Friday, November 17, 2023

Homecoming dress

I'm playing catch-up with all these posts sitting on my dashboard!  This one was from homecoming night in early October. Jenna and Kate got together with some friends to attend the dance and Emily drove home from the Uni to take photos with me of everyone dressed up. She also had corsage orders to deliver to the local high school students - her newest small business - so it was a busy and fun weekend.

I did not sew Jenna's blue dress, incidentally - this was bought, primarily because I was in Singapore until a few days before homecoming, and decided the less sewing I needed to do, the better. We successfully found something online that Jenna liked, so that was a win. Kate had something specific in mind that she wanted, so we agreed to custom-make that based on a design she had in her head.

I just have two things to say about this dress, process-wise.

The first is that it is sometimes frustrating for me as a dressmaker to know what fabrics are needed for a particular design to work but be unable to find those fabrics to buy, and have to end up making do. In this case, Kate requested sparkly fabrics, and a cut that was drapey and flowy. Now, this is a completely feasible combination, provided we lived in a world where we could customize exact fabric along with the fit and design of made-to-measure tailoring. Unfortunately, the fabric is sometimes the one thing you don't have control of, because stores stock what they will, when they will. On this occasion, therefore, we had to choose between drapey or sparkly, but not both. I count ourselves lucky that Kate at least chose black, for which there were more options of fabric bolts than any other color (except blue, maybe), and that homecoming was close enough to Halloween that the stores carried adequate cosplay materials of the sparkly variety; Emily, with her dreams of a forest-green prom dress in the middle of May, was not quite so fortunate.

Long story short, we compromised: plain chiffon sleeves which were flowy but not shimmery, and a bodice and skirt that were sparkly but a bit boxier than we saw in our mind.

The second is those sleeves. A long time ago, Emily had needed a formal concert gown and asked for sleeves similar to these: chiffon (translation: visible seams), over-the-shoulder raglan-cut, but without elastic (translation: invisible darting, pleating and/or some other shaping magic). I'd made muslin after muslin, consulted with my friend Jen, returned to first principles, even used a store-bought dress with close-enough sleeves as a reference - essentially pulled every drafting trick I was aware of, but under the time crunch, I simply wasn't able to deliver. We eventually conceded and I gave her classic set-in sleeves. The dress was still beautiful, and she still gets compliments on it whenever she wears it at concerts, but it's never stopped bugging me not having been able to Make That Dang Sleeve.

And then this fall, wouldn't you know it - Kate asked for That There Dang Sleeve. Black. Chiffon. Time crunch (trip to Singapore in imminent future) and all. Did I roll my eyes? I did. Did I break out in cold sweat? You bet I did. But even I could recognize a second chance when I saw it. And somehow this time it all came together. Yes, there were multiple muslins, and yes, elastic was allowed this time around, but I remember looking at the final draft and thinking, "Huh. This is not the monster I remembered fighting back then." I guess my mind was clearer now. Or I didn't care about failing, having done it so spectacularly once before. I didn't finish the dress before getting on the plane, but I did adjust the final muslin to the point where I had the peace of mind that this dress was going to work. I laid and cut out all the pieces in the expensive, sparkly fabric, labeled everything, left myself copious notes, and flew to Singapore. And when I got back to the US 10 days later, it was almost like working with a craft kit: thread and notions all purchased and set out, diagrammed instructions to follow, and all those pre-cut pieces ready to assemble. I'd never sewn a dress like this - it was loads of fun and came together in a couple of days with such ease that one could almost forget the tracing and fiddling and wasted practice yardage, and the remeasuring and redrafting of the weeks prior. If only all custom garments were made this way! 

Here's the front of the dress,

and the back, which has a strap tied into a bow.

and three sisters together again - a homecoming in the purest sense of the word, no?

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

A tiny new bag

Hello, friends! 

It's November! Somehow, summer happened and I don't remember a whole lot of it, honestly. So much has happened this year. Emily graduated from high school, and I sewed a prom dress and threw a grad party and got all emotional. Kate started a new late-summer job at the water park. The high school swim and dive season resumed in August and our days were non-stop shuttling to and from the pool and daily mounds of towels in the laundry. And we moved Emily into her new place at her Uni which, funnily enough, was the same apartment I stayed at when I first came to Minnesota 21 years ago to go to grad school. Very full-circle. 

It surprised me how physical it was, moving and setting up new digs, even if it was just a fraction of the size of a regular house and just 30 mins from home. We did a late night grocery run to stock her fridge after a quiet dinner together at the end of the day. You know the kind - you're working hard and you forget the time and suddenly the sun's set and you realize you should probably have dinner, so you drive out into an unfamiliar neighborhood and find a random sandwich place and it's only after you've sat down to eat that you feel the weight of the day and the looming goodbye settle on you. I bawled all the way home but I was so proud of my kid for doing this on her own, and so grateful that she was excited for instead of petrified of the transition. 

