What are the core skills of sewing that can be defined as standards of desired skill acquisition? I am deliberately setting aside -for the moment- the related mechanical positioning, rhythm, tempo, fluidity of sewing (in a continual process) things largely comprised of experience, practice and the development of muscle memory. Once these are defined, it’s easier to teach the specified tasks. Which processes are simpler and which are more complex? Here’s a rough outline and not necessarily in order of difficulty or complexity:
1. Sewing a straight line along a given edge with uniform stitching from the edge of the goods.
2. As above but with two layers of goods.
#2 may seem overly simplistic but consider two equal lengths of bias cut goods. If one does not position the two layers of bias goods evenly, the goods “grow” in length the further along the seam one goes. Sewing a 1/4 or 3/8 seam is much more difficult than sewing a 1″ seam allowance as there is greater grain stability the farther in from the cut edge that one sews. This applies to bias goods only! Goods on the straight of grain are more easily sewn with smaller seam allowances. This is not to say that I don’t think one can develop the skill of sewing small seam allowances on bias. I usually use 1/4″ particularly when dot-to-dot skill (sewing a gusset, see #5 below) is required.
If one were to think of it, one could add the concept of sewing two edges of striped or plaid fabrics together so that the stripes are matched evenly across the seam as another example of a core sewing skill but this is not a sewing skill per se, regardless that the seam is actualized at that time. Having sewing operators to sew stripes neatly is rarely a concern in a good factory because the required controls -the accurate cutting of the goods- was done well before it got near the sewing line. In the factory, the seam quality of matched stripes is not governed by stitchers! It is designed into the pattern (a precise match stripe is drafted and marked on the pattern piece) and the matching of the seam is dependent upon the pattern grader following that match point, then the marker maker who must communicate the lay-out of fabric repeat to the cutting department etc. etc. Sewing operators have little to no control over how the goods are cut; it’s unfair to blame them for errors in the process that preceded them. Just because they had it last, and the proof is easily demonstrable then, doesn’t mean they are to blame.
3. Sewing a simple line with 2 layers of goods of different fabrics, i.e. a shell fabric and a lining fabric. This is more difficult to do on home sewing machines as they lack the pressure of industrial machines to keep the goods aligned. Similarly, it’s more difficult to sew the tape of zippers to lengths of dress-weight goods and for the same reasons. This is less challenging in industrial environments as the dressweight goods are usually stabilized with a fusible interfacing in the zipper inset area. In other words, successfully sewing a zipper is dependent upon processes prior to the initiation of sewing; a good result is dependent on what happened to the goods before a stitcher got anywhere near the goods. A pattern for the fusible had to have been made beforehand, graded, cut, paired with the commensurate shell pieces, fused and then resorted into bundles appropriate to the sewing process order.
4. The skill of sewing from one fixed point to another, dot-to-dot, along a defined edge.
5. As above but with two layers of goods.
6. As above but with two layers of differing goods. An example would be that of the back “V” -at garment edge- on a back vest waist. Not only must the dot-to-dot points be precise but the differing weights of the shell of the vest and the lining must be managed.
7. The skill of sewing from one fixed point to another, dot-to-dot, on the interior of a piece, say along the placement lines of a welt pocket. It’s more difficult to sew evenly on the inside of a body of goods -rather than a seam allowance edge- as more skill is needed for the work to lie flat and correctly aligned.
8. As above but with two layers of goods, the dot of each end sewing point of one layer to be correctly aligned with the dots of the underlying layer.
9. As above but with two layers of differing fabrics. Say a welt leather pocket on a wool coat.
Notes on 7-9: again, a commercial environment manages this differently and well before it gets near a sewing operator. As in welt pockets, the shell is fused from the underside (wrong side of goods) at least one inch away from the area to be sewn all the way around. The entire area is stabilized prior to stitching. Considering the constant pressure to avoid waste, the additional use of goods and process -fusing for one- means that successful completion of the job (the welt pocket) requires stabilization and is worthy of increased cost of goods (more interfacing), design (pattern) and additional processes and steps (fusing and doing so within a precise target area). Being able to do the latter consistently isn’t well known or understood to anyone who hasn’t worked in a factory. This usually requires a placement guide made by the pattern maker before hand. The concept of guides -a pattern piece not used to cut out goods but designed to mark them– is largely unknown today.
Part two: Core Sewing Skills