Autoethnography vs. Life

Sometimes it seems like documenting ones life publicly has become the cultural norm. With blogging, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr and more, it seems as if everyone is there, putting their lives out for the world to see.

At uni I did a unit on autoethnography, which I really enjoyed. I feel like blogging is the autoethnographic form for the 21st Century, and something I’d quite like to do. Except for the minor technical hitch that life tends to get in the way. It’s not surprising that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr all tend towards short text or image based content. Long form, thoughtful writing – which, I think, autoethnography ought to be – takes time and concentration, both of which are scarce in the chaos of daily life.

Which is how, despite my initial grand plans for documenting and reflective writing and so on, I find myself 36 weeks pregnant, with not one word written about the experience. Even though writing about it was something I wanted to do all along, even though I thought of things to write about, even though I haven’t been working for three weeks now. When I stopped work unexpectedly early, thanks to a rather unexpected redundancy, I had grand plans for what I would do with all that “extra time”, but alas, writing was just one of a host of things that moved from the “I wish” list onto the already crowded “to do” list. The complex logistical project that is preparing for a baby is just one of those things I wanted to write about, but I also have to implement that project – researching, shopping, getting educated, making decisions, clearing out and reorganising the house, jumping through bureaucratic hoops (lookin’ at you, myGov), jumping through medical hoops (yay, gestational diabetes), etc, etc.

So, yeah.. I think the hardest part is getting started, which I’ve kinda now done. Will that do the trick and get things rolling? Or will the looming (but uncertain) deadline push all but the essentials off the list? Hopefully I can manage a bit of both.


So I’m making a Minecraft adventure map to inflict on my friends, and I’m finding it quite a frustrating experience. I spend quite a bit of my time futilely searching the Internet for resources and tips.

My searches range from the practical:

  • How do I use a command block?
  • How do I build a redstone powered piston door?
  • How do I spawn mobs in specific places?
  • How  to I make a hollow glass sphere in MCEdit?

To the more philosophical:

  • How on earth do I get started?
  • How do you know if it’s too easy or too hard?
  • How can I gently encourage players to stay on track and not just bust their way through my carefully built dungeons?
  • Why has no-one ever written a good text-based resource for anything, especially not the thing I was desperately trying to figure out when my Internet was shaped for 2 weeks?

Despite these difficulties, I think I’m doing pretty well so far. I’ve decided on a Zelda-inspired structure of 1) Travel through the world 2) Themed dungeon 3) Repeat. I’ve made a rather nice “Forest Temple”, moved on in frustration from an underwater city (hollow spheres? anyone?), and am now playing with redstone in my mildy-Egyptian themed “Sand Temple”. I’m thinking of documenting some of my progress – although not too much, because I do want to inflict the finished product on my friends and I don’t want to spoil the sense of adventure. But here’s a little sneak peek:

Egyptian-ish Sand Temple

Friday night was the first time I drove at night since getting back from Burning Man. As I was driving along, I saw a couple of people crossing the road up ahead. They were wearing fairly dark clothes, and the road wasn’t very well lit. My first thought was a somewhat indignant “Why aren’t those people wearing lights?”, and my second thought was “Wait, what? Hehehe.” And then it happened again with the next set of people, walking along the footpath, and the next. I imagine the effect will wear off, as I get used to people walking in the dark without EL wire or glowsticks or Christmas-tree lights. But right now my brain still classifies it as a bit reckless, a bit silly, and a bit inconsiderate to walk around at night without personal lighting.

Bags Packed

All packed. Just one (checked) bag, but it's absolutely chockers.

I’m packed and ready to go. My back hurts and I’m exhausted – the last few days have been busy and stressful, trying to get everything done.

I’ve got a bit of sewing still to do en route from Texas to Nevada, but my bags are packed, my boarding passes are printed, and my sewing machines will both be glad to see the back of me (I’m taking them both for a service when I get back, poor things).

Now I’m going to get a few hours sleep before I have to get up at 3:30ish to head to the airport (blergh).

