Monday, December 1, 2014

NLS 9, "The rules of sewing", HuH?


I love to read before I go to sleep at night. Often what I am reading are sewing books. Many I re-read.  They say what you read before bedtime is learned well so who am I to question that wisdom? Right now I am re-reading "Couture, the art of fine sewing" by Roberta Carr for I think the fourth time, cover to cover. I have had this book since the eighties and yet the technical information in this book always seems perfectly applicable, not matter the year. I highly recommend it. You'll need to look past the the exquisitely sewn but Dynasty/80s clothing and occasionally amusing non internet viewpoint but other than that, it is a great book, one we can all learn a lot from. The illustrations and text are very clear and don't let the word couture fool you. This is a great book for beginners to have on their shelf.

I had my lesson planned for tonight but a couple of nights ago I hit Chapter Four and there in big bold letters was a nifty little bit of prose:  "The Rules of Couture Sewing". I started reading them and while more than appropriate to couture, much of what she said applies to good old every day sewing. Her thoughts provide a wonderful lesson that I will share with you tonight. I'll give you her couture version and then my interpretation for our new and returning sewists. She makes a lot of sense.


The Rules of Couture
by
Roberta Carr

1. Sew with your head.

2. Maintain accuracy.

3. Let grain be paramount in all decisions.

4. Talk to fabric and listen to the fabric talking to you. 

5. Reduce bulk whenever possible.

6. Understand that couture requires judgement. 

7. Know that your hands are your best sewing tools. 

8. Accept that pressing and sewing are synonymous.

9. Anticipate that the final garment will show "evidence of effort."

10. Enjoy the process as well as the result. 


Now for my interpretation as to how her couture rules can work for any sewist, new or experienced. Remember, Next Level Sewing is not to learn couture but rather good basic skills.  

1. I am going to say "use your intuition". Every time that little nag in the back of my head told me to do something to my sewing, something that wasn't in the pattern, I regretted it ten times over if I didn't listen to that nag. Madame Intuition has an uncanny way of being right almost all of the time. Follow your gut. It's only fabric. And I am willing to bet that your way will be the right way almost always, despite what the pattern directions say. In time you will learn to listen to that voice and gain confidence in your skills.

2. Accuracy? Goes without saying when it comes to all sewing, including the most mundane. Do you really want things to look "home made" ? How about "custom made"? Accuracy can give you that. Paying attention to stitching, seam lines. button placement, collar points matching equally, etc... will say "custom", not inexperienced.

3. Heard that catch tune, "It's all about that bass"? Well, in sewing  IT'S ALL ABOUT THAT GRAIN!  Learn to be fastidious about your pattern layouts, matching plaids and stripes, sewing the bias. One whirl through the washing machine and the best made garment, if cut off grain, will revert to an often unwearable mess. Number three is definitely for ALL sewists, ALL the time.

4. I'm not so sure about this one. LOL! I do know that fabrics often tell me they need to jump into my shopping cart when I first see them. They do tell me that personally! But what Roberta meant on this one, I can only guess.

5. Reducing bulk is often referred to in her book as "the cardinal rule of sewing". I agree that it is. Often, as new sewists, fabric and a garment's interior can be a bit intimidating. It's OK to trim corners back at intersecting seams, darts where they pass the stitching line, pretty much bulk anywhere. Your garment will be easier to press, giving a more professional finish. When making a judgement call in sewing, use Carr's "bulk rule" and reduce whenever you can.

6. I am not all that clear with this one either. Perhaps others can illuminate. I do know that we are constantly making choices in sewing. Do I pick a fabric not listed on the pattern envelope? Can I do three big buttons instead of five smaller ones? Is it OK to cut off the sleeves so they are 3/4 length instead of full length? On and on..... I am not sure what requiring judgement means to Carr. I do know that making these judgments gives us experiences as newbies trying new ideas of our own. With each success, comes more sewing confidence. With each non-success ( I will not use the F word) comes experience from which we learn and that also gives us confidence. Make your judgements. Live with the consequences, and pass or fail, know they all contribute to your skill set and sewing confidence and that's a good thing.

7. Our hands are truly a gift from the Divine. Lose them and you will learn how incredibly valuable that are to every aspect of your life. And to think that they can sew, embroider, quilt, cut, mark, hem and so much more that can bring us  joy is very humbling. Even the most inexperienced of sewists, finding joy in using her hands, is a wonder to behold. That's really what it's all about. Maybe Roberta would agree?

