Recycled shell shirt

Remember those old style sleeveless blouses that were worn by women up until probably the 80s or 90s that were essentially just a plain old button up cotton blouse, only without sleeves? Cool, comfortable, and not sold anywhere for ages.  This is all about recreating those shell blouses by recycling a men’s button up shirt.

A few weeks back, while surfing, I ran into a tutorial that recycled a men’s shirt to make a tank top. Summer was insufferable about then, and while I didn’t have any shirts suitable to recycle for me, I did have a stack that were about the right size to recycle for my daughter.

There is something gleefully destructive about taking a pair of scissors to a men’s shirt that hasn’t been destroyed somehow. I felt almost guilty as I plunged the shears into the job, whacking away sleeves and collar. In consulting with my daughter, a petite adult,  I’d already learned that she preferred something more like a shell top than a tank top, with wider shoulders that would actually cover a bra strap. Because this would also be a casual shirt, one she’d wear for fishing, camping, housework, and errands–she also wasn’t interested in a plunging neckline and preferred something a bit more modest.

That meant not doing a great deal of cutting besides just removing the sleeves and collar. Then, it was somewhat wide in the neckline, so a few small pleats, in the center back and on either side in the front,  took care of making it smaller there. The sleeves yielded plenty of fabric to cut into facings that matched sleeves and neckline, along with some scrap interfacing to give the very thin poly-cotton blend a bit more body for the facings.

I’d not done any reconstructive surgery like this before. If it looked too crude, she’d never wear it.  It was to be a comfortable shirt, but not one that screamed “I am a recycle project!” when she wore it.

We had hemline options too. As a men’s shirt, it had the typical shirt tail. Did she want to keep it, modify it, or completely do away with it and make a square bottom? She opted for keeping it, which makes it hip length for her. It also meant fast reconstruction for me. It actually took longer for us to make our decisions about what kind of things we were going to do to it than it did to make the pattern facings, cut them out, iron on the interfacing, and stitch/top stitch the facings into place.  It was an easy recycle project.

Okay, so it’s not runway material. It’s a cool, comfy and slouchy kind of shell in a deep forest green that compliments her eyes perfectly, in a thin poly-cotton blend that has been worn long enough that it’s really thin and soft. (It was a vintage shirt that I whacked up.)  The only way to get a fabric worn that smooth is to recycle a vintage shirt that has been worn often.

So, for less than $2, even if I went and bought the interfacing and thread, I had a cool summer shirt for her, since I already had the vintage shirt in a donate pile at my house, making its cost zero. I’m not an expert seamstress, so this was within the realm of any brave beginner who has mastered facings or is willing to go into the arena with some bias tape to cover raw edges. Fast & easy plus recycling–my favorite kind of project, and it got even better with its really low cost!

Biting off too much with a sewing project?

Ever bite off more than you should have for a project?  How about for a sewing project?

Being disabled isn’t something I take happily. I push the envelope as much as I can, but it doesn’t always kind of work out the way I hope.

Once upon a time, in that previous life, I could sew about anything that I put my mind to sewing. Sure, I might have to rip out now and again and resew something–doesn’t everyone? I only had a few areas where I’d always been afraid to go–like using the blind hem stitch on the sewing machine. I had always hemmed by hand. So I mastered that stitch this year finally.

But I had not tried to sew a pair of pants since my accident. Since I’ve also gained a lot of weight since then, pants weren’t fitting me too well off the rack, so I thought that I’d sew a pair of pants for myself.. Off I went to buy an indie company pattern that I liked.  I usually prefer indie sewing patterns, as their designs are fresh and their  sewing directions are usually very good.

That was like July. The pattern arrived quickly, I picked up the fabric to make that first test pair of pants, and started on the sewing project.

Now, we’re over 2/3 of the way through September. The pants are not done, despite working on them for a bit almost every day. It took over two weeks just to prepare the pattern and cut out the pieces of fabric. I’m not sure how long I’ve actually been sewing them, but I so want to finish them! I want to take out the heavy needle I’m using for this fabric and put in a “regular” one to work on some fun projects. The pants have ceased being fun. It’s now becoming an endurance contest, and I’m in danger of losing!

