Learning to Sew

I’m trying to teach myself to sew, and it’s not easy. I grew up in a sewing family. Before she got sick, my mother loved to sew, and I considered her an expert seamstress. She sewed my eldest sister’s prom gown, and many of the outfits I wore as a little girl were sewn by my mother. My sister Mary sewed my first “grown up” business suit, a gorgeous riding-habit style jacket and skirt in a deep, grayed plum wool that suited my complexion perfectly. My sister Ann sews beautifully and a quilt she made adorns my bedroom; her work has won prizes in the state fair.

Then there’s me. I rejected everything feminine when I was a girl, preferring to romp in jeans and play in mud puddle to sewing, cooking and the feminine arts. But I’ve mellowed with age, and now that I’m in my 40s and frustrated by the lack of stylish, feminine, modest clothing available in the stores, I feel as if my only option is to sew my own.

I have a few challenges when it comes to sewing, not the least of which is that I never learned how! I took an adult education class at the local high school when I was in my 20s, but I never completed the course, and dropped out after I’d mangled the pattern cutting on the test dress I started for the class. At least I learned a little bit in the class, like how to read a pattern and how to thread a machine.

My husband bought me a beautiful sewing machine for Christmas back in 2010 and I’ve used it to make catnip mice for the cats, to sew a pillow for the house, and to try to make a skirt. The skirt project is what I’m hoping to finish this weekend. It’s a plain, simple knee-length navy blue skirt. I’m up to the last stages of it and I’m so nervous I won’t finish it properly, or I won’t wear it once it is finished!

I think I suffer from comparison syndrome and from intimidation. I’m intimidated by my sewing machine, and by the patterns that remind me of blueprints, and by the instructions that force me to keep looking things up in the glossary of the Reader’s Digest sewing book I bought.  

For instance, the instructions on sewing on the zipper said to “baste” it onto the material first. Baste? I thought you only basted a turkey.

Yet I keep looking at the fashion patterns from the 1940s and 1930s that I see online, and the beautiful dresses, elegant skirts and gorgeous accessories, and I want to make them. I really dislike 99% of modern fashions.  Somewhere starting in the early 1990s the fashions changed for the worst. Sure, the 60s had a lot of monstrosities - baby doll dresses, anyone? And the 70s weren’t much better. But the 1980s had a lot of wonderful fashions if you could overlook the gigantic shoulder pads and hoop earrings hanging down to your shoulders. The long skirts, flower patterns, Jessica McClintock blouses with seed pearls and lace,  Chanel retro-inspired sweater sets, and even some nods back to fashions of the 40s (the tulip skirt and the peplum dress) and the 50s (poodle skirts) make me nostalgic for those days.

I took myself shopping last week and left three stores empty handed.  All of the clothes looked ugly to me. They hang like shapeless sacks on the racks; on the female form, they look even worse. Women have curves, wide hips, and narrow waists. All of the fashions this season are straight. We aren’t stick figures or young boys; we are women. And mature women like me who want to dress elegantly, femininely and modestly have such a tough time finding affordable fashions. Even stalwarts like Talbot’s lack affordable, modest clothing.  Chadwicks of Boston had some nice skirts and dresses, but they’re still too plain for my taste.

It’s supposed to rain on Sunday, and I promised myself a nice relaxing day of sewing. I’ve got a knitting project going; I’m making a shawl, which I hope to make nice enough to wear around the house. My last knitting project, a poncho, so resembles something a homeless person might don out of the trash can that I’ve relegated it to the cat house on the front porch where my kitties snuggle into it at night. They, at least, don’t seem to mind my amateur attempts at the fiber arts.

Wish me luck this Sunday as I drag the sewing machine back out and attempt to finish my skirt, as well as repair a favorite skirt with a broken zipper.

I need all the luck I can get!