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anthropology of sewing series

Series: The Anthropology of Sewing; Part I: The Craft Gap

During my interview with Fox-5’s Good Day Atlanta, I mentioned The Craft Gap. It’s my theory of why crafting–and sewing specifically–seems to suddenly be everywhere all the time: blogs, the news, street fairs, online shops, all over.


Sewing has always been around. In my former life as an archaeologist, I spent plenty of time looking at the physical evidence–material culture, we called it–of the lives women lived in the the past. This has always included sewing implements: needles, awls, hooks, pins. So the perception that sewing is new is false. But it feels so new, so NOW–why is that? And what has caused sewing and craft to suddenly become the hip thing to do?

My hypothesis is that we’re witness to the crest of a generation who didn’t have crafting and sewing as a central part of their experience. I call it the Craft Gap. Born anywhere from, say, 1965 to 1990 or so, we didn’t have sewing presented to us as a viable, valuable outlet for creativity. Now, I’m not saying NO ONE born in those years ever learned to sew–obviously that’s not the case, or I wouldn’t be sewing today. I am saying, though, that there was a distinctly different attitude toward sewing after 1965ish than there had been in the past. 4-H programs were fewer in number, Home Ec classes were disappearing all over, and fewer moms and grandmothers were passing on their skills, either because they were less involved in sewing themselves, or because we were less interested in picking up a craft that was increasingly viewed as dowdy and out-of-touch.

What this has left us with is a whole generation–mostly of women, but certainly of men, too–who don’t have the background and the years of experience that our predecessors did. And there seems to be some part of us that misses it.

These days, as I teach sewing classes, I see student after student come through and repeat these same ideas to me: I always wanted to learn but never knew where to go; my mom/grandmother/aunt wanted to teach me and I wasn’t interested; I took home ec, but haven’t done it in so long that I feel like I don’t remember anything. And all of us–me included–have this sense that there is a richness lacking from our day-to-day lives as a result, that having this creative outlet and challenge and inspiration and accomplishment would make us feel more satisfied and connected and a part of something lasting and bigger.

I’m looking to explore in this series of blog posts some of the really big questions, the answers to which I hope will support my Craft Gap hypothesis:

  • who?
  • why now?
  • can it really be a resurgence if it never went anywhere??
  • how is modern sewing a reflection of a change in design aesthetics over the past 40 years? and where does “crafting” fit into the current interest in “design”?
  • where to next??

I’d love, love, love to hear your input as I go along, and answers to the inevitable questions that come about from asking these kinds of questions in the first place.

To start with, what made YOU want to learn to sew? Leave your answer in the comments, and a randomly selected comment will receive a coupon code for free shipping in the Whipstitch Etsy shop!

Anthropology of Sewing II: Handmade and the Economy

Looking back, I am absolutely horrified to discover that the first post in this series went up in July OF LAST YEAR–how quickly this year has FLOWN by! As promised, I hereby give you Post #2 in our Anthropology of Sewing series. Read on through to the end to see the winner from the first post, and then leave a comment to qualify to win a FREE YARD of designer cotton fabric* from our shop!

Today’s topic: Why hand made, and what’s it got to do with the economy?

Seems as though everywhere we look these days, “handmade” is popping up. The tremendous success of Etsy** and of shops like Beehive Co-op** are reflections of this.  There seems to be a greater value placed on handmade goods these days, a recognition that the effort and love that go into creating something from scratch is worthwhile.  But, don’t we all think that ALL the time?  So where is the relationship between a “downturned” economy and a new respect for handmade?

I would argue that during times of economic belt-tightening, we are reminded–whether consciously or subconsciously–that there is a chain of events that leads to any object you hold in your hand, and that regardless of how openly we acknowledge them, there are emotions associated with those events (not to mention repercussions to them).  When I purchase a t-shirt from a chain department store, it began in a nation far away, made by hands I will never meet, anonymously, perhaps under undesirable conditions.  When I wear it and walk down the street, I may pass someone wearing the exact same t-shirt, or a dozen people wearing it.  When I wash it, I don’t take exceptional care of it, because it’s disposable and has an ephemeral nature, as if it never was intended to be something I treasure.

