Pondering Some of Sewing’s Mysteries and Curious Happenstances

The act of sewing and dressmaking gives one ample time to think, and sometimes when I am squirreled away in my sewing room, I reflect on some of these questions to which there seem to be no exacting answers – such as:

Is it really necessary to buy an extra button? I find that the buttons I sew on rarely come off. It is just the buttons on RTW* that seem to go missing. So – is that extra button really necessary just for the sake of insurance? Is that how so many random single buttons have found their home in one of my button boxes? What does one do with an extra button that is not needed?  *Ready-to-Wear , for my non-American readers!

Why is beautiful fabric so addictive? Why do I suddenly decide I need another cocktail or elegant dress just because I find a gorgeous silk that I can’t resist?

I just could not resist this silk charmeuse on Mendel Goldberg's website. I immediately decided I needed it for a new dress to wear to fancy parties. However, it will have to wait patiently until I can get to it.

I just could not resist this silk charmeuse on Mendel Goldberg’s website. I immediately decided I needed it for a new dress to wear to fancy parties. However, it will have to wait patiently until I can get to it.

What does one do with all those little scraps left over from a sewing project? Should I save them or throw them away? Somehow it seems sacrilegious to get rid of even small pieces of beautiful, fine fabric, but really, how many of these little bundles can I keep on storing?

Here is a little pile left over from my recently completed dress and cocktail jacket. Not much remains - what should I do with it?

Here is a little pile left over from my recently completed dress and cocktail jacket. Not much remains – what should I do with it?

Why is one spool of thread never enough? It seems I am forever going to the local JoAnn’s to pick up one more spool of the Gutermann’s thread I love.

Why don’t manufacturers of fabric advertise in pattern magazines anymore? Today we rarely buy fabric “by brand” whereas “back in the day” one looked for specific brands to buy, based on their reputation for quality. (Pendleton Wool still sells by name, but I rarely see their “fabrics-on-the-bolt” advertised.)

Why does the bobbin always run out of thread at the most inopportune time?

Why does time go so fast when I am sewing?

Where do all those pins go? Those ones that drop on the floor and somehow never get found? (Perhaps they are pinning up all those socks – those ones that go missing in the laundry – onto some invisible lost and found board somewhere?)

How much information should I offer when someone compliments me on what I am wearing? I am always flattered to receive a compliment – and receive it graciously, I think – but usually I do not offer the fact that I have made what I am wearing unless I am asked where I purchased it. What do you do when faced with this situation?

Why do I always misjudge how long something will take to complete? I am an experienced dressmaker at this point, and I NEVER estimate correctly! I should have a better sense of time, don’t you think? I suspect I am unconsciously and deliberately fooling myself, for if I really knew how many hours would be involved in a new project, I might not want to start it.

How many coat patterns does one really need? Oh, this is no mystery – one can never have too many patterns – or coats!

this is my "newest cant pattern, which happens to look a lot like several of my other coat patterns. I wonder how that happened?

This is my “newest” coat pattern, which happens to look a lot like several of my other coat patterns. I wonder how that happened?

What are your sewing mysteries and curiosities? What perplexing questions does your sewing present to you?  What have I forgotten?


Filed under Coats, Love of sewing, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

41 responses to “Pondering Some of Sewing’s Mysteries and Curious Happenstances

  1. Margene Yeaton

    This is so fitting! Trying to downsize, but what to do with scraps?!!!! Patterns, too! Glad you are keeping pace by acquiring another coat pattern. You’re right, one or a few just aren’t enough. I’ve decided I don’t know the word “enough,” but I better learn it sooner than later because I must downsize. More silk? Yes, as long as you have places to go and people to see. :-}

  2. I’ve started passing off my pretty scraps to my nieces, who are just beginning to sew. The scraps are the perfect size for doll clothes and just learning to handle different types of fabric. I remember wishing I could have some nicer and bigger pieces when I was first starting to learn to sew.

    I also have a friend who’s a fiber artist. She can somehow use the tiniest scraps you’d expect to be trash. She’s a member of a local fiber artists group – you might be able to find a group similar where you live. I’m sure they would be thrilled with any scraps you wanted to donate.

    I rarely tell anyone I’ve made what I’m wearing unless they know me well enough to ask. I usually leave it at a simple “thank you” and a smile. Amusingly, I learned not too long ago that a coworker thought I altered every piece of clothing I bought to fit – I just don’t waste time with rtw unless the fit is good because I know alterations will take months (if not years) before I get around to doing them.

    The question I’m always asking myself is: how is it that I can have thread snips or small scissors at every machine (4!) and I still manage to leave the pair I’m using out of reach when I need them?

    • You have me thinking I should be saving at least some of my scraps for my two little granddaughters. Maybe they will sew and start with doll clothes as I did. Like you, I am hesitant to offer the fact that I made what I am wearing unless I am actually asked. And finally, you are so right! Those little scissors are never where I need them when I need them!

  3. Heather Myers

    Great questions. I always underestimate the time, effort and sometimes experience needed for projects, sewing and otherwise…. is it part of being an optimist? I’m working on an Art to Wear project the next couple of months that will use all my silk scraps and more…. so I’m going through my left over pieces!

  4. eugeniebouquie

    My husband is always telling me I’m fooling myself about how long it takes to complete a project. Especially when I have to price my work for somebody else. When I’ve got my head down and my tail up, the hours just seem to fly by.

  5. Mary Lynn

    I always wonder why the making is fun, but I hate sewing on the buttons, hemming,etc. My dear sweet mother (I hate to admit how long ago this was
    but it rhymes with almost 1/2 a dentury) would hem what I made and do the finishing. And……. while I was teaching school, I would give her a list when Rich’s put their Moygashel linen on sale and she would go downtown and buy what I wanted. I don’t do fancy things – living at the beach seems to just require being clean….. but I still have a pile of things in my sewing room that
    just need hooks and eyes or a hem,etc. before I can wear them. If I want to do handwork I’ll take needlepoint, thank you. 🙂 I’ve almost reached the age I can just be eccentric and wear them like they are!!!! Rereading this, I think I have reached that age…….

    • Sewing on buttons is not my favorite activity either. Especially when my husband wants buttons sewn on one of his shirts. UGH! I have to put it on my “to do” list, and then at least I get to mark it off when I get it done.
      And yes, a sale on Moygashel linen would probably have made me take a personal day if I didn’t have someone to buy for me!

  6. paloverde

    You can *never* have too many patterns—or even enough of them. I have a weakness for suit patterns (as well as coat patterns) and I don’t wear suits, rarely wear jackets, and don’t own a coat.

    • I can’t tell you how happy your comment made me! I feel better already about my growing pattern collection…

    • Marguerite

      Love your comment! I have a ridiculous number of suit and coat patterns! Glad to know I’m not alone! I think my addition stemmed from my aunt that taught me to sew. She always stepped out in gorgeous wool or linen suits and coats that she made each season. My life style now certainly doesn’t lend itself to suit wearing, but I love to dream!

  7. I know exactly where the pins go… when I was growing up and lived at home they were in my Dad’s feet. Now that I am “grown” up and live with my husband they are in my husband’s feet. Love your questions… It’s like “What is the Meaning of Life for Sewists/Seamstresses/Sewers!

  8. susan snow

    Scraps make nice little bags. Your little pile of silk scraps would make lovely drawstring bags to keep jewellery in, or for gift giving. That is what I do with the stuff that is too nice to discard. Sometimes I piece together scraps of tweed stuff (like Linton) once again it is too nice to throw away, quilt it and make little purses. My friends love them as gifts. Use chain for a handle and it is very Chanel-ish. Happy sewing. I love your column.

  9. I know it’s not ideal since it’s a form of trash, but: H&M will take your scraps for fabric recycling (it’s technically clothes recycling, but things that aren’t sellable as clothes get sent to be used as fiber fill). It’s not what you want as someone who lovvvved that precious wool. But it’s better than the landfill if you don’t have nearby fiber artists or sewing learners.

  10. Beautiful scraps? Little drawstring bags from pretty fabrics can be filled with lavender to hang in your closet or stash in drawers. Some communities are lucky to have a center for creative re-use — mine is called S.C.R.A.P (http://www.scrap-sf.org/about/about-scrap ) .– a source of inexpensive supplies for artists, quilters and teachers all over our city. A search for “art supplies reuse sources” might lead to one near you. Only problem: when you deliver a donation, it’s hard not to take a few things home…

  11. Donna

    Well I guess I am a bit of a show off, if I’m wearing something I made I always say “I made this” if someone complements me! Actually I like to make the point that I do sew and I do it well, so few do now days and I want to encourage this art form. I also make quilts from scraps that I have left over, crazy quilt patterns mostly. I have quilts my great grandmother made when she lived in Indian Country, before it became Oklahoma. I think about her and the life she had, hardships, dangerous weather, and yet she made things of beauty. That is what we are doing when we sew, so show it off!

    • I agree that it is one way to encourage the art form. And I applaud you for having no reticence in taking credit for your beautiful garments if someone compliments you! I had never thought about it this way, so thank you!

  12. Marianne

    My scraps go to schools and summer camps. I always hope some little kid will be introduced to sewing or other creative ways to work with fabric. As for buttons: I usually sew an extra button on the inside of a garment. That way the extra gets the same treatment as the others, so if anything effects colour or shine during laundry or dry cleaning they will still match. I rarely lose buttons, except when for some reason I skipped sewing in that extra one. Why??

    • I should be better about sewing that extra button inside of the pieces I make. At least then, they wouldn’t take up room in my bulging button boxes! Thanks, Marianne!

  13. Regard scraps, I always save mine as well and refuse to stop. I save lace, fabric, elastic, ribbon and buttons as well. I use them for bags or pouches especially silk for glasses with button closure, pockets or/and pocket lining, collar band, silk panties are the best and quick and easy, bras, straps, facings, trims for contrast on pockets etc, trim or small pieces on pillows or pillowcases, hem tape, waistband-inner, handkerchief (just for show of course) for men or women and camisoles. Buttons could be used on fold over type bags instead of snaps or on inside pockets. Thread running out is my biggest crap moment so I finally took the hit and stocking up on the large sizes of Gutermann from Wawak.

