Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Point of Sewing

Gail commented in my last post, "I don't see the point of making an exact copy of a designer garment. Isn't the point of sewing to create garments that are original and perfect for us."   Naturally, this got me thinking, "What is the point of sewing?" and I know that each one of us would answer this question differently.  For me, the answer to that question has repeatedly changed throughout my life, depending on the project at hand, and as I reflected on my own reasons for sewing, my journey over the last 25 years floated through my mind...

When I was in middle school (mid-80s), I remember dragging my mother to every store in the mall looking for a skirt, a very specific skirt. Denim yoke, 3 tiers of gathered ruffles (pink, please) and ending above the knee. 25 years later, I can still see the image of that skirt in my mind's eye clearly! Well, my dear mother (God Bless her) was exhausted at the end of our fruitless search, and took me to Joann fabrics, where my sewing education began. She showed me the pattern catalogs and how to read the envelopes, and as they say, "The rest is history".  My very first sewing project's point: To make the dream reality. To have that skirt I saw in my mind's eye really happen. While I don't have a picture of that first skirt, I have a whole album of all the garments that came after it!
That Kenmore was my first, and still works great! I sewed in my bedroom...

As I sewed more, I found that I loved making formal dresses. In high school, the "red carpet event" was Homecoming/Prom. No girl ever wants to show up wearing the same dress as someone else, and sewing my own meant that I could insure my individuality. By my Senior year, my friends knew what I was up to, so I made 2 other girls' dresses as well. What was the point of that sewing? To create a unique garment, a "one of a kind".
My self-made prom dress (left). 1992!
About this time, my sister brought me one of the biggest jobs I've ever had: A Wedding. Not just a wedding dress, but all the bridesmaids, too! My sister's friend was on a very tight budget, so I was able to create her wedding dress for a mere $200. I think I only charged the bridesmaids $100 per dress. I was young, and so humbled to be creating such an important garment and had absolutely no idea what the average price of a wedding dress was in 1990! All the fabrics and materials came from Joann's, it was the only fabric store I had access to, and the "internet" wasn't in action just yet.  The point of that memorable sewing project: To stay under budget.
The bridesmaids sleeves were the same lace as the bride's!

My plans to study fashion design in college did not come to fruition. New York and L.A. seemed like a death sentence to my parents, and they refused to send their youngest off to the wolves. So, I changed plans, and teaching math became my career choice. Sewing took a back seat for a very long time, as the demands of college classes and lesson plans took over. When I was planning my wedding, the thought of making my own wedding dress was something I very much wanted (I had kept a Vogue wedding dress pattern for years and years, with that plan in mind!), I was simply too busy with my first year teaching. The only sewing I found myself doing was quilting, as it allowed me to satisfy my need to "create" in small time allowances, and I could easily walk away and pick up where I left off. These quilts became gifts for my mother, my mother-in-law, and my niece. The point of sewing these quilts: To create a memorable gift.
My first quilt, for my mom. Resides on my couch now. <3>
When I found out that I was pregnant with a little girl... Oh! My head was filled with floral cottons and ruffles, lace edging, and little matching panties! I didn't have much experience with sewing such small garments, along with the challenge of comfort and closures (buttoning the back of a wiggling baby is NOT easy). It was my first Mother's Day when DH's gift to me was my Husqavarna Viking Iris.  I was amazed by all it could do (the embroidery attachment led to a whole other sewing education) and made my little girl some really cute dresses.  I was shocked at how expensive some kids' clothes were, and could hear my mother's voice in my head, "There's less than a yard of fabric there!".  Making little dresses for my baby made me happy, like I was creating something special just for her, from her Mumma. As she's grown (10 last week!), I've saved many of those little dresses, just not able to toss aside the love that went into making them. The point of sewing them: To create sweet "heirloom" outfits for my little girl, truly made from the heart.
Made from the train of my wedding gown. 2011

Sewing cute stuff for my little girl made me want to sew cute big stuff for myself.  The lesson planning had lightened up, and I found myself sewing when the little one was napping. The internet brought a whole new level to my sewing world at this point, and my discovery of "Threads" and "PatternReview" meant that I had other people that I could talk to and learn from. My mother had taught me the basics, but I was left to my own devices with more technical challenges like zippers and pockets.  I started following blogs, and made friends around the world, like Bunny and Angie and Michelle and  Dawn.  This was the first time in my life that I felt like I was part of a community. The quality of my sewing increased exponentially because of these ladies and so many others out there blogging, sharing, teaching, explaining and laughing. My sewing had new purpose: To achieve great fit and create garments that were flattering on my frame.

