When I was sixteen, my sister Sarah caught an interest in sewing and asked for lessons. She was always jumping from hobby to hobby, but this one was practical, so my parents paid for lessons. My family was on the conservative side; I was chided for crying as a child, while Sarah caught flak for being into sports too much, and we went to church every Sunday and sometimes more often than that. However, my mother believed that men should be able to do at least simple mending, too—given the generations of tailors who had sewn—so she signed me up as well, and there was no getting out of it.
To be honest, I thought it would be boring at first. And for the first few lessons it was, as we learned how to wind the bobbin full of thread, to thread the needle, to sew a straight and curved stitch without going through our own fingers, to change the needle between projects. The first few things we made, I threw out as soon as I had shown them to Mom.
But just as my sister was losing her interest in it and going back to drawing birds, something about sewing grew on me.
People used to think that women were bad at math. People used to expect the women to sew the family’s clothing. This is a contradiction.
I had always liked math—not enough that I was planning to go into statistics or anything, but I had had the fortune to be taught by a couple of really good math teachers. They explained things well, they related concepts to the real world, and they would go off on interesting little tangents that made me want to learn more. Whenever Sarah complained that she would never ever really actually have to use anything she was learning in math class, I took great glee in pulling out a pencil and paper and proving her wrong.
Anyway. Sewing requires one to take a two-dimensional pattern and fit it to a three-dimensional person. It was necessary to correctly calculate the amount of fabric that was needed: too much meant overpaying and having fabric left over, while too little meant that there was a need to go back and buy more. Sometimes it was easier said than done—but I at least found it fun.
And fabric was nice to work with. The ladies teaching our sewing class brought samples of different fabrics to our class one day. Cotton in an array of colors. Silk so smooth it snagged on my fingertips. Wool that was a little itchy but warm. Rayon that almost felt like the silk, cool to the touch. Fabric that was soft, or stiff, or so thin it almost floated. The first time my mom took me to a fabric store and left me alone, I didn’t emerge for hours. I just wanted to touch and see all it had to offer, imagining the blankets and dresses and suits it could all be made into.
My mom offered to buy me a sewing machine if I helped her clean out the spare room to put it in, and we spent a week sorting out photo albums, old toys, and half-finished projects. It took forever to vacuum out the dust, and we had to scrub down the walls, and the desk needed a new coat of paint, but in the end I got my sewing machine and a whole room to use it in.
After that, I taught myself how to tailor things. When my dad bought new pants and needed them hemmed, or a zipper on my sister’s dress broke, or when Mom’s purse needed repairs, I was the one they went to. My parents had despaired for years at the fact that I was a T-shirt-and-jeans kind of guy, and that was still how I preferred to dress, but I found that nice buttoned shirts became more tolerable if I was the one to make them.
And then one day I was looking up sewing tutorials on the web—I was thinking of making a coat, something warm but stylish—and after much adjusting of search terms and following related links, I stumbled upon a tutorial for a very strange-looking coat made of leather with a giant zipper up the front, like something out of a video game or comic. It looked cool, but it wasn’t everyday wear. The tutorial was written pretty clearly, though, so I scrolled up to see if there were any more.
It was a site dedicated to ‘cosplay’—now what was that?
Six hours later, I looked up from photos of people wearing amazing costumes and a million tabs full of tutorials when Mom knocked and told me to come to dinner. I hardly said anything at the meal, just ate my food as quickly as I could so I could get back.
I wanted to do it. These people looked so cool—girls in giant hoop skirts, guys in period suits, people in armor, and people with delicately styled wigs and with props that almost looked like real weapons. I could hardly decide what character I wanted to dress up as first, and I already knew how to sew and buy fabric, so that part would be easy.