The Hanoi Blues Dress

Another day, another shirtdress, am I right? But there is something about this form that gets me every time, and that is why I have made so many incarnations of the shirtdress, from vintage to modern, and I think I have finally figured out what exactly that thing is that I love so much.

It’s pretty simple, really. Shirtdresses make me feel put together.

See, the thing about that phrase is, and I really believe that, it is something that women with curly hair rather hear in regards to themselves. Growing up, when talking to or about other women, I heard this phrase for some of them over and over again. My friend Presca, in college, who had and still has great style. My friend Betsy, who I studied abroad with, ditto. My friend Becca, also great style. But I have lots of friends with style! I mean, I don’t want to brag or anything, but, um, my friends are great. And they certainly know how to “put themselves together”. I mean, I hardly ever see one of them losing a tooth or a finger or something, ya know, falling apart at the seams. So what separates “put together” with not put together? I would admit that when I was younger, especially before I started sewing, I didn’t have a defined idea of my style. So I get that, up to a point. But in the years since I’ve been sewing, I have certainly found an aesthetic that I think works for me, and given that I, well, put it all together, it surely has some sense of cohesion, of being “together”, doesn’t it?

And yet, I have never heard that phrase directed at me. And I have to say, I think it’s the hair. I think there is an association with straight hair as smooth, cared for, styled, that there is a thought process behind it and therefore it is put together. It makes women look like they have tried. Well, first of all, women have tried in eight million directions outside of hair, people, so that’s something right there, and why do women have to try, at all, god knows it rarely seems like some men do, and then there are the cultural and racial implications of who has “straight” hair and who doesn’t and what that is supposed to mean about us, containing our curls across cultures. And then of course, there is the act of having curly hair at all, which, I can assure you, also takes maintenance, moisture, and money, so the idea that curls springing from one’s head means someone didn’t put the time in is just…all kinds of idiotic.

But whatever the world thinks about my hair, and, screw everyone who DOES feel some kind of way about my hair, by the way, whoever you are, a shirtdress does make me feel put together, no matter that no one has every told me that my thought process is reflected in their own. The coherency of the design, the crisp collar, the extension of the shirt into a skirt, it all works for me, it makes me feel purposeful, assembled, in line with myself. Which is, I believe, all put together should really mean. Regardless of this straight hair conspiracy.

I like to take my shirtdresses with me on the road, and this one accompanied me to Vietnam where I traveled with my friends Ben, Jill, and Travis, who indulged me in a photo shoot at this Buddhist temple.

The fabric is the star here, because it’s this lovely blue that actually shifts in tone, an ombre, hombre. When I saw it I knew I loved it, and I knew I wanted to make a dress that when from lighter blue around my shoulders to deeper blue around the hem. That meant I had to cut it on the crossgrain, and I’m okay with that.

I used McCalls 7351, once again, as the bodice, and added my usual two waist darts at 1.5 inches each on size 16 to get more waist definition. For the skirt, I simple draped it myself AKA it is just some big box pleats. Everything that can be french seamed is french seamed, and I have made this dress many a time, so to quote Bigmouth, NO NOTES!

I enjoyed this temple. First of all, it was pretty, and a fun place to take photos because it gave my friends places to photo bomb me from:

Where is Jill? It’s so mysterious, I have to look off in the distance.

Second of all, it included helpful advice for how to live your life well now to avoid unpleasant karmic consequences in reincarnation:

The use of the lower back tattoo as “too much cleavage” is magnificent.

Apparently becoming a mental illness means playing in a rock band in a mental institution which actually feels like a great movie idea, but what do I know.

It really was quite pretty, though:

And we found some great spots for me to poise against, which is of course the only reason to see anything, right?

So there you go. Don’t I look put together?

 

Well, frankly, it doesn’t really matter what anyone else thinks, right? It matters what I feel.  And in this, or any shirtdress, I feel put together as hell. 

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The State Fair Dress

Did you know that there have been three movies made call State Fair and not one of them has been set in Minneapolis, Minnesota? There is the 1933 version, the 1945 version, and the 1962 version, although that last one is apparently worthless. Obviously the 1945 version is the best, because it is equal parts classic and deeply troubling (for SO many reasons, but like, these pigs communicate with each other and everyone gets drunk and it’s just, it’s a lot), but it has the BEST costumes for it’s female star, Jeanne Crain , which were all designed by Rene Hubert. That said, it’s a bummer because the actress was dubbed in this movie. Sigh. Lame. Didn’t you people see Singing in the Rain? Dubbing is evil!

