The tradition was reborn six years ago. Just as I made matching pajamas for my own children each year for Christmas, I began sewing slipper jammies for my first grandchild. As each new addition enters the fold, I increase production. The top sizes grow larger each year, and I wonder how long the oldest will still want to wear footie jammies. But I’m tickled that at age 6 1/2, my Grammy jammies are still popular.
Two sons. Two summers. Two weddings. Two entirely different celebrations. But the same flower girl and ring bearer for both. And the same seamstress – me.
Each wedding clearly reflected the individual tastes of the respective brides (let’s be honest here, they do set the tone!). As the plans unfolded this year, it became clear that Katie and Erik’s wedding would be a formal and elegant affair. Glitter and sparkles also reigned. It seemed only fitting to dress the little attendants accordingly. I was up for the challenge, and Katie loved the idea.
I started with the flower girl dress. Eager to impress Mya with her finery, I showed her the pattern. Big mistake. She was excited all right. “I want the purple dress!” she exclaimed. What you have to understand is that 4-year-old Mya is very strong willed. And doesn’t forget. That phrase would haunt me up until the day of the wedding.
The simple looking dress on the pattern disguised its complexity. In addition to a silk skirt with an organza overlay, it also entailed a double-layer petticoat and lining underneath. But it was well designed, and those additional features clearly distinguished it as a special dress. The extra effort was well worth it.
The defining detail came about fortuitously. Needing extra fabric to alter one of the bridesmaid dresses, there was enough left over for a sash to trim Mya’s dress. That not only tied it perfectly into the wedding party, but gave the dress the zip it needed. Struggling to get it to tie into a nice bow in the back, I turned to glitz and Hobby Lobby. Using a diamond studded buckle and pin back, I fashioned a fitting anchor for the sash in the back of the dress.
Next I turned my attention to 6-year-old Ben. His attire was to be a suit that I carefully matched to the fabric and style of the rented tuxes for the groomsmen. To be honest, I did briefly inquire as to the viability of renting a suit for Ben. But the $200 cost quickly sent me back to my sewing machine with renewed determination.
I had made one tailored suit coat before, and relied on knowing that I had once mastered the required techniques. I soon learned that sewing for little people presents its own challenges, creating the same level of detail on a much reduced scale. Slacks with a fly front and side pockets was new to me, and went together quite nicely. However, the trick came in scrunching the waist down to Ben’s skinny measurements. With multiple try-on sessions and Ben’s patience, I finally got it right.
Glittery hair bows, tie, and pocket hankie completed the ensembles. I finished all my machine sewing with only a few hand details left just over a week before the wedding. And that night the big storm tore through Duluth and took out the power – for four days! That was a close call.
Wedding morning, Mya dons her dress under protest at first. But finally overcomes her objections when Katie whispers that she wants her to “look just like her” in a white dress. Ben asks Daddy to get him dressed in the room with the groomsmen, and emerges looking just like the rest of the guys. Isabel, wisely, is outfitted in her dress at the last minute. And I’m swelling with pride at seeing them in their wedding finery for the second time. Then I turn my attention to being Mother of the Groom. It is, after all, Erik’s wedding day.
For weeks I’ve been working under wraps. I eagerly volunteered to sew the outfits for my grandchildren’s roles as Ring Bearer and Flower Girl for my son Carl’s wedding. And like many wedding plans, it meant staying mum about the details until the big day.
Finding sewing patterns turned out to be a lesson for me. While I naturally began with Simplicity, McCalls and Butterick, my daughter took a different route. In short order, she sent me an email with links to dress, vest and tie patterns online – all through Etsy. I’d never gone that route before, using patterns created and shared by creative sewers that I could download and print right at home. I was a little concerned about the quality and fit of the patterns, but soon found that they were well designed and included excellent instructions.
Selecting fabric was also informative. With the bridesmaids wearing yellow sundresses of their own choosing, my daughter, Karen, and I sought coordinating prints in yellow tones. We found a few at a chain fabric store, but before finalizing the selection, I checked out Hannah Johnson Fabrics right in Lakeside. There I feasted my eyes on beautiful prints all displayed in color families. I quickly honed in on a brilliant floral piece and several good options for companion fabrics. Knowing that these fabrics were 100% cotton aimed at quilters, I expressed my concern about sewing a dress for a toddler that might wrinkle easily. The helpful owner of the shop quickly allayed my fears, explaining that quality cotton would wear beautifully without wrinkles. I took her advice, paid the premium for the beautiful fabrics and didn’t regret it for a moment. She was absolutely right, and I know I’ll be a repeat customer.