And just like that, the house was quieter and there was more bathroom counter space and we had to reorganize the laundry roster and learn to cook less food because there were just four of us now. I'm not an empty nester by any means, but it was an adjustment, nonetheless. My neighbor, who herself sent off three kids to college, said, "The first one is the hardest because it's the one that makes your family no longer intact." I also know of many other moms who'd beg to differ, and who'd swear that it's the youngest that's the most devastating because it's the last one that strips you of those those caretaking responsibilities which have been your identity for so many years. And there will be yet others who will say it's the second one, or the fourth, because that's the one who was the kindest to the dog, or the one who always remembered to buy the milk, or the one who tended to check in regularly so you never had to guess where they were. At the end of the day, we all agree on this: it's momentous when a kid leaves home. Particularly when it's not something you've grown up being used to - nobody leaves home at 18 in Singapore. Where would they go? It's a tiny island with a very finite number of tertiary institutions and everyone transitions from childhood to adulthood alongside their parents, and the caregiving shifts direction ever so subtly and evolves organically and in-person.

But I survived. And we're creating new patterns and logistics in how we continue to love each other. And what a blessing that she's only 30 minutes away and there are always convenient reasons to come home every other weekend, or stop by the apartment or campus. Any continuity from her old life helps, too. Like her music: earlier this month, my husband and I attended a couple of concerts to hear her play - new stage, new orchestra- and band-mates, but same kid, same trombone, and the same music that had always brought her so much joy. She was back home for homecoming to help take pictures of her sisters, stopped in at Sections last week to watch Kate swim, and two weekends ago, all three girls and I went to a rock concert. There were other random occasions, too - a week after she'd moved out,  we attended a fabric printing class together, just for fun. There's a separate post about that coming, but I wanted to mention that here because we'd signed up for that before she'd left home so we could have something artsy to look forward to after.

Which brings me to this bag (at last, I hear you say). I needed a new bag for so many reasons. For one, I'd had my old bag for more than six years and thought I should downsize, now that I no longer need to cart around all kinds of Motherphernalia. For another, I wanted to sew bags again. I should clarify: I always want to sew bags, but my kid had just left home and where other people might, say, eat a pint of Ben & Jerry's to cope, I sew receptacles. Summary: I was subconsciously looking for a reinvention, and my old bag was on its way out. Voila.

So here it is - my new much-smaller shoulder bag. Still upholstery suede, though, because that fabric lasts forever and doesn't show wear at all. That six-year-old bag I was telling you about? Still looks new on the outside, although the cotton lining is definitely worn.

I'm still sewing my straps the borderline-obsessive way.

Here's the strap anchor. It's a bit of work to attach externally instead of in-seam between the outer and lining layers of the bag, but I wanted to be fancy, so serves me right.

Here it is, inside-out. The lining is some real South-East Asian batik, probably Indonesian. 

While we're on the subject, I've always thought the tie-dye batiks we get here in American fabric stores were too fadey. In fact, I almost didn't believe they were batiks when I first came here to the US, because growing up in Singapore, batiks had been synonymous with vibrant fabrics like these. 

End of detour. This is the strap with a lobster claw, which I put in all my shoulder bags, to which to attach key rings. Saves me the trouble of digging for mine amongst all the other junk in my bags - I just feel for the strap instead, and pull out the keys.

An inside shot to show you one of the two inner pockets. You can see them more clearly in the first batik-side-out picture above. 

A couple of WIP shots next. You can see the pocket laying across the middle seam of the project - it's kinda like one of those spot-the-hidden-object pictures. Also wanted to show you that my fabric edges don't always line up in the construction process - see the two unmatching lower edges for what I mean. What's more critical (to me, anyway) is how the fabric piecing aligns at the seam, and sometimes, precision in other places has to give. All that irregularity disappears into the base seam anyway, so it's still all good.

What was the point of this next picture? No clue, sorry. This is what happens when you take photos and don't post them till months after. Maybe it was to show that curvy seam and the edge-stitching? Huh. Let's say that's it. Moving on, now!

Final shot of Fleur modeling the bag to give you an idea of its size. Okay, it's not really tiny like the title claims - it's just more compact and current than my old one was. Fleur does a lot of modeling for me these days now that the kids are hardly home to pose for me. And I am horrible at selfies and finding appropriate mirrors for taking selfies. So it's a good thing I have a body double. Plus, unlike the kids, she never fidgets.

I might have a couple of these bags to put in the store for the holidays. One of them is a fun variation - will share pictures in the next post. 

Early wishes for a wonderful Thanksgiving, everyone! Feast with abandon, enjoy your loved ones, and -id you're traveling - be safe on the roads (and air)!