Last week was the end of a long chapter in my life. The house I lived in for 6 years transferred ownership to my buyers and I officially moved out. I will never pull into that driveway again, never dash up the stairs to grab the scarf I forgot in my closet, never make a huge mess in the kitchen while putting together a delicious meal, never enjoy a glass of wine with loved ones on the couch in the living room, never plant another garden in the backyard… It is with absolute certainty that I can say that this experience would serve as the perfect definition of bittersweet. All week long I found myself sitting in the middle of two extreme emotions: liberated joy and crushing sadness.
The latter was the stronger of the two feelings in the last few days as I went through the closing of the sale and emptying of the final things in the house; but there was a constant optimism underlying the sorrow attempting to remind me of the great things ahead. Emotions are tricky, aren’t they? The logical side of me was rolling her eyes at the weepy side and biting her tongue even though she wanted to shout: “Hey dummy, you’ve been waiting for months to sell your house and move on from this break-up, why are you so sad!?” Conversely, the emotional side of me was angry at the rational side and more than once she wailed: “Why doesn’t logical me and everyone else understand why I feel sad, and isn’t it OK to feel this way anyway?!” Fortunately I am somehow comfortable living in the middle of juxtapositional craziness and although I felt completely disheveled, I was equally fine with oscillating between the sad and happy, rolling with whichever felt stronger and appreciating that what I was feeing was all valid.
That said, it’s been a tough couple of weeks. Particularly the last handful of times I went into the empty house, after I had moved out and was returning to pick up the last of my boxes or clean up before handing over the keys to the new owners… I left the house in tears more than once and felt sick to my stomach every time I drove away. There’s something quite heartbreaking about saying a goodbye that you know is permanent. It was the same feeling I had when I said goodbye to the dog and the cats that my ex took after we split – there’s this terrible finality in walking away from something or someone you know you will never see again. And in this case, this goodbye was to a really beautiful house that I cherished very dearly as a wonderful home for many years. And even though the life I shared with my former partner is over and I know that he and I are both better off in our new lives, I still have happy memories of the time we had together in that home.
So my goal with this post is to pay tribute to the house, my home, which I loved and will always love. And if Julie Andrews has taught me anything (apart from the best word in the world, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious), when I’m feeling sad, I just need to think of a few of my favourite things. Here are a few from the first house I ever owned.
The floors. Hardwood oak, medium brown, with beautiful and unique swirls in every individual piece. I still remember the first days of installation – pulling each strip of wood from the piles of boxes, delighting in the idea that these gorgeous pieces were just like a fingerprint or snowflake, unique and unlike any other in the pile.
The mudroom. Square slabs of slate in shades of grey, blue, yellow, green, and even a speckle or two of red – all with a magical feel of the cosmos that would take me away into reveries of outer-space whenever I allowed myself to stop for a moment to recognize their beauty. One side of the room was comprised of pale grey built-in cabinets framing the washing machine and dryer with a large and sturdy matching bench opposite, all designed for optimal convenience in this welcoming room that served as my main entry on the side of the house.
The dolomite. The kitchen was already perfectly installed when we purchased the house (IKEA kitchens for the win!) so there wasn’t really much to do in this room apart from dressing it up a bit. The dolomite tile that I chose as backsplash was absolutely stunning: a soft white with the faintest whispers of grey streaking throughout, along with a pale grey grout… it was special. And then to top it all off, functional hand-build shelving was added on either side of the stove, just above the backsplash.
The closet. One of my favourite decisions made in the early days of the purchase was to tear down the wall between the linen closet in the hallway upstairs and the walk-in closet in the master bedroom, leaving me with all the space a girl could need for a (dare I say it?) dream closet. Pure white, good lighting, hooks for days, bead-board and ample shelving – it was the best closet I’ve ever had. (And that’s saying a lot, because the first place I ever rented had a spare bedroom that I used as a full closet.)
The fireplace. Remember that cosmic tile from my incredible mudroom? It was reclaimed for a fireplace-makeover in the first few years at the house. Where the fireplace was previously a pale indistinct purple-beige with absolutely NOTHING going for it, the refreshing makeover gave the mantlepiece new life with a crisp white on top contrasted by the bold and bright colours of the slate along the base.
The colours. Fossil Grey, Stratosphere, Seagull Grey… I can’t remember all the creative names of the paint colours I chose over the years but the colours are imprinted in my memory. Deep blues upstairs, a pale baby blue in the kitchen, varying shades of grey throughout the main floor, pure white in the bathroom and closets, and a pale greyish green in the mudroom all gave me joy from the first stroke of the paintbrush until the very last time I walked through the house.
Why were these my favourite things? I chose them. Living in this house allowed me the experience of my very first time decorating my own place, choosing the finishing touches, playing interior designer, and leaving my mark in every room. But, as much as I had a role to play in choosing the aesthetics in each room, my ex played a much larger role by installing them and adding special touches that I will always remember with gratitude. Strangely it occurred to me as I was writing – all the things I listed are vestiges of his handiwork. He was (and is) a talented craftsman – a quality that I continue to admire to this day. Just as I loved my house and will always love it, I loved him and always will. We weren’t right for each other, but he was good to me and we made a beautiful home together.
Saying goodbye to this house was as much a goodbye to the structure as much as it was a goodbye to him and all the beautiful work he did. “A few of my favourite things” could turn into an ongoing series about all the amazing work he did in that house – the raised bed for my garden in the backyard, the sturdy bannister that he installed after tearing out the weird wonky original that was there when we bought the place, those handmade cabinets and countertop he custom built around our washer and dryer in the mudroom, the inserts he installed in the oversized windows to give them an extra touch of character… It was a good home that we made, even though it wasn’t meant to be ours forever.
