Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Clothes From My Teenage Past

Thank you all for your suggestions to my last neoprene post! Sorry I was ranting a bit there. I've wanted to work with neoprene since I was a teenager, but never actually went out and procured any. I do have a wetsuit that likely no longer fits me, but I'm thinking of leaving that for the girls someday, rather than take it apart. I've looked at some of the links you shared, and also suddenly remembered a place downtown here in MN that stocks marine upholstery fabric (yes!!!!) that I'd visited once, and they do have neoprene. The thing is, neoprene is expensive, period, no matter where you buy it. So it's just a matter of trying to beat down my latest urge, or thrift it, or fork out the dough.

Now on to today's post !

Last month, Vanessa sent a blog award my way:
Yay! Thank you, Vanessa!

And I'm supposed to reveal things about myself you may not have known, and then nominate 15 other bloggers to whom to pass this goodness on. Instead, I unearthed an old tub of clothes I'd sewn in the past and took photos of 15 of them for your entertainment! Now isn't that more fun than sharing bizarre facts you probably wouldn't believe anyway?

See, I thought so.

Now, these are some of the clothes I sewed when I was a teen. Specifically, I was between sixteen and twenty, maybe twenty-two. Whatever I sewed before then has been lost or thrown out. Before we start the tour, I must warn you that the first thing you will notice is HOW MUCH PRINT FABRIC I USED.  Unbelievable, I know. Some of it was positively blinding. This was the teenage me, you must remember. She liked loud stuff. 
The second thing you will notice is that a lot of this print fabric was also home dec and upholstery fabric. In those days, I had two fabric sources: IKEA, and poor Mum's own stash. Mum was constantly updating the look of our living room, and all our window treatments, so she had a lot of home dec materials. She also sewed real clothes, so occasionally I was lucky enough to nick some fabulous apparel fabric, too.
And the third thing you will notice is how much more diverse and daring I was as a garment designer compared to the old bore that I am now. The teenage me actually made outfits that looked distinct from each other - quite a bit more interesting than my current A-Line skirt obsession. My love for princess seams, though, was quite evident, even back then. Almost everything non-bottoms I made had them.
The teenage me also dabbled in ruffles and gathers. Did I just confess that? Erk.

Consider yourself warned. Off we go then!

The first specimens, ladies and gentlemen, are shorts. Most of these er... bright fabrics were home dec stuff. 

I actually still think this black-and-white photo print is cute, if you don't mind wearing strangers' faces on your behind, I mean.

Did I draft these shorts? I can't remember, but I know I loved the fit and wore these all the time, into my early twenties. I don't think the fly is on the correct side, now that I look at it. 

I was sixteen/seventeen when I made and wore these overalls/bib shorts. Thankfully I had the sense to use some solid fabric.

Ah, this is what I called my Happy Dress. I didn't have a very good sewing vocabulary at the time, which, unfortunately, has not seen any improvement in adulthood. I used to drive mum bonkers with my vague descriptions and general inability to explain what I wanted to sew. Mum's firm counter to all my nonsense was a brisk, "Sketch it out." Smart. My Happy Dress designs were eventually translated by mum into functional elements like "gathered skirt", "circular skirt", "tiers,  "drop-waist yoke", "sweetheart neckline" and "babydoll".  

So this champagne-shrimp-pink (yes, pink - sigh) dress had princess seams, spaghetti straps, a drop waist and a very full gathered skirt.

It also had a bolero-style coat  because it wasn't exactly conservative. Interestingly, this coat also had back shoulder darts - obviously something Mum drafted into the final fit since since, at the time, it wasn't something I was clever enough to notice my back needed.

The color and one unmeeting seam aside, I am to this day quite proud of this outfit. It was lined in all the right places, the fabric had the perfect drape and flounce, there was zero print, and it took me a very long time to make it, because of these little braids:

I must have sewn yards and yards of these skinny tubes, turned them all right side out, and painstakingly braided them to trim the outfit. Barely eighteen, and already  a lunatic.

Here's another Happy Dress:

This was my all-time favorite Little Black Dress. Semi-circular skirt, princess seams (again), halter neck straps 

crossed behind
and in a wonderful peachskin silk with amazing sheen and drape.

This was one of my favorite dresses - it was ikat, for one, and had a rounded-square neckline that I loved. It was like a nurse's uniform in its plainness, but it was a princess-seam A-line dress (not that you can see that in the photo) that was just fun to wear.

This is one of my favorite white blouses. There was a matching yoked semi-circular skirt that this blouse tucked into and I always felt very princessy in the whole outfit. The fabric was again something more commonly used for cushion covers.

I used a lot of lace back then. This was a fun experiment in fake cutwork.

And the cuffs! I actually made gathered cuffs. With pearl buttons, no less. Could this really have been me? I hardly recognize myself.

