While doing my Div III at Hampshire College, I taught two co-curricular sewing classes through the EPEC (Experimental Program in Education and Community) program, using the Lemelson Center classroom. The second of the two, taught during spring semester, was “Historical Sewing Techniques for Practical Use.” For more information, see the article Hampshire Sewing Students.
Four of the students chose to take the class as an independent study for full academic credit, under the supervision of Lemelson’s Professor Donna Cohn, one of my Div III committee members. At the end of the semester, each of the four submitted written and photographed documentation of their work during the semester, to be shared online.
This is Gaines’ account of the class:
I committed to completing three sewing projects for this independent study. To begin the class, we learned some preliminary knowledge about materials and basic skills like optimal thread length and the running stitch.
Though it was finicky, I did manage to sew the folded over bias tape to the edges of one side of the apron base and began the long process of hand folding and using a whipstitch to sew the bias tape to the edges of the other side of the apron. The corners proved to be particularly tricky, and though the final result looks pretty good on the outside of the apron, if you view the corners from the other side of the apron it is clearly not sewn by an expert. I think that it could have been easier to sew the corners neatly if, rather than using continous bias tape, I instead used separate pieces for each edge, so that I would not have to wrangle and tuck in the bulbous corners armed with only my evolving sewing techniques. I then attached the neck and side straps to the apron, and since at this point in the semester it was clear my sewing eyes were bigger than my hands (and time management abilities) I had to wait to add a cummerbund, bowtie and tuxedo frills until after the semester was over.
Sobered to sewing realities and with an increased technical ability, I moved on to my first bowtie challenge. Working from a pattern this time, I was able to size the nonadjustable bowtie length using my neck size in dress shirts. I used a fabric in navy and red two-tone gingham, which I picked out specifically to match a pair of boxer briefs in a similar fabric. My goal was to wear the bow and boxers simultaneously for “boylesque” performances. I was gleeful that the pattern was for a diamond point bow, my favourite kind.
I set to work cutting out interfacing and two pieces of bowtie fabric. I ironed the interfacing onto the “wrong” (a term I learned from this project means the side of the fabric that will not be presented to the public) side of one piece of fabric, that had a seem allowance ¼ of an inch greater than the interfacing. I then laid out my two bow tie cut outs, one with interfacing with “right” (the side of the fabric that will be presented to the public) sides together, and pinned them so that they stayed lined up. I then sewed a running stitch around the line of the interfacing, making sure to back-stitch to secure the thread. I sewed the outline of the bowtie except for two inches in the middle of the band, which I then turned the bowtie inside out through the opening of, so that the right sides were facing out. I proceeded to iron the bowtie and used a slipstitch, a sort of running stitch that only goes through the fabric folded inward and does not pass through the outer fabric, to close the opening in the band of the bowtie. Voila, bowtie. I wore my bow and boxer outfit to Hampshire College’s burlesque troupe, Electric Velvet Revue’s “Strip-a-lympics” event, where it was well received.
After my first bowtie, I decided to make a second bowtie to cement my skills in the art of this particular kind of cravat, especially as I plan to be making bowties and selling them on www.etsy.com to make money. I chose a lovely navy floral fabric, and repeated my process from the gingham bow tie. It was remarkable how much quicker it was to construct, and though that may be due to the meticulous attention I paid to matching the gingham patterns on the two sides of the first tie, I certainly noticed an increase in technical skill and speed of execution with my second bowtie. I’m excited to apply my newfound skills to my bow tie venture this summer, and to future independent studies and personal projects.