I’m Noticing a Pattern…

Alert: This post is about modifying patterns for panties, aka women’s underwear. There are no pictures of me wearing said undies, just paper patterns. However, if straight talk about how panties fit and terms like “crotch length” make you uncomfortable, bounce now. 

When you use a PDF pattern, you download it, print it out, and then tape it together at the indicated lines.

A cutting table with pattern pieces taped together to form a sewing pattern for a women's bikini-brief panty.

Note: Unless you’ve hung a projector from the ceiling to project the pattern onto the fabric (aka: paperless). I haven’t done that yet, though I have downloaded a 3D-printer file for a widget that mounts a projector to the ceiling. And I did have a conversation with my husband about how he feels about holes in the ceiling. So… 

Then you cut it out. 

The same pattern pieces as before, after having been cut apart with scissors.

I’ll save you some squinting, I cut on the size-18 line. This pattern goes up to size 20. If you’re more abundant than that, there is a sister pattern “Acacia Curve” that goes larger.

This pattern has a front, a gusset, and a back. The reason there’s a separate gusset is so you can make a “completely enclosed” gusset, where the seams on both ends of the gusset are covered (it happens during construction with some rolling and folding magic). This is in contrast to the “pocket gusset” which is attached to a front-middle combined piece, and has only one seam covered. If this explanation is fuzzy, wait for the next blog post in this series, which covers construction. It’ll be clearer there.

The first thing I did was make a pair of panties using the default Acacia pattern for my size in a test fabric with the same characteristics as my intended “fashion” fabric. They fit in the hips, but had the same too-long crotch problem as commercial underwear.

Seriously!?! I’m short waisted; does this mean I’m short-crotched as well? Are they even related? Wait—are they?!?

Emotional revelations aside, it was validating to discover that the fit issues I’d been having with underwear are because of assumptions about what’s “normal” and not just that I’m buying the wrong style or size.

So, with the undies on, I pinched off the amount of fabric I needed to take out of the center to bring the back down. It looked like about two inches, which would be a lot. So I decided to decrease the middle by about an inch instead.

Two versions of the front pattern piece of an women's bikini pattern. The top is an unaltered version of the pattern piece, the bottom has been cut shorter twice. The two cut-off pieces of paper are below the pattern piece so you can see where they were cut off from.

I remade the undies and tested them, and then decided to take another 3/4 inch off the front. 

Note: Yes, it hurts me not to use metric. I live in the U.S., however, where all the tools (and cutting mats) are imperial and have (mostly) given up the fight.

While I was taking off that extra 3/4 inch, I also took the seam allowance off the top and legs. It was in the way because I finished these hems with fold-over elastic, and I’d gotten tired of cutting it off.

I also decided that I’d rather have simpler construction and one less seam in a delicate area, so combined the front and gusset into a single piece. 

A combined front-and-gusset panty pattern piece. It is a single piece of paper on a cutting mat.

This third pair of test undies still rode up in the back by about an inch. However, there didn’t seem to be any more fabric to take out of the front or gusset, so I took an inch out of the back.

The back piece of a panty pattern. It has been sliced across two inches from the bottom seam and the bottom piece pulled up 1 inch to overlap and shorten the pattern piece.

And re-graded to smooth out the curve with a hip-curve tool.

Note: Funny fact, when I left the PhD physics program to briefly pursue an MFA in costume construction (long story) I took a pattern-drafting class, which I loved because it was precise and mathematical. So I have all the pattern-making tools, and some facility with drafting, and yet am a complete novice at, and totally intimidated by, actually sewing. This has confused people in the past.

Here is the re-graded back piece.

The shortened panty back pattern piece, with the curve at the "jog" where the piece was moved changed from a stair-step shape to a smooth curve.

One thing to note here, the version number written on the pattern. I was doing rapid iteration with multiple changes. Versioning each new pattern variation saved me from confusion and chaos. Highly recommend.

One more set of test undies, and… they fit! Perfectly. So extremely comfy and much more flattering than commercial panties. It’s like… (wait for it) … they were made for me. 😀

I was curious as to how much difference there was between the original pattern and what I’d ended up with, so I re-cut a new version of default Acacia, size 18, and laid it side-by-side with my final version.

Two sets of the panty pattern pieces laid side by side.

Huh. They don’t look that different.

So I turned the pieces around to measure the overall change in crotch length.

The pattern pieces from the previous image, rearranged so the difference in length is now evident.

Ah, there it is. What I’ve been complaining about. I had to reduce the overall crotch length by a whopping THREE INCHES to get them to fit me. That was three inches of wedgie built into every commercial pair of underwear.

Note: Sharp-eyed folks will see what looks like an extra 1/2 inch of difference. Remember that I removed 1/4 inch seam allowance from the waist of both the front and back pieces.

It is hard to explain how exultant I felt when I tried on the pair that finally fit. It is entirely possible that I high-fived myself in my studio. I may have done a dance of triumph in my undies. There were no cameras; the world will never know.

I traced the final pattern onto tag board. It’s a stiffer paper like that used in manilla folders, but has one side beige and one side green so you can immediately see if the pattern is right side up.

I then punched a hole in the pattern so I could put it on a hook and hang it from a rod (you can’t, and wouldn’t want to, fold tag board).

The final panty pattern, re-drawn on tag board. One piece has been flipped over so you can see that the reverse side is green.

