Thursday, June 23, 2011

How Do YOU Learn To Sew?

I haven't been sewing much lately. Am working on one monster of a project that's part fabric, part varnish, part wood, part metal and part cardboard that's taken a year at least. Not because it's large or labor-intensive; more because it's conceptually demanding i.e. I must think through every step to make sure I don't foul it up. I started on it last summer but conceptualized it even longer ago than that. I wish I were done with it so I could show you because I think it will be the most useful thing I've ever made. Just last week I finally cleared enough Backlogged Projects to feel ready to tackle it again and what did I do instead? Sewed 22 bibs. As if I needed any of them. I'm nothing if not a master of avoidance. 

I'm telling you all this and making you hate me for being so covert because I need you all to hold me accountable. Don't let me give up and talk about summer dresses and toys and dolls and bags and other feeble, feeble stuff. Don't let me MAKE summer dresses and toys and dolls and bags and other feeble, feeble stuff. Don't let me make make cardboard things. No, that would be OK. Don't let me drag out crafts from my childhood and wax all sentimental. Don't let me introduce new crafts or hobbies, like crochet or tatting or beekeeping. Keep my nose to the grindstone. Call my bluff when you see me cheating and showing off some new useless beanbag or pinafore or felt flower that I made to "relax". 

Thanks, people.

And now, a question for you. Last week I was thinking about how I learn to sew clothes (yes, it was another avoidance tactic). Notice I didn't say "How I learnED to sew clothes". I don't mean how I learned to hold a needle and thread it and poke it in and out of the fabric and make a skirt. I don't mean kinds of skirt fabrics and how to use a sewing machine and what kinds of body types there are. I don't mean pattern drafting or even fit. I mean, when I made my first skirts, how did I learn what shapes the skirt fabric pieces looked like, and which ones get joined to which ones before other ones, and which kinds of seams in which configurations to use to do that joining, and whether I needed zippers rather than buttons or scotch tape, or eyelets with ribbon laces or whatever, and where on those skirt fabric pieces the zippers should be connected, and how low, and how the bottom hem should be finished.  

Some people, I think, learn all that by reading books. Really, they pick up books with titles like, "Sew A Skirt From Scratch" or "Basic Skirt Sewing" and they read every single word and scrutinize every single diagram and photo and at the end of it, they know the answers to all the conundrums I listed above. They consume the theory and they apply it effortlessly to actual fabric and they produce a skirt. 

Some people read tutorials. They search the internet and find blogs, and they collect 100 of their favorite skirt tutorials and piece together their own workable cheat sheet of skirt-making tips. There isn't a lot of foundational theory, but there is a lot of friendly language and self-deprecating humor as fellow bloggers share their own failures at making a skirt. These kinds of people are experimental and experiential; they follow all the advice, avoid all the pitfalls, and produce a skirt.

Some people (we admire their courage) go to a store and buy a pattern. They look at the pictures on the package and decide which skirt they like the look of. They take it home, open it out, read the instructions (we really admire their courage) and follow them. As a result of their obedience and submission to the words of McCalls/Simplicity/Burdastyle/Ottobre/Independent Blog Designer, they produce a skirt. 

Some people attend classes. They sign up for Skirt Making 101 (or homec or Mother-in-Law's free sewing instructions) and they learn by watching another human being assemble a skirt. They take notes, and they copy sequences and techniques. They follow along, ask questions, watch and let the Skirt-Making Guru check their work at regular intervals so they know they're doing it right. At the end of the class/ MIL-DIL bonding session, they produce a skirt.

Some people go to their closet and remove a skirt from its hanger (or from the crushed pile on the floor). They look at it and determine what shape the fabric pieces will be. They turn it inside out and examine its innards. They work out an overview construction sequence in their heads - (1) sew darts; (2) sew pockets; (3) sew zipper placket; (4) sew side seams; (5) sew waistband; (6) attach waistband; (7) sew hem. They apply that flowchart in their head to fabric and they produce a skirt.

Have you ever thought about how YOU learned to sew clothes? Or a bag? Or anything? Yes, I know you're going to say it's a combination of all those ways. But there has to be one primary method you use, without realizing it. It's your learning style- the way that, across the board, produces the highest rate of success in whatever your learn. It may even be a totally new method (e.g. stuffing a skirt in an IV drip, adding water, stirring, and letting it drain into your skull) that I didn't mention in my list above. You go first, and I'll tell you my answer later!


  1. I definitely learned from store-bought patterns for clothes. For small crafty things I just picked up needle, thread, and fabric and started sewing.

