Oh, yes you can. If you want to. (First in a series of exhortations to sew.)

by Erin on September 28, 2006


simplicity 4543

Lots and lots of folks, lately, have looked at whatever I'm wearing, heaved an enormous sigh, and said "I could NEVER sew." I always try to tell them that "Yes! You Too Can Sew!" but then the elevator doors close and my monologue is cut off too soon. So I thought I'd post it here. You, too, can sew!

Sewing, basic sewing, is not really that complicated. If you can cook or drive a car, you can sew. (If you can neither cook nor drive a car, you probably live in Manhattan, and can go take sewing classes at FIT.)

The trick to learning to sew is this: start small. Don't try the Oscar de la Renta pattern as your first go-round — do something like the Simplicity skirt above. Be patient: do one little bit at a time, and stop before you get frustrated. (Do not, for the love of pete, start your first sewing project at 5 p.m. and expect to wear it out that night. Start it the first Saturday of the month and expect to wear it the last one.)

Ask questions: find a good fabric store, go at a slow time, and see if you can corral a friendly employee who will gently talk you out of using eyelash knit for your first project. Walk through the store and touch all the fabric. (Don't worry, if your hands are clean, they won't mind. They're used to it.) Fix in your head what silk charmeuse feels like, what cotton twill feels like, what wool jersey feels like, so when you read pattern envelopes you'll know what they're talking about.

Do some background reading — get a couple of sewing books from the library and read them through, like you'd read a cookbook, almost. What sounds like fun? What do you read three times and still not understand? (Hint: that last probably involves zippers.) Look through your closet and take notes: what do you wear the most? Then try to find a SIMPLE pattern that follows the same lines.

Don't assume you need an expensive (or fancy-embroidery, does-everything-but-make-you-poached-eggs) machine right off. See if you can Craigslist one (although if you do that get it tuned up before you start sewing, and factor in the cost of a tuneup [$50-100] in your budget), or ask your local sewing repair store about a "starter" machine. They know that if they can get you sewing they will have your business for life, and that you WILL upgrade!

I think learning to sew has a lot of similarities with learning to do other things: Start slow & simple. Do your reading. Don't push yourself until you're frustrated and ready to give up — keep it fun. Don't invest in a ton of expensive equipment until you know you're really going to enjoy it. Ask for help. Tell yourself, "I can do this!" until you sound like a character in Saturday-morning children's television programming. Rinse, repeat!

{ 51 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous September 28, 2006 at 8:50 am

I would discourage against sewing something with a seam around the hips, though. Most of us girls who avoid RTW do so because we don’t want to draw attention to trouble spots. =D–Lydia

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Jenn September 28, 2006 at 8:51 am

I bought a Duro pattern recently with the intentions of making it for autumn wear (in a color that matches my awesome brown boots that suit the style perfectly), but grad school keeps getting in the way. Bah. I’ve sewn before, but it’s been so long…

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Erin September 28, 2006 at 8:52 am

Ooh, Lydia, that’s true. I was trying to find something without a zipper. :-)

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Anonymous September 28, 2006 at 9:06 am

Measure and compare your measurements to the pattern. Gulp, take a deep breath and then buy that (gasp!) big size that has no relation to your ready-to-wear size. Just do it! You’ll be glad you did. Hey, Erin–I sew but don’t compute–If I choose “other,” it thinks I have a webpage. I don’t, but then “anonymous” really is anonymous. I’m a “blog reader,” not a blogger. Oh, well.

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Anonymous September 28, 2006 at 9:38 am

Wow, it makes me want to start sewing again. I have my Grandma’s 1952 Pfaff, but I think maybe a new starter would be better for getting my bearings…..Brenda in Flagstaff, AZ

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flea September 28, 2006 at 9:47 am

As a long-time 2-dimensional machine (quilt, curtains) and half-assed, mostly by hand (doll clothes, slipcovers) sewer, I recently took the plunge (needless to say, inspried by dressaday) and purchased a simple A-line skirt pattern. I am worried about how to make sure the skirt fits me well, which is part of the point of sewing it for myself, of course. If my measurements for the waist and hips correspond to different sizes on the pattern, as in fact they do, what to do? How do you learn to fit a garment, except by tedious trail and error? (I am less worried about the zippers – my antique machine can’t help me there, but I know how to insert a zipper by hand.)

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Schweighopper September 28, 2006 at 9:52 am

Aside from clothing, I have found that simple hand bags, book bags, knitting bags are a great way to entice people. If they master a bag the inspiration to “do one better” grabs hold.A friend of mine was inspired to make a simple knitting bag. She used my machine, and through trial and error made one. She then made another for me for a gift, then another for someone else. She then went out and bought the Sears mini-ultra… This all started about 10 months ago. Tomorrow after work we are hitting the road to do a fabric store circuit! We have gathered up our collection of vintage patterns and are going to go nuts. Like excercise, sewing is more fun with a friend!OH! Turning her on to A DRESS A DAY helped a great deal too! Thank you, Erin!

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Anonymous September 28, 2006 at 9:59 am

I’ve started sewing in the past year and Erin is right–it’s amazingly fun, and you can do it, too! I started with pyjamas and made an apron (things I only wear at home tha tno one else can see), then moved to a skirt and a dress. The best advice I can offer is to first make a cheap muslin. Nearly everything I’ve made I wanted to make adjustments to, and the fit was never right the first time, so this way, I’m not wasting money or fabulous fabric on my first draft.

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IA September 28, 2006 at 10:21 am

Yeah, what anonymouses 9:06 and 9:59 said.For your first project, find a fabric you love and can’t wait to wear . . . and at the same time, buy something else that’s cheap but has a similar weight/texture/amount of stretch, to practice on. Muslin’s the traditional test material, but if your beloved fabric is a knit, for example, you’ll want to test the pattern first in a knit with the same stretchability.Then make all the mistakes you possibly can on the test fabric, so when you start over with your nice fabric, everything should go smoothly.

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La BellaDonna September 28, 2006 at 10:40 am

Erin and Lydia, I’m absolutely going to back Erin’s suggested choice of pattern. That seam around the hips that concerns you, Lydia, is actually going to help people who need to make adjustments in the waist/hip area. It’s also good for folks who’d like a full skirt, but who don’t want a lot of bulk around the hip/waist area. The most important part of using a skirt with a hip yoke (that small section with the horizontal seam) is making sure that the seam hits the correct part on your figure. By and large, you DON’T want a yoke that ends below the belly area, if you have a belly; the seam should run just above the crest (the area where your belly is the fullest). If you don’t have a protruding tummy, the finished seam line should run just above the crest (the fullest part) of your hips. As long as you don’t embellish the yoke seam with tinsel or lace or pom-poms, it should just be an unobtrusive part of the skirt architecture; its good points, IMO, outweigh its horizontalness.Flea, I’m sorry to say, it is pretty much trial and error. Read a couple of sewing books, and BUY a copy of Real Fit for Real People. It will show you what problems look like, and how to fix them. Many patterns are available in multi-sizes (12-14-16, etc.), which have overlapping cutting edges for the different sizes. Find the range which includes your waist and your hips (hopefully, it won’t cross two ranges, such as 6-8-10 and 12-14-16). There will be instructions on the pattern that tell you to draw a line that connects your waist size to your hip size. That is, if your waist is small, and your hips are large, you would draw a tapering line in a nice bright marker along the side seam of the cutting edge of the size 12 waist, to the side seam of the size 16 hip. If your waist is large and your hips are small, you would draw your line from the size 16 waist to the size 12 hips.Before you make those adjustments, though, always pin-fit the pattern first. Cut out the pattern pieces around the largest size, and pin it with pins parallel to the seam line, 5/8″ from the cut edge, and see how it fits, and if you really need to make adjustments. Patterns come with something called “ease” (wearing room) already built into them, and often you may not need to make further changes. You will find that if you need to make a certain change to enable you to fit a specific body part, you will need to make that same change on every pattern.And Flea, I don’t care how old your machine is, you can put zippers in with it. I don’t drive, and I don’t even live in New York, but I can sew up a storm, and I’ve put all my zippers in for the last 33 years on the 1957* Singer that I got third-hand for $45.00. Before that, I used an OLDER machine to put in zippers. BTW, that elderly Singer is worth more than its weight in gold to me. The last tune-up I got for it cost nearly three times what I paid for the machine, and it was well worth it. The value of a sewing machine (and anything else, for that matter) lies in its value to you, and not what you paid for it. If you are looking for a modern machine, the Janome has gotten a lot of good reviews. In my experience, the machine requirements for someone who does a lot of garment-making are a bit different from someone who wants a machine that has a lot of embroidery or quilting-specific features. (And if someone can tell me why a sewing machine intended for garment-making comes with only one or two different buttonhole features, while a machine for quilting offers a whole series of different buttonholes, I’d appreciate it. What the heck are people doing, buttoning their quilts to the furniture? It makes no sense.)Public Service Announcement: Remember, folks, always preshrink any fabrics you intend to wash. And remember that the time spent at the sewing machine is often the briefest amount of time in a sewing project – the prep can take two or three times** the amount of actual stitching time.(*You could always look for a used machine made the year you were born – it’s worked for me. :) j/k!)(**That’s a joke, really – it can take a LOT more than that.)

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Anonymous September 28, 2006 at 10:55 am

I would like to add, as someone who enjoys hand sewing, that it’s not necessary to have a machine. I’ve made several dresses and two aprons with long bias binding, and I don’t feel like it takes me too much longer to sew and I never break needles. I am going to make the Decades of Style Parisienne coat this month. :) Hand sewing is not really that hard.

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Robinson September 28, 2006 at 11:17 am

I really like my HuskyStar as a starter machine. It probably does as much as I’ll ever need it to. And it NEVER jams me up with that stupid bobbin problem where you get ginormous loops of thread on the back of what you are stitching like my previous machine who I shall not mention by name (but who knows very well who I speak of!). Now I guess I just need to go get a simple pattern.

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not anonymous September 28, 2006 at 11:30 am

Anonymous 9:06,The web page field is optional. You don’t need to fill it in. I know, because I just tried it. =)

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Anonymous September 28, 2006 at 11:33 am

Noticed the link to The Hundred Dresses. I remember that book!

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jungle dream pagoda September 28, 2006 at 12:01 pm

Eye-lash knit ,have you ever riffed on eye-lash taffeta?

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Anonymous September 28, 2006 at 12:03 pm

Here’s another plug for one of my favorite websites: vintagesewing.info. This website has scans of vintage sewing books that show lots of basic construction and fitting information, as many of the materials are former home economics type books. Amy

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sdn September 28, 2006 at 12:15 pm

i like to lie and say i sewed whatever i am wearing on a particular day. sometimes people even believe me.

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Gidget Bananas September 28, 2006 at 12:43 pm

labelladonna, I think you need to start a technical sewing blog. And erin, that eyelash knit material may be about teh uggliest fabric I’ve ever seen.

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bani September 28, 2006 at 12:49 pm

But but but the trouble is that one doesn’t want to sew the simple things that we can buy in H&M for nearly no money, we want the lovely dresses that never exist RTW and that are hell to sew. ;-)Belladonna, are you saying that one doesn’t need the special zip attachment thingy to successfully manage a zip-sew? Because I fail so miserably, and I keep meaning to buy one, but I’m too stingy.

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Anonymous September 28, 2006 at 12:49 pm

I second the old-machine motion! I started sewing in 1997 on a 1960-ish Janome that I bought for $75. Its simplicity made learning techniques easier. I wasn’t distracted by fancy functions and didn’t have to read the manual to figure out how to use its minimal features. And it was built like a tank! Loved it.And as far as fitting, I learned so much from Nancy Zieman’s Fitting Finesse! It changed my outlook after making several things that didn’t fit. Overlook the dated presentationthere’s good information there.

