Sunday, September 30, 2012
Une Bonne Bonne Nuit
For my 9th birthday, my parents bought me a Singer sewing machine and sewing lessons at the neighborhood Singer store. Even though it was a portable, it weighed about 12,000 pounds, or so it seemed to a 9 year old. At least I didn't have to carry it back and forth to my sewing lessons. I remember that my mother could barely attach a button, but always boasted about the "A" grade she received in her high school sewing class. Puzzling, yes? So the burden fell on me to pick up where she left off.
I loved sewing probably because it was a creative way of expressing myself. I could choose the fabric, the pattern, and I could tweak the combination endlessly. Not to toot my own horn, but I got pretty good at it, even venturing into some tailored coats and jackets. By the time I was in college I discovered the pure magic of second-hand stores and I have hardly sewed another garment for myself again.
Even though I rarely sew anymore, I can't help but appreciate exquisite handiwork of an expert seamstress, especially hand stitching. So when I was rummaging through a box of linens at a recent vide grenier and came across this nightshirt for five Euros, I knew I had to rescue it.
The first thing to know about this nightshirt is that it is not soft, so the original owner had to be one tough cookie, or was constantly doing penance, or just never slept well. I'm sure it has been washed many times in the past, but the fabric is very coarse. As far as I know, it could even be a locally woven fabric. The bottom edge is the selvedge, so it has been cut across the grain. I found this unusual and counter to common sewing practice, which usually dictates cutting length on the straight of the grain. But this method does utilize the full width of the fabric with zero waste. There is only one side seam since the pattern is laid out sideways. Quite ingenious when you think about it.
The hand stitching is so uniform and exact, almost as if measured with a ruler. But I doubt it. They were that good. The detail work on this garment is remarkable. There are gussets under the arms allowing for freedom of movement without fear of ripping and tiny gussets on the side seams at the hem for the same reason. The collar and front placket fit like a glove. The photo above illustrates the precision with which the seamstress gathered the back panel into the collar. It is literally a series of the tiniest most even pleats I have ever seen.
The yoke over the shoulder is unique, with an additional pleated insert. I have never seen the likes of this, but I am assuming it is also intended to provide some freedom of movement. The cuffs are a repetition of the tiny even pleats on the back of the garment.
This is perhaps one of the most beautifully crafted pieces of clothing I have ever seen. And only to be worn to bed!