Email Box: Needle Longevity and “Visual Weight”

Hey Everyone- Thanks for your support and lovely words about Enid’s birth story earlier this week.  Mother and baby are doing well, though little G is still under observation.  She’s fine, just a little early so they want to keep an eye on her!

I’m still knee deep in some pretty big projects at the moment, which is keeping me busy from the time I get up til bedtime every day.  As much I enjoy blogging, it takes up a considerable amount of time and I’m being very productive during this short “offline” time.  I have such lovely things in cooking up for us!

I’ll be able to show you what’s been going on very soon, but in the meantime I want to share a few emails I’ve received lately, for questions relating to sewing (send me more, please, I do like these kinds of emails! stephc at 3hourspast dot com).  I haven’t published email questions before, but it often happens I respond to an email and think “I really should blog about that.”

click for source- very interesting and in depth about sewing machine mechanics and maintenence

click for source- very interesting and in depth about sewing machine mechanics and maintenence

This first question comes from Sharon (who is happy for me to share):

Hello,

I’ve been sewing for many years, am a devoted follower of 3 Hours Past, especially for your no-nonsense approach to body shape as each woman’s unique reality to be embraced, not something to be measured on a good/bad scale against some narrow cultural ideal.  I recently heard a fashion advisor on TV saying that only women with a “really great figure” [his words] should attempt to wear capris because they add weight visually to the majority of women (who evidently do NOT qualify as having really great figures).  I gasped and then scolded the TV, “If only StephC could hear you say that; she’d give you an EARFUL.”

Indignation aside, what about this advice I sometimes see in sewing publications to “use a new needle for each sewing project”?  I would go broke if I did that.   Do you use a new one on each project?  If not, what factors affect when you decide it’s time for a new one?  Do you have some ingenious method for keeping track of how many sewing miles, so to speak,  each needle has completed? I’m assuming this is more of an issue with sharps for wovens than with ball points for knits? I’d love to see a post on this some time at 3 Hours Past. Inquiring minds WANT to know ;-)

Oooh Body Image and Needle Longevity in one email!

Hi Sharon-

Haha!  I love your email, thanks for writing!  And you’re correct, I would most definitely not stand for such a silly statement.  Hysterical style advice about “this style visually adds weight” etc etc makes me roll my eyes so hard.  As if a bit of extra weight is the worst thing in the world?  What about being vain, or vapid, or cruel or petty or willfully ignorant?  I’d rather see little media clips about how to safeguard against that, but I suppose that’s not the world we live in.  Besides, the styles that are “supposed” to add weight or to slim people down change regularly.  Sometimes they swap categories.  :)

On needles-  it’s a good question.  I’ve had intensive machine training from all of the major brands except Singer and they agree that for optimal stitch performance, it is necessary to change a needle every  6-8 hours of sewing.  I have also found this to be true in my own sewing.  For example- if I have been sewing a woven shirt and I’m preparing to do the final pass of top-stitching/buttonholing, I will change my needle because a fresh needle produces better stitch quality for those vital, stitch-intensive areas.

That said, I have a jersey needle in my machine right now that has sewn 5 knit tops lately, maybe 10-12 hours of sewing.  That’s pushing it, but the work isn’t fine work.  It’s knit construction.  I’ll probably change the needle once I finish the last top I have cut out for this week…

click for source- schmetz

click for source- schmetz

Then at the far end of the spectrum, I’ve seen people with machines who haven’t changed their needle in years.  That’s a little like riding around in your car with a flat tire.  The funny thing is that those types are often very proud of the fact they haven’t changed a needle in years!  But just try sewing with the machine and hear a “pop” every time the needle strikes the fabric, and if you know what the mechanisms should sound like, you’ll hear how the machine is struggling to work…  That’s not good for the machine, or the fabric, or the stitch quality.  Sometimes needles develop burrs or “fish hooks” on the ends, too, just from regular use. (edit: Polyester is especially tough on needles.)

Sooooo… That’s a long answer to say there’s not really one right answer except to change the needle regularly for optimal performance, and yes, from my own observations I have to say I believe it does matter.  :)
Thanks so much for writing, you made my day.

