Life as the textile expert at a regional history museum

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Happy New Year, Happy New MOHAI!

In one week it will be Grand Opening Weekend at MOHAI. In two weeks I'll be in New Orleans for a history conference. I'm gonna be busy, so chances are the blog will be quiet for a while. But before I send you off into the new year, here are some tidbits to tide you over:

-The Miss Universe pageant happened, which means its annual parade of bizarre national costumes also happened. I would put together a commentary for you, but it would be hard to top the one available on Tom and Lorenzo. You can read the three parts here, here, and here.

-On Thursday we had an all-staff training for grand opening (aka: "Grand Opening" as it is written in all our internal emails, or "GRAND OPENING" when it is spoken). I found out that I am a "lead" in my section and will be issued a headset for which have to memorize a list of rules and information about what channel to be on for different kinds of conversations. I'm kind of stressed about it, so a few of my co-workers have offered to radio me constantly with fake code words and crises to fix.

-During Grand Opening training I found out that one of my volunteers will be the fabulous older model from the New Day Northwest segment. She was the one bringing a little white-haired fierceness next to the poor girl wearing the bow/veil "fascinator."

-For Grand Opening we are supposed to be "dressy" but should also factor in comfy shoes for standing a long time, pants or skirts with pockets, and the fact that we will all be wearing "aprons" which will be holding a kiosk's worth of MOHAI brochures and publications. I fear that is not a clothing brief that my wardrobe supports.

-On Friday we unpacked a large box of textiles, all of which have to be frozen and vacuumed before being put away. As I checked off their accession numbers I turned to one of my co-workers and said "is it weird that I'm kind of excited to vacuum all this stuff?" She said, "For you? No."

-And to conclude 2012, here is my favorite photo of myself from the artifact install process at the new MOHAI. I am in the middle of the Grand Atrium, half way up a ladder, sewing Black Bart into his shirt, and proving that skirts are no hindrance to bizarre manual tasks.

See you in 2013!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

New Day Northwest!

As Grand Opening for the new MOHAI approaches, I'm realizing that there are no longer "normal" work days.  It used to be that when I worked at the new building, I had a quiet desk in a room with the artifacts. But now that room has been re-claimed as the temporary exhibits space, and I spent two days last week camped out in one of the galleries. All day, I listened to a short video about the Great Depression which was on a constant loop. For a break, I went over to the 1990s grunge section where the mount makers were working on a guitar mount. The video for that gallery wasn't ready yet so it was... also playing the Great Depression video for some reason. I now know all the words to the 1930s classic, "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?"

Today, I helped transport some artifacts to the set of a local TV show. I didn't appear on TV myself, but did get a first-hand look at the thrilling world of local morning programming. My favorite segment before ours was "One outfit three ways" which was earth-shattering information on wearing a dress with different things to make it look different. The clip is sort of long, but I find much of it deeply comical. Why?
- There is some pretty good theme music / graphics
- You get to find out about the new Blake Sheldon Christmas CD (I passed on my free copy)
- Animal print apparently counts as a neutral now
- You get to see a ridiculous "fascinator" which consists of a sparkly bow and a piece of veil
- The third "dress" styled three ways is a skirt. Did you guys know you can wear a skirt with different tops??? CRAZY.

During the segment, the Executive Director of the museum turns to me backstage and says "Sears? Kardashian collection? Hot pink blazer? Sounds like a bad idea to me." Bless you, Leonard.  

Ok, so here is the MOHAI clip. The best part here is that the curator (who is a local expert but not on the museum staff) actually made use of the gloves I laid out for him and commented to the camera that he was following protocol because they were artifacts. He only managed to get one on though, and so just sort of holds the other one in a loose dangle for the rest of the segment. 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Chicken Wire Christmas

This was sort of an exhausting week at work. I mean, my job is never that rough because I don't work as a miner or a greeter at Walmart--but I did spend three days watching a team of people attempt to move a 2,000 pound piece of wood. It alternated between being boring and stressful. Boring: We're going to spend these four hours just adding more straps to it. Stressful: Was that section of bark always like that? Did it shift? Are we putting too much pressure on it? Too many straps? Boring: Boy, those bolts sure do take a long time to remove! Stressful: IT'S STARTING TO ROLL! LOWER THE FORKLIFT! GET OUT OF THE WAY! (everything was fine, but we did all have a pretty serious 5 second adrenaline rush).

But if there was another theme this week other than "log move" it was "chicken wire scarf." When I was writing my thesis about John Doyle Bishop, I learned about the signature scarf that he produced with a chicken wire pattern.

First of all, it is awesome because it is something he designed, and is a reference to his childhood growing up on a chicken farm in Idaho. This re-interpretation of a not particularly glamorous part of his history was a move that my thesis advisor called "a very Chanel thing to do". It is also cool because there are photographs of him wearing the scarf and, of course, Elsa Schiaparelli wearing one too. 

Finding a Bishop scarf has been a constant goal of mine for some time now. After months of nothing, I somehow found TWO in one week. First, a red one popped up on ebay. Then, I found a gray one at this house that I was visiting. I had gotten an email at work from a man who was cleaning out an old home owned by two sisters. He said there was a lot of vintage clothing and the museum could come take its pick (yeah, obviously I shouldn't be complaining about my job because it is awesome). Sure enough, the house was full of treasures, and I found the scarf in one of the last piles I looked through. I also found some ostrich leather shoes, a bright green 1970s Oscar de la Renta evening gown, and a so-hideous-its-awesome 1990s corduroy ensemble from Eddie Bauer. 

On Tuesday I won the ebay auction (I was the only one who bid) and it arrived in the mail yesterday. The scarf from the house visit has to go straight to the museum, but ebay one is mine! I'm excited to wear it, but I'm discovering that a big red scarf is kind of a hard thing to pull off. 

Here I'm either a pirate or Rhoda from Mary Tyler Moore

"I'm going to have to have my grandson explain the internet to me again"

"Your nearest exit may be behind you!"

"Life on this collective farm is very difficult"

"Gosh, do you think Bobby will be at the sock-hop tonight?"

