Sewing


As an aspiring sewist (I guess “seamstress” seems too old-fashioned, though I like it, and “sewer” clearly doesn’t work), I also read garment sewing blogs. Which are tremendously helpful fonts of advice and inspiration for sewing, but for thinking, offer an interesting counterpoint to discussions about pseudonymity and academic blogging.

Like academic blogs, there are many many women blogging about sewing (just one man I read regularly). Most of them have a bit of a persona, but also use a real first name, rarely last names. They post full-on pictures of themselves all the time, and sometimes their children—you have to, you can’t blog about garment sewing without posting pictures to show off, or ask for fitting advice as a garment is in progress. Garments might be shown on a dressform, but that is less common. (I might actually use my sewing blog if I had a good picture-posting workflow).

They are usually open about what city they are in, and sometimes people have meetups. (On the other hand, they are not findable as professors are—-that is, knowing a first name and city does not generally enable me to show up outside their office, as would be the case with most professors. A few people do specify their jobs.)

The content, unlike pseudonymous academic blogs, is pretty exclusively focused. The expectation is that blogs are dedicated to sewing—people will sometimes apologize for the occasional post that is not about sewing or clothes. A few of them have other blogs, but not very many.

Some other participant-observation notes:

  • The blog community seems to be an extension of the Pattern Review community, which does forums, classes, and contests as well as reviewing and selling patterns. A “pattern review” discusses making a garment in detail, and people often post their pattern reviews both on the PR site and as a blog post.
  • Garment sewing blogs also overlap and intermingle with the vintage clothing blogs, and general fashion/style blogs. They don’t overlap with the mommy bloggers that much, that I can tell.
  • The community is very international. Many more bloggers and commenters from England, Australia and New Zealand, but also continental Europe and Asia and a few people using Google Translate to automatically blog in two languages.
  • There’s also a significant number of black American women (a contrast with the mommy blogs, I believe).
  • Most of them are on Blogger—very few on WordPress—and they make heavy use of the Follower option in Blogger, tending to do giveaways when follower count hits 100, 200, etc, and keeping the widget in the sidebar.
  • Community interaction is pretty strong. Sometimes people just do random giveaways. Expert sewists often lead sew-alongs, where everyone buys the same pattern and works on the same project while the leader does instructional posts over a few weeks or months. Tutorials are common.
  • There are a lot of regular commenters with Blogger profiles who Follow blogs but do not have a blog themselves.
  • Comments are almost invariably positive compliments (this is difficult for me, as I tend to comment to debate rather than to agree).
  • I much more frequently run into blogs that disallow anonymous comments and have the name/url option turned off (which generally means I don’t comment much, especially since I don’t have a proper google account for my sewing identity, and thus don’t Follow any blogs).

PS. Sewing is going quite well. Just over a year after starting, I successfully made myself a flattering and attractive semi-formal silk dress for a gala weekend before last. I am very proud.

Considering trying to make quiche practically sent me into a mental breakdown, how in the world is it that I can deal with sewing, which everyone agrees is frustrating and where I am equally as ignorant?

A few things:

The first try in sewing is done in cheap fabric to identify potential problems, not in an attempt to get something edible that night (sometimes under the pressure of hunger). Unsuccessful projects can be recycled, or at least added to the scrap bag for eventual re-use, not just tossed in the trash or choked down.

Sewing takes longer, yes—but at the end I have something that will last, that I can use more than once. And I’m happier to repeat a skirt/dress pattern in three different fabrics than to eat varieties of quiche for three solid weeks.

After cooking, I have something that is edible, but I know would have tasted better if I had gone out to a restaurant and ordered it. Sewing only since February, I’ve managed to produce about 10 skirts and 1 dress that don’t fit me any worse than the clothes I buy, and are in colors and fabrics that I picked because I really liked them.

It’s much easier to move between sewing and my computer than cooking and my computer, since I don’t have to be washing hands or moving into another room. So both research and taking notes for next time are quicker and less annoying and less of an interruption to the process.

Sewing instructions take less for granted than cookbooks. There is a LOT less decision-making required, at least at the novice level. Patterns are very specific about the things you need and what you should do, including how much fabric you need at 45″ wide and how much if the fabric is 60″ wide (as opposed to basil being sold in ounces but measured in cups, and so forth). There’s none of this assumption that you know what difference it makes to throw in a quarter-cup of dill or basil or thyme—I learned the difference between a regular zipper and an invisible zipper by April, and that’s about the main choice I need to make.

Sewing turns out right. Yeah, it seems weird and crazy along the way, just like cooking, but when it’s done, I see how it works. It’s not as complicated. I see where I need to add a dart to fine-tune the fit on the next one or lengthen the skirt. When I finish cooking, I’m left with “this tastes bland, but I have no clue which spices or herbs it needs to improve.” Or I don’t like the texture, but don’t know which ingredient will change it.

If I can’t figure it out, I can take it to my weekly sewing studio to ask for advice. I can’t describe tastes over the phone to my mother or sister.

Learning to fit clothes teaches me to accept my body, to know it better, to conquer its flaws. Trying to eat healthy—um, doesn’t. Just doesn’t. At all.

Cookbooks say “this is easier than you think!” and they lie. Sewists say “yes, this is tricky, but you can do it!” and they are right.

Sewists remember their own frustration in learning something for the first time, and try to pre-empt it in tutorials. The catchphrase is “ask me how I know” (that doing X will fail. Because they tried it, and it failed). They say things like “okay, this is going to look really weird, but trust me, it works.” Cookbooks do not. I am very reluctant to cook something unfamiliar, when I don’t know how it’s supposed to turn out. I can look in my closet to see how some things are supposed to turn out.