  2. Hi Lier! Oooh, how exciting! I can't wait to see what you're project is you've been working on.

    I learnt to sew doll's clothes when I was about 5 or 6. I would cut out the fabric without a pattern and Mum showed me how to use the machine. I did have a little toy, hand operated toy sewing machine but it just put a top stitch on the clothes. Throughout my life, I always relied on store bought patterns. I did learn drafting at high school and made a couple basic skirts and tops but it's always been patterns. I had been known to adjust them slightly. Simple things like making a top sleeveless or adding frills to skirts, but that's about it.

    I'm so keen to get back into it but I'm waiting until my youngest is at school next year and I've hopefully lost a lot of weight.

    Can wait to hear your story.

  3. I am a total pattern-follower. My mom taught me to sew when I was 10, and then impressed upon me the importance of always using a pattern.

  4. what will you get up to next? amazing woman.

    I first learned to sew by looking at other clothes and then hacking up bits of cloth for my Barbie. Then I got lessons from a church lady because my mother didn't like sewing and didn't know much.

    Currently, I sew clothes from commercial patterns after studying readymade stuff in our closets. The other things I make are made from my own little patterns which I figured out by making the items a few times.

  5. I'm one of those courageous(???) pattern users. To me, that's the easiest way, because somebody else has already done the hard part of figuring out how it goes together, and all I have to do is follow the step-by-step directions.

    The best patterns also explain their terms... seam types, finishes, etc.

    But, following more complicated patterns takes some previous sewing knowledge (that I've gotten from Home Ec class and also from simpler patterns).

    I WOULD like to try that IV drip once in awhile, though... like on an emergency basis!

  6. I have yet to learn how to sew clothes. I've started sewing little pouches and pillows and small bits and projects, but I have yet to tackle anything that would require any kind of precision. I go to blogs and sites for the most part. Bloggers (at least most of them) are wonderful and talented people who do such a great job sharing their skills and knowledge. I've bought patterns and read some information on books, magazines and theme sites, but nothing compares to a person who is even willing to answer your questions. Blogs is where I plan to go for my schooling. Thank you and all the generous crafters out there for sharing!

  7. I took home ec in high school, my mom patiently tried to teach me for years...but the true learning I found came from looking at clothes, mentally taking them apart, and figuring out the sequence of how they go together. I still buy patterns, and I copy clothes we have around the house. I have also learned a lot from reading blogs and following tutorials.

  8. I learned to sew by hand by making felt ornaments for our Christmas tree. I cherished those little ornaments, and plan to have Emma make some this winter. =)

    When it comes to machine sewing, I think I learned quite differently from most people. Mostly I whined at my mother that I wanted to learn until she gave me permission to turn on the sewing machine and go at it! I broke a LOT of needles, in no small part because I didn't know how to thread the machine properly, or what the purpose of the tension dials. Plus, it was a 20yo former homec machine, which I'm sure had something to do with my mother letting me destroy it (and countless yards of fabric). I made t-shirts that were against the grain (and therefore had no stretch), ribbing also cut the non-stretchy direction... I did put together pajama bottoms for my older brother, which he very kindly wore for a couple years in spite of their very amateur appearance. I used patterns, but NEVER read the instructions, and couldn't resist changing the design. I do read patterns now, but I still consistently find myself tweaking the designs most of the time. Your owie dolls are one exception to that - I love them exactly as they are (although I did cut corners on their accessories!)

    The summer I turned 18, I had received a full-tuition scholarship to a university I had no intention of attending, but they said I could use it for their summer term. I went, and took their introductory sewing course, as well as a very basic fitting course, which I'm sure is how I managed to go on and put together something resembling a wedding dress a few years later!

  9. Technically my mother taught me the very basics of sewing, but it wasn't until I took a sewing class in high school that I really started to absorb this stuff. (Amazing what a grade will do for your motivation!) My teacher had a requirement when we started a new pattern. We had to provide her a summary of every step of the pattern's instructions to prove that we'd examined the instructions. If anything didn't make sense, we were to put that in our summaries, and she'd help us out, either when we got to that point in the project or in a separate sample.

    That has had a huge influence on how I work. Whether I'm working from a pattern, a tutorial on the internet, or making it up, I spend a lot of time reading and considering what I'm about to do. The internet has been a big help in that regard, because I can find alternate techniques or advice on patterns (or things to distract myself with – wait, wasn't supposed to admit to that!).

  10. I still remember the first thing I made. I'd be about 12 and had been given some fabric. it was brown. I had a strip of some checked fabric as well and a long pink zip. (nice combination). I remember thinking - I could make a skirt out of this. so I did. by hand - very poor stitching. I just made it. it worked and it fitted. well it was only a tube gathered at the top and a waistband added.

