Costuming · Life · Sewing

Sewing camp!

Last Sunday I got home from a very cool new experience in my life: sewing summer camp.

Well, the “summer” part is certainly debatable, given the weather was chilly and damp across all five days. But “sewing camp” is certainly accurate! I went to this year’s Camp Workroom Social Wardrobe Week for the first time, joining a group of about 65% returnees, which tells you about how well-loved it is. After attending the first time, I can confidently say it won’t be my last.

What is sewing camp, you may ask? Well, it’s where a bunch of grown-ass adults gather at Frost Valley to hang out with other sewists, learn new things, and just sew for hours and hours of the day. My goal going into it was to sew a lot (check) and foster sewing friendships (check). The latter part was just as easy as the first part for me; I’ve always found it a joy to socialize with other people who are as intensely into the same interests as me. (One of my first solo trips as an adult out of college was to Abby Franquemont’s spinning retreat Stringtopia—I went knowing absolutely zero people ahead of time and still felt zero awkwardness hanging out with all of the fiber people and making new friends.)

My journey started very early Wednesday morning. I took Amtrak for the first time. I live close enough to DC for that to be an easy enough station to reach, and the station in New York City was super close to both the garment district and the shuttle bus meetup point. (It also cost me less than $100 in fare and gave me more room to stretch out than an airplane seat.)

Cross stitch while looking out a train window

Once in New York City, I had a few hours to kill, so I walked a few blocks to reach the famed Mood Fabrics.

[brief interlude begins]

I had never been to Mood in person before, but of course I had seen it as the featured fabric supplier for Project Runway. It’s pretty easy to get overwhelmed in there!

Hundreds of rolls of fabric in an aisle labeled "silk shantung"
(Hint: it’s very easy to miss that there is a lower floor, but that’s where all the normal everyday fabrics live, while the upper floor is very heavy on the silks and special occasions fabrics.)

I found some buttons there for my 1890s shirtwaist and picked out some trim for a future historical project, but I wasn’t specifically looking for fabric. That said, I had begun to consider that the fabric I needed for my Edwardian Espeon (coming sometime after 1890s Umbreon is done) would be challenging to find, because I’d need something lightweight, a little sheer, with good drape, and the right shade of lavender. I wandered down the aisle of cotton voiles and shirtings, and when I came to the end of the shirting section I saw It. I saw The Fabric.

Sheer, shiny lavender fabric on a roll next to a roll of brown fabric
a light came from the heavens and the angels sang.

It’s a cotton batiste with a beautiful sheen and a gorgeous drape. I bought eight yards and still felt a little pang I didn’t get ten, even though eight should be plenty. (It’s not on their website so if I needed more, I’d have to call them and hope for the best. But I have a budget. So I’m not going to call them. Eight should be plenty.)

Prizes in hand, I grabbed a bagel sandwich and a cookie from nearby and headed back to the station to meet the shuttle bus.

[Interlude ends]

It was a beautiful drive to Frost Valley. The progress of spring was several weeks behind where we were in Virginia, with the daffodils blooming and the forsythia only just beginning to explode in sunny yellow. Day 1 was just about getting settled in to our sleep space and sewing space. I stayed in a cabin with six bunk beds and one other person (the best roommate. Theresa—you rock).

A bunk bed with a handmade Christmas quilt on the lower bed
Is it weird that I felt bad stealing MY Christmas quilt from my cat Nadja who loves to lay on it?

Most of my luggage was sewing-related, despite not bringing my own sewing machine, so that took a little longer to set up. Then we listened to a cool lecture about cultivating personal style and did some socializing/getting to know you stuff.

THEN THE SEWING BEGAN. We were split up into smaller groups each with our own instructor, who was available to answer questions, provide advice, and generally keep the cats herded. There was a lot of variation in skill and experience levels, from relative newbies to experienced sewists who just wanted to bang out project after project. I’ve been time-tracking my projects lately, so I can tell you I spent 8.5 hours sewing on the first full day of camp, and that excludes significant breaks and mealtimes. In fact, I got so caught up in sewing on day 1 that I meant to take a snack break for over an hour before I was interrupted by lunchtime. On day 2 I spent almost 8.5 hours, and day 3 when we had to pack up early I still sewed for 5.5 hours.

