how soon is now?

It seems to be Moz Monday here at Seam Ripped (it’s Friday, I wrote this three months ago.  Shut up.  Also, I usually answer all comments before putting up a new post, but am literally posting this so that I can get off my duff and reply to rest of y’all.  So sorry!  I’ve been swamped, which is no excuse).  Let us thank The Smiths for today’s title, and bow our heads for a moment in respect for Moz.

Reader, have you ever read Art and Fear?  In it, there is a quick story about a pottery class where the instructor divided the room in half.  One half was instructed to make the best objects they could, and strive for perfection; the other was told to just make as many vases as they could churn out for the term.  At the end of the term, it turned out that the mass-producing group actually churned out the more technically advanced work.  Who cares?  We’re getting there.

Sometimes I read other people’s blog posts about giving up perfection, and I can’t help but think, “How cute for you, finding convenient excuses for your indolence and allowing yourself to settle.  That’s so. . .nice.”  Yes, the first step is admitting you have a problem.  (Do let me know if you’ve figured out what the second step is, while I rip out my French seam for the seventieth time.)  I like being a perfectionist, but am firmly planted in Camp Free to Be You and Me, and accept that other people don’t have my rabid enthusiasm for getting things just right.

I do wonder if my perfectionism will serve me for the long haul.  This is why I am self-conscious about being self-taught (remind me to tell you about my sewing class disaster): I have no barometer for progress.  I look at people like Julie from Jet Set Sewing, Bunny of La Sewista, and Lori from Sewing Myself Stylish—people who have been sewing for longer than I have, and whose work shows it—and I can’t help but wonder what the steps are between rank beginner and able-plus home sewer.

We’ve talked about the dearth of intermediate sewing books before, but what about the difficulty with defining what an intermediate sewer/sewist/good grief these distinctions are the absolute worst/sempstress actually is ?  Maybe that’s part of the reason why sewing books published today jump from the very rudiments to couture techniques. Before, because large swaths of the sewing population could have been presumed to have similar practical educations and backgrounds, the market research did itself.  Now, the landscape hosts people of all different ages, genders, skill sets, professions who look for sewing books.  Is this why I want to go straight from six-dart, gathered-skirt dresses to the much-vaunted couture jacket?  Am I unacquainted with that which lies in the middle, and am therefore skipping steps simply because I don’t know that they exist?  Then I remember when Meg from Mood wrote on the Sewciety blog about being a younger sewer, banging off a cute dress before a party, and contrasted that with her present precision sewing.

(Complete aside, but isn’t it funny to hear people complain about the decline of the quality of fit of ready-to-wear?  It was much easier to fit a woman if everyone was wearing a similar sort of girdle, with their eyes set on a similar sort of figure, yes?  Now, we try to conform into the same sort of proportional ideal use the dark arts of dis/emphasis, which requires an entirely different set of expectations and tools.  So, it seems natural that there were more intermediate sewing books back when there was more standardized, widespread sewing instruction.)

In any event, I keep patiently waiting to be ready.  Ready for hand-sewing, ready for Alabama Chainin’, ready for a couture jacket, ready to make a coat, ready ready ready ready ready.  I read Amy Poehler’s book (and have mixed feelings about it, but still patiently await her dumping Rashida Jones and accepting another former-Hindu current-badass best friend in me.  I’ve made us a binder!  And bracelets!  Call me?  Also, can we talk about your boyfriend’s dad, just for a second?  I am afraid of him, yet want to be him at the same time (Jules Kroll, for those wondering)), and she made an excellent point.  You never feel ready for the big important things.  Most don’t wake up one day and say, “Hey, guess what em-effers, I’m ready to be a show-runner.  Let’s do this.”  Doubt is normal, doubt is human, doubt needs to get its ass kicked.  Well, not quite.

Have you ever read the book The Gift of Fear (I was not lying when I told you I own a mountain of self-help books about fear)?  Well, in it, there are several hundred-thousand gruesome stories about how you should listen to your gut, your fears.  Hell, you’ve got fear for a reason, and that reason is to avoid being raped, murdered, and left in a ditch as supper for wild animals.  (Too graphic?)  This all happens when you sew something out of your depth, doesn’t it?  Is that not the way this works?

