Month: July 2020

A Mask for All Seasons

(Or, introducing the most breathable mask style ever.  Especially for this heat.)

By Kitty

UPDATE (Nov 2020): A lot of changes and new knowledge have come to light since this blog was written.  Some of this content is still accurate, but some of it may have become obsolete.  Please read the more recent mask-related blogs for up-to-date information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and mask-related issues.

As I sit here writing this, the thermometer says it’s 38 Celsius outside.  That’s over 100 Fahrenheit if you only speak American; it’s just plain mythical if you live in England, as I did once upon a time.  And they told me Canada was cold….

Of course, I’m trying very hard to avoid going outside, because fainting from heatstroke often offends.  But tomorrow, we’ll run out of milk, and I’ve promised to bring the neighbours some of our exploding zucchini crop, meaning I will have to don a face mask sooner rather than later.  Zucchini waits for no one!

Impatient Zucchini

To Mask or Not to Mask

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve now firmly come over to the Mask Side of the Force (if you want to know why, I explain my reasons here).   Sweet are the uses of a well-fitting, properly-worn face mask, as Shakespeare almost said.  But it is getting harder to appreciate its charms as the midsummer heat bakes us all into a sticky, jammy mess.

Look, we all know that it’s a myth that a fabric face mask can significantly increase CO2 inhalation or prevent you from exhaling toxins or any of that rubbish (at least I hope we all know that, because science).  Still, when your face goes all squelchy and your mask sticks to you like clammy clingfilm, it can FEEL as though you can’t breathe, which is almost as bad.

Well, some people solve their problems with drink, and others with a chainsaw.  Your old Aunt Kitty solves all hers with sewing, and only occasionally tiramisu.  So I turned to a little experimental mask-redesigning, and here’s what I came up with:

Problem Solved

It looks simple enough, doesn’t it?  But those looks deceive!  You wouldn’t believe the sheer amount of pattern-making gymnastics I had to go through to reach this end result.

First, note that this style of face mask has a distinctly 3D profile, even just lying there on a flat surface.  Not to bore you with too many details, but that dimensional volume is achieved through a plenitude of darts, tucks, pleats, and weird seaming.  The ziggurat-like sides might look funky on the table, but through some stitch sorcery, they make a nice gap-free fit once the mask is actually on you. 

Hmm.  I think a name just suggested itself.  Dear Kittens, meet my shiny new invention, the Ziggurat mask!  Tantara-ra.

But I digress.  Getting back to the mask and the way it fits:  it feels like it’s making serious contact with the face ONLY at the outside edges of the mask, NOT in the middle bit.  In these photos, you can see how the centre of the whole structure stays up and off the mid-face:

In short, when you wear it, there’s plenty of clear space between it and your nostrils and mouth.  All that soft-sculpting and engineering have created a dome-like structure which keeps the fabric partially lifted up and away from your airways and skin, where it really counts.  It makes the mask feel less hot and sweaty to wear, and infinitely easier to breathe through.  

Comfortable in Hot Weather

It’s so much more comfortable in the summer heat than the standard mask designs we’ve tried.  Both Felix and Kitty liked this new style more than the our previous favourites, which was a surprise to us.  Before this, Felix had strongly preferred the Accordion style mask, which Kitty couldn’t stand, while Kitty had liked the contoured style, which Felix equally loathed. 

Since we have face shapes that are pretty much polar opposites of each other, it’s to be expected that we would prefer different mask styles (see here and here for a discussion of mask styles for assorted face shapes and sizes).  I have no idea why we both love this new one, but it really does seem to fit each of us reasonably well.  Here are some photos of Felix and Kitty in masks made from exactly the same pattern:

Maybe it’s because the whole point of the newly-named Ziggurat mask is that it DOESN’T closely follow the contours of your face, but rather keeps the #$%& off your hot sticky icky skin.  I mean, while we have wildly different facial features, but in the (relatively for a mask) vast airy space under that 3D dome, we might be harbouring anything and you wouldn’t know it.  Pointy or snub noses, flat or round cheeks, pouty or recessed mouth, it really doesn’t matter much in a mask that’s designed expressly to rise (literally, tee hee) above all that.

