i really can turn anything into major life question, reader.

Yes, my to-post queue is going to suffocate me in my sleep.  I’m going to do what any mature adult would do in this situation, and completely ignore my entire drafts folder.  Sue me, reader.  Ah, yes, I detect the sound of you not caring.

You’ll be pleased to know that I signed up for a sewing class, at long last.  No?  This is not a fulfillment of your hopes and dreams?  This isn’t the announcement for which you’ve been waiting?  Whatever, reader.  I don’t know about you, but I’m completely self-conscious about being self-taught.  Well, self-, Internet-, and book-taught.  Home-taught?  For instance, I think I spend three to five minutes at the ironing board for every minute I spend at the sewing machine, but I’m still not pleased with my pressing results.

The people in my life think that making fabric fit a three-dimensional body is a miracle of the water-to-wine variety, so every time I ask them for criticism, it goes a bit like “Dude, you made that?  Awesome!”  Sigh.  (Same goes for cooking.  If you ever want to impress a twenty-something, I strongly suggest making pizza.  Apparently, pizza is a thing that is supposed to come in a box?  Way to ruin everything, Domino’s.)  I’ve gotten better at a lot of things, sure, but I think a steady stream of direct critique from an expert would pay dividends.

Anyhoo, the class is at Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, which just so happens to be across the street from my spin studio, and ridiculously easy walking distance from my house.*  I’m really, really, really excited.  The instructions say that we’re supposed to bring our pattern of choice, its fabric and notions, and our tools to our first day of class.  Naturally, I have worked myself into a righteous lather over what to make.  15 hours of sewing instruction!  Is it like regular school, where we’re expected to do three hours of outside work for every one hour spent in the classroom?  So, a 60-hour project?  Does all the work happen in class?  Will the sewing instructor adore me, and think I have the most brilliant project, elegant in both design and execution?  (Yes, I am Tracy Flick and I have exactly no shame about it.)

I’ve got goals, naturally.  The top three are improved fitting, seam finishing, and hand sewing.  They’re all abysmal, right now.  I think I’ve got the curse of a reader, rather than a doer.  I can give you flawless instructions on how to do things that I cannot actually do.  I make French seams, but my hems get kind of weird around them.  I hand-sew like a six-year-old with horrendous motor skills.  Oh, and lining.  I try to line just about everything I make, but I’m lost when it comes to lining shirtwaist dresses or more complicated bodices, or doing a facing-lining combination that I’ve seen and loved on higher-end ready-to-wear.  Anyway, I have no frickin’ idea what I’m going to bring in.  I want to make all of the things.  All of them.  I need your help, is what I’m saying.  Here are my top two contenders:

Carolina Herrera silk twill matched up with view A of McCall's 6696
Carolina Herrera silk twill matched up with view A of McCall’s 6696

Oh, disclosure: I used to intern for a large fabric store (if you’ve been kicking around here for more than five minutes, you probably know which one) and got just about every nice piece of fabric I own from there, during and after my internship.  I don’t work there anymore, and any time you see them mentioned around these parts, it’s with my usual unwelcome-but-totally-honest opinion.  I’m not sure how to strike the balance between transparency and discretion, and I certainly don’t want to do a What I Did on My Summer Vacation Two Years Ago post on my internship, hence the uncharacteristic opacity.  Plus, I got sick towards the end of it and had to cut it short, and I feel tons of guilt about that.  So maybe there is some sort of weird subconscious bias going on?

Who cares?

Anyway, you’ll find a Carolina Herrera silk twill above.  I can’t say enough good things about it.  The green stripes are yard-dyed, while the navy are printed.  It is wide as ever and has great drape.  I luff it.  You know which pattern ties my love for it, though?  McCall’s 6696.  When I started sewing, in the Paleolithic Era, all I wanted was the perfect shirtwaist dress pattern.  I wanted a waistband, a collar with a stand, and a full skirt.  I searched high and low, and never hit the trifecta.  I bought a half dozen not-quite-right patterns, hoping to learn to love them, to no avail.  Then, my Platonic ideal pattern materialized herself.  Bless you, McCall’s.  There are no words for how much I love this design.  I am honestly considering buying one during every McCall’s sale at Jo-Ann because I am actually afraid of changing sizes or of the pattern going out of print.

