Confessions of a Frazzled Mother

I was scrolling back through recent posts, looking for something, and I got drawn into reading a bit here and a bit there.  And all I could think was, “For goodness sake.  Out with it woman!  Come on now!”  How ridiculous it must be for you as the reader to be subjected to all of these posts with their little cryptic hints and glimpses.  So I gave myself a stern talking to in which I told myself to either explain the situation or shut up already.  In truth I didn’t mean to mention any of this here at all, it just somehow seeped into my writing unbidden.

My issues with sharing this particular subject are that I don’t think I can succinctly explain the situation.  There are matters of privacy and stories that aren’t really mine to tell.  And it’s just depressing, which is not what you come here for and not what I want out of this space.

The very short version is that one of our children has been quite ill, for a long time now.  Over a year now struggling with various issues, with the last six months being desperately intense.  Thousands upon thousands of dollars worth of tests and treatments have not yielded much in the way of answers or improvement.  We know that Lyme Disease is a factor.  We know that EDS is probably contributing to the situation.  We know that there are some heart issues that may or may not have been triggered by Lyme.  But on the over-all picture, including why the logical treatments aren’t really having the desired effects, we’re still somewhat in the dark.

In the last 14 months, quite apart from on-going EDS/POTS issues, I’ve had two cases of lyme/babesiosis myself (If you’ve not heard of it, babesiosis is tons of fun.  It’s basically like having malaria).  Steve who is usually a rock health-wise has been dealing with his own complicated medical issues, also still unresolved.  That’s not even counting the constant barrage of minor issues that are bound to come up in a house full of seven people.

All of this comes after several years in a row of what felt like one endless health crisis after another.  Just to give you a feel, some of the highlights from last year alone included a stroke scare, worries over a potential aneurysm, three herniated discs, three members of the family requiring extensive cardiac work ups, followed by a recommendation of heart surgery for one, a sleep apnea diagnosis, concerns about a potential hole developing in a major blood vessel in my brain, and grounds for a dementia screening when a particularly fierce strain of Lyme went to my brain and I had trouble remembering what a month even was, much less what month it was.  Just to name a few.  Folks, I’m fried.  We all are.  It’s just too, too much.  And it’s been too, too much for too, too long.

What this means right now is that for three-four of the last six months I’ve had a child who can do next to nothing during the day and who is up literally all night, every night, in pain.  And by all night I mean until 5, 6, 7 am or later.  With the months on either end featuring maybe a good week or two where things seemed like they were getting back on track, followed by a decline ending right back where we started.  As the sole night time parent this means I’ve been up all night on every occasion.  Thankfully, Steve is able to take the early morning shift, from 3:30 or so on, on the weekends.  But with four other children, I can’t exactly sleep away the weekdays.  I’ve been tied to home, deprived of sleep, driven to desperation and frankly on the verge of collapse.

We’re in a “better” period just now.  Where I’m getting that last child off to bed once and for all by between 12:30 and 2 most nights.  With the child having a degree of wellness during the daytime that we can work with.  That picture above was taken just before two in the morning, when I finally had a chance to sit down to correct the day’s school work and prepare for, well, later that same, seemingly endless, morning.

I’ve honestly been very anxious, depressed and over-whelmed within this whole situation, though I am trying hard to fight it.

All the knitting and sewing and “where does she find the time?” projects?  This is what I do because I need to be near by, I need to force myself to stay awake, and I just don’t have the strength or brain power to do anything more.  And while my little projects are immensely comforting to me, I assure you I would far prefer a well child, a bit ‘o peace of mind and a good night’s sleep.

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The Handcrafted Wardrobe: Refashion #1

Remember that lilac colored men’s sweater?  I didn’t want to do anything drastic with this one.  I wanted to use as much of it as possible.  And really all it needed to be wearable was a better fit and to be a touch more feminine.  It started out like this…

And became this….

Goodness that side view there feels a little scandalous!  Forgive me.  I was just trying to get a visual for you of the altered shape.

