Wednesday, October 30, 2013

100th Post Retrospective - Chelsea Learns to Sew

By a completely random happenstance, I noticed yesterday that I had 99 posts on this blog.  So to celebrate my 100th post I decided to do a bit of a throw-back, even though it's not Thursday.  One of the most common questions I got asked at the Costume Design Center open house last Friday (more on that later) was "How did you learn how to sew?"  And I began to realize that this would be a good question to answer on my blog.  So here's the story, complete with visual aids!  I present to you The First Quilt I Never Made:

Kinda reminds me of the Fourth Doctor's scarf.  
So how did I learn how to sew?  Well the short answer is:  My mom taught me.  The longer answer involves the fact that at first, I kinda hated it.  A lot.  So how did I get from 12-year-old Chelsea hating sewing to 28-year-old Chelsea literally working a full-time job that is nothing but sewing 40 hours a week, then coming home and doing more sewing?

Let's start with the quilt.  I was rather amazed when I came across this remnant of my first ever sewing project, since quite obviously I never finished it.  (I should point out that this was my first machine sewing project - it's possible that the embroidered pillowcase project predated this one.)  Mom decided that it was high time I learned how to use the sewing machine, and gave me a pile of scrap fabric and an index card.  She told me to use the card as a template and cut rectangles from the scraps, and sew them together into strips.  Ideally these strips would have eventually been sewn together into a quilt top, but this was as far as I got before abandoning the project.

It's interesting to examine my younger self's workmanship.  I clearly knew nothing about cutting on the straight of grain (although I did know to only cut from the edges of the fabric - not the middle!) or about ironing fabric before cutting...  (Silly me, I thought you only ironed clothes.)

I also didn't know about backstitching at the ends of seams.

This is where my sewing saga may have ended, if Mom hadn't given me a dress she made for my Samantha doll for my next birthday.  Suddenly it dawned on me - I could make clothes for Samantha myself!  (I was very, very big into American Girl dolls at the time, so this was a big deal.)

Samantha serving tea to my sisters' dolls Kirsten and Felicity - I made none of these dresses.  
So now I had a genuine interest in learning how to sew, and I really haven't looked back since.  I honed my skills on American Girl doll clothes - learning how to construct bodices and set gathered sleeves, how to make do with not-quite-enough fabric, how to sew with knits, velvets, chiffon, etc.  With my mom's guidance, I learned how to read patterns and then how to ignore the directions entirely and create my own vision instead.  (I should really dig up some pictures of those...)

By the time I was in high school I had progressed to making clothes for myself, and even managed (with Mom's help) to make both of my Prom dresses - of my own design.  This naturally led to gaining a workstudy position in the costume shop for my college's theatre department.  I learned a lot of valuable skills from my supervisor there, Jean.  She taught me about muslin mock-ups, flatlining, pressing seams as you go, ironing your fabric - and your pattern pieces - before cutting, how to drape, how to dye fabric, and that no matter what mistakes I make, there's always a way to fix it.

Some of my work from "All's Well That Ends Well" - I made the white gown and the gold overdress on the black gown
Another "All's Well" costume I worked on - I remember the sleeves being a particular challenge.  
I was responsible for detail work on these two gowns from "The Learned Ladies"  
After college I continued sewing for myself and for dolls, even dabbled in making doll shoes.  I went through a few jobs unrelated to sewing, eventually finding work in bridal.  Alterations taught me a lot about quality construction and embellishments such as beading and embroidery.  I also forayed into designing items for someone other than me - mostly adding cap sleeves and lace keyhole backs to strapless bridal gowns.

And now I work at Colonial Williamsburg, where I'm still learning new things every day.  I hope I never stop.  :)


  1. Dear Chelsea,

    Congrats on you 100th post! I loved seeing your sewing beginnings, especially your college work, to how far you've come today (Colonial Williamsburg :) - you must feel so proud!! I can't wait to read more about your presentation at the Costume Design Center and maybe see some of your American Girl doll clothes. (Perhaps even your prom dress?) Everything you make is so gorgeous - and someday I hope to sew half as well as you do! Keep inspiring us!

    Best wishes,
    Anneliese :)

    1. Thanks Anneliese! I'll have to take some more pics of my doll creations one of these days. I did post a few of them last year, if you're interested: