Sunday, December 6, 2015

Ballroom Tip: Costume Considerations, part 3

Today we continue with me detailing my personal philosophy on ballroom dance costumes, and this post is a quick one as I've been dancing and prepping for an interview all weekend.  I've discussed already that dance costumes should attract attention, and described how I evaluate the effectiveness of colors and color combinations.  I'll finish with a few posts on elements I look for in a dance dress to ensure it works for my body and skill level.

While a dance dress should attract attention, it should be flattering at the same time. This means at the very least, it should stay put while you're cha-chaing/waltzing/jiving/quicksteping around.  You will not dance as well if you are worried about your dress failing to stay on.  The biggest issue for me with this for several years was keeping my chest contained, as I hate feeling like my breasts were bouncing around without me.  This means that I stick with dresses with sturdy straps over each shoulder and with a back.  The back of the dress puts tension on the edge of the bra cups to hold them in place.  In a couple of my costumes, I actually bought a cheap, nude-colored bra, cut off the over-the-shoulder straps, and sewed the cups into place, leaving the straps with the hooks and eyes attached.  It gave me a lot of extra support.

The same logic applies to other body parts you'd like to keep under control.  Uncomfortable about your bum or thighs?  Wear fishnets and pick a costume that doesn't have cut-outs around your rear or a back that dips below the waist.  If you don't like displaying your entire arm, pick a dress that has sleeves.  I also have a red birth mark in the middle of my back, so I wear dresses with higher backs to cover it.  These things make me more comfortable and allow me to focus on my dancing and performance, which is ultimately what matters most in a competition.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Ballroom Tip: Costume Considerations, part 2

Last week, I started talking about things I consider when creating or evaluating a ballroom costume, and promised that I continue with talking about evaluating colors this week.  I find color is one of the first things I consider when coming up with a potential dress design.  In my head, certain colors only work with certain designs; something that would look elegant in royal blue is going to give a different impression in hot pink.  That is probably a peculiarity of my thought processes, but I would still say that the color of a dress deserves careful consideration.  At the very least, fabric cost is almost always independent of color, so I consider color choice as the cheapest way to add visual appeal to a dress.

I stated in my previous post that I felt one of the tasks of a competition costume is to attract attention.  The color of a dress can do this by contrasting with the surrounding colors.  To know what colors contrast, consider a color wheel.  A color wheel displays relationships between primary, secondary, and tertiary colors.  The three primary colors are red, yellow, and blue.  The secondary colors are produced by mixing two primaries and are green, orange, and purple.  The tertiary colors are made by mixing secondaries and primaries, though exactly what shade you get depends on the proportions mixed; yellow-green, orange-red, and so on fall in this group.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

October Swap Gifts Received

If I have given the impression that my swap partner has been irresponsible, I apologize.  It was neither my intention nor reality.  The post office sent me a note to pick up a package last Thursday, which I picked up Saturday.  A job interview prevented me from gloating over my goodies online until now.

As a side note, I think coding job interviews must always feel awful to all involved.  I had ninety minutes in which to throw together a project that really needs several hours and a few iterations before it would be considered a decent prototype of anything.  Meanwhile, every typing error caused error messages to spew across the screen for all to see.  It was embarrassing.  At least I did know how to do everything I was asked to do.

Anyway, on Saturday I took possession of this lovely parcel.
 It was opened to reveal these mysterious packets.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Ballroom Tip: Costume Considerations, part 1

Today's tip is going to be the first of a few I post about competitive costume considerations for ladies.  Our dresses are expensive, and it hurts to put the time and effort into acquiring a costume only to find that it doesn't quite work for you.  In this series, I'll detail some of the considerations I think through when I'm cooking up a dress design or evaluating if a dress is working for me.

Of course, in fashion every rule and guideline can be broken to great effect under the right circumstances.  These are my guidelines only, and should be taken as that.

I take a fundamental principle that a competition dress has two purposes.  First, it should make you look good.  Good is obviously a vague word that can be replaced with the adjective of your choice: sexy, elegant, flirtatious, regal, etc.  Whatever you want to look like, your dress should contribute positively to that goal.  Second, your dress should attract attention.  I do not necessarily mean it should be outrageous by breaking conventions, though of course what is outrageous is also subjective.  I mean that if your dress makes you blend into the background, it doesn't matter how flattering it is--it's not working for you as a competition dress.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Finished: Starry Night Project Bag

As mentioned previously, I took up the challenge to make items for the October 2015 Geek and Nerd Swap, and was assigned to find ways to interpret Gothic architecture and Impressionist paintings into handcrafts.  A knitted scarf took care of the Gothic side of things, so Impressionism was to be the inspiration for another handcraft.

I should point out that the specifications for the swap do not include two handmades.  A swap package is to include one handmade item, one fiber arts item (such as yarn or stitch markers), an edible goody, and a non-edible goody.  I like making two handmades because I sew as well as knit and crochet, and I think a handmade project bag, notion pouch, or needle case is an excellent way to translate a theme into a beautiful, useful item.

So I spent time staring at pictures of Van Gogh's "Starry Night," my swap partner's favorite painting, and sketched out the major elements of the image: the exaggerated moon, the hilly landscape, the church tower, and the swirling winds.  I then looked up the dimensions of the bags produced in this tutorial, and converted my sketches into panels of the correct dimensions on parchment paper.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Finished: Gothic Arches Scarf

At the end of September, I made a perhaps foolish decision.  I signed up for the October edition of the Geek and Nerd Swap on Ravelry.  The theme was Art and Architecture, and while that is not my area of expertise at all, I was unemployed and so in theory had lots of free time, if not a lot of money.  It seemed like a good project that would require a bit of research and give me something besides job applications to think about.