    After that I learnt from my mum and through free patterns in magazines. I'm now just begining to get to grips with adapting patterns and blocks - but still need to work on the quality of my stitching n(even using a machine)

  11. I can probably trace how I learned to sew clothes to the book: Dollhouse People by Tracey Campbell Pearson. I only made two things out of the book when I was little, but it taught me what shape things needed to be and how they fit together. I mostly use commercial patterns because I want to spend my time sewing, not making patterns. But I think if you really understand how pattern shapes work you have better luck picking out the patterns you want because you know the different shape you will get when you use princess seams or darts or gathering or gores...
    Can't wait to see your new project!

  12. With me & mine--it's genetic. My mom was quite a self-taught seamstress and I found myself whacking out clothes from scraps for my troll dolls (?!). I was also raised with an "I can do that!" attitude. So, using commercial patterns, magazines and the library I learned and tried to perfect sewing skills. My 2 adult daughters have the bug as well and are very resourceful, creative women whose sewing ranges from utilitarian to amazing! I now have 5 small granddaughters in whom I see those creative seeds sprouting! Blogs like yours serve to inspire--keep up the good work. ...and good luck with your Project Beast ;)

  13. Wow, the most useful thing you've ever made? Seriously? I love everything you make!!! I can't wait to see what it is!

    As far as learning to sew... My Mom taught me the mechanics, and if I want to make something I usually look at a picture and think, I can do that. But nothing I make is very professional or perfect, usually I aim for cute =)

  14. I started by buying patterns and trying to follow the instructions. Although my success rate was about 50/50. Now, as I'm venturing in to pattern drafting, I do more through books.

    Can't wait to see what you are making!

  15. i had to take sewing one quarter each year of middle school, so i learned some foundational basics there and then didn't sew anything again until my daughter was one and i realized i could probably make all of those adorable trunk show clothes i was coveting without breaking the bank! after that, it was tutorials and copying pieces already in her closet. it's not always pretty, and sometimes i screw things up so much i just scrap it, but i love it!

  16. When I was in 8th grade I took a sewing class. Due to scheduling issues, it was that or German. I had an aversion to the German teacher (who was lacking in both hygiene and interpersonal skills), so sewing it was! I learned the basics of reading/using a pattern to made a hat, hooded sweatshirt, and stuffed camel. I actually wore the hoodie quite a bit before I outgrew it!

    After that it's mostly been from patterns, supplemented by searching online for anything that was still murky after staring at the pattern diagrams for several hours.

    Now that I'm trying to learn garment sewing a pattern altering (eep!), I'm reading more blogs and have bought a couple books. I'm currently on sewing/learning hiatus, as we're packing up our family and moving 700 miles away in two days. (I should be packing right now... d'oh.)

  17. I learn by looking at something thats already made and work out how thats been put together then I go for it!! Its how I made my first two dresses for my nieces and they turned out great.

  18. I'm with Grandma G on this. I feel so flattered to be courageous! My mother taught me to sew using a pattern (we cut it right out! Not worrying about tracing and future sizes. I didn't know about tracing until years later, and still don't really know how to do it. I like that the work has already been done, but of course it was always: "Mom can you make the sleeves puffy, and the skirt a little longer and make it close in the back instead of the front?" Gosh she was patient with me. I still am VERY pattern dependent. Even if I have to make the pattern myself, if I don't do a paper version first I --- wow. It's just uncontemplatable. But a dear friend who sews things with no pattern has told me she just lays it out and cuts around it. That's courageous to me.

    Now please keep that nose to the grindstone and finish this mother-of-all crafts that you've hinted about in a frustratingly vague manner. Yes, yes, we all want to SEE IT!

  19. I'm a blog sewer, mostly. I've been studying out things people (like you, thank you!!) put up on their blogs, and have mostly been making things other people have already made, but recently have started mentally taking apart things that I just see, and recreating them on my own. I think if I ever sewed for someone with curves (like myself, instead of my kids), I'd be more inclined to go with a pattern, at least at first. I've only been sewing for about a year and a half, though--we'll see where I am in 5.

  20. I start with an idea in my head, then look how similar garments are constructed, then have a look at tutorials. But it definitely starts and gets planned out in my head, the rest is just to reduce stupid mistakes... :)

  21. I too follow patterns for the most part. In general, I like to read descriptions or instructions to gain the knowledge I am lacking and then couple that with a visual learning experience. Thank goodness for the proliferation of video tutorials online. I definitely am not as successful if I only read about a project, or only see it demonstrated; I have to combine the learning methods. It's only in recent years that I have begun to create my own patterns and really work out design issues on my own. Sometimes they work, and sometimes they make me want to cry about wasting a fabric that I loved. I'm learning to make the original project out of muslin first to save myself that defeat. I love all of your guidance, suggestions, and help. My husband loves all of your cardboard projects. Thanks for being here.

