Lost Momentum: Reward for Safe Return

Readers,

The beginnings of a sleeve pattern.

The beginnings of a sleeve pattern.

When I got back earlier this week from a 12-day trip to Ohio I thought I’d brought everything back that I left with. It turns out I was wrong.

I lost my momentum. And darned if I knew where it went.

To be specific, I lost my momentum drafting a pattern for a shirt for Jack that I began a month ago. I’d naively thought I could just alter the shirt pattern I’ve been using for years: nip some fullness out of the sleeve, front and back, and Bob’s your uncle, move straight to shirt construction.

But no. I found myself under the spell of shirtmaking teacher Steve Pauling.

And he somehow persuaded me that drafting a new pattern by the draping method would be the way to go. In a moment of weakness or wisdom, I’m not sure which, I agreed.

My shirt pattern must be worthy of this linen shirting, bought in London last summer.

My shirt pattern must be worthy of this linen shirting, bought in London last summer…

I had put off learning any pattern-drafting for the last decade, resisting my sewing teacher Edith‘s generous offers. Having a blog was the game-changer. Now I’m not just sewing–I’m Getting Things Sewn, for pete’s sake. Hero’s journey and all that.

So Jack accompanied me to Steve’s studio and stood patiently while we draped muslin on him. Steve made marks on the muslin and took measurements. Then we began translating those marks into a sloper–a close-fitting paper pattern–as the preliminary step to a custom shirt pattern.

Draping fabric on somebody, making marks, and turning those into paper pattern pieces is an interesting process but whose reasoning eludes easy comprehension for me. I take some comfort in knowing that my aptitude for spatial reasoning is only so-so. I have enough to be able to parallel-park, but not so much that I can grasp the slightest relationship between a three-dimensional body and a two-dimensional pattern without effort and practice.

...and of this cotton, bought at Treadle Yard Goods in St. Paul, MN.

…and of this cotton, bought at Treadle Yard Goods in St. Paul, MN.

Steve was happy to go at my super-slow pace to move me through this process. I did some pattern work under his supervision and then at home sewed a first muslin. In our second meeting we evaluated the fit on Jack and made changes for a second muslin.  We began drafting a sleeve.

Home again, I took a stab at finishing the sleeve draft. The object is to create a sleeve cap that smoothly fits the armscye and that balances fit and mobility. This is part science, part art.

Then I went on my trip, and the concepts that had begun to gel went poof!

When I got back, I looked at that shirt project with mild but increasing aversion. Pattern-drafting is not my favorite thing, but it’s a key to creative freedom. It was time I stopped avoiding it at all costs.

(Have you ever noticed that telling yourself to stop avoiding something never inspires interest, excitement, or action?)

Feeling this aversion in the past had led to years of guilt-inducing UFOs (unfinished objects). I was not going back to that, I swore to myself.

Then I realized what had stopped my momentum dead in its tracks more than lack of knowledge or skill: assuming that I should “go it alone” and that to ask for help would be “imposing.”

Says who?

Not me, anymore.

I think creating and sustaining momentum is an individual thing, from one person to the next, and one project to the next. The push and pull of structures, habits, teachers, and deadlines can all play a part in getting things sewn. I need to notice what’s missing and fill the gap. Do I need more expert guidance? Then get it!

I e-mailed Steve, asking if he would help me get back on track with this (to me) daunting project.

No problem, he answered. Let’s find a time.

And Bob’s your uncle.

Change Projects and Dance

preparing a sloper for Jack

Expert in shirt-drafting and construction, Steve Pauling is guiding me through creating a sloper for Jack to achieve excellent fit at his Bobbin House Studio.

Readers,

Have you ever had a project that got bigger and took longer than you expected?

Home remodeling, anyone?

I’ve been having this quandary with my Getting Things Sewn projects.  I entertain the notion that my anorak, or a shirt for Jack, or a blog post will be a simple “Insert Tab A into Slot B” that can be knocked out after breakfast and before lunch.

It never turns out that way.

