains that charge an arm and a leg.  But I knew that they had a huge selection of gluten free products.  So we put our pizza toppings and regular dough in the fridge and headed off the other direction to the other store.

Well, I didn’t find pre-made crust, but I did find a mix.  More work than I really wanted, but I can’t complain.  I didn’t have to start from scratch, so I’ll take it. The no onions thing has almost become second nature at this point, I just prepare onions separately and since I had planned to set up a top your own pizza bar, it was easy enough for people to leave out the things they didn’t like or couldn’t have.  I was happily surprised that the dough for my pizza turned out well and tasted ok.  Let’s be real here.  Gluten free yeast breads are just never going to be like their wheat-flour cousins.  I’ve just been simply avoiding the whole thing by preparing meals that don’t have a bread component entirely.  I probably could have rolled this crust out thinner and would probably been happier with it.  But such is life.  The one mix made me about 8 personal size pizzas.  I only had two tonight, and the directions call for baking before topping, so I baked it all off without toppings then topped the two I was planning to have for dinner and popped the remaining crusts in the freezer for another day.

Now I could have bought a fully prepared frozen pizza to have for dinner, and that would have worked.  But I prefer to make meals a community experience.  I don’t want anyone, myself included, to feel like they’re getting something “different” or “other” just because of a few dietary limitations.  By having my crusts ready and set aside to bake with every one else, it was as simple as “this crust is for Reenee, this sauce is for A, and I made sure to prepare the allergen ingredients on a separate board from everything else.”

Preparing food for various food intolerances doesn’t have to be, and really shouldn’t be a “thing” as A would say.  Common sense, a clean kitchen, and a desire to make food accessible for everyone is all you need.