The fabric is heavy. (I’m using a twill fabric.) I’ve now got the vast majority of the pieces connected (we’re up to doing the zip fly) and everything that has to be done on them is a huge chore just hanging onto the fabric. Plus size jeans and my normal sized sewing machine are having continual arguments. The machine is starting to skip stitches, indicating its time for a trip to the repair shop. Another unanticipated expense!

Since I learned to sew by teaching myself from books, magazines, and patterns, I do very well with written directions. However, Hot Patterns, the company I bought the pattern from, is not strong on clear and concise directions, requiring me to hunt down tutorials (when they do exist) for the various portions of their directions when an unfamiliar technique has been used to assemble things. (Back pockets were a nightmare–I even emailed the company for directions, but got no response.) I finally just made patch pockets the way I was familiar with making them, skipping their ambiguous directions which SEEMED to be telling me to make a welt pocket and top stitching it to LOOK like a patch pocket. (Others who sew know what I mean!) I happen to hate welt pockets because of their tendency to sag–I was stuck with them in uniform pants made for men for years.

For two days, the zipper fly defeated me. I could not make heads or tails out of the directions. Important details were left out–like whether to stitch the zipper to the raw edge or the finished edge of the zipper protector. What edges were I supposed to baste together? Even the diagrams were ambiguous. The pockets had no video tutorial, but they did have a general universal zipper fly assembly tutorial. I think I’ve figured it out now…

We’ll see. I’m going to try and accomplish it today. All ten million pounds of pants and the two pound sewing machine.

Once upon a time, I would have whipped through the finishing tasks on these pants in an afternoon. Heck, I could sew a coat in two evenings! The agony I have gone through the past few weeks as the pieces grew steadily larger (and my work sessions shorter and shorter) is somewhat depressing.

I should be able to do this, is what I tell myself. My husband says I have bit off more than I should have chewed. He might be right, but to quit now…no way. I’ll keep plugging at it.

But will I make a second pair?

Don’t ask me that now. That’s like asking a woman in labor if she wants to have another child after this one is born.

Wedding attire and marriage

Long, long ago, back when I was much more innocent and in my late teens, the topic of marriage often came up with my peers.  We’d outgrown Barbie and her wedding gowns, but…we now imagined our own weddings and what we’d wear.

I said I wanted to get married in overalls and a flannel shirt.

Now my friends would giggle, thinking I was just illustrating my own aversion to dresses and dressing up, but it was really far deeper than that.  It was even deeper than my own issues with gender identification.  It was actually a very deep and heartfelt comment, not about attire so much as what I wanted from anyone I’d marry.


I wanted to be accepted for who I was, not simply judged as deficient for who I was not.  Sure, I didn’t want to wear makeup, fuss over my hair, or wear ruffles and lace, but it was so much more than that.  I wanted to be able to explore who I was without fears about being judged by the one person that I needed to count on as believing in me.

My spouse.

It wasn’t an easy search either, no matter how simple it sounds.  I dated a lot of guys who thought I was cute and sexy, then immediately started working on changing who I was and how I dressed and acted. I even tried it, more than once.

They didn’t like who I became, and I didn’t like who I was pretending to be

Society in general kept trying to shove me into a pigeon hole, one that I was ill fitted to fill, as well as one that was excessively confining.  I gradually began to define my own parameters.  I certainly was not able to conform, long before I discovered the term “gender non-conformist” as a comfortable label.

My first marriage was a disaster, although it was one that looked quite pretty from the outside, I suppose.  I wasn’t anything he wanted, apparently.  I certainly did not fit his ideal of a woman or a wife.  Obviously, that came to an end, with far more drama than I liked as well.  Some things are just like that.

