Thursday, October 7, 2010

A New Dress for Henrietta - Part I

As you may know, Henrietta's favorite color is purple and many of her favorite dresses are purple as well. For years she has proudly worn one long purple dress in particular. It is made of simple cotton broadcloth which has grown soft and comfortable from years of washing. It's edges are a bit frayed and it has been patched several times. She always thought of some of the patches as proud reminders of how much she has done in the dress, even dressing the patches up with sequins and bold colorful stitches.

This year, as she was looking at photos of herself with Priscilla and Tessie at Balls Falls, she began to notice that the purple in her favorite dress has faded quite a bit. The edges had frayed considerably and it needed mending in a variety of ways and places. The old zipper up the back was sticking, the neckline had ripped a bit, the sleeves had threads pulling at the hems and the seams at the waist were straining a bit (probably the result of too many pumpkin tarts).

Poor old thing, she loved that dress and it had been worn through many a good time, but the more she looked at the picture of herself next to the fashionable Tessie and the grand dame Priscilla, the more she began to feel a new dress was in order. Something with a bit more stylish and polished. Something dressier that befitted one of her favorite occasions. All these years she had been wearing a simple house dress and an everyday traveling cape and hat, and never thought a thing of it. Suddenly she was ashamed to look so dowdy and ordinary for such an extraordinary occasion. She made up her mind to go to the fabric store with Priscilla and pick out a snazzy new cloth to make a dress from.

When they got to the fabric store, it wasn't long before Henrietta found just what she wanted. It was a bolt of cloth nearly the same shade of purple as her old dress but it had a silky sheen to it that shined in the light. There was a subtle pattern woven into it that resembled scaly snake skin and best of all it was marked down half price! They had the nice lady at the counter measure out lengths and lengths of the new fabric to make sure there was enough for the full skirts Henrietta enjoyed plus a little extra in case it was needed for embellishments. Then they visited the racks upon racks of brightly colored threads for all sorts of things - all lined up from red to violet. They found a shade of purple that matched exactly and then picked up  new zipper and some pink rick rack trim and checked out in the most merry of moods.

Back at the cottage, Henrietta couldn't wait to get started so after a quick snack of pumpkin cookies and a spot of spiced tea, she careful spread out her old dress on her lap. She had always liked the style of it and apart from the slightly too-tight waist, it fit her well. Why pay for a new pattern when she could use her old dress as a guide to making the new one? She carefully parted the well worn seams with a small tool called a seam ripper until the dress was separated into 11 pieces, and then using a hot iron, gently pressed all the pieces flat. The new fabric which had been carefully folded down the middle, was smoothed out onto the long craft table in the back room of the cottage and the pieces of the original dressed were laid out on top of the fabric and pinned in place. Using a heave pair of metal scissors, Henrietta patiently cut around the old pieces, using them as a pattern to create new ones, leaving a little extra allowance near the waist for pumpkin tarts past and future. When all the pieces had been cut and the old fabric folded and stored, she sat down at her faithful old Singer sewing machine and began to stitch all the bits of the dress together. That was when things began to go horribly wrong.

First she pinned the edges of the fabric together so that the shiny sides faced each other and she stitched the shoulders together. She pressed open the seams with her iron and and then she began to line up the side seams, but the back of one side was far longer than the other. She realized she had matched up the wrong pieces so she took her seam riper and began to undo the work she had just done. After a bit of confusion, she lined up the proper seams and sewed them correctly, once again pressing to finish. She then pinned together the 5 great, long, pie-shaped pieces that made up the skirt, but again something wasn't right. Some pieces were longer than others and didn't seem the right fit at all.

She went back to the remains of her old worn dress and reassembled the skirt. It all seemed so much clearer when she could see where the zipper had been to mark the center back and so forth. To make the bits easier to identify, she took a piece of soft, white, triangle-shaped tailor's chalk and labeled each piece of the new fabric so she knew exactly where it should go. Using this as a guide, she pinned together the new skirt once more and found to her joy that they all matched up. She deftly stitched them together, leaving the back open a bit for the zipper, and then lining up the center front of the skit to the center front of the bodice, she stitched the top of the dress to the bottom and tried it on for size.

Something seemed odd to her. The shoulders seemed too far forward and it was pulling across the back. The  bosom was down near the waist and there were great extra pockets of fabric under the arms. Priscilla could see the disappointment on her cousins face and kindly suggested that perhaps it would hang better once the zipper was in. Henrietta wasn't convinced but determinedly went back to work at the sewing machine, pinning and sewing the zipper in place as well as adding a pleasant Peter Peter Pan collar to finish the neck. She had never made this kind of collar and consulted a few sewing books on how to draft one up and attach it to the dress. After a few trial and errors, she succeeded and tried the whole dress on again.

It still wasn't right. The front was baggy and the back was tight. The neck was too open and the collar wouldn't lie flat. She put the dress on inside out and Priscilla tried to help by pinning in darts (slashes in the fabric that help a dress to fit to the wearer). Henrietta became cross at herself for putting the collar and zipper in too early. What if the bodice had to be reconstructed? All that work would be for for nothing. Luckily she had resisted the urge of putting the sleeves in as well. Despite Priscilla's best intentions, the bodice wasn't fitting any better. What could be done? The trip to Balls Falls was less than 2 days away and with her old dress reduced to scraps, she didn't have anything suitable to wear at all.

Suddenly a thought occurred to Henrietta: in an ivory tower not far from Balls Falls lived a clever and crafty princess who was an old friend of the witches. Being a great beauty, she had an eye for style and being a princess she had a great understanding of how clothes should fit and be worn. She also made the most delicious chocolate zucchini cake! Henrietta made up her mind to go and visit her old friend and beg for help getting the dress done. With a little luck, she might get a bit of zucchini cake as well!

...To be continued.

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