When partners were assigned at the beginning of the month, I found mine liked Gothic Architecture and Impressionist paintings, with a particular affection for Van Gogh's Starry Night.  She also lived in a warmer part of the US, so accessories had to be on the lighter side.  I ran with the Gothic Architecture theme in knitting.  This style is known for its emphasis of vertical elements, use of pointed arches, and bracing walls with flying buttresses.  Pointed arches and flying buttresses allowed the stone buildings to be built taller than had been possible before with stone, adding to the vertical emphasis of the buildings.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Ballroom Tip: Learn Your Partner's Part

Lady: "You know, I think the problem we're having getting to the right alignment is because of the slip pivot."
Gentleman: "What slip pivot?  There's no slip pivot."
Lady: "Yes, there is.  But it isn't working well and we aren't getting around enough."
Gentleman: "There's no slip pivot in that figure."
Lady: "Yes there is.  Watch." Lady demonstrates her steps, which include a slip pivot.
Gentleman: "Oh, you have a slip pivot.  Let me try something."
They dance the figure again, the gentleman accommodates the lady's slip pivot, and they land on the right alignment for the following figure.

I recently got a new section of foxtrot choreography, and I think I've had this conversation twice this week.  Today's tip is to learn your partner's part, regardless of gender or style.  In standard, a man needs to know when his partner has heel turns as leading them correctly requires he control his rise and fall in a specific way.  Slip pivots always require the partner on the inside of the turn wait/demonstrate a lot of sensitivity to the partner's location.  Weaves from promenade require the man to get in front of the lady, and it would help him if she didn't take a monster-size step while he does so.

Feel free to include latin-specific examples in the comments.  The principle still applies.  Not only while being aware of your partner's part help your dancing; it will also make you a better partner.  I have always been hugely impressed when I dance with a partner who knows what my weak spots are and leads to help me overcome them.  It is not a common trait in a partner, but a much appreciated one.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Ballroom tip: Consider Ankle Exercise

Today's tip is perhaps a simplistic one, but it was a revelation to me and I'd like to share it in case somebody else could use it spelled out.

The particularly eagle-eyed among you may have noticed from my modeled photos of finished socks that my ankles are not the same size.  My right ankle is a bit larger than its twin.  This is due to a nasty interaction between that ankle and a trampoline when I was 18, and to this day that ankle is more prone to twisting and collapsing if stressed.

In ordinary activities, this is not important.  Walking and running don't stress my ankle.  Dancing, however, does stress that ankle and I have had it buckle in competitions when the muscles became over-tired.  The best solution, according to my doctor and my physical therapist, was to exercise the ankle so it could correctly handle the effort.  I prefer exercises like this, particularly the releves.

The eventual up-shot was that my balance has really improved  This is particularly evident in waltz, since I can lower with much more control. So, in case you'd also like to improve your balance and avoid ankle injuries, consider adding a couple minutes of ankle exercise to your day.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Finished: Elizabeth Shawl

As I have mentioned before, my maternal grandmother is the original crochet person in my family.  I grew up with crocheted ripple afghans she had made and gifted us, and she started teaching me when I was about eight.  She stills talks about the lovely crocheted lace doilies made by the other women in her family and her friends.

When I became aware that her eightieth birthday was approaching last fall, I decided to make her a lace shawl as a birthday gift.  I selected the lovely Elizabeth Shawl pattern by Dee O'Keefe and Malabrigo Silkpaca in Polar Moon to match the description my mother gave me of "grey with some blue in it."  I cast on with my new Hiya Hiya interchangeables and knitted away, in evenings, over holidays, and on the train.
I spectacularly underestimated how long it would take me to finish this shawl.  I started in September 2014.  It took over six months from cast on to bind off, and I finished when I did in large part to having started to send 8+ hours a week on a train, primarily knitting.  The shawl then sat, unblocked for months, until I traveled to visit my grandmother in person.

The pattern was easy to use and in my opinion quite well-written.  The yarn was soft and the color lovely.  It was also extremely slippery on my metal needles, but that doesn't bother me much.
Upon my arrival at my parents' home and shortly before my grandparents' arrival to visit, I was able to take over a spare mattress and an hour of time from one of my brothers, who helped me pin out the points.  Much of dinner was spent sneaking off upstairs to check on it and then remove all the pins.  I have, unfortunately, only terrible pictures of the final shawl.  I also failed to take any pictures of my grandmother's reaction.  She first laughed at me for having missed half of dinner, and admired the shawl until she had to put it away to keep it safe from the dogs.

I think that was a good response.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

And . . . back!

I have been absent. I apologize.  My last post coincided with my current research project careening towards publication, a couple of job applications resulting in interviews, preparations to travel back to the US, preparations to move to a new country, and preparations to speak at a research conference.  Now my research project has been approved for publication and is being prepared for journal submission, the job interviews have all resulted in polite and distant “thank you for your interest but we will not be pursuing your application further” emails, the trip to the US happened and was awesome, the move to Germany is mostly complete, and the conference talk has been successfully given.  I am looking forward to a slightly more relaxed daily task-list, even if my day-job is now job-hunting.

Several blog posts will shortly be forthcoming as I recount the best craft-related aspects of my adventuring, and ballroom tip posts will be reinstated soon.  On that point, please leave a comment with any requests you may have.  I have more ideas, but I’d love to hear what you want tips on.  How to do ballroom hair styles?  What to bring to competitions?  Let me know what you want to hear about!

It's good to be more settled.  I have so much to talk about!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

New Directions

I quietly reached a milestone this week--I submitted a job application.

I have spent the last twelve years in universities, nine as a student of various stripes and three as a post-doctoral researcher.  A post-doc is what happens to someone with a PhD in science after they graduate.  They have a PhD, but don't have the experience or seniority to be a professor.  So they hunt for a research grant that lets them work on another research project for two or three years.  Post-docs oversee the day-to-day running of the research and training of students, and in large collaborative efforts like mine, start getting involved in the organization of the collaboration and publication of papers.  Most new science professors have held two or three post-doc positions prior to getting their professorship; with their PhD work, they have experience in three or four different types of work and a developed network of contacts to use in getting an assistant professorship and moving towards tenure.

