Thursday, June 6, 2013

Some thoughts to encourage other sewers

(No pictures in this post; sorry... I tried to find pictures to illustrate my thoughts and gave up in frustration. I figured it was better to just post the words than try to make the post "perfect" by finding appropriate artwork.)

Last week I was invited to be the presenter for the Maryland ASG's "Cyber Stitchers" neighborhood group. This is a "virtual meeting" done over the web, and I did a talk on "Drawn to Done," which was a talk about my sewing projects, with an emphasis on how I arrived at the design decisions for the Smithson gowns, various costumes, and other assorted garments. It was a lot of fun!
The day after the presentation, one of the attendees contacted me privately and asked if I would share the final slide of my presentation with more people. This slide had my "words of wisdom" that she felt should be shared with a wider audience.
These words were meant to be an encouragement to people just starting out in sewing and fashion design, and help them to overcome some of their self-criticism.

It's just fabric. They'll make more.

Too often we find ourselves paralyzed, scissors in hand, terrified to make the first cut into a particularly expensive piece of fabric. I've been there, especially when the fabric retailed at $250 per yard and I was doing work for a client. But this paralysis also seems to creep in when we are cutting into a very basic fabric. It is that whisper of fear that says, "I'll make a mistake and it will waste fabric that cost me money."
Here's the thing: fabric is constantly being produced. There will always be fabric available. Go ahead and cut. If you make a mistake, so what? You'll get more fabric. Yes, it will cost money. But experience comes from making mistakes, and if you are afraid to make mistakes, you will never master the new techniques that will expand your sewing.

Be observant and aware.

Watch what other people are wearing. See if there are trends in your area. Does everyone wear black? Well, you must live in New York. How about hemlines, necklines, sleeves? What do you see in shop windows? On TV? Keep a folder on your computer or on Pinterest with pictures of clothing you admire. It's great for inspiration.

Compliment others' clothing

When you see someone wearing something you admire, ask them about it. Stop them and say, "Pardon me, but I can't help admiring your outfit/jacket/skirt/hat/whatever. Would you mind if I took a picture of it?" The wearer will be flattered, and nine times out of ten you'll get your picture(s). I've done this lots of times and have yet to get a rude response. The worst I've gotten was, "I'd rather not have you photograph it," but she was happy to let me turn up hems and investigate jacket linings.

Go snoop shopping. Bring your camera.

This can be so much fun! Go to a high-end mall and window shop. While most stores won't allow you to take pictures on the floor, you can take pictures through the window. And, of course, you can try things on and photograph them in the changing room. It helps to take a friend along to take the pictures for you (to avoid the awkward selfies or the mirror shots). This is a great way to experiment with new styles, colors and fabrics that you aren't sure will work with your figure.

Know your closet

When you wear something that makes you feel beautiful, figure out what it makes it so great so you can do more of it. Is it the color? The drape? The sleeve? The neckline? You won't be able to fill your closet with clothes you love if you don't know what it is that makes you feel beautiful.
Note here that I'm talking about what makes you feel beautiful, not what makes you look good in the mirror. These are two different things. Mirror-pretty is for other people; feel-beautiful is for you. I can wear an outfit that makes me look fabulous, but I'm so miserable in it (maybe it's too tight, or I can't comfortably sit in it, or the fabric makes my skin crawl) that I can't wait to rip it off. Or I can wear a dress that makes me feel light, free, happy and sunny, and even if it doesn't follow the norms of "flattering my figure" I will continue to wear it because of the way it makes me feel.

My Cynthia Guffey story

Here's one last story I shared with the Cyber Stitchers. Some years ago I attended a trunk show by Cynthia Guffey. I've always been in awe of her garments; they are stunning examples of high-quality sewing. Well, I made sure to be in the room early so I could get a front-row seat, so I was maybe 12 feet away from Cynthia and her garments. During the presentation, she would hold up a garment and talk about it, and I would see this gorgeous outfit held out in all its glory. Then she would toss the garment into the audience so we could get a closer look at each piece.
When I got to see the pieces close up, I would start to notice little imperfections: a missed loose thread here, a slight misalignment there. And it wasn't until the end of the presentation that I had an epiphany.
When Cynthia held up her garments, we were seeing them for the first time as completed projects, in their entirety, from a distance.
But when we are working on our own projects, we are seeing them in pieces, from less than a foot away. We never get the chance to see them for the first time as whole garments, the way the rest of the world will see them. We are the only people who will see the garment the way we do, and that affects our opinions of our own projects so that we are unable to see the "big picture."
I encourage you to learn to view your projects as more than just a conglomeration of pattern pieces and seams. Hang them up and look at them from across the room. Do your best to erase your memory of the garment's construction and will yourself to see it for the first time as a complete project. This will go a long way towards making you happier with your work.
As my webinar attendee wrote, "I have noticed in recent weeks/months that many (I would say over 90%) of beginners and/or pure novices (those that want to sew, but haven't started) get overwhelmed in the sense that they see someone else's work (mainly someone that's advanced, into couture sewing, etc.) and they compare their skills and/or where they are at in their journey with those that have been doing this for years and/or decades.
"No one came out of the womb sewing, writing, dancing, an athlete, etc. Everyone had to learn."


  1. Well said. :) I'm going to post a link to this article for my ASG group. The one item that I'd like to add to the "It's just fabric." section is: Mistakes should be looked upon as design opportunities - you can always piece together sections of the remaining fabric (or add a contrasting fabric) to replace a piece that you accidentally ruined (and the resulting garment may turn out better than the original design).

    1. Thanks for posting these lovely reminders. :-)

    2. You are so right, Andrea! "It's not a mistake; it's an embellishment opportunity!"
      This also reminds me of another important point: Never point out the mistakes in your garment!! Nobody cares, and you're really the only one who sees them.

  2. Thanks for all you do to encourage and inspire!!! You have been the wind beneath my winds on many occasion when I am faced with a challenge. I think about the costumes and gowns you've made and I say---let me think outside the box---I can do this.

    I, too, love the snoop shop! I do this especially when I visit Las Vegas every other year. Those boutiques have the most exquisite clothing. I take clothes into the dressing room and turn them inside out every which a way and snap, snap, snap!!!!! I also learn a lot from the bridal alterations I do. There are some really cool tricks in the industry. Ms Cythnia Guffey -- enough said...fellow bloggers if you get the opportunity to take some classes from her please do. She is an EXCELLENT teacher. My sewing moved to another level after just 1 class from her about 20 years ago!

    1. Aww, thank you, Tee!! Hearing that my work can inspire others to find their own greatness encourages me to keep writing!

  3. opps meant to type "wind beneath my wings" LOL

  4. This post is very timely to me. I've been blaming the crap piled on the cutting table for my sewing block, when it's actually all in my head.


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