  22. I just learned to sew in Jan 2011 and I learned completely from the internet. I didnt even know how to thread the machine. I watched a couple online videos and figured it out. Then I moved on to blog tutorials. LOVE THEM. I really have an appreciation for how things are made now and I'm not affraid to cut up old cloths and repurpose them.
    Thanks to blogs like this I feel like I now have a valuable skill for life.

  23. I primarily learn to sew by using patterns, but it was frustrating business at first because Nothing. Ever. Fit. Then I discovered Ottobre Magazine, and I have learned so much more by following their patterns!! By being a member of the Yahoo! Group for Ottobre (English), I learned tips for altering patterns so that the finished garment actually *does* fit, and I learned that I can actually modify the patterns according to what I already know. NOW I am moving on to tutorials to show me how to do what's in my head *without* a pattern! So primarily patterns, but I'm evolving! ;)

  24. I learned to sew from my mother. She made most everything I wore for the first 10 years of my life. She taught me to use, but not be limited by, a pattern. We'd go shopping at the mall, she'd make sketches and then we went to the fabric store. We got a pattern that was as close to the thing I wanted and then made that pattern or adapted it to resemble what I'd wanted to buy.
    I'm sure this is where my inner voice that says, "I could make that", comes from.
    My mom only used the sewing instructions as a reference guide to make sure she didn't miss anything. In junior high, I took a home-ec sewing class. My mom thought I would learn something she hadn't known to teach me and it would be an easy A. I couldn't believe all the useless steps they made us take. I'd never basted anything, learning to sew from my mom. At the end, she had to make a special trip to visit the teacher to tell her I had sewn it by myself. Dumb teacher. That's 'cause I'd taken it home to do it my way.
    I don't use my machine for clothing that much anymore. I made nighties for my two granddaughters this last fall and I'm making two peasant blouses for myself this week.

  25. I'm a reader. I peruse blogs, find out the best books, read them, compile all the tips, find the best pattern, read the directions. Then I ignore half of what I read and do it the way I think would be best, and thus learn from experience why someone said to do it the way they did. I think I spend more time reading simply because it is easier to find time to read than to find time to actually do it. Hypothetically I am saving time by learning from other's mistakes, but in reality it seems like I learn best by making my own mistakes.

  26. My grandmother let me noodle around on her sewing machine starting when I was about 7 or 8. The only rules were I had to use white thread (I think it was cheaper than the colored thread she had) and I had to ask for help if I needed it. Thanks, Grandma, for all the help and the freedom to figure out what it was I wanted to know.

  27. When I was a kid, my mom and grandma taught me how to use and follow a pattern. Unfortunately, NOTHING I have ever sewn from a pattern has fit properly. I still buy the occasional $0.99 pattern to get a feel for what size and shape the pieces should be, but I mostly use books, blogs, and mentally taking apart pretty clothes to make new things. I've been MUCH more successful that way.

  28. My mom's a seamstress, but she didn't really teach much to me. I had home-ec class in Middle School so I learn the basic hand stitching & basic use of the sewing machine. My mom to this day does not trust me w/ her sewing machine so I only hand stitch but it takes forever. I've searched online blogs for different patterns & then try to create my own to my liking. But I'm really slow & it's hard to understand sewing language sometimes.

  29. The internet! Seriously. And books. Just starting out, got my machine for Christmas. Have yet to make anything adult sized yet. That will be my next step in the learning process.

    My aunt did teach me to cross-stitch when I was like 10 which doesn't really count...

  30. I learned to make bags and purses by reading A LOT of sewing blogs and tutorials, then I purchased a few patterns, made those designs and more or less that's the way it went with bags and purses for me. Now with clothes its going a little different, I bought a pattern and a book and some fabric and I'm trying to be very brave and read through all the instructions from a Butterick pattern and find out if I'm able to produce a blouse. Wish me luck!

  31. I would have to say patterns. I started sewing when I was 13 and my mom stuck to the pattern 100%. As time went on I took some fashion design classes and learned to pick apart a garment. I am making lots of bags these days and I tell you if it weren't for Amy Butler patterns I would never had been able to. Her patterns and books provided with the knowledge to branch off on my own. I have been sewing for so many years and I am always amazed at how much i don't know. Your blog has given me so many new ideas and skills and for that I thank you.

  32. I'd be one of them there pattern users. I'm a horribly logical person, so I methodically followed my first pattern for a pinafore type dress all the way through. Now I won't say there weren't a number of sweary words along the way, but it did actually look like it was meant to! I was 16, and I think i decided then that I'd conquered sewing, and didn't come back to it for years. I still seem to be able to follow a pattern though, and the swear words are getting fewer since I really embraced sewing for my bearmaking on a new sewing machine 18 months ago. I took up clothes again a whole 6 weeks ago now, and have 2 dresses and 2 skirts for my summer holidays. It would have been 3, but apparently shirring doesn't necessarily follow logic. That had a lot of swearing... and broken elastic - grr.