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msagnostic September 28, 2006 at 12:59 pm

My sewing machine repair guy told me to hang on to my ancient Singer sewing machine, because they last forever as long as you get them tuned up every so often (and for me, every so often has turned out to be, oh, every 10 years or so–I just took it in for cleaning after owning it for 10-12 years). I don’t know how old it is, but it only sews and zigzags, it doesn’t do buttonholes or zippers.I’ve abused it terribly too, sewing leather and patching jeans in the crotch so it had to sew through the multilayered inner seam. I bought it from the fabric store to make costumes and patch clothes, and it was very, very cheap because it didn’t have any features. I’d never sewn before, but over the years I’ve learned how to do the basics, so you can teach yourself.I’m not much of a dress or skirt wearer, my legs are much too ugly and scarred, but I love to make shirts and reenactment clothes and costumes. I enjoy your site, and wish I had the money and looks to wear some of those vintage styles!

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Sara September 28, 2006 at 1:27 pm

I’ve been reading this blog for a long time, and it’s made me really want to start sewing. I’ve never really made anything other than a pillow and stuffed duck in junior high, but I want to learn. I just bought the McCall’s Duro pattern–is it too hard for a beginner?

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meara September 28, 2006 at 1:44 pm

I learned to sew on a 60′s Singer, and anything more modern seems so complicated to me! (The machines in our home-ec classes and the one my mom had were of roughly teh same vintage, see…). That said, I haven’t done any sewing in forever. But by god, I want skirts with POCKETS, so I have bought what looks like a v. simple pattern for a 3/4 circle skirt, and plan to try to make it, and put a pocket in it. Eep?That said, Erin, you got linked to by Jane Espenson on her blog! Eee!

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Anonymous September 28, 2006 at 2:16 pm

Whoa, this is opening up a whole big can of ………threads and pins etc.I think you might have to do a blog on sewing machines and their parts/attachments and uses etc.For the most part a straight stitch machine is quite adequate, if you learn about different types of seam finishings all you will need is a straight stitcher.Of course a nice comfy machine with about 5 utility stitches could make it more fun.For beginners, I highly recommend the Singer Sewing Reference books, you see them on Ebay.com for very little $2.00 etc. They are classics, beautifully illustrated, clearly written and very informative. They deal with many different aspects of fitting and sewing and are worth their weight in gold.Another good basic and also must have is the Readers’ Digest sewing book. Any publication will do. I think the latest doesn’t have the tailoring chapter and that is the only change made. This is also an Ebay cheapo.For the person with the old Singer zz machine, that is all you need to do buttonholes and zippers, of course a buttonhole foot and zipper foot are both helpful.Maybe Erin could do a simple tutorial to sew along……..hint.

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Anonymous September 28, 2006 at 2:19 pm

Brenda in Flagstaff- stay with the Pfaff! I learned to sew one that number. My dad bought it for my physician Mom thinking it would cause her to sew on buttons (yeah, right)It sewed like a dream. Only my very high end Bernina has come close. The Pfaff is a keeper.

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Christina September 28, 2006 at 2:20 pm

It also helps to have a mentor type who can help fix your mistakes. My first oh say ten projects had their zippers sewn in by my ever patient mom and for years I couldn’t remember how to re-thread a bobbin. But now, I have the cutest dresses ever, and far more projects in the wings than time to sew. Perservere! Oh, and figure out more than bust, waist hip. I have an obscenely long torso and must and 2 inches to modern pattern bodices and three to vintage ones. Write all changes on the pattern so you remember next time.

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Mina W September 28, 2006 at 3:09 pm

Christina, I second that. I remember learning to sew, and I would choose the fabric and cut out and match the pattern, and my mom would set in the sleeves and put in the zippers, at first. She got me involved in the creative part, which got me hooked.Of course the old treadle machine that she kept up at the cabin and wanted me to learn on almost derailed my sewing career right at the start. I could only make it go backwards! (They don’t go backwards.)

