Vintage TLC: Cotton Casual Dress

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Collecting vintage Barbie dolls and fashions can get very expensive, but it’s not impossible for collectors on a budget to join in the fun. All it takes is a little patience and willingness to do some restoration work on vintage items that have seen better days.

Over the summer, I picked up a few vintage Barbie dresses that were in pretty bad shape. We’re talking bad stains, tears, holes, and previous repairs that did not go well. In short, they were disasters that desperately needed some TLC. Luckily, I have plenty of TLC to give.

One of the dresses I bought is Cotton Casual #912, (1959-1962).

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This is a fairly common vintage Barbie dress, but it can still go for $25-35 if it’s in mint or near mint condition. That’s a little over my price limit, so I found one in TLC condition for $9.

Cotton Casual Front_Before

The front is in pretty sorry shape. The ribbons are frayed and no longer tied into bows and there’s a massive stain covering most of the skirt.

Then, there’s a hole in the bodice seam.

Cotton Casual Bodice Hole

The back of the dress sees a continuation of the same dark stain that plagues the front.

Cotton Casual Back_Before

On the plus side, the snaps are original and still secure, all hems have original stitching with no fraying, the gathered waist seam is intact, and the original Mattel tag is in place.

I know it looks bad, but a few little repairs transformed this dress from a stained mess to something bright and beautiful.

The Stain

This was the scariest part of the whole restoration process. The stain was dark and bled all the way through the fabric (it even went through the doubled up hem). At minimum the dress is 54 years old, so who knows what that stain is or how it got there.

I decided to try a basic stain removing sequence for vintage fabric. I soaked it in a mixture of water, baking soda, and hydrogen peroxide for two hours. Then, I set it out in direct sunlight until it dried,  (sunlight and hydrogen peroxide are gentle bleaching agents). I repeated this sequence four times and managed to get the stain to lighten several shades. Still, it wasn’t enough.

Finally, I soaked it one more time in Vintage Textile Soak for four hours. Then, I laid it out to dry inside (the package instructions warn not to put items in direct sunlight after using the product). This did the trick! The stain is nearly gone and only visible if you know where to look for it.

The Bodice Seam

The hole in the bodice seam was tricky in that it reached all the way down to the gathered waist seam. Repairing it with a running stitch would mean ripping out all the original stitching along the waist seam. Instead, I decided a simple whip stitch on the bodice seam inside of the dress would fix the hole just as well.

The Ribbons

In it’s original form, the ribbons on the bodice were tied into bows. Unfortunately, the ribbons on my dress have frayed to a length much too short to retie. To fix this, I had two choices: 1. Replace the ribbons with new ones 2. Attempt to sew the ribbons to look like bows.

I ended up going with Option 2, because I believe in keeping as much as the original dress in place as possible. I shaped each ribbon into a bow and sewed the center with a reinforced stitch. It took a few tries, but the result turned out better than expected.

After some patience, creative solutions, and a steam iron, my $9 Cotton Casual looks amazing…

Here’s, the front of the dress with restored bows and a repaired bodice seam. However, the biggest difference is the absence of that bad stain.

Cotton Casual Front After

The back of the dress looks just as good. The stain is mostly gone!

Cotton Casual Back After

Who knew a little TLC could go so far … My Bubblecut Barbie is looking pretty good in her Cotton Casual dress.

Cotton Casual Doll After

This is just the beginning! The restoration process is ongoing with several other TLC vintage fashions. Stay tuned!

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c.b.w. 2016

Poetic Strategy

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Last night, my husband asked me out of the blue, “How do you write your poetry?” Well, that’s a loaded question! It largely depends on what kind of poetry I’m writing.

My chosen forms of poetry are haiku, black out, and free verse. It’s no accident that each of the forms has a certain amount of freedom and spontaneity involved. I like the concept of having no idea what a poem is going to be until it is finished. Perhaps it’s my trust in my muse or maybe I just like to be surprised!

Haiku is the most structured form I write, but I ignore the 17-syllable rule completely. Instead, I favor the modern english language haiku where the focus is less on syllable count and more on capturing a moment (as per the Japanese tradition). I prefer to keep my haiku under 13 syllables, but it’s not a steadfast rule.

The appealing element of haiku for me is the focus on a singular moment. All I have to do is look up or conjure a memory of somewhere I’ve been and the words just come. Rarely, do I need more than a few minutes to compose a haiku and it’s always amazing to me that they come so fast.

Overthinking haiku almost diminishes the purpose of a form that is so rooted in Zen. It’s about being one with nature, a moment, or a feeling. If you think too hard, you miss the point.

Black out poetry is very similar. While Zen isn’t the central influence, the idea of singling a few words out of a page of text requires a little selective observation. They key is choosing just a few words that string together. Too many muddles the poem into a long piece of verse that doesn’t make sense. Or worse, the “poem” becomes an overwritten mess!  I liken it to a student highlighting an entire page of text instead of just the important sections!

You have to let go of the instinct to circle every single interesting word. In many ways, it’s a lesson in letting things go and making decisions without fear. Overthinking it makes it impossible to single out the words that work the best together.

For years, free verse was my chosen (non)form. The lack of rules made poetry seem far less daunting. To a certain extent, I still enjoy writing free verse. However, it does take me longer to compose than haiku or black out. The lack of rules is very liberating, but it also widens the field of inspiration and possibilities which can be overwhelming.

No matter what kind of poem I’m writing, I employ one simple strategy: trust my muse. I don’t try to force anything or rack my brain trying to write the perfect poem. The words always come if I just breathe and trust myself to find them.

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c.b.w. 2016

Fourth Try Socks

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In the knitting world, we call a project “frogged” when an unfixable mistake has occurred or the pattern has stumped the knitter. Sometimes patterns are written poorly, have errors, or are simply beyond the skill level of the knitter. Regardless of the reasons why, it’s alway annoying to label a project as frogged.

