Deconstructing a sewing class

I mentioned on Saturday that I was taking a class for home sewers for research purposes. My idea being, one can forget what people don’t know. Gaining insight to what people don’t know can only help me explain better to anyone regardless of skill.

Continuing with where I left off (see the comments to the previous entry), our instructor (Leslie) started with a list of what she called the seven deadly sins of a home-made garment. I’m not going to list those specifically because that’s how she derives income but suffice to say I agree for the most part. Leslie’s list of sins spanned three categories.

  1. Design
  2. Pattern
  3. Execution
    Note: she didn’t sort them like this, this is how I analyzed the various types of sewing sins she identified.

The list in this context -spanning design through execution- was a bit unexpected in the context of my role as a product development person. On our end, the three areas are mostly separate with accountability for each clearly defined -not one person in charge of it. Leslie’s format differed because home stitchers are whole garment makers from project inception and planning, through execution (and of course, they’re also fitting to the individual rather than a fit profile) so it stands to reason the sins wouldn’t be separated by function or the separate individuals who do those jobs.

Here’s one example I would categorize as design: what Leslie described as badly designed bust darts (falling within a prescribed circumference range). In many cases, this can be a design element; there are reasons a designer may want X effect and it is mostly not appropriate for a pattern maker to question design elements with a designer (can get you in hot water) unless it’s a new designer (DE) who actively solicits one’s help.

Another example she used that I would call a design decision was selection of linings. In an established firm, linings that perform consistently and in keeping with one’s price points are generally known and a company buys the same stuff or even carries an established inventory of set colorways in stock. Obviously this is not so typical in new or smaller firms which would be akin to single project sewing done by home sewers.

What I’m trying to say in a round about way is that for me, a sewing class is all about execution. I now think I understand why some people will ask me design type questions. Previously, it struck me as bizarre. And if they pressed the matter, it made me wonder if this was their way to get me to do their jobs for them. That the job is foisted off on me isn’t a problem because I think it’s not my job or they should do their own work. It’s a problem because I become responsible and accountable for recommendations without the commensurate decision making “power” to make it happen a given way. You know, all the of the responsibility for failure but no power to make it happen. But I digress.

An example of pattern problems in the list of Leslie’s seven deadly sins would be appropriate seam type and finish for whichever operation. For us though and as you know, in some larger firms, the sewing process is predetermined by specs and the pattern maker’s task is to generate the pattern based on the seam types etc. -Which also as you know, can be frustrating to bounce it back to the TD (technical designer) to request a better advised change but that’s another story. Point is, all of these things are determined in the product development phase, well before we cut a prototype. For home sewers, they’re necessarily and mostly doing it on the fly.

The other thing that was -from my perspective- unusual or rather, different from us was that Leslie’s solutions were designed to compensate for failures in those 4 areas with workarounds specifically designed to overcome limitations of:
1. bad pattern
2. bad equipment
3. bad processes (not refined)
4. bad planning

Here are examples of each kind of work around:
Bad pattern workaround: the suggestion to cut back or trim seam allowances after the seam had been completed. In industry -and at a good company- this can get a stitcher fired. The only thing a stitcher is allowed to cut is clipping on curves or the corner at a 90 degree turn. If an otherwise experienced stitcher needs to do more than that, the problem preceded them and the pattern needs to be fixed. For what it’s worth, it is very typical (more common than not) for new designers to blame stitchers for problems generated by a bad pattern. Point is, the seam allowance problem should be fixed before cutting but not during sewing.

Bad equipment workaround #1: Advice to be mindful to put X piece on top when feeding through the machine because “it won’t come out right”; the workaround solves the problem of uneven feeding on home machines. Which is not to say ours don’t mis-feed but we solve it by adjusting the machine rather than during sewing. We don’t expect the operator to modify their handling to solve a machine problem.

Bad equipment workaround #2: this is an example of something so typical that most kindred don’t see it anymore (okay, I don’t). Specifically, needing a pressing cloth to apply interfacings. Completely blind to the need of a press cloth, I ended up with interfacing stuck to the bottom of the iron. Such a mess. A teflon shoe will solve this problem for ever and ever. Why not just be done with it and get one? Then again, some home irons are so high profile and oddly shaped (sexed up to sell them?) that there probably isn’t a shoe to fit them. While it’s not an ideal solution for every workroom, a gravity feed iron is much better than a fabric store Rowenta or Black and Decker iron.

Bad process workaround #1: One of Leslie’s examples of a sin that I would call a process workaround was the example of poorly placed buttonholes. In industry, we make a button guide -as part of the pattern process- and are so marked but home sewers are doing it on the fly, in part necessitated by their varying fit requirements -although in my opinion, button placement along the center front shouldn’t vary so widely. If it does, you have a fitting problem because they should never gape regardless of where you put them. Leslie said my shirt with vertical buttonholes was a bad example and to never do it that way.

Bad process workaround #2: (this post has been edited) I neglected to include the most obvious one that I discussed in depth in the previous entry, that of the bound buttonhole process Leslie taught us. The cut to the chase summary is process makes perfect; her method was the traditional “couture” method taught in home sewing and my first one came out marginal. I did my second buttonhole like I make welt pockets and Leslie complimented me on it not knowing I didn’t use her process. You can find photos of all I’m talking about at the above link.

Bad planning workaround examples were many and fell in the areas of design, pattern and execution. For example was the instruction on how to press collars so the seam would fall to the underside. The way Leslie showed how to do it was what a presser would do in a lower value product. A contemporary or better quality product would have the turn of cloth feature built into the pattern and executed by stitchers before it got anywhere near the pressers. My point is this: a work around is defined by workers having to bail out a failure in a process upstream from them. Since the collar example is so easily defined, I have written an entry (also pt.2) about this to explain more fully.

Two conclusions:
The first is the difficulty of training “experts”. I know this is true and I’ve said it so often but I was struck anew at how difficult it would be to train an expert home sewer. It was disorienting to see how quickly given decisions were made with little analysis and few alternatives considered. It is very likely a home sewer wouldn’t consult the instructions for things they would consider routine (unless they were given an emphatic heads up to read directions because they are generally very good about that sort of thing) but that I would do very differently. Like I said earlier, I will write a separate entry on the collar because I think it is a good example of rote processing. I had the impression that if I wanted to retrain an expert, I would have to direct each step of the process -micro managing along the way. Perhaps contrary to your impression, this is the polar opposite of my management style and find it repugnant. My conclusion is it would be time consuming and likely wearying for both parties. If I had to write pattern instruction for enthusiasts, I would have to back up a lot of steps I would not have thought necessary. In industry this level of detail isn’t necessary for two reasons. In part, one is a shared knowledge base and two, the stitchers often have a sew-by (finished sample) to work from. Home sewers don’t have a sample for comparison and only have a pattern -meaning their work is closer to that of a sample maker only they don’t have the advantages of better equipment and confidence in their own and the sewing line’s skill repertoire.

My second conclusion is more of an impression that I found humorous. The idea I got was the instructor’s assumption that because I work in industry, I wouldn’t necessarily know the right way to do things, find them necessary to do, care about doing them properly or would probably not do them based on needing to be “cost effective”. Unless of course I worked in a “couture” environment. That sentence is too general; obviously the instructor would not say to me that I do not care about doing a job well but she probably believes that “industry” in general or individuals within the industry do not care.

I was not the least bit offended by the frequent and offhand derogatory remarks about the RTW industry, I’ve learned long ago that most people don’t examine the logical conclusions of what they believe -particularly in an area they “know well”- and if confronted with contradictory evidence, will make frequent exception for nonconforming examples (“couture”).

I definitely got my money’s worth from the class with respect to research but I’m overwhelmed by the conclusions of it. I find myself on the fence as to whether it is easier to teach someone who knows they know nothing or someone who knows a lot. The solution for both is the same, step by step guidance with no presumed shared knowledge. I suppose the truth of it is my disappointment in that I can’t reduce my workload by taking advantage of things an expert knows but the truth of it is that they would need to be taught nearly identically as someone who is green.

My thinking has evolved in some ways. If I were ever to do a class like this for home sewers, we would use the same pattern in the same size and in the same fabric with no variations at all. As horridly rigid as this is, the point is to create a learning exercise in making prototypes to remove direct gain of being able to wear the work -in the same way that most of us cannot wear the things we make but still must do them well. Anyway, as with uniforms, with identical fabric and pattern, any anomalies will stand out immediately with no variations of fabric or pattern changes to muck up the process of analyzing results. In this way, probably more than a few class participants could troubleshoot inconsistent results attained by another party which is the point of it all. A distinct advantage of doing this is two fold. One, I could teach the greenest of stitchers alongside the adept. Secondly, our first project could be very advanced. Perhaps attaining a successful outcome with a very advanced project would mitigate the distastefulness of not being able to customize the item to one’s self. Successful outcome attained with the first project, there would be much less difficulty in customizing subsequent projects.