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La BellaDonna September 28, 2006 at 5:34 pm

Gidgetbananas, thank you for the kind words, and I am, in fact, labouring to set up a blog of my very own. My blogging skills are … zygotal. Definitely pre-infancy. Also, not good. Not yet. But I do want to be able to share, without hijacking Erin’s blog in the process.Bani, it’s absolutely not necessary. But my feeling is anything that helps save your sanity and your time is well worth the money. Here’s one of my special Cheatin’ Tricks for zippers for a dress or skirt: Sew the seam into which the zipper is going to be inserted, up to and including backstitching (or reducing the stitch length to eeeensy stitches at the end of the seam, which is a better choice, less bulky, less chance of an oops while backstitching) at the end of the seam. STOP. Now, instead of removing the dress/skirt from the machine to prepare to insert the zipper, continue sewing the rest of the seam shut, using the longest possible (i.e., basting) stitch. Do NOT backstitch at the end. Now, go ahead and press the seam gently (i.e., flatten it, but don’t steamroller it) and press it open. Pin the zipper along the inside of the seam; the tongue of the zipper will be hidden against the sewn-shut part. You’ll be lining up the center of the zipper along the middle of the sewn-shut seam. Once the zipper’s pinned in place, this keeps everything tamed down until you’ve had a chance to stitch the zipper in place. Now that the zipper’s pinned, sew it in, either by machine or by hand (because Anonymous 10:55 is right, you can sew by hand if you don’t have a machine), removing the pins as you go (don’t stitch over the pins, oh beginners, or you will break your last needle on those pins on a Sunday night when the stores are all closed). Then you just take a seam ripper and open up the part of the seam that’s been machine-basted shut (you don’t open up the rest of the seam, obviously!). Now you can see your zipper! Pick out the little threads, and give it a proper, final pressing, and go on with the rest of the construction.I absolutely agree with Amy, visit the vintagesewing site. Read as much as you can about different techniques. Go to the Vogue Patterns website, and read the supplemental information; buy the sewing magazines and read them, including – ESPECIALLY including – the ads. There’s a lot of really useful information in the ads. You can buy (and probably even rent, through your library or local fabric store) different videos and DVDs on how to sew – you can replay any part you need over and over, as often as you like. My personal sewing reference library passed the 400-volume mark a long time ago, and I’m still learning. Have patience; and if you don’t like the way something looks, take it apart and fix it. I’ve had people stop me on the street in New York to admire clothes I’ve designed and made. How did I get to be that good? By making a whole lot of mistakes and fixing them. You haven’t lived until you’ve set the same sleeve in wrong three times in a row, and it’s been a different wrong way each time! What makes a good seamstress and a good dress? Picking the damned sleeve out, and setting it back in again, as many times as it takes. (I also find that the ability to swear colourfully and creatively is very useful.)For those of you folks who’d like to sew, but aren’t certain about your ability to fit yourselves: I strongly recommend finding a good seamstress, and having her fit you with a basic shell pattern (the shell pattern is a fitting pattern; it’s in the back of each of the big pattern companies’ pattern books – it’s shown in quarter-inch gingham, with a jewel neckline, long fitted sleeves, a fitted bodice with darts, a waistline seam and a straight skirt). Yes; pay a professional good cash money for a garment which you will then pick apart and never wear. You’ll transfer the shapes of the pattern pieces and all the markings for darts, and all the markings where the seams line up, onto paper (pattern transfer paper would be good), and you’ll use that fitted paper pattern to make the changes that you need to any commercial patterns. Tell your seamstress why your shell is being made, so that the final darts and the balance marks which match up different seams are made in nice dark easy-to-see permanent marker. This is one of the best sewing tools you could possibly have to work with, and means that those of you who don’t have sewing dummies can manage pretty well without them. You’ll be able to use the pieces of the shell pattern to alter the commercial patterns you buy to fit you, personally.

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andrea September 28, 2006 at 5:54 pm

In my fantasy life I wear a red velvet version of that Oscar de la Renta coatdress as a housecoat and swan around as the queen of the house.I’m currently using a second generation Elna and it’s the best machine I’ve ever had.

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Alicia September 28, 2006 at 6:01 pm

I was one of those beginners who needed serious help in my fabric selection.Specifically telling me that neon-rainbow-repeating-cats uber-stiff quilting cotton was NOT the way to look classic and trendy.Sew and learn.

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Anonymous September 28, 2006 at 8:42 pm

This post, along with the Secret Lives of Dresses and an entry a while back about roller skating, easily lands in my top ten “wow, I’m glad she said that” mental list for your blog.So often all we really need is to be reminded that these vast- and mysterious-seeming skills are attainable. Mostly I just want to take a chance here to say thank you. In the eight or ten months I’ve been reading your blog I’ve started my first forays into “professional” life (in this case the wonderful world of summer internships), and discovered the delightful practicality of a well designed skirt. I’ve actually started mentally designing dresses again – something that trailed off when I was twelve or thirteen and starting to get involved in spinning and weaving groups rather than costume design. Your writing reminds me of a part of myself that’s usually dormant. When I’m done writing my thesis I think I’ll buy a sewing machine.Thank you.-Tessa in Vermont

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Anonymous September 28, 2006 at 9:08 pm

Another word on vintage sewing machines: Those made before the mid-1960s are often better quality machines than those made later, because the manufacturers switched from metal parts to plastic. My 1940s Westinghouse sews circles around a mid-70s machine that was intended to replace the oldie.Thanks, Erin. You’re positively inspirational!Selwyn

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marcia in austin September 28, 2006 at 9:09 pm

Re: machines. I do not diss anyone’s choice of machine, but my own favorites and workhorses are the older ones, the fewer plastic parts the better. They positively purr while they’re stitching. Remember, people were happily and successfully sewing by machine for decades before even a zigzag was available. The innovations are useful, but not absolutely necessary.Whatever machine you have, don’t forget to clean and oil it.Re: getting help. I fully back the idea of getting help with fitting and with the (for now) hard parts, even if you have to pay for it. It’s important to keep the experience fun while you’re learning. I would add that you should get someone to show you how to rip seams quickly, because you *will* have to do it– you will always have to do it no matter how long you’ve been sewing– so you might as well make it easy instead of a chore.Bani, if labelladonna’s zipper instructions puzzle you, just buy a zipper that’s in a cardboard envelope (Coats & Clarks?)and you’ll find the instructions on the inside of the envelope, with illustrations.Mina, I learned to sew on a treadle machine bought for the purpose because my mom’s machine did jackrabbit starts that scared me. It was the only machine I used for years and I *always* had to start up with my hand on the flywheel to be sure it went in the right direction.Most machine screwups are caused by fairly simple things. I’ll see if I can find a troubleshooting list and either post it here or post a link.

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S. September 28, 2006 at 9:18 pm

I still try to make fabrics into things that they are wrong to become, even when I should know better. Sometimes I find the right pattern in the wrong texture or the right fabric in the wrong colour and I get stubborn. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it’s a disaster. I still have the 40-50 year old Singer that I appropriated from my sister about 20 years ago. It’s a portable machine (despite weighing about 50 lbs), only does striaght stitch and zigzag, (but it does have a buttonhole attachment) but I’ll love it forever. As long as Ted’s Sewing Machine Repair (may he never retire) can keep it humming, I’ll keep using it.

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Kerokonich September 28, 2006 at 9:44 pm

I took on the challenge with a book called “Sew Fast, Sew Easy”. It’s cute, comes with patterns, and a glossary of sewing terms. Highly suggested for the beginner.

