Monday, July 30, 2012

Photo tutorial: reclaim the embedded water in a t-shirt

Turn a boxy promotional t-shirt into a fitted shirt that someone would actually wear.

1) Trim off the sleeves and neckline.  Cut the shoulders apart.  If reusing the neck ribbing, carefully pick apart the neckline stitching.

2) Fold the t-shirt along the center front and back.  Lay the pattern pieces on the shirt and cut out the new shirt pieces.  Take advantage of the pre-hemmed fabric, if you can.
3) Attach sleeves made from the reclaimed sleeves, or use a small amount of contrast material as I did here.  Reattach the neckline ribbing and hem (if you didn't preserve the hem as I did above).
In 2012, I've remade about a dozen t-shirts into various other wearable objects, mostly for children. And they are getting worn judging by the cute photos sent to my email inbox.


Friday, July 27, 2012

Embedded water: cotton

I sew mainly with cotton, often from reclaimed/recycled materials.  Why sew with reclaimed materials when it takes so much more time and fabric is (relatively) cheaper than time?

Because I think so much about things.

For instance, I think about the energy, water and chemicals embedded into finished goods.  Are they used optimally?  Can their useful life be extended?  I honor the makers and the materials by putting them to their highest use over and over again before destruction.

How did we lose touch with the wisdom of our grandmothers?  "Use it up, Wear it Out, Make it do...or Do without."

Cotton is one of the most water and chemical-intensive crops, using up about 3% of the world's arable land and freshwater and consuming about 15% of the chemicals used in agriculture.  Each pound of "conventional" cotton (enough for a adult t-shirt) is embedded with about 700 gallons of water and a third of a pound of chemicals!

The numbers change slightly, based on where and how the cotton is grown:
  • is it irrigated or watered by rain?
  • is it organic (more labor, water and land required) or conventionally-grown? (conventional = herbicide and insecticide inputs)
Is this the highest use of the land and the labor?  This is not an idle worry because children have been pulled out of school and sold into slavery in order to grow "fair trade" organic cotton at prices the first world is willing to pay.  Moreover, cotton destined for wealthy nations is often grown in countries where food is scarce; the water, land and labor diverted to growing cotton could have been used instead to grow food.

To learn more, Waterfootprint and NRDC are good places to start.  If you follow the waterfootprint link (and I think it is worthwhile), it will save you much confusion if you know that they break down water use into three types:
  • Blue: surface (river, lake, etc) and well water
  • Green: rainwater (least energy-intensive)
  • Grey: amount of water needed to dilute pollutants generated by the crop to safe levels

Excerpts from other sources:

