One Thing Leads to Another

written by liz on Monday, July 28 2008

Alex’s is in “camp” this week at Camp Edventure More. The week's theme is magic & medieval times. He loves the camp. It is a mixture of science and art so I feel good about it. Some of the science projects at camp are inspired by exhibits at the San Francisco Exploratorium. 

Each day, at 3:00, when I pick him up they hand me a goldenrod colored paper that summarizes what they did for the day and it also has a box entitled "Don’t Forget" that lists what is coming the next day and the rest of the week. Every day the  "Don’t Forget" box states: “Medieval Carnival and Magical Medieval Dress Up Day” on Friday.

I look at it on Tuesday but don’t integrate it into the top of my to-do list until Thursday morning. In all honesty, Thursday is the only morning both of the boys have something scheduled (Sam preschool, Alex camp) so I have it available to attempt making a costume with uninterrupted time.  Alex mentioned earlier in the week, he would like to dress up as a king.  That should be easy enough. I envision some sort of cape and a crown. Thursday morning I set off for the fabric store. Michael, the wonder husband, recently bought me a fancy Necchi sewing machine and this cape idea seems like a pretty simple project. 

I imagine a quick trip to Joanne’s Fabrics , two or three hours of sewing and then my boy will arrive on dress-up day in style. 

Did I mention I don’t know how to sew?

9:30 am  

Arrive at fabric store. I head in the direction of the patterns. I have a childhood memory of the fabric store I went to with my mom when I was a kid. I remember sitting in the big chair looking at huge pattern books, finding the photos of Halloween costumes. Marveling at each one.  Mom used to go to the fabric store and do this whole routine, right? See? So can I … Right?

I find a sales person for help. It’s not my usual practice.  Usually I try to figure out an unknown on my own but this is pretty foreign for me. The sales woman advises me to look through the books and find a pattern I like. Each pattern has a number associated with it, kind of like the Dewey decimal system without the decimals. She tells me that when I go to the big metal drawer and find my pattern, I should pull out the instructions. Not the pattern itself, but the instructions. I should look at them and see if they make sense. If they do make sense, I will probably be able to figure it out.  She tells me she taught herself to sew.  That’s encouraging I think….She did it, so can I, right?

I look through the pattern book and on the second try, select one that is in stock.  I was hoping for a Simplicity pattern (that was what mom used) but instead choose one from Butterick (never heard of it but what the heck, I am already throwing caution to the wind). 

Once I have my pattern in hand, I look on the back of the package and see all these little columns of numbers—which after yet another consult with said saleslady - reveals the sizes and shows how much fabric is needed for each piece on the costume. Then there are additional subsets marked 45" and 65" . Turns out, that bolts of fabric come in different widths, ie. 45” and 65”, which determines how may yards one needs. Who knew? This leads to another conversation about “nap” which again I know nothing about. (The way you cut velveteen makes a difference when fabric has a “nap” to it. Meaning when you rub a hand across it it looks one way, when you rub the other direction it has a different sheen) turns out you have to cut the fabric accordingly or it won’t loot look right at the seams -- as it will be going in two different directions.   Did I learn this in home economics in 6th grade? I don't think so. What happened to my simple little cape that was to take 3 hours? 

Ok, with my newfound knowledge AND a pattern I think I must be really getting somewhere. On to the fabric! One foot in front of the other.  I wander the aisles of tulle, silk shantung, felt. I discover a small section called “apparel lining” which is shiny and looks like it will work for the lining of the cape. Finally, I come upon velvet after circling the place for 15 minutes. I select a green one with glittery gold swirls on it, because green is Alex’s favorite color. I look at my trusty Butterick pattern, study the photo on front and notice the cape has gold trim and a corded tie around the neck.  I look back to my pattern for guidance but can’t figure out where it tells me how much is needed or how to attach it.  If I were a cartoon I'd be standing in the fabric store with a question mark over my head.  It is kind of a cartoon when, out of nowhere one of my neighbors appears with Charlie her 3 year old son in tow. She greets me with a warm easy hello, like we do this everyday. She does not realize I have entered another world of questions and unknowns and things are a little off kilter.  I explain that I don’t know how to sew and that I am making a cape for Alex’s medieval dress up day at camp. I know how to sew she tells me. If I need any help just let her know. Wow, thanks! Just like that. At this point I feel like everyone in the world knows how to sew. She helps me figure out the question of trim. Oh she says, read the “novelties” section of the pattern. She scans the back of the pattern and there it is, “novelties”. It tells me I how much I need so I thank her, and wander off to find the trim and cords. Charlie squeals and runs from her. Over by the trim (also near the door) a few moments later, I see her she is carrying him out of the store as he wails! I offer to push him around in a cart while she shops, but she says he is not up for it and as quickly as she came, she is gone. Grateful my kids are occupied, I scan the novelties section.  I love this section. Rows and rows of decorative gold, silver, purple, and green cord (to mention just few)  and various trims all wound up on plastic spools. A rainbow of metallic colors, textures, and widths all lined up like fancy books on a shelf. Like a library full of books, I love the endless possibilities.  I select gold cord that will tie around the neck and keep the cape fastened. Then I pick out the most beautiful gold ruffle. It is gleaming and catches the light and will decorate the edges of the cape. Alex will be adorable in this stunner of a green cape with a shiny trim.   A gold ruffle—how regal, how perfect!

I realize I still I have to select thread. Do I buy the color of the lining or the outer cape? Another sales person assists me with that quandary. We decide on the color of the outer cape, green. But then I have to find the right green. Not Kelly green but a green with some more blue in it. With the thousands of spools I feel like I could spend an hour looking for just the right one. I’ve been in the fabric close to two hours now.

A thought enters my head, concern over threading the needle and threading the bobbin on the new machine I am not yet familiar with . The last time I did it, I had Michael there and we bumbled through it together as we both read the instructions. My impatience makes me wonder about my capacity to do this. I press on though. Finally I take all my selections to the cutting area where another sales person helps me sort how much of everything I need. 

The main fabric that I need (green  velvet with gold swirls) almost 2 yards of is close to $14 a yard. The regal ruffle: $11. The cord: $6, the lining .... can't remember but this cape is costing more than I imagined. Luckily for me the sales person finds me the weekly coupon sheet that gets me 40% off of the most expensive fabric I purchase and 40% off the most expensive novelty item. The coupons save me close to $20. Home I drive, unsure and determined.

Once home,  I remove the pattern from the package, set up my machine and begin to unravel the tissue papery pattern.  I have a 10 foot long kitchen table, and I think it is going to come in handy for laying out and cutting fabric. That is until I cannot figure out how to lie out the fabric. Sigh. Sales people are gone. Who to ask for help now?  Am I supposed to fold it in half and then cut it? The diagram is so confusing! In the diagram the fabric looks folded in half.  Michael is on a conference call and I have to wait for him to finish so I can see if he can help me figure it out. While I wait, I call mom who is not home. Then I call  my sister who is pretty sure I am to fold it. Finally Michael reads the instructions and can’t figure it out either. OK, at least I am not the only one lost here! He cant figure it out, can I?

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