Amanda is my fourteen-year-old granddaughter. She has mentioned an interest in learning how to sew from a pattern several times lately. One day in March, she came to me and asked “Grandma, will you help me?” “Help you with what,” I asked? I wasn’t too surprised when she wanted to sew herself a new dress. But the story starts a little bit before this.
Amanda is in high school and is taking Spanish as one of her subjects. She has a new friend in this class who is Hispanic and has just turned fifteen. When a Hispanic girl turns fifteen, there is a big celebration called a quinceanera. This is similar to what we often call a coming out or sweet 16 party but with a lot more tradition and meaning to it and it is as important as a wedding. Since we didn’t know much about this party and were interested in learning more about another culture we went to the computer to see what we could learn. It is a very big party with a gathering of family and friend and lots of special meanings. It starts at the church, and then moves to a large hall with lots of food, dancing and fun. The girl is given many gifts, each item having a meaning, for example she is giving a tiara that shows she is a princess before her family, but more important before God, a cross to represent her faith in God and in herself, a Bible that she will keep God’s word close to her and that it is an important resource plus other items of jewelry that also means something special. There are other things that are done to show that the young girl is now becoming a young woman. The father or another favorite relative will remove her flat shoes and replace them with her first pair of high heels. She will give up her last doll thus passing from childhood to adult. How beautiful all this must be.
This was so interesting to Amanda and myself and takes us back to the sewing. Amanda wanted to have an appropriate dress for the occasion and she wanted to make it herself! Will I help her, of course I will.
Next thing I know she came to me with a picture of a dress she liked and wanted to make. Not a pattern. It’s a pretty little red lace dress. This may be harder than I thought. The first Saturday we could, off to Hancock’s we went. Gathering a stack full of pattern books we started looking for the red dress. We looked and looked to find that dress, but it was not there. I noticed on pattern that sort of looked similar but not exact. Amanda went to the drawers and pulled that number and we sat it aside and continued to look. I spotted another pattern that had two dresses in it, one was called a slip dress and we pulled that number too. I had the bright idea of putting the two patterns together! We would make the “slip dress” but would use it as a slip or as we termed it the “under dress” and make the first pattern from lace as the “over dress.” O.K. now on to the material.
Right away we found red lace and it was pretty, but somehow we both knew it was no as right as we had thought it would be, keep looking. Soon we found the same pretty lace in a perfect shade of blue; as soon as we spotted it we both knew this was the color for Amanda’s dress. A little more looking and we found the exact shade of blue in satin. Holding the lace over the solid material it was beautiful; we loved it and carried the material to the counter.
Although Amanda already sews a little she has never used a pattern and this is where the lesson part begins. “Amanda read the back of the envelope “Why Grandma?”
There is a lot of information on that pattern envelope: How much material you need to buy and how wide should it be, other items like snaps, zippers, thread, interfacing, belt buckle, all this is important and you need to get it now so you don’t have to come back. We gathered everything we needed and went to check out, paid for our things and headed home, this was enough for the first day.
Next session we started on the “under dress.” First you read and read again the instructions. It is important that you understand before you get started. She picked out the pieces with the numbers on it that she needed and pressed them and then pinned them to the material, making sure everything is laid as it should be. From the sewing box (which was my mothers, her great-grandmother) we took the scissors for cutting material (they are flat on one side) to make the cutting easier and Amanda begin to cut.
This part of the project was pretty easy, just three parts. The front, the back and the straps, sew the two side seams, the straps and turn them (Grandpa got in on the fun here and helped by turning the straps while Amanda sewed seams) and sew these straps to the top, front and back.
WOW the whole dress done in one afternoon, well almost done she will still hem this part, but can’t do that until the other part is also finished so that the length will be right.
Amanda was pretty pleased with herself and all she had accomplished in just one day. This has really made her excited about sewing and makes her want to do more. I took her home after that and we talked about all she had learned. There are lots of terms and technics used in sewing. Basting which are temporary stitches and her least favorite thing to do, bias where you lay pattern on the bias or diagonally to the grain to get more stretch, ease stitch so you can pull the bobbin thread and gather one size to fit another piece and lots more. Also she learned things about the sewing machine, I always chuckle at the term “feed dog” it sounds funny for the teeth that keep the material moving forward. We’ve had a good day.
Hoping she’s not to over confident after finishing this part of the dress because the hard part is about to get started. Not only is it a difficult pattern with lots of parts, but sewing on lace is no easy either as you must place thin paper under your lace, we used strips cut from the Herald-Citizen, so it doesn’t get pulled into the machine by the feed dog. It’s been a long time since I’ve sewed much so I’m getting kind of nervous too.
The next Saturday, using all she had already learned we started on the “outer dress.” Going over this pattern with her there were more new terms and ways of doing things. This week we pressed the pattern, pinned them in place and cut out all the pieces. She learned that when you cut notches, the diamond shapes that you match later, cut out instead of in and why. Because there were lots of pieces to cut that’s all we got done that day, Grandma was tired and needed a break.
Because we didn’t get as much done as she had wanted to on Saturday she came back on Sunday and we worked on the dress some more. That day she learned how to do a tailor’s tack among other new things. This was the day she had to baste some things together. I’m sure she thinks this is a waste of time, but she did it, and maybe now she realizes the importance for doing so on some parts. This day we got the front and sides and back done and put together, everything but the sleeves set. We will do that next time.
The next week was spring break so we got to work on her dress several times. Put the sleeves in, sewed the sides of the skirt and got it gathered and joined to the top. It’s really looking good. Amanda is surprised that Grandma was able to figure out how to turn the pattern so that the sleeves and the hem of the skirt showed the pretty scallops of the lace. I Kind of surprised myself.
Well the dress is almost done, just needs the finishing touches, the belt and the matching purse. The belt has a pretty silver buckle and it seems to really set off the blue. The purse was about the most difficult part of the whole thing. After reading and rereading the instructions it was hard to understand. We went step by step but when we finished the purse, it was exactly right all but one thing, it was completely inside out. LOL as they say. What happened? We put the purse aside, something I’ve learned when you have trouble walk away from it for a while and then go back.
That evening Grandpa came to the rescue, he picked up the purse, looked at it and told me to take it apart. So I took it apart and we started over. With Grandpa’s help we worked with the instructions one more time and this time it came out right and we had a pretty little matching blue purse with lace trim. Nice touch.
The dress is finished. Much has been learned by both Amanda and Grandma. You say you will treasure your dress forever, well my dear girl I will treasure the time special time spent with you forever!
The quinceanera was yesterday, what a celebration, but that’s another story, maybe on Amanda will write.
Footnote: Amanda entered her dress in the Putnam Co. Fair in the fall and won the second place ribbon for her age.