Monday, April 3, 2017

Doin' It For The 'Gram

It's 5.15am. My phone sings a sweet, boppy tune to encourage me to get the hell out of bed. I take a minute to check how my Instagram is faring: not too badly, I suppose. It's day two of my Masters degree. I'm studying to become a high school art teacher. When you're a creative, your only options for financial gain are either be discovered by Miley Cyrus on the Internet, suppress who you are totally for a dismal nine to five, or teach.

It's 6am and I realise that the peak time for social media posting today is immediately after my last class. I quickly take a picture of the latest cool thing I bought, rush out the door, and spend my train ride to university applying all kinds of pre-loaded filters on the image until it is just-so.

"What does the 'Digital Age' mean to you? Write it down," instructs my lecturer. This class focuses on the use of technology in education.

I look down at my notebook. A crude doodle of a television with 'FEAR ME' scrawled across the screen stares back. Do I jot down what I really think? Should I say that the 'Digital Age' evokes naught but dread in my fluttering, anxious chest? That it is utterly overwhelming, hollow, empty, soulless...?

After class, I check my Instagram account for the forty-fifth time that morning. I've lost some followers. Arseholes. Do these people know how hard I work, every day? How many hours a week I spend on this all-consuming grid game?

Technology and the acquisition of knowledge has scared humans for centuries. Each generation hears the frantic street preachers and televangelists announce that the end of the world is upon us, that the book of Revelations is coming true. I look around me on the train home. Countless eyes cast downwards, on smartphones, tablets, and game consoles. A few read books. The girl opposite me ends her phone call and stares out the window. I tell her that I like her handbag. She ignores me. The world already has, in fact, ended.

I reflect on the crowded, inner-city trains of Tokyo. I think about how despite there being hundreds of people on my carriage, I could almost hear every pebble being eaten up on the tracks, everyone glued to their phones. "Manner mode". I never could understand how such a large, cosmopolitan city could be so cold, and so silent.

While I was in Tokyo, I remembered Melbourne public transport differently: people laughing, oafish boys chatting up young girls, teenagers swinging on handrails, people striking up conversations with total strangers... it feels like the icy stillness of Japan has followed me back home, and now I'm solemn on my journey, watching the souls of my fellow riders be menacingly sucked into backlit pocket screens, and eventually befall the same fate myself.

My post isn't doing so well. Only sixty-eight people 'like' that cool thing I bought. Those are pretty dismal numbers for me. I begin to wonder if my cool thing really is all that cool. I scroll through the home page and see a drawing by someone I follow. It's a pretty crappy drawing really, but she somehow manages to amass over eight-hundred 'likes'. My drawings are lucky to get twenty-percent of that. Her doodles are a few sketched strokes on a Wacom tablet. Mine are high quality, hand drawn with brush and Indian ink. She has more than ten-thousand followers. I've worked my ass into the ground to scrape in just a mere thousand.

In my car, I ponder the factors that could have contributed to my poor social media influence. Some girls seemed to just be able to fart onto their screens and gain a thousand followers. Is it because I'm brown? Should I lose weight? Is it because I post too much? Post too little? Should I have used a different filter on my selfies? Am I using the wrong hashtags? Should I start doing YouTube?

I arrive home and spend a half hour complaining to my boarder while I wash the dishes. I tell him I feel old, that I'm on the wrong side of twenty-five. That I'm not getting enough recognition, and that I feel unsuccessful. He reminds me I sold over three-hundred dollars worth of my comic book, 'Drongo', at the recent zine fair. I tell him it was good, but my lack of 'likes' overshadows this. He mentions the stores in Sydney and Brisbane who have agreed to stock my publication. I argue that if my work really was all that great, I'd surely have more followers. He tells me how many people commended me for being one of the only zine-makers who had a consistent brand at the fair. It's nothing if I'm off the algorithm.
The almighty algorithm.
What even is the algorithm?

