Coming Out

Note: I’ve been writing this for most of the day, and finally finished a first draft.  I copied and pasted it into 3HoursPast, with the intention of whittling this down for word count and possibly for content, to do my usual corrections of verb tenses and pronouns.  After I posted this into the blog form, I accidentally hit “publish” instead of “save draft.”  That published my post to your inboxes and feeds.  So instead of whittling and polishing as I meant to do, I decided to add a few links and publish as-is.   Thank you for stopping by, it’s been too long.

It’s been nearly two years since I posted here with regularity, and I still miss you. This post is not really about sewing, or Cake, or patchwork pillows. This post is the removal of a mask I’ve outgrown, moving past a persona I don’t want to use anymore to share the human being I am.   It’s messy, long, probably sharing too much and may be upsetting to some, but I think it’s important to write this for anyone out there who lives trapped in the kind of life I was living. It doesn’t have to be that way.  And I’d like to share where I’ve been and what I’ve learned while I was gone.

Last July, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. The DSM manual (used to diagnose mental illnesses) chose to remove “Aspergers” in the latest edition because it is named after a person, replacing it with “Autism Spectrum Level 1, no delay in speech or intellectual development.” I tend to refer to myself as an “Aspie.” Semantics aside, this diagnosis was a blessed relief, pointing me towards a community where I could contribute, grow, and be myself, giving me tools to better understand and manage my condition (instead of my shots-in-the-dark approach), and making me feel for the first time ever like I deserved to be well and happy in my life. I quit fearing “The Thing,” and dropped 29 years of resentment about being different- I felt fifty pounds lighter. I decided I didn’t want to die, after all. Perhaps my family would indeed be better off if I were here with them.

The diagnosis was the clearest-cut “end and a beginning” I’ve ever experienced in my life- more powerful than leaving my birth family as a teen, more than going to college or immigrating to the other side of the world, and more than becoming a wife, then a mother. Before last May, I had no idea that Aspergers could be expressed in any kind of person, not just in math-genius little boys who line up the train sets and beat their heads on the wall. I wish I’d known differently sooner. Let me back up and explain how I got to Aspergers. You were here, too, for part of it. You saw the outside, but let me explain the inside.

Two years ago, sometime after the Hummingbird release, I started “glitching” worse than usual. This was my private term for noticing when my perceptions of the world around me were either illogical or impossible, or when my mind goes blank. I was retaining very little information spoken to me, sometimes not even hearing it. This has always been something of a problem that I’d learned to compensate for, but my strategies were not working. When I sat to write a blog post, I felt deeply confused, lost in a sea of links and pages and photo files and swimming words. I started to make more mistakes, and to get nauseous headaches while sitting in front of the screen. I told myself I was tired, worn out, I’d rest after I got the next collection out and everything would be fine. I had less and less patience or time for my family, desperately trying to make Cake into what I knew it could be, failing, and also failing my husband and daughter.

Then one day as I rode the bus, a cyclist pulled up beside my window at a stop. To my utter shock, I looked into the face of my father when I glanced over. I sat there staring, going through my mindfulness/reality checks, expecting his face to melt into the face of a random dude as I brought awareness to my breath and carefully took in my surroundings. Instead, I picked out the particular line of my father’s jaw, the stormy blue eyes, the shape of his hairline, a scar on his hand, the shape of his fingernails. It scared me because even as I looked at him I knew it wasn’t real. As I pulled away, I knew it couldn’t be my father, aged ~32. He’s old now, living on the other side of the planet. After that, I went in for yet another round of psychiatric assessment.

I’ve spent years in and out of psych offices, primarily for PTSD treatment. This time, I very calmly told the doctor that I was hallucinating and needed to be checked. For me, hallucinations were always a Code Red- do not mess around, go talk to someone asap. I always felt my hold on what we call reality was less than firm, and had been vigilant about “imaginary friends” since late adolescence. I told the doctor my history of trauma, and answered a lot of questions about my current lifestyle, family life, and work. The doctor eventually cleared me of PTSD, saying my hallucination was possibly a PTSD after effect triggered by stress, and I should rest. He also cleared me of Bipolar disorder, which was nice. I’ve been called “bipolar” by plenty of people, and even wondered myself if that was The Thing, if one day I’d have to commit to mood medication in order to function. I definitely have soaring heights of productivity and blank times of nothingness, but I’m not Bipolar.

I got back to work and tried to rest more, though that quickly went by the wayside. I gave up trying to blog here on a regular basis, because assembling blog posts had become a laborious, painful grind. We started the Red Velvet Collection presale right about the time my attacks started. I’d wake up in the middle of the night, feeling like a burning dagger was being driven between my shoulder blades. I’d gasp, and writhe, and get out of bed so I didn’t wake up my husband, then lie on the couch, waiting for the Panadol to kick in. It took the edge off the pain so I could sleep. At first, these attacks were once a week and in the middle of the night. They became more frequent, sneaking up on me after lunch while I sat writing tutorials, sometimes circling my body. I thought they might be another one of those stress reactions, and I tried to ignore them, hide it, and get on with life.

By the time we were shipping Red Velvet dress patterns, I was having around 4 attacks a week. I was also doing too much. I remember putting together those shipments in a blind haze, with that burning dagger between my shoulder blades while I tried to plan my in-real-life shows and the Sewalong. I stopped eating much, wasn’t sleeping, and had a pregnancy scare when I stopped menstruating. I was ignoring my husband, and spending little time with my daughter. Worse, as the weeks wore on I felt my Reason fleeing me. It wasn’t the first time, but I thought I’d grown up enough and worked hard enough and changed enough with a stable enough lifestyle that my Reason wouldn’t do that anymore. I felt my ability to make sentences, to communicate, to think in an orderly way, to cook dinner or even clean up the bathroom was fading away into the black confusion I felt as a child. The house fell into a mess which amped up my anxiety. It was terrifying, and I felt like I was watching it happen from outside my body. I’m sick, I told myself, I’m really sick and when I’m well it will be ok.

I went back to the physician, I was having 5-6 attacks a week at any time of the day. She said I had reflux, and gave me medicine. I might as well have swallowed sticks of sidewalk chalk for all the good it did. I went back, got stronger medicine that also did nothing. Everyone around me was saying “Reflux this” and “Reflux that,” giving me well-meaning advice based on their own experiences. I tried it all and nothing worked. Besides, I had reflux during pregnancy and I knew this wasn’t the same thing. My body and mind were literally falling apart and fading away, and no one could help me even when I asked for it. I felt angry, a sort of rage I hadn’t felt since I was a kid, and I mostly turned it against myself for being so “useless” and not getting my work done. I kept taking the pills and suffering as privately as I could for two months. The attacks worsened in frequency.  and around the holidays, I quit being able to eat at all without it coming back up during an attack, often running from the table to throw up.

Finally, I had an attack that lasted four days. I spent most of that time in bed or in a hot shower or with my head in the toilet. The pain and nausea wouldn’t go away, so we dragged me back to the doctor who grudgingly sent me to have an ultrasound. She thought I was malingering. The technician checked me for ectopic pregnancy, then scanned all of my organs for signs of damage. The good news was everything except my gallbladder was fine. The bad news was, I had a gallbladder packed with stones and needed immediate surgery. I was really out of it, and by then I was so terrified of myself and my new inability to make sense of the world around me that I tried to just stay inside myself. I hate being hospitalized, too- needles make me woozy or faint, blood and guts talk does the same, I dislike being touched, I dislike strangers and always react very badly after being put under. The morphine was nice, though.

They let me go after 3-4 days, I really don’t remember my time in the hospital that clearly except the emails from my aunt in Texas. She’d taken me in when I was a teen and was like a mother to me. Her emails helped me hold everything together while I was stuck in the cold, bright, sterile hospital hooked up to machines that put fluids into my body and took them back out again. I must have worn her out, I know I wasn’t in a fit state of mind to communicate with humanity at that time. When I got home, everything was worse. I couldn’t do anything except lie on my back and binge-watch TV shows. Meanwhile, I still had two designs out on pre-sale from the RV collection and they preyed on my mind. I got heaps of messages and questions- rightly so, and it was maddening to be able to do exactly nothing about it even though the work was nearly complete. I swore to myself I’d never, ever ever pre-sale anything ever again.

