Learning to Sew: A Story of Pain, Panic, and Too Many Pins

I attend the top fashion school in America, and I have never so much as touched a needle and thread. Don’t get me wrong, I am obsessed with fashion (seriously, it’s an illness), but nothing about making clothes ever really appealed to me. I have always been more of an editor or a stylist. That is until I was told to design a garment that would exist in the year 2115, and would solve two problems for the wearer. The possibilities were endless for me, especially because of my final research topic in Integrative Seminar 2: Fashion.

Over the past year, I discovered an unbelievably witty blog, The Man Repeller – I’m sure you’ve heard of it. The site’s tagline, “trends that women love, and men hate” inspired me to write about ‘man repelling’ throughout the decades. It was a sort of history of fashion as it relates to feminism. My only question as I researched was, why has fashion only been empowering to women over the years? Feminism is all about equality, so where is the male alternative to say the wrap dress, or the Le Smoking tuxedo?

I decided to answer this question by creating ‘The Man Skirt.’ But, this blog post is not about the man skirt’s meaning or symbolism…it’s about how I made the thing without knowing so much as how to cut a pattern.

My initial sketch looked something like this (thank God I can draw because I really would have been lost without some kind of skill set).

The initial sketch of 'The Man Skirt,' along with a logo created for the garment.

The initial sketch of ‘The Man Skirt,’ along with a logo created for the garment.

After I knew exactly what I wanted it to look like, I texted one of my best friends, Tai, who happens to be an expert in the realm of garment construction. I practically begged her to help me because my final studio grade depended on it. She graciously said yes, and she seemed as enthusiastic about the project as I had been. But she would soon realize that this was a big mistake because I am a major perfectionist, and I can easily be a huge pain in the you-know-what.

We started working in the Parsons building on a cool Thursday night. “Okay, so get started and when you need help, just call me,” Tai said with a sassy grin that you could only understand if you knew her.

I laughed nervously and said, “You get that I have zero experience when it comes to this area of fashion, right?”

After a second of staring me over like she was Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada, Tai helped me draw a technical pattern of the man skirt in my sketchbook, and after that, we decided the proper measurements for this kind of garment. As I began to transfer the paper pattern to a green wool felt I had purchased at Mood Fabrics earlier that day, Tai demanded, “make sure you add enough space for seam allowance!”

Seam allowance??? There are too many rules in this game. Apparently it is necessary to add on at least 3/4 of an inch to your actual measurements so that a clean line can be created when you start sewing. Since I was a beginner, I added 1 inch.

At that point, I had barely even started and I already felt like I had bitten off more than I could chew (a mistake we often make as artists). But Tai was not about to let me stop. I cut out my pattern, and I was actually kind of proud that I had done so without screwing it up royally.

Final pattern including the two halves of the skirt, and the belt.

Final pattern including two halves of the skirt, and the belt.

The next step was to pin the garment at the desired seams. Tai said this is vital because it prevents the seam from moving and thus ruining the clean lines. It also gives you a preview of what the garment will look like, which allows you to make adjustments in the process before you finish it.

The man skirt pinned together after an hour of poking myself and nearly bleeding onto my project.

The man skirt pinned together after an hour of poking myself and nearly bleeding onto my final project.

PRO TIP: Don’t make the same rookie mistake I did – make sure the balls of the pins are visible on the “pretty” side of the garment, NOT the side where the fold is visible. This makes the sewing process a lot easier, trust me.

A few days after, I went to the work shop by myself. Yes, by myself because Tai had to go to work, and I was desperate to finish this piece. However, I did not realize how overly ambitious I had been until the sewing machine was there in front of me. I had no idea where to begin. I spoke to a few girls working in the shop, but none of them could grasp the fact that I was as confused about this contraption as a dog would be about riding a bike.

After frantically texting Tai, she decided to come and assist me after she finished her shift. I had no shame in looking stupid because Tai and I are friends, and that is probably the reason why I learned better from her in the first place.

When she arrived, she explained the step-by-step process, and miraculously I began sewing. I did jam the machine a few times, but Tai would tell me that the machines were terrible in order to make me feel better.

It looks easy, but believe me, it wasn't.

It looks easy, but believe me, it wasn’t.

As you can imagine I was ecstatic when the sewing process was over. The following night, I broke out my trusty glue gun, added the belt buckle and (gasp) I had completed my first ever garment. A celebratory Snapchat was in order:

The man skirt, styled with my high school's t-shirt.

The man skirt, styled with my high school t-shirt.

The truth is I had never been more proud of anything I had made in my life. And even though learning to sew was not the most fun I have had, it sure did teach Tai to always say no when I ask her for help on a project (wink wink). The moral of story? If you are on your way to a top art school, and there is something you have no experience in (painting, sculpting, drawing, videography, etc.), don’t fret about it too much. There will come a time when you need to learn that skill, and when you do, your Tai will be waiting for you to text her. Just be sure to pay her back with Chipotle, like I did.

About Jeffrey Roy Jr.

My name is Jeffrey and I am a Strategic Design and Management student at Parsons School of Design. When I am not posting on Twitter or Instagram, you can often find me perusing the newsstand at Barnes & Noble.

One comment

  1. I can relate your post to the first garment I made too!

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