Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Sometimes I Sew Things

Note the "Not the Grapes of Wrath"
dress I am wearing.

Why make a red dress?  

In part because my  grandmother made several for me.

My grandmother (my mother’s mother) was a dressmaker. She was a business owner from an immigrant family at a time when women didn’t own businesses. She was amazing. She could take apart a man’s suit and make a little girl’s glen plaid school dress with interchangeable white linen collars. She sewed special dresses for my sisters and me through our childhood and as we grew up to be teenagers and adults.

School dresses, Easter dresses, Homecoming dresses, Prom dresses and Wedding dresses. Not home made looking substitutes for the real thing but beautiful dresses, custom made dresses, special dresses. Dresses for girls whose parents could never have afforded even the K-Mart version.

She kept up with fashion trends and made fantastic, fabulous, beautiful, one-of-a kind dresses. I remember how wonderful I felt. I also remember standing during fittings and alterations and meticulously measured hems for what seemed like an eternity and, when posture and attention flagged, feeling the quick poke from a dressmaker’s pin followed by “Stand still Kasha!”  The lady could sew and she was a dead aim with a stick pin.

I did not learn to sew from her. (I did learn to love sewing and what sewing could do and what it meant. I learned that it was powerful, magical juju but she never did actually teach me how to do it.) I learned to sew on my own by trial and error and (maybe) instinct borne of watching her.

I was fearless. Patterns? Pah! Who needed ‘em? (Well I did- but not always.) When I was sixteen I made an outfit in about an hour and a half for a date that same evening. The outfit lasted only just long enough to get home before the close-cut seams gave out.

As I got older and a bit more skilled and a lot more broke and I sewed like a crazy person. I even made jeans!

Right???.... I know! Crazy person.

I made this little person and her blue checked sunsuit

Percy Bear needed a night shirt
 and frequent bear surgeries
I made play clothes and school dresses and party clothes and doll clothes and birthday presents and Halloween costumes. If I couldn’t afford it I tried to find a way to sew it. I sewed a lot.

These days I sew less out of necessity and more because it the notion tickles my fancy or because I think it will be fun or because it presents a challenge OR ...

(here we are going to devote a moment or two to the fancy tickling portion of our program before finishing this thought.)

Grace was obviously not as pleased with her boots as I had hoped.
You're kinda tickled tough, right?
Emma got a christening bonnet (she was unimpressed.) Monkey needed a jacket that matched Miles’s and they both clearly needed matching hats. Jack and Mary...well, I just felt like making them coz I love them on Jack's Big Music Show and Carl won his match in tiny pants with a Superman symbol. 
Like I said, it has to tickle my fancy (minds out the gutter please) or touch my heart.

Last summer I sewed terry swim robes like it was a calling coz they were fun and then this past Christmas I made aprons for nearly everyone I know (the cooks) and pillow cases for everyone else (the sleepers?).

I also started a big ol’ pile of pillow cases for Conkerr Cancer which is a really cool organization that makes super-duper, fancy, one-of-a-kind pillow cases for critically ill kids to have for their very own in the hospital. Anyone who sews at all has a fabric stash (you know who you are) that needs thinning and the pillow cases are incredibly satisfying to make and to give. You’ll make lots once you start. You don’t need a pattern. Just go here: HOW CAN I MAKE ONE?

(Now here’s the thought finishing part. We're back to the OR left dangling above.)

...OR because some little girl is all grown up and her heart’s desire is beyond her reach and because everyone should have that Red Dress Moment...

There they are up there. A few of my girls in their red dresses. Couldn't you eat those smiles for lunch?

When I read The Traveling Red Dress my fancy was well and truly tickled and my heart was emphatically touched. My own personal little girl (she’s up there on the right- the blue sunsuit doesn’t fit anymore) and I decided that we would make a Red Dress (a fabulous, fantastic Red Dress) and that we would send it traveling.

I make my dresses because I know what that one wonderful, just for you dress feels like. Everyone should have that moment. That dress. The one that makes you feel lit up inside. I can’t make y’all a wedding dress but I can send you a #TravelingRedDress so get ready to wear the living daylights out it when it gets to your house.

UPDATE: The Red Dress will be enjoying a brief engagement in it’s city of origin before it goes traveling first to the east and then to the west coast.
If you need a Red Dress moment just let me know. Trust me, it will fit you. Red Dresses are magical and also I’m making sure.

Thanks to Jenny Lawson TheBloggess on Twitter for fanciest tickle (again- out of the gutter- it’s a simple, if lame, turn of phrase) I’ve felt in a long time (man, I just keep digging that hole deeper) and to Maureen Johnson outstanding YA author and Twitter Icon (yes, that is blatant pandering and sucking up) for agreeing to wear my #TravelingRedDress.



I'm delighted and excited to show you the fabrics for our Traveling Red Dress. As I've said "red dresse (even when they're not red) are magical" and this one will fit just about everyone. There will be three corset tops which should lace or up or down to go from size nuthin' to size fabulously abundant with a fantasy skirt of matching tulle suitable for twirling.

I'm sewing as fast as my fingers can carry me and my fancy can tickle me (again with the mind in the gutter!). I'm excited...I hope y'all are as well.


  1. This is a lovely story! It is so wonderful that the power of word of mouth has touched so many people and will be changing lives.

    I am lucky to be on a list to receive a Traveling Red Dress, but I will have to pass it along to the next person on the list. I have a friend who could use a red dress.

    She was recently diagnosed with a difficult mental illness. It's been a struggle for her and I wish I could bring some extra happiness into her life.

    Would you be willing to make a #Traveling Red Dress for me to send to my friend?

  2. I love this post Cath. Great photos!!! Little you and little boo stole the show in my opinion :)
    I took a photo of my loverly new pillow case, I will post it soon.
    xoxoxox <3
    p.s This is Bleb. NTSC is my rap name ;)

  3. Gorgeous fabric! I'm hoping the next Travelling Red Dress I receive has a bit of magic in it - the one I received yesterday is too small ;(

    Maybe I should look for a dress with a corset top so I can adjust it as I need to?

  4. Me Too!!! I'm a size 22 and a sewist, so I'm going to make a fabulous Red Dress that will suit bigger girls, wear it, and then send it traveling!

    I'm pondering ways to make it adjustable, will interline it so that it easy to take in and out, and will include a fancy jacket for ladies who are sensitive about their upper arms.