Last week I flew to California to speak at a memorial for my PhD advisor, Allison Doupe.

I had lost her in pieces.  There was the email from her husband, forwarded by my former labmate, describing how she had passed away peacefully at home.  And the phone call over a year ago (she never called me) where she mentioned that her cancer “wasn’t in one place anymore.”  There was a trip out to see her last year, where I gave lab meeting, and tried to tell her thank you for everything she had given me.  There were nights when I would wake up crying.  Feeling scientifically motherless.  Feeling selfishly that I had lost her just at the time when I needed her the most.

I made David come with me.  And Joey.  And Ruby.  I wasn’t sure what I would feel but I thought I might need to hold a baby afterwards.  When I walked in and saw all the familiar faces I thought I might start crying there.

I wasn’t the only one.

I gave a talk; there were many talks.  They were a mix of memories and science.  The memories were painful, funny, heartbreaking.  I stuck to science, thinking this would help me maintain composure.  I think she would have approved of this strategy, as she had used it herself as the disease progressed.

What were the things she taught me?  Not to color my data in ways that were misleading.  To write carefully.  To state my findings with clarity and assurance.  Most important, she taught me confidence.  Graduate school is a place of harsh questions; I didn’t come in with the thickest skin.  In editing my writing, her most frequent piece of feedback was “needs more testosterone.”  Over and over, and in the kindest and gentlest way possible, she taught me to grow a pair.

What came out in the talks was that she had been these things to everyone: friend, mother, shrink.  What came out were the many strands of her science: natural behavior, quantitative analysis, social information in the brain.  What came out was a life fully lived.  Best of all for me was to listen to her many graduate students and postdocs.  To see what each one had done with the seeds she gave them.  To remember that I had a tribe to call on.  To understand that she had lived exactly the life she wanted.

At my thesis defense she called herself my “doktor-mutter”— doctor-mother— and that is how I thought of her.  I called her when I went on the job market, when I needed advice, when I was feeling blue.  I thought that when she died she was done giving me things.  But she wasn’t.


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What to say about 2014?  My utterly charming daughter was born in April.


I moved to New York to start my lab.

I published a paper, and did some sewing too.


On the saddest note, my beloved doctoral advisor passed away this fall.

Today while my parents were taking Joey and Ruby to the museum, David and I discussed our goals for next year.  We talked about writing grants, figuring out how to mentor the people in our labs, submitting our own papers, maybe trying to squeeze in an art class someday, but I couldn’t really put anything definite into words.

The word that keeps floating around my head is generosity.  My life is so full of gifts I feel almost paralyzed.  I am not quite sure what this goal means, but I will try to figure it out.

I would like to try to write again.  Maybe on this blog, maybe elsewhere.  I think I have kept quiet for a while, not because I didn’t have anything to say, but because I haven’t known how to say what is in my head.

I am not sure I yet feel comfortable in our new life, but I will try to figure that out too.

Happy New Year, everyone!


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A very quick project

Well I was wrong, the next project turned out to be super-quick.

My favorite pencil case (which travels everywhere with me) finally broke earlier this year.  It’s been sitting very sadly on my desk waiting for a replacement.  If I’d known how easy it would be to do I would have gotten around to it much sooner.

I started by measuring the case: 5.5″ around and 8.5″ long.  I cut a piece of leather slightly wider (it broke because I was trying to stuff too much in it) and longer: 6″ by 9″.  I folded the leather as it would sit in the final pouch and used a glue stick to attach the leather to the zipper at the correct place.  Note that zipper is quite a bit longer than the pouch.

Next I opened up the zipper and topstitched through the leather and zipper.  I got a little bit of practice sewing with this leather in the last project, and found that it works best if I stitch on the slowest setting and use a slightly longer stitch length.  I did a bit of practice on a scrap to see where to align the foot.

Now I opened up the zipper all the way.

And turned the pouch inside out.

I used a bit more glue to keep the  open ends of the zip aligned properly and stitched across the top and bottom.  I also added a little leather loop to the top like in the original pouch— also placed and stabilized with glue.

Et voilà:

I think what made this so easy was the gluestick.  Seriously, why hadn’t I tried this before?  The number one thing I find myself fighting with on the sewing machine is fabric slipping out of place as it goes through the machine.  Can I use the gluestick on ordinary fabrics and zips?

