Monday, July 21, 2014

Ballgown: Day 16-18 (Or, Skirts and Rest)

ballgown17.1 ballgown17.3ballgown17.2 ballgown17.4

Yesterday it rained: a slow, light mist over the city. The sky was bright, and every droplet of rain lit up in the glow of the mid-morning. I stood at the top of the fire escape for a moment, and the smell of wet dirt and dead grass and rain blew in the open door behind me.

Two days ago, I had eight huge pieces of skirt muslin and a misthreaded machine and too many days without rest. I cried pinning a godet to a perfectly reasonable piece of skirt. I cried to my mom on the phone. I went home and slept for twelve hours. Then I went to school and emptied my garbage cans and said hi to the director, and I hugged my dress, and I went home again.

I've always known that rest is important for me. All the knots that tighten in my head as the week progresses are gently pulled apart in the hours between work. I know this, and I was still fighting it, thinking I could beat it back. I should know better.

So finally, Saturday, instead of sewing a skirt, I rested: I vacuumed the living room, and did laundry, and decimated some morning glories that had taken over the front yard. I drank a beer in the middle of the afternoon and sat on the couch in the sun.

It felt weird, remembering the world outside of ballgown. It was as if, for a day, that my little room didn't exist - which made me a little sad, to be honest. I already know that someday in the future, I'll live and relive these moments over again: this feeling of purpose and triumph, and even these moments of failure. There's something in this process that reaches deep, that challenges your strength and skills and willpower. It forces you to look in the mirror and know yourself. To push through when it's important; to walk away when it isn't. And that clarity is...sort of amazing.

So Saturday I rested, and yesterday - with renewed energy, with a pastry from the market and the rain at my back - I sewed my skirt together. And it was easy.

Imagine that.

Happy Monday.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Ballgown: Day 14 (Or, Mental Health is Important, and So Are Friends)


Yesterday was rough from the beginning; I got to school and immediately had to rip out and fix some of my work from the day before. Then, bleary with fatigue and frustration, I accidentally cut a thread I shouldn't have, and hours of hard work began their unravelling before my eyes: where no machine could possible reach, where little threads of georgette happily shimmied out of their weave. I stood there for over an hour, sweating and painstakingly hand-sewing over the damaged area to fix it, praying with every stab that this would be the one that would make it right.

At the end, with the crisis under control and the binding safely tacked back in place, a wave of anxiety and nausea washed over me, and I had to stop for lunch and a walk around the block with the director to calm down.


Letting go is hard for me. It's both my strength and my weakness. It makes me meticulous; makes my work better. It also causes a lot of stress and anguish over things that may or may not matter. Sometimes the overwhelming fear of failure can actually paralyze me in my tracks, and I often struggle with the choice between executing something imperfectly and not executing something at all.

I think maybe the difference is in the motivation: the work that inches towards greatness is the work motivated by joy; the work that falls flat is, ironically, motivated by fear. It's a funny thing, to have to learn how to temper my need for control. It constantly pushes me forward if I put it in a reasonable gear, but left to accelerate of its own accord, it can destroy me and everything in its path. And I was in full self-immolation mode for most of yesterday, which felt pretty fucking crappy.

So it was a nice change of pace to go visit with a new friend after such a terrible day. We chatted about things we care about - feminism, tv shows, yarn, pets - and I left feeling like my heart had been filled back up. It probably sounds weird, but I feel like the universe sensed I was in a bad place, and sent me this gift - a feeling of connection, of gratitude - to knock me back into orbit and remind me of things that matter way more than a sleeve cuff.

And hopefully, today will be better.

Happy Thursday.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Ballgown: Day 13 (Or, Sleeves!)




The last two days or so have been all about the sleeves - and they are, hands down, the most technically difficult part of the gown so far. The fabric is a whisper-thin chiffon-weight georgette, so it's incredibly slippery and sheer with just a little bit of texture: it snags pretty easily, falls apart at the cut edges if handled too roughly, and as far as sewing goes, it's a mess. The feed dogs of my machine refuse to catch it, so it just wiggles around haplessly underneath the presser foot. I've resorted to sewing it on drafting paper and tearing the paper away when I'm done, because I've played this game before and it always ends in yelling and tears - that, and I'm a dirty, shameless cheater when it comes to sewing.

Despite being a total pain in my ass to work with, it also gives the most wonderfully soft, floaty silhouette. Where the crepe back satin is liquid color, the georgette is mist; the two together are a wonderful balance of sweetness and depth.

ballgown13.4 ballgown13.3ballgown13.6 ballgown13.2

Working on the final garment has made me think more about my skills and enjoyment of the design process as a whole. Among my realizations: I have a tepid and mostly tolerant relationship with sewing, but I'm in mad, passionate love with construction.

To me, the experience of sewing is haphazard and somewhat mundane, and usually on the machine: straight seams, fiddly curves, stitching blind. I hold my breath every time I sit down to sew opposing curves together, praying that the machine doesn't pull a gather where it shouldn't, cursing every time I flip my seam over and realize I have to rip out inches of work and do it again. I like my machine for how easy it makes things for me (it's a Pfaff, and I do love the crap out of it) and I admire anyone who can wrangle a machine to do what they want. But in the end, there are limitations to what the machine can do in terms of detail and control, and it can never totally satisfy my pickiness.

On the other hand, construction is careful and slow - usually by hand - in preparation and execution; construction is tailoring and grading seams and hand-sewing miles of bias binding. Construction is seven hours of appliqué. Sewing is about the big picture; construction is about the minute details that build a greater whole - and I'm a detail-oriented kinda person.

I think that's why I'm not totally comfortable calling myself a sewist, because the sewing isn't the part that makes my heart sing with joy - it's waxing the thread, it's tying tailor's knots, it's balancing halfway on my heels on the rungs of my stool, craning my neck to pick tiny stitches in a long, wonderfully not-quite-perfect row. I get lost in it in the best way, only emerging hours later in the frozen section of the grocery store, wondering what the hell I even went there to buy, dreaming about the flash of my needle and all those little stitches.

Soon, I'll be moving on from the sleeves, and I can't say I'm sorry - I just hope there will be lots and lots more hand-sewing yet to do.

Happy Wednesday.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Ballgown: Day 11 (Or, Appliqué All the Things!)

This is what I did all day yesterday. Wheeeee!

Happy Monday!