Tag Archives: discussion post

Why I Sew

16 Apr

Sewing room sneaky peek

“Why do you sew?” This is the question that I get asked on a near daily basis – evenly distributed between curious blog comments, emails, face-to-face introductions, and random strangers who compliment something handmade that I happen to be wearing. Obviously, I am happy to talk about sewing until I start seeing eyes glaze over (oh, who am I kidding, I’m not gonna let that stop me one bit), but it’s not really something I’ve ever discussed at large on this blog. Since I’m currently in this weird blogging purgatory where I have finished projects but can’t take photos due to the current torrential downpours going on right now, let’s talk about it! And have some new sewing room sneaky-peeks while we’re at it 😀

As some of you may know, I learned how to sew through self-teaching. I’ve been around sewing my entire life – my mom made a lot of curtains, stuffed bunnies, and Easter dresses throughout my childhood, and I even had my own little sewing kit that I’d use to fashion Barbie-sized clothing and quilts. I started using her sewing machine when I was around 13 or 14, as someone on my favorite AOL message board (haha YEP) mentioned that they would sew up the sides of their band shirts to make them fit better. MIND. BLOWN. I used sewing strictly for alterations for a few years, and it wasn’t until I was 20 that I started trying to use sewing patterns. I learned everything – from threading the machine, to deciphering the pattern jargon, to learning new techniques – from books and the occasional internet research (I didn’t have internet in my house 10 years ago, so most of my early knowledge came from reading the Vogue Sewing Book cover to cover, like a freaking novel). That was back before blogging really took off, before sew-alongs were a thing, before I even knew that there was a site like Pattern Review and definitely during a time when we gave indie pattern companies a wary side-eye because we weren’t sure if they were to be trusted.

When I started sewing, I never had any intentions of eventually having a 100% me-made wardrobe. I never imagined that sewing would ever earn me any sort of income, not outside the random $10-$15 for an occasional pants-hem. I never really thought about it while it was happening – it was just, oh, great, a new hobby to immerse myself in! I did eventually start selling the clothing that I was making, as a way to offset some of my costs and give myself the go-ahead to sew up looks and fabrics that I’d never personally wear. That lasted for a few years, and it was pretty fun! I ultimately closed down the line because it was taking up too much of my selfish sewing time (NO RAGRETS).

noragretsI’ve been perfecting my craft for nearly 10 years at this point (I don’t count those early days pre-20 because, honestly, the only action my sewing machine got was nipping in the side seams of whatever random band shirt I’d bought the night before. Seriously. Soooo many band shirts), which is kind of crazy to me! I’ve had a lot of hobbies in the past, but this one has definitely stuck around the longest, and turned into an actual passion as opposed to something I do every few weeks so I have something to chat about at parties.

So, with all that being said – I give you my top 5 reasons (in no particular order) as to why I sew.Sewing room sneaky peek

REASON #1: Mood-Altering Abilities

I love sewing because it’s a good mood-changer for almost any situation I encounter. If I’m bored, it’s entertaining. If I’m feeling stressed, it’s relaxing. If I’m angry, it calms me down. Everything about the entire process – from planning, to cutting, to prepping, to stitching, to finishing – makes me feel drastically better than I did before the project started. Truth, if I go too long without getting some creative release taken care of (such as those couple weeks during our recent move), I start getting angsty and upset. Sewing just makes me feel really good, which is more than I can say about other hobbies. I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t peel myself off the couch after an afternoon of TV binge-watching and think, “Man. That was a productive day.” And hey, since sewing is considered entertainment – it’s REALLY easy to justify spending money on it 🙂 Ha!

 

REASON #2: Problem Solving

I am a problem-solver at heart. Give me a dilemma, and I’ll roll it around in my head for a few hours (or days) and try to come up with the most effective solution. I was one of those math nerds in high school who loved both Algebra AND Geometry. Figuring my way out of puzzle keeps my brain active and happy, and sewing is a really good way to incorporate that into my every day life. I love being presented with a challenge – whether it involves fitting, fabric, or finishing – and kicking that challenge right in its big, stupid ass. I’m not really a brain expert here or anything, but I like to think that exercising that part of my brain that solves problems and figures out puzzles makes me a better problem-solver overall, in all aspects of my day to day life. Whether or not that’s actually true, of course, is up for debate, but again – it makes me feel good. I like feeling good.

