Doing It Myself

To hear me say that I am stubborn should not surprise you. No pickle jar is too tight for me to twist, no mattress too heavy to flip by myself. If you know my parents, you will be doubly unsurprised that I've come by it honest. Lately, this stubbornness is joining forces with another trait of mine--the desire to invest in things that meet my needs.

I think it started with realizing how easy pizza dough was to make. The actual work only takes about 10 minutes, it's cheaper than buying premade dough, it's completely customizable (I want Parmesan IN the crust? Done!), and it is delicious. It's spread through cooking--my own vegetable stock, salad dressings, tomato sauce, blackberry jam--and now it's creeping into other areas of our life.

It helps that I have an encouraging partner in all of this. On his own, Josh is a great worker and values both the destination and the journey of this sort. We dried a bunch of herbs at the end of the summer, and we made a monster batch of pesto that's quietly lurking in the freezer. We recently mixed up a batch of our own laundry detergent using Borax, Arm & Hammer washing soda, and a bar of Fels-Naptha soap. It was cheap (a nickel per load), smells great, and gets our clothes as clean as the Gain or Tide ever did.

I'm finally putting my not-so-new sewing machine to work, and I have a lot to learn. I've never been a crafty kind of girl. I can't draw, I don't paint, and I'd rather get rid of a stack of broken tiles and half a bottle of glitter rather than make coasters for our neighbor's Christmas gifts. (We don't actually know our neighbors, so I imagine any gift would be oddly received, especially a glitter-hemorrhaging mishmash of recyclables.) I also lack creativity, so it's not in my nature to make beautiful or interesting things just for the art of it. My desire to do it myself is motivated by learning a new skill, creating something useful and tailor-made to my tastes, controlling what goes into the work--selecting a fabric that feels good to my skin and flatters my "moonlit alabaster" complexion, for example--and satisfying a sense of pride and accomplishment I get from completing a task. I also soak in the compliments I get from others on my work, of course. They're like little gold stars on my heart.

As much as I enjoy gold stars on my heart, I also love beautiful clothes that fit my body. While my family visited in September, Mom and I (and Dad, too!) worked on this dress that I wore to Kay Marie's incredibly beautiful wedding the next weekend. Without their help, I would still be ripping out seams.

You can tell this is hard work: I've fashioned myself a (matching) sweatband.

A scientific brain--or three--helps interpret NASA-level instructions.

I sew like I drive--slow starts, with no anticipation of upcoming curves.

This was the first pattern I've ever sewn, if you don't count that fleece monster I showed you a few months ago. It was TOUGH. I felt like I was filling out a MENSA application at times. It was challenging, but in the end, I loved it, and was so glad we'd done it. Propelled by momentum of wearing something I made (out in public! to an event!), I bought another pattern and more material. 

It's a choose-your-own adventure pattern!

It turns out that I'm a less successful seamstress without my mother. I still have some work to do. I butchered the hem a bit, and the zipper just isn't right, and I'm about one stomach flu from fitting into it well, but I WILL CONQUER IT. In fact, I'll conquer it twice, because in addition to making this in brown wool tweed, I'm also making it in steel gray corduroy. I love picking the style and a fabric, color, or pattern I love, and I like the idea of getting good enough to alter patterns to fit my body, despite my suspicions that math might be needed.

What pains me about this process is being so ignorant after blindly passing up years of opportunities to learn things--sewing in particular--from my grandparents. Both my grandfathers died before I turned eight, and my grandmothers were gone before I graduated high school. My mom's mother was a great seamstress. She and Mom made clothes for me--I had the most beautiful dress of any girl at the Sweetheart Dance of 1994. My cousins Melanie and Lori had this doll I was bananas over, so not only did I get the doll ("My Friend Mandy"), but Mawmaw made an entire wardrobe of custom-made clothes for Mandy. There was a linen skirt and peasant blouse outfit, a bathrobe, a sleeping bag, and a brown hooded evening coat, with real mink trimming the cuffs and hood... Mawmaw even made a slip for Mandy, since you can see in the photo that Mandy's original stylist didn't do the red-carpet flashbulb test.

We see those legs, you floosie!

I'm determined to make this a lesson that isn't too late. I want to ask more questions, be more inquisitive, and make better records. Our family has fun stories. I don't want them to be casualties of faulty memory capacities. Mom says Mawmaw would have been proud of me. I wish I had asked her if she flipped the mattress by herself too. 

*Edit: After Mom read the blog, she rescued Mandy from the basement, cleaned her up, and staged a Vogue-worthy photo shoot for two. All the outfits a girl on the go needs:
A night at the opera!
Feeding the chickens and gathering herbs
Reading Oscar Wilde by firelight
Sarah McLachlan & a bubble bath? Don't mind if I DO.

Oh, don't give me that look. It was just one teeny, tiny mink.


  1. You're adorable. I can't wait to see you in outfit! ;)


  2. That dress is gorgeous! I am so impressed by your skills! Anderson loves chewing on his fleece dinosaur, by the way. I look forward to your posts every week :-)

  3. Sara, you are awesome. Both for what and how you do it but also how you write and express (both hilarious and quite touching) thought. Love.

  4. Are you serious! Those Mandy outfits are amazing! I had a My friend Mandy wardrobe with little hangers for her clothes and a space for her and Becky!

  5. What a delight. Let's get together and sew some time. I also think about the tragedy of losing my family's history and stories. I would love to know how you plan to document the details.

  6. Just one teeny tiny mink! I love it! And I love your mom for staging the photo shoot - Mandy looks FIERCE.

  7. Oh my goodness. JUST read the update. I freaking LOVE you. I almost peed my pants I was laughing so hard.

    1. I hope you clicked on "mink" in the caption. :)


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