Everyone has one. I have one. I keep all my shameful secrets there. I thought I was alone, but I'm not. A month ago I was visiting someone, let's say she's a neighbour, or not. She led me to a hidden out of the way corner in her basement. She opened the door to a dark closet. In this dark closet was a box. She told me this was where she stored all of her shameful sewing secrets. She then assumed that I had no such box, that everything I made turned out perfectly. I just nodded and then helped her solve most of her sewing problems, most involving invisible zippers. The cabbage rose chintz, however was hopeless. No matter what we did, the dress still made her look like a Victorian footstool.
When I returned home I pulled out my box, filled with my past failures. I realized that I didn't need to be ashamed, that if she had one and I had one then everyone must have one! When I inquired on-line almost all sewist (like artists, only they sew!) said they too kept their failures, too. It could be a closet, a box tucked into the attic, a bin stashed in some dark cobwebby corner of the basement. Out of sight, but never entirely out of mind. And it's full.
Mine has quite the eclectic collection...patterns partially pinned, half cut bodices, the blouse in the odd colour put off for a tomorrow that never arrived, odd spools of thread, patterns with missing peices...the flotsam and jetsam of an otherwise fruitful and creative mind. I have a permanent record of every error in judgment, every mistaken notion, every decision made in haste. Each abandoned project has it's own little story of shame.
I'm not embarrassed, at least not any longer; now that I know I'm not alone. I've been sewing since I was six, knitting since ten, and crocheting since I was twelve, and I've made many useful and beautiful items. I've also made a few mistakes; and when I do, they often are not small. I'm not incompetent. The problem always arises when my imagination out-paces my ability. Over time as my skills increase, the potential for disaster increases. The more I know, the more ways I discover to screw up.
And I screw up royally! I have several oxford cloth shirts with sleeve caps that needed to be eased. Problem was I didn't know how to properly ease. I begged, pleaded and cajoled them into easing. Nothing doing! they shouted back. So they gathered. Because gathered sleeves are inappropriate on man-styled button down shirts, they ended up in my box. When I finally learned how to ease sleeves, they no longer fit.
There's black glazed cotton from my punk days. Punk has come and gone and comeback again...and still my half finished pair of skin tight pants sit in the box. There is an attractively designed jumpsuit, sadly I forgot to design a way to get into and out of the darn thing. I have a wool jacket with two left sleeves. I have a bag with some red rayon yardage that neither matched nor coordinated with anything else in my closet, and still doesn't. It now has fade lines where is has been folded these many long years. There's a crooked sweetheart neckline on the dress I never finished for the dance I never got invited to and the blue crushed velvet.
Ah, yes...the crushed velvet. It started out like most velvets, rich, plush, shimmering...I saw myself as the star of the Christmas dance and radiant on Christmas Eve. But I cut the bodice off grain and the skirt's side gores somehow ended up with the nap running upside down to the rest of the dress. Then the round neckline gaped. I cursed myself for having a double-A sized bosom, it wouldn't have happened to a B-cup. The velvet slipped and slided as I attempted to navigate it through the sewing machine. After working it and reworking it the velvet ended up crushed, like my frail and fragile teenage ego.
There is always a pattern to these disasters, and not the ones that come from Simplicity. It always begins with an occasion and a vision of myself at the occasion. I'm chic and fashionable... drop dead gorgeous in my new creation and when anyone asks I say This little thing...why it's a designer original and I'm the designer!
Take the wool jersey... it's an example of me at my creative best and worst.
My favourite fabric store is Len's in Waterloo, Ontario. They have fabric from various sources, including overstocks, remainders, odd lengths and things that have hidden in warehouses since the dawn of time, waiting to be rescued by the good people of Len's. There was group of fabrics priced at 1.99 a meter. Most were loud polyester from the mid seventies...and hiding in the middle was a bolt of dark teal coloured jersey. I took it to the cutting desk. After half an hour of investigation, including the match test; we decided the fabric was indeed real wool. So I bought five meters.
