Tuesday, April 21, 2009

striding the line

I’m in the middle of writing one of the most labor-intensive sewing instructions I’ve written so far. The pattern itself won’t be difficult to sew, but perfecting all the pattern pieces and writing a very clear set of instructions can be incredibly challenging. The harder it is for me, however, the easier I hope it will be for our customers. And this is going to be a good pattern. I’m really excited about it.


I usually love my job, but there’s a point during the development of each pattern when I think to myself, “This is never going to work. What have I gotten myself into?” It’s a panicky feeling, but I’m gradually learning that it always works out if I give it time. Before having S, I designed very complicated outerwear with zipper garages, gussets, and all sorts of crazy technical details. The next time you go to a sporting goods store, look at the ski jacket shells (by which I mean, the outermost of the various layers you can assemble—the waterproof, breathable one). That will give you an idea what I’m accustomed to doing, from sourcing the fabrics to choosing the zipper pull. It’s the masochistic side of me that adores the pages and pages of elaborately detailed drawings which comprise a design packages of this nature. I think that quality lends itself well to writing sewing instructions, too, but sometimes I need to remind myself that I can do it.

Today I was thinking about my first day of design school. After years of sewing for myself and watching my Mom sew for us, it was quite a shock to enter the classroom. Our wonderful, almost-retired Italian draping professor gave us a polite dressing-down, telling us to ditch the pincushions and the cute little sewing scissors. What we needed was a box of stainless steel straight pins (no glass heads, please) and a pair of (giant-looking) 10” or 12” shears. And home sewing machines? Hmph. We should invest in an industrial sewing machine. (Industrial machines, by the by, weigh a ton, sit in a tray full of oil that keeps the machine lubricated, and only stitch straight stitches forward. I never bought one, even though my 60+ year old Singer nearly didn’t make it through the strenuous workout I gave it that year.)


Now that I have experience with both home sewing and working in the garment industry, I find that I bring a little bit of both to my current work. I still dip into a bowlful of steel pins regularly (which drives everyone crazy because we’re constantly finding pins on the floor at the studio and at home), but I keep a cute little pincushion (with glass-headed pins!) near the sewing machine as well, for when I sew more delicate fabrics or have the luxury of a little more time to spend. I still love my dressmaking shears, but I also still use a home sewing machine. I don’t own a serger (or merrow machine, as it’s called in the industry) because I suspect that many of our customers don’t own one either. It would make life much easier and make my sewing go faster, but I like to write patterns using the same sewing methods our customers use because I think it helps me to write a more accurate and realistic set of instructions.

It’s a funny combination, but it works.

23 comments:

  1. ......and.... ?? Your post is leaving me hanging to turn the next page and read more. Seriously. I got to the end and was like, what? no. surely, this isn't the END! (big smile!)

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  2. Really? Shall I continue? I'm amazed you actually read the whole thing...

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  3. Thanks for thinking about those without sergers. :)

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  4. Hmmm...makes me want to go to design school. I think I could do the industrial sewing machine, but I am keen on my glass headed pins :P

    Look foward to seeing what all the hard work is for!

    Annabel

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  5. The amount of thought you put into your customer's point of view is a huge credit to your business. Bravo!

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  6. Thank you for not thinking everyone has a serger. My 40 year old singer works just fine.
    And can you please start making patterns for bigger girls? My daughter just turned 7 but wears an 8-10 - she's tall AND solid for her age and I just want to continue to dress her like a little girl for a little while longer instead of a little teenager.

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  7. of course we read to the end! thanks for the glimpse into your process. it is truly fascinating for those of us who just buy the pattern and follow the instructions. thanks for your care.

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  8. i agree with corvus - you're patterns are perfectly written and so approachable! especially for someone who has only sewn quilts :)

    xo
    jen

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  9. This was terrific! Interesting, thoughtful, articulate...I love your perspective so much. More, please!!!

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  10. I'm thinking about a major in Fashion. (But not, you know, Fashion fashion. Maybe eventually doing something more along the lines of what you do. No haute couture pour moi.) I enjoy hearing about the ins and outs of what you do! Keep up the great work!

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  11. Thanks for making designing your patterns for real people who may not have fancy machines. My 40+ Singer thanks you also.

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  12. I love my giant shears and boxes of stainless silk pins. I use a magnet wand thing to locate the stray pins. I majored in costume design but all the theatre kids took fashion classes too. I never did get the hang of the industrial machines. I just like to backtack too much, taking the time to tie off the threads just wasn't in my schedule. It seemed like such a waste when half of what I was making was going to be torn apart with a cheese grater and other instruments of torture when I was finished putting it together. Also threading those things always seemed to take an eternity.

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  13. Anonymous1:22 PM

    I agree with Becky .. bigger sizes! My daughter loves her 2+2 outfit that Grammy made her! A Monona native

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  14. This was an interesting read.
    I am surprised to know you don't have a serger and was wondering at times when sewing with your patterns...should I zig zag here if it doesn't say to do this or does she assumer we will serge?
    I love how everything is written and your patterns are so clear. Keep up your wonderful work.

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  15. Liesl, I am in your blog today for the first time , and I really feel like writing you how much I like this post. And would like to read more ...

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  16. I don't design printed patterns but just writing up project instructions for my book was an eye-opener. It's so hard to describe everything when what you need to do is show someone!

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  17. I want to add my gratitude for thinking of the serger-less! I actually prefer finishing things the old-fashioned homespun way. Great post.

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  18. I invested in an industrial sewing machine after two years of fashion studies. I loved the fact that it would automatically backtack AND cut the thread for you with the simple press of a heel - a huge time saver. Now I couldn't live without my industrial machine - it's over 20 years old, hasn't been serviced in the 8 years I've had it and cost less than my domestic machine.

    Oh, and in our course we weren't allowed to use pins, something I found very strange at the start but have become used to. I still need to use them when putting in a collar though.

    Love the photo of all your tools of the trade. We're all hanging on your every post to find out what this new pattern will be.

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  19. I love hearing about your design school experiences! And, technical clothing fascinates me. I love all those details like the zipper garages.

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  20. ... I actually do have a serger - and it's lovely when its working fine - when it doesn't like right now it leaves me with tons of question marks and no answer on how i can fix it. I have to say, i Just finished the first of your patterns (Tea party dress and bloomer) and loved the process.
    Have been designing in the apparel industry for such a long time (including zipper garages et all) and am finding out now how much i have been missing the manual labor all along! Thank you for inspiring me to get back to the sewing table!....

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  21. Thank you Liesl. While I do own two sergers, I am frankly terrified of both of them. I prefer the kinder, gentler seam finishes and yes, it does take me longer. But they are prettier and softer to the skin.

    I love hearing about your design school experiences. While I was given a scholarship to FIDM back in the 80s, I chose to go to Bible college and major in music. It was there that I met my musician husband. Sometimes I wonder where I would be if I had gone to design school instead. But I am happy sewing for my family and clients now.

    But someday.....when I grow up....I may go to design school....

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  22. Oh yes i read the whole thing and just loved the description of your italian dressmaker ;o)
    Ps: nice to know some talented people don't own a serger. I don't and don't intend to (don't have the space or the money!) and i'm peased that designing your pattern you have in mind the sewers like me...
    And like Annable, now i wan't to goto design school.

    Bonne journée!
    Amélie

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  23. very insightful!

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