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Learning to Put the Merry in My Christmas

It's not #tbt yet? No? Oh well lol Mom and Me,
Christmas in the '80s

Over the weekend, my friend and I were talking about how neither of us are feeling festive this holiday season. By commercial standards, I'm doing slightly better than her; I finished shopping for everyone, for whatever that's worth. She told me about how she picked up a couple of gifts for her young nieces and nephews before shrugging and letting the conversation die.

The silence sent us both into thinking about why we were feeling like two little Grinches. Her pain is on a complete different level than mine - her father passed away about a month ago. My Grinchness is because around the same time, my brother moved across the country with his family. She and I are both having our first Christmas without someone we love.

So, in a way I guess our drab spirits are an indication that our values are inline with the season's purpose - love. But we're still left to figure out how to make old traditions into new ones.

I guess this is all a part of the cycle of life. The photo to the left is of me and my mom celebrating Christmas at her parents' house. Our family celebrated the holidays a lot at my grandparents house when I was really young, until my parents decided to start building their own traditions.  These "new" traditions have been the ones I've held so close to my heart all these years. The ones where my Dad, Mom, brother and I were all together cooking, watching movies and playing games. The traditions I'll miss so much this year in the absence of my brother.

But just as my Mom adjusted to a change in her Christmas traditions, my brother will do the same and I'll have to fall in line. But for me, one new tradition will definitely be Facetiming my brother and his family on Christmas day.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and hoping you not only have all your hearts desire, but also the ability to appreciate all you have.

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Book Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, is a little difficult for me to review because I don't want to give too much away. But if I could sum it up in a couple of words, I'd say it's about the effects of living a life of vanity.

See, in his young adulthood, Dorian Gray was convinced to pose for a portrait by his artist friend. After seeing the painting, Gray said he'd love to stay as handsome and innocent as he was portrayed, while all the effects of life would mar the rendition of him. And so it was, Gray went through life doing whatever he pleased and never dealt with any negative consequences because people were too enamored by his unchanging beauty to suspect him of wrongdoing. As for the painting, it became more and more grotesque with every sin Gray committed, but was never questioned because it was hidden in the attic.

That's all I'm going to give on the plot because as I said earlier, I don't want to give too much away. Plus, I want to talk about the real reasons I enjoyed this book.

1) The imagination it took to create this book. Although the conclusion left me wanting more - it felt forced - the premise was realistic. Wilde took what could happen if the wishes of those who went back to old pictures of themselves and longed to be like they were in younger years and ran with it.

Wilde created characters you could connect with, or not. There were numerous times in this novel where I read something Gray did and found myself thinking "I can not believe this dude," like he was someone I know in real life lol Other times, I would question what I would do if I had Gray's opportunities.

2) The philosophies and the language and methods used to convey them. Most of the profound theories Wilde wanted to impart were done through Lord Henry, the character who had the most influence on Gray being led through life by pleasure. Some of those include:

"He was always late on principle, his principle being that punctuality is the thief of time." As someone who hates being late and as a result, feels like a lot of my life is spent rushing instead of enjoying small things, I can stand behind this statement.

And, "Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing." You need only read my other blog posts to know I strongly agree with this statement.

Overall, this novel just made me think. And so, although I didn't love it enough for it to make my Reading Room page, it's definitely a good read.

Since finishing this novel, I've moved on to reading The Science of Breath by Yogi Ramacharaka. But I won't be reviewing it because, well really how do you review an instructional, lifestyle book? It just seems blasphemous lol

So until next time...

All Types of Lessons

In my last post, I let you all know I picked up my guitar again, but I didn't give you the backstory. I need to now because it ties into where I am in my life.

About five years ago, I decided I was going to stop putting off my dream of learning how to play the guitar. So I bought a guitar and signed up for classes at my local rec center. All was going well until we got to chords. I've played piano nearly all my life and was already confused as I don't what about the guitar having multiple notes on each string, so the thought of finding and combining those notes into chords completely blew my mind.

