Learn From A Pro: Deborah of Whipstitch

If you read my posts yesterday about Whipstitch, then you’ll know who Deborah is. She’s the owner of Whipstitch and a sewing instructor and soon-to-be author of a sewing book. When I talked to her at the grand opening, I could sense Deborah’s passion to modernize the art and craft of sewing. Not only is she a remarkable seamstress, but she is adrenalized to share and teach others everything she knows. I love people like that. So at the last minute, when I decided to have this Sewing 101 Education Week, I asked Deborah if she would debunk some sewing myths for us- in hopes to get you excited or interested in sewing.

When Tiffany asked me to guest post, she wanted to bust some of the big sewing myths that are out there. The ones that make it hard to get started or scare people away from learning to sew. My greatest passion when it comes to sewing is introducing new folks to the craft. And one of my pet peeves is that so many of them have had bad experiences or false information that made them think sewing was out of their reach. So I was all kinds of delighted to get down and dirty on this one.

I think the most consistent thing I notice about the Intro to Sewing students who come through classes at Whipstitch is that they have set incredibly high standards for themselves. And most of them have some kind of idea about “What sewing is” that may or may not have much of its basis in fact. It’s largely from these interactions that I’ve drawn these sewing myths and truths. But I should acknowledge the influence of The Gentle Art of Domesticity by Jane Brocket – a wonderful book and a joy to read. Brocket touches on all these ideas here and there through the course of the volume as well as on her blog, Yarnstorm.

Five Sewing Myths: Debunked!

Myth #1: Sewing is hard work and takes a lot of training.

Truth: Sewing is as hard as you make it. Are there techniques that take time and intense attention to detail? Sure. But there are just as many projects that are a series of straight seams — just long lines of stitches — and go together lickety-split. Far more important than your level of skill or your sewing background is your willingness to try new things, to experiment, to accept imperfections and to forgive yourself. It’s not hard work to sew, and in fact, I find it to be supremely relaxing and a place where I can really get into the zone and the rest of the world fades away. Don’t buy into the attitude that says, “If it’s not hard, you’re not doing it right.” Rather, if it gets to where it’s not fun, back away from the machine and take a break. Come back later and I suspect you’ll find it’s easier than you first thought and a lot more fun.

Myth #2: Sewing has to be perfect in order to be good.

Truth: In some ways, this is the corollary to #1. If you accept that sewing doesn’t have to be hard or take a lot of training, then somewhere along the line you’ll learn that the best way to improve your sewing is by doing it. And practice makes mistakes, as we all learned once we got out of school. Mistakes are the very, very best way to get better at something, especially at sewing. You really only have to sew something inside-out once and then rip out every. single. stitch. with your seam ripper to learn to never, ever do that again. And when, inevitably, you make the same mistake again, well, that really does drive the lesson home. Your sewing does not have to be perfect in order to be good, it only needs to be good enough for the standards YOU have set. One of the phrases I use constantly is, “Does it bother me enough?” As in, “I’m making my own wedding gown for my dream wedding to my dream man, and I’ve just messed up the hem/put in a sleeve backwards/added too much lace/unevenly adjusted the gathers. Does it bother me enough to take it out and do it over?” Compare that to, “I’m making a 20-minute skirt for my 18-month-old to wear on playdates at the park, and I’ve put in an uneven hem. Does it bother me enough to take it out and do it over?” The question is similar, but my money says the answer is NOT the same. It’s not perfection we’re seeking. Rather, it is the act itself that is the goal. Perfection is relative, and most times, you’ll find that good really is good enough.

Myth #3: Sewing is all-or-nothing. You can’t be a sometime stitcher.

Truth: Oh, my, but this one’s a big fat lie. Of course you can be a “sometime stitcher.” Who says you must be a pro to really sew? Who says you have to do it all day long, or even all that often, to consider yourself One Who Sews? What a load. Instead, embrace the truth, disciples: anyone who sews is One Who Sews. Sew a little? Awesome. Sew a lot? Also cool. Embroider? Yep. Clothes? Oh, yeah. Quilts? That, too. It’s all sewing, and it all counts. And you don’t have to be an expert or an aficionado or a raging geek to appreciate what sewing can represent in your life. And don’t let some rude counter clerk at the Snobby Shop down the road make you feel as though you’re not good enough because you’re just starting out or because you dabble rather than drip when it comes to sewing. Sewing is an opportunity to express yourself that directly influences and is influenced by your domestic life. It makes very little difference how often or to what degree you partake of that means of expression. Every stitch counts and each one goes a little farther to bringing domestic peace into your home.

Myth #4: Sewing is outdated and anti-feminist.