If I buy a more expensive shirt from a boutique, do I feel differently?  To a degree.  Because it likely cost more, I probably take better care of it.  And perhaps because of the boutique cache, I might feel that I’m less likely to greet the same shirt passing me in the opposite direction.  But it was still, almost certainly, made by someone far away, indifferently, with no thought to me as the recipient.

When I buy handmade, though, from a small seller who has touched each t-shirt individually, who has thought about who would buy it and wear it, who has taken the time to make it something special, I feel that.  It comes through the fabric, somehow, and translates itself into how I walk and how I care for the garment.

When I MAKE handmade?  That takes it to a whole ‘nother level.  Knowing not just that I’ve made it, but who for and with what materials and where I was when I made it and what I was thinking as I took each stitch, all that gets put into the project.  Even if it’s a quickie project that costs pennies and isn’t meant to be an heirloom, even then I get a feeling of satisfaction and enjoyment out of taking each stitch and seeing the finished product, as if a part of me is fed by the act of creating something new.  I know, it sounds crazy, but it’s totally true, and I think ultimately the reason that when the economy forces us to examine what we buy and where we put our precious resources, we turn to the handmade is this: because a handmade object is a relationship between the maker and the made, and between the object and the user.

Human beings, regardless of their cultural background or nationality, are about relationships. It’s how we are made, and is at the heart of all we do, when you get right down to it.  Relationships between us and other people, between us and the world around us, between us and the work we do, between us and ideas.  Those relationships change form depending on the circumstances, and I believe that when our backs are to the wall and the wallet is bare, we choose the relationships that have the deepest value to us, and the ones that have the most power to outlast.  Handmade does that, in spades.

According to some sources, the United States has experienced 12 recessions since Great Depression, and all have led to a return of handmade. What does that say about us as a society?  That we spend huge amounts of time spending money on things that don’t matter until we’re forced to step back and evaluate our choices?  Well, yes.  I think that’s exactly what it says.  That is, in some ways, a basic part of human nature: that we tend to take the easiest route until it is blocked off, at which point we reach deep inside ourselves and find reserves of character we might not have known we had.

I, for one, am delighted to see so many folks taking time in ways we haven’t, possibly for decades.  I revel in the moments when I sit down and stitch slowly, deliberately, by hand.  They remind me of what I am doing and where I am going.  I don’t multitask, unless you consider that as I create, I talk and listen, so that as I build relationship with what I’m creating, I build relationship with those around me.

I sure hope handmade is here to stay.  It brings out the best in us, no matter what shape the economy is in.

————————————-

In the first post, I asked for comments giving your story of how you learned to sew. The random winner of that comment drawing is Courtney:

Courtney said…
I definitely fall into the category of my mother made every stitch of clothing her closet and mine too when my sister & I were little, and when she tried to teach me as a tween, I was not at all interested. I “helped” her make my college dorm duvet (read: picked out the fabric and watched TV in the same room she sewed in). It wasn’t until I bought my first house at age 27 that I really wanted to learn how to make my own drapes and pillows, so that’s when I finally asked her to teach me and she did. Fast forward 5 years and I love love love to sew, still drapes & pillows and now I’ve even graduated to wearing clothes I’ve made! In public! Thanks to taking, oh, about 7 of Deb’s sewing classes. I am amazed at the time that I now realize my mother must have put into making outfits for me, my sister and our Cabbage Patch Kids.

Congratulations, Courtney! Contact me in the comments or via email to collect your code for FREE SHIPPING in our shop.

For the rest of you, leave your comment below telling us how the current economy has or hasn’t affected your attitude toward handmade goods: have you always loved them? do you pay more attention now that “handmade” seems to be a buzzword? do you think handmade is inferior to store-bought? I’d love to hear from you! Random winner from all the comments received will have their choice of ONE YARD of fabric* from the Whipstitch shop.

*Free yard may be selected from any of our cotton fabrics, up to an $8 value.  Shipping costs not included.

**Full disclosure: Whipstitch Fabrics sells through both these venues, and we freely acknowledge there are piles of places outside of them to purchase handmade, local design.


