Friday, December 28

obi oh my.

I made a big bunch of clothing tags today. Just me, my rubber stamps and the iron. It was dizzifying. Other than that I fussed around feeling like a big loser and stomping my feet. I'm cranky.

Oh but I also took pictures of the new kimono-inspired jacket I just finished.
I have obi fever. I made a black one with gold stitching for a friend for the holidays, then a black and brown one for etsy, then this one. I've been wanting to mix gray with gold for a while and was happy I had enough fabric to churn this out. This obi is reversible - here's a picture with the gold side out. It has free-form gray stitching - click on it for better details:

Sunday, December 23

this is not a product placement ...

... but I did just spend a few moments gazing longingly into my thread drawer. Ahhh, thread. When I was a neurotic non-artist I couldn't really enjoy having tools and supplies because they caused me more agony. I wasn't using them, or I wasn't using them the right way, or they sat in the corner mocking me, blah blah blah. Now I'm a neurotic artist and it's a joy to have things that serve me well. No added crap.

Today I've got 3 out of 4 discs of John Coltrane's Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings loaded into the cd player. Ok I admit it, I can't find the fourth one. But I'm still sure I'll have something sewn when the first three are done.

Saturday, December 15

"The women who have led the craft movement don’t want to work for the Man."

One of my favorite lines from the article about etsy in the 12/16/07 New York Times Magazine:

"The women who have led the craft movement don’t want to work for the Man."

Tuesday, December 11

happy, warm.

I'm happy for more than one reason today. I stepped up to the plate, resisted flashing my tattoos, and got picked for jury duty. I figured I could sew plenty in the evenings but when I got home last night I was fairly brain dead. Getting all hepped up preparing to pass judgment on another human then being asked to sit and sit and sit in various rooms for hours is really not an energizing experience.

Back I went this morning, where after a mere hour and a half in the juror's room, we were called into the courtroom and released. Apparently we looked so tough - even without tattoos - that they accepted a plea.

The other reason I'm happy is my new head warmer. My friend Beth of Big Geek Knit Blog made it for me. When you aren't patient enough to knit it's important to befriend those who are. It's keeping me toasty and warm. Sometimes I cheat and wear it around my neck.

Now I can get back to my sewing machines and post some new stuff on etsy. I have a few sculpted layering shirt-things ready and I'm just finishing up a dress. Hurray for warm happy and productive.

Sunday, December 2

friendly empire building

I just got up and running. Right now it just sends you to etsy, flickr or here, but it's a start. It was nice to just jump onto Dreamweaver and whip it up - even that simple design would have been like pulling teeth a few years ago. 

Or maybe like growing new ones. Hurray for a learning curve.

Thursday, November 29

once more for a simple twist of fate.

I'm not sure what compels people to blurt out "I've never won anything in my life" when they win something. Is it a strange form of modesty? Is it a fact? A protective utterance put forth in hopes of saving more luck for later? I just hope these people, who have just received word of their raffle or pie or Caribbean cruise, haven't been silently labeling every other moment in their lives before that as losing.

Well, I won something.

Amanda Ryznar of YogaGoat Pottery put a post up on the etsy forum asking for help editing a blurb to describe her work. Space was limited and she wanted to keep "Spirited Hand-thrown Porcelain." I stared at her shop for a long time and after wiping the drool off my chin suggested three nice condensed words: "Spirited Hand-thrown Porcelain. Lush Fresh Design." And I won. I've never won anything in my life! I got to choose my prize from her shop - I'll soon be the proud owner of a lush fresh bird tumbler. Thanks Amanda.

I expect to never, ever lose again.

Monday, November 26

zen rice & beans

When I owned my store many of our customers were unfamiliar with our side of town. So when they asked for a good place to eat I grabbed a menu from Steve's off the corkboard and stuffed it in their hands. Steve's is a cozy family run neighborhood restaurant tucked inside a neighborhood bar. They make their own blend of Tex-Mex style food - homemade and from fresh ingredients. They make their own fresh salsa. Their food is affordable and ridiculously good. Their menu is small. I mean small. They have one dessert - lime cheesecake that the owner's mom makes. It sounds perfect, right?

So imagine my surprise when one of those lost and hungry customers crinkled her nose and made a face, as if I'd suggested she eat poop.

"Oh no" she said. "I don't eat that weird food."