Half way through the creative process, it was a great joy to finally begin the sewing. Clothes for little people go together quickly and are so darn cute. I couldn’t resist snapping photos of each piece as I completed it, sending it to Karen and bride Chelsea to see. One project led to another, and as soon as baby sister Isabel came along, I sought out patterns for her wedding outfit as well – all on Etsy, of course. To my delight, I found patterns for a newborn dress and diaper cover for free. It was hard to stop, so I went one step further and created fabric flowers for Mya to wear in her hair, and a matching headband for Isabel. I’m sure given more time I’d have found more details to add.
During one of my try-on sessions with Ben and Mya, they took off outside to show their mommy. Running around the yard, romping and chasing each other, they wiggled and rolled in their “fancy clothes.” To my own surprise I was not worried at all, thrilled with their delight in their wedding clothes.
The good news is that the Flower Girl and Ring Bearer performed their roles beautifully and charmingly – an outcome by no means guaranteed. And I think they were as excited as the bride and groom to don their wedding finery that day.
It’s been lurking in the back of the closet for years. At least 16 years, as far as I can tell. That’s how long it’s been since my children were young enough for me to sew matching pajamas, sweatsuits, leggings and Zubaz for them. Those were the heydays for my serger. Me and my machine – we spent a lot of time together back then.
Recently I pulled my old pal out from the recesses of its hiding place. Not only did I dust it off, but given its long retirement, I took it back to the sewing shop where I bought it for a good tune-up. Soon it was lubed, oiled and ready to go. I just wasn’t sure I was.
Sergers are finicky machines. With not one but four gigantic spools of thread and complicated threading schemes involving upper and lower loopers and two needles, just getting it ready to sew is a complex business. Unlike my regular sewing machine, which I can still operate on autopilot, this one was going to require a hefty re-learning process. Me and my machine needed to get reacquainted again. It didn’t help that I couldn’t find my manuals. But Google solves all, and I soon had an electronic version of my 25 year old booklets.
Once I worked up the nerve to start sewing, the real fun began. Ugly messy stitches ensued, followed by the hit or miss process of fiddling with the tension knobs for each spool of thread. It took several days, more Google searches, many scraps of fabric and lots of thread, but finally I mastered it. I had a good stitch going!
By now I’m sure you’re wondering just what could possibly entice me to resurrect this old relic and re-engage in battling with it? The obvious answer is grandchildren. But they’ve been around for almost 5 years now, and despite feeble promises to sew knits for them I’ve yet to deliver on that. No, it’s napkins. More accurately, lots and lots of napkins for our son’s wedding reception. In keeping with some homespun elements of their outdoor celebration, his fiance envisioned vintage looking napkins in various patterns. And so I volunteered. Happily. After all, I have a serger that makes fast work of just that sort of thing.
Today was the true test. I finally set aside my scraps and set to work for real. My serger hummed and stitched, overcasting each edge with absolute precision. Just as I knew it would. I created neat rolled hems on all four sides of 25 napkins with ease with my trusty machine. So far so good.
Woman vs. machine? Naw, we’re a team again. Me and my machine. And only 200-some napkins to go.
“So, what’d you do this morning?” It’s a new phrase that has cropped up in this recent phase of our lives. Two retirees at home, putzing around. (Oh man, does that make us sound old! We’re not.) We’re pretty independent types, so we can easily go about our own business, each following our individual agendas without being very cognizant of the other’s activities.
I’ve been at this a year already, but Rich is only two weeks into it. And being home together is definitely different. I’ve already figured out just how easy it is to fritter time away. And how I can still pack a lot into a day, if I want to. It all depends on the mood, the weather, the day, and my plans. Rich is still in awe of the idea that “there is always tomorrow.”
