Step 1 – Fun with gaffer tape

  • Put on an old t-shirt (no bra) and get a friend to wrap you up in gaffer tape. Err on the side of tightness, because once it’s made, the gap at the lacing will make the real thing looser than the gaffer tape version. Choose lighter-coloured gaffer tape so that you can draw on it with a marker pen. Run out of gaffer tape when have you go over it again to make it tighter, and end up using black instead of silver (so much for that bright idea).
  • Mark the centre front and centre back with a marker pen or coloured tape. Mark the edges of the pattern pieces – I’m going to have 8 pieces in total, four at the front and four at the back. This is a good time to also mark out the shape you want the corset to have – before you cut it off. I forgot this bit. 😛
  • Cut up the centre front. Use good scissors which will cut at the tip of the blades! Because it’s so tight, if you have to use the back end of the blades, you’ll end up a bit stabbed. Even with good scissors you’ll probably be a bit stabbed. Don’t forget that you’re naked under the t-shirt – you might want to do the cutting in a different room than the one all your friends are in (I nearly forgot this bit :P)
  • Cut along the marked lines to get the pattern pieces. Mark each piece as you go so that you don’t forget which one is which.

    The gaffer-tape cut into pattern pieces.

  • Trace the pattern pieces – you’ll have two of each, in my case centre front, outer front, outer back and centre back. Trace the matching pieces over each other – they won’t be the same shape, but should be fairly close. Once you’ve traced them, “split the difference” to get one shape for each pattern piece.

    The gaffer-tape pieces traced out in black, and the "split the difference" marked in blue.

Step 2 – Tweaking The Pattern

  • Put on Pride and Prejudice. The BBC version, obviously, because a) it’s the only one that really counts, and b) you’ll need something long. I got through three and a half episodes.

    My pattern is nearly finished and Lizzie heads off to Derbyshire...

  • Cut out the pieces you traced in step 1. Hold them up to yourself, mutter under your breath, despair. Remember another approach you saw on the Internet. Decide to give that a go, using the existing pieces as a starting point. Find the links in Evernote and feel momentarily smug.
  • Take some measurements – bust, underbust, waist, hip, and the distances between them all at the front and the side.
  • Get a large piece of paper – draw a vertical line for the centre front. Measure out perpendicular lines for bust, underbust, waist and hip.
  • Figure out where the waistline is on your existing pieces, and lay them out, lining up their waist markings with the waist line on the paper. Trace around them.
  • Measure to make sure that the pattern pieces add up to approximately your waist measurement minus something. This is the time for some more despair, until you figure out which wrong lines you’re measuring between. Coloured pencils may help. If things look about right, move on. Otherwise, repeat as necessary.
  • Now you need to “true” the seams – that is, make sure that the length of each seam line matches the corresponding seam on the other pattern piece. They should be pretty close, unless, like me, you forgot to mark out the top and bottom edges of your corset before and need to do it now. Here comes more measuring, more holding up pattern pieces against yourself, and – of course – more despair. If you’ve already ordered your busk (the front fastening thingy), you need to figure out an outline that fits it. Draw small sketches, look up google images. Sketch the lines you think you want, then measuring along the edge of the pattern piece from the waistline out, match up the top and bottom lines.

    The paper pattern, complete.

  • Once they all match, sit back and admire your work for a moment before organising for a friend to sanity check your pattern. Plan a trip to the public library to photocopy your handiwork so that you don’t have to start from scratch if disaster befalls your first copy. My pattern pieces will fit nicely on two A3 pages, and 60c is a small price to pay for not having to do this again from the start.

Up next: Making a mockup to check the pattern and practice the construction process.



I am severely hampered by my academic training when it comes to writing blog posts. I feel the need to go search the literature, find some sources, substantiate my comments with references, nearly every time I think of something to write about. I also feel the need to explore a topic in some depth – a short post just doesn’t seem enough to get into the complexities and substance of whatever it is (and there must be complexities and substance, because I can’t just describe, I must analyse). And then there’s proof-reading and re-organising and general fixing-up, because I do that by reflex now, even in a three sentence email (and then there’s pondering my misuse of the em-dash, an eternal conundrum).

But these are processes that take time and effort – and that vague thought about other people’s relationships with my relationship with caffeine is just not important enough to get to the top of my todo list. Sigh.

Ideas that are in the works: what is it with caffeinated people judging un-caffeinated people? How did we ever plan holidays without social media – and how has social media changed how we work? Ethics and independent scholarship – how do you work (and get published) without an institution and an ethics committee? (Short answer: second author w/ institution, I guess – but what does it mean for my work?) And how did my fabric stash get so huge? … Wait, I know the answer to that – I’m a procrastinator who can get free fabric from work – never mind!

