Making dresses when you don’t know how to sew

My mother in law died in March.

In November, she found out she had cancer. By January, she was in hospice. It was fast and awful and coincided with the birth of our youngest daughter, who was just two weeks old the first time we threw her in a car and headed south.

It was a long few months.

Anyway, my mother-in-law was a life long crafter. She loved to sew and quilt and just needlepoint and cross-stitch. She filled every closet, under-bed space, dresser, and trunk in that house with supplies. Fabric, thread, yarns, machines. There was so much.

“I kept collecting it so I could use it when I retired, but now I’m never going to retire.”

There’s a lesson in there that I’m not entirely ready to unpack yet. Maybe it’s a memoir later. Anyway, the moral of the story is that she didn’t have anyone else to give all of this stuff to, so she passed it along to me. My husband drove a literal trailer full of supplies back to our house.

The supplies filled the garage.

A month later, I got sick of walking by all of her things and started the process of bringing them into the basement, which is where I planned to set up the machines and make myself a little sewing hole. We went through all of her old notes and notebooks and half-finished projects. Fabrics she’d paired for blankets, cross-stitch patterns from when my husband was a baby.

So. This was when I decided it was probably time to learn how to sew.

I spent about an hour googling patterns and joining sewing groups on Facebook and then I panicked. There was no way on the Lord’s green Earth that was ever going to follow instructions like that.

I know myself.

I wanted to start with dresses, though. So I grabbed one of my favorite dresses from the 3-year-old’s closet and sort of started cutting stuff out. I half-measured (not because I didn’t try, but mostly because I’m just really bad at it), taught myself a gather, and made a few ruffles.

Somehow, it worked out.

The first attempt.

It’s incredibly imperfect, but she loves it.

The second attempt was better. And pinker, so obviously that’s a win, too.

So my strategy is that A: I have no idea what I’m doing and B: I have a very delusional idea that I can do just about anything pretty well.

I cute the bodice. For the first one, I made straps with a couple loops on the back to criss-cross it through. For the second one, I gathered some fabric and made a cap-like sleeve. Both super simple ideas.

Ruffles hide a lot, so when in doubt I just threw one of those bad boys in.

Anyway. I’m learning as I go and getting better at measuring and cutting. Why is cutting the hardest part of sewing?

Here’s to Pam. I like to think she’d be really proud to see her granddaughter twirling around in stuff made out of her fabrics, sewn on her machines. It’s the best way to honor her, I think.










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