My Apologies/ Updates…

I wanted to make an apology for having neglected this blog the past couple of months. I’d been busy with relocating and all the stuff that goes with that, and have taken a few weeks to recover from all the associated headache and settle in/ relax/ etc. I’m currently in the middle of a few different projects I’m anxious to post about, and I’ve also got several ideas for new and interesting posts and projects down the road.

In other news, I had the good fortune to meet Rachel Suntop while I was at work yesterday. I currently work at a second-hand store during the day, and Ms. Suntop came through my checkout. Our meeting was brief, but we had a nice little chat about textile art and re-purposing materials. She also told me about The I.D.E.A Store, which, I do recall having heard about before, but now I know I have to swing by and check it out in the next week or so.

I want to thank you all for your patience and continued interest in this still maturing blog of mine. Look for Emulation Part #2 to be published near the end of July.


Emulation: Part 1

As promised, the subject of this segment is the use of ritual animal dress in shaman practices/ animistic culture. In trying to find reference material (which elaborates upon the basic information I already know while adding credibility to my writing), I have made a frustrating observation: With so many New Age-y pages on shamanism/ animism, it’s hard to find good, legitimate sources on the topic. ::headdesk::   Also, my apologies in that I was a little later getting this posted than I had intended. Life happens.

"Yupik masks made the invisible visible. They are the physical representations of encounters with the spirit world. Spiritual leaders design the masks to represent beings they have seen while in a trance. Every element and motif of a mask has a special purpose, the meaning of which is known only to the creator of the mask." (7)

There are rich histories of shamans the world over. Even in today’s world shamans still exist, although a lot of traditional practices are dying out – The last shaman of the Oroqen  people died in 2000 (4). While there are differences in rituals, beliefs and practices between the different communities, it is a general rule,

Haida Shaman Mask

that animal costume served to connect to the spirit world, through the power of the animal. It is also generally the shaman who has the ability to perform such rituals (but this is not always the case, there are some non-shaman rituals during which participants dress up).

The Pacific Northwest

The native peoples of the Pacific Northwest (Kwakiutl, Tlingit, Haida) carved elaborate masks. Some of the masks look like human faces, but they represent supernatural beings. Others are clan totem animal

masks. These masks were worn during ceremonies and

Wolf Dancer.

rituals by trained dancers and storytellers. One of the important rituals was the potlatch. The potlatch was held for special occasions such as marriages, births, rites of passage, funerals, etc. These were essentially large gift giving ceremonies where there would be food, singing and dancing. Often there would be dancers dressed in regalia, which included the intricately carved and painted masks, such as the wolf dancer in the photo to the left. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Canadian and American governments banned and outlawed the potlatch ceremonies. These bans were only repealed as recently as 1951 (11).


For the indigenous peoples of Siberia, such as the Orochon and the Yukaghir, the reindeer was an important part of life. In fact, the name “Orochon” actually means “reindeer people”.  The reindeer provided fur and meat, they pulled sleds and were even entrusted with carrying small children and babies. It was also the skin of the reindeer that the shaman wore, along with the antlers in some tribes. I’ve also read that the coat is made to represent a bird skin, so that the shaman can fly (10). Perhaps as a sign of the importance the role the shaman played in Yukaghir culture, upon death, his body was dismembered and a part given to each member of his clan (10).  Today, while shamanism is still practiced in the region, it is no longer as wide spread. Reindeer are still a part of life, and some tribesmen have taken up breeding domesticated reindeer.

Yukaghir Shaman Clothes. I have read that the skin is that of a reindeer, but I have also read that the skin is to be like that of a bird so the shaman can fly.


For most of this post, I have been looking at instances where humans take on animal form. There is, however, one case I have come across where the opposite is true from a spiritual standpoint. For the Ainu (an indigenous people of Hokkaido), animal deities look and behave the way humans do when they are in their own realm. When these deities come to the human realm, they come disguised so as to bring gifts of meat and fur. (8)

Another interesting tidbit I learned while reading up on Ainu shamanism that I was not previously aware of:

Among the Hokkaidō Ainu, shamanism is not highly regarded and shamans are usually women, who collectively have lower social status than men. The Hokkaidō Ainu shaman also enters a possession trance, but she does so only if a male elder induces it in her by offering prayers to the deities. Although she too diagnoses illnesses, male elders take over the healing process. Male elders must consult a shaman before they make important decisions for the community. In other words, the politically powerful male cannot even declare a war without consulting the shaman—an intriguing cultural mechanism to balance formalized and nonformalized power. (8)

