Monday, April 15, 2013

Grandma Sewing

I had uploaded these pictures and entitled it Grandma Sewing before we left for our Santa Fe trip, but didn't have time to write the post.  The premiere of The Great British Sewing Bee in the interim and the ensuing brouhaha over age and experience versus youthful enthusiasm is entirely coincidental.

I made another (5th!) Simplicity 2938 last month out of a thrifted men's shirt and a little bit of cotton lawn from SAS.  Actually, I used the same orange and white cotton lawn in my own blue and orange Simplicity 2938.  This one is petite-sized and will go to the same friend who received a brown and green version in Care package.

The center panel is double layered and the princess seams are enclosed inside the two layers.  See this photo-tutorial of the technique.  Topologically, it's the same technique used to sew double-layer shirt yokes without hand stitching.  I'm pretty sure that I inherited my topological abilities from my foremothers.
I bound the neckline with bias strips cut from one of the sleeves.  The ends of the bias tubes are sewn at 45 degree angles so that the seam allowances spiral around, leaving no one place in the circle especially bulky.  RTW does not do that, except at very high price points.  But, grandmas might have done that and I aspire to that level of workmanship.
The armholes were also bound with bias tubes.  These are a bit puckered because I did an experiment to see if trimming my seam allowances more closely can substitute for clipping curves.  I can save you from reproducing that experiment because you can see that it didn't work.  Nevertheless, the armholes are still comfortable and the puckering should not be apparent to the casual (non-sewing) observer.
I used flat-fell seams at the shoulders.  Tops hang from the shoulders and I find that the weight of the top dragging against the skin there can chafe.  I prefer to avoid serged or zig-zag finishes at the shoulders for that reason.  Better t-shirts are taped across the back neck and shoulders for both structural support and to reduce chafing.

In the photo below, you are looking at one shoulder seam, from the inside.  The row on the left is stitched from the inside; you are looking at the "right" side of the stitching.  The row on the left is stitched from the outside so you are viewing the less pretty "wrong" side of the stitching.  The better the machine, and the better the stitch balance, the more closely these two sides resemble one another.
I employed French seams at the curved side seams.
This is grandma sewing--the kind of sewing that our grandmas did with resources available to them.

Fabric was scarce and costly.  Cloth was cut into men's clothes.  When those wore out--usually at the seams--they were carefully picked apart and used for slightly smaller women's clothes.  When those wore out, they were cut up into children's clothes or for patchwork items.

This shirt had a wonky spread collar and a bleach stain on the shoulder.  But its beautiful cotton was worth the $2 I paid at the thrift store.  The cotton lawn is pre-consumer waste from SAS Fabrics.  I used thread leftover from other projects and a well-used pattern, making this top 100% recycled.

I want to make a related point.  Our grandmas did not have bins full of patterns (as I have).  They had a few that they used over and over.  Familiarity allowed them to sew faster because they had already fitted the pattern to the intended wearer.  Sewing quickly was important because they had many other demands on their time.  Time is a resource.

Our grandma probably had a machine that could only sew a straight stitch, but did that better than most of today's cheap machines with their 150 stitch patterns and plastic parts*.  IMHO, single-needle tailoring, with only a straight stitch, trumps all other shirt seam finishes for beauty and wearability.  It takes a bit more time and skill, but it's worth the time and practice to produce something fabulous.  Our grandmas could probably pull off single needle tailoring relatively quickly because that's all they practiced.

BTW, our grandma's clothes probably lasted longer than ours because they weren't worn out in tumble dryers.  She hung them up on a clothesline--correctly.

*Stitch patterns are done today with software and not metal cams.  Software is much cheaper than precision-made metal parts.  Thus, we have $99 machines that can sew 150 stitch patterns--all of them badly unbalanced.

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  1. I'd like to hang my clothes on a clothesline, but our neighborhood doesn't allow them! (looks lower class, I guess). Crazy people!
    Nothing smells nicer than sheets dried outside. The fake dryer sheet smell attempts to reproduce it.

  2. Beautifully done.

  3. I love the colors in this! The orange print is such a great match for the windowpanes.

    I wish I had a topological mind. Part of what I like about sewing and why I never get bored of it is that it is SUCH a challenge for my brain to model in 3D.

  4. I've made a half dozen or so of this shirt and I'm wondering whether you stitch down the neckline pleats? Mine don't look as neat as yours, because I just fold the pleats in and baste at the top, then bind them (as you do-the first one I made with a facing was too much work and I like the binding better).

    I also haven't made one yet with a different center panel and will definitely try it, yours looks great!

  5. @Kai Yes, I do stitch down the pleats for the first 1". It makes for a considerably neater neckline.

  6. Thanks, I will definitely give that a try!

  7. I love how the entire top was recycled and the take on how our grandmothers use to sew.

    Though I did come by my love of stashing fabrics genetically, because even though my grandmother recycled with the best of them, she also managed to have quite a stash of purchased fabric.


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