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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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Sunday, August 7, 2016

From the what do you think of this? files

Yesterday's NY Times ran this article on McCalls Patterns and the home sewing industry in general.

It was obviously written by someone who puts sewing in the same category as hand waxing wood floors but that aside here are my own thoughts, and I am dying to hear your own reactions:

OK, I admit it, sewer turned designer after starting to sew four years ago leapt out at me. 

As a teacher I would never dis the devoted learner. I learned a long time ago that it is entirely possible to do something for 50 years and to be doing it badly for all 50 (we all know cooks like that). I also would never ever under any circumstances under estimate the power of determination to learn in turning anyone, fairly rapidly, into an expert.

I well remember a sewing student I once had who took her first class in September, unable to thread her machine, and by the beginning of the next summer was making insulated winter jackets. 

I also remember how hard she worked, and the fact she asked a million questions of me non stop.  She took every class I taught and it was always "Can you look at this? What did I do wrong?" and "Is this better?" Over and over again.

The point too is that she got great really fast but she wasn't doing this on her own. 

We have all taught ourselves, sometimes largely, to sew from pattern instructions. It is also true that there is just so so much you need to know that those guide sheets don't tell you.

There is a reason the guilds had apprenticeships and why trades today do too. Apprentices and journeymen, residents and doctors, sous chefs and chefs.

Experience is a teacher and life without rules of thumb can be heavy going.

Which is why sewers like me feel a strong obligation to pass what we have learned to those just getting going. 

If I know a way that will help you do it without crying I am pretty sure I should share that.

The second thing I felt when I read this was that the journalist had let cliches get in the way of accurate reporting.

We aren't that quaint anymore kiddo. Where have you been?
Crafts, sewing and home based art are not marginal any more.

Has this person heard of Etsy, or yarn bombing, or Indie patterns or sewing lounges? Urban gardens? Mason jar lunches? Breastfeeding and blogging? Things having to have joy for goodness sake?



Listen there might have been a generation skipped over the power suits but young women, my 35 year old daughter's age for example, all tell me that learning to sew is in their bucket list. Soups are no longer coming from the can for these girls. Clothes still don't fit.

Six year old Miss Scarlett's friends have a sewing and knitting club.

Come to think of it give me four year experts any day if it's about the energy.

There is nothing like a half life spent in meetings without end, or magazines where you have to get to page 47 before you are past the ads, or hours spent unpacking things where the packaging is 90% of what you've bought and the what you've bought turns out to be pretty tiny, to make you want to stir your own pot or press your own seam.

Sewing can make you feel powerful, fulfilled and happy. Real happy.

So that's what I think.

Now how about you?


Jodie said...

I agree with you about the bias in the article. It really had the "isn't this so quaint" feel that was kind of insulting. As someone who teaches teenagers (high school foods and fashion) I think sewing, with it's new indie pattern designers and online presence is now becoming more approachable to this younger generation. However, this is also a group that has been told from birth that "they can do and be anything they want". I'm not so sure some days but I do think that this is why we have a 4 year sewist designing patterns. But I can see how her story would be appealing and inspirational to my high school students. They can see themselves in her. Now I have been sewing for.....geez 30 years now and have moved from as fast as possible to intricate hand tailoring to now well fitting TNTs. And I focus on teaching my students WHERE to find good resources to help them when the are sewing without a net (without Mrs. K to help them). We look up resources and blogs on the net as well as the good old "Reader's Digest Guide to Sewing". But sewing/knitting/creating keeps me sane and happy - even if all I have time for is to dream and pet fabric (which is generally what I can do during the school year).

E McAfee said...

I must admit, I assumed the blogger they talked about is a 'designer' in much the same way that my 10 year old is; a more or less detailed sketch and some notes about the important features (big pockets, elastic waist). And then a few preferences for the fabric to be used. Once that is in hand, I expect that professional pattern drafters, technical writes, etc. take over and do the real work.

Kansas Sky said...

I absolutely agree with all that you've said--- the seam and the stew and all of it. ...... When I read the article I realized the writer was fully ignorant of the entire sewing industry and willfully disregarded what she didn't know. ...... She didn't care what she didn't know. ..... And the article perpetuated the idea that home sewing is an economic measure. A few more intelligent questions and she'd have learned somehow that that isn't true, but those intelligent questions never got asked. THANKS for bringing this article to your blog. I read it the other day and it's bothered me ever since.

