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I am a mother, a 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 book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge was published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon


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Wednesday, December 2, 2020

I am not as smart as I think I am

Let's be honest. 

    I have been sewing if not daily, at least a couple of times a week, for fifty years. I started very young making my own clothes (what was my mother thinking?) I wore some strange outfits to school when I was getting going though I can tell you.

    However the end result of all this sewing is that I have done so many things over and over again I have sort of got used to disregarding the instructions. 

I am so smart after all.

    In fact I had a standard practice of throwing out the Big 4 instructions as soon as I opened the envelope - a practice that annoyed the hell out of the sister who used to borrow patterns from me "Just forget it. I would rather buy the pattern myself, there are never any instructions in them."

    In the interests of full disclosure and transparency I have to tell you that this assumption of competence is not always a great practice. I am horrified to realize that I am, in my sewing, on the verge of becoming, in some areas at least, that most dreaded of mature people - the one who thinks they know everything because they have been around and around the block many times.

    I am reminding myself of those women I used to sometimes run across in sewing classes who would announce they had been sewing "for 30 years and this is how I do it" even if how they did it, like never changing the needle even when it sounded when it sewed like a Sherman tank driving on a metal road, or edge stitching not on the edge but always, always a presser foot away in every situation, wasn't really best practice.

    And too the young and enthusiastic new sewists in my classes, the new who were wide open every scrap of information they could collect, and were always so willing to try and try again until they got it right, taught me a real life truth - just because you have been doing something for a long time doesn't mean you have been doing it right. 

    In fact it is entirely possible to do the same mistake over and over for 30 years, if not longer.

    Once again life if it doesn't always imitate art, certainly does seem to imitate sewing.

    Now this profound statement leads me very naturally to a discussion of shoe bags.

    Last night I reviewed and posted pictures of Jalie's Nordik slippers and shoe bag. I was pretty interested in how cleverly the slippers went together and when I got to making the shoe bag, well after dinner, I thought I could just look at the pieces and figure it out.

It was getting late. 

    The dogs were agitating to get to walk down the hall to the bedroom and the cat was agitating the dogs who had no interest in joining her for a top speed circuit around the house.

    That's my defence but there really isn't any. Not from someone who knows the route around the block this well.

    However my sewing conscience is pretty active, it has to be, so when I woke up this morning I decided to actually check out the instructions just in case. Of course I had missed a critical step.

    Rather than simple sewing around the rectangle shape which this smarty pants assumed she should do, I should have folded the side seams in 1 1/2" at each end and stitched over them like this, like I did this morning:


    This is such a simple manoeuvre, I have done the boxed corner thing many times but never this, but it gives a nice pleat and shape to the sides of the bag- more three dimensional:

    This completely changes and improves the look of this bag. I advise you follow the instructions on this one.

    This whole episode has reminded me one of the main reasons I enjoy sewing with Jalie (apart from the huge size selection which is important for someone like me who sews for an extended family) - I love the little technical tricks.

    So I learned something new today. 

    This little episode has also made me consider the role of long standing assumptions in life. As I go about my business today I am going to reflect on other areas where I might have rushed to judgment, thought I already knew something but didn't, where maybe I haven't been as smart as I thought I was. It seems to me that long term output might inhibit the occasional interesting input.

    So I have a question. Have any of you had an experience like this? In any area. What sort of assumptions have you revised lately?


Lynn said...

I too have been sewing a long, long, time. Over 50 years now. I will always remember my mother having to go back to the store to buy fabric to replace pieces she couldn't fix after deciding she knew better and didn't read the directions on a complicated coat pattern. The incident was followed by hours of seam ripping, rebutting and renewing.

I always at minimum glance through the directions to see what they have in mind.

bbarna said...

I have been sewing for 52 years and was fortunate to have had a few great teachers over the years. I always read the instructions as part of the sewing prep. My problem was with the machines. After owning several machines, new and used over the decades, I thought I knew quite a bit. It was almost 10years into owning my lovely Husqvarna machine that I discovered I could move the needle into the 1/4 inch position for quilt piecing, duh. No more pieces of tape, post it notes or fancy feet, just push a button. We are never to old to learn, if we let ourselves, lol.
Barb from Prince George

Anonymous said...

I have an aunt who at 93 still sews daily. She sees for family , friends, charity, neighbours, and people she doesn’t know yet. Her two favourite sayings for these situations are as follows. I she makes a mistake “ I had to rip out because little miss know it all here ( pointing at herself) messed up again. If a new sewer makes a mistake it’s” oh, you can’t see that from the road, it will be easier next time, looks great:

Momadams said...

You’ve brought back some memories.
My next door neighbor was an old-school home ec teacher (iron the pattern tissue, straighten the grain of the fabric, pin the pattern to the fabric with LOTS of pins, etc). She taught me to sew 60 years ago. The woman across the street was a country homemaker with lots of kids. She taught me the shortcuts!

I was substituting for the home ec teacher at the high school (1990 and they still had clothing construction!). One student asked for clarification of the instructions for a Big 4 pants pocket. I knew part of their task was following instructions, so I clarified for her without saying, “That sure is a stupid way to do that...”

The other day, someone pointed out that you can have the best of both worlds by flat sewing the sleeve cap and then, after sewing the side seam and, separately, the sleeve seam, finish the armscye seam as though doing a set-in.

Carol in Denver said...

Without making a muslin of one of those artsy blouse patterns, I "knew" I needed to alter it. It was a wonky disaster. I've been sewing over 72 years and am constantly learning new techniques and skills or developing new ideas. That's what makes sewing exciting for me.

LLBB said...

I had a high school sports coach who always said ‘practice makes permanent’ If you practice crappy technique you’ll end up with crappy technique. Practice will only make perfect if you are perfecting technique.

Kansas Sky said...

Oh, you are PLENTY smart!!!!!!! Nothing lacking in the smart department! But I like how you fixed the goof. These are lovely items, with this luscious fabric.

JustGail said...

Not so much in garment sewing, at least lately. Quilt things have given me pause recently though. First my assumption of my math ability - we'll not discuss the language when I realized 6 1/2 + 6 1/2 is NOT 12 1/2 just because I needed a 12 1/2 inch square cut from the strip of fabric. And my assumption that all the fabrics I was using were the same width. Sigh. The quilt is done, and it turns out to be one of my favorite QOV tops I've made so far.

I must say, based on the pattern photos, I can see how you missed that pleat.

Mel said...

I've been trying to bring that awareness to all parts of my life.

Stop and think why I hate a task, and how can it be done differently. I procrastinate vacuuming because I hate hauling the vacuum cleaner up and down the steps. another vacuum cleaner for downstairs. Each one can reach halfway, no hauling needed. My frugal mother would be aghast.