For those who are interested in clothing construction, or reconstruction as the case may be, I started by cutting off the sleeves and cutting down both side seams.  I used a shirt that fit well through the shoulders and bust as a cutting guide and sewed everything back together again once the excess had been removed.  I left slits along the lower portions of the side seams because I didn’t like the way it bunched and was gathered around the band at the bottom and wanted it to hang freely and also because it allowed it to drape rather than bag in the front.  I’ll probably be layering it over a long camisole or tank top, which I should have done here, but didn’t think of when I threw it on for these quick pictures.

Taking in the shoulders and bust meant that the sleeves were raised up and naturally became the right length.

And finally, I popped it in the dye pot because that lilac color isn’t really me and in this house anything that light would be stained within moments.

To dye it I used RIT Dye in ‘Wine‘ and the bucket method, which is incredibly simple. Instructions can be found all over the internet.  It’s less purple than it appears in some of these photos, in reality a true deep burgundy.  My only complaint about the color is that I thought I used 100% cotton thread, but I must have used a cotton/poly blend, which didn’t pick up the dye at all and unfortunately that shows a bit in some places, though I doubt most people would notice without it being pointed out.

Now what I really need are some pants to wear with it!  In these photos I’m trying to stand so that you can’t see the holes in my junky leggings.  For the record I’d rather wear this with trousers of some sort.  I don’t think I’d feel comfortable wearing it out in public with just leggings (but I’m willing to post pictures of myself wearing it that way, effectively broadcasting them to the entire world.  I know, it makes no kinds of sense.)  At the moment I own a couple pairs of the afore mentioned thin and holey leggings.  All of them have holes.  Terribly indiscreet holes.  I try to hide them with dresses.  Also a pair of ill-fitting, hand-me-down, sweatpants from Iain.  Also with holes.  And the velour leggings that I posted before, which I still haven’t gotten around to fixing the waistband on.  I think if I don’t come up with a plan on this front, it’s going to be an awfully chilly winter.

What is on your absolute must sew list this season?

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Holding and Held

What to say? Galen has started work on Christmas presents.  Cucumbers and zucchinis are coming in.  The chickens are getting big…soon there will be eggs. It remains to be seen whether or not we will be able to eat them. At a time of year when most other gardens, ours included, are a fiery mass of colors, our front garden is having it’s white moment. It’s calmly beautiful, though short lived.  My favorite crimson rose is about to bloom again.

I’ve barely been knitting at all.  My head is swimming with lesson plans and meal plans and sewing projects and cold weather house preparations to be made.  I’m envious of mothers that have childless periods of time in which to think and work uninterrupted.  I could be so much more effective if I had the mental and physical space to plan and prepare.

The chickens aren’t the only ones growing.  I’m keenly aware that not just one, but two of my children will be able to vote in not the current, but the next presidential election!  I have two high-schoolers this year.  Iain is actively working through the state required steps for getting his driver’s license.  This growing children thing is getting serious!

My “baby” is no longer a baby, but an extremely active, clever and mischievous young girl, perhaps the very 2ist two year old I’ve ever encountered.  Last week when she was doing something naughty and being quite cheerful about it, I told her it wasn’t funny and she looked at me and replied, “I laughin’…”

This week marked a right of passage for my oldest daughter as well.  After many months of comments like, “There are only two people in dance class who don’t have their ears pierced.  You know who they are?  Me and Galen.”  And being assured that having pierced ears makes for a loving sister, with a sunny disposition, who does her chores without complaint and always remembers to put her clothes in the hamper, etc.  We finally agreed to take her to get her ears pierced.

Not being one to take for granted that the conventional way of doing things is always the best way and feeling really uncomfortable with the idea of some random kid at the mall putting holes in my child’s body, I did my research first.  Based on what I read, I decided that a professional piercer using traditional methods (as in a needle, not a gun) was the way to go for our family.

I nervously gave her some relaxing and pain relieving herbs in the waiting room before hand. She didn’t even bat an eye.  She didn’t flinch or whimper or cry, her eyes didn’t well up…she was just totally chill.  That girl is pretty hardcore.  We’re using chamomile tea bag compresses now, in addition to regular saline rinses, to help with healing and reduce the risk of infection.  She’s pleased as punch.  I don’t think there has ever been a gift she’s liked so much.

