When is a sewing project done?
Is it when I’ve made the last stitch? Pulled out the last tailor tack? Given it a final press?
Cleared my worktables and vacuumed up the trimmings?
Modeled the garment and written about it for the blog?
When I’ve worn it once? Hung it in the closet?
When does that magical moment occur that a sewing project becomes a garment?
I often think that in this regard–testing for doneness–cooking is easier than sewing.
Wouldn’t it be great if pattern instructions said, “Roast skirt to a temperature of 130 degrees for medium rare”?
Or, “Bake jacket until top is golden and center is springy to the touch. Cool on a rack”?
I mean, you know whether a cake is a blob of batter in a pan or something you can put birthday candles into and serve.
But do you know when your sewing project stops being a construction project and starts being a new home to move into?
Yes, you say?
Well, then tell me!
At the risk of being labeled a neurotic sewer, I’m continuing to mull over the 1930s Butterick jacket. I said that the shoulders were a little too padded, which bothered me. I resolved to follow through on my dissatisfaction. In a little outpatient surgery I would open up the jacket, do a shoulder pad reduction, stitch her up again and have her back on her feet in no time.
I had Jack take pictures of me for the “before” version, in preparation for the improved “after” version that was sure to follow.
Then I undid only enough stitches from the lining to turn part of the jacket inside out and remove one pad. Hmm. It was actually pretty thin.
Opening up the shoulder pad, I saw there were just two thin layers of batting basted together. I teased one layer out.
Was this bordering on insanity? I got this far; I might as well follow through and see if absolutely minimal padding would do the trick. No padding at all left the shoulders looking a little crestfallen.
I reinstalled the newly minimized shoulder pads. Yes, slightly better–like moving from a B to a B+.
For comparison I tried on one of my “misses’ mannish jackets,” McCall’s 4065 from 1941. Ah, the forties: the era of defined shoulders. This jacket felt like an old friend. It might not be apparent to anyone else, but to me, this jacket got the shoulders just right. I felt…understood.
Back to the 1930s jacket. Now I think it’s the cut that’s just a little off for me. Forgive me if I sound too particular, but having sewn a lot of garments for myself, I know the difference between the many that fit fine and the few that go beyond and have…I can only call it chemistry.
When I pull on a jacket or coat I’ve sewn and feel a smile spreading across my face, that’s chemistry.
Usually, “chemistry” refers to something between two people. So how can I experience chemistry with…a coat? The best way I can explain it is, when the garment-wearer me feels completely understood by the sewer-me who took the time and had the interest in getting it right, that’s chemistry.
Or nailing it.
However you want to call it.
For those garments where I’ve nailed it, like the “mannish” jacket, I don’t find myself asking, “Is this done?” or “Am I done?”
That suggests that doneness is not only a matter of stitching the last stitch or pressing the last press.
It’s achieving a state of well-being where the background chatter about construction and fit has melted away.
When I feel that rightness, that’s when I know I’m really done.
I’m happy with my 1930s jacket, for the most part. I’m annoyed that I placed the top bound buttonhole above the roll line, but happy with the rest of the construction. I’m noticing, though, that I’m still seeing this as a project. Will it move to being a summer wardrobe staple? We’ll see.
Right now, it’s just important to notice this back-and-forth in my mind. I’ve invested so much time and effort in this jacket, I want it to be right–and it’s worth taking a little more time to experiment and fine-tune. But I owe it to myself to answer the ultimate question truthfully: “Is this done?”
If I keep asking, then I’m not done.
When I stop asking, then I know I am.