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Readers,

Finishing two tailoring projects–a coat and a jacket–in (for me) rapid succession has gotten me thinking about finishing. What is finishing, anyway?

Until I began examining everything I do for Getting Things Sewn, finishing was this:

The muslin for the 1930s jacket: pull out the pins and pitch it. It has done its duty.

The muslin for the 1930s jacket: pull out the pins and pitch it. It has done its duty.

  • Stitching the last stitch in my project.
  • Pulling out tailor tacks and other stray threads.
  • Giving the garment a final press.
  • Breathing a sigh of relief.
  • Hanging the garment in the closet.

Then I’d turn briskly to clearing the sewing debris from my work tables, returning the pattern and any notes to my box of patterns, and vacuuming the carpet.

Done. Ready for the next project.

But was I?

If I’d really finished to my satisfaction, why did I so often put my patterns away with a niggling sense of guilt or frustration?

And after all the work I’d put into my garments, why were so many underutilized in my wardrobe?

Fabric scraps and samples from my last project to sort through.

Fabric scraps and samples from my last project to sort through.

I think I’ve always seen finishing as drudgery and uncreative. Sewing projects almost always take longer than I think they will, so by the time they’re done I’m ready to move on as quickly as possible. I don’t want to “waste” any more time.

I hadn’t ever thought of applying creativity to the process of finishing.  I’d never asked myself what finishing is.

Who does?

Well, now I do. And I highly recommend it.

I’ve mistakenly thought of finishing only as bringing something to an end. How limited! How uncreative!   Now I’m thinking of finishing as the prelude for any number of nexts:

  • the next time I sew that pattern
  • the next time I sew a similar garment
  • the next times I use those construction techniques
  • the next time I use those kinds of materials
All the pattern pieces, notes and instructions for the 1930s jacket in good order for next time.

All the pattern pieces, notes and instructions for the 1930s jacket in good order for next time, in a big homemade folder made from heavy brown paper.

Finishing can also be seen as a prelude to a greater challenge.  Once I’ve gotten the fit and construction process right, how about doing the pattern again

  • sewing a more difficult fabric
  • using couture methods
  • coordinating it with other kinds of wardrobe items
  • planning it for a very different occasion or activity

Finishing can be seen in a broader context. Maybe completing the garment is just a stage in finishing. How about wearing the garment and evaluating fit, comfort, suitability?

And how about planning and creating ensembles with my newly-minted garments?

Coming soon to a sewing machine near me: a skirt to match my jacket.

Coming soon to a sewing machine near me: a skirt to match my jacket.

Sure, I’ve done these things in the past, but if I’m more intentional I’m sure I can reap greater rewards–and have more fun–in every stage of creating my wardrobe.

Giving short shrift to finishing now means missing opportunities to give my future self a leg up.  If I stuff the unprocessed notes from my jacket project in the folder with the pattern pieces, I could eventually forget about the construction technique I labored to learn. I risk losing and regaining the same old ground rather than claiming an ever greater territory of sewing knowledge.

This morning I looked at the handwritten notes I compiled from the jacket project about bound buttonholes, altering the front pattern piece, choosing interfacings, making shoulder pad and sleeve heads, drafting the lining: they’re a gold mine of information for future projects.  A gold mine–if I’m willing to search through a stack of paper. Which I’m not, very.

Blinding glimpse of the obvious: from now on, Reference Librarian, keep notes on sewing projects and wardrobe creation in a keyword-searchable medium. Build a fund of sewing experience and knowledge I can add to and access effortlessly. Take the struggle out. Make it easy.

I'm starting to use OneNote to record notes and images of my projects, like this pattern alteration.

I’m starting to use OneNote to record notes and images of my projects, like this pattern alteration.

Last fall I started playing around with OneNote and had such fun and success early on, I was hooked. In OneNote I can collect notes, images, audio all in one place–fabulous.  I started a OneNote notebook for this idea I was kicking around for a blog, and–you know the rest.

But it was only today that I realized that creating a OneNote notebook specifically for sewing would build the accessible fund of knowledge I crave.  I’d been contemplating examining my binders of notes on tailoring and shirtmaking projects, wondering how I could make my hard-won experience more accessible, but I was still operating within a paper-based mindset.

I faithfully documented the construction of the jacket you see on my home page.

I faithfully documented the construction of the jacket you see on my home page–in a paper-based format that’s harder to access.

I’m never going to get around to what librarians call retrospective cataloguing with my binders of sewing notes: converting them  (the notes, not the librarians!) to a machine-readable format.  But at least I can index them in OneNote.

These binders of sewing notes speak volumes.

These binders of sewing notes speak volumes.

And the past “sewing me” can help the present and future “sewing me” have more fun and get better results in less time.  What’s not to like?

I started this post talking about finishing. Now I’m finishing this post talking about starting.

What I’m discovering is, finishing isn’t the end     What’s past is prelude, right?  And I can intentionally mine the best of the past to make a better prelude.

Making the next time a happier experience.

Making the next time a happier experience.