Here’s a tip that I didn’t think of until too late. I should have punched the hole in the exact center-front of the panties. That would have made it easy to place the pattern over fabric and center a motif.

And while we’re talking tips. If you are going to be doing lots of iterations on small pattern pieces, an 18 x 24” sketchpad is a wonderful thing. The paper was durable and just the right size for laying out undies. Much easier than wrangling a roll of paper, or fighting with unfolded grocery bags.

A photo of a sketch pad for drawing. It is a 100-sheet pad that was manufactured by Strathmore. The paper type is fine tooth surface.

Having cleared the hurdle of creating a pattern that fits, I am ready to start creating panties in the fun fabric I’ve been saving for this moment.

I’ll talk about fabric choices and construction in the next blog post.

Enter the Coverstitch

The tricky thing about sewing knitwear is that the (most of) the stitches on a standard sewing machine won’t stretch enough to keep up with knit fabric. 

So the best way to seam knits is with a machine called a serger. If you look at the side seams of nearly any t-shirt, you’ll see what a serger seam looks like.

Serged seam being held in a hand, both sides of the looper-finished seam is showing because the fabric is folded back.

I bought a serger many years ago as one of my plans to “learn sewing for real this time.” (I’ve tried to “learn sewing” ever since I was in my teens. I make a concerted effort every decade or so, to little success.) These days, I mostly use my serger to finish off the raw edges of handwoven fabric before washing it.

I plan to use my serger for underwear construction

However, there are very few seams in underwear. What there are are a lot of hems. The waist and leg holes are essentially three long hems.

There are ways to make a standard sewing machine make a stretchy stitch: use a zig-zag or serpentine stitch or a twin needle and (depending on the stretch of your fabric) you might get stitches that won’t bind or break.

For a truly stretchy hem, however, the tool to have is a coverstitch machine. Turn up the hem of your t-shirt, you’ll a coverstitch hem.

Coverstitch tshirt hem held in a hand with both the double stitch and looper sides showing because the fabric is folded back.

I’d recently sold a loom, and putting the proceeds towards a coverstitch, trading one machine for another, seemed a worthwhile thing to do.

The first coverstitch machine I was interested in was a Babylock Coverstitch. Unfortunately, they’d just discontinued that model and none of the local stores had any left. Not wanting to risk learning on a used machine (how would I know if problems were me or the machine?) I asked what the new model from Babylock was.

“It’ll sew through anything,” the sewing machine saleswoman told me over the phone. “It’s all-metal construction.”

“It’s the size of a small car,” I said, looking at the Babylock website, and then at my modestly-sized sewing table.

“It sews like a dream, you’ll never regret it. And it’s on sale… ”

It was the pandemic, so I bought it without trying it out beforehand. (Something I do not, in general, recommend.)

What I came home with was the Babylock Euphoria. It is huge, it does only one thing, and it does it very, very well.


Only…now I had to learn how to use a coverstitch machine! 

YouTube came to the rescue: GingerHead and Co. and The Last Stitch have some great coverstitch videos. Johanna Lundström from The Last Stitch has a book, Master the Coverstitch Machine, that I am strongly considering buying. I’ve already found at least one of her offhand tips to have made the difference between fail and success with wooly-nylon thread.

And yet, I was intimidated. I didn’t know what tension to set the needles or loopers at, what stitch length to use, or how it sewed… or anything. 

However, I’d just given a seminar on using the scientific method for fiber arts. So I decided to follow my own advice and start by sampling, sampling, sampling. 

I created ‘research samples’, with no intention of creating anything other than information I could use as a reference later. That way, regardless of the result, it would be a success, because I’d learn something.

Pile of eleven samples of coverstitching attaching fold-over elastic to rayon-lycra fabric. The samples are labeled as to what the machine settings were: SL for stitch length, UT for upper tension, LT for lower tension, and DF for differential feed.

In experimentation, it’s good to change as few variables as possible at one time, so I established some guidelines: 

  • 95% rayon, 5% lycra fabric at 6oz weight
  • Fold-over elastic
  • Wooly-nylon thread in the looper

Note: The fabric I used for sampling is from a chopped up shirt, which is why you see other seams on the samples.

I chose the rayon/lycra because it’s soft next to the skin and is one of the standard fabrics carried by Knitorious, a fabric printing collective that takes pre-orders for fun geeky fabrics, has them printed, and then sends them out to folks.

Fold-over elastic is one of the easiest way to finish off hems on underwear. I decided to start with this because (a) I had a ton of it, bought from a local fabric store that went out of business and (b) easy is good.

Wooly-nylon thread in the loopers is often used in underwear and swimwear because it’s a fibrous thread that “fluffs out” after it’s stitched and is known for being next-to-skin soft. I like soft, so it seemed a good thing to do.

Because beige is not a color I typically wear, I used up my beige fold-over elastic when I started my experimenting. Then I had the fun discovery that I could write on the light-colored fold-over elastic with a Sharpie pen, making the samples self-referencing. Yay!

Close up of a sample that is folded so you can see both sides of the chainstitch. One side looks like regular stitches, the other side like a series of crocheted-together loops.

The first few samples I tried were scratchy, something I definitely did not want in the seams of my underwear. 

I experimented (changing one machine setting at a time) until I came up with the idea of using a chain stitch (a single-needle-and-looper stitch that looks like a regular straight stitch on one side and a series of knit loops on the other.) Since fold-over elastic does not have raw edges, this should work fine!

