Saturday, October 09, 2010

Pinned down about sewing

I only know one person who sews clothes - and she lives across the country in California. My sister owns a sewing machine, but the only thing she sews anymore are curtain-type things or cushion covers. Nobody I work with sews. Every time I used to shop at a fabric store in Bangor, I wondered how they could stay afloat. People just don't sew anymore, I thought. One of these days all the fabric stores will close after the sewers like me die, and sewing clothes will become a quaint craft found only in history books.

I really felt in the minority until I discovered a web site where sewers review patterns and teach techniques and share photos of their current projects. From there, I linked into sewing blogs and other sites and all of a sudden I felt less an anachronism and more a person on the cutting edge (no pun intended). I think that's one great thing about the Internet - it has connected people who think erroneously that they are isolated in their interests or hobbies.

Of course, we all can find fellowship for our specific passions on the Internet. Apparently there are groups for people who can't get sexually aroused unless the blowing and popping of a latex balloon is involved. If I felt disconnected, just think how they feel. What are the odds of finding someone with the same emotional requirement in your own neighborhood?

But I digress, of course. When I discovered the sewing community online, I finally regained hope for home seamstresses (and the future of my local fabric store). There were actually young people who were excited by the idea of creating their own clothes, possibly energized by TV shows such as Project Runway.

I don't think they teach sewing in the schools anymore, at least not that I know of. When I was in school, every girl took at least one year of what was called Home Economics, which supposedly encompassed sewing, cooking, and learning things like what to look for in a really good piece of furniture. I enjoyed the sewing, learned nothing about cooking, and the only thing I remember about buying furniture is to look for dovetail joints. When I started Home Ec, I had already learned some basics of sewing from my mother, but not much. It took my teacher, Mrs. Ray, a tall, lanky woman who made all her own clothes, to lead me into the world of sewing. (Sorry, Mrs. Ray, I never became a good cook, but luckily, I compensated by marrying one.)

Back then, patterns were 25 or 50 cents (now they can be priced as much as $16 and more), fabric was cheap, and the clothing style in fashion was minimal, so sewing was the obvious way to go. When I got my first job, my supervisor was sewing all her own clothes, and she was such an inspiration to me. Decades later, when I asked her why she quit sewing, she said she had only sewn to save money, not for the pleasure of it, and when she could start buying clothes cheaper at Walmart than she could make them, she put away her sewing machine. That made me question my motives for sewing.

They are, I have decided, manifold. Certainly, part of it is saving money. Clothes can be outrageously priced these days, and it doesn't take much money to sew a short lined plaid wool skirt as compared to buying one for $80 (LL Bean's current catalog).

But it's more than that. It is fit. Very little read-to-wear fits me. I have a weird body, and I know I'm not alone. For one thing, I'm short, so have to have a petite sizing, and that's not always an available option in ready-to-wear. I'm studying hard these days, with the help of my online communities and some books, to master the art of adjusting patterns to fit me. It's an ongoing process.

But it's more than that. It is control. I don't have to go to Eddie Bauer's catalog and be restricted to 3 colors for a skirt I admire. I have the whole JoAnn fabric store (and online retailers as well) to choose from. I choose the pattern, I choose the fabric color and feel, and I choose everything from buttons to whether it has a shallow or deep hem. It's one of the few things I can control in this world!

And finally, it's even more than that. It is creativity. It is the pleasure of making something with my own hands, something unique, something useful yet lovely. This is the reason that outweighs the others, the reason there seems to be a growing community of (mainly) women who feel the need to express themselves in a new way. We may not be in the majority, but we are a dedicated bunch.

So today I am thankful for my friend, Sally, who inspired me to get back into sewing clothes after years of only making quilts (I'm still quilting, too - have two in the works). I'm thankful for the ordinary working women, housewives, mothers, and grandmothers who blog about sewing, who provide pictures of their creations for inspiration, who share their frustrations and, yes, their failures, and who take time to answer questions and teach new techniques. I may spend the rest of my life without someone locally who can sew with me, but a whole other world is as close as my computer, and I am still eager to learn. I like to think Mrs. Ray would be proud.

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