Tag Archives: Brighton Beach

The Russian Goodbye Dress

Having just moved, I can assure you, there were many things that were hard about leaving New York. The most important thing about any place is, for me, the people who are in it. I realize of course that this is not a revolutionary statement, but sometimes the hallmark clichés come true, and you can deny it or you can suck it up and deal. Places are their people. They are their spaces and their streets too, of course, their trees and their paths, but they are their people. And the people I have in New York were hard to leave.

For me, New York was a new and sometimes difficult change, leaving my beloved Philadelphia, going to graduate school, altering the landscape of my life to include new things and new balances, new stresses and new needs. Left to my own devices I might be a bit of  hermit, curling up with my cat and my television and a bottle or five of wine, but New York did not permit that from me. Quite simply, there were too many people I love there, too much to do, too many things I had to be a part of, that I was forced by the magnificence of my community there to become a better version of myself. So many of these people helped me celebrate my homemade garments, photographing them, complimenting them, making fun of them when they weren’t quite right, mostly in kind ways, but sometimes the truth hurts. My friends in New York also benefited from my craftiness, they must admit, receiving homemade gifts and sometimes even posing for this blog.

Leaving New York doesn’t mean losing these people. But it does mark a new chapter in my life, just as coming to New York did. In Brooklyn I found new levels of independence in the new ways I understood myself. I became a better writer, through training, through experience and through contact with others. I met new people and deepened my relationships with known entities. I fell in love. I wrote plays, screenplays, television scripts, a novel. I surprised myself, I disappointed myself, I thrilled myself. I had late nights and early mornings, drunken revelries and sober contemplations. I explored neighborhoods alone, sometimes relishing my solitude, sometimes painfully lonely in the midst of crowds and bodies. I learned to love and hate the subway, becoming an expert in stations and exits, across-platform transfers, avenues and winding streets. I crossed bridges over and over again, in and out of different territories.

I stayed close to home, linked by buses and trains and time zones, able to sit in the house my mother designed at the merest suggestion of homesickness. I became bound up in my life, content with the complications, confusions and cat hair that Brooklyn apartments afforded me. I knew what things meant, not just their literal meanings but their significance, what it meant to live in Astoria, in Williamsburg, to work in publishing, to be in finance.

There were also a thousand things I didn’t know, and still don’t. The best bike route to Greenwood Cemetery, or the best restaurants on the Upper West Side, or the vast mysteries of the Bronx. There were so many things I didn’t do, things I wanted and things I resisted, things that a seasoned New Yorker would scoff at and a tourist would mock. I never went to the top of the Empire State Building, in fact, I think I only passed by the building once. I’ve never had a bagel from Zabars, or a knish from Katz’s. I’ve never ridden a subway line from end to end, or been to the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens.

If I think of the things I did versus the things I missed, the people I spent my time with versus the distance between us now, physically, my life starts to feel both full and empty at the same time, but I can only content myself with the fact that life is long, and being in India doesn’t mean never going back to New York (or more importantly, Philadelphia) again. It’s not an exclusion, it’s just opening up my circle, making my world bigger. I haven’t lost things, I’ve gained them. I hadn’t lost people, we just have to communicate in different ways, spend time together in different senses.  Still. Even if it’s just for a bit, it’s hard to say goodbye.

My love for Brighton Beach is well documented, and so when I was up in New York for a last time in a while, and my friend Becca (hi, Becca!) asked me what I wanted to do, Brighton Beach was on the list. Becca, lifelong New Yorker that she is, had never been. So that was it. We trudged out to the world of Russians and lost ourselves for a few hours. All I could think about was the first time I came to Brooklyn, and how I had forced my friend Emily to come to a play with me all the way in Manhattan Beach, which is even more remote than Brighton. We had walked through the neighborhood together and stopped for pelmeni before the show.

I am a big believe in symmetry. I wore a homemade outfit then, and I wore one this last time too. As Becca, ever obliging, snapped my photos, I realized that the dress I was wearing was born of some of my friends, a handful of the people I love in New York. Becca photographed it, Emily bought me the fabric as a Hanukkah gift, and my friend Victoria’s mother sent the buttons along in a box of sewing supplies the previous winter. I had made each girl a dress when they were the bridesmaids at my recent (second) wedding. It only seemed fair that they, in a way, had made me one, too.

I suppose I should move on from the sentimentality into the stitching. If I talked about all the feelings I had leaving my friends in New York I would be here forever. And this isn’t even touching on all the emotions I felt and feel leaving my family in Philadelphia. But leaving is perhaps the wrong word for what happens when life changes. Here in India a popular world to use for moving is shifting, as in, I shifted to my new apartment, I’ll shift to that chair, can you shift this fellow for me (the last being my brother-in-law’s response to Cadfael’s communal space mentality). So I did not leave, I shifted, just a slight adjustment, relative to the infinity of time and space. After all, leaving feels so very permanent, but shifting? Shifting happens all the time.

 

To the dress:

 

RG 1

 

This little beauty (if I do say so myself) is McCalls 6696, a shirtdress upon which to build a dream. This pattern is all over the internets, and I have made it once before after being wildly inspired by Dolly Clackett and Idle Fancy . This time I wanted to try the slimmer skirted option, both for the sake of variety and because I only had 2 yards of this glorious Liberty Lawn. The 60 inch width meant that I could still get this whole shirt dress out of it, though, such is the wonder of Liberty. Thank you, Emily, a thousand times.

RG 3

I stitched up a size 14 (28 inch waist) with the choose your own cup size in a D. The fit, as previously, was good, and I like the style a lot, although I’m not sure if the pockets are cute or emphasize my not-insubstantial hips.

RG 4I made one alteration to the pattern, which was on the back piece under the yoke. Dissatisfied with the puffy nature of my last attempt, I took 2 inches out of the back in a wedge, and turned the gathers into a pleat. I prefer it, although part of me misses that vintage touch. Oh, well, next time I will see if I can take out a little gathering but still maintain the idea of the gather. Conceptual clothing, people.

RG 2

 

See, with my arms down the pockets lie beautifully flat but when I’m moving or speaking or breathing, they sort of poke out. So I guess I have to…not do any of those things.

I do love these pick-your-cup-size patterns, they just make sense. Women run the gamut of bust sizes, shouldn’t our patterns do so too?

RG 5

My lovely collar got a little wind-swept but I assure you, it came out well. And look at that fabric! And the buttons! And the photographs!

RG 6

Sewing is a solitary habit, just like writing. But I know that wherever I go, or shift, I can look at the things I’ve made and see the people who made them possible, through gifts and photos and just telling me I look nice in them. And that, at least, is something I never have to leave behind. Thank you, to everyone who reads and gives and helps and puts up with my sewing related chatter. I love you all, and I’m taking you with me as I shift around.

So now I’m learning Mumbai, and you can expect Indian hellos to follow this Russian Goodbye. Fewer fur hats, more goats. Both cities have a beach, though, at least there is that…

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Filed under Life, McCalls Patterns, Sewing, Travel

The Brighton Beach Bunny Skirt

Call me crazy, but I love Russia. I love it. It’s a weird place and it’s super strange and scarred and currently a human rights disaster, and I’m not a political fan, but culturally, I just love it. This is not, I understand, something many other people feel. After all, Russia has a reputation for being a cold and bitter place filled with pain and sorrow. But that’s what makes it so much fun! It’s dramatic! It feels things deeply! It lives on vodka and emotions! What’s not to love?

Real talk, I’m predisposed to love Russia, honestly. My mother’s family is Russian, I grew up hearing Russian (though I can say maybe four things myself), eating Russian food, reading Pushkin fairy tales and thinking about how I could get a duel going. When I was in college I studied abroad in Moscow. I want to work in theater, for goodness sakes, and after Greece and England Russia really has the market on that one cornered. (Don’t talk to me about France, okay? Just don’t. Bunch of cheese eating surrender monkeys who don’t use half of the letters they could be pronouncing because, what, that’s too much effort? Writing plays about Greek myths and corrupt clergymen and defecating kings? Whatever.  Call me when Godot comes. Jeez.) And after my time living in Russia, well, there was no going back. I was a whole-hearted convert, a lover of the Russian doucha (that’s soul, come on, be cool) and bitter sad grimness on each crumbled little Slavic face. It’s adorable!