The settings that seemed least scratchy were: SL 1.0, UT 0, LT 3, DF N

SL stands for stitch length, UT for upper (needle) tension, LT for lower (looper) tension, and DF for differential feed (and N means neutral).

It produced a chain stitch which still had a bit of a scratchy rib on one side. If I put that ridge on the outside of the underwear: problem solved!

Turns out that was not the best stitch to use, as I discovered several pairs of underwear later…

My Quest for Comfortable Underwear

This is your content warning. In the blog post below, I use sewing terms, some of which would make an eight-grader snigger. Everything is safe-for-work… for most workplaces. If either of those make you uneasy, bounce now. 🙂

Most commercial underwear does not fit me. The two exceptions are some high-end French brands (that I can’t afford) and one pair of Maidenform-brand underwear that I found in the mid-1980s, now since lost to time.

The main problem is crotch rise. (Hey, you were warned!). That is, the length measured from center top front to center top back of underwear. Commercial underwear has a crotch rise that is too long for me. When I put a pair of bikini underwear on, the back rides up to my waist. If I pull up the front so the back fits, well, let’s just say things get extremely high-legged and frontal coverage diminishes. The fabric in the middle clearly needs to be shorter.

This has been an issue for me: All. Of. My. Life.

As in, everyday I’m wearing uncomfortable undies, no matter the size. Subjected to needless wedgies and bunching. It’s a small thing, and yet, it is wearisome. Every morning when I get dressed there’s a moment where I sigh and feel a tiny bit bad that my body doesn’t fit the world’s idea of what a body should look like.

Re-read that last sentence. 

Maybe it’s not such a small thing after all.

It’s not just underwear: my back length is about three inches shorter than “normal” which means t-shirts never hit my chest and hips at the right places, making me look sloppy and misshapen. I have a combination of bubble butt and small waist which means that denim jeans either fit my waist, or my butt, never both. Oh, and muscular “man calves” that powered years of roller derby, and yet mean I can’t find knee-length socks that will go over them, and even 90% of ankle-length socks have cuffs that are so narrow they cut off my circulation.

So getting dressed is a series of “you are not the right shape” messages, clothes that are uncomfortable, and which make my body look worse. Over decades, I won’t lie, it’s had an effect on my self-esteem and ease in what’s supposed to be my “second skin.”

And I’m sure I’m not the only one.

I’ve always meant to learn how to sew. I bought stuff that would help me learn how to sew, and then got terrified of making mistakes and just went to Goodwill and tried on 300 items until I found some that kinda fit.

Enter the pandemic. Goodwill is not currently an option, and I have put on about 10 pounds sitting at home, stress eating. 

The underwear situation has become more dire. 

And so, my journey begins… I started by researching underwear patterns online. There are a lot of great indie pattern makers who sell PDF patterns that you download and print at home. Which makes me happy because: instant gratification, I can print multiple copies for chopping up and adjusting fit, and no need to venture out into the world.

Even better, a lot of indie pattern makers offer their undies for free, as a way to try out the quality of their patterns and instructions. 

Panty sewing begins! A sewing table strewn with printed pages of a PDF pattern arranged together to make a complete pattern for sewing panties. The pattern name is Acacia by Megan Nielsen.

Searching around on the internet, I found that a lot of people were making the Acacia pattern by Megan Nielsen, which is free if you sign up for the designer’s mailing list. Because it is so popular, there are a lot of tutorials for it on blogs and YouTube As a beginning sewist, having tutorials gave me confidence I would have the hand-holding to get me through this.

Presenting Over Zoom; New Techniques

Yesterday I gave a talk to the Northwest Regional Spinner’s Association and tried some new techniques for presenting over Zoom.

First of all, I listened to the advice of Laverne Waddington and Laura Fry to lean into the fact that Zoom means less audience feedback. That just because you’re feeling awkward, doesn’t mean the audience is. And that they may be laughing and responding to your work as they would in person, you just can’t perceive it.

Which is actually a pretty interesting thing to contemplate, as someone who often delivers content asynchronously: books, comics, blog posts. I have never thought to myself, “I bet there’s someone out there laughing at my jokes, or having an ‘aha’ moment right now.” If I did, I’d probably be a happier writer and artist. 🙂

This talk was to a smaller group, so I experimented with inviting people to leave their microphones on and ask questions verbally as we went. I used a tip from John Whitley and asked folks to say their name when they started talking.

Enthusiastically inviting questions at the beginning of a talk is something I used to do, and stopped doing a while ago, for reasons I don’t remember. Perhaps I was worried about being derailed from my talk, or losing too much time to questions to get through the content. I’ll have to mull that over.

In any event, in this small cozy group, free-form questions worked well! The questions brought out further explanations of concepts and helped me tie the material I was teaching to folks’ personal work. Being able to hear people’s reactions helped me keep energy up and ensure I delivered an entertaining talk. 

I finally understood what late-night talk show hosts like Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah meant when they mentioned missing their audience as they moved to at-home production because of the pandemic. I thought to myself, “Ah, what are you talking about? Your jokes are good, you don’t need an audience.”

I forgot that the audience is what you lean into to bring out the best part of yourself.