Best

StephC

click for source article on Threads

click for source article on Threads

What do you think?  Honestly – I’m curious to know which is worse: being a little fat (or perceived as fat), or being vain?  What is vanity, anyway?  What styles have you heard add visual weight? (I’d LOVE to make a list… There’s no right or wrong answer here…) How often do you tend to change your machine needles?  Let’s have a discussion!


76 comments

  1. I have to admit that I don’t follow style advice. I wear what makes me feel good. Including skirts above my knees and I am over 55 years old. (hey, I have great legs)

    But, I do try to follow the advice for changing my machine’s sewing needle. Maybe not as often as I should. I can be quite frugal so I stock up on needles when notions are on sale. Over the years I have found that when I begin experiencing any struggles with my sewing projects all I really need to do is change the needle. Most times that is the fix that was needed.

    • My philosophy is and has been for years that it’s none of my business what someone else chooses to wear… Good fabric, good sewing and no visible underwear are my main criteria… :)

      Yes! So many machine struggles can be traced to the state of the needle…

  2. I buy my needles (Organ for Janome machines) in packs of 10 for around $5. So changing a .50 cent needle after 8 hours of sewing makes sense. Here’s the question though…how long is your needle actually working? Unless you are strip piecing or quilting or hemming drapes your actually needle-in-the-fabric time is short. A few passes on the side seams and hem and buttonholes doesn’t take very long. Doing machine embroidery gives you a good idea of how long an solid hour of sewing really is…who constructs garments without stopping with that sort of speed? Factories but not home sewers can really go through needles in a hurry and like you said, if you hear a popping sound or the stitches don’t look right it is time to grab a new needle. Topstitch needles last a long time as they are used for finishing edges and not construction. Women who forget to change needles or clean out their bobbin cases run the risk of skipped stitches, broken threads and less than wonderful seams…isn’t it worth .50 cents to treat yourself (and your machine) to a new needle more often than waiting until one breaks in the machine halfway through a project?

    • *My* personal needles? Hmmm… Well… I don’t like to run on about it, but I sew a very high volume of fabric… Maybe 40% of what I make ends up on the blog, if that… So… You can perhaps imagine. I know I do a higher volume than most home sewists, and I am very fast. My machine and needles get quite a workout…

      I have to say, the reason I change needles before doing the “finish” stitching on a garment is not imaginary. (not that I’m saying you said that, but just to be clear…) I have tried with changing and without and compared the effect of the stitching, years ago when I was skeptical of needle wear and tear. I think I wanted to believe the needle companies were in cahoots to get us to buy more needles… Proper shirt construction takes a fair amount of time and stitching- flat fell seams, collars, cuffs, plackets, etc.

  3. Changing needles every 6 hours or so of sewing sounds like sound advice but I find it hard to keep track when I’m changing to different needles for different projects. I get rid of needles every so often, so hopefully that’s ok. I suppose if you’re using a blunt needle you just get used to it, but I like your flat tire analogy :)

  4. I think the adding of visual weight is pretty much down to individual body-type. For instance, at 5ft3, pear-ish, size 12 – 14 and short-waisted, I’m not touching a peplum top with a bargepole. But for taller, slimmer types it can probably be rather flattering. Perhaps the one thing I think may be universal is if you cut a dress or skirt hem off at the widest point of the calf it can create the illusion that the leg simply keeps getting wider from there on up, and therefore is not the best look on most people!
    As for changing needles, I guess I just ‘feel’ it now… probably a fresh one for each new major project and certainly a fresh one if I can hear that it’s having to push too hard to get through the fabric. I was advised once that Liberty Tana Lawn is particularly hard on needles and I found that to be the case – I guess it’s the very tight weave.
    And vanity? Hmm… I think it’s rather different to pride, which can be entirely justified and even necessary, and is tied up in respect for others, whereas vanity is just being self-absorbed.

  5. I too can buy my needles in bulk so I do tend to change them often. I have been sewing for so long that I actually can hear the needle piercing the fabric and it is definitely different when the needle is worn and needing to be changed.

