Stop The Bus
Posted on Saturday the 21st October 2017 by Wrong Doll
‘Expect poison of the standing water’. I remember clearly when I first came across this William Blake quote. I was in a depression that showed no signs of lifting and there was something about the clarity of that piercing statement that penetrated the fog in my brain. It became clear to me there was no absolute right action and that movement in any direction, would be preferable to the stultifying trough in which I had lain.
In my adolescence, depression was a mental state with which I became painstakingly familiar. And I was somewhat dismissive of what I perceived to be its less severe relation - anxiety. People who volunteered such feelings were seemingly able to navigate their everyday life, whereas I felt immobilised by the diseased waters of my mind. Such is the island of self-centric youth. I’m glad to say that age has allowed me to fully appreciate that mental health is a nuanced landscape and I no longer feel my own experiences give me any kind of mandate.
And whilst it’s been a long time since mental dis-ease has disrupted my ability to function, I’ve become well acquainted with its sibling - anxiety. ‘Stop the bus I want to get off’ was the response I got, when in much younger days, I asked someone to describe their experience of hallucinogenic drugs. That pithy expression took root and recently I’ve appreciated its painterly depiction of disequilibrium. The constant motion of a mind unable to rest amidst an uncertain, unfinished and constantly evolving existence.
And this is the mindset I found myself in, halfway through my latest project for Minerva. Vogue Sewing Pattern
no 1312 had long been on my radar and despite examining the envelope art work numerous times, I’d paid scant regard to the suggested fabrics. Lightweight denim, gabardine or linen are recommended for the whole dress with an option to mix it up with a lightweight wool jersey/double knit bodice. Basking in the ignorance of knit novicedom, I ordered a few metres of gloriously drapy Viscose Knit Fabric
for both the bodice and skirt. Incidentally, I bought a similarly composed fabric for my first attempt
at Vogue 8813
and I’m keen to fashion another drape dress in these muted monochrome hues.
I made a bodice toile from some leftover Cotton Spandex Fabric
and the more experienced sewers out there, will have already spotted the error in my execution. Cotton spandex and viscose elastane - two knit fabrics with different weights and behaviours. I sized down to a 12, as whilst a size 14 corresponded with my bust measurement, I’d read that the bodice ran big and I was sewing in a stretch knit. In a relatively stable cotton, I achieved an almost perfect fit, apart from a slight bagging at the upper bust which seemed to be calling for a dart. I could have tinkered with the armhole shape to try and minimise the bulk but I lacked confidence and decided that good enough was good enough.
Steamrollering on to the bodice proper and the close fit I’d achieved in cotton spandex became a distant memory in viscose elastane. Only after stretch stitching and under stitching the neckline, did I notice an undesirable drape that I wasn’t going to be able to unsee. I judiciously unpicked every stitch and lowered the back neckline but to no avail. Hungry for results, I moved on to the skirt section and stitched those huge swathes of fabric together with a noticeable absence of drama. Not a stretched seam in sight with my trusty walking foot and ball point needle, serging to finish with the differential feed at 1.5.
I pinned the skirt to the bodice to admire my endeavours and was greeted by the travesty of my unhandiwork. The drapy viscose completely weighed the dress down and masked the structure those pivot-points should have afforded the lower sections. To add insult to injury, I’d managed to attach the whole bottom section against nap, despite labouring at length over the pattern layout and cutting instructions. It was only then that I decided to look a little more closely at the pattern envelope and noticed that in View B it was the bodice and not the skirt that should be fashioned from knit. Take it from me - mid make meltdown is not the time to research the appropriate fabric for your pattern. I predict a much smoother trajectory, if you consider the most suitable material at the outset.
By now, my mood and this project were in the toilet. I decided to hem it, photograph it, write the miserable story up and move on. Except I couldn’t - I’m tenacious and stubborn and this debacle represented a huge waste of fabric and time. So I returned a few days later and unpicked every stretch stitch of the lower section, ravaging the seamline in the process. Turning the bottom section on its head, the fabric naps hummed in harmony and I re-attached each seam with a 3cm allowance to accommodate for the carnage of my unpicking.
I sewed section by section, starting from one front pivot point of the lower front to the other. I then pulled the threads through from the lower front to each lower side, to determine exactly where each pivot point was and where I should start sewing for the next section. I chopped 15 cm off the bottom and made easy work of the hem with some Knit ’N’ Stable Tape and a scalloped straight stitch D. I tried it on once more and was heartened to see my patience had paid off - sackcloth heavy had been transformed into light and floaty.
And then I tried it on again … and again … and each time my focus returned to that gaping back neckline. The time had come for some time out. Throughout this make, my anxious mind had been darting from one problem to the next and I realised that this mode of thinking was not the breeding ground for a creative solution. Despite the mental gymnastics involved, I’m pleased with the progress I’ve made so far. The instructions are straightforward and - whilst not the best fit for the pattern - the slinky viscose is surprisingly easy to work with, skimming delightfully against your skin. I’m hatching tentative plans to tweak that back neckline and I’ll keep you updated on any progress.
Whilst sewing has definitely had a profoundly positive effect on my wellbeing, there are periods when I find it impossible to stall the merry go round in my mind. And I’ve come to appreciate that at these times, the best course of action is to desist from all extraneous activities and hold still. Over on Instagram, I was reminded by @thewoodwhittlerswife of the merits of this strategy with her beautiful analogy of a bow pulling back before it can propel an arrow forward. When you are stuck in a depressive funk, any type of movement can be a good thing. But when you’ve been anxiously moving your focus from one source of discomfort to another, it might be time to press the bell and get off the bus.
I’m happy to report the storm did pass - as it always does - and I eventually returned to the project with renewed enthusiasm. I sized down to a 10 bodice, used a cotton jersey to add stability for the lining and eased in the skirt excess around the waistline to achieve this happy ending.