It’s humbling to realize that how a talk goes is not just about me. And comforting to know that even late-night hosts with millions of viewers and teams of writers to craft their material, have the same need for feedback that I do. I get it now. 🙂

Also, I did try the shimmy dance when I paused for questions, in order to make things awkward enough that people would ask questions if only to get me to stop. Unfortunately (?) my video feed was unstable enough that I’d turned off video by that time and no one saw me. Which was a relief! It’s embarrassing to shimmy dance on camera! Much respect to K.T.B. for making that maneuver look easy. 

One technical note on that. I have “rural-quality” DSL. So I’ve found it prudent to send my slides to someone else and have them run the deck. It saved my presentation yesterday. My voice was breaking up and having someone else managing slides meant I could turn off my video (which gave all my bandwidth to my voice) and keep going.

Also: I want to mention that my awkwardness I talked about in the last blog post was entirely my inexperience presenting over Zoom; not a reflection on the audience. When I present, I am often nervous or feel awkward. Presenting is exciting and fun, and I also find it nerve-wracking, because I want to give everyone a good time and public speaking is hard! It’s why I do so much prep work and talk to my fellow teachers and presenters about how to improve. 🙂

Many thanks to those who weighed after the last blog post with ideas and feedback.

Yesterday was my last presentation for the year, so I’m going to reward myself today with some well-earned, just-for-fun, crafting time!

My wish is that you are safe and well, and finding moments of happiness and joy today, too.

The awkward thing about Zoom talks

I gave a one-hour talk to the Whidbey Weaver’s Guild on etextiles. I was excited, I was prepared, it was a good group of folks… so how’d it go?

Screenshot of Syne presenting on Zoom, with her weaving studio in the background. The faces of other participants have been blurred out for privacy.

I don’t know.

And that’s a problem.

It’d been a month since my last long-form Zoom presentation, and I forgot the most awkward part of moving from in-person to online for seminars. The near-total lack of feedback from the audience while talking.

Normally, when I give a talk, I have two threads running simultaneously in my head. One is giving the presentation. This one needs to be fairly automatic, which is why I do so much preparation and practice before hand. The other is tweaking the script and presentation performance based on cues from the audience.

That second thread is the real work, and the audience usually doesn’t even realize it’s happening, and yet it’s the most important part of being a good speaker. It’s being in the moment with a room full of people and giving them what they need from you, in real time. 

For me, it starts before I get behind the podium. If possible, I try to get there early, while the audience is settling in and just chat with folks, get to know them, why they’re at the talk, etc. Often they don’t even realize that I’m the speaker until I walk up to the front of the room. It’s a great way to warm up a room, make allies in the audience, and do some last-minute fine-tuning of your talk.

And then, as I’m talking, I have half my attention looking out at the audience, listening to their laughs, sighs, bored shuffling in their seats. Are they smiling, frowning, are they looking perplexed? This gives me the opportunity to speed up my talk, or slow it down, turn up my energy if folks are getting bored, slow down and repeat a difficult concept in different terms if people look confused, do a verbal call-back to a comment someone made before the meeting or in a question they asked to increase engagement.

If I feel I’m losing folks, sometimes I stop and ask for questions to reconnect with the audience. 

I spent a year as a high-school physics teacher, I’m not above picking a person from the audience and asking them the question directly. I do this rarely, as it can be intimidating. Mostly only if an audience swears they have no questions and yet several people look confused. It’s useful because it breaks down a barrier between audience and speaker, and once that barrier is down, folks who were holding back questions out of politeness or shyness are often encouraged to speak.

Public speaking is as much performance art as it is delivering information. And the audience is the reason that you never give the same talk the same way.

Except for Zoom…

My usual technique is to have some slides with minimal bullet points and interesting images. Then I stand in front of the slides and speak animatedly with hand gestures, riffing on what’s in the slides, interacting with the audience, etc. If you most of the time in my talk staring at the slides, I’m doing something wrong.

And yet, when I screen-share to present in Zoom, the slides take over the screen. If you can see me at all, I’m a tiny icon on the side of the screen.

Worse, I can’t look out at the audience and gauge how the talk is landing. With the currently accepted practice of having everyone on “mute” during a talk, I don’t even get laughs (or the absence of laughs) when I tell a joke. Both are useful information…

Questions, audience participation, can really enhance a talk. Over Zoom it’s more challenging. 

There three ways the audience can ask questions: typing in chat, using the raise-hand tool, or unmuting and just start talking. 

  • Chat’s a non-invasive way to ask a question. It’s a bit like being able to mind-read an audience as it can elicit questions that folks might be hesitant to ask aloud, it entices out introverts, and can even turn into a blow-by-blow commentary on your talk. It requires finesse on the speaker’s part to bounce back and forth between reading chat and talking without being too obvious about it. And depending on the chat volume, questions can scroll out of view before you see them.
  • The raise-hand tool attempts to replicate real-world hand raising, and can be effective. Especially if you build “any questions?” pauses into your talk. It helps if you have a moderator that can keep checking for the tiny blue hand icons though, cause they can be hard to spot while you’re talking.
  • Unmuting and talking is tricky because, unlike when you’re in a room, the audience member can’t see who else is giving non-verbal or gesticular signals that they’re about to talk: leaning forward in their chair, opening their mouth, etc. So you can have folks talking over each other, which is rude in many communication cultures (though not others, an interesting thing Eric and I have to negotiate because our families view cross-talk in different ways).

Which is a long way to say that during yesterday’s talk there were long segments where I could not tell at all how what I was saying was landing. It gave me an eerie feeling, like driving at night on a dark highway with the lights off. I did the thing you do in that circumstance, keep smiling, keep the energy up, and hope for the best. 🙂

Questions were the one salvation. And the in-person questions instead of chat were especially so. Which has me rethinking my whole Zoom strategy. 

