By Afua Serwah Osei-Bonsu
According Anne Reinstein, of the “All Sewn Up Sewing School,” in Ann Arbor, “more and more students are interested in learning to sew.” Reinstein said, “Sewing is a life skill that is rarely taught in schools today.” “More and more parents recognize the value of sewing and are seeking sewing lessons for their children,” said Reinstein. “Shows like Project Runway have made sewing more popular and sewing is a fundamental skill for designing clothes,” said Reinstein.
The key reasons people sew, Reinstein said, “People sew for originality and creativity, more than saving money.” “It’s possible to make really unique clothes,” said Reinstein, “and from watching “Project Runway” their creative juices were stimulated.” Reinstein’s grandmother’s saved alot of money when they sewed in the 20’s & 30’s; sewing skills were valuable and cheaper. “Nowadays, people can go to the store and buy clothes made around the world and spend less money,” Reinstein added that “Sewing allows people to make truly unique items, be creative and get a custom fit, given how people have really unique figures and have a hard time finding things that fit properly in the store.” Modern sewing, may find people especially in small towns, with less availability of clothing selection, that choose to make their own unique items complete with monogram and tag.
One criterion for garment production that was inspired by television shows like “Project Runway,” according to Reinstein, was the “sketching of clothes which was naturally tandem with their sewing.” It is possible to sketch a garment, make a technical illustration, then a flat pattern and later cut and sew the garment. On the one hand, a design school student may make a fashion illustration and create a “toile” or sample of the garment in muslin, then a finished version in their chosen fine cloth. A design school student, may create a sketch book of “research and development” or utilize draping techniques and work with a dress form.
A design student from, Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design, who we will call “Leah,” desired to make a collection of Victorian shirts accompanied by three tier skirts or a functional modern Elizabethan uniform. The fashion design student, may also be concerned with printed textiles. Leah, for example after graduating a London design school, wanted to make a club like the “Fashion Fabric Club” online or a “sewing bee” and grow botanicals around her house to print onto dresses. Leah became concerned with making holiday dresses and Easter dresses then jetting off to an advanced sewing school in China. Leah was the kind of girl that hand stitched, with blanket stitch and embroidery thread, onto Manta de Algodon (muslin) in Mexico, her bathing suit, on the way to the beach.
Modern Sewing may find students concerned with “personal wardrobe.” Sewing and Dressmaking Certificate Schools such as “Stratford Career Institute,” recommends writing down your “sewing goals,” in their course book available at time of registration: “Introduction to Sewing and Fabric.”
Leah, later while a student at Stratford, recorded as her sewing goals things like: “corduroys, alterations, winter coat, quilted angel vests, bow ties, medieval dresses, flamenco dresses, NIA dance outfit, smocks, suits, quilting, caftans, period dress, costumes, dolls, Barbie clothes, boleros, clown shirts, T-shirts for her blog, bridal, needle point jackets, flannel shirts, bathrobe, nightgowns, plan sewing area and get a 4 thread overlock machine.” Leah agonizes over things like ruffles, draping and piping.
In terms of sewing area, at the “All Sewn Up Sewing School” there is a wood sewing table of counter top height covered with batting and canvas which is good for laying out patterns, cloth, cutting and ironing. Sewing machines, gauges, scissors, pins, measuring tapes, and ironing equipment are available for the students use. Some sewing studios have felt wall pockets for storing accessories, bulletin walls for pinning up patterns, baskets, drawers and bookshelves. Also common in sewing studios are the basic machine cleaning supplies like cheese cloth, lint brush, large pin, tweezers, screwdrivers in sizes of 1/8, ¼ and oil.
The average sewing and dressmaking student may find themselves making a list of supplies that includes the following: bobbins, dressmakers shears, cutting shears, scissors 5” or 6” long with a small round handle, trimming scissors, embroidery scissors, electric shears, seam ripper, cutting board, tracing wheel, dressmakers tracing paper, tailors chalk, tape measure, yard stick, square rulers, sewing gauge, tailors ham, sharps for hand sewing, pins, needles, wrist pin cushion, thimble and thread.
Pinterest had a fantastic pin-up of “how to make your own dress form” for custom garments and draping techniques by wearing a t-shirt and duct taping over the body (bust), having someone assist with cutting off your mold, then stuffing the mold with cotton and affixing the mold onto a dowel and round board stand.
In Reinstein’s Sewing School, children are showing up on Saturday’s and making: “pajama pants, skirts, head bands, hair scrunchies, small stuffed animals without moving parts, sundresses, drawstring bags and pillows.” “When children first show up they pick a pillow, a pillowcase or a drawstring bag,” said Reinstein.
In Reinstein’s Tuesday class a woman is making pajamas for her husband and an apron for her grandmother. Another female student of Reinstein’s, made 3 dresses for herself, a golfer’s cap for her son and a dress for her daughter. Reinstein said, “It’s about 50-50 clothes and home decorating” for her adult students.
