Poll: Sewing While Watching Frock Flicks?

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Sometimes, I’ll hear a comment about a historical costume movie or TV series that says “sure, I watched it while sewing.” Now, obviously many fans of frock flicks enjoy making and wearing historical frocks themselves, and many of us are historical reenactors in some way, shape, or form. And I certainly understand wanting some kind of entertainment when you’re working on a tedious task.

But maybe I’m dim, because I have never been able to watch TV and sew at the same time. Both tasks use my eyes and some of my attention! If I’m just listening to the movie/TV, then I’m missing out on what makes historical shows particularly interesting to me: the costumes and historical setting. Sure, there’s dialog, but without the historical stuff you can see, it might as well be any old modern show.

Again, people will say they might rewatch historical movies/TV series over again while sewing, and since it’s a repeat viewing, they’ve already paid attention to all the pretty dresses and fancy houses, etc., so they can just be entertained with the dialog and plot. But again, I want the whole package! That’s why I liked the frock flick in the first place. Besides, unless it’s literally Shakespeare, the dialog isn’t always enough to convey what’s happening — the action on screen is important too.

When I’m sewing, I’ll listen to music or podcasts for background entertainment because that doesn’t require as much of my attention. Maybe I’m the freak here though. I guess there’s only one way to settle it — with a poll!

Feel free to tell me I’m ridiculous and should just watch frock flicks while sewing like everyone else in the comments.

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About the author

Trystan L. Bass

Twitter Website

A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. When she’s not dressing up in costumes, she can be found traveling the world with her sweetie and, occasionally, Kendra and Sarah. Her costuming and travel adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also maintains a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

62 Responses

  1. Carol

    No TV in my sewing room, plus I’m likely to make more mistakes (and take much longer) if I’m not focused on the task at hand. I listen to music instead. Mostly classical, though I do admit to the odd day of BeeGees and ABBA radio on iHeart.

    Reply
  2. LydiaR

    I like to put on long literary miniseries while I’m hand sewing, especially when I’m working on a long hem.

    Reply
    • Megan

      Me, too. Mostly things I’ve seen before, but I did sew most of my first Federal Era gown watching Bleak House (with Gillian Anderson). I like having the TV or podcasts on when I’m handsewing, to keep me company.

      Reply
  3. Rachel

    Our sewing machines are in our living/dining room, and if i’m sewing by myself, I’ll put on Foyle’s War, Miss Marple or Downton Abbey, since I know the stories all by heart. My mum usually watches Midsomer Murders

    Reply
  4. Jill

    I can’t have the visual distraction of television while sewing. I usually play high energy classical pieces. Wagner is great for getting you through French seams and impossibly wide hems.

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  5. Bronwyn

    I don’t sew (I’m jealous of those of you that can!), but I watch tv and knit or cross-stitch/embroider all the time. If I’m just watching I feel like I could be productive and like to have my hands busy.

    Reply
    • Bronwyn

      (I’m sure that sewing requires a bit more attention than knitting or embroidery though, so I could see how you can’t sew and watch tv at the same time.)

      Reply
      • Trystan L. Bass

        I dunno — my mom does a ton of knitting, cross-stitch, & embroidery in front of the TV. She also sews (she taught me) & will do that in front of the TV. I take after her in a lot of ways, but not this!

        Reply
      • Frannie Germeshausen

        My grandmother could crochet epic projects while watching TV, barely looking at what was in her hands. It was rather intimidating. Needless to say, my attempts at crochet were total failures.

        Reply
    • MoHub

      I no longer sew as I wasn’t the best at it, but I gained enough experience to be able to design costumes for others with more skills to construct. In addition, age has given me a very shaky right hand, so even sewing on a button or handstitching a hem have become challenging. But I understand the mechanics and am enough of a history nerd to know what has to go into each garment.

      Reply
  6. Kay

    I always have the tv on when I sew. I don’t usually watch new things unless It’s something I’m not really into, but feel like I should be watching, like Turn or Iron Fist.