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  1. I absolutely agree with your observations. I recently belonged to Knit Sewing Club an organization out of Japan that is leaving because it didnt catch on here like it has there. For me, it was just an opportunity to sew and gab. Really, this was set up for completely beginning sewers. The sewing experienced were the most unhappy with the rigidity of the program which progressed much as you have surmised necessary. The patterns and fabric were chosen by the company, it was required to accomplish one task before another project was allowed. All sewing was on knits, which reduced the need to spend quite so much time on fitting. All the patterns came in only 1 size that you were taught to “grade” for your own size in the cutting process. The patterns came with No instructions. Samples were available to examine. The pattern adaptation process was not explained but that could have been part of the language barrier. I thought there was an excellent opportunity in this approach, but there is definitely a mindset of traditional home sewing methods to eradicate for any level of success to occur. It has been my plan to carry on with this sewing instruction method, with improvements, of course. I am keenly interested in your input as to a “workable” implementation.

  2. Dyan says:

    This was an article that I needed to read. I have been sewing for 40 years (off and on) and I wish I had gone to school. I wanted to be a couture seamstress but married and never got to realize my dreams. Now I can but I find that I want to go about this in a way that is different from home sewing. I yearn for the technical side as well. I am exploring OptiTex as a means of turning out a more precise product regardless of body type. And you are correct, I make everything based on my body and I find a problem with that. Not one person who has asked me to sew for them is identical or even close to having my body measurements (size 4). I have found myself not taking work due to my strong desire to provide a well made and correct silhouette for the customer.

    I don’t want to provide a mediocre product. I set the bar high when I buy therefore I want to provide the same quality when I sell. I have yet to find a course here in Atlanta that provides technical application in order to builds one’s expertise as a seamstress. Reading your article only brought to the fore what it is I yearn for: Good instruction with regards to making expertly constructed garments that considers the size of the wearer not just the pattern construction itself. Also, I don’t know that I would ever consider myself an expert; Currently I see myself as an seamstress who is confident about what I can and cannot do. Not sure what title that would garner. As long as there are creative people out there I will always be a student.

  3. Esther says:

    Whether to teach an experienced individual or a green horn depends on one thing. Humility. Either individual needs to recognize there is always something new to learn or a different way to approach a problem.

  4. kay says:

    One of the ways the pattern companies have trained those of us to sew at home to not follow instructions is to write horrible instructions. One of the neighbor kids brought me a pattern about a year ago — a straight skirt, center back zipper, and the instruction order asked for the waistband to be finished completely and then had you sew the zipper in to the inside of the back seam. No wonder the poor kid was confused and frustrated.

  5. RobinD. says:

    I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on being a student in a sewing class. You are right about how easy it would be to learn stitching skills if only one had the discipline to learn things logically.
    I suppose people are not interested in that sort of training unless there is a paycheck involved.

    Considering how different your background and training are (as a professional in the industry) to mine (as a home sewer) I think yes, you would have to treat me like I know nothing.
    [I probably already know your techniques, because I have read your book and all the tutorials on your website, so I don’t really count.
    But you know what I mean.]

    The way you would like to teach is exactly the way I learned to sew in the Girl Scouts, and then in Home Ec. It was rigid. But I sure did learn a lot.

    Now learning how to fit individual bodies – that is another skill set.
    Dyan, I use pattern-making software Bernina My Label (which uses Optitex) to create basic garments, and I have found it to be a very reliable way to create a made-to-measure pattern. The styles are basic, so you still need to learn enough about pattern-making to make design changes. I usually just add the design details to the basic patterns, but sometimes, I use commercial sewing patterns, and work the other way.
    In other words, I use the commercial sewing pattern because it has the design features I am looking for. I refer back to my fitted patterns and adjust accordingly. I hope that makes sense.

  6. Dyan says:

    Like anything else I think that perhaps the seamstress vocation has a way of (like cream) pushing those who have a knack for it to the top. Some are born with an uncanny and natural ability to do things with or without instruction. Only when they are set before an instructor who has mastered the skill do they reach mastery themselves. Before then they (knowledgeable only of the rudiments) are journeymen or women. There is no arguing that some express a keen insight about the workings of a skill and how something works. A sign that they are capable (depending on one’s learning temperament) of mastering a skill. Many of us have come across a pattern and without instruction was able to find flaws and knew instinctively what to do. Still, getting the mastery of a trade creates just that: Masters. I think that America learned to disregard this fact and became a country that allowed a culture of mediocrity to replace a culture of mastery. It is why we are getting the pants beaten off of us in areas we were once known for the mastery of. Consumerism took the place of many, many things. In the midst of all that is going on we have come to realize we forfeited so much for so little. Aside from all that I think we have to get back the desire to become masters at what we do. This will require learning even those things mediocrity claimed we had mastered when in fact we hadn’t.

  7. Diane says:

    I took a class several years ago that was supposed to teach industry standards. One of the class lessons was no pins. Some of the students were sneaking pins. I think that could be a challenge for you unless the class is small enough to monitor each person. Much like you used your own method for the bound buttonhole, more experienced students might use their own mothods over your own and mess up what you were teaching. I think your class idea sounds excellent, but I’m not sure if it will work for home sewers.

  8. Arlene says:

    I agree with all that you said. There is such a diversion of knowledge between home sewers and industry sewers. I’ve been sewing for many years and have been trying to educate myself on how to sew correctly. I’ve learned to home sew method, but found that most of what I have learned is inaccurate. There isn’t much if any opportunities for learning in Ohio. I am desperate to learn, but don’t know where to look. I have a family so moving to a school (ie: New York) isn’t an option.

  9. Kathleen says:

    I took a class several years ago that was supposed to teach industry standards. One of the class lessons was no pins. Some of the students were sneaking pins. I think that could be a challenge for you unless the class is small enough to monitor each person

    I think I understand what you’re saying Diane but maybe some re-framing is in order. I don’t dislike narrow diameter metal pointy things just because. Home sewers who like pins aren’t stupid or crazy; they use them for good reasons:

    1. Uneven feeding (machine problem)
    2. Joining unmatched seam lengths (pattern problem).

    Pins are a work aid. If pins are being used, this is (usually) a sign of a work around; there is a problem that preceded the stitcher and it’s not their fault. The solution is not to take their pin supply from them; it’s to eliminate their need of them.

    The point is to let the stitcher gain confidence in the pattern first with a few seams. This is the thing: since it all matches up worry-free, the sewing goes much faster and confidently. At such point, the reach to get pins, place them and remove them later, becomes an impediment, a break in the flow.

    In Leslie’s class, the sewing of the invisible zipper was a problem, it mostly had to be pinned because the cut edge was not designed to match the edge of the zipper tape. This meant that the operator had to monitor three things:
    1. that the tape stayed at 1/4″ from the cut edge
    2. keep their gaze fixed on the needle hitting the prescribed line on the tape
    3. be certain the foot remained engaged along the zipper teeth.

    Meaning, pinning the tape in place was functional in that it reduced the stitcher’s cognitive load by eliminating one point that had to be tended. Like I said, a work around. If the cut edge were cut back, alignment of those edges could be done mostly by feel (handling).

    If a pattern is well made and the equipment is set up properly, pins become an impediment and break in flow. So if a stitcher is using them habitually, first check the pattern and machine. Second, try to determine if pin use is rote and if so, there are other exercises to mix things up.

    A third strategy is to confidentially tell the stitcher that using pins is an implicit indictment of the pattern maker. Most are so tender hearted they’ve implied insult that it helps to re-frame their approach.

  10. Laurie T says:

    Thank you Kathleen. I do teach sewing in a community college fashion design program. Sadly, the ‘sewing’ classes do revolve around patterns from the Big 4 companies. The best thing that we ever did was to pick a pattern for a class and require that they ALL use it. On the down side, they all still buy a pattern in what is supposedly their size and struggle through pattern alterations when they’re supposed to be learning how to get the garment assembled. As much as I’d like to see us actually training them for potential futures in the industry, there are road blocks that I’ve not found a way around in all the many years of doing this – the home sewers who just want to get a little better, the students who know they’re going to be the next big designers, and don’t really need to learn what we’re teaching even though it’s required, and so many others. Just teaching them that the patterns are not written in blood, that the pattern companies do not necessarily produce perfect products, and that they can make changes right up front, all of that is like pulling teeth sometimes. But it’s what I do, what I’ve done through all the years of watching my babies get taller than me, and I’m not frustrated enough to give it up, not yet. So I’ll keep coming here to recharge my determination.

