Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Something Blue

I've been sewing up a storm on my friend's wedding reception dress, and excellent progress has been made. I've never sewn a garment for someone other than myself, and I was delighted, yet a bit apprehensive at first. More than anything, I was daunted by the pressure. But I've found myself quite surprised by how much I've enjoyed the process.

I think the best thing about making a custom garment for someone you care about is that you can add human touches that show you were thinking about the wearer while you were constructing it. For instance, I made an inner corselet for the dress according to Susan Khalje's instructions in the latest Threads magazine, which include stitching in a grosgrain waist stay and a wide hem lace. Thinking of the beautiful bride, I knew I had to add a special touch to these elements: a soft something blue that would be hidden away, but that only she would know was there. I've also noticed that I have a driving sense of perfectionism on this project, more than usual. I've so wanted the construction to be flawless, and the result is a garment that while certainly not perfect, I can say that I am immensely proud of.

I made a traditional muslin for the dress (I even made it out of muslin, not old curtains!) and did a preliminary fitting. I was glad that I had taken a dressmaking class at Sew Fast Sew Easy last year where I learned how to fit a princess-seamed sheath dress on another student. Who knew just how valuable that would prove to be!

I've been sewing like a mad woman this past week, and yesterday we had another fitting. My friend looked absolutely gorgeous in the dress, and it gave me a new kind of sewing satisfaction: seeing my work on someone else, and seeing it make her happy.

I think it has to do with this: There's a guiding principle in some circles that to have self-esteem, you must first commit esteemable acts. And the way to do this is to be of service to others. If ever you feel awkward, nervous, or [insert any other uncomfortable emotion here], the way to alleviate these feelings is to perform an act of service. While I normally am a cranky old broad who rejects any sort of self-help psycho-babble, this actually works like a charm. And what better service than sewing? (Ugh, okay, enough. Can I go be cranky and sarcastic again now please?)

I'd love to hear your experiences sewing for others. Do you do it? Or do you avoid it at all costs?


  1. It sounds (and looks) like a really special dress! A wedding project is inherently sewing up a fairy tale.

    The best thing I ever sewed for someone else was a pillowcase, as mundane as that sounds. I got married in winter, and for Valentine's Day gave my husband a pillowcase of the fine cotton batiste I had made my dress from. There were little pleats on the edge, just like the pleated Edwardian bodice, and a strip of the insertion lace beside them.

  2. I take all sorts of shortcuts when sewing PJs, shorts, and play clothes for my daughter.

    But that driving sense of perfectionism you mention comes into play when I sew Easter dresses for her. There's immense satisfaction in doing it the right way, the hard way, the long way, knowing that someday my grandchildren may wear these dresses. It's for THAT reason I took on insanity like hand-pleating all the smocking on a dress a couple of years ago.

    And someday, your friend the bride pull out these items you made for her, and show them to HER grandchildren. And she'll tell the story of how a dear friend took the time to add that little something blue.

    That bond over several generations of friends and family is so rare anymore. Fine sewing makes it possible.

  3. As a mom to a 4 year-old daughter, I really appreciate your comments about self-esteem. This is the kind of thing I try to encourage in her - doing nice things for or helping others - rather than feeding her a line of BS about how great she is in order to build her "self-esteem." (Well, she is great, but I try not to go overboard with praise, if you know what I mean.)

    But, yeah, let's get back to being cranky/cynical before we all join hands and start singing Kumbaya...

  4. Oh I can't wait to see the dress! I love the blue lace, very very special!

    I never tire of sewing for others. I used to only sew for my daughter, but I have recently sewn dresses for other women and a colonial costume for a friend. I LOVE making something look good on someone else. I really enjoy alterations too. Even if it's a cheap garment it pleases someone to no end to have their outfit custom fitted.

  5. I'm so glad to hear the dress amking is going well - I can't wait to see it finished and on the bride. That is quite a project and I know you will do it well. Keep having fun with it.

  6. That is so self-less and sweet of you to do this for your friend. She will always treasure this dress and the trouble you went to to help maker her day even more special.

  7. I've been doing alterations for some time but have just recently started sewing undergarments, like panties, for others. I've been making my own bras for awhile and had a friend ask if I would make her one since she is a busty gal, too. It has been really fun for us both and a great learning experience for me. After a few test fittings I made her a "tester bra" to wear and it fit wonderfully! I was so excited and so was she to have a bra that fits! Definitely a feel good moment and it has made me more confidant in my sewing abilities. I'm a super harsh critic of myself in many areas and making someone else happy is always a nice boost to the ol' self-esteem.

