Tuesday, July 15, 2008

So So ...

For my birthday this year, Tim gave me a sewing machine. This may sound like an odd gift from a skating partner, but he had two of them and I have always wanted one. You know, to whip up a new set of curtains for the living room one weekend, for example, or to slipcover the sofa on a lazy Saturday afternoon. All of those decorating projects I would do in my copious spare time if I were not busy working, skating, judging, renovating, volunteering, traveling, etc., etc.

The best reason to have a sewing machine, of course, is to sew skating wear. We’re talking practice clothes (do you know how much Seku charges for those great foldover waist pants I have?) and competition costumes of course. I have tons of ideas for those and I know what looks good on me; how difficult could it be?

So based on the advice of our wonderful costumer Jim Kerber (who knows he is not going to lose our business because there is no way in hell that I can come up with the kind of gorgeous costumes he does), I started with a pair of simple practice pants.

It took me three weeks to find the time and courage to go to the fabric store and take the plunge. The pattern I chose was in stock and they had some fabric which had the required 4-way stretch. I bought elastic, thread, needles, and other “notions” (such an apropos name), and I was on my merry way.

As I sat in my “sewing room” aka my “office” with the fabric spread out in a huge expanse on the floor, all of my 7th grade home economics phobias came flooding back. My pin phobia (“careful, you are going to snag that fabric!”) was first. Pins are also sharp and they hurt when you stick them into your finger, which I am genetically predisposed to do because I carry the "klutz" gene.

My scissor phobia was less trivial. I am left handed and have many residual emotional scars from having to use the squishy green-handled “lefty” scissors in kindergarten. Of course there were never enough “lefty” scissors to go around, and I was a wimpy kid who didn’t fight for the scissors, so I was usually left to mangle the construction paper using right-handled scissors in my left hand. Just try this some time if you think I'm joking. My mother happily framed the resulting “art,” but I’m sure she must have wondered about my fine motor skills at the time. As I grew older and more dexterous I bit the bullet and learned to cut with my right hand, but I was never very good at it.

So here I was, faced with a sea of slippery, stretchy lycra and a brand new sharp pair of left-handed scissors which I had bought for the occasion. After cutting out the pattern itself (using another pair of scissors which weren’t earmarked for fabric), and pinning it to the material (only a bit of blood ensued), I was ready to cut. I felt like a medical student operating on her first cadaver as I hesitated before making the first incision.

Needless to say, the cutting didn’t go well. I soon learned that my left hand had forgotten how to cut and felt awkward, so I had to use my right hand, which meant using not-so-sharp scissors and, well, my non-dominant hand. Cutting two layers of fabric is challenging since they move and slide around each other. At the end I had all of the pieces but lots of ragged edges. Oh well, I thought, those will be inside the garment anyway.

Which is true. But the pieces still have to match up, and if they are not cut accurately, they don’t. But now, the good news … Lycra fabric stretches! It hides a multitude of sins because you can simply stretch the pieces to fit them together. Aha, I thought, perfect. I pinned the front to the back and started to sew. The seam was pretty straight, the machine was humming, I was starting to relax. Then, disaster struck. The fabric started getting sucked down, down, down into the nether regions of the machine … where the bobbin lives. I pulled on it, and it pulled back. I opened up the bobbin case to find a mess of fabric and what looked like a thread bomb which had gone off inside. Thread and fabric everywhere.

This required me to get out the sewing machine manual, and some patience (which I lack) while I took apart the bobbin case, removed the thread remnants, cut out the fabric which was stuck, and put it all back together again. Jim reassured me, saying that this “sometimes happens.”

The part of the pants which had been sucked in happened to be the crotch, and now they had a big rip in them. By this point I was tired, sweaty, and ready to have some new pants, dammit, so I cut the offending crotch part out and figured it would all come out in the wash. These pants might have a slightly funny looking crotch but who is going to be noticing that?

After sewing the front to the back and the other front to the other back, I tried to fit the two front and back leg pieces to each other at the waist. The notches were not lining up and no amount of stretching was going to save the day, because the notches were totally backwards and upside down. How could this have happened? The pieces had fit together so well when I was sewing them. After about 20 minutes of pondering this and staring at the pattern instructions, I realized that I had sewed the front to the other front and the back to the other back vs. vice versa. Oops. Out came the handy dandy seam ripper (the key tool that every sewer must have). I ripped out everything I had spent all morning doing and called it a day.

The next day I carefully pinned the front to the BACK and the OTHER FRONT to the OTHER BACK. The rest of my pants-sewing adventure was pretty nondescript. Several hours later I had a pair of pants which … amazingly … fit me PERFECTLY. I could not believe it. They were flattering and they fit. The misshapen crotch was undetectable. The seams were straight, at least on the outside. I had even taken some creative liberty by putting the waistband from “view A” on the legs from “view B” and added a slit on the side hem all by myself, and the world had not come to an end.

I'm happy with the pants, although they are a bit too loose to actually skate in, although I can envision myself wearing them with heels to a cocktail party. (A dark cocktail party where everyone is nearsighted would be best.) I chose fabric that is actually TOO stretchy and not form fitting enough for skating. Despite this, I'm very happy with how they turned out and I feel I've learned quite a bit about sewing.

I am now looking for fabric so I can sew the skating dress pattern I bought. It’s more difficult than pants, with about a hundred more pieces to cut out (I am buying a rotary cutter for that) and several pages of instructions that are on par with those for space shuttle landing gear. It’s a hot little Latin number complete with a ruffle and a flirty skirt. If all goes well I may have a dress to wear for my Samba and Cha Cha Congelado tests.

Um, that is, if I ever test them. Who has time with all of this sewing?

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