8. I am just restating Carr's words on this one because it is so important to every sewist, no matter what the experience level, or type of garment/fabric they are sewing. ACCEPT THE FACT THAT PRESSING IS SYNONYMOUS WITH SEWING. Nuff said. Thank you, Roberta!

9. Can I get an "AMEN" on this one? Remember the early days of computing? "Garbage in, garbage out"? I guess all we do in life "shows evidence of effort" but it is not something I really think about very often or in regards to sewing. Maybe I should and maybe we all should. If we whip something out in a couple of hours we need to expect that it will look like we did. If we take a bit more time it will show also. "Evidence of effort", I am going to be thinking about this one for a while. It certainly can apply to all sewing, not just Roberta's couture efforts , but all of our efforts, whether they be sewing or just making breakfast. Life today is so fast that we often have to choose where we put our "effort". Sometimes knowing that you have that one place (sewing) that you can go to and can get lost in,  totally focusing and putting out your best efforts, can be a very comforting place. I do know it has carried myself and many sewing friends through distracting times. Having your own mental place where you can put forth effort and focus can be a real lifesaver. Enjoy seeing your evidence of effort in your sewing. I think of the times when I have completed something and just stared and stared at it, sort of in amazement, sort of with pride and with much critique. Those moments are when we take in our evidence of effort and it is pure joy. It is why we sew. It is because our effort shows, no matter how humble or beginner it may be and it is a joy.

10. See Number Nine.


So, dear newbies, while Ms. Carr's Rules of Couture may not appear at first  to apply to your learning, I think with a bit of word play in regards to every day sewing, they can. Let's be mindful in our sewing. It can bring joy, skill and confidence.
*****************************



Next week we will have a lesson by Claudine of Rolling in Cloth. She is a gifted sewist and a very good teacher as you will see.  Check out this trench coat she made of Duchesse Satin and silk screened with the rose motif. Fabulous! She has made an awesome video to share her lesson with you and I am really excited about it. She has been so generous to offer her experience and skill and I am very thankful to her. Until then................Bunny







28 comments:

  1. I think of #4 as letting the fabric speak about what it wants to be, and how it wants to be worked with. For instance, a drape-y fabric is not going to be happy as a structured garment, and a heavy brocade will not drape. As for #6, I think sewing is decision-making...it's a constant call from what fabric and pattern to use, to what construction order and methods will be best, to what will work best for the person wearing the result. I often feel like I spend more time on the decisions than the sewing, and that may actually be why I love to sew! Thanks for sharing this list with us...much to think about here.

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    1. I like and appreciate your interpretation. Thanks for your input. You are right. Making those judgments and seeing the results is so rewarding.

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  2. Bunny I like those rules and your interpretation of them. Also I agree with ParisGrrl about Rule 4. To many times, I've bought a piece of fabric online or at a bricks and mortar and had one idea for how to use it but once I've laid it on the cutting table, it starts telling me a different thing. But that too has come with experience and learning to listen to the fabric...I had loads of mistakes where the wrong fabric was matched to the wrong pattern. As for pressing, I think I spend way more time pressing than I do sewing. I've seriously become addicted to the press, clap if necessary, hold and let the steam settle method of pressing. This is a whole lot longer than sewing a seam but I love the finished result. Thanks for sharing these lessons and I can't wait for Claudine's video!

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    1. Pressing makes such a difference. Thanks for chiming in, Carolyn.

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  3. #3. Let grain be paramount in all decisions.
    This can be tricky with ankara (African wax prints). Once in a while I get some that have the print skewed and then it's a battle between print symmetry and staying on grain. Fortunately they are usually not too far off that if I maintain symmetry I am significantly off grain. But it is always a consideration.

    #4. Talk to fabric and listen to the fabric talking to you.
    Definitely heard this a lot and I agree. I think fabric tells me what it can or wants to be:) Just like certain patterns tell me what fabric they want to be.

    5. Reduce bulk whenever possible.
    So true. Still learning the best way to do this in some areas but grading, clipping, notching are so necessary.

    8. Accept that pressing and sewing are synonymous.
    YUP. I hated ironing until I started sewing. My iron is ALWAYS out now.