The Eagle Dance

My personal favorite occasion in which people don animal dress is the Eagle Dance. When I was a very young girl, my Grandfather used to take me to powwows. The part I always loved the most were the dances.. especially Eagle Dance, because of all the pretty feathers and how the dancer always looked so grand with his wings outstretched.  Eagle Dance isn’t specific to any one tribe, as the eagle held deep importance for many Native Americans.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and while doing the reading for this entry, I came across other aspects of indigenous wardrobes that I would like to look into in depth sometime, such as Chilkat blankets. Not wanting to tangent from topic, I will have to remind myself to come back to it later. (Tangential researching, another factor in not having this posted on time, lol)  In Part 2, I will be discussing Furries.


1. Shamans and Shamanism.

2. Canada’s First Peoples.

3. Wikipedia.

4. Wikipedia.

5. The History of the Eagle Dance.

6. Support Native American Art: Northwest Coast Masks.

7. The Glenbow Museum.

8. Ainu-Religion and Expressive Culture.

9. Sakha Open World.

10. The Yukaghir and the Yukaghirized Tungus.

11. Wikipedia.

Emulation: Introduction

Last night, I was watching one of my favorite movies, Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom. I always loved the Indiana Jones movies as a child.. indeed, Indy was a role model of sorts for me during my formative years, and is still very much a personal hero. (How else do you think I got interested in Anthropology? LOL)

My Hero, Indiana Jones

Anyhow, as I was watching Indy travel through the jungle and narrowly escape being crushed to death, I couldn’t help but think to myself: I want his outfit. This is not the first time I have thought this to myself..  in fact a few years back I spent hours looking into just where his outfit came from. What company made his jacket? Where can you get an authentic looking hat? What dye combination is needed to make a white button up shirt look that dingy tan/grey color?

Then my mind springboarded from that and I started asking myself why I wanted to dress like him.. Or why, for that matter, does anyone want to emulate someone or something else? We see it all the time in advertisements.. we use big name celebrities to market this product or that because we know that the fans will buy said product in order to emulate their hero. Indeed, the only time I have ever spent over $100 on a pair of shoes was for just such a reason – I bought a pair of Nike Shox because I was obsessed with House, and those are the shoes he wears. (They were actually very good shoes, and while my motivation for purchasing them may have been misguided, I don’t entirely regret the purchase.)

If you follow Japanese fashion (or even just contemporary Japanese culture) at all, you might be familiar with Cosplay: generally, dressing up as a character from an anime or manga. Perhaps you’ve even heard of furries – anthropomorphic animal cartoons/ a person incorporating an animal into his/her cosplay attire?  I’m willing to bet money, if you know what I’m talking about, this is all pretty normal to you.. you may even be a LARPer. If not, you’re going to learn all about it in upcoming blogs (Come to the Nerd Side!). You may even be shocked to learn (if you’re not already aware) that this strange practice is centuries old. Yes.. people have been dressing up as animals for hundreds of years. Yes, I’m talking about animism and shamans here folks – hard core anthropology fodder.  And it is with the shamans that I will begin my investigation into the significance of emulation in fashion and culture next week.

Triangle Remembered: Unions, Worker’s Rights, Fair Trade.

100 years ago today, 146 workers lost their lives in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. This tragedy helped give rise to organizations such as International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, which I’ve mentioned before, in my first post. Unions were already coming into the scene at that time, but the fire brought attention to a lot of the problems laborers faced, which helped the cause and brought about better safety standards in the workplace.

In my last post, I shared with you an article addressing the origins of our clothes… and it has been on my mind since I posted it. A lot of the problems that led to the Triangle fire continue to go on to this day in garment shops around the world in developing countries. This past December, a similar fire broke out at a garment shop in Bangladesh, killing more than 30 workers. Furthermore, “according to Bangladesh’s Fire Service and Civil Defence Department, 414 garment workers lost their lives in 213 factory fires between 2006 and 2009.” (1)

Unions are important!

…And we really do need to take a stand against companies that make their money by abusing people like this. I do the bulk of my shopping at second hand stores, such as Goodwill, and I try to buy handmade when I can. Every once in awhile I slip and don’t pay attention, but as a general rule, I try to.

