Episode 18: Making It Work

I saw an episode of Project Runway once. Actually, that’s a gigantic lie. I saw about 400 episodes of Project Runway once, all in a magnificent trance-inducing marathon, because that’s how Bravo’s programming works. Has anyone ever just watched one episode of one of those shows? No, never.

Anyway, aside from Tim Gunn inspiring in me the kind of shrieking anxiety that happens anytime I’m confronted with someone who purports to know things about style*, what I gleaned from the TV is that clothing construction is really, really hard and also pretty easy for qualified people to screw up. Instead of taking that lesson to heart, I chose to focus on the other thing I learned: You have to draw stuff first. I almost always liked the conceptual sketches more than the finished garments; the lines were so romantic and soft that it was easy to ignore that the underwear was on over the pants.

Now that I’m playing Amateur Fashion Designer, I decided to try my hand at this noble exercise. What I’m trying to do with the construction is to start with the piece that will constitute the train / back of the skirt from the butt down. From long, squinty analysis of the small picture of the back of that Coral’s Bridal dress I’m using as a template, I discerned that it seemed to have been made by sewing a panel into the skirt. As you can clearly see, I have no fucking clue what I’m doing.

Yeesh. Help me, Tim Gunn!

*The jeweler who made my engagement ring had this long-winded pitch about diagonal lines. He explained why my ring should be diagonal instead of straight across in terms of slimming my fat sausage fingers. “I promise you don’t have anything in your closet with horizontal stripes,” he assumed offhandedly. I summoned courage and interrupted to declare that actually yes, I did own a horizontally striped shirt, and it was one of my favorites (because it’s super comfy and I bought it for about $3 from Old Navy). Without missing a beat, he looked me in the eyes and told me to burn it. The point is: Am I really qualified to be designing clothing, even for myself? Although maybe the point is also that people can be pretty rude sometimes and you still give them lots of money to make you shiny things.

Episode 17: The Winner and a Not-Crisis

First of all, the winner of the Great Lace Vote-Off (by a landslide with a whopping 7 votes) was my favorite design:

Someday I’ll take a picture that doesn’t look like it’s been beaten up by a sepia filter.

Today I plan to start construction on Dress 2: The Revenge of the Dress. But in the meantime, there’s something that’s been bothering me.

Am I doing this wrong?

By “this,” I mean being engaged. Planning a wedding. Coordinating the biggest, most expensive party I’ll ever throw.

I think I must be doing something wrong because everything seems to be going very smoothly. Aside from picking out colors — something I never wanted to do in the first place and still can’t muster the strength to care about — I haven’t had a single wedding-related panic. Even realizing that the dress I’d spent months on wasn’t right didn’t result in me going full fetal position behind the couch. Nick and I have had some difficulty with the big, important things like God and our ceremony, but that was more about life than the wedding. As someone with pretty severe and unfortunately untreated anxiety issues attempting to do a thing that an entire industry has openly advertised as being the most stressful thing EVER, this lack of trouble is kind of alarming.

Now I’m sort of panicking about how unpanicked I am. Isn’t that required? Doesn’t it come with the ring?

Maybe it’s not the panic, or lack thereof, that I’m worried about, but the enthusiasm. As I mentioned above, I can’t get excited about colors. They’re colors. I kind of like them all, although I’m not too crazy about pink. Will anyone remember my wedding colors? Well, maybe certain family members, but they’ll probably just remember how the colors tasted.

I got pretty excited when I finally summoned the courage to ask a waiter at our favorite restaurant if they cater weddings. It turned out the guy sitting next to us at the bar was one of the owners, and we had a nice chat with him and the head chef about Friday weddings and the Penn State scandal. On the way out the door I ran into the person in charge of determining my job status, which is currently a big bureaucratic mess. Nick walked out wearing half a bottle of Tabasco. It was all sort of surreal.

A few days earlier, we took my future mother-in-law to check out the University of Illinois Arboretum, a potential ceremony venue. It being November and all, the plants were either brown and withered or stubs of decapitated stalks. We walked around the barren landscape and tried to imagine it in June. Would the archway be set up under those leafless, dying trees? We left with the feeling of, “Well, that was probably OK.”

