Friday, March 27, 2009

My Sewing Back Story: Part 3, All Grown Up


Graduation DayI lived in the dorms all four years of college so I didn't do much sewing. Every year I managed to make my Halloween costume while visiting my parents during the summer or during Fall break, and of course the infamous "ugly dress" for my 21st birthday and graduation. College graduation is pictured at left, with my mom and sister. As I recall, I made my mom's dress as well--she had the fabric and pattern but hadn't gotten around to making it.

I also did a little sewing on campus. I did a play with the theater department (Hamlet) and was in the dance company. For the theater I was able to get my tech credit hours taken care of with sewing. Sweet! So much better than painting a set. The costume shop had a row of New Home machines (my first unpleasant exposure to this brand) and a gravity feed Rowenta iron.

For the dance company, I sewed just because I liked being involved. My whole life I had fantasies of being a dancer. However, my parents preferred giving me music lessons to dance classes. When I got to college I immediately started taking dance classes. Unfortunately, it turns out that I don't have much talent for dance beyond an innate sense of rhythm. I am not flexible, have very bad balance, and get dizzy just turning my head too fast, much less doing chaine turns across the floor. So sewing was a way I could excel in the dance company, because I sure wasn't doing it on the floor!

I missed sewing during those years, and when my parents said they wanted to get me a nice graduation gift--I had graduated at the head of my class with a 4.0--I said I wanted a sewing machine.


After a little bit of drama--my sister got engaged two days before my graduation and my parents completely forgot about getting me a gift--my mom took me sewing machine shopping at the end of the summer of 1996. Unfortunately, the budget range was pretty small and the machine shop guy convinced my mom to buy me a New Home. I had been working with this model in the costume shop for the past four years and already knew I hated it. Partly this is because I was spoiled because the only other machine I'd sewn on was her Bernina 930 (here's a link to another lady who looooves hers). Now *that* is a fantastic machine; I hope to inherit it many, many, many years from now. I kind of wanted to tell her that I'd actually rather buy myself a nice machine than get a bad one as a gift, but figured it would have been ungracious. I think wish I'd spoken up then, though. I could have saved myself 10 years of heartache.

Jacket FrontI had a roommate and no dedicated sewing space for the next two years before I went to law school. I also had my first real job making what felt like a princely sum and I enjoyed myself clothes shopping. I didn't sew much because of these limiting factors, except of course for the annual Halloween costume and birthday dress! I was a nanny directly after graduation for a little girl whose birthday was also in August, so I made us matching birthday dresses. I still have mine, the daisy flowered full length sundress on the left. This must have been for my 22nd or 23rd birthday.

Law School

In law school I again had a roommate and no dedicated sewing space, and absolutely no free time. I think I sewed pretty much only my Halloween costumes for those three years. I do remember giving my roommate a sewing lesson (the skirt tutorial from Amber's blog) so maybe I sewed a little more than that. But not much. I had to set up my sewing machine on a little wooden tray table that vibrated like crazy when I got going.

I participated in the law school's musical theater group, Assault & Flattery. We did an annual production of a famous musical with satirical law school lyrics and plot. It was so much fun and I met a lot of people doing it. I was an editor on the Law Review and so I spent most of my time with that crowd (all of whom I loved, don't get me wrong). A&F was an entirely different group of people. I again took care of my tech hours through costume sewing. Another score!

Post Law School, Pre Sewing Room

My first act upon graduating from law school was getting my own apartment. While I was fond *of* my roommates, I was not fond of *having* roommates, not least because I couldn't leave out my sewing machine. My first year after law school I clerked for a judge in Austin and it was really the first time in my life I had had free time on weekday evenings. Unfortunately, I quickly learned that I couldn't sew on weeknights. Sewing gets me really riled up, and if I'm in the middle of a project I can't fall alseep because I obsessively mentally sew and re-sew every single seam over and over again. To this day I don't sew much during the week, though I think I've learned to slow down my brain a little bit. Insomnia was a huge problem for me through most of my life until a switch flipped sometime in law school. I got so tired that I was able to fall asleep most of the time without any problem. Thank goodness I retained this ability after I graduated!

To fill the creative void I started making jewelry. I got really into jewelry-making, almost to the exclusion of sewing, for several years (it was in this first year after law school that my Nana passed away and I didn't think to take any of her sewing things). It's a lot easier to do on weeknights, takes a lot less prep time and space, and creates finished objects faster. I still did some sewing, of course. The birthday dresses and Halloween costumes have been constants throughout my life.

29th Birthday DressMy birthday dress the year after I graduated from law school was a pink silk burnout chiffon over a pink underlay. I wore it on a cruise with my then-boyfriend and the zipper stuck as we were getting ready to go to dinner one night! Luckily, I had my jewelry tools with me and I got him to yank down the zipper tab as hard as he could with the pliers. He was worried about breaking the zipper but I was like, "I can't live in this dress!!!!! I will have to replace the zipper anyway!" He accidentally ripped a hole in the silk, about which he felt terrible, but I tried to assure him I could easily mend it (and did) and I *had* to get out of the dress somehow.

When I moved out of my Austin apartment I could see there were beads, sequins, and glitter everywhere in the carpet. Hee.