  11. kay says:

    Truth of the matter is that most of us who sew at home have never, ever had
    a pattern that sews together like a decent RTW pattern — the old KwikSews were some of the best, but I remember how scary it was to sew that first set in sleeve at 3/8″: I’d never be able to control the fabric!  I didn’t know what RTW patterns were like until I met Connie Crawford.  Amazingly, I found out that I sew quite well with good patterns…  wish I’d known that earlier.

    And I use pins quite oddly.  When I’ve got fabric where it’s tough to find
    the notches, I use those big old yellow headed “quilt pins” to mark the
    notch position, one in each ply.  Then I’ve got both a visual and tactile
    cue to the notch positions.

  12. Reader says:

    ” If I were ever to do a class like this for home sewers, we would use the same pattern in the same size and in the same fabric with no variations at all.”

    I’ve been taking sewing technique classes at FIT in order to learn how to sew for myself. Everyone uses the same pattern, although a couple of sizes are usually available. People are allowed to use pre-approved fabric of their choosing, and it’s fascinating to see how the fabric alone changes the way the pattern performs. The pattern is usually one drafted by the instructor. This time around, I asked if I could try to adapt the fit of my pattern so the final project might be wearable. Although unsurprisingly, many students can sew beautifully, most of them want to design, not be sample makers or sew for themselves. They study technique so they will know the proper standard to expect from those sewing from them when they are Assistant Designers.

    I once took a sewing class with a tailor who put in a zipper without pins. I did not have sufficient control of the Juki industrial machine to do that. It’s a great skill if you have to whip out samples that fast. I will never need to sew that quickly and it’s too stressful. In a couture class, by contrast, everything had to be basted, which is appropriate for fabrics involving often delicate or expensive fabrics that are supposed to be flawlessly executed.

    I try to follow the method the instructor teaches (it’s always different) and if I can’t pull it off, I do it in a way that allows me to complete the project in the cleanest possible manner.

    I don’t know all that much about industry methods, and every company is different, but I often am amazed that home sewers often don’t understand how very different their environment is from that of an enterprise that produces hundreds of a garments a year.

    The design decisions that fall to a home sewer are part of the fun, but they also make the process very stressful. I like simple shapes and am starting to get things fitted to my body, but the labor involved probably makes me a lot less creative at this time because I’m not one of these “two-hour wonder” sewers. I don’t care how long it took someone to sew something. I want it to look good.

  13. Reader says:

    Typo correction:

    “They study technique so they will know the proper standard to expect from those sewing FOR them when they are Assistant Designers.”

    In short, a lot of home sewers don’t seem to understand that the garment industry is an industry that is highly specialized, like any other complex industry. Professionals have access to resources beyond those of the ordinary home sewer. Not that home sewers can’t make nice things, but people frequently underestimate the effort involved.

    Sometimes I think the garment industry is partly responsible for this disrespectful attitude. Its PR is poor and it has allowed fashion journalists, some of whom know little about design and nothing about construction and production, to be its voice. Seriously, if you’re writing about clothes professionally, you ought to know what a vent is, the difference between a ruffle and a pleat (saw that mistake today) and understand that the term “jersey knit” is redundant.

  14. Kate Rawlinson says:

    I think people become unreasonably, emotionally attached to the ways they have been taught of doing things. Studying tailoring, I came across several things that were done in a certain way ‘just because that’s the way they’ve always been done’, or ‘that’s how we do it in tailoring’, but there was no logical reason to do them that way. The production (factory, rather than ‘bespoke tailoring’) method of making welt pockets, for example, gives a much more reliable result, much faster, and is much easier than the way we were taught, and yet these techniques were very much looked down upon. Similarly, hand-worked buttonholes often look terrible and don’t ever, in my opinion, look any better or function more effectively (or last longer) than good machine buttonholes, but they take considerably longer. Yet for some reason, they are considered ‘essential’ to bespoke.

    People will hang on to the way they were first taught, or taught by their favourite teacher, just because they hate to think they’re ‘wrong’.

  15. Dennis says:

    My first sewing class several years ago was with a retired lady that was a sewing instructor locally. She told us about the various needles, threads, fabric, machines, etc. needed to create a project. Most of the students left halfways through the semester. One person told me she wanted to make clothes, not learn about all that “junk” and had a aunt that would teach her the “important” stuff. We did have sewing time during the 3-hour a week semester-long class. Many wanted to make a dress. I made a shirt or something like that.

    Wood working is simpler to learn as each technique has a particular tool to use. Whereas sewing may involve only 2 machines and several notions. Also wood does not move about or stretch.

    A lot of the local sewers are now quilters because quilting is a lot easier to perform. Supposedly. I do not have room for quilting.

  16. Dyan says:

    I was a Unix Administrator for years. The technical industry has certifications for the Junior Admin, the Mid level Admin, and the Senior Admin. Each position has prerequisites with regards to accomplished skill sets. These [skill sets] adhere to responsibilities that differentiates expertise. Each level can be tested based on industry expectations and standards. A course of instructions both hands on and academic had to be established for each so that a tech can be tested to ensure they understand and can meet out their required responsibilities. This makes it easier for employers to assess an Admins abilities with respect to the companies needs.

    Excuse my ignorance but are there any certificate programs that offer courses of instruction that denote a seamstresses capabilities? Can an assessment (both hands on and academic) be used over and over to ascertain that the seamstress does indeed know (on a given level) how to accomplish tasks, understands terminology, and manage workloads without supervision? I haven’t found a school that offers a disciplined line of study that awards a certificate or degree with regards to seamstress work that prepares one for either the factory floor, couture work, or for a licensed Independent shop. Perhaps the industry doesn’t want this.

    Technical Admins had to take this into consideration and fight for it. Only when employers got tired of hiring the wrong person for the wrong amount of money did their eyes open. Often companies got burned due to loss revenue and loss time and energy while trying find the right candidate did they help schools understand what they needed. Only then did they express the necessity to create programs that would make it easier to assess a candidate before hiring them. They provided schools with a list of specific needs and fundamental requirements that they felt an Admin should know and be certified in.

    While making clothing has some artistic elements to it; in my opinion it also has many technical elements that require training if a seamstress is to accomplish a customized look and feel. At first (for me) it was about the artistry. When I got serious about making couture fashioned clothing it became clear that it was about more than lofty ideals about design and the outcome. It became about all that tangible stuff in between such as color coordination, fabric texture, shaping the garment, and importantly fit. All of these I discovered must work in concert and all of these require measurable skills. I also learned that the home sewer attempts to do all of these tasks professionally. When I attempted to get professional training there was nothing specific for the seamstress unless you went to Europe. I took work in the factories and the only thing I really learned was speed and machine operations. I went back to making clothing at home learning what I could on my own. I felt I needed validation in the form of professional assessment. I took fashion merchandising which is about selling and marketing. I’ve been asking myself all these years why there aren’t any certification programs and the only thing I can come up with is that it would validate the seamstress as a professional and cause the pay to go up. Something like this would change the industries bottom line. Before there was a certification program for Unix Admins the pay was considerably lower. Once a certification program was put in place that could validate the expertise of the individual it was then possible for the Admin to leverage their skills in order to receive proper compensation.

    Am I imagining all this or what? Sorry about the length.

  17. Dia in MA says:

    Having experience as both a home sewer and a sewing factory worker, I know there is a difference between what is required for each. The cut of the patterns for the factory worker is supposed to be exact. Extra cutting for curves, etc. is extra work and no factory wants that job because no one is going to pay them for it. Home patterns do this all the time. Labor costs are not counted for home sewing patterns. Some of those extras are improvements, many are not and can be eliminated with some redesign of the pattern.

    A seamstress doesn’t usually make 50 or more of the same thing. As a factory worked this was a very small run. I seldom saw a pin in the factory. At home, I use them all the time. Making clothes for myself, I often make personal alterations as I go. This does not exist in a factory.

    The machines are different. A factory machine has a heavier duty motor, runs much faster, and may be single purpose. A home machine is more flexible with the same machine doing multiple functions. The machine I’ve seen many home seamstresses use is just a beefed up home machine. I have one that I got from a seamstress when she retired. She should have been using an industrial machine for the work she did. She produced 300-500 bags a week for a small company. She didn’t know anything about the factory type machines and used seamstress type machines until she retired. She generally needed major repairs every 3 months and a new machine every year. When she retired, so did the products. They couldn’t replace her.

