Monday, May 5, 2014

How To Start To Sew


Today's post is in response to email and comments I've received on the subject of learning to sew. Over the years, I've been asked how I learned to sew, how to learn to sew with books, how to sew without books, how to sew with classes, how to sew without classes, how to sew for children, how to sew without children, how to sew alongside children, how to sew with children monopolizing one's time . . . ah, all combinations, really.

Self-portrait, 2009

I've tried addressing some of those questions here on the blog, in posts like this, this, this and this
But - in addition to the fact that they were about teaching kids to sew - those posts were just conceptual and philosophical, you know? Meant to encourage frightened and intimidated people to Go Forth And Forge Your Path, No Matter What Other People Say Is The Correct Direction To Pin Your Fabric. I wrote them because I saw a lot of sewing trends in the blogosphere and trends are powerful in how they can both motivate and paralyze. They can also steer people towards bad habits, but that's also true for things other than sewing, and anyway, it's another rant for another day.

Some time ago, I thought I would teach myself to play the violin. So funny, right? As if I don't have enough things to do. My father-in-law gave us his old violin and I strangled out "Mary Had A Little Lamb" on it the first time I touched it. Hideous. Then, I heard Taylor Davis play this and I thought, "That's not very hard, wot. Once I actually get the strings to stop screaming, it'll be a piece of cake!"


I'm so silly.

Anyway, while perusing Ms Davis's website, I found this post on how to start to play the violin. Now, I don't know what sort of authority Ms Davis is on the subject since I know squat about violins, let alone enough to assess her words. However, I found that post fascinating because it reminded me of so many sewing posts I'd read on other people's blogs with lists like "10 Sewing Wondertools Beginners Should Own" or "10 Skills Every Beginning Seamstress Must Know". I love lists like those because they always reveal that I am sorely lacking in some area or other, in spite of having been sewing for decades. Just the other day, I discovered that, apparently, I need to own a bamboo turner and flat flower-head pins which can be sewn over. Reflected in shame on my own fat chopstick and ball-head pins, most of which are bent and which I regularly fail to sew over. Immediately, my sewing self-esteem plummeted.

Forgive my flippancy. I do in fact like Ms Davis's violin playing. And I myself have written sewing lists just like the ones I satired above. My point is this: were I a true beginner, I wouldn't know what I didn't know about sewing. I'd believe everything I read. I'd be desperate for direction, any direction. And I'd be continually overwhelmed, maybe vacillating between acute interest and despondent panic at how much I'd like to be able to do while not having a clue as to how to even start to learn how to do it. I'd probably have caught the sewing fever from having seen something online that I really want to make, or overhearing fellow moms trading sewing project ideas, or remembering my own mother or aunt sewing up a storm when I was a little girl, and wishing I knew how to sew. Just like them. Just like that baby blanket in that magazine. Or that stuffed giraffe on so-and-so's blog. Or that adorable dress on that little girl that I know is handmade because I saw that same fabric in Hobby Lobby.

True beginners - folks who are at that point in their desperate desire to sew- are not the same as the "beginner level seamstresses" who are the target audience of the simplest of commercial patterns, or coffee-table craft books filled with flat coasters, crayon rolls and tote bags. 

Let me try to explain the differences. 

When you are already a seamstress, even if you consider yourself still a "beginner", you will probably be sufficiently discerning as to what kind of book or project or skill you would enjoy or need at any point in your sewing career. This is because you already have a foundation of sewing knowledge - however small or large - including sewing terms, techniques, project categories, and immediate learning goals i.e. you will have had some exposure, context and reference points with which to define what you do and don't know.

True beginners, on the other hand, are different. All they have is a keen interest to make stuff like they have seen elsewhere. All they know is that they don't know anything but need to know everything, and how pretty the fabric is, and how much they hope everything is as easy as everyone promises it is. They will need to be told what they must do first, what they need to buy first, what they need to expect first, because they will not know themselves (yet). They may or may not have a sewing machine, and if not, often even the prospect of deciding which one to buy is daunting. True beginners also don't know what qualifies as a "simple" or "beginning" sewing project or skill set - is it the size of the item? The inclusion or omission of additional bits and bobs like buttons and zippers? The number of seams? The straight vs curved seam ratio? The kind of fabric used? The category of project - garment? Bag? Placemat? Scarf? Quilt? They have no basis on which to reliably judge anything.