This means that I have worked closely with four professors in the last twelve years and taken classes from and talked with many more.  I have the utmost respect for a research professor--it is a challenging position to do well.  From my perspective, a good professor needs to be able to wear four or five different hats.  A good research professor must be a good researcher, with a deep understanding of the history and current knowledge of their field.  They need to be critical thinkers and able to create and implement experiments and research projects.  Professors must also be good lecturers, since a large part of their time will be devoted to lecturing to hundreds of students at a time and organizing the homework and testing of those students.  They need to be good bureaucrats, since professors serve in several but not all of the positions in running departments and colleges.  They will be working in committees with each other and interacting with lots of offices and departments around a university, and need to be able to be productive in those settings.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Ballroom Tip: Dewrinkling Chiffon

While I’m complaining about finicky fabrics, chiffon is an annoyance as well--it rips and wrinkles at every opportunity.  To counter rips, sew them up as soon as possible.  Wrinkles are a bit trickier, since you can’t apply a lot of heat or steam to chiffon.  It will melt under high heat, and it will distort out of shape when steamed.
Often people say to hang wrinkled chiffon dresses in the bathroom and take a long hot shower, but that never worked for me.  My best luck in getting wrinkles out was either with an iron on the lowest setting, or to use my hair dryer on the wrinkle itself.  I actually found the hair dryer most effective.

It also helps to let chiffon shirts hang outside of garment bags if at all possible, so they aren’t bunched up.  Their own weight will help get rid of wrinkles that way.  Just drape the bodice of the dress over a hanger or curtain rod.  Try not to hang the dress from its elastic straps; lycra will stretch out under its own weight, and that gets worse when the lycra has seven layers of organza and 3000 rhinestones hanging off it. 

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Ballroom Tip: Cleaning Satin Shoes

As far as fabric choice goes, putting satin on shoes was a terribly idea.  The lovely shiny finish is gone as soon the shoe touches dirt, and satin spots when it gets wet.  The best option to keep your shoes pretty is to wear them as little as possible, and that can get in the way of practicing in them and improving your dancing. 

While I know of no way to restore the shine of new satin, you can clean your shoes to improve their appearance.  Perhaps you want to get a big scuff mark off before a special lesson or workshop.  To do so, mix up some room-temperature water and your fabric cleaning agent of choice.  A clothing detergent that can be used for hand-washing would work great.  Using a soft cloth (something that doesn’t have much of a ply, so not a dense terrycloth) wet in your soapy water, wipe off the dirt using circular motions.  I would normally wash the entire front half of my shoes this way, to avoid any extremely obvious line as to wear my washing ended.

Immediately afterwards, grab your hair blow-dryer and dry your shoes.  You don’t have to get them bone-dry, but getting most of the water out will prevent the satin from spotting.  The shine will be gone, but your shoes will be clean.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Finished: Inlay Socks

Universe, enough already.  In the past twelve days, I discovered my practice skirt had disappeared an hour before a lesson, had a horrible performance at a big competition, had a three-day disagreement with my supervising professor, and tried to rearrange plans because other professors want to reschedule a meeting into my vacation time.  Something was blocking the railroads out of Brussels last Friday, so getting to Germany to spend the weekend with my husband required changing trains three times only to skid into the final station 45 minutes late.  DB only gives refunds for delays of an hour or more.  To cap it off, the direct trains I have been using for this Belgium-Germany commute are not available now due to the summer holidays, and my next best options run at odd times and take over an hour longer than nominal.

At least the long train rides mean buckets of knitting time.  I got the Inlay socks done.
Inlay is by Hunter Hammersen and was published in the First Fall 2011 issue of Knitty.  The pattern is thorough, and I love the texture of the final fabric.  I think it gives the sock a unique look when compared to the far more common cables and lace sock patterns out there.  I never managed to memorize the entire repeat, so I kept a paper copy of just the charts in my knitting bag and referred to it often as I worked.  The pattern was worked cuff-down on two 2mm metal circular needles.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Ballroom Tip: Eraser Earring Backs

While we've been discussing things that get lost on dance floors, let's not forget earrings.  We sweat on them and whip them around at high speeds, and eventually the earring back gives up and the earring itself flies off.  It doesn't help that our earrings tend to be large, dangling, and covered in rhinestones.
One trick is to support or replace your earring backs with small erasers.  I use an eraser that I removed from a broken pencil and cut in half.  The rubber doesn't slip easily, so while it is more annoying to put your earrings on, you are much less likely to loose one.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Projects to love

Sometimes I knit a thing because it is a perfect gift for someone else.  Sometimes I knit a thing because the pattern seems perfect for the yarn, or because I find it an intriguing experiment and a chance to learn something.  The things produced are useful, but perhaps not meaningful in the creation phase.  They were produced for the end result, the result of product knitting if you will.  Sometimes, though, I am smitten, and the knitting becomes focused on the process.  I have two of those on the needles right now.

Project one is the Orchid Thief shawlette.  This is my train knitting right now, and progress has been greatly slowed by my habit of spreading it out to admire the diamonds and lovely central petals and how the yarn is all shades of blue and purple with hints of lavender and this is how knitting progress comes to a screeching halt.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Ballroom Tip: Reclaiming Rhinestones

As discussed last week, typically rhinestones falling off costumes is a bad thing.  However, there are times when you might want to remove rhinestones from a costume or accessory. For example, perhaps you stoned your shoes and the shoes have worn out. Perhaps a a bracelet broke and is no longer wearable, or a stoned hair piece ripped.  The object is no longer usable, but the stones might still be.
Start by breaking down your object if necessary.  I have taken pictures of doing this for a small hair piece, but if I were doing this to a costume, I would dismantle the costume by removing the skirts and leotard, ripping out elastics, and leaving only fabric pieces with stones.  Place the fabrics in a container big enough to hold the fabric submerged and that you don't mind having chemicals in.  Here I'm retiring a hair piece I made and no longer use, and I put it in a small plastic yogurt container.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Ballroom Tip: Replace Missing Stones

Ballgowns molt.  Latin dresses shed.  The hand-sewn fringe snaps off, and the hand-glued rhinestones peel from their backings.  Feathers are the worst; I heard a DSI commentator say that the dance floor looked like someone had shot a crow after a black feather dress had left the floor.