About five days after the surgery, I woke up one morning completely black. I fought it at first, as I always fight when I wake up that way, because the blackness causes destruction if it takes over, and I know if I weathered it quietly, it would pass. But I was weak. I was tired. Everything hurt. I couldn’t fight and it took over. Everything around me in our little house seemed like a reminder of a personal failure, even our wedding photos covering one wall mocked me. I was really happy on that day, to be marrying my best friend. But I was also really overwhelmed by all the well-meaning strangers in my husbands’ family trying to talk to me, by the expectations everyone places on a wedding and what a bride should act like, and wishing I had my best girlfriend there to help me with it all. By the time we were taking pictures, my face was doing the weird face thing it does and later I was accused of purposefully ruining the photos. The ones on my walls were beautiful candids my sister in law took of us happily playing together on the beach in our wedding clothes, no faces. I liked those photos, to me they seemed a perfect representation of our relationship. But that morning, I couldn’t bear to look at them for one more second.

After my daughter went to school, I ripped them all down and smashed them into bits, trying to smash away the painful memory of how I “ruined” my own wedding by being weird. It wasn’t enough. I howled and sobbed and screamed, but it still wasn’t enough to quench the blackness. It was like fire in my veins, an aching hollowness inside, a poison- remembering every time I’ve done the weird thing or the wrong thing or a stupid thing and every time someone had mocked me for acting weird or using big words, and not understanding why I’m this way. My husband came home sometime in the middle of this and I told him I’d like to die, that I was sick of living this way and I hated my life, but I didn’t know what to do about it. He talked me down (it’s hard to sustain that level of emotion when you haven’t eaten solid food for weeks) and put me to bed. Later, my aunt and uncle in Texas Skyped me and I tried to explain these things, but I was falling asleep from the effort of all that rage. Later, they told me I seemed drunk (I wasn’t on anything). When they suggested I go get some “help,” I could have laughed if I had the energy. I thought-I’ve been seeking help my whole life, and it had not helped this weird problem. There’s no help for someone like me, I thought, I really should just go die somewhere and leave everyone else in peace. I said no, they can’t help me. Then my aunt told me to grow up and I did laugh. As if I knew what that meant, as if I wouldn’t have already done it if I knew what that meant.

Later that night, I was still black, but limp. Spent. I wanted to cease living, I wanted my husband to feel the same level of hopelessness and fear I felt. As if spreading around the negativity makes it easier to handle. (Pro tip: it makes everything worse for everyone.) I started talking about all the ways I could never commit suicide. I listed off method after method that was handy without leaving the house, and then started listing off ways that would be better because they’d look like accidents but were still unsuitable in one way or the other. I told him what to do after I was gone, how to look after our girl. I couldn’t stop, I couldn’t help myself, but I was also calm and quiet and lying in bed when my husband had enough. He went and called the men in white coats to take me away. As if in a dream, I got dressed and threw my wedding rings at him. I stood outside to wait, because I didn’t want to wake our girl. The men in white coats turned out to be EMTs in an ambulance who told me I could come “voluntarily,” or they could physically restrain me. I said I preferred not to go at all and they were wasting their time. For half a minute, I considered simply running. I couldn’t run as fast as those men, but I knew I could easily hide in the neighbourhood I knew like the back of my hand. But one of the EMTs looked like my cousin who had been a brother to me, tall and pale with red hair and brown eyes, the same bony look and soft demeanour. I let him put me into the ambulance. We pulled away and as I quietly refused while passively allowing blood pressure and temperature checks, I thought “I always knew things would end this way.”

Being committed was literally my worst fear come to life. Some children fear the boogeyman or aliens or monsters, but I was always terrified of being committed. I’d heard stories in my childhood about my father’s aunt being locked away for decades, but all I ever really understood about her was that she was “off” and “weird.” Weird like me, perhaps. My father taught me ways of hiding the weirdness when I was a kid, lest I end up locked away as well I suppose. I was always, always the most afraid of that. In the mental wing of the hospital, I found myself locked in a bright, cold waiting room with a man three times my size who was pacing and muttering. Later I found out he was schizophrenic and off his meds, picked up for raving and being violent.

A nurse tried to make me take Valium, which I refused, requesting a panadol and showing them my torso that was still bandaged. It took hours to get it, but they kept trying to push that Valium on me while I sat there quietly seething. One nurse came to try to persuade me and said I was suicidal. I said I was not suicidal, I simply wanted to cease living. The distinction was lost on him. I’ll never forget the way he cradled the Valium in his palm and leaned toward me quietly saying that next time, I should “Take more care. Take more care.” I felt like he was telling me to just kill myself and be done with it, but perhaps he meant not telling anyone around me how I was feeling. Neither sentiment seemed appropriate to me coming out of the mouth of a mental health professional. The night wore on and they gave me a bed to sleep on because of my condition. As the door shut behind me in my little cell, I gave up being reasonable and screamed and cried until I was spent. Then I got up and found a room where some people were watching World War Z with glazed eyes. I sat there too, and saw a very large woman carried past me, bleeding and screaming. She’d tried to cut her wrists on the bathroom fixtures. That’s suicidal, I thought.

I talked to a doctor the next day who agreed with me that I should go home. I was angry, very angry at being placed there. My husband took his time coming to pick me up, and said he’d been talking to my doctor, giving me an account of my doctor’s conversation that didn’t seem to match with what I had just experienced. I knew I was glitching, maybe I’d missed something, and I could barely stand the sight of him, so I let it go without arguing much. Besides, I’d been up all night. I still think it was wrong for my doctor to talk to him that way, I felt very threatened and like everyone around me was actively trying to make me crazy. I guess crazy is easier to understand, easier to write off. He took me home and almost immediately, I left to go stay with a friend. My husband said he’d not known what to do, that my aunt told him to call the mental health professionals if I got suicidal. I guess they don’t understand the difference between wanting to die and wanting to murder oneself, either.

I gathered the shreds of energy I had left to call my aunt and let her have it. I felt like she should see the after effects of the “help” I was supposed to have gotten.  I know she has an aversion to foul language and loud noises, I know they short circuit her system. I got her on Skype and let loose with the loudest account of my night that I could muster, using the most colourful expletives I could summon. I saw her “shorting out” through the screen, and continued to unload on her. Just before she shut the computer, she said I was lying (not so much, everything I said was true).  I wasn’t finished with her, and took to email to tell her precisely what I thought of her conservative world-view that she pushed on me and her church filled with dead-eyed hypocrites. That wasn’t quite fair, really, because I know her faith and my uncle’s faith is true, but I knew it would hurt her at least as much as I was hurting. She’s barely spoken to me since, except in a 20-odd page hand-written letter I only read much later. If I’d read it when she wrote it, I would have gone ahead and just jumped off a cliff. The not-speaking-to-me is a thing she’s always done (and denied doing) with me when she decides I cross a line, the first time it was devastating, the second time it was heart-breaking, the third time gave me pause, but this time felt more like a weight off.  I still miss her, and love her, and kind of wish I hadn’t screamed my message, and I do talk to my uncle.

Eventually I went home, and submitted to yet another round of counselling with a clinician who has helped me make positive changes in the past. I finished the last two Red Velvet designs and put them into the shop with very little zest or fanfare. I felt like my counselor and I were circling a drain, covering the same old ground we’d always covered. I wasn’t about to tell her about the things like glitching, I focused more on my sense of having no identity, of not feeling like I had a place in the world, of that nasty feeling I have when I’m around other people like I’m in a glass cube and can’t quite touch them or be with them. She gave me assignments, which I dutifully did, which had little effect. I started seeing friends again, though I wore out quickly. I tried to work events, though I barely had myself together and could hardly speak straight. I spent a lot more time with my daughter, soaking in her sunshine and trying to figure out how to keep her from becoming like me.  The signs were already there, she’s very much like I was at her age and I hated seeing it. I wanted to conquer The Thing so she wouldn’t have to. We got a cat. We went camping. I started trying to repair my relationship with my husband. I was depressed, in a low-level-functioning, blank kind of way. I got The Tee out, which made me happy for about five minutes until my inbox started to fill with hate mail.

Then one day, while reading Gawker comments (of all things), I read a throwaway line about how someone’s mother might be Aspergers, that it shows up very differently in women than men. I was intrigued and turned to google. I like to collect information about the variety of the human condition, and somehow I’d missed this one. I thought I’d do some interesting, diversionary research. As I settled in to read the first page that came up, something happened. This wasn’t a piece of light google research at all, this page was a mirror. I read there in that list all my everything lined up next to each other, with nothing left out. The weird medical ailments I’d given up mentioning to doctors (that I now know is all Sensory Processing Disorders), my specific failures (dropping out of college, losing friends as soon as they got to know the “real me”) and weak points (I am exceedingly clumsy, and that one problem I’ve always failed at fixing has a name- Executive Function), my strong points (tenacity), my gifts (I think in vivid, visual, synesthetic ways), my secrets (my reading comprehension is so poor that long ago I learned I had to read something 3-6 times before I had a hope of catching the meaning. As a gifted student, I simply learned to read faster and repetitively and shut up about it because grades were one of the few avenues I had to get approval). A few things didn’t fit, and I rejected others out of hand that later I understood were things I do actually do. I cried, and cried, and cried. Then I was done crying.  I was done raging.