Let me digress with some backstory, which I've told many times on this blog (sorry). As you all know, my main sewing resources as a very early seamstress were Mum, Grandma and my Homec. teachers. And, as you also know, I started hand-sewing at about 9, and machine-sewing at about 12 or 13. I also started both drafting and sewing (including zippers) at exactly the same time as I'd begun machine-sewing- at age 12/13 - because that's how we did things back in our family/country then. It was only some years later that I began to sew craft projects, and made my first bag. So tailoring first, then craft-sewing, would be how I'd describe my sewing journey. Apart from my Homec. textbooks, which provided a sort of framework for basic sloper/block drafting, I had no books, blogs, seminars, magazines or patterns. Everything I knew came from my human mentors, and years of mistakes.

In this modern sewing age, however, the sequence of the sewing journey is very often reversed. Many people's first projects are flat, rectangular, straight-seamed cotton craft items: coasters, burp cloths, placemats, simple quilts, tote bags, pillowcases. Then, they may move onto things with curved seams, like bibs, aprons, balls, stuffed toys and bags with gussets and rounded corners. At this point, they may feel ready to tackle garments, so they may buy a commercial pattern or read a sewing blog (or book) and make their first untailored, unfitted piece of clothing - something forgiving and adaptable like a gathered skirt or PJ pants. Some time later, they learn how to adapt more precisely-fitted clothing patterns to their own dimensions and might or might not make the jump to drafting their own. Some go the design-and-piece quilting route instead of the draft-and-design clothing route; some do both. 

Unlike during my own childhood, sewing books, blogs, magazines and seminars are now everywhere - affordable, accessible and literally tailored to almost every skill level. There has never been a generation of seamstresses as lucky as this one. You have a veritable buffet of resources at your disposal, from which you can pick whatever you need at whichever entry point you need it. However, as with all things in abundance and variety, there is also considerable opportunity for frustration at incomplete or unsystematic instruction, a paralyzing sense of feeling overwhelmed by vast amounts of unfiltered information, and a danger of unknowingly adopting inefficient habits that may sabotage future progress or success.

And above all that is the one thing that most sets this distance-learning generation apart from the apprenticeshippy ones of old: the lack of immediate feedback in the learning process. Nothing quite beats the immediacy and accessibility of print and online sewing resources (sew a last-minute teacher gift at 3 am, anyone?). Thank heavens for Google! On the other hand, nothing also beats having a real human walk you through a technique, point out where you messed up, or teach you a good habit. Or, in the case of a true beginner, pick that first direction in which to walk, and that first project on which to work.

I will always, always, always advocate a human sewing mentor over ANY print or online resource, no matter how formidable and advanced that resource may be. Along that same vein, I will also always, always recommend buying your first sewing machine (or serger, in my case) from a dealer rather than or Costco, so that you can quiz the dealer (a human) on how it works and how to troubleshoot. I know this is not usually possible, but if you can find someone to teach you something (and yes, human-interaction seminars count!), choose that over a book or static blog post any day. Feedback can make or break your sewing journey. And if that teacher is kind as well as willing, it's a bonus. Buy them dinner and mow their lawns or something. There aren't enough sweet and gracious older sewing teachers left in the world. 

Therein lies the problem - a lack of actual humans who are available to pass on the legacy of sewing, drafting, quilting and whatnot, to the generations after them. So 
I also totally appreciate that a human mentor is not a realistic option for many people. And I feel very bad when readers ask me how I learned to sew because I know that my answer (learned from older family members as a small child) will be utterly unhelpful for them. Therefore, I am very glad that there exist all those alternative non-human sewing resources. In the next post, I will share with you a book for beginning seamstresses that I like. The remainder of this post will be a kind of framework for thinking about how to begin a sewing journey in general. Here are three things to consider.

Thing 1
I think the very first thing to do after deciding you want to learn to sew is to get excited, but realistic. Sewing is a marathon rather than a sprint. You will be able to churn out projects within hours of learning to use your sewing machine but it will take you months and years of experience before you will get to the point where you'll feel confident enough to tell people, "Yeah, I sew." This is not because sewing is difficult; it is because women (and I'm assuming many of you reading this are women) tend to be hard on ourselves and on other women. Resist the urge to slap a label on yourself - you know, "beginner sewist" or "adventurous beginner" or "intermediate-advanced", stuff like that. If the need arises to define yourself, pick something that's not arbitrary. For example, if you join a sewing group and have to introduce yourself and state your "sewing level (I hate that term to death)", say, "Hello, I'm Princess Amidala. I've been sewing on-and-off for the past 3 years and I work with mostly cottons and I've tried zippers and I'm excited to learn how to use a serger." Or, if you're looking for a sewing pattern to buy, ignore the "For Advanced Level Seamstresses!" on the front and instead look at the list of prerequisite skills you will need in order to be comfortable working with it. 
Summary: you may be better or not-as-skilled at sewing than you think you are. So what! You don't need to know how good you are or not, to keep learning and sewing.