Take the anorak. Having unlocked mysteries of pattern instructions from the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s I assumed a 1990 pattern would be a breeze. This was going to be an assembly job. The flat fell seams were going to be the biggest hurdle.

No, wrong. The biggest hurdle has been making sense of the instructions and the tiny illustrations.

Then I had to figure out which instructions to follow and which to dismiss because they didn’t seem to guarantee a very good result. Then I had to figure out what to do instead to achieve the objective of topstitched patch pockets with topstitched flaps attached to the fronts.

Now that my pockets are all successfully completed I can hardly believe I took the better part of a Sunday to accomplish this feat.

So, figuring out cryptic instructions is one form of delay.

The instructions should have specified a magnifying glass as a supply needed for my anorak.

The instructions should have specified a magnifying glass as a supply needed for my anorak.

Finding supplies can be another.  The anorak calls for a 36″ separating zipper, and after some local inquiries turned up no such thing, I will mail order one. I’ve never made anything with a separating zipper and had no idea the world of separating zippers was so big. I’ll call the supplier and make sure I’m buying the right type. While I’m on the phone I’ll ask about the proper dimensions of cording for drawstrings and the difference between grommets and eyelets and which I should buy. I need those things, too.

Then waiting for my supplies to arrive will be another delay.

There are yet more forms of delays.  Take my latest shirt project for Jack.

I’d originally expected to knock out the shirt, from beautiful red-striped linen we bought in London last summer, several weeks ago expecting a few intensive days of cutting and stitching from the pattern I’ve used over a dozen times.

But when Jack was wearing one of the other shirts I’d made for him I noticed how far the shoulder seams drooped past his shoulders and how overly casual that looked. We compared this shirt with a Lands’ End shirt whose fit he liked, and the shoulder seams aligned with his shoulders.  Now what I’d made looked droopy, outdated, too full in the body and sleeves.

Jack plays fit model as Steve Pauling drapes muslin as the first step in a custom shirt pattern. How exciting!

Jack plays fit model as Steve Pauling drapes muslin as the first step in a custom shirt pattern. How exciting!

I was not going to cut into this beautiful linen until the pattern was overhauled.

Rats.

Despite having Edith, a patternmaker, as a sewing teacher I’m no pattern-drafter. But I know that you usually can’t just slice out fullness from pattern pieces,  tape them together again, and have all the pieces hang together right. Nope, there are steps and methods, measuring and math, pencil lines, erasing, and muslins in achieving a good fit.

Rats.

All I wanted was to sew a shirt.

But I was not going to cut into this beautiful linen until the pattern was right.

And I was not going to let the beautiful linen sit on the shelf while I dreamed my beautiful linen shirt dream and deprived Jack of a beautiful linen shirt reality.

Nope. Because this blog is called Getting Things Sewn, not Leaving Things Unsewn.

Tracing the marks from the muslin onto paper to make pattern pieces, under Steve Pauling's watchful eye.

Tracing the marks from the muslin onto paper to make pattern pieces, under Steve Pauling’s watchful eye.

So that’s why I accepted the very generous offer of shirtmaking teacher Steve Pauling to show me how to measure Jack, drape a muslin and develop a sloper for a shirt that fits him just right. Even though I’ve dragged my feet for ten years learning anything about pattern-drafting and have never made a sloper. (Edith, sit down when you read this news.)

In the past when I came to a bump in the sewing road, I spent a lot of my time on work-arounds that I should have been spending on work-throughs. In the long run, I would have saved time and learned concepts that apply to many–perhaps all–of my sewing projects.

So now, instead of being like one of those little toy windup cars that bump up against an obstacle and back off and turn 90 degrees to drive off in another direction, I power through–with a little help from my sewing friends and teachers. (Friends, teachers: more and more, they are one and the same.)

And I am learning to reframe the way I look at my projects.

I think I used to see the finished garment as my only goal. Anything that pulled me away from that goal was a delay. This could include sewing samples, muslins, and wearable tests, learning drafting concepts and patternmaking.

