Friday, December 5, 2014

Scarlett in Austin

Well no, not Scarlett O'Hara herself, who is, after all, a fictional character in that saga of the Old South, Gone With the Wind.  But her moss green dress made from Miss Ellen's velvet curtains is there, as well as some other choice attire. Along with reams of documentation on the sweeping, unforgettable 1939 movie, they're on view at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas in Austin.  As Texas has no connection to either the setting of the story or the making of the movie, it might seem like an odd place for a 75th anniversary exhibition on the movie, but surprisingly the Ransom Center has many important cultural and literary archives unrelated whatsoever to Texas, including that of David O. Selznick, the producer of GWTW.  And since Mr C and I had never been there, it seemed like a good reason to take a little trip to Austin.

I first saw Gone With the Wind when it was re-released in the 1950s; I remember my parents debating whether I should be allowed to see it, as it contained that "damn" uttered by Rhett at the end.  It was also among the first adult novels that I read; I bought my copy, which I still have, at a little bookstore where the proprietor also gave knitting lessons that I took.  Oh, how I admired Scarlett and her indomitable spirit. Or as Ashley puts it in the novel: "your courage and your stubbornness and your fire and your utter ruthlessness."  Perhaps ruthlessness isn't a very complimentary characteristic, nor is Scarlett's self-absorption and lack of empathy, but somehow those failings never cancel out her appeal and attraction. Right now I'm taking an online course in which several people have named Scarlett as a character who has achieved "person-ness," someone who transcends their fictional world, becoming as believable and real as a person we know.  In short, she is fascinating. 

Also fascinating is the exhibition at the Ransom Center which begins with the purchase of the movie rights for David O Selznick's studio by his agent, Kay Brown, who had brought Margaret Mitchell's thousand-page novel to his attention.  Much of the film's story is told in lively teletypes which capture candid "conversations" that would have been lost had they been over the telephone.  After much to-ing and fro-ing about the feasibility of GWTW as a movie, concerns about casting and more, David Selznick is finally persuaded and Kay Brown begins: "HOLD YOUR SEAT   IVE CLOSED FOR FIFTY THOUSAND   MARVELOUS   THRILLED TO DEATH   WAIT TIL DOS HEARS IT" and later in the same messages adds "FLAGG AND I OUT TO GET DRUNK".  You could easily spend several hours reading all the communications, mostly telegrams and letters, to and from Selznick and the many individuals involved in the film, that line the walls of the exhibit.

 One part of the exhibit deals with the search for an actress to play Scarlett which involved a "Southern Talent Search" through college drama departments and Junior Leagues, with Kay Brown writing her usual witty observations: "We saw every "Miss Atlanta" from twenty years back.  We had people come dressed in in the period and you can imagine what they were like."  Or recounting another scouting trip: "It was all very social and very General Lee."  While most of this search was fruitless, photos of several "discoveries" show young women in the prime of their beauty, most of whom went on to only star in their own private lives.  A lot of well-known actresses were also tested for the role, but who can imagine anyone other than the inimitable Vivien Leigh as Scarlett?

There are sections on all aspects of the film: the casting, the sets, the costumes, the actual filming, and finally the premiere in Atlanta itself. It took three long years at a time when movies generally were made in six months.  And throughout it all, the public was engaged, expressing opinions and giving advice on everything from the proper Southern accent to who should be cast in the various roles.  Especially poignant are the numerous letters written, usually by hand,  mostly by ordinary people, asking for a chance to play Scarlett, proclaiming they "are" Scarlett and explaining their connection to the character.  Despite differing levels of sophistication, what struck me was the obvious sincerity with which they were written, and the optimstic belief that these letters would be read and taken into account, certainly a reflection of the times in which they were written.  I doubt that anyone would expect the same today.

This is a must-see exhibition for GWTW fans, of course, but anyone with an interest in the era in which the film was made will also find it worthwhile. So if you're anywhere near Austin, Texas, be sure to go, but hurry, it ends January 4th. You can make an online visit to the exhibition here.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

On with the shows!

I now have two more shows to my (very amateur) acting credit. Little did I imagine at the beginning of last year when I more or less stumbled onto a free acting class for seniors that it would be an ongoing activity in my life.  But, as I recounted in an earlier post, most of us in the class continued, putting on one show on our own and then participating in another set of classes and a show at the library in the fall. This year we were thrilled to have our original teacher, Hassan El-Amin, returning to conduct two more workshops (made possible by the generous support of the Skillman Southwestern Library Friends).