"Dude. Pot is totally legal now in Washington."

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Odds and Ends

Here are some weird work-related things I've been up to:

-We recently acquired one of the original driving consoles from the Seattle Monorail. It is a pretty cool artifact, which you can sort of see in this picture here. Basically it is an L-shaped metal thing with a bunch of dials and knobs and a chair. I was charged with cleaning it. My method of choice? Q-tips and a jar of mild metal cleaner--wielded while crouching on the floor and trying to keep my skirt in some sort of modest configuration over my legs.

-Another new accession was a 1930s doll that was purchased from a Seattle toy store. As I started cataloging it I realized that I was going to have to put a number on every single piece of clothing she had, no matter how tiny. Hard objects (plastic, metal, wood etc.) usually get printed numbers that are adhered with a removable resin, and those numbers can be made quite small. Fabric usually gets numbers written out on twill tape and sewn in--but the twill tape we use is pretty bulky. These clothes were so small and delicate I needed another solution. So I wrote numbers on Tyvek as small as I could and then sewed it down on one side. It turned out pretty well

Note the printed number on the doll and the tyvek tags on the clothes
And before anyone gets up in arms about the fact that I am touching the object with my hands: Clean hands are actually recommended instead of gloves when doing something that requires a lot of dexterity--like trying to make tiny, tiny stitches.

-Do you remember Black Bart? Well, he is out of his crate and ready for action! On Friday I had to hang out with him while the mount makers prepared his mechanized mount. Unlike other projects though, which are done in the privacy of our artifact staging room, this was happening in the center of the grand atrium. So as people came into work and donors passed by for tours, I was there authoritatively guarding a shirtless man in tight pants, lying flat on his back on a table. Then, when we lifted him up to test the mount, I noticed a bunch of scratches so I dutifully took a picture to document the issue:

Yep, just fillin' the work camera with inanimate artifact butt pics.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Today we had an all staff meeting where the main topic was GRAND OPENING which is now a mere MONTH away. We got multiple explanatory handouts, printed spreadsheets of daily assignments, and early reminders about taking breaks and eating so we don't pass out. As stressful as it sounds I'm looking forward to it. The only serious bad news was confirmation that the V.I.P. opening is cocktail attire rather than black tie as I was previously told. Ugh. Now I have to re-think my whole dressing concept for the night.

We also got an update on press coverage, and it was announced that our director, creative director, and historian have been co-named on a Seattle Magazine list of the most influential people of 2012.  We all applauded but then the director cut in with "Well, actually we are just stand-ins representing the whole MOHAI team. So really it is the whole team that made the list--that means you!" Aw. Thanks Leonard. Now I can proudly say that it was implied that I was part of a group of people who made a list of the most influential Seattle people of 2012.

Speaking of teams, here is a previously untapped font of historical delight I just discovered: old photos of sports teams. I was searching for some photos of athletic clothing in MOHAI's online photo database, and started coming across images like this:

Ice Hockey Team for the University of Washington, c. 1921. PEMCO Webster  & Stevens Collection,  MOHAI
All I'm saying is that if the NHL made pomade hair mandatory and switched from oversized polyester jerseys to tight, long sleeve, black shirts, then maybe that is a sport I would watch.

University of Washington Football Team, c. 1903. William Jennings "Wee" Coyle Photograph Collection, MOHAI
I don't even know where to start with this. Very awkward guy with the substantial wavy hair in the middle row? Pop-out-the-hip model poser on the upper right? Those weird things around their necks? Some comment about padded, pillowy thighs?

And my absolute favorite: 

Crescent Manufacturing Company Bowling Team, c. 1923. Crescent Manufacturing Collection, MOHAI
How nerdily dapper is this crew? Can you read their sweaters? Crescent was a local spice manufacturing company, and their most famous product was a maple flavor substitute called Mapleine. The team was called "The Mapleines" and they were the Commercial Bowling League Champions of 1922-1923. I realize these are grown men who probably had very complex lives and personalities but all I have to say is ADORABLE. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Spot the Mennonite

Here is a crazy bit of trivia I learned this week:

Rap artist Kanye West and fashion designer Mark Fast
One of the people in this photograph was raised Mennonite and went to Bible College with a second cousin of mine. GUESS WHICH.

Ok, so you can probably guess. Every Mennonite knows that the last name "Fast" is a total giveaway.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

This Week In Anxiety Dreams

So I had another work-related anxiety dream this week. I was doing a last minute check of this kimono that is going on exhibit and I saw something that looked like bug evidence...and then another thing that could be bug evidence...and then something that was definitely a dead bug...then something larva shaped that moved when I poked it...then an adult bug that was definitely moving...and O GOD THIS WHOLE THING IS CRAWLING WITH BUGS.

First off, I'd like to pause for a moment and bask in what a ridiculous museum-specific nightmare that is. Only someone who has weekly discussions about integrated pest management has crap like that show up in her subconscious.

But second, for all my talk about how stressful things are at the museum right now, I don't really feel riddled with anxiety on a constant basis. Not every day is stressful, and I'm pretty good at unwinding in the evening. My roommate and I spend most nights enjoying the trashiest, most mindless shows that Hulu and Netflix have to offer. When I woke up from the bug dream I was sort of like, "Really, brain? I give you RuPaul's Drag Race and Say Yes to the Dress to work with, and you create a pest-based nightmare instead of some mash-up where drag queens go shopping for wedding dresses?!"

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Grand Opening

This week I had my first anxiety dream about MOHAI's grand opening.

Oh, wait, first I should probably do this:


Ok, back to your regularly scheduled blog programming. 

On Thursday we were reminded that we have 30 working days left before the Grand Opening, assuming we don't start working weekends. That night I had a dream that I was working at the Armory and everything looked about as done as it is now: plastic and masonite protecting the floors, empty cases, and painters tape everywhere. I looked outside and saw that people were lining up already for the opening. I was about to send them away, but then someone explained to me that we were opening in 5 hours. I started to panic, but everyone else was shockingly calm and almost chastised me for being so irrational. "Well," they shrugged, "We still have five hours," as if that was somehow a generous amount of time. 

