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I am a mother, a new grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My first book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge will be published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon


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Saturday, April 4, 2009

On multiples

It is interesting how sometimes it takes someone else to bring what you do to your own attention. 

In a comment left and appreciated, like all the comments to this blog, Robin remarked on my tendency to sew in multiples. 

I hadn't really noticed I did that, but of course I do. Five pairs of pants when I found a pattern that fit, five summer dresses, and as many casual T shirts last week.

I have not always sewn this way, in fact in my recent sewing life I have had several seasons. These would include the sewing for fit (being tall makes a difference) which produced duty garments; sewing to compete, I admit this when I first discovered all virtual sewing conversations I went through a period of trying all the patterns everyone was trying and sewing what was trendy; vintage sewing (OK this involved more pattern collecting than sewing because the altering into a large size was daunting to me) and where I am now which is sewing multiples I guess. 

I don't expect this to last forever, my sewing life is always under flux, but this is why I am sewing this way these days:

1. Time. When I used to look ahead to this age and this stage I thought I would be semi-retired and pleasantly sewing couture garments in long afternoons with a tea beside me in a spotless house looking out on a beautiful garden.

Yeah right.

I am not complaining, far from it, but I am as much right in the middle of it as I always was. A switch from an intense job to teaching has just got me just as involved in new ideas, committees on new structures, tons of students, all of whom bring their issues, angst and challenges with them, and research projects. It will be a few years yet before I dismantle from the saddle. Add on to that children (my view is that as they get older and go and work on the business of building their own lives it is up to me to make sure we all stay in touch), extended family of sisters and brothers-in-laws and nieces and nephews and my mom and in-laws, and all the important and good communication that entails, which in the last few months has included one with a serious illness, kept from us, so no one would worry ...

The beautiful garden now involves a half finished garage (did I mention a DH who loves his projects?) the debris of winter and more than a few holes dug by a child's lovely golden retriever on her daycare days here. And the spotless house - well I could post some pictures but that would only make you wonder how any person could happily sit and blog with all that around her waiting to be cleaned up.

OK, so we have established that my sewing time is limited and particularly precious. 

2. ROI. Sewing is what I relax with, not cutting out, not fitting, so when I have something that works I want to get something more from my investment. Sort of like a recipe that you perfect or discover and serve again for company, or file in your head as "new old standby." There isn't always time to start or learn something new, to trace out a new pattern, fit it (heaven forbid sew a muslin), and get to the enjoyable part, which to me is the sewing.

3. Skill. The second time I make something I make it better. I can do those tweaks I decided I should have done the first time and the whole process goes faster. Completing a garment is satisfying. Perfecting a new pattern is even more so.

4. Reality. A difficult decision for me was to realize that at this stage of my life I couldn't do it all and that if I set up my sewing life under those terms and expectations I would just be adding one more place where I always felt perpetually behind, never ahead, and never satisfied. In my cooking I focus, on vegetables and sometimes desserts and leave the meat and menu planning to the French chef. In my knitting, an activity I reserve for multi-task environments like the car when I am not driving or TV, I am making only felted slippers and mitts these days (may branch out to socks) as much as I would love to make everyone I care about a sweater. One day.

I do have rules though for multiple sewing and these are what they are:

1. Only cut and make one edition of a potential TNT pattern first off. As much as you think it will work it might not.

2. Even if your edition one (I just thought really good books, like textbooks, are both reprinted and reissued - nothing wrong with that) is great - never and I repeat never go off and cut out a bunch more until you have worn edition one for an entire day, in public. It is amazing how may little issues float to the top under the stress and challenge of wear on real moving bodies. A waistband might be too tight or loose, the neckline too wide and your bra straps show etc. you can't tell these things after a quick check in the bathroom mirror.

3. Once you have cut out your multiples sew them up one at a time, not factory style. I consider this very important. If you start sewing like a factory that is all you will feel like and there is no joy in that, that's why they unionize and need a labour standards code. Remember that your sewing time is time to nurture your creative soul (and not much in this world or in ordinary life does that enough any more) so allow yourself to focus on the creation of a unique garment, even if the process becomes familiar, and to have moment when you exhale, pronounce it finished, try it on and then go find someone in the household to show what you have made. If I wanted to assembly line sew I would be making a quilt in a day.

4. Never cut out and sew more than four more of the same garment. Since you have put so much into getting this right don't ruin it all by giving yourself a chance to get sick of it, like you would if you had your favourite food every night for two weeks. Put it away and don't pull out this pattern again until you have one of those moments when you are wearing something you made and say to yourself "damn this is nice, I should make another one of those."

Works for me, where I am right now.


Claire S. said...

I like your rules for sewing multiples.
So far, in this new venture of mine, I've made 3 skirts from one pattern and my first BWOF is a tee that I've made twice now. They were all done one at a time and the first 'edition' (love that !) worn to work before proceeding on to the next one. I think the skirt could safely be called a TNT now.
Your last group of tees looked great and very comfortable - enjoy.

gwensews said...

Bravo! The important thing, I think, is not necessarily to sew a couture wardrobe, or sew every pattern out there, but to sew something that gives you pleasure. Whether it's t's, or skirts, or an art garment--it should provide it's maker with that fullfillment that only our hobby can do. Sew on!

kbenco said...

This is a very interesting post. I have just made my 4th blouse from the same pattern in a month, because 1. I didn't want to waste the fitting and 2. I have a self imposed deadline. The fourth one was hard work. I will have to put this pattern away for a bit! (No way would I sew factory style - that is how 7/8th finished projects get stuck in a UFO pile at my house.

wendy said...

I sew in multiples quite a bit as well... if I like a pattern, I tend to make it two or three more times. Especially with BWOF, I make it while I have the pieces there, since I'm not so well organized with being able to find everything easily again later.... ;-)