      • Re: bulk needles (speaking as a fellow Brisbanite), the best pricing I have found was from Zipperstop on Amazon (not their ebay store or their normal internet store – go figure) but I managed to get a bulk pack of 100 Organ needles for less than $15 including shipping – might be worth a look?
        I am MUCH more disciplined about changing my needle now that I don’t have the horrible spectre of having to go to Spotlight for more needles hanging over me :)

  6. I wish that the wonderful breastfeeding weight loss that I experienced more than a year ago had taken. Meaning, those pesky five kilos I lost when baby was 4 months were still off at 24 months. Someone close to my husband (starts with mother…) told my mother I was “unrecognisable” at that stage. Five kilos?! She is skinny and it would KILL her to give a compliment and she ALWAYS wears (pastel or khaki) capris— and I will stop there.

    I have enjoyed many many many kilos of ice cream this past two years. And, this post being the exception, I don’t need to be mean to feel ok. Bitterness gives you wrinkles.

    Happiness and confidence and joie de vivre are slimming.

    • Agreed about bitterness/wrinkles… There’s a saying about how in youth we have the face we were born with, and as we age we get the face we deserve… Though there are many older women in my acquaintance with beautiful wrinkles, the kind I hope to have. Pretty crinkles around the eyes from smiling, I love those…

      I have no concept of weight…. I just know measurements. I’m really comfortable with that. I do try to eat healthily though, and look after my body so I can be strong and active, everyone is different.

  7. I am really starting to embrace my figure more. I, by no means, have a “great body” by society’s standards, but who cares! I used to because people told me I was supposed to, so I hid my body behind ugly unflattering clothes that fashion experts suggested I wear. Uhm, does that sound like a good idea?? As my body confidence increases my wardrobe choices become a little more daring. Blue shoes, a striped Tiramisu, a floral print dress in aqua, lime and lavender, etc., and in these clothes I feel good and I think I look good. Maybe I’m right, maybe I’m wrong, but I have been getting tons of compliments in the past few months about how I look, which I never got before. But, you know what I think? I don’t think people are complimenting me on my new found fashion sense (if you can call it that) or how I look in these new clothes (wardrobe by Cake Patterns, thank you Steph!!). I think they are seeing my new found confidence and self love. This is what they are admiring.

    • You know… When I see a larger woman in public wearing baggy clothes and staring at the ground it makes me mad. Not at her, but MAD. Who decided this was an appropriate way to conduct things? Lazy people designers who don’t know how to make clothes for curves? Pffft.

      The other thing is- if someone is fat, baggy clothes aren’t “hiding” the “problem” but accentuating it. I think larger women look MUCH better in nicely proportioned and fitted clothes than in tents. I know a lot of it speaks about someone’s level of confidence but like you say- it’s more about how you carry and perceive yourself than how others do. That is so true.

      I am much, much more confident in my body now than I was ten years ago when I was fifteen pounds lighter and my breasts were higher. MUCH more confident. Like… I doubt it would faze me to walk down the street naked if it were called for. ;)

    • Is that some sort of Australian terminology for a kind of clothing? What’s a “tiramisu” besides an Italian dessert? (And good job on the self-love journey – it’s hard for others to love a person enough if that person doesn’t love herself …)

    • HAHAHAHA! Love it. Jane & Michael Stern’s book “Square Meals” quotes an old cookbook, something like “Happiness is even more youth-inducing than slimness, so have another cookie.”

      • HAHAHHAHHAHAAAA love that. I would say that’s my philosophy too… Next time I’m hanging around the local beaches I might try a “sartorialist” type photo project and see if I can document some of the imperfect but confident bodies I see. The whole point of the beach is to enjoy quality time in nature and have fun, it’s sad it gets turned into yet another outdated evolutionary test for one-up-(wo)man-ship. Puhlease.

  8. Not to prop up the elitist viewpoint of the original claimant that “capris make you look fat”, but it is true that the horizontal line across the calf draws the eye horizontally, and can 1) make your leg look shorter because it effectively creates “color blocking” and 2) make it look wider. Why that’s a problem I couldn’t say–it has that effect on everyone, whether you weigh 83 pounds or 283. So I guess what’s at issue is what you want from your pants. If you wish to maintain the illusion of wispy fairy legs when you actually have field-hockey ankles, maybe capris are worth avoiding, to preserve the “leg mystique.” If, however, you are inclined to thrust that ankle into people’s faces and say “deal with it” because you like it (or live in a hot climate, or just have perpetually overheated legs) then rock those capris, because they say “hey look at my ankles!” and are marvelously air-conditioned.

