Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Sew What?! Mexicali Folk Couture

For no significant reason whatsoever - besides the life-spice that is variety - I am always reticent to put two posts of the same category one immediately after the other.  In this instance, however, an anxiousness to share the beautiful fruits of a successful group effort has me abandoning my stance and bringing you a very special "Sew What?!" 

My mentailty in design is best diagnosed as schizophrenic; one day I'll be appliquéing an angel fish silhouette to a beach ensemble and the next day I'll be hemming a bias-cut evening gown or sewing pom-pom trim to the hem of high-waisted capri pants.  Were I ever to create a cohesive collection, I know that the inspirational through-line would be found at the intersection of ethnic and bohemian fashions - a little corner that I like to call "Folk Couture."

Transcending time and place, the richness, simplicity, and
femininity of folk couture are the true heart of my favorite looks.

Just to prove that we aren't afraid of trying something new, we decided to collaborate with our good pal, Fabian Fioto (remember that name), to see if we could elevate my humble stitchery to something a little more refined.  With no particular destination in mind, we loaded up Fabian's '55 Buick and started scouting locations for a day of photography, featuring the latest from Mr. Tiny's workshop.

With Mary as model, Fabian behind the lens, and Mr. Tiny as stylist and PA (I'm a whiz at holding a reflector), we found the perfect setting at Los Rios Historic District in the shadow of the Mission San Juan Capistrano.

I'm still in the beginning stages of learning to be flexible when it comes to a rigid adherence to my original color story; after so many vain searches for something that only exists in my mind, I am getting more limber - creatively speaking - with every project.  Failing to find the perfect buttercup yellow for the skirt, I settled on a green taffeta that I found for four dollars per yard (a definite splurge by wacky tacky standards).  For many, four dollars per yard is not a price too dear; in fact it might seem downright cheap; it has always been my feeling though that a guaranteed way to make inexpensive fabric look luxurious is simply to use lots and lots of it!  The peasant blouse is made from an ivory lace remnant that was a hand-me-down from my grandma, with ruffles finished in a tatted trim found at my favorite hole-in-the-wall, Mexican fabric store.

I once passed up a lot of vintage millinery flowers at a local swap meet and I kick
myself  to this day.  With my genuine distaste for most of what passes as silk florals
these days, those bygone, vintage flowers haunted me as the only things that I could
imagine affixing to the neckline.  I was surprised to find a bunch of passable, red
poppies at the craft store and cut down the stems to make my own little bouquet.

I don't know if the experience is unique to me, but I am genuinely excited about everything I sew...until the project is finished.  Once a garment has been completed, the momentum is gone.  It is then that I begin to pick apart all of the imperfections and acknowledge the astounding lack of technique.  This ensemble, however, is one of my favorite things that I've ever sewn for Mary; it probably has as much to do with the feeling that I've embraced my favorite design sensibility as it does with finally seeing a finished project fully realized in beautiful photographs.

Would you believe that the combined length of this skirt includes no less than 45 yards of fabric?!?!!
Counting the length of each tier, I figure that I gathered 135 feet of green taffeta!!!

Do you believe me now?

Well, what do you think?  Are you a fan of folk couture?  How do you think we handled our first attempt at a proper photo shoot?  I knew that good lighting, solid camera equipment, and a skilled technician would make a substantive difference from our usual last-minute, front-yard snapshots but I was not prepared for just how significant that difference would be.  I am so impressed with Mary's modeling (she apparently reserves her effort for professionals) and Fabian's camera work (a great director and visionary).

How very quickly it went from this... this.

A huge thanks to my wacky tacky compatriots for making this lone wolf feel like a real collaborator!!!


Mr. Tiny

Friday, March 21, 2014

Sew What?! Sarong That It's Right

As is the case with most home-garment-construction workers (a new phrase I've coined to make my chosen hobby sound more masculine and avoid the easily misread, "sewer"), I go through periods of inspirational and motivational drought.  Months will pass before I realize that beyond some minor mending, I haven't sewn a single stitch.

As it inevitably does, the pendulum has a way of swinging back to the opposite extreme and I find myself chained to my trusty Bernina, forgoing wild nights in the pursuit of wild, wacky tacky wear.  I often refer to my sewing area as "Mr. Tiny's workshop;" when it more closely resembles "Mr. Tiny's Sweatshop," however, I begin to sympathize with Betty Hutton.

"The Sewing Machine" - Betty Hutton in
The Perils of Pauline (1947)

Currently in the midst of a sewing binge, I am doing my best to cut through the huge stash of fabric that I have been amassing.  For years I have been successfully whittling away at the yards and yards and yards and yards of a particular Marimekko print that I happened to buy at very deep discount in every available colorway.  The 1960 print from the Finnish manufacturer is called "Tulipunainen" which, according to a very perfunctory Google search, translates to "vermilion" - although one shouldn't expect an accurate representation of color here because every picture I upload seems to change color drastically.

