Category Archives: Sewing

C is for Cancer.

Last Tuesday was World Cancer Day.  On that day, five hundred Canadians were diagnosed with cancer. That’s the daily average for Canada. Cancer always seemed like some distant  far away place, or like the cliché goes, cancer was something that happened to other people. And that’s  true, until the day that it’s not.  For my mom, that day came last summer.  After a swim in my parent’s  backyard pool, my little pipsqueek and I took a nice hot shower to warm up.   “Did you notice the new shower head?” my mother asked.

“Umm, no.”

“Well you know how strong the water pressure was with the old one? The new one is adjustable.”

“I like the strong water pressure.”

“Oh, me too,” my mom assured me. “It’s just that the water pressure was so strong that it pushed my nipple inwards.”

“Um, no mom. That’s a symptom of breast cancer.”

She went to the doctor’s the very  next day and the doctor seemed pretty sure it was cancer. I was upset. I went for a bike ride up the mountain and cried all the way up and all the way down. Later I was annoyed with the doctor. You can’t tell someone you’re pretty sure they have cancer, with just a visual exam, can you? An inverted nipple can be a symptom of other things too, not just cancer. Some people are born with inverted nipples….The doctor was right though. Breast cancer it was. My mother was embarrassed. She felt stupid. “How could I not know it was a symptom?” she lamented.  A lot of people don’t know that it’s a symptom. The only reason I knew it was a symptom, was because I was trying to help someone who had been diagnosed a few months earlier. I was searching the web for ideas on how to be helpful, and I came across a page of symptoms. I don’t really know why I stopped and read it. I thought I knew the symptoms. Turns out I didn’t.

My kids are very close to my parents. I was worried about how this journey would affect them. My mom had a mastectomy in late August.  My daughter dealt with that very well. To her it was something interesting and not something disturbing. What she was having trouble with, was the fact that my mother was going to lose her hair. That made her cry.  A lot. To help her through the process I suggested she make a hat for her “mamie” as a school project. You can click on the link to see what she did in french (Un chapeau)or read the english version below.

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Mamie and her granddaughter Anaïs: A story about cancer
Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Anaïs. She had a beautiful "mamie."
Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Anaïs. She had a beautiful “mamie.”
One day, Anaïs's mom told her that her "mamie" had breast cancer.
One day, Anaïs’s mom told her that her “mamie” had breast cancer.
The little girl Anaïs was very scared.
The little girl Anaïs was very scared.
She didn't want her "mamie" to lose hair. She was also sad because she wouldn't be able to play hairdresser with her anymore.
She didn’t want her “mamie” to lose her hair. She was also sad because she wouldn’t be able to play hairdresser with her anymore.
The little girl Anaïs had many good ideas. She wanted to draw on her "mamie's" head, but "mamie" said no because her skin was too sensitive. Anaïs was very disappointed.
The little girl Anaïs had many good ideas. She wanted to draw on her “mamie’s” head, but “mamie” said no because her skin was too sensitive. Anaïs was very disappointed.
I love my "mamie," so I made her this beanie.
I love my “mamie,” so I made her this beanie.

Sewing notes

To make the beanie, Anaïs used McCall’s pattern 4116 (model E). Personally I don’t like the braid on the original model and was thinking of ways to spruce up the hat. I finally decided to add pintucks a little off-center, to give some texture to the hat and also to make it smaller, as it was too big for my mom. I wanted to make a top to coordinate with the hat and chose McCall’s 6752.  I chose that particular pattern for different reasons:

  • I already owned it!
  • I liked the draping in front. The volume it creates at the bust can camouflage the mastectomy if you’re not wearing undergarments.
  • I wanted short roomy sleeves so that her PICC line for chemotherapy would be easily accessible.

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The Red Wedding

Were you expecting a gory Game of Thrones post? Will you keep reading if I tell you that  blood, sweat, and tears were all involved in the making of this dress? I’ll start with the blood. Don’t be squemish; any sewing project typically involves a pinprick or two, hence the tiny trickles of blood. As I’m typing this though, I’m thinking that maybe other people do not actually prick themselves with every single project.  Maybe it is not as typical as I think and I’m just a little clumsy, or careless. I will have to ponder the issue.