On that very last night in the house I walked from room to room, running my fingers along on the walls, taking in every corner in the hope that I would never forget those precious spaces. And now, as I write these words, I feel a fond appreciation for the home we made together and the lovely work he did for us in that house. More importantly, I know that there was great love in that home and that is something truly unforgettable. He worked hard and we worked hard together – regardless of how it ended, that house remains a monument to that love and work, and that is what I said goodbye to. These are, they were, they always will be, a few of my favourite things.
The other day I was listening to my (perfectly) curated “Fall Fall Fall” seasonal playlist made by yours truly on Spotify and as one of my favourite tunes came on I had this unexpected epiphany about the song that sent me into a spiral of random and interconnected thoughts about repetition. Herein is my attempt to summarize those thoughts in a (hopefully) coherent and eloquent manner for no reason other than getting it out of my brain and onto (virtual) paper. Let me repeat: This is random, but it is interconnected. Or if anything, it feels interconnected. Let’s start by playing this song on repeat:
This lovely track by The Morning Benders has been a favourite of mine for a few months – it inevitably makes it onto most of the playlists that I put together and whenever I hear it I always get all sorts of feels. It’s got all the good things you want to hear in a great song: A slow build up at the beginning, a rolling drum that prevails through the course of the 5 minutes of song, a bridge that sucks you in by dropping most of the instruments and focusing mainly on layered vocals before building back up with all the sounds… It’s a goodie. I’ve listened to it countless times (often on repeat) and love love love it. But something clicked for me the other day when it came on that I had never noticed before. Right around the 40 second mark, after that awesome introductory build up at the beginning of the song, the music swells with strings and a very familiar melody comes into play… Do you hear it?
Did I imagine it, or is there something resonating in those strings that sounds just a little like the strings in this endlessly classic love song? It isn’t exactly the same but there’s this slight familiarity that suddenly became very apparent to me in that moment and I haven’t been able to shake it since. This isn’t to say that I think “Excuses” is copying “At Last” – it’s been years since I’ve read sheet music but I’m sure if you put these two songs side by side they would differ – and it’s quite possible that nobody else will hear this the same way that I do. But to me, the connection is there and it only made me love the song even more.
This newly born enhanced admiration is fascinating. Why is it that I love something even more now that it reminds me of something else that I’ve loved for ages? Is it the familiarity? Is it like the comfort of an old and trusted friend? Is it the fact that repetition is something that I love and embrace whenever possible? I’m certainly guilty of incorporating repetition into my life on a regular basis – songs are repeated multiple times across the playlists that I create on Spotify, I’ve re-read books that I adore countless times (can I get an amen from other HP fans out there?), I will happily watch my favourite TV shows or movies multiple times to the point that I can throw out obscure quotes without any prompting, and I even feel the act of writing this blog to be one of the most feel-good repetitive activities in my life. And now, as I write these words, it is starting to occur to me that it’s not really surprising at all that I love repetition, because it allows me to fill my life with things that I know I adore with complete certainty.
If we apply this idea universally, I think it explains why we see (and more importantly, accept) repetition in so many areas of our lives. We all love the chorus of a song because it’s same words repeated over and over, allowing us to recognize, appreciate, and sing along. It seems like every other song on the radio these days includes a sample from an older song that we all know and love… And because these new artists are drawing from classics that are timeless, they are sure to pull in a wider audience – even the kids who don’t know the original may feel a nostalgic familiarity when they hear the music, perhaps from that one time on the radio when they were quite young or at a distance from an older sibling’s bedroom. Reboots of old movies and sequels seem to achieve the same thing – it’s like all of Hollywood collectively had a realization that remakes and extensions of stories = box office gold. What’s not to love? A classic story is timeless, so retelling it with a slightly new spin is just another way to relive it again and again.
In my English Literature days at university, one of my graduating seminar courses was all about those epic stories that we retell over and over thematically with only minor changes in the plot. The fight of good against evil. The flawed hero. The journey to a distant land and triumphant (or sometimes bittersweet) return home. The evolution of a character from naive youth to wise (or disillusioned) adulthood. Do we tell the same stories and love them unconditionally because their formulaic beginning, middle, and end are predictable but still surprising in their minor variances? What’s that saying? “We are creatures of habit.” We embrace the repetition because we know what to expect and are delighted when what we thought would happen transpires exactly as we predicted.
It’s such a funny concept, because we love that predictable and comfortable feeling of repetition but we are equally thrilled when we are presented with something completely new. Every album by Radiohead is drastically different than the last and nothing ever sounds like anything they’ve done before… And while that consistency of newness is an act of repetition in itself, that novelty produces a feeling unlike anything I can get out of listening to a favourite old song on repeat. The same goes for a film or any type of story that shocks us with a surprise ending or twist along the way that goes against the conventional story-telling that we’ve come to expect in our repeat-saturated society. I love a movie that ends with the main characters not reuniting after a ridiculously romantic grand gesture. I adore stories that end abruptly with no clear indication as to the resolution or aftermath of the climax. I like it when we abandon the repetition every now and then.
This tension between the conventional and unconventional has been on my mind for a few days. I know without question that I love repeat offenders. But I know that I have an equal passion for that which is brand new and unfamiliar – I’ve even written about embracing that type of discomfort on this very blog in the last year. And while the focus of this post has been purely around stories and music, my line of thinking extends to how we live our lives and interact with each other. So much has changed in my life in the last year and while I’ve settled into new routines (thereby grounding myself in repeating familiar daily and weekly activities), I’ve also found myself venturing into unknown territory that’s far from the standard mould of life that I (or society) believed was the only way of living. I followed one template for life (and lived it well) for many years and then it fell apart… Leading me to question if that template is the right one for me, or if there is a different template that exists that I ought to follow, or if I just need to live life without any template at all… Which would be a life of zero repetition in the act of doing things differently and embracing the new or unknown. (Scary! Maybe Exciting!)
