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April 16, 2015

What’s your sewing benchmark?

Over the past few years of reading sewing blogs I’ve noticed an interesting trend in respect to which benchmark people use for their self-made garments, and what they’re trying to achieve. On the one hand, there are people who aspire to Ready to Wear (RTW) clothes: garments that look like they’ve been bought in a store. On the other, there’s sewists who aspire to being better than RTW, and most commonly to the level of couture.

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When I started sewing and noticed people saying things like “well of course I wouldn’t accept the quality of RTW in my sewing” I was honestly flabbergasted: the idea of being able to sew something AS GOOD AS IN A SHOP was just astounding! It hadn’t actually occurred to me that it was really possible to do any better than that. And even now, I must confess that it’s the standard I most often hold myself to. If I could get my clothes looking as “perfect” as store-bought (especially high-end) that would be fantastic. The caveat is: I want them to fit better, and that’s what I constantly work on.

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In the other camp, I know lots of sewists who aspire to more: to move beyond the types of finishes you get in RTW, and to make something that’s elevated up to a whole new level of sewing. You’re not going to see serged seams or topstitched hems in these types of garments. Some of my sewing friends would be quite offended if someone suggested that something they’d made looked like it was from a store! I associate this type of sewing with Susan Khalje, with lots of hand sewing, meticulous control and, above all, time. It’s something I notionally aspire to, though every time I think of signing up for one of her classes I chicken out, for fear that I’m not good enough (I know this is a silly way to think and I should just try! One day….).

So where do you fit in? Are you attempting to sew like RTW, maybe a particular brand or style? Are you a couture-aspiring sewist? Or do you have a totally different look or standard you aim for?

Cashmerette

57 Responses to What’s your sewing benchmark?

  1. vickygorry April 16, 2015 at 8:30 am #

    Since I started sewing, I’ve been interested in RTW seams, hems, the whole construction, and I’ve learned quite a lot about how poorly some garments are cut (not always true to the grain), seamed (plenty of mismatched side seams at the waistband) and hemmed (often not very straight). So on the one hand, I’d like my sewing to be better than that, but I’d also like my garments to stand up to comparison with better RTW clothes. I can see myself inching toward more couture style sewing, but quite honestly probably not until my children are older – anything more time consuming than a top stitched hem isn’t going to be finished for years! It’s an interesting question and I wonder whether comparison is helpful as it often just leads us to criticise our own hard work and achievements, but perhaps if we use it help us set sewing goals then it’s not so bad. Sorry for the lengthy comment, such an interesting question.

  2. Joyce April 16, 2015 at 8:39 am #

    Very interesting post! I think I’m trying to use good quality fabrics and sew them to a standard that people don’t guess they’re hand made. I want to improve the fit but for a tall lass like me, that’s been quite easy to achieve if you know the dimensions the pattern is drafted for and how to add length. But I don’t want to become obsessively focused on fit either, it’s a balance I think, making a garment I’m proud to wear.

    I also like learning new things and challenging myself so used some tailoring techniques in two jackets I made recently. I didn’t expect the first jacket to turn out well, I surprised myself. But it all has to be balanced by ‘time available’ too. So I think the benchmark for me is to try and make something look like RTW, verging on higher-end RTW. If that makes sense.

    Go on, sign up for a Susan Kahlje class!

  3. Orange Lingerie April 16, 2015 at 8:39 am #

    Sign up for one of Susan’s classes! They are amazing and inspiring. You will learn tons not just from your project but also from all the other class projects. Do it!

  4. Paula April 16, 2015 at 9:00 am #

    Overall, my aim is to keep on learning new skills and pushing myself to improve the skills I already have. Currently I am learning pattern making, so I am aiming to one day be able to sew items that are completely self drafted beyond a basic skirt or pant.

    Eventually I want to be able to sew couture quality items, but for now I am content just learning new skills and improving the quality of the items I already make.