Maybe it’s that the wedding is still so far away. Maybe it’s that we’ve been living like married people for so many years. Maybe it’s that I have no clear picture of what our wedding might look like, or sound like, or feel like. Maybe if I tried on a bunch of poofy dresses I’d feel like a bride. Maybe if I tried on a yellow jumpsuit and carried a katana I’d feel like The Bride.

This is all a bit inane, isn’t it? It’s patently ridiculous that the societal expectation of Brideliness is a completely deranged person bloody with paper cuts from origami swans, bits of tulle sticking out of her hair, abusing everyone around her. It’s even more ridiculous that when my experience of sanity and clarity isn’t living up to that expectation, I feel like I’m the one who’s wrong.

Pictured: What's actually wrong.

This is a really obvious point that many other wise people have discussed before me. But for what it’s worth, I’m going to stop trying to find panic where panic doesn’t exist. I’m going to feel lucky that things seem to be going so smoothly. I’ll go back to the Arboretum in the spring and know that even if it isn’t perfect, it will probably be all right.

Intermission: Night Terror

While voting is still going on, I thought I’d entertain you with a somewhat belatedly seasonally-appropriate vignette.

I have an overactive imagination. I’m sure sometimes this can work in my favor, like when I finally get struck by lightning, have a complete personality change, and stop wussing out about being a writer. But mostly what it does is make me afraid of stupid things.

Last night, I woke up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and used the last of the toilet paper. Being somewhat groggy but awake enough to understand that the law of the universe would absolutely require me to be the next one to use the bathroom unless I fetched more toilet paper from downstairs, I decided to go grab more before going back to bed. This seemed like a perfectly normal, even responsible and grown-up action until I found myself descending a staircase at 2:30 in the morning and realized that I had no idea what could be on the other side of the door at the bottom of the stairs.

“It’s dark down there! And empty! You haven’t been downstairs in hours; for all you know, your house could be full of serial killers!” my scary brain said. “Maybe they use your dining room to play poker while you sleep!”

Oh crap, I thought, I’m going to interrupt the serial killers’ poker game to get toilet paper.

I pushed past the fear and opened the door, darting out into the hallway to turn on a light. Aha! It’s empty — victory!

“That just means they’re ghosts! You’re gonna get Paranormal Activitied by serial killer ghosts! GET BACK UPSTAIRS NOW BEFORE THEY EAT YOUR FACE!”

I’m not ashamed to say that I, a grown-ass woman with a management job, two dogs, and a fiancé, hauled ass back to the safety of the second floor clutching a 12-pack of Charmin.

Safely snuggled back in bed, I lay awake listening to the wind and the sounds of the house. Just as I was about to drift off into sleep, I thought I heard a soft, polite knock on the bedroom door.

The serial killer ghosts!

“Hi, so sorry to wake you. It’s just that we’ve run out of gin and we’re starting to get a bit bored of poker — Gacy always cheats — so we were wondering if we couldn’t just pop up here for a little MURDER MAYHEM TIME! BAHAHA!”

And that’s what happens when you encourage your children to use their imagination.

Episode 16: Democracy at Work

As promised, I put my hours of research to work and produced 10 lace samples in an attempt to find the perfect one for The Dress, Take Two. None of the lace patterns I found are even remotely close to the style used in the dress I’m now using as a prototype, so my pretty loose qualifications for entry were 1) pretty and 2) sort of floral-like-ish. Also note that the quality of the photographs is…well, let’s just say I’m still saving up for a camera that doesn’t come with a phone attached, and also that I was far too lazy to weave in all those ends. All knitters will tell you, usually with a little spittle forming in the corners of their mouths, that weaving in ends is THE WORST.

And here are the contestants:

A

B

C

D

E

F

G

H

I

J

You know, looking at them all laid out like that, I really apologize for my awful photography. My lace swatches look like they’ve spent the last week on the floor of a Motel 6 in North St. Louis.

Let’s make the best of this, shall we?

I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that the dogs’ votes have already been counted:

Kaylee picked a write-in candidate.

