First of all, I don’t actually know who Moises is. Carlos Gomez, however, has two associates. One is a girl named Cecilia, who goes to DVC and took over the job as Carlos’s real assistant from her older sister. She’s always busy, opening seams of garments, organizing everything in the back, getting everything ready for laundering, and a working on million other tasks that need doing. The other associate is me, but I’m more of an intern, trainee, or apprentice so far.
Starting from absolutely nothing, I spent most of my first week watching what actual tailoring looks like. This week, I started actually working with some fabric. Carlos isn’t the type to ease me slowly into something while holding my hand the whole way, so I started the week working with the sewing machines.
The first one I used was the smallest overlock machine.
Overlock stitching is the type of stitching that prevents the edges of fabric from fraying.
Starting with the small overlock machine, I went around the edge of a small square of fabric trying not to deviate too far from a straight line. Once I’d made it around all four edges, I’d show Carlos, cut them off, and start again. I was practicing. Surprisingly, it wasn’t too difficult to use a sewing machine once I got the hang of the whole foot pedal thing. The pedal is much more sensitive than my gas pedal, so it might take me some time to build up a fine control over it. If I’m too fast, then I also lose my ability to guide the fabric well, and if I’m too slow then the machine just hums and doesn’t move.
The overlock machine is easy to use, but hard to understand. It pulls from four spools of thread, and sews by far the most complicated pattern of any of Carlos’s machines. Supposedly, it’s pretty difficult to re-thread too, so Carlos has three, each set up with different colors.
The second major component of my training that began this week was my introduction to disassembling garments. Carlos grabbed an old pair of pants from the back, (a customer had left them since he outgrew them) and handed them to me. First he showed me how to open a seam with a razor blade (the process involves pulling the seam apart with both hands, while using your fingers to guide the blade), then he briefly explained which seams to start with and set me lose with a blade and seam ripper.
Carlos and Cecelia both use the razor blade exclusively to open seams, so I figured I’d start with that. It proved to be a learned skill, and I had to go slowly at first. I started by taking out the cuffs at the hems, but by the end of the week I was disassembling the waistband. I had no idea how many separate pieces of fabric go into a waistband. There are inner and outer strips of pretty-looking fabric, a sturdy material to help it keep its shape, pockets, belt loops, and more.
Eventually, I’d completely separated the pair of pants into all its components, a process which took hours.
Finally, Carlos had me sew a little bit on each of his straight stitching machines. Exactly as promised, each one has a different feel, and some are harder to use than others. After I’d tried them all, he set me up on the hardest one again, this time with a white rectangle of scrap cloth. He took his crayon and marked a whole bunch of lines for me to follow.
I tried my best to stay on track, but sometimes the machine would get away from me, and I’d have to restart. The whole exercise impressed on me that there is a lot more to tailoring than simply pinning and stitching. As a matter of fact, Carlos rarely uses pins, instead he just marks what he wants to stitch, then does it freehand. Hopefully I can pick up the basics quickly enough to start doing some actual work.
Surprisingly enough, even though I barely have the hang of basic skills, Carlos likes to tell me that I was a tailor in a past life. I hope my enthusiasm to learn is what gives him that opinion, since I don’t think my skills are quite there yet. Even so, I was pretty happy to hear that, since I still feel a little bit out of my depth. Everything that would be easy for a skilled tailor I still struggle with. Carlos doesn’t seem worried, however, and he’s already gone so far as to offer me a summer job once my WISE project finishes.Written on February 4th, 2018 by Eric Banisadr