From waterfootprint's cotton story
The water use of cotton has often great local impacts. In Central Asia, for example, excessive abstractions of water from the Amur Darya and Syr Darya for cotton irrigation have resulted in the near-disappearance of the Aral Sea. 
NRDC's From Field to Store: Your T-Shirt's Life Story
Every cotton T-shirt starts life in a cotton field, most likely in China, India or the United States. It takes anywhere from 700 to 2,000 gallons of water to produce about a pound of conventional cotton – enough for a single T-shirt. Cotton grown in the United States uses comparatively less water; however, about a third of a pound of chemical pesticides and fertilizers go into each pound of conventionally-grown American cotton.
US EPA water trivia
Over 713 gallons of water go into the production of one cotton T-shirt.
Wall Street Journal
A new wave of research on "virtual," or embedded, water has given companies and governments new tools to track not just the water that they consume directly, but also the gallons that are embedded in everything from dishwashing detergent and Argentine beef to Spanish oranges and cotton grown in Pakistan. A cup of coffee takes roughly 35 gallons. A cotton T-shirt typically takes some 700 gallons of water to produce. A typical hamburger takes 630 gallons of water to produce -- more than three times the amount the average American uses every day for drinking, bathing, washing dishes and flushing toilets. The bulk is used to grow grain for cattle feed.
10 Things That Will Change How You Think About Water 
Access to water: 1.6 billion people in the world -- one in four -- have to walk at least 1 km each day to get water and carry it home, or depend on someone who does. Just to provide basic water for a family of four -- 50 gallons -- that means carrying (on your head) 400 pounds of water, walking 1 km or more, for as many trips a day as necessary.
Peak oil? Try peak water.
From the food and grocery industry (great charts!)
It is estimated that the average Briton drinks between 2 and 5 litres of water per day and will use about 145 litres for cooking, cleaning, washing and flushing. If the embedded water used in the production of the goods people consume is also taken into account however the daily use per person in the UK may be nearer 3400 litres (Source: Waterwise).
UK relies on 'virtual' water from drought-prone countries
Britain and other rich countries depend heavily on importing hidden "virtual" water from places that regularly experience droughts and shortages, according a report published today by the Royal Academy of Engineering.
Although the UK is notoriously wet, it is estimated that two-thirds of all the water that its population of 60 million people needs comes embedded in imported food, clothes and industrial goods. The result is that when people buy flowers from Kenya, beef from Botswana, or fruit and vegetables from parts of Asia and Latin America, they may be exacerbating droughts and undermining countries' efforts to grow food for themselves, say the authors.
According to the report, the average Briton uses nearly 3,000 litres of imported water a year. One kilogram of beef needs 15,000 litres of water to produce, more than 10 times the amount required to produce the same weight of wheat. A T-shirt requires 2,700 litres.

It's not hopeless.  

Small changes from many people can have a big impact.  I drink one cup of coffee per day and then switch to tea and water.  I eat beef about once a month instead of weekly.  My husband's worn-out shirts are sewn into clothing for myself or for children.  Scraps can be turned into pieced quiltsScraps too small to use can be dampened and used for quick clean ups (instead of paper towels) before they are thrown into the trash.

I could send the dozens of promotional t-shirts from events that our family has attended over the last few years and never wear to Goodwill and turn them into someone else's problem.  They could languish in the store for months (everyone here has too many of these t-shirts) or they could be sent halfway around the world to cloth some other family , incurring shipping energy costs.  After visiting Tanzania and seeing how western t-shirts worn with locally made cloth wrap skirts free up arms needed for work, I feel OK about sending some of my shirts overseas.  But, mostly I try to put them to use in place as I will show in a photo tutorial on Monday.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Backstage support: traveling nannies

I decided to break up the nanny arrangements post and treat this backstage support item separately.

My last manager used to say that he could not put me on such and such (high profile) project because I cannot travel.  I repeatedly told him that I am able to travel, but I need to know in advance so I can make appropriate arrangements.  This back and forth went on for years with him making a false statement and me gently correcting him.  Anyway, all water under the bridge now.

In the last post, I wrote that the amount of backstage support that elite women can afford to purchase is out of the question for most women, even ones with PhDs like myself.  When my daughter was young and I was working nearly full-time, I did spend on a high-quality daycare center that provided coverage 7AM-6PM Monday through Friday.  A cleaning lady came biweekly.  My husband, when he was in town and not otherwise occupied, helped.  Otherwise, I was on my own.

My husband is a field scientist and travels frequently and with little notice. He told me that, if I put my travel on the calendar at least 6 months in advance, then he will hold that sacred and not book travel at the same time. That didn't work out as promised.   I have put travel on the calendar as far as 13 months in advance and he has then arranged to travel at the exact same time.  Again all water under the bridge now.

One time, when I was traveling to DC to brief a large project to the client agency, he had a trip pushed back from the prior week to the exact same week.  His client was one that could not be denied.  I couldn't back out of a big meeting arranged months in advance.  We were booked for the same flight to DC and shared a hotel room and car, saving our employer hundreds of dollars.