    Home sewing used to be taught in schools. This no longer happens in most areas. Much home sewing learning is now amateur teaching amateur from what I can see. Mostly aimed a quilters as Dennis mentioned.

    Industrial sewing used to be taught in factory after you’d served your time in lower level functions. As the factories died, this died too. It’s a pity because I learned a lot in the factory.

  18. gregbroxton says:

    Kathleen, I love your conclusion!
    This would be the ultimate sewing class.
    To sew a precut/fused item from start to finish the correct way would remove all the usual muck and confusion that comes along with learning and streamline the entire process.
    Anyone who has followed your sewing tutorials knows the magic that happens when you sew a few straight lines and voila! you have a perfect welt, zipper, sleeve or vent. It changes the way you think and you will never be satisfied with the ‘wrong way’ again.
    I cut out and fused a dozen of each example and stitched them up and that was all it took to not even remember how to sew it the ‘wrong way.’ Which means that I no longer know how to design the garment or draft the pattern the wrong way either.
    I missed out on the precut/fused bagged jacket tutorial, but it would be great if you offered something similar as a product to accompany your book and DVD’s.
    Strangely, it seems the biggest hindrance to learning new methods is ones reluctance to ‘waste time’ cutting out, marking and fusing samples that you can’t actually use/sell/wear.
    If you were to offer a pack of 12 precut samples for each tutorial it would be amazing.
    Also, a jacket, pants, dress, shirt, skirt, etc pack with a tutorial on how to sew it correctly would simply the process of learning how to design and draft correctly.
    I would purchase multiples just to practice the sewing skills.
    It may actually be better if the items were real world overruns/extras as in your bagging tutorial rather than muslin, etc.
    Is there a way to make such a thing worth your time?
    If so, what would it take?

  19. Reader says:


    One reason some bespoke-oriented techniques don’t look good to you is because the people who did the work haven’t mastered the skill. Sewing by hand sloppily is pretty easy. Sewing really well is difficult. It literally can take years. All the texts I’ve read say that hand sewing is recommended for certain parts of a garment because it’s lighter and more elastic. But you do need to know what you’re doing. There’s a sewing blogger who’s coming out with a book and as part of the publicity for the book she was illustrating hand stitching techniques from another book by her publisher. It looked like she’d practiced the technique du jour the day before her blog post.

    I hate to sound grumpy, but part of the problem is that many people today don’t accept that they have to work hard under supervision for at least a few years before developing any proficiency, much less mastery. This is the same culture in which some folks think that they can take a class and speak a foreign language passably in a month. It ain’t gonna happen. Life is short, we can’t master everything, much as we might like.

    Dyan: I hate the term “seamstress.” It may be a valid industry term, but to me it’s sexist, obsolete, and conjures up images of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory. Plus, my understanding is that Kathleen and the instructor of the class she attended (what a secure individual she was :-) ) are talking about much more than merely putting the fabric on the table and machining it.


    If I had to put together a basic course for (probably) women nonprofessionals with no experience, this is is what I’d do:

    Meet with them three weeks before the class. Show them how to thread the machine (they’d have to have access to one). Show them basic stitches like basting. Tell them to practice hand sewing and controlling the machine by sewing paper without thread at least 20 minutes a day every day before the class. I’d also fit them for a basic skirt pattern that could be made out of a sturdy woven like twill.

    The class, which would be several weeks, would give them a lot practice. They’d work on their skirt muslins. In the end, they’d make the skirt. The people who had more of a knack could sew a lining, make additional skirts, try different fabrics, etc.

    The class would be as small as possible, but no bigger than 10 people. Such a class would be very expensive. I doubt many people would be interested.

  20. Dyan says:

    I apologize for hitting a nerve. Didn’t know that the term was sexist. It never really occurred to me. Interesting.

    Anywho, if a course was offered that provided tangible and measurable results I would take it. The cost would have to commensurate with the desired outcome.

  21. Reader says:


    Not everyone thinks the term is sexist, but it does create a certain image, of a female in a subordinate role without agency, a step below the “little dressmaker around the corner.” In addition, men sew in factories and always have. The famous statue of the person sewing at a machine in the Garment Center is a guy.

    I see lots of home sewers who call themselves “seamstresses” and I can only marvel at their lack of historical knowledge. But I, to borrow a phrase I read elsewhere, am not a “retrophiliac.” The 50s, a period to which many home sewers hearken back, was not an especially admirable time in the U.S. in my view, and the fashions were hideous. It’s like people who watch “Mad Men” and come away thinking nothing except that the 60s were glamorous. They’ve missed much of the point.

    Another one that drives me up a wall: Calling females over 18, 20 years of age “girls.”

    Yes, I think language is meaningful. I make no apologies.

  22. Matthew Pius says:

    Kathleen – your conclusions about teaching are on the way, but don’t quite hit the mark. Teaching an “expert” is impossible if he or she is unwilling or unable to put aside previous knowledge for the sake of receiving new knowledge. IMO all teaching should be targeted to the student with no previous knowledge (unless you have control of what they were taught previously).
    There is a concept that I came across in Asian martial arts – the “empty rice bowl”. The idea is that the student must be an empty vessel, into which the teacher is placing his knowledge. If you have a student who is willing and able to put aside any preconceived notions of what they know long enough to truly listen and learn the lessons you teach, then it should be the same as teaching a student who knows nothing. If the student will not or can not do this, then you will never really get them to learn what you are teaching if it is any different from what they already know. Some students say they want to learn a different way of doing things, but can’t really deal with having their knowledge base challenged.
    This is not to say that no one should ever look critically at what they are taught. But in order to fairly assess a new technique, theory, or other piece of knowledge it is necessary to actually learn it fully. Your example about the bound buttonholes is perfect: you tried the technique the instructor’s way following all her instructions as she gave them. The fact that direct comparison with your accustomed technique was unfavorable can only be valid if you truly gave the new technique a fair trial.

  23. Dyan says:

    I love the fifties and sixties. I am from that era so I have been heavily influenced by it. Further, I dig the elizabethan period, the italian renaissance, the victorian era all of these weren’t great times for anyone. What could fashion have been like during the dark ages which lasted five hundred years. Can you imagine? Even the Roman era and Hellenic era are fascinating to me while also very bloody.

    When I studied art I studied art history. For me Fashion is all about clothes that reflect different eras. Fashion is imitating all the time. A form of fashion is social costuming. It’s all about the culture and the intricacies of societal beliefs. McQueen showed (with those insane shoes and stifling collars) lots of misery and beauty in the form of constraint. Look at the corset: what was that truly all about. Fascinating and pitiful while at the same time beautiful. I see so much more to the word seamstress than sexism, and sweatshops. I see the artist whose medium is cloth.

    There are many titles that carry with it a horrible history but the title remains. Before the advent of sweatshops the title was high and I choose to apply the dignity of that time to the title.

  24. Dyan says:

    kathleen my mind is open. Learning is a cool thing and beneficial. I walk in and leave behind (as much as possible) all former knowledge so that I can listen and learn. Offer it and see what happens it may surprise you to find that there are people out here who really want to discover other aspects of this talent.

  25. Kate Rawlinson says:

    Reader (shame you couldn’t give a real name):

    “Kate: One reason some bespoke-oriented techniques don’t look good to you is because the people who did the work haven’t mastered the skill.”

    Actually, you’re quite wrong about this. I trained for four years with people who worked, and still work, on Savile Row and who went through the traditional 7-year apprenticeship. I have seen plenty of hand-worked buttonholes at that level that look great, but my point was that there is no advantage, appearance- or structure-wise, to a hand-worked buttonhole done beautifully above a machine buttonhole, it’s just done by hand because of tradition and it takes a lot longer. Similarly, the welt pockets on Savile Row are beautiful – my point was that the way they do them is harder, and the result is identical to good RTW.

  26. RE seamstress: Dyan, the occupation you’re looking for might be “custom clothier,” if you mean someone who makes one-offs for private customers. Alternatively, “stitcher” or “operator” if you mean a person dedicated to construction in a production shop.

