Episode 32: The End of a Project Blog

I’ve been procrastinating this post for six weeks now. Partly, I wanted to wait until I had some really good pictures of the dress to show my three loyal followers. Partly, I didn’t want to admit that the biggest project I’ll ever take on (in size and emotional value) is over, and it’s all downhill from here. Partly I’m a bit scared of putting pictures of myself on the internet because I don’t know if you guys know this but the internet can be a pretty weird, mean place sometimes.

But hey, what the hell. I spent two years knitting a wedding dress and I actually pulled it off and here are some pictures of it. (Photo credit to my sister, Jessica Skintges Wallach.)

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My lovely maid of honor doing…something? Attempting to resize my arms?

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I wound up buying a two-layer tulle slip from David’s Bridal to give the dress some poof. It poofed.

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Back top close-up with bonus hair and Liz’s pretty manicure.

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After I assembled the entire dress — ten pieces in total — I crocheted an edging around the neckline, arms, and skirt hem.

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Top of the dress in detail while I attempt to work a safety pin. THOSE THINGS ARE COMPLICATED.

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And here’s the whole thing! And some guy, I don’t really know what he was doing there. I was kinda drunk.

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The hem had been thoroughly stepped on by this point. Also there was a dinosaur.

Post-Project Analysis: Was it worth it?

I’m not going to make any revisionist claims about the process of making this dress being anything other than a complete pain in my and my husband’s asses for two full years. It SUCKED to make this thing. Almost every part of making it sucked worse than the last part. The closer I got to finishing it, the worse it was when I tried to put the shapes of the skirt together and realized I had missed the tiny writing on the sewing pattern that said “make two.” Once I was done with it, I laid it flat on my futon mattress and it sat there, completely untouched, for two months. When I put it on the day of my wedding, it had GROWN FOUR INCHES LONGER. (Apparently cotton lace does this. Do not knit lace with cotton yarn.)

But that’s just the beginning of all the ridiculous shit that went wrong for my wedding. Our best man couldn’t make it because his heart quit working, our outdoor ceremony got rained out, I cried non-stop for about an hour (happy tears, but it still fucked up my makeup real nice), we couldn’t get the mic to work so nobody could actually hear the ceremony or toasts, I got an inch-long splinter in my arm setting up tables before the rehearsal….etc., etc., etc. But for everything that went stupidly, horribly wrong, something awesome happened. Instead of having our ceremony outside, we got to have it in our beautiful, amazing venue. And as our friends, family, and superhuman venue staff were setting it up, I lamented aloud that we hadn’t rented an arch to mark where we were going to stand. Someone asked the event coordinator if they had one, and she said “No…but we do have a giant inflatable dinosaur. Do you want that?”

So we had a dinosaur at our wedding.

And while everything was completely collapsing around me and it felt like the wedding was ruined and we should just pack it in and go home, I had my dress. I had labored over it for years and now I was wearing it, and that was pretty damn cool. So ultimately my advice to anyone thinking about taking on a big project with an obvious deadline, like a wedding dress, is to really think about whether you have the time and patience for something that is frankly a really dumb idea, and to remember that the things you make with your hands will be there even if everything else sucks.

Our wedding did not suck. Kinda the opposite. Everything went wrong, and it was absolutely perfect.

Thank you all for following along on this long, crazy journey. And be sure to tune in next time, when I knit myself a car!

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P.S.: Also I made some flowers. The woman who wrote the patterns is a genius and you should go to her shop and buy all of her things.

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Episode 31: Done

So I finished the dress a month ago but for some reason I put off announcing it here. I think it’s partly because I don’t want to show pictures now that it’s done, because crappy cell phone shots with bad lighting may have completely sufficed for blog photography during the production stage but I don’t want the world to see my first (and, dear god, last) wedding dress creation through the lens of a 3-year-old iPhone. BUT, it’s done, really, really done…it’s not perfect, but I will say this: Nick has been helping me every step of the way with this thing, from planning to math to “does this look weird? WHY DOES THIS LOOK SO WEIRD?!”, and even though he had always said that he didn’t want to see me in the dress until The Day he had resigned himself to having to help me troubleshoot it once I had finished putting everything together. I finished it late at night after some, uh, completely reasonable amount of alcohol had been consumed and decided to wait until the next day to try it on, and then woke up early in the morning freakishly excited. I snuck downstairs without waking Nick up and managed to zip myself into my two-layer tulle slip all by myself, and as soon as I had the dress on I realized it didn’t need to be troubleshot (troubleshat?). It was, to me at least, perfect.