Truth: This one is, I suspect, the root of why we’re growing up part of the Craft Gap. Our mothers were fully in the heart of feminist America in their high school/college/early adulthood years, and most all of the women I know who are sewing now, or who wish to, grew up as I did in the post-feminist era. We are the product of a sometimes subtle, sometimes overt message that crafting and sewing were ways to repress women and prevent them from achieving success in other realms of life. Also that domestic creation was inferior to corporate creation. Either our mothers believed this and chose not to sew or to teach us, or we did and so resisted the instruction when it was offered. I like the point that Jane Brocket makes when she says, “We [are] all women, most of us likely to have relationships with the opposite sex and make babies, and inhabit a domestic space of some sort. And yet…at the height of the feminist movement, [we were] in collective denial about one immensely significant aspect of our future selves.” I think it says an awful lot that as this generation reaches adulthood. More and more of us are feeling the lack of craft and creation in our lives and see it as an empty space when we realize we ought to be able to sew, want to be able to sew but just never learned. Rather than being repressive and outdated, I truly believe sewing to be liberating and inspiring and a massive opportunity for self-expression that simultaneously allows me to provide love and warmth and satisfaction to those I love. It has certainly allowed me a level of achievement and success far beyond what I would have thought possible, so maybe that in itself is enough to disprove the myth.

Myth #5: Sewing is something people want to do, but no one needs to sew anymore.

Truth: I think there are an awful lot of us who really do need to sew. I certainly want to, as well, but there is absolutely a sense of need involved. Sewing allows me to access parts of myself that I allowed to slumber for years, untapped, unacknowledged. It gives me immense pleasure to explore color and texture and shape and to visualize a project and watch it unfold. It’s a level of creation and creativity that I haven’t been asked to utilize in any other area of my life in quite the same way. Do I need to make every stitch of clothing my family owns because we live on the prairie and the General Store over in Mankato doesn’t sell RocaWear? No. Do I need to make the linens for my home because they are so pricey that they are beyond the reach of all but the wealthiest citizens of fair Verona? No. But I do need to look in my closet and see a reflection there of who I am and who I want to be. And designing my own clothing allows me to do that. Sure, I might be able to get inexpensive clothing off the rack at the big box store down the road, but it isn’t ME. And I can’t ever completely reflect my vision in the same way that creating my own could. I do need to appoint my home in such a way that I am proud to welcome you into it, that I feel empowered to open my home and myself to others. Sewing allows me to do that on a level that shopping at the Pottery Barn Outlet never could. The needs are different from what they once were, but sewing absolutely fulfills needs that are very real and very valid. It fulfill needs that all of us share: A need to connect with ourselves and one another. A need to express our innermost loves and passions. A need to reveal parts of ourselves that would remain silent otherwise. I need that and I want it, too.

Β» Tell me… Has Deborah changed your view of sewing? Did you related to some of her points about sewing?

8 Responses to “Learn From A Pro: Deborah of Whipstitch”

  • Jade @ Tasting Grace

    Thank you for such an awesome post! I have a sewing machine of my mother’s and I really want to learn to use it properly. Once I get my current major project done, learning to sew is my next task. I love the point Deborah makes about the feminist movement and the myth that sewing is an act of the repressed merely for the reason of being domestic. I consider myself pretty dang liberated, but I think it’s a shame we have so many lost arts and skills because of that myth. Man, I wish I had a Whipstitch in my area! πŸ™‚

  • Sivje Parish

    This is a great post! I also love to teach sewing so that people can feel the amazing excitement of creating something that stays made. I mean, cooking and yardwork are great and so energizing, but they have to be done again tomorrow. But sewing something? You can enjoy your handwork forever. But I do admit to being a HUGE perfectionist. I want my insides to be as perfect as my outsides, so it takes me longer to do something. I would rip out the uneven hem of my child’s skirt. But that is me. I do not tell my students the same thing. Anyway, this is a great post and I enjoyed it a lot.

  • Jesslyn

    Great post!! Wonderful thoughts, especially about the Craft Gap! So many craft arts are becoming lost arts and it’s tragic.

  • Cook Clean Craft

    That is such a great article. On Myth 4, it reminds of what I say to people – I am an engineer (currently in SAHM-role), and I feel like I’m doing what women (who could have been engineers in the past but were unable) did – cooking, sewing, making crafts. Honestly, I enjoy it more than engineering because I’m creating my own projects, not just working on other people’s projects/creations.

    Every student at my co-ed high school had to do home economics in first year, which was sewing and cooking (along with metalwork and woodwork). We had to make a pencil case and a T-shirt. Everyone who put some effort in to complete the project, passed. If all spotty-face 13 year old boys can make a T-shirt, then anyone can sew!

  • Kelly

    What a great post! The “smart” kids in my all-girls high school weren’t allowed to take home ec classes! Isn’t that a testament to the idea that sewing is outdated and anti-feminist? I’ve relished the challenge of training my highly educated brain in how to use my sewing machine. It’s so fun to be able to say, “I made that!”

  • Kim

    As a student of Deborah’s Intro and Intermediate sewing classes, I can tell you this awesome woman practices what she preaches. Sewing is about having fun, making mistakes, getting in the zone, expressing yourself, and so much more. Craft is so NOT anti-feminist. I love that Deborah has debunked these myths. If you are anywhere remotely close to Atlanta, I highly recommend you take a class from her to enjoy this in real life!

  • Nutmeg

    I LOVE these rules/manifesto of sewing! I need to update mine. Or maybe I’ll just link to it πŸ˜‰ . I know I get tired of hearing “I can’t sew a straight line” or “I don’t have time to do that”. We all have the same amount of time in the day, and I’m not sure I can sew a straight line either. Thanks again! ~Nutmeg



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