PATTERN: Bishop dress from the amazing Nancy Malitz (but all wonkiness, lack of direction-following, and general laziness [sadly] mine)
FABRIC: Cotton polka dot from Mill End Store
Thank you for all of your great comments for Andy's quilt! He was so pleased (and flattered) to read them. I am going to see if I can get him to write a post about his experience. You can imagine that he had a few things to say. The things he says about sewing while sewing crack me up. I need to write them down but I am to busy re-threading needles and filling bobbins for him. I was out on Sunday, one of the days he was sewing, and he admitted that if the bobbin had run out he would've been done for the day. I love it.
Oh, sewing. I am thinking about sewing a lot. I am learning so much. All of these little dresses — to be honest, I had already made seven or eight before I'd even started showing them off — they are teaching me so much. It's been a long time since I've sewn a gathered sleeve cap into an arm's eye, for instance. My first few were a disaster. I've made four Bishops but I just learned over the weekend from one of my books about exactly how to use a "Bishop guide," which helps you determine how to spread out the pleats evenly around the circumference of the neck. I think this dress has too much fullness in the front, and not enough in the back, and I'm guessing that's why the sleeves seem a bit pitched forward: I don't have the pleats spread evenly around the circumference? (I don't know where to get one of those guides but I'm on the hunt today.) And I didn't know that my machine could do a blind hem stitch. GLORY DAY. How did I not know this? Because I never really read the manual. Because I couldn't find the manual. Then I found it in the "special place." Where I put it so I wouldn't lose it. And there it was: blind hem stitch. No more doing hems by hand. And looking at this picture I see now what Nancy meant in the directions when she talked about "straightening the hemline." Oh, that. Got it. So much to learn. It feels so good to learn new things, especially when I should've learned them a long time ago. Aparently, now that I'm wrapping up the book, where I boss people around constantly and tell them to do things like follow the instructions, or read the appendix, I've decided that none of these directives apply to me.
Nowhere has this been more apparent than when I try to smock something. I went from sheer terror to total carelessness in a matter of pleats. The more I started to understand that contemporary smocking is almost synonymous with "heirloom sewing" (which I still think is kind of ironic, given the smock's rustic origins as a laborer's garment), the more my right eye started twitching, and I started looking for a way around. I mean, of course it makes sense to do things right (yadda yadda), since you're going to put so much time into the smocking (and let me just say that preparing something to be smocked also takes a ton of work, even if you are cutting corners the way I do). But, gulp. I sheepishly admit that I don't think heirloom is my style, in anything. Actually, my style is sort of like this: If I like doing it, I'll do it. If I don't like doing it, I probably won't do it. My preferences are totally a la carte, and rarely converge in the same garment. So, smocking something by hand on teeny tiny pleats? I'LL DO IT! I love it. Don't try to stop me. Pulling threads to make sure pieces are cut on the grain, and making French seams, or even pinking seam allowances, or (goodness forbid) basting something? Oh, dear. Oh, no. Apparently, my tolerance for those things is almost zilch. Naturally, I reserve my energies for the parts of things that I enjoy and I try to get away with doing as little as humanly possible on the parts I don't.
So thus it is that I can't be bothered to, you know, cut things straight, or, read the actual directions, or transfer the markings, or go out and buy thread that actually matches the fabric. Phooey! No. I'm on vacation! (Apparently. Even though I never am.) (Apparently also my favorite part of "sewing" seems to be the picking out of the fabric and the pattern more than any of the actual sewing itself, since I have a stack of fabric-and-patterns two feet high.)
I'm exaggerating a little, of course. All of those things are actually important. You learn that the hard way over and over again, and I know better. When you're supposed to match notches, for instance, and you can't find either of them. That's a moment when you go, "Oh. I guess I should've taken the four-tenths of a milisecond to actually snip the notches. Since I'm now sitting here for fifteen minutes ripping this thing out because I guessed and it's totally uneven." Enough of those moments and you are never too lazy to snip the notches again. (I've also run fabric through the pleater on what I thought was only a "slight" angle off-grain, and came out with a dress that was totally shaped like a parallelogram.) Doing the Right Things must eventually just become automatic, since the frocks come out pretty well, often enough. When they don't, I just think of someone one day saying, "Oh, Mommy is so funny — look, she put the sleeves on backwards again!" (I am reminded of an afternoon at the pool, twenty years ago now, with my art professor and her little girl: She'd put her own bathing suit on backwards, but was so excited to get into the water that she [smiling from ear to ear] came racing out of the locker room and jumped right in, and the suit stayed that way until adult swim. I honestly don't think she even noticed.)
I realize that I might also just be making excuses for being a sewing hedonist. I know I still have so much to learn, and so much to practice. But I just keep trying to convince myself that not all smocking can be perfect or precious, or made to be kept through the ages. I'm going for quantity here. She'll need lots, because when I think "smock" the first thing that comes to mind is "painting smock," and I hope all of these dresses are worn (and worn out) with a paintbrush/strained carrots/mud pie in hand. I really do.