Then came the era of the pinafore dresses.

Here's a loud paisley one - made from Ikea upholstery fabric:

Princess seams (cough - again), and a front button placket. I wore this over a bodysuit.

I also made quite a few of these long sheath pinafores. This one is my Caterpillar Suit, in a soft green batik:

It buttoned all the way down each side. Lots of buttonholes and lots of buttons to sew on. Can you tell I had a thing for button plackets?

I wore this particular one to death:

Here's a later model, in plaid. It was made from a tablecloth. Kekekeke!

Years later, when I hadn't the time to sew, Mum made this one in wool for me from my old pattern.

Lots and lots and lots of buttons!

Venturing into costume territory now.

This was a bustier top with a drop waist and an asymmetrical tiered gathered skirt. I remember finding some boning in Mum's stash and thinking I had to make a bustier thing. 

Given the kind of flouncy, full skirt that I apparently liked then, this also counted as a Happy Dress.

It was quite over-the-top even for a person with my personality to have worn, and I don't think I wore it more than once, and even then, with a cardigan. But I loved, loved, loved the combination of colors and trim and tiny floral print. 

This next one was a skirt I literally whipped up to wear to a friend's birthday party. I am quite sure I was about 25 at the time, since we joked that it was our quarter-century birthday year. The theme of the party was, if I remember right, 60's Mafia Meets Pirate/Gypsy. There was a lot of fake gold. It was hilarious. Everyone came dressed as if they were slightly nuts. This skirt was the bottom half of my gypsy costume. Totally more appropriate in a fairy context, but hey, with a dresscode like that, anything worked. I am ashamed to say that I literally hacked into Mum's precious Thai Silk stash and patched this skirt together. It looked very avant garde overall, but Thai Silk!!!! Argggggg. My heart breaks now to think of it. I only hope that when my kids do this to me someday, I will be as gracious as Mum was with her precious fabric.


Now this is one I did not sew. Mum made it for a choir musical - Oklahoma, I think it was. She sneakily worked away at it while I was at school, and one day when I got home, there it was hanging on my closet door. Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! I was ecstatic. I didn't even know she was making it. No fittings, no chasing around and poking with pins the way I do my own girls. Just the finished product and a very pleased young girl who thought her mother  knew magic.

It had raglan sleeves whose shoulder seams she disguised with trim,

and twirly tiers, along with elasticized neckline and sleeve cuffs. It was fitted, in spite of all that elastic - and had a zipper in the back. 

One last photo - a real Homec Project from when I was 13. Even after the teacher explained what it was, we were incredulous: a cape you wore when you got your hair cut. I came home rolling my eyes - which person wore such a thing to the hair salon? Or, how many teenage girls from my generation got their (permed) hair cut by their parents, so they might wear it in the privacy of their own home? Till this day I suspect that our teacher simply wanted to administer Death By Bias Binding: all that bias tape had to be whip-stitched on. By hand. And the stitches had to be microscopic, or else you failed the project.

She was merciful enough to allow us a tiny bit of pleasure in some embroidery, though.

In spite of all the complaining (and no, I never used it!), I am glad I kept it. The original ink marks are still there! Maybe the girls will let me drape it around their shoulders when I next trim their bangs.

It was fun to dig into that old tub and pick out clothes to photograph. I hadn't opened it in yonks! I wish I had kept every single thing I made, including a particular white mini-skirt which I painted with what I thought was fabric paint, but which flaked off onto every seat I ever sat on while wearing it. Everything was sewn on treadle sewing machines and all seams were finished sans serger.

Because I was lucky enough to have Mum overseeing my sewing training, all the garments I made were done properly, often against my wishes: lined, faced, lapped, hemmed, worked with hand when supposed to, unpicked when weird, and (most helpfully) the fit monitored and refined by someone who knew what she was doing. Mum also let me wear some of the mistakes, because she knew I was proud of what I'd made, regardless. Oh, the unlevel hems, the uneven shoulder straps, the botched necklines! Whether or not she hid her face behind her lace hanky and cringed, I will never know - she didn't put her brand on my work but she also never apologized for my strange choices. And she never discouraged me from trying out a design  or working with a fabric that might have gotten me way over my head. We tried them all - cowl necklines, turtlenecks, asymmetry, sleeves, pockets, knits, pleats, frog buttons, evening gowns, lace. I was thirteen and I wanted to sew, and Mum said, "Well, then, let's do it right."
Here's what surprised me: in spite of being very ungirly as a child, I inexplicably morphed into one of those flouncy-skirt-loving teenagers with secret princess dreams. I did sew pants, but they were batik, and loungey and elastic-waisted, with some even bordering on (dare I say it) harem-ish. In my mid-twenties, I started work as a teacher, and sewing took a backseat to lesson prep and grading papers. When I needed new clothes for work, I sewed a batch of floral chiffon skirts - ankle-length, A-line things that were lined, but still cool (and modest) enough for the climate and the occupation. Apart from those occasional garments, I didn't sew for the next decade. And then I got married and had three little girls, and well, you know the rest of the story!


