My brother got married last July and I thought it would be nice if I made my mother a dress to wear for the occasion. Translation: I knew that my mother needed a dress for the occasion and I decided that making one entirely from scratch would actually be easier than the two of us shopping for one. I like to think that we have a number of useful skills, my mother and I, but the ability to shop for clothes is not one of them. And shopping on a deadline, for a particular occasion…well, the very idea was making me queasy.
Sometimes a tight schedule is a good inducement to get things done in a timely fashion. We decided to use a Vogue pattern that I had used to make a dress for her back when I was in high school. It is affectionately known as the Krinkle Dress as it was made from a wine-colored krinkle fabric purchased at an Indian sari shop in New Jersey. It has worn well and appeared at many a summer gathering over the years, so we thought it was a good place to start.
My other idea was to make the dress a bit of a tribute to my great-grandmother who worked as a seamstress at Liberty London. When I was in high school my grandmother gave me a beautiful beaded purse and told me that it had belonged to her mother. She said that her mother had gone to a party wearing a dress that she had made herself and a woman she met pronounced the dress to be so beautiful that she emptied her handbag of her personal affects and presented it to my great-grandmother, saying that a dress so beautiful deserved a bag to match. Whether this tale is true or apocryphal I don’t actually know, though my grandmother was not prone to embellishment or fabrication. Whatever the truth of it, I brought out the handbag and managed to find a Liberty print that matched it quite perfectly.
This whole process was fueled by my having been working on sewing and pattern drafting rather intensively for the first time in many years and so I wanted to approach the making of the dress with all of the skills I had been practicing. I decided that I would make a muslin and do a fitting before cutting into that precious Liberty fabric and then proceed with confidence. I began the process with the dignity of a seamstress in the house of Valentino but I am forced to admit that my conduct during the fitting of the muslin would have me banned from every atelier in Europe. I may have uttered phrases to my mother (the client in my imaginary salon) such as “Why are you shaped like that?!” and ” I don’t even understand how ANYTHING fits you EVER?” These are definitely not things you should say during a custom-fitting, especially not to the patient woman who is allowing you to stick pins into her for hours on end. In the end, we weathered the storm, the muslin was fit, the Liberty was cut and sewn with silky Mastex thread and lined with Robert Kaufman black voile and the resulting dress did what all bespoke clothing should ideally do–it made the wearer feel comfortable and beautiful. To complete the look my mother knitted Jared Flood’s Rock Island Shawl in Reywa Bloom. And here is the result.
The pleasure of making one’s own clothes is, at least for me, largely about the sense of well-being that one has when wearing clothes that fit well and are entirely suited to you. Seeing how at ease Mum looked in her wedding ensemble made me feel that we had entirely succeeded in our handmade venture. And for myself, I thoroughly enjoyed the process of making something for someone else and the freedom that comes from not being concerned about one’s own shape and fitting issues. All in all, a very satisfying experience.