Monday, April 26, 2010

How To Sew A Skirt When You Are 5 Years Old

I'd always wondered what sort of first sewing project
the girls would do. When I was small, I started out hand-
sewing tiny felt stuffed animals. I did not like dolls so I
didn't sew doll clothes. In primary (elementary) school,
we were taught cross-stitch, which became a pencil case
that fastened with press-studs. All the mothers/
grandmothers were obliged to sew the linings. I suppose
some of my classmates actually used their pencil cases.
I preferred my plastic-vinyl Little Twin Stars double-sided
pencil box with 1 million different compartments, that, in
a pinch could be hurled at the boys in the next-door school
who called us names at recess time. I never did, of course,
but it was good to have a contingency plan.

It got me thinking - when my girls are in sewing class/homec
/whatever it's called here, what sort of half-finished project
will they bring home that I might have to help them out with?
Our secondary (middle) school homec project was a fitted
A-line skirt and many of the zippers were sewn by the mothers.
I don't remember, but Mum claims she wasn't one of them.
Apparently, I was 13 years old and I sewed my own zipper.
Hurrah and all that, but I never ever actually wore the
skirt, you
know? It was so uncool.

Fast forward several decades to 2009, and Emily is asking,
"Can I sew, too, Mom?" "Can I make something?" "When
will I be old enough to get my own sewing machine, Mom?"

"When you're 8 years old" came my answer, because that's
the recommended age printed on the boxes of child-sized
sewing machines.

Last week, she asked again. And again. And I remembered
Rowena's very thought-provoking post and thought, well,
who am I to say no?

So she sewed her first skirt yesterday.

And wore it to school.

Am I proud? You betcha.

Am I frightened? Hoo, yes. If I'm not careful, Jenna's going
to want to sew a winter coat next. And then Kate. And I'll
have to get in line to use my own sewing machine.
But I figure, well, it'll be worth it - if we do this right,
I won't
have to lift a finger when she brings home
some homec thing.
And maybe soon I'll be able to
growl, "whaddya mean, you
have nothing to wear?
Go make your own clothes." With the
same ease as
getting her own drink of water, or a snack.

Am I crazy? Why yes, in some new way every day.

But I'd like to share how we did it, just in case you too
have a young person in your house that is desperate to
start. Word to the wise, though: don't push them to start
just because you want them to. Let them wear you down
their asking. Start with something they like. It may
not be
as simple as something else (that they may not
like), but it
can be simplified. A gathered skirt is
a rectangle that has
one straight side seam. It doesn't
get any more basic than
that. But it has a waistband.
And a hem. A beginner sewer
can do it, therefore a
child can, with some help. But if it's
simplified further,
the child can sew
even more of it, with less help.

We used two layers - same width - the inner layer slightly
longer than the outer layer. We also used a big safety pin
and some 1" elastic.
Our inner layer is an eyelet fabric whose scalloped
bottom hem is already finished, and pretty, besides.
You could use that for the outer layer as well, and not
have to finish any hems! But two layers of eyelet fabric
was a tad too Rodgers and Hammerstein for me,
personally, so we just used one.

Two layers make a natural sandwich for elastic
without having to fold a waistband hem.

For how to make this waistband,
see my ancient
skorts tutorial.
We also used a serger to finish the outer layer with
a rolled hem. This means no folded hems and no basting.

It took Emily about an hour to make.
She sewed three seams, serged two seams, did
one rolled hem, sewed the ends of the elastic together,
and one line of stitching to make the elastic casing.
I pinned the fabric pieces together for her, and drew
the sewing lines. She also needed a little help
threading the elastic through the waistband. I
desperately wanted to add patch pockets but it
shouldn't be about me - this was her skirt.

We first practised sewing straight lines and getting
a steady pressure on the foot pedal.
She was fascinated
by how everything worked.
She loved the backstitch
lever and the little thread-cutting knife blade.

There are no photos of her at the sewing machine
because I didn't take my eyes off her for even a
second while she was working. Two reasons: safety,
and I was just enthralled watching her sew.

