For as long as I can remember, my mother decorated with fabric in every house our military family moved to. She made bedsheets into shower curtains, used liquid starch to "wallpaper" walls (again, with sheets), and she sewed yards upon yards of draperies, curtains, and valances. Once, she took an upholstery class with my Dad and over a series of many (thrilling, I am sure) Friday nights, they re-upholstered an entire sofa.
She made us several Halloween costumes as kids. (One year the entire family was the cast of Peter Pan. She was Peter, my dad Captain Hook, I was Tinkerbell and my brother was Mr. Smee. All hand-made costumes, all VERY accurate and well-done.) She's made Claire and Charlotte quite a few dresses, hats, and bibs. She's not whipping up wedding dresses on the weekends, but my mother is a more than competent seamstress.
She gave me a sewing machine for my birthday when I was in college. (Maybe for my 19th or 20th birthday?) I've used it many times over the years but my skill level has remained pretty flat. I am a barely passable seamstress.
I can sew straight lines. I can even sew them pretty well. But, I sew like I cook. I dislike following all of the specific directions and much prefer to improvise and make it up as I go along. Making curtains really works for me since it's SUPER TOUGH to screw up four straight seams. I mean, there's just not a lot of room to get crazy or come up with a new idea or ignore a pattern. (There is no pattern! It's just a giant rectangle!)
I've tried making clothes before and it's always a total disaster. The detail work required to close seams, construct waistbands, and make simple buttonholes flummoxes me. I get frustrated, I don't understand the directions on the pattern, I make something up, and pretty fast I have ruined my project. So, it's with this in mind that you might understand how delusional I must have been when I bought a couple of yards of fabric, a skirt pattern, a spool of yellow thread, and a length of 1" elastic at the fabric store today. (I did not visit a fabric store with the intention of buying ANY of those things.)
I don't know. I just saw this fabric and I thought it would make a cute skirt and I thought about how wonderful it would be if I had a pattern for a cute skirt and I could just make my own skirts like Laura Ingalls did and they'd be in whatever color I wanted and they'd fit and they'd probably only cost me eight dollars to make. And then, if I got really good at this making clothes thing, I'd make something like this gorgeous dress that I've been eyeing and thinking about for YEARS, and die of happiness:
But, I'm not (anywhere close to) there yet. Baby steps.
Here's what I came home with, on super sale and end of bolt, for about $5. I thought the citrus print was kind of summery and Vera Neumann-ish.
I picked this pattern because it looked simple, it was advertised as simple, and it was on sale for about $7. I made Pattern B - the two-layer skirt.
I tried to decide if I wanted the yellow fabric on top or the orange fabric. I used the very sophisticated method of Wrapping Fabric Around Self While Looking In Mirror, to make this important design decision. Now, when I bought this fabric, I intended to do the yellow over the orange, but when I was looking at it I thought the orange print might be better as the top layer because the print was kind of showing through the yellow.
At this point, I was still optimistic about getting a wearable skirt out of the deal, (HA HA HA HA HAAAAAA), so I wanted it to not be crappy and see-through.
(Please to be ignoring the baby-smudged mirror.)
Now that I'm looking at them though, (and now that I've seen the final product), the orange on yellow just looks like candy corn and, well, I don't really love my bottom half looking like a triangle-shaped candy corn. But that's what this is about, right? LEARNING.
If you've never used a pattern, it is basically the largest piece of tissue paper you've ever seen in your life, folded one thousand times to fit in the envelope. You do not want children to touch it. My pattern had pieces and directions to make six different skirts so I didn't need ALL of this. I just cut out the parts labeled "B."
Annnnd, here is my first mistake. I was trying to locate my pieces to cut out and while I will not tell you what size pants I wear, I will tell you that it is not a 14, which was the smallest size this pattern had. Turns out, I'd bought the pattern for sizes 14-22. CRAP.
Okay, well....It's okay. I'll just make the size 14 and since it has an elastic waist I'll just gather it up top and it'll be full and that will be still be pretty. (Again, still thinking I'll get a wearable garment out of the deal.)
There are only two pieces for my skirt, which is good because it means there are fewer places for me to screw it up. (But, don't worry, I STILL SCREWED IT UP.) I cut them out, placed my fabric right-sides together and cut two pair of each in both the yellow and orange.