I then resumed the dating game, somewhat changed.  I was in a whole new phase of my life, and my dating tactics showed it.  I even used dating websites, both for research and for actual personal relationships.  I learned a whole lot from that too.

Eventually, my best friend and I decided to get engaged.  We started that off by living together for several years, telling ourselves that we couldn’t afford to get married.  One day, we realized that if we waited until we could “afford” marriage, we’d likely both be in nursing homes!

So, we planned a wedding.  I had a goal.  We were to have a wedding that cost less than $200 and we could still entertain our friends and family.  That price tag was for everything: food, wedding cake, marriage license, blood tests, wedding rings, official to officiate, venue, food for guests, and honeymoon.

Nobody thought we could do it, and we almost did it.  We had a last minute glitch—the friend, who was an ordained minister, who had been going to officiate, could not actually attend, as her mother became critically ill.  With a frantic search for someone at the last minute, we went over our budget—I was not in the mood to negotiate for rates.  We got a minister who was nearly perfect, and for that I was grateful enough to not mind that it was the “over $200” portion of the wedding bill.

We had a beach wedding under a pavilion at a fishing pier, complete with restrooms and parking…for free.  (Check out the public pier at Waveland, MS in Hancock county—it’s the only county that is dog friendly at the beach too!)  Our dogs could attend.

We had DIY wedding outfits for our hippy themed wedding.  Tie dyed matching t-shirts for us to wear as well as our granddaughter, our micro-sized “flower girl”.  (She was just over a year old then.)  Friends brought chairs and portable tables.  My mother cooked the pulled pork for sandwiches with my daughter’s help.  My daughter made the wedding cake.  Friends brought some food, and I even cooked pasta salad and baked beans.

We went camping, to Tishomingo State Park in northern Mississippi for our honeymoon, which was short but very nice.  I’d always wanted to visit that state park, and it was drop dead gorgeous despite rainy and cold weather.

And what did that all illustrate?

I married a man who married all of me.  Not the pretty part, or the money-making part, or the creative part, or the motherly part…but all of me, good and bad, nice and mean.  He accepted me as I was, without feeling a need to work on changing me.  He doesn’t even gripe (too much, anyhow) about my messiness or aversion to closing cupboard doors while cooking.  He married me after my accident that completely redefined what I could or could not do.

Of course, I reciprocate.  I know he hates mornings, that he can’t braid my hair for me, that he hates my hummus, no matter how I make it.  I know he is going to rant about something for the first hour he’s up in the morning and that he swears loudly whenever he works on something.  I know I’m going to trip over his shoes, as well as that there are certain things I have to nag about to make sure they get done.  That’s okay.  I adore him most of the time and still love him even when he has me madder than a hornet.

That’s a good relationship.  It’s built on mutual respect, seasoned with a dash of admiration for the other’s qualities, with a big dollop of humor to deal with their deficiencies.

That’s because nobody is perfect.  I’ll guarantee if you DO see someone as being perfect, either you are looking through rose tinted glasses or something else isn’t right, because everyone has weaknesses and flaws.  The best we can do is find out whether or not we can accept those flaws with the rest of the package.

Thankfully, we can.

Our wedding attire, while some would claim that we lacked reverence for the vows we were making, was chosen for specific reasons.  Neither of us saw any reason to spend an inordinate amount of money on clothing for one single occasion, regardless of where it was held.  We also saw no reason, in the light of a struggling economy, to encourage our friends and family to buy dress clothes for an occasion that would not benefit them later.  A hippy theme meant that nobody needed to buy anything, although we did buy the t-shirts and dye to do our own matching shirts.  I also bought the fabric for my rainbow veil, along with the tie dyed bandanas that completed our head gear.

Neither of us was young, and we had no one to impress.  We wanted everyone to have fun and have fun celebrating a very special day with us, as we publicly announced our relationship as permanent.  Our commitment to each other had been made long before, and the day was signifying a legal agreement more than our commitment.  Laws don’t recognize personal commitments, but they do recognize a marriage license.