I read the list to my husband without a preface, and he thought it sounded like something written about me. He reeled that back when I told him that means I’m autistic. He knows me better than any person on this earth, I’ve shown him more of myself and the things I struggle with than I ever showed any other person, and I trust his judgement over mine because he’s usually right about things. I needed him to help me sort this out. We took a few days to read separately and think, and even took some online Autism quizzes together to compare our scores. The big long 100-odd question quiz that spits out charts shaped like webs made us both laugh as we read out questions and answered aloud “Of course ——,” only to discover the other person put the opposite answer. By the end, without looking at our results, he tentatively agreed with me that autism was worth investigating. I made an appointment to see my counsellor to get a referral for diagnostics. She wouldn’t be back from holidays for a few weeks, so I had to wait.

Sometimes I thought “Yes! This is The Thing! It’s only autism, after all! I can work with this!” and other times I thought “No, you’re insane, you can’t be autistic, what does that mean, who am I, why are you still on this earth?” I read a few blogs by Aspies and felt a powerful connection to the lived experiences expressed there, and I read a book called Aspergirls that resonated with me, but I also didn’t want to queer my diagnostics from over-reading. So I tried to stay away from the blogs and books to work on my growing Tidepool Collection concept.

I was always a fearful, anxious child growing up, prone to panic attacks. My father taught me how to conquer my fears, to grab hold of them and to face them because living in fear of something means we live a life that’s smaller than it should be. That’s how I overcame fear of heights, fear of small spaces, fear of deep water, fear of people, fear of leaving my luggage behind on accident while traveling overseas, aversion to hand dryers- through exposure, grabbing onto the fear and realising my fear was more detrimental to me than the thing I feared. This is how I handled my uncertainty in this case. I sought out a local Aspergers adults group and decided to go to an upcoming meeting on women in autism, with a special guest speaker from Denmark.

The morning of the meeting, I was so nervous I threw up twice. But I was determined to see for myself, to face things, one way or the other. It helped that the meeting was at a big library on one of my usual routes through the city, so I didn’t have to think about how to get there. I dressed nicely for the meeting, as is my habit when meeting new people. I went through my ritual of putting on makeup, checking my hair, and making sure I was well-put-together from shoes to hairpins before leaving the house. I thought “At least I’ll know, and if I don’t fit there, it’s just one more group where I don’t fit in, no big deal.” The library has a large open square in front of it, and it was pretty full of students and families that morning. I walked to the doors and suddenly two young men approached me, letting the girls in front of me pass by. “Are you here for the Aspergers meeting?” one of them asked me. I nodded and they showed me to the meeting room. Later I found out that many people on the spectrum can “pick it” in other people, which is how they spotted me despite my normal-person veneer.

I don’t know what I expected to find in that room, but I was shocked at how familiar it felt. The motions of the bodies, the way one guy paced around at the edge of the room, the guileless friendliness, the butterfly-hopping conversations about engines and physics and conspiracy theories, the gesturing hands felt to me like I walked into a family reunion. The only thing missing was a Roman-candle war. I still can’t think of any other way to describe that moment, I was dumbfounded to walk into a room of strangers and to suddenly feel so at home. I’d never felt at home like that in Australia. This is not my life, this is not the way walking into a room of strangers usually feels. I sat and chatted with a young man, discovering that most of the people in the room can’t drive, either. Then the speaker moved to the front of the room and I was lost in her words. She’s from Denmark, raised by a single mother, and was diagnosed at 16 but other than that, much of what she said struck me to my core and spoke to my own experiences in life. I couldn’t believe it. This doesn’t happen to me, feeling like I belong in the space I’m taking up. I went home that day secure in the knowledge that whatever I was, whatever the diagnosis, I liked these people and got along with them. That felt like a massive win, I’ve been lonely for a long time.

I met a woman that day who has become a treasured friend, a real reciprocal woman-friend who doesn’t seem to bring along the confusing baggage that other women friends often do. She’s not my keeper, or my counselor, or my mother-stand-in, or someone who takes pity on me or is jealous of me or who wants anything from me. She’s just my friend. When I’m down, she knows exactly how to help me up, and I do my best to help her in the same way. I’ve learned more about myself from her and from our friendship than I ever did in any book or doctor’s office. I’m really grateful for her friendship.

After that, I got my referral and then went to the Attwood Clinic to be checked. The meetings showed me what I needed to see, but I also wanted to be formally checked out and know one way or the other what was the source of The Thing. Before the appointment, to quell my anxiety I went through my mental-health-meeting checklist and made sure I was very well groomed, clean, nicely dressed, well-made-up. I knew it wasn’t “Aspie” to dress well, but it is a very ingrained habit and I really could not stop myself doing it. If I’m uncomfortable about a situation, I compensate by being as well-presented and prepared as I can be. My husband came along and was also interviewed, I took a test, I was asked questions, though some of them seemed to come at random and I felt my mind go blank.  I’d grope around mentally for a minute before finding the answer, feeling embarrassed I’d fumbled.  I was there for hours and hours. Later on, riding home, I went back through the whole thing and berated myself for showing my glitches. I always do that- rewind, look for what I did wrong, berate myself so I would get better. Then I stopped and had to wonder if those random questions were meant to make me glitch. Then I stopped berating myself for glitching.

They told me I’m on the autism spectrum, Autism Level 1, and what that means- I am high-functioning autistic.  Though that sounds nice and mild, or maybe fun it isn’t always. It means that when I’m functioning at my best, I can pass for a normal smart person, perhaps a trifle quirky if you look close. It doesn’t really speak to the worst, though, the way I have to carefully avoid bright light or face days of migraines/a meltdown. The way I spent most of my life feeling like some sort of alien dropped onto the wrong planet (Wrong Planet, I later found out, is the name of one of the largest online autistic communities). It doesn’t speak to the days where I’m so “out to sea” that I can’t remember how to get dressed (pants go on the bottom half, shirts go up above) or how to speak to the people around me properly. “High-Functioning” says little about the way I always have social hangovers from interactions with other humans. Even when I enjoy the interaction, I always have to pay for it later. I’ve built it into my life, accepted that as part of the way I am even before diagnosis. The clinician did not recommend me for disability (that wasn’t why I went there, anyway), because I have two very important people in my life who help me make up for my shortcomings- my husband, and Susan Katz, Cake’s Editor. I was told to trust them, to go home and work on my business, to engage with the autistic community, to self-monitor my high and low times in a more intelligent fashion, and to read up.

So that’s what I did, with an enthusiasm about life that I’d not felt for a very very long time. I felt like maybe life was worth trying to live well, instead of a sentence to be endured. I felt so much anger and rage I’d been carrying around leave me. I’d tried so many ways to get rid of that anger, I knew it seeped into the rest of my life and poisoned everything, but I could never quite root it up, only cover it over. Then it was gone, replaced with a better understanding of who I am and what I have to offer and how that fits with the rest of society. We moved to the countryside, and that also had a dramatic positive effect on my health. It’s silent here, I look out over seas of treetops and hear the birds. In our old house, I remember sometimes sitting on the floor rocking and crying and not knowing why I was falling apart as the sounds of a busy city invaded my house- traffic, sirens, children screaming, neighbors looking after their lawns. Here, I can think. I can focus. My baseline anxiety levels have dropped to almost nothing.

With Susan’s input and support, I re-arranged the way we work on Cake to help me work with my strengths rather than against my weaknesses. We settled into something of a regular work-day, hammering out the new designs. I built home/family/personal care routines for morning and evening, slowly taking on more responsibilities and fitting them into the day. I found out that the Loss of Reason that had so terrified me is something called Autistic Burnout, which means an autistic person is so stressed and overloaded, they begin to lose functionality that they’ve built up. It’s like an overloaded electrical grid that has brownouts, or even blackouts. I still don’t feel like I am at the place I was before I started getting sick, in terms of functionality. Over the past year, sometimes we had to halt the work for a few days or weeks at a time so I could rest. I would never have permitted this before, but now I know that’s what I have to do and I submit. It’s taken my body and guts longer than expected to recover, as well, and I’m still working on building my physical strength and stamina to something like a 30 year old woman instead of a frail old lady.

