Life Lessons Learned From Sewing – Lesson Eight

Saying ‘No’ does not make you a selfish person. You are free to release yourself from the unreasonable expectations of others.

“Here you go,” she said to me, as she handed me two large bags of old clothing. Kellie was a classmate and friend of mine. We were in the second year of our busy doctoral program and at the moment we were between classes, standing in the hallway outside the cafeteria on campus.

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Nope. Just…nope.

“What is this?” I asked, trying to balance the bags of clothing with my own heavy load of books and gear.

“I lost a lot of weight last year, and these clothes no longer fit. I can’t really afford new clothes right now, so I figured you could just alter them for me.” Hmm. Take home message – she couldn’t afford to pay me for my time, either, time I had very little of as a busy graduate student. Had she asked, I would have told her that I don’t do alterations for other people. Did I do them for her? Yes, but I regretted it. The amount of time, effort, and physical energy it takes is a concept the non-sewer fails to comprehend. She offered to cook a meal for me in exchange. I declined, saying I needed the time to catch up on the hours of missed studying. Of course, it was passive-aggressive. I know that now. But I’m older, wiser, and much less of a people-pleaser.

Fast forward a few years. “Hey, Melanie, if I’m willing to pay for the fabric, can you make me this dress?” Nicole asked me in the foyer after the church service ended.

It’s never something straightforward they want, is it? And they always need it by Tuesday afternoon.

This was the girl who had once said, “I would never pay more than $30 for a dress. I can just go to Walmart.” Umm, what? “I have so many amazing ideas for outfits I want,” she continued that Sunday morning. “We need to get together.” Again – my time, expertise, and artistry had absolutely no monetary value. She was supposedly doing me the favor by paying for materials, and I had nothing better to do than spend all of my free time bringing HER creative visions to life. I suggested she take a beginning sewing class. She decided that was for the best because, “I need to make sure I get credit for my ideas. Not that I’m saying you’d steal them,” she said quickly, upon seeing my raised eyebrows. Nice save, Nicole, the delicate creative genius.

Any of these scenarios sound familiar? Everyone who sews has gone through this many times: the assumption that you are expected to be everyone else’s free alterations specialist, personal couturier, and professional decorator. Add to that: business partner. “We should start a fashion business! With your sewing skills and my profoundly creative and brilliant vision, we could start a company!” Here’s the question – if I’m the one who has all the skill of execution, what do I need you for? I cannot begin too express how often I allowed these conversations to go on, when I should have politely and quickly shut them down, simply because I was trying to be nice. Yeah…I got over that a long time ago.

The truth of the matter is that we are all busy people. We are all overtired. I have chronic health issues – that’s my thing. But we all have something – kids, significant others, jobs, endless errands, housework – the list goes on and on. We all have to make a sincere and concerted effort to carve out time to do whatever it is that nourishes our soul and recharges us. But there’s something about hobbies like sewing. I seriously doubt that if hiking was my thing, someone would show up on my doorstep with their dogs saying, “If I provide the leashes, can you just take my dogs? You’re already walking anyway?” Actually, I bet it’s happened.

I’m not responsible for the expectations and assumptions of other people, and my creative pursuit does not require any justification in the form of ‘using-it-for-others-selflessly-to-prove-I’m-not-a-selfish-primadonna.’ There is no such thing as selfish or unselfish sewing. It’s just sewing. These days when someone says to me, “Can you make me one?” I simply say as kindly as possible, “Sorry, I can’t. But thank you so much for asking.” That’s it. Underneath the request is a compliment, even if the execution is clumsy at best. Not to mention, twenty years of chronic illness have taught me to say, “No,” even at times when I would gladly say yes. NO is a powerful word. It will have consequences. But here’s the reality – the people to whom I am closest, who already know that I would gladly alter their pants or make a custom Star Wars bowling shirt, don’t ask these things of me. Truly, they don’t have to, because I’m already actively involved in their sewing needs.

He hates having his picture taken. It’s the best I could get.

