I've been told that I'm the kind of person who, upon buying a new car, would need to key a long gash in the side of it. Otherwise, I'd obsessively fret over its newness, the pristine nature of the paint job, it's fresh-off-the-lot condition.
And that goes for all new things, at least all new things that appear beyond the wear and tear of daily living. Over the years, folks have given me beautiful things as presents: leather journal covers, printed notebooks, top-of-the-line pens. And I never use them. Ever. Far too precious.
Enter my song-and-dance about my Fashion on the Ration project, where this year I hope to learn to embrace quality over quantity. Why not have fewer, higher quality items that I wear often? The whole enterprise sounds reasonable and a little luxurious, no?
I tackled my first project this year, the Uniform Project Little Gray Dress, with this gusto. The first thing I needed to do was procure quality fabric. Last year I would've scavenged for fabric in thrift stores or dirt-cheap fabric stores where nothing is labeled. But the quality-me went out to three stores and finally bought the nicest gray wool I could find.
I fantasized about how wonderful it would feel to have one well-made, super-versatile dress in quality fabric. The perfect dress. I took it to the laundromat, watched as it circled around the dryer to steam it. I made two muslins and I even checked the grainlines when cutting. Very not-typical-me behavior.
And guess what? It was a bust. And I was angry for weeks. So much damn work for nothing.
There's a lot of things about this project that went wrong beyond the fabric, but what I realized in hindsight is: There was no fun in this at all.
In my pursuit of quality, I had overlooked the very thing I love about sewing: the process. On my sewing table, process is more akin to thrill of invention and luck (read: winging it) than a precise scientific experiment done under controlled conditions. I've been able to learn to sew by screwing up a lot and I've allowed myself to screw up by using fabric that was suitable, but far from precious.
Quality fabric = Perfectionist tendencies = Obsession with the Finished Object = Fear of Screwing Up = No Winging It and Forgiving Myself Along the Way = A Really Bad Time
That pretty much sums it up for me.
So what happened with the Uniform Project LGD? Well after a few weeks, I decided that my precious, unworn finished object was better off as an imperfect worn object, and even, no object at all if I botched it beyond repair.
I threw it in the wash. It's wool, but whatever, it's my wool. I hated the invisible button placket, I wanted the fit closer to my body, I gave up on my finished-object-fantasy: A reversible dress. I ripped a whole lotta threads. I exposed the button placket, removed the rear pleat, massively changed the shape of the back and (badly) snipped the neckline and am not sure how to fix it.
Here's where it is now:
Once I figure out how to finish the neckline (bias tape? a peter pan collar? a tie? a ruffled collar like on the Passport jacket?) and fix some of the rippling on the re-attached center right, this baby's ready to go. I actually wore it to work last week as a short-sleeve coat—perfect for this time of year!—and just covered the neckline with a scarf. And guess what? I believed I could fall in love with it.
I don't think this means I've given up on my desire for quality things, but it does mean I need to get over the fear that bubbles up in me when I'm in pursuit of perfection, when I'm fixated on the finished object. I think I love scavenging for fabrics at thrift stores and re-working existing clothes so much because that expectation is removed, the barrier to entry lowered. I'm trying to give new life to something discarded. If I can, great. If not, neither the unused object or my pocketbook are worse off.
Possibly on the sewing table: A Colette Rooibos from a dark denim in my stash that cost me $1/yard, a shift dress using a Built By Wendy pattern using a navy stretch twill that I thrifted, a beige skirt from a 40s pattern with thrifted fabric, and finally a Sewaholic Pendrell for my sister using a pretty $1/yard floral chiffon in my stash. It changes by the day, but all of these projects feel ultimately do-able, with non-precious but lovely fabrics, with either easy or beautifully explained patterns: A process that excites me.
But what about you? How do you approach good fabric? Or more importantly, how do you keep the sewing process fun?
Happy sewing all!
Rogers lingerie advertisement, 1953. - Rogers lingerie advertisement, 1953.