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The Handcrafted Wardrobe: On Mothering Daughters and Self-Worth

‘As a child, I never heard one woman say to me, “I love my body”. Not my mother, my elder sister, my best friend. No one woman has ever said, “I am so proud of my body.” So I make sure to say it to Mia, because a positive physical outlook has to start at an early age.’ ~Kate Winslet

I take this quote very differently from how I did the first time I read it.  I can’t say that I’m at a place where I’m comfortable walking around declaring myself a ravishing beauty, and I’m not sure that I would ever want to be.  But this much I know; I am now a mother of daughters.  They watch me and from watching me they are learning how to move through this world as women.  If I tell them they are beautiful while being harsh with myself, they will instinctively see beauty in their own children, but never in themselves.  If I say that I don’t like my smile or my waist or my hair or my thighs, that there are parts of me I am ashamed of, what will they think when someone innocently tells them how much they look like me?  I am proud of my body.  Against many obstacles, It has grown and nourished five unique and amazing people.  I don’t think I can ask better of it than that.

Long time readers of my blog may remember that in years past, I was virtually unseen.  I am 5′ 0″, maybe 20? 30 lbs? over weight at the moment.  I have thinning hair and more stretch marks than smooth spots.  I have crooked teeth and chronic dark circles under my eyes.  When I’m unwell all of my veins show through the skin on my arms and torso like some kind of freaky 3D diagram of the circulatory system.  I can be ghostly pale and often appear just plain haggard.  Growing up the message that I was given by society is that women like me do not deserve to be seen.  That we have to be altered before we are worthy.  Worthy of what exactly I don’t know.  Everything it seems.

I want to say that there is nothing wrong with me, but that would be an outright lie.  But the things that are “wrong’ with me are the makings of my own private struggles and manifestations of my humanity.  There is nothing about me that makes my image unfit for public consumption.

I knew that with this project I would be opening myself up to judgement.  And I have.  But I feel very blessed to be able to say that in over 10 years of blogging in this space I’ve only received one nasty comment.

I’ve spent pretty much my entire adult life trying to find a comfortable and healthy relationship with the shape of my body.  And it has been a challenge because over the last 17 years of motherhood, that shape has altered time and again.  I have my set backs, but mostly I accept and embrace what is.  In recent years I’ve been caught off guard in finding that I have a hard time seeing myself look sick.  I find it upsetting.  It makes me feel fragile and I find myself avoiding mirrors and cameras.  In part this project is a way of forcing myself to face myself.  I’ve found that I have to desensitize myself to my own image.  And a couple of years ago I started consciously doing just that. To try to be comfortable with sharing a picture even if my hair is a mess or I don’t like the look on my face or the way an outfit fits.  To get used to being me in the world, with all of my flaws and imperfections.  For me to accept who I am without fear or concern about what others will think of me.  Because that is what I want to teach my daughters, in all of their flawed, imperfect, deep, and eternal beauty.  That is the gift I want to give to them.  And I am not fit for this work of going against the world and myself and all I’ve been taught, but I plan to keep on trying all the same.

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harvesting and a sweater for every occation

The garlic is in and at least a few blueberries made it to the freezer.  I had really hoped to make it back to the blueberry farm again by now.  We thought the tiny girl would just park herself somewhere and gorge away, blueberries being her very favorite.  But she took her task very seriously and was determined to fill her own little basket.  She went off on her own (we kept an eye on her of course).  We kept asking if she wanted to pick with one of us and she would reply, “No, I pickin’ with myself!”

It’s birthday sweater season, where my knitting project is dependent on who happens to be in the room with me.  I have one color work sweater where I feel completely certain about the color selection, but nervous about the pattern and a second one where I’m completely at ease with the pattern, but nervous about the color selection.

I actually haven’t started Iain’s sweater yet. My gauge is so horrendously off that I haven’t had the courage to face it.  Ravelry had the wrong yarn weight listed and I was silly enough not to double check with the pattern.  Every time I sit down to try and figure it out I think,”OR I could just pick up one of these sweaters I already have started and have a nice relaxing knit.  Yes, that does sound quite good.”  And I do just that.

It occurred to me that this is my last week of summer in which to accomplish anything.  Next week our schedule explodes and we are thrust into a full scale, full on, hectic autumn schedule.  Where did the summer go???