My mind has more or less been reeling for the past few weeks, pulling in everything I have been reading/ hearing/watching lately.. I’ve been trying to follow what’s been going on in Wisconsin, and I know the rest of the US is keeping an eye on it. Last I had heard, the Governor signed a bill to pass a law to limit collective bargaining rights, but judge blocked it from being published.  ::shakes head::  There is some worry that if Wisconsin manages to strip worker’s rights away, other states will follow suit.

If you’re so inclined, I encourage you to listen to today’s newscast from Democracy Now! It’s well worth listening to, especially the discussion which starts around 22:54 and goes to the end.

Also, for those interested, here are a few links for getting your hands on some cool fair trade products:

Recycled Silk Yarns – “fairly traded hand spun recycled silk sari yarn is made by a women’s collective group in Nepal”

Ten Thousand Villages – I first came across this store in ’06, shortly after moving to Champaign, IL for college. Beautiful handcrafted items!

The Fair Trade Federation – You can search for fair trade companies around the world, by country or by product.

Also, check out your local shops, artisans and farmers markets. Fair trade is certainly good, but local is best (this does not mean your local Wal-Mart, but rather, the Mom and Pop shops), if you can find what you want/need.


1) Chan, John and W.A. Sunil. “Factory fire and police killings fuel discontent among Bangladeshi garment workers”.

2) Democracy Now! March 25, 2011 show.

3)  Aljazeera. “Deaths in Bangladesh factory fire”.

4) The New York Times. “Ask About Labor Laws and Unions in the Fire’s Wake”.

Where Do Your Clothes Come From?

How many of us ever actually pay attention  to where our clothes come from? Do you ever think about who designed them? Or where they were made?

I was sitting in the break room at work today, skimming through the latest issue of Illinois Times – a weekly Springfield-area publication. There was one article in particular that caught my attention, and because I think it relates fairly well with the subject matter of this blog, I want to share it with you:  Our Clothes Reveal the Story.

Insomniatic Thoughts about Suits…

I should really be asleep right now…

I’m in the middle of trying to put together a series of related posts at the moment, which as per usual, has me doing research between work, sewing, and my addiction to Facebook and Youtube. I’m hoping the first will be ready to post by the end of the month (I’m being realistic here, I’ve a lot to juggle).

Until then though, thoughts about suit jackets:

He’s got a good point. Why don’t they make suit jackets with the arms attached the same way as other jackets and shirts? Maybe someday I’ll make one and see how it works out.. add it to my list.    I first saw this video almost a year ago.. I’m a huge fan of Lloyd and subscribe to his Youtube channel (and maybe I’ve somewhat of I fangirl crush on him too >.> ).  Anyhow, I was reminded of it Sunday night at a Gaelic Storm concert when Patrick Murphy had to take his cool velvety suit-type jacket off because it hindered his accordion playing. Yes, Patrick Murphy started shedding clothing and my mind went to Lloyd, there must be something wrong with my wiring. ha!

Trickster Crow at 3rd Thursday Art Show

Three days ago, I was at the Third Thursday Art Show in Springfield, IL. It’s quite possibly my favorite function on the planet. Every month (the 3rd Thursday of each month, thus the name), local artists from in and around Springfield gather together to show their art, mingle with the public, and generally have a good time. There are live bands at every show, which adds to the atmosphere and, I think, brings everything together. It’s inspiring how the local arts community is close knit and supportive of each other. I’ve even been known to sit at a table and sew on some easily portable project at these events…

Elizabeth Ross' wonderful 3T cozies...

Another great thing about these shows, is that the range of art is not just limited any one medium. While paintings are more common (and there are some very talented painters in Springfield, IL), I have also seen some knitting and crochet on display. Elizabeth Ross made some very cool crocheted hats, potholders and drink cozies. :::throws fist in the air playfully:::  Textile/Fiber Represent!

And so it was, while I was sitting at a table, listening to the live music and soaking up the awesomeness of this atmosphere, that I witnessed what was quite possibly the coolest display of live costume/ theatre art I’ve seen with my own eyes to date. There was no warning and no introduction. He just showed up, passed through, and disappeared without a sound. (I’ve heard a couple people mention a flyer or something about it, but I never saw it.) He was, Trickster Crow.

"The Trickster Crow meets Jeff Williams as Felicia Olin looks on under Ryan Sponslers's latest painting." Photo and Caption Quote credited to Ted Keylon

He (or possibly she, as I’m unaware of the identity of the person behind the beak) slowly and silently made his way through the crowd, handing out sunflower seeds. I later found out these were “seeds of knowledge” that he gave unto anyone that would have them. (I’m now happy to say I ate all 3 of the seeds he gave me.)

Not only was this a very cool, mysterious experience. But, I am in complete and total appreciation of the costume. I do not know who made it, but it’s amazing! I love all the symbolism and representation.. crows and ravens carry this kind of sense of dread, but they are intelligent and being creatures of the sky, they can see everything and so even have a slight foresight. Also, he’s wearing a trench coat. Trench coats also have this association with mystery and danger… you find classic detective characters wearing them, I recall David Boreanaz’s character, Angel -a vampire- wearing one, and then there is the trench coat mafia. Fear of the Unknown, Foreshadowing, Intrigue, Mystery, Danger… so many concepts and feelings are tied into this work…  and then the total surprise of it which left art show attendees talking about it afterward. Trickster Crow, you have my awe as well as my utmost respect and recognition.

Thoughts About: Embroidered Textiles by Sheila Paine

A couple of posts back, one of my readers gave me what has been perhaps the nicest compliment I have been paid to date. She commented upon the amount of thought and research I put into my posts, and that really made my day.  I am always reading and doing research on different textile traditions, DIY procedures, symbolism, etc. I thought I might give an overview and share a few of my thoughts on what I feel are some of the more influential works I have encountered. I will henceforth call this category of posts “Thoughts About”.

The last couple of weeks I have been reading Embroidered Textiles: A World Guide to Traditional Patterns by Sheila Paine. I borrowed a copy from my local library, but after having read it, I will certainly be purchasing a copy to add to my bookshelf for continual reference.
This book is full of brilliant, stunning photos and information about embroidery from around the world. She breaks the information down into 4 chapters.

The first of these is “Guide to Identification” which breaks down major traditions by region and points out key identifying elements of the embroidery work. I have to give her props for including a brief mention of Hmong (which she refers to as Miao… which is indeed another name, but by and large they prefer to be called Hmong) and their work, which I wholeheartedly admire.

Chapters two and three, “The Decorative Power of Cult” and “Religion and its Patterns” respectively, deal with symbolism within embroidery as it relates to the divine and otherworldly. Both chapters look at meanings and how some of the representations have changed through time.  The only real difference between the chapters is that “cult” refers to earlier objects of worship such as the sun and the goddess and significant events like hunting, whereas “religion” is meant to refer to major religions as we know of them them today with their rules and structure, such as Christianity and Buddhism.

The final chapter, “The Magical Source of Protection”, looks at decoration as charm or talisman. Locations of stitchwork, beads or trinkets that are added into the embroidery, even the colors used all have a function and a meaning.

I love this book because it is such a rich source of information on symbolism and communication within textiles around the world… everything that I am interested in and that this blog serves to discuss. I will likely be referencing this book again and again in the future. 🙂

Nowhere but Where you Want to Go…

Life has a funny way of unraveling itself. Despite all our efforts, all our planning, the road we set off embarking on will change as time goes by. Life will set obstacles in our way, and if we are to stay on course, we must surmount them. Yet, sometimes we’re forced to take a detour. Often, we become frustrated, and we try bustle through and get back onto our well planned pathway. Every once in awhile, if we actually look around us as we travel down these side roads life’s detours force us to take, we might discover something worthwhile: an out of the way diner, a cozy independent bookstore, an old theater, or maybe just a pretty house with a for sale sign in the yard.
Or sometimes we simply decide we want to go somewhere else and cut across a parking lot or a farmer’s field to get to another road.

I feel like society at large expects us to plot a course and stay true and unwavering to that course. The implications being that if we stay the course we will be happy and stable and successful. The general model that we’re supposed to base our lives on is: Get your HS diploma (or GED), go to college (or trade school), get a job, get married, buy a house, start a family. It also feels as if getting off that course suggests failure at life. But what happens when you’re traveling down the expressway and traffic jams up and forces you into a painfully slow single lane? Or what about when your ending destination suddenly disappears like Atlantis into oblivion?  This is what a lot of people who have lost their jobs have had to deal with. This is what myself and my peers have had to face (or will have to face) coming out of school. It seems like college is becoming more and more of a necessity with fewer and fewer guarantees of anything beyond student loan debt.

