Monday, September 20, 2004

Sewing Machine Woman Strikes Again

It is a dress! I am so pleased by the outcome of my fabric dyeing project: an actual dress I can wear that, although quirky, looks good on me.

I picked up the pattern last Tuesday at Joanns on a kamikaze run in and out of the store while going to meet Roberta to talk about our collaboration for the upcoming WIVLA show. (See for more info.) I knew what I wanted - something with a scooped neck that I could wear the macrame necklace with (see my August archives for more on that) -and I didn't even have to open a pattern book to find it because it was on their revolving rack of cheap patterns. (That is a blessing in itself, as patterns have become VERY expensive these days.) I grabbed a matching zipper and thread on my way out.

I dread putting in zippers. I do know how, but have this sense they will be difficult and I will mess them up. In fact, in a very real sense, I dread sewing altogether. My mother is an exquisite seamstress. She is 82 and doesn't sew as much now, but one of the most lasting memories I will have of my mother is her bent over her machine. She loves to sew. And she is just so good at it. When I was a little girl, she made me a red plaid, wool overcoat with a lining that had every line of plaid matching at every seam. If you sew, you know that is extraordinary. If you don't sew, I probably can't convey the difficulty to you. You have to be able to envision the finished product when selecting the placement of pattern pieces on the uncut cloth. It's amazing and I know couldn't do it.

She made both my prom dresses. One year, we had a half day holiday and when I got home at lunch time, she had cut the fabric, sewed the formal, and was ready to mark the hem. We never worried too much about fitting, because Mother always got it right, even mailing me clothes that fit perfectly after I was long grown and gone. Now, when your mother can make a formal from start to finish between 8 AM and 12 noon while attending to younger children and the home duties of a mother of seven, it is a little daunting to learn to sew. Eventually, I did learn enough to be competent, but not confident.

I don't sew very often and it's mostly stuff for the house like curtains and pillow covers. Sometimes clothes for a child, but not even that for years. I like to do embroidery, both floss and silk ribbon, and I crochet, but I'm not too regular with those skills either, tending to feast or famine in terms of my interest and production. Honestly, I don't remember the last time I sewed myself an article of clothing. Many, many years. I have embellished a lot of sweatshirts, tee-shirts, etc, but actual sewing from start to finish, probably 10 or 12 years.

My fabulously hand-dyed fabric has changed all that for the moment. (Thanks again, Peggy, for your surface design lessons and your time.) On Saturday I cut the pattern out and on Sunday I constructed it. Today I finished it. These things are not as straightforward as they sound, though. I hated to cut the fabric in case I should make a mistake and ruin it forever. The dress I wanted was cut too long and I had to adjust the pattern. What if I screwed that up? The pattern cautioned about measuring the bust and waist carefully because the dress fits snugly and I worried about that a lot. Experience tells me that patterns are "big" and that you should take their measurements with a grain of salt, but I hadn't sewn in so long that I didn't trust my own judgment. Finally, I decided to cut the larger size (that matched my exact measurements).

Sewing it challenged me, too, not because I don't know how, but because I don't do this often enough to remember the little glitches on my machine or which foot is the zipper foot - little things that add up to big time losses if you have to keep starting and stopping. I had to take out a seam because I forgot to change the stitch setting from basting to sewing. My zipper actually went in almost perfectly, but somehow, the top of the dress is off by 1/8th of an inch. The topstitching on the neck facing didn't catch the fabric all the way around and I had to do two rows. Glitches like that which wouldn't even come up (probably) if I sewed regularly because I would be in practice.

The biggest mistake I made was cutting the larger size. The bosom turned out too big and the straps kept slipping off my shoulders; the snug fit just wasn't as form-fittingly flattering as it should have been. So I dug into my mental sewing kit and figured out how to fix it. Michael marked the fabric for me (had to take a dart under the arm and down the side seam, a hard place to put pins into by yourself!) and I fixed it. Really, it looks great. You wouldn't know I had had to fix it. The hem is just slightly diagonal, hanging a hair longer on the left side, but it fits nicely with the flirty hem-lines currently en vogue,so I'm not counting that as a mistake.

To get the final fitting right, I got dressed in the proper foundation garments and shoes for the dress and put it on with the macrame necklace. It looked very pretty. The fabric is soft and the colors look like the prettiest sunset you ever saw, but I felt surprisingly exposed with my shoulders bare, my waist hugged by fabric, my collarbone and sternum on display, and my knees peeking out. I feel like I am too old to be flaunting myself like this. I might be slim, but I am not a taut young girl anymore and I don't want to be one of those middle aged women who looks ridiculous because she's dressing too young. That said, I found a lovely off-white, fringed silk shawl that is big enough to go over my shoulders and tie behind my back - so that it makes kind of a tiny jacket in the front - and put that on. Perfectamente! It is exquisite.

My friend Sam is having a big party Friday for her 20th wedding anniversary, so I shall wear it there. I'll post a photo if I can get my husband to take one, but not today, I have already peeled off my stockings and foundation garments ...

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