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!
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.
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.
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.