How I started my dressmaking career Part 1

When I was a little girl, I watched Cinderella for the first time and I fell in love with it.  Not because of the prince charming, the fairy godmother, or even the becoming a princess fantasy.  My favorite part was the dressmaking scene - the mice and little birds sewing a gown using odds and ends in an attic room on a dress form. It was magic! I knew instantly what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to make pretty dresses.  It was that simple.  I didn't know how to go about accomplishing this - I didn't have a seamstress mother or aunt to guide me and teach me to sew.  I was a sheltered child of 5 years old, dreaming big dreams that involved needle and thread.  I was the middle child in a family of 9 children.  I knew early on that my dreams were my own responsibility - this was my dream - no one else's - and I would have to see it through by myself. 

So, I began gathering up knowledge and materials from any source I could.  I started with all the sewing supplies my mother owned.  These she kept in a tiny cookie tin with no lid.  There were 2 dusty spools of thread, one brown and one black, a few random buttons, and 3 tapestry needles.  If I had only known then how may wonderful types of thread and needles existed and how exciting it would be to explore this - but for me, those meager tools were my treasures.  When I asked permission to use them after explaining my need to create beautiful gowns,  my mother gasped and insisted that not only was sewing gowns too hard for me to do, it was much too dangerous for a young girl to use sharp things responsibly.  Her solution (bless her heart) was to provide me with an old skirt on a hanger and to use bobby pins and hair clips to drape the fabric this way and that.  I tried this method - and after about 5 minutes, decided it was crap and that the off- limits sewing tools were what I needed instead.  So, I swiped them, hid them in an old winter hat, and began my secret sewing adventures.  I used dolls for dress forms, pieces of pillow case and any little scraps of fabric I could find, and an old pair of yellow school scissors (try cutting fabric with those babies).  I took my little satchel of goods and hid under tables or outside beneath trees, any little place where I wouldn't be found and pieced together creations for my dollies.  I draped the fabric, stitched it, made embellishments from the scraps, I played with how the fabric could lay this way or that and experimented with symmetry and asymmetry.  Of course I was much hindered by the limited amount of fabric I had, but I made it work.  It never bothered me that the black and brown thread never matched - I worked on my stitches, making them more even and observing that if I stitched ever so carefully I could make it so that the stitches didn't even show at all, and I could hide the knots!  I was very proud of discovering this.  

My mother never found out about my secret sewing - but eventually she observed that my drive wasn't going to slow, so she asked a seamstress friend of hers to come by one day and look at the dolls clothes I had made (my mother never could figure out how I made them) and to give me some advice.  I remember that I didn't like this woman.  She had a rough way about her and I was very nervous.  But, she said that my hand stitching was very good and then continued on about how hard it was to sew prom dresses and that she did it once for her size 0 daughter and would never do it again. I thanked her and made a firm decision within myself that I would not grow up to be like this woman - crusty, hard, and uninspiring.  I could learn any skill I needed to make any fabulous garment I liked and I could do it with style, grace, and a smile on my face.

I'll continue my story in future posts.  But for now I'd like to share a video of a gown I made this past summer.  This video project was done in collaboration with Peer Canvas.  We were inspired by Marie Antoinette and the fairy princess fantasy that so many little girls have - whether that means making the dress or wearing it - or both!  

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