An entire runway collection begins with a single pillowcase.

Last week, I took an intro to sewing class, along with five other women, at the Urban Craft Center on Main Street. This was not the first time I had used a sewing machine.

At 12, during a summer spent with my mother’s parents, Grandma Doris taught me how to sew a potholder, and then a baby doll quilt. Simple projects. I have no idea what became of either of them; I suppose they got lost in a move or three. But at the time, I was ridiculously proud of myself.

I didn’t sit down in front of a sewing machine for another six years. At 18, I signed up for sewing lessons at the local fabric store. We paid by the hour and the sewing teacher helped us along on any project we brought in. I wanted to make a dress. I looked through the store’s patterns and one struck my eye, not because I thought it would look good on me (it wouldn’t), but because it was Donna Karan.

Most people, smart people, choose cotton for their first foray into dress-making. Cotton is user-friendly. I chose a two-way stretch knit.

And to make matters worse, I chose a fabric in champagne (the color Vogue magazine had declared its color of the season), regardless that I have yet to meet anyone who actually looks good in champagne.

I wasn’t going to waste my time with a pattern by Simplicity or Butterick.

The champagne knit Donna Karan is folded up in a drawer. In the end, the dress cost more to make than it would have cost to buy, and I never wore it. It’s not that it didn’t turn out. On the contrary, it was perfect. But it washed me out and was so clingy that even at 18 I would have needed Spanx to make it work.

The general rule is that you should get rid of a piece of clothing if you haven’t worn it in a year. The Donna Karan recently celebrated her 11th birthday. She’s different. She is proof that I finished something, unlike the dance lessons, violin lessons and opera lessons. That dress is my recital. While I can’t sing in front of an audience without becoming paralyzed by stage fright, tap dance, or play a musical instrument, I think I might be able to sew.

So, last week, I sat around a big table with five very hip Westside women in cute skirts and little dresses, munching olive-oil popcorn and dried apricots, refreshing myself on what a presser foot is and how to thread a bobbin.

What brought these women to this table? Do we all have secret fantasies of constructing our own collections, fed by watching “Project Runway” and years of playing with Barbie dolls? Is it the need to create, to produce, to bring something of value into the world?

Is it fear? How many times a day can a person hear the word “crisis” before she goes absolutely bonkers?

There is always a crisis, except in front of a sewing machine. If you sew one of the sides of your pillowcase wrong side out, you can rip out the seams and redo it.

I doubt any of us signed up for the sewing class to save money by making our own clothes. It used to be, or so I’ve heard (me: child of the microwave generation), that sewing your own clothes was economical. Not anymore. Cute fabric isn’t cheap, and neither are sewing lessons. My pillow ended up costing over $80.

It was totally worth it. I floated home from class, dreaming up my next project. A one-shouldered silk ball-gown. Or maybe something easier, in cotton.

Mariel Howsepian digs black coffee, fairy tales and a man in coveralls. She lives in Santa Monica and can be reached at

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