I responded, as casually as I could muster: "Ohhhhh, I guess I don't think of it as weird since most of the world eats rice and beans." (Yes, perhaps that passive snarkiness is why I don't have a store any more, but I'm certain that's a topic for another time.)

This memory got stirred up by today's lunch. I made the best rice and beans ever. I tossed some rice in the rice cooker and whipped up some black beans. I made them kind of dry, with minced onions and garlic, cumin, turmeric, red pepper flakes, heaps of black pepper. I crushed them some at the end, ala refried beans, and ate some on the rice, topped with slender slices of extra sharp cheddar cheese and washed down with a glass of orange juice. But still, it was just rice and beans. How could they be the best ones ever? Especially since I've thought this before. Are these better than the other best ones?

Then I promptly laughed at myself. Because last week I finished a dress and said "This is the best dress I've ever made!" And, yes, I've thought this before. Maybe I'm just overly impressed with my own handiwork? I think there's more to it. I think when you're on a creative path this is just part of the way things cycle around. I could make nothing but dresses for the rest of my life and no two would be exactly the same and every once in a while I'd hold one up and yell "Best one ever!" Just like the rice and beans.

This is hopeful to me. It means I can have a life of never-ending adventure just in my sewing room, kitchen, and brain. It means I can look up from my work once in a while and attach silly labels to it - and laugh knowing that the path of my work is always way bigger than any one thing I make. The path of my work really is the best thing ever.

Saturday, November 24

POD pockets. POD pockets. POD pockets.

I'm mildly obsessed. Suddenly everything - dresses, sweaters, skirts - needs dangling pod pockets. Some are hand-stuffingly large, some are teeny like finger pockets from finely tailored 1940's jackets. Sort of bulbous, organic, friendly.

Pod pockets. Say it out loud three times.

Thursday, November 22

japan makes more than cute toys and sushi.

I just spent some time reading The Cutting Edge: Fashion from Japan.

"Just spent some time," of course, is code for "I read it in the bookstore cafe then dutifully re-placed it in it's correct slot on the shelf." I may not be spendy, but as a former employee, I never leave piles of books on tables.

It's one of the few fashion books I've found that has a satisfying discussion of fashion and art. Of course it covers Rei Kawukubo, Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto, plus Junya Watanabe and Jun Takahashi. (Wow, when did I learn to name-drop mouthfuls of Japanese designers?)

I was happy to read a bit more about Hanae Mori as well. I used to own a very sweet smocked dress of hers - vintage 60's, complete with naked fairies and snails.

I sold it a few years ago, so now I'm left with these pictures and the burning question "why - why wasn't I patient enough to iron it before I took this close-up?"

Monday, October 15

it was like they'd found something they didn't know they were looking for.

Here's my booth from the Westcott Street Fair. It was my first day out with my new banner. I really love my name, and all day long I heard people exclaim "Secret Lentil!" with glee, like it was something special they found that they didn't even know they were looking for.

Sunday, October 7

we like to think we want to know what to expect.

It's wrong to complain that so much is going right. I know this. I'm not attached to drama and despair, but I sure know how it begins, middles and ends. We like to think we want to know what to expect. Of course we are wrong. Success and happiness are more open-ended, and they scare me.

I have so many custom orders right now that I can't just goof around and make whatever I want. Oh, poor popular me. (Wipes back of hand on furrowed brow.) No one knows how hard it is to be me. All these people want me to make something for them! It's just not fair, etc.

Today I'm finishing a sweater based on this one:
except it will be red and black, a bit more Japano-Victorian and have a corset-like belt. I'll post pics when it's done.

Wednesday, September 19

words words words

I was just interviewed by the blog Fat Chic.

Read what I said about Rei Kawakubo, punk rock, the color white, and my plans to become a moth here: FAT CHIC

Thursday, September 13

i insist: "signage" is not a real word

I just finished making a new banner to hang at shows.

Thursday, September 6

black is black, i want my sweater back.

 I just finished a series of three black cotton reconstructed sweaters. Sometimes it's very satisfying to work in all one color and just focus on shapes and textures.

On the left is a long swing sweater with a single vintage button closure. The center sweater is sculpted and asymmetrical with large floppy extra "leaves" and a pod-like pocket on one side. Third is a cardigan with high waist, flared sleeves and and a ruffly hem.

are you local?

Wow, three local shows in one week. Find me here:
•White Warehouse clothing and jewelry show Fri. Sept 14th 8-11pm, Syracuse NY
You know how cities are supposed to have funky warehouse spaces where exciting art stuff happens? Ok, we've got that. Check link for directions.

•Indie Garage Sale Sat. Sept. 15th 11am-7:30 pm, Utica NY
The nicest people on earth put on "Central New York's only alternative craft event."

•Westcott Street Cultural Fair Sun. Sept. 23rd noon-6:30pm, Syracuse NY (raindate 9/30)
They pick all the chicken wing bones off the sidewalk for this one, people! The venerable Westcott Street is shut down for a day of good fun.

Saturday, August 18

and you were there, and you, and you -

I had a dream - I know, ho-hum - but it was a magical inspiring dream about creating.

I arrived for work every morning by walking down this wooded path that was worn into the earth, so worn that it was almost a tunnel, and bushes and trees curved up around it and into the sun. I walked down a steady curved slope and when I got there I was surrounded by some of my favorite icons of creativity. Wayne Coyne from the Flaming Lips worked there. As did Alison Wood, my magical English teacher from high school.

Each person who worked there had a small folding table with a coffee maker on it. They were lined up along the left side of the path as you arrived at the work space. The tables were spaced evenly so everyone had access to their own coffee. We had gotten there first thing in the morning, as we always did, and were chatting with each other before starting our work, joking with someone who had particularly strange coffee-making habits, holding our mugs and laughing loud.

The space we worked in, also outdoors, was off to the right, and I never saw around the corner into it. But there was such a feeling of calm, confidence, and inclusion. I was arriving every morning with all these other artists, ready to get to work, confident that the work space around the corner was there to help us do the job of creating whatever we brought into the world through our work, as it did every day. I was included in the world of creative work and workers, in a way that was calm and spacious and magnificent, unbounded. Either I'm secretly working for the coffee industry or that was one hell of a dream.

Sunday, August 12

thank you, flea market

If you know me you know I'm not one of those annoyingly organized DIY-ers who raises goats and makes their own soap, etc. - the dogs are lucky I drop food in their bowls twice a day.

But somehow I got it in my head that I can make myself a pair of shoes. My friend M., who does know how and makes them for a living, gave me a few boxes of leather scraps when she cleaned out her studio this Spring. I've been mulling it over since then.

This morning a vendor at the flea market had a box of old wooden shoemaker's lasts, so I'm now one (ahem) step closer. Of course I was tempted to buy the whole box -- they look so cool and, who knows, maybe I'll become a shoemaker (be still, compulsive heart) but I settled on two pairs in my size. It looks like one pair has a higher rise than the other. My feet aren't double-A narrow, but since I was going to start from nothing this has got to be better.

Next I'll think about designs for a while, then, if I know me like I think I do, without even looking up shoemaking on google or having the proper tools I'll make two clunky but Yeti-worthy monstrosities. Or, maybe just one then I'll quit. Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 9

who doesn't love a secret pocket?

I love making things with secret pockets and special weird magic pockets. Secret pockets are good. You might be concealing ancient scrolls that could alter the course of history. Or, a tampon.

To not love them is probably a sign that something inside you has shriveled up, one of your adventure lobes perhaps. I just finished one of my most exciting skirts so far. 
 It's called Be Very Prepared.

It has snaps all around the waist and two magic pocket-bags that can be worn anywhere there's a snap. Pretend the "t" is in stitching, please.

Wednesday, August 1

must ... release ... Seuss ... energy

I love me some earth-tones, oh yes I do, and I churn along turning out gray, olive, black, gray olive black ... but deep inside I'm building up Dr. Seuss energy that suddenly needs to burst out faster than you can say three-handled family credenza.

So I made some of these shirts, with purples and yellows and pinks and stripes - course stripes. I'm tempted to make a goofy rhyme, but I will contain that for now. I could, you know, please appreciate my restraint.

Last weekend I went to the Joseph Cornell exhibit in Salem Mass. I want to write about it but it pretty much left me speechless. My experience was quiet and internal, not conducive to fascinating-up my blog. I think my friends felt similarly. We all said we loved it, but only talked a short bit then when back to the rest of the day. It was certainly hard to divorce my experience of it from the rows of mass-produced scrapbooking crap you can buy at any store now. I felt polluted by the crapification of collage.

Friday, July 20

goal setting for rebellious sorts

The phrase "goal setting" makes me plug my fists into my ears fast, and yell "Nah nah nah nah I can't hear you." It's involuntary, like breathing, or eating cake. I actually use the sentence "It's important to set goals and meet them" regularly - as a running joke.