Episode 15: Thank God for Ravelry

That’s pretty much all I had to say, right there in the title, but I want to say it again: Thank god for Ravelry!

After I committed to starting over on the dress, I realized I needed a new lace pattern. Clean break and all, you know the drill. The first time around I was looking for dress patterns that happened to be made with lace; this time I’m going to start with the lace and figure out the dress part myself. (I know, it sounds even scarier this way).

This time, I started out with this stunner from Coral’s Bridal as inspiration:

It probably looks a lot like the other lace dresses I’ve posted here. The major difference for me is the train; I guess I decided that I want one, and I want it to look specifically like this one, and from a rear-view picture on the site (click on the picture) I think I can see how the mechanics work.

Great! Now I just needed to find a lace pattern. Since I’m really digging that floral pattern, I thought that would be where I would start. How hard can it possibly be to find a floral lace pattern? Right? RIGHT??

After some four hours of scouring the internet, all of my many knitting books, and my local library, I had given up on the possibility of finding anything even close to what I was looking for. I started making sample swatches of patterns that I could tell by the third row weren’t going to be it, but I marched ahead anyway. I was going to make ALL the swatches, and then when I blocked them and laid them out before me one would reach up and cry “Antoinette! It’s me! A 4″x2″ piece of your wedding dress! LOVE ME!”

It wasn’t going well, to say the least. I think I may have been cracking up.

Still, I chose temerity, and this morning I began my search anew. I had thought of something in the night: Ravelry, the internet’s version of a church basement on a Tuesday night, only much cooler! It’s where I found the pattern for these guys, and probably a lot of other stuff too. And oh, what a triumph that discovery was. Now I have 12 floral lace patterns bookmarked to try when I get home and surely at least one will fit my requirements (except maybe for the anthropomorphic desperation to be loved, but that’s probably for the best).

So here’s the new plan: I’ll make a metric ton of swatches. I’ll block them all and take really blurry cell phone pictures of them, and I’ll post them up here for a vote. Which I will take into consideration, but possibly ignore, when making my final decision.

Ready? Break!

PS: Olive decided that our new couch cover is actually an Olive blanket.

Episode 14: Breaking Up With My Dress

I think it’s time to start over.

I’ve been struggling with this thing I created for months now. It’s spent the last month or so stuffed into a County Market grocery bag, hidden on a chair or tucked into a corner of my craft bin, waiting for me to have an epiphany. And I think I just did.

The problem, I think, is that I’ve been approaching my handmade wedding dress as if it’s a relationship. In the beginning it was so exciting it made my heart flutter; I couldn’t wait to rush home and spend time watching TV with it; I bragged to friends and family about how awesome it was. I took it on vacation. Then when the project grew stale I went into denial. I’m not bored, I convinced myself, this is just what it’s like when you’re in it for the long haul. I tried to pretend that I just needed to hit a milestone, finish the skirt, start something new, and the spice would come back.

Then things seriously derailed when I tried on the skirt and found that it didn’t fit in all senses of the word. It didn’t fit my body and it didn’t fit my style or needs; it didn’t look like a wedding dress so much as a lacy sausage casing. I tried to rationalize that it was possible to save the thing by hiring a really talented seamstress to install some kind of magic liner; I assumed that, like a relationship, it was more important to work on salvaging what was there than to scrap it, throw on my sexiest pair of knitting gloves, and hit the internet in search of a new dance partner. (Okay, that’s enough with the metaphor.)

In truth, the dress as it stands is not right. Unlike my relationship (sorry, I lied about the metaphor being over), it’s not something I’m proud of and I don’t think it can or should be saved. I still have some insane quantity of yarn left, like four gallons or eighteen miles, and I still have my needles and the drive to do this right. I can learn from my mistakes and make something that won’t look completely tragic.

Maybe I’ll use the first-draft skirt as a reception dress, or just a fancy white party dress. I think it could work if I hiked the waist up to my armpits, stapled in some elastic, and called it tea-length. Like relationships (DIE DIE DIE), it’s pretty rare to get it right on the first try.

Here’s to better things ahead,

The Carpal Tunnel Bride