The Disconnect Between Modern Sewing and Modern Clothing


Reader, have you ever noticed that there is a disconnect between what we wear and what we sew? Why is this?

For instance, why do we wear so much knitwear? T-shirts, sweatshirts, stretchy fabrics galore. It wasn’t the case in the past, but today SO much of mainstream fashion is based on knits and stretch. Here is a brain-dump of why I think this might be…


  • Knits don’t need to be accurately patterned or sewn. Minimal seams, fairly straight cutting. Some t-shirts don’t even have side seams anymore.
  • Knits don’t need to be patterned to fit well – the fitment is in the stretch. It’s as easy as S M L XL +
  • Invention and widespread use of the washing machine and tumble dryer. Clothes had to stand up to this abuse. Clothing is washed significantly more often and much more harshly today (believe it or not).
  • Invention of cars and changes in automotive interior design – ever try to get in or drive a car in a full Victorian or Edwardian outfit? Cars have a lot to do with the changes in our clothing over the 20th century, whether it’s the disappearance of large hats, the narrowness and length of skirts (or phasing out of skirts completely), or the increasing comfort and stretch factor of all clothing.
1950s Constructa washing machine. This changed everything.


  • We wear fewer items of clothing than ever before, but our clothing is washed significantly more often. No longer do we rely on linen underclothes to keep our outer clothes clean – just sweat on through, then throw it in the washer.
  • Expectations of clothing – cheap, good, and lasts long enough. Doesn’t shrink, doesn’t wear too much when washed.
  • Active lifestyles – stretch equals mobility (right?)
  • Speed of dressing – who has time to put on all those layers? Who has time for underpinnings, for laces and buttons and hooks, for even doing your hair?
  • Changing bodies – comfort is king, whether active or not. Nobody wants to be squeezed or pinched (understandably!).
  • Overly sexualized clothing.

Hip hugger jeans of the 1970s, but look at the length of those zippers – nothing like the 2 inch zippers of today’s low-rise jeans


  • Defying the laws of physics with Lycra/Elastane, first woven into denim in the late 1970s.  In the 1970s, we had hip-huggers but they didn’t intentionally display what became known as the “whale tail” at the dawn of the 21st century. (Please note, as well, that 1960s and 1970s non-denim pants were often made out of tricot and bottomweight knits) Circa 2000 ultra-low-rise pants could never stay up without stretch. The waistline moves from the natural waist to the pelvic bone and then below. There’s low….then there’s LOW.
  • Overly sexualized clothing – everything has a tight fit. Tight t-shirts, tight pants, for both men and women. Clothes don’t hang, they cling. Lycra makes it possible.
This may seem like, “no way,” but this is modern club wear.

Sewing with knits

For the first time since the 1970s, the Big Two (Simplicity and McCalls) are producing a variety of patterns for sewing with knits: entire dedicated sections in the pattern catalog. The problem is that the major fabric stores haven’t caught up with this – selection of jersey is small; no ribbing available whatsoever. Why?

  • Lack of skill/learning in sewing with knits? It *is* totally different.
  • Lack of interest in sewing with knits – cheap t-shirts and sweaters are plentiful, so why bother?
  • Limited availability/access to knits – a self-perpetuating loop between big fabric chains and pattern companies. If sewists can’t get the materials, the patterns won’t sell, so will be dropped, and fabric stores won’t ever notice a demand for knit fabrics.
  • Design of modern machines doesn’t favor knits – sewing machine arms are short and fat, making it very difficult if not impossible to get a ribbed cuff under the needle.
Reader, what do you think? These are just my ideas, but why do you think there is a disconnect between what we sew and what mainstream fashion makes for us to wear?

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