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Thursday, July 24, 2014

My Beautiful Stash - On Fabric, Pattern, and Notions Hoarding

One thing I've always found both puzzling and understandable at the same time has to do with stashes. I'm neither the first nor will be the last to observe that there seem to be a lot of people who have a large sewing stash. At least there's a good deal of wonderful testimonials from people who do, like "Fabric Stashing and Pattern Hoarding" from Sarah Liz , "Am I a Fabric Hoarder?" from Justine, "Stash or Fabric Hoarding?" from Kathy Mathews, or "Fabric Collector or Hoarder" from Kathleen Tracy.

Actually, I discovered that I have a budding stash myself. I'm one of these people who stand in the store, think "oh, what a wonderful fabric" and then feel I need to buy it. My stash is comparatively small, though. It merely fills two big drawers (or, for that matter, removal crates). I seriously have to be careful not to go fabric shopping too much, and rather use what I already have in a good way. Still, just having these fabrics and looking at them is nice.

So, when I noticed this, I investigated.. and I found that this phenomenon of "hoarding" things is really a pretty common human trait. People collect, organize and keep all kinds of things - and it's all good as long as it doesn't become too extreme or other issues come into play. There really seem to be different aspects that must be present to become what people commonly call an "obsessive compulsive hoarder":
  1. "persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of the value others may attribute to them" (as stated in the Independent article)
  2. to really grow a true "collection", there needs to be a constant influx of items
I personally can relate somewhat to the former, I really sometimes have trouble letting things go. Throwing away scraps of fabric can be hard sometimes (when I think I could still use them for something). Still, I do manage to throw away most of the things I don't need anymore. I also consider myself lucky in that I'm very careful with buying new things - if I were more lenient there and would keep buying things, I'd definitely be at risk of accumulating a huge "collection".

Still, with the term "hoarding" there seems to be all these negative associations, because apparently, because people say "hoarding" when they really mean "obsessive compulsive hoarding". I can see how hoarding can burden your life when it's done in an extreme fashion, however, collecting things of a particular kind in an orderly fashion is obviously considered a socially acceptable pass-time (e.g. consider coin collectors, stamp collectors, etc.).

Actually, I think the most beautiful stashes are created by people who have at most a mild case of 1) and who do 2): You keep acquiring beautiful new things regularly, but when you notice you have too much, you let the less beautiful things from you stash go (e.g. by giving something away, selling, or swapping generously). Since you manage to confine your stash to a restricted space (e.g. a few cabinets), it can't grow to a point where it starts affecting your life in a bad way.

Whether I find a stash beautiful does not depend on size at all: For me, it's about diversity and the beauty of individual items. When you buy a big bag of zippers wholesale, you get exactly that: a big bag of zippers which are all very much alike. Yet, I think that what makes life interesting is things and people being unique. In order to get a really diverse stash, you either need to be shopping lots of small packages, or you discover the awesome world of swapping: You give away something that is boring to you, and you get something exciting and unique back.

At some point, stashes can grow so big that you need a system to organize them. Even I with my small stash have had to rummage through it to find a particular fabric. Stash organization seems to consist of two main things: 1) Setting up cabinets, shelves and boxes in which fabrics, notions and patterns can be conveniently stored, and 2) strictly maintaining a particular order in which items are placed therein. In addition, some people seem to keep lists of all their inventory.

What do you do to keep your huge stash in reign? Do you even have a huge stash or are you able to resist the beckoning of fabrics to be bought or obtained? Do you keep a spreadsheet? Do you use Evernote? Or does keeping a strict order in the shelves suffice? Do you use one of the Ravelry-inspired sites (threadbias.com or mysewingcircle.com)?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Another New Kid on the Sewing Blog (Space) Says 'Hi'

Ummm... hi! I'd like to shout a friendly hello to all Sewcialists (from sewcialists.org) and everyone else who is into sewing. I'm just a new kid on the block (or blogosphere?), so I suppose it's best to tell you a bit about who I am and why I'm here.

I'm a woman in her early thirties. I'm a mother of one son. I consider myself on the path of becoming a decent developer (I'm a computer science graduate that doesn't have much real-world hands-on experience yet - apart from a few personal projects). So, you might wonder... "what is she doing here?", and rightfully so. Well, I've always wanted to get into sewing - I have a sewing machine, and I have made a few dresses. I enjoyed it a lot, but I'm really just a beginner - with all the ignorance and misconceptions that tends to come with just being a beginner. :)

There's really two reasons why I'm here:
  1. I would like to learn more about sewing and pattern making so I can some day make clothes for me that really fit (and tell others of my journey), and
  2. I want to build a great web site for people who sew.
So, on the one hand, I'm out here to learn from you, and to document my personal sewing journey. And on the other hand, I'm making an attempt at understanding the world of sewing on the Internet - I'd love to discuss my observations with you.

To say a bit more about myself... I'm a pretty strong introvert, I really have trouble interacting with people socially just for the sake of having a good time. I really prefer to observe, to think, and to create. I've always been like that.

If I want to make a dent into the Internet in a good way there's no way I can achieve that without talking to people - in particular when I want to make that dent in a space where I'm everything but an expert (enthusiasm can compensate for a lot, but a lack of experience is not one of the things it can compensate).

That's why I'm reaching out.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Why is it so Hard to Find the Right Pattern?