I’ve been frantically trying to get the house and our lives together, but I’m so easily sidetracked.  My ridiculous mind keeps having nagging thoughts like, “hmm, maybe we should try to paint the bathroom real quick?”  A perfect example: yesterday I sat down on the futon with a basket of fabric to sort through.  As I was cutting off scrappy ends and tossing them into a trash bag, I was acutely aware of the flat throw pillow I was leaning on.  Let’s just say that the situation escalated and Steve came home from work to find me sitting in the middle of a huge pile of stuffing and bits of random fabric, pulling apart packed together fibers and blistering my hands chopping scraps up into teeny-tiny little flecks.  These things happen, right?  I’m happy to say that we do now have three fluffy pillows to recline on at the end of our long hard days. Of course, they are now too big for their pillow cases, so there is that….

I’m sometimes alarmed by how much my life resembles an episode of I Love Lucy.

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The Handcrafted Wardrobe: Just for Fun

I’m somewhat at a loss.  I had planned what I wanted to say, but nothing went as planned, right down to these very pictures I’m sharing.  And really I just want to have a little temper tantrum and kick my feet and scream.  But, since I’m a big girl (but really mostly just because I don’t want to wake the baby) I fixed myself a cup of relaxing tea, put on some classical guitar music and took a great many deep breaths instead.

How my dress came about: Someone was giving away a couple of vintage floral sheets.  I snapped them up telling the lady how I make dresses out of this sort of thing, while Steve simultaneously talked about all of the other fabric I already have in a pointed sort of way.  I/we all have been having a really rough couple of months (years/life).  On a whim I decided for sanity’s sake to do something completely frivolous to break up the funk.  It was a two part plan: Find a way to go out alone for a few hours with my husband on his birthday and make a new dress to wear for said occation.  I figured this huge swath of free fabric was my one chance to indulge my dramatic side in making a really, really full skirt.  I can be wearing the dress, grab a fistful of fabric on each side, raise my hands up over my head, and still be completely covered.  The skirt is that full.  I completed the dress exactly two weeks after his birthday.

How her dress came about: She made several comments about wanting a dress made with the “beaufufull” flowers.  I made several frazzled, distracted comments about wanting to pair that fabric with an old pattern I had, but not being sure when I would find the time.  Elijah looked at the pattern, looked at the fabric, looked at his sister, and went and made her a dress.

For my dress I paired the Princess Bodice and the Box Pleat Circle Skirt patterns from Gertie’s Ultimate Dress Book: A Modern Guide to Sewing Fabulous Vintage Styles, with an improvised, home-made crinoline for underneath.  Seraphina’s dress is McCall’s 3809 from 1972 I think.

I think I owe it to myself to say that that dress was a whole lot of work.  Obviously, it is rightfully going to be over-shadowed by toddler cuteness and brotherly love.  It looks simple, but it. was. a. lot. of. work.  And I thought I should at least do myself the honor of recognizing that.

And it was all really in vein because I can’t think where I would possibly wear it.  If anyone is planning on hosting a fancy garden party, do give us a call.

 

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“Chook, chook, chook, chook, chook

Good Morning, Mrs. Hen, How many chickens have you got? Madam, I’ve got ten.  Four of them are yellow, and four of them are brown and two of them are speckled red, the nicest in the town.” ~Nursery Rhyme, a favorite with a certain little someone just now.

The coop is complete and now home to eight happy hens (though we are not sure that all of them are hens, two are growing decidedly rooster-ish): Dilly, Captain, Miss Pecks-a-Lot, Monty, Juliette, Buffy, Alys and Vita.  The last two being named by me after two of my favorite gardeners.

Elijah designed the coop and Steve, Iain and Elijah built it.  My sole contribution was to interrupt them when they were making excellent progress to drastically slow them down by requesting they cut scallops in that trim piece, which looked far more charming in my head and far less like the awning of an ice cream shop.  Do I redeem myself at all by relaying that since these pictures we’ve added shutters and I ripped all of the wood for them?  Probably not.

I’m quite enjoying keeping chickens, with the notable exceptions of the pooping on my front steps and eating of my hostas.

