My mother taught me to sew when I was very young. She grew up in a thrifty rural community where many clothes were made at home, by mothers and grandmothers, and she continued this. I still have some of the outfits she made for me as a child, exquisitely finished inside and out. I know she made clothes for some of my Barbies as well, but at some point she said, “You can learn to do this yourself.” So I learned.
Aside from the random special occasion I didn’t sew much after I grew up. But when I had children, Halloween became A Thing in our house. My children, even when very young, loved to dress up, and I enthusiastically abetted this. I made gowns for Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice. I made Robin Hood, Darth Vadar, Anakin Skywalker, and the Count of Monte Cristo. We crafted bows and arrows from the sticks in our backyard. We painted a chopstick with glow-in-the-dark paint so Harry Potter could cast a convincing spell all around the neighborhood.
But this story is about the pinnacle of the madness: the year my daughter, by then about thirteen, sent me this photo with the caption: will u pls make this for me for halloween.
My agreement to do this may or may not have been influenced by the Halloween costume I always wanted but never got:
Apparently my mother was not as crazy as I am.
So we went to the local Joann store, target image in hand, and bought miles of fabric, lace, various other stuff, and a pattern.
Note that this gown, lovely as it is, does not look very much like the one my girl wanted. Clearly there would have to be some improvisation.
This is how I imagine a modiste, like my heroine Felicity Dawkins (from the anthology Dressed to Kiss), worked in Regency England: the customer would come in and select a fashion plate, choosing colors and other desired embellishments. The modiste would take lots of measurements, then start with a pattern she already knew and build on it. I pictured her sketching, constructing in her head, and then taking up her shears and confidently cutting. She would pin things in place, adjust them, and then whips rows of tiny, perfect stitches by hand. Back-breaking work, no doubt, but creating a stunning gown that would be impressive even two hundred years later.
This is how the green gown happened: I brought home the bags of supplies and put them in the corner of my office. I measured the kid, looked over the size charts, and decided to let the problem of changing that pattern “simmer in my brain.”
Kid: When are you going to start, Mom?
Me: There’s plenty of time.
Kid: Are you going to start today