To say I was born sewing would be a completely accurate overstatement. But I truly don't remember learning to; I’ve just always known how. I'm sure my mom taught me, as did her mother with her, and great-granny with gran. My mother (a stay-at-home mom the first several years of my life) would fashion a whole wardrobe for my twin sister and me, creating these adorable two-pieces, Easter and first communion dresses, and sometimes would make herself one to match us. We still dress alike, usually in something we made, for her birthday. Mending and darning are second nature to me, and I’m always surprised at others' awe for this so-called “talent” I innately possess, like blinking. It started with sewing by hand—costumes, outfits, doll clothes--then I made my first dress on a sewing machine my third year in college. Sis and I have created some art. Inspired by the urge to be unique in a world full of alikeness, we've embraced using avant-garde mediums like beads and dimes to design our couture. But the truth is, I don't actually like to sew; I like the end result. The ability to make my heart's desire and wildest fantasies into a reality with my bare hands is sometimes intoxicating. There's no greater feeling. To be honest, sewing gives me anxiety. Measure twice, cut once makes me procrastinate a project far longer than it usually takes to make it. My worst nightmare came true working on my most favorite project to date, my grandmother's 80th birthday dress. But back to that in a minute...
My grandmother, affectionately nicknamed Foxy D, is a style icon; innovative and provocative, I get my sense of style from her for sure. She's made clothes for all 7 of her children and herself, for school, birthdays, holidays, and special occasions. I'm not surprised at my flair for the dramatic; it's in my blood. A true Aries, Foxy is an outspoken, no-holds-barred type of woman; she'll let you know if she does or doesn't like something. Unfortunately, as one would expect with aging, Foxy's hands began to betray her due to arthritis so she could no longer hold steady enough to sew. By her 75th birthday she'd gone to another neighborhood dressmaker to make hers. She thought she would go back to him for her 80th birthday dress but procrastinated asking until it was too late. When she told me,--with one month left until her semiformal affair,--that he couldn’t do it, dread crept in as I knew the next words out of her mouth would be to ask me to. I was right.
At the time, I was already working my day job, while working on a prom dress for my cousin, my dress for Foxy's party, and the decorations. The thought of taking on another project, (and one so important,) paralyzed me with fear and doubt. But of course I said yes; I can't tell my gramma “No.” Sis agreed to help and we got started on what felt like the most important project of our lives. The construction of the dress took some doing. Though now only 5', my granny is a voluptuous woman, with many curves and dips, and loves to accentuate them all. Sis and I had to make sure to get the fit just right, and she let us know when it wasn’t. Once patterned in muslin, we careful moved on to the real thing, after scouring the fabric stores for the perfect red for Foxy to wear the dress I’d originally planned to make for myself. I had shown her my idea, and when she “Ooohed,” and remarked “I like,” I happily conceded. With two weeks left until “Foxy D-Day,” sis and I playfully prayed “Jesus, be a needle and thread,” and cut and pinned the dress. It wasn’t until we had sewn the entire dress that we noticed we’d cut two left arms, with no fabric left to fix the error. Weary, and worn out, with less than a week to go, we laughed exhaustedly; what else was there to do? Giggly from delirium, we joked, “We asked Jesus to be a needle and thread; we should’ve asked him to be a straight pin!,” got some rest, and went back to the fabric stores the next day to find more fabric. Once constructed correctly, we took it to granny for a final fitting and last-minute alterations. Looking at her in her bedroom the night before, appreciating our work in the mirror, sis and I beamed with pride.
Foxy was the bell of her ball. She had complimented us on a job well done, and the compliments continued when her friends and loved one saw her. Sis and I couldn’t have been prouder, especially because granny didn’t hesitate to tell whomever would listen that her granddaughters made her dress (and their own) whenever anyone admired it. Of course every artist is their own worst critic, and sis and I can look at the dress and know the mistakes made and what we would’ve done differently, but she was happy so that’s all that matters (and trust me, we would’ve known if she wasn’t.) Of all the things I’ve made, this is probably my favorite. To be entrusted with the task and to execute it so well is one of my biggest accomplishments. In a way, it felt like Foxy passed the torch, and it is my pleasure for her spirit, talent, and pride to live on in me.
Foxy just turned 85, and though COVID cancelled any ideas of a big blowout, people still talk about the beautiful red dress she wore 5 years ago.