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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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Monday, May 11, 2009

On my pattern patterns

I am writing this in a hotel room at a pretty heavy duty conference my work has sent me to. Very interesting but my brain is a little numb but one of the great things about an obsession like sewing is that there is always a place you can go with your thoughts that is still fascinating, even when your mind is not up for much else.

The truth is that between seminars I have come up to my room and done a little recreational pattern surfing as my version of "the break."

Of course the combination of online shopping and a piece of plastic in my purse is very tempting and I have done the odd "cancel order" and some reality checking and honest appraisal of who I am and what I really do.

This is how far I have got with that tonight.

Reality check #1:

Style change faster than my ability to keep up to them in my sewing. My purging of the unneeded has continued at home since my last post and one of the things I have uncovered is my extensive collection of impulse buy patterns. Thank God there are so few sewing shows anymore, those were the worst. See anything made up and I was convinced that buying a pattern was the equivalent of acquiring the garment.

Repeat a pattern is just a pattern - on its own (add time, effort and of course fabric) it does nothing immediate to add to a wardrobe. If intentions were clothes I would not be having my regular wardrobe crises. At least fabric, wild patterns excepted doesn't date while you neglect it like patterns do.

Reality check #2:

If you are a busy person with things like a job and an involved and involving extended family with their own animals, projects and conversational and other needs, there really isn't a lot of time to fool around with new patterns. The part I love is the fabric-stitching-pressing-wearing part, not the flat-pattern-measuring part that involves a calculator and trying to figure out what 7/8" is divided by 4 and then wondering if that little amount really makes a difference, and then finding out that it really does - or moving the bust point on a blouse 1 1/4" down and then going through 17 sewing books looking for the fast and easiest method to move a dart down, wondering if you really should just be making that dart bigger - all of which you can do - except that by the time you have done it there is no time left to just stitch.

Which is the part I love.

So this is why I am a sewer of multiples. Once I have made that investment I want to collect as much interest as I can, stretching out the part I like as long as I can, and shrinking the time spent altering, and pattern tracing - I forgot I also find that as annoying as it is necessary - to as small a proportion as I can.

Which leads me to:

Convention wisdom.

I was sitting this morning in an excellent keynote speech where one of the themes was that people don't need more information they just need better information when I thought "Of course that's it. What I need is not more patterns but better patterns."

I am sure that my institution would be delighted to know that they have paid for this convention so I can come up with sewing insights - but after all everything is about sewing isn't it? Eventually.

And that means really finally working through what patterns if I had them, and they were all perfect, I really would use a lot and jump right to the sewing and stitching when I needed to sew and needed to have something to wear.

So here is my own essential pattern list, as prosaic as it is:

1. A good T shirt pattern. I started with this because I actually have it. Long, 3/4 and short sleeve. Fits, fun to make. Ottobre pattern.

2. A cardigan pattern. No check mark here but I have one I can use, also in Ottobre if I traced it out and redrew the neckline to a V or crew, don't like the scoop in the picture. If I had this pattern and a short sleeved T shirt I could have a twin set which I could make up in all the large yardages of wool jersey and other knits I bought in that one winter I decided that all I was ever going to wear was knit dresses, until that mood passed.

3. A shirt, with a collar on a stand and a band. The real thing, but this time one that fits. In my line of work a good shirt and a straight skirt stand in as a suit equivalent. Thank goodness. Easier to sew and machine washable.

4. A blouse, convertible collar because who always has the energy for a collar stand and a sleeve placket? And besides not all fabrics are crisp enough for shirts, I know I have boxes of stuff like that, and it would still work in a blouse. Long, 3/4, short and no sleeves. This would be very useful.

5. A straight, straight skirt. This means a gabardine skirt with lining, darts the whole deal. Although I think ideally it should have some little waist elastic at the sides or something because my waist is unreliable, or at least I am. I swear in 40 years of sewing I have only ever made waistbands that are too tight or too loose. Enough already.

