It started as a dream and an envelope full of flimsy brown tissue paper I would never do anything with on my own, for I am notorious for being possessed of far more optimism than I am skill, generally speaking. I’d been shopping for Renaissance Festival garb on Etsy and ran across this pattern for sale (and it was plus size, too! That never happens.) I imagined that perhaps some day I’d be able, against all dire odds, sew it myself, or better yet (and more likely) get my mom to sew it for me, because you know, all moms with jobs and lives of their own STILL want to be doing custom sewing projects for their 40-something children who never managed to learn to sew.
Not that I didn’t try. I did. I really did, but it never took. Not when my mom showed me. Not when I took Home Ec in 10th grade. Not when I bought a Singer from Target and tried again and again to teach myself to sew, but only managed to make an endless number of thread rat’s nests dyed blue from the streak I cussed while doing it. Not when I attempted to make a toga–a toga! an item of clothing that technically probably doesn’t require any sewing at all!–for Latin Day at school when I taught at St. Michael’s. (For that last project, my officemates and I gathered to create costumes at Michelle’s house, because she was the only one with a sewing machine. My efforts on that day led me to announce to all present, “This looks like a drunk monkey sewed it with his own three hands!”)
So yeah. Sewing. We have not been dear friends these many years, which always seemed a damned shame to me. It made no sense to me that someone so into clothes was so wholly unable to sew. Which was further frustrating because when you’re an abundant-sized woman, your retail clothing options are limited to begin with, and what’s on offer is often short on style and long on both price and ugly. Sewing your own clothing is a reasonable solution, but only if you can sew. And after so many decades I’d begun to think I just couldn’t do it.
However, at the same time, I’m stubborn and believe that if any person can learn to do something, then I can learn to do it. I hate not being able to do things. So I googled “sewing lessons in Tucson, AZ” and came across Ida Jane’s Atelier, less than 10 minutes from my house, and I took it as a sign. I signed up for lessons immediately, and have been going ever since.
My awesome and patient teacher, Jenny, suggested we start with skirts as the easiest possible option to learn to sew. Because what is a skirt, but a tube of fabric? And yet for a tube of fabric, it can be surprisingly putzy. Sewing is putzy in general, and I learned quickly that very little sewing time is spent actually putting stitches into fabric, especially when you’re creating and custom-fitting your own patterns, and you’re a noob who is still traumatized from your attempt to make stirrup pants in 10th grade (hey! It was 1987! Don’t judge me!) Here: I have created a pie chart of how sewing time is actually spent:
But with steady guidance, I managed to turn out 5 skirts in 3 different patterns in fairly short order (for a noob). With drawstrings and facings and bias tape waistbands and zippers and darts–the works!
High on this perceived success, and ready for a new project, I remembered the aforementioned pattern with the LOTR-type costume dresses, and I brought it in to Jenny to see if she thought it was feasible for me to do it at this point. She said, “Why not?”
From start to finish, the project took about 3 months. Maybe more; it kind of got blurry there in the middle. And because I’m learning, and because it’s just a darn good idea, we do muslins of all the new projects first, which is a rough draft out of cheap, plain fabric that allows you to practice new techniques and fix fit problems ahead of time, before you attempt them on irreplaceable $20/yard fabric. I heartily endorse this practice, as it takes a ton of pressure off, and by the time you’re ready to sew for real, you’ve done everything once already and it goes so much more easily.
As I was nearing the finish line on the dress, I kind of marveled at my sheer chutzpah in attempting it as a novice, because I was in way over my head. Nonetheless, I made it, I wore it, and am feeling pretty damn accomplished (and in need of a break–my next project is going to be easier.)
So without further ado, the unveiling of what I call my “Eowyn dress” (and I whipped up a little matching purse, too, because I can do that now! And I made the floral crown, too.)
And in action: