Saturday, March 22, 2014

On Perfectionism

I am not a perfectionist. I'm so far from being a perfectionist that I actually proudly show my friends my non perfectionist work and we laugh. And I absolutely love this orignal natural form bodice on my website because it's made the way I make clothes. The outside--it's lovely! The inside? Well, it's done, isn't it? A few loose threads, sewing that seam by machine twice and overlapping the seams, whipping the seams at not perfect angles to finish them--that doesn't hurt, right? Can I do things like that and other details perfectly? Well, except for decent backstitching in heavy fabric and buttonholes, I pretty much can, but I have no desire to, and I blame that on starting a costume collection early on in my costuming career. Everything I own has a mismatched seam, or piecing, something to make you unhappy. When you think of our costumes as clothes that people would make and actually needed to wear (no two months until the event luxury!) and quite likely would want to remodel, it makes sense to think that they would spend time on the areas that counted--those that showed.

Oops DSCN4505

And here we have a dress of mine--the Spotty Dress--and a dress in the Museum of London that's patterned in The Cut of Women's Clothes. And what do these dresses have in common? The fronts don't match.

I measured carefully, and lined things up, and when I sewed the hooks and eyes in, things looked a little off. Not too badly off though, I thought, thinking of having to rebind the hem, or reset the hooks and eyes in case small differences in their placement were causing the issue. And then I tried it on, and well? It was awful. A good, very obvious half inch. Only, it wasn't obvious. This was the underbodice, the overbodice can be seen open in the picture. It wasn't going to show, so, what would they have done? Well, maybe if this dress had been made for the Princess of Wales, they would have fixed it. But I think most Victorian seamstresses would've left it--it does nothing to the structural integrity of the dress, it would take absolute ages to fix, and it doesn't show. And I had already sewn the hooks and eyes in with big, visible stitches knowing they'd be covered. So that's what I decided, and I finished the dress, wonky underbodice left alone. And, I had seen something to back up this idea.

When I saw the dress on the right in the Museum of London, not only was I happy to recognize a dress from a book (It's like meeting a celebrity! Each familiar dress I totally fangirled over), but it had one of the prettiest sights I've seen on an original dress. The point on this gorgeous, silk, highly detailed dress, was clearly not matched. I can only imagine the seamstress' dismay when that happened. But she decided to go with it, and the dress remains lovely.

And back to my dress, if someone would leave a visible mismatch, wouldn't someone also leave an invisible one? Quite often, I think it's the tiny imperfections--mismatched points, stress wrinkles, picked out seams--that make these dresses seem real and remind us that actual people made these. Why not leave those little imperfections in our own dresses too?



19 comments:

  1. I love this - I didn't even notice the mismatches til you pointed to them!

    I'm glad someone else doesn't sweat what the insides of one's costumes look like! It's one reason (of many) that I never took commissions. I don't care what the parts that don't show look like. But a customer would!

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    1. A customer definitely would! Agreed--one of many reasons I wouldn't want to do commissions :)

      And I'm glad you enjoyed it! That makes me smile :)

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  2. I also did not notice the mismatch until it was pointed out! That makes me feel a lot better about my own bodices being mismatched :) (I could probably fix one, but I put 20 bloody buttons on that thing and would have to move at least a third of them. Bah! I'm going to leave it!)

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    1. Yes, definitely leave it! I'm so glad you feel better about your own mismatch :)

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  3. Most of the time when I try to do something perfect I go kind of crazy. :)

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  4. Thank you so much for this post!
    I suppose one of the main challenges for many is to let go of the 'perfection' in modern clothes and embrace the world of mis-matching, raw edges, puckered pleats etc.
    And I second that this actually makes a re-creation feel period and real. I love the signs of 'handmade' and 'wear' and there are many extant examples out there and it would be such fun if a book would be made up of these 'imperfections' :)

    Sabine

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  5. I really appreciate your insights on this. You are one of the seamstresses that seem to just intuitively do things "perfectly" the first time. Your work is gorgeous! And yes, it's pretty easy to have costumer's envy when you're staring at a pile of fail in your own sewing room floor, while someone, somewhere, on the vast internet is seemingly getting it RIGHT. Kudos to you for keeping it real, and for reminding everyone that wonky seams happen.