As I run through the list of things that repeat in my life that I love passionately, #1 on the list has to be the changing of the seasons. The consistency of observing one season melt into the next is probably one of the most beautiful markers of the passage of time in my life. Spring will always follow Winter. The leaves will always change colour as Summer transitions to Fall. The sun will set in a different spot in the sky throughout the course of a year. In this corner of the world, I know with certainty that the seasons at their very core will always be a constant in my life and that’s incredibly comforting. But, at the same time, I know that every season will be a little bit different than the last… We can know without question that it will eventually snow here, but when and how much is unknown.
So maybe that’s the trick to finding a balance between repeat offenders and new inventors. We can embrace repetition by acknowledging and nodding to things that occurred in the past while simultaneously valuing and striving for something just a little bit different and somewhat new within the act of repeating. For all I know, “Excuses” is an intentional riff on “At Last” (I think that they are both hopelessly romantic in their own way within their respective eras). This blog is often an unintentional source of repetition – whenever I write a post, I question if I’ve used the same words too many times or if I’ve repeated certain phrases or ideas in older posts, but even in that doubt I know that there’s a unique story in every post, even when it refers back to something I’ve already spoken about. And anyway, I think I’ve decided that repetition isn’t necessarily a bad thing… In fact, I actively embraced it today. (Did you notice the repeated use of brackets? Didn’t I already have a blog post title that refers to repeat offenders? Did I use the word repetition a lot? Did I ask several open-ended questions?) Let me repeat: This is random, but it is interconnected.
Here is my latest confession: I’ve turned into an Instagram junkie. No shame – it’s slowly become my creative outlet in 2016 in the absence of writing. There doesn’t seem to be enough time to keep this blog alive (at least not right now, in this new phase of my life that’s focused on staying active and getting myself out of the house as much as possible) but I still feel an unyielding desire for artistic expression and creativity that needs to be addressed… And Instagram somehow satisfies that need in a simple and beautiful way. Is that lame? I don’t really care.
There’s something strange and fascinating about my addiction to this tool that I see as a medium for art, because it is simultaneously a vehicle for human interaction and individualized narcissism. (Not to mention that it’s owned by Facebook, an entity that I begrudgingly embrace only because you basically can’t exist in modern times without being on the book.) Art, social, and ego. In my world on Instagram these three very different concepts exist and play together in an interesting way, highlighting and sometimes undercutting each other.
At the most basic level Instagram is a social tool, giving us yet another way to interact with our friends by letting them know what we are up to in a single frame. We will often take this a step further, bringing them in on the action by tagging them when they are in the photos. The act of tagging someone in a picture on Instagram is a modern expression of love to a certain degree – to tag or mention someone in a comment is a deliberate connection with that person in our online world. And in this tech-pervasive society, our online connections are fundamental if not an extension of our offline human relationships – hasn’t it become the status quo to maintain a relationship both online and offline? What’s even more interesting to me is Instagram’s capacity for human interaction beyond our existing connections – by applying a hashtag that is used by thousands (or millions), we can gather likes or new followers and this human interaction with strangers is fulfilling in a very different way.
At a deeper level, Instagram is a tool that feeds our narcissistic egos by allowing us to show ourselves off in a very calculated way. I still believe that everyone filters themselves online by choosing to show a specific narrative about their lives that they want others to see, and this is perfectly epitomized in the act of sharing a photo of oneself with the public. I would never willingly post a picture of myself that I do not absolutely love and while I certainly do not post that many pictures of myself on Instagram, I completely understand why people do. The one time I indulged my narcissistic side and posted a photo of my solitary self grinning at the camera, the overwhelming positive feedback in likes and comments was incredibly rewarding. It gave me a little boost that was totally unexpected, so I agree with and encourage the narcissism (in moderation) because it is healthy to feel good about ourselves and engage in self-love. And sometimes it can be difficult to do this alone, so using this tool to receive positive encouragement and reinforcement can be a good start.
The simple act of tapping that little heart can potentially brighten someone’s day and have a huge impact. This is a beautiful illustration of social and ego playing together on Instagram and it’s one of the reasons that I have come to adore this little application. It is truly a vehicle for beauty, human interaction, and self-love… And as a student of Communications who exited school just as social media was ramping up, it is endlessly thought-provoking and entertaining to look at Instagram from these different angles and through different filters (pun absolutely intended).
The role of the hashtag feels fairly significant in all of this. This is something I learned quickly in my adventures on WordPress – adding tags to a blog post has a direct correlation to the number of people who actually read the post – and the same logic applies on Instagram. Where that element of human interaction is concerned, the hashtag is inarguably a means to an end if your goal is to connect with strangers in this online world. Of course, there are opposing views on the matter, or at least I get the sense that people tend to have varied (and very strong) opinions about the hashtag. Personally, I have mixed emotions.
On one hand, the hashtag is a great way to expose yourself and get your photos in front of a wider audience because a “real” hashtag will invariably get you more likes (which I suppose is sort of the point in view of that element of human interaction and connecting with others). On the other hand, it feels like a contrived attempt at getting the most likes and comments possible to feed the ego, and on top of that it seems completely silly and strange that our entire society now communicates with these little clips of text. I’m even guilty of taking the hashtag offline into verbal communication or text messages… Why? What is it about a hashtag that says something more than the simple words themselves? Is there something more concise or definitive about putting that symbol in front of a word (or many words)? #whydoesthisfeelmoremeaningful than just writing the words themselves?
