April 11, 2013 by Jean
When I signed my retirement agreement several weeks ago (see Taking the First Step), I noted that entering this pre-retirement phase felt “like the planning stage of a big vacation, full of anticipatory excitement.“ I usually indulge myself in a long period of planning and anticipation before I take a vacation to a new place. I learn the geography of the place by reading travel memoirs with a map open by my side; I learn about the culture by reading novels from and about the place; and I consult travel guides to dream about where I would like to go and what I would like to see. I enjoy this process so much that ten years ago, when I had to cancel a long-planned two-month trip to Australia because my father was gravely ill, I almost felt as though I had actually gotten there.
I have been indulging reveries about retirement in that same spirit of preparing to visit a new country. Recently, my dreams have been about sewing. When I was in my teens and twenties, I sewed all my own clothes. I never took any sewing classes, but learned from doing and from books, with help from my mother. Over time, I graduated from simple patterns to designer looks and tailoring. When I got to my thirties, however, I found that I no longer had time to sew clothes – and instead used my newly acquired professional salary to buy what I wanted. A number of things have happened to turn my attention back to sewing. First, the favorite Maine retailer from whom I bought almost all my clothes for more than two decades changed their business model and their offerings so that I can no longer find clothes there that fit me well or that are in the fabrics, colors or styles that I want to wear. Second, I’ve become addicted to fashion design programs like Project Runway and Fashion Star. And then, as I was thinking about the addition I am planning to build on my house, I began to question the wisdom of a guest room that would be empty and unused much of the time, and it occurred to me that the guest room could double as a sewing room. The idea of a room for sewing projects got me dreaming about sewing clothes in exactly the styles and colors and fabrics I want and that would fit me perfectly.
The internet makes this kind of dreaming all too easy. A couple of weeks ago, when I was supposed to be working on something else, I found myself reading online reviews of sewing machine models and making a list of machines that would, for a reasonable price, provide the features I need (like an automatic needle threader for aging eyes!). From there, it was just a quick Google search and a couple of clicks to start choosing patterns for the clothing I would like to sew. The next step from there was looking at web sites for high end fabrics.
At this point, it occurred to me that if I were going to pay $40-$60 a yard for couturier fabrics to make clothes from fancy designer patterns, I might want to brush up my rusty sewing skills first. I remembered how excited my mother was about a pattern-making course that she took when I was a teenager, and this led me to a browser search for “sewing classes Maine.” The second item in the results list was a private sewing school, Portland Sewing, offering beginning to advanced classes at reasonable prices. As I perused their offerings, I got more and more excited. There was a 3-course sequence in “apparel construction” that was exactly what I was looking for. And, if I wanted, I could go on from apparel construction to pattern making and draping.
In the next few days, I found myself back at the Portland Sewing web site many times, feeling more and more enthused and making more and more concrete plans for when I could begin taking the apparel construction courses. (It was hard not to just quit work immediately and start sewing school!) Then, with a sinking feeling, I realized that I had never checked the address; I had simply imagined where they were likely to be – along Congress Street in downtown Portland’s arts district, probably near the Maine College of Art. I went back to the computer, clicked on my now-bookmarked link to Portland Sewing, scrolled down the page to the address, and discovered what I had feared: Portland Sewing is not in Portland Maine at all, but more than 3000 miles away in Portland Oregon. It’s all too easy to imagine the seriously flawed Google algorithm that went from a search for sewing classes in Maine to sewing classes in Portland (Maine’s major metropolitan area) to sewing classes in any Portland. (Bing, by the way, did much better with this search; it didn’t get to Portland Sewing until page 2 of the results.)
I’ve had to give up my dream of Portland Sewing’s apparel construction classes; there is nothing like this available in Maine or even in Boston. Instead, I’ve switched my dreaming and planning over to the first listing from my search, Atelier Stitch (which really is in Portland, Maine), where a single seamstress offers private lessons and small classes. Although I’ll miss the excitement of the classroom atmosphere and the challenge of a set curriculum, the advantage is that I can get lessons focused on exactly what I need and not spend time on skills or projects I don’t need.
This is feeling a lot like my cancelled trip to Australia. Even though I’ll never get to take classes at Portland Sewing, I thoroughly enjoyed planning them, and I developed my sewing dream in the process. Here’s to indulging in retirement dreams – but use the internet with caution!