    I wish they’d reframe these fashion tips in terms of “draws attention to” rather than “makes you look,” because the shape and line of clothing is an incredibly powerful tool when it comes to controlling the eye of the viewer and showing off the bits you like about yourself (whatever those may be :)), but it is hard to take away the strategy when the “tip” is so alienating…

    • Hehe. Thank you for explaining the rationale. :) I get that. And leg mystique, I get that too…

      My buddy Enid thinks my fondness for 7/8 length pants is revolting, and I think she’s welcome to her opinion though it doesn’t change my fondness for that length… Heheh. We get along despite our differences. And that’s just it… Something like capri length is so entirely subjective and impossible to quantify, I find it very funny when hysterical style segments on TV shows make proclamations like that…

      Yes, I agree about shape and line and drawing attention. There’s any number of subtleties of seam shape and cut that can make the difference between a wardrobe staple that gets worn to rags and a garment that goes unloved…

  9. You’re right – it’s totally the people who don’t change their needles (or service their machines) who are most proud about that! It boggles my mind; that stuff is NOT good for your machine. And the argument I hear most is something along the lines of “well I don’t have a nice machine to begin with…”, well, I have a kind of crappy car, which means I am EXTRA vigilant about getting regular oil changes and checking tire pressure and all that jazz. Lower-end anything is going to need more babying, so those folks should be extra careful with upkeep. Ok, I will stop preaching now :)

    • You are right about EVERYTHING.

      I remember having that kind of misplaced pride, and it was from ignorance and inexperience. That’s all. So usually when I encounter that type of person I remember the kind of sewist I was in my teens and it helps me convey exactly what you said…. Crappy machines need more babying to perform well, regular maintenance is important, etc. No one with experience and understanding of the sewing and the machine will have an attitude like that, so I see it as an easy opportunity to help someone drastically improve their sewing…

  10. I was never taught to change my needle growing up, but now I am very cognizant of it. Since I mostly do quilting, I buy titanium needles, which really do last quite a bit longer (and the cost evens out over time they can be used). I would say that I change to a new needle every time I start doing the actual quilting on a quilt, put a new needle on for any sartorial project (although I may continue using it to piece with after), and if I just spend the month piecing, I’ll make sure to change the needle out at least once a month. After I started sewing a lot again, about 3 years ago, I really started noticing the effects of a dull needle—it’s such a happier experience when tension and stitches are all correct, and a good needle is a great start toward ensuring that.

    • Oh… adding to the body image discussion: I do try to pay attention to what styles get me compliments, because I’m trying to simplify my wardrobe and have a small number of great quality, well-fitting items. But if something makes *me* feel awesome, even if no one else things so, well, I’m going to wear it anyway!

      • Very sensible on all counts. :) The titanium needles are great, I can’t always source them and I’m just as happy to replace needles as they get worn out…

        Yeah… I remember when I started wearing my pants and skirts at my actual waist years ago and my husband called me “Grandpa” for aaaaages.. I *told* him everyone else would be doing it in a few years. And he’s decided that higher waists are sexy, too…:) All of that stuff is so tied up in perception…

  11. I totally agree with changing your needle often. It really does make a difference. On the capris, I am a firm believer to wear what you want to wear! Life is too short!

  12. i change needles before every big project. so if it was a dress or something i would change it. if a tshirt or similar, i’d do a few before changing it. needles are not expensive compared to fabric!

    re wearing what is supposed to suit you, i know what styles i like and feel good in, and i guess often these are the styles i also look good in! i have my own set of “rules” about the clothes i wear – always waisted (or at least balanced – slim top with wide bottoms or loose top with skinnies), but if i loved something i might well wear it anyway (like the 60s shift i am going to start on at the weekend!). but i don’t know if that tallies with what other people think i should wear. if something fits you correctly (and i’ve spent a lot of time recently trying to improve my fitting – thanks to the lovely ladies on twitter) it looks and feels better than RTW.