Ah, the hashtag… An enigma and polarizing entity that I still haven’t wrapped my head around. As a result, I often find myself presenting a mix of both “real” hashtags along with silly and over-the-top “unreal” hashtags that are so unbearably long that nobody could actually make them into something reusable that people would follow. Which is sort of the point, to laugh at the medium of the hashtag and ironically participate while also accepting that this is the norm and way to get that exposure and feeling of community that comes with sharing a photo with strangers. Social and ego, playing together again. My profile is public for a reason – like others, at least I suspect, I am trying to build an online persona that is a mix of a filtered and somewhat unreal version myself while being an equally genuine representation of who I am, what is important to me, and what I find to be beautiful in the world.
This online persona is a projection of who I really want to be. She is happy-go-lucky, open, friendly, artistic, and maybe she does something other than a corporate day job. She is mysterious and creative and has a good eye for framing shots, and just like everyone else online, she knows how to apply a good filter. Her profile is public because she is unafraid of sharing who she is and she wants to embrace the world with open arms. She uses hashtags like #sunset and #montreal unabashedly, not to get more followers but in the hope that she will connect with people.
But of course in this online persona and in real life, I do want to be honest… So let’s get real, I obviously apply a filter on nearly all of the pictures that I post on Instagram… But doesn’t everyone? I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying to make the world more beautiful and that’s really what the filter allows me to do, at least until Apple finally invents a camera on their phone that can 100% capture the true beauty of the incredible scenes that I frame with my iPhone.
Beyond the feeling that it’s impossible to capture the real thing, it’s equally appealing to me that you can apply a filter onto a photo and all of a sudden something looks that much more beautiful – it can be more glossy, or have a softer edge, or feel classically retro, or be more vibrant and colourful. Suddenly there is something a little unreal about it, and even though you know it is unreal, it still feels somewhat truthful. It is a challenging concept though because this means that I am publicly presenting and giving myself a filtered memory of that moment. When I look back on these pictures, I will have to acknowledge that they are not entirely representative of that precise moment in real life. But memory is already a bit of a haze as it is, so what’s wrong with giving it a nice glow?
With that being said, here in the photos I have shared you should know the unfiltered truth behind them. Some of the nights that I went to watch those sunsets I felt very sad and lonely. Some nights I felt really, really good about myself and thought that I was on top of the world. Some nights I felt very witty and clever and pleased to be taking such beautiful pictures. Some nights I was just content to be watching the sunset while listening to good music. Some nights I felt frustrated and angry with myself for being too focused on posting a picture. Some nights I felt like I was perfectly aligned with the universe and exactly where I was supposed to be. On all of those nights, I am fairly certain that none of these emotions were conveyed in the captions included with those pictures. That’s Instagram. #Filter. #NoFilter.
Does anyone else remember this Apple commercial?
It popped into my head yesterday on my drive home from work as I was dancing in my car in traffic (you’re welcome by the way, fellow commuters, for those entertaining moves) and I had this pretty huge revelation that music is in fact my boyfriend. To be clear, this isn’t because I am now single – even when I was with my ex I was essentially cheating on him every day with music, my true and unwavering lover. Thank you, CSS, for creating Music Is My Hot Hot Sex, because this song literally describes a reality that I think many of us feel, which is that music can be someone’s life, their escape, their release, their passion, their religion, their everything.
Is this a universal truth? Maybe not. I know some people who aren’t bothered by silence and feel no need to fill their lives with music. But for me, my life isn’t really complete without a soundtrack and I can’t imagine a world without the incredible compositions and words that fill my ears on a daily basis.
Before I go any further though… can we talk about that Apple commercial? It is almost unbearably dated, so much so that I had to watch it three times and found myself laughing harder and harder with each viewing. iPods! The size and shape of the device! That keyboard! Those app icons! The blue bar at the bottom of Safari! iTunes!!! They all look archaic! And I’m pretty sure this only dates back to the late 2000’s… yikes. I feel old.
But about my boyfriend. He’s the greatest. He always knows exactly how to change my mood when I need it, or complement it when I just want to embrace the emotion I happen to be feeling in a given moment. He takes me dancing, he helps me fall asleep, he keeps me company when I’m cooking dinner, he makes cleaning the house waaaaaay more fun, he helps me stay sane when I’m stuck in traffic, he keeps me calm and happy when I’m at work, and he fills my life with love.
It’s sort of challenging to write about something auditory – how can I really explain my love of music when all I have is words? The only option is to embrace the medium and share some lyrics from a very small sampling of some of the songs that I love. Disclaimer: This is probably the most random collection of quotes you will come across in your lifetime… Some are happy. Some are sad. Some are deep. Some are silly. Some are weird. Some are really special to me. I present these with no commentary – just the words are enough, at least for me. I hope you enjoy them.
“One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain.” Bob Marley, Trenchtown Rock.
“If there was a better way to go then it would find me, I can’t help it, the road just rolls out behind me, Be kind to me, or treat me mean, I’ll make the most of it, I’m an extraordinary machine.” Fiona Apple, Extraordinary Machine.
“It’s the terror of knowing, What this world is about…” Queen + David Bowie, Under Pressure.
“Love is the answer, At least for most of the questions in my heart, Like: Why are we here, and Where do we go, and How come it’s so hard?” Jack Johnson, Better Together.
“Cause it’s a bittersweet symphony, this life, Try to make ends meet, You’re a slave to money then you die.” The Verve, Bittersweet Symphony.
“When food is gone you are my daily meal.” Florence and the Machine, You’ve Got The Love.