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The Handcrafted Wardrobe: Refashion Candidates

First up some details about my sweater in progress.  I’m making a Calligraphy Cardigan (love that name).  I think it will be just right for all of those autumnal hikes I’m praying I have the chance to take.  It’s not my highest knitting priority at the moment, but I’m still hoping that putting in a bit of time here and there will let me finish it by cool weather.

My “Just for Fun” project is nearly complete.  I really needed something frivolous and not the least bit serious to counterbalance some intense situations in my life.  And while it felt like just what I needed in that moment, I was also making it for a specific event, which has now passed (because rushing and pushing myself for something entirely unnecessary was decidedly not what I needed) and now I have absolutely no idea where I would ever wear it.  I’m feeling a little panicky, like autumn is bearing down on me, and perhaps this particular detour was not such a good one?  I now need to get very serious about some practical sewing, not just for myself, but also for my children.

I thought I would start by trying to make something of a couple of pieces which currently aren’t of use to anyone, but still have a bit of life left in them, and seeing if I could make them useful again.

This first sweater was accidentally sent to us.  I believe it’s a men’s sweater.  When I asked the two man shaped people in my house if either of them was interested in it they scoffed and looked at me like I was nuts.  It’s not like I picked it out!  I just wanted clearance to cut it up!

It’s 90% cotton and 10% cashmere, so quality fabric worth trying to make something of.

I’ve had this basic cotton cardigan for maybe 6 years now?  Every outfit that I put it over suddenly turns all frumpy, and not in a good way.  Plus there is that weird, slightly off thing with the button band and also, this hole…

This was one of my favorite shirts of Steve’s because it’s incredibly soft to cuddle up to.  But it’s life as a men’s shirt was cut short by a building accident….

Classy, no?

I have no idea what’s going to come of any of these projects, but there is nothing lost by cutting them up and giving it a try.  Something to think on this week: is there anything around your house that’s just dying to be made into something new?

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Lil Shepherd in the Rain

In an otherwise dry summer, I feel as though we’ve had a whole season’s worth of rain over the last week.  There were points when I was convinced that the entire house was just going to bob up and float away.  I would lie in bed at night in semi-consciousness listening to the torrent all around me and get the impression that I myself was being washed away.  In a way I kind of adored it.

I made Seraphine a Lil Shepherd vest a couple of weeks ago when I needed a break from tiny sock needles and thin fiddly sock yarn for bitty socks.  She likes the vest (I think it’s the pom-poms) and the socks, which is a huge boon for me because more and more often lately she’s been telling me that woolen items are not soft and that they “hurt”.  She’s very fickle.  There are some items that I consider rough, but she accepts without question and others that are soft as can be and she turns her nose up at them!  Very frustrating for a mama-knitter.  It seems to help for her to see me knitting them.  She always wants to know what I’m making and who it’s for.  Then there is a build up of excitement about this special bit of clothing just for her.  I think that may have been the saving grace of the vest and socks.

I just started reading A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle.  I can’t remember who recommended it?

The salad above is kale with chicken, avocado, black olives and that vegetable cheese I’ve been making (it’s similar to this, but we have our own way of doing it).  That was nice, but I’m terribly disgruntled about food in general lately and sick to death of everlasting elimination diets, which I’ve been on various variations of for the better part of 16 years now.  And I just seriously need a big long vacation from the whole darn thing.  Unfortunately, vacations from eating don’t tend to work out well.  I know there are plenty of ways to make it exciting and delicious, I’m just too everlasting busy and tired to, a) be that creative and b)  actually have the time to make it all.  And the times when I do manage to make something novel and interesting, it takes hours to create and disappears in mere moments because there are so many people digging in.  Alright, end rant.  Moving on.  Here if not in my head.

I’ve experienced a very unexpected knitting/wardrobe windfall!  I had this theory that my best bet, as my kids get older, for insuring that they quietly and happily keep wearing my knitted goods was to be as discreet about their home-made nature as possible….classic men’s wear colors, simple designs, nothing that’s going to call too much attention. In passing Iain mentioned liking brown, so I was thrilled when a shade of brown went on clearance in my favorite, go-to, everyday yarn (the color is “Doe”.  It’s now sold out in worsted, but still available in DK weight for $2.81 a ball, which is a pretty fabulous price for superwash merino!). I ordered enough for a sweater and started planning my simple, non-threatening, fingers-crossed teenager approved, palatable classic.