  33. I first started sewing clothes I always used patterns, but I really only started paying attention to how clothes were made after I began reading sewing blogs. Suddenly it became very clear to me that all clothes, dresses especially, are basically from a handful of silhouettes and just bits and pieces are changed. Although I still like to begin with a pattern, I am so much more comfortable changing things up now, and rarely follow the directions.

    When I make other things, I just do it. I rarely use a pattern for anything other than clothing.

  34. I'm mostly self taught. I bought patterns but couldn't understand how the shape went together and the directions were like reading a foreign language. so i started turning my clothes inside out and looking at how they went together and how the shapes matched the ones in the pattern. Then i looked up tons of tutorials online and youtube sewing videos to learn the terminology. That's how i found your site. I was searching to learn more sewing and i loved all the wonderful things i learned from you.

  35. Yes, you're right, it's definitely a combination of all those techniques. I think mostly I deconstruct things in my head. I see a skirt in a store and notice the shape of the individual pieces, the type of seams inside, etc. and think about how I would replicate that. But I don't think I would be able to do that with out a little: instruction from other human beings with superior sewing knowledge/reading of blogs/sewing from patterns/.

  36. I started sewing my own clothes at age 12. I used commercial patterns. Around the same time, there were a number of us on the street who were interested so my best friend's mom started a sewing school to teach us technique (such as the importance of an iron vs the type of machine you use - up until then I was just trying to figure it out with an old Singer and diagrams). Each participant stitched up a skirt from a commercial pattern and had a fashion show at the end of the course. I will never forget it.

  37. @Anne
    Oh Anne, I hear you about waiting to change size before starting to sew clothes for oneself. We may never be the same as we were pre-baby, but at least we'll have stopped shrinking so we don't have to throw away the clothes we sewed six months/a year ago because they no longer fit!

  38. @Margo
    Margo! Is "by making the item a few times" a euphemism for "insane mass-producing"? We are soul sisters!

  39. @MaryAnneMaryAnne, I did the same thing with layouts. Mum was aghast at how I used to lay out my pattern pieces according to how they would fit on the fabric - meaning one (e.g. the front piece) was along the grain and the other (i.e. the back) was across. I didn't get it myself. If before then I actually did it right, it was because Mum nagged me and I did it her way just to make her happy.

    I'm like you with tweaking original designs (and recipes). And I've seen your wedding dress photos - lovely! Clearly your scholarship was well used!

  40. @Anna
    Anna, I would've loved your teacher. But only on hindsight. Her approach would be the kind that would have made a grouchy teenager (me) whine and mutter, but later in life look back on with gratitude. It is such a useful and important thing to know what and why we're doing something. Someone else said the same thing in different words - visualize the thing you're going to make. It promises more success than just following Steps 1 through 22.

  41. @Claire CooperClaire: However unusual the outcome of your skirt, I applaud your attitude. "I can do this" has helped me make very odd things that now I'm secretly proud of. Also, your first skirt is MUCH better than my first skirt. At least yours fitted. Mine fell to my ankles with the zipper closed.

  42. @Lucy
    Lucy, I totally agree with you! I remember when I was telling my aunt that a friend wanted to learn to sew, and could she (my aunt) teach her? My aunt said, "Hm. She'll need to be able to visualize. Can she visualize?" I didn't know what she meant until I was writing tutorials later on drafting and adapting blocks to patterns. Yes, it's all about shapes and how they fit together.

  43. @Scenic Route
    Scenic Route: Project Beast indeed. I love your name for it. I must not give up. I must not give up.
    Bravo for our attitude! You must be so proud of your daughters and granddaughters!
    And yes, I love the library! I've found gems in it, because the library has old books, and as far as good sewing foundation goes, those are the best ones for it!

  44. @kris
    Kris, yes! My first bag was the result of me coveting a classmate's backpack. First I didn't know where she bought it, and second, when I found out, I thought it was exorbitantly priced. Even now, I sew a lot of clothes for my girls based on what they already have in their close and that they LOVE. This way it's a guarantee that they will wear what I make and it won't be a waste of my time making it!

  45. @Beth Lucas
    Beth, good luck with your move! Remember to pack your sewing machine right on top, in a clearly-labelled box so you can get it our first thing upon arriving at the new place!

    Your sewing class sounds extremely cool. I would have loved to have made a stuffed camel. And your hat and hoodie are way more practical than the hair-cutting cape thing we had to make in ours. Smart teacher, yours.

