Friday, November 21, 2014

Sew Far, Sew Good

Coleraine Sewing Culture
I don't know what it was that inspired me to do something so out of character as joining a workshop. The scheduling! The commitment! Not to mention the other people... 

I have always preferred to learn things on my own terms, and that has been my approach to sewing since I first picked up a needle at age 5 and became personal tailor to my stuffed animals (by today's standards, it seems wild that I was permitted this - children lived dangerously 30 years ago!). But somehow, as I started to ride the bike I made with my own hands and recollections of how tear-inducingly difficult that process was trickled in after I'd successfully managed to suppress them, I began to think about things. Things like structure, diligence and replicability. I enjoy the process of creation. But whether I'm painting, taking photos, making clothing, tinkering with bikes, or building a website, that process is always a chaotic one for me. At the core I am an ideas person - excited about realising those ideas, yet careless and imprecise in their execution. And, as I ran my finger for the Nth time along the secret imperfections of my bicycle frame, while simultaneously allowing my gaze to fall upon the crooked hem of my DIY dress, the knowledge that I could have done a better job with both nagged at me uncomfortably. I need to learn to do stuff properly damnit.

Coleraine Sewing Culture
It was while in this frame of mind that I stumbled upon a shop in the nearby town of Coleraine that offered sewing workshops. Before I could lose my nerve, I walked in and signed up - explaining to the instructor that while I sew, in my own haphazard fashion, I had never learned proper technique or used a pattern before. "Well, this should be interesting!" she said, and sent me to another little shop down the street to pick out fabric and a pattern for a project of my choosing.

Coleraine Sewing Culture
The town of Coleraine, while quite small, boasts several sewing and crafts-themed shops with amazingly helpful staff. Within minutes, I emerged from one of them clutching a dress pattern in my size and a heap of raw silk tartan fabric the likes of which I had not even known existed, let alone imagined snagging in this tiny unassuming shop.

Birches Along Coleraine Cycle Path
I retuned home looking forward to the workshop. Of course there was the small matter of getting there. Door to door, it is a 13 mile trip - which would make it a lovely morning ride in good weather, with one long steep hill to tackle about half-way. But since this is November in Northern Ireland we're talking about, the reality is more like a horrendously windy, at times downpoury, horror of a ride to face first thing n the morning, with a 14% grade climb thrown in for good measure. Determined not to miss any workshops, my plan was to get there either by bike, or bike + train, depending on how bad the weather is. So far, it has been working out. For the first day of the workshop the weather was decent, and I took my roadbike, carrying fabric in the tiny handlebar bag. For the second class, I could hardly face the 30mph+ winds, so I took my folding bike and rode it 2 miles to the train station, then cruised to the workshop once the train delivered me into the town center. They even have a bicycle rack right outside the shop window!

Coleraine Sewing Culture
Within two weeks of the sewing workshop, I have learned more about working with patterns than I thought myself capable of in such a short span of time, so I'm very pleased and excited. Unlike bicycle maintenance, mechanics and construction, I actually have a natural aptitude for sewing. And I have to admit it's a huge boost in morale to work on something I am naturally good at for once, as opposed to working on things that make me feel inept no matter how hard I try to master them.

Coleraine Sewing Culture
The atmosphere in the sewing class is absolutely wonderful. Heaps of fabric everywhere. A row of refurbished sewing machines. And a small group of women from a variety of backgrounds, all quite friendly and easy to talk to. Being among them made me realise that I've become quite feral since my move to this rural area - unaccustomed to human contact other than with my neighbours and those I know through cycling. Why, I had almost forgotten you can talk to people about things other than farming and bicycles!

Coleraine Sewing Culture
In the class I encountered a lovely woman from Paris, and we said to each other almost simultaneously, "How did you end up in Northern Ireland?" We chatted, and in the process I told her about my tentative PBP plans.  She, in turn, shared that her son is a cyclist. "So is mine," said the woman threading her sewing machine next to us. I might not need to think of non-cycling topics after all.

25 comments:

  1. I too have always sewn, but in my own way, much like everything. I rejected patterns as if allergic but wish I had some more knowledge to know how to make MY OWN patterns. I'd really like to take a class in tailoring as I do things myself, but always a bit haphazard. I have tried learning from books, but hands on learning would help me visualize things better.
    One issue is that fabric is quite expensive as are patterns. Also, I am so tiny that when I did follow patterns, the things didn't fit right, so had to go back and resize. It is cheaper and more interesting to find high quality items from second hand stores, or free bins or clothing swaps and either tailor to fit me or use the fabric for something else. Given the terrible quality of clothing anymore, it makes more sense to do this. Such as wonderful high end wool or cashmere pants which I turn into more slim fit/skinny pants for cycling and the general mucking about of country life-that also look sort of professionalish for work..
    I do wish I had made a diy a form though! There are tutorials on the net using old t shirts or garbage bags and duct tape. Wear old shirt or plastic bag, wrap your torso up in duct tape, good and strong. carefully cut a way out, then carefully tape back together. Close up the neck, arms, bottom part and stuff. Some people stuff the form with old fabric, but spray foam works best.
    I live in a rural area with a super active 'fibre arts' community, lots of retired ladies quilting, knitting, felting etc so the towns have wonderful sewing shops.