    RE students: I am a terrible student. I barely graduated from high school and didn’t graduate from college. I love this post because it goes some way to explaining why: I want to set my own goals and I want to do it my way. I would have a really hard time making mediums of something I wouldn’t wear (I would probably drop out of the class) though it’s possible that I could be induced to assemble pre-cut, pre-fused pieces. I didn’t mind doing some kinds of homework (math exercises, because they were clearly exercises) but hated others (projects, because I went through the motions of presenting information to someone else but actually that person had no interest in what I had to say and was only there to criticize me). Assembling pieces prepared for me would clearly be an exercise and not a project.

  27. Karen Cook says:

    I love this post and all the comments, but it leaves me feeling rather frustrated. I want to sew for myself so I can have clothes that fit, so I can have clothes that are unavailable to me in the stores, and so I can have clothes comparable to the expensive items I can’t afford. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask, does it? I think there are still many like me who want to sew nice things but are frustrated with fabric stores stocked mostly with fleece and pattern companies that are apparently not very concerned with the accuracy of their products. Also, I’m limited to equipment that must be multi-functional and portable.

    Despite all the limitations I want to learn more. I’ve been sewing since I was 5 but I’m not committed to anything I learned in 4-H, in college, or through trial and error. In fact I thrive on learning new (better) ways to do things. It’s much more exciting to work on learning a new skill than to repeat something I’ve been doing the same way forever. That’s why I bought Kathleen’s book and joined the forum, so I could learn some completely new things. I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is that I don’t know anything. I don’t even know enough to ask questions!

    I wish there were more resources out there for people like me – more classes, more books, more dvds, more fabric stores…. or at least I wish I knew which ones I could trust. In the meantime I’ll keep plugging away at my sewing projects knowing I could be doing better, and I’ll keep learning all I can from this website.

  28. Kate Rawlinson says:

    Karen, I think you’re absolutely right, and it doesn’t help that these things are built up in the blogosphere to be so difficult. I have sewing books from the 60s and 70s that teach people how to tailor garments in a very matter of fact way (I guess because the presumed level of knowledge was much higher), whereas now these techniques are treated as some kind of rare, expert-only process. Sometimes the internet is not helpful, in that it throws too much conflicting information at you and you get completely overwhelmed (or at least, I do).

    Kathleen wrote a post a while back about starting with a pattern close to what you want and then altering it that really struck a chord with me – it’s here: // It has a lot of useful info about what the process of making a successful garment actually involves, even for really experienced sewers.

  29. Another Kate says:

    Just to go back to your bound buttonhole example, I was taught three ways of doing this in RTW – window pane, jetted (your welt pocket-style) and piped (piped being the least bulky, unless it is corded). They were all considered equally “valid” RTW methods. If I’m binding a tweed buttonhole with tweed, then I use the window pane method (surer way of catching the corners). If I’m binding the holes of a linen jacket then piped would be fine. The point is we were taught a range of methods for a variety of situations, different ways of interlining garments, finishing seams and putting in zips and pockets etc. depending on the fabric and the style. Also, sometimes a “home-sewing” or “couture” method can be justified, so worth knowing about them as well. My RTW training actually freed me from worrying about the “right” way!

  30. Tula says:

    @Kate Rawlinson: You are so right. I have a large collection of vintage sewing patterns and books, and you can see the drastic changes in instructions. The oldest patterns had minimal instruction (like, “sew in the sleeves” or simply “hem”). There weren’t even separate instructions sheets on the oldest patterns, just a paragraph or so written on the envelope.

    In older womens magazines, there were often patterns where you would be required to trace off the basic shape and enlarge it and do your own alterations to get the fit right. There was a much higher level of knowledge being assumed, probably because most women didn’t work and were taught sewing as a matter of course. They often made all the clothing for their families, with or without patterns.

    It’s interesting to see how much of that skill and knowledge has faded and, like you say, has become more the exception than the rule. To many, it can seem like the kind of thing that mere mortals cannot conquer and that’s sad. I think there’s a lot of truth in the fact that people aren’t as willing to take the time to learn things like this. In our instant-gratification culture, things that require some effort and time get pushed aside in favor of the fast and easy. Why else would there be so many sewing books devoted to “fast and easy”?

    It’s akin to the decline in engineering and sciences graduates in this country. Those fields of study are difficult and don’t have the glamour that popular culture has bestowed upon other professions. Likewise, fashion design has been glamorized by the media, while the hard skills required to actually create the garments are neglected or dismissed as unimportant. People want the glamour but don’t want to put in the effort to get it.

    I’m generalizing, of course, but I’m seeing more and more of this and it’s sad to see this country’s creative spirit going to waste. The only positives I’m seeing are the increasing popularity of web sites like and that showcase handcrafted goods and inspire people to create for themselves. It gives me hope that maybe these skills won’t fade completely. Though, there’s still a huge need for good instruction to minimize the kind of “fails” you’ll see at sites like

    I rather like Dyan’s ideas of standardized skills training and certifications. It would at least ensure more of a common knowledge base. Though I’m not sure how that model would work with those unused to it. Those of us in the more structured fields of IT and engineering are more used to that approach than the more freeform art/design people. I’m not sure what the best solutions would be, but this is a fasinating discussion (sorry for being so long-winded :-).

  31. Jasmin says:

    What a fascinating conversation – I too like the standardised skill training and certification, as long as it is based on practical testing on standard tests, not multichoice theory exams :-)

    People who already have some skills would have to be open to change to benefit from such a course. I think those who were would really enjoy it though.

    Isn’t it partly about having a varied set of tools and skills at your hands, and partly about being able to select the best inputs and process (combination of tool & skill) to apply to get the outcome you need? So you would need to learn about a tools and skills, get them right, and learn about the best way to apply them.

    When you don’t really have experience/knowledge about the inputs (what are the properties of that fabric? Is that pattern well designed? what kind of accessories do I need?) have limited tools (modern sewing machines for home sewers look a bit light to me often), have been given poor processes, and had workarounds emphasised as ‘quality’ …. it is no surprise the outcome often isn’t what the home sewer wants or expects.

    I shudder when I think of things I made as a home sewer in the eighties! But all those things I did made me (slowly) better at picking the right inputs, understanding sometimes french seams were good, sometimes they weren’t, some patterns were just wrong, and should be abandoned, and just made me practice enough to be able to be adequately competent.
    A more structured approach would be faster – I think it would need to include deliberate failures (wrong fabric, wrong technique, one at a time) to ensure people really knew why some combinations don’t work.

    My solution has been to go back to halfsize patterns I like from the sixties and seventies, plus some modern reliable ones that are designed specifically for short people (saves hassle redrafting!) and really really well recommended recent patterns. I also redraft to be more production focused sometimes (fiddly prone to error pattern elements that can be improved)
    I find the armscye/sleeve fit is so much better in the oldies, and if I’m concerned about a technique – I look it up here, in my collection of old sewing/tailoring books, and think it through, looking for a simple/smooth/logical improvement. I like clothes to last for at least 5-10 years.

    That is the result of 30 years of home sewing though – and having the consequences of not doing all of the above (wrong fabric, rushing, bad pattern, not bothering with x/y/z). Kathleen has made me think much harder and try to make fewer assumptions!

  32. Catherine McQ says:

    Tula, In the early part of the 20th Century, many women used dressmakers. That may account, at least in part, for the higher level of sewing knowledge assumed in some older publications.

    I am not sure that sewing skills were higher because “most women didn’t work”. In my family, the women who had paid jobs had the best sewing skills, perhaps because they needed more and better clothes.

    As a fan of old sewing books, you might enjoy the University of Wisconsin’s Human Ecology Collection. They have a wonderful digital library of sewing books from the first half of the 20th Century. Search for “All Sewn Up: Millinery, Dressmaking, Clothing and Costume”.

  33. Marie-Christine says:

    I totally second kay – if the pattern editors hadn’t consistently produced instructions that are confusing to beginners and absurd to better sewers, we wouldn’t all have been trained to ignore them.

    So for a home sewer the best path is to learn good ways of doing some standard things (collar construction, welt pockets, what have you) and to apply -those- in whatever situation they find themselves in, valiantly disregarding urgings to do otherwise from instructions, peers, and even teachers. I think that’s what most of us are doing, really. The problem as you see Kathleen is that some people have set themselves up as experts through the vacuum and are teaching a hodgepodge of ‘couture’ that is either crap technically or totally outdated. I see in US blogs (and live in France) a lot of wannabe-Dior stuff being inflicted on the beginners, thread-tracing patterns (!!!), hand slip-stitching every seam allowance, avoiding sergers like they’re the devil’s tools. Humbug. Dior is dead and rotten, worked in awful conditions after wwii, and his house isn’t working like that any more. All this serves to keep down the home sewer, who’s both disgusted by the amount of work, and kept down in her self-esteem by the lousy results she gets. Both do keep the money flowing to the experts though..

