Wednesday, 12 May 2010

From name tag to label

Ah the days of name tags, sewn into every garment you owned – even socks if I remember correctly. In blue, red, black, always on white tape: each tag turning the most mundane pair of pants into your very own personal fashion label. The purpose back then was to stop loss/theft (you laugh, but someone stole my wet swimming costume once). As we outgrew the need for branding, Mum was given her own set of grown-up name tags by a friend, to sew into her own homemade fashion house clothing. Twenty years down the line, I proudly sewed one of these into the green dress.
It felt like a historical moment. And, with any luck, should keep the wet cossie thief at bay.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010


Cushions, bags, aprons; these were all a distraction, a play for time, an avoidance tactic from the big scary, hairy thing waiting under the bridge… the making of a proper dress. Something I might actually wear in public. To work. On the tube. To meet ageing celebrity games show hosts.
Brown dress, your time has come…
I dug out the pattern, still marked in pen with my 20-year-old outline, pin-holes in the butterfly-wing paper where the brown cord had been speared so many moons ago. For this latest outing, I’d chosen green cord. Impossible to recreate the same, perfect dress; resurrection would come in a different colour.
Needing moral support, the Machine and I went to Mum’s house for the weekend and installed ourselves, in a bizarre face-off, on the table opposite her new Quiltmaster Nimbus 2000 (a million functions and it can also fly!).
Barely believing it was possible to construct something socially acceptable from the lifeless expanse of fabric in front of me, I re-pinned through the pin-holes then cut, crunch, crunch, sharp scissors eating the green cord.
‘Pin that bit. Tack this bit.’
The arcane instructions came thick and fast. Not a complicated pattern, but each jab of the needle making the difference between wearable and unbearable - with some parts more crucial than others. Inside hems, not worried about. Sewing the lining onto what would be the neck-line, and therefore requiring more than an element of symmetry had me holding my breath. As did sewing the longest zip in the world down the back.
With Heart FM playing in the background and frequent Diet Coke breaks, a whole day disappeared into a vortex of pinning, tacking, tailor-tacking then unpinning, untacking, willing the unwilling. Some sewing. Some unpicking. An overnight pause and back with a vengeance in the morning.
Having assembled the bulk of the dress, it was the finishing touches which took the time. Squaring up the shoulders, making sure they were the same width. I’d always thought there was some magic formula to dress-making. You got everything into its correct position and beeeep, that was it. The reality, I think, is it’s about trial and errror and retrial and even then the finished garment will never be mathematically precise and perfectly symmetrical. Which must be part of the charm - they say people with wonky faces have the most character. Perhaps not quite as wonky as Picasso would have, but an element of individuality must be good.
So here it is. The green dress. Not as perfect as the brown dress, and with no memories attached to it yet. Except of course the whirr of sewing machines, the buzz of music and chatting, the chink of wine glasses, the satisfaction of a weekend well-spent. Which isn’t such a bad start to life really.