  5. Vicki Kate April 16, 2015 at 9:09 am #

    Wow, I’ve never really thought about it? My aspirations have simply to be able to make clothes that fit me better than anything I can buy in a store, in a style I like and that can stand up to repeated machine washing. I guess I fall into a middle camp. I’m more than happy with an overlocked finish on raw edges, but will also take the time to hand sew a hem, or finish bias binding by hand as I prefer the finish it gives.
    Do one of the Susan Kahlje classes, I’ve only ever dipped in and out of her craftsy ones but have learnt a lot even if I’ve never actually made a couture dress!

    • Marike Smit April 16, 2015 at 11:02 am #

      My sewing aspirations are exactly the same as Vicky Kate’s.

      • Mim April 16, 2015 at 8:59 pm #

        Me three – with the addition of being able to use better fabrics.

  6. Miss Celie April 16, 2015 at 9:18 am #

    I don’t want my clothes to look like they were made at home. I want them to look RTW to the average eye. Often, people say they can tell that I made something. But, it has more to do with it being a print they’ve not seen before or a style that I have.

  7. Tanya Maile April 16, 2015 at 9:31 am #

    For me, the type of sewing depends on the garment. If it’s an everyday cotton dress, I don’t think it needs couture handiwork. If it’s a special occasion gown or I’m working with exquisite fabric, then definitely the time I spend on it and the techniques I use to make it are going to be top notch.

  8. Carolyn April 16, 2015 at 9:38 am #

    I want a little of both! I want a RTW sensibility – meaning my sewing is relevant/similar to what’s being shown in RTW but I also want some upscale “couture” touches in the garment construction. I’m in awe of the sewists who are at the level of using all couture techniques in their garments. I just don’t have the time for that type of sewing now especially since fit is once again the driving force of my garment construction!

  9. Caitlyn M. April 16, 2015 at 9:43 am #

    When I was a teenager, before I was responsible for buying my own clothes and before I had sewn anything other than the occasional costume piece, I admired RTW because of what I perceived as polish: no ragged or fraying seams, no bulky or wavy hems, and so on. As an adult I’ve dealt with enough hems that came undone in the first washing and biasing t-shirts to know that RTW can be severely lacking in quality, and that I want–and can do–better. But despite these faults, RTW is often still more instructive to me than many Big 4 sewing patterns, which often don’t tell you how to finish seams (or that you should), or when a pattern would benefit from adding a lining or underlining (lightweight summer skirt? don’t worry about it; corduroy skirt to wear over tights? probably a good idea). So I aim for an ideal inspired by my perception of RTW more than the reality of RTW.

    I don’t currently aspire to couture sewing, although I certainly respect those who do, and I’m sure there are techniques or tips that are more broadly applicable. But I’m wary of the implication that hand-sewing, or any sewing that takes more time, is somehow categorically better. I prefer to think that sewing well consists of making a good match between pattern, fabric, and technique. And personal preference, while we’re at it. One person may like the look of catchstitched hems; I think they’re ugly and wouldn’t use them; we may both agree that there are some fabrics and garments, like a denim skirt, where it just makes more sense to topstitch them. Instead of asking, “Which X is the best?” I like to ask, “Which X is the best way to achieve my vision for look/fit/durability/polish/etc.?”

    • Stephanie Qich April 23, 2015 at 1:02 pm #

      Caitlyn M. said: ” I prefer to think that sewing well consists of making a good match between pattern, fabric, and technique. And personal preference, while we’re at it. ”

      Perfectly stated! although in my case personal preference takes the lead. The end garment has to be a good match for the intended wearer. I have an eccentric style, as well as nerve damage which makes many aspects of ‘regular’ clothing (of style, fit, construction, materials) very uncomfortable. I like to take inspiration and construction techniques from wherever i find them.

      I feel that there should be no standard save the one set by the person making/using the garment. I admire lovely couture techniques, but i am so hard on clothes that when i use them my clothes fall apart after one or two wears! Thus, i’ll many times use construction methods found in construction workers’ garments. I have also found that hand sewing can be quite durable and makes a garment more comfortable to wear. It also affects the drape of the garment, making it much softer and molded to the body.

