Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sew Much To Do!

For everything there is a season. For some, fall is football season. For hubby, it's hunting. For me, this is sewing season. Actually, I sew three seasons of the year but must (reluctantly) set it aside during the extreme heat of summer. So, as temperatures begin dropping and leaves turn golden, sewing fever grabs hold.

I didn't begin sewing for its economy, though. It was the poor fit of most store-bought attire that prompted my interest. With body proportions that vary from "regular" I was often frustrated when clothes shopping. If a blouse fit through the chest, the arms were several inches too long and the shoulders drooped. If arm-length and shoulders fit, then chest buttons could take out an eye at thirty paces. It was similar with slacks. If the rise fit, the legs were voluminous and inches too long. If the leg fit, then the pants rise went only to my hip and no amount of tummy sucking will see those zippers closed. The aggravation was so great that I began to avoid clothes shopping altogether. Tailoring was an option, I realize, but our budget just didn't have the wiggle-room for the added expense on top of the clothing purchases. Forget couture!

Then, a few years ago, tired of being pinched or bound by ill-fitting clothes, I decided to learn sewing. I knew the first projects would likely not be the best quality, but I was prepared to suffer a little ugly to have clothes that actually fit. What a concept! I was right, too. Those first few projects had their problems. But, I had begun with "home clothes" like sleep and casual wear, so nobody (other than family) would see those mistakes which, hubby assures, weren't bad at all. With each project, my knowledge and skill grew. Interpreting pattern directions can still be confusing, but most of the techniques and production steps have become routine. For the occasional conundrum, I reference a handy sewing book, inherited from my mother, and that usually helps decipher even the most convoluted pattern directions. When all else fails, I have my go-to people (Mom and my BFF) who have, combined, literally decades of sewing experience between them.

The unsought "bonus" was thrift.

Even using the more luxurious fabrics, I can make garments less expensive than similar store-bought clothes. FAR less expensive. Of course, there are patterns and notions (thread, elastic, lace, etc.) to be accounted for however those items are usually used for more than one project so their nominal costs are defrayed by that number. I've extended the life of one oft-used pattern by tracing it on tissue paper before it disintegrated. I've also created "adjusted" pattern pieces (to better fit my body proportions) in a similar fashion.

But, the cost-saving doesn't end with the production of the garment. The night wear I made first, over three years ago, is still in use. No seams have opened. The material isn't threadbare. A few buttons are just now becoming loose, but that's an easy fix. I've come to realize that store-bought clothing is not exempt from the marketing evils of planned obsolescence. What else can explain the tripling (at least) of these garments' lifespan?

I had someone tell me they prefer to wear the latest fashions. That's never been a priority for me, but I can understand the desire. Sewing doesn't preclude this fashion choice, though. Each season, I see new patterns reflecting the latest styles added to the collections of all the major pattern-makers (Simplicity, Butterick, and Vogue, to name a few of my usual choices.) Also, if you're like me and have difficulty finding store-bought clothing that fits well, you might find it tough to part with the few clothes which do. These personal gems, when they reach their end-of-days can be "exploded" (carefully taken apart with a seam-ripper) and the pieces used to create your own pattern.

Creating couture-quality clothing is something I aspire to, but it takes time, patience and practice to achieve that goal. If you're interested in sewing, I've got a few simple hints to share, lessons hard-learned that don't appear in pattern instructions or most sewing books. Here are a few of those suggestions:
  • Prior to any project, oil, if necessary, your sewing machine and then clean the machine and the sewing area thoroughly.
  • Before cutting or sewing anything, read the instructions through to ensure you have all the necessary fabrics, notions and understanding to complete the project.
  • Pencil-mark the relevant steps to the particular version of the pattern you've chosen to make – this will help you avoid following any alternate instructions erroneously. (Yes, I learned this the hard way.)
  • Prepare a bobbin with more than enough thread to ensure it won't run out mid-seam.
  • When cutting fabric I've discovered it's easier (being right-handed) to cut in a clockwise direction. This keeps my scissor blade better aligned with the pattern edge without causing as much a gap between pattern and fabric. I assume the opposite direction may be best for left-handed cutters.
  • Cut with long, even slices. Short cuts tend to create a more jagged fabric edge.
  • Where there may be confusion later, mark the "front" (or the "good") side of fabric with a basted stitch of contrasting thread which can be easily removed later.
  • Pin frequently and closely: to avoid pattern-gapping during the fabric-cutting process – serious problems can result from a poorly cut fabric; and, to avoid sewing problems like puckering or seam allowance folding.
  • Iron frequently. Coupled with pinning, this helps keep fabrics from creasing which can also create bunching or unwanted folds in seam lines.
  • Using small remnants of the fabric(s) you are sewing, fold as necessary to represent the layers you will be sewing, and use these to accurately establish the perfect tension on your machine. Reset the tension whenever the layering changes. Make a note of each of these settings so you can quickly reset the tension as required.
  • When threading elastic, make sure to "anchor" the hind-end with another safety pin to prevent it from slipping inside the opening before you're able to join the ends.
  • And, perhaps the hardest lesson: When in doubt, rip it out! On my second project – sewing some pyjamas for my grandchild – I made an error very early in the project. I hesitated, feeling something was amiss, but, rushed by a Christmas deadline, I hurried on. Later, I came to regret that decision when I discovered the problem and had to seam-rip the entire project back to that point. Ugh! Not fun. And, a royal waste of precious time!
Top left: ironed fabric; Middle left: pattern lay-out; Bottom left: first stitches;
Top right: pressing seams; Middle right: attach lining; Bottom right: elastic ready for threading;
Centre: hang for 24 hours before hemming.
Certainly there is a time-cost to sewing. Not all projects need be overly time-consuming, however. The skirt I've featured in the photo collage was produced in approximately three hours. (The pattern had already been cut for a previous project.) I must admit, though, that time spent sewing doesn't feel like a "cost" to me. Craft work is fun and this one offers me immense gratification with tangible, practical, and functional results. Happily, too, the clothes have been longer lasting and better fitting than what I'm able to find in most retail shops.

As this blog goes to post, my new skirt has hung for 24 hours and is now ready for hemming. Then, it's on to the next project: another new blouse. I'll be in the sewing room, if anyone needs me...