Why sew?

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Sewing is a great skill to acquire, but why would you want to do it?

Miyake coatReader Shelley commented a couple of weeks ago that she envied my ability to sew, and this set me thinking as to how incredibly useful this skill really is.

But why would anyone want to learn to sew, when there are so many nice garments available in the shops?

The first issue, for many sewists, is fit. Many of us take up sewing because we simply can’t buy clothes in the shops (aka: ready to wear) that fit, and we’re fed up of pulling and tugging and shortening and twotting about with everything we buy off the rack. 

As an example, the average female garment is cut for a B cup, assumes a height of 5′ 6", allows for about 6" of difference between waist and hip, and rather bigger hips than bust. 

In contrast, I am a C-D cup, 5’1" tall, have 12 inches of difference between waist and hip, and hips about the same size as my bust.

Yellow dressIn other words, I don’t have a hope in hell of ready to wear garments fitting me without substantial alteration.

For jackets and tailored garments, I can head for petite ranges, which at least have sleeves the right length, and the correct button placement, but these still tend to be too flat in the chest. Short does not necessarily mean that you don’t have curves.

Beene jacketPetite ranges assume I want my skirts much shorter than I do, and I continually have to shorten trouser legs, losing flare or bootcut in the process. I also have to take in several inches of slack on the waistbands of trousers, skirts and dresses. 

Other women face different issues: sloping shoulders, long necks, low-slung bustlines, rounded tummies, rounded backs, asymmetry – you name it, there’s some woman built like it. And when you make your own clothes, you can correct all these figure faults with relative ease.

Two  skirtThe second issue is style. The vast majority of fashion is aimed at particular market segments and many of the garments available are too young, too short, too tight and too revealing for women who are not in their teens and 20s. Luckily for the rest of us, there are dress patterns instead, and in the past 20 years there has sprung up a multitude of small independent pattern companies producing really fabulous, innovative designs that suit women who don’t want to look like Barbie. I am particularly fond of Japanese-inspired designs such as those from Miyake for Vogue, or Sewing Workshop, and I like clothes that layer and wrap and tie and allow lots of adjustment. 

Phoenix skirtThe third issue is cost, and cost is the reason that I myself first learned to sew, after watching a college friend calmly cut out a pattern from newspaper and sew a dress together during the course of an afternoon. Having no training (I loathed sewing at school), I bought a book and tried to follow it. I was not particularly gifted but I quickly learned to sew simple skirts, tops and pull-on trousers for myself, friends and family for absolute peanuts. I also bought rubbish garments from charity shops and took them apart to look at the construction. Over time, I gained more skills and increased my repertoire.

A fourth reason for learning to sew is that your garments are unique – you will simply not see anyone else wearing quite the same thing that you are. And this uniqueness can be accomplished very quickly: once you crack a few patterns you like, you have almost unlimited possibilities to ring the changes with fabric, drape, colour, texture etc. Most experienced sewists use only a few patterns but use them over and over, making the garment shorter, longer, more or less formal, darker or lighter, or adding different sleeves, collars and embellishments, and in this way building themselves an entire wardrobe. The combination of fabric, pattern and embellishment is infinite.

The last reason, of course, is that the hobby itself is so very fulfilling. There are only three things that get me in the ‘flow’: sewing, beading and gardening. Do any one of these three and I lose track of time. Having something beautiful at the end of it is only a bonus. 

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