A couple weeks ago, while admiring a darling navy and white knit fabric (at a great price, mind you) in a thrift shop, I found myself texting: “Tom, I want to sew things and I feel guilty about it.” I received this reply: “Don’t feel guilty, sew!”
Maybe I should rewind a little further. Last year, I bought a very old Montgomery Ward sewing machine with every intention of making things for our wedding. And then I tried using it and discovered that, while it works in the most basic sense, this particular machine is the one no one in the sewing community talks about. I haven’t been able to find a single other one, any spare parts for it, and everything about it is complicated – from threading to finding the proper belt. Add to this that the tension disks are totally messed up, the motor belt broke and hit me in the face (twice), and it’s “portable” quality is severely lacking. I want to love it, but I don’t. It’s screwy. I made it work for essentials and tried to use it to fix some things, but it’s not much better than hand stitching for clothing repairs.
So, that day, after a few weeks’ debate and my insisting that I don’t need a new sewing machine because I probably also didn’t need another creative outlet to add to my list, Tom put the Amazon order in for the Brother CS6000i. It came a few days later. The difference between ol’ MW and new Brother is incredible. It’s hard to believe they’re built for the same purpose!
Over the next week or so, I bought fabric and was lent some patterns by a friend. After tracing the simpler of the patterns she lent me, she sent me a link to this lovely lady’s blog. This friend (Her name is Laurel and she can make anything. More about that here!), actually pointed out that Simplicity 1873 is quite like the gorgeous dress I wore to a wedding last month – and that it’d probably be easier to make than either she’d lent me. So, last Thursday, I made another stop at Joann Fabrics. Patterns, by the way, are absurdly expensive, but not if you hit up a Joann Fabrics $.99 sale!
Here comes the interesting part. While driving back after spending the day with my grandpa, the BRAKE light came on in my car (who is lovingly referred to as Corrina), but it turned off when I used the brake. I pulled over into a subdivision and made sure the brakes were working and stopped a few times more on the way home – once at a Goodwill and once at Joann. Can you blame a girl for stopping with purpose, even in the midst of car distress? Anyway, I got home and Tom said he’d look at it and to avoid driving Corrina much until we’d ruled out the issue. I drove her to the grocery store Friday night and the light stayed on the whole time, but nothing really seemed to be wrong. Tom finally checked her Saturday afternoon and discovered her brake line was busted and she was unsafe to drive. My poor girl! She got taken to the car doctor Sunday night and has been gone ever since.
So, obviously, this week, I had to devote myself to sewing. What a perfect excuse.
I made Simplicty 1873, just like my new friend/sewing coach suggested. Let me just say that I’m astounded by how well the dress turned out. I’ve never sewn much more than straight lines and making things up. I’ve been intimidated by sewing for years. My grandmother sewed for me when I was young and I hated fittings – I always ended up poking myself with needles. She tried to teach me how to sew once, but I’m sort of jumpy about the idea of something that could sew through my finger if I’m not careful and she was very protective of her sewing machine. It didn’t work. I started to sew some little things with the guidance of my great aunt Mary Ann, but doll clothes are so tiny and tedious. I sewed a duvet, basically, for a friend once. And I made a pennant banner for our wedding and curtains for our patio door.
But following a pattern? I’m the kid who loved drawing, but hated coloring.
I thought patterns would be similar. And, truthfully, I thought they’d just be pieces of tissue paper with numbers printed on them. I had no clue that there’d be step-by-step directions with illustrations. Talk about a game-changer. I was also the kid who argued with teachers about her high science scores on standardized tests: “I don’t care if I’m in the 96th percentile and that means I should be good at science. It’s reading comprehension. I can read!”
Simplicity 1873 isn’t actually simple, but the directions make it seem pretty easy. I took my time cutting out the pattern pieces and traced the pieces I thought I might need different sizes of someday (here’s looking at you, future weight loss!). I did most of the sewing in one night, with Fox “helping” me quite often. He even insisted on napping within view of me and the string machine, as I like to imagine he thinks of it. As often happens when I get into something new and am feeling good about it, I got “on a roll” and there was no going to bed at a reasonable hour, so I was up well into Wednesday morning, with my helper close by and Tom in bed.
I was impressed by how quickly the bodice came together. The skirt was much more complicated: lots of pleats. And the zipper? My, oh, my, do I need to practice zippers more before I can make one truly invisible! I fixed some things up yesterday afternoon – a few pleat mishaps and I top-stitched the fabric closer to the zipper opening. I also added pockets, which are awesomely hidden in the side seams – and Tom says blend right in! I made them incorrectly, but they’re sturdy enough to hold a phone, a Blistex, or even just my hands if I’m feeling smarmy.
There are things I’d change for next time:
- Widen the straps/turn them into cap sleeves.
- Bring the bodice in just a touch.
- Add pockets before sewing up the side seams.
- If I go for not lining it again, add facings to the neckline. I know it’ll turn around weird at some point and I won’t know what to do. I guess bias tape would be a quick fix. #sewingnewbie
- Not stressing about the sizing of patterns as opposed to store bought items.
- I also intend to get some snaps as soon as I can to throw some bra strap keeps in to the straps, which are slightly more widely-set than they ought to be for my body.
But overall, I’m a little ashamed to say I’m really proud of myself. I stuck to something that required me to get the iron out of its hiding place and swallow my fears of sewing.
I made a frickin’ dress.
It’s cute. It’s the right length. It feels nice. It’s lightweight. It’s imperfect. It’s green. It’s polka-dotted. It looks vintage. It looks right. It twirls magnificently. It has pockets. It feels pretty. It looks good. It’s cheap.
Wait, what? Listen up. I’ve been wanting to wear more skirts and dresses for a very long time, but I can never bring myself to pay for good ones, but I look really good in dresses. But this? The fabric is of the cheapest print quilting cottons at Joann – $3.99/ yard and I used maybe 3 yards – so that’s about $12, the zipper was about $3.50, and I already had the thread. That’s a damn fine dress for $16.00. You know, plus my blood, sweat, and time. I never got frustrated with it and had minimal fixing to do after the fact. What a great first official sewing project!
And Laurel was absolutely right when she shared this pearl of wisdom with me: “Making your own clothes will help you feel good too. Like hell yeah I made this super cute dress that everyone loves but I’m the only one with it. Bam!”
Oh, and if you’re at all worried about Corrina – I have been all week – we picked her up this evening. She’s had some surgery and some replacements, but Tom assures me she’s better than ever. I was so excited to see her again; she’s still my most significant purchase ever and I’m quite attached to my girl who takes me places. We’ve been back and forth to Kentucky countless times, up to Wisconsin more than a few, all the way to southern Georgia, out east to Maryland, and everywhere in between. For so many reasons, I’m glad she’s healthy again.
After all, I’m going to need a way to transport loads of fabric home!
(Confession: I may or may not have bought four McCall’s patterns, 4 more yards of cheap quilting cotton, 1.5 yards of denim, a fastener set, and a zipper while driving back from the mechanic.)