Editor’s Note: Making It Fit

Editor Rebecca Martin talks about how homemade clothes were part of her growing-up years, and how she’s started relearning the old skill of dressmaking.

| Summer 2019

sewing-machine
Photo by Getty Images/fizkes

Next to the garden, the sewing room is one of my favorite places to work. I love being surrounded by colorful fabrics saved up for quilts, pillows, and, lately, dresses.

When I was young, everyone made their own clothes because store-bought garments were expensive. Homemade wasn’t just acceptable, it was groovy. I was proud to wear a hand-smocked peasant blouse.

Back in the 1930s, my mother’s family was too poor to buy dress patterns or fabric. With her sisters, she designed and sewed clothing from printed cotton feed sacks. And my mother-in-law, who grew up on a Nebraska farm, remembers seeing the local seamstress in a beautifully fitted dress made entirely of a feed sack, which she knew because she had that same feed sack at home!



This inventiveness didn’t last. Sometime in the 1980s, clothing manufacturers moved their shops overseas and flooded the market with cheap imports. Within a few years, our choice of dressmaking fabrics got limited, and everything about sewing became expensive — sewing machines, scissors, even patterns and thread. Adding insult to injury, garment manufacturers these days are transitioning from the old numbered sizing system to letter sizing (S, M, L, and so on). Like me, you may have discovered that nothing fits right any more.

So, I’ve invested in a few books on fitting garments and am relearning the old skill of dressmaking. I’m currently tackling muslin making. (Muslins are trial runs of dress patterns made of muslin pieces that’ve been basted together.) Sewing your own garments is already time-consuming, but add a muslin into the mix and you’ve more than doubled the hourly investment. First, you baste together the pieces, then you try on the muslin and pin or tear out the stitches (depending on whether a portion is too loose or too tight). Next, you remove the muslin, rebaste the changes, try it back on … and so on. Does that underarm gap mean the armhole is too loose or too low? Is just one dart needed, or two? Suddenly, that bushel of straight pins in my craft room is nearly gone. It takes a lot of pins to fit a muslin! Meanwhile, uncut yardage stacks up in my sewing room while I try to build a dress that fits better than anything I could buy. The process is slow and often frustrating. But, when you finally get it right, the garment settles comfortably on your body, and feels good everywhere.






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