Saturday, June 4, 2011

I Wanna Learn to Sew

Cheryl made a comment this morning that she had a new machine and wanted to learn to use it. More than once I've had these comments in the last five days. I usually get it when I show someone something I've made. It's been a while, but it hasn't changed. I've been sewing in since I was an adolescent. So, with that in mind, here is my beginners training session.

Patterns:

Find a simple pattern with a simple elastic waist skirt and a basic sleeveless top. These are the basics for any outfit you make. I always recommend Simplicity patterns but Nina pointed out in a comment that she recommended Butterick or McCalls patterns because the instructions were better. I've used all three frequently but never found that to be the case but everyone has their own preference in patterns. MacCalls always had the prettiest clothes. There are new patterns out that are very cheap and even easier to make. Simplicity has New Look and So Easy patterns. Both these tend to be very simply outfits to make.

All the major pattern companies have websites now. And they carry discontinued patters, too. You may find something that is perfectly functional in there. Some stores carry patterns much cheaper than others. I screwed up this week and bought some patterns at a more expensive store. I forgot, you see. Whatever the cost, use your patterns in ways that make them last a long time. If you use a $10 pattern for five years, you'll paid $2 a year for the use. Don't be shocked, I've used patterns longer than that! If one begins to get a bit frayed, and they will if you sew as much as I used to, you can buy blank tissue paper in fabric stores, too and trace a copy of the piece on it, writing all the necessary information for that piece on your copy. Then cut it out. You will save a lot of money.

Instructions:

Read those inserts carefully. I always took a pen and marked the information that referred to the items I was making. I'd circle the layout so I'd be sure and get the it correct. They show you a dozen different ways to lay out fabric. Invariably you can get mixed up. The same is true for instruction on putting the garment together. Some multi garment patterns had pages and pages of instructions that cover every step for every piece. I virtually never refer to those anymore but I can remember reading them and getting annoyed because I had to wade through instructions for the jacket when all I wanted was instructions for the skirt. I recommend getting a colored pen or pencil (not a marker as it bleeds thru paper) and mark the instructions for the item you're working on. Then, in a pinch, when you're trying to figure something out, you can easily find the things that apply to your garment.

Manuals:

I recommend getting one. I had one by Simplicity for years that I got in high school! No it was not on stone tables! It was awesome. It had every imaginable thing in it. I never used all of it but more than once I have been annoyed because that book got lost years ago in a move. All the major pattern companies have them. You can find them at fabric stores. I've never bought another one but I've come close a few times. I'm considering it again. Franky, you can get buy without it if you have internet. The internet is a huge reservoir of how-to information. Google your problem and you will come up with hundreds of sites with instructions, pictures and videos. YouTube is amazing for instructional videos on all kinds of craft items. I learned several crochet techniques that have been helpful just by watching some of their videos.

Preparation:

Read your machine manual. Get a scrap of useless fabric or buy a small remnant. They're cheap. Learn every function to your machine by going over the manual and running stitches in that remnant. Once you've done that you'll be amazed at how much more comfortable you feel. If you don't have a manual, simply practice by doing. You can look up anything to find out what it is and what it means. If you have an old machine you got to learn on, you might be able to find a manual for it online. I found some for my current machine! I would have had to purchase it but it was out there. You don't necessarily need a manual... well I do but you might not. Just use that scrap and see what happens.

I still refer to my manual at times. I have sewn so infrequently in the last dozen years that I forget how to use some features. And the more complicated the machine, the more you need the manual. A basic machine is really the best thing to purchase if you're just starting out. My first one had only about half a dozen fancy stitches. Unless you're really into crafts you may not ever use that many. I didn't on the current machine but I'm planning to on my new one.

Supplies:

Make sure you have all the supplies you need for whatever you're making! I invariably forget something. Don't do as I do. Do as I say. I went to the fabric store three times for those skorts and dresses. Why? First trip: fabric. Second trip: patterns. Third trip: thread, and zippers. What can I say. I've not done any sewing for years and it was a sort of spur of the moment. I thought I had stuff in my supply box but I don't. Save yourself the headache. Check the pattern list, write it down and take it with you. If you do have to go back, take a swatch of the fabric with you! I had to buy thread. Do you know how many variations of blue there are? I guessed. Fortunately, I guessed absolutely correctly. I'm actually very good at this! Probably because it is my SOP but it isn't working smart. And I'm not perfect and I could easily have gotten the wrong shade.