Around the same time, I was traveling for work and missing a lot of practice and classes - the perfect excuse to bail on the guitar, right? So I did. For five years. But although I could hide my guitar away, I couldn't hide my love for the music, so I decided to pick the guitar back up.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago when I went to Guitar Center and asked for a recommendation for private lessons. The sales associate matched me with a teacher and I contacted him. I gave him my musical background complete with the fact that I'd been learning guitar some years ago, but shied away from it when I started learning chords.

A week later, I'm sitting in my new teacher's studio and he pulls out a piece of paper containing my first lesson - chords. So we're just going to jump in headfirst, huh? Completely pull me out of my comfort zone from go.  This stepping outside of my box has been the theme for the past couple of months.  And every time I've done it, I've had amazing results - new ways of looking at the familiar and overall personal growth. Why should the process of learning the guitar be any different?

So anyway, towards the end of my lesson, I told my teacher my wrist was aching. He tells me to let go of my guitar and let the body swing out so the neck is at a 45 degree angle to my body. I do it, reposition my left hand on the neck of my guitar and all the strain I had been feeling was gone. I look at him and say "It's that easy, huh?" He replied, "Sometimes you just need to loosen your grip." Simple yet profound. Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while know this is a lesson I've been trying to apply to my overall life; stop trying to hold on so tightly and control everything. Sometimes I just need to loosen my grip.
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I'm What's Happening: December 2015

Wow, it's been about three months since I've written a summary on what I've been up to! Last time I closed with a teaser about news, but I didn't want to spill the beans.  By now, you may have figured out that I was referring to the writing retreat I attended last month in Costa Rica.

I didn't want to give too much information at the time I wrote my last I'm What's Happening post because although I knew I wanted to attend the retreat, I was still in the process of figuring out the ins and outs of making that happen.

Still, the prospect of going was enough to get my creative juices flowing and I started writing a couple of short stories. But because the retreat was intended to be a holistic getaway - caring for our entire being but putting good stuff into our minds and bodies so that good writing came out - I became more disciplined in my home spiritual and physical life as well. Not only was I praying and meditating every day, I also changed my diet and began working out every day. By the time I left for the retreat, I was feeling focused and creative.

I'm not going to go into the entire experience again because you can read about it either in my Reinspired...Again post or in detail on my travel blog. But in summary, while there, I was able to nearly complete a piece I had been struggling with for almost seven months!

So yeah, the past couple of months haven't left any time for crafting. But, taking the subway to work every day does give me time to keep up on my reading. And last month, I read James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. It reminded my of an in-depth profile, but while the main character's artistic progression was believable, the way he interacted with his world was not. Overall, I didn't love the book. You can read more of my thoughts about it in my review.

Since finishing A Portrait, I moved on to another profile piece, The Picture of Dorian Gray. So far I'm liking this one a lot better. Some of the language is a little fluffy for my style, but because Oscar Wilde, the author, wasn't overbearing in his philosophies, it's much more bearable than Joyce's novel.

And last but not least, after about five years, I decided to pick my guitar back up. I've been teaching myself for a little over a week and have learned six notes and the beginning of Bob Marley's Redemption Song.  But I have some questions about technique and I know the Type A in me won't let me feel like I know how to play unless I know how to play correctly. *shaking my  head* I know. Anyway, I found an instructor whose philosophies sound great - most importantly to me is he'll teach me how to continue teaching myself. We start working together later this week - I'm excited!

That's all, so until next time!

Book Review: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Okay, I'll admit it, I had never heard of James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man until I listened to Talib Kweli's Memories Live
"It kinda make me think of way back when
I was the portrait of the artist as a young man
All them teenage dreams of rapping
Writing rhymes on napkins
Was really visualization making this here actually happen
It's like something come through me
That truly just consume me
Speaking through the voices of the spirits speaking to me"

I related to feeling something higher than myself speaking through me and me having to run to find anything I could use to write the message down. So, if that was the definition of an artist, I wanted to read more about others' similar experiences. And after 15 some years, I finally got around to doing that. In my defense, my 'To Read' list is ridiculously long.

Because of the amount of time it took me to get to this book AND the fact that it's considered a classic, I want to give it a glowing review. I really do. But I can't. And maybe I need to accept that the classics are just not for me, but I still feel the need to see what all the hype is about for each of them. *Kanye Shrug*

Where do I start? I loved the depth Joyce gave the main character Stephen Dedalus. What I mean is, he portrayed him as sensitive to the world around him, a deep thinker and someone struggling to find his way in the world before really coming into his own and standing up for his own belief system.

