I often feel insecure about being a self-taught seamstress. Am I using the right words? Am I missing something obvious. But, I bet most of us weren't taught sewing (and other domestic crafts) formally. My mother taught me to sew when I was young. First some cross stitching, and she'd let me turn her projects right side out while she continued to sew. When I was older she taught me to use her machine. But, the first time I tried to use an actual pattern, I had a hard time with all of the rules she wanted me to follow. The direction of the grain, the type of fabric, all the little steps and pins. You see, she was formally trained, and understood the value of craftsmanship. I had to learn that the hard way.
I quickly gave up on following patterns, but luckily my mom sat down one day, and showed me the basic steps to make a shoulder bag. A simple bag, with box corners and a long strap, no lining. That introduction to basic construction was intriguing to me. I tried different shapes. I learned how to add a lining, a flap, a button. I took the long way around, but eventually I was hooked on the challenge of how to make 3-dimensional forms from fabric.
Still, I had no classes, and read only a few books. While I was studying art in college, I would call my mom for help on adjusting tension, and asking how to make something as simple as a quilt binding. She'd explain it, and I'd forge ahead. I made a lot of silly frumpy clothes, a goofy art quilt, and every sort of household linen. I figured things out and gained confidence.
When I was pregnant with my first daughter I wanted to use cloth diapers, but they were so expensive. So I decided to make my own. I used a pattern. At 25 years old I used a pattern for the first time. It was amazing. It was perfect (okay, close to perfect). I learned so many little details that I would have left out if I'd being making it up. What's more, I made something practical, economical, and beautiful. I was so proud. This was the point when I began to really understand that good sewing wasn't about being "crafty." It was about being a "craftsman." I had rediscovered what it meant to make my own "things of life," and my sewing would never be the same.
In case you can't tell, I love the oft-quoted Faith Gillespie:
"There is clearly another imperative at work now in our exercise of the old crafts. It has to do with reclamation, with reparation. The world seems not to need us any more to make “the things of life.” Machines make more and cheap. The system needs us to do the maintenance jobs and to run the machines that produce the so-called “goods”, to be machines in the consumer societies, which consume and consume and are empty. Our turning to craftwork is a refusal. We may not all see ourselves this way, but we are working from a position of dissent. And that is a political position.”It took me awhile to realize, I'm not really self-taught. I'm community taught. My mother helped me along the way, and so did my grandmothers. My friend Peggy gave me the Reader's Digest Guide to Sewing. And my sister-in-law Kate pointed me to craft blogs. To you guys. I learned to make pants, sew zippers, block quilts from craft blogs. I found good books, inspiration, motivation, tutorials and definitions from craft blogs. Somewhere along the way, I found my voice and joined yours.
This is what we are reclaiming: our community of domestic artisans and pride in our intimate connection with the stuff of life.
Thanks to all of you.