Sweating – there was a lot of sweating – and hand-wringing, and an all-consuming generalized anxiety. As if that were not bad enough, the anxiety was shortly followed by a new crop of grey hair just waiting to be tweezed. Yes, I pull them out; one by one, even if I do appear to be losing the battle. Do not judge me!

You do realize there is a lesson to be learned here, right? Do not drink a few beers in the middle of the afternoon and then offer to make someone a wedding dress. This is especially true if you have never even made an evening gown before, which brings me to the tears. I haven’t mentioned the tears yet.

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I cried. Once. It was on Friday, October 11, 2013 at noon. One day before the wedding. The bride came in for the final fitting and as I did up the last button on the back of the dress,      – you know  what? – I just can’t go there right now.  It has been three months since the wedding and I still get choked up just thinking about it.

Red Wedding: the technical files

This part of the post is for people who enjoy sewing; others may have a hard time stifling their yawns. You have been warned.

When I embarked on this crazy adventure there was one thing I was sure of. I did not want to design the dress or have to draft the pattern, if at all possible. Those are normally things I enjoy doing, but knew that it would be near impossible to accomplish with the kids at home all summer.  After discussing what type of silhouette would be most flattering, visiting numerous fabric stores and starting a Pinterest board, we decided that a “1930’s Hollywood Glamour” gown was the way to go. After scouring the internet, I came across this lovely online store called Decades of Style, that sells vintage patterns.

#3301 1933 Evening Gown

The fit of the pattern was beautiful and the instructions were clear, although I would have liked more information on how to sew the hem with horsehair braid. The braid is a one inch wide tape made of nylon (formerly horsehair) ,which makes the hem stiff and helps you not trip all over yourself, as you sashay across the room. The issue I encountered with the braid, was the needle hitting a strand of nylon and then pulling the braid out of shape. The first time it happened, I took a seam ripper to it and started over. The second time it happened, I held my breath, and hoped for the best. I put my head down and kept sewing. I don’t know if anyone else has encountered that issue, or knows how to avoid it, but any comments or insight would be appreciated. I had no choice but to keep on sewing for time had run out.

Why did I run out of time, you ask? It’s a funny little story really. The lovely bride (ahem, cough, cough), who is now my darling sister-in-law, could not decide on a pair of shoes to wear; and unfortunately, one cannot hem a floor length dress without knowing how high the heels will be. With only a few days left before D-Day, she finally settled on a few pairs of shoes. Thank goodness they were all more or less the same height.  I was then able to pin the hem and that is when she realized, after-standing there without moving for 20 minutes, that hemming is a time-consuming process and that time was of the essence! I am pretty sure, that the hem was responsible for most of the new grays sprouting on my head. I am still not done with the hem though. In fact, I’m devoting a whole other paragraph to the topic.

My original plan was to hand sew the 3 meters of hem with a catchstitch and use the horsehair braid in the lining, but after testing on a swatch of fabric, I knew it would be impossible. The stitches marred the fabric and caused runs, essentially ruining the dress. I tried different needles, different stitches and different threads, but all for naught. After a bit of research, I finally I used this technique. (Thank you Kristy Armstrong from Sew Kansas!) I sewed the braid to the lining, folded the hem up, and then slipstitched, the machine-hemmed lining, to the dress. This technique is not without its own dangers. When a dress is cut on the bias and you sew it to the lining, it can cause sagging on the fabric side. I know this, because I spent Friday morning ripping apart, and then resewing a huge section of the hem. Ahh, fun times. Remember the tears? I’m ready to talk about them now. It’s not what you think. As I buttoned up that dress and realized it fit, I burst into tears. They were tears of joy and happiness and utter relief. Finally, that dress was walking out the door!

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On a parting note, I’d like to give a little shout-out to Arnold from Mitchell Fabrics in Winnipeg.  Arnold was sent a picture of the pattern and was told that the bride wanted something in red, with a nice drape. He immediately mailed  a swatch of cranberry coloured, satin-backed  crepe, promising it would drape like a dream. He was absolutely right! Having never sewn with bridal fabric, Claire Shaeffer’s Fabric Sewing Guide, was an invaluable resource. Now, for those of you who still aren’t convinced that red is a wedding gown colour, check out  Vera Wang’s Spring 2013 Collection.