The House of Tatterdemalion

Unfashionable, unskilled, inexpensive--but still sewing.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Arm Chair General

An Arm Chair General, by the way, is a phrase I first read in one of my brother's computer game magazines. It was used by someone pointing out that people playing computer games based off of true historical battles face very little of the struggles and problems that were really happening. The Arm Chair General can have the "same" troops and tactical situations, but doesn't have to deal with things like lack of food and other proper supplies, and troops that are hungry, exhausted and demoralized. Suddenly the "same" troops are quite different.

So this is my Arm Chair General rant against sewing magazines. I realize that I see very little of what is "really" going on, but from my comfy armchair in front of the fire (as opposed to a muddy, cold foxhole, with no food and little clothes. . .), here is my rant--and I do mean rant:

Actually, this rant first started when I received an issue of Threads that quite disappointed me. In fact, it disappointed me enough that I actually went through the magazine and categorized every page: of the 92 pages that was this magazine, 30 of them were ads. Then there was the 2 pages of advertisers index, and the 2 pages of yearly index. There was only 28 pages of actual articles, as opposed to "features" and ads. And by "features", I mean 3 pages of tips, 2 pages of question and answers, "embellishments", which in this case was 1 1/2 pages devoted to telling you how to cut holes in a t-shirt, 2 pages of "readers closet", 4 pages devoted to what they call pattern reviews, 2 pages for to basic skills, 2 1/2 pages devoted to notions, of all things, 1 1/2 pages of letters to the editor, 1 whole page to contributors, 2 pages telling you what was in the magazine, 2 pages were counted as the front and back covers, 1 page for a silly closing story at the end, and, with more information crammed into than all the proceeding "features" put together, the 4 page master class. In case anyone was wondering, and didn't obsessively go through the magazine categorizing things themselves.

There were about 30 pages in the whole magazine that I actually felt like paying for, and at about $5 an issue (if you subscribe), that means that every page practically ought to have been gold plated. In fact, I was so steamed that I wrote them a nine page email telling them how they ought to be running their magazine!

But not so steamed that I didn't chicken out. I never sent the email. Instead, I now resort to the tactics of an annoying child who mutters sotto voce (although in this case, I think I'm being a bit more high pitched and shrieky), who then, upon confrontation, informs the confronter that "I wasn't talking to you!" The depths I have been lowered to. . .*sigh* (Besides all this, I think my email was probably at least a tad more civilized. Maybe.)

#1. DON'T BRING IN NEW READERSHIP BY DUMBING DOWN THE MAGAZINE!!! There are hundreds of ways to learn the basics of sewing, and easy sewing, from countless books, classes, on-line classes, other sewing magazines, patterns geared toward beginners, live tutorship from friends/relatives, etc. etc. etc. etc. The most obvious thing is this, which I quote from my own, unsent email:

Learning how to sew can come from many ways, not just magazines. But someone, somewhere, has to show people that sewing is just as relevant today as it ever has been. In order to get more people sewing, you don't necessarily need to teach them how to sew. The main problem is that sewing is "out of style", not that people don't know how to sew. I think that what people need is a reason to sew.

You need to inspire people who would never have thought of sewing to give it a try--to show them how unique it is, how it is so flexible to so many different situations, how it can be so much better than what you can buy. You need to show people that sewing isn't just for boring mending jobs and new curtains. You need to meet people where they are already at, and show them why sewing is right for them.

The second thing is much more crass, but probably just as (or more) likely to work. Bring on the celebrities! Many celebrities, minor or otherwise, sew their own clothes (or their Mom's do), often times even creating their own designs. For one of many examples, Q'Orianka Kilcher of New World, designs and sews a lot of her own clothes. (A quick Google search turns up several links backing this up. Here's one I found quickly.) Here's some photo's of Q-Orianka Kilcher and some of her clothes. We're not talkin' Home Ec projects, here. She obviously knows what she's doing. Imagine, now, if Threads had run an article on her shortly after New World came out--her sewing, in particular, I mean. Not only would she have incredible celebrity pull on those who previously were not interested in sewing, but it would also be an educational and interesting article for those that already sew.