      Very interesting article and discussion!

  10. Katie April 16, 2015 at 9:45 am #

    I started sewing my whole wardrobe because I could not buy clothes in the quality I wanted. They just were not available (no matter how high end I looked) anymore (?). Usually, mens’ clothing in the same stores had a higher quality than womens’. So I could say, I want more than RTW. But that is a moving target and becoming easier to achieve by the season.

  11. stitchedupsam April 16, 2015 at 9:52 am #

    This is a really interesting discussion. I suppose my answer/contribution would be that I want the things I make to look at least as good as mid to high end RTW, but with a good fit that I often can’t find in RTW. I would LOVE to use more couture techniques in my projects, but I just don’t have the time (and not always the patience). For a “special” garment or if I was using a luxury fabric I would definitely put in the extra effort, but for everyday items a good RTW finish is good enough for me.

    • amcclure2014 April 16, 2015 at 10:46 am #

      This is exactly where I sit. I can’t find a good fit in RTW no matter how high end.

      • erniek3 April 16, 2015 at 9:10 pm #

        In 1995, I went out to buy myself a really nice dress for my wedding. I had more than enough to drop on the project. I could not find anything that would make me look half as good as what I knew I could sew. My ambition is just to do more sewing and better (I want the inside to look as good as the outside). I’m good now, but I enjoy the ‘getting better’ thinking.

  12. AJW April 16, 2015 at 10:05 am #

    This is a fascinating topic, as are the comments. I like to do better than RTW in terms of fit and finish, and also find that when it comes to higher-end clothing, I can do better in terms of quality if I make it myself. However, good outcomes require time, which is, I think, the most precious commodity. But if I had the time and materials, I’d love to sew like “Goodbye Valentino’s” Sarah Gunn, and as an example, I share her most recent post on a two-piece lace dress that she recently created. The fit is fabulous, and the construction techniques (some learned from Susan Khalje) are beautiful.

    http://goodbyevalentino.com/dvf-lace-part-ii/

  13. Chloe April 16, 2015 at 10:08 am #

    I agree with Caitlyn, it’s about a good match for me. My everyday pieces are finished on par with better-made rtw, but there is no need in my mind (or lifestyle!) for couture everything. I want whatever I wear to look nice, fit well, and last, whether it’s something I’ve made or something I’ve purchased. Great topic!

  14. Sewing Tidbits April 16, 2015 at 10:29 am #

    Very interesting discussion. I think one of the issues is that we look at RTW as one big pot, when it’s a very segmented market.
    The construction chosen for each segment of the market is specific, you will not have the same seam finishes on a 300$ blouse and 15$.
    I have to admit that I am a bit confused by the whole couture thing. I took Susan Craftsy class and it seams that it’s mostly about underlining everything with silk organza. IMO it gives a particular stiffness to garments that looks a bit dated (Jacky O?). But that’s a very personal preference!

    • rootbranchbole April 17, 2015 at 12:47 am #

      I definitely agree about the tiers of RTW. I originally got into sewing by looking at Forever 21 dresses and thinking to myself, “Well gosh, I could probably sew a box-shaped dress and put an elastic waist in it. And hell, I could even make it in something other than polyester.”

      Then I started sewing and realized it wasn’t that much harder to make a fitted bodice, and things went from there. But I doubt I’ll ever achieve a couture finish on a regular basis, and that’s fine. I cut corners all the time. My seam finishes aren’t great, but who knows besides me? I care much more about fit, and about having staple garments. My makes aren’t as nice as high-end RTW — but as Sewing Tidbits said, there are different segments of RTW, and I’m satisfied with “good enough.”

      I took Susan Khalje’s Craftsy couture class when I was making my wedding dress, and although it does indeed lay out a method that relies on organza underlining, I really took a lot out of it in terms of muslin fitting, careful reinforcing of fabric, and other methods. I only use a tiny fraction of those methods in my usual sewing, but it’s great to know about them for special projects!