“No one will be watching us, Why don’t we do it in the road?” The Beatles, Why Don’t We Do It In The Road.
“I’ll write you a song and it won’t be hard to sing, It will be a natural anthem, familiar it will seem.” The Postal Service, Natural Anthem.
“Now how can he have her heart, When it got stole, So he tries to pacify her, Cause what’s inside her never dies.” Amy Winehouse, He Can Only Hold Her.
“When I was young, I dreamt of a passionate obligation to a roommate.” Father John Misty, Bored In The USA.
“You were sorta punk rock, I grew up on hip hop, But you fit me better than my favourite sweater, and I know, That love is mean, and love hurts…” Lana Del Rey, Blue Jeans.
“I can’t tell you how I feel, My heart is like a wheel, Let me roll it.” Paul McCartney, Let Me Roll It.
“All my life I’ve stepped to the rhythm of the drums inside my head.” MØ, Walk This Way.
“Don’t get any big ideas, They’re not gonna happen.” Radiohead, Nude.
“Home is wherever I’m with you.” Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, Home.
“I wish that I knew what I know now, When I was younger.” Faces, Ooh La La.
“It’s better to feel pain, than nothing at all, The opposite of love’s indifference.” The Lumineers, Stubborn Love.
“It’s not him who’d come across, The sea to surprise you, Not him who would know, Where in London to find you.” Feist, The Park.
“Stand beside it, we can’t hide the way it makes us glow, It’s no good unless it grows, feel this burning, love of mine.” Beach House, Take Care.
“We could slow dance to rock music, Kiss while we do it, Talk til we both turn blue…” Lana Del Rey, Freak.
Honestly, I could go on for hours and I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface. So many of the artists and genres I adore aren’t represented here – what can I say, it’s just impossible to really capture all of my boyfriend’s nuances and special traits! And this doesn’t even come close to covering songs without words (or songs with words that I can’t quite make out). Those wordless songs hit me just as hard as the poets I’ve quoted above. Is is possible for me to describe this feeling? When I hear certain chords or a sequence of notes that are so beautiful, or even the simple ooh-ing and ahh-ing of an amazing artist, it’s like this swelling emotion that starts in my heart and expands through my entire body. It fills me up and makes that intangible concept of one’s spirit feel real… because that energy and magic I feel when I listen to really good music can’t really be attributed to anything else but my spirit. Music. Are you my spirit animal?
I know, I’m gushing. I sound like someone who’s newly in love but the funny thing is, this boyfriend has been around forever and my love for him only grows. I love him. I will always love him. He is mine and I am his.
Today’s project is brought to you courtesy of two women who have a prevalent presence in my life, despite the fact that I have never met them.
First, the main inspiration for this post: ReFashionista, who has indeed changed the way I think about fashion, as her site’s tagline suggests. The concept is simple – she purchases ugly / funky / oversized / gaudy / strange clothing from second hand stores and then completely transforms the found pieces into stylish and cute outfits by cutting, altering, sewing, dyeing, and everything in between.
Second, the inspiration for the title of this post: Lana Del Rey, my musical obsession for the last couple of years (and now, for life). Lana. She is a goddess and I could spend hours dissecting her music in an effort to explain why it is that I love her so much. Instead I’ll settle for an homage to my favourite song from her first album, also titled Born to Die.
But back to ReFashionista, and a few words on this lovely person, because it is really odd how things all sort of connect and come around in this small world of ours… I discovered her on Pinterest long before starting my own blog, and pinned a picture from her site because I loved the before and after side-by-side pictures and thought the entire concept of refashioning was awesome (arts and crafts PLUS saving the world by reducing consumption, A+). Several months later I started this adventure on WordPress, and surprise! ReFashionista’s blog is also a WordPress site! I immediately clicked the “Follow” button at the top of the screen and have been receiving emails of her refashions ever since. I really love her work. Every post from her inspires me to keep up my own blog; she’s hilarious, down to earth, candid, creative… OK, I’m gushing… I’ll move on.
To say I have been long overdue for a closet purge would be an enormous understatement – but I finally got everything reorganized and cleaned out last month, accumulating a huge pile of clothes to give away. That said, there was one sweater in particular that I kept to the side, even though it is many years old. (Seriously, many years old – I can’t quite remember when I bought it.) It’s got all the signs of an aged and loved piece – a few loose threads, pilled fabric, and a general air of dishevelment. But it’s a really great sweater – nearly sleeveless so it’s workable year round (layered with a long-sleeve tee in the winter or thrown over a dress in the summer at the air conditioned office), chunky but not too chunky, slouchy, long, all the good stuff.
In other words, I’m not parting with this sweater. I suppose the countless transformations I’ve seen the fearless ReFashionista master must have gotten under my skin, because sometime last summer I became fixated on the idea of finding new life in this old sweater of mine and I picked up a bottle of black Rit Dye from my local craft store on a whim. While the creamy white glow of my old sweater had faded, I knew a dark black version of this slouchy gem would make for a fantastic reincarnation to last me a few more years.
Since then, I have been mentally preparing for my first dye job. Although arts and crafts are my wheelhouse, this felt like it would be a serious step up on the crafting scale of difficulty. I’m no Jillian from ReFashionista – sewing machines baffle me – so dyeing is like the moderately reachable natural progression in my growth as a crafter. Accordingly, there was an unnecessary amount of angst before I started. I read and reread the instructions on how to dye fabric on the Rit Studio website… stressed over whether to bucket dye or washer dye… and wondered if others felt the same trepidation before their first time. Finally, almost a year later, after the great closet purge of 2015, I took the plunge. (Literally, into a bucket of purple-black water.) It was a pretty monumental experience – here’s my sweater dyeing step-by-step adventure:
MATERIALS (List courtesy of the Rit Studio website, with commentary from me.)
