Hand sewing versus Machine sewing

I want to address this because someone (can’t remember who) made a comment about whether items that were made with a sewing machine from shop bought fabric should be counted as hand made. And it has been clarified that they can, provided that the item is made from an original design.

So, here’s the thing. I don’t know how to weave. I don’t know how to make a print that will look half decent as a repeated pattern across a large span of cloth. I buy fabric because it’s the raw material with which I work as someone who makes bags in this day and age.

I suspect that even if you go back in time to when people were still handweaving their wholecloth, most people working as tailors or seamstresses would have bought in their fabric from other makers because to do it any other way would mean that your earnings, meagre as they would have been, would be decimated. Time spent buying the raw materials, carding the wool, spinning the thread, then making the cloth is time you cannot spend cutting the cloth, sewing the cloth and selling the finished product.

And weaving is an extremely specialised skill. So is printmaking. I think it’s fair to say that the comment about using shop bought fabric is tongue in cheek and deliberatley facetious, to push the discussion further.

But this sewing machine thing. It bothers me.

When we first started up The Bothered Owl, I used to sew everything buy hand. Stitch by laborious stitch. And I really enjoyed it. I stand by the quality of the purses and bibs that I made back then because I know I put thought and care into every stitch. I placed them securely one by one and it was a slow and meditative process and each one was different because I’d used a different thread or the stitches were slightly smaller or larger or stopped in a different place. I used to make a lot of totally unique patchwork-y pieces and try not to repeat the same design twice. And that was fun and it ws fine and I felt really good that what I was making was literally handmade.

So my choice to use my sewing machine is not because I don’t have the skill to sew by hand.

I choose to use my machine because I’ve been lucky enough to find venues that are happy to have me there as a stallholder and people who want to buy my bags and things in just enough volume that trying to sew them all by hand would be nigh impossible for me. With three small children to run around after, I don’t have time any more for that more meditative process. I need to be able to produce the finished item more quickly. For custom orders, I like being able to turn things around within a week.

I see my sewing machine as a tool of my trade, something that takes skill to wield. Just as my scissors, tape measure and rotary cutter do. The tool is not the thing that has the skill, it facilitates me using my skill.

Yes, granted it is a skill rather than a talent. Anyone can learn to sew with enough patience and time and a good teacher. Anyone. If they practise at it, they can even get good at it. But the skill is still in their hands, their eyes, their brain. Not in the machine. And not in the needle and thread.




Filed under crafty life

4 responses to “Hand sewing versus Machine sewing

  1. Hear hear. Is a woodturner less of a craftsman because he uses an electric lathe? Do my cakes count as handmade if I buy the ingredients from a shop, whisk them with an electric whisk, and cook them in an electric oven? I’m hoping this was not a serious discusson!

    • sadly, it was. People who make cards are getting told off about the materials they use. People are bringing up the issues surrounding fabric and copyright and worrying about the kinds of wool they use. Hand dyers are being told maybe they should list their beautiful, unqique wool as supplies instead of handmade. The whole thing is spiralling out of control into mindless pedantry and outright nastiness and some snobbery as well.
      I agree there need to be guidelines in place about what we can and cannot sell on Folksy and similar venues. I don’t own the website and it’s not my place to set, or enforce, those rules. I do have to abide by them to the best of my ability to interpret them and that’s absolutely fair enough. If I want to play in their garden, I have to follow their house rules. But to change or re-word the rules halfway through a game and then get everyone to fight over the size and shape of ball or whether or not they should even be using a ball? Not too happy on that one.

  2. jacquie

    Do the jewellery makers cut & polish their own gems make their own findings etc. I would think as long as the person selling the item made it then its handmade or possibly even home made. People are perhaps jealous of others talents/skills.

    • Some do. There are some amazingly skilled and talented makers on Folksy who are very well versed in their arts and there are some who don’t and who are skilled in their own ways of making. They just don’t make it all from scratch.

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