    Most of the times what I have on is something I’ve seen a zillion times before. And It’s usually sort of related to what ever I’m working on. If it’s Recency, there’s a lot of Austen adaptations and Vanity Fair. If it’s 18th Century there’s movies about Marie Antoinette, Catherine the Great, The Duchess, and the like. I’ve often found I notice things, especially on background characters, if I’m not actively paying attention to the stories I’ve gotten some really great inspiration that way.

    I also end up research my favorite shows that have nothing to do with what I’m making like, Mad Men, GoT, and Deadwood, or random history documentaries on youtube.

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  7. Broughps

    I’m more apt to listen to a podcast while sewing, if I have anything on at all.

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  8. Seanna

    I like to put something on that’s somehow related to what I’m sewing. While working on my dress for Alexander Hamilton Ball I had Turn and Versailles (I know that isn’t the time period at all, but it turns out its pretty hard to find programs that take place during the Federalist period!) going in the background. It helps me get in the mood I suppose

    Reply
  9. Emily

    I usually go for the long, extremely talky BBC adaptations (Elizabeth R, The First Churchills, Jane Austen, etc) because I can watch the scenes I like and listen the rest of the time. Alternatively, I listen to an audible book or watch documentaries.

    Reply
  10. Jana

    I like to save up all the hand work so I can just bust through it while watching shows. Not much attention needed to hem several yards of skirt.

    Reply
  11. picasso Manu

    I don’t watch TV per se, but I guess YouTube counts, right? I’ve been through the Supersizers, the farm through times series, Lucy Worsley stuff, and now going through the Antique roadshow (BBC version)… Do you ladies have other historical stuff I could try?

    Reply
  12. Carmen Beaudry

    When I’m designing, it’s music, metal, punk, or classical. Everything else, tv, usually documentaries or something I’ve watched before.m

    Reply
  13. Charlotte Burke

    Audio books for basic sewing in fact I often associate a finished project with the book I listened to. Music for pattern making. My students watch movies while they work on projects and I don’t know how they do it but I try not to judge.

    Reply
  14. Lynelle

    I’ll have movies on in the background as I work, particularly long movies. Epic sewing usually requires Pride & Prejudice or Persuasion. If it’s marathon sewing, like a whole day of it (or whole night of it), out comes the extended LOTR or a Firefly/Serenity marathon. However, I find myself stopping to watch my favorite parts or listen to my favorite parts because I can’t hear over my machine.

    Reply
  15. Jen in Ypsi

    For me it’s usually movies/series that I’ve watched before, so it usually ends up being background noise.

    Reply
    • Alys Mackyntoich

      Yep. Me too. Although I did do some very productive sewing recently with The West Wing on, all while fantasizing that Jed Bartlett was our President.

      Reply
  16. Johanna

    I can’t listen to podcasts or stuff like that, since that would involve too much concentration on what they are actually saying. It’s easer to put on a film or tv series that I’ve seen many times already and don’t need to follow too closely. The best is to put on an opera or musical on the DVD though. I can enjoy the music and follow what’s going on, and if I want to take a break I can look up and see what’s happening on screen.

    Reply
  17. Frannie Germeshausen

    No TV in the sewing room/area. Maybe if I’m dealing with some hand sewing, but that is so fraught with peril that I’m probably going to be listing more than watching.

    Reply
  18. Rhyli Esser

    It would be one of the multiple watches if it’s something I really need to SEE. It mostly serves as background noise, but i do have to stop and go back occasionally.. or rip out seems occasionally.

    Reply
  19. gilliancrafts

    Oh, interesting discussion! I tend to listen to music, history podcasts, or history documentaries while I sew – anything that doesn’t require looking!

    Reply
  20. Specially Made by Anne

    Not only do I have TV in the background, it is always related to what I am sewing so that I am in the correct mood and the garment/project will be imbued with the spirit intended. For a recent corset for Revolutionary events, I binged Turn. My Pirate clothes get rewatches of POTC, Cutthroat Island, etc.

    Reply
  21. Colleen Crosby

    I need some sort of “conversation” going on that I don’t have to pay attention to, so sometimes podcasts or radio can be more distracting than tv or movies I’ve seen before. My favorites to put on while I sew are not all historical: P&P miniseries, Dr Who, The Waltons, and any movie that I’ve seen multiple times: Independence Day, Star Wars, Sense & Sensibility, etc. I do have to be careful not to put on anything new or anything I haven’t seen within the last year. Those will sink me.