Imagine my surprise when a week after the yarn arrived he told me he wanted me to make him something “wild” and unlike anything he owns, with as many colors as possible!  Preferably loud, bright, attention grabbing colors!  I guess the joke is on me with that one!  That’s more than alright because the consolation prize for being way off base is that I’m getting a new autumn sweater after-all.  The full coverage warm sort of one that I had in mind, though in a different color and pattern than planned.  I never would have bought the yarn for myself, but since it’s already here…  And I also have the unique, endearing and amusing task of working up a wild and crazy sweater for my son’s seventeenth birthday.  Not a bad deal at all.

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The Handcrafted Wardrobe: History

My father recently acquired some old family photographs.  I want copies of every single one of them, but so far I’ve only managed to scan a couple.

The baby in that top one is my grandmother.  Would you just look at my great-grandmother?  Pearls at the beach!  Ack!  I love it.  The second one is my grandmother again, but a bit older this time.  All of those ruffles slay me.  The last one is of my grandparents together.  I’ve had this one for a while now and that dress has really got to be one of my absolute favorite dresses of all time.  I have no idea what color it actually was, but I always pictured the bodice in a dark green velvet, with the skirt being a warm ivory.

And this one….

Is really completely off topic, but the boy on the left there is my father and I just really think that teenage Elijah looks a lot like teenage dad.  And I also kind of think Elijah would dig that jacket.

Over the years I’ve discovered that I adore fashion and clothing, and yet I have absolutely no interest in current trends.  A huge part of the appeal for me is the story behind the garment.  And it just seems like the only story behind most modern styles is that so-and-so famous person wore it and it caught on.  That means nothing to me.  Which is not to say that I’m not influenced by current fashion.  We none of us live in a vacuum!  Everyone’s views and tastes are shaped by the time and environment that they live in.  I’m just not passionate about it. 

What really fascinates me is where clothing and history meet.  Those times in the past where situations arose that shaped a style.  Events that may not even seem to have any relation to fashion at all, but which in retrospect, have had a huge impact.  Think of the invention of the bicycle and how it was really the start of the downfall of the strictly bound corset.  Women suddenly had this new found freedom in a mode of transportation that was relatively inexpensive and socially acceptable for them to utilize on their own.  The only catch?  Dressed as they were, they couldn’t bloody well breathe to make it up those hills!

In particular I’m truly intrigued by those periods of times where clothing yourself and family was a struggle, say during wartime or a depression.  What really inspires me are those times when women, and men too I’m sure, but mostly it was women, looked at a situation and said, “okay, we’re going to make this work, but we’re going to make it beautiful too”.  Times when creativity and ingenuity were paramount.  Think flour sack dresses or blouses cut just so, to use a minimal amount of fabric while still remaining feminine and flattering.  Think of women going in droves into factories and farm work and needing to keep their hair out of the way for safety’s sake.  That could have been a strictly utilitarian endeavor, but women went and cultivated styles that were glamorous instead.  Have you seen some of the dresses and other articles of clothing from after WWII made of silk maps?  With cloth rationing still on the escape maps printed on silk being brought back by soldiers must have seemed as good a source of fabric as any.  Look at knitting in times of lack, when stripes become en vogue and intricate fair-isles made from odds and ends, along with whatever you could harvest from a worn out old sweater, start cropping up. Even the rebound effect of luxuriating in fabulously full skirts and the completely frivolous use of fabric after rationing was lifted is an intriguing glimpse into a particular period in time.

As I said, it’s the story that captivates me, whether it be a hand-woven fabric made in some ancient tradition, the alchemy of yarn dyed with local flora, or a little snippet of embroidery that’s the mark of a doting mother’s hand.  Perhaps that’s why I’m so drawn to making clothing.  Hand made garments have their own unique tales to tell.

For a lavishly illustrated look at some of the fashions of years gone by, taking you all the way back as far as we can gather, check out Fashion: The Definitive History of Costume and Style.  It does not disappoint.

What about you?  Are there any eras you are particularly drawn to?  What is the appeal?

Last week I forgot to announce the next challenge!  It’s August 15: Just for Fun.

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