Our parents were in too frail health to help out with childcare overnight, so I  called the work/life balance counselor at HR for help with overnight daycare arrangements.  Blah, blah, blah.  They talked a good game, giving a work/life balance phone number.  But, when I really needed help, they offered me nothing but ridicule for even calling.   I told the counselor that the company was sending both parents out of town and that we needed help locating an overnight nanny.  She paused for a few seconds and then went into a spiel about how daycare is a private matter and not something that she can help me with. 

Anyway, I was heartened to read that U.S. Soccer provides and pays for traveling nannies as a normal part of the of cost of doing business and competing.

Wouldn't it be nice if all this talk about bringing women into STEM included more backstage support?  Or offering backstage support to anyone who needs it, regardless of profession?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Nanny arrangements

There's quite a bit of chatter about Marissa Mayer's new job as head of Yahoo.  Good for her!  And that's all I feel qualified to say as I've never worked in the dot com world.  If you want to read something, see Wandering Scientist's very thoughtful take.

I have to say that I am impressed at the difference that throwing money at a problem can make.  I was astonished to learn that the MBA CFO wife of a former scientist coworker had three full-time people facilitating her 'having it all' life.  At the office, she had a full time secretary AND a personal assistant in addition to the finance department staff.  At home, she had a full-time nanny.

Scientists don't earn that kind of money or have that much clout in the workplace.  Her personal assistant made about as much as I made working full-time as a scientist at a nonprofit.  Anyway, that kind of backstage support is not available except to elite women.  In effect, she's at the top of a pyramid scheme.

That's the thing that is getting lost in the debate.  There is a whole lot of care and attention necessary to run a home and family--what Joan Williams calls family work.  Family work, when it is not outsourced, generates no money and doesn't add to the GDP.  However, it is still work and it is still necessary to keep the family, community, state, nation and world running.  For instance, if no one signed up for the unpaid job of growing and raising children, society would eventually stop.

Elite women can afford to outsource.  But what are we doing to support all the lower-paid women propping her up?


  • I have riffed on Joan Williams' excellent analysis multiple times, most thoroughly in Perfect Madness.  
  • Please go back and read the Joan Williams series.  
  • More than 20 years ago, sociologist Arlie Hochschild followed the lives of Silicon Valley women, the women hired to perform their family work and the women hired by those women.  She wrote a fascinating book, The Second Shift.  Follow the money trail and the pyramid scheme is evident.
  • The pyramid scheme does not stop at our borders. Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy edited by Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild contains an uneven (but worthwhile) compilation of pieces by researchers following the global movement of women to satisfy the "care deficit" with devastating effects in their home (and host) countries.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Shirtdress shortcut

I've been making dresses, often from recycled clothing. You've seen some of these before, notably the what would Rachel wear? dress on the far right. 

The blue tie-dye rayon dress is the pieced bodice of Burda 8985 V2.

I've made shirtdresses from scratch before, like this rayon number from a 1980s Ralph Lauren pattern.  (You can see a full length photo of the dress on me in Two Scarves. )  I was not happy with the waist seam construction and looking for a better way. Click on this photo to see the words on the print.  Laying out the dress so that "look here" does not appear on potentially embarrassing locations took a great deal of time.  LOL. 
However, the dress was well loved and worn often for about a decade.  I wanted to replace it with another blue shirtdress without construction drama.

The Burda 8985 method of sewing a 1" wide straight seam, finishing the edges, then topstitching the seam allowance to the bodice with some elastic inside is certainly much easier and faster. It can be bulky in a heavier fabric. But, in a light one, it yields good results.

