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Mary Neal, my mentor, an expert alterations and garment seamstress. How can I thank you for all of your help, Mary?

“You know that sewing garments is hard, right?” With this question, Mary Neal began a careful critique of my project, a vintage skirt and jacket, Simplicity 2154. This is probably a foolhardy project for a low-end seamstress like me. But I was attending a weekend retreat for members of the American Sewing Guild and I brought it along anyway, confident that someone there could coach me.

The retreat organizer, Peggy Hribernik, is a sewing teacher at Jo-Ann’s. As the only other person I knew at the retreat, I figured I could count on Peggy’s honest appraisal, if not someone else’s. When I approached Peggy to take a look at my project, she turned to a silver-haired woman one table behind me and asked her to join us. Surveying the pattern I had pinned to loden green wool crepe, I saw Mary give a small gasp over my wasteful layout. I had gobs of fabric and I made liberal use of it. “This is Mary,” she said, “She’s a very experienced garment sewer. I’ll leave you in her capable hands.” With that introduction, Peggy gave me a wry smile and walked up the stairs to her own workspace.

Mary generously set aside her own work, making dresses for girls in Haiti. She spent the next hour and a half evaluating my progress and helping me form the project as if it were her own. By the time she finished with me, her exhaustion was palpable. “You’ve got yourself quite a project there,” she said. She probably wondered if I would even finish. It all sort of reminded me of the times I’ve been asked to evaluate a piece of writing: how to help an aspiring writer without discouraging? Do they really want to climb the mountain or are they just talking? You never know. And who are you to judge? Developing a skill requires perseverance, dedication and practice. I figure the same rules that make writers also make seamstresses. If you want to be a writer, then write. If you want to be a seamstress, then sew. I surmised that Mary had the same thoughts.

Good writers immerse themselves in good reading. Why wouldn’t the same principle be true for rebuilding my rudimentary sewing skills? The retreat gave me a new circle of friends who sew as a way of life. For three days, the group sewed around the clock, stopping only to chat, eat, and sleep. Most of them meet monthly at area chapter meetings and they know each other surprisingly well. They celebrate birthdays, swap family stories, grieve losses and trials, compare notes, give opinions, marvel at each other’s creations, and welcome newcomers to their fold. Special thanks to all the ladies who inspired and helped me last weekend. I’m so glad that I know all of you, now!

For anyone interested in the Slow Clothes Movement, I wore these red slacks for Week Six’s Slow Clothes entry, which I finished at the retreat last weekend. One of my librarian colleagues told me that brilliant slacks are a new fall trend! Little did I know! If I’m not mistaken, my completion of these slacks grants me membership in Judy Kessinger’s BBC (Beautiful Butt Club)! Not! I haven’t had a pair of red slacks since the eighth grade. My butt wasn’t beautiful then either, but it was a whole lot smaller! I wore those red slacks with a red and white checked blazer. I remember how good I felt wearing a blazer and I still love them.

One of my favorite vintage dresses on the site is this gold brocade mini-dress, which features couture sewing. Back in the day, everyone who wasn’t doing their own sewing had a good dressmaker at their disposal. What are you making? Show us your self-made garments!

You really can't see the sweater very well, but this is a vintage sweater jacket, with little pom-pom balls that trim the waist.