  8. I'm glad you're dress is so successful - I can't wait to see how it looks!

    As far as sewing for others, lately I've actually done quite a bit of it. Not so much others, but for my husband. He's 6'7", about 165lbs., has a 32" waist, 38" chest, 38" inseam, and needs 28" sleeves - needless to say we can't buy anything ready made that actually fits and looks good on him. He entered a new work field about a year ago, and this summer had to go away to training sessions, needing nice looking clothing while he was there. I made my first pair of proper pants (x2) for him, and I definitely put more time and effort and special finishings into those two bits of clothing than in anything I've ever made for myself. He looked good, and felt good, as anyone would who's used to having saggy pants that don't go past their ankles would when finally getting something that fit. And that made me feel amazing. Now, we're trying to find a winter coat for him - impossible, I've decided, there is no such thing as small clothing with extra long lengths, so I might be attempting some warm weather gear for the first time - for someone else, who's worth the extra effort.

    As far as sewing for other women - I avoid that like the plague! I'm only just getting to the point where I can make things to fit with all of my body's oddities, I can't imagine dealing with anyone else's! I have made things for my sister, but we share a lot of body-fit issues, and she's my sister, so that falls into the same category as 'sewing for my husband'.

  9. I love sewing for other people! Right now I mostly sew for my children (17, 14, 12, 9, 7, and 4), my husband, and my mother.

    I am slowly trying to build up my client base - however there are few people out here who want to pay for well-fitting clothes, especially when they can buy what they deem fitted clothes off the rack.

    I strive hard not to take shortcuts, as I want my clothing to be better than factory made - however I do take shortcuts with pj bottoms for my little ones.

  10. It looks like it will be gorgeous!

    Funny you ask, my sister JUST said to me, hey, in a year or two do you think you'll be good enough to sew me a wedding dress?

    ACK! I hope so b/c it's a project I would love to tackle but many, many muslins would be required.

  11. Oh, I can't wait to see pictures! And for some reason, the only time anything ever really turns out is when I'm sewing for another person. :)

  12. Wow, I'm totally looking forward to seeing that dress!
    I've always loved the idea to sew something for someone else. My first try was a dress for a 15-year-old girl's confirmation, and the pressure almost drove me crazy! I realized that screwing up your own dress is one thing - but disappointing someone else would have been a total nightmare. I also learned that most people don't realize how much work it is to sew a garment, and that there are (at least for me) certain limits to what I can and can't do, but even though it was a less advanced project than your wedding dress, I know that feeling you've descibed: When I saw the pictures of that girl in that dress with wich I had spent so much time, I was super-happy and also proud.

  13. I'm sewing curtains for my grandmother for Christmas - does that count? ;)

  14. What a nice friend you are! I can hardly wait to see it

  15. Remember; It counts more if you DON'T put the dress inside out on a dressform and point out all the special things you've done.
    I love the blue lace detail. How much are you going to cry at this wedding?

  16. My recent sewing binge started when I began making handbags 1 1/2 years ago. I have been sewing for many years, but not like I have since then. Several asked about buying my handbags, so I sold some. Basically, the ones I sold paid for the fabric and materials to make more things for me!
    This summer I have made lots of clothing, including items for others. Like you, I find myself taking more time to make sure the item is just right when I know somebody else will be wearing it and inspecting it!
    I can't wait to see the dress you are making!

  17. Wow, thanks for sharing all your experiences everyone! From bras to pillowcases to curtains, what matters is the personal connection, I think.

    k: Ha! I am the worst about needing all sorts of praise when I've done the littlest thing. Eh. I'll try not to brag too much. Progress not perfection, right?

  18. I've learned the hard way that some people appreciate my sewing and others don't. There is a segment of our socieity that just can't appreciate something handmade. If it's not brand-spanking, off-the-rack new they regard it as somehow inferior. How sad - and then we wonder why so many of our products are now made oversees or by a machine... That's why I mostly sew for kids - they are so fascinated watching me at my machine, holding their breath to see if the needle will stab my fast moving fingers. Their delight in gettingto choose thier own fabric and help put pins in is just adorable - plus there's the big sloppy hug and kiss when I hand them their finished project. That's what makes it worth it!

  19. I have made many pieces of clothing for my children and as a grandmother, I have made several dresses for my five granddaughters, once making matching ones for the three then youngest ones. They were so cute. People thought they were sisters.

    And I made a christening gown for the next youngest granddaughter, complete with a bonnet. When her younger sister was born, I offered to make another christening dress and our daughter said no--she wanted to use the same dress. I had had embroidered Elizabeth's name and christening date on the edge of the slip and so I just added Abbygail's on the inside edge, making it an future heirloom to be used by future grandchildren. The future grands' names can be added as the dress is used. I did make Abby her own hat so she had something that was personal. The bodice of the dress was hand-smocked (the first and only time I have done smocking). I felt the dress was such a precious gift of love to those two grandbabies.

  20. Its so awesome that you make special touches to your garments that only your friend will see-it makes the dress more personal than a store bought dress.

    I will be making my first dress in a couple weeks and am fairly nervous and dont really know how it will turn out, but your story has made me more excited.


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