The Dress

While the fall semester of 2020 was widely and rightly hailed as crushing for both teachers and students, it also presented glories. For me, one glory was a 17-year-old student named Miranda who enrolled in my Writing for Social Media class. Every week, I grinned at my screen as I read her work; the character and zing she brought to her writing created an energy, a voice, that leapt out and jumped across the great divide.

Even more impressive is that Miranda, gulp, plans to pursue math. Although I haven’t told her yet, my fervent hope is that she writes a math-infused memoir one day. Perhaps she can label each chapter with a number!

During the last weeks of the semester, students in the Social Media class were asked to propose, complete, and report on a project of their own design — something involving writing, even if only in the proposal and reporting, and something that could be shared online, in some fashion.

True to form, Miranda came up with an original idea that charmed the class. This post is her final report to the class. Please know that the video she submitted in the class was almost 40 minutes long, but that exceeds what this website will support, so I trimmed her original video to a postable length so as to give you a taste of her work.

Miranda turns 18 today. Let’s celebrate her and the example she provides; it’s been a craptastic year, but she demonstrates the creativity, steam, and resiliency that make us Olds nod, hope in our hearts, “The kids are all right.”

Happy birthday, M. You are a wonder.

And now: Miranda’s project.

If you’re a female in this world, doesn’t matter if you’re a 0 or 18, clothing sucks. We grow up finding that a medium in one dress does not equal a medium in another. They could be by the same exact designer and still the sizes of XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL, etc. do not match the sizing of the other.  

My family and I have a “fun” way of trying on clothes as my mom, older sister, and me can all fit in a medium or large. We’re ideally what those sizes are meant to be, yet all three of us are proportioned differently. So, when one of us buys something in our size, if it doesn’t fit the buyer, it will most likely will fit one of us instead.  

As I’ve always been the fashion person in my family, I really enjoy little boutiques. However, if you’ve shopped at a boutique before, you should know the sizing is incredibly limited. It’s never been a huge issue to me as I’m quite used to it. Generally, I’m able to find something as my chest is not very large. but the one time I visited a specific boutique I’ve wanted to go to for years in San Francisco with my dad, I found out that I couldn’t fit in any of their clothing. When I realized that I told my dad defeatedly that we should leave and do whatever he wanted to do on our trip in San Francisco. This was a boutique that I had gushed about for 8 months and my dad was incredibly confused as to why I wasn’t getting anything.   

I had to explain to him that nothing would fit me. He looked aghast and held up some dresses and went, “You’d fit in these.” It was nice to see my dad so worked up after that statement, but I had to explain just why I wouldn’t fit in them. He still didn’t believe me and said, “If these don’t fit you for some reason, they must have extra sizes in the back.” So, there we were. A 16-year-old girl telling her 50-year-old father that she was too large to fit into dresses that were around a size 4 and that there is no backroom with more dresses.  

I finally got him to let us leave as I couldn’t stand the distasteful looks I was receiving from the employees. Unlike my dad, they knew the moment I walked in I wouldn’t be able to fit in any of their clothes and didn’t even think of me as a potential buyer. 

Sucks on them as I was given a $200 spending limit and I ended up not spending a single dollar. 

For reference, this is what I looked like that day: 

(Here’s also a full body picture of me for context) 

After that trip, I decided I was going to put more effort into sewing. I was going to be good at dressmaking whether the world liked it or not. However, the world likes to repeatedly remind me that I’m not a great sewer (my fingers don’t even bleed anymore from how many times they’ve been pricked/stabbed by pins), but I’m determined.  

After about a year of seriously sewing and taking a class in NY during a trip, I can confidently add making successful circle skirts to my repertoire. Making dresses…not so much. 

(We went to Sephora before this. There aren’t any bruises on my wrist – just me messing around with makeup) 

The first step of making this dress was to gather all of my pattern pieces I cut earlier this year. You’ll see in the video that I wasn’t even able to do this right the first time. When I looked around for them, I was unable to find the correct bodice pattern which I needed to reference the darts (triangle wedges in the fabric that are sewn to allow the fabric to fit the body) on my bodice piece. 

After quite some time, I was able to find them. Doesn’t seem long in the video, but it took me around an hour to figure out what went where and if the pattern pieces were for another pattern completely. I ended up trying to use a different bodice pattern that I thought might work. Spoiler alert: A peplum shirt pattern is not the same as a dress bodice pattern and will definitely not work whatsoever no matter how hard you try to make it work. Cue another 30 minutes of rummaging around my pattern box opening patterns trying to find the correct pattern piece. I’m honestly surprised none of the patterns were ripped in my frustrated rage. 

After taking a quick nap to calm my frustration, I made sure everything was pinned down correctly and sewed the darts in (Once again surprised that I was able to do this in relatively one try. Darts are my absolute nemesis and I hate doing them). Looking back on it, against all odds, sewing the darts into the bodice was one of the easiest things in this entire project. 

After I had my bodice all sewn together, I moved onto the sleeves. Due to a foolish mistake earlier on in the process, I didn’t have enough fabric to make the puffy sleeves I wanted (or rather any sleeves at all). I remembered pretty quickly that I had bought some dark blue tulle a couple months ago to restyle an old prom dress of ours.  

I excitedly tore through the room again looking for this fabric. By now there were two layers of junk on the ground; one from frustration, the other out of excitement. (I think I could probably use relative dating on my floor by the end of this) 

I found about 3 yards of stiff tulle crammed in a pink box. I wrapped it around myself and spread it on the ground (Let’s ignore the fact that before laying it out on the floor I was definitely not having an Elsa moment and frolicking in my room to Let It Go with a three-yard train of tulle behind me. Definitely didn’t happen. I don’t know what you’re talking about).  

