Black satin.

I must be insane. Kate said she wanted to be a witch for Halloween, and my brains flew right out of my head. “I know!” I said. “I’ll go to the fabric store and find a pattern and make you a witch costume!”

Why? Why?!?

So I did. And I have to say, it wasn’t the stupidest thing I ever did, although it’s made a mess of my dining room, which is where this little project is set up. I was inspired by the example of my husband, who takes on all sorts of projects successfully, by employing a simple strategy: Read the f*%$& manual. If the manual isn’t helpful enough, there’s this building right downtown called the “library,” where many books are stored, which you can consult free. Plus we have this thing called the internet, where you can meet groups of freelance body-modification surgeons, so how hard could it be to find tips on sewing straight seams?

Not very, but just sort of tiresome. I discovered that if you can follow instructions, you can make a crappy witch costume. A nicely done costume? Well, that’s down the road. Maybe after I read “Ulysses.”

And it has been a strange experience, almost like muscle memory. My mother sewed, and huge chunks of my childhood were spent watching her do it, while we talked at the kitchen table. I also got dragged through fabric stores until I thought I’d go insane, and no, I didn’t appreciate all the cute clothes she made me when I was a child, but that’s the way of the world. I haven’t sewed anything since eighth grade, but when I have a question I find that if I just stop for a minute, close my eyes and think for a minute, it comes back to me.

When that fails, I read the f*&^% manual.

And now I’m almost done. A badly sewn hem, a little tacking here and there, and if I’m lucky it’ll hold together for two wearings — at the Defiance Halloween parade and at Actual Halloween on Sunday.

Best bloggage of the day: A Sun-Times correspondence, between Roger Ebert and various executives, but mostly Conrad Black, the thievin’ sleazarino who lined his pockets with company money. Black, in one letter, revealed to the world Ebert’s S-T salary — $500,000. That’s damn generous, I must say, but it doesn’t strike me as excessive. Anyway, I loved his retort:

Since you have made my salary public, let me say that when I learned that (your wife) Barbara received $300,000 a year from the paper for duties described as reading the paper and discussing it with you, I did not feel overpaid.


I’ll be back to full strength tomorrow. As soon as I’m done hemming.

Posted at 9:37 pm in Uncategorized |

24 responses to “Black satin.”

  1. Connie said on October 27, 2004 at 10:42 pm

    Well Nancy, I hate to admit it in public, but I am a sewing whiz who owns four sewing machines, and a serger. And a mangle! And here’s a tip: these days one can also sew with fabric glues and spray on fusibles! And fusibles that come in 2 sided thin strips for the sole purpose of hemming. One does not need to hem one’s halloween costume, this is not your best dress. On satin a pinking shears is fine. And let me know if you need to borrow a set of clown costumes to fit an adult man, a 2 year old, with dog accessories to match. 15 years later I am still working to amortize my ridiculous investment in those.

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  2. ashley said on October 27, 2004 at 11:36 pm

    When you’re done hemming, will you be hawing?

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  3. Mindy said on October 28, 2004 at 7:29 am

    It’s been said that sewing and needlecrafts tend to skip a generation. Both of my grandmothers were passionate seamstresses; one of them sewed professionally here in the Fort and made fabulous hats for her clients. My mother, though, would rather face a week in traffic court than attempt sewing a Halloween costume. And I’m running a close second to Connie with three sewing machines, a serger, four knitting machines and enough yarn, patterns and books to start my own store.

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  4. Carmella said on October 28, 2004 at 7:47 am

    Well, my mom sewed ALL of our clothes when we were little. She made me one dress when I was in 2nd grade with ‘boxes of crayons’ all over the fabric. Life size ‘boxes of crayons’. Not until I wore it a few times did we discover that they weren’t ‘boxes of crayons’ they were PACKS OF CIGARETTES!!!! Hoo-boy…I wish I still had that dress….

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  5. Michael G said on October 28, 2004 at 9:54 am

    My first wife used to drag me to fabric stores. God, SHOOOOT ME!

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  6. Pam said on October 28, 2004 at 10:54 am

    Connie — Nancy can’t use pinking shears on her satin because mom’s shears are here at my house. That’s probably what’s wrong — Nancy has her sewing machine and I have everything else! I took the pinking shears to cut off the bottoms of my jeans! And I halted my husband in mid-air as he was about to cut open a package of bacon with mom’s dressmaking shears!!

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  7. Mary said on October 28, 2004 at 11:59 am

    For a few years I used my pent up art student energy on my kids’ costumes. My sons were praying mantises one year, squid another, jellyfish (glow in the dark tentacles and everything), fruit bats, and pterodactyls. I even made costumes for other people’s kids.

    Then I split from my husband and went back to work.

    Since then the kids have had less elaborate costumes, still assembled at home from stuff we already had, enhanced by makeup at times. You know what? They don’t care. They don’t care that I am not spending weeks building translucent jellyfish domes or foam rubber pterodactyl heads.

    This year older son is too cool to dress up, but younger son is going to be a Beatle. The main element of his costume is his hair that we’ve been meaning to get trimmed for a while, but never got around to. This is implemented by one of my turtlenecks, some old boots of mine, and a medallion we found at Target. Last year, older son, who is very blond, had the same costume but was Illya Kuryackin.

    It all works out somehow, and in the long run, no one is keeping score. Relax about the sewing job.

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  8. Michael G said on October 28, 2004 at 12:48 pm

    What’s wrong with opening a package of bacon with dressmaking shears? Cutting stuff’s cutting stuff. I feel like I’m eavesdropping here.

