The emails usually start out with some form of, “I’ve been sewing for 30 years…” and then vary in their detail, but the gist is to tell me “that is not the RIGHT way to sew!” I always have to laugh a little at these; first, so they don’t get under my skin, and secondly because I’ve been sewing for 35 years now. People always told me that one day I would enjoy looking younger than my age, ha!
And boy, the meanest ones seem to come from YouTube comments – luckily all those years of working in theatre have helped me develop a thick skin! The thing is, every time I get one of these I am fully aware that the technique I’m showing may not be the most traditional one. And in each case I have a reason for doing things my way.
I asked this question on my Facebook page a while back, “Do you think there’s a ‘right way to sew’? Have you ever been chastised for sewing wrong?” and was really surprised by the amount of discussion it provoked. You can read the comments here.
So here’s my take on the “sewing rules” – and I’m paraphrasing my friend Susan here – If it works, it’s the right way.
Now that may fly in the face of conventional wisdom. And believe me, I’ve met (and been emailed by) the rigid and militant retired Home Ec teacher types that delight in finding mistakes and generally terrorizing students. (Note that I don’t think all Home Ec teachers fit that mold. The one I had in high school, for example, was lovely and we became friends and taught on the same staff when I was a teacher).
But – I taught high school for a dozen years. And I often had reluctant sewing students. Have you ever heard of a dumping ground course? My Intro to Tech Theatre – where I taught sewing – was one of those courses. About half the students had chosen it, and the other half were there because they needed a class that period and the principal felt confident that I could handle behavior issues based on my track record of handling them.
Doesn’t that sound like fun to have 15 students for 90 minutes that were labeled “behavior problems” and didn’t want to be in my class or sew? I’ll tell you a secret – it actually was a lot of fun for me – and them, once I won them over. And I often discovered that all their behavior referrals came from the grumpy militant and close to retirement teacher on the other end of the building.
My goal then – as it is now – was to generate enthusiasm for sewing. And making people seam rip when it is more about aesthetics than function isn’t the way to get reluctant students to love sewing. Yelling at people about how they did something wrong is not nearly as useful as letting them make a mistake and showing them how to fix it.
My approach to teaching is to give the students the information they need to be successful, and then get out of their way. Because of class time constraints, I often skipped the “why” behind things I showed them to do, unless the “why” was safety related or something I knew would come up constantly if I skipped it. For example – always make sure your take up lever is up before you cut the thread was one of my rules – because if you don’t do that, your machine is likely to unthread when you start the next seam.
But then I also read this post where Mary wondered about the “why” behind some sewing techniques, and I realized that I often don’t get into the “whys” on my blog, aside from certain more in depth posts. Again, this is a time constraint thing – I don’t want to make hour long YouTube videos, and I don’t think anyone wants to watch them. Nor do I want paragraphs about the evolution of a technique in a blog tutorial. Plus, as I’ve written before, I think making your own mistakes is one of the best ways to learn.
The two things I have gotten the most comments about are backstitching (or lack thereof) and sewing over pins. Though those are by no means the end of people telling me I’m wrong. So in the spirit of explaining my “whys” here we go.
Backstitching – I backstitch to reinforce things like pockets. That’s it. I never taught my students to backstitch at the beginning or ends of seams for the following reasons:
- Unless you have a too long stitch length or incorrect tension, it is unlikely that your stitches will come out, particularly if this seam will be crossed by another line of stitching, as most interior seams are.
- Backstitching near seam edges makes it more likely that fabric will get sucked into the throat plate or get a thread nest behind the stitching, and these issues are harder to repair and more likely to happen to a beginning sewer than the likelihood that an unbackstitched seam will come unsewn.
In addition to my reasons, this post has some great information on couture sewing and backstitching.
Sewing over pins. This one I never got comments on until I started doing videos and people could see me doing it. So now you know – if I use pins, I sew over them. Here’s my thinking on this:
- As I explained in this post, I try not to pin unless I need to, and use as few pins as possible so I can sew as quickly as possible. When sewing is your job, time matters.
- When I do pin, it is usually because I am sewing a tricky area, and keeping the pins holding things together is more important than the chance I might hit a pin with a needle.
- I’ve done a rough statistical analysis based on my own decades of sewing and know that the likelihood of hitting a pin is not worth the time it takes to stop and remove them FOR ME. I did always tell my beginning sewers to stop and remove pins because a) it slowed them down, which helped their precision in the beginning and b) I didn’t’ trust them to pin perpendicularly and carefully. However, I let my second year students choose their own method.
So, there you have it – as far as I’m concerned, the RIGHT way to sew is the way that works. And by works I mean – is the end customer satisfied with the result? Does the item function as intended and look pleasing enough to the user? Then it’s right, no matter what someone else tries to tell you. This is sewing, not neurosurgery.
For everything else remember that there’s a helpful way to share, (i.e. I prefer this technique because…) and that generally speaking, you probably shouldn’t tell someone they’re sewing the wrong way unless they ask you or are putting their safety at high risk (sewing with a sparking foot pedal and exposed wires, for example).
What do you think? Are there hard and fast rules (besides safety) that should never be broken? Has someone ever told you that you were sewing wrong?
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