It’s one thing for a total stranger to ask me where I got my pants, then ask for a business card when I say, “I made them.” Mildly irritating, yet highly complimentary. After all, they must think what I do is very professional looking, so I get it. And even if I’m not interested in doing this as a business sideline, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t put a monetary value on my time, even if it’s only mental. If I don’t see my time, skills, and expertise and valuable, then no one else will treat them with value. How may hours have I put in over the years, between planning, prepping, shopping, researching, learning, and reading, in addition to the execution itself? Hundred upon hundreds upon hundreds. And yes, the many old movies, television shows, vintage magazines I’ve indulged in have added to my knowledge and expertise, the same way watching Spanish language television and listening to Spanish music improved my language skills when I was learning to speak Spanish. When someone says, “Why would I pay that for a dress if I could just buy one at Walmart for $24?” I suggest Walmart because, even if I did throw a shingle with my name on it above my sewing room door and opened for business, you couldn’t afford me. My clientele is exclusive. My time is highly valuable, and I’m already in demand. But Forever 21 gets their shipments every Thursday afternoon. Perhaps you should check it out.

It is not easy to get to this point where I am able to be that snarky and La-dee-dah about it. As women, we have traditionally been conditioned to be nice, smile pretty, be generous and kind, and make time in our lives to overachieve and win the approval of others. Eff that. I don’t have time be that nice and delightful 24/7. The very thought drains the precious life force energy out of my body, like a big pair of selfish hands wringing me out like a sponge. When I have the time, energy, physical strength to sew, I’m making beautiful dresses, blouses, or bucket list projects that make my heart sing. And in between, I’m going to make and alter things for people I love, because ‘acts of service’ is a love language of mine, all the more reason not to let myself be taken advantage of in this regard. Saying NO is self-care. The relationships which matter most will be able to withstand the disappointment. I can’t be selfless with those who need it most unless I’m selfish in situations where it matters. No, I can’t make you a Victorian ball gown for your upcoming event. I’m busy making myself another retro 50s style dress to wear while I sit around the house. See you next Sunday!

By the way, I heard you were an auto mechanic. I have this vintage 1948 Ford truck sitting around:


If I’m willing to buy some paint, can you make it look like this?


Thanks, I’ll need it by Tuesday.

Things I Think About


Retro Floral Jiffy Blouse

In my most recent acquisition of thrifted fabric, I found this beautiful little piece of cotton:

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It is clearly of very nice quality. I did a little research using the info along the selvedge, and found it online. It is Tina Givens for Free Spirit, The Garden Collection, Haven’s Edge. What a mouthful! However, at $10.99 a yard brand new, I’m feeling pretty happy that I got my piece for $1.25. But…there’s only a yard. It’s such a lightweight, summery fabric, I figured I could do something in the way of an easy top. I decided to stick with a standard I’ve used several times – Simplicity 1364:


I love the retro Jiffy patterns from the 60s and 70s. This is a comfortable, easy little top, yet so much more elegant than a tank top. I’ve made it before, so I whipped it up in one afternoon. Here you go!




Things I Sew

Psychedelic Empire Waist Dress

When I bought this fabric last year at Joann’s, it was a total impulse buy. I was on the way to lunch with my mother and she needed to run into Joann’s to get some yardage for a few orders in her Etsy shop. I walked out with several patterns and three yards of this fabric. I loved it so much. I’m obsessed with all things New Mexico, and the Santa Fe vibes grabbed me. Three yards is a lot, but I wanted to make sure I had plenty of it in my life, just in case. Aside from supplying pocket lining for my first pair of Ginger Jeans, the yardage sat there, refusing to cooperate with any of my ideas.

Then, a few months ago, I saw this pattern:

McCall’s 7948

I added it to my wish list, but I hadn’t yet made the connection between the fabric and pattern. It was during a Kundalini yoga session that it came to me. You have no idea how many of my ideas come to me during meditation, when I’m in the middle of chanting mantras. When the colors of the chakras are flowing through my mind, they do so as dresses. True story.

