Monday, July 6, 2009

Skirting the Issue

The project started innocently enough; Jo and I, standing in the sea of the Junior department, scouting out something--
anything-- that fit the definition of "appropriate clothing for a young lady."

Lest you think my family's definition of such is unapproachably strict, let me lay out the terms for you:

  • Item must not reveal undergarments--from the top or the bottom.
  • Item must not contain phrase, saying, illustration or words that could be construed as narky, rude or nasty.
  • Item must leave to the imagination that which was meant to be.

We're not Amish. We're not even really good Anabaptists, people! These guidelines are shockingly minimal, and yet ...

Store after store, we failed. Failed
miserably, actually. I walked out of the house with $75 to spend on clothing for my daughter, and came home with that same $75 still sitting in my wallet. Jo had tried on a handful of shorts and skirts and refused to even leave the dressing room in them.

"I feel naked, mom!" she cried at one point, as I begged her to come out so I could see for myself. "Seriously, if I bend over, the whole world will see my underwear!"

I knew something drastic had to be done. And since surrender of the values one has been convicted of is not an option that should even make it to the table, I moved to Plan B: sewing.

I would never call myself an especially adept seamstress. While I've managed to cobble together little bits here and there over the years, my products have, honestly, been anything but
fashionable. But this time, I knew I had to do it right. After all, an 11 year-old girl with a developing sense of self-worth would be the recipient of my efforts this time. I owed it to her to make sure that the clothes she sported didn't look like cast-offs from a middle school home ec class.

Mr. Blandings was shockingly eager to get on board with this new enterprise. I say "shockingly" because it required the purchase of a new sewing machine, and truth be told, he's even tighter with a penny than I am. Yet one mention of, "I'm thinking of sewing clothes for Jo," and he was on board, writing a check and giving me carte blanche at our local fabric store.

Scary stuff.

Scarier still were the prices at the fabric store.
Fabric is not cheap, y'all. I don't know where all of those $2 shirts at Wal-Mart come from, but it's not around here, I can tell you that much. (Actually, they come from places where labor practices are despicable and human rights are unknown. They just forget to include that little reality check on the tag under the Amazing Low Price!) Buying fabric is something of an investment, it seems. You look for sales, you learn the good spots, you swap, you ask around and in the end, you've probably still paid a pretty penny. This is just something you have to anticipate when you're making your own clothes.

Finally, a good chunk of money later, Jo and I sat down at our kitchen table and set to the task at hand: sewing a few cute, longish skirts for her to wear throughout the summer. We had a collection of fabrics, a book of patterns, my new sewing machine, some elastic, and a whole lot of learning curve.

Can I just say that I have never, ever enjoyed a Mother/Daughter project more thoroughly? At the end of just two short hours, we had a completed skirt. Simple. A-line. Elastic waist-band. Nothing fancy at all.

oh, the satisfaction.

Our conversation in those 120 minutes was among some of the deepest, most heart-felt I think I've ever had with my daughter. Was it really such a short window of time? We talked about my childhood, my mother, her birth, beauty, womanhood, being a mother, peace ... so many things that I could have worked and worked and worked to negotiate our conversation around to. But with the sound of the sewing machine wish-wishing in our ears, and the feel of the cloth under our fingers, these things came naturally. What else can you think of as you slide pins into fabric but the real essence of womanhood? It's inescapable.

When Jo slipped the completed skirt onto her hips, her whole face lit up with a glow of accomplishment.

"We did it!" she sang, skipping over to me. "It's perfect!"


A perfect fit, both in the flesh and in the spirit. A garment worthy of its cost.

Since that first skirt, Jo and I have made several more. Each becomes easier than the one before it as we familiarize ourselves with the process, the equipment and the materials. We've branched out, too--the most recent skirt to be completed is bordered in a pattern of whimsical buttons of contrasting color. Jo says this one is her favorite.

"It's me," she beamed to the woman who commented on it at church yesterday. "I made it with my mom, and I put the finishing touches on all by myself."

Far from feeling awkward that her wardrobe is not a carbon copy of her peers, I find that Jo has taken a sense of pride in her handmade garments. She's gained a skill, found a new form of creative expression, and looks forward to what she calls "The Sewing Hour," when she and I sit down to work together. We've bonded in a whole new way over femininity, fabric, trims and tales.

This is not what I expected when I threw my hands up in the air and said, "Fine! I'll just make
what I want!" I went looking for the practical answer. What I got was a soul-filling respite from the world.

Judging from the chorus of dissatisfied Momma's voices that I hear around me, we are not alone in our search for clothing that is modest yet flattering. To those of you who are on the fence, take heart! Sewing skirts for your daughter is not the daunting task it appears to be at first blush. This is one of those deeply satisfying, heart-filling exercises that pays dividends far beyond the investment. Really.

For an excellent primer on getting started--in a budget-friendly way--check out this Molly Green e-book on the topic, "Frugal Fashion." There are tips for newbies like me, as well as links to dozens of free, online patterns. If I can't convince you to give sewing for your family a try, maybe Molly can. :-)


Hall Family said...

Amazingly I have the exact same standards as you do when it comes to clothes. BUT--There is NOTHING out there! So my girls wear clothes that are larger than their size, or just have to do without-in most cases.
I would love to learn how to make some things for them, and might just give it a try! Thanks!!

FULL OF JOY said...

Good job mom, I just posted about the lack of clothing that fits my girl, but am terrified of the sewing machine!

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Jenn @ A Country Girl's Ramblings said...

Great job both of you! I just started making a couple of skirts this morning for the very same reason. I am such a novice, but I am learning!

Melody said...

Funny, my 8yo daughter and I have just started on the same journey. We planned on having some fun shopping, but everything was too short for her taste.

I just came home with skirt patterns a few days ago! It was fun reading about how great this has turned out for you.

~ Angi :) said...


You said cobble!

:contented sigh:

My heart is singing.


I love your writ, MG! :D

nicole said...

I found you by following a link to a link, and so on. And now I've sat and read several posts and each one has made me think. Thanks so much for writing here!

I'm planning to learn to sew. A friend is coming over to help me get started. I want to make unique things for my girls. I'm tired of seeing the same clothes on dozens of kids.

Birthblessed said...

I haven't had any trouble finding suitable clothing for my 10.5yo daughter, but she still wears a size 8 (or even 7).

I have sewed in the past. I tried sewing a simple sundress at the beginning of summer but it turned out horribly. I really need to just throw it away.

My friend sews-- she collects sewing machines too. :) She gets the magazine with the patterns in it... what's it called? German stuff I think. CUTE... very cute. If I started sewing again, I'd start with a subscription to that magazine.