This probably wasn't the first dress I ever wore — I was more than a year old here, at my brother's christening — but it's the first dress I remember, in that weird kind of remembering that is nine-tenths composed of other people telling you what you should remember.
My grandmother made that dress, and I couldn't tell you if she knitted it or crocheted it. (My money's on crochet, though.) It has green velvet ribbons, which you can't see in the picture, and it's upstairs right now, in a box. I have a niece coming in August; maybe a year and a bit from now she'll wear it.
This is the last dress I made. Once Dad told me he liked a red bandanna skirt I had made, so I felt as if he would have approved of the black bandanna fabric. I was glad I had the fabric already; I hated the thought of going out and buying fabric for this last dress. Nothing would have been right; how could it have been? Besides, it was the just right weight for Florida in March, and when I lost it during "Be Not Afraid," the drops just beaded up and rolled off.
I used this pattern, for the first time. I went slow, much slower than usual for a first-time-through. I'd measure something and forget the number before I even put the ruler down. I had to move the little speed slider on my sewing machine from "jackrabbit" back down to "turtle." I kept sticking myself with pins.
I even tore the fabric of the bodice, ripping out stitches at the waist seam, but for once I didn't swear and throw it onto the "fix someday" pile; I just dug out some fusible interfacing and reinforced the tear. A little zig-zag stitching and a bit of cheating up when I redid that seam, and no one could have possibly spotted it, not even Dad, who could see a smudge or a nick or a speck of dirt from a hundred yards out.
As always, I made some changes to the pattern. I changed the front and back gathers on the bodice for darts, so as not to have to wear a belt (a blousy bodice looks awful without a belt, and my Good Black Belt is AWOL, as usual). I added deep pockets to the front seams — deeper than usual, as I wanted to be able to carry a full pack of tissues, maybe even two. I didn't want to have to carry a shoulder bag and then have it keep bumping into people when I hugged them. Dad had five sisters; I'm one of fifteen cousins; and friends were coming from all over: there was going to be a lot of hugging.
I know I'll wear this again — Dad was most emphatically NOT in favor of things that you could only use once — but I hope it's a long time before I need to wear it again. I might still want to have two packs of tissues in my pockets for a while, though. Just in case.
I'm going to miss you, Dad.
Thomas Albert McKean, 1944-2008.