About

I’m Deborah, and I sew.  I got here sort of by accident, the happiest accident ever in the history of happy accidents.  I started out as a schoolteacher, then became an archaeologist, then was a stay-at-home mom, and now I’m here!   With four kids, a husband (who is a real-life war hero, the perfect travel partner, and an excellent writer), a (lovely but largely imagined) garden, a house (which is currently under partly-DIY-partly-gum-and-toothpicks renovation) and a dog (plus two fish, if the children get their way), my days are already super, super full.  Even with all the craziness, I wouldn’t want to stop sewing even if I had to (so far, no one has asked me to, and I’m playing dumb until I hear different).  If you’re just joining us, I’m thrilled you stumbled your way into Whipstitch-land!  My story is so much like so many other folks, and that’s what makes it fun: there is a whole community of Our People on the Interwebs today, and I feel grateful and honored being part of it.  My passion is to guide you to love sewing and make it a part of your everyday life–I not-so-secretly believe that everyone should learn how to sew, and have made my mission to create a community and products that help you Learn As You Sew ™!

frock rayon whipstitch

I didn’t always sew for a living.  I feel humbled and surprised when I think of all the sewing-related things they let me do these days:  I blog, write sewing books, own a sewing lounge in Atlanta, publish sewing patterns, teach sewing classes in person and online, including over at Craftsy, and hoard gobs of fabric and innumerable patterns.  I went to college and got degrees in Theatre and English Education, and taught middle-and-high-school English and Drama for eight years.  As much as I loved the kids I worked with, after nearly a decade was tuckered out and wanted a change.  I love gardening and plants and people, and went back to graduate school to pursue a secret dream: a degree in Archaeology, focusing on prehistoric human interactions with food plants.  (No, really.  Seriously, don’t make fun of the nerd.)  It was amazing, and I would never trade my time in graduate school or in archaeology (few things are as much fun as digging in the dirt and getting to talk nerd talk with other folks who like to dig in the dirt).  When my husband and I had our second baby, though, there was a single conversation that in a roundabout way has brought me here!  For more on how I made the move from amateur stitcher to professional status, read about Sandra, my sewing muse.  I might have lost my eligibility for Olympic sewing competition when I went pro, but I gained a whole lot more.

exterior shop

After “meeting” Sandra, I started a children’s clothing company and designed for boys and girls for three years.  Along the way, I was asked to teach sewing classes for adults at a local design co-op in Atlanta.  I figured it’d be easy, I’d kinda mail it in, and it would give me some extra pocket money to grow my clothing company.  What I didn’t expect was how teaching would change the way I saw what I do all day, and how much more I would enjoy and appreciate teaching sewing than I did doing manufacturing.  Even though I love design and have a zillion ideas for how I’d like to see things put together, I didn’t feel fulfilled by the sewing I was doing when I manufactured the same thing in the same fabric over and over–teaching gave me a chance to try my hand at new sewing projects and to look at sewing through fresh eyes, and really was the lightning rod for all the other opportunities that have come my way over the years.  Read more about Why I Sew, if you’d like deeper details on how sewing has served as my therapy and creative outlet and means of connecting with others, all rolled up into one tidy package.

After three years of manufacturing, I learned that there were supplies sellers on Etsy, and though it would be a great way to sell off some of my leftover fabric inventory from making children’s clothes.  I had a dream at that point of opening a sewing lounge in Atlanta, but was scared to take a risk, and didn’t think it would happen for years yet.  Little did I know that I’d make my first fabric sale on Etsy within days, that selling fabric would be exciting and very social, and that eventually my fabric shop–which I called Whipstitch–would take over my time to such a degree that I would leave manufacturing altogether and move into teaching sewing and selling fabric full-time.  At the same moment, I had the chance to open a mini-lounge inside the design co-op, so I did–and it took off, too!  My mom says that when it’s time for things to happen, they just do, which is lucky for me, since I would have been too chicken to go looking for my dream, and too shy to dream as big as Whipstitch has become.