I came across this blue men's shirt at Goodwill, with a ketchup stain on one sleeve.  I chopped off the lower sleeves with the stain  about 6" below the underarm seam.  Then I chopped off the bodice about 18" below the back neck like this.  (I have a 15.5" back waist, the seam allowance takes up 1", and that leaves 1.5" for blousing and movement ease.)
I find it funny that I am replacing a Ralph Lauren dress with one made from a Ralph Lauren Polo shirt. I then attached a cotton jersey skirt from a Calvin Klein skirt pattern.
I found a plum men's shirt at Goodwill in a cotton/nylon blend with slight underarm staining. You can't see it unless you look really close and I am not averse to elbowing people who stick their faces into my armpit. So the shirt was perfect for this plum printed lawn remnant I picked up at SAS.  Any clue what I am doing in this photo?
I was short of fabric, so I pieced the back with a brown/orange lawn piece found in the same bin. ($6/lb and cotton lawn weighs next to nothing. There is a sewn in poly lining, $4/lb and even more weightless than the lawn.)
There was just enough of the brown/orange lawn to make a second shirtdress with this coral shirt languishing unworn in my closet.
It was perfect for our hostess in Colorado.
The eagle-eyed may notice other unblogged dresses on the rod, including one made with a vintage Issey Miyake pattern. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Burda 8985

After all that hiking, biking, river rafting and friend visits in Colorado, Bad Dad asked why we ever left the state. I thought I would remind him of the beach. This photo does not do justice to the sky and sea colors I saw on this morning's walk, but it does show off my shirt in a surfing pose.

  • Are you as bored as I am with my standard hand on hip pose?
  • I know that the color of the sea depends on variations of light, wind and the  algae count that day.  But, my immediate reaction today was, "What a lovely shade of blue-green!"
On my way home from the beach, I stopped by Target and saw this light phenomena to the southwest at about 11:15 PDT (10:15 local time). The sun was higher up and more to the south of this patch. I did not see evidence of any blue or violet in the sky, though you can see the faint green glow below the yellow.

I have been sewing, most recently with Burda 8985, which is out of print but still available here.
I sewed it three times (sorta). Here's version one, with the bodice right out of the envelope. I found the bodice a bit short so I sent it to a petite friend in Colorado and it fit her perfectly.  I mailed it to her on Monday, it arrived Wednesday, she hemmed it Thursday, and wore it Friday.  Then her husband emailed me on Saturday to say how nice she looked in it.  Sewing success!
Back view.
Instead of making the many-piece yardage-hog skirt on the pattern envelope, I just cut two rectangles with cut-on pockets.  There is no need to make paper patterns for rectangles.  Simply cut a pattern piece for the pocket and cut around it, then use a straight edge to cut the rest of the skirt rectangle.  Easy!

I bought 5 yards (54" wide) of the blue rayon challis and used 2.75 for V1 of the dress.  I went back to purchase more to make V2, but it was sold out.  I then creatively pieced the leftover side pieces below the pockets to make enough fabric to cut out the second bodice.  Two dresses from 5 yards with almost no waste scraps.  I was feeling very eco-virtuous.  But wait until you see what I did yesterday with no new fabric.

Bad Dad finally sorted his shirt collection and weeded out a few worn out ones.  This Hawaiian shirt was badly frayed at the hems and collar and has faded from it's original charcoal.  However, it is made from a lovely rayon/cotton/linen blend and is carefully matched at the center front and pocket.  It was too good to toss out. 
So I recut it using the bodice of Burda 8985, which I remembered fit me well.  I lengthened it slightly to fit the available fabric.  I got lazy and used a scrap of gray Kona quilting cotton for the neck facings without any interfacing for stabilization.  Kona is very stable, but it stretched slightly while sewing and pressing.  I hope that it will shrink back after washing.  If not, I will have to pick out the neck stitching and take it in slightly.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Is there a sweeter phrase

than to hear a grad student say to your daughter at a poster session, "As predicted* in your mommy's PhD thesis..."?

We are back home after attending the JILA 50th celebration.  On the last day, we attended a poster session of recent graduate student work held in the new JILA X wing.  Here's the complex of old and new buildings.

Here's another view of the new X wing.
When Iris toured the labs, she observed that TV shows, such as Eureka, depict laboratories all wrong.  Real labs, she observed, are not as sleek and much more messy than the ones in Eureka.  I had to suppress a laugh because the X-wing labs are very shiny, new and tidy compared to the old ones.

Here's a YouTube video showing the difference between the old and new labs.