 

REASON #3: Level 10 Bartering // Income

When my sewing skills were still in their infancy, I learned a lot of what I know just from hacking away at alterations (first, my own, later, everyone else’s). I hemmed pants, I shortened bridesmaid dresses, I repaired couch pillows and cushions, I made custom curtains (fun fact: one time I made curtains for Emerson Hart. Those celebrities in Nashville, they’re everywhere!), I made dog clothes and Halloween costumes, and I also made about 100 flat-sheet sleeping sacks for a local hostel (you wanna know why I can sew in such a straight line? I had a LOT of practice making those sacks! ha!). I advertised on Craigslist and charged low rates, and made some decent money over the years. Not enough to quit my day job, obviously – but enough for a night out of drinking, or to pay for gas for the week, or to add to my savings for an upcoming trip. I was pretty poor during most of those 10 years – I was an irresponsible 20something with loads of credit card debt who spent way too much money on cigarettes and alcohol – and these random little alteration jobs kept me afloat when I needed it most. This is something I can always fall back on – and I still do, from time to time. When I was jobless during the last month of 2013, you best believe I was hawking the alterations like a crazy person. Not only was I able to cover my rent and bills – I also was able to tuck some money into savings. Yay!

I do pretty all right now with my current work, so I’m not dying for additional income right now – but I still using sewing as the bestest bartering tool. Like that one time when I had to take to small claims court that asshole who hit my car (AND THEN LIED ABOUT IT) – I bartered with my lawyer friend, who agreed to represent me in court in exchange for making him a Princess Peach dress for Halloween.

Check out the finished man-sized Princess Peach dress that I made for my attorney (yes, he's awesome)! Last year, I was in a minor car accident that the insurance refused to pay out (despite none of it being my fault), and this guy was nice enough to repr

I cannot make this shit up. Again – sewing is the best bartering tool evarrr. I wouldn’t have been able to afford a lawyer otherwise, but I *can* afford my time! Also, I won the case. Mostly because it was total bullshit, but, I digress.

 

REASON #4: Makes Me A Better Consumer

Y’all. For as much as I’m a bleeding hippie about a whole myriad of aspects in my personal life, I used to be a really really terrible consumer. I spent way too much money (see above RE: credit card debt) and I treated most of what I bought as disposable. I didn’t have a lot of control in a lot of really important parts of my life (early 20s were a very dark time for me, to put it mildly), so I shopped. A lot. Sewing helped me get out of the funk in two ways – for one, it gave me something to be happy about and have control over (see reason #1) and it did a number on curbing the consumerism. Once you see how much effort goes into making a single piece of clothing – even a simple fucking tshirt – it becomes a bit mind-blowing to realize that there are stores selling that shit for as little as $2. How? I also started noticing just how crappy the quality is on a lot of the stuff we buy – awful fabrics, pieces cut off-grain, horrible seam finishes, bad fit – especially when you compare it to vintage pieces, or hell, even shit from 15 years ago. All that being said, I really drastically cut down on the amount of stuff I was buying – mostly because it seemed ridiculous to pay $$$ for something horribly made that I could do a better job of myself at home. Once I started getting picky about fit and realized that I was going to have to alter everything I bought, it made clothing shopping even less appealing. I gradually pulled back from buying new clothing over the years, and as of now, I’m rocking the almost-entirely handmade wardrobe.

Also, I read Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion when it was published, and it totally blew my mind. If you’re one of 3 people who hasn’t yet heard of this book, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy. It will change your (shopping)life.

Sewing also played a part in getting that credit card debt finally paid off once and for all. I spent nearly an entire year living as shitty as possible and funneling the majority of my income into that stupid debt. When I say majority, I really mean it – I gave myself $20 per pay period (so, $40 a month) to spend on fun money after my bills were paid. Everything else went back into that looming debt. It obviously sucked and I’m definitely planning on not ever going through that again. Also – what can you do with $40 a month? That’s like 2 movies, or a month of REALLY shitty cable (or, for me – one night out at the bar). Lame! I sewed my way through my stash, and re-upped with monthly trips to our flea market (where $40 actually does go pretty far!). Instead of going out to the bar, I stayed home in my sewing room. Not only was I keeping myself entertained, I was also contributing to my wardrobe (because, again: $40 a month.). I made additional income from alterations, which I also dumped right into that debt. I was able to pay that shit off about a month earlier than I had anticipated, and I’ve been debt-free ever since! Yay!

