Wednesday, June 3, 2009

deconstructing dresses past

I have been sewing for Lavender's Green for over ten years now. In the past decade so very much has changed both in my knowledge of historic sewing techniques and in my life that it is sometimes difficult to recognize myself in my own memories. Ten years ago I had just moved to Portland and still had kids in diapers. I was a disappointed housewife who brought in a little bit of extra cash by sewing and working at a local fabric store. There was no way that I could have known then where I would be now, or how important the friends I had just met would one day become.

There was a week when I was given several dresses to construct in preparation for sale at an event; it was summer of course but I don't recall which month. I do recall sitting in my living room with Mel watching Titanic on DVD and doing hand-sewing work. I also recall that I didn't get many of the dresses complete but rather 'almost done just need a few bits'.

One of the dresses made that week has stayed with me, both in memory and in reality. I am very particular about plaids; they just have to match up or it bothers me. This dress is a large plaid cotton which was being made into a day bodice and skirt. I was having so much trouble wrapping my head around making that plaid line up in a pleated repeat that I asked Mel to pleat it for me. It is very heavy and was a bit of a chore to feed through the machine.

Over the years, this dress has hung on display in the tent at many events. It has been remade and reshaped, shortened and let out. Somewhere along the way a bright red cord was added to the sleeves and center back. It has been tried on, marked down, and lent out but it has not sold. I, too, have been remade and reshaped. My then-new friends have become a family to me and I could not imagine a more loving circle of women. They have seen me through years of debate followed by divorce; they have rejoiced with me in times of triumph. No longer a disappointed housewife, I have learned that I have strength within myself to stand on my own and alongside a loving partner. And that dress is still there.

Last year, it was declared that the dress needed to go away. It had outstayed its welcome and clearly was not going to leave of its own accord. There was talk of it being donated to a lending closet or even left at a charity shop. Instead, it landed in my sewing room with the intent of one more remaking. There it has sat all winter long while I debate whether it is worth the effort. Tonight, I decided that it is time for this dress, these decade-old intentions, to come to a conclusion.

Inspired by talk of remaking day dresses into wrappers, I set about taking the bodice apart one more time. I removed the trim then ripped off the piping at the bottom. I opened up the lining to remove the plastic boning at the front and cut away the XXL tag from the side seam. Next went the pagoda sleeves and the waistband off the skirt. Next up will be remaking the sleeves and choosing a front contrast panel fabric.

Suddenly I am excited to have something new, something made so long ago in such a different world. Because where I am is a result of where I've been and this wrapper will remind me of that each morning as it protects me from the chill and dew.