The pattern books spread across the long, white, slanted table. Spotting the orange and black tab, I grabbed it and flipped to the back. My eyes ran over the photos on each page, imagining what I would look like in each costume. My mind danced with images of spiderwebs and princesses, Renaissance ladies and mermaids. Near Halloween, I always loved going to the fabric store with my mom, where we would pick out the patterns and the fabrics for the costume she made me each year.
No matter how absurd or complicated, my mom took on my requests with aplomb. She cultivated both my imagination and love of elaborate dress-up. Now that I’m making costumes for my own children, I realize how much a labor of love all of it was.
In the beginning, she dressed me how she wanted – after all, I didn’t have an opinion! My first costume was a round little pumpkin for my eight-month-old body. It now clothes a well-worn Snoopy who sat on the stairs of my parents’ old house for years.
The dancing bear was the first costume I remember requesting. As it was a completely ridiculous request, it wasn’t something she could pick up a pattern for at Joann’s. Despite the challenge, she made me a huge furry costume, complete with a tutu and giant bear’s head. Other costumes that required serious improvisation included the Wizard of Oz’s Glinda the Good Witch (Dorothy was boring) and a peacock (she attached the “tail” to the back of a sweatshirt).
In fact, I don’t remember her ever turning something down because it would pose too much of a challenge. I think she took pride in the fact that I didn’t have the same costume as anyone else.
Because she had always done it, I took my homemade costumes for granted. Even though I knew other kids had store-bought costumes, it never registered that what she did was special.
So I never bothered learning to sew. She enjoyed making my costumes and I didn’t like crafting, so why bother? The fact that I should reduce her burden or that she would like to teach me didn’t occur to me. I saw the world through a child’s narrow focus, blind to the idea that their parents might have needs and desires of their own.
What’s embarrassing is how long I held this blind spot. While I hadn’t asked her to make me a costume since high school, I did ask her to make Sprout’s first real one. I had a vision of my toddler as a miniature T-Rex and knew that I couldn’t do it myself. While I knew it was a big request, I didn’t realize how big until I watched her obsess over every detail.
How much work meeting those high standards required hit home last year when we made our Guardians of the Galaxy costumes. Even though I started with a pre-made pants and shirt, my Gamora costume took weeks to customize. Simply finding the elements to go into it took several evenings of searching on the Internet and trips to the craft store. In contrast, my mom made all of my costumes from “scratch,” rarely using any pre-made pieces that she could sew on her own. While she usually worked from patterns, she frequently tweaked them to make key changes and improve fit.
I now want to learn how to sew from my mom, all these years after she first tried to teach me. Just as wearing her costumes brought us together, I hope her teaching me to sew will as well. It may also result in exasperated sighs from both parties, but that’s an inherent part of mother-adult daughter bonding. And when my boys get old enough, I hope I can pass this skill down to them.