I am so pleased with this pouch I might try making a leather bag next.  Also requires no fitting.  And I love being able to make a bag that exactly fits the things I carry.

Thanks to everyone for your very nice comments on my free-form tunic!  I was really happy to have something finished to share.


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For a while I’ve had this image of a garment pieced together in layers like geological strata.  But I put off making it because figuring out the pattern (all those seam allowances!) seemed daunting. Then one day in the shower it occured to me that I didn’t need to make a pattern at all— I could make it in stages (“organically” as Myrna calls it) and fit the pieces together as I went.

“Geological” is still a good metaphor though because this might be the slowest garment I’ve sewn yet.  I started by going through my fabric closet and picking out a bunch of fabrics with similar weights.  I cut these into long strips about 4-5″ wide so I could piece together the inset.  I did the piecing very freely, letting the inset gradually curve, and occasionally holding up to myself to see where it would fall.  At the end I redid a couple of seams to adjust the curvature:

Next I cut the basic pattern pieces from a ponte knit.  (I traced the pattern from a favorite Old Navy tunic/minidress thing.  I made the back and front almost the same with just a little more room in the shoulders on the back.  The sleeves are symmetric.)  In a sketch I’d made I had a contrasting stripe at the bottom, so I auditioned various fabrics before selecting a lighter-weight knit in a similar (but lighter) muddy taupe.  Here’s the inset laid on the front of the tunic:

Next I drew (with tailors chalk) on the inset where I wanted it to show and trimmed the edges to the correct width (plus 1/4″ seam allowance).  I drew the same shape on the tunic front and cut that out, marking where a couple of the pieces should fall to help me line up the curved seams.  Keeping the seam allowances narrow was key to all of this working out.  Also, careful pressing.  Here’s the front with the inset inserted, before final pressing and topstitching:

Because I was going so slowly, I thought to add a lining to the back of the inset (made from the same lightweight knit as the hem-band).  This should keep the wool bits of the inset from scratching and it allowed me to finish the bottom edge neatly.

After that it was pretty easy to sew front and back together and add the sleeves.  At the moment the sides are only basted— it does fit, but I don’t really want it to get stretched out by my 7-months-pregnant belly.  Sometime next winter, after my shape has stabilized, I’ll serge the sides.

Overall this was a fun slow project.  I got to use a bunch of fabrics that I love but aren’t all that practical for me for a full garment (i.e. wool suitings).  I enjoyed piecing together the inset and solving various construction problems without worrying about how it might fit.  And it nicely brought together some of the things I’ve been playing with in art (abstraction, variation in spatial frequency, earth tones) with garment sewing.

The pace of this project was also well suited to writing up a manuscript (which we finally submitted last night, hooray!), being generally pregnant and sleepy, and paying attention to a 3-year old.  Which is to say I expect there to be more “geological” projects in my future.


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Into the unknown

Setting goals for the new year is one of my favorite activities.  This time last year I was too stressed to set any.  This year I’ve been putting off writing because I have so much good news to share.  The trajectory has been upward.

In June, we will be moving to NYC to start our own labs at NYU school of medicine.  In May, we are expecting baby #2 (a little girl).  How these two events will work together is questionable, but really a great problem to have.

In keeping with these anticipated events I am going to try to keep my goals for 2014 modest.  Sometime after Joey was born I realized that I wasn’t going to make it through a week without disappointing anyone, and that I would have to settle for not disappointing the same person two weeks in a row.  Perhaps for this year I’ll make it my goal not to disappoint the same person for three weeks running, or at least not for more than a month.  (Note to self: not responding to email doesn’t count as disappointing someone; everyone expects that of me by now.)

Since my creative output this year was on the low end I thought I’d look back instead at the last 5 or 6.  In 2008, we moved from California to Boston, not really knowing anyone here and not knowing how long we’d be here.  I started painting in oil shortly after we arrived and started sewing a year later.  I’ve spent most of that time feeling that I wasn’t making any progress.  But if I look at my first efforts and compare them to more recent things it’s clear that here too the trajectory has been upward.


Science and art have always been strands of the same thread for me.  What makes both compelling is the unknown.  At the end of the day I’m not sure I do either of them because they are pleasurable, or just because I really want to figure out how something works.  Sometimes the thing is color and sometimes it’s fitting and sometimes it’s synaptic dynamics.  At the moment science is eating up a good bit of my mental bandwidth but I’m sure one day I’ll get obsessed with an art project again.