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    1. I've had good success making a papier-mâché dress form on my own body. You can also cheat by using layers of simple masking tape in leu of paper and paste, though the result is more fragile. It was a couple of decades ago that I've done this though, and I'm not sure I'd have the patience for such a project now!

      Learning to work from a pattern is definitely a step toward learning patternmaking for me, as opposed to an endgoal in itself. Even this first pattern I'm working with, I've ended up modifying slightly.

      Like you, I work mostly with used and discarded fabrics. In fact, this was the first time I've actually bought fabric in over a decade! Makes me so nervous to work with it, especially as the pattern has to be lined up just so for cutting on the fold and I'd never given that kind of thing much thought before. Fingers crossed!

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  2. Your original blog was great. I believe I found it shortly after you started. I liked what I was reading and kept following you. This new format is even better, especially the larger pictures. Thanks for all the great reading and keep it up!
    Russell

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    1. The large photos absolutely make the posts come alive. I had no idea how badly I wanted to try sewing until I clicked on this post! Where do I sign up?

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  3. I have been following LB for a while but never commented. I am a 66 year old man with many interests-- cooking, oil painting, cabinet making, gardening, telescope observing (astronomy), reading, French, photography, sewing; plus bicycle riding and working on my 40 year old bicycles (forget the modern ones.)

    I was amused by LB's comment: "But whether I'm painting, taking photos, making clothing, tinkering with bikes, or building a website, that process is always a chaotic one for me." Well DUH!! When you are a Well Rounded Person, with many skills that are individually gained or earned, require real knowledge and practice, and patience, and you are of the personality that engages many activities more or less at the same time, to avoid ennui, to challenge the mind, or merely to appear to oneself as the splendid Renaissance creature that one IS, by God, the result will be chaotic. So?

    I love your blog. By the way, HAND sewing is the highest and best craft I have found for overall contentment and peace of mind. It takes practice to cut fabric correctly and there is a lot to be learned about the simple tools and also the ergonomics of tailoring but sewing by hand is immensely satisfying and yields a garment that fits differently and better than any machine-made piece. My current goal is to make a sport coat of superfine raw silk, where only the centerline up the back is machine sewn. Peace and good luck to you- PJTramdack

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    1. I prefer sewing by hand and can't seem to warm to using sewing machines. There is no logical reason for this. In fact I love the *idea* of sewing machines and even have 2 perfectly functional vintage Singers at the moment. But when it comes to actually doing the work, it just feels nicer to curl up in some nook with a needle and fabric in hand, put a movie on, and sew away... even if the result is not as neat as it would have been on a machine.

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  4. Ancien du Paris BrestNovember 22, 2014 at 5:12 AM

    very nice report, thanks, though my favourite part is: "I told her about my tentative PBP plans."

    Really hope, that your project will end successful. With your love for cycling and your determination I am quite sure it will.

    Best regards (and your new website is very nice btw)

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  5. Did you hear this on Monday

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04p7xls

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    1. How cool, no I did not - thanks for posting that!

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  6. I still have to pinch myself when I see familiar spots in Coleraine and Limavady transformed into interesting destinations on your blog. Game of Thrones AND Lovely Bicycle!! Love the new look of the blog too. XO Cate

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  7. Sewing is another one of those fun things that handy people who can't really spend their way out of problems usually end up doing (at least a little).

    Some friends got me started bikepacking last year and it's been so much fun. Pretty gear intensive though. I swept a free (cracked) Gary Fisher Paragon frame and a bunch of used and close-out stuff into a pile and built a 29" rigid Mtn. bike with 3" tires and crazy low gears. I built some racks for it myself and the whole thing didn't cost $300. But bags for it would have easily been more than that.

    My Lovely and Talented offered to help me make some bags. We cut the pockets out of an old bookbag and sacrificed a cheap cordura dufflebag and made a neat framebag and some other stuff for about $5(and 5 hours of laughing and bickering). It's almost, but not quite entirely un-like the cool bags that companies like Revelate make and sell to grown-ups, but it's worked really well on a bunch of trips now. I get as much satisfaction from it as I do from having welded up the frame and made the racks. People who are standing more than 10 feet away sometimes ask me what brand it is, and people standing right beside the bike always ask if I made it myself.

    I'm really pretty bad with a needle and thread and I only get to use the sewing machine with strict adult supervision but things I couldn't afford to buy still get made and stuff gets repaired that would have gotten thrown away and I get to have a little fun. It's mostly Artsy "feral" country people like you and all my "thrifty" relatives that encourage me to try some of these things.

    My friend Randy "crafted" pair of shoes from scratch(some leather too but mostly "scratch") while we in College. Even though they were hideous, he and all of his friends got tremendous joy and satisfaction from those shoes. I never tired of asking where he got them whenever he cornered some young lady at a party, and the time I offered his shoes a chicken bone at a picnic is probably as close to wit as I'll ever get. Damn I loved those shoes...

