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Nov 26, 2010

Straight Skirt for Mom: a Holiday Drama

Mothers.  What can you say?

I don't even remember the genesis of this skirt project exactly.  Did I offer to make it for my Mom (Sonia to you) or did she ask first?  Who knows and at this point who cares?  Somehow it was at the top of my sewing queue; I knew I had to have it completed by early December so my mother could wear it to a friend's grandson's bar mitzvah, to which (she claimed) she absolutely positively could not wear pants.

About a week ago we'd bought the fabric -- a nice quality black poly crepe and matching acetate lining -- and yesterday I dedicated most of the morning and early afternoon to making a muslin for my mother to try on when she came down to our apartment later in the day, from where we'd cab it to relatives in the East Village who host Thanksgiving every year.

I drafted the skirt myself using Dorothy Moore's Pattern Drafting and Dressmaking book.  I know some of you own this book and some of you don't think it's so great, but I like it and find it easy to work with.  I like that you only add the seam allowances when you cut your fabric, like a Burda pattern.

I used a pink cotton-poly sheet for my muslin, and it all came together easily.

It has four darts in front, four darts in back, and a kick pleat.

Still without waistband or side zip...

Around 3:15 pm, my Mom arrived.  She tried on the muslin (top photo) and it looked good.  No major changes needed.  Then she tells me that the bar mitzvah is Saturday -- this Saturday.  She must have told me earlier and like so many things she says, I just tuned it out.

She was spending the night and leaving the next morning (i.e., today).  So in the hour before we had to leave for our holiday dinner, I hustled, cutting the black crepe and getting as far along in the project as I could.  Needless to say I attended Thanksgiving unshaven.

By the time we left, it looked like this:


Obviously some pressing of darts is needed (and it's still in two pieces), but not bad for a rushed hour's work.  I'd forgotten how shifty poly crepe is; it's a much more difficult fabric to sew with than a cotton-poly sheet.  It's also hard to mark for things like darts.  I used tailor's chalk and did the best I could.  Only after I'd drawn the darts on the front panel did I realize that the fabric has a right and wrong side and I'd drawn the darts on the right (which is to say, wrong) side.  So I had to wipe them off and draw them again.

I hate hasty sewing. 

But it would all prove unnecessary, friends!

Long story short: it became increasingly clear throughout the evening that my mother didn't want to go to this event in the first place but didn't know how to get out of it.  Her knee has been bothering her more of late and she's going to have to have a knee replacement, but she didn't want to offend a close friend.  Michael and I convinced her to do what she needed to do for herself and that, given that the event was her friend's grandson's bar mitzvah and she didn't even know the grandson, she wasn't going to ruin anybody's afternoon by not showing up.

Using her best phoning-in-sick-to-work voice (odd, since the excuse was a bum knee and not bronchitis, but an old habit) she did what she had to do and freed herself from an obligation. 

So after I'd hustled with the poly crepe and rescheduled my mother's ride home today to give me more time to complete the skirt, lining, zipper, etc., I now no longer have to make the skirt by Saturday.  And I don't intend to.

An awful lot of drama for less than a yard of poly crepe, no?

Readers, two questions:

1) Do you think women have a harder time extricating themselves from unwanted obligations than men?  I mean, Michael and I were both like, If you don't want to go, don't go!  This seemed like a foreign concept to her. (Then again, here I was, stuck making a skirt for my mother...) 

2) Would I have had an easier time cutting my fabric and sewing my darts if I'd used wool crepe instead of poly?  I'd actually looked at black wool crepe in the store, but it was thin and cheap looking.

That's it -- easy.

Hope those celebrating holidays are enjoying them and didn't overeat last night.  As for the rest of you: do you ever sew for your parents?  Is it a pleasure, a pain, or a little of both?

Have a great day, everybody!


  1. Oh dear, I don't like to be the first commenter. So exposed!! But, I have an opinion, so oh well.

    No I don't think women necessarily have a harder time extricating themselves from unwanted events than men -- at least not with the people I know. My husband has a harder time of it than I do, although it is also hard for me. I think it has to do with how much one has a need for people-pleasing, and I don't really think this is a gender-specific trait.

    About the crepe, I bought a thinnish wool crepe but washed and dried it by machine and it plumped up very nicely!! Much easier to sew than the poly.

    Love Michael's liberty shirt. Very well fitted! How fortunate for him to have his own in-house tailor!

  2. Ha! I feel intensely guilty getting out of any kind of social obligation... partly because you wonder "what amazing thing might I be missing out on if I don't go..." My male friends don't even think about it, they just don't go. I agonnnnniiiiizzzze for days beforehand, and swim in guilt for days afterwards.