Last week, I met a girl who didn't have any social media accounts. "Wow! Not even Facebook?" Not even Facebook. A year ago I would have thought this was the riskiest thing a person in this day and age could entertain, but here she was; beautiful, younger than me, an accomplished and published novelist, with a nice boyfriend, and yet the thing I envied about her most was her disconnectedness.
I think about her after checking my notifications, wondering what constructive and productive things she gets up to while I waste my life watching videos of dogs posted by people I don't like. Seventy-two 'likes' now. Why did my other drawing get over two-hundred 'likes'? I used exactly the same hashtags! I close my eyes and count mopey, malnourished sheep.

Another morning. I reach for my giant, expensive phone that is too big for my hand. I've lost more followers. Dammit. I let myself sulk while I get dressed and then leave for my appointment. Today I'm going to tell my psychologist that I feel hopeless, and that my sense of self worth is waning. She takes a look at my haunted face and comments that it looks like I've come in at the perfect time.

We discuss my online self. I inform her I want more recognition for all the hard work I've put in over the last ten years of running various businesses. I mention how I miss the glamour of my teens, running amok in the city clutching big band concert tickets, stamped 'INVITED' across the headlining act. I lament the forgotten magazine pages, my face glossy next to large text. This was me. Is this still me? I miss the celebrity I enjoyed, being a teenage entrepreneur - briefly holding a leash on the attention of Melbourne media. My collection of newspaper articles, free concert tickets and VIP wristbands worth the equivalent of half a million 'likes' today, now hidden in the top drawer of my dresser. I'm miserable.

The issue of recognition comes specifically from knowing. It's very romantic to imagine people happening upon my work by chance, or taking a photo of some rad poster I've done. Unfortunately, the wistful daydreams are dissolved by the blatant black pixels telling me my follower count, or how many people have double-tapped on my photos while they sat around bored on their lunch breaks.

Instagram and its brethren are vapid and devoid of substance on their own. Social media relies totally on its users for content creation, and the more people and businesses it facilitates, the more sponsored ads they can generate income from. Despite its blank canvas, Instagrammers have been absorbed into a vacuum of competition, a false sense of worth, and a trivial sense of urgency. And it appears I'm not the only one getting mad.

"Everything cycles," says my psychologist. "There will be a revolt eventually." We consider, from a business point of view, the relevance of my Instagram account. I divulge that despite my dedication, not a single one of these 'likes' or 'followers' have translated to sales.

All of my online sales have so far come from people I know, and all the purchases from strangers have taken place in a situation where they can browse the books in person. Whether or not I post on Instagram two or three times every day has any affect on how many copies of 'Drongo' I'm moving. I complain about the multiple hours a day I spend making original content specifically for the 'gram, and that I could have been putting all that energy into another more rewarding endeavour.

I mention that I do enjoy some of the newer features Instagram has to offer, such as live streaming and video stories, akin to Snapchat. I probably won't abandon the platform totally, as the ability to share updates that are significantly less stressful than an individual post provides more enjoyment to myself than my current strategy, and in the end I don't mind how many people are interacting with these, as no one else can see the numbers. They disappear after 24 hours, or immediately if it's a live stream.

As a nostalgia chaser, perhaps it's time to dig my fingers into more traditional ways of DIY marketing. I know that my work is worth more than a bunch of salmon-red 'hearts', and I'm tired of comparing myself to people who may have even purchased their ten-thousand followers and eight-hundred 'likes'.

For a while, I've been sitting on just a little over 1,060 Instagram followers. I see maybe four genuine individuals add to this count every month. The rest are bots, advertisements, or businesses that follow en mass, wait for a few thousand people to reciprocate the gesture, and then unfollow everyone again, making their companies look like they are relevant, active, and successful. For a business interacting with its potential clientele on Instagram, I find there's nothing more distasteful than luring a following, making people believe that the company could really be interested in their content, and then dumping them harshly for the sake of numbers. Freelancers and their friends are not excused from this behaviour, either.

I'm tired of people being cheated. We are tricked, on both sides, into believing that our presence on these superficial engines are important, and that if we do not use them then we may as well not exist. Given the correlation between "good numbers" and dopamine, social media on the whole can literally be addictive, no better than smoking or drinking. A company should not have such a hold over an individual, to the point where it can actually dictate someone's self-worth.