Anyway, after I swim my way out of the land of elastic (we’ll talk about that next week), I think I might do something outrageous.  Good. Fabric.  I’m going to cut into it y’all.  Then I’m going to tell you about it, perhaps with photographs.  Of it on my body.  What now?  Then we’ll go into a long dissection of what it means to have good fabric, a good body, and a good photograph, and you’ll all band together with your torches and pitchforks, make your way up the hill, and burn my house to the ground.  I’m apparently in a dark place today.

*****26 February update: I would leave it there, but I’ve got a quick announcement.  I’m going to be in Paris late next week, Chamonix the week after that, and London for one day after Chamonix week.  I was/am on the fence about posting this (you could say that I have a shyness that is criminally vulgar), as I feel weird about it/go for subtlety and fail miserably, but if any of you live around those places and would like to grab coffee, I’m not only up for it, but I’d be very much obliged.  You needn’t have a blog or anything, you could just want to hang out.  Maybe we could even go buy some fabric?  My email address is, and I actually check it regularly now.  Though, I have yet to respond to Joost, which I believe makes me the worst person on earth.

*****Second update, because why the hell not/when am I going to post again?  Montréal and Mont Tremblant for Easter weekend.  Why this much travel?  Starting work = ten vacation days a year.  International relations-y school = French proficiency exam during the second week of April.

11 thoughts on “how soon is now?”

  1. I’m not that surprised to hear that quantity would produce better results over time. I feel like that’s how my sewing hobby has progressed. I didn’t strive for perfection at the beginning, but over time, after making more and more garments and doing similar tasks over and over (right sides together then sew, installing an invisible zip, even just doing the hemline, which I just hate for some reason), I’ve noticed the details looks better and better.

    Although that’s not to say that some people who make a ton don’t still have crappy finishes, which really irks me, especially if they’re selling stuff.

    I’ll have to check out the Gift of Fear. Sounds like a book I’d enjoy. I’m currently reading The Charisma Myth, which gives you mental strategies for overcoming certain fears or nervousness so that eventually you project confidence and charisma. The book is also helping me overcome my discomfort of networking and be more outgoing in work and social gatherings.

    Have fun in Europe! Enjoy your travels before starting work. I remember when I first started working people asked me if I took a trip beforehand and I didn’t understand why I would do that. Now I know. Vacation days are so sacred!

    1. Oooh, I’m adding The Charisma Myth to my list. I read a book called “Overachievement: The New Model of Exceptional Performance” before my consulting interview rounds, and it was quite helpful. This is going to sound stupid but, I’ve found skiing books from the 1970s pretty helpful when it comes to confidence and charisma. Well, when it comes to being centered and understanding how to rejigger your notions of success.

      NETWORKING! I did so much of it at the start of the year, got a job, and wanted to ceremoniously burn all of the business cards when I was done. Then, two weeks later, I found myself itching for the social interaction, in that very specific setting. Networking is really like insular charity, in a certain way. You can quote me there. The most smarmy, Wall Street thing I’ve ever said. Point being: You’ll love it as soon as you love it.

      Anyhoodle, I’ve always strived for perfection, which is why I have some seams that have been unpicked into oblivion. Now I’m going for volume. The thing is, after working for Mood and having a generous fabric-loving mom and living in New York for so long, I loooooove all of my fabric. I don’t own duds. I had a fabric sale on Etsy and sold most of those off. Now, I just have stuff I love. Which is great, but I need to kill my darlings in order to get better.

      Oh, hemline haters for life!

  2. I have very happy memories of smacking out a “Jackie as first lady” dress for a Halloween party, in under an hour. The audience was college and drunk and the bar was low and I met it.

    I also have very happy thoughts about detailing the bejeebus out of a dress in the past year, and how I could go back in and rework that zipper. And I might.

    Difference: 35 years and a different set of sewing and clothing needs. In addition, I enjoy undoing my mistakes (because for once I can). I think it was all that frogging in knitting that made me appreciate how straightforward sewing is (and how much less firgging COUNTING there is).

    I do find that the sewing skill applied to some of the crappiest RTW I have exceeds any I may ever hope to have. Some of the best work on some of the worst fabric; jeez, look at the inside of that workout wear. Sweatshop lady (and it’s probably a lady): I salute you.

    1. KNITTING. I was in a doctor’s waiting room on Tuesday, and a mom was knitting a full on blanket. She was telling me how relaxing it was, and how much calm it gave her, and all I could think was “COUNTING!”

