Thursday 13 June 2013

When good improv goes bad

Today I want to talk about sewing off-piste.  Those times when you decide to just veer away from the pattern directions, or away from All The Patterns completely - freewheeling, doing your own thing, making it up as you go along.

In theory, this is one of my favourite things about sewing your own clothes. You have complete freedom to change things up and turn them around in joyful, creative self-expression.

In theory.

In reality, I hate it. And I hate it because I suck at it. And why do I suck at it?

Because I seem to be suffering from the delusion that improv = shortcut. That taking the off-piste route will get me down the mountain quicker, with more fun and less rules. That I will arrive there triumphantly shouting "Look everybody, look at this SUPER COOL thing that I just threw together using an idea out of MY VERY OWN HEAD!!".
Them stripes don't match and that elastic's too tight!
Conveniently forgetting that, unless you're a pretty good skier already, going off-piste is more likely to end with a broken leg half way down a crevasse than in a victorious swishy flourish. Or - if I've already stretched that metaphor too far, which I think I have - in an ill-fitting, ill-conceived sundress. Or perhaps in a sweater that you really want to love but really can't, just because of a flippy zip.

Yeah. Both those things.

Why is this? When I'm following a pattern I almost consciously raise my game, partly to learn things, and partly so as to do justice to all that effort I'm putting in. Yet about 2 seconds after straying away away from the instructions, I start behaving like: decent seam finishes - why bother? Wibbly hem - whatever! Stabilising with elastic, putting zippers in stretch fabric? Not going to google that, no thank you ma'am!

But I just don't like interfacing in the shoulder seams!

It sits well nowhere

Why? WHY?? I ask you?

Seriously, am I alone in this? What the hell is going on here?

:: :: ::


  1. First I have to tell you that I had to google off-piste! I've seen your Briar dress (featured on Megan Nielsen's blog no less) so I don't think you suck at improvising! I know that if something I'm sewing starts to go way off course (keeping the theme here), I tend to slack off on it. I do love the concept of your Briar sweater. Maybe you could just redo the zip? Your second picture is great - your expression and sunglasses look very runway!

  2. Oh I laughed at this post! Off piste! What a great phrase I may need to use it because I so fail at the improv - but while I'm doing it I think I'm so damn cool. Love your ideas though. That stripey fabric is just the best and the yellow zipper - inspired!!

  3. hehe that dress was definitely the exception! I think it is indeed that feeling of "it's going wrong anyway, why bother". But half the time it's that which makes things turn out worse than expected! Good idea about the zip - maybe I should just leave it alone for a while and then revisit.

  4. Yeah that's the killer isn't it - thinking how utterly cool I am while I'm botching it all up! I find myself understanding the kids' frustrations really well - trying to draw the best picture ever, but it just won't come out how they imagined it.

  5. I do the same improv attack sewing with no rules. I think the reason I do it so often is that most of the time it does work.

  6. Lol, that made me laugh! I love the idea of improvising, as well. For me, it has gone better than following patterns. A few patterns I've completed, I just could NOT figure out how to do some steps, even asked some other folks, no ideas. So, I made up my own way to do them and they worked out well. Trouble is, I really want to know HOW to do it the way they said in the pattern!! Like the saying goes, you have to know the rules to break them, and I feel like I'm cheating not knowing the 'real' way first!

  7. Ooh you obviously have better sewing intuition than I do! Good for you!

  8. Funny isn't it how we can arrive at such similar results with such different processes. I wonder if it has something to do with the kind of learner you are - if you learn better by doing or with visual instructions or through explanations. Sometimes I don't understand instructions either but as soon as I more or less figure it out in 3D, the whole thing clicks. But I don't really think it matters whether you know the 'right' way to do it or not - no-one's going to be grading you on it!

  9. ha - I have thought about that stripey fabric in Berger more than once, but never felt I could pull it off! Surely the dress is refashionable? I too am more of an improviser than a pattern follower, with some surprising results and hasty sharp left turns at times :)


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