Simplicity Rules the Day by Suzi Banks Baum

the future is female Apr 08, 2018

Did you start your making by sewing?

I almost did. My earliest beginnings of making started with finger painting with my Dad's shirt on backwards for an apron, to weaving cotton looped potholders and coloring mosaics in the S&H Green Stamp booklets we picked up at the Red Owl grocery store. Sewing was the first act of making that confounded me though. Its complexity kept me awake thinking about design, and attracted me to sew things for myself that I could actually wear. There was independence to sewing, and utility. Sewing became the reason I babysat, so I could go downtown to JC Penny's and pore over the large paged books of Simplicity and Butterick patterns. Threads, fabrics, findings, and tools, all enchanted me and pried my hard earned dollars out of my 11-year-old hands. 

From the beginning, I sewed for other people. My neighbor and best friend Barb, both to my sister Becky and me, was game for me to sew her clothing. After my first failed attempt at pants, her appetite paled, but she wore a few things I made for her with pride. (I later realized I had sewn the front left to the front right and the same with the backs, thus making pants that were impossible to sit down in. Pants took years to master.)  I wish I had photographs of all the elephant legged bell-bottoms I made, stripes matched and zippers under a snap placket waist closure.


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My skills increased through early adventures with bonded wool, poplin, gingham, denim, and yards of bias tape to more complicated creations involving expensive fabrics or up cycled vintage materials. Sewing was how I paid my way through college, working in the costume shop of the theatre and also sewing clothes for people. All through my career in theatre as an actor, I sewed in costume shops. Then, while studying improvisation in a studio in Times Square in Manhattan, I met a woman my age who had studied to be a coutouriere.  She needed an assistant. She hired me and then that became my day-job. I worked in the tiny sewing room in her apartment, learning to perfect hand-bound buttonholes, invisible zippers, and hand turned hems on acres of silk chiffon. 

In the costume shops of Manhattan, I worked as a stitcher or a shopper. I carried a pouch of my own tools in my backpack, containing regularly sharpened scissors and tissues to mop the tears in case I made a mistake. I can still make myself cry recalling a self-inflicted tragedy involving a velvet waistcoat for the original cast of Phantom of the Opera. I learned important life lessons from those jobs, like where to buy the best leather jackets on Orchard Street or which of the many trim shops catered to costume shoppers like me who didn't know a bugle bead from a paillette. I learned that a tiny ball of white thread, wet with the stitcher’s saliva, when rubbed on a blood spot from a needle-pricked finger will lift the blood right out of the white silk hem you are carefully blind-stitching. I worked in non-union costume shops that employed a core staff supplemented by hired people like me who worked show to show. This meant I was one of the lowest paid people working on a show, but it also meant I could skip out to an audition if I was lucky enough to land one. I worked with impressive costumers and designers, soaking up their wisdom while sewing miles of tulle and sumptuous brocades. It was in these costume shops that I learned a maxim that has been useful in my life on nearly a daily basis.


Done is beautiful.

And done is what I am here on Crispina's The Future is Female blog series. Joining voices with the variety of women here on Crispina's site has been a fun ride for the early part of 2018. If you are reading this post, likely you are a subscriber to Crispina's genius here. If you'd like to stay connected to my work please join me at or on Instagram at @suzibb.

Done is beautiful. Done means you've cooked it as long as you can. You've hemmed and fussed and fiddled and it is time to let something go, let it have its life, walk out of your home to go make a life of its own. Done means you have exerted all your human will on something and the time has come to step away. Done, in the very best sense, means you have immersed and soaked and savored something so well that like a well-licked dessert plate, you are ready for the next course.

Thank you all for the sweetness cultivated on this series.

With great love,



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