When I was in high school, Diana Felmet was my Home Economics sewing teacher. Mine and every other girl in the school since Home Ec was a required course and boys were not allowed to take it. (Oh, how the times have changed for the better!) Anyway, I learned to pick out patterns and material from the fabric department upstairs in Hunts Department store, then take it to school, cut it out and then sew it up. I learned the operation of a basic sewing machine and even how to problem solve when thread was bunching up (probably the bobbin) or stitches were uneven (might need to adjust the stitch length). In short, I emerged from Sewing 101 with B+ skill, certainly enough to help me make curtains for any house I might come to live in, presuming they were not gathered or of a difficult material to work with. But was I satisfied with that? Absolutely not. Instead, I tackled one of those tasks that a clear-headed person might reason was too difficult given my marginal level of sewing ability: I decided to make my Junior-Senior prom dress.
It must be said that I already knew that I would be attending the prom with my boyfriend of longstanding, Sam Hilliard, and because of that, I didn’t have the extra pressure of impressing some new boy in my life. That probably is what gave me the courage. Plus, my father had had a sister, Aunt Virgie, who had been the seamstress in his family and he had always greatly admired her skill with a sewing machine, a skill he hoped I would emulate. So, right there I had the two most important males in my life at the time in a place where disapproval would be minimal. In fact, my father was thrilled that I would take on such a project so even if the dress was ugly, my efforts at least proved that I had guts.
My first task was to pick out the material. This is where I now realize I could have made a better choice. I decided on a basic dress: a circular long skirt attached to a rounded neck, short sleeved bodice. I went to Hunts and perused all the fabric. I picked out a pretty turquoise velvet for the bodice and white lace for the skirt. In retrospect, I am aware that the velvet (since it is heavier) would have been a better skirt, but alas, that was not the decision I made at the time. I worked on the dress at school, getting help with pinning it so it would fit, and also with the zipper, which was a little tricky. I tried it on several times and was pleased with how pretty it was. My only problem was that I ran out of time at school to get help with the hem. No problem. Surely, my boyfriend could help with that…
The day of the prom. Sam and I stood in front of one of the full-length mirrors in my house: I dressed in my formal; Sam on the floor at my feet with pins in his mouth. Carefully, he folded the bottom of the dress and pinned it, then he moved to the next section while I turned. Time was an issue, of course, since I had run out of it, so I was hurrying him along with his task. “It’s okay,” I said, “it doesn’t have to be perfect. Just speed up.” Being the pleasant fellow that he was, he complied.
When Sam was done, he headed home to get dressed and I dashed up to my room to do the hand-sewing on the hem. Sew, sew, sew I did, going round that big skirt at a pace that reflected the pressure we were under to be ready for my parents’ picture-taking. After I was finished, I ran downstairs and ironed the hem so it was nice and crisp. I hung the dress on a hanger and gazed at my handiwork. I have to admit I was proud of myself. Who else would be there wearing a prom dress they had actually made? My dad saw the completed dress and gave me a big smile. That was all I needed for his sign of approval.
That evening, Sam returned wearing his suit and carrying a box with a corsage for me. He gazed up and down and told me how beautiful the dress was. His face shined with sincerity. I was so pleased with myself. This was wonderful. Off we went to the prom, where I spent the evening discreetly mentioning that I had indeed made my own dress for the event.
It was only after I saw the prom pictures weeks later that I realized that everyone at the dance knew I had made my own dress. The hem was at least five inches higher on one side of the dress than the other, causing the skirt to look as if it were a ship, listing at a 45-degree angle.
I’m glad I was spared this realization the night of the prom. After all, I had no other back-up prom dress. As it was, Sam and my dad were proud of me. Maybe they didn’t notice the hem problem, or maybe they did and they were both too gentlemanly to mention it. The nice thing is that nobody else did either. I felt good at prom and was only surprised once I saw the pictures long after the fact. Still, I was pleased with my dress, mainly because I finished it in time to wear it for my big prom night. And now I maintain my sewing skills so that I can make those curtains for the house. However, I leave dressy dresses to someone else. Or at least the hemming…