Elizabeth Stewart Clark & Company

On the Care and Feeding of Your Sewing Friend

Image from Library of Congress

We all of us have a Sewing Friend at some point in our sewing days… that Kind Friend with more experience that we have at the moment, who has a broader grasp on the intricacies of historic sewing techniques and research application. The Sewing Friend who talks us out of bad purchasing choices, and encourages us to grow, expand, and try new things.

Here’s a short list of thoughtful things you can do to ensure your Sewing Friend loves hearing from you, and remains eager to be on your resource list for year to come… a Care and Feeding tipsheet, if you will!

(We’re using “Her” as the generic target pronoun, but substitute your Sewing Friend’s appropriate pronoun as needed. The concepts are universal.)

Be Considerate of Her Time

Your Sewing Friend has a Real Life, much as she might prefer to be immersed in historic pursuits full time. Being considerate of her time includes planning your projects with substantial lead-time, so your questions are not asked in crisis deadline mode, and she can plan pockets of time that fit around her real life responsibilities.

Phrasing your requests in considerate ways helps a lot, too. “Is there a good time in the next three weeks to come over for about half an hour and have you show me that thing you mentioned about fitting the waist? Or is it something we could do on video-chat at your convenience? Is there already a tutorial on-line you could recommend?” tends to be more favorably received than “I’ll be over tonight at 9:30 for you to fit my bodice for me.”

Be Willing To Work Beforehand

Ask her what portions of the project you should have prepped before you meet. Then prep those. Ask for tutorial recommendations or resource recommendations, then give them a whack yourself, even if the results are imperfect. In fact, give everything a whack, on scrap fabric! It’s far easier to give suggestions for improvement, corrections to refine the technique, or ideas on alterations when your Sewing Friend can see where you’re at with skills and applications. And, you might surprise yourself at what you figure out solo!

Working beforehand includes doing some research. It’s not your Sewing Friend’s job to do research into what’s most appropriate for your interpretive needs. You’ll want to have a firm grasp on the context of your impressions and activities, and a list of What I Need Clothing-wise To Make It Work. Doing your own research into textiles and prints, then bringing images of three choices you think could work, is far more useful than expecting her to spend hours of time researching options for you to pick among.

Be Willing To Work During

Unless you’re paying your Sewing Friend skilled-labor rates to do your project as a commissioned job, you should be the primary hands on your work. During a sewing-together session, be prepared and willing to patiently work through each step of your project, asking for help as needed. You may end up needing to pick out and re-do something; that’s normal, and part of the learning process. Asking for a confirming opinion before going ahead with a construction step is a far more useful thing than sitting on your Sewing Friend’s couch, expecting her to do the work of sewing for you.

Be Willing To Work After

Your Sewing Friend will reasonably ask you to do some work independently after your session. Give it a whack! If you’ve learned to sew a plain seam during your sewing session, you can independently sew all the plain seams before your next session. If you’ve learned to put a hem in during your session, plan to put in all your hems before the next session. Carving out time to make progress between your sessions together shows your Sewing Friend that you take her efforts to help you seriously, even if it’s in 10-minute segments each day!

Provide Your Own Stuff

It’s not reasonable to expect your Sewing Friend to provide notions, fabrics, or machines for your use. If you do not own a machine, you’ll need to expect a slower pace via hand-sewing, or else save up for a good basic machine and lessons (from the seller or user manual) in how to thread and use that machine. Ask your Sewing Friend for suggestions on where to buy good notions, then follow those suggestions. Pop your supplies into a nice tote, and bring them every time. Don’t expect your Sewing Friend to give up her own project time or machines for your use, or to loan them out to you.

If your Sewing Friend offers up a bit of fabric from her stash, be prepared and willing to reimburse her monetarily. She cannot replace the fabric using her own good looks or sparkling wit. She will probably offer you a bargain deal on it. It’s a kindness to not dicker with her over price. Your Sewing Friend’s textile expertise is not Haggle-palooza time.  If the textile on offer is not in your budget right this minute, thank her kindly, and say, “No, I cannot”—or ask if you can save up over time, and take it home or cut it up when you’ve bought it fully.

Provide Some Good Stuff For Her, Too

If you’ll be working together for an afternoon, or even for an hour, it’s a considerate thing to bring along something pleasant to share, like a bouquet of fresh flowers from your garden (or a $4 bouquet from the grocery store), a box of tea you think she’ll like, some homemade (or bought!) cookies, fresh bread, a contribution toward lunch or supper, a library DVD to watch while you work, a great music playlist to listen to while you work. It doesn’t have to be expensive—free is awesome—but it’s a nice way to thank your Sewing Friend for devoting time to your needs, and enhances the companionable time you spend together.

Pro Tip: Don’t toss bags of castoff stuff at her, though. While your neighbor’s mother-in-law’s cousin’s stash of 1970s crochet lace might have some value somewhere, your Sewing Friend doesn’t usually need or want it. Ask, with photos attached, before hauling anything over to her house for “sharing.” Be aware that when she says, “Oh, that’s cool, but it doesn’t really suit my current needs,” that’s a firm NOPE NO WAY, and find somewhere else to fob the stuff. And home dec “faux silk” is not even suited for burning, due to the off-gassing. Just don’t even ask about that.

Say Thanks

In addition to doing considerate things, use your words! It’s amazing what simple expressions of genuine thanks can do. “Thanks for being willing to help!” “Thanks for setting aside time for me!” “Thanks for opening your home to me!” “Thanks for encouraging me through this step!” More than just a generic “Thanks, bye!” tossed over your departing shoulder, these specific and focused Thank You Words let your Sewing Friend know you recognize the value of her efforts. You don’t have to be excessive or effusive. Sewing Friends do want to help, and don’t expect trophies or press conferences in reward. Just remember to add a pleasant, sincere “Thank you for this!” when you’ve worked together, and at any point you feel grateful during a working session. .

Look for Reciprocity

Do you have a historic skill your Sewing Friend might like to learn? Offer reciprocal lessons or guidance! Do you have a Real Life Skill (versus historic life skill) that would enhance her Real Life? Offer it up! If your Sewing Friend is spending a chunk of time away from her Real Life Responsibilities in order to help you, look for ways you could help restore her time.

Be Diligent

No one is required to become an Expert Historic Sewist. And truthfully, you don’t need to be expert to do some really solid mid-century sewing for yourself, sewing that holds up under the demands of interpretive use, is consistent with history, and highly functional. With some diligent effort on your part, and the kind assistance of your Sewing Friend, you can do good, useful work, without ever needing to put in the thousands of hours your Sewing Friend has in pursuit of mastery. It’s okay if you don’t hit that point. Diligent effort over time is perfectly useful!

Say Thanks

This is not an unwitting duplicate. Really. Express gratitude verbally, in actions, and in body language. Most of us who are Sewing Friends get a really deep and satisfying kick out of seeing others meet their goals, and the expressions of gratitude are the delicious gooey chocolate ganache on the dense fudge cake of accomplishment.

The frequent and judicious application of a sincere thank you prevents burnout, enhances friendship, and is the life-blood of Sewing Friends everywhere!

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About The Sewing Academy
With a focus on the 1840-1865 era, The Sewing Academy is your home on the (internet) range for resources to help you meet your living history goals!

Elizabeth Stewart Clark has been absorbed by the mid-19th century for over 20 years. She makes her home in the Rocky Mountains with her husband, four children (from wee to not-so-wee), far too many musical instruments, and five amusing hens.

Email Elizabeth Or call 208-523-3673 (10am to 8pm Mountain time zone, Monday through Saturday)
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