Stepping Back

Hm. I haven’t posted since the day before the election. I’ll let you interpret that as you like.

I sewed a canvas jerkin by hand over the past month. It isn’t 100% historically accurate (i.e., no interlining) because it was for a friend who is always too warm and lives in Virginia, where our summers are brutally hot and humid. In this project, I learned a few things.

  1. What makes my projects take forever (more like a year) isn’t how fast I sew, but how often and for how long I set down projects when I get to a tricky bit. I get to the part where I have to do the buttonholes, and I set it aside and don’t get back to it for six weeks. I get to the bit where I have to make the skirts symmetrical at the center front of the doublet, and I set it aside for two months. Right. If setting it aside isn’t an option, I can make a jerkin by hand in a month.
  2. Closely related to #1, perfect is the enemy of good, and of adequate practice. We get better (usually) at things we practice. Every hour holding a needle or manipulating fabric with a sewing machine makes me better at that skill and usually generalizes to related skills. Obsessing about perfection keeps me from getting enough practice at the things I want to improve. Suck it up, Jen, and accept that the project will not be perfect. Make it good. Make the next one better because of the practice you got on this one. Repeat until it’s really bleepin’ good.
  3. Backstitches are known as a very strong stitch. It’s what you want to use on a seam that is going to be under a lot of strain. I have read about extant garments that had backstitches used in parts of the garment where there is almost no stress on the seam, and I didn’t understand why. I haven’t gone back and found those examples to verify that my theory is correct, but in working on the jerkin, I found another reason to use a backstitch. If you’re sewing through many layers, it’s almost impossible to do a running stitch where you take one “bite” to go into and out of the fabric to make a full stitch with one motion. If that makes no sense to you, watch this video. The fabric is just too thick to bend the way it needs to bend to do that, and your running stitches would have to be huge to make it work. If you use a backstitch, on the other hand, you can end up with normal-sized stitches, but do it quickly taking big “bites” through the thick layers, then backing up to make sure the final stitches are small enough to work. I sewed on the jerkin’s shoulder wings and skirts with backstitches, and while it uses more thread, it is infinitely faster than trying to use a running stitch. This is probably a “Duh!” thing to people who sew a lot by hand, and that’s why it’s good to get practice – this is the sort of thing you figure out by doing it.

Since I posted last, I bought male and female half-scale dress dummies, and I even (mostly) finished a pair of breeches for “Robin.” I’ve been meaning to make him the matching doublet. Maybe if I can keep up the motivation, I will post about all of that here. (ETA: Just realized that I DID post about Bess’s body block last year. Haha. I’ll get back to that.)

2 thoughts on “Stepping Back

  1. I have the same problem of abandoning things when I get to a tricky part…or just a part I am not a fan of. I should really get better at that!

    Interesting musing on the backstitch. I’m gonna try it out to see for myself!!!


  2. I tend to get stuck at parts I know are going to take a lot of time and concentration – like laying out a slashing pattern on the fabric. This year I just haven’t had the motivation to do any of it. It’ll keep.


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