BUT THE COSTUMES:

This is a fact that will, no doubt, enrage and sadden my new sister-in-law, Becca, when she reads it, because according to her, the Minnesota State Fair is the greatest state fair of all and she is prepared to fight anyone who says otherwise. I gotta say, she’s small, but she’s feisty, and I’d put my money on her to win. Now, I have not been to another state fair that I remember (my mother keeps insisting that I did attend the Pennsylvania State Fair as an infant but honestly, if you don’t remember it, did it really happen?) and I would agree with Becca that the Minnesota State Fair is massive and magnificent, although honestly, if I didn’t agree I would probably keep it to myself because, well, see above.

This is how Becca probably feels about the fact that the 1945 State Fair isn’t set in Minnesota:

Anyway, I recently attended this real state fair, not the fictional one depicted over and over again in these movies (why…was this such a popular genre? In India they have these things called melas which are like fairs but millions of people come and scientists think the 1850’s cholera epidemic that decimated London and lead to my favorite non-fiction book ever , and that’s a theme in movies because people can literally lose their families there, but this is like, a place where people eat cheese curds and look at farm animals, I don’t get it). This event might actually have been the most American thing I have ever done in my life, and I knew I needed to dress the part. And what is more American, more state-fair appropriate, than gingham?

I mean, just look at this. Of the two, count em, TWO pinafores Jeanne Crain wears in State Fair, ONE of them is gingham:

Or maybe it’s just striped squares? CLOSE ENOUGH, people. You know it’s state-fair appropriate. It’s as American as apple pie, or nut roll, which is a thing we had at the fair:

I’m not going to lie to you, attending was an intense life experience. There were so many people that what’s-his-face and I joked that we were back in India, but, ya know, without as many Indians. But, it was also very interesting! We enjoyed seeing more types of rabbits than we knew existed:

and learning about how goats are judged (milk OR meat, but not both!):

and learning the wonder that is the cheese curd!

Everything can be on a stick:

Except for corn, which comes on its own stick:

Many things were cute at the fair, but I would venture to say that my dress was up there among the cutest because HOW CUTE IS THIS DRESS?

The pattern is a vintage one, Simplicity 3044. I can’t even remember where I got it, maybe a pattern box from Ebay from long ago?

I’ve had it for a while, but never tried it out before. I was suspicious of the “slenderette” label, but I simply adjusted the bust to be fuller and the rest was fine. God bless vintage patterns and their comfortable/generous ease! I also made the skirt a little more flared, with the old “eyeball it” method that I am so into that is so unprofessional but totally works so…whatever! It’s a 1960’s pattern, and I couldn’t resist the adorable collar, it’s just the top.

I literally made a version of number 1 down to the fabric and I’m okay with that. I cut that part on the bias, just as the illustration implies, and I love how it turned out.

The construction for this was very simple, frankly. It’s unlined, and the collar is faced, which I normally hate, but it works with this, and I stitched the facing down at the zipper and shoulder seams to avoid the thing I hate about facing, aka the flip out.

The back of the collar is awful adorable, and I’m proud of those points!

Gotta do a second back shot, in honor of that collar. It’s up there with my best collars ever. Is there a hall of fame for that? There should be!

The wind was swishing the skirt around, but I can assure you, the skirt checks match up!

These pigs were not as enthused by my dress as I was.

 

I feel like State Fair is ready for a new update! And may I suggest a change of location? Minnesota, perhaps? It’s a friendly place for a fair!

Look at those open arms from that slightly terrifying beaver sculpture! Doesn’t that inspire song in your heart?

Have you been to a state fair? Or a mela? Or something in between? What would YOU wear?

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The Ladies Who Art Skirt

One of the unexpected side benefits of having friends who are in the arts and have projects out of town means that you get to go visit them in said out-of-town spaces! Of course, now that I live in Mumbai, everything is….out of town. Hell, I’m out of town! But I digress. The point is, my friend Victoria was recently doing a play out of THE town that matters, aka New York, according to New Yorkers, and so I went off to visit her with two other friends so we could support her in her tour of the provinces and make sure her rustication didn’t endure for too long.