Part of that perfection is that it’s really not that perfect (hahaha…oh god. I may have also put off writing this because wow, I suck). It’s pretty fucking obvious that the thing was handmade by someone with no prior dress-making experience. You hang that bitch on a Kleinfeld’s mannequin and you’re not gonna fool anyone, but it’s not like I need to. I knit my own dress and I like it, and hopefully my guests mostly know about it so they won’t make mean comments. At least not to my face. Hopefully.

Anyway, we’re five weeks and one day out from The Holy-Crap-This-Is-Really-Happening Day, and I’m not completely wigging out anymore. Since I am — and you may not have known this about me — actually insane, I decided to also crochet full bouquets for myself and my bridesmaids, and the guys’ boutonnieres, so it’s not like I have to worry about idle hands.

Sidebar: Whenever I see or hear anything about “DIY weddings” from here on out, I reserve the right to fall to the floor laughing. You made favor boxes and bunting? HAHAHA SUCK IT, AMATEUR. I mean, not like it’s a competition or anything.

Anyway anyway, Ill be back probably in like five weeks and two days with nice pictures of the dress. Maybe even with me inside of it. Who knows.

Episode 30: So You Think You Want to Knit a Wedding Dress

What have I been doing for the past six months, you ask? Why, I’ve been working on my wedding dress. Seriously. This whole damn time. How close am I to finishing? Not even a little.

This project has been such an endless font of frustration, anger, and sadness, that my ability to write about it in lower case just vanished after about the tenth stupid, avoidable mistake. If I was honestly journaling the last six months of work, IT WOULD READ LIKE THIS BECAUSE HOLY SHIT DID I REALLY FORGET TO DO THAT?! HOW DID I MANAGE TO DO THE MATH WRONG AGAIN!?!?! HOW IS IT EVEN POSSIBLE FOR IT TO GO THIS BADLY?

It’s too late for me. I’ve poured far too much time and energy into this project; even though it now appears I made it in the wrong size (seriously), it’s too late to turn back. I have to take this mountain of lace and turn it into something wearable, if not particularly attractive. I’m the marathon runner who pooped a little on mile 22 but can’t bring themselves to quit now, so I’m just gonna carry that load in my pants the rest of the way.

You’re welcome for that image.

So I’m a lost cause, but I worry that there might be other impressionable women out there who might think, as I once did, that knitting their own wedding dress is a good project to take on. They might be of the impression that craftiness, pluck, determination, and an extremely patient fiancé are all they need to make this work, and won’t it really be worth it when they get to walk down the aisle wearing their own creation? It’ll be the most amazing heirloom! Totally unique! They might even get written up in the local paper for how awesome they are!

Well, I’ve been doing this for a year and a half now, and I have some wisdom to impart.

1. Don’t.

Seriously, do not do this. It’s not worth it. That money you think you’re saving? You’re taking it out on your sanity and the health of your future marriage. You may not believe it now, but you will eventually have a complete breakdown in which you will find yourself ugly crying over Oxi-Clean and t-pins. Again, not even a little worth it.

2. OK, you won’t listen to reason. I’ve been there. So if you’re really going to do this thing, this horribly inadvisable thing that will ruin your life, you need to make friends with someone who has made a dress before. Not a cute little A-line sundress either, you need to find someone who has made a full-length gown. With their hands. Successfully. You need to find this person and buy them a lot of beer and make them tell you their secrets.

3. You need to start with a sewing pattern. There are exactly 2 patterns for knit wedding dresses on the entire internet and they both suck. Don’t even try to modify them to fit that pretty image in your head. Start with a sewing pattern, and then buy the aforementioned friend a bottle of tequila and make them teach you how to read it.

4. Go back before Step 3 and remember to check that the site you bought this sewing pattern from uses standard dress sizes. Oh, they don’t? That’s a good thing to find out four months before your wedding. Better hit the gym, fatty, cause it turns out you just made the wrong size dress.

