first pair of jeans!

by Nicole on February 24, 2015

I’m just going to preface this by saying I’m not very happy with how I look in these pictures, but whatever, I want to get this thing posted. Let’s not let the sub-par pics put a damper on the excitement, because this is a very exciting post indeed! I MADE JEANS!

As all the Ginger Jeans posts rolled in during the past few months, I noticed almost everyone has opened with “I MADE JEANS!” or something similar. I swore I would open with something else, but now I realize why that’s been everyone’s go-to opener–because you literally want to scream “I MADE JEANS!” from the rooftops after making your first pair. So, sorry, everyone, for thinking you were being unoriginal, but now I realize I was just a dope.

So yeah, I MADE JEANS! View A of the Closet Case Files Ginger Jeans, to be exact. The only change I made for this initial pair was to shorten them by 2 inches (which I did by removing at the knee, per Heather Lou’s fitting tips), because I’m only 5’3″. For my next pair, I’d like to lengthen the rise like half an inch or maybe an inch, just because these feel a touch lower than I like (and you can definitely see some belly hanging out), and I’ll likely draft a pocket stay. I also notice a good bit of excess fabric in the back thigh above my knees, so I’d like to investigate removing at least some of that. Not sure how to go about removing that wedge, but I’ll take these to my next sewing meetup and get some advice. If any of you have advice, please share! (Or if you see any other fitting issues, please speak up!)

I made these using some stretch denim I got from Fabric.com during their $3.99/yard sale at the end of 2014. I have to say that for the low cost, I’m fairly impressed. They are 2% stretch, and a nice weight to where they don’t show off every single little thing. They are definitely thicker and more expensive-looking (I kind of hate that phrase, but don’t know how else to describe it…) than my RTW skinny jeans from Target. And so far, the recovery seems to be fairly good too. I took these pictures after 1.5 days of wear, so while they’d bagged out somewhat, it’s not terrible. I bought a bunch more denim during the sale, so hopefully the other stuff is as good as this.

I think the only real piece of advice that I have is that you should DEFINITELY do the basting step at the very beginning. Like a lot of others have found, the larger sizes seem to run big, so you might find you need to size down, and better to learn before you get too far into the process. I initially cut an 18 (I’m a 35″ waist, 45″ hip). I ended up re-cutting two sizes smaller to a 14 (33″ waist, 42″ hip), and I feel like they fit exactly how I like my jeans to fit. The good thing about this is that maybe a lot of you who are off the size chart could actually make the largest size, or at least do only minimal grading?

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Quick side-story about the fabric I used for my pockets and waistband facing… This is actually the first fabric I bought when I wanted to pick up sewing again as an adult. I had never sewn from a pattern before, and I picked up some random Big 4 pattern that was a simple woven tank with a yoke. Well, it came out WAY too big and I used super-thick interfacing for the yoke, so it was a horrible, unwearable tent. I really liked the fabric though, so I kept it thinking I’d cut it up and use it one day. I just love that the first thing I ever tried to make found its way into the most professional thing I’ve ever made!

I was pretty nervous about the fly-front zip, but honestly, it was a piece of cake using Heather Lou’s sewalong (seriously, the sewalong was SO helpful). I was also seriously dreading installing the jeans button at the end, because frankly, I hate the idea of hammering things. I know how dumb that sounds, but it just seems hard for some reason. Anyway, I did one practice before the real one, and it took like, 30 seconds? And was, of course, super easy, even though I was using a meat mallet instead of a hammer, haha! So maybe I should get more comfortable with the idea of tools instead of equating hanging a picture with torture. And maybe I won’t be afraid to add rivets on future pairs!

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Ah, yes, future pairs! I am planning several more… First up will be another View A with the changes I’d like to make based on this first pair, likely in a gray denim from the sale haul. After that, I want to tackle the high-waisted View B with more of the sale denim. And I still have both lengths of my kit denim, but I’m saving that until I am closer to my goal weight. (Side note: As much as I am enjoying how much healthier I feel after making lifestyle changes and losing weight, it is kind of annoying that none of the old stuff I made fits me, and it definitely makes me rethink using some of my favorite fabrics now because I don’t want to have to do alterations later.)