Fun fact, when Roman emperors wanted to punish someone without killing them, which is a small group of people, frankly, for whom that applied, they did something called “rusticate” them, that is, the recipient of the punishment would be exiled from Rome. They would get a country estate, and keep their lives, but what was even the point, if you couldn’t be in Rome, ya know what I mean? All those barbarians, my lord, a fate worse than death!

But luckily, Victoria didn’t fall in love with the countryside, nor did she receive some sort of punishment from the mayor of Brooklyn, so she’s back where she belongs, but not before we got to visit her, and, as a side benefit, we also got to visit The Clark, a lovely art museum in Williams, Massachusetts. They had a special exhibit about Women Artists In Paris, which was since closed, but was quite interesting, especially for us, a group of women artists ourselves!

She’s taking some HER time.

It’s hard to make new friends.

Love this. All women should have a copy of this, somewhere.

And so it was good that I wore a new skirt, obviously. Had to look good for all these Parisians and Parisian transplants! And my…actual friends, of course. Them too.

So this is a Deer and Doe Chardon Skirt, which I have made a few times now. It’s easy to put together and always fun to wear.

The fabric is from Cotton and Steel, and I get a ton of compliments on this when I wear it.

I appreciate how the pleats give this fullness at the hem but smoothness at the hips. It’s a nice thing about the design.

Yeah. That’s about all I’ve got to say about this. What can I say, some projects are simpler than others!

 

This is the kind of face you make when your friend takes the pictures and wont stop. I’m literally saying “ANASTASIA” in this photo!

It looks good in the reflection, too!

Just a simple skirt for a lovely day with some lovely ladies, some living, some dead, but all who art.

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The Give Me The Gingham Dress

First of all, I just want to let all of you know that hey, my novel, America for Beginners, is 100% out there in the world! You can buy it in the US! You can buy it in the United Kingdom! You can buy it in India! You can buy it all over the place! Please do! And then tell me what you think!

This dress that I am going to show you actually looks excellent with my novel, which is great because this is what I wore to my book launch party at Powerhouse Arena, which is a wonderful bookstore and a fantastic space, a place that frequently hosts authors in conversation. New York friends or people in the area, check it out!

Now, to the sewing. Those of you who read my blog regularly, aka my mom, will know that I am not a person who wears a ton of green. It’s not that I don’t like green, I do! I really do. I just don’t gravitate towards it the way I do some other colors. But every once in a while, you see something that just breaks you patterns, you know? I bought this fabric in Kolkata, which is great because one of the characters in my novel, Pival, is from Kolkata, so that all worked out rather nicely, didn’t it? I saw it in New Market, a market I never go to, and I wanted it immediately, despite the fact that it’s a color I never wear, yet despite all that, something about this reached out and grabbed me, and I’m thinking, well, I think it might have been the fact that it is gingham. People, I love a gingham. Love it.

Lots of people love it! I mean, Brigette Bardot wore it as her wedding dress!

There is a rumor that this actually created such demand for the fabric that it caused a fabric shortage in France! But that could totally be a myth. Still, it’s pretty fun to think about french girls rioting over gingham.

At any rate, I love a gingham like a french girl in the 1960’s. And so, despite all the things around this fabric, it had to be mine. When it comes down to it, I’m pretty much always going to be like, GIVE ME THE GINGHAM!

And so! Another iteration of McCalls 7351, which I have adjusted with two 1.5 inch bust darts, slimming the waist and giving the bodice a little more shaping. In a large-scale green gingham that I absolutely adore.

In celebration of my super green dress, I made my friend Victoria take these photos in a super green place! So while visiting her up at the Berkshires we snagged this lovely spot in picturesque Stockbridge, and went nuts. I think I blend right in…

It’s a super cute place. This adorable building has become…a Yankee Candle. SIGH.

Still, everything was brilliantly in bloom, which was magnificent!

And I went to a store that had knitted dinners!

Instead of using one of the skirts from the pattern, I wanted to capitalize on the gingham and figured box pleats would do the trick.

