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Conversational Threads

Raising the status of home sewing

Phoebe3 | Posted in Feedback on Threads on

The status of home sewing has suffered over the last few decades. Threads, as the premier magazine of sewing should aspire to elevate it.

I think many of us cringe when someone asks, “did you make that?”. We are not sure if its an innocent question or an insult. We know that for many people “homemade” still conjures images of a dozen dresses whipped out in a week and all made from flour sacks.

A beautiful garment comprises, style, fit, fabric and craftsmanship. Threads does and excellent job of informing us about craftsmanship, but sometimes fails on fit, fabric and style.

Look at the two outfits on page 61 of the current issue. This is what has given home sewing a bad name. You don’t see anything like that on the runways. Both pants are way too short. I think the model has those blue pants on backwards; that is the only way I can imagine ending up with that much extra fabric at the crotch. At least, with the outfit on the left, the cut of the short jacket and the color black is current. The outfit on the right screams homemade. Threads needs to make better choices about the garments it uses as examples, if home sewing is to gain in respectability


  1. GailAnn | | #1


    My sister is an excellent seamstress.  To be honest, it is kind of a chore for her, and not a relaxing hobby.  She doesn't "stash", but buys the goods and notions for only the project at hand.  She ONLY makes things she has seen in a magazine or an expensive store, and wanted but couldn't afford. 

    Why?  THAT QUESTION!  It is SO offensive to her, she NEVER wants to hear it!  I doubt many of her friends even know she can sew.

    I love to sew.  I enjoy it.  I love fabric, patterns and all the "stuff and such" that goes with it.  I have the stash to show for it!  I feel very competant about sewing.  I'm usually proud and happy with my finished product.  Still, I HATE the question too!

    Am I so insecure at my age, that one little question can instantly make me feel somehow LESS THAN?  Yes, I think so.

    Among my friends, some quilt, few sew.  The very best seamstress among my friends quit sewing in the late 80s.  She realized how expensive "home made" is compared to off the rack.  Good fabric, costs GOOD MONEY. and that's about all there is to be said about it. 

    Occasionally I make the very useful and serviceable skirt for $10, but that is not usually the case!  Saving money on your wardrobe is not usually a very good reason to sew.  Unless, like my sister, you only compare your garments to very High End.  Then you DO reap HUGE savings!

    Among the "young-ens" in our familiy only one niece sews, and she knits too.  Don't know how she feels about "the question", because she is always proud of whatever she shows to me.

    Two winters ago, the girl's Youth Group leader of our church, offered a little project.  Sewing machines, notions, irons and ironing boards were borrowed.  Fabric was provided for those who couldn't afford it.  They girls spent Friday night and Saturday making pillowcases and pajama bottoms.  They all wore thier pajama bottoms to Sunday School the following Sunday (You might not approve of that.).  It seemed to be a good time.  The girls were excited about it and talked about it for weeks.  Too bad, that was the end of it!  The project was never repeated and no sewing circle came out of it.  Sad.



    1. Phoebe3 | | #2

      I  think it's fair for your sister to compare her clothes to high end garments. Sure we can cover our bodies for less by buying RTW than sewing, but we can't get that perfect fit, or style or fabric. I just knocked off a $650 designer skirt. Right now, I working on knocking off an $800 dress, but my dress will be long enough for a 55 year old and in a fabric weight more suitable to my climate.


  2. jjgg | | #3

    Personally, I am not offended by the question, people that know me expect that all my 'nicer' clothing is hand made by me. Actually they are very surprised when I say no, I bought something.a funny story - I was at the local Joanns buying a Threads magazine (the last issue) I was wearing a store bought top - button down, sleeveless summer shirt. The clerk asked me if I made it. I laughed and said "NO! If I made it, it would fit me better!" She was shocked, didn't know what to say and just stared at me as she rang up my purchase.

  3. Ckbklady | | #4

    I agree with your assessment of page 61 - those outfits ARE dodgy. And while I agree that you're unlikely to see such clothes on a runway, I must say I've seen things like them recently in clothing stores that cater to teens and 20s somethings. I don't like 'em either but they're fashionable.

