Barbara Deckert has been sewing for nearly her entire life; but that’s not where her credentials end. No, not by a long-shot. She’s also an author, a custom dressmaker, and a teacher—most recently, right here at Craftsy where she instructs the online, interactive sewing class Plus-Sized Pattern Fitting and Design. We had a chance to sit down with Barbara and ask her about her sewing background, what she loves about sewing, and why it’s so much more than a simple hobby. She also discusses the importance of sewing well-fit garments for plus-sized people.
Enjoy meeting Barbara? Get a special 20% discount and learn more about her online sewing class, Plus-Size Pattern Fitting & Design.
I’m Barbara Deckert and I’m a custom dressmaker. I’ve been working for about 25 years. I’m also an author. I’ve written two books, including Sewing for Plus Sizes. And I also wrote for a number of the national sewing magazines. I lead a pretty average life, but I learned last year from a customer of mine who is an astrophysicist that I’m a geek. Only I’m a sewing geek.
Well, sewing is unique, I think, because it can be intellectually challenging because you have to actually know a lot of pretty picayune information, a lot of technical information on how to adjust patterns and rotate darts, a little geometry, a lot of information on fiber content. I mean, every profession, every set of skills has its set of information that you need to learn. But once you’ve got it, and once I’m actually doing my sewing, especially I find this for handwork, I’m just in the zone. The rest of the world goes away, I listen to my classical music. My cat bugs me occasionally, but I’m just sitting there sewing, and all my worries, all my anxieties, everything just floats away because I am in that zone. And I really love it.
Well one of the reasons I wrote Sewing for Plus Sizes was that my kids were little, my husband was working all the time, I was home, I was running my business, raising the kids, and looking after him, and I always sewed my own clothing. I gradually got bigger and bigger because of a rare medical condition, but I always had the clothes I needed. So if we were going to the British Embassy for a reception with my husband for his work, I had a nice dress to wear. If I was taking my daughter to school and had to have a PTA meeting, I could look like the rest of the moms and dads. If I was doing something physical like out in the backyard, digging a hole, I had comfortable clothing and durable things to wear that didn’t look really peculiar. I never thought about that. I was just busy, living my whole life, and then one day I was in my local mall, and this guy stopped me and asked me where I bought my outfit. I told him, “Well, I didn’t buy it; I made it.”
He was just blown away. He couldn’t believe it. And he said the reason he asked was he had a fiancee who had a home-base business, she was a great gal, he loved her to bits, but she seldom left the house because she has nothing to wear, or felt that she had nothing to wear. And you know I thought to myself, if I didn’t know how to sew, I would be stuck at home, wearing a bed-sheet toga. I couldn’t go to that embassy reception, I couldn’t take my daughter to ballet without feeling embarrassed or out of place. Unfortunately, the ready-to-wear world doesn’t do much for plus-sized clothing. And, in fact, in my area, which is saturated with retail, there is not one store that carries my size clothing of any kind. Not one. So in a way, Sewing for Plus Sizes is almost like a social activism.
Also, it involves developing a plus-size aesthetic. Because, you know, we are bombarded with thousands and thousands of images everyday in the media—television, newspapers, on the internet, usually tall and thin women. And in fact, sometimes these aren’t even real images because they’ve been Photoshopped like crazy. They actually cut out hunks of their body with Photoshop to make everyone look thin, they stretch them out lengthways to make them look taller. We tend to kind of think that’s normal. We of course think that’s beautiful. But if you think about it, if you’re plus-size, you have people in your life who know that you’re beautiful: your husband, your mother, your children. So I think when you’re designing for plus sizes, for yourself, for my customers, for other people or my students, you need to think about what looks beautiful on you, and you develop a new set of aesthetics.
Well when I was growing up in the ’60s, when I was in high school, almost all women learned to sew a little bit. They might not have liked it, but they learned it up to mending, simple repairs, maybe they made their own clothing. And back in the day, home sewing tried to be as good as couture sewing. So it was a very high set of skills that, if you got into it, you’d want to acquire. Since then, of course, we don’t have home ec in the schools anymore. And if there is home ec, they’re making incredibly simple little projects, and not really acquiring a high level of skills. So that’s a bit of a problem. And the other thing that’s happened is that I think it’s honestly getting harder for us to read instructions in a book because we just don’t do that so much. We learn it more from video, from the internet, and I think that’s really great. Because, if you think about it, a couple centuries ago—not that long ago, say during the Middle Ages—people learned crafts, like if you were a stonemason, you didn’t read about how to be a stonemason in a book because there wasn’t any. You learned from a master mason, and you practiced it. And that’s exactly what Craftsy is doing. So I have an opportunity, and I’m really grateful for it, to teach my students the skills that I’ve acquired from another dressmaker who was highly skilled, and the skills that I’ve acquired in my last 45 years or more of sewing, and in the last 25 years of working as custom dressmaker.