“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.
Flashback to January 2017. I knew I wanted to start a blog and I knew that my first post was going to be about “Hidden Figures.” What I didn’t know was EVERYTHING ELSE.
I hadn’t been diagnosed with narcolepsy but I knew my grad school situation was untenable. I couldn’t hold down a 9-5 job 5 days/week so I took up substitute teaching and hoped that plus a record of my writing would be “good enough” for a future employer if I ever sorted out my health issues.
Narrator: How is she smiling? Because she showed up to the department as herself. For the first time ever.
Thomas Jefferson’s University. *eyes roll so hard they pop out of head*
My least favorite place in the world.
Welcome to my office. Or at least the part I used.
Assorted stimulants. Will trade for GHB. (JUST KIDDING IM NOT LOOKING FOR A DEALER I ALREADY HAVE ONE THANKS JAZZ PHARMA.)
I met Mary in the Style School alum group but I KNEW of Mary and her inspiring Daily Sew blog long before that. Mary’s post about Stasia’s Style School is actually one of the things that led me to pull the trigger and sign up for Style School after years of internet stalking Stasia and sinking into a grad school-induced style hell. I had an idea of Style School that was girly and frivolous (read: I made up lame excuses to not do it because I was so scared about what might happen if I reconnected to old and powerful parts of my personality!) so Mary’s post made me rethink everything: if a bad-ass, feminist / activist / maker / guru can go through this and come out better for it, then sign me up.
I was incredibly honored that Mary interviewed me this past month for “The Daily Sew” after buying her first SLEEP&SPARKLE headscarf and then finding out that I sew them myself. We talked about sewing, style, and sleep. But first, check out a few of my favorite posts on The Daily Sew:
Why I Failed the Me-Made-May Challenge (I love when super talented people are super real about life! I was intimidated by her before our interview and when I read this I thought, “she’s human, too. A super talented human, but still human.” ❤ ❤ ❤ )
And now on to the interview
Mary: I love your style. Can you give us some insight to how it represents you?
Me: I grew up around a lot of color. My mom and grandmother were both fiber artists and there were no rules about playing with my grandmother’s fabric. I was allowed to play and make mistakes with it.
I was a gypsy for Halloween for so many years using the fabrics and costume jewelry from my grandmother.
My mom always bought fabric with a project in mind so her stash was off limits but my grandma had no rules. Her philosophy was to buy what she loved and then maybe make something from it. And being an immigrant she kept everything.
You sewed from a young age?
Well, I grew up on handwork, mostly tatting and learning Belgian bobbin lace making. Sewing came later.
What did you like about handwork?
Tatting is repetitive and easy to pick up and put down. You can start and stop in the middle. Sewing takes more steps which can make me antsy; it’s the transitions that sewing has. There’s sewing, reading the instructions, pressing. I got distracted and sleepy. So when I sewed I stuck to fast projects like simple patterns.
I love draping though, it’s relatively easy and stimulating. You can pick it up and see immediately the change in front of you.
When did you learn to sew?
When I was about seven or eight I took a class that my grandmother taught at G Street Fabrics (A most awesome DC metro area store). I think we made backpacks.
My grandmother had a huge influence on me even after we moved away from her. When she would come to visit she would stay awhile. And we would spend the summers with her. She’s very creative.
What’s your sewing style?
I am somewhere in between my mom and my grandmother when it comes to collecting fabric. Sometimes I buy with a vision of making something particular and sometimes I buy because I’m drawn to it.
I actually wear a lot of things from my grandmother and mother. Their hand-made hand-me-downs. My mom was an engineer when it came to sewing. She would make clothes out of striped fabrics and ALL of her stripes matched exactly.
What do you enjoy about sewing?
I don’t like making clothes. Maybe if I draped them to make the fit better I would like sewing clothes more.
But I love making crafts – totes, headscarves, quilts. I love being able to say “I made this.” It is nice to be surrounded by things that are consistent with my values. To be able to set aside the time to make something; to follow through on the intention, to express my creativity. To say to myself, “I’m setting out to do something besides watching television.” I want to sit down and finish something. I want to be cloaked in my values.
So you are making something lately. Something cloaked in your values. Tell us about your new company, Sleep & Sparkle. What is it and how did you come up with the idea for it?
The idea behind SLEEP&SPARKLE is to make creative, comfortable head accessories that help people express themselves.
It started back in April when I posted a story on Instagram of a headscarf I made with a wire insert: “Look what I did with wire”. People asked “Wait. What did you do?”. They seemed to like it and I had always thought if I got my act together I would open an etsy shop.
I had just been diagnosed with narcolepsy. I had extended my medical leave of absence from graduate school because I wasn’t sure how I would do on the medication. Well, the medication seem to have immediate effect. Suddenly I had more free time; time when I wasn’t sleeping. And so I quickly sewed up 30 of these wired head scarves and mailed them out to the women who had seen the first one I made.