Over my ten years as a student of Edith’s I’ve become a muslin- and wearable-test maker. I’ve started making samples of buttonholes, flat-fell seams, and more as additional creative rehearsal, and enjoying the processes (mostly). Now, pattern-drafting is my new frontier. Who knows what lies beyond that?

I’m seeing learning these processes as part of the goal, too.

In this post I was going to write about changing projects meaning having several projects going so that I could efficiently move among them and keep delays to a minimum. I could remain productive. Crank out garments.

But now I see that changing projects can be more meaningful than that literal interpretation.

Changing projects ultimately means changing my attitude, changing how I envision the outcomes, and redefining productivity.

It’s taking the long view of getting things sewn.

Rats.

This beautiful linen is dreaming of becoming a custom-made shirt.

This beautiful linen is dreaming of becoming a custom-made shirt.

Project: Butterick 5542 (1930s), Jacket, part 8

Readers,

There may still be snow in the yard, but I'm one step closer to summer in this linen jacket.

There may still be snow in the yard, but I’m one step closer to summer in this linen jacket.

I finished my linen jacket today. Overall I’m really satisfied with how it turned out, especially since this was the first time I’d made up this pattern.

What worked well?

  • The fit.  This jacket really does feel like it was made for me. I like the length, the sleeve length, the fit in the shoulders, the high underarm allowing great range of movement, and the close fit without binding. Being a student of Edith, I made a muslin.
    This 1930s jacket is period, yet modern.  It's not a museum piece.

    This 1930s jacket is period, yet modern. It’s not a museum piece.

    She checked it for fit and made some minor adjustments. When I put together the wearable test I thought there was a little too much fabric creating a hollow between the lapel and shoulder seam.  Michele at Treadle Yard Goods pinched out the excess and showed me how to adjust the front pattern piece. So before I cut into my beautiful linen, I had a fair chance at a good fit.

  • The fabric.
    Art Deco-era buttons on a summer linen inspire the making of a 1930s jacket.

    Art Deco-era buttons on a summer linen inspire the making of a 1930s jacket.

    This blue and white cross-dye linen is such a perfect partner for the muted blue of my vintage buttons. It’s also a wonderful weight for the garment. I bought this linen in 2012 at Treadle Yard Goods in St. Paul, MN.

  • The silk organza underlining.  It weighs almost nothing but gives body to the linen.  Several Threads magazine articles and Claire Shaeffer’s Fabric Sewing Guide recommend using silk organza to reduce linen’s wrinkling.  I’ll be sure to let you know if that turns out to be true for this jacket.  I will also underline the matching skirt I’ll make.

    The silk organza underlining with the fusible woven interfacing for additional support at shoulder and down center front. It will be hand-basted to the front (right). The other front (left) has been underlined.

    The silk organza underlining with the fusible woven interfacing for additional support at shoulder and down center front. It was going to be hand-basted to the front (right). The other front (left) has already been underlined.

  • The patch pockets and flaps.
  • The red flat piping inserted between the facing and lining.
    Just as I had hoped, the red flat piping is a snappy addition.

    Just as I had hoped, the red flat piping is a snappy addition.

    It took practice to stitch it in very evenly, but was worth the effort. It’s one of those touches I’ll enjoy every time I put on my jacket (–or take it off ostentatiously).

  • The notched-lapel sewing went well. Notched lapels used to intimidate me. Now I’m alert yet relaxed when I sew them.

What would I like to improve on next time?

  • The bound buttonholes. I’m not dissatisfied with these; they’re just tricky little busters to get consistently right.  I was especially concerned about making them  durable.
    Bound buttonhole seen from the facing side. The goal is to make windowpane openings that center over the buttonholes in the fronts. I was off by 1/8 inch here. Quite difficult to get five all centered.

    Bound buttonhole seen from the facing side. The goal is to make windowpane openings that center over the buttonholes in the fronts. I was off by 1/8 inch here. Quite difficult to get five all centered.

