A Descent Into Madness: Why I Sew

Most people have a story or a reason for sewing.  Some do it to save money, some because they inherited the talent and the knowledge from their mothers, and some just because it is fun.  My story is a little less straight forward, and honestly, I feel, still at the beginning.  So maybe it isn’t much of a story, but it is my story nonetheless.

Truly outrageous!

I suppose, as with many things, my story begins in my childhood.  As I am of 80s vintage, it is perhaps easy to see why I really didn’t care much for fashion or clothing while growing up.  My style icons consisted of Jem, Barbie, and Tiffani-Amber Thiessen on Saved By The Bell (who is still gorgeous but less of a personal style icon on the insanely addicting White Collar, I might add).  As with most girls I went through a “pink phase” which was quickly turned into an “anything but pink phase.”  Still haven’t really grown out of that one.  In any case, as a child I could have cared less what I wore or how I looked.  I thought clothes in general were ugly (I suppose, looking back, that I thought that because, well, they were) and pondered how we got from the lovely gowns of the 1770s to the hideousness that was the shoulder padded jumpsuits of the 1980s.  I decided early on that clothes were a necessity, but not something worth time or interest, and I avoided shopping for my own clothes as long as I possibly could.  Shopping for Barbie clothes… that was a different story.  Of course, Barbie lived in a glamorous world of shiny shimmery ballgowns and party dresses, while I had to deal with shoulder pads.  So, um, yeah.  Adding to life’s difficulties, I was rather large as a child.  And by large I mean both tall and solid.  I honestly don’t know, because I didn’t like to shop for clothes, but I think I was fully into adult sizes by 3rd grade.  Definitely by 4th.  So while all the other kids got to look like kids I was trying to avoid dressing like the teacher.  I honestly don’t feel like there were as many teen/tween dedicated clothing options when I was little, but I suppose it really didn’t matter as I bypassed those sizes altogether.

Things changed slightly when I started roller skating competitively.  I loved skating, but honestly what drew me in to the competitions were the pictures of the shiny pretty dresses on the wall.  Sad, but true.  I wanted to be worthy of a pretty skating dress.  So I worked hard, and I got better, and got up to the point of wearing skating costumes.  I wasn’t the best skater, but I did finally feel pretty.  I got into competition and needed more costumes, and while my mom bought some of my first costumes from a professional seamstress, we made friends with another skating mom who knew how to sew.  And she offered to sew costumes for me and for my sister, and I could design them myself.  This, I think, is truly when the addiction started.  I wasn’t really sewing them, but I did learn how to bead, and rhinestone, and pick fabric and trims and patterns from the stores.  And honestly, how can a person go into a fabric store and not want to play with all of the pretties?  I very much wanted to learn how to sew, but was content with just putting on all of the sparkly stuff at the end.

In middle school, those of us not in band had to take the rotation classes: art, shop, study skills and home ec.  Nothing terrified me more than the sewing machine in home ec.  Not because the machine itself scared me, but because it looked so complicated and so easy to break.  While the actual components of the machine escaped my memory, the cost and value to the class were imprinted on my brain.  The thought of breaking something so expensive was petrifying.  We weren’t really taught how to use the machine, other than how to press go.  We made a little square pillow (a pre-made kit, we could pick one of the designs) so it wasn’t like there was a lot of complication to the actual sewing.  Just 4 straight lines.  Except, when you have 30 kids and 4 machines there isn’t a lot of time to be perfect.  So straight lines don’t really turn out straight.  Between lack of time and terror at the thought of doing something wrong I turned out a sad, flat, wrinkled little pillow.  It was gently suggested (through my grade and otherwise) that sewing just wasn’t the activity for me.  So I sort of gave up on the idea of learning to sew, at least for a time.