So a recap of my lessons learned:
  1. Let them tell me when they're ready to start.
  2. Pick something they really want to make, not something simpler that they aren't interested in. Simplify. A tote can be a single rectangle folded down the middle with just two straight side seams. Substitute broad ribbons or nylon webbing for fabric straps and it can be finished in half an hour.
  3. They may likely get distracted halfway and need to watch a movie, or eat a snack. Emily stuck at it because she was motivated by her desire to wear it to school that day.
  4. I must be prepared to watch them sew crooked seams, draw thick ugly sewing lines all over the fabric, have the print not meet at the seams and not say a word.
And I love that it all began with, "So mom, can I make
a skirt to wear to school today?" Ah, if only it worked
that way when
I have nothing to wear to work,
or the supermarket.

Over to the Kids

Started the girls on sewing lessons last week. Not Kate,
who is still dangerous around... well, things, in general.
I mean Jenna and Emily, who, at the ripe old ages of 3
and 5, were willing and excited.

We did some
simple embroidery - the running stitch.

Emily did a flower

and Jenna did a heart.

Real (pointy) needles, white twill, small embroidery

hoop, and stitches marked out in fabric marker ink.
I wanted them to start out using the same real adult
sewing stuff mom uses. Unfortunately, they were
working on two ends of the same piece of fabric,
so they had to take turns (and they were a bit impatient).

What were they making?

Something for Grandma Mae, far away in Singapore.

Something for Mother's Day.

Their part was easy. My part - sewing it into this case -

was harder than it looks. A lot of basting, and working
inside out around a small opening. But the girls loved
that they made something for grandma!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

10 Reasons To Love Your Seam Ripper

Hullo - we're LiEr's seam rippers aka unpickers.
We're doing tonight's post.

We'd first like to say that we have a very close
relationship with LiEr. Snigger. She makes a lot of
sewing mistakes, and boy are some of them dumb!
Like that time she sewed a sleeve onto the neckline
of some garment. And the other time when she
sewed her own finger. And
(Alright, guys,
that's enough. Move along, now.)

Look, everyone. Seam rippers everywhere have a
terrible reputation. And whose fault? You sewing
people, that's whose. You're the ones who sew bad
seams and we're the ones who make them go
away - but then you hush it all up like we're taboo.
So anyway, we went and told LiEr we want credit for
all our other amazing feats.
Credit! Yes!
So LiEr said, "Fine. Alright, go ahead and do
tonight's post. Show off if you must. Just make
sure there are lots of photos.
Sewing people don't read text so well."

Ahem. So here we are- and look what we can do!

1 Turn out tiny corners

2 Turn out skinny tubes

LiEr (the fool) sometimes uses long-nosed pliers or a dowel/chopstick or a needle threaded with thread that has a big knot.

LiEr: Can I explain? I'd like to go on record that I don't let these guys do this to my chiffon or silk or any of my other pretty stuff.

3 Transfer carbon lines onto fabric

4 Cut open buttonholes

5 Poke neat holes in fabric to insert prongs of fasteners

6 Tuck in seam/hem allowances (or anything)

7 Open seams for top-stitching or pressing -

especially wiggly seams:

Before - ugh!

Us at work

After - mmmmmmm...

We'd like to share that LiEr uses us a lot for this because
she'd rather eat nutella than get the ironing board out

8 Make pleats

9 Ease a stretched edge into a seam or match uneven seam allowances.
Did you know you can sew over us? Whoo!

Before - check out that extra bulgy bit that's destined to end up a gather! Ick!

Watch us make it go away

After - no ugly gathers!

10 Ease in a set-in sleeve

That sleeve is about 1/4" bigger than the armscye - that's a good difference for easing in. Check out that wavy seam allowance after basting!

We're doing the same stuff as in Amazing Feat #9, but along a curve. Dang, we're versatile.

11 And (yawn - boring) ripping seams.

See? Told you we were amazing. Now, we're planning to petition to have our name changed to Miracle Sewing Tool That Has Multiple Functions And Is Cheap To Buy And Sometimes Even Comes Free With Your New Sewing Machine But Is Invaluable To Own. Catchy, isn't it? So much more accurate than Seam Ripper, which we think is degrading, narrow, and very discriminatorily task-ist. You can help us by spreading the word and linking and telling everyone our new name.

*Been There, Done That

LiEr: Phew. Rude bunch, aren't they? And they can't even count. I insisted they let everyone also know the other tools that can do what they do, just so they don't get too full of themselves. I'm all for workers' rights and all that, but can you believe their petition?! Get outta here!