    The linen is ravelly, and any loose stitching could eventually come out and the buttonholes would come apart.  I went to possibly extreme lengths to use a finishing method on the facing side that would stand up to a couple hundred wearings over the years. I may advocate slow sewing, but making windowpanes in the facings that align with the buttonholes in the fronts would test many a slow sewer’s patience.  The results were mixed at best.  I’ll research other bound buttonhole methods for next time.

  • The positioning of the top buttonhole.
    The buttonhole is not positioned correctly, a defect in the original pattern piece, I think.

    The buttonhole is not positioned correctly, a defect in the original pattern piece, I think.

    I used the location on the original pattern piece, but the pattern seems to be wrong. The lapel doesn’t sit quite right.  I may end up leaving the top button unbuttoned.

What’s next?  Follow-through:

  • Reading all the notes I made, and summarizing the lessons I learned and best sources to consult so I can slash my cutting and construction times in half.
  • Sew a simple, contemporary skirt from the remaining yardage.
  • Plan ensembles around this garment.  Too often I’ve sewn garments without enough thought to making complete outfits.  More on this subject coming soon.
  • Have good photos taken in June when I’ll see my photographer, my sister Cynthia.
  • Wear it and enjoy it!

    These delightful buttons came from the same shop in Edinburgh.  They deserve their own jacket, don't they?

    These delightful buttons came from the same shop in Edinburgh. They deserve their own jacket, don’t they?

Slow Sewing

Readers,

Monday I was going to finish my jacket.  Yup, grand finale. Get it done with a flourish, take pictures, congratulate self, write post. Move on.

Here’s the reality.  No upper collar, no lining, no buttons, no hems.

My 1930s jacket: moving along--slowly.

My 1930s jacket: moving along–slowly.

Admittedly, I have made progress.

Look! Sleeves!

Sleeve heads!

A sleeve head fills out the sleeve cap.

A sleeve head fills out the sleeve cap.

Shoulder pads!

Shoulder pads made to measure

Shoulder pads made to measure.

Lining pieces drafted and cut! The red flat piping inserted accurately between the facing and the lining!

That zippy red flat piping really stands out against the understated pale blue.

That zippy red flat piping really stands out against the understated pale blue.

But–done? Not even close.

And then today’s post was going to be about Jack’s and my volunteering this morning helping to take in donations for the Textile Center’s annual Garage Sale that takes place Saturday.

And then this happened.  Flight cancellations, the light rail down, spinouts.

Jack shoveling out our walks from an April snowstorm.

Jack shoveling out our walks from an April snowstorm.

And I did not unload cars of fabric, yarn, and other sewing paraphernalia today. So that post idea has been scrapped.

Both of these occurrences got me thinking about making course corrections, and about slow sewing.

Sewing slow (or slowly) is what I’ve always done. I’m a slowpoke.

But “slow sewing,” as described by Patricia Keay in the February/March 2011 issue of Threads magazine, isn’t a speed but an approach:

With time on your side, the sewing improves as you become more confident and competent. By slow-sewing test samples and experimenting with techniques, you front-load future projects and keep the learning curve from becoming an obstacle. By overcoming the challenges, you release your creativity and, in the end, you have something exquisite to show for it.

Like the Slow Food Movement, which Keay cited as an inspiration, slow sewing values quality over quantity and the experience of production at least as much as the result. Readers responded strongly and positively in a slew of letters to the editor. I think they felt that Keay had captured something essential they’d been feeling–and missing.

Like Moliere’s bourgeois gentleman, who was delighted to discover he had been speaking prose without realizing it, it appears that I’ve been unwittingly practicing slow sewing.

It’s not as if I could quickly sew the vintage patterns I dreamed about but out of some higher principle I sewed them slowly. No, my choice was between sewing slowly and–giving up.

Some choice.

But Patricia Keay’s article made me think about the virtues of embracing slow sewing. I’m 80 percent of the way there already. Consciously choosing slow sewing will, I think, relieve me of self-imposed obligations to produce results in a preset length of time or number of blog posts. I’d also enjoy my projects even more than I do now.