    9. Anticipate that the final garment will show "evidence of effort."
    YUP

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  4. I own that book and agree that the material is very good, but God, those are the ugliest clothes. To compare them to the costumes in "Dynasty" is kind.

    1. My head, especially as a beginner, was an intuition-free zone. Whenever I tried something about which I had questions without checking with a more experienced sewer I frequently was wrong.

    2. Accuracy is essential. Too many mistakes and I couldn't sew the the pieces together properly. I wasn't lazy or a slob, either. I simply wasn't cutting and measuring as well as I thought. I started to baste in order to get better results with a fast machine. For certain projects, I began marking or thread tracing the sewing line.

    5. Reducing bulk is critical, but it takes some confidence as a beginner to cut. If you've made a mistake and cut too much, you're done.

    6. Don't know what the author meant, but I have been taught to use judgment in fitting myself. For example, there are times when to fit a body a normally 90-degree seam has to be drawn off-grain. I also think of this as design judgment, in terms of selecting fabrics, textures, colors and prints that work well. The author, for all her talents, lacked design judgment, in my view.

    7. Completely agree. Too many people think that fancy computerized machines and even tools like rotary cutters can do all the work when they need to train their hands. Some others think that just because the tool is their hands everything will be "natural" and easy. Not true.

    8. I would amend this rule to "fitting and sewing and pressing" are synonymous.

    9. I assumed that the author meant the garment should look as if lot of work went into it. If so, I disagree. True couture looks effortless. Only people who sew at a fairly high level will understand the difficulty of matching plaids, or sewing velvet and chiffon, or the challenge of fitting the garment to someone whose body departs from that of the pattern maker's ideal.

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    1. Appreciate your honest comments. Yeah, Linda Evans probably wouldn't be caught dead in them. Carr's got skill though, no doubt. Thanks for your comments.

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    2. I think that evidence of effort is not something that anyone looking would see, but as the person who made it, you KNOW the difference. You know your sleeves are sitting well because you took so long to set them. You know that the hem is truly invisible because of all that meticulous hand sewing you did. Etc. Very satisfying. :)

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  5. Loved your post. I have Carr's book too, need to pull it off the shelf.

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  6. great set of rules, i am thinking of pinning them above my table! I am thinking number 6 could be mix of some of the previous points but with an emphasis on balance and all elements working together. I was working on a coat a few weeks ago which was an uncycle so the pattern was compromised from the get-go. I decided on a larger button and sewed it before the buttonhole and it was too big, it wasnt much bigger than the pattern requirement, but the difference when used the smaller button was enough. I also had to shorten coat and cuff sleeves which I think worked as the cuff seam was sufficiently big to make it look deliberate and it seemed to give balance to the shortened coat (i could be biased to my own here)

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    1. These judgment calls teach us so much. Sounds like in the end you won the game!

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  7. Oh Bunny,
    I have had her book and videos since they came out in the 80's and they are awe inspiring. For newbies the garments may look old fashioned but the workmanship and thought and planning and straight grain lines make all the difference. Back then very few fabrics had any stretch features and we had to use bias to make them mold to the body. Her way with embellishing and using fabrics in unusual ways is so beautiful and techniques that have not been taught to a younger generation. Thank you for highlighting this kind and talented woman and if you ever find a video of her, they are on Amazon currently, you will enjoy seeing and hearing her in person especially since she was not a stick thin insect figure, she had some meat on her bones and could dress like a diva!

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    1. Yeah, you really have to get beyond the style of the garments and look at the techniques. But even if you ignore those completely, the book is worth having for the clear pics and prose. I have heard she was a great teacher and perhaps that was her highest skill, not particularly design. One thing I do like in those pics though, is that it is clear she sewed for real women and didn't hide that fact on these garments with clamps and pins hidden out of the camera's view. Amen to that!

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  8. I loved this post, Bunny, especially #9. It's a phrase that Susan Khalje is fond of and I first learned in her class this past summer. It's been stuck in my brain ever since, applied to not only sewing but the million other tasks I, for one reason or another, try and rush through each day. It's helped me to slow down and focus. Thanks for this and all your other lovely posts. I enjoy them all and learn so much.

