Quantity or Craftsmanship? How do you sew?

 When I first started sewing I was all about how many of 'X' I could make in the shortest time. Screw the button holes. Who cares if they are not straight. So what if the left sleeve is a bit tight compared to the right sleeve? People give me tons of compliments on my clothes. That's all that matters. Yeah, I had an ego about it.



I didn't pay attention to gathers, especially on the bodice front of blouses and dresses. Why? Because I didn't know. 'Basting' was not in my vocabulary. I was too good for that prep stuff. That's what I thought of it as, prep work. 


Zippers without a zipper foot? Whatever. I was a vanguard. I could make it work without the proper tools of the trade. Why? I was *that* good.

My hem isn't straight? I meant it not to be. Well, okay, that's a bit of a stretch. 

I must admit, with all the compliments I was getting from my early clothes (way, way before the blog) I had a big head. Yeah, I was making my own stuff, but when I went home for my mother's funeral, and I was looking through some of her past projects, I realized I needed a slap in the face. 

My arrogance of thinking of any craft as merely a project instead of a trade embarrassed me. I mean the detail, the attention to fit and drape and grain lines! The alterations, oh the alterations! Grading patterns, the art of it all.

I came back home and looked through my own sewn wardrobe and realized I was so sub par. I started to look more and more at clothes in the stores and realized, 'hey, I can do that trick'. Oh man, hand sewing.


Okay, right now, for all you new sewers out there, if you want to get good looking garments in half the time (meaning 3 months instead of six months of sewing), get over the ego of not hand sewing. There is nothing, and I do mean nothing, that replaces hand sewing on garments. Tacking a flap back, a whip stitched hem, buttons. It all matters. Construction, like architecture, relies on the fine hidden details of a garment/building, not simply the pretty facade.


I was looking at my newly sewn wardrobe and realized so much of it was trash. I began to invest time in looking at construction methods. Paying ATTENTION to the markings on patters. They are there for a reason after all. 


Soon it came together. With the humility of learning proper construction, some amazing garments began to blossom. And with the addition of my slopers, man, I became unstoppable.


Now when people look at my work, and I am complimented, I take it as a student of the craft. "Thank you, but I still have a long way to go. I want to work on..." I feel better about it, and I feel I'm paying homage to the trade and those that did this before me.

It's a process, that's for sure. An always learning, some good projects, some bad, journey through life, and I love it.

How do you all think of sewing? A journey or a means to an end? Do you sew for quality or quantity?

24 comments:

  1. Its funny, because when I first started and had no idea what I was doing. I mean, I knew the concepts. I also knew things like paying attention to grain and such with the fabric. And I knew it because Mom made me help her. I also knew what WELL DONE garments were suppose to look like.

    So my early stuff was mostly costuming and when people complimented me on it I was like "OMG, are serious? This is crap."

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  2. I try to find the level between "sloppy" and "getting so stressed out by perfectionism that I don't sew anything". I take shortcuts, but nowadays I do it intentionally instead of just because I don't know any better. For instance, I've made some skirts and dresses lately where I've finished the hems with bias tape and top-stitched. Because I need a lot of new clothes after having a baby, and I think it looks ok on these particular garments. When I first started sewing, I would make mistakes like not checking the measurements, or sewing a garment with the wrong seam allowance. Zippers and buttonholes look a lot better these days, too.

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  3. My mother taught me to sew as a child and everything had to be of a quality finish. As time went on and sewing came in and out of my life I got lazy and started to not care how I made things as long as I did. Now, my sewing has turned full circle and I do care how my garments look and the quality of the finish. For me, there are still things to learn but now I appreciate the effort of those before me who gained new skills to enable mine to grow as well.

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  4. I know how to sew and know some of the basics, but I don't understand basing. And I have no idea what zipper footing is. So I think I need to get s sewing for dummies book before I get more involved. LOL!

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  5. I freely admit to be a sewing snob. very few of my hems are topstitched. Hand sewing is common. There's no such thing as an unfinished seam. Buttonholes are almost always (I don't always manage perfect) evenly spaced and the same size. My grandmother was a professional seamstress and taught my mom and me well...

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  6. I think most sewers have fallen into the trap of wanting to finish projects at the cost of truly taking time to attend to small details. I know I sometimes get caught up in the urge to rush by all the amazing things I see other sewers cranking out--I feel like such a tortoise in comparison! I kind of suffer from the opposite problem though: I can get so stuck on having things done "just so" that often that will inhibit me finishing a project, or add time to something that I could have used a different (and easier--but not sloppy) technique on. I suffer from a perfectionist streak a mile wide, and while it sometimes works in my favor, it's also horribly crippling with larger sewing projects! :p (Restarting a winter coat from entirely new fabric, anyone?!)