 

REASON #5: Complete Wardrobe Control

I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that this is why the majority of us sew – it gives us complete control of our wardrobe! It’s pretty awesome to be able to choose what you wear based on what you want, and not what’s just available in stores. It’s mind-blowing to be able to finish a garment and know that it is going to fit you just the way you like, without needing a bunch of alterations. And don’t even get me started on the merits of having control over the fabric – how many of us have used novelty bedsheets or ridiculous quilting cotton to make a crazy dress?

New garment sneaky peek

I started sewing specifically for the wardrobe control – beginning with those band tshirts, and making my flares into skinny jeans (because I couldn’t find them in stores, because it was 1999 and everyone worshiped The Flare). I started using patterns because I wanted cotton sundresses made out of ~quirky~ fabrics (mostly those novelty bedsheets, of course). I used vintage patterns because I wanted a vintage wardrobe without paying a hefty price for my pieces. I continued sewing and honing my craft because I want clothes that fit my body and are made of natural fibers, in colors and patterns that I like (versus whatever is available at Express this season). I want clothing with special details and one-of-a-kind designs. I am inspired by the clothing I see- from designers on the runway, to costume design in movies and television, to rando people walking in front of me on the sidewalk – and I recreate it in ways that work for my wardrobe and lifestyle. While I do occasionally complain about how there are RTW fabrics that I never see available for the home sewer, that’s a pretty small drop in the bucket compared to the choices we DO have over the typical clothing consumer. Sewing isn’t exactly known for saving you money these days (I mean, unless you’re ripping off really expensive designer shit), but it certainly puts you in charge of wearing what you want, which to me is worth far more than saving a little bit of cash. I always think back on those skinny jeans that I wore when I was 14, surrounded by a sea of flares, and it feels pretty good to know that I don’t have to put myself at the mercy of whatever is currently in style. I wear what I want, and I give no fucks.

deal-lladybird

So that’s the story of why I sew – in a nutshell, it makes me happy! I like being happy 🙂 Now tell me – why do you sew? What gets your little (sewing)motor going? Do you aspire to the eventual 100% handmade wardrobe, or are you content just pushing out the occasional fiber art because it makes you feel good? Time to get our chat on!

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“How Do You Find The Time To Sew So Much?”

14 Aug

One question I get asked a LOT – in comments, emails, tweets, real-life conversations, you name it – is how I manage to churn out all these garments at a seemingly rapid rate. Apparently, “Uhhh, idk I guess I sew fast lol” isn’t a satisfactory answer, and after one too many gentle nudges from various people, I think it’s time to unleash a discussion post!

happy dayz

Contrary to popular belief, I do not have any of the following:
– A Vampire’s need for sleep, or lack thereof
– A collection of enslaved sewing elves tucked away in my sewing room
– A machine that stops time
– A job that lets me sew all day (but, I mean, if you want to offer me one…)

Guys, I work a full-time, non-sewing related job. I go to bed at like 10pm. I don’t have kids or a particularly needy boyfriend, but I do hang out with my friends, I ride my bike, and sometimes my after-work schedule means I don’t sew at all for an entire week. So where does the time come from?

Well, for one, I do sew fast. I’m sorry, but I just do! I’m very comfortable with my machines and most techniques I use, which means a lot more sewing and a lot less unpicking. I also just tend to do everything fast (people are very amazed when I join them for lunch and inhale my sandwich in less than thirty seconds), so don’t be discouraged if you’re not ol’ Speedy at the machine.