The first pair of Horizontal Rib Socks I made turned out perfect. The texture of the rib played nicely with the self-striping yarn and it was the first pair of socks I made that fit my foot without being a touch too snug, (this is a huge victory for newly minted sock knitters!). I added a star to the pattern to designate it as a favorite.

The second pair Horizontal Rib Socks did not go well. Despite using the same yarn (in a different color), my second attempt ended with the first sock being full inch too short and incredibly tight around the foot. I ended up ripping it apart and rewinding the yarn.

The third pair of Horizontal Rib Socks also did not go well. This time the sock ended up far too large and had no elasticity. Frogged again. I almost erased the favorite pattern star.

That was two years ago.

I don’t like losing to a sock pattern. Especially a pattern I’ve conquered before. This is the only reason why I decided to make a fourth attempt on this wretched pattern! I pulled out some Paton’s Kroy sock yarn and loaded up my sock loom for what I hoped would be a sweet victory.

It turns out the fourth try is the charm! This time around, I realized part of the problem was in the foot section of the pattern – instead of two repeats in the stitch pattern, I had to do three to fit the length of my foot. Never underestimate the power of trying on the sock while it’s still on the loom to see whether more length is needed.

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Horizontal Rib Socks in Paton’s Kroy Sock, Bramble Stripes

One thing I’ve learned from this process is that patterns, no matter how well-written, are not set in stone. There is always room for adjustments to achieve a better end result. You just have to be brave enough to look away from the pattern and trust your own skills.

 

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c.b.w. 2016

Creating Black Out Poetry

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A little over a year ago, I created my first piece of black out poetry. What began as a fun little experiment has turned into a creative process that often surprises me with interesting results.

My first black outs comes from an old spy novel that was falling apart. I stuck to the simplicity of blacking out the entire text except a few choice words.

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However, it didn’t take long for me to realize all that black space could be more than just black. I started doodling little designs in all that space to enhance the highlighted words.

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From there, it dawned on me that rubber stamps and some black ink could add an even stronger design element. I made the conscious choice to stay away from color for the simple reason that I love the strong contrast of black and white.

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My process for black out poetry is a simple one:

Box random words that stand out. Don’t read, just scan.

I do this with a pencil, so nothing is set in stone. Other black out poets are brave and start with a marker, but that makes me much too nervous. My muse likes a little wiggle room!

Look for a narrative or interesting word combinations.

This is the moment of truth. Sometimes a poem will pop out and sometimes it’s just a bunch of words that don’t make sense. For me, this is where the work begins. If a poem can be found, I’ll do my best to find it. Or I’ll whip out the eraser and start over again.

Scan for additional words that might complete the narrative or enhance word combinations.

Once I’ve got a possible narrative or nice combination of words, I’ll do another scan to see if there’s anything else hiding in the text that will tie everything together into a more complete package.

Eliminate the words that don’t serve the poem.

The eraser comes out again to get rid of any stray marks or boxes left over from the original scan.

Black Out!

Original Process: Pull out the Sharpies and start blacking out anything unrelated to the poem. I use a wide variety of Sharpies – superfine (to outline highlighted words), fine (to extend the border around highlighted words to prevent stray marks), wide wedge (a huge marker that covers wide spaces).

Stamp Process: Sometimes a poem matches up to a rubber stamp in my collection. I never set out to create a poem to match a stamp – it’s always sheer happenstance. If there’s a nice match between stamp and poem, I’ll integrate the stamped black image into the text. Then, I’ll follow the original process to complete the piece.

The beauty of black out poetry is it’s unpredictable nature. There is no wrong way to find it and there are no boundaries. All you need is a little imagination and a juicy Sharpie.

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For more Black Out inspiration, check out the links below:

Pinterest: Black Out Poetry

My Black Out Poetry board on Pinterest features my work as well as pieces from other incredibly talented poets. 

Black Out Poetry

This link connects to all posts on this blog tagged with Black Out Poetry

Austin Kleon

Kleon’s book, Newspaper Black Out, is an incredible source of inspiration and so is his website covering all things related to creativity. 

Poetic Asides

This poetry blog on Writer’s Digest first introduced me to the idea of erasure poetry a.k.a. black out. 

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c.b.w. 2016

Tsunami Socks

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While in Portland, Oregon last summer I bought some beautiful hand-spun, hand-dyed sock yarn. I spent more than I should have, but when it comes to finding gorgeous sock yarn in a place I love I’ll pay just about anything to take it home!

Two beautiful skeins from The Yarns of Rhichard Devrieze (Peppino in Class Act) sat in my stash (wrapped in tissue paper) waiting for the perfect sock pattern to come along. I found it six months later in a great little book called Knitted Socks East and West by Judy Sumner. This fantastic collection of Japanese inspired stitch patterns included a pair of socks inspired by tsunami waves and islands. The second I saw them I knew my fancy yarn had met its match.

My Tsunami Socks are my new favorite pair! I love the subtle shades of blue and coral – a perfect combination for the idea of “waves” rolling around “islands.”

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Tsunami Socks

Overall, the pattern for these socks was incredibly easy to follow. I’m usually not a fan of chart only patterns, but the charts in this pattern are large enough to read without difficulty and the instructions are very clear. Just be careful reading the instep chart. The red repeat line is hard to see.

I’d recommend this pattern for knitters with a little experience who might  be ready for a challenge. The “wave” in the leg of these socks is completed with a four-stitch cable, which can be daunting for knitters who have never worked with a cable needle. Still, it’s a good first project as the cable only occurs once in 12 rounds. Be brave and give it a whirl!

My current project is a cute easy-knit tank top. Stay tuned!

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c.b.w. 2016