Sample Gifts – a sewing odyssey

Sewing for others can alternately be a joy and fraught with terror. I received a call from a friend two weeks back. She’s a designer for a fashion house in California. The next week was Market Week in New York City. Market Week, for those who aren’t familiar, is the week when different fashion centers and showrooms display all their samples for the coming season. It’s a huge deal in the industry. Buyers come from all over and place their orders. It’s tense and exciting: the quickened pulse of the of the industry in a way.

So that weekend, I received a call from my designer friend. One of her sample makers was unable to do two dresses because of a conflict. Was there any way I could help her out? Of course! I love this lady, and I admire her deeply, and besides, I love to sew, and I really love to get paid to sew! I would only have time, however, to do one dress. No problem, she sent me the line drawings and the pattern, and she had actually cut the pattern pieces for me. All I had to do (yeah, right!) was sew up the dress and make it look spectacular. No pressure right? The problem with sewing for others is that I cast a much more jaundiced eye on the piece than I ever do for my own things. I know, Kenneth King, my hero, says, “I don’t try for perfection, I strive for the illusion of perfection.” He also has a pithy saying to the effect that, if they are examining your clothing closer than three feet away, you have every right to slap them!

But when it’s a piece that is professional, for a friend in need, it’s a different story. Buyers are not only going to be closer than 3 feet, you’re definitely not allowed to slap them, regardless of how much they may deserve it. They’re kind of like Brothers-in-law that way. I started in on the dress, and I had a similar, but not exact, style to kind of emulate the finishing and get the feel for the placement of boning and lining. Of course, I had a lot of questions for my friend, and I called her up. I’ve done tons and tons of sewing for myself and for private clients. But I am not an industrial seamstress, and I wanted to check a few things before I started.

“So, just to make sure, are the seam allowances 5/8 of an inch?” That’s the standard for home sewing patterns BTW.
(long pause)
“Noooo. In industry, the seams are 1/2 inch, and facings are 1/4 inch.”

This was said in a thoughtful manner, not in any way to make me feel stupid. It didn’t help. I felt pretty damned stupid anyway. As an aside, why do pattern companies use a different standard than the garment industry? It seems like the industry has some good ideas – there’s less wasted fabric, and you don’t need to trim. Whazzup? Most homesewers I know aren’t dumb. They could figure out different seam allowances. Grrrrr…..

So I sewed up the dress. It went together beautifully. But there was the hem. It was a knife-edged narrow hem. No big deal. I made it up, But when I looked at it the next day, the thing looked crooked! So I took out my measuring tape. Nope, the measurements from all angles showed that the hem was exactly the same length all around the skirt. What the…? I let it hang on the mannequin overnight to see if it stretched out any and would need re-hemming. The next morning, nothing had changed. It was still measuring all the right lengths from the waist, but the durned thing looked wonky! My DH came in, looked at it and said, “Looks fine to me.” So I packed it up, sent it off, and let my friend know she would have the dress first thing Monday morning. She was happy with it, and I believe the collection was a success.

The moral of the story is, project fatigue can make you crazy. I’d only had the dress for 4 days, but by the end, I couldn’t see it for itself. All I could concentrate on were perceived faults that weren’t actually there. When that happens, get someone else, even someone who doesn’t know about sewing, to take a look at it. The second set of eyes can give you an unbiased opinion. DH is astute enough after 21 years of marriage to notice if a hem is off. He didn’t see it, so I figured I’d just go with it. And it worked!

Happy sewing!

I just love my students! – Part 1

I teach adult ed sewing classes for the local recreation department. Most of the classes are beginner to advanced beginner, but I’m starting to add some more advanced techniques. Next fall I’m going to do only intermediate and higher level sewing classes. I started teaching on a lark. I was lamenting the fact that the only sewing classes locally were geared toward quilting, and a friend suggested I contact the recreation department. I did, and before I could finish describing what I wanted to teach, they said “yes!” So my teaching career was born.

Well, not quite born. Way back when I was a sales support rep for BBN Software, I used to teach a startup class on our flagship product called “Crash and Burn with RS/1”. Customers loved the name, BBN management hated it; all was good.

Back to sewing, I started teaching classes 3 years ago. Since then, many of the students have continued on with me, and have also gone on to make projects outside of the realm of the classes. Many of them have also become my friends and have forged lasting friendships with other students, which is a really nice fringe benefit. We get together on occasion for Stitch & Bitch sewing sessions around my dining room table, and we have a ball.

Recently I asked my students to send me pictures of their work for me to post here. The only payment is my undying gratitude and an open invitation for the Stitch & Bitch sessions. Over the coming weeks, I’ll be putting pictures of their work up. Here are some from Linda and Marion, two of my first students:

Linda’s first class was a pillow class. It was meant to get people comfortable with their sewing machines, and to get them sewing more-or-less straight seams. Here is one of Linda’s pillows from that class:

Later that year, Linda came back and took a class on making pajama bottoms, and this was an adorable pair she made for her daughter:

Marion is another student who started early with me. She’s taken a whole lotta classes with me (Marion may be a glutton for punishment!), and does lovely work. Here are some nice examples:

A pair of tote bags that she made special by finishing the edges with the fringed selvedges of her fabric:

And a pair of curtains that she made for a current class.

And last but not least, after taking a knits class, she made this lovely top from a Simplicity pattern:

Yes, I know I sound like a proud mom. In a way I am. Teaching inspires me to strive for better quality in my own sewing techniques, and to try to pass along my passion to my students. Oh believe me, I’ve had my share of those students best described to me by my voice teacher, who said, “Honey, every once in a while you have to teach a couch.” But those students are a story for another day.

Happy sewing!

And Here Goes…

Well, I finally joined the 21st century. The siren call of the internet publishing age has finally won me over.

So what about me:? Glad you asked. I am a high tech refugee. I spent more time than anyone should writing, then selling all manner of software to manufacturers, drug companies, and anyone else who would buy it. I really liked working for small companies, until they started getting swallowed up by larger companies, which would be swallowed up by even larger companies. Each time, I swear, the intelligence of the people I worked for went down about 10 points. At the end, I worked for some idiot woman who was at best, room temperature IQ on the Celsius scale, and my new co-workers all thought they were all that and a bag of chips and kept making passes at me. Basta, I said, packed up my St. John suits and Manolo Blahnik heels and high tailed it outta there.

Next stop was starting my own womens’ accessories business, Great fun, capital intensive, and face it, if your name isn’t Louis Vuitton, or if you can’t manufacture for less than ten bucks a bag and get a contract with Wal-Mart, you’re hosed. It didn’t help that I lost my sister to a brain anyeurism at the time. The fire just wasn’t there. But I was teaching sewing for adults through some continuing education programs, which has turned into a passion. And I started getting custom business (pays well, don’t knock it!). And then Threads Magazine came knocking, and now I’ve written several articles for them, with more to come.

So that’s the background. I’m looking forward to conversing more. History is being written as we speak – er – write, and I am sure I’ll have lots of commentary on it!

Thanks for stopping by,