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A Reason for Ruffles

I had never been the type to wear rows of ruffles, but I wore the style anyway
Threads #215, Fall 2021

A few years ago, I retired from a long and busy teaching career. My husband and I relocated to Texas. I hadn’t had time to sew in ages and, in truth, little desire. I was content to spend my golden years in my favorite T-shirts. However, necessity caused me to rediscover sewing and create a new, more feminine, style for myself.

It happened after my husband and I were hit by a drunk driver. Fortunately, no one’s injuries were life-threatening, although mine would change my life in surprising ways. A complicated rib injury prevented me from wearing a bra. The thought of going braless sounded comfortable, but it was not a good look for this grandma. Whenever a neighbor came over, I would quickly grab a full apron and tie it around myself. I realized I couldn’t wear an apron out into the world, though. It was time to dust off the sewing machine and sew a solution.

For Plan A, I lined a few old T-shirts and attached pockets to the lining to hold bra pads. This was a great concept, but more times than I care to admit, I would reach for something in one direction and the T-shirt would go in another direction (with bra pads attached).

On to Plan B. Pockets on a shirt front seemed like a good solution, especially when lined, but after a few garments I realized I didn’t want an entire wardrobe of shirts with lined patch pockets. Also, when these pocketed shirts were made with plaid fabric, a lady could start to feel as if she resembled a lumberjack.

I turned to my BurdaStyle magazines for Plan C. Though I’d sewn for decades, the European patterns intimidated me. The instructions are complex and written without illustrations. For my first project, I chose a short-sleeved raglan pullover top design, with rows and rows of overlapping, unhemmed ruffles on the front and sleeves. The neckline was wide and easy to pull over the head. I bought a mint green woven and decided to give the design a try.

Because the pattern format—a few large pullout sheets in the center of the magazine, printed with overlapping, color-coded patterns—was new to me, it took me several hours to trace my pattern size and then cut out the top. The ruffles did not have pattern pieces, and I was on my own to figure out the spacing. But I did it. When the top was complete, it was modest, comfortable, and fit well. It wasn’t quite my style, as I had never been the type to wear rows of ruffles, but I decided to wear it anyway.

One day, I wore my new creation to the store. As I was shopping in the produce section, I encountered a sweet lady who complimented me on my top. Instead of a short, gracious thank you, I launched into the whole story of the drunk driver, my injured rib, and the bra ban that led to me sewing a top full of ruffles. Poor lady. She got more than she bargained for when giving me a compliment.

I wore the ruffled top again to one of the first events I attended in my new neighborhood, a monthly ladies’ birthday club lunch. What a surprise to find the lady from the store. She was one of my new neighbors, and we’ve been friends ever since.

I eventually learned to sew bras that I can wear comfortably under T-shirts. I also developed a new love for feminine clothes, and I sew tops that have gathers, flounces, lace, bows, and, yes, ruffles. I even sew tops made from semisheer fabrics with long billowy sleeves, perfect for a Texas summer where the sun is hot and the restaurant air conditioning is cold. Quite by accident, I found a softer, frillier, more feminine me and rediscovered an interest in sewing.

Cathy Pierce happily sews in LaRue, Texas.


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  1. Heidi_Parkes | | #1

    I love this article! Similarly, I prefer to skip the discomfort of wearing a traditional bra, and I loved hearing about your approach and the surprise friendship that came from your shirt! I'm a quilter, so I've done mare layering, quilting, and pockets, but ruffles have been on my to-make list for a while. Thanks for the inspiration! I tried to look for your name on instagram, and would love to see photos of you in your outfits if possible. ❤️

  2. RWoven | | #2

    What a joyful and hilarious read! Ideas I can implement right away!

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