  1. Teenage me would have adored teenage you's wardrobe! I sewed with loads of home dec fabric in high school, because we lived near a warehouse where it sold for $2/yard. And I actually made a long sheath pinafore that I wore all the time!

    Your mother sounds like an amazing teacher! My mom didn't know a lot about sewing, and when I wanted to start sewing at 12, she took the opposite approach - showed me where the fabric was, and how to turn on the machine, and left me to it. She was always willing to un-pick seams for me, though, and never complained when I destroyed yards and yards of fabric!

  2. Okay I know it was a costume, but I think that green and white combo dress is adorable.

  3. That was so much fun to see the things you made as a teenager! Thanks for posting the photos. I like the paisley pinafore dress.

  4. Do you have any pictures of you wearing these things? Great memories!

    Do you live around the Deluth area? My family is moving to MN and we're living around Cambridge. I'd love to meet you sometime!

  5. I love this post! I think it is so interesting how one evolves their style and skill. Your comments about your mom remind me of when I decided to sew my own prom dress by combining the pattern of one dress with the sleeves of another. It was my first major sewing project. I later found out she was terribly worried I was going to fail miserably and there would be lots of tears. Yet she let me do it anyway. Luckily it turned out great, and I love that she let me try my own thing.

  6. You had to sew bias tape in home ec?! And there I was at that age complaining about putting together a simple tote bag, which I eventually outsourced to my grandma. *hides*

  7. Delightful! Thanks for sharing. Your talent was obvious even back then. And yay for your mom!

  8. Ok...what's it say about ME that 33 year old me would seriously wear the asymetrical skirt/dress, the thai silk skirt and your Oklahoma dress NOW?

    I LOVE those dresses and that skirt! :) Seriously, middle age me and teenage you could have been dress friends...just not short or overall friends.

    Very MaryJane-ish.


  9. Fabulous retrospective LiEr.
    I am not going to try and figure out your age. But those shorts really look like the shorts I made in the 80s, I was really into home dec bermuda style. Could whip them up in the even and wear them the next day....
    My favourite projects from your portfolio are that gypsy skirt and the aqua cape - for haircutting, really? It's so fashionable.

  10. I LOVE that green asymmetrical skirted dress! LOVE. I would wear that. And that Thai silk skirt is gawgeous too - you should wear that now, like for a date night or if you go out with girlfriends.
    That shrimp pink (love that kind of pink - going to use that phrase now!) dress is amazing too. Very pretty. Only you would make your own braided trim. Amazing!

  11. you are lucky to have had your mum overseeing your sewing it has helped you to be the amazing seamstress you are now. By the way that costume your mum made, the sleeves, on my she went to a lot of trouble.

    thanks for sharing

  12. WOW! lovely and creative!!! its a great thing to see the evolution of your work when looking back at the pieces you've made.. I also used to wear some crazy stuff I -tried to- sew when I was younger.. my biggest success before my bags, was the dress I made to receive my Grade at the Uni... but I didn't ventured to make dresses as I never really learnt. Now that my mom -who is the specialist- is far away is that I am sewing bags! and learning-remembering many things I use to see from her work :) -though Skype helps a lot now!-
    Thanks for linking back and mentioning the award! :D

  13. omg!! i actually remember some of those! And you made me a pair of them overalls too :)

    And didn't we think we were the cat's whiskers for making our own clothes (and daring to wear them out!)?

    Wonderful post, L :D

  14. Beautiful! And you must have had the body to wear all those wonderful creations. Oh youth!

    This post inspires me. I didn't have any sewing training (thanks Prop 13 of California) until I near graduated from college. I now have a 50 year old machine from an ex-boyfriend's mom. Time to get it out and learn how to really sew, properly.

    No little girls to sew for, I have my one miracle son. However, he might really like a fabric house. . .

  15. Oh what fun! Thank you for the photos and the stories about each garment.
    Fortunately for all my 1980s yellow jumpsuit and other teenage sewn nightmares have been gone a while.

  16. You and your mom are so amazing. I read your posts all the time, but rarely (if ever!) comment. That's wrong of me, you really are very inspiring and your work is just stunning. Love the peek into your past!

  17. You have me feeling glad for the first time that I was NOT taught how to sew when I was younger, given some of my dubious fashion wishes back then. The photos from my youth actually aren't too scary, as I didn't have the money to buy or the ability to make the things that I really wanted to wear...

  18. I love this post! i wish i could see more!


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