Anonymous said...

Amen, sister. Although, to be fair, the fact that the NYT is covering home sewing in any capacity is a big plus for home sewing. Worth applauding, despite the paper's slightly clueless approach.

Also worth applauding is the generosity of the sewing community that blogs/Instagrams/Facebooks/YouTubes sharing its wisdom with the rest of us. Back in the day, all the info was only available in books, magazines, or classes. Not easy for timid learners who needed the kind of feedback that your needy student sought from you. There is still a huge need for wisdom, experience, and feedback, and we are so fortunate today to have it from you and others who take the time to write about sewing for the rest of us. Thank you, thank you, thank you for keeping this cherished tradition alive!

RinaL said...

Well since I am technically sewing since 3 years (and a bit in school before), I can't diss someone whos sewing for 4 years. ;) I learned a lot in those three years, but my inner perfectionist keeps telling me that my journey just started. At least now I am at a level where I know that I don't know enough (my English teacher told me once that thats the sign that you are not a beginner anymore).. despite the fact that I sewed half of my wardrobe so far including a winter coat and a nice dress for a wedding. Last week I did my first french seam.. so there is potential for more ;)

I have a more general problem with bloggers as pattern designers - namely that I get more sewing patterns of the same style - mainly dresses. In my life, dresses don't work. Especially if you don't know if your work day will consist of wearing a labcoat for six hours or laying on the floor while fixing a device or moving 150 kg liquid nitrogen tanks around. ;)

I would like to see more staple patterns with creative seams, nice details - something unique with fresh ideas. Things you normally get from designers (be it students or finished ones) but rarely from bloggers. A plus would be if said patterns are offered as plus size since I am normally two to three sizes out of the "normal range" of sewing patterns.

For now I help myself by learning how to draft things - so I can copy interesting RTW pieces in my size. But I am pretty sure I am not the only one who doesn't need hundred dresses with slightly altered shapes and seamlines..

Thanks for your thoughts on the issue, I always enjoy reading your blog. And thanks for the help with my see-through fabric problem per mail, it helped a lot! :)


Donna W said...

Last summer we went to our resort for a week. Upon checking in the person at the desk said "I really like your outfit". Told her I had made it, her answer was "you don't hear much about making their own clothes anymore" . I replied that her that she needed to get out in the real world more. Shocked look was priceless. Sewing has been part of my life for many years, not for economic reasons but for the creative satisfaction. Doing is big business. I am always learning!

Carol in Denver said...

Ah, yes: happy, at peace, content. A balm in a stressful day, a comfort in time of pain. And, after sewing for approx. 60 years, I still feel I learn something every time I sew.

Wendy said...

Yeah, the reporter was clueless. This is one area of my baby-boomer-long life that is better: the number of people who are sewing, and knitting, and gardening. It's not just us old greenies any more. I was recently fooling around on eBay, looking at old sewing machines. A few years ago my mother's 1950 Pfaff was worth just about nothing, and now there are 2 listed for more than $150. Other old machines have similarly appreciated in value--I would think this is because there's demand for solid machines that stitch beautifully and will last longer than 3 years, even if they do weigh a ton and don't offer 150 stitches. This seems to me to be a good thing!

Marianne said...

I don't really get the point of the article but then, sewing seems to me to be a timeless thing. No generations skipped in my family, nor in the families of some of my friends. I see it as something like gardening...some people enjoy it, some people don't. There will always be sewers, just as there will always be gardeners.

Today I'm feeling the joy of sewing perfectly fitting jeans (Jalie pattern) for my daughter. She has never found RTW that fits as well and looks as great. Yes, powerful. Actually, she sews too, but not garments (yet ☺).

Lyndle said...

Yes, yes yes. Standing ovation from here in the cheap seats.
To reinforce your point about the Renaissance, I am 48 and I have felt like an old lady at every sewing class I have been to since my 35th birthday.

annie said...

I was disturbed by this article on several levels. I had seen it a few days earlier than you.

Unfortunately, I was one of those who learned sewing without support. I had my old Vogue sewing book and a sense of "how it should be." I would have loved the internet 40 years ago. (Dang. I just revealed my age!) And, like you, I willingly, nay instinctively, share what I know about things - sewing, cooking, keeping the deer out of my hostas. I've never personally known anyone who would share techniques, apart from those posting on the internet.

