Weekend garment sewing with Rae and April

I've wanted to learn to make dresses for awhile. This Washi dress in particular. This weekend was the weekend.

I grew up with women who quilted and made dolls, but not garments. This probably saved me from having to wear a lot of embarrassing ensembles, but still, I've always been interested in garment sewing. My first sewing project was a purse that I made out of shiny bubble-gum pink spandex in 4th grade. I used it for trick-or-treating and it sagged all the way to the ground by the end of the night. In 7th grade home ec, I decided to sew a purple jersey knit dress (not an easy fabric to start with), while the other kids made pillows. I was pretty proud of myself for taking on an ambitious project, seeing that I come from a long line of women who sew beautifully, but I hit my final growth spurt mid-semester and outgrew the dress before I finished it! It remained almost done, too tight and short to wear, and taunted me for quite awhile.

Since then, I've planned a lot of sewing projects but haven't followed through with most of them. Collecting patterns and fabric was actually my hobby. Then, a couple years ago someone in my knitting group said she wanted to learn to sew a dress that could become her uniform for work. That idea really appealed to me, and when I saw the Washi dress, I thought it might be the dress. The designer lived locally so I kept my eye out for a class with her.

This past fall I took a work trip to Seattle. While looking for a place to eat dinner after a long flight, I stumbled on a very lovely fabric shop called Drygoods Design in Ballard. I'm not exaggerating even a little when I say that ending up in Ballard accidentally was like stumbling straight into Pacific Northwest fantasy-land, where everyone drove Suburus and bearded guys in flannel and chooks sold organic beet juice at a farmer's market on a street filled with coffee shops. I even went into a dessert shop devoted to molten chocolate cakes and $8 jelly jars filled with handcrafted sea salt dark chocolate pudding. I was a little more than charmed by the whole scene and lost my better sense, walking away from Drygoods with the Washi paper pattern and enough expensive fabric for two dresses and a shirt!

This time, I was on the hook to actually follow-through. So, I signed up right away when the weekend garment sewing workshop, hosted by Rae Hoekstra of Made by Rae and April Rhodes, was announced on Rae's blog. Both women design easy-to-sew patterns with a modern sensibility. Rae designed the Washi Dress, and it's been a bit of a sensation among young seamstresses. April is from Columbus, Ohio, and is quite accomplished - owning a local fabric shop with her mom and designing very stylish patterns that she sells online. 

For the whole weekend, twelve of us - some who came from as far as away as Montreal and Chicago - got to hang out in Rae's studio in Ann Arbor, getting tips from both designers on how to custom fit patterns to your body and learn other little tricks of the trade. We also got to try on their dress and blouse samples hanging on the rack. So.much.fun. It felt like a very low stakes version of Project Runway. Except the phrase "that's so adorable" was used a lot instead of "make it work." You get the idea.

My sewing is a little rusty and I'm not the best at following directions, so my progress was a little slower than some of the other women. Most were away from kids for the weekend and laser-focused on maximum sewing time. Some stayed until 11pm Saturday night. I was in a slower paced mood and stopped for all the demos and asked a lot of questions so I could learn how to trace a pattern onto Swedish tracing paper, make a muslin, adjust the fit (particularly in the bust, which involves finding your apex!), and get some tips on garment finishing techniques like shirring, hemming, pleating, and making bias tape. I also got a tutorial on using my serger, which has been sitting in my basement since I snagged it last year from a neighbor who moved to San Francisco. 

It was also fun to be a bit of a tourist in the college town next door to where I grew up. Rae's studio was next to the pizza place my parents took me to as a baby. Saturday the weather took a turn for the even-worse, and I had to call up a good friend from high school and bum a sleepover on her couch. On Sunday I wanted to finish my dress, but I decided instead to go along on a little field trip to Pink Castle Fabrics and my favorite place to eat in town these days - Frita Batidos.

I love knitting, I love painting, I love papercrafting, but I think for a little bit here, sewing is going to be my main craft.

I'll be done with my first Washi dress within a week. Hold me to it, friends. Because like always, I have a more than a few other projects in mind.


Sarah "Eff" said...

Can't wait to see the dress in a week! :) And sleepovers are always the best...consider it an open invite! :)

Stephanie said...

Love it!!!! :) and I assume you were by Cottage Inn? Yum!