What do you do when you find yourself in the middle of nowhere? Where do you go? Do you keep moving in some direction, or do you pause for a moment and take in your surroundings? Do you follow the well trodden path? The path less traveled? Or do you create your own path, hacking your way through the brush if necessary? It seems to me that we often feel pressured or rushed to keep moving and to “get back on track” as quickly as possible. As if to be off track is to be in this very undesired position. I find it somewhat amusing that it’s ok to be “outside the box”, so long as you are “on track” and even better if you are “on the fast track”.  (this is my odd/corny sense of humor at work here)

When I started this project, I had no real idea where it was going, and over time, as I built upon it, its true nature revealed itself to me. It really took on a life and a meaning all its own. The Nowhere Man, with its kind of off-kilter compass and frayed edges that shirk convention, reminds us that even when we we’re out in the middle of nowhere, we have the freedom and the power to go where we want to. We don’t even have to know where we are going when we start off, the path will reveal itself in due time if we keep our senses open to it.

Having come to the end of the road (but certainly not the end of the journey), the Nowhere Man is now officially for sale on my Etsy.  I’m excited to see what other roads I will be led down as I continue to work this blog and continue to create…

Nowhere on the Horizon

I want to thank my readers for sticking with me despite my negligence in posting the past few weeks. Almost immediately after I finished dealing with all the holiday happenings and the post-holiday take down, I was viciously attacked by a nasty flu bug bent on world domination… or, well, at least the domination of my immune system. After almost a week of full on war, the entire flu army has been obliterated. Somewhere in my sinuses there are still bits of mutilated flu bodies scattered around, and on a cell wall is a photo of some of my white blood cells in combat fatigues and helmets, climbing over a tonsil and raising the flag of victory.

Now that life is settling back into it’s normal rhythm, I’m back to work, sewing away. I’ve been doing most of my work on the Nowhere Man.  Have a look at what I have been up to:

Adding the second later of diamonds...

Rather than applique the star onto the back of the jacket, I decided to replace the entire back panel. I ended up using one of my collector knives as a seam ripper because I had lost mine. It actually worked rather well, however I did get a proper seam ripper as a replacement for Christmas.
I wanted to replace the entirety of the back panel, so, it’s obvious that I needed to add more diamond layers. One thing I would like to point out now that ended up turning into a huge pain later on: Do you see how the original panel is sewn together in 3 sections? Notice how they are curved? It’s a seam trick that makes the garment a little more form fitting — this is a woman’s jacket afterall. It also does not allow the fabric to lay 100% flat, there is an ever so slight curvature to it. With the way the star is put together and laid out, I can’t very well replicate those panel sections. So, I had to alter the shape of the entire back somewhat to accommodate my design.
I toyed around with the idea of orienting the star in such a way as to designate the cardinal directions (North, South, East, West) in red and using the grey for NNW, NNE and the like.  I also, ultimately, wasn’t able to do this either once my star was big enough to cover the majority of the back.
All the diamonds come from old jeans. The bigger chunks of denim come from scrap material left over from when I made myself a pair of bell bottoms 4 years ago. I save everything. I have some scraps of fabric I have been toting around since 8th grade that I’m still not sure how I will use. Maybe someday I’ll make some twined rag rugs or maybe I’ll get really industrious and use the smallest bits of fiber to make my own paper. I don’t put it past myself. The point is, I do not want to waste anything if I can at all help it.
Right now, I am actually in the process of installing the new “Nowhere Man” panel into the jacket. I still need to pick up some more yellow denim thread to do this properly, so all the current stitches are just temporary stay stitches. Something else that’s going to be super fun (and a super pain in the butt): Do you notice how those big chunks of new denim are so much lighter cleaner than the rest of the jacket? Left alone, it probably won’t look right once the installation is done. That’s right… I’m going to have to manually age/dirty those sections so it’ll fit into the surroundings better.  That’s something I have never done before.. so, on one hand, I am excited. On the other, I am nervous and worried that I might end up ruining this piece that I have spent so many hours toiling over. This is how I learn though, I play around and experiment.