5. Learn how to math better.

6. Give up, cry, steal back the rest of that tequila and beer you gave your (fictional) friend with all the knowledge, and buy a damn wedding dress like a NORMAL HUMAN. GOD. WHY IS THIS SO HARD FOR YOU TO UNDERSTAND?

Episode 29: Sweet Jams

I was up late one night this week, tossing and turning in a semi-feverish insomnia and thinking about (what else) this blog, and how I never seem to have enough things to write about. I struck on the idea to craft a joke post about the music we had picked to use in the ceremony and important parts of the reception, since the problem with most of the music I love is that it’s, well, lyrically depressing. And not in a fun way, like how country music is all “I shot my ex-boyfriend in his stupid cheating face and now let’s LINE DANCE YEAH” and lady-pop music is all “I’m so beautiful on the inside I can wear dresses made of dead puppies in public so DANCE NOW YEAH.” So I was going to try to be a troll and post a bunch of my favorite cruelly depressing songs and see if I could get anyone thinking I would really traipse down the aisle to the strains of The National, but in the sober daylight I remembered that that’s a dumb idea.

The problem remains, though, that most of my favorite songs about love and relationships shouldn’t get within ten miles of wedding bells. With that said, here’s my lineup of awful (in theme, not execution) wedding music.

The Mountain Goats, “No Children”: This is the song that inspired the idea of this post. It’s one of the best, most beautiful, most painfully detailed and honest love songs ever written, and it’s pretty much the worst thing to hear on your wedding day.

Favorite Lyrics: I am drowning / There is no sign of land / You are coming down with me / Hand in unloveable hand / and I hope you die / I hope we both die

Where I would put it (if I was really twisted): I would have the officiant do a reading of the lyrics during the ceremony. It wouldn’t even be close to the worst thing I’ve heard an officiant say to a couple on what’s supposed to be the giddiest day of their stupid lives.

Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, “Falling Slowly”: I thought long and hard about actually including this song in my wedding, because it is seriously so damn gorgeous. I even tried to talk myself into hiring live musicians and making them play an instrumental version, and then I actually thought that through and realized it would be the same four notes over and over and over, and the song loses some of its charm that way. You need to hear the words, which are about two broken people trying to escape into each other.

Favorite Lyrics: Falling slowly, eyes that know me / And I can’t go back / Moods that take me and erase me / And I’m painted black / You have suffered enough / And warred with yourself/ It’s time that you won

Where I would put it: Walking down the aisle. It has the perfect cadence, just not the perfect sentimentality.

Harry Nilsson, “Don’t Forget Me” Yep, another beautiful song about divorce. Fuck.

Favorite Lyrics: When we’re older / And full of cancer / It doesn’t matter now / Come on, get happy / ‘Cause nothing lasts forever / And I will always love you.

Where I would put it: First dance song.

The Decemberists, “The Bachelor and the Bride”: Look, right there in the title! It’s a freaking wedding song! How depressing can it be??

Favorite Lyrics: But I, said the bachelor to the bride / Am not waiting for tonight / No, I will box your ears / and take your tears / and leave you, leave you here stripped bare

The National, “Cardinal Song”: It’s long been a dream of mine to hijack the stereo at a wedding and put on an endless loop of The National, and time how long it takes the first person to start weeping uncontrollably. (Spoiler: It would be me. I ALWAYS cry.)

Favorite Lyric: Never tell the one you love / that you do / Save it for the death bed / When you know you kept her wanting you

Where I’d put it: Another reading for the ceremony. Let’s pack this thing as full of doom-and-gloom and shitty advice as we can!

The Magnetic Fields, “Yeah! Oh Yeah!”: OK, this one’s a little on the nose. Still, I feel like it belongs here.

Favorite Lyrics: All of them. Just listen to the song.

Where I would put it: Responsorial vows.

Episode 28: Everything Is Awesome, and There’s Nothing to Write About

One thing that has absolutely amazed me about wedding planning, and which I was not expecting at all, has been the way the universe seems to listen whenever I say “You know what would be totally great?” At this point I feel like if I suggested to the universe that Steve Buschemi would be an awesome officiant, his people would call my people by the end of the week.

