I've never been an especially put-together person in terms of my appearance. For the most part, that's just fine with me. But it bothers me on Sundays, when Josh and I walk hand-in-hand into church, him looking very polished and handsome, and me looking, well, like me. Josh enjoys dressing up, and he's good at it.
One issue is that I don't seem to own very many church clothes. During the decade I spent not going to church, I seemed to have lost all the proper attire. I have some dresses, but they're more appropriate for going to a rock concert in July. And I have a fair business casual wardrobe, but I get tired of pants all the time. I've been looking for dress clothes at every thrift store and yard sale I go to, but the yields have been poor. So I decided to make something.
Now, my sewing experience is limited. I own a sewing machine, and I can do the basic functions on it. I don't even know if my machine can do more advanced things, nor what advanced sewing things might be. I've never made a piece of clothing, though I know the basics from seeing my mom do it. I figured this was enough to take a running start on a super simple project, and then I'd see where that took me.
I had some grand visions of going to the fabric store and pouring over the giant books of smiling cartoon women in cute coordinated outfits. Then I would peruse the aisles of fabric until I found something sassy and classy. I would smile and tip my head knowingly to all the other seamstresses in the store.
That is not how it went. I sat down at the big table with the pattern books, and I noticed that all of the patterns cost something like $10. I understand that you can reuse patterns, and therefore the cost per item comes down the more you make. But for a first project, I wanted to keep my expenditures low. Which is why I was drawn to the rotating display of patterns labeled "cheap and easy." Seems like they had some other title that didn't sound like a high school put down, but that's basically what it meant.
Once I'd picked out the most basic skirt pattern I found on the cheap and easy rack, I headed over to the fabrics, where I received the final blow to my hazy dream of inexpensive custom clothing. Fabric ain't cheap. The pattern called for 2 yards of some kind of knit fabric. Knits were also 40% off, but even the cheapest one would end up at $7 for the two yards required. I checked the remnants bin (twice!), but remnants typically means less than 2 yards. I was so grumpy that I did not buy a remnant of really cool sheet music fabric.
I know, I know. Seven dollars is not a lot of money. I had seven dollars in my wallet at the moment I was grumbling around the fabric store. However, seven dollars would buy two skirts at Goodwill. If this was just going to be a more expensive than my usual sources of clothing, there wasn't much point in it.
However! I know a cheap source of fabric. I paid the $4 for the pattern, and then went down the street to Goodwill. You can find fabric at thrift stores and yard sales, but the selection is very hit and miss. However, you can pretty much always find used sheets. It'll be just like The Sound of Music, where the plucky governess makes play clothes out of the drapes! I used my smartphone to find out how many yards of fabric one could get out of a twin sheet: hark! about 2 yards. The only problem with the sheet method is that a lot of sheets will never look like anything but a sheet. For instance, I found a very cute one that would have been adorable, except that something light blue with cute little cartoon sheep on it pretty much screams bedwear. I wanted to be proud to know that I made my own clothes, but I did not want people to be able to tell that I made it off something that was previously used to dress a mattress.
Luckily, I found a nice knit sheet that was just plain navy. Nothing overly sheety about it. It cost me $2.
From my years of accumulating sewing supplies at estate sales, I already had the elastic and thread in about every color invented. I knew how to cut out the pieces of the pattern and measure fabric pieces to match them. I did not understand all of the instructions. I was supposed to baste at one point. I only knew one definition of the word "baste," and it really did not seem applicable to my project. So I skipped that step, because I was ambitious enough to sew a piece of clothing, but not enough to get up and go across the room to look up a word. I have since recovered my energy, and I can now tell you that baste has four definitions, as follows:
Baste: v. To sew loosely with large running stitches so as to hold together temporarily.
v. To moisten periodically with a liquid, such as melted butter or sauce, especially while cooking
v. To beat vigorously; thrash
v. To denounce or scold vigorously
It was probably that first one. Luckily, it did not seem to matter. After already having found the pattern to be (comparatively) cheap, I can confirm that it was really easy, too. I finished my skirt in one evening, and no one was more surprised than I. It didn't even look like a sheet! If you got close to the seams, you could tell it was a homemade garment, but all in all, a successful first time project. I was even able to improvise on the size. The pattern was meant to make a skirt that sat right below the waist, but I like to wear skirts right on the hip. So I just made it work. Yay for me!
My custom skirt cost $6 total. If I made another skirt using the same pattern, that would bring it down to $4. Skirts at Goodwill are $3.50. To buy one from Goodwill, I have to like it an awful lot, because they're usually even cheaper at yard sales. While I felt proud of myself, it still did not seem to be the best way. While I will keep looking for nice sheets, there has to be a better way to boost my wardrobe. To be continued, then.