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pin pricks in the velvet (on sewing)
because it was time for a fling with yet another hobby
The sewing machine was a Christmas 2021 gift from my partner. I was delightfully surprised to find something I hadn’t known I wanted. The last time I’d done a sewing project, it was for a second grade Secret Santa. I made a pillow with the santee’s name on it, cut out of felt, hand sewn, and stuffed with cotton balls. It wasn’t very good but I did try very hard. The neatness required didn’t seem like the hobby for me. But my partner saw it from next to me on the couch.
TikTok had been showing me a lot of videos of people taking up sewing as a creative hobby. Some of them were to-be fashion designers and a few were professionals, but most of them were just doing it for fun. Someone cropping a sweatshirt and shortening a zipper. Someone adding pockets to their pants. Someone making a dress for fashion week, haphazardly gliding scissors across some thrifted fabric with no pattern and no plan.
A few of my favs:
juulian.c - upcycles thrifted finds (embellishments, exaggerated shapes), narrating his process and figuring it out along the way
Nicole McLaughlin - everything she does is the coolest
tailorsatelier - tailor in NYC with practical guides
evan.ihde - shares the joy of technical sewing skills
It was one of those confidently chaotic videos with jagged cuts and figure-out-as-we-go ideas that convinced me to just go for it; start somewhere. It doesn’t have to be good. It’s just for fun.
It’s a seven step incantation to thread the machine, which feels overwhelming the first time and rote by the fifth. Then, the rhythm. Hold the top thread. Raise and lower the needle to make a knot with the top and bottom threads; pull it tight. Place the fabric under the needle. Lower the presser foot. Drive. Let the fabric pass gently. Stop. Snip. That’s the first stitch. There are four ends to be clipped after every stitch and they’ll gradually tumble with the fabric odds into a detritus bunny under the table. Repeat.
Observations after a few totes, two pants, a vest, and some alterations:
Truly I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle if you tie the thread around its neck and raise the needle to exactly its highest position.
If the tension isn’t right you’ll end up with a giant ball of thread at the back which you’ll have to pluck apart with scissors and clippers and fingernails.
There’s a foot for that. Rolled hems could be so much easier if only you had the foot for that. You’d feed in the fabric and the foot will make sure the fabric rolls under the needle right where it needs to be.
The button hole foot is brilliant. It can make a button hole that perfectly fits any sized button! You put your button in a little button holder and the machine will sew a stitch the length of the button — it’ll know when to stop!
Don’t pull the fabric. The machine will sew in a straight line if you don’t mess with it.
Sewing is physical labour.
Mostly, it feels like magic that I can just draw on a piece of paper what I think pants should look like, trace that onto fabric, cut it out, sew it together, and have a pair of pants I can wear. Making anything feels like magic when I know almost nothing about it. There’s creativity in the constraint of being able to do very little and the freedom of not knowing the way it’s supposed to be done, not being classically trained, not knowing whether the technique is ‘right’.
Making websites used to feel like that - the first “hello world” on a page (make the background red)! The first mug thrown, glazed, and fired. I want to maintain that beginner’s delight with just having made something. But I’m often soon flopping in the inadequacy of a taste vs skill gap and spoiling the fruit of knowledge from the littlest bit of experience into criticism, instead of cultivating it into the generosity of a bountiful expertise. It’s probably about enjoying the process, or something like that. It doesn’t have to be good. It’s just for fun. It doesn’t have to be good. It’s just for fun. It doesn’t have to be good. It’s just for fun.
I haven’t tried using a pattern yet even though I’d learn quicker if I did. But the fun part is figuring it out. What do the pieces look like laid flat? Which sides get sewn facing each other? What gets flipped inside out or folded over? I’m a seam rotator, baby! You think you know what a pant fly looks like until you try to put one together.
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