My Latest “I’m Glad I Sew!” Moment


If you sew, you’ll know just what I mean.

I’ll pop into a clothing store and, after checking out the shoes and accessories, browse the racks, admittedly without enthusiasm.

The usual comments run through my mind like a news crawl:
Too big. Wrong color. Too trendy. Boring. Huge armholes! What is this weird fabric? They want how much for this?

Minutes later I’ll walk out, shaking my head.

Then Jack and I will have our usual conversation:

“Find anything?”

“I’m glad I sew!”

My latest “I’m glad I sew!” moment came last Friday morning when I accompanied my sister on a jaunt to the salvage store and outlet store of a famous outdoorsy clothing brand searching for plain, black, rugged, classic shorts for her. Oh, and with back pockets . That’s not asking for too much, right?

Wrong. Nothing ticked all these basic boxes.

We moved on to a discount department store chain, where she fared somewhat better. We left that store with two pairs of shorts, with a top thrown in for good measure. But the purchases were not made with any sense of satisfaction, let alone excitement.

The faces of the women I saw entering and exiting the fitting rooms expressed a grim reality : depending on ready-to-wear to meet all your wardrobe needs is an iffy proposition. And pretty much forget about meeting your wardrobe dreams.

It was already on my to-do list to sew pants and shorts for my sister once we’d gotten a pattern fitted for her, but after that morning’s rounds I was downright adamant. Having clothes that dependably fit and flatter despite the vagaries of fashion isn’t just a wardrobe upgrade–it’s a life upgrade.

Being able to sew my own clothes has given me a sense of agency that being a ready-to-wear shopper never did and never will.  Even though I still don’t have a full complement of sewing skills or a core collection of fitted patterns (both of which I am actively working toward) I’m still benefiting greatly from what I do know how to do.

If you sew, I think again you’ll know what I mean. Sewing is not just the production of a tangible result: a garment, draperies, a tent. It’s a process of aesthetic and technical judgment calls that is often profoundly satisfying.

I remember years ago as a pastry intern at the Campton Place Hotel in San Francisco saying to the head pastry chef, “Now I see what your job is all day long: making decisions,” and he agreed. Cooking and baking from scratch, as well as sewing from scratch, are processes that depend on a body of knowledge that can be very rewarding to build over a lifetime.

That Friday afternoon was about as different an experience as possible from my morning of rummaging through dozens of rumpled pairs of pants and shorts piled in bins at the salvage store. I spent it in my sewing room, mulling over which color stripes I wanted to accentuate in the blouse I was going to sew.

I made “preview windows” of the front, back, collar, and collar band pattern pieces to help me imagine my blouse before I made a single cut into the fabric.

I had already sewn Vogue 8772 many times before, and the fit and construction were close to perfect. Now I could concentrate on how I could play up certain colors and contrast to flatter my own coloring and contrast.

I pulled colors from my palette to consider for sewing coordinating skirts, jackets, cardigans, and pants.

I thought about buttons. The best ones I had were kind of purplish-pinkish-grayish imitation mother-of-pearl. They decided me on placing the purple and pink stripes at the right center front.

What color should the buttonholes be?

This was an unbalanced stripe, which made me think about whether I wanted to have the stripe pattern on the two fronts as mirror images or have the stripe continue in one direction around the body.  The back was one piece cut on the fold.  I could have made the back with a center seam and done mirror images on the back, too, allowing me match the stripes at the shoulder seam, which would have been a cool effect.

Do I want the prominent stripes positioned like this?

Or have the stripes like this?

I didn’t think about that at the time, and even if I had, I might have been too lazy to do the extra work of matching.

The whole afternoon I moved at the placid pace of fish in a dentist’s aquarium, shifting my preview windows around and contemplating various possibilities.

Finally, I cut the right front. That dictated the cut of the left front.

Then I decided where to place the prominent color bars on the back.

Later, I pondered the colors I wanted on the collar, right next to my face.  I cut the collar. Then the band. (Armhole facings, too, but I didn’t do any matching.)

Over the next few days I sewed the blouse. Tuesday evening I sewed on the last button.

I like my new blouse.

On a different day I may have chosen differently. I could have put a green stripe on center front and looked for green buttons, or matched the shoulder seams, or done some other effect. But I’m happy with what I did.

I’m happy not just with the result, but with this absorbing process.

Is it any wonder, then, that I’m glad I sew?

