McCall’s 6102 or Why I Sew

I used to not care so much about birthdays. I didn’t hate them, but I didn’t look forward to them either. When it came to gifts, I never knew what to get people. Jewelry? Kitchen appliances? Are gift cards cool? Or are they a cop out? idk.

My attitude shifted when I stopped buying gifts and started making them. Now, I take joy in committing a day to making something for a friend.

Tonight, I’m heading to Brooklyn, where a group of us will celebrate the birthday of our dear friend, Meredith. I dug through my fabric stash for something Meredith might like, and pulled out McCall’s 6102, one of my favorite patterns. It's a perfect pattern for beginners—just a simple pull-over dress. No zippers or buttons. And it works with almost any type of fabric.

I didn’t have a ton of fabric, so, for Meredith, I decided to make two cropped tank tops. Even though 6102 is a dress pattern, you can just cut the hem line where you please. This is what we in the biz refer to as a “pattern hack.”

Just twenty years ago, sewing your own garments was mostly an economic decision. If you wanted the latest trends with a custom fit, but didn’t have much money, your only option was to do it yourself. Things are different these days. On average, it costs me $30-$45 to make a cotton dress, not accounting for labor. Or I could walk into Forever 21 or H&M and find dresses going for $20 or less.

So why do I do this? I’m not saving much money. And honestly, sewing requires tons of physical effort. After a few hours, my neck and back are #rip. But the mental benefits are transformative.

Using chalk to mark where the darts go. What are darts? They're basically cozy homes for boobs. Look, I don't make the rules.

Using chalk to mark where the darts go. What are darts? They're basically cozy homes for boobs. Look, I don't make the rules.

Cultivating Consciousness
One of the biggest challenges 21st century, first world humans face is reclaiming consciousness. When everything is overly abundant—junk food, television, wifi connection, home goods—we consume without awareness. And this is fine, tbh, until one day it’s not.

I’m the worst. Set a bowl of pretzels next to me while I’m working, and they’ll be gone in seconds. Or, I’ll blob out on the couch and scroll through Twitter (because 2017, because political trash fire hellscape, because cute dog pics), only to freak out when I realize an entire hour has passed.

The thing is, I don’t even like pretzels. And not a day has passed where I’ve said to myself, “Wow, I’m so glad I spent hours looking at tweets.”

I spent my early 20's dropping way too much money at Forever 21, only to buy loads of unmemorable garments that I eventually gave to Salvation Army. It wasn't satisfying or fun.

When I make my own clothing, I think about each stitch and every color. As I pass fabric through the machine, I think about my friends, my week, my mom. Turns out developing consciousness around one thing makes you conscious of lots of other things. You think about the things that really matter to you. Or sometimes you remember the theme to Gilligan’s Island and that's a thing too.

This finishing seam kinda sucks. But you know who cares? Not this gal.

This finishing seam kinda sucks. But you know who cares? Not this gal.

I don’t consider myself a perfectionist, but I have a bad habit of berating myself when I mess up. I used to get so angry at myself over little things, like accidentally leaving my sunglasses at home. I really needed to learn to love myself in good times and bad.

Sewing is a practice of letting go—to stop being so precious. To stop judging yourself. The hem is a little uneven? It’s fine, no one will notice. The finishing stitch is crooked? Who cares. You have to take apart an entire seam because you accidentally sewed the sleeve to the bodice? Mistakes happen. 

Finishing the Thing
I have a spreadsheet that contains approximately 30 projects, organized by type (novel, screenplay, picture book, etc). I chip away at these projects, but they often feel intangible. With sewing, you can see and touch your process. Follow a pattern, and all the steps are right there, printed on the page. Start to finish.

Whenever I finish a garment, I take a moment to recognize that I made something. I. made. something. That, in itself, is a small daily miracle that makes me happy to be alive. 

Some of the variations of McCall's 6102 I've made over the years.

Some of the variations of McCall's 6102 I've made over the years.

Measuring growth
When I make a garment from a pattern, I time how many hours it takes. The first time I made a dress using this McCall’s 6102, it took me about two hours. Now, it takes me about thirty minutes.

Adults rarely measure skill growth in themselves the way we do with children. Studies say it's harder for adults to learn new things. But honestly, I think it's because we stop setting measurable goals, which causes us to give up.

I’m a colorist, I just can’t help myself—in the dead of winter, I refuse to give into the black/neutral NYC vibe. I choose fabrics that are brightly-colored, with ridiculous illustrations. When I wear one of my own dresses, it makes people smile and strike up a conversation. Not enough people live out loud, y'all. Inspire the people with stuff you make. It feels great.

These tank tops aren’t perfect. But they’re the product of time, friendship, skill and patience.

So here friend. I made this gift just for you. Before today, it only existed as an idea. And now it’s real, and exists only because of you.