For our second Renaissance Women workshop we decided to learn to sew from a pattern. Patterns have always seemed like some other world to me. Delicate paper that makes me think of old people’s skin. A whole new language of “notions.” And, while the clothes pictured on the pattern envelopes are frequently unstylish, I want to at least have the option of making them. I have run across the occasional wraparound skirt or summer dress pattern that makes me look twice.
I attempted learning this skill once before. I vaguely remember my Mom helping me collect the various supplies, cut out the pattern and the fabric, and start stitching it together. But I’d chosen fabrics that appealed to my aesthetics, not ones that suited me: after putting on the dress-in-progress I threw everything into a box and moved on to other projects. I think that box is still in my shed somewhere.
As to what we chose to make: I suggested an apron partly for irony. We’re rediscovering our domestic skills, so an apron makes sense. But in actual fact I need an apron. I keep ruining my shirts with bacon grease spatter.
I venture into Fabricland. I love fabric stores. I tend to buy too much brightly-coloured cotton, justifying the expense as future quilt supplies. But this time I am in new territory: patterns, notions, polyester blends, non-quilting thread. The cashier thinks I am buying supplies for a school project. (Damn my youthful appearance.) I resist correcting her, thinking I might get a student discount. (I do not.)
While I manage to find everything I need, I am surprised by the surly, unfriendly attitude of the staff. These baby boomer women sigh heavily before guiding me to the correct areas of the store. I had thought they’d be excited by a new generation of customers. Maybe they are just pissed to be working on a weekend.
In the end, I choose a pretty red-black-white pattern (so bacon stains won’t show too much), black thread and black “double fold bias” tape, whatever that is. I choose black so my apron will be sexy.
I rescue my beloved sewing machine from storage in our shed. It is surprisingly heavy. Or maybe that is my guilt, at not having used it for at least a year. I usually use my sewing machine for piecing together quilts, or maybe some final top-stitching, or doing a half-assed job hemming pants. With our tiny home I’ve been doing more hand quilting, so as not to take up space on the already-cluttered kitchen table. I literally have to dust off my sewing machine. Poor thing. One day I will have a sewing room, or at least a room where I can leave her set up and dust-free.
Sunday, noon to 1:00 pm-ish:
I pick up Vanessa at Affinity Guesthouse and we motor to Chemainus for our workshop. Vanessa’s hubby, Dwight, gives us cookie batter to bake at the workshop. I love Dwight. Who else keeps homemade cookie batter on hand?
After a few anxious minutes in Chemainus we spot Kim, our sewing workshop organizer, and find the door to the Cowichan Neighbourhood House Association space, where Cindy works. Yay! Once inside it’s all Renaissance Woman goodness, lots of smiles and love and general good vibes. The Cowichan Neighbourhood House is awesome: a full kitchen, a meeting table area, a cosy sitting area with way too many couches, and an open room where we set up all the tables and chairs we need for multiple sewing machines. We don’t even blow the breakers.
Kim steeps Teafarm tea in the kitchen and Vanessa puts Dwight’s cookies into the oven. Teafarm’s Black Lavender tea becomes my momentary favourite. Soon the entire space smells of peanut butter chocolate chip yumminess. It is a fact that the Renaissance Women are weak for tea and baked goodies.
Sunday, 1-5:30 pm-ish:
Kim talked Maggie Beischer into teaching 15 newbies to sew from a pattern. Poor Maggie. She is magnificent, patiently explaining “seam allowances” and “bias” and interpreting sewing pattern hieroglyphics for us. After a quick pep talk at the meeting table she challenges us to get started. We move to the big room and cut pattern pieces, iron them (so weird, to iron paper!!), pin the pieces to our chosen fabrics, and then (after a final check-in with Maggie) start cutting. Finally it’s “whir whir” and we’re sewing.
It’s funny, how 15 confident women can become so nervous. We’re used to feeling confident. We run businesses, we parent, we create art (which is inherently narcissistic). But to do something for the first time is unnerving.
The “bias tape” throws us off. It’s tiny and tricky to manipulate.
Finally we realize that we should get home for dinner, so we pack up our partially-finished aprons or tote bags. Someone washes the dishes. There is one cookie left, because everyone is too polite to eat the last one.
Sunday, 6 pm-ish:
I eat the last cookie when I drop off Vanessa. It’s really good.
Once at home I finish my apron. It’s not perfect: I did the steps out of order and there are rough edges showing. The fabric is probably too soft for a proper, functional apron. But it’s awesome. I love the little black bows on the pockets.
And I start looking at the sewing book I found in Chapters’ bargain bin. Now that I know how to read a pattern, I can actually use it. Watch out, world.