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Sewing: Make it worth even more

Aunt Toby has, I suspect, a rather unique philosophy on sewing clothing for family members in terms of ‘making it pay’, which is this:

Learn to do one thing really well. Make that a bunch of times…and then learn to make another thing really well and make THAT a bunch of times.

Example One: Men’s shirts. I make men’s shirts for the DH as an act of love (ok, I admit it), but also because he has a sort of shoebox shaped body and the tails are just not long enough. Men’s shirts, from a sewing and design aspect are like Japanese pen and ink drawings: the buffet of design opportunities is pretty narrow. The items that are usually seen when the man wears it with a suit or sportcoat are the collar, the cuffs and the band (and even then, with a tie an observer doesn’t get to see much, actually) . The only other place to do anything is the yoke in the back and the chest pocket and even then, there is this really thin line between “Oh, that’s nifty” and “Oh, you’re subbing for The Tumbleweed Boys” this evening?” THE item that separates a shirt that looks really good and professional and one that does not is the placket in the sleeve where the cuff opening is. I’ve made a bunch of shirts for the DH and I STILL have to open up David Paige Coffin’s book, Shirtmaking: Developing Skills for Fine Sewing to the section on this. Every…single….time. I literally have the book open on my ironing board while I’m flipping the pieces around, ironing them, pinning them and so on. I figure after three or four more shirts, I might feel slightly more competent. I’m a whole lot better at sewing up these shirts now, so I use my time in a more efficient way.

David Page Coffin’s Shirtmaking Book

Example Two: The TNT. For those of you who are not ‘sewists’ (that’s what we’re calling ourselves these days), “TNT” is not going to have a whole lot of meaning. It stands for ‘Tried and True’ and refers to a pattern that someone has gone to the trouble to work out all the fitting issues with, and then has made numerous times, in various permutations, until frankly they could cut it out, in the dark with only the light from the weeny bulb in the sewing machine to do it by ..and sew it the same way and still come out with something that looks fantastic. The two dresses above are the start of a TNT for me. The pattern is McCalls 5701. McCalls 5701

This dress is described as: Pullover dresses …have side front panel and pockets, back pleats and self faced bands; dress A has contrast bands; dress B has optional jewel trim; length for dresses is 2″ above mid-knee.
If you go to the link and then scroll down so that you see the line drawing of the front and back views you will see this is not a terribly complicated dress but it does have several redeeming qualities that have endeared it to me:

1) No zipper. Aunt Toby has, over the years, conquered many of her sewing fears: buttons and buttonholes, lapels, boning. She still hates putting in zippers. This dress has no zippers.
2) It’s got some seam interest in the front AND usable pockets.
3) It’s got some action going on in the back. There is actually too much fabric for someone as short as Aunt Toby is, so I’ve modified it but it is still interesting coming…and going.

What I can do to make this into a true TNT:
1) Redraft the pattern piece for the back and take all that extra fabric out.
2) Put a seam in the front that mimics the seam in the upper back that is in the back
3) Take out the pockets completely and just continue those seam lines that are in the front right down to the hemline.

My inspiration for making the commitment to a TNT is a wonderful sewing blogger with a great site called Diary of a Sewing Fanatic

Carolyn is the absolute queen of the TNT – actually, that is wrong. She is the Mozart and Beethoven of the TNT. Her ability to riff theme and variations on one pattern is truly phenomenal.

Carolyn’s TNT Dress, Episode I
Carolyn’s TNT Dress, Episode II

She saves a ton of time and money by using a pattern that she is extremely familiar with. She knows exactly how much fabric is necessary to do this pattern – no ‘well, just in case, I’ll get another half yard.” She knows exactly how much time this is going to take her to do it, lined and unlined. She knows how this pattern is going to behave if she makes it in various kinds of fabrics. She’s been ‘married’ to this pattern for ten years.

I can’t think of one sewer who has not fallen into the stash trap – after all, most of us fall in love with fabric even before we fall in love with a pattern. But one sure way to waste money is to whack away at pattern after pattern after pattern that just…doesn’t…work. There are a few companies that actually draft patterns well; Burda is famous for its pants for example. But all patterns can give you trouble, which is why a lot of sewers make a trial item in muslin first to work out the fit and any technical issues before they cut into the real stuff. Once you have that muslin, you can put the changes into the paper pattern and off you go. Once you’ve made something enough, you can let your imagination loose in terms of interpreting what is the latest ‘on-trend’ item from a top designer…using your TNT as a base. We all like to be in fashion (yes, I realize this is hard to believe that Aunt Toby is someone who loves ‘teh fashion’ but I do) and look well – one way to get the look AND have it fit, look smart, and save time and money is by having a TNT.

When you have a pattern that you’ve committed to – and have made several times and can see the possibilities with…ah….THAT’s a relationship that can last and can save you money in both the short term and the long haul.
(a note on those two dresses: the one on the left is made out of 100% wool gabardine and is lined; the one on the right is made from stretch cotton sateen and is not lined)

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  1. Carolyn says:

    I am soooo honored at your very kind comments about my TNT patterns! I hope my dresses and your wonderful words can inspire others to go the TNT road because in these perilous economic times, we all need to do what we can to make our dollars stretch!

    Thanks again for the shout-out!

  2. Toby Wollin says:

    I bow before the Master herself. 🙂

  3. Sewist says:

    That’s exactly my philosophy, although I’m still a beginner. There aren’t that many shapes that suit me. I intend to find some patterns, adjust them and make the same thing over and over with different materials.

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