la + la = sew

Awhiles back, saro commented:

Have you ever done a post of how you got started sewing? You're so fearless, I love it..  

Well, lassie, I'll tell ya, it had a little bit to do with boredom, a little bit to do with impatience, and a LOT to do with keeping my sanity.

Peeps who have trolled through the recesses of le blog may recall its beginnings in lalaland. Los angeles, for the uninitiated. And bless those who haven't had the chance to experience it. It's a hot mess. You get in your car, you drive an hour (at the least) to get to wherever you're going, you get back in your car, you drive, you get home, where you have the choice of staying in or braving the cesspool of schmoozing that is LA nightlife. To survive said cesspool, everyone drinks. And then gets back in their cars. 

Now, at the risk of losing another follower (I lost one today! It could be the cursing. And/or excessive drinking) let me add: if you grew up in LA, I'm sure it's a different story. But the nature of the main business of the town, the business of show, makes it hard to find much that's real there. Ruggy & I counted ourselves extremely lucky to have each other, we kept each other cemented to the earth. I can't tell you how many times I was calmly and quite seriously told I needed a boob job. Or how often Ruggy was propositioned a night of booze and sex, from both sides.

But I digress. Upon hearing Kalkatoona would be inhabiting the land of LA for a spell, a good friend advised me to get a hobby. I have plenty of hobbies, I thought, I'm a CRAFTER! I draw and knit and make cards and jewelry. I'll be fine. NOT SO. None of these kept me near enough occupied in downtime. 

I'd been idly chirping about wanting a dress form for years, ever since my first (very short) visit to LA. The lovely ladies I subletted from had a vintage form in their apartment, for show, and while I worked on handmade wedding invites for a friend, I imagined draping gowns on it. The christmas we made our big move, Parental Balloonas shocked me with a Singer Featherweight sewing machine, and Mama Ruggy surprised me with a pair of gingher shears and a dress form-- she even roped her sister into getting me pinking shears. I just about fell over.

We hauled the booty to LA and I dove into my first pattern, new look 6557. I had picked out some horrible synthetic stuff from Hancocks, turquoise and red and orange and yellow phoenix motif on brown (shit brown, to be exact), and I just knew that I'd have the perfect summer dress by five o'clock that evening. I didn't bother reading much about anything. Reading instructions makes me feel I am being told what to do. Ask Ruggy how that goes.

So I just placed the pattern pieces where ever they'd fit and got cutting. You can imagine how that worked out.

Disgusted with myself, but sure it was solely the pattern's fault, I punished the sewing accessories by putting them away for several months. We then enjoyed the coldest winter OF OUR LIVES. The beautiful worn down french doors and sprawling patios we fell in love with on craigslist let an arctic chill in at night that was unbearable. Heating our Laurel Canyon find came to about $700 a month. Seriously. We layered ourselves up like mountain climbers and wore down coats to bed.

Spring arrived, and with the warm breezes rolling in, I thought it would be nice to have a few new dresses. With no cash in my pocket (all of it having gone to Con Ed), I turned to the internet for help. Free help, to be exact. The exact search term was free funky patterns. And found Burdastyle. At the time, they had only been running a year or so, and everything-- I mean EVERYTHING. Was FREE. The first pattern I downloaded and made was the danielle dress:

(Back then, I didn't have a head. LA had absconded with it. The uneven waistline is equally proportional to the amount of teeny 'tinis Ruggy would make for us every evening. Because they were teeny-sized martinis, you could have seven.)  

Taping the pattern together was terrifying. I left a freak-out comment on the forum, worried that I'd ruined the dress before I even began because my test square was off by 1cm.

This time, I decided to take a different route than that New Look failure: I read through the instructions carefully, and followed them as best I could. The instructions were most definitely ESL. I think this was the reason I was able to force myself into patiently reading and following directions; in my head, I would chuckle softly, and gently correct their english. Made me feel like I was the boss. I like to feel that I am the boss.

And it went on from there. I freed the New Look bodice and married it to the Danielle skirt.  

Both of these were done up in quilter's cotton. That section of Joann's is a veritable candy store, it's not surprising that burgeoning garment sewists head there first, and without shame.  

Had my first try at making something for someone else; pajamas for Valentine's day (forgetting that, ahem, boys have extra junk in le crotch. The beginnings of the No Sewing For Others rule). Went nuts on Burdastyle. Tried the celestina. The sabrina. Oooooh, the sabrina, I love that one. I need to make that one again, this time in something other than an Urban Outfitter's curtain panel.  The desira. Also from a curtain panel.

