What We Created Today

Last week, I announced my participation in a contest called “What Will You Create Today?”. I partnered with the lovely and industrious Jentine for a week of shopping, painting, pinning and picture-taking. Today, we’re done creating and ready to show off the fruits of our labour (and maybe, if you’re feeling generous, pander for some votes?).

For our project, we wanted to touch on all the things we love about Ottawa Street in one sophisticated ensemble. We created alook that’s a combination of new, old, and hand-made – which is Ottawa Street in a nutshell. Our search began with a blank canvas: white cotton, ready to be pinned, sewed, and painted. We purchased the fabric from Discount Fabric, and then purchased our fastenings and fabric dye from Fabricland. Next up, we searched through the racks at Revolving Closet, and sourced a vintage black dress, that we would eventually modify into a blouse.

We returned home with our materials, and spent the next few days collecting ideas, assembling pin-boards of our vision, and creating our garments. First, Jentine sewed the skirt, and then we hand-painted it with our fabric dye. This may sound all kinds of cheesy, but this contest sort of re-awakened me to the social benefits of being creative. More often then not, I gather with my friends to eat, drink, and watch The Bachelor. But this time around, we met to sew and paint. There was something so pleasant about sitting Jen’s table, surrounding by fabric, little bowls of dye, paint brushes, and cats, just chatting the hours away.

For the pattern on the skirt, we were inspired by this image: a Hamilton skyline tattoo! We decided that abstractly referencing that skyline on our skirt would be the perfect way to pay homage to our great city. We also used that skyline as the backdrop for photographing our ensemble. The photo shoot in itself was way too fun. I channeled my inner art-director (sporting my Dior blazer), and insisted Jen spin until she puke (“SPIN FASTER!”). And she delivered! (On the spinning, not the puke). Look at that skirt move. Even if she had puked, it’d be worth it.

The look was finished with a vintage necklace and ring from Antique Avenue for some added sparkle, and a simple clutch from the not-yet opened Orange Tree Boutique (which will be a beautiful space!).

We’re thrilled with the end result, but even beyond the finished product, we loved the opportunity to visit so many of Ottawa Street’s retailers. They were helpful, encouraging, and always friendly. If you feel so inclined, head over here to cast your vote for your favourite blonde-haired duo at entry #4. Obviously, we’d like to be the victors, but we’d love to donate $1000 to the Alzheimer’s Society. You can help us do both. Happy voting!

UPDATE: WE DID IT! Actually, YOU DID IT! All you votes made us the winners of the WWYCT Challenge. THANK YOU!!!

What Will You Create Today?

There are many advantages to the glorious thing that is daylight savings time. For one, on Sunday morning, I read a whole magazine, leisurely sipped my coffee, cleaned my entire washroom, and (most miraculously) made it to church on time. That extra hour is a wonderful, fleeting gift. However, it also means that by the time I depart for home at the end of the day now, it’s dark. So, no more after-work outfit photos for me or you. Instead, the dark and dreary nights of November are ideally suited for evenings indoors, in front of the TV and behind a bowl of soup. Or, even better than an intense Fringe marathon, a project. The birds aren’t tempting us with their pretty chirps, the sun doesn’t beg us to sit under it’s rays. The world is saying get inside, and get creative.

Headshots. We mean business.

And so, this new schedule perfectly coincides with a new after-work project this week. My gal-pal Jentine and I were asked to participate in a contest, put on by the Ottawa Street BIA, entitled “What Will You Create Today?“. The premise is simple: provide a bunch of Hamilton enthusiasts some funds to spend any which way on Ottawa Street; Rack up some votes; Give some money to charity! Awesome, right?

This contest is partly to celebrate the Ottawa Street BIA’s brand new fancy website, and partly to remind the good people of #HamOnt of Ottawa Street’s many charms. For those of you not versed in Hamilton geography, Ottawa Street has long held a reputation as the textile district of the city, and its appeal has only widened in the past decade: It’s now the go-to place for antiquing, and new cafes and restaurants are popping up all the time. It’s a street in the midst of a revival, and I could sing it’s praises all day.

However, talk is cheap. So rather than tell you how great it is, we’re going to show you. Jentine and I spent Saturday morning exploring Ottawa Street. We started with breakfast, we ended with totes full of supplies and heads full ideas. I’ve posted a few sneak peaks below, and you can always follow our progress on twitter with the hash tag #WWYCT, which stands for “What Will You Create Today?” I have to give a shout-out to an instagram follower that speculated it might also stand for “What Would Your Cat Thrift?”, which is absolutely a contest we would enter, and win.

A breakfast of champions at The Cannon.

Our Ottawa Street Muse.

Real-life Pinterest-ing ideas.

Jentine, armed with her “You Can Do Anything in Hamilton” tote, scopes out our fabric options. Appropriate, no?

So, follow along as we aim to create something worthy of our muse. We could alternatively crash and burn in a spectacular fashion as well, which will still make for great viewing. I’ll be sure to update ya’ll when our project is complete, and the polls open. Wish us luck!


Last week, something very strange happened. It was as if the thrift-world decided to exact revenge for my recent relapse into chain store shopping, and zap me of all my thrift powers. I first noticed my bad fortune at a routine stop at the thrift store on the way home from work.