    So what Kathleen teaches us so well (square welt pockets, how to bag a lining without tears) is precisely the kind of modular technical stuff that really enhances home sewer skills. To say nothing of process discussions, understanding better how the industry works, what working methods help in the long term. Even the nuts-to-bolts process on the kitchen table can benefit from being streamlined, and some of us are more into having decent clothes to put on our backs than into the ego boosts that comes from posting online pictures of their impeccable interiors.

    That said Kathleen, I think your proposed teaching process would work very well with people who aim to be professionals, no matter what their level. It’s actually what was done in French schools till the late 60s, I still have notebooks of my mother’s with unbelievably neat little samples. But I think it’d flop miserably with home sewers, even beginners with supposedly receptive minds. The thing is that for home sewers the -process- of sewing has to be enjoyable. Everybody knows it’s cheaper to buy clothes at Walmart now, people aren’t sewing out of necessity but for entertainment. And bootcamp, even if it’s good for you, isn’t entertainment at all. In fact, people who’re attracted to the DIY side of sewing, the politics of labor behind the cheap clothes, and independence from what the boys want us to wear, are the ones who’re the least likely to respond well to boot camp.

    I’ve taught quite a lot of beginners over time, and I think the thing that motivates them most is ending up quickly with something -they- can wear, so notebooks of samples are about as low on that scale as you can get. In addition, beginners aren’t able to grasp how complicated a project is, so they can feel no real pride in doing something more difficult right off. That’s also why it’s easy to aim them towards something more manageable, that takes a lot less skill and effort. If they end up with something in a color they love that fits better than they’re used to, they’re totally overjoyed and bursting with pride. What they do get from an initial real technical accomplishment, loud and clear, is that sewing is difficult, if not outright tedious, and takes too long. And that does not lead to people who want to do more in the long term, it usually means they grind to a halt after that first project. Which, ahem, seems to be the case with Mr F-I? I know it’s good to have documentation, but nobody believes you anyway :-). If I were you I’d photograph carefully every seam in those vests, and then I’d let him wear them to shreds. Only someone who wears their first project to shreds, because they love it so, are likely to conclude sewing’s a worthwhile occupation, imho.

    Also agree with the fact that a decent bound buttonhole, even though it may look homemade to a professional, is a better solution than a bungled one from an ordinary home machine. Not only do many home sewers not have the budget for a multi-machine setup, most of us don’t have the room to store all that stuff :-). But there’s a limit to good things, bound buttonholes just look vintage on a jacket, they’d look insane on a shirt.

  34. Matthew Pius says:

    Marie-Christine: great points! Some of them highlight what Kathleen was saying about home-sewing techniques being work-arounds.

    For instance, you mention avoidance of sergers as part of the “wanna-be couture” category. But, truth is many home sewers don’t have a serger. You sound dismissive toward the impulse to have neat seam finishes, but I’m sure you are aware that we have to do something to those raw edges so that the garment doesn’t fray away to nothing after a few washes. I think everyone realizes that serged seams are one way to make our home projects look like they were bought off the rack, but if I don’t have a serger, then I have to do something different. Ditto for the buttonholes. I know the buttonholes from my machine usually come out crappy. So, I just do them by hand, even though it takes much longer. I don’t see any inherent virtue in having hand-stitched buttonholes. But my hand-stitched ones look better than what machine would do (and you’re right that bound buttonholes would look ridiculous on many projects).

    I disagree that the DIY/anti-sweatshop/independent-minded home sewer would not repond well to a boot-camp style class. Those who sew solely because it is “fun” often end up doing quilting or other sorts of non-clothing crafts. Home sewers who are the most dedicated to making clothing are often the people who feel they can’t find RTW that fits them well, or are dissatisfied with the choices they see on the rack. They want something that is not available, but don’t want it to look “home-made”. There’s a huge market for classes like the one Kathleen sat in on. Those who have reached the point where they are concerned about whether their project looks “professional” have certainly gone a bit beyond just doing what’s fun. If they were only concerned with having fun, they would not worry about the end result, just the process.

    I agree that beginners can get discouraged if they don’t have a tangible result (like a finished wearable garment). Perhaps the boot-camp style class would be better suited to intermediate/advanced home sewers who can see the benefit of leaving with a notebook of samples rather than a finished project. But, unless they come to the class as an “empty rice bowl” (see my earlier comment), they will never be satisfied with it.

  35. RobinD. says:

    Matthew, I agree with you – on so many levels. When I recently took a week-long class in couture sewing techniques, I KNEW it would be a good idea for me to make a simple skirt (i.e. “a notebook of samples”). I could have learned every step of the process that way. Objectively, I knew that was a smart way to learn what was being taught. And yet, I needed the tangible result (i.e. “like a finished wearable garment”) in order to motivate myself to go through all that. I did not want a simple skirt! I wanted to design something original. I was more interested in testing my design abilities than learning couture sewing techniques. That’s OK, there was certainly room in the class for me & my goals.

    Several of us in the class enjoyed discussing how we had to set aside our normal way of working, in order to learn the methods being taught. The was a class taught by Susan Khalje, by the way. We agreed it was even a little stressful to set aside our own preferences in order to learn the methods being taught. So, I can’t agree with generalizations that home sewers don’t want to learn new things.

    It was an enormously stimulating and enjoyable learning experience. I would bet that many, many folks would love to take classes by Kathleen Fasanella. I predict many would enjoy the opportunity to do an “industrial sewing boot camp” type of thing.

    Look what a gap in the market there is!! Good grief woman, the market is screaming for you to come forward and do it!!

    I really hope you can make a go of this.

    One of the most delightful aspect’s of Susan’s teaching is that she never puts down others. She does not say “this is the only, right way to sew”. She is confident enough in her own path; her own niche that she does not need to put down other ways in order to feel OK about her way.

    Feel free to critique others. It is essential to do that in order to define yourself. But, I would caution against criticizing others, whether they are other teachers, other bloggers, or whatever; because that could ultimately diminish what you stand for. If the only way to define one’s position is to criticize others, it can come back to bite you.
    I am just saying this has been my experience. Your mileage may vary.

  36. Kathleen says:

    I would bet that many, many folks would love to take classes by Kathleen Fasanella. I predict many would enjoy the opportunity to do an “industrial sewing boot camp” type of thing.

    Look what a gap in the market there is!! Good grief woman, the market is screaming for you to come forward and do it!! I really hope you can make a go of this.

    I agree there is a gap in the market but I already have fulltime+ work and I can’t imagine where I could scare up the time to create a new side to my business to meet market demand more than I already do (I hold small private classes upon individual request). It is just as well, really, because I’m shy and do so poorly in groups and in public that having to be around a lot of people and then also, having to market the class, would just be too overwhelming for me. Maybe when I retire or in my next life.

  37. Sarra says:

    I just want to echo what Matthew says about many of the workarounds home sewers use being _necessary_ workarounds. I don’t own a serger, and while my machine isn’t too bad for a home sewing machine, it isn’t a patch on what an industrial (or rather, a set of industrial) machines could do. And don’t even get me started on my poor little iron. I think there is a segment of the home sewing crowd who genuinely want their finished products to look as professional as possible and who aren’t tied to the “couture” methods that dominate much of the home sewing discourse, and so would be delighted to adopt as many industrial practices as possible, but that also know that there are many industrial techniques that they are never going to be adopt because they don’t have the equipment. Most of us muddle along as best we can, and the lucky ones find this blog.

  38. Marie-Christine says:

    I’m afraid that I think that people who sew for fun only ending up quilting is nonsense. Yes, fitting problems can often push people into sewing clothes who might not have been so enthused otherwise. But the younger generation of home sewers is much more into clothes than into quilting, and appreciates the fashion aspects of sewing just as much as the technical ones. And setting up a quilting/clothes competition is as absurd as a sewing/knitting one, people who’re interested in textiles often drift from one area to another over a lifetime, if not practice several simultaneously.

    I also don’t think all edges must be finished, even more so by hand whip-stitching. Knits don’t ravel, many wovens don’t either. If you don’t have a serger, you can do fine without finishing as long as your fabric doesn’t ravel. Likewise, good old pinking works fine in controlling raveling in many fabrics, but to hear the couture police you’d think pinking was a crime against humanity, it’s often not even mentioned as a possibility. Although frankly it can be the best solution, as it adds no bulk at all to seams and makes no mark with pressing. But it’s HOMEMADE (brrr!). And rightly so, being quite a pain and slow even with good scissors :-), you’d certainly not consider it in any sort of production environment. It’s also not accurate to think home sewers don’t have sergers, these days the question is more whether they also have a coverstitch machine on top of the serger. Anyone under 50 has grown up wearing knits much more than wovens, and not thinking of them as something just to sleep in or wipe the floor with, and if you like to wear knits you just end up with a serger sooner or later.

