i learned to sew and all i got was this lousy dress


About two weeks ago, I woke up, took a look in the mirror, and said to myself, “self, it is absolutely disgraceful that you don’t know how to sew.”

Of course, my internal monologue is much harsher than warranted. I do know how to sew. I’m a whiz at hemming, tailoring, and making things out of other things. I’ve upcycled lots of thrifted clothes. But I had never, at the time of my self-beratement, made something out of nothing. Never a whole garment entirely from scratch. And I decided, all at once, that I could not in good conscience call myself a vintage lifestyler without that particular skill.  Housewives of old would laugh me out of town if I confessed I’d never made a dress!

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So I scoured my apartment for scraps of fabric and started researching patterns. With the help of several video tutorials, I fixed my sewing machine (bobbins, how do they work??). And I turned the classic Aspie hyperfocus to my advantage: I measured and cut and stitched for over twenty hours, breaking only to sleep. Even then, I dreamed about sewing. I haven’t known such single-minded fixation on one task, such live-and-breathe devotion, in so long. Much as I roll my eyes at “things were better back then!” rhetoric, I think this is one area in which the past actually was better. Modernity is so full of distractions. A generation ago, you didn’t have fifty tabs open. It was that much easier to pick a task and stick with it. I miss that. I try to avoid being too plugged in – I don’t even have a smartphone – but it’s encroaching on me more than I’d like.


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I bought and printed a pattern-drafting booklet from an Etsy shop called Embonpoint Vintage. I was not impressed. The system was advertised as “so easy a child could do it”, but I found it counterintuitive and poorly written. More than once, the sample diagram directly contradicted the written instructions. I messaged the shop owner for help, but she never replied. I paid $9 for that &%*(& booklet, and I would not do so again.

After another internet sweep, I settled on Leena’s.com, which I happily recommend. It’s precise, thorough, and, best of all, free. With Leena’s instructions, it took me about three hours to draft a custom-fitted bodice pattern. This system truly is “so easy a child could do it”. It’s literally connect-the-dots with your own measurements.

Please note, though, that Leena’s.com is a Finnish site, so all measurements are given in centimeters. If you’re used to imperial units, remember to double-check your conversions.

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The skirt was painfully easy: just cut and gather. I spent a good hour cutting the border print into segments and alternating them with the main print, and I love how it came out. Speaking of – this fabric, guys! I thrifted six yards of it for $4. Fabric-print fabric. Delightfully meta. I’d like to shake the hand of whatever sorry smartass designed it.


So here’s my first creation! Twenty hours and two thoroughly needle-bitten hands later, I’m a bona fide vintage lifestyler. My new dress is a perfect match for my favorite hat, and I’m digging the vaguely medieval bodice shape. It’s a rare dress that can take you from a vintage expo to a Renn faire.

I already have two more dresses cut out and ready to stitch together.  So if you’ve got any fabric taking up space, you know where to drop it off.

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Author: skye

I aspire to be a bright-eyed girl in a big city, even though I wear glasses and live in what amounts to a hole in the ground.

4 thoughts on “i learned to sew and all i got was this lousy dress”

  1. Stellar work! This dress is all kinds of lovely and one would never, ever know simply from looking that it was your first ever self-made frock. I think you have a natural talent for sewing, my dear.

    ♥ Jessica

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