As part of SewCrankys giveaway, I received some sewing patterns through the decades, and also a singer sewing reference guide, which has provided some interesting thoughts about pattern instructions.
Doing beginner sewing patterns such as Heidi and Finn and Oliver and S has been a revelation, as these are clearly designed for absolute beginners and teach you the skills while you are sewing the pattern.
The instructions for the 1963 suit are quite interesting as they have a similar brevity to modern commercial instructions, but also ask you to refer to your techniques guide. Learning how to sew and interpreting a pattern were two separate and distinct skills. The Singer book teaches you different ways to hem, insert zips and attach buttons, with a test at the end of each chapter.
Decades ago, girls were taught basic sewing and machine skills, and how to read and interpret a sewing pattern at school. These days sadly it’s usually an elective (if offered at all) as it is perceived to be inherently sexist to teach girls domestic skills. Personally I think it makes more sense to teach girls as we have harder bodies to dress but then again as a teenager I failed dismally at “Home economics”.
Newcomers to sewing nowadays often have no foundation skills for sewing, and thus struggle with even beginner sewing patterns. Without understanding their sewing machines (and the need for different materials/threads/stitches for varying fabrics) the results can be discouraging. Coupled with a generational shift toward wanting immediate gratification, more people are leaning toward learning the skills as they sew.
So what does this mean for patternmakers? It’s really interesting to see how different patternmakers have approached this.
- Comprehensive instructions that use detailed diagrams and explicit written directions
- Traditional pattern with supplementary instruction via sew-a-longs/or blog posts
- Online courses with set patterns to teach you the skills while sewing a garment
The additional difficulty is that unless you’re sewing with knits, you’re most likely going to encounter fitting issues, so learning to sew with woven fabrics, even if the garment comes out with a perfect finish, it could look terrible on.
The really interesting thing is the amazing community that shares knowledge across the internet. If there is anything you want to know, someone will have done it and blogged it before you. It’s fantastic, but it does have the normal internet perils. Just like reading parenting information on the internet, just because it worked for one person doesn’t mean it will work for you, but keep looking and you eventually find the people with similar views/opinions/methods/fit issues.
So if you had your time again, how would you learn to sew?
On a side note : If you want to read about how the Japanese approach sewing patterns, check out 3 Hours Past who is about to launch her own pattern line, and check out the design features of her first pattern Tiramisu. I can just tell I’m going to live in that dress come summer!