    • No, needles are not expensive in the big scheme of things. Not even here in Oz where EVERYTHING costs an arm and a leg…

      Yeah, I have no idea if I wear what I’m “supposed” to wear but… I don’t really care, either. I think your basic rules sound pretty sensible, and easily adaptable by a variety of figure types…

      I used to tell my pattern alteration students that regardless of the body shape they have, a well fitted and proportioned garment sewn neatly would always make them look either 1) Rich (because they could afford nicely fitting clothes) or 2) Smart- because they can fit their own clothes. Good fit is actually a really subtle but powerful visual message that people pick up on whether they’re aware of it or not…

      • Ooh! I’m teaching a Sewing 101 class and part of it is on measuring oneself and pattern sizing. Therefore we get into a bit of a body image discussion. I might steal your two tips because it concisely explains some of the reasons why we should sew for ourselves! Thanks for sharing your knowledge and strength with us!

  13. I think I do change my needle about every 6-8 hours of sewing, but since we’re just talking machine-sewing-time, that does NOT usually equate to only one project, for the simple projects I’m usually undertaking. I typically just look for the signs and change it when I need to — and I agree completely, a fresh needle makes a big difference when topstitching or such. Regarding the other body image bit, I think you already know we’re on the same page on that one… ;-)

  14. Oh my! First the easy answer. I don’t change my needles nearly often enough. I do if I am working on a delicate project or starting something special. I know I’ve heard the sound of the needle punching through fabric before but it was when I was sewing through heavy fabrics… with my dull needles. My poor machine… I didn’t know.

    I think vanity is an attitude YOU have while “fatness” in this sense, is an opinion others have ABOUT you. It really funny because I read your post then went up stairs and my Mom was playing this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpaOjMXyJGk
    Vanity or overweening pride in your appearance never makes a woman beautiful. Neither does a negative mindset. Truly beautiful women have a positive mindset, an attitude that flows from the heart that draws people to them regardless of their physical appearance. An attitude so radiant that it eclipses your appearance so people are drawn to you. No, we may not ATTRACT the attention of random people as we walk down the street but who wants the attention of those who are only looking for the “Sexy” vibe. (cause that’s really what the media is talking about)
    This is one reason why sewing is great since we take time to fit our unique bodies tailoring our clothes to our wishes which results in something we are happy with which in turn gives us a positive attitude.
    We can choose our mindset, we cannot choose what others think about us.
    Ok, I’m done. Sorry for the long ramble… hope it made some sense.

    • That’s a great video, and it rings true to me. Seriously, seriously, women are way nastier about themselves and their own bodies than they would be about another woman (unless the other woman were an enemy or something…). It’s striking and sad and unnecessary.

      Ugh, sexy vibe… It’s more trouble than it’s worth. I think you’re right about vanity being unattractive… I might have to think about it and maybe write a bit about vanity…

      Good rambling!

    • I just watched that video… wow! That’s powerful… I gasped at the blond lady with the long straight hair as she looked more like herself when the other person described her. Amazing. Thanks!

  15. Fresh needles are lovely, but since I railroad several projects using the same color of thread, I don’t change for each project. I do, certainly, change them after about 8 hours of use, and always change them when they make a punching sound as they struggle to pierce the fabric. Remember that the recommended needles for different weights/densities of fabric are recommended for good reason, and don’t be disappointed when the needles meant for batiste or lawn keep breaking when you try to sew 16-pound denim with them.

    • Yes! Absolutely right. On the flip side, those huge needles will *destroy* lighter weight fabrics. Needle weight is important.

  16. I try to remember to change my needle, as others have mentioned, you can sometimes feel the tug of a dull needle. What is challenging is switching between stretch and universal needles and remembering how much I’ve used each. I try to remember to put a marker line at the shaft of the needle when I switch from one to the other to remind myself that it already has some time on it.

    • That’s a good tip. If I have to switch out, I try to keep track but don’t get too worried about it either… :) As long as the machine is working well!