When I moved to DC I got another one-bedroom apartment by myself. I set up a dedicated sewing space, which I hadn't had in my smaller Austin apartment, and got into sewing again. I'd had trouble with the New Home all along. Cidell thinks it's actually just a defective bobbin casing. Whatever the source, I had terrible, terrible, TERRIBLE tension problems on it. It made me cry all the time and I don't think I ever did a single project without fighting the machine on at least one seam. Now that I was sewing more it was just unbearable. I don't know why it took me so long to replace it. I felt like it would be unappreciative of the gift to get a new one. Eventually I realized I'd been sewing on it for almost 10 miserable years and decided I had given the gift enough appreciation!

The Culmination: A Sewing Room and a Bernina

Sewing Room CleanWhen I bought my two bedroom condo my dreams came true. I would finally have a dedicated sewing room. And I would buy myself a Bernina to put in it. I had accumulated quite a bit of stash at this point and had pared it down to move, along with purging patterns (like that beloved sailor dress pattern from high school, dang it). And then promptly started filling the stash back up!

At this time I was working for a law firm. I worked crazy hours (though I opted to work 12 hour weekdays and generally did not work on weekends) so I had a lot more time and energy for buying fabric than for using it. I dropped a lot of retail therapy cash at G Street and Joann's during that time. I only wish I'd had better taste in fibers then--a lot of this fabric is in bags to be given away. Even with my schedule, I still found time to sew. I remember staying up until 3 in the morning the night before I left for Italy finishing up my black and pink wardrobe!

When I quit that job and moved over to government three years ago my sewing time, energy, and interest really took off and I have been sewing like crazy ever since. I discovered Pattern Review in May 2006 by randomly googling a pattern number. Although I was an "early adopter" of the internet as a social networking tool, for some reason it had never occurred to me to seek out other sewists on the internet. Here was a whole new world for me! I immediately signed up for PR Weekend and started posting reviews. Then in 2007 I started this blog. You all know the rest of the story. `-)

The internet has had a huge impact on my sewing. I understand fit issues a lot better and have started altering my patterns; I found Burda World of Fashion Magazine; I met Cidell, Karen, and other wonderful sewing friends; and I get a ton of encouragement and positive feedback and just general camaraderie.

I'm 34 now and have been garment sewing for over 20 years, and I'm sure it will be a part of my life forever. I am not married and don't have children and really hope to have these things someday. I'm sure if it does happen I will have less time for sewing and may just do birthday dresses and Halloween costumes...for the kids. But eventually, I'd come back. No question.


Lisette M said...

I enjoyed your sewing story (all three parts) very much. You and your sister look so much alike! I have a Bernina too and I love it.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed reading your all three installments of your back story.

Myra said...

Loved hearing your story. I am such a novice in sewing, my experience was limited to the last two years on my own and watching my mom & grandma sew. I would have never started except for I wanted to quilt and needed something to occupy my mind after miscarrying a baby.

LaKaribane said...

I enjoyed it very much, all three parts. While I'm not as enthousiastic about Retro Fantasy (did you coin this?), I'm always pleasantly surprised by your color/style choices.

Now that I've buttered you up, can we have a podcast, pretty please?

And you do look A LOT like your sister! Though, how dare she be both younger AND taller??? The nerve!

Is she crafty too?

From a seriously short, younger sister to a boy (how I wish I had a sister sometimes)

geek sewing said...

The post on the "ugly dress" had me laughing. Thank you so much for putting into lawyer-jargon the jumble of thoughts I have swirling in my head about what it really means or could mean to have one's closet open for the big www to view and comment and the possibility that some hostile-lurker download and use and abuse pictures I intended to share because I care.

I like your slapdash ways, I like your writing... thanks for the laughs and, of course, for all the helpful, caring tips on sewing. I'll keep reading and thinking to myself, "Way to sew!"

Rose said...

I love your sewing stories - all three parts. You reminded me of the reason I did not start to sew until 8 years ago. My parents bought me a cheap Kenmore as a gift as I coveted my mom's Singer (which I could not touch, clumsey kid that I was). I never could get the tension right on the Kenmore and hated sewing. A friend talked me into buying a Bernina at a time that I could afford it. I love the machine (no tension problems that I can't fix easily) and now have an obsession with sewing - don't have enough time for it!

Lindsay T said...

Interesting... I think you may have almost lived in as many different states as I have.

Dana said...

I hear ya' about the New Home. Mine lasted about 10 years too. I hung on to it for awhile for the buttonholes and alphabet functions but eventually those wouldn't work either. It was the most money I ever dreamed of spending on a machine and I (gulp) put mine in the trash - because that's all it was good for!

Great back story, now we no everything about you!

KimP said...

Wonderful story; I loved your sewing journey. I made my first skirts in law school for no other reason than I was just so darned poor. Used my mother's old Singer. Six years ago I bought my beloved Bernina and we have been in love ever since. No problems whatsoever. Love your blog!

Lory said...

What a story! I enjoyed it, thanks for sharing. I also enjoy reading your blog, I'm a fan. :)


Vicki said...

Thanks for sharing all that. It was really interesting and I feel that I know you a little better :))

Marcy said...

Awesome! I am not a sewist but I love a good read. I admire your skills - so multifaceted!

badmomgoodmom said...

That's interesting about the New Home. I gave my New Home to my daughter when I bought a Bernina. I instantly regretted it because the stitch quality and balance was better on the NH than the Bernina. I am comparing the NH Memorycraft 4000 and the Bernina Aurora QE.

Perhaps Cidell has a point. I can't tell without looking at your machine. But the full 360 degree rotary hook (vs the upright oscillating hook) should form excellent stitches, over everything from chiffon to denim.