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Anonymous September 28, 2006 at 10:13 pm

I also have a Singer approximately my age (40+). My mom has a 44 year old Singer (top of the line in 1962) & her sewing machine guy says it’s one of the best machines Singer made.Love reading this blog, and it’s inspiring me to sew, wear dresses (of which I own zero – RTW rarely fits), and figure out how to fit my matronly figure.WRC

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Bellaleigh September 29, 2006 at 8:07 am

Great topic, Erin! However, while your suggestion of going to a fabric store to feel fabrics and find out what cotton twill is, charmeuse is, etc……..most of us do not have anything other than the fabric store chains to go to, and they do a terrible job of labeling the bolts as to what they really are. How does one relate XX % cotton/XX % rayon or whatever to what it IS? I still don’t know how to recognize half of the fabrics that Sandra Betzina shows in her book Fabric Savvy and that is frustrating to me. If the stores would TELL me what the fabric is, I’d be a quick learner…..I promise!

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Gigi September 29, 2006 at 8:18 am

Thank you, Erin, for encouraging people to sew!

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Mrs. PF September 29, 2006 at 9:34 am

Learning SEW much…now if I only had more time to do all the things I want to!Thanks to everyone for all the great tips!

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msagnostic September 29, 2006 at 10:02 am

Oh, if I wasn’t clear (and I wasn’t) I do buttonholes and insert zippers with my old Singer. It’s perfectly possible with a plain old machine. Heh, yeah, it would probably be easier if I got the specialized feet, but I’m usually broke and the regular foot works ok. :)I’ve also sewn on an antique industrial treadle machine that was meant for sewing boat sails (how that wound up in Kansas, I’ll never know!). It was great fun, and it was much easier to sew leather on.I personally don’t think I would ever buy a modern machine with tons of features–it’s like a lot of gadgets, I would only use a handful out of the multitude available and I’m getting the same thing done without it.

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bani September 29, 2006 at 10:16 am

Thanks Belladonna! I think what you’re describing is a system I sort of worked out myself this summer when I was experimenting. But I just can’t seem to get close enough to the zip with my regular attachment. Ah well, must fork out the cash I suppose…

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SDMC September 29, 2006 at 10:38 am

My first sewing machine was an inexpensive one from WalMart (gasp) and it didn’t work worth a snot. I spent 2 times as much having it in the shop and it never did work. I thought I couldn’t sew….I seem to have a few problems with machinery…lol….anyway, my family chipped in and bought me a new Janome (middle line with right many bells and whistles) and it made the difference for me. I’m not a perfect seamstress, but I’ve finally learned to sew for my daughter and I’ve finished two simple dresses for myself. Of course, with that said, I’m still trying to talk my mom into giving me the machine she used all the years I was growing up. :-)

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Marian September 29, 2006 at 11:06 am

It’s nice to see the interest in sewing here. I’ve been teaching sewing for many years and decided to share what I know that sewing pattern guidesheets don’t tell you.You might like to check out my Sewing Success Sewing Blog for tons of sewing tips, free sewing projects and techniques. I’ve also written some sewing ebooks using my common sense techniques. You can see them on my website, 1st Step to Sewing Success at http://www.1ststeptosewingsuccess.comI hope you find the info useful. Keep sewing and pass it on!To Your Sewing Success,Marian

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vespabelle September 29, 2006 at 2:27 pm

I’m going to echo LaBellaDonna’s recommendation of Fit for Real People. It is a fabulous book for everyone not just those with obvious fitting issues.The authors teach in Portland (I’m taking the class right now) and also have trained other teachers around the country. And it is totally worth the $95 I’ve spent on the class because I feel confident that I can make something flatter my body.

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andrea September 29, 2006 at 2:33 pm

The zipper insertion method Labelladonna described is what my grandmother taught me when I was 8.

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Erica September 29, 2006 at 3:42 pm

Yes! Yes! I want to sew, and I will sew!I have a Duro pattern (the McCalls one) since this blog has awakened a lust for my own Duro. And I have found a fabric that I LOVE. But it’s a twill. I think it might be too heavy… must read pattern package.Looking forward to the Duro roundup!