    Yes, I agree that it’d be most likely to be advanced home sewers who’d be interested in a bootcamp/sample sort of class. And I totally see Kathleen’s points about not doing them :-). But let me simply point out that Kathleen writes very well, and seems to enjoy it, so instead of trying to pressure her into something she doesn’t enjoy, maybe we ought to encourage her to put out a book instead? I’ll pre-order right now if you’re in the mood Kathleen :-).

  39. Dyan says:

    I would imagine that your customers will be the judge of your sewing techniques and skills. If you have long standing customers I don’t think what others think matters. Bottom line – the average jane and jo schmo don’t know pinking shears from a utility knife and could care less. All they want is what they want. Often they don’t even care about the particulars of sewing that relates to what distinguishes couture from basic construction. They just want [this or that] and they want it now. Then there are those who can afford and know the difference. There seems to be two camps. I don’t know maybe there is even another.

    It’s up to the sewer which customer they choose to deal with. Should be based on skills. Both types can be pains in the arse. If I were rich I would just sew for the sake of sewing. I love making clothing that much. What I put together takes a lot of work and planning because I always break away from the pattern and do something else. I don’t care if someone is going to like it or not. I like it and if they do well then ‘gravy.’ Most people like what I do. I use all kinds of methods of making garments just to test out the number of ways to do something: it’s gratifying for me. I check out my SEO analytics and then I make more things and repeat. People seem to like what I make but then who knows why anyone likes anything. Sometimes the wearer doesn’t even know.

    Either I want to take a technical course in sewing or I don’t. I think a person’ has to know what it is they want to get out of a course of study to know whether they should take the course; at least I hope. I know exactly what I want. I don’t know what it is I don’t know. I’d have to be around someone who does know. How would either find out – course work. I don’t know everything and there is always something to be gleaned even from something you [believe] you know so well.

    Perhaps it would be a good idea to ask that people present a list of what they know; a list of what they don’t know; and then a list of what they would like to know. I know I don’t want to be in a quilting class. I don’t do quilts and I don’t want to learn (at this time) how to do quilts. I don’t even want to be in a class that briefly discusses quilting techniques. I think it is an entirely different mindset. I watched my grandma make quilts. At the time I already knew how to make clothing: my mom is a tailor. While watching her I knew this: God Bless her soul how on earth can she sit there and make each and everyone of those stitches with those little pieces of cloth. It was a conscience decision when I spoke these words to her: I would not enjoy quilting. She smiled and kept right on sewing.

    Suggestion if you haven’t done it already: An online sample test that would be given on different levels to see if:

    1. Someone would even venture to take the test (terminlogy; tool understanding; fabric types; stitch types, etc).
    2. Someone would take one or more of the tests
    3. Someone would \ answer whether they (based on the test outcome) would take a course.

    Just put it out here and then (based on outcome) take it out there. Start with a sample and ask for volunteers. You got a ton of willing participants out here already. This is in terms of what we’ve been discussing.

  40. Brina says:

    Regarding pinking: considering that industrial pinking machines, both motorized and hand crank (and I’m not taking about the ubiquitous Singer models), exist, I rather doubt that pinking was or is just a homemade solution to seam finishing. Maybe it’s not used that much anymore, but it was also a pretty common, in times past, edge finishing on trim. And I know it’s used on upscale custom clothing.

    Pinking works best with firm and/or tightly woven fabrics, because it doesn’t really stop fraying on loosely woven fabrics. It does press nicely and seams are not as obvious in sheerer fabrics.

  41. Kathleen says:

    Dyan: I’ve saved your comment to consider more carefully later on.

    Brina: I don’t know why we don’t pink anymore, maybe folks have forgotten about it or with overlocks, it becomes superfluous considering the cost of processing seams. I mean, even with one of those mechanized machines (I have one but the die does scallops not pinks, it is very cool), it’s double processing for each seam, once to sew and the other to pink and overlocks do it all in one pass.

    Personally, I think pinking is charming. Most of the garments you find with pinked seams at the thrift stores were home made and if the seams were pinked, it means its maker really cared. I like to take a closer look at those items.

  42. Dyan says:

    If I had my druthers i’d pink all the time. I recently bought a serger and was reminded why they were a pain. They are great for some things but there is no charm to what they do. Painfully manufacturing finnish. Can bulk at intersecting corners. People have been made to believe that a factory finish is quality when in fact it is not. If I want to adjust my pinked clothing it’s a breeze but try that with something that has been serged.

    further, when I make mistakes most of the time on something that I pinked I still have room for correction. With something that has been serged I am often stuck with the results as it cuts while overcasting. I’ll take pinking any day but unfortunately the masses have been convinced that if it’s not serged it’s homey. So I can’t seel what I make unless I serge it. Shame.

    Finally, I think the whole serger thing was about selling them. I have lots of clothing that was made a half a century ago and none of it’s serged and it is still beautiful and not falling apart except for what the moths try to accomplish. On the other hand, the serged clothing that I bought and buy is falling apart. Well made is well made. Not matter how you cut it or sew it.

  43. crescentaluna says:

    Marie-Christine: yes to everything you say. I lead a large (400 + member) sewing group here in Portland, Ore and you’ve hit the nail on the head … today’s home sewers are much more Threadbanger and BurdaStyle than either “quilter only” or “wannabe couture artiste.” There is an enormous thrill in the handmade that the people I sew with are enjoying — their goals are not goals that would be met in “boot camp.” After sewing for a while, gaining confidence, and learning to see differently, maybe. But not at first, and maybe not at all.

  44. Dyan, in consideration of your last comment, I re-read all of your earlier ones in this thread to discern the pattern. The first that emerges is the frequent use of “couture”. Over and over and over and over. Your lament is that consumers don’t know what it is and that they just want what they want. To this I have two things to say:

    1. Most home sewers don’t know what “couture” is either. I say home sewers because it is mostly home sewers that perseverate on that word. Iow, one can’t criticize consumers generally when the deficit is likewise shared by home sewers (also generally). [Fwiw, industry uses the term single needle, also see the transcript mentioned in this entry.] In industry -and this is an industry site- using the term couture is considered arrogant. It’s how everyone else knows someone is a newbie. The only people who use couture as part of their company name are small sewing related start ups in the US (and they wonder why it is so hard to get any traction or have others in the trade to take them seriously). As one French woman said here previously, “this is America; anyone with a sewing machine is a couturier” and judging from couture’s profligate use among enthusiasts, I tend to agree.

    2. Again in consideration to your previous comments in this thread, I strongly urge you to read The difference between crap and quality. I don’t think you intend to imply insult to other people; I will explain why insult is implied as the logical conclusion of your comment yesterday.

    Speaking of which, you wrote:

    I recently bought a serger and was reminded why they were a pain. They are great for some things but there is no charm to what they do. Painfully manufacturing finnish. Can bulk at intersecting corners…

    I don’t know where to start with this. First a reminder as to my points in this entry, that there are sewing workarounds in home sewing due to bad equipment. It does not hold that we have the same problems. This is not a home sewing site so I don’t think it is fair or accurate to imply that home sewing generalizations equally apply to us. Which is not the same thing as saying some of us don’t use starter home machines nor that enthusiasts aren’t welcome here, only that if a home sewing generalization is made, it does not hold that it also applies to industry -again, the point of this entry. You also wrote:

    People have been made to believe that a factory finish is quality when in fact it is not

    I can only think you have not considered how offensive this statement is. Factory finish is what this site is about, I’m proud of what I make because it represents value. Besides, if it’s crappy, why are you here? As I said so long ago, there is a cognitive dissonance among home sewers. On one hand they say industry keeps secrets from them but they also say we make crap. So which is it? Secrets or crap? If it’s crap, why would anyone want the secrets to doing it? If it’s crap, there’s no secret to it, you can easily see how to make it just as crappy.

    Then you wrote:

    Finally, I think the whole serger thing was about selling them. I have lots of clothing that was made a half a century ago and none of it’s serged and it is still beautiful and not falling apart except for what the moths try to accomplish. On the other hand, the serged clothing that I bought and buy is falling apart.

    Again, I don’t know where to go with this and on so many levels. First, crap has always been made. That you don’t have any crappy vintage samples only means that the crappy stuff didn’t survive the era (because it was crappy).

