getting there

I sew but I haven’t always. I come from women who can turn and press, slip stitch and machine baste like nobody’s business. I still have a lot to learn but I am getting there, wherever there is, that is. One of the things I love about sewing is that there is always somewhere to go.

I think if, three years ago, someone told me I’d understand how to open out band and tie facing at side seams; pin front and back at side seams matching notches and turn band facing over back and stitch seam; press and slip stitch pressed edge of band facing over seam I would guffawed like George Bush when he tried to say that fool me once bit. Let alone if they had told me I’d have a growing business around it. And here I am…not just polishing-a-turd sewing but like really making stuff that turns out how I see it in my head. And with fewer and fewer swears and seam rips.
While I do have a nice industrial Pfaff (thanks to the amazing generosity of a dig reader), I still do nearly all of my work on my old Singer Featherweight. I just always go back to it like a favorite pair of slippers. I’ve felt kind of shy about admitting this until recently. Because, it seemed, real seamstresses have fancier, newer machines. So, what brought me out of my shyness? First, my machine was pictured in the newspaper. And then I took it in for repair shortly after and when I picked it up the repair guy said, “so, how often do use this machine?” I told him daily and he showed me my cord with all the wires fused into a hot ball. “I’ll say,” he said. I thought he was then going to tell me I needed to upgrade, that I was overusing her. But instead he said, as her lovingly taped the case, “you really can’t beat these machines. This will last you another hundred years or more if you take care of it.” Yep.
I learned on that machine, I inherited it from my grandma and my mom learned from her on that machine. And, I will continue to get there with my Singer. How can one not love something called Singer? And Featherweight? Two things I am not and my sweet machine is.
So last Friday night, I was giddy in my studio. My Singer and I were making dresses for my daughters. We have a wedding this coming weekend and it seemed a good excuse to make Ruby a bright frock to hit at the knee of her crawling legs and Margot a vibrant number to twirl in. Margot picked the fabric for her dress and I didn’t even try to talk her into something else. Well, I kind of did but dropped it as soon as she declared, mama, I love that polka dot one a lot while clutching the bolt.

And, while it certainly wouldn’t have been my first or even seventh choice, it is perfectly Margot. Right down to the green ruffle. She picked that fabric too.
It twirls. Margot LOVES it. And I love that.
As Margot says, Ruby can’t talk yet. Because she’s just a baby. And Also Ruby thinks everything I say and do is brilliant, so I picked the fabric for her dress.
And, it’s perfectly Ruby.
I wrote about sewing that night, the guidance of my mom and how I got here, in this week’s mama dig’s, a good seamstress.
Now…Andy’s all decked in his new ensemble (he’s in the wedding) and my girls are charming in their new dresses. What’s mama to wear?

32 Responses to getting there

  1. Carrie says:

    I also come from a family of sewers. And bakers. Unfortunately, my skills are non-existent. My mom still does most everything for me :)

  2. I don’t have children but if I did, I’d call you up pronto and beg you to make those dresses for my girls. Oh so cute! Loved this post, Nici, and your article as it touched my heart more than a little bit. I, too, come from a long line of amazing seamstresses and by the time I was old enough to appreciate the skills they had to share, both my mom and grandmother were gone. So glad you discovered the magic and got a chance to see it sparkle through your life.

  3. Heidi says:

    oh dig, those dresses that you made are delightful. i never ever use that word, but it came to mind when i though back to the vibrant colors and how bug is so very talented at making twirl grandly.

    and ruby in that DIVINE little dress. are you serious? i LOVE it! it’s so sweet.

    love that you let big go with her fave fabric. isn’t that hard sometimes? i have the toughest time shutting my big mouth when say, peyton chooses the most drab new backpack or when she wanted to be a witch AGAIN this year, and proceeded to choose a costume at the very commercial halloween store. wouldn’t let me help fashion something for her. nope. i let it go.

    i’m sick of letting go of so much control…LOL! kidding.

    okay, a novel.
    you are amazing. you’ll find something you can rock out at that wedding.


  4. Heidi says:

    oh yeah…
    so glad you use your grandmas machine. i bet your girls will too, one day! frickin love that history!

  5. Jennifer says:

    Look at how that blue and green material makes Ruby’s eyes pop. Wow. Super-terrific job on both dresses. I swear that Margot’s dress needs a fluffy petticoat to make the twirly skirt bounce when it’s not in circular motion.

    Way to go.

    -Jennifer from Annapolis

  6. I loved your essay today. So beautifully written. Even more, those dresses! Adorable!

  7. j.j. says:

    so, so sweet….love the sewing machine, the final products and the description of getting ‘there.’ Brilliant. xoxo

  8. Becky says:

    Love this!

  9. Jennifer says:


  10. Kali says:

    makes me want to pull out my sewing machine. I have sandwich bags to make :)

  11. Christine says:

    Awww, I love this article… pregnancy brought out the creative makin-stuff juice in me, too. I think I knit more ugly (and some cute) sweaters than my poor kid will ever wear. I love the legacy of the sewing machine…. I sew on a machine that I learned on in 7th grad home EC! We bought it when the program was dicontinued. Maybe your girls will sew on yours someday…

  12. Danette says:

    love this essay because I relate in so many ways, my grandmother was a very skilled seamstress (made my prom dress, altered my wedding dress) my mom can hold her own, and I try my best. My learning curve has followed the same path realizing that detail and patience is key. thanks for your lovely words

  13. Margaret says:

    Oh how this story touched me….for I was raised by the same kind of Mom. She knit, canned from our garden and our neighbors gardens, and she sewed…..a lot. She made all of her five kids and herself beautiful clothes and when weddings came around, made incredible wedding dresses. A few years ago all of us received quilt tops for Christmas and then she took them back . When they were backed and quilted, one by one, we each received our finished treasure, showing it off to each other. She is eighty-five now and currently making a sweet quilt for a new great-granddaughter. I am so appreciative that I was raised observing and learning from her. Although I am not even close to her skill level, I have the same goals…. and can relate to your moments of impatience! While it made great economic sense for her to do all of what she did, we were fortunate in that she also infused what some may have considered tasks, with her own artistry and passion. It made such a difference in how I see the world. Thanks for sharing.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I simply cannot believe you just starting really sewing a few years ago! Amazing!