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Maureen September 29, 2006 at 4:32 pm

Now, could anyone recommend any Chicago used bookstores that have a lot on sewing? I adore Powells in Hyde Park, but their crafts collection seems to concentrate on quilting and embroidery.

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Fox's Mom September 29, 2006 at 8:04 pm

I’m almost afraid to write my comment on sewing/learning to/teaching someone here because the previous comments are written by home sewers with some pretty nice machines and who are recomending some pretty nice machines as a first one:) However…I’ve taught several young women-teens and early twenties-to sew on a one hundred dollar Wal-Mart bought Singer. The, ah, less expensive machine made it less stressful for me (as if I want some newbie learning on my Super Nova!) and them-if they decided they liked sewing, they could afford the machine right away; if they decided they didn’t like sewing, they could at least say they tried. The top load bobbin makes a difference for beginner sewers, I think.I take them to the Wal-Mart, if they still want to sew, we go to Hancock’s and JoAnn; we go ‘vintage hunting’ to read labels and feel. Generally, I make them do the things I love as a sewer-fabric touching/notion browsing/pattern dreaming, both on and offline, and if their little eyeballs don’t glaze over, we proceed to The Book-The Step By Step Singer Sewing Book. Then we gather the basic equipment, and I give them a nice wicker basket to keep all those little things like bodkins and tracing wheels, etc, in.Because I have had great success with Very Easy Very Vogue patterns, I try to steer them toward those-some prefer a different company because of the style they fall in love with. Those new sewers I tell, “OK, but I have never sewn/had good results/liked the way the directions are written, so, we’ll learn together.” And we do. I try to get them to buy a really inexpensive fabric for the first project, often from Wal-Mart, but my son’s fiancee chose a beautiful challis, a Simplicity pattern, and let me tell you, the skirt is exquisite. Well, she’s French, I think it’s in the water they grow up on:)Most of them are still sewing-the fiancee (sadly now the ex) graduated to a much finer machine as have several of the others.

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ambika October 1, 2006 at 11:49 am

Best post & best string of comments ever. Seriously, I’m copying & pasting this whole thing so that when I do finally hunker down & buy myself a sewing machine & get started on another craft, I can reference all the helpful info here. Thanks!

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Jan October 1, 2006 at 11:55 pm

Growing up, I “sewed” with pins, duct tape, and Kleenex. That was better than facing the (somewhat humorous) frustration my mother had when she sewed the wrong seams together for some pants I was to wear in a play. They were supposed to be pants for Bye Bye Birdie. Instead, they looked like Oompa Loompa pants. My sister tried her hand at sewing when we were younger. I was shocked at the shrieks of frustration and saw material heaved in the corner more than once. Ooh, okay. Never going to sew. There were other things, too. I don’t make pies with homemade crust after watching my mom swear at the sticky messes. She otherwise is a very nice, sane person. Just don’t get her near pie dough. Ooh, okay, never going to make dough. I overheard the wailing, sick effects of too much alcohol one night when I was a teen and again in the bathroom at a 10-year high school reunion and decided, oooh, never going to get drunk. So how have I done? My husband has made the pie dough, and I still keep my limit to one beverage so I haven’t been drunk. But I’ve slowly started to sew. This summer, I finished a two piece outfit project I started with the help of my mother in-law two years ago. Found the fabric when hanging out with my mom and sister — who by the way, sews awesomely now. Then a few weeks ago I made some pillows. The fabric was cut for me but I sewed the whole thing by myself. I was sent along with some pieces to sew at home on “my” machine, which belonged to my aunt until she died last year. Looking at that skirt pattern, I was thinking that I just love it. Could it really be easy?

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Susan November 30, 2006 at 9:43 pm

Thanks for this post! I knew how to sew a basic skirt, but I am hopeless at doing something with a lining etc. Do you have any recommendations for classes in Chicago? I think I would do better with one on one instruction!

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