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I’m Sewing Mayhem August 5, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Hobbies.
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There’s evidence everywhere. Needles are strewn about the house, even embedded in the carpet, so it’s not like I can hide my addiction. Tweaked on caffeine and a creative high, I was up half the night. Yeah, I’m sewing again. When I told my husband I was thinking of making something, he said without a second’s hesitation, “And that would be a mess?”

I first learned to sew in 7th grade Home Ec (home ick to slackers). I’d already learned how to make floury white sauce, and how you can sprinkle sugar on half a grapefruit, pop it in the broiler, and garnish it with a maraschino cherry to create a healthy breakfast. But, back to sewing.

Our first project was a beach bag with a drawstring. Did it. Next up was a simple shift with darts and a zipper. I became so frustrated trying to sew the 18-inch-long zipper into the back of the dress (baby blue cotton duck), that I decided to just blow off this whole zipper thing. I’d pull the stupid shift over my head and wriggle into it!  But my mother, who was a talented seamstress, would have none of that. I’m sure she quoted entire passages from The Little Engine That Could to motivate me, or just to induce guilt. I put the damn zipper in. Never mind that I never ever wore that shift.  If you look up ugly in the dictionary, you can see a picture of it.

I worked at fabric stores in high school and on summer vacations in college. With that employee discount, I was able to develop a full-blown habit. Soon Simplicity didn’t do it for me and I graduated to Vogue. I was churning out long-sleeved tailored shirts by the dozen. I enjoyed the high of saying, “I made it myself.”

At one fabric store, employees got to sew samples for display and have all the materials paid for.  I made a plaid blazer (100 percent cotton brushed flannel), which required that I match the plaid on nine seams so the garment would look oh so professional. When I was done, even the plaid on the sleeves aligned with the plaid on the body of the jacket. Never mind that to achieve this amazing effect, I’d sewn the sleeves in so that you couldn’t raise your arms. Despite my best intentions, I’d created a Tartan straightjacket. But it looked great!

Growing up, my sewing was a late-night affair in our basement in Omaha. I’d stoke up on iced tea and pull a late nighter. Long before people had a personal pin number, my dad could personally tell you the number of pins the vacuum cleaner repairman had removed from the vacuum hose.  He would ban sewing. I’d lay low for a week then start up again.

When I got married, I made my own wedding dress (crushed ivory satin) for a whopping $12. I got the last piece of fabric on the bolt at a wholesale shop in downtown LA. When I was almost done, I trimmed the long sleeves to put the lacy cuffs on, miscalculated, and realized I’d cut them too short. I had a total meltdown, which my husband witnessed. I pulled an all-nighter and figured out how to add a piece of lace and an extra strip of fabric to salvage the dress. So it’s not like my husband didn’t know what he was getting into.

Years later, I marveled at all of the work I’d put into making my wedding dress – before I dropped it off at the Salvation Army. I’m not particularly sentimental and it’s not like I was going to wear it again.

When we lived in New York City, there was no room to spread out and sew, so I took up knitting.  I made two sweaters for my first son. I was so afraid the sleeves would be too short that I made them too long. The sweaters would have been perfect had my son been a gorilla. (What’s with me and sleeves?)

For a while, I took to making baby quilts because they were so cute and small. Did I mention they were small? But when I made a really special one for someone and they didn’t offer to thank me by giving me their first born, I decided people just don’t appreciate real art.

I don’t sew much anymore, but I was at Joanne’s and linen was on sale. Patterns were also on sale for only $2 and that’s a far cry from the $25 that the designer patterns fetch. I fell off the wagon. So now I’m living in my sewing netherworld and cranking.

I cut out two rectangles to make the first skirt and put in an elastic waist. When I tried the skirt on, it looked like I was wearing drapes. I spent the next hour ripping out all my handiwork. I don’t believe in seam rippers because I never can find any of mine. I removed the last stitches with a dental tool designed to clean out plaque.

I then spent two hours copying the pattern from a Made in China skirt I’d bought for $7.99 at Ross. It’s a gored skirt with a zipper. I’d never made a skirt like this before. It was touch and go, but when I pulled it over my head (zipper still to be added), it looked fabulous! Never mind that I spent an entire night and day creating this masterpiece and time IS money. I made it myself!

I read that with rising petroleum costs, all those cheap clothes from China will eventually become a thing of the past. I’m prepared to go local and sew my own clothes and to selflessly teach others this lost art. Those interested should drop by after midnight, as that’s when I do my best work. Be careful, though, to step over all the needles and pins.


1. mrscjallen - August 5, 2008

what is it with late night crafting and a heavy sprinkle of wayward pins and needles? I know that I always do my best sewing/crafting after midnight. I always thought that it was because I am just a night owl by nature, but I am beginning to believe that some of it is the absolute peace and quiet that is in the house at that hour.

I haven’t been successful at sewing my own clothes (yet), but I have attempted two shirts. The first just wasn’t flattering and darn if I could figure out where the straps needed to be. And the second I sorely mismeasured and cut the material WAY too small. AUGH!

Anyway…just thought I’d stop by to say ‘hi’ and that I’m glad there are more midnight crafters out there. ;o)

It’s nice to know while others sleep, we’re creating the stuff that dreams (or nightmares) are made of. I was always a night owl too, but during the school year I try to “get a good night’s sleep.” Ah, but it’s summer vacation!

Note: Straps go over your shoulders Jan


2. Catherine Sherman - August 5, 2008

This makes me so nostalgic for our sewing days together. Plus, it was hilarious. You, at least, are still sewing. I remember visiting you when you were working at the fabric store in Berkeley and how you cracked me up with all of the tales of the people who came into the store. (Some of the “interesting” people on the street outside, who fortunately didn’t come in.) I just like to buy fabric, patterns, supplies and sewing machines, but I never seem to do anything with them anymore. Maybe I’m waiting for the elves to come in at night (see, I’m not a night owl) and do the work, like the fairy tale about the cobbler who put out leather and found finished shoes every morning.


3. ES - August 6, 2008

I’ll buy you a seam ripper!
I’m proud of your resourcefulness though, remembering your Girl Scout survival skills…using the dental appliance….No plaque!!


4. Sew Stylish « Catherine Sherman - August 7, 2008

[…] My friend Jan used to work in fabric stores, so she had first crack at the good stuff.  She also put her rusty metric conversion skills to good use when European customers bought fabric at the store where she worked in Berkeley.  She wrote about some of her sewing adventures and misadventures in I’m Sewing Mayhem. […]

Rusty metric conversion skills? I was used to measuring in feet and using my actual foot! Jan


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