This entry was posted in Design, Process, Sewing Projects and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 thoughts on “My Latest “I’m Glad I Sew!” Moment

  1. Hi everyone, Paula’s sister Cynthia here. Paula’s comments about our recent shopping trip are interesting. Having come away with two pairs of shorts and a blouse, I was fairly happy. Success! But it’s only success compared to my usual shopping trip, which is typically coming home either empty-handed, or with garments whose flaws I’m willing to live with. It’s rare that I come home with clothes I love. And, in an epilogue to our trip, I’m returning one of the pair of shorts (too big), and the blouse (the fit, after wearing the blouse an hour, was poor). I’m really looking forward to garments that are made for me, and not some mass-marketed “average woman”.

  2. You’re absolutely right! Sewing *is* all about making decisions! I love your stripe placement and the linen fabric which must be wonderful to sew with. I’m currently trying to decide on the placement of large flowers on a pencil skirt. It’s interesting going through the process and making those decisions. Of course, the best part is being in control and not having to just take whatever the stores have. The more I shop, the happier I am that I sew!

  3. The point about sewing involving a series of decisions is so interesting–I hadn’t thought of it that way before, but it makes perfect sense! That’s especially true with an unusual fabric like this one, where placement can make or break the finished garment (either in practice or in your own perception of the success of the project). I love your new shirt, and the buttons really are perfect for it.

    “Hello” to Cynthia!! =) I’m very much looking forward to your sewing collaboration.

    • Thank you, Abbey! Maybe I’m just hyper-aware of decisionmaking, but I think every sewing project I do calls for more decisions than I ever imagine at first glance. When I finally start sewing t-shirts I’m sure I’ll find a way to make a hundred decisions about them. Hamlet had nothing on me! Yes, Cynthia and I are entering a new chapter. I can promise only that it will be interesting!

  4. I love your preview window technique. That is such a great idea and I am going to put it to use soon. Thanks!

    • Thank you! I have also made preview windows for pocket flaps for a bias-cut plaid. I love preview windows because they require no special skill to make, they use supplies I always have around, I can make them quickly, they are intuitive to use, they’re no-risk, they’re fun, and they work! When I do a preview window I try to remember to leave off the seam allowances, so I see only what would be seen in the completed collar, pocket flap, etc. It is truly ridiculous how much fun I have with this technique!

    • Thank you, Karen! I have studio time booked with Cynthia (yes, even I have to make photography appointments with her) to take proper pictures of this blouse in a few weeks, so stay tuned.

  5. Glad to read what you’ve been up to!
    My heart sings as I read this post. I think it’s the epitome of not only WHY we sew, but what also happens when we reach a really high level of mastery of it. You really have reached a considerably high level. To have the forethought to make those windows, audition the fabric and have the end product be something quite chic is amazing. I definitely agree with your observation of “constantly making decisions.” I felt the same way when doing couture sewing classes with Susan Khalje…constantly making decisions! You really have to have enough base knowledge to decide and not just be guessing! I sense so much peace with your pride for what this project achieved, and I’m so glad for you!

    • Thank you! I certainly wouldn’t claim a high (or even low) level of mastery in sewing, but I am always aiming for it!

  6. I am always happy to see a new post on your blog Paula, and doubly so when Cynthia makes an appearance! hi Cynthia! Are you coming to the OHF 20th?

    I’m very glad I sew too, especially as a super plus size woman. Lately, I have been a bit lucky in buying a few RTW things that were suitable and recently I also helped my mother buy some things that fit her well and that she liked. I’m somewhat happy to buy RTW if I can find something I love, but as I have been doing more sewing for myself in 2018 ( I have actual GOALS this year, including sewing 12 tunics in 12 months) one of my veriest happiest places is putting pockets into my clothing. Pockets that are big enough to hold things, big enough to put my hand into and the right proportion to the garment and to me. That almost never happens with RTW and that was true when I was a much smaller size. Yes I am so glad I sew.

    • Actually, yes, I also happen upon ready-to-wear I like, too, once in a while. It’s nice that I can choose to buy it when it suits me, knowing I can sew for myself as a great alternative. I love your reminder that RTW can be customized, which I usually forget. I am such a pocket person, and yet it didn’t occur to me that I could insert in-seam pockets in a RTW skirt I bought some years back. Don’t be surprised if I write a post someday about adding personal, functional touches like pockets to ready-to-wear. Your comment also reminds me that I have a 1940 coat-dress pattern with what are described as “large detachable pockets that button onto the belt” that I’d love to try making someday.

Comments are closed.