One of the things that interests me about fashion is how the cut of the clothes and the drape of the material alter the appearance of the body. When a well-designed piece of clothing, whether knitted or made from woven cloth, is on the body it feels like part of you. An extension. I think about a scene at the beginning of the novel Franny and Zooey when a girl is getting off the train to meet her boyfriend and he is happy to see her (they've been apart for a while) and he's kissing her passionately all over her face and then he starts kissing her coat, too, because she wears it so often and it's so familiar that it seems like a part of her. Clothing that really works does start to feel like it's part of you in that way. The clothes I love the most are those pieces that make me feel like I have fur. I am a cat and my sweater/jacket/jeans/shoes/etc. fit me like my shiny, well-groomed coat of shiny fur.
It's not about showing off the body for sex appeal or covering it up to hide its aspects. The right clothes are comfortable in a way that has nothing to do with elastic waistbands or even the softness of silk and cashmere. They cover without overcovering, they reveal without overrevealing. The color illuminates the skin and draws the eye without overpowering. A well-designed item will always make you feel like you look nice and won't trigger any body-image neurosis no matter what your size. I have some "fat" clothes from when I weighed 20 pounds more than I do now that I felt just as good in as some of my "thin" clothes; and some of my "superthin" clothes from the old college days made me feel like crap even when I was as skinny as a rail.
When I find a piece of clothing that is really perfect in a store there is an immediate kinesthetic recognition and I am willing to pay almost anything (within the realistic boundaries of middle-class life --I do live in NYC, after all, where you can buy a handbag that costs more than a car). The dream of sewing and making one's own clothes is that every garment will be like this, but the frustrating reality, for me anyway, is that the creative process involves a large part of trial & error and miscalculation, as well as a sort of Mystery of creation wherein the process itself takes on a kind of purpose leading to directions I can't always forsee. In my twenty-some-odd years of sewing and almost 3 years of knitting, I've probably made about five garments that really live up to the ideal I describe. Most of the time the clothes I make and buy are serviceable and have some excellent qualities but are not truly perfect. And honestly, I don't think it's realistic to expect perfection all the time in life. But -- as a perfectionist I kind of can't help it.
Thus, an outlook of perpetual disappointment interrupted by moments of excessively pleased surprise.
I started a dress last weekend using a simple 1960's vintage pattern.
I bought a whole collection of old patterns at a flea-market in Kansas a few years ago and I never really got around to experimenting with them because they are smaller than my size and I knew that I would have to resize them. Which I can do. But that can seem like just a bit too much bother on a busy weekend. Anyone who shops knows that sizing is a subjective thing and anyone who sews knows that sizes on commercial patterns are not numbered the same as patterns in stores at the mall. I wear a size 10 at Banana Republic and my sewing size is a 14.
But sizes also change over time as bodies and marketing and styles change. Looking at the measurements on the back of my vintage dress pattern I was sure I had to add a good inch to inch and a half to the width of my dress and dutifully resized the pattern before cutting it out. I'm making this one out of an inexpensive, light cotton fabric I got in my neighborhood and am using it also as a kind of "muslin" to test the pattern out because I think it could make a decent work dress out of a nice soft wool. So this is low stakes. And the pattern design is dead simple -- a sheath dress with only a couple of darts, so the resizing was hardly onerous.
It looked really big as I was cutting it out and I reminded myself that dresses always look bigger than you think when the pattern is laid out flat, before it has its darts and shaping, before the seam allowances are turned in. I put in my zipper and seamed the shoulders and collar and then basted the side seams and tried it on. And it was like wearing a huge, purple and embroidered trash bag.
So I learned that in the 1960s clothes had more ease built into them and I would have been a size 10 or 12 back then to get the look on the pattern illustration. Nice. I am finishing the dress today and I think it will be cute in the end. Right now it looks like a big, awful, matronly housecoat, so use your imagination...
Meanwhile, I completed the ribbed section of my Gatsby Girl sweater and started swatching for the lace section. It looked really small. But I reminded myself of how sweaters always look smaller on the needles, and ribbing, especially, stretches sooooo much. I took the sweater off the needles and put it on waste yarn and tried it on. I've spent a couple of weeks now taking out the sweater periodically from my knitting bag and trying it on, looking at it in the mirror, tugging and fussing and trying to convince myself that it will hang right when it's blocked. Truly, though, the reality is that it's somehow both tight and bulky at the same time. The ribbing pulls in to hug the body like a sausage casing, but the loft of the wool and texture of the ribbing puffs the sweater up at the same time, accentuating the curve of the stomach area. No thanks.
I've come to the conclusion, ultimately, that Gatsby will never really fit me in a way that will make me feel at home in it. I have been through the neurotic cycle of crafting guilt and deluded optimism enough times now to recognize the signs of something that's just not quite working. I'm ready now to admit this about Gatsby. No matter how pretty it is when it's done, and how lovely the workmanship is, and how many times I show off my pretty increases and decreases and the perfect little cables to my friends . . . I am never going to wear this.
But they always say that creation comes from destruction, right? I started swatching for a sweater of my own design this morning, using the Gatsby yarn which I do absolutely love without any doubts or reservations. Here is is all soggy on the towel. This yarn deserves something beautiful that makes me feel like a cat at home in my fur when I wear it.