Sunday, January 27, 2013

Double Dyeing

It's true, I carry a backpack. I'm one of those people. I do not wear sneakers to work, so I still have some dignity. But at the end of the day (and in the morning, too), I must admit that I am an adult who slips one arm through a strap, and then the other. There is a reason, of course.  

The primary reason is that I am a big bag lady. Meaning, I have a compulsive need to take a lot of crap with me. I always have a journal, I am always reading a book. The change in my wallet weighs five pounds. I typically have a smaller bag inside of my bag, just in case I decide to go shopping. I have hats and gloves, keys and at least five lip glosses. I have a Tide Stick that I superstitiously carry with me everywhere, knowing that the day I don't carry it with me, I will inevitable spill coffee on myself. Several days a week I have yoga clothes with me, and a big bottle of water. Oh, and I walk a mile to get to the subway station. So when you carry all that crap with you on one shoulder over a lifetime, what you wind up with is a very lopsided body. In my case, it was a wonky hip, one that burned like fire if I tried to run. (A physical therapist once marveled at the lack of muscles in my left glute. " weak!")

And so, last spring, I not only started doing a lot of yoga to balance things out. I also put away my pretty shoulder bags and made the switch to a backpack. I did a lot of shopping in order to find the least embarrassing backpack option. I settled on the simple canvas backpack by Baggu. And out of all the amazing colors and patterns that they have on offer, guess which one I picked? That cream colored one on the bottom row. And yes, when it arrived in the mail it was just as boring as you might imagine. 

Oh, and it got filthy. That kind of deep down dirty that a hot wash won't ever be able to fix. Even my Tide Stick was useless. So, last week, I got in my head that I would dye the bag. But I couldn't just leave it at that...I had to get "creative." And so, inspired by a batik-dyeing project in a book I'm editing, I melted a white votive candle in a piece of foil and painted stripes on the bag. Then I dunked it into a bucket of RIT dye, and out it came, the unwaxed areas a nice grayish purple. However, it became immediately clear to me that my wax job was a little clunky, the lines thick in places, wavering in others. And guess what else? That dirty cream color still looked dirty.
And so, with the mad obsession only known to a woman with easy access to a dye bucket, I decided to dye it again. First I removed the wax. (To do that, you just lay some kraft paper over the waxed areas and press an iron over it...the wax melts and transfers onto the paper. Cool, right?)

Then I dunked the whole thing in a turquoise dye. Here is what I was thinking: the gray and turquoise would make a deep, dark teal color, and the stripes would be a pretty little pop of color. Um...that wasn't exactly what happened. The thing came out looking like it had been styled by Miami Vice. The whole thing turned turquoise, and the stripes turned light turquoise. It was A LOT of color.

I washed the bag on hot, thinking some of the color would fade out. It somehow came out looking brighter! I then put the whole thing in a boiling pot of water with ten tea bags. It came out looking...sort of like a dirty turquoise.
Something like 15 hours later, I gave up. My husband can't believe I'm actually using this thing. I keep telling him it will look better in the summer, when bright, cheerful colors are a little more acceptable to the eye. For now, until I find a replacement, I will continue to wear my backpack in winter, bundled up, the bag reflecting off of my black peacoat like a neon sign advertising a tropical drink.
In better news, I DID succeed in dyeing this dress, which I had, if you recall, failed to dye once before. (Clearly I can never just dye something needs to be a long, painful process each time.) In order to dye synthetic fabrics, you have to use a special kind of dye that makes your house smell like a tire fire, but boy howdy, did that color set up nicely. A rosy, coral-red, no waxed stripes, no ombre or dip-dye or tie-dye effects. Just a pretty color, and hopefully, some day soon, a pretty occasion to wear it. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

New Buttons on an Old Coat

This last weekend was one of recovery. I know, I know...I had a whole beautiful wonderful ten days away from work over the holidays. What I did with that time, I don't really know. It is all a blur of red wine and this amazingly fatty dip my dad makes that involves cream cheese and a whole jar of olives. There was a moody California landscape as well as the faces of so many people I was very nearly overwhelming. So much so that I had to keep reminding myself how blessed I am to get to see all of these people in such a concentrated period of time. The holidays left me breathless. And just a bit petulant. I was elated and hungry, hungover from drinking too many cokes. My face hurt from laughing but I was quick to tire out, and I didn't read more than a paragraph from a new book I brought with me.

But then, suddenly, there was silence. Deep and sobering, this last weekend came on with a thud. There have been healthy meals (I'm pleased to report), and very few phone calls returned (I'm not so pleased to report). I spent the entirety of Saturday putting things away in their right place. Luggage in the closet, stocking stuffers in the junk drawer, laundry washed and folded, old clothes put in a good will bag. I spent a long hour on Saturday night sewing new buttons onto my old peacoat. It was nothing fancy--the coat or the buttons--but I felt new life breathing into the old wool. I also spent a long hour (or was it two?) searching high and low for a zipper that I've been meaning to put into an old vintage dress for the last eight years*. I bought that zipper three years ago and put it somewhere...where it went, I have no idea. But there I was, finally ready to fix the dress and not a zipper in sight.

On Sunday, we left the house, sewing machine and iron in hand. The bar where Robb works had decided they really ought to have a heavy curtain at the front door to keep out the draft, and so we arrived in the afternoon, with our scissors and our measuring tapes. We folded and pinned while the day-drinkers looked on curiously. Julie sipped her white wine and entertained us with tales from her Friday night. And then we got into a rhythm, Robb pinning one curtain while I sewed the other, and then switching out while we each sewed sides. I turned around at one point and saw my man, in his winter cap and plaid mountain-man shirt, very confidently tugging a velveteen strip of curtain beneath the presser foot of my machine, right there out in the open for all to see, and I thought, well if that isn't the sexiest thing I've seen in a long time. (I do love a man who sews.)
And then we hung the curtain, which floated a very satisfying couple of inches from the floor (you don't want it dragging, you know). And Robb settled in to watch the Seahawks game with Julie, and I filled up my water bottle and headed off to hot yoga. And I thought, this was a necessary weekend. Even though I got a little bored at times, a little restless. Even though there was not much fat and not a drop of booze. Remind me to do less more, I say. To sit still, to sew a few new buttons on an old coat. 

*Funny story about that dress. I bought it from a woman at a sidewalk sale in San Francisco eight years ago. It's a gorgeous wool dress with a crocheted neckline, but the side zipper has a gash running alongside it from one night when the girl got the zipper stuck and her fireman boyfriend had to cut it off of her, thereby (sexily) ruining the dress. I used to wear it to parties, literally sewing myself into it, which was a little punk rock but very impractical. It really is time someone put a new zipper in that thing, for crying out loud.