Let me provide a recap of the story so my last statement makes sense: It begins with Dedalus as a young boy who doesn't come from the best background, but who has the opportunity to attend Catholic school. He's a people pleaser and spends his time practically walking around on eggshells in an attempt to ease things such as the discomfort his peers feel about his curious last name or the disbelief the head of his school has about him actually breaking his glasses. He grows from that insecure boy into a young teen whose lack of response to a young, female peer's interest drives him to regularly seek the company of prostitutes. Catholic guilt from that response spins him into a complete 180 and he becomes so devote in his religion, the heads of his school pull him aside and ask him to consider a life as a priest. At this point, he develops his own philosophical theories which he not only freely expounds upon with his friends, but which also convince him to leave his hometown and all its ideals so he can find his own way in life.

So, although areas are exaggerated, I think most artistically inclined people can relate to Dedalus' journey.

What I didn't like was Joyce seemed to be using Dedalus to push his own philosophical agenda a little too hard. It became unbelievable that a young adult would have all these extensive theories and that they were all he and his friends talked about. I'm in my 30s and my friends and I don't even have conversations with the depth these kids were reaching.

Also, probably my biggest problem with this novel was I felt like I was in the mind of an artist. I know that sounds strange, but bear with me. While I was on the writing retreat, one of the underlying themes that kept reaching me was, write so your reader doesn't have to piece together what you're thinking. Because all artists know that our thoughts can be random and scary at times, but it's our responsibility to bring some sort of order to them before sharing.  And as writers, it's easy for us to craft things that sound good, but may not have any real meaning or are so convoluted, the reader gets tired before finishing sorting thoughts out. I felt some of the former and a lot of the latter with this novel. As a result, I ended up skimming through much of it.

For me, the sign of a good book is if it can make me slow down and digest every sentence; when a sentence makes me smile, re-read it multiple times, pull out my pen and underline it. I didn't have any moments like this with A Portrait of the Artist as A Young Man.


The older I get, the harder it seems to do something that once came so naturally to me - writing.  It's not that I've lost the passion. On the contrary, I've never been able to say I am a writer with more confidence than I do now. What it is, is that life got harder. And because I write on a very personal, emotional level, the topics I am exploring and writing about have gotten tougher.

A couple of months ago, I recognized this as writer's block and set out to learn how to counteract it. I thought the answer was a writing retreat, a space where I could sit in nature and have all my basic needs cared for by someone else, leaving me free to do nothing but write. So, I found one in Costa Rica, a place I've wanted to visit for the better part of a decade, and set out to learn more about myself as a writer.

One of many important lessons I learned while on the retreat is that, while I have a very distinct, poet voice in much of my more formal writing, it sometimes allows me to lightly touch on sensitive topics while hiding behind the emotions they evoke rather than exploring them in depth.  I've received feedback in the past that alluded to this, but it always came out as "give more details," so I never really grasped the meaning.

But something about knowing I had to sit in front of the other women on the writing retreat, read my work and have them truly understand it, made me step outside of my comfort zone and dig up to my elbows in the gritty side of human nature.  The above picture shows me reading something I wrote, out loud to other people for the first time in my life. The ladies were all incredibly supportive and I walked away feeling accomplished.

I apologize for rushing through this post, but I have been attempting to maintain some of the feeling I felt the night I presented my work. Trying to maintain the creative energy and discipline for writing that I achieved over the course of the retreat. Part of that attempt is revamping this blog, but more importantly, I'm trying to write for myself for anywhere from 10-60 minutes a day. I've been writing all day today, so I'm exhausted, but I still felt it was important post today, the beginning of the first full week I've been home from the retreat.   If you want to read more about my experience in Costa Rica, visit my travel blog.

Until next time...

~ With ♥ from Halima

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I'm What's Happening: September 2015

Okay, kind of throwing this together because I am not prepared for it to be September already!

