It didn’t take long for me to realize that a small sewing box wasn’t going to cut it. Only a month into Peace Corps training, I knew I needed to do more than small mending. And then the opportunity came.
The Peace Corps had to send me into town to remove a different type of stitches from my leg (see 3rd-last paragraph), which meant me and the driver and the big min-bus. “Is there anything you’d like to get while we’re in town?” the driver asked. “Yes, a sewing machine.” That wasn’t quite what he had in mind. I wasn’t sure he’d go for it, but he did. I returned to the training center with a beautiful Butterfly treadle machine. Even with my better-than-the-locals Peace Corps salary, I couldn’t afford a Singer.
When I moved into my village, I had a mattress, a handful of dishes, and my sewing machine. The corner store in Monze sold fabric, on a table across from the breakfast cereal and powdered milk, next to some farming gear. Notions like buttons and zippers were available behind the counter or at a few stalls in the market. Now, I could sew, except I didn’t have any patterns.
I had made my swearing-in dress by hand, without a pattern, but it was very simple. That was different, impromptu, improvised; there was hardly any cutting involved, just stitching rectangles together. I was ready for more. I wanted a nightgown. A light, breezy nightgown for the hot Zambian nights. A romantic nightgown that would fit my romantic village surroundings, that would allow me to play in my pretend Pride and Prejudice or Little House on the Prairie worlds. A nightgown that would make me feel like a princess when I carried my golden old-fashioned candle holder with the curled handle from my living room to my bedroom. Such a nightgown needs a pattern. And so, I made one.
I made a pattern, and I made the nightgown. Long and flowy with a ruffle along the bottom – getting the ruffle and the bottom of the nightgown to be the same length was the hardest part – a thin yoke neckline and simple white buttons down the front. The cream fabric, although not cotton, was still light and a loose enough weave to be cool. It was everything I wanted. I did feel like a princess, and a Bennet and an Ingalls.
As I sit here now, years later, in that same nightgown, it no longer has the Bennet-Ingalls-princess effect. Something about electricity and computer screens and carpet ruins all the romanticism. But it is still light and breezy and cool and perfect for these unusual (and delightfully) warm summer nights in the Bay. Maybe if I turn off the lights and get my old-fashioned candle holder from my nightstand, I can feel like a princess again.
Another non-pattern item I made on the Butterfly: http://goldenrail.blogspot.com/2010/07/of-3rds-and-4ths.html