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  6. I needed this exactly. I'm making a sleeveless spencer / bodice, and after I bound the whole thing in piping (including cutting the seam allowances, of course), I saw the front does not match. Good to know I'm not alone in this predicament!

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  7. You are so right about that! I think it is the little imperfections that make the character of a gown. Sometimes only the maker nows them... sometimes not. I do love to see a perfect gown, but it feels much better and more interesting, if there are these little imperfections. A pictured guide through fashionable imperfections would be so great! :) Lots of regards from Germany, Kris.

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  8. I assume you are familiar with the Amish view toward the idea of perfectionism, also the Navajo one. In each quilt made by an Amish woman or in a Navajo woven blanket, there is a small "mistake" made, for only God is perfect. It does help me to think about this. Also, I have finally realized that most of the clothes that I have bought have flaws in them. Sometimes major as in a twist in the fabric as it was twisted when cut, or minor mistakes. I have now learned to live with my little flaws in my sewing that only I will know of unless I share. Also, as my mother said of her sewing, "who will know from the back of a galloping horse?"

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  9. Stuff like this makes me happy because while I want my project to look good, it's never, ever perfect. I had a similar revelation about perfectionism in period clothing long ago when I visited the Atlanta History Museum. Some of those Civil War uniforms looked like they were sewn by blind 5 year olds, but they were worn and held together enough for men to wear to wore. And just as you say, they HAD to make do so they did.

    I too have had the same problem with uneven fronts depsite measuring and have found that if I sew my hooks and bars on one and a time and hook them up as I go I can often over come it. If I find things are slightly off I can ease one side slightly with each hook and try to make up the difference.

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  10. I once went to see a costume exhibit at a local museum. I was really surprised at the atrocious wavy hemline of a particular dress. Funny thing was, it was only from the 1950s! I suppose the bias of the skirt didn't help, but it did make me realize that there were slapdash seamstresses in every era!

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  11. This makes me so happy to see this post. I usually beat myself up over the imperfections and issues in my costumes, but your post makes me look at it in a different way. I think I can learn to appreciate these little imperfections now.
    Thank you!

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  12. We are so used to the standards of the ready-to-wear industry that we forgot that a handmade garment construction is not comparable to the cookie-cutter type of modern clothing that we find on department stores' racks.

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  13. Very wonderful post Katherine! I love making my dresses in the fashion that the seamstresses did in the era I am emulating! The insides look very much like theirs...which is why I will never enter my dresses into a Fair. They go on how lovely it looks on the inside. Well, I am sorry, but I make my dresses using the same techniques my foremothers used! And I love it!

    Blessings!
    Gina

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  14. Thank you. I always try to Remind myself that Store bought Stuff is not Perfect either in fact it is usually looking unprecisely or the seams are... Well not perfect. Reading an article like this one is calming my nerves. Blessings Anna

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  15. Thank you for this post...I think the perfectionism we suffer from (in all areas, not just sewing) keeps us from developing our potential. I'm going to stop driving myself crazy with perfectionism in my sewing...and just sew! Eva www.mypaperrosegarden.wordpress.com

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  16. I have now also heard it said, in a short Czech TV documentary on bibbin lace, that in the days of the arrival of machine-made lace, the lacemakers who made lace by hand would intentionally put mistakes in their lace to make it obvious it was hand-made and worth more. :D
    The perfectionism that drives me mad now is the uncertainty of whether what I'm doing is historically correct... more from a personal research point of view, as in, what if I do it this way and just as it's done find out it's wrong and I should have tried another technique new to me? Because that's happened to me already and it's a rather frustrating experience. :D

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    1. Also, I'm a typing perfectionist: bobbin lace.

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