So real quick, on the craft front, I started a new knit project. In June, I was in Cape May, New Jersey for part of my mom's birthday celebration. We ran across Fiber Arts Yarn Shop and I picked up a lot of cool odds and ends including my latest project, Delicious Yarns T-shirt  Shawl kit. It's a good challenge because I've been shying away from knitting on circular needles, but as you can see to the left, I'm off to a pretty good start. That coupled with that fact that both Fiber Arts Yarn Shop and Delicious Yarns ship, have me pretty excited. 

On to what I'm reading. I picked up Lisa Unger's In the Blood based on an e-mail recommendation by Amazon.  Not something that would normally grab my attention, but after reading the summary, I thought it may be worth a quick read. Its story line got me thinking and wrapped me up to the point where I hated putting the book down and couldn't wait until I could pick it back up. A quick plot summary, without giving too much away: an orphan is away at college when her best friend/roommate goes missing. The ensuing search reveals that nobody is who they say they are in this novel.  Also, Unger has a way with words and it's always nice to read a pretty sentence.

Since finishing In the Blood, I've moved on to Foreign Gods, Inc  by Okey Ndibe, who apparently studied under Chinua Achebe.  So far it's about a man whose life isn't measuring up to his expectations and he decides to make his own good fortune.  More to come once I finish this one.

Okay, I have some more exciting news in the works, but I want to wait until everything is more set in stone before I spill the beans.

Until next time...

~ With ♥ from Halima

I'm a Connoisseur of Dying Arts

When I was in journalism school almost ten years ago, my classmates and I were told to write on a fifth grade reading level. This is to ensure journalists don't alienate readers and as a result, turn them away from reading a piece.  I wonder what grade level j-schools are telling future journalists to write on now.

I ask this because of current trends of consuming information, mostly visual - photos and videos. I knew while going through j-school that print journalism was on the decline. My fellow classmates and I were even prepared by being taught how to write for different mediums. But I never thought it would get this bad. Limited to writing 140 characters - mostly social media updates or captions for imagery - or writing a script for 30 seconds worth of broadcast material. We've become a culture of overgrown kindergartners bored with anything more complex than our picture books.

Don't get me wrong, I see value in technology and even in these new ways of gathering information.  But I also still believe that they're a kind of appetizer, a method of peaking interest and encouraging you to look further into a subject.

I know I'm in the minority, I mean my hobbies are ballet, knitting, crocheting, sewing, reading and writing. I'm a connoisseur of dying arts. But I have believe that we haven't become so superficial we get bored with information a 10 year old should be able to grasp.

That's all; I don't have a solution. Go read a book lol

Until next time...

~ With ♥ from Halima

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Book Review: Claire of the Sea Light

For those who missed my Instagram and Facebook posts last week about Edwidge Danticat's novel, Claire of the Sea Light, for real, do yourself a favor and pick this book up. Danticat is seriously becoming one of my favorite authors based on the skill and subtlety she uses to weave a story together. Krik! Krak! is still my favorite example of this because I love short stories, but this latest read is a close second.
The story takes place in a small Haitian town, Ville Rose. And really, it's not just one story, Danticat relays the very personal, defining moments of a handful of the town's adults. They're all from different walks of life, so although the reader sees them interact with each other, it's in a very familiar way, the way many of us interact with each other - we know what happened in someone's life but we don't truly grasp their struggle. And because we don't truly understand this, sometimes we don't give a second thought to gossiping about them or pitying them or being cruel.
But the truly nonsensical part comes into play in the way we handle exposing children to "grown folks' business."  We say and do things around them while hoping they don't notice or don't understand and that they will thereby remain unaffected. In a scene from the novel, a mom appeared as a guest on the local radio show where people told their stories of how they'd been wronged. She had her 10-year-old son in the studio with her, but the shows host had given him earphones in hopes of keeping him from hearing his mother's story. When his mother had finished airing her grievance,  she removed her son's headphones and described the look on his face - a knowing look that betrayed he had heard it all.
And in my opinion, that's why the novel is named for the 7-year-old girl who's character didn't receive much more attention than any of the other characters.  She was a child, adults talked around her and with the empathetic wisdom only a child can have, she pieced everything together and became something of a keeper of all stories. But it was her story that finally drew some of the town's adults outside of themselves and allowed them to rescue a fellow neighbor drowning in sorrow. Well you know, "Children are a gift from the Lord (Psalm 127:3)" and all that.
Anyway, that's all I'm giving you because like most of Danticat's work, it sounds simple, but you have to read it yourself to grasp the magnificence.
Until next time...
~ With ♥ from Halima

I'm What's Happening: August 2015

So, I know I had a lot to say during my check in, but believe it or not, I have more to catch you all up on.