  17. I change mine for every big (ie a dress) project, but would probably do two simple skirts using the same needle? I buy Organ needles by the 100 and they work out at <£0.17 each. Better than the £0.50 if I buy in packs of 5 but having said that if I need a specialist needle I'll buy them. Not worth the grief in not doing so!

  18. I reckon my body is pretty great, it moves me around the world, is healthy, has produced 4 new people, and is fit and pretty strong, who cares what some ‘stylist’ says anyway. ’nuff said!

  19. So usefu! I never made the connection between needle bluntness and the chomping sound on my machine. I love your stance and posts on body acceptance and body love. I remind myself of it often and loved wearing my polka dot pavlova skirt last weekend instead of feeling unworthy of fabric over my hips.

  20. I’m going to be frank; I am someone quite heavy. I don’t feel that it would be right for me to “embrace” my appearance and convince myself that I am physically attractive. That, for me, would feel disingenuous. The right thing, at least I think, would be to accept that I have both body-image AND actual body issues to deal with. I don’t mind articles that give advice for clothing our bodies in ways that gracefully minimize areas of extra weight. I seek them out. I don’t even mind the body-type labels, I see them as a kind of shorthand that eliminates a lot of non-pertinent info to wade through. Discussing the physical appearance of heavy women like me with kind and gentle encouragement is much more helpful than coaching us to delude ourselves. In other words, I would rather hear that it is helpful to wear skirts without gathers at the waist – than to be told I should just “embrace” my cellulite in a pair of thin knit capris. LOL

    • I agree with you. I’m not espousing delusion, but rather expressing a counterpoint to the frivolous and often contradictory advice we’re fed by “them.” ;) And yes, I do see that the shorthand has its uses. However, I think it’s too often used as a bludgeon or a way to pigeonhole women and feeds into the toxic constructs of female body snark and competition.

      If we’re being frank and kind and supportive, I’ll go further and say that fat is fat. Thin is thin. Between is between. No one is going to be fooled about our size/shape regardless of what we wear (tents or “real” clothes or whatever in between, though corsetry can make a difference, as can a good fit). We’re fooling ourselves. Our bodies are what they are and to be perfectly honest in years of dressing bodies* I came to the conclusion that these little visual tricks aren’t really worth much except between the ears of the people who are “in the know.” Maybe a few pounds here and there, but not as much as some might want us to believe. No one will mistake me for a size 0 if I carefully calibrate my capri pants length, and why is it so important to be skinny?

      The easiest way to sell us goods is to put us down and then offer “solutions.” Know what I mean?

      Regarding knit pants and cellulite- I am definitely one of those people who thinks leggings as pants should be a punishable offense, really regardless of the person’s size! It’s gross. No one wants to see that except perhaps the occasional perv and who cares what they think…. Have some respect for the public sphere, I say. :) That’s all it is- a simple understanding that we all share the same public space and having a little respect for one another. Sure, wear the leggings if you like it but for the love of Peter, wear a shirt that covers your backside at least. Amirite? :)

      (note: I may be biased against this trend because to me, leggings+ longish, loose shirt looks like something a medieval squire might wear and I’m personally not interested… Though I don’t care if someone else dresses that way, as long as they cover their backsides… To each her own.)

      The amount of skin/figure someone shows is their own choice, depending on their own confidence levels/ preferences and I can’t really dictate any of that other than saying I don’t want to see anyone’s underwear or backsides or tits when I’m out and about buying groceries or jogging or whatever. :) Does that make sense?

      (*I used to do a “fitting” gig for a retail clothing chain years before I started teaching sewing/fitting, customers would come back to me when I had shifts working the fitting room because I had a talent for dressing bodies decently… Back then, I was limited by what was available in the store but became very good at dressing bodies in the styles that worked so the wearer didn’t have gapes/major pull lines, etc. We aren’t as limited, as sewists..)

      • Oh good! I am relieved your helpful blog is going to remain forthright about what looks good and what doesn’t. You’re so right about the inability of tricks to fool others regarding one’s size, but at least those tips can sometimes lend style and grace to the form. For me, the tips and tricks aren’t so much about hiding pounds as they are about decent taste. I would love a discussion about what the heck IS good taste. Can it be taught? I loved your critique on peplums above, you treated the subject like a sculptor would survey the design before him!