All of this "learning" boosted my sewing confidence, and I found myself trying new challenges. I found myself entering contests and participating in sew-alongs, sewing sometimes just to prove that I could meet the goal.

These days when I flip through a magazine and see a beautiful garment that makes me think, "Ooh! I want that!", I look at the price tag and start thinking about fabric cost, style lines, pattern adjustments, closures... but, if it's affordable and I love it, I'll buy it. Last month I was in debate about patterns and fabrics for a dress to wear to a wedding. So, I went and tried some on, only to find the perfect dress on the rack, so I brought it home! No knock-off there, I couldn't improve on the style, the fabric, the fit, or the price.
That "Ralph Lauren" guy knows his stuff! No Knock-off here!

Beyond all of these reasons, the real bottom line for me is that sewing brings me joy.  It makes me happy to create something pretty, something that makes my child smile, something that brings comfort, something that makes me feel like a million dollars when I wear it. It gives me a sense of accomplishment, whether it's recreating a designer look or making my daughter a new dress for her doll. My math loving brain enjoys the engineering of a garment, the problem solving of construction, and the sensory stimulation of a fabric's color, drape, weight, and feel. The thought of tackling the challenges that I still want to learn (sketching, draping, and pattern drafting) makes me excited for my sewing future and my continued "sewing evolution".  I just submitted my first entry for the "Passion for Fashion" contest at the American Sewing Expo in Novi, Michigan in September. It's a contest I've always wanted to enter, but wasn't sure I was ready for. Maybe I'm still not ready, (considering the past competitors are Rhonda Buss, Angela Wolff, and Gretchen Hirsch), but I feel ready to TRY, I feel ready to put myself out there and give it a shot. I'll hear back soon, so I'll keep you posted.

Whether the "goal" image is a designer look from a glossy magazine or the front of a Vogue pattern envelope or an original from my own mind's eye, if I can match it (or improve on it) in a way that is appealing in appearance and fit... perhaps the question isn't "why sew?" but, "WHY NOT SEW?"

Gail, thank you for your question. I really enjoyed writing this post and reflecting on the past. I count you among my "worldwide sewing friends" and appreciate your kindness and support! I look forward to continuing this journey together!

24 comments:

JoanneM said...

What a fabulous post. I loved the wedding pictures and the Prom pic from 1992 is a keeper.
I believe there is a gratification to sewing an original and also replicating an expensive designer garment. What I love about sewing, is that "I can make that" feeling of empowerment and the creative license to choose otherwise.
Several years ago, D1 begged me to copy the JCrew Cascade Tulle Skirt at $395. I studied that thing and set about making it to look as professional as possible. She wore that skirt with such pleasure and happiness, for the total cost of $25. What joy!
A great question posed by Gail and your answer equally as thought provoking.
Thank you both.
JoanneM

Sara in Stitches said...

Love this post so much. It's a different for each of us, but you pulled at pretty much all of the threads (ha!) that drive most of us, I think. The point of sewing for me is to have something unique, to have garments I couldn't normally afford, and to keep learning and developing.

Knock-offs are one of the most satisfying ways of sewing--there's a bit of a rebellious "Take that!" to the whole endeavor that makes it fun.

And seconded--that prom dress is super awesome.

Kristine said...

Thanks, Joanne! There's another reason: To make our daughters smile, and hopefully carry on in our footsteps!

Kristine said...