I’m giving another talk on Sunday, to the Northwest Regional Spinners Association (chapter 2060) about using the scientific method in fiber arts. Instead of asking folks to hold questions until a given stopping point, I may more actively encourage questions. Including the blurting out method, and see how that goes. It’s a smaller group, I believe, so that just may work.

Or perhaps I’ll steal a presentation idea from the Writing the Other seminar I recently attended. They sparked some excellent questions and discussions by periodically stopping the talk and taking down the slides so everyone could see faces again. And then letting the awkward silence build until an audience member broke and asked a questions — which would then open the flood gates to a whole bunch more questions and some great discussions. One of the charming ways to diffuse the awkwardness of the awkward silence was that K.T.B, one of the presenters, would do a slightly (intentionally) awkward shimmy dance while waiting for questions.

You know, I’m going to try that. I really am. 

I’ll report back on how it goes.

Removing the “Adult Content” label from my Patreon page

I’m currently working with Patreon support to get the “Adult Content” warning label removed from the page where I share my comics.

This is important for two reasons:

Accounts labeled “Adult Content” do not show up in searches on Patreon. If you go and search on “cute comics about sheep, and vampires” or even “Syne Mitchell” my page won’t show up. Which means that people who might enjoy my comics, can’t find them.

Even if they run into a friend or fellow guild member who says, “Oh, you like comics about sheep, and vampires? Syne Mitchell is working on those, here’s a direct link to her Patreon page. They will see: “Adult Content: You must be 18 years or older to view this content.” Which probably gives people wrong ideas about what goes on in my comics about sheep…

… I’ve noticed that several people to I’ve sent my Patreon page address to and said, “I’m so excited about making comics! Here, go take a look!” Have never mentioned my comics again, if they spoke to me again at all…

Panel from a sheep comic that shows a shepherdess desperately trying to dress a sheep in a sweater, and swearing, in unreadable symbols. The image is 90% hidden behind a "censored panel". Text of the comic reads: "You must undress the sheep, roll up the cuff, and then... re-dress the sheep."

Hmm, OK, maybe it’s not just the content warning that gives them the wrong idea…

So let’s go back a step and talk about how my content got flagged in the first place. 

When I was setting up my Patreon account, one of the items I needed to fill out was whether my material contained Adult content, which includes any amount of nudity.

Dialog box from the Patreon web site asking whether to classify your Patreon account as 18+ in terms of age appropriateness.

My goal with the Patreon site was to share both my comics and artistic journey. I was doing the audacious thing of learning to draw at age 49, and thought it would be fun for folks to watch my skills progress and read about the steps I took to get there.

A big part of my early learning was figure-drawing classes. I want to make comics about people, and want those people to look properly proportioned. The thing about community-college figure-drawing classes is that the models are nude, and for good reason; it’s hard to see bone placement and muscle anatomy if the model is wearing clothes.

I dithered ever whether to toggle the “18+ content” selector. Figure-drawing class exercises are not provocative; it’s a person in a comfortable pose they can hold for 20-40 minutes, who just happens to be nude, similar to what you see in public museums, though (in my case) more inexpertly drawn.

Being a literalist, I could not avoid the fact that the models were naked, and there was no “yes, they’re nude, but it’s not a sexual nudity” option.

So I eventually chose “yes”, figuring that I could un-check the box later if I changed my mind (you can’t) and not realizing the impact that choice would have on the discoverability of, and engagement with, my comics. In other words, I read the Patreon Adult Content guidelines, and yet didn’t understand all the implications. 

I also thought that I’d be able to mark individual pages as “Adult Content” and leave the others unmarked, like songs in iTunes. Also not the case.

After a year, I re-thought this decision. I wasn’t posting that much content with nudity, anyway. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit in early 2020 (I’m in the Seattle area, where things started in the U.S.) all my figure drawing classes were suspended.

To get the “Adult Content” label removed, you have to contact Patreon Support and have an actual human go review your posts. It took about a day for a support person to get back to me and say that if I removed the posts with nudity, I could get reclassified.

I felt like a sell-out, and yet I deleted the content. It was only three or four posts, and tangential to the main purpose of sharing my adventures making comics.

Now I’m waiting to hear back whether my page has been re-classified as all-ages. I’m hoping it happens before I give my talk at the Whidbey Weaver’s Guild, because I want to mention my comics, and don’t want to scare folks away with the “Adult Content” label. 

Unfortunately, I’m having a hard time checking whether it’s gone through. I’m not able to find the slider selector on the Settings page for my site (where did it go?). And because I’m the page’s creator, I can’t try to sign up as a patron for myself.

If you have a moment, and aren’t currently my patron on Patreon, would you mind doing me two small favors? It’ll take only 2-3 minutes and won’t cost anything.

1) Go to https://www.patreon.com/ and in the “Find a creator” search box, enter “Syne”. Do I appear in the listings? You might have to scroll down the page.

2) Go to https://www.patreon.com/synemitchell and select one of the orange “Join” buttons. (Note: You can cancel before entering payment info, so you won’t be charged.) Do you get a “Adult Content” warning? To back out of the sign-up process, hit the browser’s back button or close the page’s tab. 

Note: If you do accidentally sign up to be my patron, you can easily cancel on the Patreon site, or contact me through the Contact page on this site and I’ll walk you through it.

