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Self-Reliance and Sewing

June 26, 2010
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A few weeks ago one of my sisters came to visit my Mom and I while her husband was down on the Colorado River guiding a boat trip.  Whenever any of my siblings come to visit there are a couple of things that one can usually expect.  1) Good food 2) A LOT of Good Food 3) Some kind of huge hobby that we spend the entire time doing.  This usually involves Good Food.

Well, that’s not exactly what happened this time around.  This time around, number three did not revolve around Good Food.  Instead it revolved around sewing clothes.

I think I need to explain that there is a long history of sewing clothes in my family.  I know for a fact that both of my grandmothers have been sewing clothes for a long time.  Long enough that when one of my grandmothers died there might have been some minor squabbles about who got which of her sewing machines and who got the sewing machine tables.  And then my mother continued the tradition of sewing clothes up until the time that my dad got a job overseas that paid about twice what his job used to.  And then my mom decided that we could afford to buy clothes instead of make them.

I still remember having a pair of pink corduroy pants that my mom made me.  I was very proud of them.  Of course, this was before I decided that pink is the color that the devil wears.  (I’m pretty sure the devil does wear pink, actually.  Along with the invention of pink clothing he is also responsible for the invention of the corset, hoop skirts, bustles, and high heels.  He likes to shove his inventions upon poor unsuspecting females.)  And then you add my sister to the mix, who has also recently begun sewing some of her own clothes so that she can have exactly the styles and colorations that she wants.  Even my dad has jumped in and sewn some things, like curtains and fly-rod cases.  So with all of the sewing that goes on in our family, you would almost expect the ability to sew to be genetic, right?

It’s not.

I thought it was.  It is very much not a genetic trait.

Here’s the thing.  I was also a little bit confused because I have sewn before.  I’ve sewn a sweatshirt and a dress and other random things before.  The dress didn’t work out quite as well as I hoped it would, but I did attempt it.  So I know a little about sewing, and I assumed that one measly skirt would give me absolutely no problems.

I was soooooo wrong.

The first problem was that I picked a slightly complicated pattern.  It was supposed to be like a tulip skirt, except a little more abstract and awesome.  Of course I thought that this would be no problem at all.  And actually, it wasn’t nearly as big of a problem as I expected.  It was just a little harder than I might have expected since it said “easy” on the package.  Actually, probably what made it more difficult was that I had to shorten the pattern three inches since the pattern is made for someone who is 5′ 6″, not for someone who is 5′ 0″.  But actually, as far as shortening jobs go that I have seen, it didn’t go too badly.

The biggest problem was the fabric.  It was this fabulously swooshy polyester stuff that had tons of colors and was light and ripply and awesome.  Which was exactly the problem.  I love the feel of that kind of fabric, but then when you try to pin a pattern down on it and make it stay where you want it so that you can cut it out, it is impossible really really tough to do.

It was humiliating.  I really don’t like laying patterns out in the first place, but then when the fabric moves and you can’t get the pattern to center the way that it’s supposed to, it’s just frustrating.  By the third time I had to start over I was screaming in frustration.  By the sixth time I was crying and rocking back and forth with my arms around my knees whimpering, “I can’t do this.  I can’t do this…”  And there was my poor sister trying to help me, and I just kept getting mad at her and the pattern and especially the stupid fabric (If you’re reading this, PJ, sorry!!!).  I felt like I was three years old and trying to cook spaghetti.  (Mothers, do NOT let your three year old children try to cook spaghetti please!  Boiling water is a dangerous thing.) As I said, it was completely humiliating.

But really, after we got past that it wasn’t too bad.  There was the thing where we were having the hardest time getting the sewing machine to thread right, and there was the thing where the tension wasn’t right on the thread, and of course there’s always the thing about trying to sew silky material that likes to slip around, but it really wasn’t nearly as bad after that.

And really, I was quite proud of myself after that because I managed to sew nearly all of the skirt all by myself.  Once I got to the zipper and stuff like that I pawned the rest of the job off on my mother.  Me sewing is one thing.  Me sewing zippers is something else.  I decided to not attempt it.