I cut the yoke on the bias, which I always love with a checked or plaid print. It’s just fun!

And I suppose that’s about it. I’ve made a lot of shirt dresses at this point and I could make something else, but…I love a shirtdress! So I’m probably going to keep on keeping on in that direction. Although I do want to try some new patterns in the coming months. Ah, conflicting desires!

A little close up of the bodice for you. Why did I use white buttons? Because that is what I had in my stash! Sometimes you just do what you need to do. I don’t think it’s clear in any of the photos, but the sleeve cuffs are also cut on the bias. Just a little detail only I know about, I guess!

I also put in pockets. Obviously. As one does.

Well, there it is. An unusual choice for me, but still, very much on brand. The point is, gingham is great, try colors you don’t usually wear sometimes, and buy America for Beginners!  Then you, too, can match my dress.

 

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The Khadi Body Dress

My love of khadi, the Indian handloom cloth popularized by Gandhi as the icon of the Swadeshi movement, knows no bounds, but most of my experience with the cloth has been crafting shirts for what’s-his-face, which you will never se because he is very not into being featured on the internet in any form. What’s-his-face is firmly of the opinion that the internet is for him to learn about the world, not for the world to learn about him, which I respect. But that means that the many lovely khadi shirts I have made him to help battle the intense humidity of Mumbai (and this summer, New York, more on that later!) remain undocumented. Sigh. C’est la vie. I have made some khadi stuff for myself, although not as much as I would like to, and this dress, made for our friends’ wedding, is a good start towards a khadi filled life.

I found this fabric on a trip to Kolkata, because the one thing that Mumbai DOESN’T have is khadi. I really don’t know why! But the lightweight wonder is absent from those Marathi shores. So it’s something I look forward to whenever I go to Kolkata because I get a chance to really go nuts and indulge. As opposed to my regular life in which I….buy a lot of fabric regardless.

The big revelation I had recently was that khadi can be silk as well as cotton. Point of fact it can be wool, too, I read, but most of my life isn’t super wool-friendly right now, so I’m sticking with silk and cotton for the moment. I snagged this truly excellent silk khadi with my mother-in-law about 8 months ago, and I knew, I just knew, it would be ideal for the wedding. And sure enough, it was!

It’s my new favorite, McCalls 7503, which I have now made four times!

Although….it also turned out super super duper low cut, which…I don’t really understand? Because I’ve made this pattern a bunch of times now? But somehow, I don’t know, in the cutting or stitching I must have lowered the neckline or something because this is…a lot of decolletage! A not-India-appropriate level of decolletage. Which is fine! Because the wedding was in America! But oh boy, India has totally changed the way I feel about parts of my body being out in the public gaze….oy. Something else to talk to my therapist about!

The fabric, it’s the star here, seriously.

I mean, look at it! And it’s khadi, and it’s silk, and oh boy, that’s a lot of my chest out there. But the fabric!

The design lines totally get lost in the busy print but I am fine with that. Maybe I should make it in stripes or something, something to highlight that.

I drafted the skirt, aka pleated it in a way that I thought looked nice, and the sleeves, and underlined and lined the bodice, and underlined the skirt, because this silk is so lightweight I knew it needed some structure.

 

Sideview!

 

This is what happens when I wear heels! Not a ton of balance, here….

And there you go! A khadi dress, for a khadi lover, so now I have a khadi body!

 

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The Lot-o Gelato Outfit

I would like to tell you now about a passionate love affair that began when I was but ten years old. Like all good love stories, it is epic, spanning countries, ages, moods and needs, and yet it is simple at its heart. It is the story of a girl, standing in front of a scoop of gelato, asking it to love her.

When I was a child, my parents took me to Italy. I must say, I will forever be grateful for my parents for exposing my brother and myself to travel, to art museums and beautiful buildings and layers of history living around you and different languages and ways of doing things and really good bread and amazing places of worship and the reminder that the world is bigger than you and the way you think, and, most of all, perhaps, gelato.