I remained satisfied with sketching out my ideas and having someone else help me bring them to life.  As one of those people with a creative itch, it wasn’t fully satisfying to lack some control of the outcome, but it was significantly better than paying someone else to do the whole thing.  Sadly, about two years ago, the lady who helped sew my costumes was ill and not able to sew new dresses for me.  For some reason the timing just felt right and I figured I would just fix this problem by buying a sewing machine and figuring it out myself.  I was a little apprehensive, and I still held onto that fear of breaking the machine.  So I decided to buy a cheap machine, because I figured, if I broke it at least it wouldn’t have been such a huge investment.  Enter the Brother CS6000i.  It still needs a name.  In any case, I spent a week breaking the machine.  And fixing it.  I think I managed to get every single error code to pop up in the span of about 3 days (impressive, no?).  I tangled thread, I broke needles, I jammed fabric into the throat plate.  But, I learned how the machine worked.  And knowledge is power, and, in this case, peace of mind.  Somehow, despite the early abuse, the thing still manages to sew.  And if something does go wrong I can usually figure out what it is.  So, after a week of tears, frustration, and some choice diction, I felt I was ready to sew a skating dress.  So, I did.  Now, it wasn’t particularly the best skating dress, and I only wore it a few times, but it was a start down a slippery slope.

As with most things, I got much better at making skating costumes with practice.  It helped that I had been designing and wearing them for around a decade.  I definitely had ideas about what would look good, what was feasible, and how I wanted things to fit.  I have since made over 20 costumes (photos and pattern review to come) and some have been, I feel, quite successful.  As I don’t have plans to stop skating any time soon, hopefully there will be more skating costume posts, perhaps a tutorial in the future (probably not until next year, when the next round of costume sewing gets under way).

Now, as I got the sewing machine to make costumes, I suppose it would have been alright to say, “Look!  Skating costumes!  Mission accomplished.”  But no.  Sadly, I could not confine my new found love of sewing just to the stretchy stuff.  I wanted to sew other things too.  But, even then, I was still not interested in normal, everyday clothes.  While I had no real occasion to wear them, costumes and ball gowns seemed so much more reasonable as sewing projects, because there was no practicality in buying them, but there was fun in making them.  So, I thought, ah, I can finally sew awesome amazing costumes!  I mean, why would I even bother sewing practical clothes.  You can buy practical clothes.  So started my year of making fairy tale gowns and full hooded capes and cloaks.  Which was fun.  Until I realized I had an entire wardrobe that I had no reason to show off.

In the meantime, while learning to sew non-activewear, it became apparent that fit in a dress made of lycra and a dress made of brocade are very, very different.  And so I became obsessed with learning about fit and pattern alterations.  And here, dear readers, is where it becomes dangerous.  Once you learn how things should fit, you realize how much things don’t fit.  This is a problem.  Because then you think, wait, why am I spending money on something that doesn’t fit right when I could spend money on fabric and make something that does?  You see, it is a very slippery slope.

So, my new desire to achieve perfect fit coupled with the fact that I have always enjoyed shopping for fabric far more than I enjoyed shopping for clothes has landed me where so many others have started: wanting to make my own clothes.  Which has led me, perhaps for the first time ever, to have a serious interest in clothing.  It is… odd.  But I suppose not unwelcome.  And it does give me a nice excuse for pattern and fabric stash accumulation.  Now, I haven’t really been sewing long enough to have made any really successful everyday garments (a few passable ones, but honestly probably not destined to remain as wardrobe staples), but hopefully that will change in the near future.  In addition, my wardrobe consists mostly of jeans, t-shirts, and hoodies: the college kid uniform.  I don’t really want to go from this to full-on pantsuit (I would honestly look ridiculously overdressed for work), but I suppose it couldn’t hurt to dress a little less “second year undergrad.”  So, hopefully the next few years will be years of transition: a change from sewing costume to clothing and from lazy college kid to “I have too many years of school under my belt.”

So you see, learning to sew truly is a descent into madness.  It starts as a passing fancy, a few well planned projects, but quickly grows into an all-consuming passion.  So now my nightlife is spent reading sewing blogs, sketching dress designs, plotting pattern purchases, and planning out uses for my ever growing stash.  My personal library has had to be re-housed to make room for my ever growing collection of sewing books, and my furniture has been drastically rearranged so I have room to cut fabric.  Yes indeed, the sewing bug has bit hard and I don’t think I will be recovering any time soon.

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