    Spindizzy

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    1. "Sewing is another one of those fun things that handy people who can't really spend their way out of problems usually end up doing"

      Not when it comes to clothing. If $$ is the only consideration, most will opt to buy cheap clothes in discount stores or secondhand charity shops. Last time I was in the US, I happened to stop by one of those fancy Tahr-jeys and had a glance at their clearance clothing rack in the women's dept, to discover a plethora of options with price tags in the sub-$10 range. Unless you're re-using your existing old clothes for fabric, there's just no way sewing your own clothing can compete with that. Not to mention starter costs, such as a sewing machine &accessories, if you haven't already got them. My feeling is that those who like or feel the need to make their own stuff, will do so regardless of their financial situation, and likewise those who don't won't.

      A friend of mine runs wizywig shoe making workshops, using pre-made soles and scraps of suede. The results I've seen aren't at all hideous, though I have not tried myself.

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    2. I wasn't really thinking about sewing new clothes as much as repairing the stuff I already have. I really don't mind spending money on clothes(I actually really like it), but when a jacket just has a pocket torn loose at a corner or when I find a nice pair of old wool fatigue trousers that are too short but have 4 inch hems... That sort of thing.

      I think all the curtains and drapes in our house and some of the upholstered furniture are things we decided we could do better ourselves than trying to buy with the itsy bitsy budget we had to work with at the time.

      Spindizzy

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  8. Hi V.,

    If I have to repair a tubular tyre I will probably deal with a couturier for the final process.Patching the inner chamber is easy but I am not capable of sewing.
    So, if I were to live in Coleraine city I am not sure I would dare to go into such beautiful sewing workshops with a tubular tyre in my hand.
    Btw: The blog is pleasant to see, design seems to be more sober.

    L.

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    1. Oh I'm sure your tubular tire would delight the sewing class participants!

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  9. Lucky you for living near a town with a great fabric shop! I can't even find decent shirting fabric in my town. But my town will be another town soon, and hopefully my fabric selection will improve! I'm excited about your dress project. I'm hoping that you'll share the finished results. Sewing has always been a necessity for me. When you're not quite five feet tall, even the petite sizes tend to be too long. My mother taught me early on to make alterations, and create my own patterns. It's unusual that even as something I do as my profession, I still enjoy sewing in my free time. Though not always for garment construction. Being too dang short for most clothing off the rack extends to bike issues too! Not just needing a small bike, but also saddle bags that fit small bikes. Something that most manufacturers don't offer. So I've made myself several saddlebags to fit the small available space I have and also a boxy rando bag. I'm currently scheming a new handlebar bag to match my current saddlebag. Also, working as a seamstress and primarily in alterations, I end up with a TON of beautiful scrap fabric. Never really enough for a garment, but usually enough for hats. And I LOVE hats. Of all sorts. My hat pattern collection is becoming more extensive than my garment pattern collection.

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    1. Considering what a remote area I live in, I am indeed lucky - there are a good half dozen shops selling fabric within either cycling or commuter-train distance. Out of curiosity, where do you buy your fabric online?

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    2. Another vote for showing the dress, the fabric looks fab!

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  10. "At the core I am an ideas person - excited about realising those ideas, yet careless and imprecise in their execution"

    Thank you for writing that. It is concise, thoughtful and full of insight. I can't imagine a better description of my own self. I'm happy to know that we are kindred spirits.

    The new layout is great. Keep up the good work.

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  11. I know just what you mean about aptitude. Fixing and assembling bicycles is a piece of cake and no one had to teach me how to do it. But hand me a needle and thread and my brain switches off. I would love to mend my own clothing, maybe make myself a couple of hats. But even after attempting a sewing class, that's just not going to happen! If only people like us could connect and trade the things we are good at. I would gladly be your personal bicycle mechanic if you would be my seamstress!

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    1. That sounds like a promising beginning of a personals ad : ))

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  12. I definitely wouldn't mind learning how to make some of my own clothes or at least learn how to replicate some clothing that I've found that fit really well. I've made a quilt and crocheted a few amagarumis for friends and family, and also a mended a few items, but I've never "learned" how to sew. i think it would be great to make or modify some of my own bike clothes. I have a vintage 50's singer and all the attachments. this might inspire me to look into a class.

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  13. No harm to them, but those are some hideous patterns in that wee shop window :))) Love your fabric though, best of luck with your project. I cycle to work in Portstewart and have just found your blog!

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  14. HI... I thoroughly enjoy all of your posts, but this one struck a cord in me as I am a hack at sewing, cycling, knitting, pottery, painting, ah... the list is endless... Yet, after reading this full of your trademark refreshing candor, I had a new take on my "jack of all trades, master of none" aptitude. From where I sit, you write brilliantly, your photography is stunning and often quite moving, and from what I can tell, you do indeed know quite a bit about the world of bicycles.
    Enjoy your sewing class, 14% grade, 13 mile ride with gale force winds and all.... and I look forward to reading more about your projects.
    Best,
    Kit (Boston based, but with dreams of living in the UK or Ireland)

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  15. This one? http://www.sewoff.co.uk/patterns/burda-bur6832.html
    You sure did not start off with a easy project.. Plse keep us updated.
    My name is badmother and I am a sewingmachine addict.

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