    I think it's because home sewing is reaching a resurgence thanks to fashion-driven shows like Project Runway, and the ambitious newbie sewers would like immediately to be daring, cutting-edge designers that we see clothes that break our traditional rules of taste and proportion, and still look "beginner". It is a thrilling start for a sewing newbie to see something that he or she is able to make without all those pesky lessons in pattern drafting, making slopers and assessing proportion (yes, I try not to gasp too). I would also love a Threads that only produced articles about Vionnet-style garments, Chanel suits and such, but the new sewing market is young and edgy and wants that random, innovative look that you and I cringe at. For those young newbie sewers, being asked, "Did you make that?" is a huge compliment, even if they look like they've been dragged backwards through a bush! There are two sewing worlds existing side by side these days, and, alas, their "homemade look" is the latest fashion.

    :) Mary

    1. Phoebe3 | | #5

      I believe you. I don't understand it, but I believe you.  Of course,  I don't understand why anyone wants to text message anyone. Some days, I'm glad I'm old. Anyway, thanks for the explanation.

      1. Ckbklady | | #11

        Hear, hear. I'm glad I'm not a kid today either. I'm a 40-something who has Never Owned A Cellphone. I still get stares and giggles from the teen girls down the street. The little dears.

        Yup, the whole text messaging, cellphoning, I-Podding, online shopping, and MP3-ing thing is all lost on me too. People actually call them NECESSITIES now. If anyone actually made a time machine I'd be the first rider - right back to 1975, when the sewing machines were manual and the fabric stores were greater in number.

        :) Mary

  4. starzoe | | #6

    All my friends know that I sew my clothing so "Did you make that" is mostly irrelevant, they just take it for granted, but I do get comments (and admiration, I think.) Yesterday I wore a new white shirt that I bought (a $147 bargain at $42). The question I got was "what did you do to it?" because I am also known to improve even bought items.I don't know about those two outfits looking home-made, they are typically the sort of thing the retired crowd around here would wear to lunch - sort of a flashback to the '80s. Sewing Workshop patterns are not for everyone, I can't see teenagers going for them.

  5. Pattiann42 | | #7

    I don't cringe when asked if I made what I am wearing because I know it is better than (and usually ahead of)  RTW.  I need to learn to be quick to reply, it's Haute Couture & let them figure out what that means!

    I thought "the wardrobe fit for fall" in the last issue of Threads to be tacky; color choices just plain ugly.  Models wearing the clothing "may" have helped.  I was not inspired to purchase any of the featured patterns.

    I did like the Mimosa top & short jacket on page 61.  Don't care for the "high water" style pants & thought the other model's pants were on backwards!

    I had some of those feed sack dresses and no one asked who made it because way back then Moms and Grandmas sewed most of the family's clothing.  Country people had to be self-sufficient then. 

    Many Moms & Grandmas have jobs now and think the homey side of life is making scrapbooks, which are great, but have been pushed to the point of being overboard.

    Those who do not sew should pay big bucks to those who do it for them!



    Edited 9/18/2007 1:12 pm ET by spicegirl1

    Edited 9/18/2007 2:33 pm ET by spicegirl1

    1. GailAnn | | #8

      I took a lady to the hospital for "a procedure" earlier this year.  While we were in the waiting room, I took a little project out of my purse and began working on it.

      She asked me what I was doing and I replied, "Knitting a facecloth".

      To which she said, "I am so glad, I've never been poor enough to have to knit my own facecloth!"


      1. Pattiann42 | | #9

        Nor is she smart enough!

      2. Phoebe3 | | #10

        Don't you wish you had the nerve to say " I don't really need a facecloth, I just take knitting with me so rude people will see that I'm busy and leave me alone"?

      3. jane4878 | | #12

        How rude! Even if she thought that you'd think she'd have the brains (or manners) to keep it to herself.   I actually buy hand crochetted dishclothes from friends because they are a million times better than anything store bought!  I'd be coming up with some snotty retort to that remark.  Offer to perform a "procedure" on her with your knitting needles...  ha ha

      4. jjgg | | #13

        This reminds me of a friend who was selling her house, it had hardwood floors, one potential buyer commented "oh, you couldn't afford carpet?">>>To which she said, "I am so glad, I've never been poor enough to have to knit my own facecloth!"<<<

    2. rodezzy | | #14

      Last year when I made my coats and sweater coats/jackets and started wearing them, it depended where I was on the comments I received.  I was bowling on a new league and almost every time I came in I was wearing a new outer wear piece.  One snooty lady that sewed asked me if I had lined the black & white swing coat, I told her no and she said "you know you can line fleece" and I said, "Why on earth would I waste time doing that?  It's as warm as I need for the weather I made it for...fall."  On the other hand, others there were chasing me down to ask if I sewed for people.  Stopping me as I tried to walk by to ask where I got it.  By seasons end, I had people begging me to crochet or sew them a coat.  And I smiled and said "I'm sorry, I just don't have time, I have lots of things I'm making for myself that I never got around to doing when I was younger."  But thanks for the compliment.

