I remember it as if it were last month – and not decades ago. I can feel myself walking into the Home Economics sewing room at Prince Arthur Junior High School. It was like a kind of playroom for a certain nerdy young woman who was struggling with the relative importance of trigonometry versus Home ‘Ec.’ The priority that should be given to passion for mathematics and science was in direct competition with an infatuation with style and fashion. I was in grade nine and this was the last year I could take Home Ec sewing before I had to get serious. “A” students simply didn’t take Home Ec in senior high. [You remember Home Ec? Sometimes called domestic science – now in the twenty-first century has morphed into something called “family and consumer sciences.”]
The room was large and airy with the requisite wall-to-wall windows that are the hallmark of traditionally designed schools. Home economics students who were in the cooking class (and by “home economics students” I mean girls) had to walk through the sewing room to get to that even larger room: the kitchen. Sewing students also had to take cooking – a situation that I fervently lamented, although nowadays I really do love to cook. I can’t remember learning much else than how to make a white sauce then, though. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what one would do with this sauce. I have since learned…but back to the sewing room.
The walls were lined with Singer sewing machines. In the centre of the room were two large cutting tables. I have little memory of anyone else in the class, but I do remember cutting out my very first sewing project: a blue corduroy, V-neck jumper. It was a plain A-line with a back zipper (!) and facings. I remember feeling proud of myself for having chosen the V-neck version rather than the round neck when I heard the teacher say that it was, in fact, more difficult to construct the V-neck with facing, and get the point of the V precisely correct than it was to sew in the round-neck facing. When I did get that point exactly right, I think it was then I knew that I had to learn more.
And I learned so much in those classes. I had three years of junior-high school sewing classes, then I was on my own. There was certainly no time in the academic schedule to take anything extra – and in any case, as awful as it sounds now – the smart kids just didn’t take home economics. No matter. I continued to make my clothes for years after that until a time when I got too busy with career and family and had more disposable income. One of the reasons I sewed my clothes as a teen-ager and young adult was so that I could have better and more clothing: it cost less. I also sewed for my sisters and occasionally my mom. Here are two patterns I whipped up then.
Just this past week I read something online from a sewer-person who opined that it was now more expensive to sew clothing these days than to buy it. There was much commiserating and sighing about this one. I respectfully disagree.
Okay, if you’re satisfied and happy with fast-clothing made in sweat shops of questionable fabric and mediocre-quality finishing, then go for it. But you might do yourself a real service and consider reading the book Over-Dressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion. When I reviewed this book on my writing blog some time ago I said this: “…The author, Elizabeth Cline is an American journalist whose commitment to the investigation of the North American penchant for disposable fashion resulted in a story that had my head spinning – although much of it did not come as a surprise – and I avoid disposable fashion like the plague, given my penchant for quality…”
Sewing on the other hand provides me with the kind of quality fabrics and finishes that might otherwise be out of reach. Take my passion for the Chanel-style “Little French Jacket.” With price tags in the multi-thousands of dollars, they’re out of the question. But I am now able to create a reasonable facsimile with hand finishes and silk charmeuse linings that feel divine and that I love to wear. They’ll be in my closet for a long time. That’s value you just can’t get with fast-fashion.
There is also something about knowing that you created it. The piece you sew is never quite the same as someone else’s even if you use the same pattern. I just have to go on the Craftsy site to see other versions of my Little French Jacket made following the same course. Lordy they vary!
Then, of course, there’s the fit issue. My obsession with getting the fit just right has already taken me through learning about creating my own sloper. And I thought it fit so well. Well, for those of you who think I was gloating about my perfectly-fitting sloper/bodice block, you can start gloating in earnest now. I have had to tweak it.
I’ve begun learning about design by creating a variety of necklines. As I mock them up from my sloper, I’ve found a tiny problem that pushes its way into each project like a kind of virus. Every time I create something, it seems that the shoulders are just a tiny bit high and a tiny bit long – and it’s driving me crazy. So, what’s my current project? Starting over with drafting my sloper! Yes, I started again at the beginning and am close to a newly, well-fitted bodice block.
They never really taught me about fit in Home Ec class. Slavishly following the pattern was de rigeur and got us high marks. Good thing I was pretty tall, slim and straight in those days! Things fit, but now it’s not so simple.
My design ambitions will have to wait. Fit comes first!