    Second, I don’t know where you buy your clothes or how much you spend on them but cheap as I am, I don’t own a single item that has fallen apart. Even low cost $6 tees I buy at Wal-Mart to muck out the barn have not fallen apart. In fact, I can’t even remember the last time I bought something that fell apart. Where are all these falling apart garments that home sewers claim exist?

    I have one budget purple tee of which the coverstitched hem has come partially undone but good grief, I paid $6 for it three years ago. It’s been a good value considering I wash and wear it every week from March through October. That’s minimally 28 weeks making for a cost per wearing of less than 5 cents (not including the cost of washing etc). I wish I could say I’ve gotten the same value from everything else I’ve made or bought.

    In closing, in the debate of cheap vs “couture”, I urge you to read The difference between crap and quality along with comments there because it’s not just industry that is insulted with cursory comparatives (to say nothing of asking why you are here if we just make crap) but other consumers whose values, lifestyles, income and needs that differ from yours are likewise unfairly deprecated.

  45. Dyan says:

    It was not my intent nor desire to insult. All of my comments are purely from a analytical point of view.: nothing more than that. I sincerely believe that in order to come to a logical conclusion and reason with some level of clarity it is best to keep emotion clear otherwise emotions can get high strung. I hope that does not add more insult to injury.

    I read your post and I believe that this conversation is about whether a candidate would take course work that may complement what they already know by offering new knowledge. To me it got a little off track when comments got into why others may or may not want to take or like such course work. I offered the idea about defined test sampling to remove that aspect out of the analysis. What you’ve indicated about what I wrote is no where near my hemisphere as far as intent or purpose.

    Standards from my perspective are evident based on obvious difficulty, requiring time and energy but most of all skill. The craftsmanship is evident. On the other hand there are items that were clearly thrown together quickly. The assessments made purely from a construction point of view and likely with a taint of personal values. I could have taken offense at many of the comments made out here but I know better. Comments are subjective and personal. I am not here to judge; only to glean from this and offer my personal point of view. It seemed you invited that with your posts.

    I believe a well developed course would impart the different methods of construction and the outcome whether intended or not. It would also tie construction to the tools of the trade and how to apply them properly during the construction phase in order to turn out first the standard methods and ultimately personal creation based on skill. A good course and standardized testing would flesh out real working levels and uncover false assumptions, bastardized beliefs, and biases.

    I consider myself an artisan. I use machines with technical skill to make upscale clothing.

    A very interesting analysis indeed.

  46. RobinDenning says:

    I think it is easy to accidentally insult someone when making generalizations, and there seem to be a lot of generalizations being made in many of the comments.

    But (as a home sewer) I will say this much – I bought a swimsuit last week and it came apart after 2 wearings. The seam allowance was too narrow where the cup joined the bridge (at least that’s what it would be called on a bra). I kept it because I could make a pretty good pattern from it with a few tweaks to fit me better. My homemade garments can fall apart, too, if I make that kind of a mistake.

    The biggest problem I have with RTW, when I find things that fit, is the quality of the fabric is so hit-or-miss. ALmost everything I bought at J.Jill last fall is worn out already. At least when I sew my own clothes, I know enough about fabric to select stuff that will wear well.

    I would never give up my serger – I love it and I love my clothes to look store-bought. But at least now we have the crafty movement coming along, so I don’t need to feel “less-than” because I wear homemade clothes instead of storebought. Whew. I like that.

  47. Cheryl says:

    Hi. A few comments. I think teaching sewing courses for the masses would be difficult. It depends on your students. Many have zero knowledge of how to thread a needle. I admire the people who have the patience to teach. I have been sewing for 48 years, since i was 6 . I recently tried to teach my 14 yr old niece to sew. I am a very patient, calm, serene woman. She wanted immediate full knowledge of everything i have taught myself. There was no learning curve or patience. I am afraid it’s part of our new society as far as young people are concerned. They want everything….now.

    I don’t see any need for a home seamstress to learn industry techniques unless they choose to do that. If a home seamstress wants to do alot of handwork (as the big four usually requires) that’s fine. They are not on a ‘time clock’. I am constantly learning new techniques. I want my sewing time to be spent wisely and quickly. I am always open to new ideas for speed and a great product.

    I am a professional seamstress. I am not offended by that term. I make a living with my sewing talent. I am self-employed. I am not a ‘tailor’ or a ‘dressmaker’, even though i can do both jobs. I am not a ‘production seamstress’. Yes, i have done a few commissions of multiples. I am a designer. I am my businesses’ labor pool. I have made costumes but i do not call myself a ‘costumer’…. I proudly wear my own designs and home-sewn garments now and then.

    I usually purchase my clothing. It’s faster and cheaper for me to do that. I have tee shirts i purchased in 2005 and 2006 from walmart. China made kids tees. Star wars logo shirts (i am a fan). I have worn and washed these tees an average of 30 times a year. They are just now starting to fall apart. It’s not from the workmanship. It’s from the fabric falling apart.

    I don’t think it’s fair to judge factory workmanship on generalities. Yes, i wish usa made was still on most of our clothing but that’s just not the case. I hope some young people learn to sew. It would be great for them in their own lives, even if they didn’t sew for others . I think if sewing classes are too restrictive about rules, that would be a bad thing. Teach them what will work….even if it’s not ‘official’….

    When a local seamstress advertises herself as an ‘expert’ or accomplished and she/he is not, it is soon discovered. When people are sewing for themselves…who cares if their work is ‘perfect’? If they are happy home seamstresses, who cares? I think it’s great if more people are sewing and doing other handcrafts .

    thanks for the opportunity to comment. Cheryl.

  48. Marie-Christine says:

    Totally agree about the secret vs crap conundrum Kathleen.
    It is totally cognitive dissonance in the home sewer. You spend a lot of time sewing your own clothes, everyone knows it takes time, and face it usually these days a lot of money too, it -is- cheaper to buy clothes on the whole. So you have to think you’re doing it better, somehow. Even if the results are not quite there, or perhaps even more so.

    Guys don’t think they have to justify spending money on expensive computers just so they can play video games aimed at 12 year olds, or on expensive SUVs so they can go buy beer at the store. Grown-up women feel they must justify their computerized sewing machines and store-size fabric stash with the couture word. Eh.

  49. crescentaluna says:

    In defense of home sewers ^_^ — sure, it’s an Internet meme, “RTW is crap,” but in real life, what I hear home sewers say all the time is “RTW doesn’t fit me well.” Because we are short, or uneven, or unusually proportioned. Many, many of us want to learn from industry people – that’s why we lurk on FI. We want to benefit from hearing what the pros do, but we also love our hobby and we will never BE pros. I just want to put that out there, because at times I feel … well, contemptuous vibes coming my way as a home sewer, and I don’t feel that is deserved.

  50. Kathleen G says:

    I tried to take a certification course offered in my area by a private school. I enrolled in Level 1 sewing and Level 1 Pattern Making. The instructor, upon finding that I had experience sewing communicated some dismay. She could not produce a syllabus for me. She decided I must choose a jacket pattern and then proceeded to really teach nothing. I just went ahead in what I normally would do and she spent most of her time in her office. That first class (in which I was given no list of what to bring), I found I was the only student. I also suggested that although I had sewn for some years, I would welcome a skills drill sewing samples of seams etc. which she rejected. She billed herself as having a program similar to FIT. I pointed out that her class length was much shorter than a college semester and the use of “industry standards” and “couturier method” were confusing. The pattern-making course was a little better except I was given already drafted size 8 blocks to trace from instead of starting with a pencil and a ruler with the pattern paper/board. I chose not to continue for obvious reasons.

  51. Brooks Z says:

    I’ve taught classes (not in sewing) with both entry-level and advanced students in the same class, on a specific advanced project.

    I found it helpful when doing this, bring extra samples of the project, at various stages of the process. e.g. I was teaching electronics, I brought computers with the software already installed, and several extra kits in various stages of completion.

    The advantage of this, is if the beginner gets stuck, you can swap their item out with one of the backup kits. This keeps the class moving and helps reduce the advanced students getting bored and distracted while you provide individual assistance. This would work particularly well for the type of “same-size same-material” you suggest.

    Another option would be, have a way to convert the advanced project item into something else at the end. E.g. make an advanced jacket, then as a final step, add handles, sew it partially closed and turn it into a tote bag. The pockets would be for accessories, and students could show it off in public. “What a fascinating bag! Thanks, I made it! See the seam work?… “

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