One thing I have observed is that it seems to be pretty difficult to find the right sewing pattern, in particular, when you have a particular idea what you want to make. Here, I ponder why.

When you look around in sewing communities and forums, there is one thing you will invariably find: Threads (or even whole subforums) dedicated to finding the right pattern for a project. People seem to have pretty specific ideas of what they would like to make. Someone who isn't into sewing might wonder why these people don't just use search engines to find what they're looking for. I'll tell you why.

The reason is... it's nearly impossible to find these patterns using regular search engines. Search engines as of today are decent for finding one thing: The content of web pages. So, for the search engines of today to find a pattern, it needs to have a web page. But that alone is not enough: That web page must describe the pattern using the words of the person searching for the pattern -- and since natural language is a very flexible beast, two different people will search for the same pattern using completely different words.

So, we know that the pattern needs to have a web page with a lot of text (since the search engine only understands text) that describes the pattern using the words of people searching for it. Now is a good time to look at an average pattern web page. Here is a link to a Vogue pattern on McCall's site. The complete description of the pattern comes down to:
MISSES' DRESS: Lined, princess seamed, flared, floor length dress has underskirt (which is part of lining), fabric loops, buttons, invisible zipper closure and pleated ruffle with lace trim. Attached foundation has boning. Purchased petticoat.
 Amazingly, if we open Google to search for "princess floor length dress bridal pattern" the web page of this pattern even shows up on the first page of the search results. However, if we add the term "Carmen neckline" to our search, the pattern is gone from the first page of the search results, despite the pattern clearly having this neckline style. The search engine simply can't see what's on the picture -- and there is no text about a Carmen neckline on the page.

Another issue with using regular search engines to search for patterns is that when you search for a pattern, you'd ideally like to see images of finished objects made from the pattern. So, you type in something into the search engine, you get a long long list of websites and now what? If you're not discouraged yet, you start checking out the websites that look like they might contain information and pictures on the patterns.

So, if people actually can't use search engines to search for patterns effectively, what else do they do to find patterns? There seem to be the following options:
  1. look at pattern catalogues
  2. ask other people if they know a pattern that matches the description
  3. check out sewing websites where people post about their sewing projects
Looking at pattern catalogues in my book means on the one hand side looking at the pattern catalogues that are present in sewing stores and on the other hand to browse through the web sites of the individual pattern companies. Asking other people can, e.g., be done in person or by posting a thread in a sewing forum. Lastly, there seem to be several websites that allow people to post about their sewing projects and they sometimes tell you what pattern they used.

Maybe I'm just totally not getting how to search for a pattern properly, but maybe I'm right and this world is as crazy as it seems. It would be so much easier to search for patterns if there was a sewing pattern database with a proper search.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

How I Would Use a "Sewing Ravelry"

In my very first blog post, I wrote about a few possible reasons for why I think there is no "Ravelry for sewing". This time, I want to tell you what I personally would use such a site for.

To put this into the right context, I first need to tell you more about myself. I'm really just a sewing beginner, I've sewn only a handful of garments and they are, on average, pretty simple and definitely not well-crafted - I simply lack the practice to get my seams straight and I think there's a good deal of sewing tricks or best practices that I simply haven't learned about yet. Sewing is for me a craft about which I keep thinking... "how awesome would it be to be able to make clothes for me that look good and fit".

Despite being just a beginner, I already have a small fabric and notions stash (it fits in two large drawers, so compared to some other stashes, it's really pretty small). It seems to me that it's pretty easy to fall in love with a fabric in the fabric store or at a fair. Ordering smallish packages of wholesale notions is also a lot of fun. Despite the really quite tiny size of my stash I already had trouble remembering where I placed a particular fabric - I had to rummage through both drawers to find it at the bottom. Sounds like I could maybe use a Ravelry-like stash to organize my stuff, at least if my stash keeps growing.

Actually, I like a lot how Ravelry lets independent designers sell patterns through the site. One thing I don't like about fashion in the real world is how someone else decides what I'm supposed to like. So, what I would love to have is a place where people can ask for patterns to be made - some kind of "Wanted Board" where people can post descriptions and drawings of garments they would love to wear. Independent designers could look at the Wanted Board to get inspiration for new patterns and they could be sure that there are people interested in buying what they're creating.

If I were looking for a "V-neck dress with a ruffled A-line ankle-length skirt", I could actually find it in the pattern database, by selecting a bunch of easy-to-use filters. This would be a huge improvement over the current way to search patterns - which seems to revolve around browsing a ton of pages, or asking the experienced crowd in forums for their pattern suggestions. To me, the ability to find the right pattern with much less hassle sounds like one of the biggest uses of a "Sewing Ravelry". I might be missing some clever way to find patterns online, though. Do I?

One particular thing that I like about Ravelry is how knowledgeable and genuinely nice the people on there are. It's really a place that breathes kindness, somehow. The whole site doesn't make me feel as if there is someone trying to sell me something I don't want or need right around the corner. Does this sound strange to you? It feels safe to post on the forums - and there's a lot of useful discussions on there. Also, a lot of people seem to have interesting blogs.

So, I think I could personally use such a site to
  1. organize my stash (maybe, I'm not 100% sure)
  2. get designers to make patterns for my dress ideas
  3. buy patterns directly from their designers
  4. find patterns more easily
  5. lurk in the forums and read blog posts to learn more about sewing
If you think you need a Ravelry-like site for sewing, what would you use it for?