Thing 2
The next helpful thing to do is decide what kind of sewing you'd like to do first

The Strawberry+Chocolate+Vanilla collection

Narnian-inspired costume


Felt treats

Dress-up costume and wig


Tank dress

Butterfly costume

Of course you'll eventually want to sew everything from quilts to tailored jackets to luggage to upholstering the seats of your uncle's yacht. It's fabulous to aim high and wide, but in the beginning, you'll need to focus on fewer things so you'll get good at them. For instance, you might already be leaning towards machine-sewing rather than hand-stitching, or vice versa. That decision alone is sufficiently dichotomous to focus on quite different sets of skills and techniques, even if the outcome is the same. For instance, constructing a skirt with a sewing machine involves different know-how than entirely hand-stitching the same skirt. 

Further, it is also helpful to focus on a category of sewing projects, if only because the techniques, fabric handling, notions and construction sequences might be quite different among different kinds. Some examples of categories:
  • Bags
  • Quilts and patchwork
  • Upholstery
  • General crafts including home-decor items, toys and baby items
  • Garment-making - but not tailoring (i.e. the fit is not generally important)
  • Tailoring
Within each category, it is possible to further (arbitrarily) subclassify them into individual challenge levels. In other words, there are Easy Bags that might be harder than Difficult Cushions, or Easy Tailored Garments that are harder than Most Challenging Quilts. If you've made diverse projects, you might agree that there are some basic skills and techniques that are used for all but there are also specific ones that are peculiar to one category more than the others. At the same time, if you've also been sewing for a number of years, you might not have realized that you were using different skill sets for different kinds of projects because your current repertoire of techniques is now wide and deep enough to allow you to cross categories without even being aware of it. 

The way I eventually realized this was in noticing that sewing blogs were divided very distinctly into categories according to their sewing focus. For instance, blogs devoted to tailoring (including pattern alteration and drafting and draping) had a completely different vocabulary, style and target audience than those devoted to quilts, home-decor or baby items. Even with ikatbag, which is a sad melting pot of completely random pursuits, I have to mentally shift gears between writing a drafting post and one on sewing my kids' latest toy or sundress (it gets even funnier when I cross over to cardboard and electronics).

The point is not to limit yourself to one category forever. Rather, it is to be aware that the kinds of projects you can sew are sufficiently diverse that you might need different skill sets and vocabularies - and not just more hours of practice per se - to feel comfortable with them. Having those realistic expectations may, hopefully, prevent frustration that something seemingly easy (e.g. making a Tshirt) actually felt much trickier than something else that seemed more challenging (e.g. putting piping on your outdoor cushions). It's all relative, but different.

Thing 3
Look for resources. This is sort of self-explanatory, isn't it? However, the prospect of research can be very daunting when you aren't sure which direction you'd like to go first. Typing, "how to sew+ tutorials" into Google is likely to overwhelm you and be less helpful than streamlining your focus to, say, typing "blogs+girls' dresses" or "tutorial+ tote bag".

In addition to the internet, which is a wonderful and almost unlimited resource for anything these days, there are also sewing books (which I will talk about in the next post), periodicals and sewing magazines both for inspiration and instruction, courses and lessons, seminars, sewing groups and guilds. There are advantages and disadvantages to all of them, which means that the more different resources you use, the more complete your research and learning will be. 

Books have the potential to provide the most linear, systematic and comprehensive instruction on broad and specific topics (e.g. Sewing 101 vs Darts & Pleats). Courses and lessons have the advantage of immediate and feedback and two-way interaction, plus real-time visual instruction. Seminars and conferences are wonderful for networking and getting aligned with current trends. Sewing groups and guilds support you locally and get you in touch with even more local resources. 