It isn't all stress at MOHAI these days. On Wednesday my department pulled off a pretty awesome Halloween prank in which we all dressed up as one of the guys on the move crew. Bask in the sheer glee emanating from this photograph: 

Honoree "Hollywood Hair" Jeff is in the center, being a good sport about the fact that we bought ratty $10 wigs to represent his defining feature. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Nightmare on Lake Union

It's a special Halloween blog post! 

Two Terrifying Tales
of work life at
The South Lake Union Armory

1. I'm going to kill this tall, blond bitch

One of the larger artifacts going on display at the new museum is a life-size mannequin of a famous Japanese court lady, which was a gift to Seattle from the city of Kyoto. Well, larger is a relative term because we also have an airplane and a few vehicles on display, but she is certainly bigger than a can of salmon or a glue pot. This week we had to take her out of her crate and lift her onto her mount, which required several steps and three people to help.

She is made to look very realistic: glass eyes, eyelashes, real hair, and teeth visible through parted lips.  One of the mount makers said they thought she was creepy, but I thought she wasn't so bad as far as fake people go. But after a while we were all joking around and making fun of her and how much trouble she was giving us with the mount.

When we lifted her for the last time I felt a tug at my neck and looked down to see my necklace caught in her fingers. No, not caught. The chain was being perfectly held in her porcelain hands exactly as if she had grabbed me. "She's got my necklace!" I yelped. The mount makers looked up and stared wide-eyed as I tried to carefully wrestle the chain from between her fingers.

For the rest of the day the head mount maker was eager to tell everyone the story. "Did you hear that the Geisha tried to choke Clara?"

2. Water

At about 10am on Wednesday, the facility manager at the Armory strode into the gallery where we were installing and informed us that the city had shut off our water for about two hours due to some construction on the street outside. Not they were about to shut off our water, they had. That meant no bathrooms for two hours effective immediately. As soon as he said it, you could sense everyone in the room doing a quick mental bladder assessment. Full? Empty? Suddenly full now that I'm thinking about it?

"Well, there are Port-o-Potties in the park outside." Those things? The ones that spread a stink radius five feet deep and haven't been cleaned since Spring? I'd rather we were next door to the Bates Motel. You know they have running water.

The day dragged on. Everyone was grumpy and dehydrated, too afraid to drink anything lest the need become worse. Four hours later, still no water. At 3:00 I demanded an update. "Yeah, so it turns out they turned off the wrong pipe and they aren't sure when it will be back on but probably by morning." This was insanity.

I heard a rumor that our neighbors at the Center for Wooden Boats were hauling lake water out in a bucket and using that to flush the toilets. So I walked over there to ask.

"Hi! I'm from MOHAI! Are your toilets working?"
"Nope. No water."
"Um...I heard something about a bucket?"
"Oh, yeah sure. It's outside."

When I returned home that evening I was dizzy with excitement to be back in civilization. But was it really over? Or would I be forever haunted by the horrors I had endured that day?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Vanity, Part II

Tragically, this is my flirty "How YOU doin'" face
So last week I became one of those people who posts pictures of what they are wearing for other people to comment on (praise only, please) and was roundly smacked down when the event I was dressing for was cancelled. This week I got another, much-needed dose of humility.

On Sunday I felt an irritation in my eye which I couldn't seem to wash out with either contact solution or tears of agony. It happened right when I was about to leave to hang out with a friend, and I had to cancel and give the lamest, most made-up sounding excuse of "something got in my eye and it hurts real bad."

Putting my contacts in actually made it feel better, so I just carried on and assumed it would work itself out. On Monday it was still hurting, and my parents urged me to go to a doctor. It seemed weird to go to a doctor for something so whiny and small, and I still had to fill out all the same paperwork and answer all the usual doctor questions, most of which were about ladybusiness. I know there is good reason for it, but when the nurse asked when my last period was and I just wanted to be like I'M PRETTY SURE MY EYE ISN'T PREGNANT.

Luckily I didn't scream that at anyone, and ten minutes later the doctor extracted a small, malicious-looking dark speck from my left eyelid. My eye felt way better, but the doctor suggested I take a break from my contacts for a couple of days and switch to glasses.

I was totally fine with this plan since I had recently updated my prescription and gotten a nice, cool new pair of glasses. My old ones were cloudy in one eye (don't ask) and the prescription was terrible, so I only wore them while getting in and out of bed. The new ones are thick-rimmed and distinctive, and I hesitated to start wearing them because the look would be a dramatic change. I needed to pick the right time, I thought, because I would get questions and comments about them all day.

So I wore them to work on Tuesday...and not one single person commented. Not one. The next day I was at a different site with a different group of people so I tried the experiment again. I made it half the day with no comments, and eventually the grand total squeaked up to two. People who see me all the time didn't say a word. I was sure it was going to be some kind of earthshaking change and I would have to calm everyone down and assure them that life would somehow go on as before. Instead, this only child was once again reminded that she is not the center of the universe, and not that many people are paying attention to what is going on in my face region.

So who were the two prize winners of the "something is different about Clara" sweepstakes? One was my friend Curt, who I am friends with outside of work and sees me all the time. The other was the museum's attractive Austrian janitor Karl, who noticed right away and cooed "they look good on you" in his flirty, germanic accent. Oh Karl, stop.

Oops. What was that about humility?

Confusing Project Runway-Based Emotions

For the two of you who follow this blog and watch Project Runway, I feel compelled to comment on the finale. 


A few weeks ago I declared Dmitry's fashion week collection to be ugly, despite my love for his vampire good looks and bitchy commentary.

Well...that ugly collection just won him the season. I was thrilled to see him win, but I stand behind my previous comments. The collection was well made but it was overworked, weirdly styled, and minimally innovative. Many are saying that hippie Fabio deserved the win, and I'm fine with that, but his didn't excite me at all either. I wish I could take credit for this quip, but I read somewhere that Fabio's clothes looked like they were for a woman who lives in New Mexico and buys a lot of Georgia O'Keefe prints. Stacked up against the best collections of years past, there wasn't anyone this year who deserved the win.