        • hehe. Glad to know we understand one another. :) You put that well- lend style and grace to the form. Yes.

          That was an epic response from me…Oops! can you tell I miss blogging?

          Oooh good taste… That’s an interesting topic to be sure. I don’t have any solid answers for that one, but I will think about a good way we can discuss it.. Hmm… I think good taste can be taught, but the problem is we run into subjectivity… Hmmm…

          And thank you! I consider sculpting with fabric part of what I do, that’s precisely the way I think about it. :) Been studying peplums for months now while Hbird was in development…

  21. Hmm. I’m very interested in this. I don’t really sew for myself because I’m worried about getting the fitting correct. Therefore, the things I have sewn for me have been unmitigated disasters — loose or relaxed shapes I thought would be forgiving because they had plenty of ease. As a short-ish, curvy person, these tent-like objects would get worn with my teeth gritted one time and then shoved to the back of my closet. “I cannot sew women’s clothes,” I thought, “everything I make is so frumpy.” Today I traced a dress for my teenage daughter and basted in the seams of the pattern to see how it looked on her. It was immediately apparent that the bodice was far too long (and therefore tight across the hips and bunched at the shoulder) and needed to be taken up. Shortened, it was so cute on her. “I love this,” she said, “this is going to be so pretty!” She’s thirteen and it thrills me so much to be giving her this experience of having something made for her. There’s nothing wrong with where her waist happens to be, but I would so much rather move the waist for her than take he shopping and make her try on dress after dress until one fits her acceptably. I know why it’s practical to manufacture clothing this way, but the tendency is to start to believe — after hours of futile shopping — that you are the problem.

    • Yes… Fitting is a whole new skill set to learn, and I know it’s intimidating. Depending on the fabric and the style, it might not take much work to add a little shape to those makes so you like to wear them?

      Oh! How wonderful! That’s such a great investment in your daughter’s emotional well being! :) It’s *hard* to dress at that age, I remember it… And I think that’s a great takeaway from the experience of fitting her- there’s nothing wrong with her waist length, it’s just that the pattern needs adjusting. Exactly. :)

      In the future, I think retailers will make the clothes to fit the body rather than the other way around. Give it ten years. :D

      • I hope so much that in ten years, I’m entirely (and confidently) making my own wardrobe and I no longer really give a damn what the retail world is doing ;) I’ve been working on my daughter’s dress all day and I’m so thrilled with it. The full dress is together and the lining is together, now I just have to figure out how to put them both together with the dreaded zipper up the back. She tried on the dress when she came home from school and it’s just stunning on her. She really loves it. It’s feminine and girly with a full, swingy skirt and a contrasting sash. You’re absolutely right — I can’t believe what a difference it made to make that small adjustment. Thanks so much for all of your support and kindness, Steph.

  22. Just to clarify, what made me gasp was not so much the fashion advisor’s advice about capris as it was his almost nonchalant implication that very few women have really great figures, and that the vast majority of us have to make fashion concessions to our less-than-ideal bodies. In contrast, I think of my late mother (who passed on to me the genes that gave me a body with smaller breasts and waist and larger hips). She often pointed out to me when we’d see a classical statue or a photo of a statue that she and I had figures like those of Roman and Greek goddesses (or at least the sculptors’ conception of said goddesses.) When I’ve struggled with body image, it has always helped me to think of it that way; my shape is that of Aphrodite, thank you very much! I am so thankful for her positive messages about the body shape we shared. Am enjoying greatly the discussion thread on this topic.

    • Ha… Yes, I can see that. :) The things people say without thinking!

      Your mother sounds like a wise and sensible woman. I’ve been saying that for years! Look at the Three Graces! Look at hundreds of years of European art! Peter Paul Reubens, for one… Look at prehistoric fertility statues! I never saw a thin goddess before i met Tanit-Isis..