To wit: We have to work out some of the details, but right now it looks like we’re going to have our ceremony in a beautiful garden, and our reception in a mind-blowingly awesome theater, where everyone will get to eat food from our favorite restaurant, drink booze from our favorite wine shop/bar, and enjoy flowers planted by a local farm on our request.

As a matter of fact, WITHER THOU, BUSCHEMI? You’re the only thing missing here.

This is all incredible and I feel very lucky that things are working out so well so far. Of course, I’m also waiting for the other shoe to drop, but there’s still plenty of time for that. The only problem with things going so smoothly is that there’s very little to write about.

The dress? Every day there’s more of it, but it still looks like a bunch of very large, floppy white triangles. I’m very much looking forward to the day when I can stop having anxiety nightmares wherein I’m forced to wear the dress in its current form down the aisle, but other than that, it’s coming along great. I even got over my fear of math.

I also sort of finished the not-a-white-power afghan! It still needs trim around the edges and for the ends to be woven in, but as you can see, Olive has taken up the mantle of canine afghan assembly assistant:

The bottom picture is our first dog, Asta. I choose to believe that she is Olive’s ghost mentor in subjects like Afghan Assembly and How to Solicit Head Scratches, like the dog version of Obi Wan.

I, along with Olive and Hologram Asta, have inspected the afghan and found not even a hint of a swastika. Once it’s for-real-finished, I’ll put up a dogless picture and see if you can spot the Nazi emblem. Eesh, that sounds like a rejected game from an early edition of Highlights.

This dog would probably be of greater assistance (click the picture).

Episode 27: Success! Actual, definable success!

It’s been a long year, in terms of success. Actually, it’s been a long life. As a young, competitive musician, success was laid out for you in exacting terms: Play well, humiliate that annoying twelve-year-old with Beethoven or Mendelssohn, and when you do fuck up, don’t run off the stage while using your concert attire as a hankie. Snot is really obvious on black clothes.

But ever since I realized that the delicious tears of twelve-year-olds are not enough to sustain a career, it’s been a bit tough to nail down exactly what makes me feel like I’m doing well in life. As practice children, my dogs often make me feel like I’m going to be the kind of mother who gets regularly ridiculed on the local news. (“After the children had been located doing what they described as “playing Firefly” in the Guns & Knives section of the Walmart*, the Channel 5 news team caught up with their mother, who was holding up the line at the liquor store next door while she attempted to convince her credit card company that $500 is not a suspicious amount of money to spend on gin.”)

*Walmart has this, right? I assume that’s what they put in when they decimated the craft section, which was coincidentally right around the time that I stopped going to Walmart.

The point is that knitting is usually the thing that makes me feel successful these days, mostly since I realized that birthdays, Christmas, and other gift-giving occasions are competitions that can be won or lost, and I can be a pretty serious contender given the time and supplies. (Except for MDMA Mario. Sorry, Corey.) One of my greatest motivations for tackling this project — other than money and the fear of having to show a seamstress my boobs — has been the conviction that I can somehow “win” at weddings if I’m just crafty enough. None of my other planning skills are remarkable in the least; for instance, I’m pretty sure I scared off the terribly nice manager at that awesome venue by being a bit over-enthusiastic in an email follow-up. She probably refers to me to her coworkers as “that creepy girl who uses awkward smileys in emails. What is this, 1997? Who does that? Also, her shoes were stupid.*”

*I have been informed that normal people don’t usually internalize other people’s unarticulated judgements to this degree. I’m working on it with my therapist, Dr. Mcgillicuddy**.

**Just kidding, I don’t actually drink that. It’s disgusting. Unfortunately, none of my go-to boozes have advanced degrees.

So, what was I talking about? Right, success. I did it! I succeeded, and not by some made-up hypothetical standard that I set for myself to maintain my top-notch self esteem! I actually did something right:

Yep, the first panel of the skirt is completed and is actually the correct size. I did run out of pins about halfway through blocking it and had to finish with needles, but let’s focus on the positive here: I’m 1/4 of the way done with the skirt! Except that’s actually not even true because this was one of the front panels, which are naturally a lot shorter than the back ones that include the train. So more like 1/6, generously.