  3. Even though women are socialized to never hurt someone's feelings, I wonder if the obligation part of social life is different by generations? As I read your post I was thinking, huh? The bar mitzvah of a friend's grandson? That must be a really good friend, whose grandson Sonia affectionately watched grow up. Etc. Etc. But to find out that she does not know the grandson? Hmmm. This is the kind of thing that my friends would not invite me to in the first place, if I had friends whose grandchildren had those kinds of events. So maybe Sonia is in a generational warp that you and Michael helped her out of.

    I cannot comment on the polyester v wool crepe but here's how I'd think it out - sheep v petroleum, which is more slippery?

    Thanks for a sweet post this morning! You are a good son! Sonia did a good job.

  4. I also think this is a generational, not a gender 'thing'. My older relatives (male and female) are more likely to attend an event they don't want to go to because they have a mental 'I owe them' list (I have to go to her grandson's bar mitzvah because she came to my niece's trousseau tea, etc.) Friends and family in their 20s - 40s seem to consider the merits of attending each event indivdually - which makes far more sense to me than trying to keep a decades long scorecard!

  5. I am going to be thinking about petroleum covered sheep all day...

    ...sewing for parents. I sewed my mom's outfit she wore to my wedding this June. She's on the heavy side, HATES wearing dresses, has a hard time finding stuff she feels good in and was suffering from a bit of comparioson-to-the-other-mother-in-law-itis (my husband's mom is tiny,65, and still running 10Ks...) It was an OK experience, complete with her normal odd mix of opinionated commands and seeming complete lack of interest. In the end she really liked her outfit, and the fact that I made it gave her another reason to rule the roost "Patty made this..."

    We're actually heading out today to buy fabric for a turtleneck and reversible vest combo for her Christmas present. She wears around a 3X in RTW sizing (32 in big 4 pattern sizes) and as many know, the RTW selection is not always the best in her sizes. It's fun for me to give her things that she can wear and feel good in - and also give her another way to brag about me. Offspring bragging is a competitive sport in her small town and I have dissapointed her for 15 years by not giving her entry to the grandchild-bragging division...

  6. I believe that doing what's right for you, and what you want is less of a natural inclination for women. I hope that my girls can feel more assured about those choices, while still being respectful. I think it's generational too, because the standard absolutely used to be- "you can't accept their invitation unless you can extend your own in return" and I feel like that's very much no longer the case and that invitations are no longer the compliment or delight they once were, especially when inclusion is expected for all.

    I love working with wool, but I really don't like crepe no matter what the fiber. But I will say I find that wool fibers seem to do whatever you want from them in regards to shaping through seams,drape and ironing.

  7. Wool crepe is very easy to press and very comfortable to wear. Although press marks do show on it.

  8. I have no trouble extricating myself, but then I'm not a pleaser that way. You'll still make her the skirt, right, even if it's not used on Sat.? I think she'll look lovely in it!

  9. I made something in wool crepe once and have been searching for a good piece of like material for years. Finally gave up hope of finding some. I guess I should move to NYC. LOL

  10. Good for your mum! And, I agree that us older generations had it hammered into us that we MUST do certain things, like show up whether we want to or not. Giving yourself permission not to is good.

    Wool crepe behaves better than synthetic, but that's not saying much. I've been looking for wool or any crepe for years as it seems to have disappeared from the stores around here. I love crepe as it doesn't wrinkle. BTW, I've always found that wrinkles in wool drop out, sometimes completely, overnight in the closet. Ya to less pressing!

    For pressing, use a piece of manila file folder or something like it between the dart and the body of the garment to prevent show throughs. I recently bought Couture Sewing Techiques and the Schiaparelli jacket on the cover shows press marks at the darts, seams and ends of the bound buttonholes, so, if you do see a mark, you're in good company.

  11. Hm, I'm with all those who said that the social obligation issue has more to do with personality and generation, than with gender.

    About the crepe... of course wool would have been easier to work with! All wool fabrics I've ever used were great (although tweeds can fray terribly). Very easy to shape and never slippery. And with poly crepe, you get static cling...

    As for sewing for parents... I convinced my mum to let me make something for her about two years ago. And then she picked to Kayla Kennington patterns (if I remember the name correctly) which were basically patchwork ponchos to make on a serger. Which I didn't own at that time. We went fabric shopping twice just to find something which might work for such a shapeless thing. I made it lovingly, although grumbling softly all along. She has worn the top a few times but is complaining about the quality of the thin silk...
    I won't be sewing for my mum again unless she would allow me to style her. And she never asked in the first place.

  12. The crepe- my preference would be wool crepe and a rayon Bemberg lining. Yes, they cost a little more, but a straight skirt hardly takes any fabric. Good on you for drafting it yourself! I am impressed.