    If you have time (to pick out fabric and make yourself one), you deserve a new dress too!

    Jill B (Overland Park, KS)

  15. Jennifer says:

    I saw this article on FB earlier today (from my 3″ blackberry screen) and could not wait to read your article tonight. I love it. And I’m fascinated that you only started a few years ago; the artist goes technical. I’ve been sewing all of my life – since a little girl when I used to (or try to) make my Snoopy some new outfits – and I love that sewing, gardening, and cooking tie myself to many generations of strong women in my lineage. Love it. Thanks for sharing.

  16. wow that machine is beautiful! and so special!
    I love their dresses!! I really love Ruby’s with the bow!
    My 3 yr old must pick her own clothes these days too. Lately when I ask her in the morning what she wants to wear she says “pajama party time”, which means she wants to wear jammies the entire day haha.

  17. Jean Albus says:

    “I wanted the glory without the work and that never pans out.”

    The story of my sewing history right there. I’m glad you’ve picked up on the thread, so to speak. I always picked the hardest pattern, the most expensive, difficult to work with fabric, started, got frustrated and never finished anything–except a few things.

    Luckily, it’s not the story of my life. Great post, Nici. See you in few.

  18. Terri Holt says:

    Thank you for this thoughtful post Burb….I KNOW it put a smile on Mom’s face and a tear in her eye just as it did mine. AND you know what Nici? You are just like one of your finished pieces….as beautiful on the inside as the outside.

  19. RMAinMD says:

    ,,,triple love the girls dresses,,,what shall mama wear?,,,oh i bet you have something smashing in that wardrobe of yours that will compliment nicely your natural beauty,,,happy wedding to the bride and groom,,,your little bit of magic looks exactly like the machine my grandmother owned and the one my mother inherited and gave away,,,(ugh),,,wish i had it!,,,

  20. Malissa says:

    Those dresses are so stinking cute! You do great work! Have fun at the wedding and I hope you have something perfect to wear or sometimes if you get there with shoes on that is good too. :)

  21. Pam says:

    The dresses are gorgeous! The Elmo dancing shoes are fab too!

  22. Christine says:

    This is EXACTLY what I needed to read right now. I am obsessed with the idea of learning to sew. I have this glorious image in my head of having hidden sewing talents and quickly whipping up a cute dress for my baby … over confidence much?!

    I will start slow, I will curse a lot, and I will keep coming back to this post as a reminder.

    That was a long-winded way of saying, thank you for this post :)

  23. I could hear Aunt Stevie and Gramma doing, “Johnny Johnny Johnny OOPS” as I read this latest post. Loved it! I feel that amazing kinship everytime I bake using one of my Gramma’s pans. I’ll never make her cinnamon rolls just right, but I love talking to her while I try!


  24. Joan says:

    Great dresses Nicole!! Perfect for dancing!!

  25. Conny says:

    What shall you wear? How about that awesome twirly skirt you made earlier this summer. I’ve been thinking ’bout that skirt all summer and how much I want to figure out the pattern.

    You’ve got lucky little girls – so nice that Margot got to pick out her own fabric.

    I learned to sew on my grandmother’s Elna …sure wish I had that machine now. I think it was donated to charity or something.

  26. Ellie says:

    Love the dresses – you make me feel brave enough to tackle something out of the FIRST EVER sewing book I’ve ever bought (gulp!). We will see!
    I completely understand that feeling of connecting to your family’s women that comes with sewing (and gardening, too, I think!) Don’t know if you saw this, but here is this lovely short video on the value of making things with our hands…hope you like!

  27. Aunt Deb says:

    I will be looking forward to seeing them in person this weekend. So sweet..Aunt Deb

  28. Sarah says:

    Wow, you are so talented and I love that you let your daughter pick out the fabric. I have a 4 year old and have to tell myself that her making a decision to get herself dressed is more important the outfit I would have chosen. you are super talented :)

  29. The dresses are adorable! Loved this post (and the story behind your Singer)!

  30. Sarah says:

    I too am the daughter and granddaughter of seamstresses and I can relate to what you said about being more in love with the idea of sewing than actually doing it. I have several piles in my studio of beautiful fabric waiting to be made into kid dresses, curtains to make, pants to hem, things to fix, button holes to be made that terrify me. But every time I read your pieces about sewing and what it means to you, it gives me more and more inspiration to get my butt down there and thread that machine and start on those dresses for my little girls! Thank you!!

  31. Aimee says:

    I sew on a lovely little Singer Featherweight too! I loved that you were sewing with your Mom and Grandma. I always feel the very real presence of my Great-Grandmother when I sew. My machine says “chicca chicca chicca chic” but I hear my dear “Mimi” saying, “Be patient Aimee! Every stitch is important, don’t rush them!” Just like she always did as she taught me to sew! I never sew alone, either!
    Thank you sew much for sharing!

  32. appledapple says:

    I linked here from Kelle’s and am I glad I did. I quilt, moderate a sewing forum and LOVE old sewing machines. This article spoke to me on so many levels. The pictures of your girls in adorable dresses YOU made has me ready to take the plunge and finally FINALLY make a dress for my only little girl. Thank you!