Even the old labs were more spacious than the one where I met Bad Dad.  

When I mentioned to a mom I met at daycare (who told me that she studied optical physics at U of Rochester) that I met Bad Dad in lab, she nodded and asked, "aligning optics?"

"How did you know?" I asked.

She smiled and laughed.  "I know so many couples who met that way."

Hmm, many hours spent in close quarters in semi-darkness and reaching over one another to reach apparatus and tweak knobs.  The danger of high voltage equipment, high-temperature plasmas and lasers coupled with the roar of vacuum pumps...

This September, we will have been married 22 years.

* I can't remember her exact word choice. She might have said, "As explained in your mommy's PhD thesis..." I was just thrilled that someone had even read my PhD thesis recently and is still doing related work.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The road not taken

We thought we were going to take this easy 4WD road called the Switzerland trail but we couldn't find the unmarked trailhead.

Instead, we parked at the trailhead for an expert trail, knowing that it would lead us to the easy one.  I have to admit, the first mile or so was daunting.
But, eventually, we found the Switzerland trail and had a great ride.
I'm glad we didn't bring Iris. The first mile would have traumatized her.  Easy is also a relative rating.  There were sections that would have been difficult for neophyte mountain bikers.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Still taking the slow road

In search of the perfect flower.

Notice several things about the photo.

See the wide berth the jeep is giving the cyclist?
Bad Dad driving the sag wagon (silver minivan behind the jeep).
Construction equipment on the side of the road.
Clouds gathering before the deluge.
Happy child.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Modeling behavior

Trena has a really insightful post about how people shop for entertainment because there are so few other options for them where they live.  I left a comment that shopping is also a socially communicable disease.  We learn how to spend our time from how we see others around us spend their time.

This year, Bad Dad and I are focused on teaching our daughter how to safely bike for transportation AND recreation.  (We are also helping her learn how to navigate public transit in metro LA.)

When we were driving up to Point Imperial at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon (see map), it reminded me of how much fun Bad Dad and I had riding our bikes, and stopping at every view point, around other national parks and similarly scenic places.  I begged Bad Dad to let me ride the route while he drove behind.  Surprisingly, Iris said she wanted to try it.  Here we are leaving the parking lot at Point Imperial, elevation 8803 feet above sea level.

I am carrying my purse and first aid kit in the left pannier and we are both carrying water.  It was in the upper 70s F and very dry.  You can see the burn scars on many of the trees from past forest fires.  It took us only 15 minutes to cover the 2.6 downhill miles to the junction.

The map I had showed Roosevelt Point at 8400' and visitor center at 8200'.  I expected rolling hills but an overall downhill so Iris wanted to go on.  The switchbacks climbing out of the junction and Greenland lake surprised me with their duration and it turned out to be too hard for her.  It was surprisingly easy for me.  (It must be all those trips to the gym now that I am unemployed.)

I left her at a turnout, confident that Bad Dad was minutes away with the minivan/sag wagon.  Iris took this picture of my bum as they passed me.  This is the kind of alpine riding I did every summer weekend in the Boulder foothills in my 20s.
It was so much fun, and I was so happy that my daughter could share part of that.  See my big smile?

The air is also somewhat hazy with smoke from fires that dot the southwest.  She was also suffering from altitude and smoke inhalation.  It's a complete mystery how I was able to ride without resorting to the inhaler in the first aid kit.  Fortunately, we had a bit of rain at the North Rim (AZ) and in Northern New Mexico; more relief is on the way.  This year, we will not complain about the rain on our vacation.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Taking the slow road

to a big party for precision measurement nerds.
Can you guess where these photos were taken?
Hope your summer is as fun-filled as ours.

BTW, sewing fans may be interested to note that Iris' shorts in both photos are Kwik Sew 2666 and my camp shirt is made from McCall's 4056 (both OOP) and African "Dutch Wax" fabric.  Matching the slightly uneven motifs was a PITA but worth it.