Between 6696, the Colette Hawthorn (which, despite my crowing about the collar instructions, I really adore), Grainline’s forthcoming Alder shirtwaist, and perhaps a Deer and Doe Bleuet or McCall’s 6885, I’ve got at least a dozen shirtwaist dresses set to come down the pipeline at some point in our natural-born lives.  What’s the point, you testily ask?  Well, it would be great to learn some shirtwaist skills.

But can’t you learn shirtwaist-applicable skills on other, more ambitious projects?  Would McCall’s 6696 take up my projected 60 hours of sewing time?  Would I get bored after five weeks of it?  Enter: cocktail dress.

Vogue 1048 matched up with the really nice panel of uncertain origin.
Vogue 1048 matched up with the really nice panel of uncertain origin.

So, at last year’s Lauren Comes to Town meet-up, we went to Mood.  I glanced over at the silk-lace area cutting table, and saw this fabric.  “Isn’t that pretty?  Is it navy?”  “I think it’s black,” said one of the meeter-uppers.  (Meredith?)  I asked Dennis and he said, “Actually, it’s more of a Prussian green; it’s one of the most exquisite fabrics in the store.”  Now, if you’ve never met Dennis, I suggest that you close your computer, head to the airport, and get thee to his side.  I can honestly say that the fact that he does not narrate my life is one of my greatest disappointments.  If Dennis says that something is nice, you should consider yourself fortunate to be in the presence of said thing.  Seriously.  Swayed by Dennis’s endorsement, I bought two two-and-one-eighth-yard panels of it. Which is to say, I’ve got a lot of this fabric and it scares the living shit out of me.  I don’t think I’d be able to cut into it without adult supervision and some sort of breathing aid.  I’m getting a little jumpy just talking about it.

It seemed kind of vulgar to pair this fabric with just any old pattern.  So, one day, I was poking around Etsy, and found this amazing vintage Vogue pattern from 1961.  It is 1048, from Lanvin, and is very ambitious (for me).  (There is another one floating around on Etsy, in case you want to be twinsies.)  I may or may not have decided to forgo a few exercise classes and a pedicure so that I could get my hands on this pattern.  It has a dizzying number of pieces, and its instructions fit on one demi-broadsheet.  (Nineteen pieces, with allowances for facings and linings, plus underbodice and underskirt pieces.)

Isn’t this becoming a classic frosting v. cake debate?  I generally try to make my sewing patterns come down to about $5 per garment, or one garment for every muslin made.  (Kind of arbitrary, but it makes me feel better about my life decisions.)  That would not happen here.  The pattern was worth the outlay because of all of the nifty things I’d learn from it, were I to use it for the class.  I should probably mosey around to the point: I’d make the short version, nix the ass bow (which is the technical couture name, from what I understand), in the above Prussian-green-or-is-it-black fabric and then try to wrangle a friend into a fancypants Kennedy Center evening.

Over a thousand words to say: Which one?  Frosting or cake?

My absolute favorite part about this is that I’m treating it as if this is the only sewing class I shall ever take.  From what I understand, the instructor teaches a demi-couture class, as well as this one, and will probably be teaching another five-week session in the fall.  But shouldn’t I make a jacket in the fall?  Ugh, why do I make my own decisions?

*Do you remember back when the Internet was super scary, and people took extensive precautions to both conceal their identities and whereabouts?  Are we still doing that?  Because, the thing is, between Instagram and Twitter and this space, you can pretty much pinpoint my location and suss out my schedule.  I’m not exactly keeping any secrets.  On one hand, you used to be able to look people up in the yellow pages.  On the other, I’d rather not get murdered.  So, let’s make a deal: You consider perhaps joining me at spin (Biker Barre, if you’re interested) or for the sewing class, but manage to refrain from causing me physical or emotional harm, please and thank you.  Sound fair?  We could even get a drink afterwards.

29 thoughts on “i really can turn anything into major life question, reader.”

  1. God, McCall’s 6695 really was sent from pattern heaven, wasn’t it? I, too, longed for a perfect shirtdress with a REAL DAMN COLLAR for so, so long. Why did they keep giving us things with faux collars? Some people want their collars to stand up straight, not droop like sad, crumpled paper.

    Ergo, out of pure selfishness, I vote for the shirtdress. It would be neat to see how a professional handled collar and waistband construction, plus think of all the plaid matching expertise! Matching prints is the acknowledged worst, but maybe the teacher would have recommendations? So much bang for your buck!

    In other news, I’m very excited about living vicariously through your sewing classes. Now that I live in Cute Small Blue Collar Town, there are no good sewing classes available, unless I enroll as an undergrad at Baylor, which seems kind of ridiculous for someone finishing her Ph.D. Le sigh. Anywho! Have a blast! Learn all the things! I’m positive you will be the shiniest star in the class.

    1. It really was. Actually, I’m usually a Simplicity girl, but McCall has been hitting it out of the park for me, lately. The faux collars are so, so weird. Even the vintage patterns have them, but you scarcely see them in ready-to-wear. The mind boggles.

      All true. I just bought a sleeveless silk blouse with a medium-size floral print, and it is perfectly matched throughout. As in, there are two breast pockets with flaps, and the flaps match the pockets, which match the body, which matches the plackets, which match each other. I am in awe. Must learn these pattern-matching ways. Plus, I am dealing with Archer fear, so having a guiding hand might give me some much needed get-up-and-go.

      Wait a minute. I was under the impression that once you marry a professor, you’re allowed to walk into the registrar’s office and say, “I am Dr. Mrs. Professor McGregor, and I will be sitting in on Garment Construction 203 this fall.” Not “May I sit in?” or “Would it be at all possible. . .” but a definite command. This is not the case? Ugh. Way to ruin everything, Bears.

  2. Maybe you could take both with you and chose one after getting more info about the class. The Lanvin in prussian grren might be too big of a project for it.
    I never find anything interesting at car boot sales, but one day found this Lanvin pattern for £1.50! I even tried to get it down to only 1 pound, but my negotiation skills are not that good so I paid the full price ☺. Now I need to find the perfect fabric and event.

    1. You’re right. The Lanvin pattern is kind of a beast. I didn’t know it from looking at the envelope, but they I read the instructions and caught a case of fear. Plus, I have no idea what most of the required notions are. What the heck is skirt stiffener, anyway? Organza? Organdy?

      Okay, we need to have a discussion. Everyone I know seems to uncover these sewing gems from boot sales and op shops, yet I have yet to find a single sewing-related thing at any of them. I even went to the suburbs to no avail. The point being, I think your finding that pattern for that price is enough of an event, and some kind of fancypants celebratory outing is in order. You are basically under a contractual obligation, here.

  3. I’d pick a project that’s not too scary, so you can truly enjoy your sewing class and it gets finished. Maybe, this way we’ll ever see a finished garment 🙂
    Who am I kidding. That Herrera fabric is DIVINE. Use it now or I’ll come and steal it!
    Can’t wait to see what you decide (and maybe a result)

    1. Scary is. . .scary, even with a guiding hand. I’m leaning more and more towards the shirtwaist dress. You’ll probably see a result on my dress form, as I still can’t get my act together for selfies. Even when I send my mother a photo of a garment on me she says, “What’s with the face?” Sigh.

      Come steal it! Mostly so that I can wrangle a fellow sewer into the steam pit that is Washington.

    1. Alber Elbaz is my best-friend-in-my-head. He and I have fabulous drinks with Ghesquière, and occasionally the rascal Tom Ford stops by to be incorrigible. Obviously, this pattern is the product of the stars aligning. Obviously.

  4. They’re both gorgeous, but I’d go for the shirtdress.

    It’s one class. You don’t want to kill yourself trying to learn all the things in one class–plus the instructor will have other students. And the shirtdress has enough fun details to learn stuff that’s very applicable to other things you’d want to make. It’s got a good, fitted bodice, so an excellent opportunity to learn to fit a bodice just about perfectly, which is really challenging and nice to have help on. Plus, lining up that row of buttons and buttonholes just so is going to be pretty tricky (this is why I don’t make shirtdresses, myself). I’m also guessing you’d want to do bound buttonsholes in that fabric.

    And after you get those nailed down, you could be tackling button-up shirts, other dresses with fitted bodices, coats and jackets, etc. Those skills are applicable to lots and lots of other types of clothing. Whereas the other dress, beautiful as it is, is pretty well a one-off.

    Fifteen hours of sewing instruction/x# students=probably one or two hours where you are getting direct, personal instruction on the issues of your choice. I’d choose something with no more than three new-to-you challenges.

    1. All true! I’m a little worried about the class structure, truth be told. I’m used to one-on-one instruction, or getting to go to office hours for as long as I’d like. I wonder how many student there’ll be. On one hand, sewing class! On the other, it’s Capitol Hill, where creativity goes to die. Let’s see how it goes.

      The shirtwaist dress seems to be the ticket. I already have all of the necessary notions, don’t have to look anything up (skirt stiffener? Really, Vogue?), and I plan to make a ridiculous number of them in the coming months. I’m sold!

      Ah, this is why I have a blog. (Savagely using kind people for advice.) I feel so much better. Thanks, Andrea!

      1. You’re very welcome. 🙂

        I haven’t got a clue what Capitol Hill sewing classes are like, but buttons and bodices have got to be standard enough that you don’t need to worry too much about creativity-squelching.

  5. My vote goes to the shirtdress in silk twill! Though that second fabric–which looks greyish to me, oops–really is incredibly lovely. I want to ask you to post a bigger photo of the panels just so I can admire the fabric properly, but of course that is not how blogging works. And a real-life sewing class + instructor sounds exciting. It looks like either of those dress patterns would help you pick up tons of transferable skills/methods, especially with fitting, so good luck with your three goals!

    (…Also, how did I not realize you were posting again? I could swear I’d been checking your blog on and off in the last year… Oh well, now I’ll be sure to haunt every post you post to make up for it. You’ll just have to deal, sorry!)

    1. Meraj! I’ll post a photo of the panels after my two midterms on Wednesday. (They’re in a bin, and I am lazy, lazy, lazy.)

      Oh, story of my life, re: not realizing someone is posting. I am trying to reorganize my readers, and there are so many blogs that do not exist across all three. Oy. I’ll muster up the will to see frequent Meraj haunts, whatever effort it might require of me. Blogging with thoughtful readers, so difficult!

  6. I’d start with the shirtdress (because the skills you learn on it will be more of a practical nature = more bang for your buck), and if you get it finished, perhaps you can begin on a muslin of the other? You can’t go wrong either way, but that’s what I’d do. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Becca! I was literally making a list of projects and their associated skills when trying to figure out what to make. Look forward to a whole bunch of agonized posts about how my competitive spirit and blood lust are ill-placed in a tiny sewing class.

      I’m guessing we can totally begin another if this guy gets finished. Let’s see!

  7. OK… it’s pretty funny that a Carolina Herrara silk twill dress is cake for you! Is the Lanvin pattern close to your size, or would you have to spend tons of time altering the nineteen (!) pattern pieces? Does that matter to you? I just ask because vintage patterns never seem to fit me well out of the package, and for me it’s frustrating to try to get them to work for my not-so-vintage shape. But maybe that would be a good project to have some guidance on! No matter which project you choose, the class sounds super awesome and I’m really excited for you!

    I’ve never worn a shirtwaist dress before, but I’m excited to try the Alder dress and I love the looks of McCall’s 6885, too. I bet you look super cool in shirtdresses! Looking forward to seeing those in the future!

    1. Lately I’ve been buying a bit of RTW, and getting into very tense discussions with salespeople about what is appropriate class wear. Them: Tiny ponte dresses and denim. Me: Full skirts and silk blouses. Whatever, nerds. I will emerge victorious. Then again, I’ve been swimming in 80+% humidity for the past few weeks. I am wilting!

      I’m a difficult-ish fit, so the Lanvin pattern is my base size, but will likely need loads o’ flat-pattern adjustments. If this class doesn’t suck in an epic and profound way (like the Peloponnesian War, for instance), I think I’ll take another during the next session.

      It’s really sad that I spent my entire life having the benefit of FIT in-state tuition, but chose to take sewing classes in Washington. I have to admit, seeing your, Kelli’s, and Peter’s classes kind of lit a fire under me. Well, y’all and the Susan Khalje brigade.

  8. 6696 for life! I know I’m a terrible at combining sewing with the internet so I have no proof, but 6696 is amazing when finished! You can’t go wrong: the full skirt is swishy but controlled by a waistband, and the narrow one is a little va-va-vavoom and has the best kind of pockets. (In-seam pockets and I don’t play.) It’s finally summer break, so I’m ready to make another one!

    1. I’ve been seeing so many cute versions of it pop up around the blogosphere. Thank goodness, too, it’s the world’s best pattern. I want to figure out how to hoard it forever.

      What is the break you speak of, and how do I come into possession of it? I’m going to take this opportunity to peer pressure you into posting your backlog on Bright as a Button, so that I might shamelessly copy my fabric twin. We live in different cities, which makes it totally acceptable.

      1. Haha, you know… the break when you’re only working all the time, not working AND going to class.

        But seriously, the backlog is mediumish, maybe…. I got really ruthless and tossed a lot of mediocre me-mades, including my Hawthornes. (That collar wasn’t doing it for me.) I do have a week’s worth of Mabels and Monetas, which I like to a surprising degree. I think the knit solved all my bodice fitting problems. Maybe I could work up a post with pictures — anything for my fabric twin!

      2. I really romanticize working full-time, despite the fact that I’ve had very many people tell me that it is dreadful.

        I own the Mabel, but have yet to print her out. Am I a knit mini-skirt kind of person, I wonder? Maybe? That, and I am waiting until my face doesn’t melt on the pavement, as wearing a knit is like wearing my own personal oven. Ick.

        Hawthorn! No! I got so angry with mine, after the collar wasn’t measured probably, and I fussed around with the lining but couldn’t worm out of the bloody facing, that it is on my desk, about five steps away from being completed. The collar is a bit much, isn’t it? I always wonder where the line is between cute and twee as fuck. I guess it depends on the individual. I have enough cheek fat to supply a dozen Real Housewives with fillers, and have a nose shape that is not often seen outside of cartoon piglets. Basically, I can make jeans and a t-shirt look twee. Anyhoo, let’s see how she makes up.

        I’m really selfish, and should probably say something like “Fabric twin places no demands upon your time! Go about business as usual!” Nope. Fabric twin is very much looking forward to your triumphant return to her reader.

      3. Um, you can see my face next to my comment, right? Haha… if you want to talk apple cheeks, I’ll be right there. But seriously, I will try to post some stuff soon! Just for you, my dear fabric twin. And maybe a little quid pro quo might be nice, ahem. Of course I mean that crazypretty Creamsicle-colored silk print! Did it become a skirt or is it in limbo? (Mine is still living in the stash.)

      4. Oh, we need to talk about that print. So, I laid out the Zinnia on it, and I couldn’t keep the directionality of the pattern on the skirt unless I had another yard/yard-and-a-half. I am home for something like 36 hours next week, so I’m going to stop into Chic and pray that they still have a hair of it left. If not, I’m thinking it might be a sleeveless Archer, or that new Simplicity Jiffy Sew pattern with the French darts. The heart fabric from Fabric Mart is a halfway-done Belladone, with navy piping, though. I just need to settle on my seam finish for her.

        My Hawthorn is just waiting for buttons. It has driven me CRAZY. I’m not even worried about the tweeness of the collar, but matching my blasted horizontal stripes (why?!).

  9. I think you should go for the McCalls pattern. I think a shirtwaistdress has huuuuuge teaching possibilities when it comes to perfecting construction. I’m thinking collar, setting in sleeves, belt loops, gathering and neat buttonholes. And I absolutely adore that silk you got there.
    I can’t wait for you to read your sewing class stories, I miss sewing class… Have fun doing it! And yes, next fall you should take another class and make that jacket!

    1. Done and done. I hope I love it. I just realized that I start this Saturday. Eep! I was going to get a head start and muslin my pattern, but I realize that I should probably not jump the gun. Ho hum.

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