The top line is curved to give good coverage over the nose bridge without getting in the way of your eyes, and the pleats, which only go over the bottom part of the mask, will open up as needed to accommodate different chins and face lengths.  Or a beard, if you have one.

Oh, and if you wear glasses (or sunglasses, which means pretty much everyone in the glaring summer sun), I find the Ziggurat mask is MUCH less liable to fog up your lenses than the other styles.  Partly it’s because the fit over the nose is contoured and darted within an inch of its life.  But I think it’s mainly because your exhaled breath takes the path of least resistance, which in this case is the big empty place over your airways and not up and over the top edge. 

When Summer is Gone?

Will we go back to my previously beloved mask styles when the weathers cools off?  Kitty probably will, at least when I feel like pretending to be somewhat fashionable.  The sleek face-skimming line of the “Put on a Good Face” mask is definitely more appealing (to me, anyway) than the slightly Plague Doctor aesthetic of the Ziggurat mask.  However, when it’s time for our winter hikes and comfort counts for more than style, I think I’ll make myself a few Ziggurats in cozy flannel or polar fleece.

On the other hand, Felix is never going back, being completely won over by the improved breathability of the new style over the Accordion mask.  Let’s face it, no one really wears an Accordion mask for its looks anyway (my bias may be showing here), just its practicality.  Whereas the Ziggurat mask has a certain Darth Vader-ish vibe, especially done in straight black, which is kind of fabulous if you can pull it off.  Felix, being a six-foot-tall man with a Roman nose and sculpted bone structure, can totally manage it.  Kitty, being round-faced and pug-nosed with apple cheeks, will not even try.

In Conclusion

The new Ziggurat mask will land on our website ( very shortly after this goes to print.  If you have any questions or special requests in the meantime, you can always email us.

Self-Improvement Through My Wardrobe

Or… Is it weird that a piece of clothing changed my life?

By Kitty

I don’t mean “changed my life” like getting a degree or moving continents changed my life.  More like “made my daily life a heck of a lot easier than I imagined a mere item of clothing ever could.”

If you read my last entry, you might remember I was trying to come up with an apron/dress/carry-all-type-thing I could wear both for mess protection and to look halfway decent if I should be seen in public.

So Practical

Since then, I’ve made myself a few more of them (four in one week!), because I love, LOVE,  LOOOOOVE these things.  I have been wearing them every every hour of every day, except to sleep.  I really do pull them on the moment I roll out of bed in the morning, and I don’t know how I ever got by without them.

If that seems like a somewhat excessive reaction to a piece of glorified workwear, it probably is. 

But for some context: with the pandemic keeping me home (even more than normally for a recluse like me, I mean), we at the Felix and Kitty homestead have been doing a lot of what can only be described as “puttering.”  On any given day, I’m hauling produce, reorganizing literal tons of fabric rolls, fermenting assorted drinkies, sewing face masks for the homeless shelter, weeding, pruning, planting, making jerky and freeze-drying everything from the garden against the day civilization comes to a screeching halt. 

All this has taught me something important about myself which I have always suspected:  I have the attention span of a kitten with ADHD.  I need some outside assistance to keep me on track to make sure that half of the eighteen or so things I’m juggling do not come crashing down around my ears.  Weirdly, it turns out that my new design was exactly what I needed.

Introducing Hana

To be more specific, the Hana cross-back apron dress.  I have no idea what else to call it, because it doesn’t fall neatly into any category of clothing.

This thing is just too good to keep to myself!  I fast-tracked it through pattern-making, size-grading and all that jazz so everybody else could try it as soon as possible,

In addition to being very, very practical, with super-deep, wide pockets that will absorb everything you can throw at them, the Hana is pretty darn cute.  Throwing one over a simple T-shirt and leggings or jeans makes it look like I actually made some kind of effort, and even an actual fashion statement when I pair it with a matching face mask (which I’m now doing every time I go out in public, for reasons I explained here).