I would guess that every sewer defines slow sewing a little differently. Here is what slow sewing is (and isn’t) for me.

What Slow Sewing Isn’t

Slow sewing isn’t fussy. It’s not neurotic.

Slow sewing doesn’t use an old technique simply because it’s old.

Slow sewing doesn’t reject new methods, equipment, fabrics, or designs simply because they’re new.

Slow sewing isn’t procrastination or evasion.

Slow sewing isn’t inefficient.

Slow sewing isn’t about making extra work.

Slow sewing isn’t necessarily hand-sewing.

Slow sewing isn’t about technical excellence alone.

Slow sewing isn’t even only sewing.

Unrealistic expectations can fuel disappointment. This pattern is NOT easy!

Unrealistic expectations can fuel disappointment. This pattern is NOT easy!

The Realities

Much of my sewing slowly has stemmed from poor or incomplete directions.

Then there have been times I’ve needed an expert’s advice and have had to wait for an appointment with my teacher or a class.

There’s the probability that I’ll never sew so many notched collars, or linings, or coats, for example, ever to be fast at those things.

Lots of times I’ve had other things to do–like go to my job–that have taken me away from sewing.

I have a somewhat low aptitude for structural visualization. So pattern-altering is a trial, not a fun challenge.

All of this can lead to moving through sewing projects at a snail’s pace. I try to minimize these frustrations.

What Slow Sewing Is

Slow sewing recognizes a superior result and pursues ways to attain it. It has standards and aspires to mastery.

Slow sewing requires investing time, money, space and abilities, but the reward is exceptional quality.

Slow sewing takes nothing for granted. It understands materials and processes, but always asks questions, tests, analyzes, and problem-solves for particular figures, patterns, and fabrics.

The Benefits

Having Edith Gazzuolo as my garment-sewing teacher and Shelly Isaacson as my soft furnishings teacher  has made me a practitioner of slow sewing methods whether I knew it or not.

The draperies I sewed from Shelly's designs and hands-on instruction are exquisite and one-of-a-kind.

The draperies and valances I sewed from Shelly’s designs and hands-on instruction are exquisite and one-of-a-kind.

How has that benefited me?

I have an ever-growing fund of sewing knowledge of methods (good) and problem-solving (even better). And what started out being difficult, like making bound buttonholes or sewing notched collars, has become doable.

The more knowledge I have of materials and principles–not just in my head but in my eyes and fingers–the more creativity and control I can exercise, and the more success I experience.  Pattern instructions are more like suggestions I can take or leave.

I’m willing to invest in learning demanding techniques that I could use many times.  I love jackets and coats and am willing to pay the price of admission: learning tailoring. In slow sewing this is not a big deal.  It’s what you do, and it’s worth it.

More and more, I can do justice to beautiful materials. I can buy vintage buttons, or a French label tape from the 1950s with my initials, knowing I can make beautiful clothes incorporating them.

By a stroke of luck I found this French label tape with my initials at a vintage fashion fair in London. How shall I use it?

By a stroke of luck I found this French label tape with my initials at a vintage fashion fair in London. How shall I use it?

Not only knowing I can, but I will.

Many practices of slow sewing cross over into the rest of my life:

  • choosing deliberately rather than acting impulsively
  • taking time to learn to do it right
  • investing in quality rather than quantity
  • testing and analyzing
  • understanding what went wrong
  • savoring successes

Maybe best of all, slow sewing–and now blogging–keep me in action mode. I’m not spinning my wheels dreaming and yearning.

I’m dreaming, doing–and learning.

Notes from my 1930s jacket project a few days ago.

Notes from my 1930s jacket project a few days ago. (I almost never use smiley faces.)

(Note: I’m going to start tagging some projects and posts “slow sewing.”  And since every project has its own timeline, and stages without exciting visible results, I’m going to chronicle several projects at a time and move among them.)