I finally finished the project I was working on months ago, the one whose hand sewn lining inspired me to buy my sewing machine.

Let's just say this was one of those projects where nothing went as planned. First, something happened with the shape of the bag where it came out much more elongated than it should have.     

Then, I couldn't find straight, bamboo purse handles, so I bought some bamboo cake dowels, stained them and glued them together.

Overall, the purse took way longer than expected and isn't as cute as I hoped, but it gave me some good experiences like learning how to stain wood and line a purse. I'll probably end up using it as a bag for my knitting needles.

Here's the pattern in case you want to try your hand at it.

Shifting gears, it had been way too long, but I finally got around to taking a small vacation. With July 4th making for a long weekend, I decided it'd be the perfect time to go to L.A. and visit my good friend.  It was very relaxing and I didn't do much but chill out and eat good food, but here's a video I took on top of the W Hotel in Hollywood. It's previewing pretty small, so you may have to click on the bottom right corner to make it full screen for the full effect.

And you all know I'm always trying to work on my photography skills, so I took some pretty decent pics while I was out there.  You can check them out in the photo album I made on my Facebook page. Let me know what you think.

And last but not least, on the plane to L.A. I started a new book, The Valley of Amazement. It reminds me of Memoirs of a Geisha except it's the story of a half Japanese half American courtesan (which is like a Chinese Geisha). Although some of the story is what you'd expect from a cheesy romance novel, I still love the writing style of the author, Amy Tan.  The story draws you in, so I'd definitely recommend it as a good, easy read. And as always, my all time favorite recommended books are on my recommended reading page.

Until next time...

~ With ♥ from Halima

Sick & Tired of Feeling Sick & Tired: My Thoughts on Sandra Bland

I know the Sandra Bland story broke over a week ago, but I'm still going to talk about it today because although I still don't have the words to describe how I'm feeling, I know I may never have them. I apologize in advance if this isn't as comprehensive as my other posts, but like I said, I'm putting out thoughts I need to say, but that I in no way understand.

With all the random shootings and senseless deaths from police brutality, I've started trying to maintain a safe distance from these incidents that seem to be happening nearly every day. It's something like PTSD, trying to protect my fragile mental by breaking emotional ties. So I'll admit, though I knew about Sandra Bland, I didn't look into the details of the case until around last Tuesday when the police officer's dashboard video was released.

Let me just say, was she rude when speaking with the officer? Yes. But I can't help but think about a similar incident I had when an officer was tailgating me as we were both trying to get around a patch of traffic driving so slow and erratic, it could have caused an accident. As soon as we got around these cars, he pulled me over. I hadn't been speeding and I'd used my turn signal with every lane change. When he walked up to the car, I was naturally irritated because not only had I done everything legally, he had been right behind me making the same moves.  I really had to check my attitude at the door and I'm glad I did because as we now see, apparently being irritated and a bit rude is now punishable by death.

And for those that believe the report of the authorities, that Bland killed herself, I challenge you to look into this young lady's life. Check out some of the video blogging she did.  The media is trying to put a spin on it that she may have suffered from mild depression, but really who doesn't? Especially this day in age when we're constantly bombarded with bad news. And as her videos show, she was very in tune with current events. This was a person who had a passion for what's right and good, a passion for improving the lives of those around her. Sandra Bland would not have snuffed her light out over the very injustice she was fighting against. 

And since we're being completely honesty, she may not have reacted to the police officer the way she had if hadn't been up in arms about America having declared it open killing season against brown people.  If you're going to be upset that she was irritated with the officer, take it a step further and be upset that there's a reason for brown people to be untrusting and irritated with law enforcement.  Don't be upset at the Black Lives Matter campaign, take it a step further and be upset that race-motivated killings have made a need for the movement.

I guess that's all for now. I have to get ready to drive home, wish me luck.