And then there are blogs. Blogs are great - they aren't necessarily complete sources of sewing education, but they're inspirational and written by real people you can get to know. Plus they're right where you want them at 3 am while you nurse those babies. Hard to beat. Here's just one example: Liz and Elizabeth, the ladies behind Simple Simon and Co., ran a month-long feature on beginning sewing, called "What I Wish I'd Known When I Started Sewing" in January 2014. I enjoyed it so much. Go check it out. 

In closing, I'm going out on a limb to guess that most people want to sew because they secretly want to make garments. I mean, I don't know a whole lot of folks whose real, ultimate goals in getting their sewing machines, were to sew cushion covers or baby bibs. Everyone I've talked to who's been interested in sewing at some level, has said something like this, "Honestly? I wish I could sew clothes. I saw this-or-that on a little girl/boy in the park/in a catalog, and I wished I knew how to sew. I think it would be amazing to even someday sew something for myself that fit. But I got my sewing machine to sew little things, you know - little pouches, a toy for my daughter, some blankets for gifts, maybe pillow covers and curtains someday. I'm not even going to think about clothes... yet."

Bravo! Bravo that you are starting somewhere, even if it is just practice until you muster the courage to sew what you really hope to. It's okay to improve faster than you thought you would. It's okay to get stuck from time to time. It's okay to sew the same things over and over again because you like it and because you like feeling confident at it. It's okay to thirst for different things even if you don't do as well outside your comfort zone as within. It's okay to feel overwhelmed. It's okay to be ambitious and aim high, or not. It's okay to ask. It's okay to learn. It's okay to unlearn and relearn. It's okay to sew differently from other people. It's okay not to have to defend how you sew. It's okay to decide, "I don't sew as well as so-and-so" (or "better than", if you're honest) and be perfectly content. It's okay to learn from your mother, from a professional dressmaking course, from a book, from someone's blog, from trial and error, from your kid's homec. notes. It's your sewing adventure, after all.  

And of course it's okay to pin along the seam, perpendicular to the seam and even not pin at all! Who cares, really, as long as you keep your machine needle away from hitting the pins. People who are up in arms over trivia like pin direction are literally missing the point (pun intended). The world is made of all kinds. Therefore, all kinds of sewing are allowed. Years later, after hundreds of projects and hours of happy memories, when you look back at this, you'll laugh at how it wasn't even a blip on the radar of your sewing journey.  

Over to you now: how did you learn to sew, and what advice do you have for beginning adult seamstresses?


  1. Totally with you on the human mentor.
    I never took home ec, but grandma and mom both sewed and we ( my sisters and brother (--GI Joe doll)) learned by asking them how to do this or that on every paragraph/step of the pattern.

    Find someone locally who can be there every step of the beginning.
    I like the idea of being specific as to what category in which to learn - i.e. purses/bags.

  2. Ooh this is such a good post! I definitely agree that human mentors are best.

    I started sewing seriously when I was seventeen. It came out of my realization that the second growth spurt I was waiting for wasn't coming and I'd be taking pants to be hemmed for all eternity.

    I would add to your list that a person should be honest with themselves about why they're sewing. For me, sewing is about getting clothes that I like, that fit me, and exploring drafting and geometry. If I save money, that's nice, but it's not my top priority. I mean, I'm not making it rain in the fabric store, but sewing and (learning) pattern drafting is my fun, so I budget it like a hobby, not as a basic necessity.

    When I started sewing I was reading a lot of blogs that focus on thrift. I think it's amazing that people can knock-off a trendy garment with a two-dollar thrift store bedsheet, but it's not for me. I was swayed into thinking that "cheap" and "fast" should be my main concern. I'm now the proud owner of a drawerful of cheap fabric that I bought "because it was on sale" (translucent crinkle stretch white cotton with little pink flowers on it?! what was I thinking?!) and a fair number of garments I never wear!


  3. I learned the basics of machine sewing from my mom (who sewed clothing a lot) as a kid, and took a couple of home ec courses (one in Denmark) to the point that I could sew a pair of shorts or a button-down shirt. I wasn't really interested until college, when I learned to sew quilts. I started sewing lap quilts for friends who were getting married, and by grad school I was getting pretty good at piecing. I learned quilting almost entirely from books, though my mom was the starting spark--she had started quilting herself, learning from books. I stuck almost exclusively with quilting and the occasional pair of shorts until I discovered heirloom sewing when my two girls were small. Suddenly I was making clothes for little girls, and I learned to smock and everything. This was also all from books; I've never met anyone IRL who does heirloom/smocking.

