Thursday, July 23, 2009

"It is not as hard to learn to sew well as it is to cook competently."

Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing has so many wonderful little gems sprinkled throughout that I thought it would be fun to share some of them with you on a regular basis.

Take this, for example, from the "Introduction to Sewing":

The ability to sew seems an almost unattainable skill to many women who have never tried to learn, and as a result, they both admire and envy the larger and better wardrobes of their friends who know how to make their own things--and do.

Actually, it is not as hard to learn to sew well as it is to cook competently--and you acquire both talents the same way: by scrupulously following the directions in a good text book, and by practising.
Aren't there some interesting points to ponder there?

I agree that learning to sew seems impossible to those who haven't ever been taught or tried to learn. But something bothers me about the sewing/cooking analogy, and I can't quite put my finger on it. I think it's the bit about "scrupulously following the directions in a good text book." They make sewing and cooking sound like studying algebra!

I think it boils down to this: yes, you do need to follow directions carefully while sewing. But you also need to be able to think on your feet. Sewing is really about problem-solving, at its core. How often do we find that things don't go exactly as planned, and we need to think of a creative solution to make a garment work? This often means varying dramatically from the pattern instructions.

But I do like the goal of VoNBBS's statement here--to point out that sewing is an attainable skill for anyone. Actually, their goal was to sell books and patterns. We can't really forget that VoNBBS was a marketing tool as well.

What do you think? Do you agree that sewing is just like following a recipe?


  1. I agree AND I disagree...LOL. Sewing is like cooking in that you're following directions but most directions included with patterns are horrible and incomplete and not that helpful for the beginner. I personally feel that everyday cooking is easier than sewing for the majority of people. Sewing takes quite a bit of learned muscle memory and certain skills that normal, non-gourmet cooking doesn't require. On the other hand, baking is a whole different ball game! Baking certain types of pastries or fancy cakes can be a very precise art and not for the faint of heart. I can't tell you how many souffles I've attempted to make only to have them deflate ;-(

    I really need to get a copy of VoNBBS for to I go...

    Thanks for the great post this morning!

  2. I agree it is like following a recipe. Prior to sewing I was creative without any rules through my painting and drawing. The reason I named my blog 'colour by number' is, in fact, I hated the paint by number sets when I was a kid. I didn't want rules when doing art. Sewing has been good for me because I am following the basic rules/instructions like a recipe--I am finally doing my paint by number sets. I use my "freedom" of creativity with embellishments, fabrics, etc.

  3. I've been thinking lately about the fact that I'm completely comfortable cooking almost anything without a recipe, or making substitutions at will, even when I'm baking, but when it comes to sewing I read the instructions many many times before moving on and am afraid to change too much for fear of a wadder. It's probably that I haven't reached the improvisational level of skill, but I'm trying to remind myself that the freedom I have in cooking can probably be there a little more in my sewing as well.

  4. I think with both cooking and sewing it does help to very carefully follow directions at first - learning the rules, if you like.

    However that will only get you to a level of competence.

    To become "excellent" (or "brilliant", or whatever you like to call it!) you then need to learn how to break the rules ... And this usually involves throwing directions to the side.

  5. I agree with what others have said, that following recipes/instructions is important for a beginner, unless you're blessed with a good teacher. It's the only way to learn the techniques to add to your arsenal of skills.

    But once you've figured those techniques out, the only way to improve is by experimentation. This seems to be pretty much true of any creative pursuit: dance, music, painting, jewelry making, whatever!

  6. I agree with the great insights posted above. Sewing and cooking both involve applied math and science skills. And its a pity that our schools have discontinued these things in their curriculum. Imagine being in a geometry course and then learning how to take your measurements to draft a pattern
    n your sewing class? Or learning how to follow careful measurements and mixing techniques in chemistry or physics and then learning how to make a souffle.

    But I do think its essential to understand the basic principles weather in science or creative pursuits, before you can manipulate them successfully.

  7. Monica -

    While searching for vintage Vogue patterns, I stumbled across a copy of the VoNBBS on eBay.

    I also found a copy of the slim skirt pattern (7436)referenced in the book.

  8. Just wanted to say that I discovered your blog today and I'm hooked! Great concept, great writing, and fabulous sewing. I'll be back for sure.

  9. Sewing is a lot like cooking, I think. I'd say the more preparation you do the better. Measuring, fitting, seam tension samples,and pinning an ease so it's not noticeable are worth the extra time prior to sitting down to sew. Lining is like a sauce - it augments and supports the drape. Seam finishes, like the beautiful presentation of an entree, can elevate a pretty dress into a work of art. Well, anyway, that's what I think. Bon appetit!

  10. You ladies are so smart. So many insightful comments!

    Emma, thank you! Looking forward to seeing more of you around here. :)

  11. I am going to have to disagree on this one. While, I think I can cook a pretty good dish, I cant sew a straight line. I have tried. I have had friends who have tried to help me who threw up their hands and said YOU CANT SEW!! I made some great loaves of bread this week though! :-)

  12. Ah. My main beef with cooking is the clean-up afterwards. And the fact that you more or less have to do it several times a day. And then it takes far too long cooking something compared how quickly it's eaten up. (which is why I coock in batches and freeze.

    With sewing, it's just the opposite. You can use the garment for a much much longer time that it takes wearing it. And the clean-up is much easier as well.

    Vibeke in Oslo

  13. Oops. I meant to say that you can wear a garment for a much longer time, than it takes to sew it up. More return on the investment, so to speak. (Cannot find my backside with both hands today, it seems. Vibeke

  14. Surely that statement was hyperbole to get unsuspecting non-sewers to begin sewing. Actually the statement is absurd. Cooking requires for less hand-eye coordination than sewing.


Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

© Gertie's Blog For Better Sewing. Powered by Cake