On Project Runway, “Home-Sewn” Is an Insult. Discuss.


Here’s something to chew on through the weekend. If you watched last night’s Project Runway, you probably caught Heidi lobbing something along the lines of “it’s home-sewn mess” to Ra’Mon about his design (above). And in last week’s newspaper challenge, the phrase “arts & crafts” was thrown around with disdain. This has been a running theme in PR ever since Tim Gunn warned Daniel Vosovic in the season II finale that his bags looked “crafty.”

Now, I know what they mean, at least I think they do. Poor workmanship. Unprofessional. But I still can’t help cringing when they insult so much of what I stand for. I wish they’d tone it down, maybe replace these critical terms with “mass produced” or “cheap” or “amateur.” But I have the feeling it comes more from a snotty attitude towards people who sew from commercial patterns and maybe don’t have the knowledge of high fashion. But isn’t that where many fashion designers start? Isn’t that the level at which most of their audience works? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

P.S. Spoilers in the comments.


  1. Stephanie says:

    Ra’mon should NOT have gone home! I love Tim and Project Runway and Heidi irritates me a wee bit. She can’t sew, she has people “dress” her. We all start “home sewn” and that certainly does not mean poor quality!!! Great post.

    • Kim says:

      Stephanie, I agree that he should not have gone home! It was manipulative of them to run all those positive comments from the judges, then to give him the axe. This Auf was more about drama than merit.

  2. Kari says:

    I think the poor workmanship has much more to do with how much (or more to the point, how little) time these designers have to finish their projects.

    That’s not to say something can’t be finished fairly quickly; but rather that it takes time, practice and experience to be able to finish something to a higher standard, in a shorter amount of time.

  3. Kaye Prince says:

    I definitely think using the terms “hand sewn” and “crafty” as an insult is just down right mean, and frankly (I think) unprofessional on the part of the judges.

    Just because something is hand sewn or crafty does not automatically make it cheap or badly made. We all know that there are tons of people out there making beautiful, artful pieces out of their home. Maybe the judges should take a look around instead of just throwing out things that they think will sound “witty”.

  4. Kristen says:

    It does show a bit of ignorance on Heidi’s part to call something that was poorly designed and executed “home sewn”. Alot of designers have taken heat from the judges on Project Runway for getting a little too “crafty”, like when Santino sent lingerie down the runway that had rick rack and pom poms embelishing it. But he still made it to Bryant Park. And Daniel V’s decision to use the wood-handled bags anyway was awesome! I think they looked great and they definately started a trend.
    I would caution the judges against thier chioce of words when critiqueing designers’ works. While the fashion world may not have been ready for Santino’s rick rack lingerie or Chris’s human hair embelishments (was that two seasons ago? I can’t remember), Daniel V.’s “crafty” bags were a hit. Don’t insult people whose sewing machines happen to reside in thier homes by using the term “home sewn” as a criticism.

  5. DianeY says:

    I always cringe when I hear Home-sewn, too, but in my mind I correct it to “first ( and maybe last)sewn garment in Middle-school Home Ec class” – and from someone whose mother, aunt & grandma don’t sew. I think Heidi is trying to relate to what it would look like if she sewed it – and she doesn’t sew! I don’t think it’s worth losing any sleep over!

    • Kim says:

      @DianeY I think you hit the nail on the head! I do think that’s what they mean by “home-sewn.” But when they criticize things for looking “crafty” … well that’s less about workmanship and more about a look, and it’s sad that that is put down.

  6. Shannon says:

    “Home sewn” definitely shouldn’t be used as an insult. If it’s supposed to imply poor quality, or made from a commercial pattern, then say those things. Just because something is sewn in someone’s home doesn’t mean it can’t be incredible. :)

  7. Malinda says:

    I loved epperson’s outfit and thought the winner and loser were on par (although I can’t stand the guy that won).

    I agree with those above – I really think Heidi should have said “poor quality’ or “looks like I sewed it” instead of home sewn but I don’t think it was REALLY disdainful because we all know what she means – not home made but poorly made.

  8. Jacqui says:

    I expect that people equate “home sewn” with poor craftmanship, bad design etc. because if it is neither you wouldn’t suspect it wasn’t commercially produced. Well a person who doesn’t sew wouldn’t anyways. 50 years ago that wouldn’t have been an issue because most people were sewing their own clothes and would have known that people doing that had different skill levels and that not all home-sewn clothes were equal. I also suspect that as designers of commercial clothes of course they’re going to denigrate the opposition. God forbid the watchers should think they can make their own clothes instead of being consumers. And we have to be consumers of what they dictate as fashionable – hence the cracks about “crafty” and “arts and crafts”. I know what they mean, and yeah that kind of thing makes me cringe too, but I’m not trying to make a living from telling people what they should wear and who should be making it. Conflict of interest much?

