Sewing: vest experiment

A vest in jewel tones and geometric patterns, with a sea-green lining
I’ve started working on a new vest in my friend AT’s favorite fabric. This time I’m trying to make a much smaller pattern than I would make for myself, to fit them.

I haven’t gotten welt pockets right, yet. They’re tricky to get correct, and the instructions — while being quite precise in the sewing instructions — are maddeningly difficult and ugly to execute. There is a trick to their precision that I have neither learned nor mastered. And without the benefit of a teacher, the only solution is to make beats until I get one right, and then try to do it again.

It’s not unlike the method an apprentice would go through — except that the apprentice would have a journeyer or master on hand to help them with the pinning and sewing and positioning and the exactly-correct way to make a welt pocket.

I had the chance this past week to help someone learn to use their aunt’s machine. It’s a Viking/Husqvarna 1100 from 1989. Based on wear and tear, I’d guess it was used five, maybe eight times, before being put back in the box. It might have been a $5000 professional’s machine once upon a time — now, it is a thing of magic in the hands of an amateur.

img_8122This sewing machine can sew both buttonholes and buttons. It can sew embroidery patterns onto sleeves and hems in a diversity of styles — from choo-choo trains and teddy bears for children, to expert monograms, to embroidery fit for a royal wedding (a earl’s wedding, anyway). It could sew invisible hems, and do Elizabethan style black-work on a white linen shirt.

It was a little mind-blowing.

As I played with this machine, though, and showed its new owner how to think about it, I couldn’t help noticing that the thing that made me want this machine (which I’m not getting — I’m not) is that I’ve spent a lot of time in the last three years doing pretty sophisticated things with the sewing machine I already have. It’s not a fancy machine for the early 21st century, and not even professional grade.

But a sewing machine teaches you to think with stitching, in a way. Nobody just knows how to sew as an adult; they have to reconnect to things they learned in shop class, or they have to be taught from scratch.

And then, once they’ve learned or been reminded of the basics, there’s probably a good two to five years of challenging learning in which you try to make various things and succeed or fail at various tasks. Your professionalism rests less on how well you make this one specific thing, than on how many things you’ve made overall.

So this sewing machine could help make my work more sophisticated — but it will never help me work out how to make good welted pockets. I cannot become a professional just because I have a professional’s machine; I also have to have made enough things well enough, often enough, to distinguish an amateur from an apprentice.

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