If you do that quick test, please let me know how it went in the comments below or on Facebook. I’d appreciate it. 🙂 

Preparing Presentations

Today and for the next few days I’m updating slide decks and practicing public speaking for two presentations I’m giving over Zoom next week. Normally, when I teach or give a talk, I take great care to hide all the paddling that goes on under the surface. This time I thought it might be interesting to share my process, either because you’re planning to give a talk and want ideas on how to prepare, or you’re just curious. 🙂

The first talk is eTextiles, which I’m presenting to the Whidbey Island Weaver’s Guild on Thursday morning. This is one of my favorite presentations; it’s a secret indulgence when a weaver’s guild lets me teach a workshop or present a seminar on the subject, since it’s only tangentially related to weaving, and yet the content is SO COOL!

Screenshot of Keynote Mac OS program showing the editing pane, where Syne is editing the eTextile slides.

This is a remix of a two-hour talk that I gave at ANWG up in British Columbia in 2019, in the good old days, when live seminars were still a thing. 🙂

The Whidbey Guild wants a one-hour presentation, which is fine. It’s always easier to cut material than to add. The shorter time frame works out well in this case because typically I play a series of video clips (of the etextiles moving and blinking, etc.) and then talk about them during the presentation. Over Zoom, I’ve found playing videos from YouTube or Vimeo problematic. My rural DSL just can’t handle downloading video and uploading it at the same time. Because this talk is shorter, I’m solving both problems by creating a PDF with all the links in the talk so the audience can watch the videos later as homework, and have a pretty nifty reference of articles and materials sources as well.

Note: If you were at my eTextile talk at ANWG in 2019 and want a copy of the PDF, reach out to me through the Contacts page on this site. I just remembered that I’d promised to send a PDF out to ya’ll and don’t think I ever did… I hope I’m wrong on that. Yikes!

The other thing I’m doing is going through each link to make sure it still works, and then re-reading the article or watching the video, pulling out tidbits to talk about and refreshing my memory. I’m also updating the deck with some new content from 2020, as the world of etextiles is always moving. 🙂

When the slide deck is updated, the PDF created, and my research and memory refreshing done, I’ll start practicing the talk. My goal is to go through the whole one-hour presentation at least twice before show time. This gives me the opportunity to check my speaking time, get the patter down, and work out any technical glitches with the slides.

When I converted over from live classes to Zoom, I did a lot of practicing with the new tools and format, which is how I know that YouTube videos over Zoom are risky, bandwidth-wise. A big thanks to my friends and to R.V. at the Seattle Weaver’s Guild for helping me test things. R.V. and I worked out a process with fail-back after fail-back, so essentially I could lose internet altogether and still give a high-quality talk on time. If you present over Zoom and would like my notes on that, reach out to me through the Contact page.

Writing this post has given me a new appreciation for how much work I put in to prepare for a seminar, even one where I’ve already done “all the work” of creating an original seminar: researching the topic (which can include years of hands-on experimentation), writing the content, and building the slide deck and other materials. I’m proud of me!

Well, that’s enough time for a break. Time to get another cup of barley tea and get back to it!

I caught a swarm!

I was walking with Eric and looking around the garden and orchard, when he pointed up into a pear tree. He’d spotted a swarm of bees.

As a beekeeper, I got excited. Free bees! Capturing a swarm had been on my bucket list, and here was an opportunity in my own back yard.

So I ran off to watch a few videos on YouTube, purchase some lemongrass essential oil from my local co-op food market, and then grabbed a cardboard box, a bed sheet, my bee suit, and a 30-foot ladder.

Capturing a swarm was essentially climbing up a ladder with a cardboard box, grabbing the branch with your arm, and vigorously shaking it until the bees fall into the box. There was a point where I was at the top of ladder, bees exploding into the air around me, that I paused with my hand on the branch and watched the chaos I’d unleashed and thought, “Hmm, I guess I’m not afraid of bees.”

There is no video of me doing this. Beforehand I asked Eric if he wanted to watch and take pictures…he looked at me for a moment and then said, “No.” I told him, “I’ve got a spare bee suit for you.” Again from Eric, firmly, “No.” We agreed that he’d wait up by the house and listen for the screams. This is how our marriage works now. For the first 15-ish years, he’d actually try to talk me out of things.

When you shake the bees, you can tell easily whether you’ve caught the queen or not. If you shake the bees into the box and they immediately explode back out of the back and go back into the tree, you do not have the queen.

So I waited for the bees to re-congregate and then gave it another go. The nice thing about free bees is it really opens you up to experimentation.

The second time the bees stayed in the box, so I guessed that I had the queen.

Not having planned for a fourth hive this year, I had to quickly cobble together a hive from spare parts. The gear below is two honey supers, a feeder board that I stapled screen over for a bottom board, and the black thing on top is the metal cover off an old microwave that I was taking apart in my garage for (a) spare parts and (b) to see what a microwave is made of.

It’s the jankiest hive in janky town, but it works. The lemongrass oil mimics the “hey I found a great new spot to live” pheromone scout bees use to tell the swarm where to go. So I added a few drops to make it smell like home. Aside from some congestion at the entrance, the bees are doing OK.

I ordered some new hive parts and will add them in as soon as I can.

