Altered by a Sewing Machine

What Women Really Think
Dec. 17 2009 2:14 PM

Altered by a Sewing Machine

Today’s New York Times has an article about women who are busting their butts selling their homemade stuff on Etsy, but I want to draw your attention to Monday’s column by Michelle Satalla’s, " Altered by a Sewing Machine ." It’s about her psychic battle with her brand new, fancy-schmancy sewing machine. When she removes the machine from its box, she is flooded with all these ideas and ambitions. But she learns that in order to turn the fantasies into reality, she has to train herself into being more of a patient "process" woman.

Like Slatalla, when I first brought my machine home (a basic Singer Inspiration), I was heady with ambition. Suddenly, every textile product-from napkins to gowns-became a candidate for my art direction and handicraft. She writes:"First I would make dish towels and place mats and pillowcases with ric rac, then graduate to table clothes and draperies and blouses with nipped-in waists. I would like very much to someday have a velvet dress with a fitted bodice and long, tight sleeves (who wouldn’t?)."

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In my case, it was more of a mastery of '40s-style tailored dresses with illusion lace or net and contrasting lining, but you get the idea. And for some reason I really wanted to embroider geometric radishes on white cotton napkins.

But, then, like Slatalla, the reality of learning how to sew and the frustrations of screwing up set in, which for many women leads to the following realization: "All I wanted ... was to make a simple set of dish towels. Actually, all I wanted was to have made them."

Meaning, of course, that it would be lovely to own all of this stuff and to play art director, but do you really want to sit in front of the machine and sew this stuff? I think many women realize this and then feel bad about it. As Slatalla explained, it’s as if in learning how to sew and in fabricating all these items, you can change yourself from being an impatient woman "into a better" woman. I feel that this type of self-flagellation is more native to the psychology of sewing than any other home craft. Is it because we hope to wear the results, so our ideals merge with our ideas about self-actualization, which is literally manifested in our dress?

Sales of sewing machines have been skyrocketing. And in some social circles, Joann’s , the fabric and craft supply store, is as common an errand stop as Duane Reade. But I wonder how many New Sewing Women actually stick with sewing. How many machines are collecting dust or plonked on desks in spare bedrooms or crowding hallways?

Beginner’s sewing isn’t hard-and if you like the craftskool look, which I don’t, you may be pleased and encouraged to keep at it. It’s simple to master the A-line wrap skirt, for example, which teaches basic fitting, cutting, stitching, and hemming techniques. This is the first garment most sewing manuals and schools will introduce to a neophyte (after you’ve graduated from single-fold fabric wallet with a button closure). I took a class at the Make Workshop on New York's Lower East Side two years ago, and this was our syllabus.

I loved the class, but I haven’t worn the skirt. In fact, the skirt still needs a waistband because I was so anal and slow in class. So it's currently rolled up in a bag from B&J Fabrics (the fancier Mood, for all you Project Runway fans). Fortunately, I predicted that my relationship with my Singer Inspiration might be ... uninspiring.

I selected black and white gingham for the A-line wrap skirt fabric-a suitable choice for slicing up into festive picnic napkins. And come next Memorial Day, if I haven’t finished the darn waistband, and if I somehow come to accept the craftskool look draped across my short curvy frame, that sucker is coming undone.

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