In actuality, I’ll probably have been using it as a kitchen cover-up, then dashed straight out for groceries without bothering to change.  I don’t even need to lug a purse, since I can keep all my essentials in those capacious pockets.

The Hana apron dress has an open, lapped back that makes it both super-comfortable and a breeze to fit.  The overlap is generous enough to give you the coverage of a dress.  The crossed straps never slide off the shoulders, even very narrow or sloping shoulders.  The weight of your pocket contents are distributed nicely, so there’s no dig-in anywhere!

This is what it looked like on my trusty mannequin Amelia with a cotton peasant top underneath, and the pockets filled with “only” keys, wallet, phone, an extra face mask, some sunscreen, a couple of tea towels, some sunglasses, a packet of tissues, and a few other small sundries.  This would be a lovely hostess outfit for a summer barbecue, maybe with a casual skirt or skinny jeans.

A note: we actually had to add extra stuff in the pockets so some items would show up in the photo, because everything kept being swallowed up in their depths.  Hence the tea towels, which were used to fill up some of the volume.

Pockets Have Superpowers

Yes, they do.  Bigger pockets have more superpowers, within reason. 

For example, pockets can magically make more time exist, at least if you’re a scatter-brained flibbertigibbet like me, because you are not running back and forth (and back and forth and back and forth) between the edge of a quarter-acre garden and the house at the top of the hill.  I swear I’ve had at least two extra hours a day by loading up everything I could possibly need in one go before I set foot outside.

I’ve stuffed those pockets with ALL of the following at once: pens and plant labels, a trowel, six packets of seeds, a wad of tissues, a roll of paper towel, scissors, a knife, a pair of gloves, a roll of garden wire, wire cutters, my sunglasses case, keys, a notebook, and (I kid thee not) a full-size wine bottle, just to see if I could.

I did not get a photo of all that because Felix was in his shop building giant wood compost bins, and one doesn’t lightly interrupt a man who is tearing into a hunk of wood with power tools.  But here’s Amelia with that bottle and a dozen or so other things in-pocket, most of which you can’t actually see:

The Pockets Hold More Than You Think

Pockets Fix Brainlessness

I also found a cure for my distractability (is that a word?) in the giant pockets of my Hana apron dress. 

For example, I no longer burn our weekly bread, because I can take my trusty (but bulky) kitchen timer with me into the garden, where I usually get lost somewhere between the pea picking and the squash pruning.  I no longer burn myself because my pocket beeps an alarm at me to reapply my sunscreen every two hours. 

I don’t stare blankly into space because I forgot what was next on the to-do list, because I now keep a notebook and pencil in my pocket at all times.  If I think of something that needs to get added to the shopping list, I can do it on the spot.

On the subject of brain maintenance, I’m returning myself to semi-fluency in Spanish and Korean by listening to lectures on my iPad while weeding the lawn (yes, the iPad fits into my Hana’s pockets).  Who knew pockets could lead to multilingualism?

Aprons Are a Safety Feature (in the kitchen, and in the pandemic)

I really do use my Hana as a kitchen apron.  I never realized before just how much safer this makes me when I’m cooking, since I’ve never been able to tolerate the usual halter-style aprons that hang from behind your neck; I’d rather risk hot spatters than the tension headaches they gave me.

Now that I’m living in my apron dress, I don’t end up with mini burn spots on my cleavage.  Or glue or chemical solvents, for that matter, when I’m in the workshop. 

It’s also led to a strange safety feature that’s unique to the time of COVID-19.  After being out in public, the contents of your purse, if you carry one, are inevitably contaminated, mainly by your own hands after you touch the world.  Your wallet, your keys, the plastic packet that encloses your tissues, your used face mask — all of these things are potentially carrying pathogens. 

Luckily, they’re fairly easy to sanitize, but how many of us launder our purses after each outing?  In theory, don’t the outside AND inside of our bags constitute contaminated surfaces too?

