What is intermediate sewing anyway?

14 Sep

The recent discussions round the place on beginner vs intermediate sewing information have gotten me thinking too. What IS intermediate or even advanced sewing anyway?

I don’t think it’s about advanced sewing techniques or couture techniques. Not for me, anyway. These are just technical sewing skills, some harder than others. A good instruction book (of the many I’ve found in op-shops) will teach me what I need for these skills.

For me, advanced sewing involves something completely different than learning yet another sewing technique. It is about harnessing and applying creativity to my sewing. About understanding how I create, why I create and how to do so most effectively apply it to my sewing. It’s also about utilising skills of maths, proportion, size, an understanding of the properties of the materials you are using, (does it sound like I come from a scientific and engineering family?!) and applying these to the creative mix as well. Not a lot of activities so neatly combine two very differing ways of using your brain like technical and maths skills with creativity. I think the way it does is what makes it so immensely satisfying.

I find almost all the beginner sewing things online irrelevant to me. Sure, there are gaps in my skills, but most of them are because I just don’t enjoy a certain kind of sewing that requires those skills. Learning them would be pointless for me unless I branch out into sewing something unusual to me, like my recent velvet jacket make. I found all I needed in instructions to make it successfully online, and by reading the pattern instructions, and delving into my sewing technique book collection.

The reason why that jacket was challenge for me wasn’t the technicality of the sewing, it was coming up with a design that appealed, that fitted my jacket-needs. I then sought a pattern that seemed the best suited to being adjusted to fit the vision I had. I looked for and found some fabric that would work with it, having ‘auditioned’ quite a lot of different kinds of fabrics. I started sewing, I found a few problems with my original concept that I hadn’t forseen, and used my experience and knowledge of patterns and fabric to solve the problems, and eventually came up with a jacket that was 95% close to the vision I had originally had. (Minus 5 % due to the fit not being quite what I wanted but only 5% because it’s very fixable!)

As I’ve just shown, I am sewing with a different focus than beginners and even slightly more experienced sewers have. They seem to be focussed on sewing skill acquisition. (It’s been a loooong time since I’ve been a sewing beginner, so I’m only going on what seems to be popular online for beginners.) I also seem to be sewing with a different focus to the supposedly ‘advanced’ sewing information, such as couture techniques.  In the end, to me, they are just yet more fancy techniques.

For me the techniques themselves long ago took on less focus. They are simply tools to help me translate my creative concepts into reality. What’s important now, and has been since my late teens are things like how to interpret the fabric, interpret the personal style (for whoever you’re sewing for), the pattern, fit (not in a beginner way of making measurements fit and doing FBA’s but as a more fluid and creative concept of how the garment is going to behave on the wearer as they wear it, doing the things they are going to do while wearing it), finding ways round issues like the desired fabric being so expensive you could only afford half a metre of it, or that the perfect zip colour doesn’t come in the zip style you want.

It becomes about creativity, and creativity has its own dynamics – and a creative person needs to work out how to maximise their own creativity, how they personally get from start to finish of a creative project, how they maintain the enthusiasm that will help carry them through the boring bits of a project. Fundamentally it’s about getting the most satisfaction out of their creativity. It’s also as important to know how to not stifle their creativity it in some way, and conversely, manage the outflow of creative ideas so they don’t overwhelm the person to the point of stalling them entirely.

Sewing has taught me SO much about creativity generally and my own personal creativity. Having sewn steadily since about age 8, I’ve gone on to learn how transferable those skills are to other creative pursuits, eg dance, music, writing. And most of life really.

I’m figuring it’s people who are very creative that are likely to be the ones who want to sew at more than beginner level. They also probably have creative skills already that they could learn to apply to sewing – and vice versa. I think seeing sewing in this context could also help people who feel guilty about the size of their fabric and pattern stashes (There’s SO much of that on the sewing blogosphere), to feel less like they’re being Naughty somehow, and more like they’re simply making sure as creative beings that they have the tools with which to be creative. It may even help them work out ways to create stashes full of things that DO inspire them, and that they DO want to sew, rather than filled with the latest pretty fabric they couldn’t resist buying (I may or may not be refering to myself too, in this ;-P)

Sewing also requires some very technical, engineery and mathematical skills that are not of the ‘traditional woman’s skills’ type. Looking at what those are and how they apply – and if it isn’t something you’re good at, how to work around your own ‘weaknesses’ and get that part of the job done anyway (though from what I’ve observed, most serious sewers are strong in technical engineery skills too.) The same skills for harnessing your creativity also apply to the engineery things. For eg, figuring out the best way to do an SBA for a particular pattern style you’ve never worked with before.

And working with the two different things, creativity and engineery together has an entire new set of lessons to learn, like when is it best to get all technical to the last millimetre or when to go with your creative wild impulse and throw measuring to the winds.

Some of the blogs I enjoy the most are ones that show these elements of the sewist’s process. Less with the how, and more with the why and the inspiration and the struggles and triumphs as they grapple the reality of fabric and pattern and body that is or isn’t living up to their original vision.

 

Yes, intermediate sewing skills are very different to beginners! And not in the obvious ways. It becomes more about the experience of sewing and wearing your own sewn clothes, why you choose to do what you do with fabric, thread, patterns and stitches and less about how to do ‘perfect bound buttonholes’ or ‘how to set in the perfect placket zip.’

Do I sound like I think I could write an intermediate sewing book myself? YES! Do I have the health to do so? No 😦 Would I like someone who has the health and ability, to actually write it? Hell yeah!

There IS a gap in the market. I’m really hoping someone will write one, or more! One that satisfies a lot more than a book made up of more ‘advanced’ sewing techniques would.

 

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