You all know by now that the #1 rule of Selfish Seamstressing is, “Don’t sew for others, only for yourself.” If you aspire to be a Selfish Seamstress and have managed to achieve this perfect equilibrium in which every item that passes under your presser foot goes straight into your closet, you should pat yourself on the back- you have reached an extremely high degree of proficiency in Selfish Seamstressing.
Of course, sewing only for oneself is often easier said than done. Perhaps you don’t want to make an enemy of the gossipy lady at work who really wants a pencil skirt “just like yours.” Maybe you don’t want to look like the b who can sew but is still too selfish too make something cute for her neighbor’s toddler, about whom you are SICK OF HEARING ALREADY. Or maybe you think your mom is the kind of person you don’t want to turn against you. For those of you who are still working on your Selfish Seamstressing skills, you might like to refer to my handy guide “Selfish Seamstressing for Beginners,” which I put together a few months ago, to help the novice avoid the most frustrating and hair-pulling-out experiences of sewing for others.
Today, however, for those of you with very high Selfish aspirations, or those who have mastered the art of sewing for oneself and are ready to move on, I offer up this guide to Selfish Seamstressing for Experts! What more is there when you’ve gotten to the point where everything you sew goes to you and you alone, and people know not to ask for fear of the eye daggers you will shoot them? It’s quite simple:
You can use sewing to exploit your friends to get stuff you want.
Oh yes. Advanced Selfish Seamstressing moves beyond sewing things that you want to using sewing as a weapon to manipulate the people around you to do your bidding. Any hobby seamstress has been approached with a request like, “If you make me such-and-such, I will pay you back for the fabric,” or “If you sew some new pants for me, I’ll cook you dinner!” And any seamstress worth her salt knows that these are unfair trades through which she would undoubtedly get the shorter end of the stick unless the friend in question is Thomas Keller. And when faced with such a request, the natural response is annoyance. (Check out Carolyn’s brilliant and eloquent post on this topic!) But the truly truly selfish seamstress should regard this as an opportunity. After all, only the very feeble minded would assume that paying someone back for the fabric is somehow a square deal, right? And when you’re an expert Selfish Seamstress, the question should not be, “How do I get this person off of my back?” but rather, “How can I exploit this friend to my best advantage?“
The secret is choosing the right friends. Like with fabric, patterns, tools, etc., if you can’t use them, lose them. Think of them as objects in your strategy to use sewing for world domination. Case in point: my adorable friend Nienh:
Nienh is fantastic in her own right, no question. She’s smart and fun, always up for doing stuff, and has a brilliant sense of snark which puts the Selfish Seamstress to shame. She drinks tea with her dog, which is kind of awesome. But, more importantly, she serves as an excellent case study from which to draw lessons about picking your friends for selfish seamstressing purposes.
1) Choose friends who have excellent taste and really nice stuff. You’ll notice in the photo above that Nienh is wearing a Coffee Date Dress, sewn by yours truly. Now, before you gasp that the Selfish Seamstress actually sewed a whole dress for someone else, allow her to show you what Nienh gave her in return:
Oh yes. Nienh gave me those in return for a Coffee Date Dress, which at this point I can pretty much sew in my sleep. $10 worth of ivory stretch cotton sateen from Vogue and a couple of hours of easy sewing parlayed into a gorgeous pair of black patent Nine West wedges. Needless to say, Nienh has great taste. A win for the Selfish Seamstress!
2) Choose talented friends who can do awesome stuff for you. In exchange for the Coffee Date Dress, I got more than just shoes. (Negotiation skills are crucial! Who said trades have to be one-for-one? Always aim for at least two-for-one!) Nienh also painted me this cityscape of my favorite bridge in Chicago:
That’s right! Shoes and a beautiful piece of original artwork, custom made for me! Are you starting to see the advantages of advanced selfish seamstressing? With a few more years of practice, I’m thinking I can easily parlay a half dozen basic sheath dresses into a chateau in the French countryside and a beach house in East Hampton.
3) Whenever possible, choose friends who are a convenient size. Sounds weird, right? It’s not. Advanced selfish seamstressing is all about minimizing your effort and maximizing your reward. Choose friends whose proportions don’t deviate from the back of the envelope or who are perfectly symmetrical or otherwise easy to fit. Case in point: Nienh is just about the same size as the Selfish Seamstress which means no tedious fitting! The Selfish Seamstress made up that Coffee Date Dress in her own size, handed it off to Nienh as is, and claimed her prizes. Easy! Another advantage of choosing friends who are exactly the same size as you? If you make something for yourself and you don’t like it, you can pretend you made it for them and use that as yet another opportunity to wheedle shoes out of them.
See? It’s as simple as that. And with a little practice, you too can use your sewing skills to turn the tables and take advantage of the people around you.
As a final story to inspire you to reach ever higher in your Selfish Seamstressing aspirations, I’d like to share a tidbit from my recent surprise trip to Montreal in which I pulled off perhaps the greatest selfish seamstressing coup of my career. Dan arranged the surprise trip to celebrate four years together, Montreal being the city where he first told me he had a crush on me (aww!) back in 2006. In light of this anniversary, I had undertaken a simple S.W.A.G. project for Dan, using the secret fabric I alluded to buying at Whipstitch. Here is the fabric itself:
Sock monkeys and bananas! And here is the S.W.A.G. present, modeled by Dan himself, sporting a little bedhead on account of me dragging him out for a photo right after waking:
Super simple drawstring pajama pants! I sneaked a couple of early morning stitching sessions, and he was none the wiser.
And now you are probably nodding along in full understanding of these advanced concepts. After all, the Selfish Seamstress sewed up a quickie pair of jammy pants (which she has yet to hem), and in return was whisked off on a romantic surprise weekend trip to a beautiful city, put up in a beautiful hotel suite with a whirlpool tub, treated to dinner at a lovely French restaurant, and patiently accompanied to more than a few fabric stores in Montreal. Great deal, right? She milked that boy for all he’s worth!
Except he had one more thing up his sleeve during that trip (remember what I told you about aiming for at least two-for-one?):
You know you’ve mastered Selfish Seamstressing when you manage to exchange a pair of sock monkey print pajama pants for a promise of lifetime commitment. That’s a pretty sweet deal.