The original thrust behind me learning to sew was that I was pregnant and couldn't afford to buy a new wardrobe. I laugh now when I think of those garments. As time went buy, I realized three things: the clothes I wanted were expensive, often poorly made and of sketchy fit. I've made my clothes ever since with the exception of an occasional pair of jeans. I've not perfected fit even now but that is primarily due to lack of personal instruction, I think; I just can't wrap my mind around the lessons on the net.

So, I don't think of my sewing as some crafty, campy, time-filling occupation. I sew out of necessity.

But what really bothers me about the big pattern companies, and which I didn't read in your post, was the huge measure of designs inappropriate to women over, say 45. That philosophy has forced me into the vintage pattern sellers. I say "forced," but I am so happy that someone is still selling something that looks decent at church or a Friday night drinks party. One of the ladies pictured in the article is wearing to work a dress that would be far more appropriate at the drinks party. It leaves me wondering why the whole industry seems to be reeling out of control. Alexander Mc Queen said, at least I think it was he, the clothes he made for the runway were meant for the show; the clothes he sold to women were entirely different. I think the pattern companies would do well to think about that.

Thanks for letting me vent. I love, love, love reading your posts and look forward to them. Have fun n NYC.

sdBev said...

I've been disappointed in today's journalist for abandoning what I think of as true investigative journalism. I'm old enough to know that there are always 2 sides to every story. Rarely does any side completely lack merit. I want to read about both sides without snide jabs or demeaning characterizations. I want all the facts so I can make up my own mind. I resent that today's journalist seem to feel that I'm stupid and they must shape my thinking.

Anonymous said...

I get a different read on the story than you do. The author talks of McCall's taking bloggers (I smiled as I saw there was no mention of their sewing skills) and turning them into designers. (If anybody should be offended it's the true designers.) It's pretty obvious that the company's intent is to attract first-time, mostly younger sewers using people they can relate to. Kind of like celebrity branding. I didn't see any disrespect for the work that goes into becoming skilled. That's really not what this article is about.

Janome gnome said...

Four years, I don't know what it means really. It's a phd or Olympics training or can he phase one of learning to sew (feeling guilty about the machine gathering dust). I don't mind at all when relatively inexperienced designers bring it it their stuff - much of it is new or interesting and often accessible in that it connects new groups of people to sewing - but they have to get it right technically and not let customers down. After that, it's just a market and some people will buy some things and some won't. I feel very very happy with Cashmerette's own little revolution, and I find Gertie's writing interesting even though neither of those is personally my thing, but I learn from their writing which is free to me and I appreciate. Some independents do a fantastic job, like Sewaholic's patterns are spot on IMO. That said, I've lost interest in some of the more prolific indie brands churning stuff out like handmade fast fashion and almost bordering on lifestyle brands. If the drafting is plain wrong or a "beginner" pattern requires seriously technical adjustments as standard or a supposedly 2 hour garment takes twice that (and whose two hours do they mean anyway?) ... You lose my loyalty right away. Play with the looks and offer what you like, but don't offer what it's not reasonably going to be and don't play with your customers. That's my red line. There is some fantastic work out there though. You can tell fairly soon who really knows their patterns and communicating them. In general, sewing folk can sniff that stuff out I think. I really love this blog, by the way. I think it keeps a lot of us grounded and gives us a reference point that means a lot. Thanks.

Janome gnome said...

Ps: I'm a journalist too, so I looked at this article again from that perspective. It doesn't give you a feel for *why* people sew, or are sewing again. I can see why they link it to the rise in artisan stuff, but that's nothing to the buzz of "thank you! Finally!" Over at the curvy sewing collective or the Eco challenges of the refashioners or the relief of us Instagram mums showing each other that we simply have something to show at the end of the day or the extraordinary support knocking around online (joost's interview on Seamwork radio was good on that) or the unadulterated fun mixed with fantastic technical skills of male pattern boldness. It's a shame they didn't capture any of that. They also didn't recognise the unbroken lineage that has always been there in areas maybe too unfashionable for the NYT to notice but seriously, even non-quilters can appreciate the amazing creativity, precision and fun tools over chez les quilters. It was too outside. I don't think the journalist, unfortunately, quite realized the point - we may or may not be quaint, but we probably have better fitting clothes than them ;)

badmomgoodmom said...

I agree that the writer seemed clueless.

I'm not impressed with that blogger/designer's skills.

