Non-negotiables

I’m still working on the Harlequin jacket. It’s been slow going, partly because there have been other things going on (18/19 Jul: on a course. 20 Jul: BIRTHDAY! 21 Jul: all day LARP. 22 Jul: mildly concussed, decided to stay away from the machine) and partly because I’ve found myself stopping to re-do bits – not because they’re irredeemably messed up, but because they’re not quite right.

This is an alien feeling. I tend very much towards “that’ll do” in most of my creative endeavours and don’t usually have the patience to tinker with functional bits just because they’re a bit wonky. That cake I once baked for my baby sister which developed a huge, iceberg-like shelf on one side after I dropped the tin checking on it and it went shlurp? Tasted just fine. (I wonder if either of my parents remember this. Hi, parents!)

A little more thinking, though, has made me realise that I haven’t turned into a raving perfectionist overnight. There seem to be distinct categories of infelicity that I can’t leave alone and ones that I don’t give a second glance. I think the reason I’m only really noticing it now, with this jacket, is because the errors that bug me are errors of shapingLike so:

  • unpicking the section of the Harlequin’s side seam just below the armhole because I’d caught a tiny fold of sleeve in it, and it was creating weird wrinkles on the inner side of the sleeve. Perfectly wearable. More than enough room left. And a complete pain to pick apart (French seam in fray-y, hole-showing material, ow). But it completely messed up the hang of the sleeve and I couldn’t let it lie.
  • unpicking and re-sewing bits of the armhole seams because they’d accidentally acquired teensy tucks rather than been smoothly eased. Again, made odd wrinkles in the top of the sleeve.
  • unpicking the top of the right-hand front dart on a recent blouse and re-sewing it an inch shorter because it was sitting fractionally too high. Didn’t impede the fit of the shirt as such, but looked odd. (I’ve had to do this to two copies of that shirt now. The left front darts are fine. I’m starting to wonder if I just have an asymmetric bust.)

Conversely, scruffinesses I really don’t care about:

  • seam (non-)finishing. I don’t own an overlocker and will only bother with French seams when I need to be sure to capture trailing threads. Most of my seams are trimmed down a bit if I remember and left to fend for themselves on the basis that nobody will ever see.
  • pooled thread on the inside of a garment. I am horribly bad at remembering to change the thread tension on my machine and end up with little skirls of extra thread reasonably often. If the seam is holding strong and it won’t be visible, meh.
  • pattern (non-)matching. I might change my mind for a really big print, but mostly … no.
  • buttons not perfectly in a straight line down the placket. The vertical progression of my front is not a straight line. The buttons will never sit perfectly straight anyway. A few mm here and there that will only be visible on a hanging garment aren’t worth worrying about.
  • Most controversial: I made a Twenties dress for a friend recently for a costume party. I had to tinker with the side seams a lot to get the fit right, and in the process poked a half-centimetre slit with the seam ripper in an area that ended up being on the right side. Oops. On that fabric, though, fixing the hole would have drawn the eye to the repair in a way that just leaving it didn’t. So I left it, and it hasn’t torn any bigger, to my knowledge. I reiterate that this was a costume dress – I hope that on a real, wear-in-public garment I’d be a bit more careful altering the seams …

So for me at least it seems to come down to the difference between mistakes/rough edges that damage the fit or shape of the garment vs. ones for which the fixed/not fixed difference is pretty much only a cosmetic one. I can’t imagine I’m alone in that.

The caveat to all this is that even the non-negotiable fixes only get done if I have the energy and the time at that moment. Anything that will require a serious, back-to-square-one fix rather than a quick rip and re-sew tends to get left to fester somewhere until I can summon the courage to go back to it. I imagine that happens to a lot of people short on sewing time. Also, I don’t have a huge stash and rarely buy more fabric than I strictly need for a project (hell, I buy under the recommended length if I think I can get away with it), so any correction that involves recutting pieces is off the table entirely.

I’d be interested to hear from other people who make things as to what you, personally, consider non-negotiable to stop and fix. Do you make sure every last inch of your creation is perfect? Or can you tolerate a few stray threads here and there?

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About Craft (Alchemy)

I make things and make things up.
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3 Responses to Non-negotiables

  1. Rhiannon says:

    My crafting is mostly not clothing, so the errors are in different categories anyway. I try and put all my cross stitches the same way round (with the top stitches all on the same diagonal), but won’t go back to change them. I will go back to change a green stitch to a brown one, but won’t worry if one which should be dark-brown-A is accidentally dark-brown-B. I’ll unpick a patchwork seam if it’s in the wrong place (patch wrong-side up, going to make a ball not a sheet), but won’t worry about a little wrinkle here or there. I’ll edit and edit a poem to get the wording just right – for 24 hours or so, then I get bored and declared it finished whether or not I like it.

  2. Oh I know the pain of poking a hole in an almost finished garment. Interfacing is your friend when that happens.

    I’m the opposite about fixing mistakes, I have to keep reminding myself no one’s going to notice it but me. But I’m not one for making the inside of a garment beautiful in general. I’m intrigued you don’t finish your seams though. I always do mine unless they’re enclosed, but I have read that it’s less necessary than we think.

  3. Catherine – I’d like to be able to overlock them just so it looks nicer, but so far I haven’t had any actual structural issues with unfinished seams. (On the other hand, I haven’t been sewing garments very long at all, so it’s possible that they simply haven’t accumulated enough wear to start developing problems.)

    One thing I have done, especially on costumes, is to use extra-wide seam allowances with fabric that’s particularly prone to fraying; it makes the inside of the garment even messier but I’m hoping it’ll help them hold out somewhat longer before the disintegrating edge of the fabric reaches the seam. I’ve done it for two LARP cloaks whose neck seams carry the entire weight of the cloak, and so far they’re holding. This was before I got my head around French seaming though – in future I’d probably do that for load-bearing seams.

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