  46. @Lissa
    Yes, ma'am. I'm going downstairs in a short while to try and tackle that Thing.

    Your pattern-optional-sewing-friend sounds awesome! Does she lay out pre-existing clothing on fabric and cut around them, then?

  47. @Dagny
    Dagny, I hope you never stop working at your designs, no matter how they turn out. I've had to scrap so many of mine, too, because they were bizarre on so many levels. The things you learn that were wrong are sometimes much better aids to success than the things that were right the first time around (and that you later forget because it was pure luck anyway).

  48. @laceylady
    Alriiiiight, Laceylady! Welcome to the addictive world of sewing! I hope you learn loads more and experiment on your own, too!

  49. @Literacy-chicSomeday, I will undertake to use a commercial pattern just to see how bad the fit is. I've already seen at least one pattern with a dreadful sleeve cap on the finished product worn by the MODEL in the photo. It does not bode well for a pattern if the model is demonstrating a poorly-fitting garment. Naturally I bought it, just to see how bad it was. I haven't actually opened the packet yet, but I shall sometime this winter!

  50. @MollyMolly, your mother is awesome! And oddly, I had a similar experience when I was 11. We had to embroider an apron in our elementary arts-and-crafts class. Our mothers were allowed to actually sew the apron when we were done with the embroidery. I took it home and finished mine very quickly and mum sewed it up and the teacher didn't accept it. Whether it was because she didn't believe I did it or that I now had nothing to do in class for the remaining 6-8 weeks or so, I don't know. I had to do a second project and was given specific instructions to "do it in class and do it SLOWLY." It was not a good feeling, but I look back now and snort at it.

  51. @icicleSmart Grandma. Also preferably use the cheap $1 Walmart thread rather than the Gutterman sort. I must remember this when I start my girls on serious sewing machine experimenting!

  52. @seeRsewseeRsew: Yes, cross-stitch counts! All that handsewing discipline will come in very handy when you sew anything - softies, hems of dresses and skirts. And hurrah for such a wonderful Christmas present! Almost as good as a crate of nutella. I hope you enjoy this adventure that the world of sewing promises!

  53. @Yadira Good luck, Yadira! Sewing clothes from a pattern has many similarities to sewing bags from a pattern. In may ways it is easier because there are less pieces, no interfacing and less of the tiny fiddly pieces and hardware to deal with. Don't be afraid to "waste" a little time making a muslin. It will be worth it because you won't feel so cautious experimenting with it as you would with expensive fabric.

  54. @Katy CameronKaty, I'm with you on the shirring. It's very inexact at best. Also I always seem to run out of elastic thread mid-shir. I'd like to find a Math formula someday that relates these four variables: Final actual circumference of my child's chest, purchased width of preshirred fabric, the number on my tension dial and the angle of slant of the tension screw on my bobbin.

  55. @Rachel
    Rachel, hurrah! You have attained sewing enlightenment. Seriously. The sky's the limit when you can work from this angle. You're so right - a pattern is a nice quick-start, and then you can really personalize it to what you want.

  56. @KJ@letsgoflyakite
    KJ, I love what you wrote. Oh it makes me want to post a sign on my front lawn saying, "teenagers who want to sew their own clothes may register here. Bring your own nutella." I have secret dreams of having the girls' friends come over for sewing get-togethers in the future. The fashion show at the end of the course is such a fabulous idea. In fact, I shall shelve this for when Emily is old enough for a Sewing Birthday Party. YES! Thank you for the idea!

