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  • Writer's pictureTerry

The Art of Sewing (A response to my only 1 star review)

Updated: May 25, 2021

I visited a friend yesterday at Ulman Sails that is a canvas seamster. I want to say canvas "artist". I was watching him as he very carefully taped his folded canvas edge in just the right place around a large piece of clear plastic in preparation to join the two. I knew each stitch of the machine would slowly be hand turned with the wheel to prevent the fracturing of this hard plastic. I said to him, "people that don't sew cannot really understand what goes into a piece". He agreed and we smiled together. I was watching an artist and I knew it. Even the physicality of sewing is not known. I can have very tired hands and a back at the end of the day from constantly cutting, pinning, ironing, pinning again, and pulling and pushing big pieces of fabric around on a table or floor and under a machine all day. It took me 10 hours, 4 on the floor, to measure, cut, and hem 8 large lined curtain panels that were stretched out of square with age. (And, I had just received my second Covid vaccine and was pretty achy.) I was kind of "stretched out of square" after this long job!

So, I think it is a good time to share some things about sewing. I am charging time and materials, one day I may charge by the piece. Eventually, I will have a better idea of the time required. I will become faster at some things, because I will have more muscle memory and a rhythm (like a pianist) with the increased hours of sewing. An experienced canvas seamstress or seamster charges at least 85 to 100 dollars an hour for labor, but they can make something in canvas in half the time that a general seamstress can. They get to know their canvas and what they can do with it. Also, they have large industrial machines that are very strong and fast and they keep all related items stocked, i.e. zippers, snaps, velcro, many kinds of thread, weird nautical trim pieces, etc.

Construction is another important topic. It is important for both the client and the seamstress to have a good understanding of what the desired outcome is. But, there is a correct way to construct something. I was asked by the above curtain owner to "just roll the curtain and the lining together and make one stitched line across all those layers" to shorten them. But, the fabric and lining must be hemmed separately in order for a curtain to drape well. The curtain lining is separate because the face fabric can stretch while hanging over time and change in spite of careful dry cleaning and the curtain can breathe better to handle the moisture from the windows. I would not concede to this "instruction", because even in a pinch this work would look and function like poor quality and my name would be on it .... so to speak. (Makes me pause and wonder what the world might look like if we actually had to put our face and name on everything we did?) What is wonderful about sewing today is that I can find experienced and imaginative seamstresses that have "how to" videos of their skills that I can learn from, validate an idea, learn a new technique, or brush up on an old technique. I am all for learning new and better ways of construction and saving materials! But, I am not for cutting corners to meet a price and sacrifice the outcome.

All said, I think the most important part of sewing is the prep work. And, if you skip on this it shows in the final product, as it does with any job. "Measure twice and cut once" is a good rule in most situations. This same client sent me measurements of the windows that I was happy to use to calculate fabric, but not for making the actual balloon shades. While this is kind of the client, generally a seamstress will see the obstacles and challenges when the client doesn't. It is important to know where the rod will be attached, the wall or the window? Will there be rings on the rod that would lower the curtain more inches? (Even better if the rods with rings are attached to the window to eliminate guess work, which is usually off by enough to be pretty significant.) Will the curtain have a rod pocket or hooks for hanging? Are there radiators, built ins, or wood moldings that I need to consider? The same is true for cushions. A boat cushion tends to curve on the hull side and it is good to cut the foam with the curve and make adjustments in your pattern to accommodate that curve. Since I am the one that will be remaking a poor fitting piece, I measure for myself, and sometimes I measure twice. I asked this client to hang the rods with rings in place so I could be "confident in my measurements". I think If the client measures then the final size of the product and how well it fits is on them. But, I don't want to take that risk.

And, finally fabrics give us more to think about. Patterns, stripes, plaids must all be considered differently when arranging and cutting the pieces for construction. In a good garment these things line up or "match", and may be arranged to make you or the space look taller or wider depending on how the dominant line or pattern runs, i.e. up and down or around. It can take twice as long to plan, cut out, and construct a plaid piece. And, in a room all the curtain or shade panels should be the same, the pattern should run in order perfectly around the room so that your vision travels uninterrupted.

So, this is a small view of my world as a seamstress. I am always noticing things around me, imagining their construction, imagining a different color or material, different size or shape, or even different placement and hardware. I like to rehab and renovate things. This expands to even the construction of homes and gardens. My son calls me a "spacial artist". At first I laughed at his comment, then I realized that he knew his mom pretty well.

I hope this information helps. I do listen. But, listening is listening, considering another's thoughts or ideas. Listening is not doing what someone says, just because they said it. You can tell me what you imagine. I will try to see your vision as best I can and share what I know to be possible with my knowledge and experience. I will construct it as I think it would be best constructed. I usually cannot use your "instructions" in construction unless you are a fellow seamstress or seamster. I will not use materials or fabrics that I think would be wrong for a piece of work. And, I will not skip on the prep work. I want the final product to look good, do it's job well, and last longer to counteract our "throw away" society. I want to be "green" as possible. And, when this client kept telling me that the pieces were only "temporary", I became aware that this client could not understand the prep and construction work (or even the price for this kind of work), that goes into any piece whether "temporary" or "permanent" to her. "Temporary" pieces require the same work, and to be more accurate, renovated pieces can take more time since there is the "taking apart to put together again in a different manner". So, I thought it best that this client find a person that can sew well enough to follow her "instructions". I even diagnosed a sewing machine that was brought down from her attic (turned out to be a simple and inexpensive fix of just buying a new bobbin case), with the thought she could do her own work to make her budget and the product she had in mind. I wrestled with my dilemma for a few days and then I decided that it was best that I not invest any more time or labor. I am interested in quality work that will be respected, valued, and compensated. This is my life long hobby that I love and I want it to keep it that way.

In conclusion, I have to say that I really have enjoyed meeting so many lovely neighbors and making new friends. I have been very fortunate to have many return customers that share my philosophy of work. The jobs that I have taken that are so personal have been a true joy, i.e. Cinnamon dog, bridal gifts from the satin and lace scraps of the wedding dress, colorful masks for our lonely faces, etc. I look forward to when I am fully retired from my NP work and can take on some big sewing projects and challenges. I am putting together my work room bit by bit. Thank you for all the love and support, and the faith you placed in me with your cherished items.

I returned this client's fabric, requested payment for only the completed work that I had delivered, and kindly said "no, thank you". I had taken the time to explain all of the above on her moving project list, resulting in longer visits and communications. The "no" was not well received. But, I cannot control the wind, I can only adjust my sails and change my course. On my journey I found that I was not the only one that was faced with this same challenging wind. Then, I knew that I was on the best course, the course that was true to my heart.


PS I value my time, so I am only managing my website and will not be monitoring any other, such as YELP, etc. You can see what I am about, what I am working on, and reach me here. Thank you.

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