The Passive Aggressive Dress

After making two sacks, the Colette Sorbetto and a very simple elasticated waist skirt from a metre of gorgeous V+A bargain print  cotton, I decided I really would like to make something a bit good. So I booked myself on a one day ‘make a dress’ course just outside London. I shan’t say what course it was because though I have a lot of positive things to say about it, I was slightly horrified by the attitude of the teacher and I want to talk about it without being sued for libel and defamation.  If you want to know which course you might want to avoid you can ask me privately!

But anyway, off I eagerly went to learn to sew a summer dress. When I signed up for the course the instructions said that those up to a size 16 would sew from one pattern (with three different neckline/strap combinations to choose from) and those sized 16-24 would sew a different pattern. All patterns would be cut out ready for us to start immediately on.  I thought it was a little strange that they hadn’t just chosen a dress pattern that offered the full range of sizes (which err, loads of them do) so we could all sew and learn together, but whatever.

When I arrived there were four of us in the class: all a bit daunted that we were going to make our first lined dress with a zip. Two women had chosen a sweetheart neckline and the other had chosen a halterneck. I had no choice and just had to sew the ‘flattering’ style pre selected for me. (And the dress was quite flattering, though not for anyone with boobs. Which obviously curvy women don’t usually have.) But what the hell, I thought between four of us we are sewing three different dresses in a range of different fabrics, so we would all have different experiences.  I didn’t quite realise how different my experience would be until the (slim) teacher started talking about the patterns we would sew. She gave the three smaller women their pattern pieces and talked them through them, which I listened to, and then she loudly and faux jauntily announced that they could all start sewing while she talked me through my ‘SPECIAL PATTERN FOR SPECIAL PEOPLE’.  Why I had to be given some kind of separate treatment when we were all making different dresses I don’t want to know. The other ladies looked at me a bit confused as if I had some kind of impairment  or had paid for an extra gold-plated service, so I just loudly and faux jauntily announced right back that ‘I AM MAKING A BIGGER SIZE THAN YOU’. For fuck’s sake. There ain’t no shame in my game.

Sewing machine and fabric

Doing some sewing

We also had a joyous  moment when my skirt needed gathering. ‘You can’t do this on the machine.  With HUGE amounts of fabric like this, it’s just not going to work. You are going to have to do it by hand’. To be fair to her, my hand stitched gathers came out very nicely and we were both pleased, and she was probably right that it wouldn’t have come out as nice on the machine.  But she still made sure I knew I was a ‘special person’. So very ‘special’.

I am ‘pleased’ to announce that her sneering was not just reserved for me.  Another woman in the class was perfectly capable, but very nervous and underconfident in her sewing. The teacher’s way of dealing this was to shout at her to ‘USE SOME COMMON SENSE’ and to berate her for her lack of confidence. An excellent and productive approach, I think you will agree. She regularly told us not to ruin the sewing machines, and spent most of the lesson making a cuddly toy out of a sock while sighing at our lack of  knowledge. Why she thought we were on a course, I don’t know. I didn’t realise that you needed to come to a dressmaking class with professional dressmaking skills already.

The Finished Dress. Up Yours Mean Lady!

The Finished Dress. Up Yours Mean Lady!

However, tyrannical, judgemental, sighing teacher aside, I made an awesome dress! And I learnt a LOT. I had previously been scared of lining dresses, because the instructions and diagrams  on patterns are not really able to communicate the turning inside out jiggery pokery that one needs to do once one has sewn the bodice up right sides together.  I needed someone to show me with fabric and hands what I needed to do. This, the scary teacher did, and I was thrilled. She also taught me to put an invisible zip in, which made me feel super professional. Despite her extremely odd manner, I learnt so much, just by having someone to ask questions of, to show me, and from being able to watch my three other terrified sewers. The dress is stupendously low cut, (seriously, why couldn’t I just sew a halterneck or a sweetheart neckline one rather than this slightly strange combination of Jennifer Lopez meets grandma) but otherwise, pretty neat. I sewed in a very wonky modesty panel when I got home, and for the first time, really felt that I had made something really good quality. It’s a shame I had to overcome someone’s weirdness to do this, but I would really really recommend taking a course to get some basic skills in. Just maybe not this course.

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