Once everything was laid out on the floor, I slammed the sleeve patterns on top of it and cut it out. Normally you’d pin the fabric to the paper, but I quickly realized that the pins could go entirely through the tulle because it’s not as tightly woven as actual fabric is. Here’s some photos I found on the internet to show the difference between the two: 

In the tulle, you’re able to see the pink background through the fabric as it isn’t tightly woven, With the blue fabric however, you wouldn’t be able to tell what background color it is as the threads are much more tightly woven. 

When I finally had my sleeves of tulle cut out and sewed, I realized I didn’t buy the correct elastic for the wrist. The little pocket around the wrist is probably ½ inch thick and all my elastic is at least ¾ inch thick. (Heads up: it is ridiculously hard to find and buy elastic at the moment. Especially certain sizes. Craft stores still haven’t fully recovered yet from the sudden influx of people panic buying elastic to create masks.) 

My solution was to cut my ¾ inch elastic in half. Yeah. Didn’t turn out well. For some reason when you cut the elastic down the center, the elastic threads that make up the band start fraying and falling apart. Weird right? 

My second idea was to use ribbon. I had ¾ inch ribbon I could use to tie the wrists instead of using elastic to bring the fabric together.  

It was still too wide. 

So, I had another solution: “Why don’t I cut it down the middle and make a smaller ribbon??? That’d work!!!” 

No. No it didn’t. 

You called it; it was the exact same result as the elastic. As once again, fabric, elastic or not, is made by woven threads. If you cut the threads, they will unravel. It’s a concept that’s apparently hard for me to remember as these situations were literal minutes apart. 

After the sleeves were all sewed up, I decided I wanted to move onto the skirt. (I tried to attach the sleeves to the dress for a solid 5 minutes before I was over it.) Luckily, when I abandoned this project during the summer, I kept all the skirt pieces pinned to their respective pattern paper. I’ve never felt so relived as I did in that moment when I found everything pinned and folded away. Truly a miracle. 

For the skirt all I had to do was sew a couple panels together. I’m pretty decent at making skirts, so there were not many complications. Only thing that interrupted my process was trying to match the sides of the fabric. Both sides of the navy-blue fabric are so close in color that the only aspect that separates the two is that one side it just a little bit more shiny than the other. It was hell.  

After sewing the skirt together, I had all of my pieces sewed; not together, but more like a half-finished puzzle. I decided sleeves were going to be what I was doing first as I figured out the tulle is loads easier than the navy-blue fabric that was incredibly staticky and moved like water. 

When I went to attach the sleeves to the bodice, I realized that I’ve never sewn sleeves before, let alone attaching them. I slid out of my chair and lied on the floor trying to find the step in the instructions that told me how to do this. For context, there are about four different double-sided pages that are spread out in my room catching the wind and fluttering elsewhere. So, even if I remembered where I put the specific page, the wind found my open window and decided that it wanted to fuck with me. 

Took about 10 minutes to find the correct page. I thought I had found it earlier by looking at the pictures on it, but when I went to read how to attach a sleeve to a bodice, I found that the instructions were in French. I decided that a friend of mine who took French in HS, probably didn’t want me to call her while she was working to help me translate the French, so I continued looking. Next one I tried was in Spanish, then German, and then finally English. I felt like I had pages of instructions from IKEA with how many languages were printed on them. 

After some difficulty, I was finally able to attach the sleeves. It was certainly not any of my best sewing, but I was far more concerned with getting the sleeves onto the actual bodice than making it pretty. 

This continued with my attempts of attaching the skirt to the bodice. Took me around 45 minutes of trying to put one piece inside of the other to make a correct seam. If anyone were to enter my room at this point, they would have been met with me frantically stretching out the skirt, trying to hold it in place, and sliding the bodice inside it at the same time. You see, this didn’t quite work as I don’t have four hands.  

It was really surprising though when the extra two arms I wanted to show up didn’t. It was a real inconvenience if I do say so myself.  

Eventually, I was able to get everything lined up enough where I was able to sew them together. Found out some of my measurements were unquestionably off and the waistline on each were both completely different.  

That obviously didn’t stop me. I was the kid who forced puzzle pieces into wrong spots because I wanted them there. I wasn’t going to let two unequal pieces of fabric be my downfall. It was either they’d fit, or I’d make them fit. 

With sheer stubbornness, they fit. 

It was pretty clear sailing for the rest of it. I finally had everything sewed together and was ready to try on.  

When I tried it on, I noticed a few mistakes right off the bat. 

  1. It was way too big for me 
  1. The pattern was undeniably not meant for the stretchy fabric I chose 
  1. The tulle did not work with the other fabric 

I attempted to fit it better and come up with other ways to improve the dress, but by that time it was already one day away from the due date. I pronounced it was good enough and quickly started editing my videos. Here is a picture of the final piece: 

I’m going to be slowly adding to this over time as I think it could be better. I still have extra tulle and trims I can use, but for the time of this project, I’m proud I was able to get something that is undoubtedly considered a dress. 







One response to “The Dress”

  1. Melissa Avatar

    I adore Miranda AND this project! The way she explained the story of dress-shopping, then teaching herself and trouble-shooting through the construction of her own dress was inspiring. And her enthusiasm! Creativity! Curiosity! Confidence! Miranda’s going to rule her kingdom someday and we won’t be surprised because she is CONFIDENT and CLEVER. Her VOICE in her writing is so spunky and strong, funny and frank. (Okay, enough alliteration, I’m getting annoyed with myself.) She must have been an absolute joy to teach. Thanks for sharing her project here, it was fun to read and watch.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *