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Sigh. Here’s the backstory. Several weeks ago (possibly several months ago), Dan sheepishly approached me with a couple of pairs of pants and whispered meekly that they had holes in the front pockets. I arched my back and bared my teeth, but he pressed on. Could I please, please unselfishly mend the pockets for him?
For those who aren’t already well familiar with my feelings about mending for others, here’s a quick primer. In any case, I’m sure you can imagine my response, the only rational response a rational person could possibly have. I called him a few choice names, threw things at his head, and then walked around all day muttering under my breath about some people who stubbornly insist on carrying their ballpoint pens in their front pockets and then expect other people to repair the damage afterwards. Then I tossed the pants in a corner where they started gathering dust and I growled ferociously every time he looked at them and said, “If you have a minute, could you…” I never let him finish the sentence, but I’m pretty sure I know where he was going with it. I think up until this point in the story, we can all agree that I was being more than fair.
Well, Dan turned the situation upside down yesterday evening. He went to the mall after work to exchange a shirt, and he came back with this:
Sigh, a new laptop bag in wine red polished leather that he found on sale. You see, the Selfish Seamstress has been in need of a proper laptop bag for a while. On a daily basis she uses a bright yellow messenger bag suitable for a bike courier but rather incongruous when she wears more business-y attire. The new laptop bag is professional, practical, and a lovely shade of leather that happens to go perfectly with a particular favorite pair of Michael Kors heels in the Selfish Seamstress’s closet.
So, I ate the teeniest, tiniest sliver of humble pie that I could get my hands on, and sucked it up. Even though it’s not a fair trade by any means and he will owe me forever after this, laptop bag or no laptop bag, I mended the pockets.
It took forever and it was extremely challenging, but I figured that it would be worthwhile to go that extra mile and make sure Dan would be plenty indebted. Here are the results of hours of labor:
As you can see, it’s pretty intricate stuff. We’re talking about several inches of straight stitching, plus backtacking at the beginning and end, and clipping the threads afterwards. Maybe I’ll post a tutorial about the thread clipping some day, you know, for advanced sewers. Wanting to ensure the best, most professional results, I selected a lovely contrasting thread in a shade of deep plum because it was what was still in the machine after I finished my Burda 12-2006-109 dress.
Anyway, there you have it. The Selfish Seamstress mended three pockets today for someone else. I could hang my head in shame, but with the new laptop bag I think Dan is at least partway to making up the debt. And don’t worry- the Selfish Seamstress is fastidious about keeping score.
I have a very adorable friend named Helen. She’s actually a former grad student of mine, but really more like a sister. If I had to use one word to describe Helen, it would be sunny. She is smiles, whereas the Selfish Seamstress is scowls. She is blue skies, while Selfish is drizzles and gloom. She is genuine and lovable, while Selfish is all deception and malice. She is violet and turquoise and emerald and daffodil, while Selfish is charcoal and black and navy. She makes people feel good about themselves, while the Selfish Seamstress cuts them down. It is nearly impossible to be anything but happy around Helen, and much like an impish singing and dancing orphan with a heart of gold who wins over the grumpy old loner against all odds, she can even tug the barest hint of affection from your crochety old Selfish Seamstress.
Helen and I have two things in common: 1) we are both rather obsessive about recycling and avoiding waste and 2) we are both quite small. A few months ago, Helen brought me a gift of a pair of very cute glen plaid pants that no longer fit her:
The manufacturer is Garage, and the fabric is cotton with a smidge of spandex. Unfortunately the pants were also much too small for the Selfish Seamstress, but Helen did not want them back, so they sat on the shelf for quite a long time.
Last night I pulled them out again and like the Grinch, post-epiphany, decided that environmentally passionate Helen would probably appreciate a little refashion job. I’ll call it a S.W.A.G. project for the sake of convenience, but it wasn’t really. After all, only for sunny Helen would the Selfish Seamstress cheerfully and willingly match plaids and topstitch with painstaking precision:
The pattern is from the Japanese hat pattern book I got from Kinokuniya some months ago. I added on the button band and reused some of the buttons from the pants as embellishments. The fabric covered button on top is new though. I was going to line the whole thing in pale pink Bemberg rayon, but after I started cutting the pieces, it occurred to me that what Helen would probably appreciate more is knowing that there is a rainbow inside her hat. So I went digging through my lining collection, which admittedly has a lot more burgundy and black than sunny yellow or indigo. I briefly considered cutting up the rainbow fabric from a broken umbrella that I salvaged from the trash a while ago, but then thought the better of it- umbrella nylon is probably not the most comfortable fabric to have on your head. What I came up with isn’t exactly a rainbow (unless your idea of a rainbow includes tan), but is perhaps motley enough to convey the feeling of a rainbow in one’s hat:
Clockwise from top- pale pink Bemberg rayon, leaf green cotton lawn, forest green (though it looks turquoise here) poly satin lining, silver blue rayon, tan jacquard rayon, and burgundy rayon (though it looks brown here.)
I have not given it to Helen yet, so you get grumpy old Selfish as your model for now. (When I give it to her, I will try to convince her to let me show you a photo. She is far more adorable and photogenic than I. It’s amazing that I show up in photos at all.) Wow, it is hard to a take set of close up pictures that both show the hat properly at different angles, and don’t make my face look way scary. These are the best I could do and they are intentionally small.
I pulled out my straightening iron and tried to make my hair look like the Japanese models’ hair in the book, with sort of mediocre results. (Did you know you can curl hair with a straightening iron? You can.) I do like the hat though, and it would break my selfish little heart to part with it for anyone but Helen. Current and prospective grad students take note- no handmade hats for you!
I may make one for myself, but it will have to be out of different fabric. With the plaid matching and long bands, the hat consumed a surprising amount of pant. All that’s left now is a bunch of oddly shaped scraps and strips, as well as a bizzarro plaid thong/holster/garter belt artifact:
No, I did not try the holster thingy on. I told you, the pants are too small for me.
It’s OVER!!! I sent in the BurdaStyle book coat yesterday after too many late nights of tearful sewing, too many fun outings missed on account of grudging, miserable sewing, too many other things I could have been making and didn’t, and far, FAR too much whining about it all! Haha, you think I’m done whining? I’m not.
In the end I would have to say that the coat is neither beautiful nor well made. It is passable. But as the deadline grew tight, the quality of the workmanship on this decidedly work-intensive project became increasingly more “brute force” and with rapidly diminishing finesse. My general high-and-mighty philosophy of, “If you’re not going to sew it well, don’t bother sewing it at all” disintegrated quickly under the weight of a deadline and the drudgery of a project I did not enjoy. There are known puckers. There are corners cut. And after spending waaaaay too much time on this coat in the last two weeks and dropping quite a bit of my own money and digging into my personal stash for materials, I have taught myself my own lesson about S.W.A.G. sewing once again. BurdaStyle unfortunately did not cover the cost of linings, trims, and notions, which I imagine wasn’t much of a big deal except for the people working on the coat project, but it did end up being a little more than I wanted to put into it. Plus due to the necessity of a last-minute redesign because of a supplies miscommunication, I made an executive decision to ditch the fashion fabric that BurdaStyle picked out (sorry, BS! Thanks for sending it though! You can have it back if you want!) and sent to me because it wasn’t going to work and ended up using my own fabric instead. So suffice it to say, by the end I couldn’t bring myself to invest any more time or resources in dainty details or hand finishing. It’s okay though. Not gorgeous, but hellz, it’s still a handmade freakin’ coat.
I can’t show you pictures of the final product, but I’ll show you something I bought from the thrift shop so I could cut it up to make part of the coat:
It’s a big ol’ fake fur coat! And the best part of it (because the fur itself feels kind of heinous in the way that fake fur does after it’s been around the block a couple of times) is the label!
Oh yes this is a genuine Tissavel from France. Originally purchased at Sears, which some of you may know better as “The Fashion Place” or “Place de la Mode.” I think from now on I’m going to refer to Sears as Place de la Mode (with my best French accent, bien sûr!) as in, “Darling, I think this weekend we’ll need to make a little jaunt over to Place de la Mode. I am just aching for some snow tires and a new Tissavel.”
Back on subject- I’m sort of excited for the book to come out, but if I never see the coat again, so much the better! It’s not my style anyway so I probably won’t wear it even if it does get sent back to me eventually. But I’m hoping that the good folks at BurdaStyle pull out all of their art and styling big guns for the photoshoot. They do have fantastic stylists. Under the right conditions and on the appropriately gamine-like model, I think the coat could be made to look chic. Those conditions, however are not “on the Selfish Seamstress, walking around on the street.” But whatever, done! Done, done, done! Out of sight, out of mind, which means I can stop sewing it and stop whining about it, and finally get back to sewing other things and whining about other things!
Permit me to get started right now with me me me me ME ME ME me me me ME! Me me me leopard pencil skirt me me ME TWEED SKIRT SUIT me me ME ME me me new sleeves on blouses me ME me ME me ME flowy pants me me me me me me me me me me black wool trench coat me me ME ME me finish leopard jacket me ME me ME me ME me ME me ME tux dress in plum and gray me me ME me me ME plaid wool jacket me me ME ME ME me me me ME ME ME me me me mod stewardess dress ME me ME ME me me me me me me me me houndstooth sheath dress me ME ME me clown costume just kidding ME ME me me ME me ME me ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME
Well, everyone, after much struggling with WordPress, I have put the Selfish Reader Gallery online! Thanks to everyone who has submitted a photo so far of their Selfish Seamstress pattern creations, and please keep them coming. I can’t believe how pretty and creative they all are- great work Selfish Readers! I had some technical struggles and unfortunately was not able to link to people’s blogs in the photo captions. Right now the gallery photo links to people’s blog URLs if they sent me one, and to the full-sized photo if they did not. This is really not ideal, but I’ve spent about an hour and a half trying different solutions and will have to put off my investigations for another day. Because…
… after a week’s worth of procrastination, I *really* have to get back to sewing the BurdaStyle book coat! It MUST get done this weekend, which means another self-imposed sweatshop for me. Dan’s gone off on a grueling hike, the kitchen is stocked with fruit and cookies, and I’ve got my good buddies Biggie, L.L., Missy, Big Boi, Revened Run and DMC queued up on the playlist to help out. And I’m going to need all the help I can get.
Slow progress is being made on the BurdaStyle book coat- I managed to cut out all of the outer pieces yesterday and get started on assembling it. But as I mentioned previously, the fact that this feels like S.W.A.G. sewing rather than selfish sewing means I’m not particularly driven and am dragging my feet. (This, incidentally, is through no fault of the BurdaStyle folks who have been great, or the project, which is a fantastic opportunity. Rather it is the direct result of the Selfish Seamstress having a particular tendency towards whining and self pity, even when they are not appropriate to the situation.)
As is often the case when I get tied up in any sort of S.W.A.G.-ish sewing, I start fantasizing about all the stuff I would make were I not S.W.A.G.-bound. And this dress from Burda 12.2006 is my latest obsession:
I’m sure the first time I saw this dress, I had a serious WTF moment. It’s so over the top, it’s so tacky, it’s so ridiculous. Dare I say… ugly? Oh, the black moiré (when was the last time you saw someone wearing moiré in real life?? I’ll tell you the last time I saw that- it was on the gown of one of the parents in the party scene when I was in a production of the Nutcracker at the age of 10. I’m pretty sure I thought to myself, “Man, I can’t wait until I’m a grownup and can wear moiré too!”). Also, the iridescent purple bow, the high ruffled collar, contrast bib, and sleeveless bodice. All together, it’s the female equivalent of a Chippendale dancer costume, or perhaps the uniform of a cocktail waitress at a seedy casino in the 1980s. Who on earth would wear such a dress? Well, as it turns out, I am strongly suspecting that I would, which is why I went to some lengths recently to acquire the 12.2006 issue of Burda from German eBay. Just not quite like this.
I think tux styling is a bit like animal print, ruffles, or metallic leather. A hint of it can be elegant and ladylike. Push it a little further and it can be edgy and daring. But push it a little bit further over that very thin line and suddenly you’re splat in the middle of Tackyland, which is where I believe the moiré dress above resides. TOO TUX-Y. (Side note, wouldn’t Tackyland be the greatest amusement park ever?)
But look what you get when you strip down some of the bells and whistles and craziness, and stop trying to force it to be a lady tux, and instead just a pretty dress with some tux-inspired details:
Lots and lots of cute potential! Imagine it all in one color- maybe a lightweight brown sateen (sooo Zara) or a pale yellow lawn. Or navy with tiny white pin dots and white accents. Or the whole top in ecru with the waistband and skirt in black. Or plum batiste on top with businesslike gray wool for the skirt?
Myself, I’m thinking the whole dress in white poplin with the tie at the neck, buttons, and waistband in black, minus the bow at the waist. After all, I’m not a 10-year old in the Nutcracker anymore. Or a Chippendale dancer.
We arrived home last night at about 1AM, after a grueling day of flying during which I managed to put the final stitches on my Swallowtail Shawl. This morning, I woke up bright and early, eager to block it. I find blocking lace very satisfying in its ugly-duckling-to-swan transformational magic. First I laid it out unblocked to show you the “before” shot.
All crumply and the lace pattern isn’t so visible. My plan was to show you the “ta-da!” after shot once it was all stretched out for blocking. So I soaked it for a bit and squeezed out as much water as I could, pulled out the old Dritz pins and started pinning. I’m not much of a knitter either in terms of skill or frequency so I don’t have any fancy blocking equipment- just sewing pins and the old futon.
Once I had it all pinned out, I turned my back and walked halfway across the room to grab the camera to take a “blocking in progress” photo (yay! Dan got a new one to replace the broken one so hopefully no more camera phone photos!) and when I turned back to the shawl, I saw that something had changed in those brief 3 or 4 seconds…
Can you spot the difference? Yes the lace pattern is now all opened up and stretched out nicely, but there’s something else going on in this photo. Look carefully at this next one and tell me if you see it:
Wow, Sasa, that shawl is still wet! Since when does she have any affinity for damp things?? This feels a lot like the last time I blocked a Swallowtail Shawl.
I’m thinking that maybe it’s just a part of the pattern that isn’t mentioned in the instructions.
Well, she’d better enjoy it for now because once it’s dry it’s getting shipped off to my mommy, cat hair and all.
And so I pick up my knitting needles for the first time in months and months. I don’t think I’ve knitted anything since finishing a Ticuna scarf for Dan last summer. I bought two hanks of Berrocco Ultra Alpaca Fine in a beautiful shade of rich peacock blue, which I’m going to knit up into a Swallowtail Shawl (design by Evelyn Clark) for my mother. I think she’s going to love this color. My camera phone does not do it justice:
Here’s the swatch from the Berrocco site, which is a smidge greener than the yarn I actually have in front of me:
As with sewing, my knitting skills are decidedly intermediate. But the Swallowtail is a relatively easy knit as far as lace shawls go. And it has added benefits for other members of the household as well. As you can see, Sasa was very much on board the last time I knit a Swallowtail for my sister. She especially enjoyed the blocking process:
I expect that things will go similarly this time. Fortunately, my mother is used to living with a certain amount of cat hair, and I do not think a little more will deter her from wearing it.
No new sewing to report on my end, but I just noticed that the model and shirt sample for this Burda pattern look a lot like Dan and the shirt I made for him for Valentine’s day:
Uncanny, right? But I like mine better :)
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.
Well, hello! It seems some of you have been wondering where I have been, why I haven’t been updating my blog, haven’t been reading and commenting on yours, haven’t been spreading the word on selfishness and seamstressing, and generally spreading my usual good vibes throughout the interweb. Thank you all for your concerned comments and reproachful nags (as you can imagine, I have a soft spot for comments that are both belligerent and flattering). Was I badly injured in a freak snowshoeing accident? Was I eaten by bears? Did I (gasp!) decide to abandon you all for good?? Fear not, treasured readers, I am well and there is a very simple explanation for my absence:
I know, I know, it sounds crazy. All I can really say is that they come in peace. To divulge any information beyond that would be risky and imprudent. So don’t ask. But suffice it to say that despite all that extraterrestrial ray-gun-and-flying-saucer dramarama and a surprisingly not-boring lot of Winter Olympics coverage, I did manage to finish the Valentine shirt for Dan, Burda 133 from the 10.2005 issue. Here it is on Dan, as he channels is inner model, with Slurpee and mobile phone as key props:
He’s been wearing it to work in hopes that someone will compliment him on it so that he can brag that I made it for him. So far no bites. I have decided this says more about his co-workers than it does about the shirt. Style-oblivious troglodytes!
I’ve made this shirt for Dan before (obviously during some other period of unselfish idiocy) with the only fitting problem being that the sleeves were a little too short. This time I lengthened them by an inch and a half and now they are mysteriously too wide. The shirt fits well through the chest but could stand to be a bit slimmer at the waist. I could take it in a smidge, but stocking the house with cookies and pie sounds like the easier and more fun solution. After all, why edit your sewing when you can edit your partner?
Coming home to New York keeps me from getting any sewing done, but allows me to sit down with my mom and flip through old photos. This activity usually starts out very sweet and loving and nostalgic, but rapidly degenerates into me pointing at old photos of my mother and whining, “Ma! Why didn’t you save me this dress! And how come you don’t have that handbag anymore?” My mother will look at them placidly and say, “Oh, I got rid of all those a long time ago. That was before you were even born. How was I supposed to know you would want them?” And then to rub it in, she’ll sigh and say, “I had so many beautiful dresses.” Grrrr.
My mother did not grow up wealthy (very much the contrary, in fact), but she did have most of her clothes made by a dressmaker, as was quite common at the time in the Philippines, where she grew up. My mother was no ordinary girl- she was a high school beauty queen and developed an amazing sense of style. Have a look at some of her outfits, most of them from 1965-1970, when she was in her early 20s:
I know, right? And not one of those dresses did she pack away in case she’d one day have a daughter almost the exact same size as she is. I guess it’s going to be up to me to recreate the outfits that I really want. Probably the plaid dress with the ruffles. Or that pink one with the tie at the neck. Or the red coat. Or the ruffled sleeveless blouse. Or the turquoise suit. Or all of them. Or some of the other great outfits from the photos I didn’t include here because there were just too many from which to choose. As weird as it is to say, I WANT TO DRESS LIKE MY MOM.
My mom also graciously modeled the Burda taffeta bolero jacket that I made her for Christmas (a S.W.A.G. triumph!) with a green satin sheath dress that she just happened to have tucked away, which just happens to match the sequins on the jacket exactly (Selfish Seamstress pats self on back for having anticipated mother’s taste in colors):
As you can see, she’s still a stunner, and has miraculously stayed the same size in the intervening decades. And she still knows exactly where to place her feet when posing for a photo to show off her legs. You go, mommy!
Hope it was worth it
The Selfish Seamstress loves to read other people’s sewing blogs. She does this mainly in hopes of finding mentions of herself. (Secondary reason: So she can steal your ideas.) Recently she has noticed some bloggers making comments somewhat along the lines of, “I wish I could be more like the Selfish Seamstress!” How tremendously flattering! Are they jealous of my long flowing hair? My remarkable intelligence? My keen sense of style? My intermediate sewing skills? My adorable tuxedo cat? Then it dawned on me:
People admire my outstanding ability to tell friends, family, and colleagues to bite me and die when they ask me to make them stuff.
Well, I can’t blame you. It’s quite the black art, and you can’t just develop these skills overnight, especially if you’ve spent years generously giving of your time and effort sewing stuff that leaves your hands never to return again. (Of course, the Selfish Seamstress was born without a capacity for generosity and compassion, and thus has quite the head start). If you’ve been sewing for others for a long time, it can be as hard to turn your back on unselfish seamstressing as it is to quit carbs. Because much like French fries and cookies, blood-sucking vultures are ubiquitous and hard to say no to. They often operate under innocuous-sounding code names like, “best friend,” and “granddaughter” to trick you into doing stuff for them.
As with many bad habits, quitting cold turkey often leads to relapse. An alternate plan of action may be a gentle ramping down by prioritizing which unselfish sewing projects are the biggest waste of your time and cutting those out first. To help you out with this, I offer a handy set of general guidelines for those just getting started with Selfish Seamstressing:
The Selfish Seamstress’s Handy Beginnner’s Guide to Sewing for Others
Costumes for kids:
Kids vary in the amount of gratitude they feel or express when you make them a present. They may be thankful or not, but by and large they are not going to feel indebted. Many of them live in a dreamworld in which people give them stuff just because they’re kids. This attitude buys you NOTHING. On the other hand, if you’re going to make something for someone, it may as well be something that they really want and really get excited about, rather than something that’s going to hang unworn in a closet gathering dust and breeding resentment (on your part), so costumes are a good way to go. Plus, kids’ costumes are generally low-effort and use low-cost fabric (because why would you knock yourself out for something the kid will wear a couple of times and then promptly outgrow?) which means more time and money left for you to make something nice for yourself.
Mending and alteration:
Rating: :( :(
Yuck. If ever there was a thankless job, it’s getting other people’s clothes to fit them. It’s boring. It’s uncreative. People think it’s no big deal since, after all, you just love sewing, right? The only good thing that can really be said about mending and altering stuff for other people is that it often is a fairly quick job. Hemming a pair of pants takes a relatively short amount of time compared to, say, making six bridesmaids dresses in different sizes for your friend’s niece’s wedding. The big con though: If you do it once, people will have no problem asking you do to it again. Hemming the pants quickly, but then not returning them for a couple of weeks because you’re “still working on them” may help prevent future requests.
Home decor sewing:
Rating: :( :(
I have to admit that I’m biased about this one because I find home dec sewing to be dull dull dull. Mmmm…. sewing endless straight lines on heavy fabric. Just thinking about it bores me to the point that it makes quilting sound fun. (Haha, sorry quilters!) The upside of this one is that home dec sewing is the type of unselfish sewing for which you are most likely to get paid. For some reason, people seem to think that making window treatments is a real job that warrants compensation, while fixing a torn skirt or sewing a dress from scratch is just a nice gesture from a buddy. All I can say is, if you must do it, milk it for all it’s worth and don’t fall asleep at the machine during one of those 72″ hems.
Clothing for men:
Rating: :( :( :(
Men are not unlike kids in that their degree of receptiveness and gratitude varies. From a technical standpoint, men’s clothing is the worst unselfish sewing you can undertake because it’s often so labor intensive. Men’s clothing is detailed, with cuffs, plackets, collars, welt pockets, lapels, etc. – all the good things you love to sew for yourself, for SOMEONE ELSE. It takes a long time and it can be fiddly. A lot of men also prefer clothing that is uncreative- often the kind of handmade clothing they would be happiest receiving is the kind that looks like it came from the Gap. Tiny unique touches and details may just be the thing that makes a guy say, “That’s not really my style,” and relegate the garment to the back of the closet. And, as everyone knows, resentment varies in proportion to the amount of work put into an unworn garment. The more work you put in, the more you despise the recipient for not wearing it!