There is a saying, “A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon; a swarm in July isn’t worth a fly.” I captured this swarm on July 1st, and we have a late season, being at altitude. So my guess is that I’ll have to baby them over the winter and there’ll be no honey harvest. On the other hand, it’s a chance to explore and one more shot at successfully wintering over a hive (something I’ve yet to accomplish.)

So I’m proud of capturing the swarm, and a little embarrassed because I’m pretty sure the swarm I captured was my own. Swarm management is something I’m in the process of improving.

But hey, free (or recaptured) bees!

Update: a week later the hive had built up the foundation quite a bit, I found the queen and she looked healthy and was laying lots of eggs!

Headwinds and Racism

I often describe racism, sexism, ageism, etc. as a “headwind”. You may still accomplish things, but it’s a whole lot harder. And some goals you may not reach; you might even die.

The thing about headwinds, is that it’s really hard to notice a headwind that’s not in your face. They can be invisible. If it’s something that you’ve never experienced, you may not even believe headwinds exist.

Likewise, when the wind’s blowing at your back, you may not notice it. May say to yourself, “Wow. I’m really good at walking. This is so easy!”

And you might look over at someone struggling against a headwind and think, “Well, no wonder they’re behind. They’re not as good at walking as I am.”

This, my friends, is how racism (and other -isms) continue to exist.

If you aren’t experiencing a headwind, the only way to understand it is to listen to people who are. When black people tell you they’re experiencing racism, BELIEVE THEM. Do not try to explain it away. Do not say you have it tough too. Just listen. Look for the evidence of the headwind; if you try, you will see them everywhere.

If you’re not used to believing in headwinds, this can be a hard step. It can shake up your world view. It might even make you sad or ashamed.

Now here’s a harder one. You have to perceive your own tailwinds. Yep. We’re talking about white privilege here (this applies to male privilege, cis-privilege, straight-privilege, as well.)

You’re not as good at walking as you think you are.

That can be a hard thing to believe. Because it’s easy to see the things that get in your way. And easy to take credit for things you haven’t earned. We all have problems; all humans do. You will have problems and privilege too.

And if you’re white, you have some racist beliefs.

Yep. I’m talking about myself here, too. You don’t have to be openly racist to have racist beliefs. It seeps in because we live in a racist culture. It’s all those moments of looking over and seeing some not walking as fast as you and feeling good about yourself. You can be racist and not even be aware of it.

This is what is meant by unconscious bias. 

It’s racism (and sexism, other-isms) that hides in the part of your brain that reacts before conscious thought. It’s how racism continues to exist in a world where (most of us) agree that racism is a bad thing.

I had my eyes opened when I took an unconscious bias course at work. Guess what I discovered? Despite being a fierce feminist since I was eight, I had some misogynistic biases. We live in a sexist culture, and I had soaked some of that up.

And when I listened to the people of color in the room talk about their experiences, I learned about headwinds I hadn’t known existed. I spent my childhood in Mississippi in the 1970s, where racism was blatant. I told myself I wasn’t a racist because I wasn’t a person who actively abused and cursed at black people. And yet… I was (and am) living in a racist society. And yep, I soaked up some of that as well.

We all do.

Even black folks, to some degree, I’m sure. And that makes me sad. If the whole world tells you that you’re “less than” for all of your life, it’s really hard not to take some of that in. Black folks, you have my respect for having survived all that this country has thrown at you since the 1600s. And it’s a terrible thing that you’ve had to.

So let’s fix this.

I often say that the fastest way to fix sexism is for men to accept that women are as worthy and valid as they are. It’s not something that women can make happen. We can tell you about our headwind. Until we are believed, until men agree that the current situation is a problem and want to change it, sexism will persist.

The fastest way for racism to end, is for white folks to stop being racist.

How to stop being racist:

  1. Learn to see the headwinds
    1. Read books by black authors, Go to plays and movies produced by black people, Attend talks. Learn about what it’s like to be a black person in America. 
    2. If you’re lucky enough to have a black person talk to you about their experiences, listen and believe. 
    3. Also understand that it’s not the job of black folks to teach you about racism, they have enough work just surviving it. If a black person takes the time to educate you, take it as the gift it is.
    4. Look for signs of racism, obvious and subtle, in the world around you. 
    5. Learn about microaggressions. These are things that may not seem like a big deal to you. The black person (or woman, or gay person) experiences them ALL THE TIME, and that’s the problem.
  2. Learn about your own internal biases
    1. Take an unconscious bias training class if you can; a well-run one is enlightening. If one isn’t available, read a book on the subject. 
    2. When you encounter a person of color, ask yourself what you’re feeling. What thoughts pop into your head? Are you scared or upset, if so, why? Would you feel differently about them if they were white?
  3. Act
    1. When you find yourself responding in a racist way, no matter how subtle, challenge your beliefs. Is this so? 
    2. Overcorrect if you need to at first by consciously deciding to trust and like black people on sight. (Later you can dial this back, because nice folks and assholes come in all colors.)
    3. Have the uncomfortable conversations with other white folks when they say or do something racist, say it right then. LEAN INTO THIS DISCOMFORT. It is powerful to have one of your own say, “hey, cut that out.” And black folks have to stand up for themselves all the time. It’s wearying. Take one for team humanity, please?
    4. Publicly let people know racism is not OK with you.

If you’re thinking, “Wow. That seems like a lot of work” here’s some motivation:

  1. Studies show that diverse teams are more successful and profitable, and better at innovation. They make better decisions. Here’s an article from Harvard Business Review that provides an overview of the science: “Why Diverse Teams are Smarter”.