 Hassan is a member of the Dallas Theater Center's Brierley Acting Company, and it was proposed that we coordinate our workshop and show with the DTC's current production. In February that was the delightful Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure in which Hassan had the role of the King of Bohemia. The class got off to a bit of a rocky start, with several of us writing our own Sherlock-inspired skits, while Hassan both endeavored to critique them and hone our acting skills. In the end we performed a combination of some of those skits plus scenes from various professionally-written plays about Sherlock Holmes. And just as in our previous efforts, scripts were still being clutched and lines fumbled until the actual performance when everything miraculously came together.  In addition to our usual premier at the library, we also had the exciting opportunity to put on the show one afternoon at Wyly Theater where the Dallas Theater Center was performing their Sherlock Holmes.
For our August-September workshop, we were given the choice of several renowned plays from which to choose our scenes.  They ranged from Hamlet to Arsenic and Old Lace, with the common theme being that all had been made into classic movies. I played Blanche DuBois, sparring with Stanley Kowalski in a early scene from Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire.  It is somewhat intimidating to take on roles made famous by the likes of Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando, but I think my co-star, Gilbert Rodriguez, a newcomer to our group, and I acquitted ourselves fairly well.  A bonus was getting to attend the final dress rehearsal of the Dallas Theater Center's current production of Driving Miss Daisy in which Hassan has the role of Hoke Coleburn, the chauffeur.  We were the only audience that evening so it seemed like a performance given just for us. The play, and Hassan, have been garnering excellent reviews, here in Theater Jones and Culture Map Dallas.

I've also really enjoyed designing all the programs, flyers and posters for our shows.

I wish I'd had this experience earlier in my life, not because I've discovered an unexpected talent and taste for the theater, but because I've found it beneficial in a more personal way.  Hassan has shown us that being an actor is, among other things, learning how to present yourself.  And performing before an audience, even just before others in the class, helps to banish inhibiting self-consciousness. But, as they say, it's never too late to learn.  

Monday, September 15, 2014

Japonesque top

After more than a year hiatus I finally got back to doing some dyeing and surface design.  I tell myself that doing all the things I would like to do is simply a matter of tossing another ball into the air and keeping them all going at a steady clip.  The reality is that the juggling metaphor is somewhat delusional thinking because time is indeed finite.  The time spent doing one thing is inevitably time taken away from another activity.  Especially, in my case, where doing things fast also seems to be an impossibility. 

I did, however, have some help with the stencils I used here.  The circular designs are from Dover Pictura 922 Decorative Vector Ornaments; the cord and tassels are from Japanese Patterns from the Pepin Press.  They would have taken ages to cut by hand with an Exacto knife, but instead I used my new Silhouette Cameo which cut them out in a matter of (very noisy) minutes.  What a fabulous machine!  And stencil cutting is only one of its many uses; I discovered a vast Silhouette Cameo world on You Tube and Pinterest alone.  (I'll also
                                                mention that I bought mine online from B&H: excellent price and service.)

Once I had the stencils ready to go, I printed out the designs on paper and cut them out to decide on placement on the top. Because my Procion MX Fiber Reactive dye powders are well past their supposed effective dates, I did some testing on scrap cloth, both to check their potency and to try out color combinations. (My fabric is cotton jersey from Dharma Trading Company.) Then I stenciled the circular designs and the cord and tassels using dye concentrates mixed with print paste.  That looked too sparse, so I added the three stylized flowers from my collection of old stencils.  After those had dried overnight, I randomly stenciled the squiggles with Jacquard Clear Water Based Resist, using a quilting stencil, allowing that to dry overnight again.  Finally I used a wide soft brush and a foam roller to apply the background color which I wanted to be mottled.  I thought that would be the final step, but after washing out the top, I decided it needed a bit more.  Using the dark purple dye in a squeeze bottle with very fine metal tip, I drew fine lines inside many of the white squiggles with red dots in between.  Over that, sprinkles stenciled in Soft Gold Jacquard Lumière paint. (I frequently wonder how someone else achieved a particular result, so I just ran through the steps here.)