The conditions were perfect for thrifting: I wasn’t rushed, I was buzzed about the weekend, and I hadn’t yet hit that EOD wall when I’m so hungry I start daydreaming about dancing hotdogs from old movie theatre commercials. So, I breezed through the racks, taking the change room by storm, and turning it into a carnival tent of polyester and cotton…And I came home with nothing. I shrugged it off. The reality of a thrift-only wardrobe is you’re bound to leave empty handed once and a while. Not one to lick my wounds, the very next day I was right back at it. This time, I went to one of the larger thrift stores Hamilton because I wanted to give myself the best possible odds for success. I breezed, I stormed, and again, I came home with nothing. One strike out is expected. Two is strange.

You see, what I was really looking for at the thrift store was something to wear for a night out with Jentine. That girl sets the bar high when it comes to thrift shopping, so I wanted to bring my A-game. But that wasn’t meant to be. Fortunately, my double-dud turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I was forced to return to my closet, at which point seemed to house only paper bags and potato sacks. But as the day inched closer to the evening, I had to make something work. So, I did what I always do, and channeled my wannabe-mentor and overall-hero, Mr. Tim Gunn. (By the way, Internet, you haven’t created a montage of Tim Gunn saying “make it work” yet. What gives?)

Since I don’t know a lick about sewing, my tool box was very small. I pulled out a maxi dress that my mom thrifted at a Sally Anne sale last year, and cut that thing right up. I’ve always loved the print and colour of the dress, but I hated the cleavagey top, halter straps, and not-made-for-tall-girls length. So, I cut off the top, pulled out the straps for a belt, made a cheaply constructed waste band using Tacky Glue (high-tech), and behold! A maxi skirt of comfy proportions! The skirt is now much longer than the original dress, and it’s way more versatile in terms of what I can pair it with – tees, tube tops, tank tops, whatever. And, luckily enough, it worked well with my latest Salvation Army accessory – that $4 black n’ blue necklace.

Point is, I’m grateful that the thrift universe stripped me of my powers for a few short days. It forced me to look closer at my closet, instead of buying more clothing than I actually need. Sometimes things don’t happen the way you want them to, but you’ve just got to roll with it. Like when the swanky Hamilton restaurant we started at closed their kitchen, thus prompting us to roll our way into a dive bar that served only cheapest of fried foods. Sometimes improvising gets you a maxi skirt, and sometimes it gets you eight cheese sticks and some quesadillas. That right there is a combo of champions.

Just Don’t Call Me Mrs. V.

If thrifting were my homework, this denim shirt would get me an A+. For months, I’d seethe with jealously as friends paraded around in sweet new denim digs from Joe Fresh, Mark’s, H&M, etc. I started to think finding a classic denim shirt at a thrift store just couldn’t be done. I was so tempted to make some teeny-tiny exception from my No-Mall rule, but I stayed strong. And wouldn’t you know it – I finally found one.

Speaking of homework, I feel a bit like an art teacher in this outfit. The shirt is old and oversized, and would make a fantastic smock. Additionally, the shoes are the closest thing to a craft project I’ve done – I painted them red with some leftover screen printing ink last night. So, when I paired these funky items with my formal vintage red skirt, I suddenly had the urge to start telling juvenile delinquents about Andy Warhol and Sister Wendy. I never wanted to teach, but if I did, I’d wear this. The students would admire my DIYed shoes and my trendy denim, yet respect my professional skirt and stern teacher-glasses. Everyday, we’d bond over art and literature, laugh, cry, then stand on chairs and get all Dead-Poets-Society (without the sad ending).

Silly day dreams aside, I never really wanted any of the teaching life. In fact, it was quite the opposite. But for many years, everyone assumed I’d end up at the chalkboard. Reflecting those years reminded me of a very simple lesson – don’t do something just because every thinks you should. You know how I learned that? I’ll tell you. Come on over to my side of the fence, Cory Matthews. I’m about to go Mr. Feeny all over this blog.

From a young age, I would sit at my kitchen table, cutting and pasting, drawing and scribbling. I always knew I wanted an artistic career, but I figured out early on that didn’t include teaching for me. My parents were always supportive of my alternative-creative-career-callings, but that can’t be said for everyone else I encountered. The closer I got to university, the more predictable the reactions became: “Oh, you’re arty? So…you’ll be teaching then?”. It only got worse when I chose a small Christian university, and paired my Art major with an English major. The resounding chorus became “Wait…you’re not teaching? What the heck else do you expect to do with that?”

Well, to all the naysayers from the days of my youth – I’m not teaching. In fact, I’ve carved out a rewarding career for myself that exists entirely outside a classroom. And you know what else? When I look at my fellow art classmates, they did too – one is a phenomenal wedding photographer, another is a photo journalist in NYC. Heck, one of my good friends went on to start her own Snow Cone business! The rest of the class is rounded out with account managers, designers, and art therapists. That’s pretty darn diverse.

In addition to all of that, a handful of my fellow alum became teachers – amazing teachers, actually. You know why? They wanted it. They didn’t land on it because they had no other choice, they didn’t default to it because everyone told them they should. They’re teaching because that’s what they were dreaming of at the kitchen table. I’ll tell you right now: If I had fallen victim to the assumptions of those around me, I would have ended up stinkin’ lousy teacher. I’d be aiming for Miss Honey and end up Ms. Krabappel. Teaching is best left to those who actually have the the passion (and the patience) for the classroom. Like these guys!

What’s the point in all this? Don’t choose a career because it’s what’s expected. You want to teach? Teach your heart out! You don’t? Don’t! Instead, choose a career that reflects your passions, not someones’ assumptions. We can’t all be Mr. Holland.

Sure, it might be a tough few years, and you might have to combat your fair share of stereotypes, but at the end of the day, the teachers will teach, and you’ll end up in something that feels comfortable. Hopefully as comfortable as my new denim shirt.