  15. Cynthia April 16, 2015 at 11:20 am #

    When I was working full-time I aspired to couture. Now that I’m retired and my wardrobe is more casual, I’m happy with RTW finishes. I agree that the fit is the thing — it has to be perfect, which is something we rarely find in RTW.

  16. justsewtherapeutic April 16, 2015 at 11:22 am #

    If I’m making something that would be classed as an ‘investment piece’ in rtw I will take the time to finish the garment to the best of my ability in the hope that it will reward me with a good few years of wear. My old sewing teacher used to say that the insides should be as neat as the outsides and I do try to follow her mantra. A lot of the time I’m just after a quick sew and I’m happy to just overlock the seams. I haven’t bought any rtw for nearly two years but I do occasionally look in the shops purely to examine the insides, when I see poorly stitched cheap fabric it makes me glad I’m able to sew my own!

  17. Barbara grace April 16, 2015 at 11:43 am #

    For me practicality usually rules. I. Am a wash and wear kind of gal and although I like to do an bit of couture techniques in occasion they just don’t happen in a wash and wear scenario. Nothing I wear on a regular basis goes to a dry cleaner, which is they preferred cleaning method for most couture garments.

    In addition it’s easy to get hung up on the minutiae and take forever to get it done. Since I make all my own clothes these days, done with a serged seam or machine blind hem is still done. Better to have it done and in rotation than a mere dream still to be completed.

  18. Mariah Oliver April 16, 2015 at 11:56 am #

    I am really in the middle. I want people to assume my clothes I make are RTW because they are in style/don’t look Becky Home Ec-y. But I also verge into better than RTW categories most of the time. Mainly focusing on fit — which is the reason RTW doesn’t work so well for me.

    I serge seam allowances, top stitch hems, but I also go above and beyond because I like the finish and what it adds to the project — specifically for special occasion dresses. I try to add a bit of flair/something unexpected on the inside of the dress. Like the seam finish or hem tape that is a pop of color.

  19. Marianne April 16, 2015 at 12:04 pm #

    My goal is to make one of a kind garments. Depending on my mood and the amount of available sewing time, it could be a Mabel skirt made in one afternoon as well as a jacket that takes three weeks of careful planning and reading the sewing library before I even start. During the 40 years of sewing journey my aim stayed the same. I want to keep pushing myself, challenge myself to learn new skills and take my time to make my next garment better than the last one!

  20. dottiedoodle April 16, 2015 at 12:46 pm #

    Such an interesting post, and responses. I care about the finish of what I make, but I don’t want it to take forever! Most important to me are the small details – a neckline at just the right depth for me, a skirt the most flattering length.

    • vickygorry April 16, 2015 at 2:19 pm #

      That’s exactly it, for the perfect fit and those details we love. How often do you see the right shape of a garment but the fabric you prefer is totally the wrong style? How would we dress if we didn’t sew?!

  21. maddiemadalynne April 16, 2015 at 12:57 pm #

    What a great question! I’m constantly pushing my sewing abilities, but to where? Well, that’s changed recently since I’ve pretty much switched to only sewing lingerie. I was worried to make that transition – would people be interested in my me-made bras and undies rather than dresses, pants and other “real” garments? But I think that’s a bad philosophy to live/sew by – only doing things based on other’s opinion. Lingerie feels right to me. I’m very passionate about it and I really want to grow my ability. But what exactly do I want to do with it? What’s my final goal? I’ve been wondering that lately. I think it will naturally evolve, but right now, I’m trying as many styles and construction as possible as exercises. I’m also trying to refine my style – I even created a Pinterest board (https://www.pinterest.com/mmadalynne/mentionables/)! All of this is in an effort to achieve my final goal – possibly releasing a pattern or having my own, VERY SMALL, line of lingerie for smaller chested women.

