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On Pins and Needles

by Julia Sneden

As I mentioned in an earlier column (Sew What!), I have a true love/hate relationship with my sewing machine. Every now and again I see a pattern or a piece of fabric that entices me to plunge back into the world of pins and needles and gathers and pleats, and every time I do, I wind up bathed in sweat, muttering foul imprecations under my breath (and sometimes not so under), struggling to make whatever-it-is look remotely like the plan, and ultimately to fit the intended recipient.

This time, it’s a darling Lizzie McGuire pattern that I fell for, a blouse and vest and fisherman’s cap to match the vest. I spotted the pattern last year, and picked it up thinking I’d have it done for my granddaughter by Christmas. I chickened out, however, when I discovered that the vest takes stays, has an eight-grommet, lace-up front, and is constructed from 6 separate pieces, never mind a full lining. The trouble with linings is that you sew them separately and then attach them. If they don’t exactly match the outer garment, they pull it out of shape, or, if they’re slightly bigger, lump up under it. My style of sewing doesn’t allow for such perfection.

But then last week, I saw fabric that would be perfect, not just for the vest, but also for the blouse that goes under it. Screwing my courage to the sticking point (how apropos, given my luck with pinning things) I bought it. Then I opened the pattern and sat down quietly to read all the instructions, operating on the advice of a cooking editor I once knew who told me always to read the whole recipe and assemble all ingredients before I began to cook.

The blouse looks to be really simple: there’s a drawstring neck and soft, drapey long sleeves. The fabric is a charming Georgette print, navy blue with tan and rust flowers on it.

I am glad the blouse has no collar. In fact, I gave a huge sigh of relief when I realized that, because in the past, no matter how carefully I cut and marked the fabric to match the pattern, or how assiduously I followed the instructions for producing a collar, I never turned out a blouse or shirt with a collar that wasn’t fudged, re-cut, or just plain sewn on slightly askew. I long ago stopped trying to sew shirts, opting instead to buy them ready-made.

These days, however, it’s really hard to find a simple, casual shirt. I have some in my closet that are at least fifteen years old, and I have loved them, literally, to pieces. In fact, I have just thrown out one I wore until it simply came apart in the laundry. I’d be happy to replace it, but I can’t seem to find a shirt that isn’t made of stretch material, darted and rubberized so that it fits the body very neatly. Alas, they’re meant for teenagers whose bodies have no bulges, sags, or droops. On anyone over 30, they’re a disaster. I did buy one once, but I let out the darts, which was disastrous because the shirts are cut so that they don’t hang straight once the darts are gone (and the fabric retains the stitch holes no matter how often you wash it). I figured I could wear the thing around the house, at least, but I found out that that rubberized fabric is also HOT.

I guess that T-shirts are the modern answer, but I’d still love to find a boxy cut, 100% cotton shirt with a collar.

A friend of my grandmother’s used to describe huffy, irritated people as “getting all shirty,” an adjective coined in the mid-1800’s and coming, I believe, from the way skin reacted to the boiled and starched shirts and collars of that day. Remembering how irritated my skin became from the starched collars and cuffs from my own childhood days, “shirty” seems like a useful word, as in: what I can find in the stores these days makes me feel positively shirty.

But back to the sewing project: The tan faux-suede I chose for the vest and cap will look very smart, but those 8 brass grommets and stays are truly intimidating. I have been stern with myself, promising not to panic and to follow the instructions step by careful step, but I’m darned if I can bring myself to start sewing. I have, however, cut the pieces of fabric out, on the theory that now I must get it made before she outgrows it, which at the rate she’s going won’t be long.

Maybe I’ll get to it after Labor Day. My granddaughter’s birthday is September 17 th, which is a good target date. But I wonder if she’d mind waiting until Christmas for the matching cap ...



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