I don’t think it’s emphasized nearly enough how much this thing we call “sewing” is a process of formulating questions, cracking puzzles, experimenting, course-correcting, and adjusting expectations.
From idea to finished product can be a pretty circuitous route, and I am still surprised how many decisions are required along the way.
Take the shower curtain I made over the weekend.
I’d been meaning for months to make one for our remodeled bathroom but had been shying away from actually committing to the project.
I have dozens of potential projects competing for my attention, and how any one of them finally breaks away from the pack and gets chosen would make a good research project. (I’ll put that on my project list…)
Out of curiosity last week I Googled “how to sew a shower curtain” and looked at a couple of sets of free instructions, from Craftsy and from Good Housekeeping magazine. I’d say the best thing about such instructions is their infectious cheeriness. “It’s easy!” they practically shout, and, in a way, they’re right:
- Use the curtain liner as your starting point for measurements.
- Use one extra-wide piece of fabric or seam together two regular widths.
- Hem all sides.
- Install grommets or sew buttonholes
- Hang the curtain.
- Stand back and admire your handiwork. Aren’t you clever!
In Instruction Land, making a shower curtain is a simple linear process, with one step logically following another till you’re done.
But in Getting Things Sewn Land, making a shower curtain is…well, anything but linear. And I think this is a big reason for my procrastinating on starting practically every project, however straightforward it may appear at the outset.
There’s the image of the dream at the beginning, and the reality of the finished object at the end–and between is the murky middle where I have to figure out what questions even to ask, let alone how to answer them.
In Instruction Land it’s assumed that all technical and aesthetic questions have already been settled. What’s left is a simple matter of assembling the parts.
But in Getting Things Sewn Land I find myself asking technical and aesthetic questions right down to the finish line.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m grateful for the clarity and optimism of Instruction Land. I just have to keep reminding myself, though, that step-by-step, linear instructions represent only part of the process of getting things sewn.
In my experience real sewing projects are almost always better represented by a diagram starting with a central node with many nodes linking to it to capture ideas and questions first, then decisions and experiments, then more decisions turned into steps.
Part of my hesitation was over whether yardage left from the dining room drapery project would be a good choice for a shower curtain. (By the way, this is Buffalo Check by P Kaufmann in the colorway Biscuit and it’s 100% cotton.) As I discovered laundering and pressing a sizable remnant, Buffalo Check didn’t retain its crispness and stayed a little wrinkly. So, not an ideal candidate for a shower curtain.
However, the curtain would not get a great deal of use being slid back and forth on the rod or being splashed, since this shower and tub are backups we use only when we surrender the upstairs bathroom to overnight guests. The curtain would be functional, but from day to day would be just decorative.
Speaking of decorative,I also wondered about the color, pattern, and scale of this fabric working in this scheme. It can be tempting to use remnants because it’s economical and convenient and can make you feel inventive, but the materials should fit naturally into the visual context, too.
The colors in the bathroom are cool, but I thought it would be interesting to introduce a warm counterpoint.
I was lucky to buy Buffalo Check on clearance for under $6 a yard, so my financial investment would be minimal. I was also hankering to make a little home improvement. So the two 3-yard cuts of Buffalo Check wrapped around the cardboard tube got their work assignment.
I made samples to check the size and positioning of the buttonholes and whether my sewing machine would balk at stitching through two double hems overlapping at the upper corners.
I figured out my finished and cut widths and lengths.
I don’t know what went wrong matching the checks. I decided to slipstitch the two remnant lengths together and then machine-stitch the seam. Okay, so it’s time I learned to use my walking foot to match the checks vertically perfectly.
But whatever caused that horrible slant at the bottom of my curtain? I’ve never made such a big sewing blunder without understanding my mistake. (I still don’t know what happened. Was one cut off-grain?)
This is where I had to weigh my options, and Instruction Land was not going to be a big help. I was on my own, making judgment calls in Getting Things Sewn Land.
I debated whether the mistake would be less glaring at the bottom or at the top of the curtain. I draped the panel over the rod and guessed the bottom.
It was somewhat consoling to realize
- the curtain would be pulled to one side almost all the time.
- when it was closed there would be only one person–the one taking a shower–witnessing the error.
- the witness would almost always be only Jack or me.
So I brought the panel back to the sewing room and finished hemming it Sunday evening without very much satisfaction.
Monday I hung the curtain and steamed most of the wrinkles out with my garment steamer.
Maybe it’s my imagination, but even when the curtain is arranged to one side I feel as if I can see that slant, and it bothers me. So I don’t know how long it will stay in its place. It could be a year or two. Or ten.
After all, I have a lot of other projects competing for my attention.