But I have to get some stuff done. I'm trying to figure out how to stock up for some upcoming shows and stores that want to carry my clothes. Okay, okay, so I know how, but somehow haven't been able to wrap my brain around it. I've gotten used to making a few things at a time and putting them right up on etsy.

So I asked Mr. Lentil for help. He said "Well this sounds stupid, and don't get insulted, but the answer is that you need to make more." How is it possible that THAT helped?

It did. It broke me free, just enough, to make this into a project I can picture, replacing the gelatinous blob of indecision that is so often my brain. Thus I re-learned a forgotten lesson: turning something into a hands-on project is almost always the way to get started. I drew a picture of each category I want to make for shows. Please note: I cannot draw. Plus I typed out the word for each category and laminated each one with packing tape. Then I picked goals for quantities and counted what I have in stock. Now I'm sewing and it all seems manageable and good.

See, I just used "goals" in a sentence and it didn't hurt at all. I almost didn't notice. It was, kind of, fun.

(I like any excuse to use my old typewriter. It's a 1940's Smith Corona silent portable.)

Friday, July 6

form vs. function; the map of a compromise

subtitle: notes from a college dropout who never took an art class.

I took one of those goofy personality quizzes a while ago - this one gives you your own "personal dna" code at the end. I wasn't surprised at how hard it was to make choices, I don't like to be fenced in, even by a stupid survey no one's ever going to see. What struck me was that I was stopped dead in my tracks whenever they asked me questions concerning form versus function. I picked the middle of the scale for each one, so you could think I didn't care, but the truth is I was seriously torn. Each time. They felt like life or death decisions. Apparently I'm hung up on form versus function. Ok, ok, so I learned something from a quiz I called stupid.

This reminds me of a Peter Coyote quote about fashion, of which I am very fond. I know, you don't think of him as a fashion writer. That makes this even better:

The struggle between freedom and form is archaic and common to us all. I can understand now that it is fully expressed in every dimension of human experience, even the design and choice of clothes. Perceiving fashion in this way, links it, in my mind, to the fundamental tension within each of us which constantly impels us toward the impossible option of choosing one and abandoning the other. Today I see that even the choice of color, cut, and texture of clothing is an expression of that struggle, an act, which without denying the validity of the social coding it transmits, can also be read as one possible solution to this tension; the map of a compromise. - Peter Coyote from The Soft Wars
Oh, and I did make another sweater dress. It sold a few hours after I listed it on etsy, yippee. It's called New Mexico or Bust, and looks mildly less fuzzy if you click on it.

Wednesday, June 27

you're safe under the desk as long as you keep drooling, right?

I've spent much of the afternoon protecting my dog Monk from the thunder. So far, so good. If only there was room for him AND my legs under the desk.

Although it's thunderstorm season and in the 90's I found myself thinking about cold-weather dresses today. Last year I made some with thermal cotton and cotton knit sweaters and I'm looking forward to starting some more.

Here's one from the vault - with some of my now vanished vintage red and black brocade curtains. This was one of my first spiral sleeve experiments.

As soon as I finish re-arranging my sewing space I've got some sweaters ready to chop up, in blue-greens and coral that I can't wait to play with. Normally I'm anti-blue (blue being the favorite color of fathers and landlords) but these made the grade.

Monday, June 25

i thought this blog was about clothes

but I guess right now it's about jazz and clothes. Just before I left for NYC last week I found an essay I wrote a while ago and finally got around to editing it. And so, here it is.

(The picture is Prince Lasha and William Parker at the Vision Festival 6/23/07).

I'm Tempted To Call It Pure.
Small Town Girl Meets Free Jazz
by Helen Carter

Maybe I'm an impostor. Maybe the guy crinkling loud paper in one hand while thumping his vibraphone with the other is the impostor. Maybe I'm the only one who knows this - maybe he is. I love how I can't tell if what they're playing is crap or magic. Sometimes I want to stand and yell BULLSHIT and sometimes I'm moved to tears, often during the same performance. I'm tempted to call it pure. It's direct, raw, undigested, chewed and spat out on the cheap carpet in front of our creaking chairs. It's a spastic sand mandala being simultaneously poured back into the earth while it's painstakingly constructed, grain by grain before us.