      Now, on the street I have even had grown men compliment me in the street while passing by on my sweater coats, especially the one one that's in the hues of pink.  And I wore the one with the fringe at the collar out on New Year's Eve and got tons of dropped mouths when I answered "Why Yes, I did make this."  "Oh, I'm sorry, but I just don't have time to crochet for others now, I have a full time job and my time is limited, but Thanks for asking."

      So, I don't give a "hoot" who thinks what, I'm happy with my "hand made, home made" items and when I was younger and more fussy over details, people asked me at what store did I buy it before finding out that I made it.  And I did crochet custom hats, shawls and scarves for money where I worked when I was 25.  And back then I charged according the difficulty of the stitch used and the length.  I had to stop that in order to have some time to myself.  So, sew on ladies, do your crafts, needle art and rejoice in your talents, because the ones that scoff at us are just jealous of our talents. 


  6. maggiecoops | | #15

    I've been reading this thread and sitting here smiling to myself. I first started sewing in 1964, I had no other option, it was make my own clothes or go naked.Before I got married I was used to having my clothes made, a seamstress or tailor would visit the house to measure or fit. Shoes were hand made and underwear was bespoke. At school my relationship with sewing in all its forms was non existent, I took 4 years to produce a grubby mangled apron, and the teacher informed my mother I would never acquire the sewing skills every young female should possess. I didnt care I was going to marry a rich man and wouldnt need to. I married a poor man, who bought a sewing machine and told me get on with it. I was 18 months married, had a new baby, living abroad at the time, and knew nothing about garment making apart from I couldnt do it. I couldnt run to mum to solve my problem so made my first garment. I still burst into gales of laughter every time I remember proudly showing my DH with an arrogance that was couched in ignorance, my splendid garment that had taken a day to do. It looked like the picture, well almost anyway. It was when he said does it fit and made me put it on the reality hit me. I had chosen a fitted style, A Vogue cocktail dress. It had the most glorious wide organza boat collar that was meant to sweep around off the shoulder and centre fron was gathered into a false tie. The fabric I'd chosen, a wonderful slinky silk for the dress and a devine stiff silk organza for the collar. Perhaps I should have listened to the assistant more closely.... Well I proceeded to put it on for the first time, it slid over my head, past my shoulders and continued on till it lay wrapped around my ankles in a heap on the floor, that wonderful collar framing my feet like a boat. My DH nearly collapsed with laughter. I turned and went to flounce out of the room and promptly fell over, my ankles and feet trapped in fabric. Thats when I discovered about sizes and fitting. I was a slim 36" 25" 36", my pattern had been for a size 22. I suppose alarm bells should have rung when my first attempt at inserting a zip had resulted in my stitching the front to the back of the dress, I hadnt known you didnt just lay it out on a flat surface and plonk the zip on top! Whats more I couldnt understand what the patterns markings meant, what the heck was straight grain, and why did it say put the pattern pieces on the fabric the way the sheets showed, that was wasteful, anyone could see it was more econimical to lay them the way I had.  

    One year later, thanks to a wonderful Greek Cypriot neighbour, who spoke no English, and I spoke no Greek,( we were living in Cyprus at the time) a lot of sign language and hours of laughter and some tears, I learnt to sew and draft patterns. since then I have made garments for all my family, my in laws, and for a period proffesionally. Though I gave that up as it nearly detroyed my love of sewing. I discovered that Jane public believed if you worked from home you'd be cheap and expect to pay next to nothing. That and just how bad some folks personal hygiene was, there seemed to be a belief that fresh perfume applied to stale bodies would hide the fact. I did have a loyal select clientele who apreciated a good bespoke seamstress was worth a decent fee, but eventually I closed my list. I had stopped getting pleasure from garment construction.

