The Manly Art of Sewing – Chapter 1

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There is not a power tool that I am afraid to conquer!! Including… a sewing machine? Yes, it is true! Clothing construction is not that different from furniture construction, home construction, or any other type of construction. I am putting together something that everyone needs to use. I know how to measure, layout, cut and join materials. Sewing requires a great deal of technical proficiency and craftsmanship. The question is, why do so many men, even now, in the 21st century, still consider sewing “women’s work?”

I made this "Checkpoint Charlie" hat out of an old shirt. Looks good on me, AND on my creepy mannequin head "Hans."
I made this “Checkpoint Charlie” hat out of an old shirt. Looks good on me, AND on my creepy mannequin head “Hans.”

Of course, we have all know that a “tailor” is someone who makes or alters men’s clothing, and tailors are traditionally men. A woman who sews professionally is known by the somewhat old-fashioned term “seamstress.” Did you know, however, that a man or a woman who sews can also be known as a “seamster?” That sounds pretty cool, actually! All righty then… I’m going to join the International Brotherhood of SEAMSTERS!

Sewing Basics- Dickies shirttails are always too long. No problem!
Sewing Basics- Dickies shirttails are always too long. No problem!

I hadn’t done a whole lot of sewing in my life up until recently. I made a shop apron in home economics class in high school, and stitched some patches on my jacket, and that was about it. Last fall though, my wife (who makes amazing hand-made cat toys) was falling behind on her Christmas orders and couldn’t find a good helper. I decided to jump in and try giving her a hand. A sewing machine is just like a scroll-saw, right?

Measure twice, cut once! It works in sewing too!
Measure twice, cut once! It works in sewing too!

Well, sort of. Admittedly, I had to tear apart a few of my early attempts and try again, and my wife was pretty patient with my initial ham-handedness. I did eventually get the feel of it, and actually got pretty good! This sewing business turns out to be a lot of fun!

Quietest saw ever!
Quietest saw ever!

Since getting the sewing bug, I have tried a few of my own projects. I made some caps out of old sweatshirt material, let out a pair of my work pants (I hope to be learning how to take them back in soon), repaired some holes in my favorite jeans jacket and altered a Dickies work shirt (the tails are always way too long for my taste.)

Iron to give a crisp edge. It's like the joiner of sewing.
Iron to give a crisp edge. It’s like the joiner of sewing.
Nailing the new hem together.
Nailing the new hem together.

Since shop time on the wife’s high-tech Bernina sewing machine is at a premium, I bought myself a Singer “industrial” machine which is admittedly not on par with the high dollar Swiss machine, but it is okay for a beginner like myself. I also picked up a sweet antique machine at a swap meet for ten bucks that I think I can refurbish pretty easily.

I even put back the label. Stylin'!
I even put back the label. Stylin’!

I think I am finally ready to go for a REAL sewing project… that is, constructing a garment from scratch. My wife found a really nice old western-style shirt pattern for me. Somehow I don’t think I’ll look as “groovy” as the dudes on the McCalls pattern, but I’ll do my best! Stay tuned for future “Seamster” projects…


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About Rich

Rich Dana loves to build things, to tinker on things, and to grow things. After more than a decade as a historic building remodeler in Brooklyn, New York, he and his wife Ericka moved to their back-to-the-land dream home (and fixer-uper nightmare), an 1870s farmhouse on 15 acres in eastern Iowa that they call “Catnip Farm.” For the last 18 years, Rich has specialized in super-efficient historical renovations and solar PV installation. He is working to convert much of the farm into perennial food crops like nut trees and berries, and he helps Ericka out with her heirloom seed project. His latest passion is learning to sew.

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4 thoughts on “The Manly Art of Sewing – Chapter 1”

  1. Really enjoyed the apt comparisons between sewing and building! Especially “the quietest saw ever”! Love your perspectives and good writing.

  2. I loved reading this article. My mom taught me to sew since I was 10 years old. There is a lot more to making a garment than you might think – true tailoring is an art but anyone can learn. I think it’s great that more men are taking an interest. It’s a very practical hobby that also allows for a lot of creativity.

    • Thanks Molly! I’m really glad you enjoyed it. I think for most DIYers, it’s a good skill to have even if you only learn to repair your own stuff and never make a garment.
      I remember what my first cabinet project looked like, 30-some years ago… I hope my first shirt comes out better than that!! Stay tuned…


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