Exponent II Classics: The Dress
It was two days before the high school Christmas dance and, according to my daughter, EVERYONE was getting a new dress. She had shopped for weeks for the perfect outfit, with and without friends, with and without me, but unsuccessfully. Here it was, two days before, and still no dress.
I’ve been to every store I can think of,” she said, “except one, and I hear things are really expensive there.”
We decided to try, anyway. And there is was: the perfect dress! Perfect color, style, fit, everything—except the price: $220. She and I both knew that was out of the question.
As we left the store, she said, “Mom, I know you could make a dress like that one—easy.”
I was not so sure, but I was flattered enough to let her talk me into the fabric store, into a very complicated wedding dress pattern with an underskirt, and lots and lots of headaches. The cloth, pattern, zipper, linings, and thread all came to $53.49—more than every dress that she had tried on except, of course, THE dress. We weren’t saving a cent, and I still had at least two full days of constant sewing ahead. I didn’t sleep well that night and was weary before I dusted off the sewing machine the next morning.
As I cute out and pinned and sewed and pressed, it brought back memories of my own mother’s sewing. I remembered falling asleep at night to the whirr of my mother’s knee-operated Singer as she sewed into the wee hours. I was told that, as a toddler, my mother would ask what I would like her to bring me from downtown and I would reply, “Terial.” I remembered standing on a chair while, with pins in her mouth, she leveled the wooden yardstick against my leg to even a hem. I remembered feeling the prick of some of the pins still in the hem as I walked out the door, removing basting stitches as I sat wearing the dress in church, or having threads hanging down my legs at the dance.
My brother often said that when he got married there would be no sewing in his home. He wasn’t going to have any pattern pieces on the table or basting threads on the end of the ironing board or pins here and there on the floor. After only one month of marriage, he bought his new non-sewing bride a sewing machine, which she never learned to thread, but which came in handy when he made his daughters costumes for Halloween or the school play, mended ski pants, repaired the curtains, or adjusted the hem on his wife’s dresses.
Now, as I basted the ruffles on my daughter’s Christmas dress, I realized what this creative process meant to me. In spite of the difficult pattern and confusing instruction and no time for other things, there was a spirit of camaraderie, a cooperation by everyone, a feeling of togetherness. My daughter fixed dinner for the family; my husband did the dishes; and afterward, my daughter said, “I’m going to stay home tonight and help you sew.” She gathered the neckline while I pinned the skirt, and we talked and joked. She said, “You know, Mom, since this is a wedding dress patter, if I have to get married in a hurry, we’ll have the dress already made.” I wasn’t comforted.
Making the dress didn’t save us any money, and frankly, it really didn’t look exactly like the $220 store dress. I doubt if she will wear it much, and I hope not soon as a wedding dress, but it brought us a gift that no credit card can buy.
I love how the family transforms this project from “one more thing mom has to do” to a communal effort. Do you have stories about spectacular feats of sewing? Do share!
Want to see more awesome vintage patterns? Click here.