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Sewing: The Pedagogy

Sewing a button back on a pair of pants only takes the pants, the button, and a needle and thread. Creating a new pair of pants, well, that can easily become cost prohibitive. The people who really sew, they use multiple machines to get the job done, in addition to the pattern and the material. As I am not replete with cash money, I enlisted the help of a friend in possession of these foreign machines to aid in my learning endeavors.

Sewing Workstation
The average sewer’s workstation. Estimated price: Infinite dollars, USD.

One of the most surprising aspects of sewing, to me at least, was its overlap with numerous other areas of interest. Critical to the successful production of any sewn clothes is an understanding of the layout and design of the human body. As a human who has gone through the process of puberty, I considered myself amply qualified in the study of the human body, but I was sorely mistaken.  Knowledge of variations in distances, what changes with changing “sizes,” how to shape and size to lead to a good fit, all of this knowledge allows for sewing experts to truly excel at their craft.

For instance, did you know that your legs are supposed to -- proportionally -- be this long? We must all be some mutant form of human derived from a short-legged strain.
For instance, did you know that your legs are supposed to — proportionally — be this long? We must all be some mutant form of human derived from a short-legged strain.

Given this, it is probably unsurprising that math also makes an appearance. Take, for instance, this video describing how to make a circle skirt. The video maker suggests dividing your waist measurement by 6.28 to get the “inner circle measurement.” The astute observer will recognize that she’s just trying to determine a radius from a given circumference, so dividing by 2π makes sense. (P.S. I wouldn’t recommend making a circle skirt that way. What’s the point of ensuring that it’s an unbroken circle and then cutting through it? You can do better.) Utilizing mathematical knowledge would have made her project easier, or at least more intuitive. In fact, math is so intricately tied to sewing that it has even formed part of the mathematics common core curriculum. For sixth grade. So like 17 years ago for me…

It’s also clear to me, from watching my sewing expert friend/teacher work, that an in depth knowledge of mechanical engineering would come in handy. After shelling out thousands — yes, THOUSANDS! — for arrays of high level sewing equipment, it then becomes imperative to service the machines to keep them working and avoid a similar payout.  Basically, sewing = $$$.

Sewing Machine Intestines
Or you could just memorize this chart. Sewing machines are probably comparable across the industry, right? That’s how these things work, yeah?

Anyway, with my friend’s help, I learned a number of different sewing stitches and when it’s appropriate to use them.  This includes good stitches for stretch fabric and non-stretch fabric, and stitches that go too quickly for a n00b like me to keep up with: ) I learned how to pattern match if I’m creating with pattern fabric, how to sew them together so that the outside always looks the best, how to layer fabrics for protection, how to modify patterns if I can’t find exactly what I’m looking for, and, to my dismay, even how to iron.  Look, this is a skill that you should have, it’s not just for iron beads.

After months of weekly training, I feel like I could confidently attach two pieces of cloth together, though I would probably still call my friend first to confirm. There are lots of little…intricacies to remember, learn, account for. Ease with these comes in time for the well-trained sewer, as it does for most knowledge bases.  But with my friend’s help, I felt ready to tackle a real sewing project.


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