Fuck it, I’m proud of myself.

Episode 26: All the Bacon and Eggs You Have.

Knitters are fucking sexy.  –Nick Offerman (Ron Swanson on Parks and Recreation)

I’ve had more than my fair share of great nights lately, but last night was more than a little bit of amazing. We heard Nick Offerman talk about his fantastic, hilarious marriage to Megan Mullally (they’re a boring couple: they sit around watching HGTV, doing jigsaw puzzles, and snorting piles of cocaine) and how impressed he would have been if a woman he was dating had knit the dress she was wearing. Immediately before the show we had gone to look at a reception venue that we both lo-o-ooooved, and I chose to take Offerman’s tenuously relevant comments as a sign.

You guys, this venue. I don’t know if venues are supposed to be like the dress, where you’re not supposed to show people pictures before the wedding. Frankly, I’m so over the moon in love with this place that I don’t give a shit. If you’re so inclined, you can check out some strangers’ wedding photos here. What’s hard to tell from those pictures is that the ceiling is very light blue and the walls are burgundy. The floor, which is unfinished at the moment, is going to be done by the end of the year — and they’re thinking about staining it green. That’s right, the venue is decking itself out in my exact fucking wedding colors. 

Actually, I just found a good picture:

I have a giant lady-boner for this place, if you couldn't tell.

 

It’s not completely perfect. It’s still under construction; they don’t have air conditioning and likely won’t by next June. There’s a chance we won’t be able to use Black Dog, our favorite restaurant who agreed to cater, because they don’t have a catering license. Our guests might pass out from the sheer awesomeness of the venue. But when the universe starts blasting a message through a megaphone, I fucking listen, and this one is coming through loud and clear.

Earlier this week, wedding planning was giving me ridiculous anxiety and making me feel like breaking a wall with my face. Now I’m refreshed, renewed, and secure in the knowledge that every time I work on my dress, I’ll hear Nick Offerman’s giggle in my head. Let’s fucking  do this.

Episode 25: Try, Try Again

When it comes to this project, I’ve been defining success in terms of action. As long as I’m doing something — no matter how misguided or improbably correct — it still counts as successfully working on the dress. (Note that my definition of success will be much more rigidly binary come June 15, 2013; either I’ll be wearing a dress I made myself or I won’t be.) It’s sort of like being a writer: The only thing you have to do in order to succeed at being a writer (not succeed as a writer, mind you) is to write. For the last month, I’ve been riding a wave of success even while failing miserably by any standard other than the vague, easy one I’ve set for myself.

After a not-so-minor panic attack induced by seeing the dress pattern laid out all over and around my bedroom, I took a few days, nursed a bottle of gin, and regrouped. I tackled the first piece that looked like a shape I could manage (another rhombotenuse!), spent days extrapolating the lace pattern out on graph paper so that I could increase in pattern, and then I successfully knit for a few weeks.

Now we come to the point where I complain about something ridiculously specific and attempt to make it engaging to my non-knitter readership. In this case, I’m defining success by pageviews.

Math Sucks: Why Blocking Is the Devil’s Curse

By Antoinette Pomata

Math has never been my strongest subject, which is the least I could possibly say about that. It’s why I flunked dropped out of music halfway through college; I had assumed that as long as I could read the notes that were written by people who understood math, I didn’t have to understand the math myself. It turns out in knitting, as with music, asking Beethoven to dumb it down for you will only get you so far.

Sorry, that was awful. Let me try again.

I almost always knit from patterns written by other people, because it means they’ve done the math for me. When I started this project (specifically, this iteration of the project), I had no idea how much math is involved in the creation of a garment. The fact that I’m making the lace in the shapes of the sewing pattern — shapes that would otherwise just be cut out of fabric, but now have to be freeformed by increasing and decreasing strategically — turns the math from geometry into calculus. The big problem with knitting math is that it’s impossible to make a fraction of a stitch. For example, let me show you my work from the first piece of the skirt:

Based on the blocked* swatch: 32 stitches x 32 stitches = 6″ x 6″

32/6 = 5.333 stitches per inch

5.333 rounds down to 5, because you can’t make 1/3 of an increase

5 /= 5.333, as evidenced here:

That’s the pattern for the piece of dress I was making, covered in plastic wrap (so that the paper didn’t get wet), covered in a clearly inadequate amount of lace.