The bottom line is that the designers were given a mere five weeks to put their collections together. In seasons past they have had four or five months. OF COURSE the entire output was lackluster.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Keeping It Casual

This week I faced a serious clothing conundrum: What to wear to a meeting at the corporate offices of Tommy Bahama? I wanted to look professional, but I didn't want to show up in my favorite "I mean business" dress and discover that the person I was meeting with was wearing a sarong and flip-flops. I found the issue so comical and intriguing that I posted it to facebook and even uploaded one of those narcissistic pictures in the mirror of what I eventually chose.

To my credit: No duckface
The bottom line though was that I was really, really excited about this meeting...which made it all the more embarrassing when five minutes before I was about to leave I got an email saying they would have to reschedule. As I banged my head against my desk, one of the the people I work with said, "Well, I guess they have a casual approach to keeping appointments, too." Ooooh! BURN ON TOMMY BAHAMA.

So what was I so stoked about? Since when is "resort casual" my aesthetic? Well, it isn't. But I've only recently found out that Tommy Bahama is a Seattle-founded and Seattle-based company, which means it is suddenly fascinating to me. I mean, it seems strange that Tommy Bahama is from Seattle, right? Our region isn't exactly known for its warm, beachy climate. In fact, there is only one Tommy Bahama store in the city of Seattle, and it opened around a decade after the company was founded. So what gives?

Well, there is a much bigger story about the jeans and casual wear industry in Seattle. It started with Brittania in the 1970s and then Generra and Union Bay in the 1980s. Brittania is credited with being one of the first to market faded denim in the US, and all three were innovators in teen wear.   The companies took advantage of the port and Seattle's proximity to Asia, and they were some of the first to have designers stateside and production overseas. That particular innovation would eventually be devastating to the US garment industry, so while it is difficult to applaud, it is also impossible to deny that it was an important and influential business model. These days, almost all of our clothes are made overseas.

But let's talk about something more cheerful. Remember Hypercolor?

Original Hypercolor clothing was invented and made by Seattle-based Generra. And you thought our only contribution to 90s fashion was grunge!

Brittania and Generra have since fizzled, but Union Bay is still kicking and has its headquarters in a building on Lake Union. There are also several companies that have been started by former employees of the big three. Tommy Bahama has three cofounders: two of which had started at Brittania and then were major players at Generra, and one who was the former vice-president of Union Bay.

So it turns out Seattle wasn't a risky, off-the-map choice for Tommy Bahama, it was was an obvious and easy one. Seattle actually ranks fourth in the nation as a center for fashion design and apparel talent according this fascinating article.

The jeans industry and the companies that grew out of it is something I'd like to know more about, and I'd like to see that story represented in the MOHAI collection. Of course, recently-made casual wear is never what someone thinks to donate to a history museum. I think most people would be shocked to hear that I roll my eyes when I get an offer for yet ANOTHER 1880s wedding dress, but would jump for joy over some 1980s Seattle branded jeans.

Scratch that. Not jump for joy. I would do one of those dance moves from the Hypercolor commercial. Running man with extra side-order of flailing arms.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Freude Schöner Götterfunken!

This week I celebrated the anniversary of my return to Seattle. One year ago I arrived by train from New York and started my fantastic job at MOHAI. I still miss many things about NYC, but overall being in Seattle has been wonderful and I still feel blessed to be here doing what I'm doing.

In recognition of my happy, celebratory feelings, it was appropriate that on Friday I got to sing Beethoven's 9th symphony at Benaroya Hall. This summer I auditioned for the Seattle Choral Company, but had second thoughts about joining when the audition alone was way more intense than I expected (to give you an idea: I scored a zero on the French portion of the language exam). Instead, I decided to join their "festival chorus," a group of singers they call upon occasionally for larger choral works that require a bigger sound. This year, they needed extras for the choral finale of Beethoven's 9th. I've never sung it, but my German is ausgezeichnet compared to my French, and I already knew the basic tune. You probably do too.

I've listened to the full 9th Symphony before, but that was pretty much how I pictured it. Lots of fun German words, a big cheering crowd, and John Lennon on the harmonica. Well, I was in for a shock. Sure, the chorus gets several refrains of the "Ode to Joy" but there are a lot of other parts too, and for most of it the sopranos are at the top of our range, trying to belt out text and high As at the same time. Flip to about the 8:30 mark in the video below and you'll have an idea of how ridiculous it gets by the end:

The orchestra is sawing away as the choir tries to hastily screech out words like "umschlungen," "Sternenzelt," and "Götterfunken." I heard choir members joke that Beethoven must have hated singers, and after a few grueling rehearsals I was pretty convinced that his genius was best enjoyed as an audience member.

On the night of the concert, our director told us to "leave nothing on the table." The choral part comprises about 15 minutes of singing and it's over. Our rehearsals lasted for 2 hours and thirty minutes each, and so learning the piece felt like a marathon. But in performance it was more like a sprint, and so he was telling us to push toward the end and have nothing left after the last measure. It was stirring advice, and in performance the piece finally felt like the joyful thrill it was intended to be.

So happy anniversary Seattle! You fill me with Freude.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Let Me See Your Quaker Face

I couldn't think of one story worth a long post this week, so here are several short stories, resulting in one giant post.

Quaker Face

Yesterday I did something I've never done before: I went to a high school football game. My roommate (a teacher) invited me, and I was strangely intrigued by the prospect. My high school didn't have a football team, so everything I knew about the experience was from TV and movies. Admittedly, the Seattle HS football scene isn't exactly like small-town Texas (probably 'cause, you know, there are other things to do here on a Friday night) but it was pretty fascinating nonetheless. There were cheerleaders, a marching band, and the team even charged through a big piece of paper when they came out after halftime. I was watching the Franklin Quakers, so the only thing missing was some sort of terrifying Ben Franklin mascot.