But I no longer have family in Russia, and plane tickets don’t come cheap to the land of eternal winter (See, Game of Thrones should shoot the North of the Wall stuff THERE), so the next best thing for this current New Yorker is Brighton Beach. Oh, Brighton Beach, my love, my life, my youth, my orchard!

Ahem. Just a casual Cherry Orchard reference. Like you do. For those who do not know, Brighton Beach is a Russian neighborhood in Brooklyn, right near Coney Island. For just under a century it’s been an enclave of Russian life in New York. In the 1860’s the area was developed as a resort town with its own racetrack. The area wasn’t technically a part of Brooklyn until 1894, after which it became a residential area with its own amusement park. With the Depression and the Second World War, floods of Jewish immigrants, primarily from Odessa, but also from other Eastern European nations, poured into the area, making it a Russian neighborhood.

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In the last few decades, increased immigration from former Soviet states, including those with stronger Asian influences, have added more kinds of food and more accents of Russian to the area. Getting out of the train you might not hear a word of English spoken in any direction for blocks and blocks.

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Bright plentiful produce spills out from every store, women in heels and sparkles chatter and bicker, every sign points the way to Russian pastries, watches, oil, pelmeni and perfume.

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Headscarves mix with peroxided blonde locks, and everyone finds themselves scattered over the boardwalk, especially in the summer.

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I love going there, and I don’t go nearly enough. In fact, I hadn’t been once since I moved to New York almost two years ago. Given that I live in Southern Brooklyn, this is a crime I plan to rectify with frequent trips in the future. For for now, I went with what’s-his-face this past Sunday and could hardly contain my excitement.

We had read about this place last summer and always wanted to go there for lunch, so we finally did it. Totally worth the trip, even if I wasn’t wild about Brighton Beach. I heartily recommend it to anyone.

And obviously I had to wear something new. I mean, what am I, a savage? Luckily in my post-graduate school free time between working and my frequent existential crises, I’ve made a lot of new things. Some of them were for my roommate Emily’s trip, which she leaves on today for a month. Photos for those will be delayed for obvious reasons, but hopefully feature exotic locals! And some things are for my own trip with my parents to San Juan which I am taking tomorrow. Again, stay tuned. But this seemed like a good occasion to bust out something special, and so I present to you my Brighton Beach Bunny Skirt!

BBB 2.jpgThe pattern ought to be a familiar one to anyone who reads this, because it’s Simplicity 4529 and I’ve made it so many times and I have no plans to stop any time soon. Look, I’m all for making new patterns and trying new things. But honestly, I’ve been sewing long enough at this point, and also DRESSING myself long enough, to know is something is just not going to work for me, and to appreciate the things that really make me look and feel good. It’s a grown-up uniform, sure, but what’s wrong with that? I’ve said it before and I will say it again, if it ain’t broke…

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Actually, this is pretty funny, I was worried that it WAS broke, I had this strange anxiety that this time it wouldn’t fit. I was so worried and convinced that somehow my Puerto Rican caboose wouldn’t be able to squeeze into this that I added fabric in the back, two strips adding up to about 3 inches.

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Real talk? This totally would have fit. It’s my loosest make of this skirt to date. But it’s also supremely comfortable and I don’t mind at all. So either I miscalculated or my tush got smaller over night. Could it be the second one, please?

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This skirt is unbearably simple for me at this point. I made so many over the winter and one last summer, I’ve got this. But I love how it looks, and this fabric was just too perfect. I love it, I can’t deal with how much I love it. I kept pointing out images to what’s-his-face.

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I can hardly decide which is my favorite. The Elephant reading the newspaper? The monkeys in the band? The juggling guy? The frogs? It’s a party! Just the sort of thing to wear in Brighton Beach. This way I’m something to look at, too!
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Of course, if you are in Brighton Beach already, you might as well stop by Coney Island.

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Though I can’t decide which is more thrilling, amusement park rides or sullen Russians who continuously reference the Gulags? I’m just kidding. It’s obviously the Russians. Sorry, Coney! Better luck next time.

BBB 3.jpgHappy Summer, people! I’m off to San Juan, more posts with Tropical outfits to follow!

 

 

 

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Filed under Clothing, Sewing, Simplicity Patterns