    Reply
  22. heatherparish

    I have always been a “story” person, first and foremost. So I cannot watch tv while sewing because I want to be focused on all of the ways they’re telling the story. Not just dialogue, but shot choices, acting choices, costuming, location, the way the camera moves or doesn’t. . . (I also cannot read a book with the tv on or music lyrics playing – one story at a time!).

    But I CAN listen to podcasts or audiobooks while I’m sewing. With audiobooks, I tend to choose books that are from the period I’m making (listened to David Copperfield while working on last year’s Dickens Fair dress). That way I’m familiar with them and can let the auditory performance just happen.

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      Interesting! That’s prob. why I enjoy podcasts when I’m doing handwork — it’s just enough story distraction but not too much. I like music for machine work, mostly bec. the noise competes.

      Reply
  23. Agnes Gawne

    NO TV in my sewing area either, although I do listen to the radio, especially baseball on the radio – the pace is perfect and if something really good is happening the intonation of the announcers changes and I can perk up my ears to pay more close attention (or take my foot off the pedal of the machine) I get my best sewing done during the playoffs and World Series

    Reply
  24. Annette

    I’m only allowed to watch shows I have seen 25+ times and I don’t actually have to follow or look at the screen. They are there more just to keep me company. They also help me pace myself. (Ex. Disk 1 of P&P is almost over, so I better hurry up and finish this petticoat and perhaps drink the tea that has gotten cold.)

    Reply
  25. Amanda

    Yes, but it has to be a “well-worn” frock flick, and a (fairly) leisurely hand-sewing project! Otherwise I get too distracted. If I really need to be productive, I much prefer having music on while I’m sewing. I can sew without music, but I don’t like to!

    Reply
  26. Adina

    I knit while watching basically anything. I even do it in movie theaters because it is more portable than sewing

    Reply
  27. ladyaquanine73551

    This is more of something my mom does on a regular basis, though she watches a variety of things. In two different houses we have lived in (my family has moved a lot) mom had her own sewing workshop, and she always made sure that it had all the amenites, the tv being one of them. She has such a setup right now, but she sews quilts for veterans, not clothes. She does, however, know how to make clothes. She taught me how to use the machine too, though mine is packed away somewhere in that Indiana Jones warehouse we call a garage, lol. Most of the time, she just lets whatever it is she’s watching run in the background, but she listens. She watches historical costume flicks, forensic/cop shows, action movies, romantic comedies, and the occasional drama.

    I would have recommended “The Duchess of Duke Street” (an old favorite of mom’s when it comes to historical costume shows) to you ladies at Frock Flicks, but frankly, I don’t think any of you could survive that awful, horsey voice the star has. Great Edwardian costumes and sets, but still…that voice! Ugh! “Murdoch Mysteries” is much better by comparison, though none of you seems interested in that show either.

    Reply
    • Karen K.

      I loved “The Duchess of Duke Street” ! I actually watched it when it first aired on Masterpiece back in the 1970s. I remember my mom letting me stay up an hour late every Sunday so we could watch it together, much to the chagrin of my father! I don’t remember her voice being particularly annoying, but I should watch it again and see how it holds up.

      Reply
  28. Rachael

    I always have the tv on when I’m sewing. But I’m usually paying more attention to what I’m sewing and have to rewatch whatevers on tv later, unless I’m trying to procrastinate – then I know exactly what’s going on on tv

    Reply
  29. thedementedfairy

    I can only watch TV if I’m doing a long long boring hem, or other hand sewing jobs. Otherwise for ‘real’ sewing, it’s audiobooks all the way. They have to be long, with a good narrator [I’m a major fan of Stephen Pacey as narrator, and Stephen King as author]. They only get paused if I have to puzzle over actual written instructions [rare] or write something down. Otherwise, marathon sewing requires marathon listening.

