Sewing: Shirts and Vests

I’ve not given an update on my sewing projects, because I’ve had first two, and then three, and then four out of four sewing machines out of commission for a while. Three are still in the repair queue with a professional colleague at Chareco sewing machines. One is back, after a lengthy delay.

I spent a considerable chunk of May and June making shirts for myself out of linen. Linen is a fun but finicky fabric, and I powered through those shirts on a sewing machine that was increasingly reluctant to perform. They then waited for two months for cuffs to go on those fancy smocked sleeve-ends, and button holes, from one of my returned machines. That finally happened, so I have five white shirts and one black shirt to wear to the outdoor, distanced events later this summer. I also finished the Sorcerer’s Vest that I was working on, and pictures should be available for that sometime soon.

However, I bought considerable yardage of that beautiful ultramarine blue fabric because I assumed it was 45″ wide, and didn’t read the descriptions carefully enough. It turned out to be 60″ wide, and this meant that I was able to get all of the pieces for the Sorcerer’s Vest out of it, with substantial yardage to spare. So I began making a second vest, more of a waistcoat than a long vest. As before, I’ve had to scale up the size of the vest from a max of 52″ chest to a 56″ chest, so that it will fit me.

[As an aside, I found out that the McCall’s pattern-tissue factory planned to close at the end of 2021, and appears to have closed. The Big Four pattern companies (Vogue, Butterick, McCalls, and Simplicity) are now owned by the same company, CSS Industries, which also produces wrapping paper and greeting cards; and CSS itself is owned (as of January 2020 or so)by Design Group, a UK firm. All four of the American pattern companies are now owned by an offshore/foreign company, and that means increasingly there’s value in double-checking the consistency of a pattern against a review site.

BUT — this also means that older patterns are going to go out of print, and I should start marking up my own blocks instead of cutting tissues: it’s easier to modify a traced pattern than to tape a tissue. ]

One of the things that I’m learning from the current pattern, M7736 by McCall’s, is using sewn-in interfacing rather than iron-on interfacing. I watched a tutorial (I think with Bernadette Banner?) on sewn-in interfacing, and how it improves the drape and look of a garment. I’m using a heavier fabric for my interfacing, a lovely beige linen, because in this project there are places where that interfacing will wind up showing, and I’d like it not to be jarring. I read somewhere (possibly in Banner’s Book on sewing and mending, “Make, Sew and Mend”) that sewn in interfacing or interlining, as it is sometimes called, looks much nicer if it’s sewn together with the outer facing fabric, flat, and then treated like a single piece of fabric. And it’s easier to sew such pieces together with hand-sewing, a mix of running stitch, running backstitch, and back-stitch… together with some ladder stitching for the darts.

Well, drat.

That’s a lot more labor-intensive than I was prepared to get. On the other hand, the sewing machines are out at the cleaners. So, away we go.

Oh. Em. Gee.

Some of the photos of this process (including the reinforcement of the corners of the pockets, for a pocket welt that will lie flatter and look better) are in the gallery above. But I have to admit, the results are so much nicer than anything that I’ve yet done. It’s clear that I have to learn how to sew darts more effectively with this technique (I think you have to sew the two edges of the dart first, and then sew the sides of the dart together, but I’m not sure yet). But even with that trouble, this already looks and feels more like a garment piece and less like a costume. I’m … impressed, despite the challenges of hand-sewing two pieces of fabric together, sewing the darts on the two pieces of fabric together as one dart, and reinforcing the pockets so that both pieces of fabric are ‘married’ as one at those places.

Damn.

[I genuinely believe, of course, that hand-work is often superior to machine work. That’s particularly true in this age of post-industrialism — the need that companies have to generate intellectual property, means that parts are often no longer interchangeable. One of my sewing machines, for example, is in good working order except for one part that is definitely broken… that part’s absence means that there are a good 30+ stitch-variations that are no longer available. The manufacturer, though, no longer has that part available for sale; the factory that produced them has gone out of business. Alas, too: and there is a $60 part that might fit, from a different manufacturer… but installing it also might wreck my machine.]

In any case, learning to do this by hand is teaching me things that are frustrating and slow, but also providing insights into how to produce quality, durability, and beauty both expertly and deliberately— as long as it’s done by hand. It’s a discomforting thought, really — that the very tool which started the industrial revolution, the sewing machine, is now itself dependent on a lot of fussy and complicated intellectual property rules that are knocking some machines permanently out of service and the option for repair —and the best success for the future is going back to 1900s and 1940s-era models, or earlier, which need less repair and whose parts are considerably less finicky, but have fewer options for stitch craft. It’s possible that future stitch craft will have to come from us, the sewists, who learn the hand-sew tricks of the trade.

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