  22. Nancy K April 16, 2015 at 1:11 pm #

    I have neither the desire nor the inclination to sew couture. I don’t have the lifestyle for clothes like that nor the budget for the kind of fabrics that couture warrants. I do aspire to high end rtw in my clothing in style and fit. I aspire to clothing that I can’t afford to buy. Fit and well made clothing in the best fabrics that I can afford is what I look for.

  23. Alessa April 16, 2015 at 1:47 pm #

    Fun question! I guess I’m with most of the others here: depends on the garment. I sew a lot of knits, so there’s an overlocker and recently a coverstitch machine involved. When I make a nice skirt or dress, though, I usually go for hand-stitching the hem over topstitching. I think overlocking seams is fantastic for a lot of garments, but I would definitely french-seam a light-weight blouse. But to be totally honest, I will take quick and efficient over perfect and takes forever nine times out of ten. 😉

  24. michelleinsea April 16, 2015 at 2:54 pm #

    My goal for my sewn garments is RTW construction with better than RTW fit. Better than RTW fit isn’t a very high bar to set, given that the reason I started sewing was that I couldn’t find RTW in the styles that I liked that fit my figure.

    Maybe someday I’ll aspire to couture, but like Nancy K said, couture doesn’t really fit my current lifestyle. I’m not going to sew a Chanel style jacket only to have apple juice spilled all over it, and I’m not going to sew a couture cocktail dress to wear to a company holiday party held at Century Link field.

  25. Amy April 16, 2015 at 2:55 pm #

    Interesting post and discussion, after learning to sew I noticed how poorly RTW is constructed and so I try to strive for better. Mostly though I try to buy nicer fabric and only buy RTW if I can’t make it myself/get similar fabric

  26. twotoast April 16, 2015 at 3:19 pm #

    Interesting thoughts! I would like to say that my clothes would pass for RTW but are better made and fitted. I don’t use Couture methods, but I do match threads, finish off seams properly, hand sew where appropriate etc., etc., I’ve recently been playing with Tina Givens patterns – a totally different look/feel. Imagine Out of Africa meets the 1920’s and this is even more removed from RTW in a fun way.

  27. gilliancrafts April 16, 2015 at 5:09 pm #

    I think about this a lot, especially during “Top 5 of 201_” season every new year… I really don’t aspire to perfect, and even greatness. I love sewing, but I have never once had joy from looking at a seam as I get dressed. It’s the doing that I like, and the wearing, and the colours. I feel annoyed when people imply that we have a duty to get better and better at sewing – why? I think if someone likes getting better at fitting, or technique, then of course they should, but don’t apply that to everyone else too. (That’s what I tell myself when I feel self-imposed pressure to do sewing I dread, like a button down shirt or fancy tailoring.) It’s a hobby, so we should each do what makes us happy! 🙂

  28. Julie April 16, 2015 at 6:15 pm #

    I would love to be able to make my special occasion clothes using couture methods but I don’t have time to make all of my clothes that way. My main focus is achieving great fit and to use the best fabrics that I can afford.

  29. Siobhan April 16, 2015 at 7:08 pm #

    Oh my goodness, RTW Is absolutely my golden standard. When I see sewists shit all over RTW clothing I think, have you looked at RTW lately? Yes it can be cheap and crappy but it can also involve a lot of precision (the tolerance for error in RTW is very small), skill and often better quality fabrics and notions than we as home sewists have access to. If someone is repeating the same task over and over again, all day every day, then they are going to get very good at it. I think we underestimate the skill levels of those who make the clothes in shops.

  30. Cheryl April 16, 2015 at 7:19 pm #

    I haven’t sewn in forever and hope to get back to it soon. My reasons for sewing are similar to many who have responded – better fitting, well constructed clothes. For me it means doing the basics very well (matching the pattern as best I can, reasonably precise cutting and sewing) and maybe the occassional special touch (French or flat felled seams, using fancy bias tape, lace insertion) but almost always fabrics I love.

