A very long time ago, in the wild and carefree 60s, many women sewed their own clothes. Some were quite good at it. A graduate school classmate of mine made a Madras sport jacket for her husband. Men\’s clothes are hard to make–they have to fit just right, since in social situations most men don\’t move around enough to hide an uneven hem or an ill-fitting sleeve. Sport jackets are especially hard–they have to have padding, and lining, and buttonholes, and in the case of a Madras print you have to match all those lines. I was never in that league.
I specialized in shifts: loose-fitting, sleeveless, collarless tubes, with at most a couple of darts. With time I became more daring, and made a couple of long-sleeved outfits to wear to graduate fellowship interviews, in sober brown fabric to make me look scholarly. I made a robe with flounces at the collar and cuffs for my honeymoon, and a couple of years later I made my maternity clothes, including a cape to wear in winter. And I made cute little dresses for my daughters until, at an amazingly early age, they developed their own notions of cool attire.
The item I remember best, however, is my tablecloth dress, which I made while still in graduate school. My husband and I had been invited to a party, and I wanted to wear something new. This desire hit me with great force on the afternoon of the party, too late for me to run to the fabric store and make even the simplest pattern.
How I made the tablecloth-into-dress leap is not clear in my mind, but I remember holding a dark-green, round, fringed tablecloth in one hand and a pair of scissors in the other and thinking, \”this is going to be a snap.\”
And it was (see below). I folded the tablecloth into fourths, cut a hole for my head in the pointed end, then made a cut about as long as my arm from the circumference towards the center. I threaded my needle and hemmed the neck hole, then sewed the sleeve and side seams. Thanks to the fringe, there was no need to finish either the cuffs or the skirt.
I slipped the tablecloth over my head, thrust my arms into the sleeves, and stood in front of the mirror. The dress needed some interest around the middle, so I pulled a paisley scarf out of a drawer and tied it around my waist.
I looked again. The sleeves were really really long, and the skirt quite short. The thought crossed my mind that people might think I was crazy, but it didn\’t linger. Those were unconventional times, and I was a grad student, and if those two factors didn\’t give me license to wear a tablecloth when I felt like it, nothing ever would.
I had a good time that night, despite having to push up my sleeves every time I wanted to stick a carrot into the California dip. But the stiffish fringe prickled on my thighs and on my fingertips, and I wasn\’t wild about the color of the dress–that deep avocado green which, along with harvest gold and daisy prints and lava lamps conjures up the era almost as powerfully as the smell of pot.
Although, come to think of it, the thing might have worked as a tunic over bell-bottom pants, after the party the bloom was off the rose, and I never wore my tablecloth again.