I find it tragic, having spent hours and hours stoning dresses.  At risk of convincing you that I am a complete weirdo, I will admit that I often pick up stones I find on the floor of the dressing room at competitions.  It seems so wrong to just leave those expensive rocks lying there.
While a few missing stones are unlikely to be noticed, a dress will start to look shabby if too many of them disappear.  To keep a dress in good condition, take the time to replace the stones.  For buying small quantities of rhinestones, I have purchased from Dreamtime Creations while living in the US and Modastrass while living in Europe and can recommend both of them.  Dreamtime Creations has the better selection of Swarovski colors, though.  For larger quantities, Chrisanne has competitive prices for Swarovski, Preciosa, and their own in-house line; Chrisanne also sells their own rhinestone glue in both large and travel-sized bottles.  DSI does as well.  Other glues often used for rhinestones are Gem-Tac and E6000.
As you can see, the Jade Anna dress has lost some sequins and stones in her first competitions, so I need to do a bit of refurbishing.  She needs to be ready to dance again for my next competition in a few weeks.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Finished: Jaywalker Socks

I am primarily a transit knitter.  Much of my knitting is done in ten minute snatches while I'm waiting for or on the bus.  Train travel, which happens about once a week for me now, is also excellent for handwork.  Big lace projects have claimed the train knitting time lately, so the bus knitting time goes to socks and hats and other simple things that can be started and stopped easily.  One shouldn't underestimate the bus knitting time, though; I spend 20-40 minutes a day on public transit of one form or another, and as the weather gets warm enough for me to knit while standing at the bus-stop, that will only increase.
This is how, while bigger projects get all the screen time, a finished pair of socks pops into the Knitbook without previous mention.  These are my recently cast-off Jaywalkers.  The Jaywalker is one of Grumperina's most famous designs and a fine example of her skill in pattern-writing.  She provides little details for a nice finish as well as ample information on the techniques used, so no previous sock experience is needed for this pattern.  The chevrons do wonders for self-patterning yarns, and as this yarn has so much patterning going on, I doubt any other pattern could compliment it as well.  The yarn is Opal, and while not soft, it is sturdy enough to handle several froggings without looking ratty.  I think I did a good job of matching yarn to pattern here.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Ballroom tip: Keep a Sewing Kit

Since my lovely new ballgown is currently ready for action, let's talk about a few things that keep those costumes ready to dance.  Regardless of your style or gender, your competition clothes are going to get damaged after being danced in.  Seams pop, skirts and floats get stepped on, buttons pull off, and decorations come loose.  Hence you should keep a small sewing kit with your costumes.

You can see above the sewing supplies I bring to a dance competition.  The needles, thread, and scissors are for dealing with small rips or popped stitches.  The safety pins are for holding things together when you're about to walk out on the floor, or in a pinch for my partner's number.  The black thread is for my husband, since we pack these things together.  This advice applies to men as weell.  Buttons on the fronts of tailsuits are unfortunately right about where the lady, in her stoned and decorated dress, makes contact with her partner; they need to be re-enforced or they will disappear, probably right before you dance a final.

You should also check your costume for damage regularly, and correct things as soon as possible.  I can attest that I have sat backstage at a competition, in costume, with needle and thread repairing a hole in a seam.  After all the money and effort that goes into our costumes, it is worth it to protect the investment.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Finished: Jade Anna Dress

It has been a hectic few weeks with travelling and train strikes and a presentation and birthdays and a competition.  I have multiple finished things to share, but let's cut to the main event, shall we?

Guys, the Jade Anna dress is done.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Ballroom Tip: Signs Your Shoes Are Dead

Our dance shoes.  They are our greatest support and our most basic need in dancing, and yet eventually we throw them out for something shiny and new.

How long a pair of shoes lasts depends heavily on how much you dance, what brand your shoes are, and to a lesser extent what kind of figures you dance.  On average, I find myself buying new shoes annually, though if accidents don't happen and I break my shoes in well, I can probably stretch that to 15-16 months.  That is with Supadance shoes and spending on average 10 hours a week wearing them.  I would kill shoes from brands like Dansport or Capezio a lot faster.  They aren't bad shoes--I actually quite like my Dansport pairs.  The cost of them being less expensive, however, is that they are less resilient.

So how do you know when to go looking for a new pair?  Competition shoes can stay competition shoes until they are too ugly to be on the floor.  Depending on how well you maintain them, that can be a very long time.  Even satin shoes can be washed to remove the worst spots, though they won't be as shiny afterwards.  My practice pair of shoes actually determines when I go shoe-shopping; when the practice shoes die, the competition shoes are demoted to practice shoes, and I buy a new pair for competitions.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Ballroom Tip: What color shoes should I get?

This week we have two ballroom tips, to make up for my inability to post last week.  After discussing the characteristics of ladies' competition shoes, it is clear that there are dozens of options available.  Heel height and strap style depend on the shape of the foot, and a dancer should try on shoes until she finds a combination that works for her feet.  I can't give any guidance there.  About shoe color, however, I can offer a few general guidelines.

The first question to ask yourself is, do I care if people look at my feet?  If the answer is "No," feel free to select the pair of shoes that look gorgeous in a color you love and have fun with them.  This option is not available to competitive dancers.  If you are registering for competitions, you must care about your feet.  You are paying for judges to evaluate your footwork, and so need your footwear to present your feet as nicely as possible.

For most dancers, "as nicely as possible" means "inoffensively."  You don't want to attract attention to your feet.  You do want to have the longest leg-line possible.  This is why tan and nude shoes are the universal footwear of competitive ladies.  They blend in with the leg, more or less, and they blend in with the floor to make your legs look long and your footwork look inconspicuous.  In the dance world, tan shoes go with everything.

Black shoes do not.  Wearing black shoes will visually break your leg-line, making you look short and making your feet look big.  You don't want this.  The only exception to this is if you are wearing black fishnets and a dress that looks good with black fishnets (this, for example).  Then tan shoes would break the appearance of your leg-line, and black shoes make sense.  This is also why men's shoes are almost universally black--they wear black pants all the time.

These things being said, there is a long tradition of wearing shoes that call attention to your feet, because the dancer is confident in her footwork, wants to call attention as much as possible, and is willing to acquire shoes matched to specific costumes (latin examples, ballroom examples).  Stoning shoes is common, and there is a long tradition of dying shoes to match costumes, particularly among standard dancers.  Personally, my footwork isn't that great, and shoes are expensive enough that buying pairs for specific costumes doesn't make sense.  I stick with tan.

Ballroom Tip: Ladies' Competition Shoes

As promised to kick off a short tour of ladies' competition shoes, here are my newest pair, shiny, clean, new, and ready for my last competition of the season.