    Our world is on fire at the moment: culturally, politically, climate-wise. We need all the best people working on this. And I don’t want the young black girl who would have the best ideas about how to stop the next global pandemic to be stopped by headwinds.

    Want to make America great again? Stop racism.
  2. If you’re sticking to the bubble of people who look and think like you, you’re missing out on some great folks.
  3. Because it’s the right thing to do. If you believe in justice and “all people are created equal”. If you believe “treat your neighbor as you, yourself, would be treated”. If you are compassionate, or want to be. It’s going to make you feel so good to live up to your values.

I hope we will step out of our headwinds and tailwinds and walk together in a place of calm.

— Syne Mitchell

A Tip for Making N95 Covers

I’m not a very experienced seamstress. I am, however, making a lot of N95 covers at the moment and stumbled on a trick that works for me. And thought I’d share it.

One of the challenges for me is getting the pleats on either side sewn down, especially getting them both to be the same width at the end. This is because sewing downslope on the pleats.

Gives a smaller width that sewing the other direction (upslope). This is because the feed dogs on the sewing machine either compress (downslope) or expand (upslope) the pleats.

What I discovered is that if I fold the mask in the middle… I can check that the folds are the same size, and if not, adjust them so they are.

And then sew the second side downstream as well, by putting it into the sewing machine like so…

Ta-da! the pleated edges match!

My other tip, if you are making multiple masks, is to sew them right after the other, which saves thread between masks, and makes everything go quicker.

And my other, other tip is to add blue painter’s tape to your machine to mark off seam allowances, so you can sew them accurately. Here the edge of my blue tape is a 1/2-inch seam. (The line is a one-inch seam, left over from an upholstery project.)

Happy mask-making! And if you have any tips, please share them in the comments.

N95 Mask Cover Sew-Along

tldr; Got a sewing machine? Want to help? Please sew this N95 mask-cover pattern and then contact me through the Contact page on this website to coordinate delivery to UW Valley Medical Center by mail or pickup. I’ve also created a Facebook Group for this effort.

I have been talking directly with UW Valley Medical Center (here in the Seattle area) about a sew-along to make N95 mask covers to extend the life of the virus-filtering N95 masks.

This are the covers that go over the N95 masks, the covers that they (ideally) change between patients. Because it extends the life of something we know stops the virus I think it’d be more effective for doctors than a mask that tries to replace the N95.

This is what they said when I proposed the project to the UW Valley Medicine folks (Donation@valleymed.org)

“What a great way to help extend N95 life, which we are preparing to deploy. Yes, these would be extremely useful! Let me know if you have any other questions.

Huge thanks for your support!


Note: The N95 cover is not the pattern they have posted on their website. That is for a general mask worn directly on the face. It will keep droplets off your nose and mouth, but is questionable about what benefit it adds in terms of protecting you from the virus.

I pitched the N95 cover to UW Valley Medicine instead for several reasons:

  • It extends the life of the N95 filters known to protect from the virus.
  • It does not use elastic, which makes it sanitization-friendly (elastic degrades with heat.)
  • It can also be used as a general mask if the N95 filters run out.

Because I’m a belt-and-suspenders kinda gal, I double checked with the UW Valley Medicine folks about which pattern I should organize around.

Here’s the email I just got:

“Morning Syne,

We are getting amazing community support for the general mask pattern on our website so would love for your group to focus on the N95 covers. Those will directly help our most frontline caregivers. Thanks so much for your support, it means the world to us!”

So we’re approved for this pattern: https://www.instructables.com/id/AB-Mask-for-a-Nurse-by-a-Nurse/

I will personally do a (socially isolated) pickup of any set of masks of 10 or more in the Seattle/Tacoma area, if folks don’t want to go to the post office. (I mean, right now there are only 3 people offering to make these. If lots more join in, I reserve the right to modify this.) I am assuming that the delivery of requested medical supplies counts as an essential service.

I’m not a quilter, so I have only a modest amount of quilting fabric on hand. Though I know some quilting supply stores (like www.gossypiumquilt.com) are still doing online sales.

Ping me through the Contact page on this website if you’re interested in helping out with this. 

I’ve also created a Facebook Group to share ideas, photos, and encouragement.

Thanks for considering it!


Comics for a Pandemic

Covid-19 is on all our minds at the moment. As an artist, the way I deal with uncomfortable emotions is by creating art. Below are a couple of comics I drew with the current situation in mind.

This first comic represents my hope that the current situation will bring us closer together.

Next I drew this picture of The Amabie. From the Japanese legend, if you look at an image of The Amabie while there’s an epidemic about, you’ll be protected.

I’m sharing it with you to let you know I’m wishing you health and wellness.

For my behind-the-scenes story behind this image, see the post about my process.

If you want to see the amabie photos created by other artists from around the world, go to Instagram and search on the following tag (amabie in Japanese) you can see pictures of amabie from all over the world: アマビエ

Maybe you want to make or share one?

Tip of the nib to David Lasky who introduced me to the concept of The Amabie and invited other makers and artists he knew to come up with their own versions.

Want more comics? Each month I post a free comic on the Comics page on this website.

For even more comics and behind-the-scenes information, follow me on Patreon. There’s a lot of free content there in addition to the patron-only posts. And of course, if you have the interest and the means, I’d appreciate your support.

Become a Patron!