And then I had a new skirt to try to wear on Sunday to church.  And then I tried it on and I discovered something.

It is very fitted.

I almost felt a little skanky, it was so fitted.  But actually, I kind of liked it.  My mom offered to let it out a little, but I fought that violently, partially because I liked it, and partially because my brain was screaming, “NO!!!! I spent HOURS on this, and I am NOT going to let it get changed now!  Because that would mean that I didn’t do it quite right, and I WILL NOT ACCEPT DEFEAT!!!”  Hey, I was proud of my invention.  So all that I really need to do now is make a slip that I can wear under it so that I don’t even have any qualms about it being “too fitted.”

I guess the whole experience brought up a new question for me, which is the question that I will now put to the world.  Given the choice, would you rather buy a finished product and enjoy it in spite of the fact that it is not necessarily exactly what you had in mind, and maybe not love it as much as you could have, or would you rather know how to make a product yourself, and be willing to go through the pain and the frustration to make something that you will love for a long time?  And I’m not just talking about clothes.  I’m talking about any product in the world.  Flies for fly-fishing, computers, musical instruments… anything.

By the by, Burda skirts fit exactly how you make them.  I kid you not.  Actually, I think it may be the most successful pattern that I’ve done yet.  And while the angle is completely bizarre, here are some pictures to prove it.

Me attempting to model my new "fitted" skirt.

The trick is to not take too long of strides. This is precisely why I am not a model.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 28, 2010 1:27 pm

    ‘…would you rather buy a finished product and enjoy it in spite of the fact that it is not necessarily exactly what you had in mind, and maybe not love it as much as you could have, or would you rather know how to make a product yourself, and be willing to go through the pain and the frustration to make something that you will love for a long time?

    I think it’s always a bit of both for me: I often end up adapting what I buy until it suits me, like a jilbab, if it’s reasonably inexpensive. On the other hand, with things that will cost a bit more (like SHOES), I’m willing to watch and wait until I find the exact right thing I need. Which is why I wore really mash-up shoes for more than a year (oh God the rain would get into them and it was awful) XD

    Also, you get used to things. Most things I’ve bought are actually not exactly what I want, but you improvise and you get by. I’ve been wondering a similar question for a while. It’s a strange, alien idea to have something that is perfect. I mistrust it. It bothers me that when you buy grapes from a supermarket, you know for sure that they will be perfect and sweet and it’s unnatural. Being Asians and a big family, we’ve never found a supermarket sufficient for our needs, and we always buy our fruit and vegetables from markets, in, like, 10kg bags or something. Market produce is pretty chancy – you don’t know until you eat it whether the tangerine will be sweet or sharp, or out of twenty apples, how many will be unmarked.

    It’s more normal to me to have the imperfections than not to, and I feel like something that IS perfect must somehow be less real.

    In other news: I’m trying to see why the skirt is skanky! Must not look skanky to me because I’m used to seeing much MUCH skankier stuff. So: what a pretty skirt! And mothers making it look easy: I totally relate.

  2. Maryam permalink
    June 29, 2010 10:31 am

    hmm…. i switch from wanting to buy something to wanting to make it myself. the other option is to pay another artist or crafter or fly… maker… to make it for you, that way you’re supporting someone’s creative spark and self-employed goodness, even if you aren’t doing it yourself. that’s my middle ground. i have made toys for the kids, quilts, and clothes. other than a simple skirt, i’m so so happy to pass on clothes making. i generally alter things from the thrift store to make them fit me because i apparently have a body that defies the codes of S, M, and L. there are some things i’d rather make that i haven’t been able to yet, but someday… there are always priorities, in every moment. but they wiggle around sometimes, and go for a stroll other times. when my kids are older, there are things i plan to try :>

    aaaand i really like the skirt!

  3. July 4, 2010 6:25 pm

    i liked ur skirt 🙂

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