#2 STOP WRITING CEREAL-BOX BLURBS AND PASSING THEM OFF AS REVIEWS!!!! I mean, really! All they're doing is giving free advertisement, on top of the already 30 pages of ads! I am so not paying for ads! I am paying for reviews that keep me from wasting my money on products that I don't want or don't work!! If I was in charge, there would be thorough, in depth, grueling reviews with high standards. Reviews that told the truth, not pretty stories, and pleasant lip-service. If I was in charge, getting awarded a "Thread Editor's Choice" award would be a true honor--not a "given", not taken for granted, not the equivalent of a graduation ceremony for pre-kidnergarten. I would put books, websites, vendors, notions, pattern companies, and most of all, sewing machines through rigorous testing. (Including past models that are still being sold used or refurbished.) After people read my reviews, they would know what they were getting. All this stuff about recycling blurbs on websites and dust jacket covers is complete junk, not even worth the pages it's printed on. This leads me to my next great complaint:

#3 WRITE EXCLUSIVE MATERIAL!!! Tons of people found out about Hot Patterns through a tiny ad in the back of Threads. I waited with baited breath to see what Threads would say about Hot Patterns. They wrote a recycled blurb about Hot Patterns, and referred you to the Hot Pattern website. What? What! Are you out of your mind?! There are hundreds of people who want to know how they're drafted, how the new sizing system compares to traditional sizing, what the instructions are like, whether or not the styles are actually wearable on mere humans (as opposed to the freaks of nature drawn on the pattern descriptions), and all you tell us is that the patterns are smoking hot and can be purchased online?!? What is wrong with you people?! We already know that! We've already seen their ad! We've already been to the website! We've already scoured the collection! You've got the patterns! Tell us what they're like! If I had been in charge, I would've done a thorough comparison between the new and old sizing, to say the very least.

Not only that, but I wouldn't be sitting around waiting for people to come beg to write articles for me. I'd be begging, pleading, cajoling, bribing or whatever to get inside couture atliers and take pictures and ask questions. I'd be following museum displays on clothing and textiles. I'd be traveling to different countries and researching how traditional national costumes were made. I would be writing exclusive, interesting, in depth information that could be found, and only found (or at least, easily found), in my magazine. I would be getting behind the scenes where "normal" people aren't allowed--and then bringing the "behind the scenes" to the "normal" people. "Normal" people rule the internet. And that brings me to my next complaint:

#4 LEAD THE WAY, DON'T FOLLOW!!! Threads currently runs a "Pattern Review" section. It is so silly. It is competing almost directly with the internet. The designs they pick out have already been scoured over as they are announced on-line. People have often times already sewn them up, and even already reviewed them, and reviewed them much more thoroughly than Threads "has the space" for. This is pathetic. (Now, this may seem a little contradictory to the previous complaint, but Hot Patterns was--or rather, is--a new pattern company. I don't think that every Hot Patterns new design collections need to be researched and revealed by a sewing magazine, but a new pattern company certainly ought to be, especially one with such a dramatically different sizing system.)

What I would do would be to show people how to draft their own patterns to suit the season. When gauchos very first became "in", there were no patterns for them. In fact, people have very little control over whether or not people in charge at the pattern companies will get to things that are considered "in". Now, if Threads had been on the ball, they could have shown their readership how to take a Tried and True pants pattern, and turn it into a gauchos pattern! Much more helpful than pattern descriptions passed of as reviews, and much more empowering and educational. Even if you didn't want to make gauchos, you could still learn more about pattern design and manipulation. I'd also give a thorough comparison between the many ways to get yourself a basic sloper, be it by book, book on CD, sloper services on-line, computer programs, or whatever.

#5 STICK TO THINGS THAT REALLY MATTER!!! If I read one more "article" on pins, I am going to scream. And also, if I read one more stupid tip on how to keep loose threads from following you around the house, I'm am going to throw a hysterical temper tantrum! With the quality of tips they've been publishing, I wish they would just take the whole tip section out. And if you mean to help beginners, trust me, there are many times over more beginners confused about fit (what it's supposed to look like and how to get it), what pattern size to select, and what sewing machine to get, than there are beginners standing around in the notions aisle, dreadfully confused as to what kind of pins to get. Please, people! You can do better than this! Oh, and please get rid of the stupid clip-art that explains nothing, or explains things that don't need explaining (like what a bottle of 'Lectric Shave looks like, or an egg-cup full of pins--for goodness sake, who even has egg cups anymore, besides the fact that we don't need a picture to demonstrate how to use this hypothetical egg cup to hold pins!). If you are going to go through all the trouble of printing something, can't you at least print worthwhile stuff that educates, inspires, and informs?

#6 LIBERATE THE MASSES!! (Sort of.) If I were in charge, I would make it so that people no longer had to depend on the pattern companies for the designs they wanted--I would teach pattern design on a monthly basis in the magazine. If I were in charge, I would liberate people from insane charges for cleaning and maintenance on their machines--I would have articles on machine repair and cleaning! If I were in charge, I would have rigorous standards for Editorial Awards, and manufacturers and businesses would fall over themselves improving their products and services, so as to be worthy of such a prestigious award. In short, the entire sewing community and businesses would be under my sway and rule, and whatever I spoke would be! Bwa-ha-ha-ha!!!