    As far as getting out of obligations, I'm not sure it is a gender thing. Not among the men I know, anyway. I think that is something we'd all struggle with. It's so great that you and Michael helped her "call in sick". And another thing I have noticed is that these bar /bat mitzvah events can be extremely important in some families and she was dealing with that knowledge. It is such a big expensive party and if they invited her, then it mattered to them. Of course, I agree that she was right to beg off for all the reasons she had. I'm just sayin' (as they say).

  13. for those who are having trouble finding wool crepe--if you're willing to do mail order, try Vogue Fabrics in Chicago. They often have several options.

    And on the obligation front, I think all kinds of factors come into play--age, where you live, family connections, yadda yadda. I hope your mother's friend doesn't try to make her feel guilty about this...

  14. haha! to the first question my answer is possibly, yes! if I complain to my husband abt social obligation he's like don't go if you don't want to, while if I complain to a woman- she just understands! :))

    I don't hate hasty sewing when it seems to work and I hate elaborate pacient work when it ends up just not as satisfying as I thought it would be!

    now let's hope your mom's friend or some common friend don't read your blog, and if they do they appreciate the sense of humour, sincerity, effort, your mom's presence, of something like that:)

  15. When I was a young girl just getting into sewing, my mother used to bring all these garments to be altered and repaired for her friends. They would give her money, but she wouldn't give it to me. I didn't know they were paying her. So to answer your question... NO! I flat out refuse to sew for my mother. And my father was the one who taught me to sew i the 1st place. Come to think of it, he didn't sew for her either.

  16. I'm not sure it's a gender or a generational thing - I think it's just easier to say 'if you don't want to go, don't go' if you're not the person who has to do whatever it is. If it was the other way round - if it were you going to a friend's grandson's bah mitzvah - would you have simply thought 'I'll just cancel'? Maybe it would have been your mum telling you to do what's right for you. I think people in general find it easier to tell loved ones to be a bit selfish (not necessarily in a bad way!) than to be a little bit selfish themselves.

  17. I have a policy: I never make anything for my mother. Not since the last time, about 20 years ago. The horror! The horror!

    Women often have trouble with assertiveness, so that would follow through into having difficulty getting out of things. But I've noticed plenty of men having the same trouble.

    I avoid polyester. Apparently it's an age thing: women over 40 are supposed to prefer natural fibres, and I do. But wool is always going to be more of a pleasure to work with.

    And I, too, love Michael's Liberty shirt. Looks fabulous, and so beautfully fitted, too. Very nice indeed.

  18. Nope, I'm one of those who doesn't go if she doesn't feel like it. Decorum be damned. Life is too short.

  19. You guys are fantastic. Great to hear so many interesting perspectives!

  20. I do think it is a generational thing, and also maybe a female thing too. I have noticed that women in my family are more likely to "keep score" about social obligations. I've also had an older female co-worker (co-worker!) send me on a guilt trip because I didn't want to attend a funeral, shortly after my father's passing. I think a lot of women can't imagine not setting aside their own feelings for the benefit of others, for fear of appearing selfish. The sad thing is that most men take it for granted and don't even notice the sacrifices that are being made.

    Re: making clothes for mom. I once made a poly crepe skirt for my mother, who prefers easy-care fabrics. It didn't turn out great, so I made another out of wool challis which I pre-washed and machine-dried (in order to make it slightly easier-care.) The wool challis was sooo much nicer to sew, and looked better too.

    I've stopped making clothes for my mother, because she refuses to allow me to take measurements. *sigh*


  21. P.S. To clarify my comment above, the funeral I didn't want to attend was of someone I didn't know, a relative of another co-worker-- it wasn't my father's.


  22. I used to feel guitly about not wanting to attend some events, but now I don't. Life is too short.

  23. Hi Peter, it is very interesting to read, that there are similar experiences "sewing for mom" When I was about 10 years old I had to make (in school) a mothersdaygift: these things (I can´t find an english word for it) to protect your hands when you touch hot pots.Because, this time I was no real excellent knitter and it took more time, than I had, the loops were a little bit too big.....comment of my very sensitively mom: Oh, that´s german worth-work....and a sure way to burn my fingers...I can push two fingers through one of these loops! You can guess, that it is many years ago but still I am not in the mood, to work something for knitting, no sewing....
    My opinion is also, that the inviting-thing is a question of generation...when we married there where guests, we neversaw before (invited by my mother-in-law) She said: what would Mr XX think, not to be invited? I, myself am sure, life really is too shot, to share time with people, I don´t reject politely is my choose!
    Have a nice day, all together

  24. additional: I made a very nice dress (I imagined it very nice) and the fabric was similar like the front there are some folds, who take their own is not possible to open again and I will never use fabric like this for projects with any fold!!!


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