On Day 1 I mainly worked on my 1890s shirtwaist (full post coming soon.) I had already mostly constructed it before camp, but I wasn’t able to finish it due to some fitting problems. The pattern is from McCalls and it, frankly, sucked. Fortunately my instructor, Diana, helped me fit the sleeves and armscyes, which I’d already manipulated a lot at the muslin stage but which still needed more work. When I got sick of working on the McCalls pattern, I bounced over to working on my 1890s vest, using a pattern from Black Snail.

Author trying on a muslin of the 1890s vest
The pattern fit almost perfectly straight out of the envelope. What a relief.

One thing I liked about the camp environment was that doing muslins didn’t feel like a drag like it normally does. I think this was a combination of having a lot of time available, having instructors there to help with fit issues, and generally having a supportive, sewing-literate environment. I saw a lot of people making muslins of their projects before starting them, and I think it was probably a higher percentage than if those people were starting those projects at home.

A black tool pouch on a blue plastic chair
I bought this super-neat tool belt / scissor holster at the trading post.

On Day 2 I finished the McCalls shirtwaist and put in a lot of work on the Black Snail vest. (Post also coming soon.) I also started muslining what I termed Weird Pants, which were my Regency-era fall-front breeches (also a Black Snail pattern). Those were designed to have an… unflattering… fit, so my goal was to get them to fit in a way that made my booty look decent. It was a good thing I made the muslin, because I also got a chance to learn how the pants go together. They’re very weird.

Author wearing a linen shirt with ruffles and a stupid-looking pants mockup
Weird Pants: they look even more questionable with a shirt tucked into them that’s about twelve sizes too large. This photo truly does not show how horrendously they fit at first.

I stayed up until like… 9:30pm sewing, which is very late for me. (I was once a night owl but after working night shifts for years, having to closely manage my insomnia, and wanting to be awake during daylight hours, I am an earlier bird these days.)

A forest at night with the moon

Day 3 was the last sewing day, and because we all had to be out of our spaces early the next morning, we had to pack everything up at 5pm. On Day 3 I finished my vest, including all 11 buttonholes and buttons. I got my Weird Pants muslin to an acceptable fit and got the pattern cut out in the final fabric. And last, I got the first several steps puzzled out and completed on the aforementioned Weird Pants before it was finally time to pack up.

Over the course of the sewing days, the various instructors would do lectures or workshops on topics in their specialty, and people could attend or not as they pleased. I admit I only went to one, having major FOMO on getting enough sewing time. (Did I mention I sewed over 21 hours over 3 days?) I did attend one led by my group’s instructor, Diana, on visible mending and embroidery, and I learned how to do satin stitch. I’m going to finish this little sample someday.

An embroidery sample

Camp wrapped up, more or less, on Saturday night with a social hour called “main character hour,” with the idea being that you dress “like you’re the main character in your own life.” I wore a favorite fancy outfit of mine: my wedding skirt, my black corset, and my Doc Martens. (Two out of those three were handmade.) There was ice cream and a little photobooth.

Sunday morning dawned and it was time to pack up the last of my stuff. We had a few more activities available, though it mostly felt like a bit of a waiting game until it was time for the shuttle bus to leave, and then at last it was time to say goodbye (or “good night”, which is what you’re supposed to say at camp, because of course you’ll see everyone again.) We arrived back in Manhattan in the pouring rain, and I took the train home.

Overall? I had an amazing time. I loved the chance to be super-focused on my projects AND have people around who could chat, cheer, and commiserate. The camp atmosphere was beautiful, albeit not the most luxurious, but I’d happily take bunk beds in a cabin over a more luxe but expensive experience if it meant more focus on the actual sewing. The weather could have been nicer, but at least I wasn’t particularly tempted to go outside! Getting back into my usual routine means mourning the hours upon hours of dedicated project time, and I’m already missing it as I get back into my life of distractions and interruptions.

A group of 9 women and/or femme-presenting people
Diana’s group. Diana is third in from the left.

Up next: I need to write the entire post on my 1890s shirtwaist and vest from scratch, but I have the 1860s Zelda underskirt post pretty much done! Friday is the release day for the new Zelda game, Tears of the Kingdom, so I suspect I won’t be sparing much time for anything else. 🙂