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Style /The ROI of dreams

New reasons to sew your own

Marni outfits illustrate how mixes and shifts of fabric make fashion sense.

Photos courtesy of vendors


People no longer ask, “Did you mean to put the pocket on the inside?” There is an assumption nowadays that everything is intentional.


I do not push sewing on people. I don’t encourage parents to sign their children up for horseback riding lessons, either. I should want to. I love making clothes, and I love how it feels in the saddle when a horse breaks into a gallop. And I am usually a pushy person. But I know how it goes with dreams. It is impossible to guarantee a traditional ROI (return on investment). Time will be lost. Money will be spent. Disappointment? Inevitable—no one ever confused me for what people call an “equestrian,” and I rarely make an outfit that doesn’t require tape or glue. Yes, sewing is a commitment. Like glass-blowing or aeronautics, it involves physics, equipment, and a passionate trust that, in time, there will be something of value to behold. No, sewing is not for everyone. But if you have ever, even for a just a second, secretly wanted to impress Tim Gunn, I suggest that now would be an excellent time to at least consider the art of clothing construction.


Your own graphic designs, printed on demand

Photo from Spoonflower


There are a few reasons. For starters, did you know you can order fabrics that will display your own graphic designs? You scan or photograph or illustrate an image. Play with filters and photo-editors. Enlarge a fragment of your favorite doodle, or reduce a cityscape down into a micro abstraction. Your graphic design can be the outline of a leaf, a raindrop on a window, your mother’s wedding ring, a reproduction of an old advertisement that is unencumbered by any intellectual property rights. You will know when you see it: this design that has potential to become cloth. Then you upload the image file to a fabric company’s website. (The fabric company’s software will help you get your design to repeat, if that is what you want.) Then it is printed onto or woven into a textile. Once the fabric is delivered, you can cut and sew it into a coat or curtains, a shopping bag, a scarf, a duvet cover, a dog bed cover, baby leggings—baby almost anything for that matter. Re-upholster an office chair if you need the inspiration. (Ask permission first.) We are all becoming so savvy with visuals. Textile design is a way to pull your artwork off your phone and out of the computer, and show it off, live.


Calvin Klein goes right to the root of fabric blending, the quilt


Another reason to sew relates to the trend of fabric merging. Different fabrics are sewn together in blocks or grids, like quilting patterns designed by urban planners. The look may come across as aggressive dressing (the disparity in fabrics can be jarring at first), but it is coming. If you know how to sew, you can tamp the look down to service a quieter eclectic. For example, sew a strip of translucent organza or an even thinner, super skinny strip of faux fur into a little black dress. Replace the shirttail hang of a denim top with a trim of white or yellow raincoat material. Take the striped sailcloth usually reserved for patio umbrellas and attach it to that beautiful French tablecloth that you simply never use. There, now you have a new spring coat. OK, maybe these are not so subtle, but merging can also give you branding options. You can create a signature mark, where a few of your pieces bear your personal imprint. This could be something as simple as a swatch that is only a slight variation in color, or material with the rest of the shirt or pant. With merging, you can make the whole item of clothing yourself, of course, but you also have the option of deconstructing a store-bought piece that you take apart only enough to add a slice of your sense of humor, nostalgia, or edge.


Awning type stripes hit the runway, by Caroline Herrera​; Ralph Lauren dress illustrate how mixes and shifts of fabric make fashion sense.


Perhaps my favorite reason for learning to sew now is this: Your creations do not have to be perfect. People no longer ask, “Did you mean to put the pocket on the inside?” There is an assumption nowadays that everything is intentional.


When I was four years old, I dreamed that I sewed a doll’s dress. The fabric was the color of an acorn, the construction simple. Too simple. It wouldn’t have worked, and because of that, and because of my never-ending dependence on tape and glue, I know this was not a vision. I must have pulled off some article of my own clothing or pajamas from a baby doll and suddenly noticed the hidden world of shoulder seams and fabric-covered snaps. No divine intervention, but whatever I had seen impressed me enough to settle into my subconscious. My mother would eventually buy me a sewing machine and sign me up for classes, but my first sewing lesson was in my sleep, which brings me to reason number four: Things are better now. Now we have YouTube. You can take a peek for free at how sewing works, to see if you might want to push yourself into creating something of tangible—and intangible—value.


Loewe jacket




Graphic prints on demand. Visit spoonflower.com to explore how fabric print on demand works. Be sure to read reviews of any on demand company you are interested in, and look for local companies, associations, and universities that may provide on-demand services. Printing is not the same as dyed and woven threads, so there may be issues with loss of pigment.


Woven fabric on demand. Visit wovns.com to learn about using your digital designs and the company’s Jacquard looms. There are fewer fabric options than some printing on-demand companies. Again, read reviews and look for local options. Keep checking for new companies and services as this type of service becomes more popular.


Coding. Computer programs play a large part in our graphic world. Women do not play a huge role in creating computer programs. In the search for self-designed fabrics on demand, I came across the initiative girlswhocode.com and I’m sharing.


Sewing machines. Do not go out and buy a new sewing machine. Wait. Wait. Wait. You can visit a store like Joann’s Fabrics and sign up for lessons. Machines are provided for the class. If you want to try to teach yourself at home, look for a used machine or ask a friend or relative if you can borrow an older machine. (Warning! There is a reason I call my sewing machine “Mine.” Borrow with care.) If you like sewing, you will absolutely want your own, but the new machines come with so many amazing options, including digital screens. It may help to focus on the basics at first. Then spend.


A fabric board. Or a notebook. Gather swatches of sample fabrics, and learn how best to use and care for them. This will help you avoid the mistake of buying material based only on seeing the color or print and falling in love. Or maybe I am the only one who does this . . .


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