But most importantly, I find myself in a place where I’m engaged with life. I’m taking care of my family well, taking care of myself, growing as a human being, and work doesn’t occupy the same misplaced priority that it did. I’m much more relaxed with other people, and feel more secure in myself. I think I made friends with my in-laws (that’s a big deal).  I don’t want to die any more. It’s taken a lot of work, a lot of honesty, and a lot of courage, but my relationship with my husband is as close and loving as it was when we got married. Perhaps even more so. I don’t let work dominate my evenings and weekends anymore, so I have a lot more time to spend cooking delicious food and hanging out with my little daughter. I’m not so terrified of ruining her now. If she has my proclivities, my mental architecture, no amount of self-flagellation will change that because it’s already in her blood- she just needs my love and care, maybe some of my coping mechanisms, but not my baggage.

But one thing still haunts me from that time when I was sick with “reflux.” If you’re reading this, it’s likely you read my public meltdown on a big blog, just before I disappeared from the internet. I’m not going to link to it, because the whole thing makes me feel disgusted. When I started this blog, I very deliberately created a persona of myself to use for writing, blogging, and socializing. It grew into my real-life work persona, too. I did this because long experience has taught me that most people prefer me best when I play a character of myself, than if I am actually myself. The common advice of “Just be yourself and everything will be fine, treat others as you’d like to be treated” does not apply to people like me, it seems more like a very cruel joke. StephC is an amalgamation of several characters I play, mixed and melted together so that anyone who already knew me and read my blog would still recognise “me.” I didn’t do this to be dishonest, I did this because this is the way I know to best get along in the world, to best connect with other people. (Incidentally, this is a very common Aspie woman coping mechanism called “masking.”) I worked very hard on my StephC persona, to keep my worst traits out of her while still being true to who I am as a person. I strove to be sincerely kind and helpful, while being truthful, to approach the sewing and blogging with transparency, showing my processes and inviting you into my mind. It was really useful, approaching the writing through StephC’s eyes and always looking for positive or useful techniques and ideas to post. I always feared in the back of my mind that one day I would Mess Up Bad, just like always happens. I had some little slip-ups, mostly because I tend to mirror people and that means if a person is a Jerk, they get Jerk handed right back to them, usually even if I try my hardest not to do it. Those didn’t worry me too much. I did pretty well (for me) for years.

Then some blogger wrote a week of posts about what garbage my work is, despite the fact she got a pretty decent dress out of my pattern. Big deal. Most of the time, I’d laugh that off and move on, considering her attractive dress the best kind of revenge. I couldn’t let it go, though. It galled me. Now, I put this down to my fading Reason, and being overworked. For about a month, it ate away at me. Then one afternoon, when I’d been up for several days and also had a cold on top of the attacks, I lost my restraint. That wasn’t the right thing to do, I know that. I should have left it alone, but I didn’t. I said a lot of things I’d been holding onto for a long time, a lot of resentment, and frankly quite a lot of things that had very little to do with the situation in front of me. I’m going to be very careful here, because I’m not sorry for having those thoughts and feelings. I’m sorry I let them go in such an inappropriate, unproductive, and public fashion. You shouldn’t have to see that. Not even Blogger McCuteDress deserves to have to see that.

In the weeks and, yes, months that followed, I endured a prolonged deluge of truly nasty hate-mail in my inbox, to the point where hearing my inbox alert tone set my pulse racing. I was called names, accused of sexism, racism, ageism, pretty much everything except eating babies. When I checked my website stats, I saw that my meltdown caused unprecedented traffic on my sites. Truly. Nothing, not a single good or useful or interesting thing I’d ever done had driven as much traffic as me losing my temper for an hour. This disgusted me, all of it disgusted me for a long time. I’ve been in the online sewing community enough to know how much pride is taken in what a kind and supportive community we are, and I took those numbers as a sign of exactly the opposite. I was disgusted and disillusioned. That was hate-traffic. That and the mean spirited emails that hounded me while I was already wishing to be dead gave the lie to the myth of utopia, to me. Every time I would start to write a blog post, I’d think about that and go find something better to do with my time. Why should I bother, when it’s such an effort anyway? If I wanted to be read, I’d been shown very clearly the best way to get that attention. It wasn’t through hard work or consistency, it was to be a big bratty bitch. I don’t want to be that way, though, I’m not that person except in times of extreme stress. So I left it.

I struggled with this for a long time, because I am nothing if not a sincere person. I would not dishonour you by issuing some kind of fill-in-the-blanks bullsh*t apology, as was suggested to me by several people. I also felt like my thoughts on the subject wouldn’t be heard. So I shut up and kept working. It’s only recently, in going over and over the topic that I started to understand something. In the aftermath, I felt resentful that all my hard work and helping people had been disregarded like it was nothing. An outburst like that was very out of character for me and a serious symptom of my life going completely off the rails, yet no one seemed to wonder if I was in trouble. I guess it was more fun to kick me while I was down. It seemed to be assumed by many that this enraged being was “really Steph” and somehow I’d just faked everything else for years and years. I suppose that’s partially true, but it was especially poisonous because I’d actually learned the opposite through being StephC, I’d learned to look harder for positive reactions and logical answers, to be more patient and thoughtful. I’d fed my good traits steadily through blogging and it made me a better person, made it easier to live with The Thing, because finally I found a way to connect with others- through the cloth.

And somehow, somewhere, while thinking about this, I started to turn those thoughts inside out. I thought that perhaps the way I felt let down by the community falling short of its ideals might be how I made you feel that day about me, about my work, about what I do. I let you down when I lost it, I hurt you, possibly disgusted you. I’m genuinely, from the bottom of my heart, very sorry about that. I’m sorry I hurt you, I’m sorry if I embarrassed you, I’m sorry if I disgusted you. I know this happened a while ago, but it’s been on my mind to write this ever since I had that epiphany. I needed time to find words to express these things and I also didn’t want to come out with this randomly with my hands empty and nothing to show for myself. I also realized that in the same way I felt rejected despite the hard work I’d done, I was rejecting the sewing community on the whole for the actions of a few dozen frustrated individuals. That’s not fair, not at all, and I’m sorry I carried that resentment for such a long time. You don’t deserve it.

To everyone who sent me kind wishes for good health, and lovely notes in the past year, I want to say thank you.   Your kindness meant more to me at that time than I know how to express, and was and is very much appreciated.

Sharing Endeavours

Hey!  I’ve been a bit quiet the past couple of weeks, working and turning 30 and keeping a close eye on our tester’s group.  I’ll keep working on balancing my online/offline time so I can blog more regularly… It’s a little harder than I thought it might be…!  Our testing group on FB has been really busy, with new Pipi shells cropping up all over, I’m so pleased with how she’s testing so far.

And now it’s time to test the Endeavour Trousers!

You saw the Endeavour Trousers and Shorts when I asked for Pipi Testers earlier this month, I was being sneaky…

replica HMS Endeavour in Sydney, click for source

replica HMS Endeavour in Sydney

Endeavour is named after the ship James Cook sailed when he discovered strings of islands in the South Pacific, including New Zealand and Australia.  He named much of the coastline in my part of the world, and they say he “left nothing unattempted.”  I like that.  Endeavour seemed a fitting name for a sailor-y pants pattern, especially since for many sewists, pants sewing and fitting feels like a daunting undertaking.

I want to change that.  Months ago, a client emailed me about my old pants block service… I stopped doing the blocks once Cake took over my life, but her email set me obsessing over making a pants pattern.  Of course they’d be “K.Hep” style trousers!

I spent a few weeks going through the stacks of custom blocks I made over the years and digging around in my waist-hip ratio numbers.  I still get emails regularly from that survey and have thousands of data points.  I went back over my Hummingbird Skirt notes-to-self on ways to improve the Cup Sizes for Your Derriere, then I drafted a pair of wide-leg trousers in my nearest base size to test out the design in my head.

They were just the thing- the drape, the angle of the pocket, the yoke.  The first few Sailor fronts were various shades of dreadful, but I got where I wanted eventually… Then I drafted the rest of the bases.

Picture 23

The pattern is finished now, time to test her!  Endeavour comes with two views- Sailor and Darling.  Darling is named in honor of Grace Darling, the lighthouse-keeper’s daughter who fired the imaginations of Victorian-era England with a daring rescue at sea.  She really deserves her own post.