queue

Another big one is that I always have something in the works – once I finish a project, I immediately start the next one in my queue. The queue changes around based on current needs/wants or if I get a shiny new pattern that week… but the point is, I have a queue. Speaking of which, I found the easiest way to keep the queue in check is to pull out the patterns I plan on sewing and store them separately from the rest of my stash. On the front of each envelope, I pin a little swatch of the fabric I plan on using (see above photo). Much easier than yanking off the whole yardage and piling it on the table with the patterns… which was what I was previously doing. Anywaaaay, back to what I was saying – I literally work projects back to back to back. This means that during weekends where I have a couple marathon seshs in a row, I could easily end up finishing 2 or 3 projects – or even more, depending on how simple they are (knit tshirts, I’m looking at you). Obviously, I don’t want to post them all in a row – I think you guys would get real bored of my face real fast – so I try to spread them out a little. This is not always the case when I’m posting like I’ve got a fire under my butt, but a lot of times it is. Sometimes those Finished Objects are kind of old!

I know this is a sewing blog, but I want to point out that I also do this with knitting. What can I say – I really love knitting, I don’t want to *not* have a project in the works (same with sewing)! Not having any creative downtime may make me sound like I’m working some kind of bizarre sweatshop with horrible self-imposed deadlines, but honestly… I just really love making things, and I feel lost if I don’t have a WIP that I can tinker around with at any given time.

So anyway, here are some tips that will [hopefully]help you accelerate your sewing progress.

sewing room

#1: Have a Dedicated Sewing Space

I realize this leaves out a lot of people as not everyone can afford to set aside an entire room – or even an unused corner – dedicated only for sewing. That sucks! I’m lucky that I have the space (and I make enough money/live in an inexpensive enough area where the second bedroom is totally a dealbreaker when looking for places to rent), but I know not all of y’all have that kind of luxury. However, this is single-handedly the #1 reason why I can get so much done – I don’t have to spend half my time setting everything up and then later taking it down. My machines have their own tables and they are always plugged in, my ironing board never gets folded and stored, and my cutting table does not work part-time as a dining room table.

stash

Having a dedicated sewing space means that I can indulge in my favorite part of sewing (other than the sewing itself): STASHING. Wooohooo I love my stash!! Actually, my stash has shrunk considerably this year (this happens when you stop adding to it and start sewing from it!), but, it’s still a stash. My pride and joy when it comes to stashing isn’t actually my fabrics, though – it’s my stash of notions, trims, interfacings, linings, and all those other little sewing goodies that make you stop in the middle of a project because you don’t have one on hand. I won’t say I have enough stuff on hand to open a store, but I do have a lot. You don’t have to break the bank to build up a supply – just buy a little extra something or two when you go to the fabric store. For a few months, I concentrated on serger thread – I bought 4 spools of whatever color every time I stocked up on fabric. Eventually, I had every color of the rainbow – without having to drop mad $$ on it all at once. Most of my trims and zippers come from ~vintage~ stashes – the flea market, thrift stores, yard sales (I have friends and parents of friends who keep an eye out for me, too!) – which, if you’re not shopping on Etsy, old sewing supplies are practically given away. I have so much shit in my stash, I can make entire outfits without leaving the sewing room to stock up on something.

Obviously, pointing this out is not going to magically grant everyone access to their own sewing room (I wish!), but I do want to point out that this does give me quite a sexy leg up on the competition.

happy dayz
#2: UFOs Don’t Exist in My World

Ah, UFO – or, Unfinished Objects (altho if you want to talk about aliens, I’m down for that too), the bane of most sewer’s experiences. How many times have we started something, only to shove it in a box when something with a little more sparkle catches our eye? Guys, I know it is tempting to embrace your magpie tendencies – but it is murder on your productivity! Starting up a project takes precious time – from determining your chosen pattern and fabric, to cutting and marking the pieces, to all the boring pre-work like staystitching and fusing interfacing… and we haven’t even gotten to the actual construction! What is the point of wallowing through all that, just to set it aside and start the process over again? Not to mention, I’ve noticed a lot of people who tend to pile up UFOs rarely stop at just one.

