Susie’s Home Ec
>> Susie Bright is an amateur dressmaker and a professional writer.
She blogs at
The Perils of the
My mom once made me a remarkable
dress for my 14th birthday. After
modeling for her with a frozen smile,
I covertly wadded the dress up in a ball and hid it
in the knot of a tree a half a block away.
My birthday frock was Italian Swiss cotton, a lime
and lemon print, with elaborate smocking on the
bodice, and hand embroidery, which took Mommy
two months to complete. An heirloom treasure, by
It was 1972: a decade of hot pants, polyester shine,
and sleek silhouettes. My dotted Swiss frock was
adorned with puffed sleeves, a Peter Pan collar, and a
hem that fell two inches below my knees. I looked like a
doddering child from a Father Knows Best episode. If
I wore that dress to school, I would’ve been beaten up,
egged, TP’d, and left for dead in the girl’s bathroom.
I tell you this tragic tale with a lesson in mind: it’s
a dicey proposition to make a hand-sewn gift. The
levels of potential rejection, disillusionment, and
incomprehension are hazards without parallel.
Clearly, the mother-daughter scenario is the
most deadly. The daughter’s anguish over puberty
leads her to believe that anything her mother makes
for her is designed to destroy her social life. She is
But what about more neutral territory? What if
you want to craft a garment or bit of home decor for
a dear friend? Won’t they be charmed, pleased, in
awe of the labor you put into art?
Not necessarily. People who don’t sew (or knit
or weave, etc.) have no earthly idea what goes into
even a simple project. That’s why they hand us their
trousers to be altered and imagine it’s a five-minute
affair. They think little fairies come in with (free)
needles, (free) thread, and magic cloth (that doesn’t
cost $10 a yard) to whip up cute dresses and jackets
over the course of a sitcom or two.
In her famous yarn primer, Stitch ’N Bitch author
Debbie Stoller took a hard line on knitting presents:
she advised that you knit gifts exclusively for other
knitters, since they are the only ones who will “grok”
what you’ve put into your passion: the money, time,
endurance, and invention.
So why do we all ignore this hard-won bit of
advice? Because we’re showoffs. We know modesty
is supposed to go hand in hand with our steady
stitches, but we yearn for people’s jaws to drop
open at our handiwork. We like making things for
our beloveds and watching their hearts melt. We’re
sentimental fools who want only to be adored for
our talents. Is that too much to ask?
Seeing a friend or family member wear your
handmade clothes is like a musician hearing their
song for the first time on the radio. It’s a rush. Just
imagine how a designer feels witnessing thousands
of people influenced by a little decision she made
one afternoon in a sewing room. We’d all like a little
taste of that.
I have a few gift projects to suggest. These items
do not rely on how many hours you spend making
them, but rather the opposite: the hours your loved
ones will spend wearing and using them.
Your family, both immediate and species-wide,
spends about a third of their lives in bed. This is
where you’re going to insinuate yourself: in their
blankets, their PJs, their bathrobes — even where
they lay their heads at night.
Pillowcases are easily made and instantly treasured.
The fabric prints you can find in flannel and cotton
today are mind-boggling. If you have a friend who
is into Buddhism, cats, and absinthe, there is very
likely a print of that exact composite. Go to a site
fabricparadise.com, where you can put in a
subject, like “vintage,” “Chinese food,” or “news
headlines,” and you will see fabrics that play the part.