  23. As a girl with meat on her bones I’ve been on the receiving end of this sort of snark more times than I care to remember! I can’t pretend that it doesn’t leave it’s mark no matter how much I am able to intellectualise it…although since becoming immersed once more in sewing and the online community this is much easier.
    That said, I’ve always found, and this is just my personal experience, that it’s the insecure types with limited ability to express themselves who resort to such invective in the hope that you too are so insecure in yourself that their barb will find its mark. I have never been on the end of someone casting an insult at my intellect or my skills…only my weight. I think this says more about the insulter and our focus as a society than it does anything about me.
    Yes…I could do to lose a few pounds for health reasons…and yes, I will lose them. But until then I will continue to raise my children, and love my husband, keep my home, contribute to my community, be creative and live a full and happy life. Surely we are right to rejoice in this rather than focus on something so insignificant as “being thin”.

  24. I’ve come to a point where I know my machine well enough (and how it sounds) that I hear it when a needle really needs to be changed. But I usually take that as a reminder and don’t wait for that sound before changing my needles. I have no idea how long I’ve been sewing for with that specific needle (not easy to track – do electronic machines have a kind of stopwatch for this?) and other factors can considerably reduce the lifespan of my needles, such as when I forget to remove a pin – doesn’t happen too often thankfully :)

  25. I have become more vigilant in the last few years with needle changing. I have heard that you should change either every new project or every 8 hours of continuous sewing. I try to follow this, and have got a pin cushion for my machine needles with areas for each type of needle, and for time, 1-2 hours, 2-4 hours etc. So if I have only used for a short time, I will put it back on the cushion for use again. I also try to be careful with good quality needles and needle selection – the right type of needle for the right type of fabric. One thing I am slack with is my overlocker….. only change needles when they break. How often do people get their overlockers serviced? And the blades sharpened or changed?

    • Yes! Those pincushions are cute! I never manage to keep organized enough, I have 4-5 pinboards I cycle through my workspaces but I can see how those would work well for others. :)

      I get my overlocker serviced every year to 18 months.. Mine sees heavy use, and I live in a climate that is KILLER on mechanical parts (it is hot, humid, and dusty. yes, it’s dreadful.) so it’s important to keep all those parts clean and well oiled and etc so my machine doesn’t seize up. I change the needles every few weeks… Less often than my machine, but not until they break. :)

  26. I am a self-taught sewist, and LOVE blogs like this one where I learn so much! Case in point: I genuinely had no idea I was supposed to change my needles with any regularity. But when I think back to some sewing projects I did for Christmas, it explains why my needle/ machine seemed to struggle to sew through a couple of layers of quilting cotton no matter how I adjusted the tension, etc. I am starting on a new project this week (crib bedding for my soon-to-arrive son!) and the first thing I will do tomorrow is go but new needles :) Thank you for teaching me something new!

    • Thanks, Heather, I was self-taught too. And thanks for your comment, this is precisely why I write posts like these, so I’m very pleased it was useful to you. And yes, I’d say the needle was your problem last Christmas, too. :)

  27. I wear what I feel comfy in and o not care to much about other people. I wear my own-made clothes with pride!

    And I change me needle quite often. I started sewing again after a few years break and thought my machine was not quite what id had used to be. I handed it in for service and came back a week later to get it. Well, we changed the needle and cleaned some dust…. it works great. Ooops. After that I change needels for every big sewing project and if it is a big project and I need nice topstiching or so in the end I get a new one for that. In my overlocker I change after 10 or so pieces of clothing, I maunly sew kids clothes on that so it is not that long seams. In my coverlock I change too seldom I think, I change when it starts making jumps in the stitches.I never keep a used needle ig I change betewwn jersey and universal cause I never remember how much it has been used. I think they are quite cheap and worth changing.

    • Very sensible on all counts… And you have such a great sense of style, I couldn’t imagine you caring what others would think. :)

  28. Whenever in doubt about needles, I borrow my father’s old camera lens (perfect magnifying glass) and have a look.

    I’ve heard white adds weight, and horizontal stripes add weight, while vertical stripes are supposed to be slimming. I’m not sure I buy into all of that – it all depends on the proportion of the stripes.

    And what about those people who actually would like to add some weight?! My best friend was accused of being anorectic at school, even though I observed her at her home enjoying food like the next person (or more). Generalisatios rarely work.


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