Sunday, July 11, 2010

Learning to Sew: Ballet Skirt Project

"Hem your blessings with thankfulness so they don't unravel." (Anonymous)

A month or so ago, Katie was helping me pick out crafting supplies for Eric's room when she spied some sparkly purple and sparkly blue material that she really, really loved. In a moment of daring I thought, "Hey, why not make a ballet skirt?" And thus my recent project was born.

I am not a seamstress by most measures; my clothes sewing skills are woefully rudimentary, despite making a couple of pieces in high school under my mom's guidance. I have had it in my mind, however, to learn to sew clothes for my children for some time. Although I have sewn pillows and even a quilt (which I am currently finishing---more to come on that later), I grew up surrounded by the comfort of having a mom who knows how to sew practically anything. When I think of time spent watching her cut patterns or playing in her sewing box or hearing the hum of her sewing machine, I feel all cozy inside. Every year she made amazing Halloween costumes. There is something so comforting about a mother who can do that. She has made all of the window treatments in our home (valances and drapes). For Christmas two years ago, my mom made my brother and I super cozy quilts. She made my favorite childhood blankie before I was born, the one I carried everywhere. I've never sewn a blankie for either of my children, and one of my goals is to do so---to wrap them up in a mother's love. I want to be able to do that for my children.

A ballet skirt for Katie seemed like a good place to start. I've been so focused on doing projects for Eric's room that I really felt it would be good to make something for her so that she could feel special. As any mother of two or more probably already realizes, and as I am realizing more everyday, one of the biggest responsibilities of a mother is to make siblings feel equal and equally loved and attended to.

My mom helped me pick out an easier ballet skirt pattern, McCall's M5680. This was good, since the project took me about three times as long as it would take an experienced seamstress. The instructions called for only one narrow hem along a seam, but with the material I selected, it became necessary to hem all six layers of material along the bottom edges due to fraying. Next time, I think I might just choose a standard tulle. Additionally, I had to add a seam because I chose two different material colors instead of one color in one length: this affected the cutting of the pattern. It is hard to explain without seeing it, but anyway, a second seam was necessary. To accommodate this, I have the opening of the skirt now on the side instead of in the back so that the second seam can also be a side seam and not run down the front. The skirt stays on through the use of a ribbon, so no other closures (buttons, etc) were necessary this time. Although that in itself made the project easier, I did need to troubleshoot the attachment of the ribbon a bit when things grew a bit persnickety. Also, my machine seems to do a tighter baste than I could handle, and my basting threads kept breaking when I was gathering the skirt at 9:30 last night. I had to problem-solve that as well and just hand baste. So although it was an easy pattern, just enough challenges appeared such that I really felt I had to problem-solve on my own and learn something. I love to learn by having to figure things out: when we are forced to use our minds to figure something out on our own, the knowledge stays with us forever.

All told, the project took three days spread out: I cut the material for a couple of hours one day; yesterday I did the seams and hems and gathers; today I did a fitting with Katie, attached the ribbon (which needed, in the end, to be handstitched), did the finishing work, and handstitched blue flowers on the front.

Katie has already put in a request for a red one next. :-)

It was an adventure to say the least, and one I am hungry to repeat so that I can improve. I often compare my work to my mom's work---and really, there is no comparison. Her work is so precise and finished... She is totally supportive of my efforts and always makes me feel like my various projects are successful; it is my own perfectionism that has held me back from taking the plunge into this realm, which is outside of my comfort zone. Yet now at age 30 I have more confidence to let my work be its own and to try not to compare it right now to the work of people who are really proficient. If I keep working at it, I know I can improve. I have a couple of other sewing projects I am longing to do, but in terms of clothes, I think I want to make Katie a simple dress next.

I forgot to take many pictures of the process, but here are a couple, plus the finished result:

The material is cut and ready to be sewn.

Ths skirt is gathered and ready for a fitting on Katie's waist this morning.

Katie tries on the finished product---and stands on tip toes!

Smiling Katie! She loved her skirt, which was motivation enough to keep going and to try more.

Katie told me she was "doing the splits" here. You can almost see the two fabric colors more in this picture. The three layers of purple are on the bottom; the three layers of blue are on the top.

A front view: it is difficult to see the attached blue flowers, but they are there, I promise.

Butterfly stretch in her new tutu!
I definitely had fun stretching myself on this project!