  31. runningcuzican April 16, 2015 at 8:19 pm #

    I strive for fit and quality finishing so that it doesn’t fall apart or look shoddy.I do strive to have things look well finished, things to match up,no puckers, nice topstitching, matching stripes and plaids etc, I do not have the lifestyle for anything couture. I will hand sew hems that require it or have even hand sewn bindings. But if it is just a t shirt well or casual knit dress….I wouldn’t be afraid to sign up for a class though. Being around people that are masters at something is very inspiring and you will not help but absorb some of that and incorporate it and make it your own.

  32. Nakisha April 16, 2015 at 11:25 pm #

    Like someone else said, RTW is a giant pot. And I do not shun all RTW; in general I feel like I really get my money’s worth when I buy Target stuff on clearance. I have items that have worn really well for years. I refuse to buy anything ever from Forever 21 and H&M. Not worth it.

    I can appreciate the couture sewers but have no reason or desire to go there. I am also in a range on fabric price that I feel comfortable paying as I’ve ruined several garments at work and my clothes need to go in the washer. So I will not make a $25/yd silk blouse for work or $50/yd wool pants. Nope. Not happening.

    I aspire to sew things that I will wear. I want them to fit well and work well together. And I want them to look nice.

    Perfect? Eh. sometimes I will keep doing something until it’s “perfect” to my eye. Other times? Pfft. It’s just clothes. It’ll be ok…

  33. Amy G April 17, 2015 at 5:07 am #

    Your post and all the comments are fascinating. I’m still very much a beginner sewer so I guess I’m hyper aware of how my mindset is changing regarding my own finishing standards and abilities and what I see in RTW. I agree with others that the standard there varies so widely we shouldn’t dismiss it out of hand nor should we see that as gold standard en masse. I think at the moment I am aiming for very well made, precise RTW finishes and to avoid what I sometimes feel are lazy finishes. One of the UK high street chains I used to shop at regularly has gone severely down in my estimations now I’ve realised how shoddy some of their finishes are and not what I’d expect at the pricepoint they charge.

  34. Elizabeth Made This April 17, 2015 at 9:41 am #

    RTW is my standard, but I think of it in terms of am I meeting, or exceeding the standard? Most of the time, I’m perfectly content to serge the insides of my garments to finish off the edges, but occasionally, and probably more often now, I look at the raw materials I’m working with and decide what kind of finish would look best and do that. With fitting and overall design, I’m always looking to exceed the standard of RTW. I take a lot of inspiration from RTW in my pieces, but in the end, I don’t want anything in my wardrobe to look exactly like it came from a store; I sew because I want my clothes to be unique and I enjoy making them just that.

  35. Gina April 17, 2015 at 11:55 am #

    I don’t buy a lot of RTW, but when I do, I’m often surprised by the quality of the construction for what I paid. That makes me feel like I should buy less RTW because I’m sure someone is getting exploited on the other end, but I think that means that my sewing benchmark is often the same quality as RTW. I did just buy a dress at Target because I couldn’t resist the fabric and the pattern matching at the waist is so atrocious that I may take it apart and re-sew it myself. But more often than not, I’m happy with RTW finishes and am satisfied to reproduce them in my sewing. I’m impatient and don’t have a ton of time to sew, so I don’t see myself getting into French seaming and hand sewing and all those couture techniques that make everything take ten times longer.

    I think the real benchmark for me is not in finishing, but fit, as you mention in your post. As a short, plus-size, not-the-proportions-favored-in-RTW person, I can rarely get a fit that I’m satisfied with in RTW. Fitting is still a work in progress for me with my sewing, but no matter how many fit issues I see with what I’ve made, it’s always better than RTW. One of my sewing goals is to make more repeats of the same pattern so I can perfect fit because it seems like even though I make muslins, there’s always something I see that I can improve upon.

    What a great discussion!

  36. Morgan April 17, 2015 at 12:50 pm #

    I think a good fit is the most important aspect of creating a great garment. You can have all the couture details you want but if it doesn’t fit right things are going to looks sloppy. This is where I am at the moment, learning how to properly fit my garments and adjust patterns. Once I get that down I may look into couture techniques, but I’m not sure if I’ll ever have the time for that. Such a great question though, really got me thinking!