So, there I was chanting and focusing on my third eye, and this dress showed up in this fabric. Boom. Unfortunately, it showed up as View D, which asked for 3-3/8 yards. I knew I could fudge it and make it work, but after using a little for pocket lining I ruined this possibility. I checked Joann’s to see if they still carried it, but they don’t. The only option was to do View B:

M7948 (2)I had exactly enough to barely squeeze it out. At first I was disappointed, but then I realized that the final product would be very late 60s/early 70s and retro fab, so my feelings were instantly soothed. Onward and forward…

I had no choice but to cut it out, as-is. Since I am between two pattern sizes, I went larger, since I’ve been making that size more lately. I thought I was making a baby doll style dress, and I was a little worried that since there wasn’t enough room to add a couple inches to the length, it would be shorter than I was comfortable with. Worse case scenario? I could wear it as a tunic top over jeans or leggings. I’d do that in cooler weather, anyway.

I always line the bodice of my dresses. For this one, I used scraps of white cotton fabric:


I assemble the skirt first, then assemble both the bodice and bodice lining at the side seams. Next, I pin everything together at the waistline – right sides of bodice and skirt facing one another, and the bodice lining right side facing the wrong side of the skirt. This way, both the bodice and bodice lining end up right sides out, with the waistline of the skirt enclosed between them. I press everything into place:


I baste the armhole openings, the shoulders and the neckline of the bodice and bodice lining together, then complete the bodice as if they were one piece, complete with facings, etc. I feel like this creates a more expensive-looking silhouette, not to mention giving a little more modesty to a Spring/Summer-weight fabric.

I needn’t have worried – the dress came out roomier and longer than I expected, and certainly more so than the picture on the pattern indicated:


It’s a really nice take on the tunic/uniform style that’s so popular this Summer. It’s not really my style, but it’s growing on me. I really like the early 70s mumu vibe. Why haven’t I had one in my life before? If i make this pattern again, I will do my usual pattern grading, taking a size out of the width, but grading into the current length from shoulder to hem for a little better fit. Overall, it’s a fun addition to my wardrobe.



Things I Sew

Striped Upcycled Sheet Blouse


A few months ago, I found a set of striped sheets at the thrift store that were exactly what I wanted for several of my summer patterns:


There was no question in my mind that not only would this be perfect for the McCall’s 7889 dress pattern, but there was enough yardage for the cropped boho blouse I’d been dying to make:

McCall’s 7930

It was the silhouette and look of View A that captured me, so when I walked into the thrift store that day, I already had stripes on the mind:


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I cut out size 12, with an added 1/2 inch on the bodice where the ruffle attaches. Otherwise, I didn’t have to make any adjustments. McCall’s is killing it with fit lately. They’ve clearly made some improvements to their designs to make them more user-friendly.

Here’s my new favorite top (to add to my many other favorite tops; who can really choose?):

Things I Sew

Bamboo/Cotton Snow White Blouse

20190703_093959Ten years ago, I bought an entire bolt of a 50/50 cotton and bamboo blend fabric at Joann’s. Using my 50% off one item coupon, I paid 40-ish bucks. I don’t remember how much yardage was in that bolt, but most of it was used as parts of various blouses, skirts and dresses. About six years ago, I was decorating for Christmas, and needed something plain to go under a piece of lace yardage I was using as a tablecloth. I had several yards left, so it became a ‘petticoat’ for my table. After Christmas, the lace came off, but I kept the white fabric there as a blank canvas for various arrangements of decor. Then, three years ago, I made an awesome skirt out of scraps and needed a petticoat, so this tablecloth became another petticoat, complete with coffee stain. A few weeks ago, I decided to pull all of the petticoats out of my skirts and use the yardage to make tops.

When I found McCalls’s 7838 last Fall, I was in a Snow White/late 30s phase and View A just screamed retro 30s Snow White to me:

Mccall’s 7838

Those pleated sleeves added a little something special compared to the traditional gathered sleeve, a perfect homage to an era where special details were par for the course:
M7838 (2)By strategically cutting around the coffee stain, there ended up being exactly enough yardage to make this blouse. I added 1/2 inch to the torso, but otherwise stuck to the pattern. Right now, I’m fitting into the size 12 of most of the big four patterns perfectly, with just a few minor alterations here and there. Size 10 graded into size 12 has been the standard throughout most of my life, but lately I’m finding that I like a slightly roomier silhouette.