This one still survives in my closet! The same cannot be said for the RTW jeans, they ripped right up the ass in public. At a job interview, to be exact.

I went through the prerequisite making of the Butterick walkaway dress, from vintage bedsheets (total failure). Ruggy and Parental Balloonas fed the flames with a subscription to Burda magazine. I ventured into apparel fabrics. And LA is just fantastic for estate sales. Lotsa folks kicking it daily, many of them possessed of vintage sewing accoutrement and mad men esque decor. Ready to go for pennies! Such a predicament, balancing respect for the dead and sheer joy for the find! At one point, I had three machines for a grand total of 70 bucks. And sewing books, oh, sewing books. Two Claire Shaeffer bibles and countless vintage sewing handbooks. Whenever I was stumped, I looked into one of these. But mostly, I just grinned, and cut, and hoped for the best. Every success felt awesome, and I learned with each failure.

My obsession survived the move back to NY. The dress form, sadly, is still in a storage unit in LA. It waits patiently for me, ready to keep me from a killing spree, should we ever venture back...

So, to sum up, saro, (do you have a link, lassie?) lack of funds + lack of society + lack of patience = fearless sewing.

What's your equation?


  1. Hmm, that sounds not unlike my sewing journey. (Instructions? what are those?)

    I have heard great things about the LA fabric district. Although probably not as great as about the NYC one.

    I do hope you get your dress form back at some point, though...

  2. I love learning about how you got into sewing. You are completely fearless and I love it! I got into sewing because I couldn't get cast in shows and had to fill my acting scholarship hours with time in the costume shop. Not that I am complaining because now I sew and don't act as much. Blessings in disguise.

    And Con Ed sucks. Seriously. Hate those jerkfaces.

    I also loved hearing about how supportive your family was - that's awesome! Support networks are important because that means they don't hate you when you make them gifts for Christmas.

    You are just too fabulous. Thanks for sharing this awesome story with all of us :)

  3. Awesome story! You are fearless. I always like hearing about how folks got in to sewing. Once you start it becomes a bit of an obsession, doesn't it?

    Also, I would think the cursing and excessive drinking would bring you MORE followers...;)

  4. this makes me smile. i also had to laugh that your first pattern was new look 6557 - that was the second pattern i ever sewed up, and the first one where i actually followed the directions & was able to wear it out in public without getting a ticket for indecent exposure.

    now i try to sew 6557 up & i'm amazed at how incomplete the instructions are (no staystitching or interfacing??) and how terribly the pattern is actually drafted... but i credit that pattern with getting me *really* serious about sewing. i feel stupid saying it, but that pattern holds a special place in my heart.

  5. We lived in LA for several years. I was there 6 years and Hubby for 7. Actually, it was suburbs, so not LA proper. Yes, life is crazy there!

    So fun to hear of your venture into sewing. I hope you can get your dress form on the sooner side, its no fun having something you enjoy in storage.

    My mom sewed, and I took an interested fairly early on. The first thing I remember sewing was a set of doll clothes. I still have the patterns, I think!

  6. best post ever! Thank you! I don't have a blog now as I am overseas with no internet at home, maybe one day! I am typing from my phone, will comment again when I feel less like a groupie who got noticed by her favorite rock star. :)

  7. :D There's instructions? ;) Hehe, Burdastyle instructions don't even sound coherent in the original German... That's a great story!

  8. I love your observations and humor about L.A. Have you seen Sophia Coppola's Somewhere? It kind of reminds me of the loneliness that's inside and underneath all the show. So planetarily different than NY, but it's good that there are a few rare people who stay rooted in it (okay so I know only one person, but I'm sure there are more).

    ...And I love your Desira blouse--so pretty and very flattering on you--that is definitely a make-a-couple in different fabrics.

  9. ~ tanit-isis: we are rule makers. bof! to instructions. and the La garment district can be quite fab, there's one store in particular where everything was a buck a yard. that said, it is surrounded by the crack den in jungle fever, so i usually ended up at joanns :)

    ~ meg g: we both have the great good luck to have awesome family :). i totally want to hear about your costume shop hours! those places are like disneyland...

    ~ liza jane: wouldn't you? it DID, at first!

    ~ lladybird: glad to make you smile! and i have the SAME reaction to 6557 now! i just made it for a friend and that pattern is a hot mess. i never knew it. no shaping at all and the sizing is a wasteland. but like you, of course it stays in the stash for the memories :)

    ~ rachael: that is my absolute fave, when someone learns from their mom. or dad! and how i wish you still had the clothes too! do you??

    ~ saro: HA! i love it! i'll be rocking away on my machine later this afternoon, slugging whiskey and mistreating the scissors. hope the overseas bit is good!

    ~ alessa: EXACTLY. i should've said too; the older BS patterns are waaaaaaay better instruction wise than the newer ones out...

    ~ amy: yeah, really; the only person i knew that stayed rooted was ruggy. i liked marie antoinette, or rather it grew on me... i should give Somewhere a try when i'm missing LA. which i do, sometimes; specifically our 4 foot square back "deck". :) and mayhaps i will try another desira!

  10. baha!! OMG, that would totally happen to me, interview and all.

    Sniff, I'm all nostalgic for Burdastyle 1.0 now.

  11. The only way to survive in LA is by a pool, preferably in an airy backyard.

    I love your sewing story. How many years of sewing does it take to gain a head? Mine is still only half there.

    My sewing equation:
    Lack of cash+Tired of spending too much for clothes that don’t fit+Need to make something with my hands=sewing explosion!

  12. I'm slightly more coherent now. :)

    My equation:

    Picky and lazy shopper + Love of fabric + Looking for a creative outlet + live in places with cultural restrictions on clothing = learning how to sew

  13. "need a boob job" Ha. In what kind of fecked up world does that comment make sense? People need clean water, good food, lovin'......they don't need boob jobs. (Henry Rollins, in talking about trying to live in LA, says they must give them out in your sleep; you just wake up one day with disembodied globes.)

    (Verification word= dicerme. That's what they do to you in your sleep in LA)

  14. I'm always oddly comforted by bloggers who curse. And a big fan of the drinkers... there actually are too few of them now that I think about it. But you know you may not actually have lost a follower, sometimes the google widget that shows them has spazz attacks and some get left off. I've had people pop on and off and on and off again.

    I always had an itch to sew growing up, but I had this thought that I'd hate it and find it frustrating because my mum always had. I certainly was right about it being frustrating at times but I just became OBSESSED with learning to make clothes that fit and were finished as well-better!- as what I could buy. Or couldn't really afford to buy, actually. I fell in love with fabric and geeked out on techniques. I went to fashion school for a year but didn't continue with the diploma because I liked learning to sew well, but got increasingly disgusted with the thought of joining what I learned was a pretty rapacious industry on most any level you can mention. Since then I've been sewing, not nearly as much as I'd like, but whenever I have free time I make a beeline to my sewing room.

    Oh and you did the right thing, of course, resisting that boob job. Hollyweird, alright. Can you imagine all the sewing time lost to FBA's? My word verification is clownses! Them LA clownses with their boobjobses!

  15. ~ angie a: i know. i actually just sighed thinking about it. ruggy looked at me, worried he had done something wrong.

    ~ daughter fish: TRUE DAT. we had a secret beach we'd get away to, because it wasn't pristine, we usually had it to ourselves. and by non-pristine i mean there was nature from the ocean on the beach. how dare that ocean. let's see; i think it took me about 4 years of sewing to gain a head. from the looks of your last post you are surpassing me by leaps and bounds!

    ~ saro: good morning :)! one reads your equation, all, yeah, been there, get that, and then WHOAH. fascinating.

    ~ sewing scientist: also fascinating; the amount of scientists that are sewing. tres cool. i LOVE the henry rollins quote. that is LA distilled. (hey! they dicer'd me!)

    ~ emilykate: me too! i'm all instantly in love when a blogger drops an F bomb.

    i agree, fashion is just about the most cutthroat industry around. i didn't know you went to school for it! it makes total sense, you are so very good at getting into technique-- i remember that mini-placket you made as a trial run. i think of it whenever i want to frankenstein a technique rather than learn it right. your mum must be amazed at the eloquent and perfect garments you create.

    oh my god i just got your FBA comment. that is the best reason EVER not to get a boob job!!! FRIGGING CLOWNSES!!!

  16. loved your story.. made me smile so loud couple of times, that my brother came from his room to check on me


i thankya truly for taking the time to comment, i love a good conversation-- and hope you know my thanks are always implied, if not always written!