    Reply
  30. Lauren Rachel

    I have a couple of set things I might put on TV wise, like The 10th Kingdom, but usually not talking heavy things. And I have to be careful listening to music when I sew or spin, because I am heavily inclined towards tapping my foot, which is especially evident when spinning. Lately I’ve been sticking to podcasts, which I’m definitely enjoying.

    Reply
  31. Aurora

    I’m kinda with you. I’ll put on frock flicks, but only if I’ve seen them before. Usually it’s podcasts because I’m not watching, either, just listening.

    Reply
  32. Sarah

    I like to have a movie on that I’m REALLY familiar with, so I don’t get sucked into watching it while I’m supposed to be sewing. I don’t have a TV/DVD player in my sewing room, so I moved my sewing stuff into the living room. That will be alleviated in our next house!

    Reply
  33. Ticia Adventures in Mommydom

    I usually hand sew or draw while watching TV or movies, which includes historical dramas (unless it’s complicated and I’m watching for the first time).

    For machine sewing, that location doesn’t have a TV, so I rarely am watching something.

    Reply
  34. Louisville Sewing Adventures

    I watch movies that I know by heart while I sew. I can “see” the movie in my head and if it’s a really favorite scene, I will look up and watch. I have just started listening to podcasts and they win out if I am sewing something particularly tricky.

    Reply
  35. lesartsdecoratifs

    IMO it works best if either the sewing is really boring and repetitive or what is on tv doesn’t require looking at it that often. So either you are familiar with the material or it’s talkative. To be honest, without watching something a lot of sewing would be unbearably dull.

    Reply
  36. misat0

    I answered YES because it’s true, I always watch some kind of TV show while I’m sewing, but not all kinds of TV shows. Anything that requires more attention I like to just watch, so I guess most costume shows are off the choice. I mostly watch soaps, sitcoms or cheesy TV (been watching Sandokan xD – which actually has quite good, all over the place and time, costumes), but Versailles is being watched slowly, because I can’t sew and watch it at the same time, the political plot and pretty costumes require ALL my attention. ^_^

    Reply
    • misat0

      Also, I always try to have a sewing project while I watch award shows (+ red carpet), I’m really productive while watching those!

      Reply
  37. Eryn

    I watch The Great British Bake-Off while I sew. It helps me calm down when I get frustrated (which is most of the time).

    Reply
  38. Kate D

    I listen to music or audio books at the start of a sewing project, and watch frock flicks once I have the construction settled in my head. I’ll pause the show or the project briefly if my greater attention is required by one or the other. I just watched the Lily James’ War and Peace (your snarking on the costumes was so great I just had to! Plus I’m currently reading the book.) while sewing and hemming a half circle skirt (with a giant pocket!).

    Reply
  39. Karen K.

    I voted yes because even though I hardly sew, I have gotten quite a lot of knitting done while watching TV. It has to be something fairly mindless though — if a pattern is too complicated I’ll get distracted.

    Reply
  40. Christine Guinchard

    I watch things I don’t have to pay too much attention to – or don’t want to pay much attention to. Like Reign.

    Reply
  41. Julie Hunter

    No TV in my sewing room but I do like me an audiobook sometimes, depending on the difficulty of the project. My current book is Outlander’s Drums of Autumn.

    Reply
  42. themodernmantuamaker

    I am an obsessive frock-flick watcher while sewing but I totally get where you’re coming from. I sometimes try to match-up the period of my sewing with my viewing to get in the mood but don’t usually feel the need. As long as it’s historical or fantasy I’m good. If I want to be actually productive at sewing I can only have on something I’ve seen a bagillion times and don’t need to watch at all (ie 1995 P&P, Gaskell’s North & South – except when R.A. smoulders, AoGG, lots more Austen, Princess Bride, Harry Potter – great for marathon-ing – Cranford, etc). If I want to watch at all I can only be doing hand sewing. I have tried several times to listen to music instead for the sake of productivity (I love the Toronto classical station, 96.3FM – on which “Miss Stacey” is actually a radio host! – which I can get online, thank you internets!) and it works in very small bursts. However, I find I need dialogue/conversations, music just isn’t enough. I don’t know why that is, I’m not a huge people-person, but I need to hear the sounds of other people in the room with me (with whom I do not need to interact) for some reason.

    Reply

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