Sewing Super Power: Stereoscopic Vision

Sewing Super Power: Stereoscopic Vision

Are you one of those people who knows what an inch looks like without measuring?

I am. I also know what a ½ inch looks like and two inches and, well, honestly, most units of measurement from an 1/8 of an inch to about eight or ten feet.

I can also look at a photo of someone and determine how many inches shorter (or longer) his or her pant, shirt, jacket, or dress hem needs to be. And I can take a picture or drawing of a garment and recreate it with only that image as a reference.

I bet a lot of people reading this blog can do these things too.

I never thought too much about the why. It was just something I was always good at.

3D vision – no Oculus Rift needed

3D vision - no Oculus Rift needed

3D vision – no Oculus Rift needed

Well, this past week, a new scientific study was published at the University of California at Berkeley about how dressmakers were found to have “needle sharp” 3D vision.

3D vision is also referred to as stereoscopic vision, which is the ability of the brain to take 2D information and translate it into 3D. Depth perception is part of this equation, meaning stereoscopic vision is what allows us to thread needles, catch balls, and park cars (among a myriad of other things.)

It also means that some of us, those with especially keen stereoscopic vision abilities, are able to look at the distance between things and immediately calculate a correct (and often freakishly accurate) measurement.

There have been countless occasions when I’ve looked at a fitting photo of an actor with a hem pinned up and said, “Oh, I need to shorten that an inch and ½,” (or whatever) and someone else has said, “Let’s measure to make sure.”

And so we do. And I’m always exactly right.

In the same way, I can often walk into a fitting room – or even just watch someone wander by – and say, “That needs to be lengthened ¾” and the waist taken in an inch.”

And then I do the alterations without pinning and its correct.

Batman’s got nothing on me

Batman's got nothing on me.

Batman’s got nothing on me.

I’ve always just thought of it as one of my super powers. I believe everyone has a couple or three superpowers. The trick, sometimes, though, is figuring out what they are.

Adrien Chopin, the neuroscience researcher who conducted the 3D vision study, says that they’re still trying to figure out if tailoring and sewing sharpens stereoscopic vision or, if tailors and the like are drawn to the profession because of their enhanced “stereo-acuity”.

I’m definitely not a scientific researcher but I think it’s both of these things. My brain has always been adept at moving between the 2 dimensional and 3 dimensional worlds. I just never knew it had a specific name. And because I use this ability many times a day, I’ve become better and better at it to the point where my accuracy percentage is probably 99.9999999%.

Or something like that

I can also go from 3D to 2D quite easily, meaning I can look at a 3 dimensional object, like a garment (on or off a person) and know what shape it would be as a flat 2 dimensional pattern.

Chopin’s study goes on to say that people like surgeons and dentists have normally been assumed to have superior stereovision but that dressmakers and tailors in general had even more precise 3D vision abilities that those in the medical fields.

Kind of crazy, huh?

Take care to use your powers for good.

Take care to use your powers for good.

Chopin intends to study more extensively the stereoscopic superpowers of dressmakers. He says that a better understanding of the ability will help in efforts to train those with visual impairments like “lazy eye” to strengthen their 3D vision. He also believes that improved stereoscopic vision could be tantamount in training people in occupations that require precise hand-eye coordination like military fighters or athletes.

On the other end of the spectrum, some vision scientists think that painters often have poorer stereovision which is what gives them an advantage when working in a 2 dimensional world. Rembrandt, the 17th century Dutch painter, is thought to have suffered from stereo blindness.

I find all this quite fascinating. If you do to and want to read more in depth information about the study, you can see the whole report here.

And don’t forget to spend some time celebrating your own super powers, which, if you’re a tailor or seamstress, very likely include stereoscopic vision. Yay us!

The Sewing Needle Controversy

I have a freebie calendar hanging on my wall. Well, actually, I got the calendar in the mail from a business that I’ve done quiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiite a bit of shopping through, so I guess “freebie” might be a stretch. Maybe “reward” would work better? Though if they wanted to reward me, cheesecake might’ve been the better option…

In any event, the calendar has random holidays listed, like July’s “Thread the Needle Day.” Personally, I’m not sure I ever knew that there was such a thing as a day set aside for something as small as threading a needle, but hey! If the calendar says it, let’s go with it!

