At some point, I quit reading sewing books and magazines because they didn’t tell me what I wanted to know. Despite hours spent scouring bookstores and sewing shops, I consistently turned up
- boring articles on how to make home-made clothes (they look it, too, no thanks!)
- picky articles aimed at couture-sewists (handpicked zippers with pearl beading!)*
- mountains of conflicting information for beginners
What about sewing regular clothes that look like… clothes?
I started reading garments instead. From formal gowns to tailored jackets to designer casual wear thrift store finds, I began pulling apart old garments to see what they could teach me. I learned about sleeve stays, interfacing techniques, half a dozen ways to construct a shirt collar and puzzled out alternative methods of construction. As I pieced together construction processes by pulling apart old clothes, I figured out quicker, neater, and more time-efficient ways to put together my everyday garments. Now I find I’m using the techniques I developed while studying RTW when I write patterns.
I started to understand that sewing isn’t a collection of rules. There’s no “right” way to sew a pair of jeans, for example. Every maker has their own way, yet they’re all jeans. I realized how silly it is for me to spend an hour in the sewing shop agonizing over whether to choose “coffee” or “copper” colored jeans thread. Just grab it and go sew, already! Have you seen the threads used on jeans? I mean, really look at them. Look at them as thread alone, as a single element of the whole and note the varying colors, textures, and stitches used.
It’s not possible for me to precisely re-create the sewing I find on RTW garments. I do not have access to specialty industrial machines with chainstitching and detailed attachments. Neither do you. Instead, I tend to adapt what I can and make a clean job of the rest. This works pretty well, people never ever say to me “Did you make that?” (I guess they either take it as a given because they know me, or don’t question it because my clothes look like clothes…I do get asked “Where did you buy that?” from strangers.)
The Hummingbird Skirt (she’s on her way- the paper pattern is on her way!) waistband is very similar to the straight waistbands I find when I pick apart RTW. Notably, she is not interfaced. The first time I made a straight un-interfaced waistband, I felt deliciously rebellious and half worried that the whole thing might somehow implode.
It didn’t. In fact, I found it was better. Remember Pinkie Pants? No interfacing. I’m wearing them right now, they’re fine. I haven’t used interfacing in a waistband for about 18 months. (I do use a tiny bit behind buttonholes and buttons. Sometimes.) All of the garments are still kicking. I used to interface my waistbands to nearly belt-like firmness, but I found that over time they often sagged or buckled. They also often “ridge” under a top if I leave it untucked. I don’t have that problem with a slim, straight, un-interfaced waistband.
Take a look- I recently ripped up an old pair of Levi’s and took copious photos to show you how the waistband goes together. They’re a classic, a staple, so I figure whatever they’re doing with their waistband must be fine. The Visual Reference Guide is on sewingcake.com.
I’d like to encourage you to do your own autopsies and see what you find- I have yet to take apart a garment and not learn something. And it’s fun, too. Have you ever done it? What did you find? Anyone else out there leave their waistbands un-interfaced?
Next up- drafting a jean’s style yoke and belt loops for the Hummingbird Skirt (applicable to pretty much any garment)… And then we’ll go through sewing it…
*hand-picked zippers with pearl beading are beautiful, they really are, and they’re fun to make. I mean they’re fun to make once on a garment that doesn’t need to be washed very often. Once upon a time, I got sick of sewing delicate/dry clean only clothes, which is why I quit bothering with “couture” techniques.