I made another mistake. I was cutting the yellow in big rectangles and I eyeballed the last rectangle and clipped it too short by about 2 inches. See all that space on the left where the lines are but there's not any fabric beneath? Yeahhhhh. That's supposed to have fabric underneath. See? Clothes are so much more EXACTING and PRECISE than curtains. I should not have been eyeballing anything. Whatever. I can't do anything about it now.
Let's take a break and look at my pins. I prefer the multi-colored straight pins because I think they're pretty.
I've got all the pieces cut, and it looks vaguely skirt-y! I'm doing good! This is going to be so cute!
(I still think I'm getting a wearable skirt.)
About this time, I decide that what this skirt could use are some POCKETS! I love having pockets in my skirts and dresses. So, I break the rules, I make something up, and I go off pattern and freehand some pockets. I base them on the pockets in a J Crew skirt I have, that I've turned inside out to see how they're made.
(THIS IS A TERRIBLE IDEA.)
I cut them, pin them, iron them, sew them. I try and place them in the seam of the skirt. It takes me a minute to realize this isn't going to work since it's a two-layer skirt. I put the pockets aside for a future skirt. I need to stick to the pattern. I remind myself that things go badly when I make them up as I go along.
Next, I sew the panels together and I sew them with the wrong sides facing each other, so I have to rip out 2 seams and do it again. But once I do that, I have two skirt shapes that layer on top of each other and I'm pretty pleased with myself. Now I just have to do the elastic waistband and that looks easy enough.
Except...the directions are kind of vague about sewing the casing and that's because I was supposed to cut out a casing pattern piece, but I forgot to. I dig out the pattern, find it, cut one. I get confused sewing it though and it's soon clear that I've done it all wrong. I have enough fabric though, so I cut another one and I do that one wrong too. So I say, "fuck this," and I make up my own casing for the elastic band.
(Can you tell this is about when the skirt starts to become unwearable?)
Sewing the casing is an improvisational disaster...it's the wrong size, the elastic doesn't stretch through it, and the way I attach it to the skirt leaves a big open gap in the seam that I break my needle trying to cram through the machine. I replace the needle, hem the layers quickly, and call it done.
It's not the prettiest skirt ever, but I made a skirt! I made clothes!
I try it on. It's, uh, way too small. Like, WAY TOO SMALL. I know I probably used a little more than the seam allowance, and I had that one panel that was too short because I cut it wrong, but...What did I do wrong?
It's about this moment I remember pattern sizes are not Gap or Old Navy sizes. I check the measurements on the pattern and a size 14 is equivalent to a 28" waist, of which I am not in possession of. (A 28" waist is a size 6 at Gap.) This skirt is also realllllly short because I hemmed it quickly and sloppily, so basically it's completely unwearable, even if I do somehow fix the hole in the waistband.
To sum up my sewing sins:
I cut the pattern wrong.
I tried to add pockets.
I forgot to cut an entire pattern piece.
I abandoned a pattern piece and made my own.
I didn't follow the directions and made up my own.
I broke a sewing machine needle.
There is a hole in the waistband.
Duuuudes, clothes are haaaaaard to sew.
This sounds like a spectacular failure (and it was on the wearability front, trust me, I'm aware), but I actually really enjoyed the whole project. I was using cheap fabric, I enjoyed figuring out how the skirt was constructed, and I only spent about three hours on it start-to-finish. I'm sure the next one would go faster and I already have several ideas on how to improve both my technique and the pattern (perhaps use six panels to achieve more fullness, cut it a bit longer, perhaps a sash tie instead of the elastic waistband).
I'm a long way from making that dreamy ruffle dress, and I might never get there, but this was kind of a fun way to spend an evening. I'll do it again next week and see if I improve. (Perhaps I'll even get to WEAR it.) I like choosing fabric and there's always something on sale, so it's not even an expensive experiment to repeat.
What about you guys? Anyone out there a champion sewer that makes her own clothes? Anyone want to be my go-to person for questions on how to sew a waistband? (I'm pretty sure I'll need outside help on that one since the pattern instructions were AWFUL.)