I'm sure none of you would be surprised that I spent my Saturday afternoon sewing. After all, that's what I'd spend all my free time doing, if I could. You might be surprised to learn that I was doing alterations (given how often I've loudly proclaimed how I hate to do alterations). However — this was for a very good cause. I spent Saturday afternoon taking up shoulder straps, putting in quick darts, and mending seams that had divorced themselves from zippers, all for a Chicago nonprofit that connects gently used dresses, shoes, jewelry and accessories with girls who would otherwise not have a chance to go to their proms appropriately attired.
Yesterday, I was told, more than 500 girls came through the "boutique," held in a disused school in Cabrini. 126 dresses came through the "alterations department", where, when I arrived for my shift at noon, half a dozen cheerful women were seated behind machines in a giant metal cage. (When a fire alarm went off, none of us moved, and the Triangle Shirtwaist jokes came thick and fast …)
It was hard to decide what was more fun — sitting and joking with the other alterations volunteers, our laps full of satin and lace, or watching the girls try on their altered dresses and seeing their excitement and anticipation.
I really enjoyed talking with the other volunteers (and I'm not just saying that because I told them about this blog!). Two, Julie and Holly, run their own sewing business — custom vintage-inspired bridal and party dresses, which is really worth checking out! They took off a whole Saturday, in the height of the bridal-planning season, to volunteer. Chris, one of the other volunteers, told me about a new sewing organization in Chicago, Haute Couture (although a cursory Google didn't turn it up, I'm sure I'll find it).
It was freeing to do alterations "commando-style" — since speed was of the essence, we didn't bother with undoing facings or seams. We just made it fit, double-stitched so the fixes would hold through a night of energetic dancing, and grabbed the next dress off the rack. "Who's got the blue thread?" "I need to do some darts, is there a machine free?" "How would you fix this?" "Is there any Fray-Chek?" "Can somebody slip-stitch this closed?" we would call, as Marilyn and Maureen, the fitters, flitted back and forth, pinning the girls, taking up hems, and double-checking the alterations. It was like Habitat for Humanity, only with dresses.
Unfortunately, I can't make next weekend's boutique (I'm out of town), but I'll definitely be back next year. There are similar organizations in most major cities — Google "prom donation [your city here]" and you'll track them down. You'll be glad you did.