Look, ice cream is good. No one is saying it isn’t. But it is the wonderbread to gelato’s artisanal sourdough loaf. It is the Venetian in Las Vegas to the actual Venice. It’s the movie, and gelato is the book it’s based on. It is a pale shadow of a thing, the sweeping imitation of life, the puppets dancing across the cave, and gelato is the moment you stand at the cave’s edge, in the sweet air of reality, knowing that you have arrived, the light blinding in your eyes but real, real as nothing has ever been before. 

It’s a pretty great dessert item, is what I’m saying. Come to the light, people. Come to the gelato.

So when I was ten, as I said, my parents took me to Italy (with my older brother of course). It was the first time my brother and I went to Europe, the first big trip my family had taken in years, and my parents were determined to wring experiences of out of every second of the day, waking at 5 to scale the Vatican then tour below it, and be in the Sistine Chapel by 11, out and onto the Spanish Steps by lunchtime. My parents were fueled by a steady stream of espresso, or as they call it in Italy, cafe, which tells you what you need to know about how Italians think about coffee, and my brother and I were fueled by gelato.

Gelato, my friends, is a revelation. It is airy, airy, how can a frozen dessert be airy, and yet it is, and luscious, bursting with flavor, the ice crystals enhancing each scent and taste instead of diminishing them. It is a dish best served cold, but without the bitterness of revenge. When it fell upon my tongue the first time, I knew, with the certainty of Juliet gazing upon her Romeo, that this was my forever love. And I didn’t even have to end up dead at 13 to enjoy it.

I would not say I am a romantic person, but damn, if gelato doesn’t make me a believer in true love. And yet, my love is NOT patient, because I want gelato as soon as possible. It is not kind, because despite its comparative lower sugar content, too much of it still makes my clothing snug. My love envies, because I want to try all the gelati, all the time. I boast of my love, putting photos of my gelato goodness all over the internet (at least, when in Italy, my love’s country fair). My gelato is proud, why shouldn’t it be? It’s gelato, damn it, king of creams. But at least I can say, it’s true, gelato  always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. At least, it does for ME.

So anyway, back in Italy 20 years later (20 years! My goodness! And yet, the devotion, the adoration, they have not waned or wandered, they were simply waiting, waiting to go home), I was back with my love.

And I also wore an outfit I had made. I mean, you want to look good for your lover, don’t you?

So I wish I could like, reach into these photos and yank my blouse down, because it’s doing that blousey bagging out thing that makes me look like I go from breasts to hips with nothing in between. BUT NEVERMIND. It is still a cute outfit!

The skirt is from my block, the very block that the person who photographed me holding both my gelato and her own, helped me make! I’m talking about Liz. When am I not, really.

It’s very hard to keep two gelati from melting.

You have to be creative and improvise.

ANYway. The shirt is a lovely lovely linen georgette (yes, such a fabric exists and it is wonderful) and a much-hacked Scout Tee from Grainline studios which I added a button placket and a bow to. At what point have you just completely re-made a pattern? I think I’ve done that about 10 times with the Scout Tee. Just wondering.

It’s a great shirt, though, honestly, the fabric is just amazing, breathable, drapey, but not as wrinkle prone as linen usually is. I felt so chic, when I wasn’t juggling gelato, that is.

Yes, this became difficult at some point. Also, Liz wanted her gelato back. So I didn’t get a TON of shots here, but I think it’s enough, right? You get the jist. The jist is gelato. Plain and simple. And this skirt celebrates that, right? Both fabrics are from Thakur, and both gelati are from Mara dei Boschi which might be among the best gelato I have ever had and is a must if you are planning a trip to Turin.

So anyway. That’s my love affair with gelato, writ large. I would cry to the heavens, I would proclaim it to the stars. But I think I would rather just…eat some gelato.

What is the first food you fell in love with? And has that love lasted?

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The Blue in Brera Dress

Recently, I was at this very cool Durer show in Milan, because my life is REALLY THAT GLAMOROUS, with my friend Liz, because she is amazing and we like to meet in delightful places and talk about how delightful we are, and there was a line in the (very extensive, mayhap too extensive?) wall text which described Milan as “the undisputed design capital of Europe”. Which….I feel like there actually might be a few people who WOULD dispute that, I don’t know, Paris, maybe? But sure, why not, let’s give it to Milan, because it really is an unbelievably fabulous city jam packed with stylish people walking past stylish buildings, doors that open to elegant interior courtyards, food that makes me want to drop everything and work in one of these kitchens, and charm to spare.

