I was first introduced to sewing in fifth grade by a very nice Home Ec teacher. It was love at first sight. That love sadly could not be explored much back then, it was the early nineties after all, girls were supposed to fully reap the benefits of feminism and work towards gaining an academic education and practical skills were not deemed necessary to achieve that. Sewing and knitting and such were more or less perceived as something women should no longer waste time on. For that reason this particular Home Ec class was taking place as a voluntary supplementary class in the afternoon. Ironically, to this day, I treasure the basic textile handling skills I acquired during those afternoons more then most of what I learned during 13 years of school.
After going on to study computers and languages and later working at an office job that I hated, what remains is my big love for sewing and the dream of making my own clothes for a body that just won’t behave and fit into standardized industry sizes.
What to do if you can’t spare the 3 years it takes apprenticing with a master to become a professional dressmaker in Germany? You go out to find a sewing class. I was looking for a systematic approach that would start with the basics and in time work its way up to a more expert level. All there was to find, was a nice group of sewists that met once a week to each work on a different pattern with the help of a dressmaker that every Thursday afternoon gave her all to try and satisfy each and every single project. I did learn a lot of helpful skills in that class and I even finished a couple of nice pieces of clothing after having the dressmaker dramatically alter the shape of the Burda patterns we would use. (They had the most amazing extensive collection of Burda magazine back issues.) What I knew about sewing in general remained kind of confused though, and while I since had completed a number of garments on my own (even coming up with my own simple patterns), there still was a lot of insecurity as to where do I start, what’s the next step and especially how to translate all the changes I made during sewing the piece back to my paper pattern.
Last summer, I found the sew photo hop on instagram and among all those amazing sewing people, I met Brooks Ann Camper. My first reaction was regret about this big ocean that divides us. Had I known about her three years ago and had it been possible to somehow easily get there and back, the story of my wedding dress could have had a whole other more crazy-tulle-sparkly-fantasy-princess happy end. Once I got over that, I was very happy, because Brooks Ann teaches a sewing class that offers the exact methodical approach that I had been looking for for ages: Skirt Skills. I have to confess that at first I thought: How cool! But wait, skirts? My closet until now has not featured a lot of skirts and if so they definitely were of the rather voluminous dirndl variety. Well, I told myself, if you want to really master something, you’ll just have to start at the beginning, no matter if it fits your personal style portfolio or not (yet).
Somehow, the following statements seem to be part of every class recap I write: I went into this thinking it’s probably going to be great. (That makes sense I guess or I wouldn’t have signed up for it in the first place.) I did not at all anticipate how challenging it was going to be. (I’m realizing that I never seem to be anticipating anything to be a challenge, I should probably think about why that is at some point.) And now that the class is finished, I honestly cannot believe how much I have learned! Seriously, I am beyond excited about online learning. Other then in cities like Berlin, Hamburg or maybe Munich, the great crafting revolution has not at all caught up with us over here. People aren’t having whimsical knitting circles at the coffee house or Etsy Lab crafternoons or whatever you call it in my town. And there sure is no sewing class comparable to this one to be found anywhere.
I love being taught things in a structured fashion by someone who knows what they’re talking about. This is so not a given, just because you know your way around something doesn’t mean you also know how to convey that information in a manner that will get successfully through to your students.
In my opinion, Brooks Ann brings all these things to the table. Watching her videos, it is apparent that she has earned a solid education and many years of experience in her field. I feel like, she has put a lot of thought into how to pass on her knowledge and it was my experience that she makes an effort to ensure that everyone of her students will walk away with a sense of achievement. And she so obviously likes what she’s doing which makes it so fun to learn from her.
If I’m completely honest, – and it probably won’t make much sense to talk about my experience without doing so. Ok, so if I’m totally honest, I almost quit in week two.
I didn’t think that drafting patterns was going to be easy, but I did not anticipate how difficult this whole endevour would turn out to be for me. And I want to make it absolutely clear that that was not the class’s or the teacher’s fault, but due to the fact that I have issues being confronted with my own proportions. If you want to sew your own clothes you will have to figure out the shape of your body. I have been avoiding that, by always going for A-Line and Dirndl silhouettes. Drafting a fitted pattern block put me smack dab in the middle of my uncomfort zone. Having lacking spatial sense did not help either, but Brooks Ann did. With incredible patience and the help of (a number of embarassing) pictures (in my panty hose that hopefully nobody will ever see expect her and me) she did her best to further my understanding of my own proportions. Finally she even drew me a diagram that made drafting my block a lot easier for me – geometry has never been my forte. When I got past the stage of drafting and put the first muslin of my block on for the first time, things got significantly better for me and when I started to transfer my fitting changes back to my skirt block something fascinating happened. All of a sudden, I had a much better grasp of how sewing generally works. I now understand which adjustments where will let me fit a garment to my curves, I have learned how to adapt my basic skirt block to virtually any conceivable design idea and how to finally make a nicely finished piece of clothing. All that happened over the course of the past five weeks and I got to share it with an amazing and supportive (Facebook) group of women/sewing enthusiasts.
When I signed up for this class, I was hoping that after Skirt Skills, I would go about my sewing in a more ordered fashion and with any luck walk away with a new skirt that I would be able to somewhat alter and replicate in the future. In reality, I had to make an effort to work through some of my body image issues. (But what learning experience is valuable, if you don’t have to struggle for it at least a little bit?). In return, I achieved a lot more understanding for the general idea of dressmaking. (Weird though that there seems to be a connection between the two.) For me, it is no longer about striving towards being able to comfortably fit and put together a commercial sewing pattern. I still have a lot of admiration for people who can achieve a great fit from commercial patterns, but I am not green with envy anymore that they get to wear all those amazing designs out there. For me it has already paid off so much to take it a step further and put my energy into understanding how a real body is shaped and how the relationship works between a flat pattern and a three dimensional garment. I feel like I am now well on my way to being able to just make any design I can dream up for myself completely by myself.
Skirt Skills is basically an amazing interactive sewing book, that covers everything necessary to getting a good start on made-to-measure dressmaking. (Building an understanding for measuring and proportions, making your first block, the basics of pattern drafting and adapting patterns and various professional finishing techniques – neatening seams, zippers, hand sewing etc.) Using the skirt as an exercise example works quite well, in my opinion, because its shape is simple enough to not be overwhelming but still allows for teaching a solid basic knowledge about sewing made-to-measure garments. I can’t wait to take it further with a bodice block or pants. I must say, I have grown quite fond of the skirt though, it’s a really versatile piece of clothing.
If you love sewing but hate fighting with commercial patterns for a somewhat ok fit over and over again, or you just want to create your own designs, or just don’t feel like scouring for a pattern that resembles the exorbitantly priced designer piece you have been eyeing forever, or you’re just ready to take your sewing game to the next level, come January, 18th, you can learn how to take your own measurements and turn them into a multi-functional skirt pattern from an inspiring, helpful and above all expert teacher when Brooks Ann will offer Skirt Skills again.
Just FIY: Her pants class Smarty Pants is in the works for March and Skirt Skills is a prerequisite for Smarty Pants. Now, I feel, like I have to state clearly, that I have in no way been compensated or asked to say all this, I just really loved this class and learning from Brooks Ann!