    I just want to say too that I really appreciate your honesty in this post. :) It makes me feel that I'm not alone with all my little sewing missteps and hang ups! lol.

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  7. I'm a former professional. I've made custom designed bridal/evening wear. I've made completely handsewn Elizabethan suits and gowns. I left that profession nearly 15 years ago. When I sew for others, my attention to detail is over the top, but I tend to skip it when sewing for myself. All the handsewing in my 20s left me with carpal tunnel and arthritis at an early age. I don't do any handsewing now, if I can avoid it.

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  8. I had to improve the quality of my work, I had no choice, since it is my field of work! But when sewing for myself, I did still tend to skip stuff for a long time. It is only now that I am appreciating the PROCESS of sewing. Great little essay you wrote.

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  9. I'm a totally self taught sewer, but I started by altering vintage clothing of mine over 20 years ago, so I've always done a lot of handsewing. I can't believe it now but I remember back then sewing sequins all over a 50s circle skirt that had got damaged, wow! So I guess when I turned to 'proper' sewing I just went with the flow. However I am no expert and when I alter patterns for myself I so rarely put time and effort into it this is something that needs to change as so often I end up with badly fitted garments because I haven't taken the time and just want the project finished!

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  10. Quality, as much as possible.

    For one, I don't have time to get a lot of projects done whether I do them well or do them poorly, so I might as well do them well. I'm also fussy enough by nature that things like raveled seam allowances drive me insane (the skirt I'm wearing right now is an early project that does not have finished seams. It bugs me every time I see it). I flubbed a couple of early projects out of sheer ignorance--I had no idea that pattern instructions actually told you how much seam allowance to use; I thought you just sewed to the edge of the sewing machine foot!--but, luckily, my third or so garment in called for topstitching. Topstitching looked awesome and was the gateway detail that made me go back and figure out what else I could do to make things look better and last better.

    I hand-sew lots of stuff and I'm a total convert to basting (I'm planning to make myself a sampler: "Haste makes waste--take time to baste!"). Time spent basting is almost always saved later when you don't have to rip out, realign, and re-sew stuff that couldn't really be held in place well enough with pins. Anyone who loves rick-rack like I love rick-rack must baste to do it right.

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  11. I do like a bit of handsewn finishing but I am also super impatient to make garments and almost never put in enough time on them.

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  12. It really makes sense to do it right the first time. I learned to sew when I was 13 from someone who was a stickler for marking everything. At that age I didn't realize I had the option of not marking. I sincerely thank her for that! You should not be embarrassed for someone to see the inside of a garment you made and should take pride in the invisible. Thanks for reminding me. By the way I LOVE the gardenia dress!

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  13. For me, it all depends on the purpose of the project. I mostly sew for reenactment purposes, & some items will be worn many times, outdoors, while performing, so those need to be sturdy & even washable, they will be seen up close where every detail counts. Other garments are more showy & will be worn less frequently, essentially for stage, seen from a distance. The former needs a lot more durable construction with hand-finishing, the later doesn't.

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  14. Great Post, Shelley! I am exactly where you are! Just the other day I was talking to my cousin about a dress I helped her make back in High School and I was cringing thinking of all the "shortcuts" I took! I absolutely thought I was above pinning and basting seams . I was sure the pattern markings were not necessary for me. I would NEVER do that stuff now.

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  15. My Mom calls it "Progress" vs. "Process". I guess I am a little bit of each. With 5 kids, I have to focus on "Progress" or I'll never finish anything. On the other hand, I love smocking and heirloom sewing and I know that the finer materials and techniques result in a garment I am much happier with. Last summer, I stitched an embroidered daygown for my baby totally by hand and I enjoyed doing it and loved the result!
    I love your blog- keep up the great inspiration!

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  16. Wow! We have some chatty Kathys today :)

    I think for me, in seeing my mother's pro stuff, and seeing some of my peers who do this professionally, I got to thinking how would I feel if someone in my field was doing work and they didn't have a solid foundation on it? I'd think they were just lame, so I better start respecting the profession.

    My weakness is still terminology. I've always been bad at that stuff. But we've got nowhere to go but up, right!?

    I do plan on keeping my sewing techniques simple. I feel there is not much that can't be done via had sewing if you invest the time. So fancy gadgets I don't go gaga over.

    Keep those replies coming!

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  17. While I got lots of compliments on clothes that I'd made I did not know how much I did not know [exhibit A: the coat I made in high school using only basic dressmaking techniques rather than at least some basic tailoring]. I also focused on getting my project DONE and didn't blink too hard at the shortcuts I took.