While all this was going on, I got an email from Vanessa over at F + W, asking if I might be interested in writing a book about sewing based on my blog.  I jumped at the chance, kicked the manuscript into high gear, and in August 2010 published Stitch by Stitch: Learning to Sew, One Project At A Time. I’ve been so flattered and excited to see so many people love the book, and was excited to see my second book, Stitch Savvy, release in 2013.

The Overmost sewing pattern a5

As an out-growth of the classes that I teach in Atlanta, as well as the e-courses I teach online, I’ve developed a series of sewing patterns. Most of the styles were refined when I was manufacturing children’s clothes, and all of them are available for instant download.  I’ve been wanting to add more titles more quickly, but am working hard to make the blog and this site as clear and usable as I can before I turn my attention to printing and distributing more sewing pattern designs.  In the meantime, many of my completed-but-as-yet-unreleased patterns are part of my online classes–including Sewing Clothing for Kids, Everyday Handbags, and Summer Dresses.

Please take a tour and stay a while!  Check out some of my favorite posts and readers’ favorite projects to get a better idea of who I am and what I like.  I’d really love to get to know you!

Popular Posts

Popular Finished Projects

Blog Series

  • I love putting together tutorials and working on sewing technique.  Those items can be found in the tutorials link at the top of the page, or by clicking here.  (This page is currently under renovation, with a couple dozen–eek!–new items lurking in corners that I’ve yet to add!)
  • The Sewing Buddy Project is an internet-based sewing pen pal arrangement that grew out of the 2010 Sewing Goals survey.  To see what this year’s Sewing Buddies have been up to, check out the posts.
  • Christmas of 2010, I decided it was time to finally make the Advent calendar I’d been dreaming of ever since I moved out of my mom’s house and first did Christmas on my own.  See the final product and the day-by-day shots!
  • Neat As Ninepence is all about sewing for every room of the house, organizing your space, and using your machine to bring beauty and happiness to every corner of your home.  You know, your basic unambitious blog series.
  • Sewing With Kids was originally intended to be a book title that I wanted to pitch to my publisher.  I decided instead to make it a blog series and offer it as a weekly series that walks through sewing projects to do WITH our kids, and all the other lessons we can teach them along the way.
  • The Art of Manipulating Fabric is one of my favorite eye-candy sewing books, and in 2011 I wanted to challenge myself to work through EVERY technique in the book, one by one, with each technique leading to a finished project–I really hate sewing in the abstract, and pretty much always want to have a Real Thing to show off at the end.  See my progress and the good (and bad) projects that come out of it!
  • The Charm Pack Patterns Series is a whole mess of free ideas and patterns and links for using the 5″ x 5″ squares that come in a quilter’s charm pack of fabric.
  • The Anthropology of Sewing is a (VERY) occasional series where I put that graduate degree to good use and walk through some of why I think sewing has suddenly taken off and found a new niche in America today.

Welcome to Whipstitch!

I’m Deborah, and I sew.  I got here sort of by accident, the happiest accident ever in the history of happy accidents.  I started out as a schoolteacher, then became an archaeologist, then was a stay-at-home mom, and now I’m here!   With four kids, a husband, a (lovely but largely imagined) garden, a house (which is currently under partly-DIY-partly-gum-and-toothpicks renovation) and a dog (plus two fish, if the children get their way), my days are already super, super full.  Even with all the craziness, I wouldn’t want to stop sewing even if I had to (so far, no one has asked me to, and I’m playing dumb until I hear different).  If you’re just joining us, I’m thrilled you stumbled your way into Whipstitch-land!  My story is so much like so many other folks, and that’s what makes it fun: there is a whole community of Our People on the Interwebs today, and I feel grateful and honored being part of it.

