Sci-Fi sewing lesson defies the laws of physics

Some sewing lessons offered to enthusiasts are downright scary. I found one that initially left me aghast and speechless but once I started laughing, I couldn’t stop. This particular sewing lesson defies known laws of physics as many are wont to do. I pass on linking to the guilty party and don’t you dare link to it in comments (I’ll delete it); the point isn’t to embarrass anyone but to correct the mythinformation and have a bit of fun.

There’s seven pages to this lesson and it was okay, or rather, on par with the typical sewing lessons one sees about with nothing horribly objectionable (other than the prescribed sleeve cap ease being described as “no problem“), so it was pretty much okay until I got to the last page which featured this photo with a caption that read:

As you sew, don’t straighten out the fabric like this -remember, this will shorten the seam.

Can you believe it? I almost didn’t believe it. I laughed so hard and backtracked to the beginning of the lesson which featured this photo (below) and the following caption:

If you think about it, it’s obvious that a curved line between two points is longer than a straight line drawn between the same two points. The straight line measures 7″. The curved line measures 7 1/2″.

This is absolutely true. However, she then said:

Now, with this in mind, think about sewing a curved seam. If you move the fabric like my student did when she was trying to set in her sleeve, you’re actually shortening the length of the seam (because you’re sewing a straight line instead of a curved one).

Now how she made the leap that the length of a curved line magically shortens when sewn as a straight line is truly beyond me but it’s been a great source of mirth today. Oh wait, I get it, this is how a tesseract was described in A Wrinkle in Time as being a manner in which space, distance and time can be folded like fabric using a jump drive to arrive at another point! Hmm… so if a curved line shortens when sewn straight, then a straight line sewn curved gets longer. The idea is growing on me the longer I think about it.

Said author (when not defying the laws of physics or perhaps lecturing on warp drives at MIT) writes for home sewing publications, provides sewing lessons and consults with designer entrepreneurs.

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21 comments

  1. I actually think she is perfectly correct, though her explanation is misleading.

    If you straighten the fabric, you will scrunch up the seamline to match the length of the cut edge. If you then sew over the scrunched up fabric you will shrink the seamline.

    (Sorry, I’m taking acetaminophen for a sore throat. I think it’s shrinking my sense of humour too. Feel free to delete.)

  2. Kathleen says:

    Acetaminophen does this to you?
    If the seam line is shortened because it’s been scrunched up, it’s shorter because it’s been “eased” or gathered.

  3. Actually, I agree with Alison that (s)he was trying to have her/his student’s avoid inadvertent easing, but it surely isn’t well written. Nor accurately described. And the curved line/straight line illustration is beside the point and illogical…

    I sympathize with your view, Kathleen. I’ve found similar things so hilarious that I’ve laughed for days…and no one else seems to get it. :(

  4. Kathleen says:

    I know what you guys are saying but you really can’t know she intended that unless you see the tutorial and I don’t intend to expose her but the other illustrations, if anything, exacerbate the issue. For all intents and purposes (via her examples), she claims you can’t sew two opposing curves or even a straight piece onto a curved one without making some kind of pattern adjustment +/- to allow for “lengthening” or “shortening” of the curvatures or lack thereof. This is strictly a handling issue (the topic of her lesson). Any pattern maker -or quilter for that matter- will tell you these lines can and must be sewn conversely and that the seam lines regardless of their shaping, must match.

  5. Clara Rico says:

    So does she use a curved sewing machine for sewing curves. That way the straight stitch wouldn’t force her to change the pattern? :)

  6. Okay, then, with that additional info, you’re right. That IS hilarious!
    Sort of scary, as you said. Maybe we could do a tutorial on how to shorten the line by tugging crosswise along the bias when you are setting a sleeve that’s too big. ;)
    No, no, I didn’t mean to get us started on that topic. I really didn’t…lol

  7. That is hilarious…but someone needs to show the lady that if you take a piece of 7″ string, and lay it in a curve shape, then pick it up and tighten it to make it straight, it doesn’t shrink.
    Any more than laying a piece of 7″ straight string, and then curving it. Doesn’t get longer, does it? Goodness knows if you put the piece of string into a circle shape, how large it could get!!

  8. Gabrielle says:

    See, this is funny, but it also would break my heart just a little if I had one. This is the kind of thing that ruins us enthusiasts. I have spent too much time fuming over the whole sleevecap issue–it seems to be a real focal point for home-sewing lunacy. Bad instructions, bad drafting, arcane tribal lore techniques, you name it. I probably need a different hobby.

  9. LauraLo says:

    Kathleen, you’ve made my day! I discovered this tutorial ages ago and since then I keep it in a file and from time to time look at it and be constantly thorn between: 1) respect for authority – I don’t remember who she was, but she was presented as someone very knowledgeable; 2) my sense of logic and what my math and geometry teachers taught me in high school (and they did teach me a lot). Now I know better… :)

  10. LisaB says:

    Thanks for sharing the “lesson”. Totally agree with Leslie’s comment.

    This post is another reminder of why sometimes it’s no fun being an enthusiast. Like the sleeve cap ease thing. I desperately want to know how to get rid of the ease, have a tall enough cap, and a wide enough sleeve to fit my arm. I’ve tried figuring this out but can’t seem to accomplish all three of those things in one sleeve. It’s not something you can ask learn about from these types of “lessons”, and you certainly can’t ask about it within the enthusiast community.