Or maybe just the skeezy one from that episode of The Office

Near the end of the third quarter, the cheerleaders started this cheer that everyone seemed really excited about. They chanted something, and then said "let me see your alligator!" and everyone did snapping jaw motion with their arms. Next they said "let me see your dougie" and then some little dance move thing happened. And last they said "let me see your QUAKER FACE" and then time stood still as my brain was like "What is happening right now? What is Quaker Face? What could it possibly be??" All my Quaker friends from Earlham materialized in an apparition before me as I threw up my hands in confusion.

Then time started again. It turned out to be some sort of motion with hands on the side of the face. WHAT DOES IT MEAN, CHEERLEADERS? WHAT DOES IT MEAN??

Welcome to Bellevue

On the other side of Lake Washington stands a city called Bellevue, which is a strange land that Seattleites make fun of. The feeling is mutual.

As I crossed the bridge and took the first exit, right away I saw something I had never seen before.

"Huh," I thought. "So THAT is what a Mitt Romney yard sign looks like."

Girl. No. 

This week I bought an awesome vintage dress that I had tried on a few days earlier and came back for because I couldn't stop thinking about it. Seriously, this dress is going to blow everyone's minds when I wear it. Get ready.

Anyway, while I had it on, the woman at the store was, of course, trying to convince me to buy it. That's what salespeople do. At one point she pointed to the beading and said, "This is very nice workmanship. It is definitely couture." I was like:

Girl. No. That does not work on me. Don't use words you don't understand.

Things Dmitry Said Today

Yeah, you saw it coming. I still want to talk about Dmitry. The problem is, I usually watch Project Runway either Friday night or Saturday morning, so when I blog on Saturday, it is all I can think about.  

Remember when I was excited for him to serve up sequins for the Rockette challenge? Well, it was awesome. First of all, we got treated to hearing him say "Rahkyette" about 10 times, and then he started snarking to the camera about how boring another designer's dress was. He actually said this: 

Hilarious. I'm going to make that a daily affirmation. 

This week they had a sort of dumb challenge to design baby clothes, and as part of it they gave them all baby dolls that cried constantly. They even made them take them home to their apartments that night. In the morning, they showed the babies all screaming, and the bleary-eyed designers scrambling to calm them. Dmitry was glaring at his baby over his pillow, and then said to the camera:

"I forgot. I am a father now."

When they made it to the workroom, Tim came in and said, "Good morning designers. How was your evening and night?"

Dmitry responded: "I barely had time to put my pants on."

Yeah, So I Figured Out How To Add GIFs To The Blog

I think it is really going to spice things up around here. 

Thanks, Michael. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Fond Farewells to the Elevator Machinery Room

When I talk to Seattle people about my job, one of the first things I get asked is, "Oh! Have you guys moved yet?"

What they mean is "has MOHAI moved to its new location and opened to the public?" but what I hear is "please tell me lots of details about the MOHAI move process" (I'm the worst).

The fact is, there is no one move. Soon after I started, we moved artifacts out of an old storage location and into a new one.  This summer, staff started moving to our new Georgetown facility. The first wave of artifacts soon followed, and are still arriving in batches. Of course artifacts have also been moving to our new building in South Lake Union, and the rest of the staff will move there in about a month.  And yesterday, I moved.

At "old" MOHAI in Montlake, I had my own little office, complete with dim lighting and loud elevator noises. Here is how it looked just before the movers arrived:

And here is my new space:

First off: LIGHT. I brought my whole arsenal of lamps with me from my old office and now they are just lined up helplessly in the corner. Second: WINDOWS. Yeah, ok they aren't to the outside, but no collections person expects that. I have a great view of the hallway and collections storage, and that is a heck of a lot more cheerful than a cinder-block wall. Third: HUMAN INTERACTION. There aren't people visible in the photo, but there are lots around. The rest of my department moved to the new space months ago, and I've been spending a lot of quiet days alone in my old office. I'm looking forward to feeling more connected and not worrying that if I fall asleep at my desk I might get forgotten and locked inside the building. Here, if I fall asleep at my desk, everyone will see and make fun of me (the windows help with that). 


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Your New Favorite Movies

I just couldn't resist writing an extra post about Dmitry and his rickrack, but I promise this isn't going to turn into a Project Runway recap blog. This here is my real post for the week.

This week at work it was back to pushing boobs around and building beer guts. You know what I'm talking about--mannequin dressing.

When the new MOHAI opens in December, our first temporary exhibition will be about movie theaters and filmmaking in Seattle.  For the show, we are borrowing costumes from a local company that dressed a number of recent films that used Seattle as a location. The only problem is that most recent films set in Seattle actually use Vancouver for filming (something about taxes), and so actual films made in Seattle tend to be sort of obscure and little known. So, to get you all hyped up about the costumes I'm dressing for Celluloid Seattle, your assignment is to become obsessed with the following movies:

Stephen King's Rose Red

This was a 2002 made-for-TV movie which ended up being forgettable for everyone except those involved in Seattle-area historical societies. The story about a haunted Seattle mansion was totally fabricated, but the marketing campaign tried to get people thinking it was a true story--much like the Blair Witch Project had done a few years earlier. They set up a fake University website and had a faux documentary about the history of this non-existent building. The result was that lots of people were fooled and started contacting places like MOHAI try to find out more. When told it was just made up, some became angry and assumed that we were either misinformed or part of the cover-up. Historylink has a pretty hilarious run-down of all the inquiries it received, which includes comments like "If the story of Ellen Rimbauer is not true then where did the photos come from?" and "The unaccounted for bodies of those who visited the mansion should be proof enough...who are you to depict which are true and which are false?"

The movie is mostly set in the present day, but luckily the costumes we have were worn by ghosts from more fabulous historical eras.


Grassroots came out this year and is due on DVD soon. It actually looks kind of great.