I didn’t always sew for a living.  I feel humbled and surprised when I think of all the sewing-related things they let me do these days:  I blog, write sewing books, own a sewing lounge in Atlanta, publish sewing patterns, teach sewing classes in person and online, including over at Craftsy, and hoard gobs of fabric and innumerable patterns.  I went to college and got degrees in Theatre and English Education, and taught middle-and-high-school English and Drama for eight years.  As much as I loved the kids I worked with, after nearly a decade was tuckered out and wanted a change.  I love gardening and plants and people, and went back to graduate school to pursue a secret dream: a degree in Archaeology, focusing on prehistoric human interactions with food plants.  (No, really.  Seriously, don’t make fun of the nerd.)  It was amazing, and I would never trade my time in graduate school or in archaeology (few things are as much fun as digging in the dirt and getting to talk nerd talk with other folks who like to dig in the dirt).  When my husband and I had our second baby, though, there was a single conversation that in a roundabout way has brought me here!  For more on how I made the move from amateur stitcher to professional status, read about Sandra, my sewing muse.  I might have lost my eligibility for Olympic sewing competition when I went pro, but I gained a whole lot more.

After “meeting” Sandra, I started a children’s clothing company and designed for boys and girls for three years.  Along the way, I was asked to teach sewing classes for adults at a local design co-op in Atlanta.  I figured it’d be easy, I’d kinda mail it in, and it would give me some extra pocket money to grow my clothing company.  What I didn’t expect was how teaching would change the way I saw what I do all day, and how much more I would enjoy and appreciate teaching sewing than I did doing manufacturing.  Even though I love design and have a zillion ideas for how I’d like to see things put together, I didn’t feel fulfilled by the sewing I was doing when I manufactured the same thing in the same fabric over and over–teaching gave me a chance to try my hand at new sewing projects and to look at sewing through fresh eyes, and really was the lightning rod for all the other opportunities that have come my way over the years.  Read more about Why I Sew, if you’d like deeper details on how sewing has served as my therapy and creative outlet and means of connecting with others, all rolled up into one tidy package.

After three years of manufacturing, I learned that there were supplies sellers on Etsy, and though it would be a great way to sell off some of my leftover fabric inventory from making children’s clothes.  I had a dream at that point of opening a sewing lounge in Atlanta, but was scared to take a risk, and didn’t think it would happen for years yet.  Little did I know that I’d make my first fabric sale on Etsy within days, that selling fabric would be exciting and very social, and that eventually my fabric shop–which I called Whipstitch–would take over my time to such a degree that I would leave manufacturing altogether and move into teaching sewing and selling fabric full-time.  At the same moment, I had the chance to open a mini-lounge inside the design co-op, so I did–and it took off, too!  My mom says that when it’s time for things to happen, they just do, which is lucky for me, since I would have been too chicken to go looking for my dream, and too shy to dream as big as Whipstitch has become.

While all this was going on, I got an email from Vanessa over at F + W, asking if I might be interested in writing a book about sewing based on my blog.  I jumped at the chance, kicked the manuscript into high gear, and in August 2010 published Stitch by Stitch: Learning to Sew, One Project At A Time. I’ve been so flattered and excited to see so many people love the book, and am excited to see my second book, Stitch Savvy, taking flight in 2013.

As an out-growth of the classes that I teach in Atlanta, as well as the e-courses I teach online, I’ve developed a series of sewing patterns. Most of the styles were refined when I was manufacturing children’s clothes, and all of them are available for instant download.  I’ve been wanting to add more titles more quickly, but am working hard to make the blog and this site as clear and usable as I can before I turn my attention to printing and distributing more sewing pattern designs.  In the meantime, many of my completed-but-as-yet-unreleased patterns are part of my online classes–including Sewing Clothing for Kids, Everyday Handbags, and Summer Dresses.

Please take a tour and stay a while!  Check out some of my favorite posts and readers’ favorite projects to get a better idea of who I am and what I like.  I’d really love to get to know you!

