January 29th, 2010
I realized a couple of things the other day… One is that our young people are at a disadvantage with the loss of classes in the schools for sewing. I remember my mother having the hardest time teaching me how to sew. She kept saying she was worried that she would make me nervous (I wasn’t fooled, it was her who was nervous). I realized that the first time I asked for help and she grabbed the item I was trying to sew and did it for me. Yep, I was on my own! Luckily in 7th and 8th grade I had the opportunity to take sewing in home economics and jumped at it. I loved it and basically took over mom’s sewing machine until I could buy my very first Singer on credit when I was 18 years old.
The other thing I realized is that the up and coming pattern makers (especially the more avant garde or crafty ones) also are these same young people who didn’t learn how to sew in a classroom and thus do not know how to explain how to execute certain sewing related terms or tasks. Or maybe they just don’t have good proof-readers.
And the third thing (I know… more than a “couple”) I learned is that “everything” really isn’t on the internet.
The reason all these realizations came about was that my eldest was making a tote. The tote’s instructions told her to “ease” two pieces together. But with little other instruction or illustrations, my daughter was at a loss. I thought for sure that I’d be able to find some instruction somewhere on the internet for her. I found a couple of things, but they were fairly vague as well. I looked in a few of the books I have around to see if they had a description that would help a beginner. Nope. So I wrote one for her (see my little training guide in the TIPS column). I also decided to bid on an eBay 1940′s sewing instruction book in case that has something. It hasn’t arrived yet, but I’m hoping it will help for future efforts. Of course while I was writing my own instruction and having fun bidding, my daughter figured it out on her own (she’s rather clever that way). But how frustrating that must have been for her.
And it wasn’t just that pattern she was working on. I’ve made a few of these designer totes myself and noticed the same thing. Either the instructions are vague (perhaps because the designer herself doesn’t really know how to explain it) or they have you do something in such a convoluted way that you do five steps that could have taken two. Or in some cases they have you purchase the wrong amount of yardage (for some odd reason usually way more than you need) or the wrong supplies.
For example, a few years ago I decided to make a cool fabric computer case. I bought the yardage per the pattern instructions, got to cutting things out and it was actually about double the amount of fabric needed. My suspicion is that they gave the amount for outside and lining in the outside measurement and then also told you to buy lining material. It ended up being quite expensive. Of course we can never have too much fabric, so not too terrible, but still… Another thing wrong with this computer case pattern was the zipper. They had me buy a certain length sports zipper (think “thick plastic”). I hunted all over for the length they required in the color I needed. It took a long time and visits to quite a few stores before I finally found one. Only to discover when I started making the thing that their instructions take into account that the zipper they have you purchase is too long and you have to sew over the end of it to make it work. Had I know this beforehand I would have just purchased the correct length. In fact the first store I went in actually had the correct length but I figured it would be too short. Believe me, sewing over a zipper is not something I want to do with my sewing machine, but I made it work. Fortunately because I have been doing this sort of thing since the age of 12, I can work around the pattern oddities. I just really feel sorry for the beginner’s out there who are working without a net so to speak.
Of course there’s not much that can be done about this. I don’t think the school’s will bring back home ec classes. I wish my daughter had been interested in sewing when she lived at home and I could have done a bit of “home schooling”, but I guess I can be happy that she is learning on her own what I consider an essential skill. Plus she knows that she can ask me for help, and unlike my mom, I don’t grab it away and do it for her. It makes me proud that each project she does looks wonderful.
Happy Quilting and Sewing!