That is all.

(PS- this was meant to be one short paragraph. Whoops!)

Library Privileges!

I went to uni today to get Alumni library membership. It seems as though they don’t get many people signing up, as the folks at the front desk seemed a bit bewildered. I don’t think they get many people paying by cheque either 😛

I came home with three anthropology of birth books, for my project at CMWA, and one about shibori, for my upcoming dying adventures. Yay! But next time I ride my bike to the library I need to remember to take a backpack instead of just a shoulder bag – it was a very uncomfortable ride home – with 5 books (one quarto sized), plus notebook, diary, wallet, etc, my bag was pretty heavy, and very hard to balance. But I now have plenty of reading matter to keep me occupied, and soon I will also have journal access – sweet, sweet journal access.

I’m more excited about this than most people would think healthy, but it’s very frustrating to be used to having all this information available, and then suddenly it’s not, and you’re stuck swearing at websites that ask for ridiculous one-off payments and don’t even put the abstract up for you. Not that I would pay anyway, but it’s still annoying. But no more! Now I can read journal articles again, hooray! And all those books… I feel like a kid in a sweet factory.

Time For Sewing

We’ve now got all the important but boring bits out of the way in our Burning Man planning, and we’re starting to get into the sewing part. Because I don’t have any money to spare for costuming, I’m planning to sew as much as I can from my stash. This has a couple of bonuses – a) it will deplete my stash, and b) by limiting my options, I am less distracted by what could be. Some of the others are struggling to decide what they want to wear at BM, because they have so many options, so much possibility. My extremely limited budget is perversely freeing. I’m trying to keep that in mind as a benefit, especially when I have to cut things from my wishlist, or eat leftovers at planning meetings while everyone else eats pizza. 😛

So what am I planning to make? Here’s a bit of a list:

  • A night-time jacket (deserts get pretty darn cold at night) – out of my old car’s sheepskin car seat covers.
  • A kimono – from cloth napkins I got from REmida. I’m planning to dye the napkins with shibori techniques, then sew them together into a kimono.
  • Turning an op-shop skirt that’s too big into a dress, by adding shoulder straps and some darts.
  • Thai fishermen’s pants from some silver satin from the stash. The satin is graduated, so the pants are light at the top graduating to dark grey at the bottom. I might make a couple more pairs depending what I find in my stash.
  • Some light tops made of voile, in various loose, floaty, wrappy styles – I’ll make these up as I go, but I’m aiming for simple but unusual construction – inspired by the awesome Pattern Magic books (now available in English!) that I spotted at the craft fair. I’ll probably also be dying these – I’m a little obsessed with shibori.
  • A couple of miscellaneous skirts from the stash. Like the voile tops, there’re no detailed plans for these – it’ll depend what I’ve got and how big it is.
  • A corset, made from some stripy upholstery fabric from REmida. This is a fairly ambitious one – lots of seams, lined, with boning and busk and lacing.
  • And, of course, the electroluminescent wire night-time personal lighting garment, so I don’t get run over by an art car in the dark. I’m going to make a jelly-fishy skirt with hanging bits of EL wire and other fabric bits, with a wide waistband to hold the wiring, inverter and eight-AA powerpack(!).
  • A crazy crocheted sun hat, inspired by Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes.

So, yeah, I’m going to be kept busy for the next few months. I’m planning to document it all here. Step 1 is to work out a rough schedule and a budget. There are quite a few new things in there – the dying, EL wire, and practically all of the corset stuff, but most of the rest is very straightforward, so it balances out a bit. I’m pretty excited about the shibori. Should certainly come out of this with more sewing knowledge than I had going in!

This year’s Burning Man theme is “Rites of Passage”. Burning Man is always so full of rites of passage that this theme seems both perfect and redundant. I’ll probably go on at length about Burning Man’s rites of passage at some point, but today I’m looking at one specific ritual, and a different interpretation of it that comes from my anthropological perspective (I suspect that throughout my Burning Man journey I’ll find things that I see differently from my “lay” co-travellers).

Burning Man is held on the Black Rock Desert – a old dry lake bed, called the ‘playa’ (why? I don’t know). The weather is windy and temperamental, and the temperature oscillates between nearly 0 and above 40 degrees Celcius. The playa surface is dust, made of the fine silt of the old lake. It’s very very fine, and a bit alkaline, and gets everywhere. The dust is a major feature of the Burning Man experience.

Last week I was talking to some people who hadn’t really heard about Burning Man and what it was, and they asked why it was held in such a challenging location. To me, the location is a vital part of the event. Burning Man is about creating a new city from scratch, but it’s not just the physical city that is created. The society of the city is made over new as well: the philosophies of radical self reliance, the gift economy, etc – these are all aspects of the new and different social order which is the essence of Black Rock City.