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  9. Hope you had a chance to know/meet Bobbie. She was fantastic and an inspiration to everyone who knew her. She never stopped emphasizing grain and precision.
    Anne

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    1. I wish I had been given that opportunity. I've heard she was an amazing teacher. Thanks for sharing that, Anne.

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  10. I really enjoyed reading this set of rules and your interpretation of them Bunny. Although some of them may be hard to follow as a newbie (I feel that sewing with your head and judgement can only come after hours of creating, learning and discovering for yourself) I think that setting yourself a goal to achieve these rules is what can shift you from a newbie to a more advanced sewer.
    A personal example of evidence of effort - I have made my son and my husband a shirt for Christmas every year for the last three years. I use the same pattern each time. This year the shirts have taken much longer than ever before. I see this as a reflection of my increased skills - I know when to slow down and get better top stitching results, I have taken the time to attach the collar as well as I possibly can, and my cuff plackets are looking better than ever.

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    1. I am so glad for you. You have really found the golden ticket. It is interesting that those same shirts take longer to sew now because you are so focused on doing it right, "evidence of effort" for sure. Congratulations on understanding how important this is and thanks so much for sharing it with us.

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  11. I think we may need to think back to the 80's "new" lingo to understand some of this...like #4. That's when things (like fabric) started "speaking" to us, to tell us what it wanted to be. In other words, remember very slinky fabric would prefer being made into a garment that considered it's drape. Kinda funny to hear it now. As for #6, I took this to mean good construction requires judgement calls, and sometimes a rule is made to be broken (?). I have this book and was rather relieved to learn I'm not overly picky by doing all that hand basting...rather, I'm sewing the couture way! I love your book reviews Bunny! Believe it or not, I was just saying I need to visit the local library a lot more. I LOVE a good sewing read. Linda S.

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  12. Thanks for another great post Bunny! I don't have this particular book and may have to pick it up - especially since you're re-reading it for the 4th time!!! LOL! She has some excellent points and is well worth listening to. LOVE the pressing comment - AMEN to that! I do think that the judgement calls and listening to your intuition are both things that come with practice. As a beginner, I followed the instructions exactly - not daring to part from the given words/techniques. As more experience was gained and more less than delightful finished garments, usually due to poor fabric choices or new to me techniques attempted, slowly I learned to listen to intuition. That's a tough one as a beginner. You love the fabric/print and can just "see" it looking stunning on a finished garment, however, the fabric doesn't have the drape required for the pattern desired - that's when you know to come up with a different plan for the fabric. It's all about experience. I really love to enjoy the whole process - that's what keeps me sewing. :)

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    1. When I was a beginner, like you, I totally followed the instructions and at times they were hard to understand. For some reason, I think I felt that the pattern was sacrosanct and could not be changed without incurring the wrath of the sewing demons. It was a LONG time before I started using my intuition. I think our current generation of new sewists is not like that. Correct me, newbies, if I am wrong. I think they have a more fun and free attitude toward sewing and spreading their wings up front with their sewing. I think that's a good thing. It will all come in time as the desire to show "evidence of effort" naturally becomes stronger.

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  13. Bunny, my fabrics and I live happily abiding rule No 4, they usually tell me what they want to be. Sometimes - very rarely though - they even change their mind. I have that beautiful winter white wool boucle, that initially wanted to be a Chanel style jacket. It has recently decided that it wants to be a cape (done using a similar workmanship as afore mentioned jacket), so a cape it will be - just finished quilting the lining to the fashion fabric.
    The judgement in rule No 6, I'd interpret as using ones judgement to decide which technique works best for the style and the fabric I use for it

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  14. I had the pleasure of taking my first Sewing workshop with Bobby Carr in her home in 1992. It was an amazing experience. I had no formal training up to that point and Bobby introduced me to Couture sewing. I highly recommend this book.

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  15. Oh I love Claudine's work! I look forward to seeing her lesson!

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  16. Marla Kazell owns some of those clothes now from the Carr book. She studied with Roberta and her sewing also shows that wonderful workmanship. I wouldn't call the clothes the 'ugliest' as one commenter here did - they are out of style but they are incredible to see in person with the fabrics used and the detail of how they were sewn that is not evident from the pictures.

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    1. For me, beautiful sewing, no matter the age or style, is a joy to behold. While I find the clothing dated, I think even in the book you can tell the garments are beautifully constructed, particularly the pink plaid on the cover.

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