These are ballroom, standard, or court shoes, depending on who you ask.  They enclose the foot because they are meant for heel-lead heavy dances like waltz and foxtrot.  Heel height is customizable in most brands, though heights around 2.5 inches are common.  Shoes are typically made from satin, though leather is also available; the color is typically flesh or nude, though white and black are also available.  Since these shoes are fabric, they can be dyed to match a costume.

Several styles of straps and toes are available.  The trick is to find a combination that stays on your foot comfortably.  My shoes are Supdance 1012s because of they have the integrated strap across the foot and the rounded toe.  I feel my feet are wider than average across the balls, so I like the strap because it keeps my heel from popping out of the shoe (a problem for me with strapless varieties).  I also like the rounded toe because then I don't feel like I have an extra several inches of shoe to deal with in lines like the throwaway-oversway.  These are personal considerations, and every dancer will have her own reasons for her particular style of choice.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Apologies to Jacqueline

This is Jacqueline.

Jacqueline is a Brother 1034D four-thread serger, and a hugely valuable tool in making ballroom costumes.  A serger isn't necessary for sewing clothes of any kind and there are several tasks which sergers cannot do (buttonholes, zippers . . .), but they excel at sewing stretch fabrics, sewing light fabrics, and sewing quickly.  Since sewing stretch and light fabrics on a deadline is the majority of my sewing, I find Jacqueline invaluable.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Ballroom tip: Ladies' Practice Shoes

Having covered the basics of men's footwear, we'll now move on to the shoes available for ladies.  Practice shoes in several styles and brands are made for women, and most of them are similar to men's practice or latin shoes.  They are typically leather, lace up the front, and have a short, wide heel.  In fact, small-footed women can often wear boy's latin shoes as practice shoes; children's shoes are less expensive, so this can be an appealing option.  However, many other materials, colors, heels, and styles are also available in the women's section.

I cannot include a picture of women's practice shoes here, however, because I don't own a pair.  There seem to divided opinions on the usefulness of such shoes.  On the one hand, leather wears better and lasts longer than satin, the material of ladies' competition shoes.  The shorter, wider heel and closed top of practice shoes mean these shoes are easier on the feet when worn for several hours, which is why all of my lady dance teachers wear them for teaching.  They are also flexible enough to be worn for both standard and latin.  Certainly in my current school, practice shoes are really popular for students and teachers (not for students in lessons, though).

On the other hand, practice shoes don't feel or move like competition shoes, and that matters.  If you practice your turning with a wide, 1.5 inch heel, you will probably wobble when you switch to a narrow, 3 inch heel.  Drive steps in standard are also going to need to be adjusted between the wide and narrow heels.  Foot articulation is going to be different in laced shoes than in strappy, open latin heels.  This isn't a problem for everyone; the better your control and balance are, the better you can compensate for the change.  But you will need to compensate.

I personally fall in with the second opinion.  I practice in shoes no longer nice enough for competitions, and in fact just demoted a pair to practice shoes.  My new shoes should arrive next week, to introduce a post on ladies' competition shoes.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Ballroom Tip: Caring for Patent Leather

Today’s tip addresses one of the annoying aspects of dealing with patent leather shoes.  The coatings that make them shiny make the shoes stick together, which is bad when one is supposed to close one's feet.  Patent leather can dry out and pieces of the coating crack off.  At that point, your shoes don’t add to the elegant, debonair look a man wants during competition.

To combat this, Supadance carries a siliconshoe polish.  It can be applied with a small sponge and will prevent the patent leather from sticking and cracking.  Lacking that, you can also use a petroleum jelly like Vaseline and rub a little bit onto the shoes.  This should be wiped off before putting the shoes away, but it will keep your feet from sticking together while dancing.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Finished: Ellinor Hat

Look!  I finally finished something!

This is the Ellinor hat, from the pattern Ellinor by Maria Naslund.  It is a feast of twisted stitches and lace.  I love it.  The pattern itself is adequate in transferring information, but it does assume that the knitter can fill in details.  Instructions for steps like joining to work in the round are omitted, for example.  There are several rows where one must shift the start of the row to work a decrease at that seam.  The pattern also includes six different kinds of decrease, with minimal instructions on how to work them.  I spent a couple of busrides staring at the hat and the pattern instructions until I figured out a decrease that would get rid of the appropriate number of stitches, lean the way I wanted it to lean, and twist the stiches I wanted to twist.  More thorough details can be found on my project page.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Ballroom Tip: Men's Competition Shoes

Men’s Competition Shoes

Continuing this little series on dance shoes, today we’ll discuss men’s competition shoes.  Standard and smooth men compete in patent leathers; latin and rhythm men use Cuban heels.

Men’s patent leather dance shoes are merely a patent leather version of the calfskin shoes discussed earlier this week.  Patent leather has been treated with multiple coatings to produce its characteristic shiny finish, though the coatings also make the shoes less flexible and prone to sticking together.  This can be a problem when one is trying to close one’s feet nicely.  International Dance Shoes actually wraps the sole of their men’s shoes up onto the inside edge of the ball of the foot, so that the suede sole touches when the feet are closed instead of the patent leather.

Patent leather shoes, though, complete the elegant evening wear look expected of standard-dancing gentlemen.  They were the only footwear acceptable with tailsuits, and only black or burgundy to-the-knee socks could be worn with them.  In more modern times, though, men should stick with black socks.

When a man starts competing latin or rhythm seriously, he starts dancing in Cuban heels.  These leather or canvas shoes have the same shape around the foot as the basic calfskin, but with a 1.5 inch heel.  I always smile when I see men wearing them for the first time; they kind of tip-toe around, unwilling to put weight on the heel, and are suddenly much more appreciative of what their partners can do in their 3 inch heels.  The purpose of heels for men or women in latin is to bring the weight more forward, as this helps produce the proper hip and leg action.  This also means that switching between shoes of different heights is going to require adjusting your balance all the time, and I don’t recommend it.  If at all possible, practice in what you will perform in.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Ballroom Tip: Men's Practice Shoes

Last week’s tip got lost due to the Easter holiday, so this is the first of two ballroom tips to be posted this week.  This post will also start a short series on ballroom shoes for men and women: what types are available, what they are for, and a few tricks on how to care for them.

Starting with the men, this is the basic calfskin dance shoe.

