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.


8 thoughts on “The Passive Aggressive Dress

  1. “Up yours, mean lady”
    Thank you for you honest and snarky review of how some sewing classes go. I’m so glad I followed you. Love your writing style – it is true, some sewists take themselves too seriously.
    Re: Lopez/grandma style. That color of red ‘poppy’s is very flattering to you. If you style this with cool necklace and even a belt – I’m betting this will be a great summer dress.


  2. Aw thanks! Honestly: some people are not natural pedagogues. She was pregnant too: I hope she is kinder to her children while they are learning things/growing puppy fat than she was to us. Ho Hum. Thanks for your compliment about the dress. It definitely needs a necklace. I’ve been wearing it quite a lot, with various degrees of success.I’ve got lots of compliments, but I thought the low cut-ness was the major problem with it: how wrong I was. Never use such a thin polycotton in English winds! Helloooooo Marilyn!


  3. Thank goodness for some honesty round your blog, though I’m sorry you had a less-than-ideal experience. The dress is good though! In terms of classes, I took the Susan Khalje ‘couture dress’ on Craftsy and found it really good even if most of the techniques are super fussy. I don’t use use all of the techniques on all of my projects (because it would take approximately five years to finish anything), but in terms of talking about process and WHY the techniques are important, it was fantastic. It was also very, very linear. No skipping around like some Craftsy classes. Definitely recommend if you’re at the beginning of your sewing interest and want a good base of skills and knowledge to build on.


  4. So sorry that you had a bad experience at your class–the teacher sounds like an, um, “interesting” person! But you came out of it with an adorable dress, and it sounds like you gained some really great techniques. And seriously, I can see why you added that modesty panel, because that is like the deepest V-neck EVER! O_O


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