Darling view has a side zipper and button loop waistband closure. Her flat front slips smoothly below other tops, but the seaming keeps it interesting if you wear a shorter top or tuck in a blouse.  It’s also ripe for piping or topstitching. I made this version in a handkerchief-weight linen-cotton chambray, as a counterpoint to the very heavy red denim Sailor Endeavours.  Her hem is intentionally short here, because I often find myself walking on wet ground and this pair is for me to wear into rags.

Both Darling and Sailor views are intended to sit at the natural waist, with a relatively straight silhouette from the front.  The fullness is thrown toward the cf and cb of the leg rather than the side seam, which is my favorite shape for this type of trouser.  I didn’t custom draft these, I used my size/shape as written in the pattern and altered according to the instructions.  My hip measurement is 37″-falling between Endy sizes.  I used a 40 hip base and fit intuitively at the side seams, giving me this smooth, smooth fit.

Endeavour sizing is similar to the Hummingbird Skirt.  Each base size is a hip measurement- 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55 inches.  I added in the 30 base, as I’ve had many requests for smaller sizing.  I think it would also likely work well for teens/girls.  Each waist is tied to four different waist measurements.  This provides pattern pieces cut in 24 different shapes, with an alteration step in the pattern to fine tune the fit.  Each base was drafted and proportioned individually, not graded out from a single sample size.

I want to test all 24 shapes, as well as testing the pattern on some body shapes that don’t fall neatly into the Endy sizing.  I had a great response from our current group of Cake testers, but I would like to add another dozen or so volunteers to lend a hand and round out the sizes/shapes.  I have room in every size, and especially hope to hear from those in the 30″ hip range.

If you’d like to lend a hand, you’ll need to have a Facebook account.  I hate to have that as a requirement, but testing together as a private group has been really good.  I want to test all of the shapes/sizes while preserving your privacy, so let me know your waist and hip and facebook email address in the form below to volunteer as a tester (no need to post measurements in comments):

It’s alright if you haven’t sewn trousers before, but it’s a good idea if you know your way around the sewing machine at least a bit.  I’ll send out invites in the next day or two, you can join the group and have a look around.  Then you will receive a paper copy of the Endeavour Trousers & Shorts pattern by post next week, and we’ll try to get the testing sewn up before the holiday season is upon us!

What do you think?  What patterns are your TNT trousers?  What do you look for in a good pair of pants? (I hear you giggling, England!)

Testing Pipi & The Shells

Last week, I requested help testing the fun-but-odd Sea Star Tunic, part of the upcoming Tidepool Collection.  Thanks so much for your response!  Our testing in the FB group sort of broke out into a Sewalong this week, and it’s been really good to explore the design with everyone! It’s still in progress and I’m still on the fence about whether she’s a good addition to the Cake catalog, but it’s been really lovely to share the sewing through the group. More on that later!

Meanwhile, I have another pattern ready to test!  This is the Pipi Shell- the first of a series of Shell patterns.  While Sea Star is a bit of a love-it-or-hate-it design, the Shells are more like ordinary clothes.  I like that, making clothes.  I learned to sew to make costumes, pretty dresses, weird stuff I couldn’t find anywhere outside my imagination.  Somewhere along the line, I accidentally fell into sewing knits and realized how satisfying it is to stitch up little tops and things I could wear over and over and over again.
It can be really challenging to create clothing that doesn’t scream “home made” to non-sewists.  I find the simpler the garment, the harder this can be.  Part of this is due to the industrial machines/practices used to make mass-produced clothing, and part of this is the techniques and fabrics used by the sewist/pattern.  Earlier this year, I started obsessing over creating the perfect knit sleeveless top.  I spent weeks playing with different arm shapes and techniques, working to make a tank top in my sewing room that looked like clothes– but better.

Ready-To-Wear (RTW) tank tops can be problematic.  In my experience, they’re often too long or too short, the material is too thin, or the top leaves me feeling exposed.  That’s not to mention the fact that most “fast fashion” of the tank-top variety is made under questionable ethics and labor practices.  Where I live, the temperature doesn’t dip below freezing, and most of the year is pretty balmy (or gasping hot).  I researched RTW tanks for a while in scores of local shops, at all price points.  There’s no shortage of tanks around here!  I took note of necklines, arms, finishes and problem spots.  I realized that the vast majority across the brands were made from a handful of boring bases, with the variety in design coming from fabric choice and embellishments rather than interesting cuts.

Slowly, I developed the Shell concept, a set of design specs for some knit tank top patterns:

    • No bra showing– I don’t have words to express how much I hate it when my bra shows.  That means bra straps, underarm bra, any of it.  I also wanted to work on covering underarm squidge, which so often overflows RTW tanks.
    • Breezy- Like I said, it’s usually hot here, so I wanted the Shells to balance “no bra” with as much breeziness as possible.  That means low-ish backs, open necklines, and sometimes a shorter length.
    • Option for Coverage- I thought the Shells should have a plain back option, if not also a plain boat front.
    • Back Detail- I’ve always, always been a fan of nifty back details! I wanted details that were both eye-catching and integral to maintaining the structure of a low-back.
    • All the Neckline Shapes- Pipi is a curved-front v-neck, the back is steeper. Other Shells have Queen Anne, Square, Scoop and other shapes, neatly bound with self-fabric.
    • Length Options- Shells are built on Cake’s Grid Guide concept, which allows for very easy customization of length and width.
  • Easy Fitting- There’s an intuitive, particular way to adjust the base Shell to mold the armscye nicely around the arm, and it’s laid out clearly in the pattern.  I wanted this to work really well for all sizes, so Susan and I spent a few weeks batting arm-shapes back and forth.
  • Standalone/Layering- I thought the shapes should be tested and work on a variety of fabrics, from sweater knits for layering vests to cotton-spandex casual tops, to lightweight base layers.
  • Excellent Finishing- The arm holes use a very neat, easy to apply interior binding that leaves no seam bits exposed.
  • Hack Friendly- I made the Shells so it’s easy to lay one down on top of The Tee pattern to make a Tee with all the necklines!
Pipi Test10

No Bra! No Side boob!

Tall order, right?  Yes!  It was like a puzzle I couldn’t put down.   Pipi and her sisters are part of the reason I haven’t been blogging, I’ve been working to fit all those things into a little sleeveless top pattern!   I’m really delighted that Pipi (and others) are nearly complete now as patterns, and it’s time to test her on a wider variety of bodyshapes.  She’s been pre-tested quite a bit (we really obsessed over the arm shape and pulled in others to play!), but I want another solid round of testing before we release this new shape.

If you’re interested in testing Pipi with me and Susan, leave a comment on our FB page and/or message me with your FB-connected email address.  I’d like to have a dozen or so testers to work out any last kinks.  We’ll ship you a paper Pipi next week, and I’ll add you to the private Cake Testing Group where we can chat, discuss the sewing, and see what everyone is working on.

What criteria would you add to the list for your perfect sleeveless top?  What is the thing you look for and never find, your sleeveless “holy grail”?

Quest for the Unfinished Medallion

Woohoo, thanks for the great response to the Sea Star on Friday!  I really appreciate everyone who offered to explore the tunic; I have another little pattern ready for us to test quite soon!

Blazing Down a Snail Trail

In the meantime, today is the day for quilt-chatter… Remember this from, like, three years ago?

After I finished the fussiest blocks for this block-of-the-month (those melons!), I laid it out and utterly loathed what I saw.  I couldn’t figure out why I disliked it, I’d seen many versions of this design as my quilty friends stitched it and liked most of them. But no matter how many times I looked at mine, I hated it.  That killed the project for me.  I put the blocks and fabric away in a drawer, shaking my head over the “waste” of time and fabric, not sure what to do with them.  Oh, the guilt!


I found them when we moved, and decided it was time to make these blocks into a pretty quilt for my new bedroom.  I removed the big center block (I decided the orange wasn’t working for me…) and pondered what could fill that space.  I always liked Compass blocks and thought one might make a great feature.  I used the Surveyors Compass from here, sized up to a 12″ square.

When I play with quilt blocks, I like to know what to expect in the final design. It can be really difficult if you aren’t working from a pattern. So I like to take a photo with my camera, making sure it’s straight-on and the block is square.  Then I crop it and feed the photo into a collage app, rotating the pieces so they match up correctly.  (Instacollage works fine for me.) It’s not a 100% accurate method, but it’s a lot of fun!  It’s way easier and quicker than sketching or laying out every block.

I decided to use the black and white and green blocks with the compass to make a new design, leaving aside all mention of that orange.

The Compass background fabric is the same as the other fabric, it just hasn’t been handled as much. They look the same except in photographs?

It’s amazing how rotating the blocks can give a completely different design, like a kaleidoscope.