In my experience, this is the first type of shoe a male dancer purchases, and the last type they wear as they retire.  The short heel is the correct height for standard, and the calfskin is flexible enough for latin, making these multipurpose shoes for those starting in dance.  They also require no special care.  The calfskin will mold to the foot over time, making a well-worn pair extremely comfortable.  The pair shown above are my husband's practice shoes, and all of my male dance teachers wear either calfskin or canvas shoes of this style for teaching.

A pair of these shoes should cover the needs of all social dancing situations and lower competitive levels.  However, plain calfskin won't cut it on the competition floor above a certain level.  Once a competitor becomes more serious (in the places I’ve danced, it was typically at gold level, or silver for those planning on continuing to gold), the standard dancers move onto patents, and the latin men get heels.

Friday, April 3, 2015

I Went to London

I took the eurostar to London for a short vacation.  I visited St. Paul's Cathedral.

I looked at all the artwork and learned about the history of this cathedral of the people.  I didn't take pictures, because that wasn't allowed inside.

I spent one more making slides, since my field has kind of an odd relationship with the concept of time off.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Ballroom Tip: Tanning Lotion Shouldn't Linger

Today's tip is a quick one, but one I wish I had been aware of earlier.  While self-tanners and DHA are a good way to tan for competitions, do not use old lotions or sprays.  Pay attention to and take care of your skin.  Some people are allergic to self-tanners, and even if you aren't allergic, they might irritate if they've gotten old.  About a year and a half ago, at my first competition after a couple years' hiatus, I gave myself a nasty rash on the inside of my elbows with some Super Tan.  I assume that that particular bottle wasn't good any more, but I switched to a new brand anyway.

My current favorite is the Rude Nude shown above, available through DSI.  A bottle lasts me through about six competitions, or about six months.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

New Projects

To judge from this blog, I have done nothing this year but sew the jade anna dress, and make a few potholders.  While it sometimes feels like that is true, there have been other new projects plugging along.

For example, this is my transit knitting, and it will be a hat.  The pattern is Ellinor by Maria Naslund, and I am making it the Amiral colorway of Cheval Blanc's Bamboulène.  This is yarn I received last year in the June Geek and Nerd Swap, and I am happy to be putting it to such a beautiful use.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Ballroom Tip: Tanning+Lotion

Ah, the tanning . . . one of my least favorite parts of competition prep.  However, it is necessary.  Most competitions having some form of stage lighting that does wash out natural skin color and leave everyone looking odd.  Mostly, though, tanning shows that you care.  I have seen events where I could predict that final placings based on the quality of the ladies' tans.  That does not mean that the tan matters more than the dancing.  Attention to grooming details like tanning normally means attention to details in producing the best dancing, so yes, the winners are virtually always impeccably groomed and nicely bronzed.

There are three main ways of getting tanned up for an event: UV exposure, auto- or self-tanning creams, and paints or stains.  I am naturally pale and tend to skip from white to red without stopping anywhere in between, so I don't try tanning under the sun or in a tanning bed.  That leaves slathering my skin in something.  The paints and stains are a quick way to get really dark, so they are a mainstay of Latin dancers in particular.  However, they are messy and easy to sweat off, and I dance ballroom and don't need to be mahogany brown.  I stick with the auto-bronzers.

All of the auto-bronzers I've used have dihydroacetone, or DHA, as the active ingredient.  This stuff turns brown when interacting with skin (particularly dead skin cells, if I remember correctly) over a matter of hours.  Because of this, patches of drier skin, like elbows, wrists, hands, and knees, tend to get much darker than the surrounding skin when tanned this way.

I've found that you can even out the color by applying normal moisturizing body lotion to those areas shortly before rubbing on the tanning cream.  It seems to prevent the skin from absorbing quite as much tanner, and then as long as I rub in my tanning cream really well, I get much more even coverage.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Ballroom Sewing: Is it worth it?

Is sewing my own ballgowns worth it?

I have asked myself that question a lot while frustrated with the jade anna dress.  In one way, the answer is always yes.  Around here, a new, made-to-measure ballgown will cost between 1500 and 3000 euros.  Some portion of that range depends on how the dress is assembled, as multi-layer skirts with lots of bias-cut pieces eat up expensive fabrics at a rapid pace.  The majority of the difference though comes from the decoration of a dress.  Appliques, fringes, sequins, and rhinestones are typically hand-applied to a gown, so the dress price reflects the hours someone spent gluing individual pieces of fringe or rhinestones to the dress.  It isn't a task that requires a high level of training, so the basics of decorating are not hard to learn, and decorating a costume yourself in one area in which you could save money.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Ballroom Tip: Covering Numbers, part 2

Despite the ease of the number-covering method described last week, several of the open dancer boys I know, including my husband, don't use page protectors for their numbers.  Instead, they cover them in packing tape.

The procedure is to cut a strip of clear packing tape longer than the number, then slowly and smoothly lay it across the number.  Wrap the excess around to the back.  Repeat with additional strips, slightly overlapping them so the card stock is completely covered in the front.

As the person typically trying to pin these numbers to a tailsuit, I can attest that covering them in packing tape makes them strong.  It is also time-consuming, so it might not be practical if you arrive late to an event or have multiple numbers to keep track of.  But if you want a shiny number that will last through several rounds, bring the packing tape.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Ballroom Tip: Covering Numbers, part 1

Today's tip focuses on competition, and is aimed a bit more at the men, as they spend competitions with these attached to their backs:

The number is a couple's official identity for the duration of a competition, and as such it should be readable.  Too bad that often numbers are made in flimsy cardstock, pierced with safety pins, easy to bend, easy to rip, and easy to sweat through.

One solution is to get some cheap clear page protectors.  Bring those and scissors to the competition, and then trim a page protector to fit the number.  You can pin the page protector to the guy's back, then slip the number inside.  The number is now attached and protected.  You can of course reuse the sleeve between competitions, assuming it doesn't get too mangled.  Furthermore, if a guy has multiple numbers during an event, numbers will be easy to swap out since no repinning is needed.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Finished: Lord of the Rings PotHolders

This particular project gave me a small host of problems, which is part of the reason I have been lax in reporting on it. I was excited for the January 2015 Geek and Nerd Swap because the theme was Imaginary Worlds and I love those in my fantasy. I had gushed about Lord of the Rings in my introduction to the swap, and since I knew January was going to be a busy month I started pre-planning hat and fingerless mitt projects around LOTR cultures and places.