And also, Ha. No, number 6 isn't really one of my goals (tho' I do think it would be great to include machine repair/maintenance, esp. for the older machines, and teaching pattern drafting, and rigorous testing). The real point of #6 is to bring me back to the metaphor I started out with at the beginning of this post, namely computer games. And everyone knows the end goal of every computer game is world dominance, and ruling everyone else with an iron hand. I've never actually been one for computer game playing, but I think I've managed to pick up some of the right attitudes from my brothers.

Besides the right attutide, also integral to any computer game is the "load" button. This is essential, crucial, the core of any strategy--if things go wrong, reload and try again! Quick re-loading is a skill my brothers perfected, so that the ending animation never had a chance to finish. This actually caused them quite a bit of trouble in Prince of Persia II, where in one level you are actually supposed to die! How unfair is that? I mean, yes, you do come back to life again, provided you don't keep re-loading before the dying animation finishes, but how is one to know that?! Moreover, when one of my brothers wanted to improve computer game AI (artificial intelligence) so as the computer would have a better chance of winning, he "modded" Warcraft so that it would re-load when it lost, and then you would have to go back to fighting it again and again! (I found this utterly hysterical. However, the other brother, the one who was supposed to be losing to this newly modded AI, quickly realized that the computer always re-loaded when it had only 3 buildings left. So he destroyed all but 4 buildings, leaving the computer defenseless. Then he destroyed the remaining buildings at the same time, so the computer didn't have time to re-load, and hence, lost. The moral of the story is still to re-load, just re-load faster!)

Life, alas, is not like a computer game. There is no "re-load" button. If you devote years of your life and endless amounts of your money to making a sewing magazine, and then in the end it all goes up in flames--well, you can't just say, "Shucks, guess I'll have to try something different," re-load your saved life, and get back all of your years and money. When they're gone, they're gone. This makes one a lot less likely to invest a lot of one's self in something one is not really that passionate about. I mean, yes, I would love to have a sewing magazine like this. But, unfortunately for all the peasants--I mean, the sewing community--it's not something I really want to do.

And that leads to another point. There are those who, at times, prefer to take over the world. Like my brother, playing Call of Duty, snarling something akin to "No guts, no glory!" and then charging single-handedly into an enemy foxhole full of machine gunners (and yes, that was promptly followed by re-loading. . .). And then there are others, who, like the stereotypical girl playing "house", just want to live in a perfect world, without first bringing it to total submission by means of force. In this case, I am the little girl. I am not actually very likely to snarl "No guts, no glory!" and charge into the Threads head-quarters for a hostile takeover. No, I am much more likely to sit here and whine that no one is taking my perfectly wonderful ideas and putting them to use, and moping over the lack of proper sewing magazines.

If anyone else wants to steal all of my good ideas and take over the sewing world, be my guest. But if you mess up, I'm going to write a scathing blog post about you!!!

(P.S. If anyone finds this post while searching for a computer game, please let me know so I can once again giggle myself silly over the juxtaposition of bloody computer games and genteel sewing. Tee-hee!)

2 Comments:

Blogger Crazy Smith said...

I think you touch on a key point when you say that "The main problem is that sewing is "out of style":

I wish sewing were targeted at a younger audience. Every book on sewing at my local Chapters (huge Canadian book store) is cluttered up with Sandra Betzina books, and books on how to make patchwork vests. While there is nothing wrong with Sandra Betzina and patchwork vests, the former is over 40 and the latter, just over. Both are utterly uninspiring to me, someone moderately clued in to fashion and under 30.

4:14 PM  
Blogger Tatterdemalion said...

As with you, I don't think there's anything wrong with Sandra Betzina or patchwork vests. Each to their own, but that's not me.

But it's kind of the same thing that is happening to JoAnn's. They find out that quilters cotton and fleece are the best sellers, so that's all they sell, disgusting the rest of the sewing population. The emphasis on "quick and easy", both in books and fabric, greatly frustrates those of use don't mind--and actually enjoy--sewing things that are both not quick and not easy. As with most things, you usually get out of it only as much as you put in, and if you want something really, really nice, it's not going to happen quick and easy. I think a lot of companies are focusing too much on selling to "the majority" rather than those who actually sew a lot--and as a result, loosing a lot of the one's who are most interested in sewing.

12:46 PM  

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