    So I've learned a lot from books, but all the foundation work was done in person, by my mom or teachers.

  4. I learned to sew from my Dad (who learned in order to sew Frostline pattern kits in the 70s). Then I took a few quilting classes at Quilt in a Day (home of Eleanor Burns!) and 7th grade Home Ec. And then I've been practicing ever since. I'm still no expert at all as I don't like following patterns but I can figure out how to make most anything I want.

    Over the years I've made simple clothes for my daughter and a few items for myself but every time I do I remember that I don't like garment sewing at all. I really am completely happy sewing quilts and home projects.

    Now I also enjoy teaching very basic sewing lessons in my own community. Basically "don't be afraid of your sewing machine" type classes and they are always fun!

  5. Like you, at an early age from my Mom and Gran. Your excellent post made me wonder how I could become a sewing mentor. I don't have a daughter and no grand kids yet, I should investigate local options. Thanks for giving me food for thought!

  6. I only learned to sew 2 years ago, and I feel I'm still honing skills. I would tell newbies not to be afraid of a sewing machine. Read the manual, adjust the tension (Gasp!) Not being afraid of making many mistakes and then learning how to fix them. Hence, wholesale seam rippers.

  7. My mum was my first teacher. I remember the first time she taught me to sew, I made a brownie bag. It was just a rectangle of brown fabric that was hemmed, sewn up the sides and had a plaited pink yarn strap. I even did a daisy chain embroider of a brownie on the front in pink yarn. Since then I've sewn lots of things - costumes, clothes, home dec, baby clothes and linen. I took a really long hiatus from sewing (about 15 years), after making several disastrous items of clothing in a row. It was so frustrating putting all that work, and money, into sewing clothes that just didn't suit me. Since restarting sewing, I've been taking my time and trying to learn "better" techniques. The internet is amazing for finding tutorials for just about anything sewing related. I've learn to sew french seams, flat felled seams, rouleau loops, shirring, button holes, zips and so much more. It's great advice to google specific techniques. When I'm trying to learn something new, I look at several tutorials and videos (if they're available) before I try it myself.

    If you're new to sewing, craft items can be great when they involve simple techniques (sewing straight lines, simple zips, etc), but kids clothes can be great too. They're small, don't take much fabric and can be quick to sew. Just make sure you pick something simple.

  8. I took a sewing class during summer school between 7th and 8th grades. My mother was gone visiting her sister or something. After that class I began to sew clothes for myself and when I bumped up against something unfamiliar or had troubles I asked my mom who was a great seamstress, having been tutored by her father a trained tailor (from Norway). A human mentor is really the best! It's difficult for me to learn from books--I need to see it visually; YouTube has helped me understand some more advanced things as well as sparked by creativity in re-fashioning too. I would be willing to help someone else learn to sew, but no one has ever asked me.

  9. I learned, like you, from my mother, and grandmother (who had learned in Vienna) and cannot remember not knowing how to sew. When I found none of my adult friends could sew, I realized that their children would have no one to learn from, so I initiated a hand sewing class for them. I was amazed at how they did not even have a concept of stitches, despite having them on every piece of clothing. I completely agree about the importance of a human mentor in any new learning experience. One of the delights of meeting with friends to knit or sew is the natural exchange of tips and skills that takes place. You can imagine how taken aback and hurt I was the other night at the local knitting store's knitting circle when I asked the proprietor a question on a feature of a sock I had gamely started learning and she told me she couldn't help me on project night and I would have to return on the teaching day. In that one refusal, ostensibly so that others would not feel the injustice of a rule being broken just for me, I felt shut out in the worst betrayal of the camaraderie of the sharing and passing on the knowledge of generations. So I came home and went onto Youtube, found my answer but shed a tear for the changing times.


  10. I learned to sew at my grandmother's knee. My grandmother sewed ALL of our clothes, even made our gym uniforms. I didn't have a store-bought dress until I was in ninth grade. Then I complained that it just didn't fit right. My mother sewed some and made dresses for herself though she was never as confident as my grandmother was. My aunt sewed all of her clothes as well.

    My grandmother helped my sister and me make some nightgowns for our mother when we were about 10 and 11. We were hooked. Our home ec. teacher was also an inspiration. We made a shell in 7th grade and an A-line skirt in 8th grade.

