Friday, June 15, 2012

What's time to a pig?

I've been working hard on my hand-sewn 1790's stays for the past few weeks, and I have enjoyed it more than I ever could have imagined. I have always been firmly in the anti-hand-sewing camp in the past. I never could wrap my brain around why people would spend so much effort slaving away on something that would never even be seen. It just seemed like such a colossal waste of time to me, and I thought the only reason that people hand sewed anything was for bragging rights, which doesn't interest me at all.

But I think I finally "get it" now. For me, hand sewing a garment isn't about doing it for the glory or for some ultimate step toward historical accuracy. The thing that I didn't expect to discover is that hand sewing is actually relaxing and fun! OMG - who knew?

When I was in grad school, I once complained to my favorite professor about how long it would take to finish an elaborate printmaking project.  He replied by telling me a joke:
There once was a traveling salesman driving through the countryside, when he observed what appeared to be a farmer holding a pig over his head under an apple tree. Curiosity got the best of him, so the salesman stopped and backed up. Sure enough, the farmer held a pig that was eating apples right off the tree. “Why are you holding that pig up to eat apples?” asked the salesman. “It’s because he likes the fresh apples right off the tree better than the bruised fruit on the ground,” came the farmer’s reply. “I see,” said the salesman. “But I’m amazed. Doesn’t feeding your pig like that waste a lot of time?” The farmer paused, reflected, and finally said, “I suppose you’re right. But then again, what’s time to a pig?”
The moral that I took away from that story boils down to this: what else would I be doing with all of those hours that I was so concerned about? Watching TV? Wasting time on the internet? Playing silly games on my phone? Sitting around thinking about how bored I am?  OR... I could be doing something with my spare time that brings me enjoyment and creates something amazing. Yeah, it takes forever and I could have accomplished the task in a much easier way, but so what? Isn't art worth the time?

It has been truly lovely to work on a project that doesn't have tight deadline.  I've been carrying a piece of my stays in my purse with me at all times, and I stitch a few rows whenever I am bored or have some time to kill.  I've enjoyed having something that keeps my fidgety fingers busy, and it is so cool to see how much my sewing has improved from those first wobbly lines of stitching.  I've even discovered that I can now feel the difference between a sharp needle and a dull one.  Like all good meditative practices, regular hand sewing makes you notice the details and become more attuned with your environment.  I think that is a very cool thing.

After 3 weeks of work, I am now starting on the final stages of this project.  I am currently assembling the pieces and sewing the eyelets, and then I just have to bind the edges and add the lining.  It has progressed much faster than I thought it would, and I am already trying to think of another small hand-work project to fill the void once this one is done.  I've learned that sometimes it is nice to slow down and smell the roses, eat the apples, or stitch the channels.  After all, what's time to a pig seamstress.  :)


Cynthia Griffith said...

This is a great entry (and a beautiful photo, too)!

I'll probably be bringing some hand sewing with me this weekend on a visit. It is soothing, and I enjoy it, especially when I don't feel rushed (or if I'm having pain issues). I'm really looking forward to getting back to more projects like that including embroidery and trying my hand at quilting some garments in the near future too.

There's also something about those small projects that you can stash away easily. I'm so glad you've had fun with this, and can't wait to see the results!

Caroline said...

I am new to handsewing whole projects too, but I am loving it so far as well. You really get to enjoy the process versus zipping things through the machine and only caring about finishing. Isn't it also fun to be so mobile and not stuck at a sewing machine? I love it!

Anonymous said...

Welcome to the club. We've been waiting for you. ;)

Jay said...

Your stays look awesome!

My thing with hand sewing is the portability. I like projects that I can take around with me. That's why that pink regency of mine ended up all hand sewn. Same with my regency short stays. I could put the project in a bag and work on it during lunch breaks or where ever.

Time Traveling in Costume said...

Welcome to The Club. I too find it very relaxing and gives me a chance to slow down from the mad dash of sewing sometimes. But in the end I feel the satisfaction of knowing I did it, or part of it, by hand and not a machine. Me!
Beautiful stays. Feel proud wearing them.

Nycteris said...

Wow, thanks for this great post! I totally agree, how hand sewing, no matter how slow, ends up being fun! :-D I can't wait to see the finished stays, I bet they are fabulous!

Sarah W said...

Welcome to the hand sewing swamp - once here it's hard to leave ;)

Cathlin said...

I just completed a gown where I finished all the seams by hand. Like you, I wasn't sure I'd enjoy doing it but I absolutely loved the process and am completely hooked!! I have an overwhelming desire to go back into my wardrobe and finish all my seams. :-)

Can't wait to see the finished stays!

jennylafleur said...

Great article! It's funny, I've recently had the same epiphany about hand sewing. I've felt the same way about embellishment (embroidery/beading/quilting) for many years but not the plain stitching part. I always thought, like you said, that if I ever hand stitched most or all of a garment it would be only because of the "glory” or in pursuit of some “ultimate step toward historical accuracy". Hand sewing was something I did only when needed (somethings in historical clothing just can’t be done by machine) because I found it to be such a drag.

My recent Titanic gown had so much (un-foreseen!) hand stitching that at first I was resentful. However by the end of the project I truly enjoyed the work and was rather sorry when it was over.

My bad wrists may preclude me ever attempting a completely hand sewn project but the resentment and lack of enthusiasm is gone. Yay!

Anonymous said...

I could not imagine handsewing, as I feel too rushed and under pressure when working at the doorstopper. So, handsewing it is (I have no patience for knitting) :-))

Steph said...

I've recently been doing a lot of hand sewing on some of my costume projects, as well as on the detail parts of a few real-world garments, too. And it really is meditative, even more so than sewing the modern way. I've really been enjoying the portability of most of these projects (lunchtime at work, sofa at home instead of the sewing room), and the sense of accomplishment I'm getting from seeing how my hand stitching is progressing and from learning some period sewing techniques. Plus, the finished items look so much more accurate. I still haven't sewn something 100% by hand, and don't know whether I'll take that step, but I'd say my last few projects have been sewn about 85% by hand.

Sanna K said...

I really enjoy embroidering and adding decorations to my dresses by hand but I still prefer to sew the long, dull, straight seams by machine if they won't be seen. When I was sewing the decorations to my last dress by hand I noticed that the result was actually much more pleasing to my eye than the machine stitched decorations. Both on the outside and inside of the dress. So hand sewing is much more pleasing to me at some points these days than it used to be.

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