    My daughter re awakened it when she was in her early 20s, she had gone through a stage of I want to buy off the peg clothing, and didnt want "hand mades" any more, then realised one day when she was about to pay a ludicrous price for a simple dress, mum can do this, and it will be much better made, told the cashier, thanks but no thanks I've changed my mind, and rang me just as she was leaving the store. Now when she's asked where she bought an item she's wearing, she replies, my mother is a dressmaker, it's a one off bespoke hand made garment.

    All my sisters in Laws came to me for their wedding dresses, my sons when asked what they wanted as wedding presents, a wedding dress please mum and an outfit for her mum. As for myself, I always say, oh I didnt buy it, it's hand made, smile and move on.

    1. GailAnn | | #16

      Dear Miss Maggiecoops:

      Loved your post!  Sorry I read the newspaper first, your post would have sweetened the coffee so much more.

      Please tell me where you grew up, and where you live now.  Rude questions follow:  How old are you and are you still married to the man who gave you the sewing machine?  Fastenating!

      Now........could we please, hear just a little more about bespoke underware.

      I'm sure I'm not the only lady out there just ready to chuck the malls and catalogues and "just get on with it" when it comes to dressing myself decently these days. 

      You're a real sweetie, Gail

      1. maggiecoops | | #17








        Here are few sites that sell patterns, notions, helpful books, fabric. you need never again have to pay through the nose for nice looking underwear that fits. Elan bra patterns are good so are Kwik sews. I used to buy Marks and Spencers (an English chain store) bras and pants, for idleness, but at £40 a bra reverted to making my own. Supplies used to be a problem, but not now. Thank heavens for power netting, I now have bras, half slips that fit my ever expanding torso, and my increasingly huge bottom is encased in cotton lycra up to my what was my waist line but now is my built in famine store, which doesnt resemble a grand marquee when hung on the line to waft gently in the breeze. My knickers not my bottom!

      2. maggiecoops | | #18

        Ok answers to "rude questions" first. The man who bought the sewing machine died in 2003, we had been married 40 years, though how he managed to put up with me I'll never know. He never realised at the time what a wonderful world he was opening up for me. I'm extremely grateful he couldnt afford my former method of dressing myself, without his plonking a sewing machine on a table and telling me there was my future wardrobe. I would never have discovered so many of my interests. I still have the machine, a Singer 328K, fantastic machine. I'm rising 65 years young, and entered my second childhood when about 12 years old. From my birth  until my 40 th birthday, I was the modern equivelant to a nomad. My early years were spent shuttling between Scotland and the extreme south of England. When travel restrictions were relaxed slightly after WW2, we lived in Norway or I travelled with my parents, I was plonked onto my respective Grand parents now and then, as  not all the places my father had to go were child friendly. By the age of 8, I was a seasoned international travellor, such a waste, I had no apreciation of the sights I was seeing or the people I was meeting. I did like the ships though, I always felt at ease on them like I was home. From the age of 9 to 20 I lived in England, being moved around as usual  Married at 20, then spent the next 20 years being moved as my husband was British service man serving in the Royal Air Force. The past 23 years and I hope till I die, I have lived where I am now, a small English town in the centre of England. I have at long last established roots. I have some family left in Norway, and some in the south of England, but this rolling stone gathered some moss and found it liked being stuck in one spot.

        Ok GailAnn, that's a potted history, I think it answers both the rude questions and the inquisitive one.

        Bespoke underwear is that you have constructed to your size nd dimensions. we had a lady who constructed corsetry and lingerie come to house regularly. In each new house my mother would locate a seamstress, bespoke tailor corsetiere and shoe maker. It sounds incredibly grand, but the reality was I could have hand made custom shoes for only a fraction more than ready mades. A bespoke costume was the norm, mass production had arrived but it wasnt until all rationing was scrapped and manufacturers were allowed to start selling in the home market, we saw the impact of ready mades for the masses.

        1. GailAnn | | #19

          I thank you for you kind replies.  What a very interesting life you've led!  Yes, it does sound grand!  You are, however, much younger than I suspected.  At first I thought you must be 90 or older to have enjoyed having seamstresses or tailors come into your home.  Didn't realize that practice lasted as long as it did.  Yes, indeed, we have seen what mass marketing has done to our clothing.  Boring!  Boring!  Boring!  Perhaps you will write a book one day. 

          I intend to work on some of these underware things, this Winter.  Thanks for the web-sites.  By Spring I hape to have a "bespoke" wardrobe of my own.  Gail

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