I never liked carrying a purse anyway, so now I just deal with it by carrying everything in my pockets and throwing the whole apron dress in the laundry when I come in from the outside.  It can’t hurt, and I don’t have to worry about it.

In Conclusion….

The Hana apron dress is now available.   Try one, and you may (like me) end up living in them forever. 

In the spirit of these strange times, we’re including a free matching face mask in the style of your choice for every Hana you order (and donating another mask to a shelter) until the last day of summer.  That’s September 22, I believe; someone correct me if I’m mistaken.

Until next time, stay safe, sane, and saucy, and wear your masks!

What to Wear to Work in the Time of Plague

It’s a dress!  Tunic!  Apron!  Whatever.  It has huge pockets.

Some of us go to work in a suit and tie, others in a nice shirt and pressed pants.  Or we did before COVID-19.  Now, quite a few folks are going pants-optional while working from home.

Before the onset of the apocalypse, I’d actually dress up in full pseudo-Victorian glory for work, like this fun number:


For those who don’t know me from a potato, this isn’t even a joke.  This really is the sort of thing you wear at work when your job is making and selling Steampunk-inspired fashion at conventions (yes, I made a matching face mask because it’s 2020 and I can’t be arsed to put on make-up). Now, of course, conventions are just a distant memory. 

Now, of course, conventions are just a distant memory.  True, we still have a website for all the fancy clothes, and I do sew the occasional corset or waistcoat for the discerning lady or gentleman (I like to imagine that they hold Plague-time masquerades in their basement, a la “The Masque of the Red Death”). 

But on the whole, the world isn’t exactly clamouring for shiny party wear right now.  Like lots of other people, I needed to find something else to do with my time.

What do people do when the world goes pear-shaped?

Me, I turned to gardening.  Or rather, farming, given how enormous the whole thing has become.  You may have gone with baking, or woodworking, or crochet.  Maybe juggling baby geese, for all I know.  Possibly you’re just being run off your feet chasing several children who are suddenly underfoot ALL THE TIME.

Musing on all this made me want to make something radically different from the beautiful, but fundamentally frivolous, confections which are my normal fare.  Something that everyone needs, whether their new hobby or life conditions involve toddlers, vegetables, or waterfowl.  Something utilitarian, yet not totally divorced from my usual design aesthetic. 

Yes, I know I’ve been making face masks both for sale and donation, but I wanted to indulge in something not quite so ruthlessly pragmatic as that.  A touch of whimsy, not just practicality, is what I was after.

So what is something everyone needs?

Pockets.  Capacious, voluminous pockets. 

No one ever said “You know, these pockets really needs to be a bit more cramped.”  But good luck trying to jam all your daily needs (your child’s spare shirt, favourite stuffy, baggy of snacks, your keys, wallet, tissues, phone, and — times being what they are — a couple of spare face masks and a few wet wipes) into your jeans pocket. 

Maybe you don’t mind lugging a giant purse around; then you’re a better woman than I.  My neck and shoulders ache enough due to my bountiful bosom without adding the weight of a loaded purse.  Plus I’d leave my head in a bus stop if it weren’t sewn on, never mind a purse.  Also, it’s kind of hard to throw a purse into your washer and dryer once it’s become contaminated by, say, a used face mask.

For my part, I need pruning shears, pens and plant labels, gloves, seed packets, garden stakes, weed knives, and about forty-two other things every time I set foot into my backyard food forest.  And now summer’s finally started here in BC, I need to haul in armfuls of zucchini.  But I’d also like to have my hands free to swat that cabbage moth off my broccoli.

So yeah, I need great honkin’ cavernous pockets.

The dress/pinafore/tunic/apron thingie (Attempt #1)

This was my first attempt at the new design:

First Attempt

It has a crossover back with a generous overlap which gives you about as much coverage as a normal dress, but you can just slide it on or off like an apron, no closure or ties required:

Back View – No Closures Required

The pockets are very, very roomy; I can fit almost anything I need into them, including a bottle of wine and a loaf of bread.  I really can wear this to shield myself from garden dirt, or while I’m flinging around flour in the kitchen.  The full wrap-around protection is fabulous against pets’ and children’s messes as well as hot stove spatters.  Importantly, unlike traditional halter-neck aprons, this dress doesn’t put ANY pressure on the back of my neck and give me tension headaches, even when the pockets are fully loaded.