There might be an update or two in the next week, but I’ll be writing lots of notes, like a good ethnographer, so I’ll at least have lots to say when I get back.

Been Too Busy To Blog

Sewing with EL wire & faux fur

Sewing with EL wire & faux fur

Starting a pile of stuff to pack

Starting a pile of stuff to pack

Learning to solder EL wire

Learning to solder EL wire

Three strands of EL wire done, 12 to go

Three strands of EL wire done, 12 to go

Doing the I-made-a-tutu dance

Doing the I-made-a-tutu dance

Sheep hat!

Sheep hat! (with sheepskin from my old car seat covers)

Shibori Experiments

I’ve had an interest in shibori – traditional Japanese fabric dying – for a while, since I did a workshop at a textile art exhibition a couple of years ago. One of my plans for Burning Man costumes was to dye some voile and make a bunch of light tops for daytime wear.

Yesterday I prepared my pieces of fabric. I cut four pieces of voile in different sizes, and folded and scrunched them in various ways…

Four shibori experiments all ready for dying

Top to bottom: 1. wrapped with string around a plastic tube and scrunched up tight; 2. stitched and gathered; 3. folded with a diagonal concertina fold and tied with string; and 4. folded in a pattern I made up (it might have a name but I don't know it) and then pressed between two bits of wood, with some chunky brush-bristles for texture

The dye I used is fancy stuff called Liquid Radiance – unlike most other dyes you can use it on any sort of fabric, and you can use it as paint too. In some ways it doesn’t work quite like other dyes, so I wasn’t sure how my experiments were going to come out. I was also trying not to use too much of it, so I used the dropper bottles instead of the usual method of dipping the fabric in a container of dye. That let me do some multiple-colour stuff that I couldn’t have done the other way. The voile resisted the dye a bit – I ended up dampening the fabric with a spray bottle to encourage the dye to spread.

Here’s what I got – first the ‘In Progress’ shots, and then the results:

Scrunched around a tube - in progress

Scrunched around a tube - in progress

Scrunched around a tube - the result

Scrunched around a tube - the result. This technique is supposed to produce patterns that look like waves or ripples - I think you can see that effect here - hooray!

Gathered and salted - in progress

Gathered and salted - in progress. For this one I sprinkled some salt on the piece after applying the dye. The salt dries up the colour, making little spots. I hoped the salt effect would show in the loose parts and not penetrate so much in the tight gathers.

Gathered and salted - the result

Gathered and salted - the result. Here is the wide view of this one. The lines of gathering didn't have as much effect as I'd hoped. Maybe next time I'll try a shorter stitch or more than one line of stitching at each gathering position.

Gathered and salted - a close up

Gathered and salted - a close up. Here you can see the tiny spots. Next time I'll use the right sort of salts instead of table salt - and in chunkier pieces.

Concertina fold and tied - in progress

Concertina fold and tied - in progress.

Concertina fold and tied - the result

Concertina fold and tied - the result. The folding was actually a bit more complicated - folded in half, and then all the corners folded in like an envelope, and then concertina folded - the envelope bit gives that square effect. The blue ran a lot and ended up kinda overtaking the red.

Funny fold with brush bristles - in progress

Funny fold with brush bristles - in progress. I started with just brown, but at the end I decided it was a bit boring, so I added some splashes of the last of the purple.

Funny fold with brush bristles - the result

Funny fold with brush bristles - the result. The bristles only really had an effect on the outermost layer, resulting in a cool centre panel thing. I'm going to have to rethink my plans for this piece of fabric - make that panel a feature. This dye seems to travel quite easily along the fabric, even into tight places you don't want it to go - a bit of a complication for mechanical resist techniques.

And now, the pièce de résistance… I acquired a pair of white thermal pants – free, but boring 😛 So I made them stripy:

Stripy thermals

Stripy thermals - not actually the pièce de résistance. But fun.