~With ♥ from Halima
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Checking In

Life is truly funny. A couple of years ago, I revived this blog because I was in a life-defining moment and needed a space to sort through my thoughts. Recently, I've entered another one of those moments - just really needing some change in my life and embracing the fact that the only way I can bring that about is by making bigger, more directed strides toward my goals.  And even though I'm still working through my thoughts through endless writing, this time around I'm being selfish and only writing for myself.  I'm working on a piece that's different from anything I've every written because not only is it very personal, but I'm also tying it into a well-known, spiritual concept. I'm not sure what I plan to do with it once it's finished, so I don't want to spill anymore beans; just wanted to let you all know why I haven't been around. 

Anyway, beyond writing, I've also  been in my creative space in other ways.  I finished my skirt just in time to start refreshing my fall, work wardrobe!

Here are the steps it took me to get there:

Preparing the lining's hem. Using the gauge to make sure the lining is folded an inch and a half all the way around. Got to make sure it's not hanging beyond the hem of the skirt!

Preparing the skirt's hem. This time, I used the gauge to make sure the skirt's hem is folded at 5/8ths of an inch. It came in right under the skirt's lining.

Sewing the skirt's hem at 3/8ths of an inch.
Preparing the hook and eye closure for the waistband right above the zipper.
All finished! 

And just because it's been such a long time since I started this project, here's the YouTube link to the first of four Mimi G lessons that got me through reading the pattern for this skirt. You should be able to find the rest of the videos using YouTube's sidebar.  And, I'm sure a fabric store would have the physical pattern, but I didn't want to risk the not having it, so I ordered mine on Amazon.

Also, I finally made it to one of those sip and paint classes that are so popular in the DC area (I took mine via a Groupon at Visarts Studio - beautiful facility btw).  Here's the end result. 

At first I was determined to find a dark closet to hang it, but it kind of grew on me, so I hung it right outside of my up and coming craft room. It's okay to not be perfect if it's leading the way into a creative space, amiright?

Well, I know that was a lot, so until next time,

~ With ♥ from Halima

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I'm What's Happening: June 2015

I've heard from a couple of people that I've been missed, so I apologize that I haven't been posting like normal.  

While I wasn't here, I was trying to work on my home refresh project. I say trying because I went to Ikea and although I found some really great rugs and other odds and ends, I wasn't able to find the shelving I was looking for for my craft room. So because it seems like it's going to take a little extra work to track down what I'm looking for, I figured it was the perfect time to finish sewing my skirt.  

The first step on my sewing comeback was piecing the lining together.  Should've been easy, but I actually had to rip the same seam twice!! Apparently I've been away from sewing too long because the first time I didn't follow Mimi's directions and sewed the front and back panels of the lining together on the wrong side (I found out that because lining is sewed into a skirt with the wrong side facing the wrong side of the main fabric, you actually need to join the panels of the lining on the opposite side from that of the fabric's joining seam. Mind blown yet??) Once I ripped the seam and sewed the joining seam on the other side, I managed to do it on the right side of the lining, which was actually the wrong side lol If your mind wasn't blown before it has to be now. Basically you want all seams to be on the wrong side (think about why clothes are "inside out." Because the seams are on the wrong side.)  So, I had to rip the seam out again, flip the lining and sew it back up.  Here's the finished product with an opening in the middle for the zipper:

Okay, here's the new, iron fusible interfacing I talked about last time I talked about my skirt.  I attached it to the waistband and in this picture I'm attached the waistband to the skirt.

And after I sewed and ironed the waistband.

And finally, I got to attach the lining to the fabric.  Now, if you've been following my blog for any amount of time, you know I hate hand sewing, which is why I ended up getting a sewing machine in the first place.  But low and behold, I had to hand sew the lining to secure it without sewing through the front of the fabric.  Then, I was able to go back and use a technique on the machine called "sewing in the ditch" which was basically just sewing along the seam where I originally attached the waistband to the skirt.

After all of that, (it was a lot, but not picture worthy) I started to do some finishing; folding the waistband over the lining seam.

The next step is hand sewing the lining around the zipper, but I decided to save that for my next sewing session because, well, hand sewing lol

Okay, well until next time...

~ With ♥ from Halima


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