Friday, 5 September 2008


Last time I cut out a load of garments - from memory it was a dress, three skirts, a pair of pants, two shirts and a t-shirt - I actually did sew them all together, eventually, and even more unprecedentedly they all turned out to be perfectly fine and wearable. I'm going to do it again today.

I've got the cloth. In the other room there is a little pile of washed and dried cloth deriving from the last visit to the world's greatest material shop.

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Now I shall evangelise a little on the topic of dressmaking.

It is fun and cheap. Do you see what the signwriter is painting on the window there? "$2/m". They always have a $2/m table. Most stuff starts out at either $6 or $10 a metre. So you can easily get ten metres of fabric for about $120; that's enough for a coat and skirt, a dress, two tops and and a pair of trousers. A zip is about three dollars. I get the $1 per 1000m thread, it's absolutely fine. Buttons can be expensive but not if you get them from op shops! Patterns too can be dear, but they are easily got in opshops, and the big shops have sales - Lincraft has a sale on Simplicity and Vogue patterns at the moment. The local free newspaper has a fashion section this week and in it there is a pair of Zimmerman pants for $460. Darn Cheap has the same fabric for $6 a metre.

It is relatively ethical - compared to buying clothes made in Asia by people paid next to nothing and brought here by truck and boat.

If you realistically appraise your skills it's also the best way to find clothes you like that fit your body. Nothing I make now has set-in sleeves. I'm thinking set-in sleeves are not only a pain to do but they also make it almost impossible for me to get things to fit around the armholes. (but why then do bought clothes fit ok there? hm) I've noticed that Erin of A Dress A Day doesn't do much sleeve setting either.

Late last year I bought a new sewing machine from Lincraft and I see they are currently selling a slightly more basic version of the same model (fewer unnecessary stitches, four step buttonhole as opposed to one-step) for $150, ie bugger all. My machine's top speed is a little bit slow and I find it hard to rethread the needle because the bulkhead is in the way when you try to do that with your left hand. But other than that it's perfectly adequate.


M-H said...

'ear 'ear! I only do a little dressmaking at the moment (PhD is such a timesuck) but I love to do it. In the last couple of years I have made several summer shirts and my favourite jarmies. My partner does a lot more and wears dresses, skirts and tops that she has made. Also, we make dresses for her elderly mother every year. She finds it really difficult to shop these days, so it's small thing we do for her.

We both knit (some would say compulsively), both for ourselves and for gifts. Socks, vests, jumpers and now that lighter cotton, silk etc yarns are much mroe readily available, summer tops.

CW said...

Sewing is a skill I've never learned, but I would so love to be able to make my own clothes, seeing as I am so fussy about the (to me) crap you can buy in the shops. How did you learn how to sew?

lucy tartan said...

m-h yes the time factor is difficult. It must be great to be able to knit properly.

CW my mum taught me first of all, and we had to do it at my secondary schools. I can't remember having learned anything very useful at school though. I learned a lot from some 50s and 60s era learn to sew manuals as well. They are strict about using proper construction techniques and especially about ironing things as you go, and between that, measuring twice nad cutting once, and changing the machine needle regularly, it's not much harder than following a middlingly elaborate recipe in a cookbook.

Mindy said...

Are you making anything for Dorian this time? I seem to recall last time he was looking at your sewing pile wondering if anything there was his. Baz is probably asleep on it I'm guessing.

Pavlov's Cat said...

I was reminiscing with mates only this morning about having been taught to sew in primary school. When I was about twelve I made myself a pair of pink floral seersucker shortie pyjamas, with double French seams, all hand-sewn.

Suffered a massive defeat about four years later with some beautiful claret-coloured fine wool fabric and a very difficult Vogue pattern (inverted-V inset at the boobs, gah), and blew about six months' worth of my clothes allowance. Put me off dressmaking for life. But every time I read one of your posts about it, I start thinking about patterns again. Easy ones.

Mel said...

Here are some problems I have:

- I don't own a sewing machine
- I don't own an ironing board
- I don't own a dressmaker's dummy
- I don't own a tape measure

Besides, dressmaking is more complex than you make it out to be, probably because you're so good at it that it seems simple to you. Despite learning the rudiments as a child from my mother and at school, I don't know how to manipulate fabrics to create pleats, gathering and ruching, how to deal with stretchy or shiny fabrics, or the mechanics of linings, facings, buttonholes, etc.

I have hand-sewn and hand-altered various things over the years, usually by copying a garment I already own. But I have also cried 2am tears when I fucked up my prom dress the night before the prom. Dressmaking can be quite exhausting and unrewarding for the novice, especially when you have invested time and money and it still comes out looking shit and you blame yourself for being retarded at sewing, and I think you need to acknowledge this dimension as well as economics and ethics.

lucy tartan said...

Yes, fair call. Sometimes things don't work out. The first dress I made, under my mother's supervision, I was trimming a seam allowance and I managed to cut a huge hole in the dress itself. There's that. It's also just a fact that when things are sewed up they look completely different to how you expected them to, and not in a good way.

Copying a garment is the hardest way to sew something - much harder than using a pattern.

dogpossum said...

Hey, I've just done my first cutting out in the new house! I did a skirt (on the bias, sort of knee length, 30s style for an upcoming dance) and I'm about to do a prototype blouse to match. The final fabric is this gorgeous darkish red with gold spot stretch silk.

It will need short sleeves (probably with a bit of puff). I find puffy sleeves hide a multitude of sins, but set-in seeds are so frickin' hard. I have done a few ok, but MAN THEY ARE HARD. I think I will stop setting in and start doing them the way men's shirt sleeves are done, apparently.
But I did make a nice JACKET the other day with set in sleeves. I was so proud I almost blogged it. It has a matching skirt. It's very 1935 His Girl Friday.

livebird said...

Ooooh. I went to Darn Cheap just yesterday. Fourteen metres of fabric followed me home. I love that place. It is facilitating The Summer of the Dress...

lucy tartan said...

Me too, Livebird! In theory, anyway. It might turn out to be the Summer of the Rapidly Multiplying Stash....