I got positive feedback on the prototypes so suddenly, whenever I was awake it was “get out of my way, I have work to do!” I don’t ever remember a time before starting narcolepsy treatment when I had this much wakefulness, and this ability to follow through. After starting treatment I was either working on making the website or the scarves.
The narcolepsy story is really interesting and a big part of your story. Do you mind sharing?
I’ve had narcolepsy since I was about 7 or 8 years old. It was only just properly diagnosed this February, and I started treatment in April. I never knew what it was like to feel normal. Activism for mental health and chronic health are really important to me because I went misdiagnosed and mismedicated for 20 years. I want to increase awareness about sleep disorders because they are extremely hard to diagnose and frequently mistaken for mental health issues like ADD/ADHD, depression, bipolar disorder, and even schizophrenia.
My number one message on this topic to everybody is that you know your body better than anybody else; better than any doctor, and you are the only one who knows if something is truly wrong. I want every person to feel empowered to fight for their health and for proper care and it starts with us learning that we are trustworthy and that our bodies are trustworthy. and. We are worthy and deserve to fight for a healthy life which can be a tough message to internalize for people with rare and orphan illnesses that doctors are not familiar with.
If you are interested in learning more about tatting or Belgian bobbin lace, you can find a teacher near you by contacting the International Organization of Lace, Inc, of which I was a proud, card-carrying member until my grandma stopped paying our dues.
A friend asked me a few months ago how I choose the right length when shortening a full skirt. I wrote a bit about this in a post for Tall Tips Tuesday –Thrift Long and Alter 🖖🏼 – but I don’t think I went into enough detail, just some hand-waving math proof shenanigans #imamathmajor. Since this is one of the key moves in my repertoire, I thought it would be worth it to break it down.
curious sparkle dirt’s Keys to Altering Success
When thrifting clothes with the intent to alter, choosing a garment with the right fabric is so important. It doesn’t matter how deft you are with a pair of scissors, if the fabric isn’t weighty enough, the best alter will fail. What does this mean? The next time you’re in your closet, grab onto some garments and feel the weight of the fabric. Is the fabric very light and airy? Or is the fabric heavier with a bit of weight to it? A long skirt or dress made of a lightweight fabric might only work because the length gives the dress the weight it needs to lay the way it does. This is especially true of pleated skirts/dresses and skirts/dresses made from the type of cotton used in button-down shirts. Shortening such a garment might result in looking like a cupcake. Which is fine, if that’s what you’re going for! Real life: I learned Tip 1 when I ruined a thrifted, Pendleton lightweight, wool, pleated skirt a few years back. You might ruin a thing or two before you get the hang of it – that’s okay! Just start with thrifted garments.
Now that you have a qualifying garment, you need something to copy for the length.
. You can make a pattern yourself, but I vote for using your favorite skirt/dress that’s waiting eagerly in your closet to be of service. I have a dress from Old Navy Tall that fits PERFECTLY and that I use as my “measuring stick”.
3. How you approach this next step depends on your crafting style. We’re going to cut the garment. A rule of thumb that I use is that if the skirt has lots of gathers, I’m more perfectionist and I’ll get out the pins and my sewing guage. If the skirt can lay flat, I’ll wing it – but only because I’ve done this 1000 times now.
I cut this red dress without pinning, but then was an overachiever and pinned so that I could hop on my Singer Featherweight, Zeby, and sew up the raw edge. I also cut the sleeves on this dress, but did not sew them.
A Few Notes:
Make sure you think about your body and how clothes lay on your booty. I cut and pinned the dress so that the back would be an inch longer than the front. I have a booty and if I cut the front and back to be the same length, the back will sit way shorter than the front.
Good scissors are important. If you don’t have good scissors, don’t let this keep you from altering, but get a pair of nice scissors as soon as you can and reserve them only for fabric. I use these Fiskars scissors and they’re a lifesaver. My husband knows to never use them on anything but fabric because it will dull them, rendering them useless to me. Why are sharp scissors so important? Because if your scissors are dull then they will mangle your fabric, and you ultimately may have to cut off more than you wanted to, by the time you’re done correcting your mistakes.
Do I hem or not? It depends on the fabric. Will it run like a sprinter? If not than the next question I ask is: what color thread is currently on my sewing machine? If it’s compatible, I’ll run a quick hem. If not, I’ll say eff it and call it good enough. A girl’s only got a finite number of spoons and had better spend them carefully. #spoonie!
A few of my favorite transformations!
Before. Skirt and shirt thrifted in Germany.
After. I’m obsessed with these sleeves!
After. Sunglasses from Rethreads Cville, headscarf by SLEEP&SPARKLE.
After. Necklace by Rethreads Cville, skirt and shirt from Goodwill, scarf by SLEEP&SPARKLE.
Before. Dress from Goodwill.
After. JCrew jacket from Rethreads Cville, bow by SLEEP&SPARKLE.
After. Express jeans jacket from Goodwill, bow by SLEEP&SPARKLE.