On the long list of things I could never have guessed I would do in life:
#438: Scrutinize a movie trailer in order to better understand the body proportions of Jason Biggs

Ira Finkelstein's Christmas

Also looks kind of fun, right? It was filmed partially in West Seattle and in nearby Bavarian-themed town Leavenworth.  At about 40 seconds in you get a great view of Elliott Gould's grandpa costume which we have for the exhibit. Hardly haute couture, but the printed shirt is Tommy Bahama which is a local brand. I think it's a nice touch. 

With this movie and Grassroots, it's a reminder that most costume designers don't spend their time churning out Elizabethan gowns. Generally they work with ready-made pieces, and have to put outfits together that match the life and personality of each character. If you make the wrong choice with a period piece, only nerds like me will notice.  But if you dress a contemporary movie, you have to tap into people's present understanding of what certain styles and colors mean. If you put a dark toned, structured blazer on a retired Floridian, everyone is going to feel that it looks wrong. 

The movie was made in 2011 and was shown at the Seattle International Film Festival, but I think it has yet to have a general theatrical release. It might be coming soon to a theater near you!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Dmitry Update

Thanks for all your kind words about the various traumas I endured last week. I'm doing better. The work thing will probably haunt me for a long time, but the actual event is over so at least I can sleep at night. Love continues to be dead, but a reasonable facsimile is still available in the form of Jane Austen novels.

As for Project Runway, I tried to seal up my heart and start separating myself from this season, but then this happened:

That would be a childhood photo of Dmitry, dressed up in what appears to be a drum major uniform with extra rickrack. As part of a challenge about personal and cultural heritage, the designers were surprised by visits from loved ones and shown photos from their past. Dmitry started crying when his friend Irina played him a video of his father in Belarus, offering words of encouragement. It was a heart-melting moment. 

Look! He already has an affinity for blonde ladies!

(For the record I'm aware that Dmitry is probably gay. Not to make blanket judgments about opposite-sex friendships, but the presence of a lifelong, female best friend is a possibly an indicator. His low V-neck t-shirts are another. But who cares? He also probably doesn't live in a Dracula castle either.)

THEN not only did Dreamy Dmitry go on to win the challenge, but we found out that next week they were going to be dressing the Rockettes. At first I was worried for him, but then another blog pointed out that Dmitry "Strictly Ballroom" Sholokov might have this one in the bag. Oh yeah. He used to be a ballroom dancer and probably learned to sew by making his own costumes. I bet he practically grew up in stretch polyester. 

Contemplating this, Olivia and I proceeded to have the following offensive conversation:

"Yeah, I feel like Eastern Europeans love their sparkles."

"For all I know sequins are the national currency of Belarus."

"In old country we put sequin on everything."

"But then we have great sequin drought of 1987."

"Yes, it was very difficult time. Is why I come to America."

Ah Dmitry, you know I'm just jealous because if I ever had to turn to my family heritage for a fashion challenge, I'd be stuck trying to reinvent the Mennonite head covering. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Everything is Terrible.

Here is why this week really sucked, in reverse order of suckitude:

3. Dreamy Dmitry made an ugly finale collection

If you know me, you know I love Project Runway. I own the first five seasons on DVD and used to clear my schedule whenever it was on. But the move to Lifetime has been rough, and I thought a low point had been reached when Gretchen won instead of Mondo in Season 8. But the real low point was when I just stopped watching Season 9 because I realized I was dreading each episode and I felt actively anxious and unhappy while watching. I made it through All-Stars but it felt like a chore. 

So I was pretty sure I was going to watch little, if any, of Season 10. But Olivia and I ended up watching a few and got hooked, mainly because we fell in love with Dmitry Sholokov, the hilarious, ballroom dancing Belarusian who looks like younger, hotter incarnation of Professer Snape. His thick-accented quips have single-handedly brought the joy of Project Runway back into my life. 

So far, he has made some great dresses but hasn't won a challenge. I was hoping his "always the bridesmaid never the bride" story would be similar to that of Jay McCarroll, who uttered that line just before producing one of the best finale collections to date and winning Season 1. But this week the remaining designers showed at fashion week and Dmitry's was...kinda bad. Which means he won't win. Then again none of the collections were particularly exciting, so once again, a season of Project Runway is destined to collapse into one giant letdown. 

2. Love Is Dead

I probably shouldn't be dreaming of moving to Eastern Europe so I can live in a castle and have pale babies with Dmitry because the news came this week that love is dead and we should all give up.  

If you have been wondering why people are sobbing openly in the streets or why pints of Ben & Jerry's are sold out at your local grocery store, you must not have heard that all-time awesome couple Amy Poehler and Will Arnett are breaking up. 

Every time I chuckled with schadenfreude over some overexposed celebrity couple going bust, I wondered if I was just hard-hearted toward love and if I would ever be upset to hear about the break up of two people I don't know. And for years the answer was obvious: Amy and Will. Besides both being two of the funniest people I can think of, they seemed like they really had a loving, respectful, fun, equal marriage. 

So if they can't make it work, it means that love must be broken and that we should all just crawl into bed with a box of doughnuts and commence eating our feelings. 

1. Ugh

This week something very, very frustrating happened at work and it appears that there is nothing I can do about it. Since this is a public blog, I can't tell you about it, but I can tell you that my level of sheer rage on the subject has had me listening to Mozart's Queen of the Night aria on repeat for cathartic comfort. If you're not familiar, here is a clip. 

Yep. That is pretty much how I feel.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Beefy Arms Brigade

On Monday at the new museum, I had the exciting task of monitoring the moving crew while they worked with some of our larger artifacts. Basically that meant I was supposed to watch them with a steely, judgmental stare that says "under normal circumstances I would rip your head off for touching an artifact like that, but that thing weighs 1400 pounds so I suppose I need your help to move it." The project included taking the wheels off of a cart and reassembling it in a gallery, and moving our famous racist fish-gutting machine into place.

After watching for a little while, I realized I was actually having fun witnessing the whole process. It was just so different than my normal workday. I work mostly with women, and manual tasks are completed slowly and methodically. Fabrics get vacuumed with brush attachments that aren't much bigger than a quarter, and an entire canoe can get cleaned with a q-tip. But here was this pack of tough guys hammering axels into place, bracing things with giant pieces of wood, and using exciting tools like "winches" and "bottle jacks." For both projects they had ingenious, well thought-out plans for how to move the objects carefully and methodically, but there were still a few moments where the best option was "hand me the hammer," or "let's just see what happens if we push it really hard."

