Rewriting and Revising a Story …

My mother was a fabulous seamstress. She made all of her own clothes, all my sister’s clothes, and all of mine. Dresses, blouses, skirts, coats, jackets, hats – nothing was out of her reach. In fact, I didn’t have a store-bought dress until I was 21. She didn’t design or make up her own patterns from scratch but she did have a predilection for high style. The result? She used only Vogue patterns. They were more stylish and more difficult to make.


Vogue Pattern Book for April-May 1969

She also had a predilection for fine fabrics. To buy these goods, we would make a trip into downtown Buffalo to go to a store I only knew as “the rabbi’s.” The store was in an older section of Buffalo in a red brick building, the brick discolored by soot from Buffalo’s heavy industry. The interior of the store, one of several in the building, had a high ceiling, was rather narrow, and extended deep into the structure. Fabric was wrapped around stiff cardboard cylinders much like small rolls of carpeting which were stacked along the side and rear walls plus on tables extending down the length of the store .

The rabbi knew his goods. If my mother wanted fine woolens, he led her to one table. If she wanted Egyptian cotton, he led her to another. Sometimes he had to go up on a ladder or use a hook to get the fabric roll down from where it was stored along the wall. The rabbi was from Poland, spoke Yiddish to his wife and daughter who often assisted him, and wore the traditional clothes of his belief. I never knew any more about him. But he always made sure my mother was happy with her fabric and that it had been measured carefully.

One of my mother’s proud moments was to make all the dresses for my wedding including my gown. Of course we went to the rabbi’s. We found raw silk for my mother’s dress, cotton sateen for the bridesmaids. He helped us decide on an eggshell colored satin for my gown and fine Belgian lace for its trim. The gown turned out to be beautiful and just what I wanted.


Young Mother Sewing by Mary Cassatt

Sometimes one of us needed a seam let out or taken in, or wanted to adjust the style, or raise or lower a hem.  In other words, the dress needed to be altered. She would take her seam ripper, remove the old stitches, and resew the garment. Often the garment needed to be tried on several times during the process. But when the person tried on the altered garment, and that person’s face lit up because the dress looked and felt better, my mother’s face would light up, too.

She always said she would rather make a garment from scratch than alter an existing one. It was more work after you thought your creation was finished.

What does all of the above have to do with rewriting and revising a story? It’s the way I feel about the current story I’m working on right now. It was compelling to get the story written down. A flurry of excitement, a rush. But now I have to start revising, as in ripping out the seams, loosening here, tightening, cutting.

In keeping with this sewing analogy, my current story needs some alterations. Here’s what I have to do …

  1. Remove and relocate or cut too much exposition front-loaded at the story’s beginning.
  2. Expand two paragraphs to increase tension
  3. Make sure the point of view is clear. I did not stay close enough to my protagonist to assure I was revealing only what she saw and thought.
  4. Incorporate the senses in two scenes.
  5. Cut some detail that does not push the story forward.
  6. Look at a section where I can do more showing and less telling.

My work is cut out for me, so to speak. I know I’m going to be happier with the revised product. In the end, it will “fit” better.

I never developed my mother’s love for sewing. I knew how. I took Home Ec in high school and made a gathered skirt. I made three dresses for my trousseau, and worked as a costumer on the musical Guys and Dolls making, among other garments, fake mink stoles. Other than that, I must say my “sewing” has been exclusively with writing.

About cmwriter

I'm a writer ... of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. I blog about writing, short stories, poetry, books, plays, and thoughts on life. Love reading and travel and being with friends!
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10 Responses to Rewriting and Revising a Story …

  1. (kris)tinaboucher says:

    This is such a great analogy! I agree – writing the first draft is much more exciting. Revising isn’t nearly as fun – it feels more like work. I really enjoyed reading that, thank you for posting!

    • cmwriter says:

      Thank you, Tina! Adding to the analogy, my mother also felt that a garment could be put together efficiently but, if it didn’t fit properly, it would never show off as it should. Fitting a garment … like an author revising a story to “fit” better. Glad you stopped by.

  2. Carol, I’m working on a memoir essay that keeps growing and has been reworked several times. It may some day be a finished piece.

  3. Rachel Canchola says:

    Loved this story. I had a very talented aunt that would create her own designs using newspapers for her patterns. She and your mother, such talent. Would love to see your wedding dress some day. It must be such a treasure for you to have. 😘

    • cmwriter says:

      Thank you, Rachel. Interestingly, one day my niece asked if she could wear my dress for her wedding. With a few alterations, it fit her perfectly. She wore it for the ceremony at Chapman University’s Chapel in Orange. And I think it may be worn again in the future. A lovely tradition and a tribute to my mother. Yes, I agree. It is a treasure.

  4. You have really developed your personal history voice! Best ever!

  5. Danielle Cook says:

    Another beautiful and relevant story! It reminded me of my mother although she was NOT the best seamstress. I remember an unfortunate easter outfit she made me with a matching coat that literally fell apart on the church steps. It had been basted because she ran out of time. I absently pulled on the thread- a lesson for us all!

    The analogy was “spot” on, re-writing (groan) is always harder to do than starting over. However, as you said, it leads to a better fit and an outcome that will make you proud. Thank you for sharing.

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