The final result was exactly as I’d pictured – shorter to accommodate my high-waisted bottoms, and a little roomy to give it a modern look with retro edge. I added antique white pearlized snaps as a nod to my love of Western wear, and ended up with a unique and wearable piece that basically cost me two bucks, the price of the pattern.



Things I Sew

Wild Horses in Tiny Pastures – How it Feels Having Lyme Disease

black_and_wild_stallion_rearing_horse_postcard-r07e67c202121433fb38d2b4d30eaab17_vgbas_8byvr_540You are a wild prairie horse running free with the wind in your mane and your tail flowing freely behind you. The sky is blue above you and as vast as the eye can see. Before you there is endless grassy prairie stretching toward the horizon. You are free – free to run through the gently blowing grasses, surrounded by flowers wild enough to plant themselves wherever they so desire, just like you. You are free to crest the mountains and mesas that you encounter in your journey, to go whichever way the wind blows. There you are, a majestic untamed beast, with the future wide open at your feet.

One day, you are powerfully running the rolling plains when, out of the blue, someone comes along and throws a rope around your neck. The next thing you know, you are inside a tiny fenced-in pasture, surrounded by little ponies. You realize that this is where you’ll spend the rest of your life.

Most days you do your best to be positive and find fulfillment in your little pasture. You tell yourself that maybe this was some sort of divine plan, as you eat hay and drink out of a metal trough. Maybe this was part of your purpose and it was supposed to happen this way. But you can’t help standing at that fence, day after day, trying to convince yourself that you’re a little pony, all the while staring out at those green meadows beyond, stifling the yearning to be out there, where you were, where you belong, back before you were a prisoner. Back when you were…what were you? What are you now? How do you even know anymore? Some even say, “Maybe that rope was slung around your neck for a reason, and you would be happy if you could just change your attitude about it.” You try. You try to keep your attitude as positive as you can. This is still your life, after all. You’re alive – right here, right now. But you just want to be free again.

The worst part is that the vast majority of people look at you and say, “What fence?” Because that’s the thing… the fence is invisible. “What is your problem? You’re clearly a wild stallion and should be out running on the prairie with other stallions. If you would just do X, Y, and Z, you could get your life on track. The problem is that you clearly lack motivation. You are wasting your own potential.” Even doctors do this to you. They say, “There’s no such thing as a fence. A pretty stallion like you should be on the open prairie. You look fine to me, so you must have some sort of emotional problem.” Every once in awhile you feel so broken down, so alone in your pain, you begin to wonder if there’s some truth to what they said. Maybe they’re right and all you need is to think differently. You think, “I’m just going to take a wild leaping jump into the great beyond and continue racing toward my destiny!” So you do.


You hit that invisible fence so hard, the electrical charge that it contains courses through every cell of your body so painfully, reminding you of its presence and power; tossing you to the dirt where you lay among the little ponies, leaving you with the crushing reminder of who you used to be and who you might never be again.

4627395736_ef9be1b741_bThen, every once in awhile, something wonderful happens. There comes an occasional day where the sun is shining, the meadow is freshly green, the flowers are in full bloom, and you discover that the gate is wide open. Is it possible? Is it really over? You venture forward slowly, hesitantly, not daring to believe that this could really be happening. You step gently out into the pasture, and it hits you – the feeling of the prairie grasses around your ankles, the unhindered breeze in your mane.

2400-3868-2You rear up in all your majesty. This is it! You’re still a stallion! Nothing can stop you now! You’re free, so you start to run at full power in the direction of that long ago horizon that you still dream about at night, whose memory you can’t seem to shake after all this time. You can feel it! Your mane is blowing in the wind. Your tail just starts its ascent toward the blue open sky as you gain momentum…and then BOOM! You are drawn backwards with a sudden jolt, wrenching you from midair. Then you see it, what you’d forgotten. That rope tied to your neck. You see them – the ponies quietly grazing in the meadow. Once in a while you get to venture out into the meadow and graze a little. You get to remember the feeling of the wind and the prairie grasses for a little while. But the rope is there – you’re tethered to that little enclosure in one way or another. That fence is still there, and the moment comes where you must go inside, crawl back into the life that is now yours, and find a way to carry on.