      I look so forward to being at your stage of the game, admittedly. I’m going back into my drafts and trying to polish things up for publication, and I need to suck up your detailing mojo. Most of the dresses I love have one of six silhouettes, but distinguish themselves with details. Embroidery, fabric manipulation, some crazy embellishment or contrast. We need to see some of what you’re doing. Is it just me, or is there not a whole lot of well-received detailing in the sewing blog community? I think of Mel at Poppy Kettle’s wedding dress as the crème de la crème, but a lot of people get a ton of snark when they go out on a limb and embroider or something. Or, the wow factor doesn’t translate to the blog. I remember spending something like twenty hours quilting my silk plaid shirtwaist dress for class, then having the teacher a) accuse my burn-tested silk of being polyester or “silk swept off of the factory floor” and b) assigned it, but actually did not notice it.

      Please remind me to, at the end of this semester, tell some ladies in sweatshops story. I’m studying them in two or three classes this semester (including for my thesis, which is about trade, female labor-force participation, and gender inequality), and, well, it’s interesting stuff, actually.

  3. Not being a perfectionist, I like to get things done as fast as possible. But I think you’re level of perfectionism always has to be linked to the voice strength of your inner critic. Mine is shouting, literally shouting all the time. At people but mostly at me. So no matter how lazy I am, I try to take the time to do things well.

    Regarding the shift from beginner to advance in sewing, I’m starting to think more and more that it’s only the hours of practice. There is probably no book, just sewing, again and again and again. My sewing only started really improving when I took evening classes at FIT. And not for I learnt there, but from all the homework. Entire weekends dedicated to sewing, one oather the other.

    It doesn’t mean that not intermediate sewing books could be written. But let’s imagine that someone was offering ME a book deal (lol). First I would commission YOU to write it, probably Ada Spragg to be in charge of photography, SunnyGal to do the actual sewing, FourSquareWall to do the instructions, Fashion-Incubator for the patterns, and Final Fashion for the illustrations. But let’s talk about the content, what would we put there that is not available already to make one’s sewing better? IMO it would probably be something like take your time and get an industrial machine.
    Now I almost choked when I read a few months ago a blogger stating that publishers were approaching her but she only wanted to write a more advanced book. When she is the perfect example of “look I did something for the first time and now I will teach you”. Damn, I was UPSET.

    Quality of RTW, you know it’s my weak point! I said it before, the day I sew a blazer like a Zara sweatshop lady, I’ll celebrate and write a billet about how advanced my sewing is and how I will teach you all to be like me. On the not-snarky side, I’m sure you know the reference in the Duflo book (Poor Economics) that women working in maquilas feed their children better. This is a topic very close to my heart so anything you want to share about that will be greatly welcome!!

    BTW, I thing my book idea is great. Too bad I’m not a book editor, because that’s how I’ll bridge the traditional craft book world and the online sewing community.

    1. I have so much to say about the women in factories thing, that I’m going to have to save it for when we conquer New York. In short: Jobs are good. Poor women need them. They also need good safety conditions. There are tons of models that work out well for them. The thing about Everlane and radical transparency that I don’t think a lot of people realize is that those factories existed before Everlane deigned to sweep in there. Meaning, other companies used them, too, but just didn’t brand themselves in the same way. If you pay Everyone’s estimated $1000 or whatever for the handbag, you’ll likely get the same or a similar factory whose workers get to do things like go home and feed their families, all at the same time. Grrr. This is such a hot-button issue for me, and I get so annoyed when I listen to most other people talk about it.

      I feel like I’ve told you my ideal book, haven’t I? An annual re-release of a Fairchild book written by a new person every year. Said person would use easier language, and supplement with videos. Jen from Grainline Studio and Tasia from Sewaholic would be my top picks there. I can’t think of many other professional drafters turned bloggers. Republique du Chiffon, maybe? But, I am flattered that I’d make it into the Tidbits book. Now to get it published. (I’m pretty sure Abrams and Melanie Falick, or perhaps even Taunton, would do something like that, if they got a proper proposal and the whole nine yards.) Or pair up people like Kenneth King with a blogger, Nancy Zieman with another, Patty Palmer, and so on.