  37. sewknitrun April 17, 2015 at 1:21 pm #

    If my finishes look as good as ready to wear I’m happy. It’s the fit on my tall,pear shape that really sets handmade apart from RTW. Couture certainly doesn’t fit my lifestyle but it is something that I envision in the far distant future like maybe I’ll go couture for my mother-of-bride/groom dress (my kids are 3 and 5 so like I said, the far distant future). If my lifestyle miraculously changes to one wear daily couture wear is appropriate, I will adapt.

  38. Lizzy April 17, 2015 at 5:52 pm #

    I’m a believer in using whatever finish and standard is appropriate for the garment and purpose. Boring & practical but true.
    I like my clothes to fit, be well finished and be well worn. I’m happy to hand sew or chug away on my overlocker to achieve that.

  39. Najah April 17, 2015 at 5:53 pm #

    I’m petite and curvy. My past, current and future priorities line up like this: (1) Fit (2) Fit (3) Fit (4) Construction (5) Fit (6) Tailoring (7)Technique. After seven years of mostly wearable muslins, I’m finally taking time to give my TNTs a proper sew (priority #4), so at this rate, I’ll be ready for Ms. Khalje (she’s an hour drive away from me in Baltimore!) in the year 2040. Just in time for retirement, when a seamstress is at her peak, I imagine/hope.

  40. lettersfromwetvilleSandra April 18, 2015 at 2:54 am #

    Great topic. For me, sewing is all abut fit. If I had been able to buy clothes in shops which I liked and could afford, then perhaps I would have a different hobby. What I would have seen as a good fit five years ago in a shop is now not good enough for me! So as I have upskilled as a sewist, so I have also raised my expectations in terms of fit, so the project continues. My goal is to be able to sew more of my own clothes that I cannot buy. So at the moment I am making a slip as I can’t buy one at the right cut and length – if I could buy it, I would. I’ve made lots of progress with dresses (I like wearing dresses, so worth it) but have so many unsuccessful iterations of cardigans in terms of fit that that project continues. If I could get a cardigan just right, then I would like to try a tailored jacket. I can’t imagine thinking about couture techniques as my goal would always be to get the fit right and discover that I like the style on me in reality.

    I don’t have the budget to buy all the best tools at once, but I have been able to improve my sewing significantly with my new sewing machine my husband bought me last year. The big jump in equipment before that was a rotary cutter and board which made everything easier and faster. Maybe in the next 18 months I will get a dress form, and thus improve my hemming.

    My current lifestyle means I won’t be a regular blogger again or have great photographs and styling of my makes. But another tool which helps me with my sewing and inspiration is the bloggers who do sew and share regularly and particularly the curvy sewing collective. Thank you Jenny for your inspiration and to other curvy bloggers.

  41. LaLa Sews April 18, 2015 at 10:20 pm #

    This is such a fascinating topic – I’ve been thinking about it since I first read your post. I’m new to sewing so it had never occurred to me to consider whether I am striving for RTW or couture finishes. To be honest, right now I’m aiming for “under the radar” – meaning I hope the clothes I make will fit into my existing wardrobe without screaming out for attention because of wobbly this or wonky that.

    I like some of the thoughtful answers from others about balancing personal standards for ideal results with realistic sewing. I don’t have much call for fancy in my wardrobe, so the clothes I make are now and will probably mostly stay in the RTW sphere. I’m sure I will probably fit into the practical perfectionist camp: if it fits well, looks good and holds up to wash and wear, I’m probably not going to fret much about how beautifully finished the insides are. Although I must admit to having an OCD streak so it’s quite possible the more I sew, the more likely it will be I’ll stumble on a particular thing that I’ll have to finish a particular way every time…

  42. BeaJay April 19, 2015 at 12:50 am #

    Oh I would be thrilled to sew to the level of RTW. Although I must say I becoming more and more conscious of the quality in the RTW that I do buy. I can see where errors have been made and I can see issues with fit that I never saw before.