Later that week, as I was sewing padding to male mannequin arms to make them look beefier, I was struck by the bizarre presence of the faux men I have in my work life. And no, that isn't some cruel comment about the dudes who work at MOHAI-- I'm talking about this house of horrors:

That would be the mannequin that I made the aforementioned beefy arms for. How would you feel if you turned on the light in your office one morning and saw that? 

Eventually, he will have hair and hands, and will be wearing a hat, vest, tuxedo jacket, pants, and shoes. But right now he looks like some sort of pants-less, nubby-handed Frankenstein monster. 

This then brought to mind my other favorite creep-tastic collections photo:

This is Black Bart, a quick-draw cowboy arcade game from the 1962 World's Fair. Here we see him back from the conservator (where he got some face-work) and tucked into his packing crate. His shirt was removed so it could be replaced with a prop shirt.

But seriously, the whole scene with the plastic, the covered head, the tight pants, the bare chest, and the gun at the ready, it looks like he was the victim of some sex game gone awry and now his killer is trying to dispose of the evidence.

Nice arms though. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

True Tales of the Antiques Roadshow

About two months ago I got an email that the local PBS station was looking for people to volunteer for Antiques Roadshow. The deal was you had to be willing to show up at 6:30 am on a Saturday, and then work on your feet for a twelve hour day. In payment you would get a free Antiques Roadshow polo shirt, two meals, and two appraisals by the experts. I thought, "You had me at free Antiques Roadshow polo shirt."

(Just as a warning- this is a long post. If you have always wanted to know the inner working of Antiques Roadshow, this is your lucky day. If you barely care, skip to the last paragraph for the #1 best part of the story.)

We had training on the Friday before and got our jobs assigned. Some assignments seemed uninteresting, but also low pressure (standing at the front door and greeting people) and others seemed exciting and high pressure (working with the camera crew but wearing a headset and running around all day). In the end, I played my cards exactly right and found the perfect job: working on the set, directing people into the line for the Rugs and Textile appraisals.

When the day started, I chatted with the appraisers and tried to casually let it slip that I knew a bit about fashion and was sort of an expert on local stuff. One of them was actually interested, and before I knew it I had him jotting down notes about John Doyle Bishop.

The set at the beginning of the day before the hoards arrived
Most of the day consisted of managing a line of people. Basically the Antiques Roadshow set is one big circle, with tables of appraisers along the interior perimeter. In the center of the circle is the filming crew and the areas for the on-camera appraisals. The appraisers are divided into categories (pottery, furniture, Asian art, prints), and there is supposed to be a short line in front of every table. When you watch the show, you see lots of people milling around in the background: these are people lined up for appraisals and the volunteers trying to jostle them into the right position. On the outside of the big circle are much, much longer lines for each category. My job was to walk people from the longer hidden line, into the shorter on-set line, and to keep people from sneaking directly into the shorter line. Going to the Antiques Roadshow means lots and lots of waiting (6,000 people came through with two items each), so the main thing that was stressful was dealing with grumpy people in the longer line. By the time they saw me, most had been waiting in different kinds of lines for several hours. But after a few seemingly-tense situations, I discovered that the biggest grumps transformed into cheerful, wide-eyed folk as soon as I led them on set.

Speaking of waiting, I realized that if you were excited about the possibility of getting an on-camera appraisal, you should be careful what you wish for. If an appraiser thought you had a TV-worthy story they would call a volunteer like me over, I would go to the volunteer in my section with a headset, and he would send in a request for a producer to come to the table. The owner of the object was sent away to wait, and when the producer came over the appraiser pitched the story to them and they decided if it is camera-worthy. Getting on television is also the goal of the appraisers because it means exposure for them and their business. So at any given time, there are a number of appraisers wanting to speak to the producer. At one point, there were people with objects waiting an hour and a half just to have the producer come over and decide if they were going to get filmed. IF they were picked for filming (sometimes they weren't) they would go into the green room to get makeup and wait to be called onto set. That wait could also stretch into an hour plus.

One thing that really surprised me was how much time the appraisers at my table spent with each person. I had three experts: Connie and Steven who specialized mostly in vintage clothing and accessories, and Jim the carpet guy. All of them spent at least five minutes, and sometimes what seemed like as much as 15 or 20 with each person. It made the line move excruciatingly slow, but I don't think anyone walked way unhappy from the table. Never once did someone get a "Meh. $10. NEXT!" appraisal. No matter the value, each item got the appraiser's full attention and they told the person as much as they could.

When it was time for my own appraisals, I found out that not every table worked that way. The line for textiles was long, but some of the lines, like painting, were INSANE and so the appraisers had to work very quickly. I brought in two pottery pieces that my parents owned that we had reason to believe were somewhat interesting and possibly valuable. I saw a different appraiser for each one, but I felt like both pieces were dealt with hastily and dismissed as unimportant. I was told one was "the type of thing you see a lot at garage sales" and the other was "only $300 to $500." I walked away defeated, but later realized that they could have told me all the same information in a better way and I would have felt a lot better. $300 to $500 for a tiny tea bowl that my Dad got for free?? Hot dog!

The day ended up being longer than planned. At our 6:30 release time there were still some substantial lines, so we all just kept going. Finally at 8, when most of the lines were done or at least down to the people inside the set, they told us to go home (the appraisers apparently stayed until the last appraisal was done). I was exhausted, but it was an awesome, fascinating, totally worth-it day. They said they would make Seattle into three episodes, airing sometime in early 2013. I think there is a good chance that the back of my head will be in a shot somewhere!