- A bottle of liquid Rit Dye (FYI, you will need more than you think – life lessons.)
- Large bucket
- Measuring cup (I picked up a new set of plastic measuring cups at the dollar store for this special occasion but ended up using a larger glass one from my kitchen.)
- Measuring spoons (I didn’t use them. Was I supposed to use them?)
- Large metal spoon
- 1 cup of salt (Or white vinegar, depending on the fabric – I used salt because the sweater was mainly cotton and that’s what the instructions call for, but vinegar is supposed to be used for silk, wool, or nylon.)
- Rubber gloves
- Plastic drop sheet
- Paper towel
- Liquid dishwashing soap
- An old towel
- Chlorine bleach (For cleaning afterwards, so much cleaning!)
INSTRUCTIONS (Courtesy of the Rit Studio website, with commentary from me.)
1. Prep the sweater by washing to remove all the dirt. (I did this last month and had the sweater folded in my closet until I was ready for this mission.)
2. Get the work area set up by spreading out the plastic drop sheet. (I learned that chlorine bleach will clean anything, but I’m glad I used the plastic sheet to manage some of the mess.)
3. Fill the bucket with enough hot water for the sweater to move around freely. The water has to be HOT – the instructions call for 140°F and suggest heating the water with a kettle if needed. (I used tap water and it seemed to work fine…but I definitely put WAY too much water in the bucket! It was almost full to the brim once I put the sweater in, so lesson learned for next time, half as much water would have been fine.)
4. Wearing gloves, shake the bottle of dye, add to the water, and stir to mix. (The instructions say to use half a bottle for 1 pound of clothing but I poured out whole bottle assuming that more dye would be better for saturation.)
5. After 5 minutes, dissolve 1 cup of salt in 2 cups of hot water and add to the bucket with a squirt of liquid dishwashing soap. (I learned that 1 cup of salt does NOT dissolve instantly in the water, so would recommend mixing the salt and hot water right away.)
6. Stick some paper towel into the bucket to determine if the saturation is right, adding more dye if too light or more water if too dark. (Since I had already depleted my entire bottle of dye, I didn’t really have much to do here, but was a little disconcerted and concerned by the results of my test, which came out very purple. Spoiler alert: My concerns were justified.)
7. Wet the sweater with warm water, squeeze out the excess water, remove any wrinkles and add to the bucket. (This was the most exciting part of the process – watching my sweater instantly transform as I dipped it into that liquid was strangely satisfying.)
8. Stir constantly up and down and side to side to avoid uneven dyeing, for 10 to 30 minutes. (The instructions state that the longer you dye, the deeper the saturation so I went all in and stirred that black water for 30 minutes straight. I kept my gloves on the whole time, occasionally checking the sweater to see how the dye job was progressing and could see it getting darker and darker… but don’t be fooled, as the instructions say, the colour definitely appears darker when wet!)
9. Remove the sweater from the bucket and rinse in warm water, slowly making the water cooler until it runs clear. (This took almost 10 minutes and was the most challenging part of the project – the sweater was extremely heavy when wet!)
10. Wash the sweater in warm water with a mild detergent, rinse thoroughly in cold water, and hang dry. (The instructions suggest washing by hand or on the delicate cycle in a washing machine with an old towel – I machine washed with a towel and it worked just fine.)
11. Use the chlorine bleach to clean anything touched by the dye. (My bathtub looked like a twisted murder scene but the bleach got everything off, no problem.)
12. REPEAT! (Uhhhh… at least in my case. The dye worked, but the black was nowhere near as dark as I wanted – it came out more like a pale black with a purple tinge, probably because I put too much water and/or should have doubled the dye and/or tripled the dye time.)
*Ongoing Care: Since I just finished this project over the weekend I obviously haven’t washed the sweater yet, but the instructions online suggest washing with an old towel and mild detergent the first few times in warm to cold water.
The final product is pretty great, even though it is a bit more of a charcoal grey instead of a dark black. I tucked away all the loose threads and it’s like a new sweater!
It’s funny now to think that I was so unsure of how this project would turn out. Of course there were a few lessons learned (clearly the second round of dyeing wasn’t in my original plan and now I know that more dye with less water is a better equation) but it was ultimately a relatively easy undertaking. The whole time I was sitting on the edge of the tub stirring that sweater, I kept thinking to myself, “This isn’t so hard, I could do this again, I could dye my favourite faded red sweater, and those black jeans that are starting to fade, and, and, and…” So this might be the start of a new phase in my life. Maybe I really was born to dye.
It feels like the level of chaos at home has been running at medium to medium-high for a long time – the house has been under construction for several months and nearly everything is displaced. My man does renovations for a living, so projects at our house tend to be slower moving – he fits in the work at home between jobs, finding time here and there. And this isn’t even a fun project that I can help with or get into (tearing down walls to put in fresh new insulation means putting up heavy drywall, ugh). We’ve been shuffling from room to room upstairs, and I’ve had to find countless ways to reconfigure our cramped house as we compensate for being down a room.
Under normal circumstances, our house is already a little messy – it’s no big deal and I don’t mind that things aren’t perfect, but in its current state I find myself dreaming of tidying and organizing every room in the house, imagining how I will put things back together once all the dust settles (literally – there is a lot of dust from the plaster). Which leads me to my jewel in the rough – the treasure box I crafted a few weeks ago as a solution to my painfully disheveled jewelry storage system.