All this, without even touching on the flimsy fa├žade that we choose to show to the public, a vacant veneer, while our spirit struggles underneath.

No 'likes', just love.

Monday, January 2, 2017

From Seuss to Seuss

Hello friends and fans,

I have periodically come back, written a new post about my life, told you all I'm back for good, only to revert them all to drafts a few weeks or months later.

I guess the truth is, whilst everyone else was complaining that 2016 was the worst year ever due to all the celebrity deaths and political happenings, 2016 was actually the worst year of my life, ever.

And I've had a pretty hard life overall, to be honest.

But, in the words of Buddy, the "King" of Real Estate, "in order to be successful, one must project an image of success at all times", so I don't really like spilling my guts anymore. I suppose a little bit of bile here and there is okay.

A couple of years ago, I was diagnosed with yet another illness, only this one causes weight gain and makes it very, very hard to lose weight. As my abdomen swelled, my clothes became tighter and tighter, and all of my beautiful clothes you see on the pages of this blog became reminders of how fantastically shit my existence has been. In a fit of tears, confusion, and desperation, I chucked all of my handmade dresses into garbage bags, and dropped them off at a charity shop.

I felt really alone. My body expanded two dress sizes in three months, and I didn't really have the money to just go buy a new wardrobe. Even if I did, there was nothing to buy in my size in stores that I liked. Considering I'm still in the range of "average weight", I cannot even begin to imagine the kind of discouragement this must cause for people much bigger than me. I didn't have the time or money to be making dresses, and even if I did, all of my existing pattern collection wouldn't have fit me.

This was two years ago. I've managed to lose a little bit of weight, so now I'm only one size bigger than I was. I'm able to use my patterns so long as I make the seams really tiny, but so far it's working in my favour. I moved to Japan in March of last year, but after becoming personally disgraced, I moved back home and sewed my first garment in almost a year a few weeks ago. I don't have proper pictures of those skirts, but I do have some crappy iPhone selfies on my Instagram.

Seeing as the Christmas dresses I'd made a while ago were a hit, I decided to make another one for this Christmas just passed. I used a Dr Seuss 'Grinch' fabric I had in the garage.

I hope you all had a wonderful "Grinchmas".

It's going to take me a while to get back on my feet. It's been seven months since the incident that would change my life forever, and I still have a form of pneumonia from it. I go through periods of strength and resilience, followed by a couple weeks of brokenness here and there. I've been allowed by my psychiatrist and psychologist to take a break from life, which I've been very grateful for, but I can't afford to laze around and stagnate. I'm hoping to return to university this year, work hard on my little 3 year old clothing brand, and work even harder on my comics and illustration work.

I'll also hopefully have some better pictures for this blog.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Celebrating Seuss with a Dress

Oh my gosh I actually made something. Still trying to wade through the waters of my odd life but at least now I have time to do something that truly makes me feel good about everything - sewing.

This is the same Very Easy Vogue pattern I used back in like... 2011? But I changed the skirt completely, making it 3/4 circle instead of a gathered square. I put pockets in it, yay!

Please excuse my dodgy photos, but Melbourne has been bucketing for the last week or so almost ceaselessly :(

Friday, April 12, 2013

Violet Shirt

We can celebrate! I officially have Internet in my apartment, which is looking superb, if I do say so myself! I think the real estate agents are going to be shocked to see it looking so cute. I've basically taken an ugly box and made it not only liveable, but welcoming and somewhere that has housed many-a-friend already.

Now, I finally was able to get some actual sewing done! Oh happy days! But I've only got one picture of it which I uploaded to my Instagram (nataliemw if you'd like to follow me there!)

As you can see, it's the Violet shirt pattern by Colette! It's no secret I love their patterns, and I think this one is an incredible muse for the time being. I've already bought the fabric to make it again in more of a western style shirt. Keep your eyes peeled! Though I must say I shall be sewing a lot less in the weeks to come as I'm currently working on three films! Golly gee wizz, pray for me, I shall need it.