It was so hard to leave the amazing residency I attended, which was tranquil and calm, tucked into the hillsides of Piemonte. It is a really amazing place, and one you might want to consider when thinking about artists residencies, for any of you artists out there! You can also visit for other purposes, and I would strongly advise you do so. But at any rate, while it was jarring to return to busy streets (to think, I am calling Milan busy, I live in Mumbai!) and the hubbub of human life, it was also delightful because Milan is simply great. Sophisticated but welcoming, sleek but homey, with grand avenues and cute tiny streets both in spades, I enjoyed myself immensely, and so did Liz, oh, and what’s-his-face, who was also there! In fact, I made him take these photos of me after we visited the Pinacoteca di Brera, a lovely museum in the Palazzo Brera, a palace in the heart of Milan’s Brera neighborhood. Once the artistic capital of Milan, now it is a chic area of tons of fancy designer shops and thronged with tourists, but I can’t complain, I was one of them.

As I so often do when I travel, I went to the art museum, not the modern one(s), (Milan is modern as hell), but the historic ones. The Pinacoteca di Brera is a lovely collection of some excellent pieces in a very digestible way, i.e. it’s not extremely overwhelming but it has some top tier stuff, and the building is really pretty. Ah, Italy, full of urban mansions and palazzi, why you gotta be so charming? This is why said tourists do said thronging….

If you are in Milan and into this sort of thing, you should totally check out this museum. It has this stunning Rubens:

And this excellent Caravaggio:

Man, Caravaggio, am I right? What a baller. Actually, it’s funny, the first time I ever saw one of his paintings was also in Italy which…makes sense, and it was this one:

Which is in the many many rooms of art you see on the way to the Sistine Chapel and my mother, to whom I owe so very much, pointed it out to my brother and I. We’ve both been pretty hooked ever since.

After enjoying all this, What’s-his-face and I went to La Latteria San Marco for some spaghetti con limone y peperoncino (spaghetti with lemon and chilies) which was life altering but NOT before I made him take these photos of my new Colette Patterns Claudette Dress!

This is the second version of this dress that I have made, and the first, while cute, had some bodice wonkiness. I mean, I’m still going to WEAR it, already have, at least twice, but it is not for le blog. But this one turned out well, partially because I was more careful making it and partially…nope, that’s it, that’s the only reason.

So without further ado, here you go!

I mean, sure, it’s no Caravaggio, but it’s still pretty cute!

I picked up this fabric at, you guessed it, Thakur, after someone I am teaching to sew snagged some for pillows. So I’m basically wearing her couch. I DON’T CARE! It’s lovely, a nice contemporary ikat-style fabric with a good weight so its sturdy and holds its shape in the sheath.

You can kind of see the lining in this photo, sigh, sorry, I didn’t have an iron with me! AH well, at least you know I lined it, now!

I love this dress. Seriously, I really do. I cut a 12, for the hips, and did a full bust adjustment and then took the waist in about an inch or so I would have some wiggle room (GET IT?) but still have it be fitted. In this iteration I made the version with two large bust darts, rather than the princess seams.

I feel like there is a SMIDGEN of breast-flattening happening here, still, but it’s pretty cute nonetheless.

I’m not NOT proud of my stripe matching, I think given the darts on this sucker this was the best I could do. AND THAT IS GOOD ENOUGH!

And I’ll murder anyone who says differently, got it? But I really am into this make, and I’m so glad it was a lovely day in Milan so I could get this one photographed. The weather turned chilly and rainy soon after, and anyone who has been following my instagram Me Made May stories can probably tell that I’ve been recycling a few outfits over and over and praying for a warmer day. Luckily it’s turned slightly warmer here in Parma, from which I write this post, and looks like it will be nice in Venice, were we end our Italian adventures, and lovely in New York and Philadelphia, to which I will be heading afterwards, so fear not, my Me Made May outfits are sure to improve!

I have no construction notes, this is easy to put together and I french seamed the skirt and the sleeves. I did not, as instructed, hand stitch them. That sounds….exhausting. I got places to be, people! In Milan! Or whatever!

I hope you are having a lovely May, me made or otherwise!

 

 

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