6. A straight skirt with some sort of pull-on waistband because the fabric is a stretch woven - I know it can be done - a yoke with the elastic in it at least at the top, because I have seen it in the stores. Stay tuned on how I work this out.

7. Pants for stretch wovens (can I do something like #6 in the waistband - don't see why not, apart from the fact I don't know how to do it). Trendy leg shape would be good, I have decided at this convention that a lot of women of a certain age like me wear pants with dated leg shapes, like boxy legs, or even tapers. Have decided that this may be as significant as old-fashioned glasses on your face.

8. Real pants, trousers - for wools etc. the sort of pants that you line. Ditto on a little bit of elastic in the waist though.

9. A camp shirt. I know these are not really stylish but boy are these useful for not-at-work-wear in warmer weather with jeans, capris or shorts. My most worn garment, still in circulation is a cotton camp shirt in really great fabric that I made about 18 years ago. You would think that anything that I had worn that much for so long would have been a garment I would have duplicated wouldn't you?

10. A sheath dress. I have this and it fits - thanks to Wild Ginger, although I need to lower the too high jewel neckline.

What is missing from this list are casual pants and jeans - I can buy these for not too much and  with a reasonable fit and jackets and coats. Jackets and coats I have decided are in a special category which is;

1. Easy to fit, I am not talking blazers of course but cropped or stylist like jackets loose enough that they are not complicated to fit and of course the same goes for coats. I have decided against the classic coat until I change my mind. A coat can afford to be a bit stylish I have decided because you wear it so much that by the time it goes out of style it will be at the end of its life anyway. A besides if people are going to see you in something a lot it might as well look current - straight skirts, T shirts and blouses can quietly go on under things for years and sort of blend in.

So what does this all mean? I need to focus on getting this list in place before I start buying up any more other patterns. There are a couple of sew-alongs in SG that I am going to do as a focus for some of these patterns and see how I go.

Because after all what I need is not more, but better.


ClaireOKC said...

I love your list and discipline. I'm not that disciplined. I figure that since I sew most everything I wear (except for the WalMart & Target stuff). Actually I do through my stash frequently and pull out stuff all the time - but I'm also putting stuff in there too. And I finally did take some of my 70's & 80's patterns and file them away. I guess I could bring them out again and make them again, but fiddle-de-dee - I'll do that tomorrow.

Still it's nice to hear about someone else's discipline - I can live vicariously through you!

gwensews said...

You have focus! What you're wanting is TNT's. And, that's a great way to sew. Get a good fit on a pattern and use it many times, changes details. Not only saves money, but saves time in fitting patterns over and over.

Anonymous said...

Wow, What a great post! It makes me think that, as a beginner, I should try to look for TNT's right away, because I am just like you. I want to do the sewing bit the most!!! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Deb said...

Some time ago I purged a lot of my patterns, all the old, unused, out of date, and those that were just not me, and gave them away tosomeone who would actually use them and I am starting a fresh.

I am a full time SAHM so I don't need a lot for me and don't have a huge budget for patterns so my basics list is simple. I need a spring/summer top, an autumn/winter top, and and a shirt pattern. That's it. I kept my patterns for knits such as t-shirts, straight skirts, cardigans and jackets, so I have those covered. Jeans and 3/4 pants are something I would rather buy.

I am going to be a lot more demanding of the patterns I purchase from now on, ideally they will have at least two or three sleeve lenghts or variations on each, and not just one pattern one look iykwim.

I might be making 3 of the same top this season but with different fabrics and a few changes here and there I doubt many non sewers would notice.

RuthieK said...

Yes indeed. Get those TNTs sorted and sew up some clothes! I love the stitching and the wearing :-)

robyn said...

Very good analysis of what you need. I think one of the marks of maturity (ahem!)is when you recognise your own behavioural patterns - whether you resist them or play along, it's good to be aware of what you're doing. I had to laugh when you mentioned how at one time you thought you'd live in knit dresses. Sounds like the kind of conclusion I might have come to...and then abandoned. Love reading your blog!