It was Friday at 3pm. The office was emptying since it was a summer Friday. The apocalyptic thunder and lightning has ceased, the sun was out and save for a few stray puddles and drippy awnings, you couldn’t even tell it had rained. Fumes were flowing out of one of the conference rooms, since the tech guys though it was a good idea to paint a white board on one of the walls and then use a fan to blow the air out into the main room, even though the directions clearly called for respirator use while applying. It was time for me to get out of there and start my weekend.

And I had nothing to do.

I had zero plans. No brunch, dinner, drinks, parties, outings, walks, bike rides, visitors, dates or anything. It was almost like I was back in middle school, when the summer meant lying around and trying to find a way to occupy yourself. Remember that?

Anyway, I decided it was do-everything-I’ve-been-meaning-to-do-and-have-been-complaining-about-not-doing weekend.

First up: Sewing!

Look, sewing is not for everyone. People who shouldn’t sew include:

  • Busy executives who have lots of money to throw at tailors and expensive home boutiques
  • Tall, thin girls who look good in anything they wear, right off the racks
  • Somebody who thinks used clothing is for schmucks and likes to pay a lot for well-made items

I am neither. I am also:

  • Very short. 5’2″ girls either need to shop in the petite section (Like Anne Taylor and Talbots. Ick.) or get things shortened
  • Very into thrifting. You come across stuff that isn’t quite right. But with a little tweak here and there …
  • Creative. That old beaded dress would look smashing as a throw pillow!

I finally decided I needed a sewing machine the day I took a new maxi skirt by eco L.A. brand Lavuk to the tailors and they told me it would cost $35. I’m sorry, $35? It’s a hem. It’s stupidly easy to do. I snatched it back and when I got to work immediately looked up “sewing machine” on Craigslist.

I few days later I was the proud owner of a Singer sewing machine. I had negotiated the former owner–a busy news reporter who lives in the West Village and obviously has money to throw at tailors–down to $100, which is pretty sweet.

Then I called up my grandmother and sweet talked her into sending me sewing supplies. My grandmother was an excellent seamstress back in the day. She made my sister and I the fluffiest, cutest bridesmaid dresses ever, along with other gorgeous gowns and Halloween costumes. But her eyesight isn’t what it used to be, so she said she would send me some things.

IMG_3928Boy, did she. Her haul arrived complete with a rainbow of threads–a lot of them vintage–two pinking shears, scissors, pins, measuring tape, an Asian pin cushion, and even some thimbles! Aw, thanks Nana!

I’m lucky that my mom took the time to teach me to sew when I was young. I even had a mini business of making recorder bags for my friends when I was in grade school, and worked at a monogram shop in high school. But I still benefited from a touch-up class at Third Ward last year.

My first project was hemming the maxi skirt. And it was a hot mess. It looked like I had done it drunkenly, while trying out every setting on the sewing machine. It zigzagged and then didn’t and the thread kept breaking. Plus I had made the hem way too wide, which meant the skirt was awkwardly short. Then I realized the woman who sold me the machine sold it to me with a roll stitch foot, which is like for silk scarves or something. So I had my mom send me a regular foot. Much better.

I tried again. This time, I pulled a vintage dress I got at Goodwill out of the closet. I’ve only worn it at really hipster-y events, and it’s not bad. A guy told me I looked sexy dancing in it then asked for my number. (We have our third date next week!) That’s a big compliment to the dress. But I really thought it could use a mullet hem. (Party in the front …)

Be aware that you can’t sew everything. Some things a plain old sewing machine can’t handle: Anything stretchy, netting, heavy denims like designer jeans or anything too delicate. But the great thing about this project is that it’s a cotton dress. All I had to do was cut the mullet hem and re-sew it. No patterns or fancy stuff required.

If you’ve never sewed, this is not a tutorial. Go take a class. But basically, sewing something goes like this:

1. Cut

2. Fold and iron the hem

3. Choose a matching thread and thread the machine

4. Sew it

5. Cuss at the machine until you realize you had the tension on too high

6. Fix the tension, finish sewing it

7. Feel really awesome that you actually sewed something!

I actually did end up doing something on Friday night. I grabbed dinner with a friend, and so I wore my new creation out. “Wow, that dress is so bright!” she said. It’s one of those compliments you’re not sure is a compliment. But I’m pretty happy with it. I even ripped out the seam on the maxi skirt and did it again, and now my maxi skirt is the right length and looks almost professional. I know, I know, I’m a freakin’ genius.

mullet hem

Maybe I’ll try canning next …