Greg and I were marrying each other’s whole self, including the self that thought of others, of budgets, of costs, and of sharing fun and laughter.  That whole self is something that we feel comfortable sharing, both the good and the bad, the fun and the not-very-fun-at-all, along with the whole in sickness and in health.  He’s been my one man cheering team when I didn’t think I could make it through the next hour, let alone my allotted lifetime.  He’s been there when I released a novel and other books.  He’s also been there when I have been sick, shaking and crying from the pain.  I’ve been there when he’s been sick too, and I was there when he needed to go to the hospital with his heart attack.  Sure, we get aggravated with each other.  We spend far more time together than most couples, and there are times when we start to rub each other the wrong way.  We’ve learned how to manage that too.

It’s not easy sometimes.  We’ve had some times when we really didn’t like each other much, but thankfully, we moved past those successfully.  We have to work at keeping our relationship healthy, just like all couples do.

I’m glad we do.

But sometimes, I’d be glad if he finally got around to some of the things on the honey-do list, like FINALLY putting that new bed together or fixing that overhang by the back door.

He’d probably be glad if I finally got things put away, and figured out an effective pseudo pantry.  Or the Good Housekeeping Fairy showed up–I don’t think he is picky about who gets things done.  He might be glad if I finally forgot to refer to the time when I came home after an overnight trip and he greeted me with “can you cook me a hamburger?” instead of a kiss and “Glad to see you, I missed you.”

He might be glad when I finally quit coming up with wild schemes that make Lucille Ball look like she never came up with insane ideas…even though hers were theatrical and mine are real-life schemes.  (I’m just glad that he never does the Desi Arnez mimic thing.)

But it is really great to have been so very wrong about my own life, even while I was very right about some other things about it.  I’m glad I get to share each and every day with my best friend.  I just wish that everyone was so lucky.

Just don’t ever think that our relationship is perfect.  It’s not.  We both came with baggage and issues and quirks and fears and relatives and hopes and dreams and flaws too.  We work at gluing it all together all the time, and then, something will come along and throw a wrench in our plans and we get to frantically re-assemble everything with another liberal dose of glue.


I still love him.  Best of all, he loves all of me.  Even when I’m fat, sick, grumpy, gray, wrinkled, hairy in the wrong places, my feet hurt, and I’m whining about something.

That’s pretty cool, don’t you think?

Anybody can find fault

Anybody can find fault.  Fault doesn’t seem to get lost very often, and it usually doesn’t really hide that well either.  Sooner or later, fault always comes marching out, demanding to be recognized by someone, anyone, guilty or innocent.

But there sure are a lot of people who devote their lives to seeking out something that never was lost to begin with.  Why are so many people absolutely thrilled to find those faults and be the first (or even among the hundreds) to point out those faults so that everyone knows that they spotted them and recognized them.

Like get a life, dude.  (Or dudette!)

You don’t need a degree or any special training or even to be above average in intelligence (or anything else) to find those faults that weren’t really hiding.  These internet trolls that seem to delight in exposing each and every flaw and then dissecting it with minute attention to detail seriously have some issues.  Above all, they remind me of chickens.

I’m not being a smart alec about that.  Seriously, they do act like chickens.  I realize that most of America has never been intimately acquainted with chickens.  For many people, their closest exposure has been at a petting zoo or even just a news clip on television.  In reality, there’s nothing cute about a flock of chickens, especially if they have decided that they don’t like one of their flock mates.

It’s horrifying to see what they will do then.  They will literally, over a period of time, peck that chicken to death, while also driving it away from food and water and otherwise making their lives as miserable as possible.  It isn’t all of the chickens in the flock that do this, just a handful out of the group participating in this “troll” behavior is enough to result in the pecked chicken’s death.

Hence the expression of “henpecked” that we have often heard used to refer to a husband who is being micromanaged by his wife to an oppressive degree.