This was my favorite, but it still didn’t delight me as a good quilt should…

I added in some small scrappy starburst squares (whole ‘nother post!). I liked this better, but Stephen suggested that part of the appeal of Susan’s design was the strict color palette. Drat, I could see his point.

I kept casting glances at those fiddly melons, and tried using the intended layout with my compass.   I do like the shape they make framing the center block, it echoes the compass points beautifully. I stepped back and thought “Hey! A little touch of orange isn’t so bad!”  I’m considering stitching the full Compass block with just a bit of orange so the design pops better than it does with the “meh” black-on-white print that makes up the compass’ circle…

I’m pretty pumped about this project now! Sometimes it can be really hard to figure out what element of a project isn’t working, and what to use instead. I find that’s what usually turns a project into a UFO for me, that creative uncertainty. I’ll make up a few more blocks over the next month or so to fill in the corners and make up the size I need- probably more styles of compasses, or maybe some sort of black and white animals…

What’s your latest UFO? What halts a project for you? How’s my orange, think I should put it into the compass block or leave it alone?


Would You Like to Vionnet?

Hey!  Thanks for all your lovely messages and support this past week!


Madeleine Vionnet is kind of hot lately, have you noticed that?  The Vionnet label is putting out new designs, Vionnet was in the Great British Sewing Bee, and some amazing articles on her work are popping up like this one from The Culture Concept.  I think it’s about time!

click to view on the Kyoto Costume Institute digital archives- amazing resource!

As many writers have noted, Vionnet is one of the least appreciated designers of the 20th century.  She began dressmaking as an 11-year-old apprentice in Paris at the beginning of the century and was a contemporary to Chanel.  They shared a passion for designing clothes that allowed for freedom of movement and freed women from fussy, restrictive fashions.  Each forged her own route to that goal.  Much of Chanel’s work centered on uniformity (hello, inventor of the LBD), manly tailoring, and sportswear.  Her influence transformed women’s fashion and ushered in the modern age of dressing.

Vionnet handkerchief dress 1920

By contrast, Vionnet took inspiration from the flowing, sensual garments found in Classical Art.  Her gowns were soft, and her influence on modern dressing was subtler than Chanel’s but no less pervasive.  Vionnet believed that the fabric and the cut should be a beautiful enhancement of the wearer’s expression and movements:

“When a woman smiles, her dress must smile with her.”-wiki

Her designs are often described as “cut on the straight, hung on the bias.”  Vionnet achieved her vision through combining bias cut and simple geometric shapes, though she was quick to dismiss anyone who accused her of inventing the bias cut.  She was more of a doting Aunt, who also popularized the cowl neck and halter tops.  Vionnet’s dresses were also expertly finished and detailed, and she signed each dress with her own thumbprint as the label.

Months ago, I re-discovered this Threads article on Vionnet and Betty Kirke.  Betty had the chance to meet Vionnet before her death, and to rummage through her wardrobe to take patterns.  Imagine!  Betty’s book is on my reference-book-wishlist.  Reading Betty’s account of the magic of pulling on a Vionnet dress, I found myself wanting to make up a Vionnet design.  I was particularly fixated on this one:

click for source

click for source

I started out just printing the pieces from the .jpg and gluing them together- I couldn’t understand how it worked and I needed to.  The intriguing paper puzzle progressed to scale models.  I had to wonder if the twisting squares would translate well to a tunic length.  I really, really wanted to wear a design from Vionnet’s mind, if not from her fingertips.  A full-length dress from this would use a lot of fabric and be hard to handle, so I decided to try a tunic.

StephC Cake Sewing Room 1

Several muslins later, I’d balanced the hem points to my liking, made a multi-size pattern, and cut one from striped jersey.

Picture 3

I didn’t take it off (practically) for weeks, months.  I don’t know why I liked it. I don’t generally wear sheathy-sacks-with-fluttery-bits. But I loved it.  When the weather turned chilly, I wore it with leggings and a chunky sweater.  Now it’s warmer, I can leave those off if I stay out of a stiff breeze…
Sea Star Tunic 2

I really like the pintucked, cowl neckline at front and back.

Sea Star Tunic 7

It’s much prettier than the diagram, the pintucks are my own little flourish.  On the pattern, I also added in a hidden pocket.  I want to make another one just a touch smaller through the body, I think it’s just a little too wide through the front shoulders.

Sea Star Tunic 1

The pattern has sat on my computer since then, gathering digital dust.  It’s a large pattern, with two big pieces cut twice.  The cutting and the instructions are very particular, but not difficult.

They are unconventional insructions, very strange.  I told myself the pattern was too large, too weird to pursue as a pattern for release, and got to work on some other things.

Yet I found myself reaching for this tunic so often, I had to admit it had become cake to me.

I’d love to release this tunic as a pattern, but I wonder if you would like that?  I wonder if the construction is too other-worldy.  I wonder if I should make six sizes or three… I wonder if you’d feel what I do when I wear it?  I want to make another one or two for summer, and I thought it’d be a good time to try some pattern testing on the Sea Star Tunic.

Sea Star Tunic 11

If you like her or she piques your fashion-historian curiosity, if you have the time to sew her, and you’re not afraid of something a bit weird (but delicious!), let me know!  I created a secret group testing pool for the upcoming Cake Tidepool Collection, and I’d like to try this one out first. I can add you to the group via the Cake Facebook Page.

We’ll send you either a printed or .pdf printshop copy, the instructions, and I’ll be posting the construction of my next Sea Star Tunic next week for your reference.  You’ll need 1.5-2.2 m of a soft, drapey woven or knit fabric.  I made sizes 35, 45, and 55.  In theory, the bias should expand and drape to suit sizes between, but I haven’t tested this.  Would you like to help?

I was leaping around to get away from a stinging fly, and husband caught this photo, shows the motion well... and heheh!

I was leaping around to get away from a stinging fly, and husband caught this photo, shows the motion well… and heheh!

ETA: Thank you so much for the massive response for testers! We have a good solid group of varying body types and experience levels, and based on the response already I think this will definitely be a future release!  I have several other patterns that are in need of wider testing, keep an eye out here for the next few…!

If you’d like to see some other blogger riffs on Vionnet, check out Leimomi’s Chiton Dress (I soooo want one!) and Cathy’s excellent exploration of the Handkerchief Dress.  Have look at Lizzy’s charming Saiph Dress too if you haven’t already- reading her post encouraged me to go ahead and embrace my fluttery sack tunic.

eta: Fehrtrade quickly tweeted me that I’d left out her VNA top– a really wearable take on Vionnet’s cutting style!

Do you ever play with Vionnet?  Leave me a link if you’ve blogged it or want to share a particular Vionnet dress you love!

What do you think?  Want to play?




Monday Quilting: Felix The Fox Den Pillow

When we moved, I culled my sewing room. I could have brought 7 years’ worth of sewing flotsam and jetsam into our new home, but I welcomed the opportunity to purge. Oddly, I found it most difficult to part with my quilt scrap stash. I decided to keep my “blue & white” stash, my “rainbow” stash, and Lila’s baby/toddler clothes for quilting.  I also allowed myself to keep the several dozen finished blocks I discovered while culling.  Everything else was binned or re-homed.

In the process of clearing out the dross, I got excited about rendering these shards of pretty fabrics into Beautiful Things we could enjoy around the house.  I thought I’d share a bit of my weekender quilting every Monday around here, how’s that?


He keeps his skull collection on the mantel, picked up in the field and kept after cataloging and cleaning.

This is our family room/Stephen’s work-den. He works from home, too.  In our old place we shared a much smaller room for work/sewing/stashing his camping, fishing, field and painting gear. I like this room; it’s as cozy, comfy and interesting as he is. I thought it would be nice to start here with a few pillows and eventually a throw to enhance (but not change) the den-feel of his space.  Then I can move on to other rooms…

Picture 5

I found Felix the Fox on Shape Moth while looking for 6″ animal blocks.  He’s 10″ and detailed, but I still wanted to call him into being. Stephen liked him, too, so I whipped up Felix over the weekend.

As a little girl, I was a keen pillow quilter. I liked the symmetry and order of quilt blocks, and the magic of making lovely things from tiny scraps of fabric. I did not, however, have the attention span to make more than one or two of the same square, so I made pillows. My seams were variable at best, and I stuffed them without much thought for durability. Those pillows had a tendency to leak fluff through split pieced seams if I used them as pillows, very disappointing.

