He gave her hand one firm shake and then pulled a large handkerchief out of his pocket.
“You have a handkerchief?” Lily asked.
“What? They’re useful–bandage, sling, bag, garrotte…”
“Blowing your nose?” Lily suggested.
“How much use is a cloth covered in snot? Turn around.”
“So I can tie this over your eyes.” He did so, deftly and firmly, leaving her ears unmuffled. “Now, aren’t you glad I didn’t blow my nose on it?”
She was, but refused to say so.
Imagine the splendid freedom of being able to make your clothes be whatever you wanted. It’s something I’ve wanted to be able to do for ages. But while I’ve made a few ill-fated sorties in that direction, I never really got anywhere, and only recently did I realize why that was.
The problem, I found, is that most books on sewing (of which I have several) are more or less an archive of techniques. Undeniably useful, but one cannot wear techniques. I needed something which would take me step by step from simple to complex – a road map, if you like.
The library books I browsed which were aimed at beginners sometimes aimed to do just that, but there was still a problem. To put it frankly, I wouldn’t wear anything in those books even if it did come out right.
This isn’t really their fault. I’ve aged out of their target audience, and, more to the point, I’ve never really worn what’s “in”. I don’t want to be mutton dressed up as lamb. I’d rather be hogget dressed up as… er, eccentric.
But most of the clothes I’ve seen in learn-to-sew books seem to mimic as closely as possible what you can get in the shops (sometimes “customized” with random bits sewn on or fraying or other laundry-problematic effects).
Of course, I can’t expect a book to be written for me, tailored to my own wardrobe wishes (as wonderful as that would be). So instead, I sat down and wrote a list of all the things I’d need to learn to do in order to make the kind of garment I want to wear. Seams and sleeves and set-in pockets and what have you.
And then I did a bit of research and figured out what simpler garments use those skills, adding another skill here and another one there.
The result: a list of ten projects to see me through a year from “sew a hem” to “sew a dress.”
Now, you may not be interested in sewing a dress, but the beauty of the idea is that you can identify your own target garment and make your own skill list. Each month, I’ll announce what I’m planning on making and the skills I expect to learn from it. If that aligns with your skill plan, feel free to join in, or follow along with a different project that works toward your target.
At the end of each month, I’ll report back on what I did, how it went, and what I learned. And I’d love to hear from you, whether in a comment or in a link to your own posts.
Don’t let a paucity of resources stand in your way. Not having the largest budget in the world myself, I’m mostly going to be using what I’ve already got: odd bits of fabric, old clothes, recycled or thrifted sheets, and my trusty cast-iron hand-crank sewing machine (which I must remember to oil before I start).
As far as patterns go, I’m going to be using some I already have, finding some which are free online, and possibly even creating some myself, with the help of an old copy ofPattern Drafting for Dressmakingby Pamela C. Stringer. I may or may not end up buying any – we’ll see how it goes.
Now, some of you are probably wondering what’s with the title of this post (and, indeed this series). The more obvious names were already in use, so I decided I’d go for something rather more eccentric, playing off the culinary phrase “skilly and duff” – skilly being a savoury gruel and duff being a dumpling to boil in it, and the whole being the sort of thing a swashbuckling seafarer would eat.
Moving our skills up the ladder is the means to our end (I loathe the word “upskilling, but somehow “upskilly” is fun), and “stuff” is an old word for fabric used for making clothing. So there you have it: Upskilly & Stuff (US&S for short).
So, starting at the very beginning (a very good place to start, I am reliably informed), in January I will be making a kerchief or bandanna.
Skills: measure, cut, and hem. Bring on the hypotenuse.
Yes, I have plans (both grand and cunning), and I’m starting to feel excited!
Next year I’m going to be running two concurrent series on this blog. The first will record the progression of learning to sew my own clothes, starting with the simplest of garments (hint: it’s a square) and working my way up to a dress.
The other series I’m planning follows Colette’s Wardrobe Architect through the process of planning a wardrobe and figuring out what precisely you want/need to create for it. Wardrobe planning without the frustration of shopping – what could be better?
Each month will see me working on something slightly more complex than the last month, as well as doing one “week” of the Wardrobe Architect.
I’m still working out the details, balancing challenge with prudence, but planned projects include a simple skirt, an apron, a pair of shorts and a fabric torso suitable for making patterns from.
There will be a total of about nine projects, so as to allow an extra month for the more complex ones. I’m a beginner, after all: not for me the churn-out-one-a-week challenges.
Nor are there likely to be zips, stretch fabric, linings, three-piece suits, outerwear or other more advanced projects and techniques. At least, not this year.
But I’m not just blogging about these so you can all hear what I’m up to. I’d love company!
Of course, you may not be interested in sewing a dress (or some of the other garments I’ve got planned) but sewing skills are sewing skills, regardless of what garment you use to learn them. Pick your target garment (in my case, a dress), list the skills, and lay out the garmenty steps required to learn them all.
Bear in mind, I’m no pro and this isn’t going to be a class. But if you’ve been wanting to learn to sew clothes for yourself (or others) and need a path, a catalyst, or just someone alongside to swap notes with, I’m happy to help. (Those of you who are further advanced are more than welcome to chip in with advice as we go along!)
All going well, we’ll arrive in 2019 with mapped-out plans for our wardrobes as well as the skills to get ourselves there. Or, at least, some of them; sewing is, after all, more a class of skills than a single skill itself.
You don’t have to do both series, either – you can do one or the other, or pick and choose what you’ll do and what you won’t. It’s entirely up to you how much you want to join in (or if you’d just like to comment from the sidelines).
We don’t start til January, so you’ve got plenty of time to consider and decide.