There has been a lot of sewing of late. A lot of thinking about sewing, a lot of talking about sewing (sorry, John) and a lot of actual sewing. I’ve nearly worked my way through all the bigger projects-in-waiting on my shelves, and it feels wonderful to have them out of my head and into our lives.
Exhibit one is a Thai silk cocktail dress. Father bought the fabric for me as a gift over ten years ago, and in its first incarnation it was a tea dress, drafted by my own fair hand before I had much experience with such things. Consequently it didn’t fit all that well, and spent most of its time as a glorified skirt, the too-large top covered up with a cardigan. Too lovely to give away, it has sat on my fabric pile for years and been overlooked every time I’ve gone to make something, but a week or two ago I unpicked the bodice from the skirt, removed the sleeves, turned the back into the front and spent some time with a lot of pins in front of the mirror et voila! A party dress is born. I had meant it for me, but Fliss is already making noises. Perhaps we’ll share it, turn and turn about. It may as well be worn.
Also frightening me was a lovely length of Liberty lawn in browns and greens and pinks and purples. John’s mother gave it to me last summer, and the combination of its loveliness and the fact that she’d stored it away for years made cutting into it slightly daunting. Spurred on by my last Liberty success (and Eternal Sewing Optimism) I drafted a boxy pattern inspired by one I’d admired from afar, with a two inch Peter Pan collar. I like the resulting blouse very much indeed. I like it, loose and comfortable, over a pair of slacks. I like it tucked into the high-waisted skirt I made last autumn. And I like how the green of the piping turns it into a brown-and-green blouse, when it could so easily have been brown-and-purple or brown-and-pink instead. Little details make such a difference.
Then there were a couple of simpler projects – Ilse’s eiderdown and a soft carrying case for my flute – as well as my other Liberty blouse and those underthings. Finally there is just one project left on that shelf: a length of soft woven wool which will become a dress shortly.
I’ve come to realise that this is how I like things to be. When I started to sew I dreamed of having a shelf full of fabrics. What fun it would be to run my hands over the piles and choose just the perfect cloth for whatever I wanted to make that day. Over time a little collection did build up – old curtains and sheets and garments to be reused, as well as purchases and gifts. But contrary to my expectations I didn’t feel a creative freedom when I looked into that cupboard. Instead I felt a sense of obligation: all those fabrics lying dormant, just waiting to be put to use. I liked them all, and enjoyed sewing with them, but they dictated what I could sew, rather than the other way around. Sometimes that’s great fun: I love receiving a gift of fabric and deciding what it will become. I love using up all of my scraps, each January, and setting the right ones aside to grow into a quilt. What I don’t particularly like, though, is that feeling of having lots of older things to sew before I can get to my latest idea.
So what I hanker after now is just the next project on the shelf. One length of fabric, ready and waiting. Some matching thread and a small selection of buttons and ribbon and other notions. A pile of scraps to be used when the fancy strikes, then obliterated each January. Another pile, carefully edited and cut, which will one day be a quilt.
I’m very nearly there. Of course, there will always be an ebb and flow as wardrobes are tidied twice a year and old clothing relegated to the pile, or when somebody makes me an unexpected but very, very welcome present of something crafty, or when I get carried away on a trip to a jumble sale, or London. I was trying to explain this to Ilse, who has been hoarding the pretty set of fabrics we gave her with her sewing kit for Christmas. Use it while you love it, and while it is still exciting and a little bit scary to cut into, because that means that it’s still precious.
Of course I know that other people, many far more serious and accomplished sewers than I, would balk at my approach, and rightly so. It wouldn’t suit them at all. My approach is just that – my approach – and it leaves me excited and full of ideas and motivated to sew, which is surely the whole point.— March 7, 1932