One last thing to mention… this is the garment that cured my sew-jo! After a few months of barely touching my machine, wrapping my brain around the idea of making jeans was not too tempting. After all, everyone always says you should pick a fun, easy project to boost your sew-jo. But…these jeans were half cut-out on my table, and I really hate balancing multiple projects, so I just let them sit until I was ready to tackle them. But once I finally got into them, I loved the process SO MUCH! Hands-down, this was the most fun thing I’ve ever sewn, and so satisfying. I went really slow, making sure everything was really precise, and I felt so proud of myself after every single step. So my recommendation for curing sew-jo is not to tackle an easy project, but instead to learn a whole new skill, something that will be super satisfying and will remind you, “Oh yeah! THIS is why I sew!” I’m sure making a simple knit top or dress would have felt good, but the confidence that came with making these jeans makes me just want to keep going.

how to be mindful

by Nicole on February 19, 2015

I think most of us realize that “being mindful” really is one of the most important things we can do to be happier people. We are so used to being distracted all the time–eating breakfast while reading blogs, showering while thinking about that thing that person said about you last week, eating lunch while working on a spreadsheet, running on the treadmill while watching TV, eating dinner in front of Netflix, etc. We are thinking about something else during almost every single activity we perform. One day we realize that when our minds are so distracted like this, we miss out on all the good that’s happening in the present. So we resolve to become more mindful, without really understanding what it means.

Many, many times in the past few years, I have thought that being mindful was the answer to many of my problems (and I still believe it is), but the fact is that I was doing mindfulness wrong. And I suspect a lot of you out there, who have made earnest intentions to be mindful, are doing it wrong too, and maybe you’re thinking that being mindful is such a chore and requires so much hard work and willpower that maybe it’s just not for you. Or maybe you will be mindful one day, but life is just too busy right now. This post is for you!

So, here’s the big secret: Being mindful is NOT about thinking. A lot of times when we start out with mindfulness, we come to it with the expectation that it means we need to really think about our actions and notice every little thing in the present. We think that mindfulness means becoming commentators on our own actions–“Now I’m lifting the fork to my mouth. Now I’m putting the pasta into my mouth. Now I’m thinking that it tastes good. Now I’m chewing until it’s all chewed-up. Now I’m setting my fork down. Now I’m taking a sip of water. Now I’m picking the fork up to do it all again.”

You know what this feels like? It feels like a chore! No wonder we feel like mindfulness isn’t for us, because we’re really just adding extra stress by forcing ourselves to be hyper-focused. Before, we were distracted by the present because we were thinking about other things, but now we are distracted by the present because we are thinking too much about the thing we are doing. Either way, we are letting ourselves be ruled by our thoughts instead of actually experiencing the present.

So to practice mindfulness, instead of thinking and analyzing, you want to flip your brain to noticing. Noticing is different from thinking in that you are not at all analyzing or judging or labeling your actions; you are simply noting them. I confess that I find it quite difficult to explain the difference in words. One of the best explanations I’ve heard for this is listening to music: “Suppose you try to describe [Chopin’s] ‘Revolutionary Study’ in words: There is a crash, then a growl down the scale, and then up the scale, and then down… Actually, there are no adequate words to describe it” (Trevor Legett). So if you were listening to this classical piece of music, sure, you may notice that these things happen in the piece, but you are never actually picking them out and analyzing them as you listen; you just listen to it as a whole and enjoy the ride. There will be some moments where you think “ooh, I like that!” and other moments where you are just listening and noticing nothing, just sitting in the moment.

THIS is what being mindful should feel like. You are actually focused on feeling what’s going on in the present, because you are free from thinking or labeling what is going on in the present. Rather than becoming a commentator on yourself, you turn the volume on the commentary down and just watch the game. When you are truly able to just notice things in the moment like this, and stop your brain from analyzing your actions in any way, you will feel a sense of lightness, or maybe a brightness or a warmth.  The best analogy I have for it is the feeling of getting into a warm bath, just this alive quality of “this is good” as your skin sinks into the warmth. Some days it will be just a dull, warm pulse, and other days it will give you that “exploding out of your chest” feeling. The point is that mindfulness should feel light in the mind, not heavy.

If you’d like to try this out, try it with some small, seemingly mundane tasks. When you get dressed tomorrow, notice how it feels as you pull the clothes over your body. Remember you don’t have to think, “I am now pulling the shirt over my head.” Instead, try to perform the action normally, but just be a little more attentive to the senses as you do so. Notice if the shirt feels smooth or rough, cold or hot, does your skin perk up when the fabric glides over, etc. Or try it when you wash the dishes. Notice the smell of the dish soap, the meditative quality of moving a sponge in a circular motion, that strangely satisfying feeling of seeing the dirty get “magically” changed to clean, the weight of this fork, etc. When you do these things, remember the classical music analogy–you are aiming for noticing, not labeling or analyzing or naming.

This may feel really forced at the beginning, but just keep practicing, and it does get easier and more enjoyable with time. You will probably want to kill me when I say this, but I folded laundry the other day while trying to stay totally in the present, and I swear to you that it felt like an utter joy. The different textures and weights of the fabrics created such tactile interest as I was folding, that I didn’t need to be distracted with something like TV. With practice, you will get here.