Now that I’m a grown up pro crafty lady, I know how to make much nicer finished pillows that I can use. With Felix, I used batting, backing, and a side zip. Like a boss:

Once I finished paper-piecing the square, I layered fusible Pellon behind Felix. It is nice and secure once fused. Pillows are a great way to use ordinary quilt batting scraps, too, though it needs to be pinned or basted. I added an extra layer of Pellon to make the center square more prominent, and added a backing fabric.

Then I pinned a bit along the brown border to secure the layers. I used a regular foot to quilt Felix, starting at the border seam. This worked fine because it’s a very small bit of quilting, fused together. I echoed the square in a sort of spiral-with-corners, using the edge of my foot to space the lines evenly. Then I traced the edges of Felix’s body and his different colors with a line of stitches. Originally, I thought I’d heavily quilt the background, but I stopped here because he seemed quite charming enough. Then I squared off the edges of the block/batting/backing sandwich.

After that, I inserted an invisible zipper along one side of the block, joining it to the pillow back. Again, I didn’t use anything special, just my regular invisible zipper foot. Then I stitched the rest of the pillow front to the back, trimmed the corners, and turned.  I pressed and steamed the whole pillow before adding the pillow form. If/when I do this again, I’ll use a longer invisible zipper because it was hard to insert the form. I won eventually, though! I used a 10″ invisible zip on a 15″ square pillow, but 12″ would be easier.


Voilà! I smile every time I see Felix, and while the second layer of batting is subtle I think it gives a nice effect, a little like embossed tin:


Do you make quilt pillows? Any tips for including the men in your life in the quilty-sewy endeavours? Have you made Felix before, or another paper-pieced animal? What was the hardest thing to let go of last time you culled the sewing room?

My 2014: Movement and Shaking It Up

Hey!  It’s been almost a year since my last post, and even longer since I lost the habit of regular updates here.  It’s been too long!

I cut my hair, lost weight, and lately I like a pink or berry lip...

I cut my hair, lost weight, and lately I like a pink or berry lip…

I had to step away, blogging became too hard to maintain as I struggled with a physical illness and mental exhaustion.  After surgery, I found it difficult to get up and get better. I opted to take my time to let life settle before poking my head back out into the world of blogging and social media. Thanks so much for your words of support during that difficult time, your notes meant more to me than I can express.  My family and I faced a lot of changes this year, most of them very good!

The biggest change we made was a move from Brisbane to a quiet house in the country, in northern New South Wales.  We were offered a chance to rent/caretake this lovely property and jumped at the opportunity.  It’s been a fantastic move for all of us, we really needed a change.

My husband is working on landcare projects, planting gardens and writing papers.

I have a big, quiet sewing room all to myself, and my daughter loves that we’re just down the road from her beloved Nan and Grandpa.

The furriest change we made this year was adopting our first pet!  This is Arya, found at the RSPCA on Lila’s birthday.  Lila loved her at first sight. Arya turned out to be one of the sweetest kitties I’ve ever known! She creeps into the edges of my sewing pictures and videos, and I’m sure will be a regular around here.

3 Hours Past

Every day now, I wake up and look out over the trees outside my window and think to myself- Stephanie, now you really are 3 hours past the edge of the world!  Get back to blogging!  I did start an Instagram account, and it’s been a really fun way to keep in touch and share a little. I keep wanting to blog the way I used to before Cake Patterns took over my life- random thoughts, experiments, little projects, meditations in a quilt, design inspiration and art/fashion history.  But I wasn’t sure- can I do that?

Last week, I took Cake on the road and worked the Brisbane Quilt & Craft Show with Kylie from Voodoo Rabbit fabrics.  Every day, I talked to people about the sewing and taught hemming, v-neck binding, and buttonholes.  I caught up with friends in the bizz and old students, ooh’d and aaah’d over the Cake clothes proudly worn to the show.  I forgot how amazing it is to interact that way, the pure magic of putting a nifty technique into someone’s head and fingertips!  I missed that.  I missed you.

It’s time to blog again. I want to hear how you are, what you’re thinking about, and open up my creative universe like I used to.  You are all so inspiring and thought-provoking; your input always encourages me to dig deeper, try harder, and to see things from another perspective. If you’ve been reading for a while, you may find that 2014 changed me, but I hope you find it’s for the better.  I’m better.

This is my most recent project!  I brought this fabric home with me from the Show, I had to have it in my life.  I didn’t do anything special- folded the fabric in half with an invisible zip in one side, stitched the rest of it closed, and made tiny gusseted corners so it sits square.  Not too shabby for half an hours’ effort, I reckon.

Well, how are you?! What big things (or small ones) happened in your 2014? What was the last thing you stitched?

Finished Object: Hummingmisu (Giveaways, Too!)

Franken cake Hummingmisu Feature

I have another dress + 23 Skidoos outfit to show you!  This is a Hummingmisu Dress, a mashup of the Tiramisu skirt with the Hummingbird top.  I’ve been wearing this one since last July and while she’s definitely one of my favorites I haven’t had a chance to share her with you.

Hummingmisu Dress

Since yesterday was Halloween and since mixing pattern pieces to make a new design is called “Franken-Patterning,” I thought I’d dress up as Franken Cake for the holiday.  I’m also wearing a rad pair of holographic snakeskin foil print leggings.  In keeping with the holiday theme, Stephen took me to a cemetery near his office for photos.   The cemetery is a bright, cheerful place and actually very interesting- not scary at all.  In fact, with all the happy plastic flowers and the generally well-kept atmosphere it feels like a vital part of the community.

Brisbane is a new world city crouching on the edge of what might be called civilization.   Sydney is the nearest large city, 920km (572 miles) south.  To the west is Perth, 4300km (2700 miles).  North is Jakarta, 5415km (3365 miles).  Wellington lies 2500km (1550 miles) east.

This region has been a destination for immigrants (voluntary and involuntary) from around the world since the mid 19th century.  Even in death, it seems to me like immigrants to Queensland cling steadfastly to their home culture rather than melting together to create a new one.  Ethnic/immigrant groups here seem to form their own tight-knit enclaves (as opposed to mixing it up) and this extends into the afterlife.  I’m an immigrant but I don’t have an enclave like that. I kind of float around being weird and mostly that works for me.

Brisbane Cemetery

There’s cemetery sections in Chinese, Cyrillic, Vietnamese, and Arabic languages (and so much more).  This seems to be by custom rather than by design.   One country follows another and eerily, the cemetery’s layout roughly mimics world geography in terms of who is neighbors with whom. Dirt or asphalt pathways mark the divides between major religions and languages.  It’s peaceful but noisy, filled with the chattering voices of native parrots and other squawking birds and the strong scent of Brisbane’s early summer blossoms.  I kept forgetting I was a just a couple miles from my house.

Brisbane Cemetery...

The graves are built up from the ground kinda like New Orleans, and each section has very distinctive headstones and styles.  Some people/families have nice little brick sheds to house their remains, and there’s several massive mausoleums larger than my house.

Some headstones had little cupboards in them with whiskey and food inside, I suppose for the afterlife.  I plan to go back and spend some time exploring when I’m dressed more like a nerdy local history buff and less like a B-grade movie monster.  The cemetery was empty, except for a couple of workmen we passed on the way out.  You can see my write-up on the dress over at


Merino LBD Giveaway Cake Patterns sm

I’m so excited to give away some gorgeous pieces of merino jersey fabric this week!  It’s my birthday, and I want to send out some gifts.  If you’d like a chance to win your own LBD Kit, head over to sewingcake and enter!  I’ll choose winners after the giveaway closes on the 7th, and then get the presents out the door- I hope in time for the sewalong!

EspressoGiveaway Feature small

That’s not all!  I’m also giving away three separate lengths of yummy merino blends that are perfect for Espresso Leggings.  As part of the giveaway, I ask you to leave me a link to an obnoxious leggings fabric.  It’s so fun, I made a pinboard of your picks and a special section on the page under “Source” to display them.  Go check it out and add your pick!

What do you think of my Hummingmisu?  Can I break out the Franken-wig every time I make a FrankenCake dress?  Pleeeeeeeease?  Have you ever visited your local cemetery, and if so, what’s it like?

Finished Object: Two-Tone Red 23Skidoos

23Skidoos Tiramisu

At last! At long last, I have my two-tone red 23Skidoo shoes!  I noticed these shoes in an American Duchess teaser way back in January 2012.  Last November, I pre-ordered them with birthday money and was one step closer to the jewel toned oxford t-straps of my dreams.  Nearly a year later they’re finished, I think my 23Skidoo project must be fashion set to “tortoise!”