I'm so pleased with the result, and I can't wait to begin on another.  This is one ball that I definitely intend to keep flying through the air!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sew wrong

Aren't we all warned about being hampered by our inner critic?  That nagging little voice that censures us and keeps us from truly soaring?  To be honest, my inner critic is rather laissez-faire, so I really ought to pay some attention when that voice pipes up.  And it wasn't any big, wild dream or scheme my critic was trying to quash. No, it was simply pointing out that this Vogue pattern would not look good on me. But I wouldn't listen.

I bought the pattern. I bought fabric. I made a muslin. I made alterations. I made the dress.  And, oh, that inner critic was right!  This is a young woman's dress, someone with a slender torso and a small waist, someone whose body has not been subjected to decades of gravity.  Because this is how the dress should look, and how it does look on the well-proportioned form I use for my Etsy shop.

The alterations I made did make it fit better, but they certainly made it no more flattering. As you can see here when it's on my actual dress form. All that fabric gathered at the waist, and then even more fabric tying around that — what was I thinking!

Well, I do know what I was thinking:  that it's such a lovely little summer dress with an easy-fitting elastic waist and a breezy skirt that would be a delight to wear.  Alas, after all that work, I will never wear it.  You won't even see a photo of me in it.  And I'm only displaying it on my body double in the service of truth-in-sewing.

In the hopes that it might find use and happiness with someone who has the appropriate figure, I'm putting it for sale in my Etsy shop.

For anyone from Pattern Review who came to my blog for detailed photos of the alterations I made, please continue reading.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

A cool day in July

Looking at cleomes
Surely this July in Dallas has set some sort of record for low temperatures.  Even as I sit here writing, the windows are open!  In the middle of summer, in Texas!  No air conditioning on!  Earlier this month Mr. C and I took advantage of another similar day to stroll around the Arboretum, and I can't resist posting a few more photos.  Just as I can't resist snapping photos every time I go there, capturing that day's ephemeral beauty.  There's always something different in bloom or at its prime, as well as changing seasonal plantings.  I especially like browsing the two trial gardens.  That's where we came across the little bunny who seemed unfazed by the attention.  It's not the first time we've spied one there.  I do wonder how the Arboretum handles their wild visitors, such as raccoons, who are no respecters of gardens. Obviously, it's all those not-quite-behind-the-scenes hands toiling to keep this piece of Dallas always perfectly photogenic.
Ornamental peppers
Gebera daisies
Hardy hibiscus

Some type of lily?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Timeless sewing

Vogue 8480 The date on this Vogue pattern is 2008, and I know I snapped it up as soon as I saw it. Now, several years later, I still find it just as appealing, with its interesting seaming and shaping, pleats front and back, flared sleeves and off-center closure. Fashion has not passed it by, at least in my opinion. But, then again, I do tend to keep and wear things season after season.

All the time and effort I put into garments are a main reason I don't lightly cast them aside.  But age, my age, probably also has a lot to do with it.  After so many decades of sewing and dressing, I think – I hope – that I have a fairly good sense of what suits me personality-wise and what flatters me physically.  Plus, for some time now, there seems to be a really wide range of fashion options rather than an over-riding trend, such as the big-shouldered silhouettes of the late 80s. (Alas, I spent too many of my best years enveloped in "fashionable" over-sized clothes that were less than ideal for my short, I mean petite, endomorphic figure.)

Of course, the flip side of believing that you know what's your best look is what women of a certain age are constantly being warned against: settling on an unchanging style in hair, makeup, wardrobe. It's a balancing act, isn't it, keeping current without slavishly following trends.  At least older women aren't expected to dress in the dreary, discreet manner that seemed to be de rigueur in decades past, as the blog American Age Fashion so often illustrates.  Rather, it would be wonderful if we all had the courage and the verve of the ladies of Advanced Style.  My own look is much more sedate, but, who knows, in another decade or two, what I might feel inclined to sew and wear.

Back to the jacket which I made in a cotton twill that had been in my stash since the 80s! I finished it at the end of May, so in addition to waiting for several years to use the pattern, I'll have to wait a few more months to wear the jacket.  By then I will have forgotten any minor flaws and frustrations in its sewing.  It was a simple enough jacket to make, although I probably wouldn't categorize it as Easy which the pattern envelope does.  I toiled away on it in my usual obsessive manner starting with the muslin at the beginning of March; you can read all the fascinating details in my Pattern Review here, if you are so inclined.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

At the Arboretum

Diligent I have not been where this blog is concerned. I repeat the modern mantra: too much to do. Although I am luckily, happily, eagerly doing exactly what I want. I am also lucky to live close enough to the Dallas Arboretum to make it an easy destination for an afternoon stroll. Or sometimes Mr. C and I grab a little picnic to take along, which we did on the day I snapped these photos. Then we feasted on all this glorious spring color.  Its uplifting beauty reminds me of a line from a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay: "O world, I cannot hold thee close enough!"