    I got my first sewing machine when I was in college. Made my own wedding dress. And continued to sew clothes for myself, my husband, my kids and now my grandchildren.

    I'm getting into quilting now and am learning from books, TV shows, Internet and my aunt. Real live people are the best, if you can find one the is both helpful and kind.


  11. I learned to really sew from my mother about 11 months ago at the ripe old age of 36 (I chose to take drafting & circuitry classes in school rather than sewing class) and having that human mentor was amazing. For me I like to know why I'm being instructed to do something in a pattern and having my mom there to explain it to me was so valuable (along with the "short-cuts" she has been using for decades).

    I have now sewn numerous craft projects for my daugther and others, clothes for myself, and a grand total of 11 well loved dresses for my daughter (I have the fabric cut for about 10 more sitting on my desk) and 2 costumes that she adores.

  12. I had compulsary sewing lessons in gr 8 and 9. Mom completed my projects for me. I had more serious "things" to do, like climbing a tree or riding my bike. Started sewing clothes for my daughter (4) at 44. That was 2 years ago. Went to the library, took out a few books, bought a paper pattern and never looked back. Then I discovered blogs this these and Google of course. The rest is history. Thank you hostess Lier. I enjoy and appreciate your blog/advise/comments very, very much.

  13. I sat in my mother's lap whilst she used a sewing machine as a baby and young child (until my younger brother was born) and often fell aslepp at night to the sound of her sewing machine in the tiny box guest room when I was a little older. I also took formal sewing classes at school (which I hated since the sewing teacher clearly bought all her clothes, whereas my lovely Maths teacher sewed her own perfectly fitting dresses) as well as later adult education classes (with a teacher who resented I could already sew, just not her way :-( ). I also made lots of stuff and made mistakes, bought books and tried to work out where I was the 'wrong' shape and did not fit easily into patterns or RTW, learned some things, read blogs, met up sometimes with other sewers and made more things. I'm quite good at knits now, but have some way to go on more tailored things. And through divorce and multiple moves, I kept all the sewing stuff and still sew, sometimes it is a balm to the soul!

  14. I learned from/with my mom, who taught sewing classes when we were little for extra cash. Burned out as a teen on a garment or two that didn't work out. Came back to it post-college when I had my own space, and rather quickly reached the limits of what I'd learned young -- I remember a lot of frustration over buttonholes and zippers, both of which I've barely tried. I really have no strong desire to sew clothes -- I like having clothes I like that fit well, and as a hard-to-fit person that could mean making them, but I'd rather just find a store that carries my size and not think about it too much! I really like household projects like quilts and cushions that put handmade things around me. And I always hem and haw when it's time to try something completely new, but have a track record of trying things in one project, having it come out pretty decently and then not going back to it (a knit stocking that used intarsia? but I don't actually know how to purl), that I have to admit that the process of getting fired up for something and then tackling it is part of the fun for me.

    Your blog provides an abundance of that! And my 5 yo son has been asking about electricity lately, so I want to delve into your kid-resources on that front...thank you!!

  15. I never went to any sewing classes - thought it was way too girly :) But my Mom sewed all the time ,so it was only natural that we picked up the basics from her. I remember using her old treadle to make my doll clothes , even when I could not really sit down and do it. So I would just stand at the treadle and sew ! And my mom was great at recyclying , upcycling , whatever ! Old dresses turned into pillow cases and quilts and new dresses . My Mom is my greatest inspiration and I still turn to her whenever I have fitting issues . She'll point out the mistake in a jiffy and correct it in less than that time :) My aunt also sews . In fact she and my mom whipped out the entire trousseau of my sister when she got married - we are old fashioned here in India :) I must have said this earlier too , but it bears repeating - your blog is absolutely my favorite. Keep up the fantastic work !!!

  16. Two things I would have liked when I learned to sew (and now) are a little more patience and a figure like yours! *lol* I learned from my mom who could do all the drafting, etc. and I have learned a lot from this blog. I haven't sewn much lately (okay, it's been twenty years) but I recently got out the old Elna and have been doing a few bits of mending and repairing.

