Everyone who sews has probably run into this. Someone admires the dress or blouse you’re wearing and asks where you bought it. You tell them that you sewed it yourself. In tones of profound amazement they say something along the lines of, “Wow! You can’t even tell. It looks just like it came from a store.” This is intended as a compliment but it is actually insulting, not only to the individual seamstress but to the entire craft of sewing. It assumes that factory produced clothes are necessarily superior. I can’t help but think of the “Shindig” episode of Firefly when the snooty girl insulted Kaylee’s dress by saying, “It looks like you bought it from a store.”
These “compliments” are completely innocent of course. People equate uniformity with quality. The problem is how to educate people without coming across as a jerk. Opinions are difficult to change; mindsets, nearly impossible. If you try to explain to people that their “compliment” is actually an insult they will just think there’s something wrong with you. And, to be honest, those of us who sew buy into this mindset too. For years I took such “compliments” as they were intended (while thinking that people really don’t pay attention to details) but sometime in the last few years I came to realize that such statements are left-handed compliments at best. You never hear someone say, “Wow! You bought that from a store? It looks just like you made it yourself.” And if someone did say that to you, you’d probably think it was an insult because it’s part of our mindset to believe that mass produced goods are superior.
There’s another misconception that goes along with this: the notion that people sew mainly to save money. I sometimes hear people say, “You can buy clothes from Wal-mart for less than you can make them yourself,” suggesting that there’s no point in sewing anymore. But why would I want to buy clothes at Wal-mart and look like everyone else who shops there when I can make clothes that are one of a kind? The “sewing to save money” thing has only ever worked if you compare home made clothes to high-end clothes. You can buy a dress for several hundred dollars or you can buy the material to make a similar dress for less than $50. So if you’re the kind of person who wouldn’t be caught dead wearing something that came from Wal-mart or Target then you can save money sewing.
But that’s not why we sew. We sew because we can imagine a garment then make it. We do not have to settle for the limited choices available in stores. We can have any kind of clothes we want whether they are currently in style or not. And we sew because our mothers sewed and our grandmothers and great-grandmothers sewed and we like the idea of carrying on the tradition. Mostly, we sew because sewing is fun. Looking at fabric, planning, buying fabric and patterns, the actual sewing, seeing the finished product – it all makes one feel very good.