There’s a thing called communitas, that often happens at ritual events, where the usual rules of society are turned upside down or disappear. When the usual structures that categorise and separate people are not there, they are free to interact as whole human beings, and form new (usually temporary) relationships based on personal rather than structural attributes. Burning Man is all about communitas.

I see the desert is a symbol of burning Man’s blank social canvas. Through its emptiness it signals to Burning Man participants that this is a place wholly outside the strictures of normal life, the ‘default’ world. From nothing, participants are free to build from scratch both physically and socially. The immense emptiness of the playa is an important part of what makes Burning Man what it is.

Apparently, if it’s your first time at Burning Man, one of the things the Greeters do when you arrive is get you to roll around in the dust – because you have to learn to “love the dust”. From what my friends have told me, they interpret the “love the dust” ritual as forcing you to accept that the dust will cover you, and will get everywhere – that there’s no point trying to keep it off you.

I also see this ritual, and the admonition to love the dust, as encouraging participants to embrace the playa and its dust as a vital part of the event – as a participant in the shared act of creation and rebuilding that is Burning Man. Rolling in the playa dust connects you to the playa – your new home (the traditional Greeter greeting – to new and old burners alike – is “Welcome Home”). It also connects you to the Burning Man community, through the shared dustiness of the other 50 000 burners. It is a rite of incorporation, re-creating you as a member of the community and a resident of the playa that holds that community.

This morning I had coffee with my honours supervisor. As he did at practically every meeting we had during my honours, he was encouraging me to write. I’ve been feeling the need to write for the last few months – now that my brain has recovered from thesis writing – but I’ve been struggling to figure out what to write about.

During our coffee conversation today I was talking about Burning Man – as I tend to do in many conversations these days. I was talking about how full it is of anthropologically interesting things – rites of passage, rituals, communitas – the whole event is packed with fascinating stuff.

So I’m planning now to try to write my way through my Burning Man experience, from planning and sewing and making bookings, though the event itself, to decompression and reflection after it. I’m going to get some notebooks and make fieldnotes. I’m also hoping to acquire some books and articles and do a bit of theoretical reading – like van Gennep’s The Rites of Passage, some Victor Turner, hopefully some other things I haven’t seen before.

And maybe, hopefully, I’ll find at the end that I have some interesting stuff to turn into an article. Either way it should be fun for everyone to follow along, and maybe pick up some anthropology along the way.

Minecraft Dramas

Before I start this story, let me assure you that it has a happy ending. I’ve put hours and hours of work into my favourite world – it has an open-pit mine surrounded by sea, with a waterfall that goes all the way down to bedrock, where I’ve built a lake and grown some trees. Soon the dirt around the lake will be grassed over, and I’ll plant some flowers. Around the outside of the mine is a farming area, with wheat and sugar cane. I also have a tree farm in the form of a meditation maze, floating in the sea. Because it can be hard to spot the saplings and bits of wood that fall into the sea, I’ve started construction of an underground, glass-roofed room under the maze, which will be connected to the mine. I’m planning to turn the upper part of the mine into an apartment building, with caves dug into the cliff face. I’m building an ‘upstairs’ cliff house overlooking the tree maze as well – a three story place with floor to ceiling windows and a bridge across the bay.

My meditation maze / tree farm

But then – disaster! I open my level and Minecraft crashes. WTF? After a few hopeful re-tries, I manage to look at the error messages. The chunks are in the wrong places? Does this mean my level is somehow corrupted? Woe! But that’s ok, because I’ve been making backups – I’ve got another copy that’s only a few days old. So I make a backup of the corrupted level, just in case, and copy in the other one. It starts up ok, which is good – but my mine is only half dug! WTF? Somehow this backup is two weeks old, not a few days! Woe!

There follows a week and a half of desperate googling, installing of Minecraft backup and map-editing programs with dodgy linux versions which won’t run, and more desperate googling – interspersed with periods of despair. I can’t bring myself to start again on the old backup, so I start a new world. Even snow and lofty mountain caves don’t console me; it’s just not the same, the magic isn’t there.

But finally, yesterday, Steve (who is awesome!) managed to get MCEdit running and there it was before me – my mine, my trees, my cliff-house! Mysterious rectilinear chunks were missing from the world, but apart from a corner of my glass-roofed room, my creations were unscathed. Oh joy! He started up Minecraft, loaded the world… A moment of tense waiting – and there it was! My world had been returned to me!

The moral of this story? Make backups. And make sure your backups work. And, if you can possibly manage it, have a nerdy boyfriend.

Mine, sweet mine (pun intended).