27 March 2014
the sewing class
Every Wednesday during term time I get my bag of bits and ride over to the sewing class for three hours. I love it. We are all women, around a dozen of us on busy days, from all over the globe, a range of ages, and the most brilliant teacher who clearly loves her job and manages to be both encouraging and firm with us at the same time. Some women come year after year, others come to learn something specific and then leave. There is a whole range of projects going on - this term we have a man's shirt, a denim jacket, a sari-silk dress, an african print kimono, a gorgeous coat made out of tapestry curtains, a restyled winter coat, a summer frock. On the quietest days, there is a meditative quality in the room. You can sense the concentration as people take on more challenging tasks - drawing a new pattern, making buttonholes for the first time, inserting invisible zips; or the trepidation at using the old industrial machines and overlockers, marked up with the names of engineers long gone along with the manufacturing industry they served. I've developed a tentative affection for one in particular with its purry sound as it slices off rough edges and turns them out with sweetly serged seams; get it wrong and it could be disaster. Then there are the days when we chat gently, share mishaps, enjoy the companionship of common cause, imagine what we might make next.
That thinking about developing our skills and having a talented teacher is one of the best things about being in a class and this year's Sewing Bee has been an inspiration too. It's all too easy to sit back and do the same thing again and again, so I've really enjoyed watching the sewists' determination at mastering the demanding challenges. If they can do it...
Which brings me to the Merchant and Mills Madison I made. Rachel asked for a picture and here it is, the only one, better perhaps at showing the hosiery than the dress.
What can I say about it? It's a simple pattern, requiring basic skills and, made in silk, it was a great dress for a British Spring wedding. I liked the plainness, lightened by the flattering neckline. The long sleeves were perfect in the cool shade, and I really took pleasure in the detail of the three vintagey-looking darts in the sleeves to stop them going baggy (you can't see them, alas). What's more, I was delighted that the dark blue silk dupion which I bought in Singapore around fifteen years ago finally saw the light of day. A bit like me.
Sewing for yourself can be a bit hit and miss. Often your vision doesn't quite materialise in the way you imagined and sometimes a bit of realism and self-discipline is required to avoid disappointment. But when it all comes together - something you enjoy wearing, understanding the skills that go into making even a simple dress, the value of the time it takes, well, it's a kind of enlightenment.