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  9. deb said on October 28, 2004 at 1:15 pm

    my mom was an expert seamstress, too. she not only made clothes for my sisters and me, but for our collection of barbies, midges and tammys as well. unbelievable stuff — shimmery, slinky ball gowns, jackets trimmed with bits of fur. it was truly amazing. not knowing any better, since everybody’s mother sewed in those days, i took it all for granted. i would pay a small fortune to be able to hold those doll clothes in my hands again.

    sadly, my mother’s skills went to the grave with her. i do all my sewing, badly, by hand.

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  10. John said on October 28, 2004 at 1:24 pm

    “Illya Kuryakin”

    Anyone making a Man from U.N.C.L.E. reference is A-ok…

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  11. adrianne said on October 28, 2004 at 1:27 pm

    Two words that have saved the Reilly family Halloweens from my craft inexpertise: Party City.

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  12. Mindy said on October 28, 2004 at 2:28 pm

    Michael G. –

    Using dressmaker’s shears to cut anything other than fabric dulls them considerably. They won’t cut accurately and may even “chew” the fabric as it’s being cut. Very very bad. Really.

    Your ex-wife had no business dragging you into fabric stores against your will; shame on her. You get a medal for accompanying her.

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  13. Bob said on October 28, 2004 at 2:45 pm

    I like looking at fabrics; they give me ideas but I can’t sew. If only I had a boyfriend who could sew, I’d be delighted.

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  14. deb said on October 28, 2004 at 2:50 pm

    another idea, nance — next halloween, pre-shop at goodwill or the salvation army store. my best costume ever was the year i went to a party as princess grace, right after the accident. bought a form-fitting white sleeveless a-line formal at goodwill for ten bucks. finished the look with a tiara, a french twist, long white gloves, one of those shoulder-to-waist banners reading “her serene highness”, a tasteful trickle of blood on one cheeck and — the piece de resistance — a range rover steering wheel, made from embroidery hoops, around my neck. that costume KILLED. okay, that remark was tasteless. but the costume was too.

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  15. Linda said on October 28, 2004 at 3:25 pm

    The Barbie clothes–boy, that brings back great memories. My mom was an avid sewer too. She made my dresses for school, she had a shorts set pattern that she made bigger every summer as I grew up, and she made wonderful clothes for my Barbies. Little satin ball gowns, little wool coats and skirts, intricate little blouses and pants. I don’t know how she did it, because I tried making Barbie clothes once for a charity drive, and all those tiny seams were impossible!

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  16. Michael G said on October 28, 2004 at 3:48 pm

    To a Halloween party I once wore: A shirt, tie and suit jacket with army pants and combat boots (back when I still had some of this stuff and could fit into it). I was the military-industrial establishment.

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  17. Connie said on October 28, 2004 at 5:44 pm

    So what’s worse? A bored husband in a fabric store or a bored wife (me) in the power tool department? The things we do for those we love.

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  18. Mindy said on October 28, 2004 at 8:46 pm

    I’ve felt that pain, Connie. Been in that tool department bored as stiff as a pipe wrench. Perhaps the rule should be: Don’t force a spouse to spend serious time browsing items of disinterest.

    Last year’s rage among my knitting friends was a wonderful book devoted to patterns for Barbie written by the celebrated knitwear designer Nicky Epstein. Everyone was knitting fabulous creations for our favorite plastic princess out of leftover yarn too dear to part with. To die for. Sure wish I had a handknit lace cardigan made from Italian silk and mohair. But then, it wouldn’t look as good on me as it does on Babs.

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  19. deb said on October 29, 2004 at 4:27 pm

    saw a great halloween costume at work today: a guy with a carvved jack-o’-lantern, a really big one, on his head. a real one. it doesn’t sound like much, but the effect was quite pretty cool. i wonder what it smelled like inside that thing by 5 p.m. though.

    as for me, i went with that i knew: bib overalls, flannel shirt, bandanna, straw hat, boots. hair in pigtails. my 10-year-old took one look at me and asked why i’d decided not to wear a costume.

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  20. deb said on October 29, 2004 at 4:28 pm

    good god, two typos and an extra word in that post. i’m taking the next two days off.

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  21. Connie said on October 29, 2004 at 5:10 pm

    BTW Nance, you do realize we expect to see a posted picture of this glorious costume?

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  22. Linda said on October 29, 2004 at 6:05 pm

    heh, heh, deb… I didn’t even notice the extra v in carved until you said something and I went back and looked. Just goes to prove that our minds are trained to recognize most words, even if they are misspelled. Someone sent me one of those email thingies a while back where they typed out a sentence and only put the first and last letters, like this: N—y N–l h-s a g—t b–g, (Nancy Nall has a great blog) and you really could tell what it was supposed to say even without the middle letters.

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  23. Dave said on October 30, 2004 at 10:29 am

    Don’t know about the skipping a generation theory for seamstress skills. My mother and grandmother were both skilled seamstresses and I have one sister who seems to have the skill but the other sister doesn’t.

    Iliya Kuryachin? Wow, how many people would even know who he was when he goes out trick-or-treating? Never ceases to amaze me about cultural and TV trivia references but also what I don’t know that the younger crowd does.

    Besides the clever readers of NNC, that is.

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  24. Mary said on October 31, 2004 at 4:15 pm

    The Illya Kuryackin costume was aided by business cards I printed out on the computer. I managed pretty fair facsimile of the UNCLE logo, with “Illya Kuryackin, Secret Agent” on the card. He handed those out to people who didn’t recognize him. I have to mention that all the female teachers at his school, who were over the age of forty, seemed to remember Illya very fondly.

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