I'm not sure if it is purely time. She had a teacher named Sharon who did not get the same opportunities. I wonder if her race had anything to do with it?

4 years after I went off to college, I started grad school. At 21, I was teaching quantum mechanics to college seniors that were older than myself. The professor and the students have me high ratings. I think having learned QM so recently helped me to teach it.

Catherine Daze said...

I enjoyed the article and I think it's much more of a positive thing than a negative one even if the journalist missed the point in places. I'm a bit disturbed by the news that Vogue are going to be collaborating with a blogger through, mainly because the prevailing aesthetic in blog land is so not to my taste: it tends to be girly, hyper-feminine, dare I even say twee? But there are a lot of bloggers out there bucking that trend so I'm trying to keep an open mind!
The fashion designer collaborations are variable too but at least you know you are going to get interesting and unusual details with those so I'm really sorry they are drying up.

Jess said...

Thank you, yes! I had the same thoughts about the article. If it were about knitting Ravelry would be collectively screaming by now.

I'm just shy of 40 but grew up sewing and am having trouble digesting the four years' designer, too. I'm no amazing sewist but get by and have good reference books and experienced people to turn to when things inevitably go wrong (including your blog). I suppose the internet has created too many experts and not enough students. God help me if I stop being a student.

On a related note we have a new multi-use arts space planned in our town for artists and actors to hold classes and performances in. One of the lease holders is a sewist who plans to offer sewing classes in the space. I was so pleased until I couldn't find any information about how long this person been sewing, who she's taken classes from, etc. The work on her website is very "blogger style" and has no bio/CV. Questionable advice, monetizing links and the number of hashtags leave me shaking my head. I want to be supportive and generous of the effort (especially since one of the other lease holders is a friend) but just can't get there. Ah, well.

Anonymous said...

Yes. A million times yes

Cuscini said...

And this is why I subscribe to your blog, Barbara; I read that article and had no one to talk to about it -- there was no comments section at the NYT's site!

I, too, am an experienced writer, and my take is that the journalist was given an assignment to do a story on home sewing. He then got all the source material he needed at McCalls and never went further. So, yes, there was a disconnect there between writing a profile piece on the McCalls company and going deeper to expand it to a contemporary renewal of interest in home sewing. I won't criticize the slant, because we have no way of knowing what the writer had for editorial deadlines, word count or other constraints. It's easy to say the story should have developed this more, but try that when sources aren't readily available and you're got a piece to turn in that afternoon.

Was there a tone of "gee, whiz, how quaint" in the article? Absolutely. But we must remember that our own world of sewing interest is not the greater world. Yes, we see and celebrate a rejuvenation of interest in sewing because we love it, but it's disingenuous to think that non-sewers see it this way. C'mon, people, when people hear you sewed the garment they admire, do they comment on the smooth armscye or are they simply amazed that you sewed it at all?

I was pleased to see the article; let's hope this encourages both those who want to sew and the industry that serves us all. In other news this week, for example, I was glad to hear that Michaels purchased Hancock Fabrics (did anyone else notice the bargain price of $1.5m?).

I'm in sort of an odd place in my sewing ability. I have many years of sewing everything from slip covers to children's garments, but have only just started sewing garments other than skirts for myself. With my curvy Italian figure and a pitiful lack of spacial abilities, I was always unsuccessful at FBAs and have never progressed into the dressmaker skills I've always wanted to develop. Independent patterns like Cashmerette have opened a wonderful new world for me. But I am experienced enough to see that many of the independent companies are parading the emperor's new robes with simple, rectangular shapes yet expensive pricing.

That's all from me on the article.

Now, sadly, I feel compelled to respond to the comment above: "I wonder if her race had anything to do with it?" My goodness,this is simply not acceptable at all. I hope the poster wasn't thinking and will consider removing this.

Thank you all for your kindred remarks, Sewing on the Edge community!

Leigh Wheeler said...

"in the days before digital culture banished clutter." This makes me laugh. I have NEVER seen any corporate office without clutter. Digital only makes it worse. Perhaps I run in the wrong circles.

"She began sewing only four years ago, she said, after amending her long-held view: My thought was old people sew. Young, hip people did not sew.” This also makes me laugh. My friend likes to say, "Those kids. They even think they invented sex." It's funny how once someone becomes interested in something they suddenly think that it's cool and that it belongs to them, when there is plenty of history around it.