(It’s possible that I am just reading the right sewists online, and not the right cookbooks or cooking blogs. The one sewing book I bought, Sew What! Skirts, I did occasionally find frustrating in the same way as cookbooks. There’s a sense of betrayed trust in my quiche post, and that’s a situation I tend to overreact to—for one reason or another, I don’t feel like I encounter it as much in sewing.)

Because sewing is not an expected skill, every functional achievement deserves pride, even if it didn’t come out exactly the way I wanted. Cooking always provokes a sense of trailing behind, desperately trying to catch up to where a 34-year-old woman ought to be.

I’m not decided enough to put them in my calendar or actually sign up quite yet, but I don’t want to do all the work of re-reading the schedules all over again, only to realize I’ve missed something I wanted.

And, for the person who thinks, “oh, that sounds fun. I wish I could do that,” you can. Find room for creativity the same way you find the time and money for exercise—making things nourishes your soul.

My general guideline for classes is that I’m happy to pay about $10/hour to learn something from a skilled artisan (about twice the cost of a movie), but I’ve been paying $10/hour for a long time (since grad school in 1998? wait, really? what happened to inflation?), so it’s probably time to up that. Glass is the most expensive, and that comes in at no more than $15/hour, materials included. Yes, I’m taking advantage of some taxpayer subsidies before I leave this town.

(I don’t like to be mean, but I can’t help laughing to see that the city offers, for one hour at $7: “CD Burning on Your Computer: Learn how to save photos, music, and essential files onto blank CDs (two provided with class).” “Intro to Twitter” is two hours and $10. But they also have a lot of adaptive recreation classes for adults with disabilities, which is very cool.)

  • silk painting teaser, 29 Sept. I love painted silk scarves, but I’m a crap artist. Hmm.
  • fused glass magnets, 30 Sept. I’m not really that into fusing, but I do love magnets. Although I’m pretty oversupplied. Should skip.
  • weaving, from 11 Oct. Unfortunately on Monday nights, conflicts with hula.
  • glassblowing: ornaments, 11 Oct or 16 Nov. DEFINITELY. Sad I have to wait until November because of hula.
  • soaps, lotion, and lip balms, from 20 Oct. Wait, I don’t even buy that stuff. Why would I want to make it? Getting carried away.
  • photographing fall colors, from 20 Oct. DEFINITELY. A classroom session, then a trip where presumably you get hands-on advice in the field, then show&tell in the classroom. I’ve been looking for a class that would help me set up better pictures and adjust on the fly (as opposed to “how to use your digital camera”) for forever, and I almost missed it because I misremembered my teaching schedule.
  • glassblowing: paperweights, 22 Oct. I did last spring, but enjoyed, could get better, paperweights are functional gifts and acceptable clutter.
  • finishes for sewn knit tops, 28 Oct. DEFINITELY. My favorite type of sewing class—here’s a bunch of skills to practice and we’ll talk about some ways you might apply them.
  • supervised glassblowing, from 2 Nov. Would be good, but I need to think about what I want to make. I won’t yet have learned to do ornaments, which leaves me with a repertoire of paperweights, useless misshapen flowers, and totally unsymmetrical cups. But the class is smaller and I’d get more focused time (two evenings) to get better, against the one-evening paperweights class. That would be three straight Tuesdays of glassblowing.
  • purse organizer, 9 Nov. Really don’t need a purse organizer but these are made out of plastic pet screen, and learning how to sew that could be handy. Re-examine the demo next time I’m in the fabric shop.
  • wire and glass pendant, 18 Nov. Not sure about having the metalworking skills for that. Beginning metalworking conflicts with hula, although metal jewelry/wirework would probably be a more long-lasting skill than glassblowing, which I really don’t have a knack for.

Still pending: class schedule from the other sewing shop.

  • Four dresses I’m perfectly happy with, just waiting for a good moment to wear them. Pictures taken so I can start cataloguing my closet in an iPhone app.
  • One dress and one skirt jettisoned.
  • Three dresses and two skirts in the “refashion” pile. The dresses and one skirt to be converted into long tanktops, the other skirt to go from ankle-length velvet to knee-length velvet with a kicky ruffle.
  • Two dresses I can jettison as soon as I know I can sew something better for myself.
  • Next year’s Halloween costume, as a bridesmaid.

Standing in a fabric store, researching which type of satin is best for pillowcases, how much satin I need, how to pick good thread.

Taking quick and easy shots in the process of sewing. I need to do more of this, I like to document things in the making.

Shots of pretty brocades in the fabric store to send to my friend so I can learn her tastes before making her a gift.

Shots of fabrics I want to make something from someday. I anticipate a lot of A-line or full skirts. Trying to figure out how I could make beautiful raw silk an everyday fabric, since I don’t need formal clothing.

Syncing my custom Fabrics, Projects, Patterns relational database to the phone so that I can continue to add pictures, ideas, notes on the go. In fact, I find myself adding pictures on the phone, because it’s way easier than using my laptop.

• • •

Unfortunately, I see a lot of rationale here for moving up to a phone with a better camera when Apple (presumably) releases one this summer. Maybe I can hold out another year. Planning to jailbreak after my warranty is up and the new one is out—that should help.

Six hours of sewing class, and I made a cosmetic bag and a satin pillowcase. Please note zipper, buttonhole, and ribbon. Soon will attempt hula skirt.