Tilly at Tilly and the Buttons recently posted a sample of ten sewing techniques gleaned from a discussion on her blog. It’s an interesting and sensible read. I thought this was especially wise advice for a new sewist:
“Listen to other people’s sewing experiences, but don’t listen to their opinions. And by that I mean, learn from others as much as you can, but once they start saying things like ‘slide-fasteners are a pain in the back’, ‘trousers and bras are the most difficult to sew’ or ‘knit fabrics are for professionals’, it’s time to let it go in one ear and out the other. For one thing, it’s bound not to be true, and for another thing it’s up to you, not other people, to decide your limitations.” (Emma)
An Anonymous commentator took the time to respond to each tip in turn, and responded to the above:
“Not very helpful, in my view. Some garments are objectively harder to sew than others. Skirts are easier to sew than a shirt or pants. Pants are easier to sew than a tailored jacket. A cotton woven is easier to sew than silk or organza or velvet. An invisible zipper is trickier than a regular zipper. Patch pockets are easier than welt pockets. It’s not a matter of opinion, it’s fact.”
Sure. True enough. I won’t nitpick, I understand what Anonymous was driving at- honesty about our craft. Sure. Good point.
And yet… I can’t help but think of all the Fear in Sewing I’ve seen. Emma’s words don’t speak to me of any kind of dishonesty, but rather to keeping Fear out of your sewing.
I could argue there’s two types of new/intermediate sewists. I’ve seen those who plunge headfirst into a new challenge, relishing every experience- even the catastrophic mistakes. Then there’s those who proceed slowly, rationally, and sometimes fearfully. They are perhaps the vast majority of beginner-intermediate sewists.
I’m firmly in the first category, sometimes to my detriment. Still, I want to understand the Fear. I watched the Fear, listened to the Fear and thought about the Fear so I could figure out how to banish it. The Fear slows down classes while I calmly reassure someone that if they would just take a breath, change their foot and stitch the seam for the love of Peter, they’d be fine. And they would be fine. No one ever died in one of my classes. Sometimes I spend more energy convincing someone to try a technique than I do actually teaching it.
I think the Fear comes from the thought of trying something new and not being perfect immediately- a fear of failure. To compensate, the fearful sewist might try to understand sewing with her (his) brain only, without engaging her (his) hands. I get that. Actually trying to make something work is a lot scarier than thinking about it.
You can intellectualize sewing up to a certain point but it’s also necessary to build “fingertip knowledge.” The fingers must learn the tactile joy of handling fabric and tools as much as the brain must learn to comprehend the sewing.
The fearful sewist is perhaps related to the conscientious perfectionist. I mentioned this in “Perfection Is a Bitch Goddess.” I’m not advocating slipshod technique, but I can say that perfectionism is a way to compensate for being “in over your head” on a project.
Where’s my point? My point is that Fear in Sewing causes stress and wastes time. Many, many beginner/intermediate sewists get the bejesus scared out of them by tales of techniques gone wrong, fabric disasters and sentences like “I HATE invisible zippers, they’re just awful to put in and never look right!” This is where Emma’s words come in- “…it’s up to you, not other people, to decide your limitations.”
Tips to Banish The Fear:
- The next time you hear someone griping about sewing, think of it as a reflection of their own sewing experiences without letting it color yours.
- There’s always, always more than one way to skin a cat; anyone who tells you differently is sorely limited. Some cat-skinning methods may be more useful than others, but they’re all ways to end up with a cat carcass and pelt. I try to learn several ways to approach the same problem. It vastly improves my sewing confidence. Often a particular technique may work better in some situations than others.
- Make samples with new-to-you fabrics or techniques before beginning a project. I do it to build “fingertip knowledge.”
And finally, if you aren’t sure what to do next on a project and all your research has failed you, take a deep breath and just try something. Alternatively, allow yourself to place the project on the back burner for a little while. Try to avoid complete paralysis. A project can almost always be salvaged as long as you don’t light it on fire.
Have you met the Fear? How do you banish it? As a sewist, how do you handle failure? Have you ever lit a project on fire?