Popular Posts

Popular Finished Projects

Blog Series

  • I love putting together tutorials and working on sewing technique.  Those items can be found in the tutorials link at the top of the page, or by clicking here.  (This page is currently under renovation, with a couple dozen–eek!–new items lurking in corners that I’ve yet to add!)
  • The Sewing Buddy Project is an internet-based sewing pen pal arrangement that grew out of the 2010 Sewing Goals survey.  To see what this year’s Sewing Buddies have been up to, check out the posts.
  • Christmas of 2010, I decided it was time to finally make the Advent calendar I’d been dreaming of ever since I moved out of my mom’s house and first did Christmas on my own.  See the final product and the day-by-day shots!
  • Neat As Ninepence is all about sewing for every room of the house, organizing your space, and using your machine to bring beauty and happiness to every corner of your home.  You know, your basic unambitious blog series.
  • Sewing With Kids was originally intended to be a book title that I wanted to pitch to my publisher.  I decided instead to make it a blog series and offer it as a weekly series that walks through sewing projects to do WITH our kids, and all the other lessons we can teach them along the way.
  • The Art of Manipulating Fabric is one of my favorite eye-candy sewing books, and in 2011 I wanted to challenge myself to work through EVERY technique in the book, one by one, with each technique leading to a finished project–I really hate sewing in the abstract, and pretty much always want to have a Real Thing to show off at the end.  See my progress and the good (and bad) projects that come out of it!
  • The Charm Pack Patterns Series is a whole mess of free ideas and patterns and links for using the 5″ x 5″ squares that come in a quilter’s charm pack of fabric.
  • The Anthropology of Sewing is a (VERY) occasional series where I put that graduate degree to good use and walk through some of why I think sewing has suddenly taken off and found a new niche in America today.

Independence Day, and Giveaway Winners!

Yesterday, our great nation celebrated 234 years of independence.  And my oldest child celebrated 15 years on this planet.  Our nation’s bicentennial has an awful lot to do with the rebirth of sewing and quilting back in 1976, and my child’s birth has an awful lot to do with my embracing craft and sewing as I got older (more on both those topics in a future Anthropology of Sewing post).

What better way to celebrate than a quick trip to see Mom, have some apple pie (well, birthday cake, but still), and splash about in the lake?

Fantastic weather, great time with family, and a delicious birthday cake (decorated by her younger sister) to fete our eldest on her quinceanera.  Such a wonderful holiday weekend, with so many things to celebrate and be thankful for.

While we were growing closer as a family, our Whipstitch family was busy expanding, too!  I announced our massive Quilt Market autographed prize pack giveaway a couple weeks back, and y’all have been BUSY.  With no further ado, the FIVE WINNERS ARE:

Online winner: Susan McKey

Flickr winner: Barefoot Mommy

Facebook winner:  Laura Forestner Boyd

In-store winner:  Bunny O’Keeffe

Newsletter winner: Ellie Roberts

Congrats to all of you!!  For those of you whose email addresses I already have, an email has gone out announcing your winner-ship.  If you don’t hear from me, drop a comment, and I’ll get your prize pack out to you ASAP!

Thanks to everyone who fanned us on Facebook, posted images to the Flickr pool, signed up for the newsletter, and visited us in-store and online the past two weeks.  I’ve got so many cool ideas for new things at the shop, and all the ladies are bursting with plans for the coming months–stay tuned, and happy summer, y’all!

Tidying Up!

Mr. O helps tidy up selvage bits in the studio.

Whoopee!  My husband recommended his favorite blog repair genius to go through the scripts inside the bowels of my blog and discover the errors–this is the same miracle worker who rescued my husband’s blog from oblivion when it up-and-vanished one night.  Not only was Ben Cotten able to figure out what was wrong, he was able to tell my why it went wrong, and then both fix and improve it!  Knight in shining armor, indeed.  Took less than 48 hours, and he was an absolute peach the entire time.  I can’t thank–or recommend–him enough!

Which means, we’re back!  I have over 40 new posts drafted and outlined, and we’re ramping up publishing over here at Whipstitch with the hopes of giving you a brand new post every day in February.  Look forward to features on flannel, more Anthropology of Sewing, a peek inside Anna Maria’s voiles, plus some color theory and a rousing discussion of the joys of solids.  Yum!

In the meantime, feel free to browse the shop and check out the sale section, where I’m adding the very, very last bits of flood fabrics and some new bundles.  We have some HUGE news coming in the next few weeks–coinciding with a massive blog design overhaul–and we’re clearing space to make room for all the excitement.  Can’t wait to share details with you all!  We’ll be here, tidying up the studio, even the littlest ones.

P.S. Have you signed on for the 2010 Goal Setting?  Check it out and leave your comment!  We’re putting together a whole new page and program to last all year long–and we’d love to have you there…