  57. Oh, well... I'm a mix I suppose :-)
    First I "stole" some knowledge and ways of doing things "the right way" from my mother and aunt. I was that nosy little girl with a lot of questions, from time to time nice enough to move away from the big dining table so they could actually sew something. :-)
    To move myself out of the way, and still see what mom is doing, I started using fabric scraps to make some serious Barbie outfits. Serious because they had a real pattern from a real "grownup" magazine (Burda). I believe this is a part when I (still) believed in patterns. I did them by hand, every single one I could find in a big pile of magazines my mama owned at the time. After a Barbie wedding gown (with all the accessories, of course) and a use of my ability to squeeze all her pattern pieces on a minimal amount of fabric on regular basis, she finally sat me behind her sewing machine. Pointed out some things about needle, thread, tension, bobbin, winding, straight stitching, caring for my fingers, need for practice and such ...
    Then my favorite way of learning kicked in - I found user's manual for a sewing machine. Yay! I experimented with all the possibilities, and spent my pocket money on new needles. I mastered zippers, different pockets, bias tape, and much more by looking (and following religiously) cartooned explanations in fashion magazines.
    Finally I made my first skirt. Out of white linen, none the less. Pattern was like the denim ones, with all the stitchings and round pockets with lining, and a zipper, and everything. It fitted fine. I was so proud. Then I made a bag for myself. A shirt after that...
    So, it was time I make a dress. There I stopped believing in patterns. I did it all "by the book". Everything. But it didn't fit. I measured again, started again. Yet another disaster. Tried to sew a pair of pants. Result was the same.
    At that moment in time I realized that patterns are made for imaginary female with "ideal" proportions (whatever "ideal" means to the people in pattern business). I measured myself again, and compared. The imaginary female was 15cm shorter than I am, and all other measurements were completely wrong for me. I was very very sad, dissapointed, and mad. Really mad. I had all those fantastic ideas, and a machine to use, and fabric to cut and sew, but no pattern. There was no one I could ask, no books to teach me, no one I could watch secretly and stole some knowledge. No one knew how to draft a pattern that fits. I did it the hard way, measuring myself, my clothes that fitted perfectly, pattern pieces that didn't fit. Finally, after a few pitfalls, I had "my own" patterns for a dress, stretchy top, pants... The world was mine :-)
    And then came the www, and with it a whole mass of crafty people willing to share their knowledge. There I learned what the "muslin" is, and used the knowledge to sew myself a wedding gown (and embroider it too).
    Now, I sew clothes for all four of us. Sometimes using a pattern, sometimes not. I guess this is a complete evolution of a seamstress :-)
    Have a lovely day!

  58. Hi. This is all so inspiring! I have been cross-stitching since I was a child - and yes, this was very good preparation for all those turn-ups and knee patches by little boy's trousers need. But then my 2 year old daughter challenged me as she wanted an apron. After lots of internet research I then went off and made up my own design, unearthed the 1955 Singer sewing machine I inherited 12 years ago and jolly well learnt how to use it (with the aid of the manual and a very supportive mum). Now the world is my oyster! Although I have yet to make anything that actually needs to fit. :-)

  59. I first learned to sew using commercial patterns because that's how I saw my mother doing it. I was spoiled... my mom sewed most of my clothes when I was growing up. After marriage to a military man I knew why... store-bought clothes were way TOO expensive! So I bought an inexpensive sewing machine and began my sewing adventure. And although I usually started out with a pattern, I didn't always follow it to completion. Today I like to quilt, and I quilt the same way... starting out with a pattern and an idea, and changing it along the way to suit myself and the fabrics. Sewing and dreaming up sewing projects is a favorite pastime of mine. I am 64 and have shelves full of wonderful fabrics, patterns, magazine photos... all beckoning...

  60. I've dabbled in a lot of other non-sewing crafts:
    - learnt to crochet at 8 from a Ladybird book, plus input from an auntie and a missionary who lived with us for a while.
    - baked bread armed with a recipe from the internet.
    - did lots of cross stitch throughout childhood and teen years, but never finished anything!

    When I came to Australia for university, I took one of my cross stitch projects with me and actually FINISHED it! My first stitching FO! I felt so goood.

    I only got my first sewing machine after getting married, in 2005. During my childhood my mum sewed on a treadle (must be a common thing to have in the tropics!), and I was never ever allowed to touch it, ever, as it was so old mum considered it her treasure.

    I only started sewing for real around 2007, sewing basic flat totes for charity. I read from the manual and painstakingly followed the written instructions (youtube was very bandwidth intensive in those days).
    Until the lady who oversaw the charity thing came over and spent a whole day with me, showing me how she used the machine with fluid movements, in threading the machine and starting to sew!

    And the rest is history...

  61. First I learned in school, like home economics class. A little from my mom and then the rest from patterns, little workshops here and there and tutorials/walk-throughs on-line

  62. I learned mostly from patterns, and also from buying things from charity shops and hacking them about. Now I try and incorporate learning from a bit of everything... but I am still a sucker for an interesting pattern.

  63. My learning style is all about reading -- I have little capacity for mentally manipulating shapes (I must physically flip and rotate pieces in order to have any hope of understanding how they might fit together), and I can't retain anything I merely hear or watch without also reading or writing it -- so my primary source for learning to sew clothing has been commercial patterns, followed closely by Internet tutorials. Trailed by copying existing clothing. I've never read a book and I haven't had much in the way of in-person instruction. But I have never, not even once, slavishly followed a pattern; they always call for SOME sort of modification, even if it's just the length of the pants (my kids are long and skinny) or the addition of a cute pocket or something. Your own pattern drafting tutorial series has been invaluable! I definitely do more ad hoc modifications of patterns than my mother ever did (she tried to teach me to sew when I was young, but it didn't take, so I am really just learning at age 40 -- however, now I realize that I learned a few little things just by observing her, and now I am compelled to do those things the same way she always did) and I suspect the difference is largely because she did not have the benefit of the Internet when she learned to sew!