Being us, we can spend hours on bike rides, running, skiing and other outdoor activities. But it’s still hard to get over that feeling of needing to be productive. It doesn’t take much these days to meet that definition – balancing the checkbook, ordering something on Amazon, and baking cookies all qualify. It’s enough to say we’ve done something.
This morning I decided to fulfill my quota by doing some sewing. By 9:00am I had produced a laptop case – actually a “commission” project for a friend of Karen’s who admired the denim iPad case I made for her. So in exchange for a Caribou gift card, I made another slightly larger model. Once on a roll, I moved on to making a case for my iPad photo connectors. Talk about a frivolous project! But designing and completing it was rewarding. And useful.
I’m not sure what Rich achieved this morning. But I’d say I accomplished a lot! Now it’s time for that bike ride.
When we moved out of our family home of 26 years, we had a lot of paraphernalia to sort through and toss. My voluminous collection of sewing patterns definitely needed pruning. I had a good laugh at some of the styles I knew I would never revisit. But some patterns are timeless. Costumes included.
With Halloween approaching, and my daughter Karen’s desire to dress her kids as Winnie the Pooh and Piglet, I was eager to help. For Pooh, I was relieved to find that I had indeed saved the costume pattern that I used years ago to fashion a bunny costume for Karen. What better place to start for Pooh’s costume? She was three at the time, and her son is nearly two and a half. It was great fun to pull it out and recreate the suit for a second generation. With different fabric the bunny became Pooh bear. And the price on that pattern? Just $1.75. They don’t make them like that any more!
Piglet was a joint effort. Karen sought out the pink leggings and shirt, while I adapted a red onesie for Piglet’s body. All that we lacked was the head and ears. In step the internet. With a quick search I was able to find a free downloadable pattern for an adorable cap. Unfortunately, when finished it turned out to be too small. No problem, using SnagIt (one of my favorite software tools), I was able to save the pattern as an image, expand it and reprint the larger size. The second attempt was a perfect fit! Ears for both Pooh and Piglet were one part sewing experience and two parts imagination.
We had great fun trailing Pooh and Piglet around their neighborhood on Halloween. No tricks – just seeing them in their costumes was a treat.
I love to sew. It’s so rewarding to create clothing or household items from scratch. I have my mom to thank for teaching me her extensive skills, and my faithful Elna sewing machine that was my college graduation present and has served me well ever since. When the kids were little, I added a serger and went to town creating sweatsuits, t-shirts, pajamas and Zubaz (remember those?) for just pennies. As work became more demanding and our income rose, my sewing took a holiday while I focused on family time. But retirement has given me the opportunity to resume, and grandchildren are the perfect excuse to dust off those sewing machines.
My first foray into this renewed sewing venture was pajamas. Each year for Christmas I would make matching pajamas for our three children. You’d be surprised at how old they were by the time that tradition was set aside! This time I started with slipper-jammies. You know, the soft fluffy kind that have feet and zip
up from one ankle to the neck. And I’ve now doubled the ante – one set with Christmas designs to wear leading up to Christmas (and beyond since their mom is as practical as I am) and another in a winter motif to find under the tree. We’ll see if that keeps up as the number of grandchildren grows…
Next I need to fire up the serger again. I’m sure I will need to re-educate myself on how to thread it and the intricacies of how to do the different stitches. I have vivid memories of how tricky it is to get all four spools threaded properly and get good stitches going. I’ll need patience, I know. I was amazed, though, at the dearth of knit fabrics and ribbing available in the stores now. Did women give up their sergers? I used to have volumes of bolts to choose from, with all sorts of patterns and colors. Whatever happened to sweatshirt material, or interlock?
Sewing in general seems on the downswing. I will admit with some regret that I did not foster my daughter’s sewing skills to the same degree. Fabric stores have closed by the dozens, particularly those that were dedicated to sewing alone. How well I remember going down to Minneapolis from Duluth just to shop at Amluxen’s downtown. They had at least two floors full of fabrics, and I always saved my money to buy my favorite fabric there – Pendleton wool. There was no finer wool or more beautiful plaids. But then again, we dressed differently in those days, and had more use for those formal fabrics.
I’ve never been big on following trends, so I’ll hang in there and keep sewing as long as I can find fabric. And it’s time to get going on those PJs that go under the tree.