Threading the needle is an action related to a topic that’s somewhat un-nice for me. That un-niceness isn’t because I can’t thread a needle, but the very idea of needles can be a bit daunting to me—and not just because I may or may not have a tendency to accidentally stab myself with needles and straight pins. Blood, sweat, and tears might be a bit more literal for me in that regard than for other people!

The issue I’m bringing into the conversation today is the fact that there are SO MANY needles, and I end up sticking to a preferred one. I couldn’t even tell you what size my current sewing needle is. It was just selected by my preferred method of sewing needle selection, which is basically something like this:

“Which one is gonna be the easiest to get the thread through? Maybe this one? Okay, that’s my needle!”

Effective, no? Well, the process hasn’t left me in too dire straights as of yet, but I’m inclined to believe that there’s supposed to be more to choosing your needle than that one tiny factor. I suppose though that I’m a person of habit, and I use needles and thread without really considering the other factors that should potentially go into selecting those kinds of elements.

I’m a rebel sewer like that, I guess? Or maybe the reason is something a lot less shades-and-leather-jacket sounding. Maybe I just don’t know those other factors, and I’m too lazy to figure them out.

Large holes in used fabric.

Large holes in used fabric.

Which is bad, because while the flaw hasn’t left me in too dire straights, as I said earlier, it is the possible culprit as to why some of the thin fabric on my current project has visible holes that seem larger than they should be where the needle and thread went through. That thin fabric, by the way, also happens to be used since I’m making this quilt out of old clothes. Especially for a project as tedious as this one, maybe I should’ve been more careful about how I chose my sewing needle. The material is fragile from use, and having fabric damaged in the process of making a quilt or blanket before it ever becomes that quilt or blanket is disappointing.

Look how well some of my corners are turning out this time!

Look how well some of my corners are turning out this time!

On a side note though, look how well some of my corners are turning out this time! The change is directly connected to that online class I shared on my last post, so you might want to check it out (Kesser, n.d.)! You live and learn, I suppose, and what I’ve learned since my last blanket/quilt project has helped me better put together this one. Maybe that I-need-to-be-more-careful-about-needles thing can help on me the next project in like manner. Then, perhaps someday down the road, I can have a quilt or a blanket that doesn’t have such easily avoided mistakes! Maybe it’s one lesson at a time, one realized mistake at a time 🙂

SEW-lutions Guidelines: Your Guide to Successful Sewing

SEW-lutions Guidelines: Your Guide to Successful Sewing

Luckily though, like with learning about my sewing machine without the printed instructions, there is assistance online to help me with this needle selection problem. One source is this PDF file that takes a hand-sewer through certain kinds of needles that could be used for projects.

Another idea would be to visit a sewing shop, the really nice kind with people who are willing to help and are capable of helping customers with these sorts of issues—instead of the one that I currently use (that will remain nameless because I’m thoughtful like that) where I might do well to find someone to cut some fabric for me. I’ve actually heard about a local shop that I could try, and if I do, I’ll try to remember to take mental notes—with exquisite mental penmanship—for a later post about my first-ever, non-department-store, non-online, sewing-material-and-tools-buying experience!

All in all though… Thread the Needle Day? Maybe I should celebrate Learn Your Needle Day first even if I have to pick a random date and assign it that name myself! If anyone has any tips for this process, be sure to leave them in the comments! I—and maybe other readers—would appreciate the input!

I guess a moral of this post’s story could be that not everyone knows everything about a subject, and sometimes a bit of research could go a long way in helping to make our projects the best that they can be. Like I might have said about my sewing machine on an earlier post, if I don’t know my tools for the craft well enough to accurately use them, I’m putting myself at a disadvantage. I can’t apply the most effective techniques, so I can’t expect the most professional results. And it takes *me* to do my homework to learn those techniques. So, dear self, do your homework on sewing needles! Then next Thread the Needle day, you could have a party hat and streamers. And that piece of cheesecake the store didn’t reward you with.

What about you guys? Do you have a particular area in sewing or quilting that just seems daunting to you?


Kesser, G. (n.d.) “Piece, Patch, Quilt: Basic Quiltmaking Skills.” Retrieved from