To me, UFOs just contribute to wasting time. It’s one thing to set something aside if it’s frustrating you, but you shouldn’t make a habit of picking up a new project and starting over, because it can quickly get out of control. I made peace with myself a long time ago and decided to eliminate the UFOs in my sewing room and finish every.single.project, even if it killed me. Sometimes it does make me want to destroy things – but I soldier on and finish that fucking garment. Occasionally, it actually speeds me up because I’m so desperate to finish and move on to the next shiny object. So maybe in a way, it’s kind of bad for my productivity since I occasionally will find myself cutting corners in a desperate attempt to just be done. But on the flip side – I don’t have those half-sewn pieces creeping around my sewing room (is it just me, or do they nag at you and make you feel all stressed and sad? Say it’s not just me!), and I have a finished object to show for it! Yay!

muslin
#3: Make a Muslin

I know, it’s like toootally contradictory. When you’re short on time, ain’t nobody got time for a fuckin muslin. This is NOT even true and all of us need to collectively reprogram our brains, like, now.

Besides obviously avoiding the trauma of spending your time on something, only to discover it doesn’t fit – muslin-makin’ is also good for increasing your speed, as it will give you a chance to practice a little on the garment before you start hacking into the good stuff. This means you will spend less time pulling your hair out over the instructions – because, dude, you already did this! – and less time ripping out your seams when you inevitably made a mistake due to sucky instructions. I also feel pretty confident, post-muslin, in that I know the garment will fit (since I basically already tried it on), which means less futzing with the fit during construction-time. Of course, I do fit-check throughout my sewing process (and you should too!), but it’s one thing to put half a bodice up against your chest to ensure things are coming along smoothly, and quite another to suddenly discover you cut the wrong size… halfway through.

One point I do want to make is that muslins do NOT take a lot of time to put together, especially if you speed up the process. Unless the skirt is something that needs to be fitted, I generally only sew the bodice. I do include a sleeve, but only one. I sew all my seams with a long stitch so I can quickly rip them out if I need to (and it pushes through the machine faster). I don’t bother with facings, collars, or buttons, although I do baste in a zipper. Also, this should go without saying, but once you make a muslin and get your fit down, that’s it! You can churn out multiples of the same pattern and skip the muslin.

happy dayz
#4: Sew Whenever You Have A Chance

I’ll admit, this is probably gonna be real rough for those of you who don’t have a dedicated sewing space 😦 But I do think it’s important to maximize your time – so what if you only have 20 minutes to spend cuddling your sewing machine? You could use that 20 minutes to stay stitch some curved seams! Mark your pattern pieces! Thread your machine and decide what buttons you want to use this time! Skip ahead of your pattern and assemble the collar! The point is, there is SO MUCH that you can do in small chunks of time, so don’t waste it by subscribing to the thought that you *only* have x amount of time to do anything – think of it instead like you have enough time to sew your bodice darts, or prepare your sleeves to get set in, or whatever.

This is pretty dorky – and y’all are totally going to make fun of me for this – but I actually get a lot of my little sewing bursts done in the morning, before I go to work. I don’t necessarily get up any earlier than I need to (although sometimes I do, ok, sorry I’m a dork!), but sometimes getting ready doesn’t take as long as I need, so I try to utilize that time in my sewing room instead of just chasing Amelia around the house for 20 minutes. I set a timer on my phone so I KNOW when I have to drop everything (the timer is important, you don’t want to get carried away and make yourself super late!), and I actually listen to it when it goes off. I don’t try to rush myself – if I only have 10 minutes and I only get some stay stitching done, who cares? That’s one less seam I have to stay stitch when I get home, awesomeee!! Which brings me to my last point…

cat
#5: Enjoy It!

I treat sewing the same way I treat a bicycle ride – I’m doing this because I enjoy it, not because I’m in a hurry (if I was in a hurry, I’d take my car. Or shop at H&M. Whatever!). When I catch myself trying to rush through the process, I force myself to stop and slow down. Sometimes this can be hard because I’ve basically ingrained it in my head that I HAVE to post new stuff every week, and oh god people are going to stop reading my blog and the world will end and ughhh… but, you know. That’s not true. I’m sewing because I love the entire process, not just the finished piece (although that’s a nice bonus, let’s be real). In my experience, rushing only leads to stress, tears, and a lot of fuck-ups. Stop, take a breather, and just slow it down. It’s fine. I promise.

Anyone else have protips to share for increasing your sewing output? I’m still stuck on the couch and I’m bored as hell… let’s have a discussion!!