Sure, there are lots of theories about why these chickens will do this.  Usually, overcrowding and other stress factors will get the behavior started.  It can happen in free range chickens, but it’s far less common.  As a country person would say, “once in a blue moon.”  In confined and crowded conditions, even when the chickens have the recommended space and ability to go outdoors into the sunshine, it can really get started though.  The more stress and crowding, the more the behavior shows up.

Maybe mankind is just like a flock of chickens.  We’re getting more crowded and stressed, and we’re seeing more outbreaks of “troll” behavior.  On occasion, this behavior accelerates and becomes violent rather than just verbal (or written) attacks.  When this happens, the usual cry is to restrict access to potential weapons.

Gun control isn’t going to change the behavior, folks.  Chickens commit homicide regularly, and have never figured out how to use firearms.  I have a gun and have had guns most of my life, yet I have not committed murder, nor even shot at anyone.

I have worked armed positions in my lifetime.  I’ve also been threatened with a gun on more than one occasion, although not while working.  Usually, the threat was by a police officer of some kind.  Was the threat warranted? No, I wasn’t armed, wasn’t threatening the officer, was not committing a crime, and usually had no idea what was going on or why I had a gun in my face.  Each time, it turned out to be some kind of mistake, quickly resolved, and I was not handcuffed or arrested.

I must have some caveman DNA floating around and connected to my violent genes.  My weapon of choice has always been throwing rocks.  I’m pretty good at chucking them too or was before I got hurt.  Southern Mississippi, however, is starved for rocks.  Our rocks have to be imported from elsewhere.  I guess that’s why I haven’t done any rock chucking in a long time.

But I digress…

This troll behavior is an indicator of a deeper problem or fault in our society, one that we need to address.  It’s just as real as any tectonic plate’s fault on our planet’s crust, and indicative of an equally deep flaw in our society.  Fault in this sense is a very real concept regarding what is happening today.  This fault is an early sign of henpecking that can and eventually will turn homicidal in some individuals.  Granted, not all of these individuals will ever become physically violent in person.  Many of them may be too intimidated in person to even say “boo!” to a stranger, let alone become verbally confrontational.  Even so, they feel that they have the right to do so, often in very unpleasant ways, on the internet.

I’m not sure that the spirit of the right to free speech includes the right to say things just to hurt other people, whether it is merely an emotional hurt or any other kind of hurt, even if it is commentary based on truth.  I certainly do not think that condoning troll behavior and allowing them to surf the cyber world in search of fault which they can then use as their war cry as they begin yet another flaming attack on some unwitting soul.

Do I think I would turn homicidal? Not with the current level of stress and crowding, but I know that even I have certain points where I may well rationalize violent behavior if I am honest about myself.  Remember, the word stress is just another word for stimuli.  Breaking into my house when I am home is going to qualify as a stress.  So is attacking a family member.  Heck, even attacking my dogs is a stressor!  I also tend to get rather confrontational if I feel my home turf (aka house and yard) is being intruded upon, something I came to grips with last year when a neighbor’s dog tried to claim our backyard as his personal turf.

We have to find new ways of adapting to living in smaller spaces, to working closely with others, to living closely with them.  We have to identify individuals that have reached that magic red line that defines when they are going to become violent, and then come up with appropriate intervention.  All of that without causing new stress by stripping away personal freedoms and rights.

It’s a tall order, but the end result is worthwhile.  It means creating a society that encourages supportive and nurturing behavior rather than glorifying confrontational and violent behavior.  It means doing away, worldwide, with the concept of war too.  It means creating a worldwide society that encourages growth, on each and every level, as well as celebrating diversity and individualism.

Yeah, I know—it sounds like Utopia.

It really is Utopia, I suppose.  It’s not impossible  though.  Gene Roddenberry  dreamed of it with his Star Trek world.  I’m not the only dreamer.  The world just needs a lot more dreamers, a lot more people who are willing to ostracize and discourage those who want to be trolls, and willing to encourage people to be something they all possess the ability to be.

With a heart.

Maybe we need to remind everyone of our mothers’ old adage while we’re at it.

“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

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