15 March 2009

Blast from the Past

I truly believe the old adage "nothing ventured, nothing gained." Especially as it applies to sewing. I'm always saddened (and rather annoyed, I must admit) by people that post on sewing discussion boards asking questions about things that they could easily figure out on their own, either through research or hands-on learning. Sometimes it's pure laziness, but more often than not, they seem paralyzed by the fear that they might do something wrong. To that I say, "Who cares if you're wrong? What's the worst that can happen?" So you wreck some fabric - there will always be more fabric. So you waste some time - learning something new, even if it's just how to avoid making the same mistake twice is valuable. So you have nothing to show for your efforts - well, maybe you don't have anything material, but you will have gained knowledge and experience. But, I think the more important lesson here is "What if you succeed?" Either way, taking a risk and venturing outside your comfort zone is always a good thing.

That is how I came to make my second Prom dress (my high school boyfriend was a year older than me, so I needed a dress for each of our senior years). I wrote about my first Prom dress in an earlier post.

By the early spring of 1989, I had been sewing for a full year and I felt confident enough to tackle another formal dress. I didn't want any old Prom dress though, I wanted a fabric fairytale. I would be a beautiful princess in a sumptuous gown, Prince Charming basking in my glory. At 18 years old this seemed like a perfectly logical desire and I had the means to achieve it. So, I set to work.

I found the perfect pattern - puffed sleeves, nipped in waist, full skirt. Unfortunately, I cannot remember the identity of the actual pattern now, although I have been on many searches through vintage pattern websites looking to jog my memory. Up next was the hunt for the fabric. I was unsure of the colour when I walked through the fabric shop's door, but when I saw the heavy pale pink satin, I was smitten. To really make this gown a show stopper, I picked out various beaded and sequined lace motifs to embellish the bodice - the small local independent store I shopped at was renowned for their amazing bridal lace selection.

I wanted this dress to fit like a dream, so I started by making a muslin out of some yellow cotton broadcloth. Then the real sewing began. I worked on this dress for two solid months and it became a labour of love. Often I had no idea what I was doing - I had never worked with a difficult fabric like satin before. So, I improvised and researched and figured it out as I went along. In the end, I created a garment that was a test of my tenacity and skill, but it was a completely fulfilling experience.

Here is a photo of the dress and a closeup of the embellished lace on the bodice. I have kept this dress for 20 years and about once a year, I pull it out of the closet as a reminder of how important it is to accept a challenge.

Oh yeah and don't forget: "Beware the Ides of March." If you happen to know anyone named Brutus, don't turn your back on him today!


Anonymous said...

Isn't that the beauty of sewing? Remembering how much work it took to make the dress and how you treasure that dress because of it. It's very pretty and I bet you were the belle of the ball!

Nancy K said...

That's quite a dress for a high school prom! Beautiful sewing. Only a year, huh? I think maybe your taste has changed just a tad in the intervening years but I bet your were happy in that dress.
I couldn't agree more about figuring things out on your own. One woman in particular annoys me no end. So one time I sent her a private message and suggested that she might want to add some books to her library. She replied that yes, she had these books. I wonder if she ever even opens them. Problem solving is part of sewing and there are so many books out there with such wonderful information. Failure is inevitable sometimes when we push past our comfort zone, but if we learned something in the process we gained knowledge, and it is so much more rewarding to work it out instead of being handed it all the time.

Anonymous said...

You have summed up my feelings so beautifully. I am so disappointed in some people's lack of passion and courage. (I am a teacher, like you.) I always tell my children and my students that my personal philosophy is, "If other people can do it, so can I!" How can you learn if you do not try; how can you improve if you do not practice and occasionally fail?

patsijean said...

Your dress is beautiful. What an adventure for you at such a young age.

Several years ago I helped a young woman, a senior in high school, who was just learning to sew take a rick and make a prom dress. We decided that the dress would not be cheap and sparkley. We made a slivery, dark grey, ankle length, satin halter necked, sheath with a keyhole neck treatment. I found a nice piece of somewhat sparkley, sliver fabric for a shawl. She/We both learned [more] about fitting, underlining, diagonal basting, lining, adjusting for a full bust which was a new one for me. We worked for weeks. She took pieces home and worked in very little light (she lived in the Projects (Mary was my best friend's "little Buddy" through the Big Buddys program. My friend bought the fabric, Mary's girlfriend did her hair, another one of my friends did her makeup, and we sent her to the prom looking grownup and beautiful in a much better dress than many girls would be wearing. She has turned out to be an impressive, strong young woman.
Such a run-on here, but the point is, I never made such a garment before and did it because there were books to help me when I needed it. It was a rewarding experience for all of us and sewing opened a new world for Mary.

Vicki said...

Yes, great post. I think I am paralized sometimes and don't even try. Do tonight I WILL start on my birthday trench coat! BTW, the dress is amazing for one so young. It looks gold however on my monitor. I think pink would be just lovely.

Anonymous said...

I am 59 years old and I would be mortified if people on some forums thought I was being a nuisance by asking for help.I have been sewing for more years than I can remember,on and off, I must admit I have asked a couple of questions on a forum after I had done my research and couldn't find an answer to my problem and they were very, very helpful. If I can help someone I will, some people haven't got as much confidence as others.

Carolyn (Diary of a Sewing Fanatic) said...

I am amazed at the fact that you still have your prom dress 20 years later!

NancyDaQ said...

Nancy K--I can't believe that you sent a PM AND she already had the books.

I generally don't mind answering questions, but honestly, some folks want to be intensively hand held. This is true in sewing classes and on-line too. I just can't do it. God bless those of you who do.

Oh yeah, another peeve of mine--hyperbole of what your going through, such as "I'm terrified to (name the activity)." Please. I doubt you're terrified, and if you truly are, you need to find another activity. Sewing should not cause terror.

NancyDaQ said...

Ugh, that should be "you're" not "your".

Anonymous said...

Hey, I wanted to let you know that you've been very inspiring for me. The stories about your prom dresses are great. I started sewing my competition ballroom gowns because I couldn't afford to buy them. I finished my second one this year, and it turned out lovely. Most people were a little taken aback when I started out working with stretch fabrics and satin, but it's nice to know that there's others out there who believe that taking on something like that is not such a big deal after all!

Tany said...

That's a fantastic dress, beautiful in every way! And you've made it on your own with just 18!! Thanks for sharing, this is truly amazing!