  9. Deborah says:

    When I was pregnant with my first child, my mother and I made a whole pile of maternity things together. I’d made a dress out of a small scale blue-and-white print, and somehow it didn’t seem finished. My mother made a comment there that stuck with me, and keeps popping into my head when I hear things like the exchange you mention on PR: she recommended adding pockets for some visual interest “to save the dress from looking hopelessly homemade.” It’s that phrase–hopelessly homemade–that sticks with me. I make the distinction with my students between “homemade” and “handmade,” the implication being that one is constructed by someone with little regard to the final product, that it’s a bit amateurish, while the other is crafted and created with thought toward the final product and concern for the overall quality of the garment or project. I dislike that ALL crafted items get the “homemade” treatment when many of them are lovingly and quite painstakingly HANDMADE.

  10. Corey says:

    I wrote a blog response to the episode that took me 4 hours to complete… I was none-too-happy about many of this episode’s elements… As upset as we all are about “homemade = substandard”, I was just as upset regarding the concept of “costume”… Here’s the link if you all are interested at all: http://relishedartistry.blogspot.com/

    Regarding the homemade/crafty debate, I think homemade has become synonymous with the concept of “lower quality” simply because that’s how business has existed for the last 200 years… If we could get the same quality by taking time to do things at home instead of buying them, we wouldn’t have the economic system that we have today. Homemade came to symbolize cheap, inexpensive, lower quality items simply because our culture didn’t allow us the time to keep up with mass producers and their methods. When Henry Ford invented the assembly line, homemade lost it’s romance.

    And now, 100 years later, we’re finally developing a reaction against mass production and consumption as quality has inevitably decreased. And the very qualities that were reviled are now held in high esteem. And the romance is back.

    Fashion will always have a sense of revulsion toward “homemade” because it really can’t exist without mass production and consumption, don’t you think? It’s simply inbred in their vision of “quality”. And that’ll take a while to change…

    • Kim says:

      That is a really excellent, well written post, Corey. I have always felt bad for costumes and costume designers when PR judges dismiss designs with “too costumey” but I couldn’t articulate why … but you did it for me!

  11. pamela says:

    forgive me, but I didn’t hear “home sewn mess.” I could swear I heard Heidi say “HOT GREEN MESS,” which it most certainly was. me thinks this is a tempest in an etui.

  12. Billi says:

    Commercial sewing techniques are in the toilet. Have been for years. In search of speed, as a tradeoff for the almighty dollar. No plaid matching, seam joining off, buttons that come off after 2 launderings, buttonholes that fall apart, often seams that don’t even meet and rip out, many shortcuts with no concern for quality or fit. Not only on clothing but also on bedding and several other things. We are not talking just the box stores, we are talking the better grade department stores. I am not a professional, but, anything I make ALWAYS looks better than what I can buy, a handmade or custom look, rather than homemade.

    Sorry to contradict a previous comment, 50 years ago most people were not making their own clothing, we did have stores way back then. Most clothing was made in the USA and didn’t fall apart if you looked at it sideways. They were also in real sizes and not given itty bitty numbers to make you feel better about yourself. A size 12 or 14 was not considered a plus size 50 years ago. Interesting trade off making smaller women feel better with their sizing and making normal people feel bad by adding “plus”.

  13. Dorrie says:

    If the hand-sewn, crafy look is unacceptable to the fashion industry, let us accept their opinions as their own. However, if their product is held in such high regard, perhaps there wouldn’t be such a huge movement to regulate their garments/products coming out of the 3rd world countries in which they’re mass produced. Etsy is a strong argument in defense of the handmade revolution. And it’s called a revolution for a reason. Consumers desire a well-made, handcrafted item to which a million others don’t also sport in their wardrobe~Angelina Jolie often purchases items for her children from Etsy. We, as consumers are the ultimate judge of fashion, and more and more we are demanding quality and unique style.

  14. jen duncan says:

    I want to come back later and read the other comments, but I just had to stop by quickly and say I absolutely understand what they mean. I go to local craft shows and think the very same thing about some people’s work. There just IS a difference between well-crafted and ‘arts and crafts/home sewing’.

  15. Nova says:

    I agree about the machine sewing. If I sew a button back on my shirt, I’ll have to cut it off to remove it. Once one pops off, you might as well pull all the little threads, because the rest are probably about as secure. People don’t seem to get that when you pay $4-7 for something, usually that’s about what it’s worth.

  16. Allisa says:

    seems like it’s all been said above me.
    totally agree, tacky & doesn’t show a lot of thoughtfulness.

  17. Lisa Mathis says:

    Sorry but I just can’t get worked up over this. Everybody knows what they meant by the statement and I believe no insult was intended. As designers, they need a certain amount of finesse and a professional look, sometimes they miss that. I watch Project Runway because I love Tim and Heidi and it inspires me to see what the designers come up with. I do NOT watch it looking for a reason to be offended.