      I know who you’re talking about, and that also annoyed the shit out of me. Look, I can explain things just jim dandy, because I’ve read all of Susan Khalje, Claire Shaffer’s, and a lot of Fairchild’s offerings, but I sure as hell can’t do them myself.

      The fact that I am a perfectionist is why a lot of my work remains unfinished. If I can’t get the hem to line up just right, the dress gets put in the closet for when I magically gather up the patience. Sometimes it happens sooner than other. But you’re right about it being about mileage, as is everything.

  4. Montreal! So close and yet so far. Let me know if you ever come Toronto-way.

    I have read Art & Fear! But not the Gift of Fear, though friends of mine have raved about it. And I have a funny perfectionism anecdote for you:

    So one of my daughter’s many doctors and health professionals is a counselor we see on a regular basis, and the last appointment she asked my daughter if she considers herself a perfectionist (in unison, child + two parents, “Yes”). Where did you get that from? she asked. Well, said Frances, taking out the duffel bag I just made her which she thinks is amazing and on which all I can see is wonky top-stitching, my Mom sometimes gets really frustrated when she’s sewing, like on this bag. You made that? asked the counselor. I nodded. What’s wrong with it? she asked. Well, I said, the topstitching is all wonky, like on the handles here. The counselor’s eyes go very wide, and she asks me, Can I give you a book recommendation? It’s called When Perfect Isn’t Good Enough.

    I laughed–loudly–but a part of me was thinking, well ok, but that’s only because you don’t sew or else you’d see the wonky topstitching too!

    I’m going to assume that, you being you, you’ve probably also read a few writing self-help books and writing manuals. Yes? So, there’s a lot of parallels. In between rank beginner and proficient sewer/writer, there are a lot of shitty first drafts. Particularly with hand-sewing, a lot of it is muscle memory, so there’s really no substitute for sitting down with a piece of muslin, a needle and some thread and just making a lot of terribly amateur and uneven hand-stitches (and my standard recommendation is to start with an evenweave fabric and some embroidery floss and do your practice stitches that way, so at least when you’re done you have a sampler or something you can turn into a cushion or stick on the wall).

    1. Don’t get me started about topstitching. Seriously, do not. I just started sewing with knits, and the topstitching is driving me up. the. wall. Obviously, Frances’s therapist does not sew. My therapist doesn’t sew either, so when I talk about crap like this, he just kind of glazes over, or says something that is basically, aren’t you kind freaking out over nothing? No! My output matters, damn it. I’m full-on afraid of sewing button holes because of a Kelly skirt incident.

      I have something to admit. I used to be involved with a person from Vancouver and Montréal, and he bad-spoke Toronto so badly, that I’m a little afraid of coming. I know! Bad, bad me. Must shake the TO stereotypes fed into me by my mum and ex-boyfriend.

      I think I’m too obsessive for handwork, quite frankly. When I tried to learn how to knit, I was so tense, and ripped out my stitches so many times (see: therapy) that it bordered dangerously on tragic.

      Oh! I have to mention. I bought three-pound weights. Eat that, Frances. Yes, I am competing with an eleven (?) year old. No, I don’t care.

      1. lol Hmm. Well, I actually live in Hamilton, which is not Toronto so maybe you won’t have any negatives stereotypes about it yet, but on the other hand, is the place Toronto looks down on. So. If you ever manage to overcome that inner voice, let me know. 😉

        Congrats on the 3 lb handweights. But … Frances is now also using 3 lbs handweights. So you’ll have to graduate to at least 5 to compete successfully w/ the 11 year old. 😉

  5. Very late in the game here, but here is my little story.
    My sewing life changed a while ago because I won the French Sewing Bee. But, before I got in, I honestly didn’t know I was good enough! I spend years cutting and sewing and ripping and fitting and agonizing over fine sewing points and only ever saw the bad stuff.
    There is a point in your journey where you’ll learn 2 things : to sew very well because of practice and when to let go. The later being the most important. There are times when you have to ask yourself, if I rip it, will I make it worst? Can I live with it? Most of the time, you will.
    You should be proud of your mistakes, because you have made something. It is infinitely better than not making any mistakes because you haven’t made anything. Own them!
    ps Nobody has ever come to tell me to my face that my top stitching is wonky and a seamstress will certainly never do that because we have all been there and then moved on. If you keep on sewing, you will get there.

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