  11. SaraM says:

    I got a kick out of the example, as well and wanted to make some points about the quality of instruction available to home sewing enthusiasts. First, this example is not typical of the kind of instruction that I’ve enjoyed for over 25 years as a home sewer. Most of the experts who teach within the home sewing community have exceptional backgrounds through traditional schooling, professional training, apprentice work, and experience in manufacturing. So these professionals would be sympathetic to a colleague who obviously was not in her right mind when she published her tutorial. Second, the home sewing community hungers for instructors who will share industrial methods. That’s why the manufacturing community finds our methods and misinformation humorous. Rather than sharing dismay and disbelief behind an instructor’s back, I would encourage any sewing professional to take a look at the opportunities to teach or design for the home sewing industry. Are you aware of the dollars that flow through the DIY sewing community of fashion sewers, quilters, fiber artists, crafters, embroiderers, and the like? And many times, home sewers become professionals. The American Sewing Guild promotes sewing as an art and a life skill. This forum is a support organization for professionals, and probably more than a handful of home sewing enthusiasts. With a general lack of understanding from people who don’t appreciate or value sewing professionals, both sides of the fence need to support each other at every opportunity. Get in touch with that woman and point out her mistake!

  12. Silly Kathleen, you’re only thinking in terms of Euclidean geometry. If you transfer the pattern to a hyperbolic geometry and depict it with a Poincare model, this makes perfect sense. ;)

    You can have triangles with three 0-degree angles in hyperbolic geometry! You can have anything you want!

  13. Esther says:

    Ya know, I am still trying to digest what this tutorial is all about. I am still confused. When I read this kind of thing, I reject it and move on. I had a similar experience this last week when a mom asked me to make three dresses from a home sewing pattern. The instructions in the envelope were beyond comprehension as the steps were overly complicated and unnecessary. I rejected them and did it my way (after fixing the patterns).

  14. Laurie says:

    Well I had a good comment but was booted out…Let her know as SaraM states and do the rest of us a service I’d appreciate it if I was misinforming potential students (like myself)

  15. Kathleen says:

    Well I had a good comment but was booted out…

    It’s beyond me why the system does that sometimes. Your comment (both of them) were held for moderation but were approved. Here’s the screen shot from the back end (email addresses erased for privacy). Since your first comment didn’t appear, I’ve pasted it in below:

    An answer to a prayer. Thanks you for such detail. I am a very frustrated sew-er and needed this desperately. Now all I need to find is how to properly turn inside out a lined jacket.

    I actually emailed you in response to this leaving you this link on bagging a jacket and welcoming you to the site. Unfortunately, the email I sent you bounced back to me so I had (have) no way of contacting you. Are your techno-planets misaligned today? I’m going to blame both of these on you :). Seriously, a comment I wrote last night took quite awhile to post, something to do with the caching system.

    Previously Sarah wrote:

    Second, the home sewing community hungers for instructors who will share industrial methods… Rather than sharing dismay and disbelief behind an instructor’s back, I would encourage any sewing professional to take a look at the opportunities to teach or design for the home sewing industry. Are you aware of the dollars that flow through the DIY sewing community of fashion sewers, quilters, fiber artists, crafters, embroiderers, and the like? …The American Sewing Guild promotes sewing as an art and a life skill. This forum is a support organization for professionals, and probably more than a handful of home sewing enthusiasts. With a general lack of understanding from people who don’t appreciate or value sewing professionals, both sides of the fence need to support each other at every opportunity.

    If you all think the industry is insular, I would argue the home sewing community is yet more so. Everyone is jockeying for position with competing methods -and while I don’t care to elaborate here, I’ve been burnt by the BIGGEST name in the business. Believe me, I contribute quite a bit on Pattern Review but it often boils down to a personality contest. It’s like high school. What I believe is more poignant tho is people don’t want their cherished calves slaughtered (do read that link). They have a lifetime of investment in them. I was also a member of what was PACC (don’t know what they call it now) and it wasn’t a pretty picture. It was de riguer to constantly criticize industry on that list. At one point when I complained publicly (having complained privately before with no response) I was basically told to lump it and that we were all crap making child labor exploiters and thus deserved anything leveled at us. But then out of the other side of their mouths they’d complain industry didn’t join them or tell them “secrets”? Why would we? It was less than a hospitable environment.

    So yes in answer to your question. I am aware of the monies they expend. If they want to know differently, I’m here and it’s free. If they want to give me money (and some do, thank you!) there’s more in the forum but most don’t sign up for that either. If it’s a popularity contest, then I’ll lose every time. I’m over here off to the side, the door’s open but I’m not going to crash their party. Been there, done that.

  16. Marie-Christine says:

    I found that one some time ago and nearly became a candidate for Heimlich maneuver practice :-). I’m totally with Whacky Hermit here..

    I have to agree with Kathleen that the home sewing ‘industry’ does often ressemble the kind of high school that leads people to dropping out and building computers in Mom’s garage or something. As someone once said about academia “the smaller the stakes, the more vicious the politics”.

  17. Lisa B. in Portland says:

    Kathleen, can we clone you the # equal to the number of cities in North America? So you can teach everyone on this continent the “right”/”better”/”secret” ways to pattern, cut, and sew! Where’s my giant cardboard box–er, transmogrifier? (see Calvin & Hobbes) :-)

  18. Sandra B says:

    I agree about the homesewing industry too. I’ve been nudged sideways by the Establishment in my neck of the woods, but I will join again this year (because my business name puts me at the top of every alphabetical list, ie first on screen on a new page on their website) despite the fact they haven’t noticed their clientele is dying away, and haven’t worked out yet they should be courting mine. One sewing machine dealer has worked it out and is keen to cosy up to me because his regulars have severe arthritis, no longer drive at night, or can’t remember how to thread the machine. Mine rarely use more than a metre of fabric for a dress (unless it has ruffles down the front) and often use the scraps for a matching thong. As one of the few sewing teachers in my city, I have realised I have the opportunity to change the culture, and I am. I wish I were better at blogging, I could change the world! (Cue organ music in a minor key, lightning and evil laughter)

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