    These days, I'm finding more sheer enjoyment of the process. I've become far more painstaking in my sewing. I have access via the Internet to far more information on various techniques thanks to blogs like this one. Thank you, Shelly! This more than anything else has made a vast improvement in the quality of my finished projects.

    I also remember sewing is my creative outlet. While I'd like things to be well done, my goal is NOT the chase of that never-going-to-happen perfect garment. But I'll have fun trying anyway.

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  18. I love the topic of your post, Shelley! It is great to see so many people who agree that the value of handwork results in producing a garment that doesn't look homemade.

    I am relatively new to the blog-o-sphere, and I am rather surprised by the complaints I read about the handwork required to finish a sewn garment. Now, don't get me wrong, knowing different ways of attaching two pieces of fabric together is valuable; but, unless you're doing high volume production, the quickest way is not always the best. My mouth hangs open as I see (once again) someone finishing the bottom of their project by turning the edge up 5/8" and stitching through it with double needles and glue just because it's quicker. I seem to be so much more satisfied when the weight of the fabric is considered and the handwork is invisible. I have yet to accept completely the concept that leaves all edges of a garment unfinished (...but I'm trying!) What I'd like to do is encourage all new sewists to embrace handwork--including handbasting--and understand there is no machine that can duplicate what you can do with your hands!

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  19. I don't sew that much at all but I tend to sew by hand, I can't figure out a machine to save my life it seems. I've tried on and off for months and it frustrated me so I just let it go. I'm intrigued by hand sewing though because I think I can do that better than trying again at the machine. I'm inspired now though! Thanks! :)

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  20. I think most of us go through a process in which we start out making rushed garments for instant gratification and slowly learn to appreciate quality, craftsmanship and technique.

    I started making my own clothes around the age of fourteen and had always drafted my own simple patterns for skirts etc., but it's only in the last couple of years that I started making muslins of my garments and learning how to make detailed adjustments to patterns to fit my body type. I also spent a few months working in a clothing shop and was shocked at the shoddy finish on supposedly quality garments - it made me far more determined to improve my own standard of work rather than spend a lot of money on badly made off-the-peg clothing.

    The only downside is I now have a bigger bag of unfinished projects because they take longer to complete, but the finished garments are definitely a much better fit and finish which ultimately is more rewarding.

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  21. Great post!

    I definitely sew for quality. I'd rather have a few pieces that are well-made and last a long time than rushed pieces that are shoddy. I also started using slopers to perfect my fit and also to draft some patterns. For me that is why I'm making my clothes rather than buying them.

    My sewing mentor and friend also works as a cutter professionally and she used to make couture gowns; now she works at making costumes for Broadway plays. She always emphasized hand-sewing and not rushing through a project.

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  22. I think a lot of people start out just rushing along through projects, and that is probably why a lot of people say "Oh, I used to sew, but...." and give various reasons why they grew tired of it. It gets old sewing crappy stuff. Rushing and making stupid mistakes get old too! When I decided to try to learn how to sew for real, I decided to sew waaaaaay more slowly and make less mistakes. I decided to embrace hand sewing, because it does make all of the difference.

    I recently hand basted the skirt to a dress I am making for a wedding I am in, and then I tried on the dress and realized I had folded the pleats wrong. I was so happy to be pulling out my hand basting instead of a million little machine stitches.

    And I cringe to look at photos from just a year ago where I sewed a hideous and glaring "blind" hem into a skirt by machine. Hand hemming looks a million times better once you learn how!

    I told someone not too long ago that I was learning to sew (and always will be!), and they responded saying, "Oh, I already know how to do that!" I just kinda chuckled....there are really awesome seamsters and seamstresses who would never say that!

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  23. I really love this post! I appreciate how you visually showed the difference between hasty work and thoughtful work. I think that goes a long way toward encouraging people who might be frustrated with the time it takes to make a quality garment.

    I sew for a living, and so I'm kind of perfectionist. I feel like anything I'm going to receive money for should be as near to perfect as I can get it. However, I often cut corners for myself, and your blog has actually inspired me to really buckle down and stop doing that!

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  24. Quality. Especially after I finally learned to alter a pattern to vaguely fit me. It's cheaper than buying fabric I can't afford, then never wearing the product!
    I enjoy hand-sewing. I have a perfectly good machine (1960-something Singer, inherited from MIL - it does zigzag and GOOD buttonholes [with the attachment]!) but I find handsewing restful and meditative. However, it's no guarantee of quality. I have produced handsewn botch-jobs just as bad as machined ones. 'Course, handsewing is A LOT easier to take out, once you've brought yourself to acknowledge that, yes, that whatever-it-is MUST be redone.
    Cheers.

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