Don't Ask me that .... (ask me this instead)

We have all been there. Flipping through post after post on Instagram or page and page of Pinterest and seen artists and wondered “ How did they do that? How did they get to that.” Sometimes I see a dress- modern or antique- that is so jaw dropping amazing that I want to reach through my screen and peek at its insides. What do its seams look like? How is the bodice cut? Who made it and how did they ever dream it up? The beauty of social media is now I can reach out to my most loved artists and ask about what inspires them or how they face obstacles. I’m always amazed by the willingness of the sewing community to share their deepest loves and passion.

In kind- it is so rewarding to receive all the positive feedback on my work and questions I get through Facebook and Instagram. I do try my best to answer as many as possible! I love that as artists and collectors we can learn so much from one another and encourage you to reach out.

I have found that there are few questions that I deflect answering - and others that I WISH people would ask. Read below for some questions to skip - and others that you may find just a bit more helpful!

Don’t Ask me:

How do I make an 18th century dress? Can you make a YouTube video on how to make a dress?

You would never walk into a tech company and ask them for their code- it is equally as inappropriate to ask an artist how to recreate their work.  (yes I have literally be asked this) Not only does this question belittle in the intricacies in the art- it invalidates the decades of learning (failure, tears, triumphs) that took to get them to this point.  There is no 10 minute YouTube video that can summarize and teach you an entire body of work.  Even if there was- I would not make it. Which leads me to my next point

I believe that teachers should be compensated for their skills and knowledge.  This encourages those with skills to pass them on to others.  Last summer I wanted to learn tambour beading.  I paid and took a class so I could learn.  The class did not make me a tambour bead-er.  The class taught me skills and technique.   Following the class I spent nearly 6 months practicing tambour beading on a 1920s dress so I could refine the skills I was shown in class. At first it was very slow go.  I would put in a few rows of beads a night. I would remove almost as many as I put in. I messed up A LOT. I even held the hook in the wrong hand for the better part of 4 days.  But that practice- combined with a formalized class setting made me quite proficient at it today.   (professional beaders: don’t worry I know I still have many more years of work to go!)   

 My first ever beaded project.

My first ever beaded project.

 

What to ask instead:

Ask me about very specific techniques or where you can go to learn more about something (besides, most obviously, google).  Ask me how to best refine your skills (Answer: Practice).  Ask me ‘what is the most important part in building a gown’  (Hint:  it’s not the fabric).  If you ask me how to do a specific stitch (and I know the answer) I almost certainly will explain it to you.  If you are struggling with making a pattern fit and want my second opinion on how to adjust it- I may be able to help.  These sorts of questions are all about sharing the love of an art and so I am always very happy when I receive them.

I want to see everyone sew. I think it is such a wonderful skill to have and meditative process.  There is nothing wrong with being NEW to sewing.  It just means you have more left to learn.




Don’t Ask me:

How much did this dress cost to make?

 I find there are two reasons behind asking this question- either you a trying to place a value on my work or you are trying to budget for making your own dress.  In regards to the former- one would never ask a sculptor the cost of his clay or a painter the price of his oils.  The raw materials that are used by the artist have no bearing on its final value. For this reason I do not reveal the cost of my materials. 

If you are asking this question to budget for your own project- my answer will not help you because I may have gotten my fabric on sale or purchased (expensive) specialty trims.  Your dress will not be my dress and so the money I spent is irrelevant.

 Shopping for Inspiration.

Shopping for Inspiration.

What to ask instead:

Ask me about the cost of materials in general.  If you are new to learning about fabrics- ask me what a good price point is for a silk taffeta or how to budget for trimming (HINT: I budget premade trims at TWICE what the overall fabric costs)  Ask me about how to find good sales for fabric or how to negotiate in the NYC garment district (my favorite thing to do)

It would behoove anyone who is interested in sewing to start learning what material costs are- it will allow you to make better decisions when choosing textiles.  A budget is a personal thing and there is no wrong amount to spend on a gown.  What is wrong, however, is to be ignorant of what materials cost and what makes them cost as much or as little as they do.  When you are able to understand the reasoning behind the pricing- you will be able to get the most value from your purchases regardless if you spend 10$ or 10,000.

 

Don’t Ask me:

Where did you get that {insert vintage/antique item}

I always think this is a bit of a silly question.  After all – there is only ONE of the item I bought and I already have it.  When I do by from a vintage dealer that I love – I often will share who they are simply because they may have other items that aren’t right for me but may be right for you.

Few vintage dealers or collectors will share the private ways they find things.  These are the things you hear whispers about.   A secret thrift store with magic pricing or that one friend who more likely than not has a time machine.  There is no shortcut to knowing these things- and certainly asking won’t get you an answer. After all- if secrets are shared they are no longer secrets and those places would cease to exist.  That does not mean you cannot establish you own hidden pots of gold- it just means you will have to find your own way to do so (and then keep it a secret!!)  

 Somewhere in Paris….my happy place.

Somewhere in Paris….my happy place.

 

What to ask instead:

Ask me how to curate a collection.  Ask me about what to look for in quality antique clothing.  Ask me how to choose a good and trustworthy vintage dealer. Ask me how to date an item (but don’t ask me to price your item).   Antiquing is more than knowing where to buy- a big part of it is knowing when.  We all have those things we are willing to pay a premium for and other things that are purchased “if the price is right” or “was too good to pass up”

A collection is a personal thing.  We each have our own goals in buying.  Rarely is it about having the MOST of something but rather a good collection is most often one that is selected with care. Items that no longer fit can be sold off to pay for items that are a better match.  In this way the collection can always evolve and you can keep shopping without being (much of) a hoarder! Remember your collection is YOURS. Meaning buy what makes your heart flutter- not what someone else thinks should be a part of it.

 So what questions can I answer for you?!?!?!

<3 <3 <3

VirtuousCourtesan

photo credit : Phillip van Nostrand (photos 1 and 2) Melody Cohen- photo 3