For the first project, I made a skating dress. I used a polonaise (sp?) pattern from the eighteen hundreds, only considerably shortened. I drew the design out so the front hem was at the top of the thighs and the back hem was just above the knees. I made a half scale to work out the bugs in the design. And what a design! It had wonderful princess seamed panels in the back that opened up at the waist into a half circle; while the front had little darts and seams that flared out. I enlarged the pattern from the book, carefully cut and sewed it together...and it was wonderful. It flipped and flared, I glided gracefully across the ice like Michelle Kwan...okay I exaggerate! At least I didn't fall. It had to be the dress.
For the second project I was inspired by the asymmetrical draped dresses of Ungaro. I remembered an article in a recent Threads about draping and designing. I found the article and I glanced at the pictures and skimmed the words. It appeared simple enough. I was on a creative high from the success of my skating dress. So I started to hack into the wool and drape a bodice. I carefully pinned it on my dummy and all appeared to go well. I had visions of myself in my designer knock off going to my job interview and getting the job of my dreams. I could see myself having Important Lunches with Important People. And it would all be all because of this dress! It came time to design the skirt. I remembered another article about slashing and spreading basic patterns into draped extravagant ball gowns... Or was it Sarongs? It was something spectacular! I was in a creative fever and so inspired I didn't take the time to even worry about a sketch or a schematic drawing or anything that might impeded the flow of creative juices.
I found a basic skirt pattern. I slashed and spread while barely glancing at the pictures in the article. I didn't bother to read a single word as the pictures made it appear simple enough that a child could do it. I cut out the fabric for the skirt and pinned it to my dummy. It looked fabulous! This could be my greatest creation! I could be cool and chic like all those cool and chic ladies in the magazines. I could have clever and witty conversations with clever and witty people! I could conquer the world in this dress! I took it off the dummy and basted it together for a trial fitting. I put it on and went to the mirror.
Suddenly my vision wavered and the illusion faded. I was losing focus! The wool jersey was heavy and the pleats of the skirt bulged outward and didn't lay flat. The weight also stretched the entire bodice down to the point where the cross-over bodice crossed over below my navel. I thought, I face my mistakes...I don't run away from them! So I took apart the dress and tried to stabilize all the cut edges.
But that meant I defeated the stretchiness of the jersey and the pleats still bulged. So I hacked away again, turning the pleats to gathers. But then the swirly effect of where the bodice and skirt meet was gone. I wasn't not going to admit defeat! I am a professional! I am an adult. I face my problems, I don't runaway from them! I took it apart again and tried something else. By this time the jersey was stretched out of shape with bags and sags where there shouldn't have been either.
I hacked away at the dress for months. I pulled it out when no one was looking and continued in my feeble attempts to make it perfect.I finally gave up in frustration when I realized it was now too small even for a Barbie doll. I put away the hacked up remnants of the wool jersey and tucked away the fragments of a broken dream. I would have to find a new lucky dress. I would never meet important people for important lunches and I would never engage in clever and witty conversation with clever and witty people. And so it remained in the back of my closet --a dirty secret --until I got enough nerve to throw it away.
Ten years later I know what went wrong. Read the articles next time! Planning and forethought are as important as sewing and cutting when I construct my masterpieces. And I should have know better, even back then; you never ever combine draping and flat pattern manipulation in one garment --it never works! Now I make sure I plan out my creations. I carefully sketch them, plan out the pattern pieces, and attempt to think the entire garment out before I ever put scissors to fabric.
As for invisible zippers...Those things can turn on even the most experienced seamsters! (Like teamsters...only without a union!)
now if you don't mind...I have four and a half meters of purple wool Melton and a vision of myself in a long coat inspired by 19th century men's frock coats. There will be a martingale in the back, and I can already see myself getting off the train in Toronto as I wave to my long lost friend and meet him for the first time in ten years. He will look at my spectacular coat and say...