The Labyrinth Shirt

2014-05-14 07.21.07


Not too long ago I made a shirt with the image of labyrinth appliqued on the front. I’m not the best at sewing but I’ve been learning hand sewing techniques from the book Alabama Studio Sewing + Design by Natalie Chanin of the Alambama Chanin studio. This book and the studio promote handmade work using organic materials and slow, thoughtful craftsmanship.

ac book

This philosophy blends well with the reason I sew, knit, paint furniture, or even make risotto. I find I need to have creative projects to do with my hands when I’m writing, and even when I’m not writing. Working with my hands uses a different part of my mind and energy that takes the pressure off of the ‘writer’ part of my brain. I look at ideas like a big bag of gum balls or jellybeans. The red one in the middle is the one I need, the idea I’ve been searching for, the answer to a difficult plotting problem, or even a brand new project I haven’t even thought of yet.

The trick is, all of those gumballs or ideas get dumped into a funnel, or a gumball machine. In order to get to that red gumball, all the other ones, have to move through the funnel first. Sometimes they get jammed. Putting pressure on them only jams them further. By working on something with my hands, like sewing, knitting, or cooking, it takes the pressure off and they all move a little here and a little there, wiggling against each other and eventually unjamming and starting the flow again. Once the flow starts happening the red one comes through easily. If, however, I kept applying pressure to try and force them out, they just get more stuck. This is the best way I can describe the writing process in my head. I need projects to do with hands in order for other projects in my head to wiggle themselves free.

Now, back to my shirt.

I love labyrinths. As opposed to a maze which is filled with dead ends, a labyrinth has only one path to the centre, but it twists back and forth on itself so you can’t see the route you’ll take to the centre, you just have to trust you’ll get there if you just stay on the path. There are labyrinths around the world that people walk as a form of meditation. There is even a society, The Labyrinth Society, that teaches labyrinth walking and even how to build them. Kamloops has a labyrinth on the path between Riverside and Pioneer Parks.

The most famous labyrinth is the one in built in the thirteenth century in the cathedral in Chartres, France.

chartres labyrinth

Chartres Labyrinth

So I envisioned a navy blue sleeveless t-shirt with a turquoise labyrinth and red stitching on the front.

Although I’ve followed the Alabama Chanin instructions and done reverse applique a few times, where the image is underneath the front piece of fabric, this is the first time where I’ve done applique and placed the image on top of the front fabric.

Materials list:

1 m of navy jersey fabric

Small amount of turquoise fabric

Navy bugle beads

Approx. 4 spools or Coats Dual Duty Plus Craft and Button Thread (red)

Freezer paper for making shirt pattern

Plain paper for image

I started by making a pattern using a fitted stretch shirt I that I liked. I used one of my ski shirts.

I made the neck using the curve of a tank top I liked, and then adjusted the whole pattern to fit better as I went.

I printed the image of a Chartres Labyrinth from the Labyrinth Society Website and sized it so it fit the front of the shirt. The navy fabric I chose is standard jersey t-shirt material, but the turquoise is much thinner. If I was to do it again I would have attached some fusible interfacing to the back of it to make it stronger and easier to sew. Hindsight is wonderful! I did have a bit of a brain wave, though, and I used temporary spray adhesive and stuck the paper to the fabric so I could cut out the thin curvy line that loved to twist back and forth on itself with a bit more ease.

After I cut the image out it took quite a bit of effort to lay it flat on the shirt fabric. Once I got it there I used the spray adhesive again to stick the image to the shirt fabric. I started stitching the image down, peeling the paper away as I went.

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Image adhered to the turquoise fabric and cut out with the paper left on.

Once I completed the stitching I added some decorative beading to the centre. I had planned to do a lot more but it seemed to be too much so I quit while I was ahead.

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I planned to use red beads to make the markings that go around the outside of the labyrinth but I decided the beads I was going to use were a bit too big and they would have been out of proportion with the rest of the image. After some thought I looked back Alabama Studio Sewing +Design book and saw some of the embroidery techniques she was using. French knots popped out at me and they worked perfectly. As a bonus, I learned how to do a French knot!

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Once the image was finished I sewed up the sides according to the instructions in the book. Chalking the seams was a very good idea because I can’t even walk a straight line, never mind sew one. I felled the seams as well which makes it look really nice, and it’s definitely not going to cause a wardrobe malfunction! Felling is when you take the seam (or the part where the two pieces come together and fold them back on the material and sew a second seam.

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Next came the binding around the arms and neck. Yet another opportunity to learn something knew as I’d never done binding before and never done Cretan stitch. I had to look on Youtube  to see how the stitch really worked because the diagrams weren’t working for me. This is the video I used. I also used the stitch in a later project and had to Youtube it again because obviously this stuff doesn’t come naturally to me.