This project felt like an antidote to the chaos at home and came to me as I was thinking about how I want to rearrange my closet when it’s ready upstairs. All my rings and earrings have been living in a couple cardboard jewelry boxes for ages and I’ve always wanted a nice jewelry case to store and showcase them (trying to grab two of the same stud earrings from a tiny box early in the morning before coffee is awful), but all the options in stores never really suited my style. Naturally, I turned to Pinterest to get some ideas and inspiration for easy earring DIY storage, and immediately found a simple project: wrapping pencils in felt and sticking them in a box. This was doable, and I knew that I could throw in my own spin on the construction to make it really special for my future closet-jewelry-dream-space.
STAGE ONE: MATERIAL SOURCING
This was an exciting project because I knew I would have to track down most of the materials to get it done – which would mean a trip to my favourite craft store for several items, including gorgeous printed paper. (Not sure why I love it so much, but I always find myself lingering in the paper aisle wishing I could bring everything home!) Going into the store, I had no specific colour scheme or idea in mind for the style of the paper I was looking for, and just ambled around until this striking gold and white sheet popped out at me. It was love at first sight and soon after I found a lovely deep red paper to go with it, featuring bright gold hearts on one side and faded black on the other.
Along with the gilded paper, I bought Japanese washi tape to use as an aid on the inside panels of my box-wrapping mission, a package of white felt to wrap around the pencils, and a couple canvas sheets to cover the felt. (I decided to get the canvas on a whim – all the versions of this project that I found on Pinterest only used felt, but the colours available in the store just didn’t work with my beautiful paper and I thought the canvas would add some extra texture in my treasure box, especially in sharp and grounded contrast to the flashy paper.)
As for the rest of the materials, I picked up a package of pencils in the dollar section of Target a few weeks ago when I first got the idea for this crafty project and all the other essentials were already scattered around the house – my faithful glue gun, a few rolls of double-sided tape, and a perfectly shaped box from my contact lens delivery service. (Thanks, Clearly Contacts! RIP, Canadian Target.)
STAGE TWO: PREPARING THE PENCILS
First I took care of wrapping the pencils in the felt. I thought the length of the pencils would fit perfectly in the box but they were a bit too long, so I twisted and pulled the erasers out which was just enough for each of the pencils to fit snugly.
Then I had to figure out how much felt to wrap around each pencil. I cut a sheet of the felt in half and when I wrapped it around the pencil it was way too thick, so I played around and kept cutting the felt back until I had what looked like a good thickness wrapped around the pencil when I tested placing it in the box. Satisfied with the template, I used the first piece of felt to trace several more rectangles so all of the pencils would be relatively close in thickness.
Once everything was cut and ready to go, I got the glue gun heated and started sticking the felt to the pencils. I used a bit of hot glue at each end of the pencil with a third drop in the middle and then pressed the pencil gently onto one edge of the felt until the glue cooled and set.
Then I ran a strip of glue along the length of the pencil and rolled it slowly until the glued edge was on top, holding it firmly while the new strip of glue dried and cooled. From there I rolled the pencil all the way to the opposite edge of the felt and then added one last strip of glue along the edge of the pencil, holding the felt along the seam until it was completely dry.
It was hard to tell how many pencils I would be able to fit into the box once they were wrapped with the felt so I started by wrapping and gluing five to test how much space they would take up in the box. It was apparent right away that I would be able to fit at least two or three more, so I ended up wrapping eight pencils in total, which made for a really secure and packed box.
STAGE THREE: BOX WRAPPING
With all the pencils sitting on standby, I moved over to wrapping the box with my beautiful golden paper. I decided to use double-sided tape for this project since it would be far less messier than the hot glue gun and I wanted to make sure that the box didn’t end up with stringy dry glue all over the place. (Lest we forget my arts and crafty organization project of 2013…) I used the box to roughly trace the main pieces and then trimmed to the right size before taping the paper onto the box.
It was a slow process – I was trying to be very meticulous about the paper lining up nicely and preventing showing the blue and cardboard of the original box – but eventually I got it done! I wrapped the outside with the white and gold art-deco paper and then moved onto the red and gold heart paper on the inside of the box.
Although the bottom of the box was going to be covered by the canvas pencils, I still secured a square of the red paper on the bottom to start the interior. It won’t be seen, but I know it’s there… Then I roughly traced the top flap and got to cutting and taping.
Honestly, the hardest part of this project was trying to decide what side of the paper to use on the inside of the box – between the shimmering bright gold hearts and the washed out black hearts on the opposite side of the paper, it was a difficult choice. I compromised by mixing in a bit of both, with the gold side running across the largest part of the top flap and the black side used as an accent on the tabs and inner edges of the box.
STAGE FOUR: CANVASING
Finally it was time to bring the whole project together with the canvas sheets and felt-wrapped pencils. Originally I had planned to use the glue gun to stick a small amount of canvas to each pencil, but I actually used the last of my glue on the felt! (This feels like a significant moment in my life – I bought that glue gun over 10 years ago and the little bag of glue sticks that came with it have lasted until now.) Though there wasn’t any glue left to secure the canvas, I had a feeling that things would work out anyway because the felt-wrapped pencils were already quite secure in the box when I tried putting them in before wrapping it, so I assumed that the fabric would be held in tightly without a problem.
I settled on cutting just enough canvas to wrap around to the glued seam of the felt so the top of the pencil would be covered, and then added one pencil at a time seam-side down, wrapping the canvas under the pencil as I placed it in the box. With the additional layers of paper taped in the box plus the canvas, it was a really tight fit and I was almost unable to get the eighth pencil into the box; but I made it work by pushing the other pencils against the outer edges of the box and sticking the last pencil in the middle. After picking out some of the loose canvas strings that were sticking out at random, I was done!
