I’m a very hands-on, arty, crafty kind of person and always have been. I paint and do ceramics as well as sew, as well as garden and do web work (does the phrase “Jack of all trades, master of none” cross your mind?) But since Echo was born, I shifted my creative focus completely to sewing. Unlike almost everything else I do, sewing can be dropped at a moment’s notice, and a half-finished seam can be returned to days later with no harm. And you don’t need a shower and change of clothes after a sewing session, either!
I have sewn more or less continuously since I was about 6. I had a hand-cranked Holly Hobbie machine at one point in grade school; used my mother’s late-60’s Singer continuously since about age 11; was bequeathed a late-70’s Singer in college; sewed work clothes completely by hand, buttonholes and all, during my 2 years teaching in China; bought a $400 Brother in grad school; and am now using the machine I hope will stick with me until the end, a Pfaff 5048. My first serger was also a Brother, some years back, and I’ve graduated to a Janome and now a Babylock. I also have, for the first time in my life, a dedicated sewing space — an unfinished attic room I share with Tom’s pro audio business. My sewing life is, basically, perfect. (Insert dreamy sigh right … about … *now*.)
So sewing is a creative passion for me. It’s also, in a way, a political passion. I have always enjoyed dressing (and always been a bit of a stunt dresser), but I’ve also always been disgusted by the tidal wave of consumerism that goes with “fashion.” Starting with the sweatshop sources of all those $20 Forever 21 tops and the tsunamis of toxic waste created by commercial fabric processing, all the way to the glorifying of anorexia, greed, waste and class oppression exemplified by Paris Hilton types — AAARGH! I couldn’t be a part of it. I have always been a dedicated thrift shopper, enjoying the feeling of snatching just one more piece out of the stream towards the landfill, but as I moved up the ladder towards “professor,” those ill-fitting and questionably styled pieces weren’t doing it for me.
See, I’m short. Quite short. And Latina, which means — well, yes, a J. Lo butt, which I won’t complain about, but also tiny bird-like bones, scrawny extremities, and a barrel-shaped middle. (J. Lo escaped this one somehow. “The Tarahumara can run 100 miles, barefoot, and you know why? These lungs!” my dad would say, gesturing at HIS barrel-shaped middle. I would sigh and wonder why “lungs” made me look like a Playmobil person in a swimsuit.) Waists are in the wrong place, shoulders hang off me, any pants whose hips go ’round gape inches at the back waistband. But, with the right alterations, the clothes I sew myself fit – not perfectly, but Lord, SO much better.
Three years ago, I made the vow to shop no more. Socks, yes, underwear yes; sweaters too (I can’t knit). The occasional thrift-store find, yes. But new clothes, from a store – No. No more. No more forever. If I can sew it – I will. If I can’t – well, I’d better learn.
And it’s been going so, so well. My techniques have improved dramatically. My fit is improving with every garment. My invisible zips are increasingly, well, invisible. My buttonholes are no longer hidden behind plackets. My collars actually roll. I know the differences between interfacings and choose strategically. My fly-front pants are no longer worn strictly with dresses. I’ve practiced a lot in the past three years, sure, but the #1 reason for my improvement is NOT ME – not my efforts, not my innate talent – it’s the community of sew-ers, the skilled women who share what they know.