    • Kim says:

      @Lisa Mathis I do understand what they mean by “home-sewn,” but I think the implications “crafty”/”costumey” are interesting and worth discussion. Really it’s the old art vs. craft issue, and they see a delineation where I don’t.

  18. I get where you’re coming from but I don’t take it as an insult. I don’t want the things I make to look home sewn either. I want them to look as if they’re sewn by a professional. These people are suppose to be professionals so there should be no puckering and even seams and finished hems.

    As for “crafty”. Fashion and Craft have very different looks and a different audience. If a designer showing
    sequined pageant gowns was at Renegade that would be a little odd, right? If you go back and look at the photos of Daniels “crafty” bags the wood doesn’t look very expensive. The corners aren’t even and they need a few coats of lacquer. They could use a few hours of sanding and polishing to go with his high shine look on the runway.

    I can’t really defend Ra’mon. That was a hot green mess.
    It really looks hot glued together. But the judging is so all over the place that any one of them could have gone home. I can’t wait until Michael and Nina come back.

  19. [...] This post at True Up and it’s comments regarding the hierarchy of homemade-handmade-craft stoked a constant ember in my thought processes regarding my work and craft shows in general. +There is a lot of stuff in the craft world that looks like happy hands at home not that there’s anything wrong with that but if it looks home made I want it to be home made +- like made by me. +I don’t know how many times I’ve seen things that I thought were cute but further thought “I could make that – but better“. I think my work looks professional but of course I have no idea what other people will think and even if I’m meeting the standards I set for myself that doesn’t mean anyone else shares my criteria. [...]

  20. del4yo says:

    Thanks for this post Corey. I find this people insulting.

    Who really expect an art like fashion to emerge from such downright snob over the top mean conditions?

    I watched one season of this crap, laughed a lot, got bored and went back to my sewing machine. I learn the hard, crafty way and I’m very happy. My grand mother was a French stylist. She was NEVER jugmental when teaching me…It’s not a good way to get anywhere.

    As an artist I’m really worried of a society influenced by such shows. I see teachers and comments on blogs acting the same revolting way, judgemental and agressive.
    It’s a good way to kill talent.

    Artists are sensitive people, be kind with them and help them bloom.

  21. B says:

    I’m a bit torn on this. I think Deborah put it best with her distinction between homemade and handmade. For me the appeal of handmade is tied to both quality and originality, which are not always present in homemade projects. For instance, I recently went to Renegade Craft Fair in Chicago. I saw a number of bags for sale that were taken directly out of some of the pattern books I own by Amy Butler and Heather Ross, and they weren’t any higher quality than something I (a beginner) could pull off. I really hate seeing sloppy work for sale, and there are also copyright issues at play.

    But that doesn’t mean that Heidi and the other judges should use craft or handmade like they’re dirty words. I think amateur better conveys what they’re going for.

    And, I’m going to buck the trend here and say that I would agree with the judges that Ra’mon’s dress looked amateur.

  22. Vincent says:

    I believe the problem is being politically correct.
    It is not intelligent of these people to use neutral words as negative descriptions. But then again, how intelligent are they? So there is their excuse for making such offensive comments.
    1. Haute Couture is mainly hand-made.
    2. Great works of art are hand-made and if the artist has no atelier, then they are also home-made.
    3. it all started from home-made crafts, and most who mastered their crafts to higher levels, still do it at home.
    Well, everyone will pay their karmic debts, not only the Project Runway prod team.

  23. yasmintoo says:

    My mother uses the term “mammy made” (among other colorful, sometimes profane, terms) to describe poorly made garments.
    This such a huge issue. I have been composing a post in my mind for several months on this topic.
    While I applaud the democratic concepts of “crafting”, “handmade”, “DIY,” the fine craft artist in me is constantly frustrated with having to compete in a crafts market place that is overwhelmed by a lack of craftspersonship, knowledge, education and skill. Good internet market, bad internet market.
    I think those of us who know fine craft are obligated to expose everyone, at every opportunity, to the true meaning of craft.
    Good discussion.

  24. Jane says:

    I don’t watch the show (we only have basic cable) but I’m aware of it. I have sewn many dresses for my daughter that are unique and constructed with high quality. I have even sewn, gasp, a “Project Runway” pattern!

  25. Darci says:

    These posts have been fun to read through. I guess I’m more in the camp of not-offended. I know what they mean and I don’t put myself in that category just because I sew at home. I know for a fact that the garments I produce are of much higher quality than those I can afford to buy in a store. They certainly fit a lot better! And are unique “tout but.”

    Note to Jane: We don’t have a TV at all, but I watch PR online at the Lifetime site. I believe they usually have it posted by Saturday.

  26. [...] I laughed out loud when I heard that.+ On the show, the phrase has become one of the worst insults they can throw [...]