After three and a half years of very part-time classes at West Valley College, I finally graduated a week ago with my A.S. in Apparel Production! Since I made a new dress for my very first day of class at WVC, it was only fitting that I drape, draft, and sew the dress in which I accept my degree.
Not only did I just graduate, but tomorrow is my 40th birthday (!). Both events together feel kind of momentous and I’m feeling all nostalgic…forgive me while I wander through my sewing history! Of course, it all starts with my mom. I have been sewing for about 35 years, thanks to my mother who would give me buttons to sew onto felt while she sewed our clothes. She gave me my start down this path and I still chat with her about sewing regularly.
I sewed clothing in high school for myself (as well as one for my older sister, who doesn’t sew) including my high school graduation dress. While looking for photos of that one, I stumbled on what I believe to be the oldest documented garment sewn by me, worn to the “Sophomore Soiree” as a 15 year old. That is definitely quilting cotton. How far I’ve come in 25 years!
I would wager I was the only undergrad at Trinity College (Hartford, CT) to have a sewing machine in their dorm room, and I sewed through graduate school at Cornell (when I should have been reading research papers). Sewing has been such a big part of my life, yet I majored in Biology and then Plant Biology, never once considering to study fashion or apparel production. I’m not even sure I knew that was a thing at the time!
So even though I have a few other degrees, this one feels particularly special to me–it kind of honors my life-long “hobby” and those that have influenced and encouraged it all these years. And now it’s official–this degree means I can sew clothes! Thanks to my instructors, Tiina Keller, Sally Aitken, and Kaee Minn. They are all amazing.
As it turns out, there is a lot more in common with Plant Biology and Fashion than you might expect and I could envision a career in that zone of commonality if I didn’t love teaching so much. So, back to the lecture hall and lab next Fall. I’ll be thinking about and researching “normal” and sustainable pattern design in my free time.
You want to hear about the dress now? Okay, enough nostalgia! First up, let’s talk about this fabric. The amazing eyelet from Britex just had to be the star of the garment, so a simple silhouette was the way to go. I draped the simple sheath dress (with French darts in the front and fish eye darts in the back) on my personal dress form, tested the half drape, transferred to paper, tested the full garment in muslin, and sewed the dress in one day! Phew!
I’m particularly pleased with how well the back armhole fits, thanks in full to the tiny, nearly invisible shoulder dart. Such an under-utilized feature of garments these days, shoulder darts are.
To maintain my modesty in this open eyelet and keep it comfortable in potentially hot weather, I chose to underline the dress in muslin. The arm and neck holes are finished with muslin bias binding.
Check out my pattern matching on the back. It was mostly good fortune, but I’ll happily claim to have meticulously planned it!
Here’s a photo of the dress on Graduation Day with my two boys, and another of me in my robe and mortarboard (dress hiding underneath).
A big thank you to Britex for providing the fabric for this special project, and for believing in me over 4 years ago when they invited me to be a Britex Blogger. I definitely gained skills, inspiration, and confidence as a sewist as a result of my time working with them!
Finally, as a combined graduation and 40th birthday gift, I am continuing my education for a little while longer; I will be spending the month of July in Paris while I take classes in Couture Techniques at the Paris American Academy! No, I couldn’t get any luckier and I’m fully aware of that.