Very Roomy Pockets

I could also just throw it over a T-shirt and jeans or leggings, and stroll out for some groceries while looking deceptively on-trend and put-together, as if I’d actually made an effort.  I could take along my wallet, phone, keys, water bottle, lip balm — no purse needed! — and still have my hands free to haul that watermelon into my shopping cart (or recapture a 3-year-old, if I had one of those).

The crossed back means the straps never slide off the shoulders (it drives me NUTS when purse straps do that!).  And I love not needing to tie any waist ties behind me, since I’m made up entirely of thumbs.

The back overlap makes the fit unbelievably forgiving.  I wouldn’t say one size fits all, but I’d be willing to say that three sizes might.  See how much it can expand if needed?

Tweaking the design

My rather flamboyant red flocking version did, admittedly, have some issues. 

Firstly, I think the pockets sit way too low.  I wanted them to be situated well below the point where they would add too much bulk over my tummy, but I ended up going too far down.  I can only get my hands into my pockets by extending my arms all the way, and even then, I can’t touch bottom:

Pockets Sitting Too Low

Secondly, while the fit is supposed to be loose and easy, I think it’s a bit TOO loose around my lower body, which only highlights my sad lack of hips. 

Thirdly, I decided I’m not keen on the contrast pockets and edge binding.  I intend this to be an everyday garment, and I don’t need these details to call so much attention to themselves.

Finally, while I love this fabric, it’s not exactly what I’d wear to go spread fertilizer around my tomatoes.  This isn’t a problem per se, just me already deciding that I want more than one version.

The next version (Attempt #2)

For my garden cover-up tunic/apron, I used a nice sturdy machine-washable cotton-linen blend. 

Garden Ready

Yes, the pale colour will show all of the dirt I intend to be rolling in, but I actually quite like the idea — an earth-stained, dirt-digging Kitty is a fun novelty compared to corset-wearing, fashion-designer Kitty.  Plus this fabric can bleach beautifully, and I love its breathability in the summer heat.

I moved the pockets up in the front.  It was just an inch or two, but the proportions look a lot better.  I also took in the sides a fair bit.  It still looks like a relaxed fit (it always will, since the back is technically open), but now, I don’t feel like I need a hoop-skirt to support the extra material.

Here’s what it looks like with the pockets nicely loaded up:

These pockets are seriously deep and wide; you actually can’t see most of what’s in there.  Under the lettuce and assorted garden tools are pounds of peas, bunches of radishes, a hand towel, and a few other things  which I couldn’t get to show up in the photos.  I swear, they’re bigger on the inside.

And a unisex version (but this one’s just an apron)

I even made Felix (aka Mr. Kitty) a unisex/men’s version.  This one is definitely more of a work apron and not a tunic dress, and he probably won’t wear it out of the house, partly because I made it out of neon-green giraffe print.  But he does use it all the time to hold assorted screws, hammers, nails, rulers, and bits of wood or leather during his shoemaking and carpentry adventures, and also to keep the rubber cement off his clothes (BTW, the matching mask isn’t just for viruses; it’s also quite useful for sawdust and glue fumes): 

I don’t know what it is about this apron-dress I like so much.  It just makes me weirdly happy to wander about in the garden in it, filling my pockets with lettuces and munching peas — happier than being all coiffed and laced into my full Victorian regalia.  I do know I can stuff more veg in these pockets than I can fit down my cleavage, even in my most uplifting corset.  And during this turbulent moment in time, perhaps that’s the really important thing.

P.S.: If you’re wondering about the masks, yes, I made them as well.  You can find them here and here. All the elements in the Victorian outfit are also available somewhere on our web store (except for the hat). The pinafore/apron/dress may be made available on the website as well, so look out for that in the future if you like the idea. (update 2020-07-15: yes it’s here)