(Following on from Part 1 – making a pattern)

Step 3 – Starting the Mock-up

  • Firstly, the reason for making a mock-up instead of jumping straight to the Real Thing is to make sure it will fit properly – far better to be making adjustments to a practice version than to your (often fancy and expensive) final fabric.
  • I made a photocopy before I cut out my paper pattern pieces, just in case something happened to them. Then I cut them out, and labelled them – which piece, which way up, and my name (because there are three of us making corsets at the moment)

    Paper pieces cut out. I had to weigh them down - they wanted to curl after their trip to the library in a roll.

  • The next step, which I forgot to photograph, was to cut out two of each pattern piece from some cheap but relatively sturdy material. I used some plain cotton calico, but twill would have been a bit sturdier. Very important– don’t forget to add seam allowance! Mark the pieces so that you know which are for the right hand side and which are for the left hand side – or some other system to help you figure out which seams go with which other seams – there’re lots, and it’s confusing.

    Note the extra seam allowance around the edge of the fabric piece. I usually add seam allowance to my pattern pieces, but for this I wanted to be able to mark the exact seam lines to follow.

  • Once you have your pieces it’s time to sew them together – all the left hand pieces, and all the right hand pieces, so you end up with two half-corsets. I hand stitched mine, but the others machine-stitched theirs – whichever you prefer. I thought it would be easier to get the differently curved seams accurately matched by hand… Despite my careful measuring and careful sewing, none of the seams match exactly, but they’re pretty close.

    The pattern pieces sewn together. But wait...

  • This is where I suddenly noticed that the two pieces are not the same shape. Minor confusion ensued, as I tried to figure out where I’d sewn something wrong (all the seams match ok!). It seems that friday night with friends and Hot Fuzz is not conducive to error-free sewing.

    It should have been like this.

  • Now there are two correct half-corsets. I know they’re correct because I checked three or four times.

Step 4 – Inserting the Busk

  • The busk is the hooks-and-eyes on a strip of boning doo-hickey that is used for the front closure. Having a front closure means you don’t have to unlace and relace the back completely to get in and out of the corset. To get a better idea of the shape it will give to the final corset, I decided to insert the busk in the mockup, instead of just sewing the front seam. This was a slightly tricky procedure, and I’m glad I did it now – some practice before I do the important one.
  • In the final corset the busk will go between the outer fabric and the lining. I cut some strips of fabric and sewed them to the two centre-front seams to simulate the lining. I pressed the seam open and then pressed it again folded back into position. I’m a big fan of pressing – it makes the seams look better, and for something like this it also opens the seam right up and keeps it flat, right where it should be. Pressing makes garments look like they were sew by someone with skillz.
  • Then I lined up one of the busk pieces and traced around it with a fabric pen. I laid the two front seams together, lined up, with the (hooked together) busk on top, and traced the second busk piece. I also marked where the hooks and the eyes would go.
  • On the eyes side, I unpicked bits of the side seam where the eyes would slip through between the two pieces of fabric (Aside: quick-unpickers are like socks for disappearing – I have 4 in my house and couldn’t find any. Until I was finished carefully unpicking with scissors, when I found one in the sewing table). I also did some top-stitching to reinforce the seam – otherwise the loose ends where I unpicked would pull the seam apart under pressure. I’ll do something a bit more careful and elegant for the final corset – this time round it’s just a proof of concept and a practice run.

    The "eyes" side of the busk

  • On the hook side, I had to make holes in the fabric to poke the buttons through. This is supposed to be done with an awl, pushing between the threads of the fabric, so that there are no broken threads to reduce the structural integrity of the fabric. I don’t have an awl, so I used crochet hooks – starting with the 3mm, then a 5mm, until the hole was big enough to get the button through.

    The "hooks" side of the busk

  • Here it is with the busk “done up”:

    Ta da!

  • The last step was to try it on and see how it fit. Despite the gaffer tape in Step 1 being pulled tight enough to really squish me, it is big enough to meet at the back – there should be a gap for the lacing. I’ll be taking off a few centimetres at each side seam to fix that. Other than that it seems to fit pretty well – hooray!

    It fits! Hooray!