STAGE FIVE: BEJEWELLING
All of my earrings and rings fit perfectly in the jewelry box – I love it! And I’m actually glad that I ran out of glue and didn’t stick the canvas to the pencils, because it will allow me to switch the fabric in the future if I ever find something special that pops out at me. And yes, the final product is a little rough around the edges – the paper is bent and angled in a few spots and I’ve even accidentally torn it a bit more since it has been in use over the last two weeks. But it is also incredibly functional and this beautiful organizational tool has somehow seemed to lower the level of chaos in the house by an incremental percentage, so I’m happy. Plus it’s going to look damn good in my new closet – I’ve got a vision with this treasure box in a starring role.
As a teenage girl, I spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about what my dream wedding would look like and I even glamourized the idea of being a professional wedding planner. But, times have changed and today I would choose buying insulation and updating the siding on our house over a designer gown and a big cake. So it was surprising this year when I learned that there is still a little bit of that romantic teenager inside me, thanks to a friend who has a story that happens to be the embodiment of a classic fairytale – she is getting married in Europe this weekend in what promises to be a breathtakingly beautiful day, rain or shine.
The logistics of planning an overseas wedding are quite incredible and I was more than happy to jump at the opportunity to help with just a few of the countless details that this lovely girl has been staying on top of over the last few months.
My Project: Table numbers for the rustic centre-pieces on the tables at the reception. The bride-to-be had seen a cute concept online that she really liked and my clever sister suggested that we could easily craft something similar ourselves – all it would take was a trip to a craft store and a little creativity.
The concept was a simple DIY: a heart affixed to a stick with a table number stamped or painted on. All we needed was a vision and we cobbled together our plan after sourcing some gorgeous paper over a lunch hour several weeks ago. The bride would cut out the hearts and take care of spray painting the numbers with a stencil she borrowed from friends. My sister and I would handle the final assembly using cake-pop sticks we found in the baking aisle of the craft store, some two-way tape, a glue gun, and a sheet of bristol board for sturdiness.
We chose four different paper designs so we would have some variety, and stuck with a cream colour scheme to align with the rustic theme of the wedding. (Think mason jars, burlap, handmade wooden accents, outdoors, so-pretty-it-hurts…) While we were planning to use wooden shish-kebab sticks, the paper sticks we found by chance turned out to be the perfect option since the final product resembles an enormous heart-shaped paper lollipop.
Before we started the assembly mission, I tested making a couple ahead of time to get the method right. The bride had created a template heart to cut all the paper and she gave it to me with the heart cut-outs, so I used the template to trace a handful of hearts onto a sheet of bristol board and then cut them all at the same time. (We decided to re-enforce each paper heart with a bristol board heart so there would be no chance of the paper flopping over once we stuck the hearts to the sticks.)
When I started pairing the bristol board hearts with the paper, I found that I kept having to cut down the bristol board so it wouldn’t stick out beyond the beautiful paper hearts so I made a second template that was a little bit smaller than the first, which effectively made all the subsequent bristol board heart cut-outs just a teeny bit smaller than the paper.
Two-way tape proved to be the best tool for sticking the paper and bristol board together. All it took was a few pieces placed along the edges of the paper and careful alignment of the bristol board so it would sit just inside the border of the paper. When both hearts were affixed to the bristol board, I ran a few more pieces of two-way tape along the top and sides of one of the hearts along with one piece running down the centre of the heart, for the stick. Then I stuck the stick onto the heart with the tape, and placed the other heart on top, aligning the top part of the two hearts as closely as possible.
Lastly was the tricky part – at least for a semi-clutzy, semi-messy person such as myself. Hot glue gun. Enough said. I wanted to make sure that the bottom of the two hearts would hold around the stick, so I added a squirt of glue on either side of the hearts as far in as possible, and then a final bit of glue at the very base of the heart, on either side of the stick. This was the most challenging part because it also required a minute of patience to hold the base together while the glue set. If I let go too soon the bottom would spring apart, but if I held too tight then the glue would start to ooze out onto the gorgeous paper.
Once I had the prototype completed (and obviously approved by the bride!) I worked out a system with my sister for the mass production of the remaining table numbers that had to be created.
- We traced and cut out all of the bristol board hearts, and numbered them for good measure so we wouldn’t lose track of whether we had enough to match with all the paper hearts.
- We taped all of the bristol board hearts to the paper, and I started heating the glue gun.
- To make sure that the sticks would always be placed at roughly the same height as the prototype, we used a pencil to make a mark on the inside of the heart to indicate where the top of the stick should be placed, using the prototype as a guide.
- We began taping the pairs of hearts together and roughly taping the sticks in the centre and while my sister finished taping, I started using the glue gun for the sides and base.
- When my sister finished taping, she joined me in the careful work of gently pinching and holding the base together for one minute at a time.
Altogether, the mass production took less than two hours. It was so much fun (I mean, arts and crafts, what more can a girl ask for?) and it made me feel happy to contribute to my new friend’s special day. And I think I said out loud (more than once): “Can I just make table centre-pieces for a living?!”
A little bit of the teenager in me felt a spark while I was working on these lovely centre-pieces for the lovely bride. No, I am not about to quit my day job to pursue a career in wedding planning and crafting. Yes, I am realizing that creativity should be a central part of my day-to-day life because it makes me feel alive and happy. And maybe, maybe I can get on board with this whole “wedding” thing. But only if I can make everything with my own two hands – just look!
Most of all, I am so thrilled for my friend, who is celebrating her love story this weekend with her man. I cannot wait to hear all about it when she gets back to town in a few weeks!
Update: Below is a photograph of the centre-piece at my friend’s wedding, a beautiful final product.