  14. Love this post, Karen. I can’t seem to say no, either, to gorgeous fabrics, even if I have no idea what I might make! I am putty in Alice’s hands. As for the scraps, I have trouble with parting with the pretty ones but they do take up a lot of space — space I could use for more patterns and more fabric. As for those pins — my 5 year old grandson loves to pick them up with one of those telescoping magnets. In fact, that is always the first thing he does when he comes to visit. Seems he doesn’t think I can do it! I traded in one of my machines a couple of years ago — and it has a ginormous bobbin. So running out in the middle of a tricky seam in no longer a problem. Can’t wait to see what you do with your beautiful new silk!

    • I know what you mean about Alice at Mendel Goldberg. If I want to get in trouble, all I have to do is look at her website – or even worse, visit her store when I am in NYC. I’m hopeless in sight of all those gorgeous fabrics, especially the silks! Great idea about a telescoping magnet. I’ll have to get one for my granddaughters when they are a little older. ‘Til then I’ll just have to keep buying pins!

  15. Mery

    I just noticed that The Metropolitan Museum of Art NYC has $50 book on sale for $5:
    Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations. I read review saying it was better than the exhibit. I’d have to pay postage. Do I order it or spend that $ on a new pattern?
    About recent post, All so true. One reason I was nicknamed Merry by elementary school was because I consciously worked at finding ways to enjoy chores. A children’s story about a girl doing that made a big impression on me. Teaching something greatly helps us learn, so maybe teaching that hand sewing can fun would work the same way. When they were around 4 or pre-kindergarten 5 (before they’d learned to dread these chores) I made sure a couple of batches of little ones learned that some common vocational things were nothing to dread: sewing on a button was one. I acted like it tickled Holly & me like crazy when cutting or sewing button on Holly Hobby’s (fabric) knee. Sounds silly now but anything one does genuinely will work. They each later taught it to a big kid and I was surprised and pleased at their patience and skill.
    Now why-o-why don’t I make a game out of retirement paperwork! Why am I piddling with what’s on sale over a thousand miles from here!

    • Mery

      That is, their skill wouldn’t win prizes at the county fair, but it was good enough. Yes, boys too.

    • I think you should buy a new pattern. Sounds like the book was a dud, and they are trying to get rid of it!
      Chores are like exercise – you always feel better, sometimes even virtuous, after they’re done!

  16. You are so right about losing track of time while sewing. Isn’t it wonderful that we enjoy it so much that we become totally immersed. Not a bad thing. Roberta Carr had the idea of using those lovely silk scraps to make padded dress hangers. I also succumbed to the wonders of Alice’s fabrics. My son is getting married in November and I found a special fabric for my dress. It will appear in a future post. I so enjoy seeing your creations using the exquisite fabrics.

    • So interesting that you mentioned making padded hangers. I keep thinking I should do that for some of my finer creations. It is difficult not to succumb to the draw of Alice’s fabrics. Oh my, she finds some amazing treasures! I am already looking forward to seeing your MoG dress.

  17. Marguerite

    Wow, I had fun reading your post and all the comments! We certainly all understand one another! I still have some 30 year old scraps that were left from a more expensive project, but I do toss anything left from a less expensive venture. Actually I find that if I get rid of the scraps as soon as a garment is finished, I don’t regret it. It’s when they have been around for ages that I tend to hold onto them for whatever reason. And those spools of thread! Yikes! Funny how many of us collect coat patterns. I always took pride ( only to myself ) in knowing I could make them if I wanted to. Like you I never divulge the fact that I have made something unless cornered by questions about where I may have purchased it. I did enjoy all of the suggestions on what to do with scraps! I’ll have to give some a try.

    • I agree it is easier to part with scraps from a “less expensive” project – but parting with really beautiful silks, linens and wools – it is painful (and doesn’t usually happen here.) I am actually glad I’ve held on to certain scraps over the years as I’ve actually used some for “accent” details in recent projects. That’s how I can rationalize my obsession with holding on to them!

  18. Marguerite

    Just remembered I forgot to mention anything about pins. I’m always curious as to why I have purchased so many pins throughout the years. I pin the pattern to the fabric, carefully remove them and return them to their box each time, yet there never seems to be the same amount at the end as at the beginning. Where do they go?

  19. Ooooooooooooo, I am drooling over your scraps. Good of you to keep those beauties. I am a quilter, and can whip up a quilt with scraps an inch or longer. Currently I am saving to make a string quilt. Perhaps making something like this could be worth your while?!

    • I used to do a lot of quilting, but now I only do so when a grandchild needs a quilt! And I have so much cotton fabric for quilting, collected over the years. I know for sure I won’t have enough grandchildren to use it all up! But thank you so much for your comment and interest!!

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