I am a local chapter president for American Sewing Guild. We try to increase membership, however, most of my members are 50+. I have noticed that most teachers are also in this age group. To attract some of the younger folks in my area, I was interested in bringing a larger variety of instructors to our chapter, including younger teachers (which by definition means less experience - You can't have 40 year so sewing experience if you're 30. At a national convention, I took a class from one of the younger set, and have to say it was very disappointing. The lack of experience really showed. She was unprepared for what I would consider normal sewing questions (like how to order jeans fabric online when she was teaching jeans and suggested we order our fabric online), her presentation was scattered, and I really could not recommend bringing her to my group. My ladies would NOT be happy and I would hear about it for months. I have all sewing experience levels in my group, but they have come to expect a certain level of professionalism in the instruction we receive when we bring in national-level teachers. Here is a place where some 'apprenticing' would be good, such as teaching at smaller local venues. In my opinion 'going national' is not for beginners, no matter how popular their blog personality.

Yes, you can be whatever you want, but not in 5 minutes. And just because you haven't learned it yet, doesn't mean it is unimportant.

Margaret Delong said...

I read this article on the weekend, and agree, it's very biased by the journalist (A guy, I noticed)... But he is also interviewing McCall's, the company that has been dragged kicking and screaming into the current decade. They were pretty much the last DIY-based company on earth to acknowledge social media, and while I like a lot of ther designs, their directions still refuse to use new inventions... Like the zig-zag stitch for knits (I'm looking at you, B5495).
I was hoping to find out more about how they are moving forward in an increasingly Internet-based economy, surrounded by 4-year sewists-turned-designers who rely on social media for marketing... I'm still wondering.

LinB said...

"Quaint" = attractively unusual, old-fashioned.

Those younger than oneself often characterize as "quaint" our habits and hobbies and ways of coping with life. They also often claim as their own discovery something that the rest of the world has known for thousands of years. It's part of being young.

I laughed when a colleague young enough to be my child passionately argued that "It is MY generation who invented the non-disposable water container!" I guess all those hiking trips with the Girl Scouts, in the 1960s, when we all dutifully carried our own canteen, don't count.

We can wring our hands that the world sees home sewists as quaint and old-fashioned and something of a nine-day's wonder -- or we can rest secure in the knowledge that fashion disasters like a missing button or a ripped seam will not defeat us, that we can rescue ourselves from whole decades of ugly styling, that we are not compelled to wear garments that do not properly fit us.

SunnyTechGirl said...

You might be interested in this article about Kids sewing.. http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/arts-and-life/life/school-age-designers-sew-away-their-summers-389611911.html

Jean Shaw said...

I guess I'll go with the argument that "there's no such thing as bad publicity..."

I'm okay with those millennials who think that they invented sewing. I'm okay with it when indie pattern companies produce glossy dreck (God, I love Yiddish). I'm not really okay with the arrogance of bloggers who think that 4 years of experience equals real expertise, but I'm not particularly interested in swimming upstream.

Overall, whatever brings more folks to the presser foot is good for us all. Because ... it helps keep good pattern lines, good teachers, and good sources of fabric in business. Keep your eyes on the prize, in other words.

SuzieB said...

I'm late to the party, as usual. Yesterday while thrifting I discovered a newly-donated goldmine of relatively current (mostly-Vogue) sewing patterns - all larger than size 4-6, yay! While paying and chatting, the probably 50-ish volunteer told me she had no idea sewing patterns were still sold! Apparently one had not crossed her path since high school home ec class. Obviously we travel in different circles.

Anonymous said...

I too think it all depends on where you live. Here in Europe people are still amazed at the fact that I make my own clothes. I think its all relative to your background.
Re. the blogger become designer - the world has gone crazy with this sort of thing. Look at Project Runway Season whatever where that lovely girl had only been sewing a year & won, now a money making machine. It happens. Talent cant be measured.
I cant read too much into a silly article.

Seattle Sews said...

Did anyone look up the website of the new designer? She is chic! She knows what looks good and how to style/accessorize it. I agree that her sewing skills are not expert. So what? She did what most of us want to do-make something works for her, not someone else.

I had a career on the manufacturing/product development end of the fashion world and (after making my own clothes since elementary school) started with a degree in Clothing & Textiles. Most of the successful designers at school and in the industry weren't very good at sewing! They were designers, not home sewers.

Having said all that, I probably won't be buying her patterns, they are not my style.