Monday, August 9, 2010

Faith-Based Education

There's just no getting around it. Sewing is an iterative experience. It's about the journey (ugh). It takes patience. And the yield for patience? I regret to inform you that it's recognizing the need for more patience still.

See, the universe doesn't care if you've spent 4 days carefully considering the geometrical implications of your pattern in your bid to alter it successfully. The sewing goddess does not concern herself with your fragile ego - your near paralysis at the thought that what you've been striving for, lo, 3 painstaking versions over, may never come to be.

Sewing, like so many things in this wonderful world, is an act of faith.

To paraphrase Kenneth King (big shot teacher), if you don't wreck thousands of yards of fabric, you're not really learning to sew. That makes me feel good and terrible, all at the same time. I mean, hello, I'm well on my way to meeting that goal :-). And yet, really, who has that much fortitude?

I spent the last week altering my gather dress in the following key ways:
  • Redrafted the skirt in an ML (rather than the too-big, Large), added 1 inch to the hem.
  • Grafted it onto my still Large bodice pattern.
  • Adjusted the Large bodice with a 1 inch FBA (that was incredibly challenging given a) I didn't know what I was doing with such a weird pattern i.e. where does one cut that sleeve off exactly? and b) I had to figure out where the apex was, then dart it at bust, then move the bust dart to the waist, then slide the waist dart out the side seam (of which there isn't one?!)
To keep the same proportions, while hacking at the pattern, was quite an undertaking, she says with outrageous understatement.

Then this weekend, I cut some muslin (the real, woven cotton kind - without stretch), and got to work. Ten hours - and one freakin' invisible zipper later - I tried it on to learn that:
  • The arm holes are so tight I had to open them and cut half an inch off of each immediately.
  • The bust is still way too small. Admittedly, I'm kind of an idiot - I couldn't figure out how much of an FBA to do on this pattern. Last 2 times I've increased the bust dimension, I've completely overdone it. This time, on a hunch, I was modest and it wasn't enough.
  • I think I need 0.5 inches onto the back seam (or should I do it on the fold?!), just to give everything a bit more room. Cotton has no fucking give.
Seems I traded one batch of problems for another.

When I get over the horrendous disappointment, the feelings of inadequacy, I suppose I'll redraft and try again. Gotta say, though, I loathe muslin (the fabric and the concept). I suppose I should be grateful I didn't waste a ton of time making something - and beautifully finishing seams - that was not going to fit. But I do think next time I'm going to throw some real fabric at this. I have some woven synthetic crepe that has a beautiful hand, drapes nicely and has a modicum of give. (It was on sale for 5 bucks a yard.)

I don't know if, every time I try a muslin, the fit fails miserably because I'm only doing them on the things I have true fit concerns about or because the unseen powers feel my ambivalence. I'm a pragmatist and I'm extremely goal-oriented. I do believe a garment shouldn't need 6 cycles of construction - wrecking fabric (albeit hideous fabric), and eating time as I go.

I know I'm learning a lot with every experience, but how do I find a way to be ok with this non-starting? Somehow, I truly believe that my (extreme) effort should yield results rather than my talent, knowledge and experience. Crazy, I realize.

Anyone, got some feedback for me? Maybe you sew. Maybe you do something else that's really hard? Do share your thoughts.


  1. The universe must be impressed by your determination, at least.

  2. It is so extraordinary how if you really are trying to learn to do something well that you learn much more about yourself than just the intended goal.

  3. I made the most progress by not clinging to the results. Learning is for sure. Clothes are a bonus. It really does get better with time. GO GO GO GO !

    - Myrna

  4. I'm now sure why anybody would sew one of those multi-dimensional japanese patterns if they didn't enjoy the process... the suffering... whatever. Actually I'm not sure why anybody would SEW if they didn't... etc. Well, I sew, but hearing me swear at times you wouldn't know why I do it or that I enjoy it! (Also, I'm glad not to be the only sewer who doesn't go into a tranquil state when starting a project.) Oh, I'm sure the dress will turn out great!

  5. I don't know K! I try anything but if I am really bad at it I do tend to listen to the universe and find someone else to do it.

    I do admire your persistence and obvious quest for perfection.

    ps. my word verification word is bumify as in: I tend to bumify things that I am not good at.

  6. Oh, I feel your frustration with this post!

    I agree that a garment shouldn't need 6 cycles of construction but they do sometimes, and I can say that even a designer, until they get a prototype that works, can make many iterations of a garment. Of course then they get to sell many versions.

    Like any skill that is worth doing, the learning curve is the real time killer; but once you have all this under your belt things will get easier and at some point you will just know what you need to do to make something work, or at least have a good idea of which way you are going.

    Although it is a different field, I remember reading an interview with a famous chef who said that every item on his menu had been made at least 100 times with many many changes and iterations, before he felt it was good enough to serve in his restaurant. I think this applies to so much of life. We want fast and easy, but anything worth really doing is a risk and a lot of worth.

    I applaud your tenacity. But I also know it will get easier.

    I chalk it up to the cost of education. I had a lot of failures and frustrations in school too, and a lot of good things, but the gains were not immediately visible. Sewing is the same way. And sometimes you are lucky and have a fabulous new garment -- that is the icing on the cake.

  7. Wendy: I think it is, but I'm in big-shoes company from the Universe's perspective. :-)

    Bel: Truer words were never spoken.

    Myrna: That lesson is coming hard for me, I'm afraid. But I'm getting there more and more...

    Uta: Isn't it amazing what we take on?? :-)

    Lisa: You liar! You are the most persistent person I've ever come across. You've managed to develop skill in a tremendously difficult arena that, I'm sure, was neither easy nor fun. But how rewarding. And now you're a foremost expert.

    Mardel: You are wise. I'm trying to take the long view and focus on the achievement of learning new skill incrementally. IT will all come together eventually. On some level I do believe that. And I do think sewing and cooking have a number of similarities. Of course, I think cooking is much easier. But then I've been working on that one fairly intently for 30 years!