  43. Veronica Darling (@veronicadarling) April 19, 2015 at 3:24 am #

    I think about this a lot… I certainly do not want to be hand sewing everything… and I love my overlocker! But I what to dress better than RTW in most stores… I like choosing the fabric and the style and not being ‘in fashion’ … but then other times, I’m like I just want something that’s really straight forward (just refashioned a T Shirt yesterday from my Husband’s old T Shirt) with no stress and I could have bought one like it in the store, but I am reminded through my sewing that ethically I can choose not to.

    So yes, a better fit than RTW definitely! A different style, a uniqueness… and hopefully with my ethical choices (hard in China to know if any fabric is sustainable though) xoxo great post to get us thinking!

  44. Robin April 19, 2015 at 10:55 am #

    I am rather late to the conversation, but this topic is on my mind, too. I’ve always aspired to achieving a RTW finish. As my hobby progressed, I got more interested in couture and took classes & lessons to learn it. I think it was a more a matter of wanting new challenges than anything else. The couture method is a lot more time-consuming so I’d never make all of my clothes that way. But I will say this – I incorporate couture techniques all the time. When a top was too tight in the bust – I added a gusset (learned from Kenneth King). If I can’t get a nice machine-stitched hem on a knit garment – I’ll sew a catch-stitch by hand (learned from Clair Shaeffer) … when I have a screw up, I can hear Susan Khalje saying “these things happen” and come up with a creative solution. I would encourage anyone to take classes /lessons /videos /books by couture teachers, even if you don’t use the whole process all the time. I’ve found it enriched my sewing!! And now that Susan is teaching in Baltimore often, if you come to Baltimore for a class, I do hope we have a chance to meet! If my budget ever recovers from my daughter’s wedding, I’ll be in class, too 🙂

  45. Jet Set Sewing April 19, 2015 at 6:06 pm #

    Even if you don’t want to take on an haute couture project at this point, I recommend at least watching one of Susan’s video classes, like the one on Craftsy. It’s just full of so much useful information, even if you’re not doing couture. Her muslin-making technique in particular is critical for fitting.
    I’d call my method “couture hybrid,” because I do use modern shortcuts. My benchmark is to create clothes that look like they’re from a luxury brand like Max Mara, but with a vintage design. Sometimes I even hit my mark!

  46. sleepyerin April 19, 2015 at 6:10 pm #

    When I first started sewing I thought it was the worse possible outcome for someone to pick an item as home made. But now, perhaps with the increased confidence I have, I am proud when people realise that I made my or my children’s clothes. It’s interesting, I admire people who want to use couture techniques for entire garments, in the same way I admire people who do rock climbing – I’m glad they are having fun, but not interested in joining them. That said I unwittingly used couture techniques (invisible stitching, hand overcasting) for years before I had a sewing machine. I definitely believe in tailoring your sewing to your life and needs – I shamelessly overlock all knit garments, I happily hand stitch where I think it looks better (and I have time), I also top stitch hems whenever I feel like it. I sometimes even use a zigzag stitch to hem my knits (mostly when my cover stitch foot pedal has been stolen

  47. needleworkreverie April 21, 2015 at 7:05 pm #

    I aspire to do the best that I can at any given moment. Right now I’m coming back to sewing after a 3 month hiatus so my sewing is looking pretty shabby. It will get better again and would be much better if I could find my top-stitching foot. I find that if I start comparing myself to others (yes “others” since they haven’t automated the clothes making process yet) I stop having fun.

  48. Angie B. April 28, 2015 at 10:34 pm #

    I want a ROW look with a custom-made for me fit. Very good article and duscussion.

  49. Judi Carbo June 9, 2016 at 4:06 pm #

    My goals have changed over the years and currently rests on the side of good fit and continued improvement in technique and finishing. None of that was especially a concern in my younger days when I just wanted to bang out a new top for Friday night.

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