teaching alex how to sew (alternate title: the blind leading the blind)

Ask Alex what she wants to be when she grows up, you could get one of several answers.  Sometimes she says she wants to be a journalist (language is definitely her superpower, so I'm sure she'd make an excellent journalist of any kind; that said, she has made it clear she has no desire to be a war correspondent.) ( Thank God.)  Other times, she says she wants to be a rock star.  Still other times, she says she wants to be a fashion designer.  I don't really care what she does as long as she's happy.  (Although I did talk her out of pursuing a career as a veterinarian, only because other than dogs, she's violently allergic to every animal on the planet.  She wondered if she could just train to be a dog vet, but I told her I didn't think it works that way.)

Most recently, she vacillates between journalism and fashion design, occasionally combining the two, and settling on being a fashion journalist.  And so I suppose it's not that surprising that a couple of weeks ago, she asked if I would buy her a sewing machine.

"You don't sew."

"I'd sew if I had a sewing machine."

Now, I know my daughter.  She gets all hot and bothered about getting some new gadget, and when I break down and get it for her, she'll use it once, and then never use it again.  I was not falling for it this time.

"Nice try, kid.  Until you show me that sewing is something you're really interested in learning, you're not getting a sewing machine.  You need to learn to sew by hand, first."

For the next couple of weeks, she was quiet, until on Saturday, she came into my office.  "Mom?  Can you take me to the fabric store to buy some fabric?"


"Because I want to learn to sew something."

"Seriously?  Like, should we look up a pattern, and you'll hand-sew something?"


Well.  This was interesting:  she'd never actually pursued learning to sew before.  One problem, however:  despite having a seamstress for a grandmother, I've never sewed a damned thing in my life.  How exactly was I supposed to help her learn?  Oh, I can hem things, and I know how to do a running stitch, but actually build something one would wear?  Yeah. No.

But she did ask, and I could hardly let my complete ineptitude stop me from helping her.  So I took to the Internet, and looked for the easiest possible thing I could help her create.  I found this how-to link that gave explicit directions on how to sew a skirt in under an hour.  And I showed it to her.

"Oh," she said slowly.

"What's wrong?"

"Well, actually, I meant that I wanted you to buy me fabric so I could make a dress for my dolls."

I turned to face her.  "Kid, I am not about to spend money on fabric for you to dress your dolls," I began.  "And I sure as hell will not buy any sewing machines for you to make dolls' clothes.  If fashion is really something you want to pursue, you need to learn how to sew.  I will take you to the store, and you will learn and sew this skirt, and I'll help you, and you'll proudly wear it to school next week.  The experience will help you decide if sewing is something you like, and there will be enough scraps left over for you to do whatever you want for your doll.  And if you decide sewing is not something you like to do, then any conversation about sewing machines is over.  Fair enough?"

She sighed.  "Fine."

The truth was that I was talking a big game, because I cannot stress enough that I had no idea what I was doing, or how we were going to make this skirt.  But I wanted her to take it seriously, if fashion design was something she really wanted to do.  Besides, kids can sense your fear, and I wasn't about to let on how nervous I was about this whole ordeal.

So I found a fabric store, one that was happily having a liquidation sale.  When we arrived, she gasped at the selection.  "You need to choose cotton or a cotton blend," I told her.  "As long as it's cotton, you can choose any fabric you see."

"Any?  Really?"

"Absolutely.  It's your skirt." 

She looked around, and picked the ones you see at the top of this post.  We got two yards of each, for a total of $15.  "Alex," I said.  "You realize that you'd be hard-pressed to buy a single new skirt for $15.  And yet, this is enough for you to make 8 skirts.  Cool, right?"

She thought for a minute.  "Wow.  Yes.  You mean I can have way more clothes by making them than buying them."

"That's right.  So even if you don't become a designer, you can still learn to make clothes for yourself and save tons of money."

(See?  Talking a big game.  Keep in mind I've never sewed anything for myself before.)

We got home, and she picked the polka dot fabric to get started.  I helped her measure and cut the material.  And then, we began by my teaching her how to sew a running stitch.

At first, she got frustrated, but eventually got the hang of it, and even got pretty quick.  In between sewing, I'd iron seams and hems, show her new stitches, and she'd finish them off.  I'd say I did about 40%, and she did a solid 60%.  And because we didn't have a sewing machine, it took quite a bit longer than an hour -- but three hours or so later, she was done.

"We're finished?"  she was incredulous.

"Yup," I said, holding up the finished project.  "Why don't you go try it on?"

She put it on, and it fit like a glove.  But first, the ultimate test:  twirling.

Good enough.

If you turn it inside-out, you'd see that the seams are a bit (a lot) wonky, and the hemming leaves much to be desired, but no one looks at the underside anyway.  When she's wearing it, it's certainly pretty enough for school, and will hopefully garner her a few compliments.

Later in the evening, I asked her what she thought about her first sewing experience. 

"Oh, I loved it," she said, enthusiastically.  "I mean, you have to be really patient, but it's totally worth it in the end."

Hmm.  We've got a ton more fabric, so we'll see how her enthusiasm holds up.  

But for now, at least she got a cute skirt.  Not so bad for her first time.


Song:  Rubberband man by The Spinners