Yes, you've hit the nail on the head! "Take that!" is exactly what I'm thinking, and it is so satisfying.

L said...

THANK YOU! What a wonderful post. I share many of your sentiments and am happy to be a part of your sewing village. I hope you make it into PFF. I'll be cheering you on!

Irene said...

I so enjoyed reading about your sewing journey. Keep on sewing for whatever reason - you make such lovely things that obviously bring you joy.

Carolyn (cmarie12) said...

The first shot of you sewing on your Kenmore in your bedroom made me smile because I spent all of my teenage years and a few of my college ones in the same position. But unlike you, I took my sewing machine to college for my second semester. I just couldn't leave it home!

Thank you for sharing this wonderful post with us. As you stated this is an amazing sewing community and I'm so glad that we've all gotten to "meet" courtesy of the internet!

Pam said...

Thank you for summing up so eloquently why we all sew! I think you hit a common chord for so many of us!

Carmen Bouchard aka CarmencitaB said...

Hear! Hear! You know your math, sewing is infinity!

Jenny said...

So interesting! I think we have basically the same mom - "That's just an A-line skirt!) :-)

Bunny said...

All so eloquently said! I am in total agreement and thank you for being part of my sewing village too. Sewing friends are the best!

Great pics. That prom pic is a classic. How did I know it was 80s? Hmmm,,,

You touched a nerve with me about the quilting phase. I went through the exact same thing when my girls were babes. There was just not enough space, time, or energy to pull out the machine but I could dig in my bag of pieces and stitch away by hand while they were napping. The quilt phase probably lasted about 7-8 years and one day I realized they were in school and I could hit the machine again. That's when I got my Kenmore. Garment sewing returned and it was glorious.

This is a wonderful post, Kristine and beautifully expressed.

Lisa said...

I love this post. YOu put into words exactly the many reason why I sew. I enjoy the challege, the frugality, and the joy of sharing my sewing talents with others. Thanks for the thought provoking post.

On a side note, your Kenmore looks just like the one my mom had, that I learned to sew on. I loved that machine. It was a real workhorse! Sadly, I died a few years ago, but had lived a good long life, sewing my and my sisters wedding gowns and humdred of garments through the years. Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

Linda T said...

So very well said from a sewer's point of view!

Lisa Laree said...

GREAT post!! What a wonderful summation of why a home sewing enthusiast...is a home sewing enthusiast. I enjoyed reading that (and looking at the pictures) very much!

a little sewing said...

I really enjoyed reading your sewing story, and all of your reasons for sewing resonate with me. The gowns you sewed decades ago look GREAT!

Vicki said...

Great post. We do sew for many reasons and they do change over time.

Jean said...

What a thoughtful post. I enjoyed reading it and admiring your prom dress and of course the wedding/wedding party dresses. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and memories. The online sewing community is an amazing place -- thanks to the diversity of people who sew.

Amy said...

A well articulated post. It definitely emcompasses some of the same reasons I sew my own clothes. I enjoyed reading about your journey. Thanks for sharing!

Erica B. said...

This is a great post! You and I were at the same phase of wanting to venture off to "The Big City" to attend fashion school. My dream was Parsons and my shot that down with the quickness. I was told to pursue "a real education".

We all sew for different reasons and those reasons are just fine. If you see a garment you like and you want to knock it off or put your own spin on it -- that's just fine. That's why we sew.

Erica B. said...

*my family...

Kyle said...

Great post!
Ooo! I am very excited that you are trying out for Passion for Fashion, yay!!!

Kyle said...

p.s. I'm really impressed by your prom dress--I doubt I could have sewn like that at the same age!

Sandra said...

Kristine, this post merits world-wide distribution, no kidding. You articulated so beautifully what so many of us experience -- the joy of sewing! Thank you! (P.S. to every sewing magazine and website on the planet, share this!) And good luck at Novi!

meredithp said...

Great post, Kristine! I enjoyed your story and pictures. There are as many reasons for sewing as there are sewers. But the one thing that we all have in common is that we love it. Keep on sewing! :-)