One last note–mindfulness is also NOT about stopping thoughts. We are humans, and our brains are used to thinking. Instead, when we notice that there are thoughts popping in our minds that are distracting us from the present moment, we just want to gently return our attention back to the present. You might be watching birds in the sky, for example. Your mind will feel light and peaceful, your heart feels warm, and maybe you feel a small smile on your face. But then because you’re totally human, a thought butts in that says, “Oooh, what should I eat for dinner? Maybe some pasta, I do have those tomatoes–or I could go out, I do deserve a night off.” As soon as you realize that your mind is distracted from whatever you are doing in the present, simply stop that thought as soon as you notice it (do not feel a need to “complete” the thought, just stop mid-sentence) and then redirect your attention back to the present. You might need to do this 50 times some days when your mind is really busy, or you might need to do it just once when you are feeling very calm. The main thing is that you don’t want to think too hard about not thinking, because that only makes you think more.

Make sense? I really do hope this gives some of you a “light bulb moment”, like it gave me when I finally realized it. And please do let me know if you have any questions, and I will try to answer them! Or if any of you have any mindfulness tips or exercises to share, please do!

(Disclaimer: Please don’t take this as an “I’ve got it all figured out” type of thing. This is what works for me, and I think it will work for many of you too, so that’s why I’m sharing. This is also something I have to remind myself of a lot, but I promise it does get easier with practice.)

on disappointment and stress

by Nicole on February 11, 2015

I’ve felt pretty frustrated with myself for the past few days. I’m struggling with a feeling of disappointment in myself, a feeling that I could be better if only I’d REALLY apply myself. It feels like I already know the answers, and I keep not choosing them. Getting frustrated playing tennis because my swing is totally off and my footwork is lousy and I can’t figure out what I’m doing wrong, even though I know good form. Annoyed at myself for playing badly, telling myself things I know aren’t true or helpful, like that I just suck because I’m fat and lazy, and that if only I’d work harder, I’d be better. Ashamed and embarrassed that I’m acting this way and treating myself so poorly. Angry and wanting to punish myself for my stupidity by forcing myself to run laps afterwards. Ashamed again that I think my body needs punishment, not love.

I get home, I let the thoughts continue to snowball. I make the homemade almond milk I tell myself I should have made yesterday if only I wasn’t so lazy. I spill some of the milk while pouring it into a jar, and tell myself what an idiot I am, that I really can’t do anything right at all. I don’t know what to cook for dinner, and my anger has taken away my appetite anyway. I secretly feel a little happy in a wretched way, like maybe I just won’t eat dinner at all, and this sacrifice will somehow make up for my earlier transgressions.

Our thoughts can be pretty insane.

“Why am I having these thoughts?!?!” I scream to myself. “I’ve already dealt with these problems! I’ve already figured all this out! I already KNOW all the answers!”

After tears and self-pitying, I do what I should have done at the beginning–meditated on what I was feeling. The meditation begins by defining stress in a way I’d never really heard, but that completely resonated with me. I’ve always just thought of stress as a pressure we feel because we have a lot on our plates. But the meditation made me realize that stress is a pressure we put on ourselves.

Stress happens because we want things to be different than how they are. I use this phrase all the time, and yet somehow forget it when I need it most–don’t argue with reality. The only thing that arguing with reality does is create internal turmoil and anguish.

I don’t want to play tennis badly, and yet I do sometimes. I don’t want to make mistakes, and yet I do sometimes. I don’t want to be angry, and yet I am sometimes.  I don’t want to not know what to cook, and yet I do sometimes. I don’t want to cry, and yet I do sometimes. I don’t want to feel defensive and lash out at those I love, and yet I do sometimes. I don’t want to feel discomfort either physically or emotionally, and yet I do sometimes.

Arguing with those things solves nothing. Believing things shouldn’t be this way solves nothing.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes from Pema Chödrön: “We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”

I don’t know all the answers, and I haven’t figured things out. You never just learn a thing and then be done with it. You have to learn and re-learn and develop and maybe stumble, and then learn again. And that’s okay. That’s life. There are off-moments and off-days and off-weeks and maybe even longer, and that. is. all. okay. I need to remember to sit with the discomfort, to know that it is not forever, that it will pass. And when I do remember this, like magic, I often find that as soon as I just let go and embrace the discomfort, I begin to feel a sense of comfort in knowing that things are playing out however they are, not for any reason, but just because they are, and that they will pass. Just let it happen. React appropriately.

So here’s to re-learning again and again that no matter how much you think you have it all together, you’re going to stumble. All the stumble means is that you need to re-examine your thoughts and actions, and probably be a bit more humble. We will never have all the answers, we will never always be right, we will never make it into that group of perfect adults who have it all together. We will always be human, living a life in which things come together and then fall apart, and as long as we remember that, we will be much happier and kinder.