Ok, but I saved the best story for last. In the middle of the day, the appraiser I had connected with in the morning called me over by name (to be fair, I had a giant name tag on) to come look at something. In front of me was a woman with several hats. "What can you tell us about John Eaton?" he asked.  I couldn't believe it! As a museum person I couldn't say anything about value (I didn't really know anyway) but I talked about his store, his career as a milliner, and his legacy as a teacher. I even slipped in something about Gigi and Voulez-Vous. I shared my knowledge with this nationally recognized appraiser and got to tell the owner of the hats something interesting that she didn't know. Totally worth waking up at 5:30 am and standing around for 13 hours!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Exotic International Weekend Getaway

Last weekend I went to Vancouver! I rolled into town via my favorite transportation method (train) and was shown around by my awesome friend Danielle. Highlights included taking advantage of the nearly equal exchange rate to buy things I didn't need, visiting the Asian "night market" where we ate fried bananas and visited a booth that was selling bouquets made of stuffed animal heads, and watching Canadian coverage of the Olympics. We also saw an outdoor movie showing of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom which I had never seen before. It was...sort of bad. I thought the three other than Crystal Skull were the good ones but it was pretty racist and had a terrible love interest who squealed "I broke a nail" at least twice. Can I get some validation here? Am I speaking Indiana Jones blasphemy?

I also saw the single coolest piece of NW Coast Native art ever:

Really highlights the terrifying "I have eight legs and a beak" quality of the octopus

But the big reason I was there was to take in a fashion exhibition at the Museum of Vancouver.
Jazz Hands!
It was called "Art Deco Chic" and was about clothing in the 1920s and 1930s. Besides the fantastic dresses, what really excited me about it was that the exhibition was within reach of what could be done at MOHAI. It was beautiful and engaging, but it wasn't on the level of the MET or the Museum at FIT where all the mannequins match and each room has some elaborate set. This was an impressive show at a local history museum.

You bitches are just jealous because I have real hair

The mannequins were really interesting because they didn't all match. They were clearly cobbled together from a few different sources and the curators had to do a lot of work trying to put the right dress with the right form. 

"Don't lose your heads over it! Ha Ha!" [elbow jab]
Mostly, it worked. I can't remember any being particularly creepy or strange.  

Oh wait, now I remember. Aunt Mavis there on the right seemed like she had wandered into the wrong show.

They also had some really cool accessories, particularly this purse shaped like a VW bug.

Pay no attention to the decapitated green bear in the foreground
I left brimming with ideas and dreaming of the day when I would get to put on my own fashion exhibition. And wondering if I would ever be fabulous enough to pull off a hoodie dress. 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Cheating on my Boyfriend

My co-leader for the summer walking tour I am leading (tickets on sale now!!) jokes that John Doyle Bishop is my "boyfriend" because I'm so excited by any and all things JDB. I always sort of roll my eyes at the joke because being born 70 years apart is just ONE of the reasons why I'm pretty sure it wouldn't work out between us.

But if we go with it, and decide that my "type" is fabulous gay men who worked in fashion in Seattle before I was born, then this week I definitely cheated on my boyfriend. This week I met John Eaton.

It all started innocently enough. One of my coworkers in the library was processing a new collection and came across a reference to a designer named John Eaton. Since no one seemed to know anything we started searching. First someone found an ebay listing for a photo of him. Then I found an article in the Seattle Times historical database. Before long, we knew the following things: 1) While he did design clothes his specialty was hats. He had a shop across the street from Frederick & Nelson called "John Eaton, Of Course!" and later in life he taught millinery classes in Seattle. 2) In the 1960s he was living with his "business partner" James Neher and two poodles named Gigi and Voulez-vous. Now, I don't want to jump to conclusions about men who live with other men and own poodles, but I think the implication there is pretty clear.

Be still my heart!

The more I looked, the more there was to love. First of all, it looks like he was pretty much the biggest deal in hats the city has ever had. His shop was one thing, but his major legacy was his teaching. I saw one quote that claimed all milliners currently working in Seattle either learned directly from him or from one of his students. Second, it turns out that my hunch about him being gay wasn't just an educated guess. In the 1980s the Seattle Times did a feature about gay couples in Seattle and "Jim and John" were included as a happy couple that had been together 33 years. When faced with snide remarks, James said "we chose to ignore it and act like gentlemen."

I can't wait to find out more about Eaton and let more people know about his awesomeness. Tragically for you, if you are interested in those ebay listings for the photos you see in this post, too bad. I already snapped them up. I also bought a hat of his on etsy.

Hmm. I just got a vision of myself on an upcoming episode of hoarders. My apartment will be filled to the gills with old Nordstrom ads, packages of vintage John Doyle Bishop hosiery, and Bon Marche shopping bags, and the therapist will pull something out of the rubble and say "Now, do you really need this photograph of a man and two poodles? Is he even related to you? I'm going to throw this away," and I'll be like "Noooo! I'm saving it for HISTORY."

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Calm down and put it in a bag

This week, as I expectantly searched through a photo album for insect carcasses, it occurred to me that you couldn't really be a good museum collections person if you had a crippling fear of bugs.

Artifact collections shouldn't have bugs or vermin of any kind, but part of the process of keeping that way requires an obsessive interest in bugs and evidence of bugs. We put down sticky traps, check exhibit cases for frass (bug poop), and if we actually find a bug our first instinct is to put it in a bag. I once looked down to see a small bug crawling on my hand, and my response was to walk calmly over to the collections manager's desk, show her, and ask for an insect bag. Once bagged, we looked through her chart of harmful artifact-eating insects and tried to identify it.

Bugs are also a big reason I've been doing so much vacuuming. As a precaution, we've decided every textile-based object coming off exhibit will get vacuumed, deep frozen, and vacuumed again. The freezing kills insects, and the vacuuming removes dead bugs, eggs, and dust that might be tasty to insects in the future. I haven't found any bug evidence on objects for a while, and so sometimes I wonder if all this extra vacuuming is really necessary. But last week I found some bug bits on a fabric-covered photo album, and it was actually sort of exciting and validating. With relish I paged through the album looking for carcasses, and with each one I removed, I felt like I was creating order in a chaotic world. I may not be able to fix global poverty, but I can fix this.