Friday, July 14, 2023

The Green Prom Dress

It's been a long time, I know. I've missed you guys! 

Thank you to everyone who left comments and wrote emails to check in with me. It felt good to be in your thoughts. I've been doing okay, just really BUSY - we had a senior graduate from high school this spring! Those of you who've celebrated your own HS seniors will probably get it; I certainly had no idea how much there was to take in and do in the weeks even before graduation.

I'd say it started as far back as January with the last jazz concert of the year. You know how that is - even though the snow was still on the ground and we were nowhere even near the end of the semester, it suddenly hits you that this was the first of the "lasts". And in spite of swearing not to be That Mom, you subconsciously start the countdown anyway, and slap titles on each subsequent deeply poignant experience: The Last Wind Ensemble Concert With This Sister, The Last Time She'll Play In This Orchestra, The Last Time We'll Hear Her Horn In The Pit, The Last Fight Song For Which She'll Conduct The Marching Band, The Last Solo, The Last Note, The Last Whatever and Whoosit and Thingamajig. It was ridiculous - and exhausting.

I know now, of course, that I was trying to comprehend that something massively wonderful was happening. And parsing each of those lasts was how my brain made sense of the emotional weight of the sum of them. Yes, you read that right: my brain did the emotional math. Because my heart couldn't quite handle it, and was instead just a big soft marshmallow cloud of bewilderment. I mean, what a trip, from the thrilling highs of pride and wonder to the simmering lows of relief and gratitude, as if all four years of high school - if not all thirteen since kindergarten - were distilled into the closing months of senior year and shot into one's metaphorical veins. It was hard to catch my breath; it was harder even to stay present and not let my mind race to the future when it would "all be over" and college would be the new normal, whatever that looked like. I tried, though. Remain NOW, I constantly reminded myself. Feel everything. Listen to every note. Go on that car ride. Say yes when the friends want to stay till midnight to chat, and order pizza, even. Buy the tickets to watch the performance for the fourth, fifth, sixth time.  Bring the giant camera to take the good pictures even though the children roll their eyes. Was it all good? Absolutely. Did I believe I was bonkers? Heck, yeah. Did I cry? For months prior, in the shower and car and my therapist's office and at inconveniently random and unrelated moments everywhere else. And yet on graduation day, as I glanced around me at the sea of parents, I saw that same look on so many other faces: the soaring delight, yes, but also the disorientation of inexplicably having arrived at this moment, mixed with the misguided determination to somehow hold it all together. Apparently, I wasn't the only one. Huh.

That is all I will say about my experience of the weeks leading up to graduation. A part of me is still recovering, but in a good way. I'm excited about Uni and independence and all the good things that follow graduation, because my oldest child is ready. Her sisters still have some years left at the high school, so there will be their concerts and football games and swim and dive meets to attend. There is comfort in that continuity as well.

And in the ebb of that emotional wave, I feel able to document and process my favorite moments of the past couple of months. Here, for instance, is Emily's prom dress. Now, because we were also in the throes of planning her grad party, the original plan was to purchase something online and simply have me make any necessary alterations to it. So we bought one . . . and it didn't work. Not a terrible dress per se, just not something one would wear to a formal. We returned it, and found ourselves back at square one, except a couple weeks closer to the deadline than before. 

Handmade, then. This is usually what happens anyway, right? You'd think I'd have learned that by now.

So we went fabric shopping - first online (faster, we thought, but everything would arrive too late), then in-person, but that failed abysmally, too. Because there we were, standing dismayed in the aisles of SR Harris - that ostensibly uber-reliable dressmaking fabric mecca - a week before prom, and with nothing but a fantasy shade of green that didn't seem to exist anywhere in the cosmos.

You know how some people give you a home-made loaf of bread and you're like, "Oh, this is so cool - did you use a bread machine or a brotform in your oven?" And they tell you they baked it on a hot stone out back using the wheat, barley and rye which they'd been growing on their acres of farmland and hand-ground into flour just minutes before adding it to their great-grandmother's ever-effervescent sourdough starter.

You see where this is going, right? See, there was nowhere left but that level of DIY. And isn't it funny how, once you've resolved to do something, no matter how impractical, even the insane begins to look viable?

We bought a yard of the only green-ish lace we could find - it looked like a patch of weed - and randomly dyed it. I say "randomly" because the bottle said "dark green" but there was no way to tell what we'd actually get when we were starting out with the shade we had (and how long do you let the thing sit in the dye anyway?). We gave it our best guess and rationalized it thus: anything would be prettier than wearing a dress of marijuana.    

Then I made the underlayer. This we didn't have to dye, thankfully - it was the only green satin thing any of the stores stocked, so we decided it would have to do. The design was pretty straightforward: a spaghetti-strap bodice connected to a semi-circular skirt with pockets, and a thigh slit. Here is a sad photo of it on Fleur so I could place and pin the lace overlay. I'd forgotten till I was doing this how much lace shifts as you drape it - gravity and the contours of the garment itself made it sag and pull in different ways than if it were lying flat on a work surface. Incidentally and totally unrelated, you might notice my Menagerie animals in the background.  Initially, I'd set them up in my sewing room for inspiration, like a cheering squad for all my unfinished WIPs. This time, though, as they watched me drop pins and curse as I stepped on them, their unblinking gaze seemed judgy instead - all except for maybe that purple dragon, and only because he still doesn't have eyes (they live in the vase in the living room where I'd set them 8 years ago).

Moving on now. More of the layout process next. A multitude of pins. All that lace hand to be stitched on by hand. I listened to a LOT of podcasts that week!

Because we wanted clean lines, the poky ends of the lace were folded over the edge of the main dress and stitched to the backside. And then all the stray cutwork bits had to be trimmed away.

Here is the finished dress on Emily.

Here's the back, her favorite part of the dress. Designing a dress entirely from scratch sometimes means trying to figure out how to best secure it on the body in ways that don't tug or squeeze or otherwise hurt. We brainstormed the usual suspects: halter-style ties at the nape, straps around the back of the shoulders, corset-style lacing all across the back . . . and decided that this bow was probably a whole lot more fun. 

If I remember right, the main dress (plus its accompanying muslin) was finished in a couple of days, although the lacework took the rest of the week. So worth it, though. I so, so love the texture of this dress,

to say nothing of the zany personality of the beautiful girl wearing it (or the fact that I still get to sew her clothes)!!