Invisible Weaver


| 12/5/2013 2:41:00 PM


Tags: fashion, clothing, mom jeans, poetry, translation, Alastair Reid, language, Katie Haegele,

Needle and thread
We can't help but transform the world around us—even if no one else can tell.

To look at me on any given day you may not be able to tell, but I am very particular about my clothes. Most of the stuff I wear is secondhand, even the newer, trendier clothes from Forever 21 or H&M, which I’ve most often found in a thrift store or at a yard sale, hanging from the branch of a tree on someone’s front lawn. As approximately fifty percent of you know, the sizing of women’s clothing can vary wildly, and it has changed over the years, which means that when you look at anything made before 1990 the real meaning of “size 4” or “size 14” or whatever is almost impossible to guess. Since this is how I shop, I have developed a good eye for what is likely to fit me. I usually ignore whatever the tag says and if I don’t feel like trying something on, I’ll just hold it out in front of me and squint. For a dollar or five I’m willing to take the risk that a pair of pants or a sweater might not fit me, especially since I know I can alter it if I need to.

I’ve gotten pretty handy with the old sewing machine. I own one, a Brother XL 5600, that my mother gave me as a birthday gift a good few years before I was mature enough to be able to sit down and learn how to use it properly. I used to get so frustrated with it, taking forever to wind the bobbin and thread the needle and somehow always jamming it within the first minute of actually sewing. But over the years I’ve gotten more patient, and my need has grown. I am more interested in clothing now than I used to be, and my interest grew at about the same rate that my cheapness did. I have found that I can afford to have a large and varied wardrobe by doing small alterations to secondhand clothes myself, and occasionally making patterns by tracing my favorite pieces so that I can replace them with something similar after I’ve worn them to shreds. It’s been worth it, taking the time to learn to operate the machine. These days the fabric is less apt to bunch and seize up under the needle. Instead it glides through the machine like a warm knife through butter.

The fixes I’ve come up with are either messy concoctions of my own design—Crop-top? Sure! The scissors are in the kitchen!—or else very simple and common alterations, like taking up a hem. Since I’m not actually any good at this, the quality of my work varies wildly. The first time I tried to turn baggy, high-waisted mom jeans into figure-hugging skinny jeans they came out wrong and ballooned at the hips like jodhpurs. Terrible. But I got the hang of it eventually, and so help me God I will never wear another pair of boot-cut pants for as long as I live.

One of the projects I’m proudest of is the hem I gave to a light green polyester skirt that I liked in every way except for its dowdy length. It has a little bit of comfy elastic at the waist, and its synthetic fabric never wrinkles. But it fell to calf-length and honestly looked dreadful on me, with my bone-white ankles poking out of the bottom. So I hacked about a foot and a half off the bottom of the skirt, turned the edge under, and went to work sewing it up until I saw that my machine was creating a very visible and unattractive hemline. Yipes! That wasn’t how the skirt looked originally, I didn’t think, but I had no idea why. I pulled the thread out with my seam ripper (the tiny, knife-sharp jimmy-jam that’s shaped like a wishbone—such a useful little tool) and called my mom to ask her what I should do. Oh, just make an invisible hem, she said.

Invisible! How magical that sounded. But how do you do it? Turns out it was as simple as slowing down and sewing it by hand, turning the hem under twice and only putting the thread all the way through to the front every several stitches or so. I tried it and it worked. The stitches disappeared. When I wear the skirt now, you can’t tell that it ever looked any different, that it didn’t look this way when I found it hanging in the musty one-dollar room of a thrift shop in south Jersey. It’s not just shorter, it hangs better, and my little calves look way less pitiful now that my curvy behind is a featured player.