I made this one with a copy-cat rip off of my favourite Michael Miller print 'Rocket Rascals'. I didn't care. It's too adorable of a fabric that I HAD to have it anyway. And seeing as Spotlight did a quilting cotton sale where everything was $9.99 per meter I went only a little bit nuts. I mean, two shirts and a dress isn't too bad for my habits! I made the collar in a hurry and I'm slightly regretting not waiting til I found the exact bright red match that I made the Ginger skirt I'm wearing out of but eh, according to my real world friends it looks fine.

At least now I will actually be able to respond to your lovely comments and such.
Much love <3

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Hooker Me Up With A Sweet Dress

A week or two ago a friend of mine was shocked to hear that I had not seen 'Cry Baby', a fabulous take-the-piss greaser flick by John Waters starring a young Johnny Depp. So off to her house to watch it on VHS on her old Rank Arena television. Talk about old skoolin' it!

While we were watching, a particular character (that of Traci Lords) got my vote for most orgasmic dresses. Last time we went to Lincraft I had spied off a white cotton with red spots but couldn't justify buying more fabric, especially seeing as I'm supposed to be doing Finish Me February. After seeing this film and gathering more dress inspiration, I couldn't help myself.

 I made a mix of two of the dresses I liked best:

I'm happy with the outcome, having pieced together various patterns to get the right kind of thing going, but I'm not sure the women of Melbourne completely agree with me. I honestly felt like Dolly Parton in 'The Happiest Whore House in Texas' or whatever the film is called. Women looked at me in disgust as I traipsed around my local shopping center. People avoided me. Men, on the other hand, were more than happy with my appearance. The best part was when I bumped into one of my mother's hardcore Christian friends who barely acknowledged me. I was totally ignored at the post office until a nice man named Walter came to the counter and said "please excuse Bernadette, I think she's just jealous of your spotty number".

In fact, I put on the dress today for the purpose of taking photos and as I was getting into my car, my neighbour's daughter pulled up, saw my appearance, and told her children to overt their eyes and not to say hi to me. What. The. Fleck.

I think I should start taking care with my pattern placement
My sexy face
I honestly can't see me making anything similar any time soon. I've named it my 'whore dress' and it took too gosh darn long to make. It's a totally hot dress though and I'm happy I made it.

In other news, I arranged a party last Sunday at 1am for the following day. Nitty and I dressed up as pirates and got our rum on.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Martini Dress

It feels good to finally make up a fabulous fabric find into a fabulous dress. It's perhaps not as sexy as I was hoping but eh, It does the job.

Look at dat slit! Reinforced and everything. Butterick 5032, a 1952 repro pattern. 

It is actually ridiculously comfortable. Great pattern. I wish that I bought the pattern as a size 12 (I bought a size 14 before realising I am actually a 12 in pattern size land) so I just did mega big seam allowances.

It passed the fly-kick test.

I'm pretty happy in the end. I'd like to pair it with an orange belt and handbag!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

I Like Aeroplane Jelly

This statement is true. Although I prefer it when it's mixed with 1/3 vodka.

Hurrah! I love making up new patterns, although this one's been out for a couple of months, still relatively new in the Vintage Vogue line. Vogue 8789 is a gem, by far the easiest Vogue pattern I've ever dealt with. But I did make a few modifications.

I was excited to make the v-neck (which is incredibly simple with this pattern) and anticipated a giant circle skirt from this delightful fabric, however when I was cutting out the pieces I realised to my dismay that the skirt was yet another gathered rectangle! This simply will not do!

So I have added my own circle skirt, put the zipper in the back rather than in the side, and I pretty much didn't follow the instructions half the time.

I did my zip a bit differently and it looks a lot nicer than the ones I usually do. With enough practice I'm sure I'll perfect it eventually.

The fabric was hidden away on Spotlight's clearance table at $4 a meter. Having never seen it before I'm assuming it was something randomly found in a big clear out of the dispatch area or something. I grabbed 4 meters and was surprised to see the next day the whole roll was gone. It really was too cute to pass up and I'm so glad I got it when I did!