I don’t have any grand ambitions for art or sewing this year.  I have a couple ideas for ‘luxe’ loungewear that have been kicking around my head for a while, and maternity winter 2014 seems as good a time as any to try them out.  I’d like to get another painting done, and to play more with mixing fabrics.  But I’m not making any promises.  I’d be super happy to have a healthy baby, daycare for 2 kids, and a place to live in NYC.

As for the blog I’m not sure where to go with it.  I keep thinking I should write a “final” post.  But then I think what if I make something and want to share it?  Let’s call this the final post and acknowledge that I may not deliver on that promise either.


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Someday my ship will come

Trying some new paintings, new themes, new colors.  I like how the palette and composition came out on this one— not so crazy about the edges.  In retrospect I think I should have started with more of a line drawing and underpainting to try to unify the different parts of the painting, so that’s how I started the next one:


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More painting refashions





 This second one has been moving around with me since probably 2001 (I remember working on it in the yard of the first apartment I moved into at the beginning of grad school, and I think I stopped painting after the first year.)  At the time I was rather obsessed with backlit trees and this one was from a sketch of a big tree in Golden Gate Park.  One thing that’s cute about the painting is that it looks different when it itself is backlit:


Exactly how it looks depends on the light:


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A skirt for fall

I made a new skirt.

I really like it.  I realize it is nothing special, and that I probably could have bought something similar.  Or at least I could have 5 years ago, which is when I came across this inspiration image:

Whatever, I like my skirt better.  It is exactly the right shade of yellow ochre.  It has exactly the right amount of A-line flare.  It doesn’t pooch out in the front like most RTW skirts.  It didn’t cost $80 which is what I vaguely recall this skirt costing.  And it only took me 5 years, 3 machines, and I’m-not-going-to-count-how-many-yards-of-fabric to learn how to sew it.

I used the same pattern I used previously for my olive twill skirt, reducing the flare slightly and swapping the patch pockets for standard jeans-style pockets front and back.  I was just finishing up the pockets when I happened to read one of Kyle’s posts in which she mentioned pre-treating some corduroy for pants.  Oops.  I threw the pieces in the wash and dried them then held them up to the pattern pieces to see how much I’d lost.  It was only about 1/4″ on the cross grain but nearly and inch in the length.  I had to recut the waistband (which was cut on the cross grain) and I made a very narrow hem (narrower than in the photo above) but the skirt turned out fine.  See, you can learn anything in five years.

Hmm, now that I notice the dates on these photos it seems I cut this out almost a month ago, so let’s call it five years and one month.  And while I’m clearing out my flashcard here are some other photos I came across:

A twist top made from B4789, started last spring and finished this summer.  Only worn recently when it got cool enough.


A tunic/minidress thingy using M6612 made around the same time.  I like this one too although I have to say the length looks pretty awful in the photo.  Maybe I should hem it.

And Joey’s first day of school!

I’d like you to note that while I was learning to make jeans-style pockets and rescue myself from washing machine sizing disasters, Joey learned to speak English, to make logical inferences, and to generally comport himself as a human being.  And all this took him only 3 years.


Peace out.


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Hobbies new and old

I know, I know: the last thing I need is more hobbies.

#1: Dye

I picked up a couple packets of fabric dye several months ago when they were randomly on sale at the art supply store.  Living in a small urban apartment with a communal washing machine though I couldn’t find an appropriate time or place to try them out.  But when we were up in Vermont last week with my family I found a free afternoon and an old pot in the shed and decided to give it a try.

These three fabrics are all pretty good quality but the colors never really sang for me and I just couldn’t think of anything I really wanted to sew from them.  One is wool, one some kind of rayon (i think) and one a ponte knit, so I mixed the plain and poly brown i-dyes together, added some salt per the instructions and off I went.

It was all very eye-of-newt.  I put the ponte in the longest and first, then the rayon, then the wool (briefly).  After cooking each one I moved it to the washing machine, then ran the whole thing on cold, and dried them.  Although the instructions were decent they didn’t say anything about how to move the hot wet dyed fabric to the machine (I managed to dye the edge of the machine in the process— good thing I didn’t try this at home) or what to do with the used dye (in true Vermont fashion I covered it up and put it back in the shed.)

