Thursday, February 3, 2011

Fearless Sewing

One of my most intense sewing projects ever (9 hours of work!)

I've been meaning to write a post about how to start sewing for a while now. Sewing is such an empowering part of my life, but it can be an intimidating hobby for people who are considering it for the first time.

My journey into sewing started when I was approximately eight years old. I was obsessed with Ramona books, and I was inspired when I read that Ramona sewed a pair of pants for her stuffed elephant (at least that's what I'm remembering). I decided that I would sew a scrunchie (it was, after all, the 1980s). I simply cut a rectangular piece of fabric and sewed it (by hand) onto a hair elastic. Trust me when I say the end result was nothing to write home about!

In high school, I was inspired by my crafty best friend to start sewing again. I used my great-grandmother's sewing machine to make boxer shorts. I still can't believe I wore them to summer school my sophomore year.

My best friend and I also decided to sew each other dresses for our friend's Sweet 16 party one year. Believe me when I say we had no clue about what we were doing. In the end, she couldn't fit the dress I made her over her chest, so I solved the problem by hacking away at the back of the dress to create a plunging V (which made it possible for her to get it over her head). Again, I can't believe she actually wore the thing!

All this time, I didn't know much about sewing, except that you should fold the seam under twice to prevent fraying. I quickly realized that using a sewing machine is really, really easy. The hard part is figuring out the threading and the bobbin and all that stuff, but actually sewing in a straight line is a cinch!

Based on my experience, here's what I recommend to anyone who is interested in pursuing a sewing hobby:
  1. Enroll in a Sewing Class at a Cool Studio: There are amazing craft stores with cool classes all over the country, and you will be amazed at what you can accomplish in a single beginner's sewing class (or a short series of them). You can walk out with a complete project!
  2. Start with a Cheap Machine: As I mentioned earlier, I started sewing on my great-grandmother's machine. You can learn to sew on anything! While you're trying to get a feel for whether or not you like sewing, I would suggest starting with a cheap machine. Once you decide you're in it for the long haul, I suggest splurging on a fancier machine. Matt and I actually bought a very expensive machine together when we were dating (he sews, too). When I asked him what our plan would be for the machine if we broke up, he suggested that we simply break it (it's a good thing we got married). A fancier machine does make sewing a lot easier, and if you're going to sew a lot, I think it's a worthwhile investment for your lifetime. However, you do not need a fancy machine to start. Anything will do.
  3. Keep It Simple: When you're first starting out, it helps to stick to easier (but nonetheless satisfying!) projects, like curtains, pillows, basic bags, etc. For many, many projects, you simple hold fabric straight and let the machine pull it through and sew it together. Seriously!
  4. Make Friends with the Seam Ripper: The thing about sewing is that you can pretty much undo anything you get wrong. How liberating! Of course, it's a pain in the butt to rip out seams, but it's good to know that you can if you need to.
  5. Be Fearless: The thing that has helped me most along my sewing trajectory is simply my willingness to try. For the most part, fabric is cheap, and it's not the end of the world if you botch a project (I have botched many!). I'm not afraid to try something that I've never done before. When Matt and I were planning our wedding, for example, I decided to make him a tie, even though I had never attempted such a thing. I simply used my trusty seam ripper to pull apart an old tie, and I followed the makeshift pattern to create a new one. When I needed more support, I simply turned to Google and YouTube.

It's truly empowering to be able to make something for yourself that you need!



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6 comments:

L said...

Thank you for this post!! I have definitely taken the fearless route when it comes to sewing and once you get it in your head "I can make that" - it's like a great spatial reasoning problem, just sit down and figure out how to make all the seams work (or just wing it and hope everything lines up in the end!).

As for starting on a cheap sewing machine - I have the "Hello Kitty Sewing Machine - Green" from Target, which is actually a REALLY great 3/4 size Janome that can power through 6 layers of denim without breaking a sweat. Yeah, it's seafoam green and says "sewing pretty with hello kitty" on it surrounded by flowers, but it rocks (and I got it for $50 on craigslist). So far I've made countless aprons, an intense christmas tree skirt, dresses, pillows, and lots of mesh produce bags (it even sews mesh without a hitch!).

Anonymous said...

That bag is really nice, well worth the 9 hours of work? :)

If I saw it in a store (and I am on the hunt for a cute purse, so I've been looking), I'd totally buy it!

E.

Sara E. Cotner said...

@ Anonymous: Head straight to etsy.com! There are very, very similar bags (even in the same fabric!). I've seen lots for around $30. Etsy is amazing!

Anne said...

I wonder if Sara went into labor... So exciting!

Sara E. Cotner said...

Hi, Anne: I'm still here! I'm eight days away from my official due date (although I am trying to open myself to the fact that it could happen at any time!).

Mama Frog said...

I am laughing so hard, that I am crying! Your "crafty best friend" from highschool thought it was a great dress! You are so talented, Sara. I can't wait to see your finest creation ever though - that sweet baby boy! I wish you an amazing labor & delivery! XOXO

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