Even though it is of decidedly-Scandinavian origin, I can't help but get a tropical inspiration every time I see this print; I like to think of Tulipunainen as the Thor Heyerdahl of the fabric world.

Heyerdahl was Norwegian and Marimekko is Finnish
but come hell AND high water, both managed to find
the South Pacific somehow.

With all the boldness of one of 20th-Century tiki's founding fathers, I set out on my own polynesian adventure to discover if I could create a two-piece semi-sarong(ish) outfit for Mary.

Mary has encouraged me to include a sketch with all
of my "Sew What?!" posts.  I'm a little shy about sharing
my drawings so we'll see how long this lasts.

 While technically not a sarong (the skirt does not wrap, the front panel is just a large drape), Mary felt it wasn't so-wrong and decided to wear it mere moments after I finished sewing on the last button.

Dorothy Lamour this ain't but
it's sarong that it's right, right?

She wore it to up her wild ante while performing at a Wild Records show;
I'm thinking she should be the poster child for their offshoot label - Mild Records.

All of our favorite photographer friends were in attendance
but nobody brought a proper camera.  I don't blame them
but I sure was hoping I wouldn't have to rely on my
meager point-and-shoot-and-pray technique.

Do you sew?  Have you been stuck at your sewing machine lately?  Have you ever made a sarong-style outfit?  Does this Finnish fabric have you singing Aloha 'Oe?  Until the next time I get a break from my self-imposed sweatshop, I'll settle for that lilting, island melody as played on the electric organ.

"Aloha 'Oe"


Mr. Tiny

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Kitsch-en Kounter: Tricky Dick's Irish Trifle

St. Patrick's Day always makes me wonder what the Irish think of our antics - the mad rush for corned beef brisket, the boiled cabbage, the marshmallows and instant pistachio pudding...  That's part of everyone's St. Paddy's dinner menu, right?  Well, it always is at our March 17 festivities.

Among the many other offerings that have little-to-nothing to do with genuine Irish cuisine, a healthy concoction of non-dairy whipped topping, pistachio pudding, crushed pineapple, and marshmallows that we so cleverly refer to as "Green Fluff" takes pride of place next to the dyed-green beverages and other obligatory St. Patrick's Day staples.

"Green Fluff"
While recipes vary, this is the basic ratio that we generally use:
1 - 8oz. tub of non-dairy whipped topping, 1- 10 oz. can of crushed pineapple,
1 - 3.4 oz. package of instant pistachio pudding mix, 1 1/2 Cups of mini marshmallows.
(In a stroke of further Irish fakery, I added some shredded coconut because I had a little left in the pantry)

In looking up information on the origins of this dessert (my grandmother was creative but with a blender absent from the necessary tools for this recipe, I knew it couldn't have been born of her imagination), I discovered that Green Fluff is an American creation of 1970's pedigree, better known by its era-appropriate moniker, "Watergate Salad" (leave it to our great nation to define something with negative nutritional value as a salad).

Kraft Foods lays claim to the creation of Watergate Salad but I like to believe the version of events that gives credit to a crafty sous-chef at Washington, D.C.'s own Watergate Hotel...yes, that Watergate Hotel.  Upon further investigation, I learned that there was also a recipe for a pistachio-pudding-based Watergate Cake.  As if Watergate Salad wasn't scandalous enough, my favorite one-liner about the cake is that it has "a cover-up frosting and is full of nuts." cake.
Much like the salad recipe, recipes for the cake have slight variations but are at their
core an easy combination of pre-made ingredients - cake mix, pudding mix, soda pop.
To unify the flavor profile, I added some drained, crushed pineapple to the mix.

wacky tacky is proud to remain politically-neutral on most occasions; as Richard Nixon's name generally elicits discussions of corruption and unsavory political practices, we thought it would be more fun to implicate him in the sweetness of our own culinary crimes.  Combining the frothiness of Watergate Salad with the green glory of Watergate Cake, we imbued our St. Patrick's Day dessert with the spirit of President Nixon (of Irish descent on both sides of his family) and created "Tricky Dick's Irish Trifle."

"Tricky Dick's Irish Trifle"
I am ever tempted to elevate kitschy recipes by upgrading ingredients (real
whipped cream, freshly-shelled pistachios, etc.) and implementing more
finesse.  It is then that I remember the old saying, "That would just be putting
lipstick on a pig."  And everyone knows, a fresh-faced pig is the purdiest pig.
Therefore, I just load on the inappropriate toppings like gummy lime wedges
and pearly-green Sixlets.

"I am not a crook!"
This kid can handle his scandal.
Once he deemed it edible, everyone
 dug into dessert with gusto!

Seriously, one taste of Tricky Dick's Irish Trifle and you'll be ready to chase the snakes out of the Emerald Isle, swim in a green river, exchange strands of plastic beads (since when was SPD reduced to Irish Mardi Gras?), and enjoy all of the other "traditional" activities for which St. Patrick's Day should be celebrated.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!!!


Mr. Tiny