If you need a melody to hold onto you might fall over. You might have a seizure. You might furrow your brow and leave, angry and confused. Yes, I've seen straight-up wall-of-blasting horns covers of Coltrane songs but that's about as straight as it gets. More often I've seen someone hissing and spitting into a saxophone mouthpiece without ever hitting a "note". I've seen a grown man blow into the hole of a cymbal that rests on top of his snare drum. I've seen a guy who plays an upright bass with a didgeridoo wedged into its strings, while slurping into a tuba and stomping on a bass drum. And it wasn't clever or gimmicky, although I don't know why you would believe me without seeing it yourself. I've seen a man stand, eyes closed, horn at his side, body slack but receptive, willing to stay still before us in a long silence until he was connected - to us, to the rug, to the bugs and cars outside - and knew just where to begin.

The jazz I see live is some kind of fluke occurrence, an unlikely blip on my city's drab fading radar screen. The shows feel dangerous and exhilarating, even more-so because the venue couldn't be more nerdy and safe: a well-lit community center - smoke-free, with handicap-accessible bathrooms. No drugs, no smoke or cocktails, and they give away free coffee and cookies.

I feel I'm being allowed a glimpse into a world I can't begin to know the shape or depth of, like when I first took the bus into the big city as a young teenager. I saw a movie about Rastafarians. I ate Middle Eastern food. And when that weird sauce that tasted like pickle juice hit my tongue I knew there was much more to the world than I had imagined. I made note, silently disengaging my internal clutch and shifting up to a new gear. I expected the world to be bigger from then on.

Now I live in the "big city" around which my childhood village orbits. And every day the palpable course of its slow post-industrial rustbelt slide into decay are part of my life. I drive through pot holes, past boarded houses and closed businesses. I cringe at the Music Man-caliber plans to attract tourist dollars instead of making it a workable place for those of us who have chosen this as home.

So I spend an evening with these musicians who have gotten off the thruway on their way to or from New York, Boston, Chicago to play for us for what probably amounts to a portion of their tolls. Some seem to be wearing the same dashikis they owned in the sixties, with large shell necklaces, dusty worn loafers and gray sideburns. Some are young pink upstarts, lean and shiny learned apprentices. I imagine they are all prodigal sons, formerly obedient band students who forsook their years of formal training, wasted their parents hard-earned money spent on lessons - all tossed away to pursue this niche within a niche within a niche - gone off the deep end of music where the world unfolds as they create it.

I feel they are my kindred spirits, although I am too shy to speak to them. I wonder how each of them found their way here. And I wonder how I did, though I'm just an observer, a freak watching a freak show, who has learned that the world can grow larger and larger while you sit on a cold folding chair, weeping before beauty.

Wednesday, June 20

Black Hole Sundress

The Black Hole Sundress is done, as well as a small batch of things, all gray and black.

I will indeed have a booth at the Nolita indie designer's market in Manhattan this Saturday. I feel so sneaky, having managed to schedule this the same weekend as The Vision Festival. If I pack up quickly enough Saturday night I hope to see a few folks I've seen play before - William Parker with the Eddie Gale All-Star Band, and Sabir Mateen in the Whit Dickey Trio.

All the painters and poets and writers inspired by jazz used to seem forced and weird to me. It seemed, I don't know, derivative, maybe. When I started seeing live free/avant jazz that all changed. Now I get it. When you create things yourself, especially in the safe shell of your own home, and then you see people doing it collaboratively, spontaneously in front of you and for you, you can't help but be moved.

p.s. 6/25/07 A woman from Finland bought this from me at the market in NY. She said "it's so nice, the way it curves around, it's like I'm wearing a flower."

Tuesday, June 19

a fist-fight, a wilt-fest, a sob-o-rama

If all goes well (if I get a booth) I'll be at the Nolita market in NYC this Saturday.

I'll be traveling down with my etsy pal Dan of Hey Buddy. Not only does he own a van, he's from the city, so I claim the passenger seat. It could all turn ugly given our shared dislike of hot weather. I told him we might have a fist-fight, a wilt-fest, or a good old-fashioned sob-o-rama, and he says he up for all three! But it's only supposed to get to 78 Saturday, so there goes our drama.

And now back to the sewing machine so I have something to sell.

Saturday, June 16

miles davis, on the corner, on vinyl, of course

inspired me while I made an assymetrical black dress this morning. It's called Black Hole Sundress.

I'm not sure if it's done yet.
I think not.
I'll post some pics when it is.