Cookie banner

This site uses cookies. Select "Block all non-essential cookies" to only allow cookies necessary to display content and enable core site features. Select "Accept all cookies" to also personalize your experience on the site with ads and partner content tailored to your interests, and to allow us to measure the effectiveness of our service.

To learn more, review our Cookie Policy, Privacy Notice and Terms of Use.

clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
Photo: Visage/Getty Images

Filed under:

Fighting the Impending Apocalypse with DIY Fashion

A diary of sewing in a time of great stress.

Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.

October 26th: For numerous reasons, I’m about to enter a period of depression. The slow creeping death of a relationship, the pay cut I took to have a job I actually like, the state of the world. (I’m not worried. She’s going to win.)

When depression looms, I get a project. Past depression-busters include taking up indoor rock climbing and reading all of Proust. As the associate editor at a knitting magazine, I browse professional craftiness for a living, and that’s how I find the New Leaves Dress. I can’t afford the kit, but they are having a fabric sale, and if I buy the book on Amazon and make my own stencils… I deliberate for five minutes before rigging together an inadvisable amount of online purchases.

November 3rd: My sister is in town and we go shopping. Well, she goes shopping and I pine wistfully because my insurance is lousy and all my money goes to therapy and prescriptions. I fall in love with a gray hooded coat at COS, which I make the mistake of trying on. It was made for me.

I print 23 pages of stencil pattern on the office printer before anyone arrives to notice.

November 5th: I spend all day in my pajamas with Sons of Anarchy on. I stick the pattern pages to stencil plastic with spray-on adhesive in a room that is absolutely not well-ventilated. (I like to cut corners, and someday one of those corners is going to overwhelm me with fumes.) I cut out three pages with a craft knife. I can no longer feel my fingers.

November 8th: I feel good about this country. I don’t own a pantsuit, so I vote in a jumpsuit. I watch the results with my roommate and a glass of wine, planning to resume stenciling once it’s locked down. I ignore the day’s bad omens: 1. Seeing a flock of pigeons bird-napped in broad daylight, and 2. Tom Brokaw wearing a very loud tie.

I do not stencil, I am too angry and too drunk. I do not sleep, but toss and turn and feel seasick about the world.

November 9th: Is this what hell feels like? No one can look each other in the eye. I stare at my computer numbly all day and force myself to turn off Twitter every seven minutes, then turn it back on. This can’t be the world, but it is.

November 12th: THE FABRIC ARRIVES. It is undeniably beautiful, and I am seized with fear that I will ruin it. Also, sequins. I have more sequins than a non-drag queen human could possibly require. Maybe I can use the adhesive spray to attach them to my eyelids as a dupe for Pat McGrath Labs Metalmorphosis.

The definitive heartbreak I have been waiting for also arrives. Via email, because of course.

November 13th: I don’t really leave my bed, and am too depressed to work on anything other than SoA. My hedgehog Finn cuddles up under my shirt and sweetly doesn’t pee on me.

November 16th: I email my mom and tell her to throw away her New Balance shoes. She is excited to have an ethical reason to throw away uncomfortable shoes, but wants to know why I am hand-sewing a dress when I have a perfectly good sewing machine.

I write an email back to the boy who broke my heart, and my heart bleeds all over it.

I finish cutting the stencils. Finn celebrates by eating a freeze-dried mealworm off of my tummy. I still can’t feel my fingertips. I get an email from COS regarding 20 percent off of knitwear. The coat is not knitwear. I check anyways.

Gettin' there. Embroidered dress, piece the first. #embroidery #alabamachanin #sewing

A photo posted by @miss_otis_regrets on

November 21st: I cut out the dress, almost immediately cutting one piece incorrectly. I buy textile paints and a spray bottle, because that’s how you transfer the stencils. This is news to me, and I am nervous. In the morning, I dispose of a screaming glue-trapped mouse in my room. It’s not as bad if you don’t put your glasses on.

I get an email saying that mine moved him, and that a longer response is forthcoming. I breathe for the first time in days.

November 22nd: I could test the paint, or baste the neckline and armholes, but I've got that weighed-down depression where it’s hard to move. If I read the words ‘alt-right’ again I'll puke. Finn and I watch Bob’s Burgers. I get into bed at eight. I bet I dream about toll booths. I always dream about toll booths when I'm sad.

November 23rd: I tape the stencil together. A newly-cut stencil is all razor-sharp angles, and at some point, it draws blood on a finger already raw from climbing and hedgehog-wrangling. Dress 1, Molly 0.

November 26th: I gain at least seven pounds over Thanksgiving. Fidel Castro is dead.

Stencil-wise, the spray bottle is a joke and the paint I mix is the exact color of the fabric. I get a large amount of paint on the floor and myself.

COS seems determined to have no pre-holiday sale. I tell my friend about the coat and he asks me what size I wear. I tell him not to do anything rash, while secretly hoping he will do something rash.

That longer forthcoming email has not arrived.

November 28th: In the novels of my childhood, you can tell the good girl by her tiny, even stitching, and the bad girl by her slovenly embroidery. I am always and ever the bad girl. It is good my eyesight is poor, because the squinting I am having to do to determine where the pattern is would ruin it anyway. Finn does not seem to like it when I embroider. Is she jealous that I have other needles in my life?

The email I am still stupidly waiting for that is definitely not coming has still not come. Steve Bannon thinks only property holders should be allowed the vote, so at least I’ll have election days free for the foreseeable future. Maybe I can secure a standing brunch reservation somewhere.

The bank alerts me that my account is dangerously low. I only have one episode of Sons of Anarchy left. To cheer myself up, I block an ex who follows me on Twitter. It’s the little things.

November 29th: I figure the odds about the email. There's a one-third chance I get nothing, a one-third chance I get one and I hate it, and a one-third chance with a decent shot at a happy ending. My therapist thinks I am thinking very rationally. Maybe, but I also kind of lie to her sometimes.

I do a terribly difficult climb at the gym so I deserve the panini and Korean barbecue potato chips I get on the way home. I get four more leaves embroidered. Sons of Anarchy ends just the way I hoped: stupidly, with several montages set to ballads.

Tomorrow, we start The Shield. Finn likes Walton Goggins.

December 2nd: UghIsentanemail.

Piece one=done. Just three more to go. #alabamachanin #handsewn

A photo posted by @miss_otis_regrets on

December 5th: I am resigned to the fact that my embroidery looks decidedly primitive, like Henry Darger decided to take up sewing. Or Nell.

I am in the stage of relationship aftermath in which I realize that yet again, I was not Anne, I was Gilbert. All I can hope for now is scarlet fever. I purchase a pair of rose gold Beats headphones on a $12-a-month payment plan. You know retail therapy was Gilbert Blythe’s preferred form of self-care.

I am eating Newman’s Own vanilla cream cookies (slogan: Taste the Sugar Crystals!) when Finn bites my fingers, and for the first time, draws blood. That’s my girl.

December 7th: The dress consists of four panels of two layers each that must first be embroidered elaborately together. The first panel is finally fucking finished. I see Moonlight with a friend. I walk home in a rain I hadn’t known was coming, listening to Seu Jorge sing “Five Years.” I turn my face up to the cold raindrops and think about letting go and accepting things like cold rainstorms and being single and childless and 38. I think I’m doing a good job, but I get home and there is still no email.

When you no longer see the person you like seeing most, it’s suddenly clear how many people you see every day, and how much each one of them is just patently not that person. The subways are more crowded, the hallways narrower. I have a horror of contact, and if someone bumps into me I will level up into a higher tier of loneliness.

December 8th: I haven’t added a word to my novel in weeks. My heroine is in the bathtub. As it is a gothic Victorian novel, I hope she doesn’t get Lizzie Siddal-ed because the water gets cold.

I sew. I had forgotten how time-consuming hand-sewing is. Two years ago I hand-stitched a map of Paris, which was great in that I could say to myself, “Another arrondissement finished!” But this dress... I look up after an hour and a half and I have sewn two leaves and a branch. The thread snarls and knots itself over and over, and I have to take deep breaths in order not to just yank it in frustration, which would rip the thin jersey fabric. Sometimes I wish I was better at picking simpler things to get me through depression.

December 9th: Gut-churning anxiety. Bickering with myself over whether to email again, why, why not. Wondering why I’m making this dress. I realize: I’m making it as proof that I am here. It’s why I knit, why I write, why I buy things I don’t need: They are proof of me. When someone isn’t responding to you, it’s like you aren’t there. As a relatively small person, I get pushed and jostled. I get crowded off of sidewalks. These things that I make and do and buy, they are me, saying, “Look! I’m here!” I’m making a dress because my heart is broken, and I want it known.

December 11th: Yesterday I cried crouched in the shower for 20 minutes but managed to get myself out for climbing. At least I am on to the second half of the dress where the stenciling is actually visible.

I am plowing through The Shield, but here's the trouble: It's too good. In these troubled times, I want the ridiculous. I want Footballers Wives. That shit was my jam.

December 12th: I sew at a coffee shop during lunch, pretending not to hope that He Who Still Hasn’t Fucking Emailed will walk by because Of Course His Office is Next Door to My Office. It’s cold out, but Scott Pruitt is now heading the EPA, so this might be one of the last cold winters. The coat is still not on sale. I now sneer when I walk by COS.

A scientist has recommended that NASA build an interceptor rocket to fend off comets and asteroids. I am increasingly of the opinion that we should just in throw in the towel. Aleppo alone should make us realize the jig is up.

After weeping straight through a therapy appointment, I semi-inadvertently shove a woman blocking the subway turnstile. She catches up to me to yell, but thanks to my new Beats headphones I can’t hear her and respond with generic New York swears. I pass her later on the platform, and she chants at me “sad face, sad face.” There’s nothing to say to that. I do have a sad face.

I wouldn't email me back, either.

December 14th: Something happens today that is so quietly devastating that I think I’m not going to write it down. I’m that tiny crouched Kermit doll.

December 18th: There's no deadline like a craft deadline, especially a self-imposed one. There will be no shower today. Cutting out the inside of the leaves feels dangerous and decadent. And slow. So fucking slow. I am trying to be minimal with the sequins, but as a devoted follower of RuPaul’s Drag Race, it's a challenge. Finn is huffy. My fingers are red and puffy from the scissors.

After hours and hours I stop to take a picture and I realize that this dress is going to be just beautiful. I had been so focused on finishing that I stopped paying attention to what it was becoming.

Maybe he will never email me back. Maybe we will never speak again. Maybe time alone will jolt him and he will realize that we deserve another chance, the chance we never quite got. Maybe I will marry someone else and have triplets and write novels and be happier than I can imagine. Maybe I will stay a spinster and die alone. Maybe Trump will blow up the world and nothing will matter at all. I wish I knew which direction things were about to take. But maybe I should just remember that as long as I still have the capacity to make something beautiful, that is enough for now. That has to be enough.

I decide to give myself a break. I won't finish tonight. I put Finn back in her cage and go to bed. Honestly the thought of finishing is unsettling, so I think... maybe I will let myself slow down and enjoy the process a little more.


Aging, but Make It Fashion


The Death of the Plain Preppy Sneaker


Navigating the Intensely Gendered World of Hair Salons When You’re Queer

View all stories in Essays