Verdict: I think the results are ok.  I managed to move some fabric form the giveaway pile to the might-use-someday pile.  I think the most successful was the rayon knit which went from a kind of cloying clay color to a nice warm brown.  The wool I am thinking of re-dyeing black to try to get a warm gray.  The ponte might make a dress or may still just be a muslin.  It was a fun afternoon but I don’t think this is something I’ll be doing regularly.  Not least because I am going to run out of room in the shed at some point.

#2: Necklaces

I was in New York a couple of weeks ago and, finding myself with a few hours on my hands, I set off as usual towards the garment district.  But since I was feeling rather satiated with fabric and also since it was about 110° F I popped into a little (air-conditioned) bead shop that was on my way.  An hour later I emerged with two agate pendants, two lengths of lava beads, two lengths of dyed coral beads, and some beading wire.   Then I had to wait a few weeks to scrounge up some satin and hemp cord (for the pendants), some closures and crimp tubes, and some small hematite cube beads that made their way to the shopping cart with the closures.

The other night I finally sat down to assemble my necklaces and it was just as much fun as I thought it would be.  Not to mention making me feel like I’m about 12.  The plastic packages of beads remind me of bonbons, the tiny crimp tubes and pliers remind me of building electronics at work, and at the end of the evening I had several nice shiny new necklaces.  Did I mention shiny?

I also learned a lesson about drape in assembling these.  The first time I made the hematite necklace I pulled the wire nice and tight before crimping it.  This resulted in a very stiff necklace with none of the drape and movement that makes it shimmer.  I had to rethread it 2 more times to get it right— I coiled the beaded wire twice before pulling the wire tight— and the result is almost an inch of ease when the beads hang straight down.  So there you go: in order to bend you need space between the beads, or between the fibers in a fabric, or between the molecules in the fiber I presume.

Verdict: potentially dangerous.  I can see making these for gifts, or for open studios in the spring, and I can also see myself sinking hours and dollars I don’t have into looking for cool beads online.  Please believe that I tried to resist this hobby for a while.

#3: Painting.

I worked on this one a bit more Friday night.   Which was a mistake, being both tired and grumpy (my rig at work decided to break at 4:45 that afternoon).  I went to bed convinced it was hideous and the next morning it looked slightly less hideous but still not great.  The problem is that the drawing is off, which is easier for me to see if I tip it on it’s side, and the car at the far right in particular doesn’t match the perspective of the rest of the scene.

I don’t really know what to do about it because the paint is quite thick and it will be hard to change the angle of the car.  Should I push forward and try to finish it or should I stuff in somewhere in the closet to mature?  Maybe I am just not feeling the love for gray paintings these days.  I have some ideas for more colorful ones but I had wanted to finish up these small stashed canvases before buying new ones.

So that’s what I’ve been up to, not to mention muslining some patterns for fall, trying out recipes from my new website crush,, and— ahem— trying to get this paper finished at work (which would be much easier if my rig were working).  Oh, and trying to pay attention to my boys of course.


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Slow going

The advantage of reworking an old painting is that a lot of the problems have already been solved.  The drawing, for instance; the basic geometry.  In the last two “refashions” the overall light wasn’t bad so I could have fun working on the surface texture without worrying too much about the bones.

Starting a new painting from scratch has been slow going.  The reference image isn’t easy: there aren’t too many different values, nor a clear source of light.  And all the darks are in the details and high frequencies.  I’m also struggling a lot with the taxi on the far right.  Somehow I can’t get the perspective right.

What I like about this one so far: the texture, the Morandi-like palette of warm grays, the decision to omit most of the details from the front sidewalk.  The cars need shadows and the values need punching up.  Playing with the value histogram in photoshop made me think that maybe just darkening up a few details might do it.

In the meantime I am thinking about working more on these two:

These are both acrylic, started over a year ago and always intended to be underpaintings.  But Joey decided he liked them.  (Fact: there is no better compliment you can get as an artist than having a toddler like your painting.  Even if he mostly likes it because it has a train.)  And they are now both hanging on the wall over his bed.  I’m a little leery of messing with them because what if he doesn’t like them as much afterwards?  I can deal with critics but I’m not sure how I’d deal with my two year old’s disappointment.


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