Then I received my partner assignment, and found that while she would love to visit Middle Earth, she was more interested in home furnishings than accessories. That derailed my planning, because as the observant will have picked up I primarily make accessories. My home décor projects are limited to the occasional afghan and those potholders I made for my mother. So it was back to the drawing board for me.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Ballroom Tip: Plan Practice in Advance

You're familiar with those weeks where the universe conspires to dump every possible commitment on you at once, right?  I am finishing one, and would very much like to see it end.  Today's ballroom tip will therefore be to the point, despite being the habit that makes the biggest difference in the productivity of my practices.

Plan practice in advance.  I like to agree with my partner beforehand what dances we want to work on and how we want to work on them.  We make notes at the end of practice what needs to be checked or revisited next time.  Each of us gets to select figures or elements that bug us, so our pet peeves get equal time.  This helps avoid discussions of what we should work on that devolve into other topics far too often.

Our most productive practices start with 15-30 minutes of warming up, including some stretching, basic elements, and doing boxes or basic figures together.  We then move onto our selected figures in the selected dance, dancing each several times to fix things.  We finish by dancing through our entire choreography for that dance once or twice, to check how permanent our fixes were and how more global goals such as musicality are progressing.  That normally takes about 45 minutes, so if time allows, we move onto another dance and repeat the procedure.  We might finish with a full run-through if a competition is coming, we haven't worked on a dance in a while, or we want to check how all the dances stand.  My practices that have followed this pattern are the ones with the most dancing, the most progress, and the least time spent discussing or arguing.  I leave feeling like things have been accomplished.  I hope it helps you as well.

Happy dancing!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Ballroom Tip: Video Yourself

Today I have yet another tip on improving the quality of your practice, and that is to video yourself.  I was at a large competition two weeks ago where one could see about seven latin dancers backstage watching video of themselves after their semi-final--videos are a hugely useful tool to actually see what you dance like.  It is a sad but definite truth that what a dancer feels she looks like is not what she actually looks like, and nothing reveals that more rapidly than watching a video of yourself dance.  Videos have no mercy, and you will quickly see  if that headline you've been working on actually looks like your ear lobes are glued to your shoulders or if the arm motion you thought looked sassy actually looks like the mad flappings of a broken chicken wing.  Over time, one does learn what correct dancing should feel like, and watching videos of your own dance is a brutal way to accelerate that process.

With the prevalence of gadgets containing video cameras, procuring video of yourself shouldn't be technically difficult.  You might need to cultivate friends in other dance categories who would be willing to take video of you, but having more dance friends is always a plus in my mind.

I am not using gentle words to describe the process, because most of the time watching yourself dance will knock your ego down by several pegs.  Kate of Riot and Frolic and buckets of dance wisdom has several tips on making the process less painful, though I would say that for me, watching old, old videos isn't so bad.  They are still embarrassing, but in the hah, hah "I used to dance like that?" sort of way, not the painful "I was so terrible" sort of way.  Having documented evidence that you're getting better is reassuring in its own right.

Happy dancing!

Monday, February 16, 2015

January 2015 Swap Report and Finished: Swap Bags

The world postal systems turned out to be remarkably efficient at the beginning of the month, so I am the lax one in not reporting sooner on the results of the January 2015 Geek and Nerd Swap, themed Imaginary Worlds.  Let me put that right.

That time-consuming prima donna, the jade anna dress, became top priority in January because I had a competition I needed to wear it to and because it took far longer than I anticipated (see previous post for details on the most recent ripping and resewing).  The date of the competition happened to be the ship date for this swap.  It was not my finest example of time-management.  So in the midst of the ripping and resewing, when my sewing machine and serger seemed to have taken up permanent resident on the dining room table and green threads had attached themselves to everything in the apartment, I made a project bag.

The frog fabric was purposefully purchased for this bag, as my spoilee collects frog-related things.  The purple was part of the fat quarters/scraps I purchased to bolster my stash in January.  I followed Shannon's helpful tutorial, adapting it only to make the purple strip narrower and to have an opening on each side for the drawstrings.  The entire time I was sewing this, I remembered how pleasant sewing with cotton is.  It doesn't stretch!  It doesn't shift!  It doesn't bunch up!  It stays where you put it!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Ballroom Tip: Practice Run-throughs

After babbling about ballroom hair for the last few weeks, I thought I'd share a few tips on improving practice for competitions.  In hindsight, this tip is something that I should have figured out earlier than two years into competing.  Hopefully, you are more aware or have more guidance than I.

If your practices are anything like mine, it is all too easy to spend two to three minutes standing and talking for every minute dancing.  Even if my partner and I are focused on dancing and fixing problems, we are then working on specific figures individually or dancing slowly without music.  We stop and start, change the music, discuss what went wrong, dance another bar or two, repeat.  It is possible to practice for hours each week, greatly improve your technique, and then nearly pass out in a competition where you are suddenly asked to dance continuously for 90-120 seconds, two or three or five times in a row.

One answer is run-throughs, or to dance continuously for 90-120 seconds in practice.  It is best if your run-through resembles the hardest competition you could dance; for me, that would be five consecutive dances for 120 seconds each, because there are a couple competitions I've attended that do indeed leave the music on for that long.  I would recommend doing this in every practice at least the week or two before a competition, but my partner and I find run-throughs a good way to check if we've actually mastered a new element, and so we like to do them more often.  You get to check not only your physical readiness, but also your mental ability to focus to the end of the dance.