I left the bottom seam unfinished because I think it looks nice and it’s not going to unravel.

Overall, I am pleased! In the process I worked on a screenplay and had a lovely balance of creative energy happening in both projects.

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Registering for the Disney Princess Half Marathon (or 50 Crazy Things in my 50th Year)

After much stress and a ridiculous amount of trauma, my friend Amanda and I have registered for the Disney Princess Half Marathon which means we will be running through Epcot and Disney World on February 22, 2015 – two days before my 49th birthday.

forget the glass slipper

Now, much in that first sentence is significant. First, the trauma of registration. I’ll reveal our tips for surviving this unbelievably stressful activity at the bottom of this post. After the horrors of the registration process, however, running 21 Km (13.1 Miles) dressed as a Disney princess at 5:30 in the morning Florida time will be a piece of (birthday) cake!

What’s most remarkable about that sentence, though, is the phrase “Disney Princess” combined with “two days before my 49th birthday.”

Forty-nine is an age I’ve been backpedalling toward for the last couple of years because it is the day I start my 50th year, and I don’t feel nearly 50. I don’t feel, look, or act like an almost 50 year old would feel, look or act. I was dreading it and even cowering from it. It feels like I’m careening down a waterfall, bouncing off rocks along the sides, falling into a boiling pool with 50 painted on the bottom by some evil 25 year old. No matter how I cower or hide, it will still find me whether I admit it or not. My life doesn’t look like it should, or like any of us thinks it should at this point (ie relationships, established career, house, blah blah blah!).

So one night, while drinking wine and surfing Pinterest (bad combination! Nothing good can come of this!), I started to see Disney Princess running costumes. I thought these were hilarious so I started bombarding my friend Amanda with all of these running and Disney pins I was finding. She, a non-runner but Disneyholic, was completely baffled at why I was sending her these things. In my late night wine induced state I told her that I was going to run the 2015 Disney Princess Half Marathon two days before my 49th birthday – in Florida – in costume – and she was going to run it with me. After two days of radio silence I finally heard from her again.

Amanda: “You know I don’t run, don’t you?”

Me: “I run really slow, and you’ve got lots of time to train. Really we could walk it at a quick pace.”

Two more days of radio silence followed before she, much to my shock and surprise, jumped on board. Fast forward to months later, we are both obsessing about details and actually registered to run the Disney Princess half marathon.

Now, when anyone meets me, Disney and Princess are NOT the first things they think of. This is why it’s so great. I’m not just getting out of my comfort zone, I’m leaping out of it in full princess regalia and stomping on it with both feet! Working at the library, one of my favourite patrons came in and when I told her what I was planning to do and how I was dreading 50, she, who is in her sixties, declared, “You know what you need to do? You need to do 50 crazy things in your 50th year! Don’t cower from it, hurl yourself at it!” I picture myself like paint splatter being flung off a brush and onto a canvas that is my life. Hmmmm. She did get me thinking.

At that time I was also in the process of making a dress and some skirts from upcycled t-shirts (more on those in a future post). I realized at about this time that these pieces of clothing I was making had no labels. There were no sizes. They were fitted to me and that was the only label they would have – fitted to my size right now. I had an ‘aha’ moment then – 50 is a label. When I look at clothing, a 12 in some brands is not the 12 in other brands. Those are just labels that someone stuck on them. What if the same was true for me? What if 50 was a label I, and others, created years ago that has nothing to do with who I am now? What if I got rid of it like I do itchy and irritating clothing labels? It didn’t hurt that I saw shortly after that Sandra Bullock is turning 50 this summer. Suddenly it didn’t look tooooo bad! If she could do it, maybe I could too.

Thus, my plan to do 50 Crazy Things in my 50th Year was born and I will launch that year on February 22nd by running the Disney Princess Half Marathon, in costume, with Amanda and 26,000 other princesses. For the other 49 things I have a list, but it isn’t complete yet. My main rule is it will not involve jumping out of, off of, or onto anything (regardless of the paint splatter image)!

Amanda and I are now busy planning the details of our trip – good thing we both LOVE planning – I’m sure we’ll need a 12-step group when we get home and have nothing left to plan.

disney princess batman

Vesta and Amanda’s Tips for registering for a Run Disney run:

These events sell out fast and they are notorious for computer crashes and other terrifying obstacles to registration. Since the obstacles don’t seem to be going away, here are some tips for getting through the registration process with at least some of your sanity intact. Amanda and I were VERY prepared. We also took very helpful information from a number of blogs and postings from other runners.