Same holds true for the zipper. Unless you've checked out the thread aisle, yes aisle, you can't begin to imagine how many colors are possible in the spectrum. It boggles the mind. A zipper that is even slightly off color will make a glaring statement down the back of your dress: BEGINNER!

Relax:

Incidentally, the thread aisle is a great place to find a pick-me-up. All those colors are actually beautiful and soothing. Yes, I know that sounds crazy. I feel the same way about fabric aisles. The ones where they have the fabrics arranged by colors is truly wonderful. Try standing and just looking at them quietly for a few moments. Notice the brilliance of the reds, the coolness of the blues, the sunny aspect of the yellows. After about two minutes you move closer and start examining the details and then you start feeling the textures. Before you get done, you're thinking of what you could do with this one or that one. I absolutely love fabrics.

Restraint:

Don't dawdle. If you stay too long in the fabric store you will spend hundreds of dollars. Don't look at patterns if you're there for thread. Don't look at fabric if you're there for a needles. I'm telling you, it is very dangerous! Get only the items on your list and get out. Once you've learned the basics and mastered the machine, you can plan your next step.

Fabric:

Based on what I said in the last section, use caution. Fabric is highly addictive. Particularly once you touch it. There are some, like the material I got for Sarah's dresses that once touched, they go directly into the blood stream and cross the blood brain barrier. You will not leave the store without it. These fabrics appeal to the senses and the stores know just how to display them to get you to touch them. Long silky drapes of fabric show you the exquisite colors and allow you to run your hands through the silky folds. These are prominently displayed in fabric stores. Read Genesis 2 and take heed. Do not touch it!

Most stores have remnant bins. For small things for children these can be wonderful, particularly if you're just learning. They usually have less than a yard of fabric and that makes a toddler skirt or simple top. My suggestion start here, master the basics and then move of to the hard stuff.

Mind you, I'm only suggesting. You'll have to manage your addiction.

How Much & What Kind:

That depends on your garment. Follow the pattern recommendation faithfully. IMPORTANT: Regimented patterns such as plaids, checks, stripes, ordered designs, and fabrics with a nap, will required more fabric. You must match the designs up as you lay out your pattern to make your garment appear seamless. This is crucial and very difficult. I once made a velveteen corduroy skirt and forgot the nap. One side look shiny and the other side look dark because the nap went in opposite directions. I knew better but got in a hurry. Trashed. Plaids are the most difficult thing you can sew. Done well, they make beautiful suits. Done poorly and you might as well toss it. It will look atrocious.

Silks, nylons, and satins are by far the most annoying fabrics to work with. They slide all over the place. My grandmother made undergarments such as slips, chemises, and panties. I don't know how in the world she did it. I've tried satins and silks and while I can do it, it is very stressful. Pins fall out, the fabric shifts, the needle and thread must be a special purchase. Just all around annoyance. But.... the finished product can be quite nice.

Growth:

Once you've mastered the basics of a simple skirt and top, then plan your next project. If you're comfortable with it, get a slightly more complicated pattern or a more complicated fabric. A dress tends to have lots more straight lines and is usually collarless but those with fancy necklines are not simple to sew. I've made at least one where it was done incorrectly.

Look on each more complicated project as a challenge to develop your skill. This can become an expensive hobby but a very rewarding one. You can actually see, touch and wear your creations. Or you can see your children wearing them. Do only what you want to do. Do only one item at a time. This way, if you find it isn't something you particularly care for you are not out a ton of money. I'll post a photo soon my my fabric bin. You'll be shocked. At one point in my life I was cranking out an average of an outfit a month. And that's a conservative estimate.

Once people know you can sew, expect them to ask you to sew for them. I've sewn for me, my children, my husband, my niece, and assorted friends and acquaintances. Just say no.


SOP = Standard operating procedure.

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