I found run-throughs enough physical training for competitions as a syllabus dancer, but I doubt they'd be adequate as my sole exercise for open events.  If you've been dancing run-throughs for a while and still cannot maintain through the dance in competition, it might be time to examine your exercise regime.  Dancing should be fun, and it isn't fun if you're about to collapse in front of a judge.  So, play the game, and exercise.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Sometimes One Must Rip

My January swap has ended and the first two competitions of the new year are done, so let's have an update on the projects that consumed the month, shall we?  First up, the jade anna dress.  When last we heard from this project, I was crying on the bathroom floor and the dress looked like this:

 Let's list what isn't working here, shall we?  First off, the godets are clearly not correct, as the fabric is pulling in tightly just below the lycra.  This was because I tried to use a narrower triangle for the godet (I had used quarter circles in the past, but it had seemed overkill at the time) and the godet apparently had a smaller opening angle than the space I was setting it into.  The overskirt would have to come off.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Ballroom Tip: Washing out Ballroom Hair

Ballroom hair should not move regardless of the sharpness of your tango, the spinning of your Viennese Waltz, or the number of times you get hit in the head during the first round.  If you've used either of the two previous tips, you probably do have hair that no longer feels like hair on your head.  Restoring it can be tricky, particularly if you've used something like eyelash glue.  The stuff is intended to not dissolve in water and stick to hair, and it does a good job of it.  This is how I wash all the gunk out after a competition.

First, I gently remove any stones, hair pins, hair nets, and ties (the shape of the base ponytail is unchanged by this, which is a little freaky to me even now).  If possible, I will try to scrap off any obvious blobs of glue.  I then soak my hair in warm to hot water and start massaging shampoo onto the sprayed parts.  The hairspray will start to slowly dissolve, at which point I can work the shampoo down to the scalp and out to the tips.  I typically shampoo twice, until all the stiff parts are gone.  I do not try to work through knots at this point.

Shampoo doesn't dissolve the glue, but it will gum up into little balls.  I then put conditioner all over my hair, from root to tip, and start combing out tangles with a big tooth comb.  I work from tip up to root, sliding out the glue bits as I find them.  A good rinse and I have my own hair once again.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Ballroom Tip: Gluing Hair Jewels

This tip is up late, since I have spent most of the last week finishing up swap presents and finishing up the jade anna dress to wearability in time for a competition Saturday.  More--oh so much more--on that later.  For the present, a tip.

Consider hair jewels.

I called this style "Medusa Goes to the Opera."
Hair jewels, typically rhinestones, are a common addition to hairstyles, particularly for the fancy up-dos of the ballroom events.  So how do you get them to stay on?  I use the same water-proof eyelash glue that I use for my fake eyelashes.  Coat the back of the stone with glue, let it sit for 30-60 second until tacky, then press into place on the dry, shellacked hair.  I have never had a stone fall off once properly set in place using eyelash glue.

As you might have realized, ballroom dancers are not shy about putting all sorts of products in their hair.  I've seen and heard of white glue and glitter glue, as in those from the school supply section of the average store, being used in hairstyles.  As long as it's water-soluble and safe for skin contact, it's an option.

Christmas a Few Weeks Late

I take a flexible attitude to celebrating holidays on time.  I don't see much point in making a holiday more stressful in an attempt to have everything finished and ready by a certain date, at least when it comes to celebrations for adults (I have little brothers, so I know that you can't get away with that for kids).  I am happy to celebrate Valentine's Day on February 11, and I will celebrate my birthday over the course of a couple weeks if life allows.  Hence my craft-related Christmas presents have arrived in January, and I am finally writing about them in February.

First, I got fabric.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Ballroom Tip: Shiny Hair

Ever wonder how ballroom dancers get that incredibly shiny-like-the-side-of-a-piano gloss to their hair?  One way to accomplish this is with hairspray and a blow-dryer.  Once your hair is in its bun or ponytail spray the sides with hairspray, smooth it with your hand or the back of a comb, and then blow it dry.  I recommend something with a fine spray for this; you can do it with something like Got-2-B Glued, but you will have larger blobs of spray to smooth out.  Repeat five or six or eight times, making sure each layer is dry before adding the next (I've found that if there is moisture trapped under the hairspray, it can split the hair once dried).  You will then have a slick gloss to your hair, with the added benefit that it will feel like plastic and won't move if hit with something while dancing.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Ballroom Tip: Heel Covers

Today's ballroom tip is one that made me feel both relieved and a bit dense when I first read it.  I publish it to here to hopefully spare anyone else who has spent too much time wrestling with these little things.

The little plastic items pictured above are heel covers.  They protect the tip of the heel from wearing down and exposing the nail in the heel--that sort of thing is strongly frowned upon by anyone maintaining a wooden dance floor and should be avoided.  Furthermore, the worn heel-tip can fall or break off, either of which means your shoes won't be good for dancing until repaired.  Heel tips extend the life of the shoes and reassure everyone that you won't damage floors.

Heel covers can be a huge pain to shove onto the heels, though.  The covers taper at the top, meaning you have to stretch them a bit to get them on.  The trick to making this easier is to heat them up.  Use a hair-dryer, put them under a bright light, even breathe on them a bit until they are above room temperature and the plastic has gotten a bit more malleable.  Then you will have a much easier time pushing them on to your shoes or pulling off a dead one.

Happy dancing.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Ballroom Tip: Trim Shoe Straps

With the new year, I thought I would start a weekly series of ballroom tips and little tutorials.  I started dancing as a college student, and found there were many things to learn beyond figures and technique that make dancing easier and more beautiful.  These will not be involved, and they will focus on those that are preparing to compete.  Whatever your dancing goals are, though, I hope they help you to achieve them.

For the ladies, trim your shoe straps.

A brand new pair of shiny shoes, Latin or standard, has long straps so they can be adjusted to your size.  After you have adjusted those straps, cut off the excess.  The picture above shows my current competition shoes shortly before their third competition.  I had forgotten to trim the straps, and as you can see, they had started to curl away from the shoe.  If left like that, the straps will stick out and interrupt the look of a long leg which you want.  So I took a pair of scissors and cut them down.  There is no need to finish off the ends, as they won't fray.  This will give you a cleaner look on the dance floor.

Happy dancing!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

2015 Stash Review and Yarn Resolutions

Happy New Year!  I've spent a lot of time thinking about what I accomplished in 2014 and what I hope to accomplish in 2015, and so I will jot down my yarn-related resolutions here.  That should make me more likely to keep them.

I started with a stash review.  While most of my stash is on Ravelry for easy perusing, it was beneficial to pull it all out and see what is actually taking up the most space.  I don't have a lot of storage space for yarn and don't really want to have a big stash of wool, as it is that much more fiber I would need to keep clean and moth-free.  Shaking it all out lets me check on its quality and repack my storage boxes.

First up, the fingering yarns: