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:
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?
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.
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.