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

All snug in their beds

I'm not sure what might be dancing through their heads, but our porch kitties seems very satisfied with their polar fleece beds which I finished last month. (They also have heating pads underneath to keep them even snuggier.) Mama – that's the lovely longhair gray one – brought her three little striped kittens to our side porch one rainy August evening in 2012. Well, what could we do but offer them food and an old rug to curl up on? So, of course, they stayed. The kittens were feral, while Mama, oh-so-thin under all that fur, was only extremely wary. And, of course, we intended to find them homes, since we already have an official cat who definitely desires no other feline companionship. But... As you can see, they're still here, no longer feral, at least to us, but not house cats either. They live on our front porch and amuse us endlessly (as well as cause us a lot of worry).

Last winter Mr C built them a terrific, insulated, carpeted house with two levels inside. The only use they have made of it, even in the coldest weather, is to sit on top of its padded, polar fleece-covered top. So this year I decided to make them polar fleece beds. I wanted them to be deep enough to block the wind when the occupant was curled up inside and thus decided on constructing them with vertical channels that would hopefully stand up rather than spreading out as I was afraid that horizontal rings would do. As I wrote on Pattern Review, these are labor-intensive and time-consuming to make, but not really difficult. (I highly recommend a good audio book to take you through this project; I listened to Paris: the novel, by Edward Rutherfurd: 30 CDs! That was for four beds.) If you'd like to make one, read on for my complete tutorial.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Reading round the world

Last year our bookgroup traveled to Russia, Afghanistan, Liberia, Haiti, England, Egypt and China. Quite a bit of that involved time traveling as well, to the eras of Henry VIII and Cleopatra, to colonial America and France during WWII.  We all look forward to our monthly peregrinations, to discovering little-known corners of the world and participating in the lively discussions that follow.

We began this year with a return to Afghanistan, and next month Burma is our destination.  Here's our literary itinerary for the year, if any of you would care to join us, virtually (we're hoping to have a bookgroup blog online soon) or in person here in Dallas.

You can find our 2013 books here and more information about the bookgroup plus our 2012 books here.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Illustration Friday - Reflect

The one-week time frame on Illustration Friday topics means you have to get thinking and starting doing, a good thing, right?  It also often means, for me, that come Thursday evening, I'm still working away furiously, trying out this and that on a composition that just hasn't quite come together.  Or I end up calling it done when I know that being able to look at it with fresh eyes in the morning would probably help me improve it.  All so I can link to the topic on the IF website. 

Thus it was this past Thursday when I hit Save for the final time a bit after midnight and prepared for the rigamarole of uploading to Flickr, posting on my blog and linking to Illustration Friday.  Only to discover that the topic had already been changed!  And that after IF had been so lax lately in changing topics promptly; the last one had been up for over two weeks.  Well, does it really matter if I submitted my work offiically?  It's not a class, it's not a contest; I only get the satisfaction of knowing that I did it and that anyone browsing the submissions for that topic might decide to have a look at mine.  It's not the first time I missed the IF boat, but I do think the deadline is a good motivator. Unlike, say, making a garment that you want to wear, it's easy to let projects that have no purpose other than exercising your creativity just peter out or get put aside and never taken up again.  So I thank IF for encouraging me to put paid to each "assignment" I undertake, and, hopefully, for engendering self-discipline, which I believe is ever more important for us – ahem – older individuals.


I wanted to illustrate both the sense of "reflect" as the act of thinking back or contemplating, as well as the physical mirroring of an image, as in water. My starting point was the silhouette, created from a photo of myself, in a "thoughtful" pose. Next I layered three textures from Lost and Taken as well as a photo shot through lace curtains out of one of my windows. Then I simply started trying out assorted graphics and parts of photos. ( At one point I had a bunch of butterflies, which seem to be my default decorative elements when I'm stuck.) The green vining foliage are some brushes I had downloaded some time ago, probably from Deviant Art, but I no longer remember their exact source. And finally, I selected the photo of the trees and creek which is at a lovely park here. All done in Photoshop, of course.  Linked or not, I'm glad I made the effort and pleased with the result.