Just what I needed

I’m on my knees, yellow-topped pins sticking out of my mouth, surrounded by loose threads and pieces of fabric lying on the ground, worried that the speed of the needle should have been pushed closer to the turtle than to the hare and praying that I didn’t mess everything up. Again. I’ve been working on dresses since my sewing machine arrived a few weeks ago, and even though a few have turned out right (at least in appearance), this one is trickier. When I try it on, I realize that my alterations (after consulting NO expert advice) have left the pockets that were supposed to be on the front on the sides of my rear. It looks funny. I think, maybe people will think that’s how it’s supposed to be, and I go on finishing the dress. But each time I try it on, I think, nope, still looks funny. So maybe the other dresses were just beginner’s luck.

Sewing has become my most recent obsession after about a three-year hiatus. The hiatus itself was unintentional— I just didn’t bring my sewing machine to Montana or to Mongolia, so I didn’t sew. (Not counting the holes in the socks and underwear and elbows of shirts and knees in pants and all that…) But then a couple months ago, I realized that if I didn’t use my mind for something challenging and creative, I would lose it: being a single, stay-at-home mom is exhausting but also mundane; it’s both too much and too little. So I requested an early Christmas present from my parents, and a few weeks later it arrived: a beautiful Janome sewing machine, way more advanced and well-made than the Walmart one I used throughout high school and college. (But oh, how I used that thing!) Before the new one arrived, I had already ordered some dress patterns and cut out fabric to make two— this, all without having ever used a pattern before. I learned how to sew in seventh grade Home Ec, played at sewing pants and dresses that never fit right (because how could randomly cut shapes haphazardly mashed together possibly fit right?) in high school, and made purses and bags and more poorly fitted dresses on weekends in college. Patterns were way out of my league, and, anyway, I was having fun working out the puzzle of putting things together before actually putting them together. Challenge, creativity. I needed it back.

Since the machine’s arrival, I have used nap times and late-night, after-the-kids-are-asleep times to make five dresses and a slip and to cut a shirt that became too short somewhere in its short life of my owning it and sew it into a dress. If I had more money, I would buy a lot of fabric and buy all the patterns I want and sew for days and days and days on end. People have asked when I will start selling them, and even though that is a possibility sometime in the future, for the moment, I am just trying to understand what the words in bold mean on the pattern instructions and translating those into movements my hands are supposed to be making with the material.

I’m learning.

I had to learn not to sew the right side of the top to the wrong side of the bottom. I also have learned to use a seam ripper like it’s an extension of my body, such as when folds find their way into the seam and make it look like I have a tumor on the side of my thigh. I’m somehow still learning how to sew in a straight line. It’s not as easy as it looks. I haven’t yet learned what voile and jacquard and crepe de chine are, but I’ll get there. I’m learning to sew, really.  And it’s exhilarating.

I’ve heard that certain groups of people who make really elaborate costumes always purposely sew a flaw somewhere hidden in the costume to represent human fallibility and to show that only God is perfect. I think about that when I’m sewing because it’s so beyond me; I mean, to think that someone has to try to mess up.  Without even trying at all, I am sewing flaws into my clothes left and right— there is no question about the fallibility of humankind with anything I make. I am well aware of my place, and it is nowhere close to the perfection spectrum. Obviously:


Ok, I don’t think the pictures do the pockets justice. In person, it’s like I’m sticking my hands on my upper glutes. I promise; it’s very strange.

But here’s the thing: I don’t care. I have stupid-looking pockets on a dress I’ve made. I messed up. Maybe I can never wear that dress out of the house. Maybe I can never sell that particular one on Etsy. But at least I’m doing something. I’m exploring a part of my mind and gaining experience without having to change my immediate circumstances.


The shirt that became a dress


Dress #1


Dress #2


Dress #3


Dress #4

The slip, front and back

The slip, front and back

And that’s all I wanted: a creative challenge— pins, loose threads, scruffy knees and all.


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