You’re grateful for that moment of remembrance – that feeling of momentary freedom. The tiny bit of confirmation that, in spite of it all, somewhere deep in there you haven’t stopped being a stallion. You feel a surge of hope that maybe you really could be free someday. After all, you felt it, inside of you, outside of you. It’s still there – you’re still here. It was only a brief moment back from where you’ve been, but it was so wonderful while it lasted. Is that how you felt when you were free? When you didn’t know you needed to feel grateful? When you didn’t know it could all end so abruptly? You thought you knew gratitude, but had you really ever understood like you do now? Is it possible that on some level, that quick moment of freedom, when the clouds parted briefly in the midst of your stormy night, was sweeter than all your summers put together, now that you’ve known the darkness of the storm? In some ways, there are parts of you that are better than they’ve ever been. 

Even so, it hits you like a tidal wave as the gate finally closes and locks until God knows when. You’d gotten so used to existing in your little enclosure that you learned to cope well enough. Now that you had your moment and the gate has closed behind you, the crushing sorrow hits again. The pasture. The ponies. The hay. The trough. The rope. The dirt. That invisible fence that sits there taunting you. You lay your not-so-majestic head down in the privacy of your stall and cry a little before drifting off to slumber and dream of beautiful stallions galloping along desert mesas in the setting sun. Hoping that one of those stallions is you…


About Me

Navy/White Striped Ruffled Blouse

Here is the latest installment of my thrifted fabric extravaganza. This piece was purchased at the Saver’s in El Paso. There was exactly one yard, at 58 inches wide:

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Classic cotton blend striped shirting

I wanted to get a top out of this piece, but with the limited amount of yardage it would be tricky. As per usual, I wanted to do something distinctly feminine from this classic, masculine fabric. I played around with a few pattern ideas, wanting to get some visual interest out of the stripes. I always find myself doing this with a directional print, like my green plaid blouse from the other day. I initially wanted to use Burda 6345. It seemed like a perfect design for getting some directionality out of the stripes, and I was pretty sure I could squeeze it out of the yardage:


Then, I realized it requires a stretch fabric. Duh. How did I think I would get this thing over my head? So, when I bought a batch of patterns at the Joann’s sale, I wasn’t sure which pattern I would use for the striped fabric vs. the green plaid fabric from the other day – View A of New Look 6622, or View 3 of Simplicity 8658?

I loved the idea of both patterns for both tops, but it all came down to yardage and layout. I have been known to defy the laws of physics in my sewing, but this was pushing it too far. In the end, the New Look pattern required too much yardage and the green plaid was ideal. As much as I wanted to something fun with the stripes, it just wasn’t in the cards. I had exactly enough to squeeze out View 3, the top with tails and ruffled sleeves: (2)

I really hacked this pattern. I ended up using the front from View 2 and the back from View 3, then shortened the front 3 more inches. Using a hip curve, I blended the front and back together along the sides, creating a more dramatic silhouette:


Since I couldn’t do anything fun with the stripes, I brainstormed other ways to add some fun detail into this simple design. I found a bundle of old yellow bias tape years ago in the back corner of a Salvation Army:

Vintage bias tape from the 1970s, courtesy of the Salvation Army.

I loved the idea of using the bias tape to add some pretty contrast in the seams. It also added the additional benefit of not having to worry about pattern matching the sleeves and bodice. Working with a limited amount of yardage takes away the ability to strategically lay out the pattern pieces to achieve matchy matchy greatness. Problem solved! Also, I loved the faux placket detail on my green plaid blouse so much, I decided to do it again. I cut the little placket on the cross-grain, ending up with a little fun stripe detail after all!

Thrifted buttons, thrifted everything!

Well, I have another fun blouse for my wardrobe at a rock bottom price. I’m happy…

Things I Sew