  17. I started sewing clothes after making some Barbie clothes for my daughter. I found some Barbie patterns online and next thing I knew I was sewing tiny darts and facings after having been strictly a cushion covers and curtains girl. I figured if I could do it for Barbie I could do it for my kids! I live in South Africa where patterns are mostly imported and really expensive, and even buying a PDF pattern in US dollars is rather dear. So I just bumble along with the help of a bunch of amazing sewing bloggers, including ikatbag. The first real item of clothing I ever made from a pattern was your reversible boy pants :) They didn't fit but I was super proud of them. Thanks! xxx

  18. I am self-taught. I started late in life to make clothes for my kids. Internet tutorials (mostly) and a few books, such as "Me and my sewing machine" provided the basic information. I make practical,simple things, mostly in knit fabric, but they reflect my taste and give me great satisfaction. I always wanted to sew but felt it was too difficult and outside my abilities--I am not good at drawing, for one, and I thought drafting was too complicated. But now I learned how to draft and I am very happy I did.

    You, Li-Er, are the one that with your tutorials taught me the most. But even more than that, your enthusiasm for sewing and your ability to teach and make it loo doable are what helped me to finally try my hand at it. It has made a great difference in my life, and I think of you with gratitude.

  19. I learnt from my mom on singer manual treadle sewing machine in my early teenage. In my thirties I am still beginner in sewing but hey I can mend clothes and sew crib sheets now. I haven’t learned anything from books, video etc. yet but that’s mainly because I don’t have time to learn more.

  20. I so adore the way you write. Your humor and balance and perspective. And as someone else said, your enthusiasm makes it all seem possible. I loved this post so much. But sometimes I scroll through the archives and feel encouraged and tell myself, "she has it right there, it's so clear, I can definitely do that."
    Anyway, I wanted to say I love to read your blog. I am having some serious issues with Feedburner. I love it when my inbox had the latest blog entry. But they aren't coming and I have to remember to check the blog a couple times a week. It isn't as fun. Sometimes I try to resubscribe, and it says I am already subscribed. Sometimes I try to subscribe and it sends the confirmation email. But either way the emails aren't coming. This is also true of a couple other blogs I had subscribed to with Feedburner. So I am not sure if this is me, this is yahoo, or this google (feedburner). But I have no idea how to fix it. Do you know how I can your blog coming back to my inbox?

  21. I had one semester of sewing in 8th grade. I made a Care Bear and a couple other stuffed toys that were made from those pre-printed panels that you cut out, sew, and stuff. No time for anything more advanced (the junior high school I went to gave everyone one semester each of cooking, sewing, printing/drafting, and wood shop). I almost immediately forgot everything I was taught. There was no sewing machine in my house when I was growing up. My ma could sew by hand very neatly, and I'm pretty sure by machine as well, but she had no desire to. She was thrilled by the invention of fusible hem tape so she didn't have to hand-sew hems anymore.

    When I moved in with my husband, he came complete with an antique treadle sewing machine, but I've never used it. Several years later we ended up with my mother-in-law's old machine (a '70s-era Singer Fashion Mate) and I decided I wanted to learn to sew. This was around 1998 or 99, so I had internet but it was dial-up and there weren't tons of videos to watch the way there are now. I bought an old edition of the Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Sewing and read it cover to cover, then set about making a set of curtains and then a couple of tops. I wasn't afraid to set in sleeves because I didn't know enough to know I was supposed to find it alarming, so in some respects it might have been better to learn before there tons of sewing blogs out there.

    I didn't sew a lot for quite a few years after that, partly due to frustrating issues that later turned out to be machine-related (it has a drop-in bobbin, and something seems out of whack with it since it chatters like crazy and snarls at the drop of a hat). A few years ago I started sewing again after getting another vintage machine (a Morse that works so much better than the Fashion Mate does) and have been sewing like crazy ever since (not to mention acquiring old sewing machines and rehabbing them -- I have my eye on that antique treadle machine next since it hasn't been used for several years and needs a little love.) Most of what I've learned even after the early beginner days has been from books and the internet. I've never taken any classes, mostly because when I was first learning I lived in a rural area and didn't have access to any, and now that I'm in the city I just haven't needed it enough to spend money on classes instead of fabric.

    My advice for anyone just starting out would be not to let the amount of information available online overwhelm you. Just do it -- pick a project and have at it. Nothing bad is going to happen if it doesn't turn out right, so don't waste your time and energy being intimidated by something that looks hard. The worst thing that can happen is that it doesn't work out right the first time, or first couple of times, and you'll feel awesomely clever once you get it right.

    1. Daisy: Yes. Yes. Just do it. That's the right spirit. Thank you for sharing your journey and gracious advice!


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