23Skidoos blank

The shoes arrived, carefully packed and pristine white.  I wore them a few times this way but decided I really wanted deep red/ “light” red coloring.  Blithely, I assumed I could take the shoes to a cobbler and have them dyed.  Not so much, apparently leather dyeing isn’t done in the same way one might have bridesmaids slippers dyed.

23Skidoos in progress1

Instead, I needed to paint the shoes.  I was really unsure about this process so I took my time, roughly six months, getting up the nerve to paint my lovely shoes.  After reading/watching the American Duchess shoe-painting tutorial, I bought two little pots of Angus leather paints- red and black.  I asked Lauren how to best achieve the dark red/”light” red effect and her suggestion was to tint some of the red paint with a few drops of black for the toe and heel caps.

23Skidoos in progress

Stephen and I settled in one evening to paint my shoes.  We’re both handy, painty people so found the work pleasant and different from other projects.  We started out wiping the shoes with Ethyl Acetate to remove any oils or finishing and to allow the paint to stick.

23 Skidoo Shoes in progress

Stephen chose a 1/2″ wide, flat brush with fine bristles.  When I saw how much better it worked than the coarser brush I started with, I switched.

23 Skidoo Paint

The first few layers of paint went on a little unevenly despite the change of brush and I was a little worried!  But after layer 3 or 4, I could see the colors would even out nicely and I relaxed.  Over a few weeks, I left the shoes out where I could see them and occasionally evened out the paint here and there.

23 Skidoo Finished

Then I varnished them with acrylic paint varnish and scotch-guarded for good measure.  I really love the effect of painted leather, I’ve had painted shoes before but didn’t realize it.  It looks like a picked up a tiny scuff!  I can tidy that up, I have my paints to touch it up and then I’ll re-varnish in a more aggressive manner.  I’ll gently roll the upper part of the shoe away from the base so I can paint away those flashes of white, too.  They’re not at all obvious until I wear the shoes…

23 Skidoo from above

I know American Duchess designs her shoes to be comfortable for all-day wear, and I tested it out myself.  I didn’t go to a re-enactment or a dance event (if only!), instead I wore these to work at a show on my feet almost the entire day.  They were great, really supportive and no blisters.  In fact they were great on day 3 after the other shoes I wore ate me up on day 2.  For reference, I have wider-than-average feet and a high arch.  The sides of the shoes are cleverly made so my feet don’t look like they’re overflowing, as can happen with me sometimes.

I’m really happy with the end result, though I do want to touch up a few places and varnish more heavily.  I tend to wear red as a neutral, so red shoes suit my wardrobe.  The two shades still read as a solid shoe while the tonality gives it a little more depth. I don’t think shoe-painting is on my list of “instant gratification” projects, but it is extremely satisfying to know I can paint shoes.  I’m already thinking about the next pair of painted shoes… What about delft-tulip patterned Gibons?  Like the shoes one might find on a delft-blue porcelain figurine.. ?

Here, I’m wearing the 23 Skidoos with my brand new Penelope Tiramisu dress and a Zebra Cuban heel seamed stocking.  Serious stockings, I love them and usually wear fun stockings for work.  The gallery, fabric specs and notes can be found on sewingcake.

I’d like to say many thanks to my local coffee shop Hallowed Grounds for letting us take photos!  Stephen and I had their delicious, refreshing iced cucumber-mint-apple juice that comes served with half a mint bush this time.  It smells so good!

What do you think?  Would you ever paint shoes, or have you?  How *great* is it to finish a UFO?  Who out there wears seamed stockings?

(I know I said before I’d be letting the blog go quieter as I work more on sewingcake, but I had to show you these, I’ve been harping on them for such a long time…!)

Red Velvet Shipping, Brisbane Show and Sewing Along!

No matter what I do, I just can’t seem to find the time to blog here the way I used to. I hope you don’t think I’m either lazy or uncaring, because it’s completely the opposite!  As much as I don’t want to quit writing here, it’s become much more important to work on pattern development (cake kids!  beginners!  woven RiFFs!) and to create sewing references at than to post regularly here.  I need to focus my online time at and on customer service for my Etsy shop.

Red Velvet Dress Hub

I’ve been building these lovely tabbed pages on sewingcake (Red Velvet Dress hub shown) to help make it easier to find inspiration, tutorials, fit help and sewcial groups related to each pattern.  I’m excited about this  because the site is finally beginning to match the sewing reference I had in my head all this time!  It’s a relief.  I’ll be working on pattern pages for the other releases, including RiFFs, over the next few weeks and soon we’ll be very organized indeed.

I also have plenty of “pre-sewalong” references to release, most of them focusing on the fabrics I used to sew my samples.  I haven’t really shown you everything that I’ve sewn from Red Velvet Collection yet, because I’m working on things like building this super-flash Red Velvet Sewalong and Sorting page:

Red Velvet Sewalong Header 3

We’ll have three Houses for this sewalong: Esme, Pearl and Penelope.  When you receive your Red Velvet Dress pattern in the mail, it will be in an oversized pink, red, or creamy envelope.  The colors are inspired by the colors of a red velvet cake!  Once you register and confirm via email, you’ll see the page for your House with the points and rules.  The prize is a $15 off prize code for everyone who is registered in the winning house.  The Red Velvet Dress, the Espresso Leggings, and the Red Velvet Clutch (mini too) will be included as acceptable “Finished Objects” with points awarded for finished objects!

I’m really passionate about getting everyone sewing and sharing the sewing experience.  That’s why I work to create a digital sewing space on Flickr during the sewalong.  Last sewalong, I added a couple of “progress” shots for extra points and I think it was a great way to show that there’s many ways to do the same thing well.  This time, I have a daily progress shot which will be worth a point each day.  I hope this takes some of the pressure off beginners to make a pile of completed garments and lets us catch a glimpse into someone else’s sewing!

Intro Prices for one last day!

The Red Velvet Dress, the Red Velvet Clutch and the Espresso Leggings are shipping to you this week!   As soon as the paper patterns ship, the prices will rise to $20, $10 and $10 respectively.  We’ll keep sending out Red Velvet Dresses in colored envelopes for the House Sorting until we run out.

I received the Australian box of patterns today and immediately processed them so I can send them off in short order.  I love the colors, it’s like I’m sending masses of valentines to you!  We’re coordinating the shipping so that the US, UK and AU orders fly away to your sewing rooms at the same time- right now it looks like Tuesday is the Drop Day!

Brisbane Craft & Quilt Fair

Cake for Voodoo Rabbit at the Brisbane Craft & Quilt Fair

Last Friday, I was asked to demonstrate at the Brisbane Craft & Quilt Fair.  The Fair starts this Wednesday, so I had very short notice…!  It’s a five day event, a great time to network and see what’s new and have fun with other crafty and sewy people.

I’ll be demonstrating Cake with Voodoo Rabbit (that’s the place where I teach)!  This is an excellent opportunity to get out and de-mystify knits for sewy and quilty Brisbane and I’m really excited!!  Each day I’ll be demonstrating apparel sewing techniques for 5-30 minutes on the hour.   I’ll cover topics such as the basics of knit fabrics and cutting, through self-fabric binding and stabilizing to knit hems and topics relating to woven fabrics as well, like my bulletproof invisible zipper lesson and “Parts of Fabric.”  I’ll be around between demonstrations to answer questions and chat, too!

It’s very, very likely I’ll be tweeting and Facebooking to an obnoxious extent during the fair, you’ve been warned!  If you’re planning to go to the Brisbane Craft & Quilt Fair, do come by and say hello!  I’ll be the American wearing Riley Blake striped Cake.

Red Velvet Fabric Choices

I’ve had some fabric questions lately about prewashing and weights that are appropriate for the RV dress/Espresso Leggings.  I’ll work through tips and tricks about particular types of fabrics and etc over the next few weeks but I wanted to address my philosophy towards pre-washing and washing in general:

If I can’t cram it into my washing machine with like colors on warm and then throw it on the washline/in the dryer, I will almost never wear the garment.  If I am not going to wear the garment, then the time I spent sewing it was wasted.  This is pretty much the bedrock of Cake’s design philosophy- making clothes to wear while living life.

If I buy a knit (say, linen) that says dry clean only, I throw it in the wash.  If it doesn’t survive, then I wouldn’t wear it anyway.  I have yet to ruin a knit fabric doing this.  If you’re very worried about shrinkage or changing the nature of the fabric, then wash a 4″ (10cm) square of the fabric and dry it to see what happens.

Please, please ask me questions here you may have about the Red Velvet Collection, it will help me prioritize the release of visual references on