  1.  Pee before the registration starts. Seriously! You’ll be stressed out, possibly over caffeinated, lacking in sleep and you could be sitting there for awhile!
  2. If you are running with someone else, swap registration information ( log in info, name, address, birthdate, shirt size, name and contact info of next of kin, event that you’re signing up for, all credit card info including that number on the back, and also what commemorative souvenirs they want to purchase). Then if one can’t get through the other one might. ****This was EXTREMELY IMPORTANT FOR US! When we went to register I would get to the part where I submitted my credit card info and then the site would crash, I’d get an internal server error, and it would boot me out and lose all my info. It was happening to both of us but eventually it was Amanda who got me registered. It took 45 minutes but we were both in.
  3. If you have a previous race time you want to use get you into a better corral you could swap that info too but don’t worry about it if it’s going to slow down your registration. You can always send that info in after.
  4. Canadians (and other non-American residents) – don’t forget the exchange rate. The rate you see online will often be lower than the one the credit cards use so make sure you have enough available to cover all the costs. These are expensive races.
  5. Be prepared, we were ready with computers rebooted and the speakerphone on before registration started. Regarding the speaker phones, this leads me to another point. Wear a headset if the other person (ie me) is prone to swearing when they get stressed. Amanda needed that headset big time, and since I already accidentally taught her six year old son how to swear when he was visiting me in the library, she was well prepared for this possibly happening again… and it did! There were many f-bombs dropped in the name of Disney that morning!
  6. Limit distractions. Occupy the rest of your family so you won’t have any distractions. Again, this is her thing, I don’t have those kinds of distractions.
  7. Be patient! If the site crashes keep hitting refresh and trying again. I was watching the Run Disney Facebook page at the same time and people were giving up because they couldn’t get through. 30,000 other people were trying to get through as well! It took a little over six hours for the event to sell out.
  8. Try a different browser. I discovered part way through my nightmare that Google Chrome users were not crashing as much as those of us on Internet Explorer. One of the things that worked for me and Amanda was that we were in different towns, with different internet service providers, and she was on a Mac and I was on a PC. I had to humbly admit that her Mac kicked sand in the face of my admittedly cheap PC.
  9. Have an membership and remember your user name and password. Many of the problems seem to stem from, who Disney uses to process their registrations. I’ve heard other nightmares about the Chicago Marathon and other big events who use Active. Some people were able to bypass the Active membership by signing in as a guest, and a lot of people seemed to have good luck that way. I wouldn’t count on that though. It’s best if you have your account info and you can always sign in as a guest later if it doesn’t work.
  10. If you can, try a test run. The Disney Star Wars Half Marathon registration was about a month before ours. Now, we probably contributed to their problems because they were also crashing (sorry!) but we both tried registering for that event up to the point where we had to put our credit card info in, and then got out. This was just so we knew what the registration process looked like. Another way to do that is look at the events that haven’t sold out yet. I went through the process for registering for Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge during the Disney World Marathon weekend. I’m definitely not going to run a half marathon one day and a full the next, but neither are a lot of people so it hadn’t filled up yet. I got through the process AND discovered that charges a processing fee that Amanda and I didn’t know about, so we knew ahead of time to up our registration budget by about $20 (don’t even get me started on how they can charge that for a site that crashes like it does).
  11. Pay attention to social media. Part way through the registration process Run Disney posted a different link to try registering through on their Facebook page as it appeared Active was having ‘issues’ and they were trying to resolve them. This is a live feed of what people are experiencing and it’s very valuable. I didn’t look at the Twitter feed but I’m pretty sure it was similar.
  12. If you don’t get in, there are other ways to register. Amanda and I both had this in the back of our minds that it was an option. There are still spots available if you go through one of the Run Disney travel providers or if you raise money for one of the many great charities that participate and that’s a win-win for everyone.

After we registered Amanda (the extrovert) was energized and ready to rip through her day. I (the introvert) stared at the ceiling and waited for the world to stop spinning, which took most of the day.


Some of the many blogs we found helpful for the registration process:


Now I’m off to get my life handled before the race starts and before I turn 49!

eat my pixie dust

The Spray-paint Lady Smiles

Dublin cement bridge 1989


For my first post I thought it would be most appropriate to highlight some of my writing. Part of the reason for the blog is to be more available and more visible in my own world and the world at large. I wrote this in January for the CBC Canada Writes Creative Non-Fiction contest. I didn’t win, or even place (there were over 1,800 others who didn’t either) but I’m very proud of what I wrote and writing it got me fuelled for writing for the rest of the year. Even now, seven months later, I’m still proud of it and I wouldn’t change a thing.

The story is one that haunts me even 25 years after it first happened. It’s hard to believe 25 years ago I was living in Ireland trying to figure out my life. I’ve since discovered that trying to figure out my life is like trying to bottle a cloud. It just doesn’t work that way.

I hope you enjoy.

Click here to read:   The Spray-paint Lady Smiles