Home Decorating is popular and “cheaper, but not cheap,” according to Reinstein. Reinstein spoke about people who made curtains, shower curtains, curtains for her sink on a stand to cover all the supplies, and a student who was making curtains around her 4 poster bed. Reinstein has a friend who has a business making slip covers and upholstery. Sewing yourself saves on labor. Sewing for home decorating, also allows a home owner to get a custom match to their décor. For example, a professor at Eastern Michigan University, was describing how her shower curtain just had to match, her bathroom.
Sewing classes at Washtenaw Community College teach students the fundamentals of sewing that includes: Sewing machine operation, parts and tools, patterns and fabric, darts, gathers, straight of the grain, zippers, closures, finishing a garment, and patch pocket . After Sewing Fundamental 1, there is Sewing 2 and Sewing 3 as well as Patterns that Fit, Designing with Patterns and various home decorating classes.
There are also local sewing classes at Joann Fabrics, Ann Arbor Sewing Center, Leabu Sewing Center, Nonpareil, Material Girl, at Eastern Michigan University offers and an Apparel, Textiles and Merchandising course and in Troy, IADT or Institute for Apparel Design and Technology. Joann fabric offers a 10% discount card for students who show their current student identification.
Reinstein stressed fundamentals like learning to read a pattern. Another Designer, Mary McCarthy offers a book titled, “Copy it, Duplicate Your Favorite clothes” available at www.marymccarthysews.com. Students of sewing and dressmaking may find duplicating clothing interesting or augmenting and combining several patterns to build original works. It is possible to mix and match existing patterns that work with your original designs.
Reinstein recommended taking your measurements, as is described in detail in her courses text book, as if in a tailoring program, “Reader’s Digest, New Complete Guide to Sewing.” After you take your measurements, buy patterns according to measurement, which are often two dress sizes bigger. www.Etsy.com is popular for plus size patterns, which is another common reason people sew, the availability of plus sizes.
Some patterns can be completely made up, in fact, with measurements and without a flat pattern. There is an “engineering necessity” for a dressmaker in need of complex measurements. Engineers most likely make the best fitting clothes and most attractive clothes. However, some dressmakers young and old are making heirlooms and finery, with the added value of hand made.
K’s Tailoring in Ann Arbor for example may charge a minimum of $500 to make up and even monogram a dress or outfit from a pattern of your choice. A woman who pursued clothing from K’s Tailoring may be considered “well heeled” or extremely fashionable.
“Craftsy” is the secret engine behind many of those lovely fashion illustrations on patterns at Joann Fabrics and Craft. The value of the fashion illustrations, such as on Vogue’s vintage patterns-which could be framed and mounted on the wall- probably, outweighs the pattern by art standards.
A popular quote that is often said by people who sew and was shared by Anne, “We have this competition, whoever has the most fabric, when they die, wins.” Anne said to measure your fabric, label it and store it with a dehumidifier in a basement nicely folded on the right side with a label of what it is, not to prewash the stored fabric until you are ready to sew.”
Pinterest.com provides a wealth of ideas and tips on sewing and really makes it clear that sewing is all the rage in 2015. On Pinterest for example, there was a pin-up for Puebla Dresses or China Poblana on www.themexicandress.com. Pinterest featured Indian Motif clothing, velvet fringe kimonos, patterns from the 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s, men’s boxer shorts patterns, crochet edging or tatting, giant floor pillows or homemade bean bags, woven quilts (weave fabric then stitch together) or even a “batch of skirts” as if you got one simple pattern that you liked and made 30 of them in different fabrics. There was also a pin-up for little kitten door stoppers that were sand filled. On the same page as a connecting crafty thought, Pinterest featured these dragon flies made out of things like those propeller looking pieces that drop from trees.
The Craft Council featured Lillstreet’s Textile Studio, which offered a yoga and sewing retreat. Lillstreet had “an afternoon of sewing their-very-own yoga mat bag.”
Reinstein said the home sewer has better equipment in 2015 to achieve a professional garment. Early machines sewed a straight stitch, but now Reinstein said, “You can buy a machine that embroiders, or a machine that is a blind hemmer, or a serger.” “It’s possible” said Reinstein, “to make things look so finished.” “People can go to the store and buy more sophisticated equipment,” said Reinstein. According to Reinstein, “there are better tools, better equipment and better machines, which influences the increase of people sewing today.”
In Reinstein’s class at Washtenaw Community College, she showed video clips of a variety of industrial sewing machines like the “King Pin” for draperies, cushions and leather bags or the “Pfaff 263” to put together pieces of leather or the “High Tex.” In one video, a man was sewing together a leather cap and used large clamps, or clips over the leather not to make permanent pierces in the fabric.
What may account for the increase in sewing, “Sewing now” said Reinstein, “is not as tedious.” Reinstein said, “She was born with a sewing machine,” because her grandmother sewed. In African cultures, a sewing machine is given as a dowry gift. “Sewing as a child, is magical,” said Reinstein.