Clothing for women:
Rating: :( :( to :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :(
Although sewing clothes for women could be relatively painless (a simple knit top with four pieces for your grandmother who loves it because you made it and wears it every time she sees you), it could go horribly, horribly awry. You haven’t truly felt rage boiling in your veins until you stand in front of the mirror while the recipient tries on your hours and hours of labor and says, “It’s really nice. Ummmmm, I’m just curious, but if you wanted to, could you make the bodice spaghetti strap instead of short-sleeved? Not that it’s not totally fine like this, I’m just curious. Also, do you think maybe it should be a little shorter? And do you think we should have gone with that other red fabric instead?” Is your temperature rising yet? Mine is just typing this :)
This list is not comprehensive, nor is it without its exceptions to the rules, but it should provide a decent jumping off point for those looking to build up their Selfish skills. How about you? Have you got any tips for S.W.A.G. sewing to avoid?
Some people take joy
The Selfish Seamstress has been blogging for a little less than two months now, but although she is new to blogging, and relatively new to seamstressing, she’s quite the seasoned expert at being selfish. It wasn’t too long after I began sewing in earnest that I noticed the pattern- things I sewed for myself got finished quickly, and things for anyone else dragged on a bit. Quite soon after I noticed this, I quipped to Dan that I was going to start two lines of clothing, one called “Selfish” that would include all the things I made for myself, and one much much smaller line called “UOMI” which would consist of the things I made for other people (Get it? Get it? Sound it out.)
Not long after, Dan surprised me with some adorable clothing labels that he designed:
Some of the spelling got lost in the translation, but cute, right? Needless to say, I have far more of the YUOMI labels left than the Selfish ones :)
Of course, the last outstanding big piece of holiday S.W.A.G. is the brown cotton velvet sportcoat for Dan. The one I started in 2007. And when I say, “outstanding,” I don’t mean “spectacular” but rather, the last remaining project thing that will not die, as in “outstanding balance” or “outstanding debts.” And debt it is indeed. This the price I pay for having a sweet-natured partner who surprises me with things like clothing labels he designed himself for no special occasion whatsoever. He’s sneaky, that one.
The sportcoat and I have fallen into an uneasy, uncomfortable relationship. It’s like that person at work who gets on your nerves but you never talk about it. Every interaction with the sportcoat is frustrating, and everything about it irritates the crap out of me. I’m generally a pretty laid-back seamstress- usually nothing ruffles my feathers when I’m sewing. If I have to unpick something, I have to unpick it, no big deal. But the sportcoat has found a way to push every one of my buttons. NOTHING has gone right with this project. Tonight, I sat down grudgingly with it and tried once again to set in the sleeves:
On average, each sleeve has been set about 3-4 times. I reshape the cap and trim. I baste and pick and rotate and baste and pick and repeat. I stitch and steam, and kick the walls and scream and yank them back out again. I swear at myself for not having opted a nice cooperative wool and blow loose velvet lint out of my respiratory tract. And now, after having spent every last ounce of patience and a fair bit of impatience as well, I have decided that if I don’t settle for mediocrity, Dan will get a very unflattering baggy brown velvet sleeveless tunic. So this is about as good as it’s going to get:
Sigh. It’s puckery. It’s hard to press. Here’s my rope and I’m at the end of it. If anyone has any clever ideas about this (strangely enough, I have made cotton velvet jackets in the past for myself in which the sleeves settled in quite nicely on the first try – just goes to prove my point about sewing for others being a futile waste of time!), please feel free to share them. I refuse to negotiate further with the brown velvet albatross, but I’m sure your tips and tricks will come in handy once I’ve gotten back to sewing things for my sweet, beloved ME.