    It helps to have started with kids' pajamas -- very forgiving as far as fit. And once you've followed a couple of different patterns for a shirt/nightgown or a pair of elastic-waist pants/shorts, it's pretty easy to see that there are only so many ways they can go together. I didn't bother to read the assembly instructions again when my daughter asked for another fleece nightgown recently. But each time I want to learn something new (zippers, darts, linings) I definitely look for a pattern or other written instructions to guide me. I have always thought it was the people who can forge ahead without that who were the admirable and courageous ones! :)

  64. Sorry that I have not been in touch for so long ... will answer last email soon! :-)
    Was just checking in on your blog ... and LOVED that question. It made me think ... now already for the third day in a row! *lol*
    I find it REALLY hard to answer - yet very interesting.
    I think at the beginning I did learn from patterns. But I am kinda diverting from that more and more - even though I actually have not used that many patterns in the past. (Simply because I do not get to sew as much as I would like.) I do read alot about sewing though ... in magazines, books, and most of course on the internet! It is weird - even though I do not get to sew that much (simply because there is just too little time without some little guy around that tries to poke his fingers EVERYwhere - including every bit on the sewing machine!) I seem to get more confident in my sewing skills just by reading and thinking about it. That is strange, isnt it?
    I find it hard to pinpoint how I actually learn ... for me actually many ways come together. But if I had to put it in words I would probably say ... I learn by mulling it over and over in my head! As odd as that sounds. I do read alot and look at tutorials ... and somehow things tend to get stuck in my brain. Sometimes it is the explanation of a technique - sometimes just the picture of some detail on a sewn item - sometimes it is the darts on an actual blouse of someone sitting in front of me ...
    Those bits I kinda think about over and over again ... and at some point several things seem to come together and it just makes sense. (That does not always happen though.) Unfortunately it making sense in my head does not mean that it actually works ... but sometimse it does and it does give me a starting point! :-)
    Also I tend to learn most from pictures I think. Sometimes I do not even READ the tutorials but just scan them but I will look very closely at the photos! Also drawings often help alot. What I never use ... I never actually watch other people sew. I simply do not know anyone who sews in person and I have never attended any classes. I also do not like to watch video-tutorials. Not certain why - but I do prefer regular photos or drawings. I also tend to check out several sources if I wanna do something specific. Like if I want to sew a certain style of skirt I probably do not just use one tutorial and follow that - most likely I will read several ones - and not follow any one! ;-)
    I am really bad at following tutorials step-by-step ... and that is not often a good thing. ;-) But I do learn from it!
    If I am very uncertain I also ask other people - bloggy friends - for help or advice. (As you know. ;-) )
    Even though I love scouring the internet for information and I learn alot from that - sometimes there is a small - or larger - specific question that I really love to hear the opinion from an experienced sewer - like that it might not be a good idea to make the first quilt from knit fabric! Yes, sometimes I have VERY strange ideas. :-)

    Well ... now THAT was a very long comment! :-)
    I love how this made me think ... it is strange how you learn things but can not even with certainty say HOW you learn them ...

  65. I think I must be a tut learner. I got the basics from mother and patterns, but these days, I see something online, morph it with another tutorial, tweak a couple of things because of the amount of fabric I have available, or something far less reasonable, and then attempt to make it on my own. I hear a little voice telling me that I'd have better success if I wouldn't try to make it up as I went along, but I never hear that voice BEFORE I start a project. hee

    I cook in the same way, bless my poor family. If you were to friend me on facebook, most of my links posted are recipes that I've made, and every single one of them says "Well, I didn't make it this way..."

  66. My mom used to sew a bunch of my clothes. So I guess I learned a lot of my sewing from her. (Which explains a lot, considering she's an abstract why most of my projects are patternless fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants and why I'm having trouble with the exactitude of the quilting project I'm currently doing!)

    In middle school we had home ec. I made a duffel bag and a pair of "jam" shorts. The other day I was sewing on a project with sharp corners, and had a clear memory of learning to turn corners on the sewing machine from Mrs. Johnson at Scott Highlands Middle School. :)

  67. I just found your FABULOUS blog through freeneedle! So many wonderful things here - I could stay all day! But I mustn't! I'll be back!

    How did I learn to sew? My mum and Granny both taught me when I was younger - but I'm relearning everything now on the other side of the world - in my own way - lots of trial and error - upcycling clothes - experimenting, trying some free tutorials online - bit of everything!

    I did recently buy a 'real' pattern for a top from the charity shop which I intend to try...soon...well one day, to see if I can follow real pattern instructions!

    Thanks for sharing all your amazing tutorials and knowledge!

    Jill @ Creating my way to Success


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