*Quick brief on blocking for non-knitters: When you knit lace, it comes out all lumpy and scrunched and fucked up. To make it look like normal lace instead of a toddler’s cat’s cradle, you run it under the sink for a couple of seconds, squish it between a couple of towels to partially dry it, and then pin it to a surface — in this case, my guest bed — in the shape you want it to be. Once it dries, it should hold its shape. As you can see, no amount of enthusiastic pinning is going to unfuck this one.

So obviously my math was bad, but the problem is I don’t know how to fix it. To my embarrassment, I enlisted my fiancé to help me with my homework; at lunch, we (he) plotted out the math for the next piece I was going to attempt. That was before I had attempted to block the rhombotenuse, which means he was banking on my math for that one being correct. Which, as we’ve already covered, it decidedly ain’t.

The important thing is, as long as I’m working on the dress, I haven’t failed. Even if I have to make that first piece over again, which I undoubtedly will, unless I stop moving forward in some capacity I’m still succeeding. So tonight I’ll go home and make pouty faces at the fiancé until he agrees to let me cheat off of his math, and we’ll work on unfucking this thing together.

Odds that I’ll still be working on the dress in the car on the way to the ceremony in 14 months: 10-1.

Episode 24: My Mentality

When I first started the project: Knitting your own wedding dress is a lot like building your own computer. Not very many people can do it, but with the right expertise, it can be more rewarding than buying it pre-made.

After failing the first attempt: Knitting a wedding dress is like building a computer before the Internet. Nobody really knows what you’re doing, including you.

While assembling the sewing pattern I bought: Knitting a wedding dress is like building a functioning jet engine. Not an advisable DIY project.

That's a king-sized mattress.

After assembling the sewing pattern: Knitting a wedding dress is like knitting a functional jet engine. Fucking impossible.

Episode 23: A Breakthrough, And the Nazis Love Me!

First of all, guys, we have to talk about something. A while ago I mentioned briefly that one of my (many) side projects is an afghan using Barbara Walker’s mosaic knitting technique, and that her book of mosaic knitting patterns is about 50% normal, pretty designs like stars and circles and stuff and 50% swastikas. I thought it was pretty random and funny enough to mention offhandedly, and I didn’t think much of it until I saw that four people yesterday alone found my blog by searching for swastika knitting patterns.

In fact, these are the top five search terms that bring people here:

What the hell, people?! Why has my blog become a haven for Nazi knitters? Why is this happening to me? I just wanted to knit a wedding dress…

On that front, commenter Sarah suggested that I try using a pattern to fill in some of those enormous question mark-shaped holes in my dress-making plan. I don’t know why the hell this never occurred to me before, but it took about 5 minutes of Googling to find this gorgeous, perfect pattern:

I’m so excited about this, I spent the entire day biting my nails, giggling quietly, and waiting for the minute I would get to go home and start knitting.

However.

I don’t sew. I wish I did; friends and family keep encouraging me to. I picked up knitting/crocheting as a way to keep my hands busy while watching TV, which meant it was a pretty social (well, for me) thing to do. Sewing, at least machine sewing, requires time in isolation with a loud machine, so I never picked it up. That means I’ve never learned to read a sewing pattern. And holy shit, you guys, they are INSANE.

This one is 82 pages long. EIGHTY TWO PAGES of strange, foreign symbols and lines. I bought it as a printable pattern, which was apparently kind of dumb because when you buy them as a book the pattern comes as this huge transparent sheet that you’re supposed to put on top of your fabric before you cut it. By contrast, a knitting pattern for an article of clothing is usually 2-4 pages long and comes with a nice little line drawing to show you what the dimensions are supposed to be. I guess I was just expecting a line drawing, maybe with some arrows or something, and helpful brackets explaining how long each piece should be. That, it turns out, is totally not what sewing patterns are.

This is not at all what my sewing pattern looks like.

So stay tuned for next time, when I hijack a room of my house and tape 82 pages together on the floor, then attempt to decipher it! Exciting! Fun! Not at all intimidating!