Failing Onward! – Cidney Swanson

Failing Onward!

I’m writing this down in hopes it will inspire anyone needing that push to keep trying for success on a difficult task/project/dream. If you’ve seen the video about making The Wedding Gown for the daughterling, then you know I met the deadline and gave my daughter a gown that was absolutely perfect for her. It wasn’t a huge challenge, because I have the background in pattern-making and costume design. I started patterning in December and slowly worked my way through sourcing fabric, perfecting the fit of the pattern in a “muslin” (fake fabric), buying and cutting the real fabric, sewing the gown, cutting up the lace embellishment, mosaic-ing the lace pieces to fit onto her bodice, embroidering crystal beads and pearls onto the lace, and attaching the lace to the gown. I would do about an hour’s worth of lace embroidery each night watching TV. (Inspector Lewis, Endeavor, and Upstart Crow, mainly.)

As July 6th drew near, I knew I would finish her gown in time, so I started thinking about my own Mother-of-the-Bride gown. I had maybe a month to go till the wedding. I didn’t think I wanted to make my dress, but once I went to stores, I realized I DID want to make it myself. So I went to Joann and found possible fabrics and then went home to try to make a pattern I liked.

I decided to make a full “muslin” dress for myself, since I wanted to be sure I liked the shape before committing to buying spendy fabric. I wanted a stretch fabric, so I couldn’t use actual muslin, which doesn’t stretch. Instead I used this old printed knit from my kid’s clothing business days, green with blue tree frogs all over it.

I patterned it, cut it, sewed it, and tried it on.

Ugh. Not even.

The problem wasn’t the tree frog fabric; it was the fit of the garment. I felt super yucky in this design. Not the feeling I was going for. At first I thought, well, that’s it. I have to buy something off the rack. Hmm . . . what stores can I hit up next? But when I tried (again) to find a gown in stores, I failed, again. Fine. Maybe I could try another style of pattern?

After searching all my closets for styles I had worn and liked in the past, I chose a dress that had belonged to my great grandmother Pearl, circa 1960, and decided this was it! Retro-chic and flattering. So I started from scratch again, copying the pattern off the actual dress and making another mock-up muslin, this time in slinky woven polyester. When I tried on this new muslin, it was even worse than the tree-frog disaster.

Now what was I going to do? The wedding was in two weeks. I hit the mall again and found two possible dresses at Macy’s, and I brought them home. Neither was really right, though, and as Wedding Week approached, I got more and more unhappy thinking of how the pictures from the wedding would show me wearing a dress I didn’t like.

The problem was, I’d already failed twice to make something for myself. I decided to try one final time, because really, what did I have to lose? I would go with a simpler pattern this time, and see how far I could get. Meanwhile I’d found a fabric that I was completely head-over-heels about, so that gave me a bit more motivation.

I cut and sewed my THIRD muslin, and managed to pin, cut, and adjust the front pretty well for a good fit, but I couldn’t reach around my back, obviously. Enter Dr. Science. I showed him the part of the muslin that wasn’t fitting well in back. He agreed. “Yup, that isn’t fitting well. What do you want me to do about it?” It took a few minutes and a small compact mirror held over my shoulder in front of the bathroom mirror, but I finally managed to explain to Dr. Science how to pin the not-fitting part so that it would fit more smoothly.

It took two more muslins to get the fit just right. (Off the shoulder is a little trickier than on.) But the third time I got it! My pattern fit beautifully! I was ready to go! I started cutting and sewing. The wedding was in five days, and believe me, I had more things to do than just sit and sew. But, by keeping at it, a little here a little there, I managed to finish the gown in time.

It is my all-time, favorite gown/dress/anything that I have ever worn. I came so close to giving up and buying a dress I didn’t like, and I’m soooooo glad I didn’t. How many favorite dresses do you really get in a lifetime? (My last one was a dress made by my grandmother Dorothy when I was six or seven. Emerald green taffeta covered with all-over lace.) Thank goodness I didn’t give up.

I started by saying that I was writing this in hopes it might inspire others to keep going on hard projects, but maybe I’m just writing it so I don’t forget the lesson myself. Fail all you need to—just don’t quit.

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