Sunday, February 7, 2010

Seams Strange...

Not to go all new age on you, but I seriously think I was a seamstress in another life. I'd like to tell you that's in evidence by my tremendous talent. Alas, if you'd ever seen me wrestling with a pattern you would know that's not the case :-) When it comes to engagement, however, I win a gold star. I am so unendingly enthused by the mysteries of fabric and technique, I should make a movie about it. My friends now nod politely, even as they nod off.

I can't help it. I find sewing impossibly interesting.

But it's not just the technique, which one could work on for a lifetime, as we know, or the fabric (a passion of mine long before I started to sew). It's about bodies and sizing and drape.

Let me tell you a beautiful fact - perhaps even a secret. If you learned to sew, you would love your body even more than you do already. And you'd start to love everyone else's.

And here's why: When you sew, you are obligated - nay privileged - to discover every intricacy of your own shape. How you deviate from the standard is what differentiates you from everyone else. Why would you care to be a standard size, if you can sew? It's much more fun to figure out - to have the skill - to fit anything to your form specifically. It's a mark of talent, even as it's a fun activity - and a resolution of every clothing challenge you have ever had!

Don't kid yourself, the more I read the more I learn that standard sizing has been a necessary evil since the beginning of time. How likely is it that one is going to fit a series of set sizes - either in RTW (modern, vanity sizing) or standard (pattern) sizing? It was no more likely in 1952 than it is now. The numbers might have looked different, and the silhouette. The fabrics may have draped differently, had different ease built in. The bodies were, in general smaller and slimmer. But you were as likely to be an individual with your "deviance" here and there (or even everywhere!) back then.

Some fascinating facts:

  • The first iteration of modern RTW sizing came about in 1972.
  • Standard (pattern) sizing, changed 4 times between 1931 and 1972. That simply means the number on the pattern i.e. 14 became associated with 4 different measurements in that time frame. And yes, the measurements associated with the sizes increased (moderately) over time.
  • Pattern numbers (and this has been contested, but on balance I believe it) were originally aligned to the age of the wearer. A 14 was designed for the "average" sized 14 year old. Apparently, this didn't work for an RTW crowd - though why, I don't know. I mean, it was the standard till that point. Arbitrarily, RTW sizing was assigned smaller numbers.
  • Since then, RTW numbers accord with larger tape measurements than ever before.
  • Pattern sizing is the same as it has been since 1972.
  • Most women who sew from patterns must adjust them, or risk wearing clothes that don't fit.
  • There are zillions of adjustments, some easier than others. Fit for Real People - a book of hideous design but tremendous information - clearly explains it all.
I could go on with 3 more pages of fascinating facts, but by then you will have jumped ship to some other site with a blogger in a cute outfit that fits perfectly. :-) No doubt, we'll return to this topic.


  1. Ha ha your are a complete convert! just think this is how Chanel started with a can do attitude and a little bit of money!

    Glad your starting to understand deviation - I've only a couple of friends who allow this sort of talk!

  2. I am endlessly fascinated by the design process. From fabric to cut to construction to the 'personality' that goes into a creation. It's art. It's insane and I loves me some batshit crazy designers I can tell you. That is why this season Project Runway just seems to be letting me down. Trust me, I am the LAST guy to have opinions on any of this stuff if you knew me in real life.

  3. I learned 20 something years ago that style wasn't about size, it was about fit. The best dressed women that I knew had their clothes perfectly fitted.
    Fit is just one of the many lessons learned from sewing. Patience is another, because nicely made clothes take time.
    I envy you for having the time to take up sewing. It is a lovely thing to do.

  4. The last time I called someone a seamstress she made it very clear that the PC word is "tailor." Maybe you were a tailor in your other life.

  5. Hi K-- is that why went I or esp my husband buys vintage jeans, shirts, they seem smaller?

    I want to read more..btw, brilliant on the title there..

  6. I love how your voyage of discovery becomes my voyage of discovery. I learn something new every time I read your sewing posts.

  7. Fit is everything. Not so many generations ago there was little ready to wear. With all of its advances and advantages comes a downside.

    I think it is true that fit is everything. A Tailor, a seamstress, or the ability to sew are a great boon.

  8. Kate: I haven't seen any of those recent movies. I really don't know much about Ms. Chanel. But now I think I have to find out :-)

    Cal: I love a guy who watches Project Runway! I have never seen it because, till Xmas, I didn't have cable and we didn't get that station. The new season has been so lacklustre, it just hasn't drawn me in.

    Belle: Fit and patience - wise words!

    Wendy: Then tailor it is.

    April: Yes! That's why! (Or he's eating more cookies...)

    E: I'm glad I'm not boring you! :-)

    Mardel: RTW really is a double-edged sword...