Friday, November 29, 2013

Learn to Sew!

I've had a couple of folks ask me for resources in learning to sew, so I'm going to put up as exhaustive a blog/link source as I can. 

First, the blog.  How have I learned to sew?  I learned the basics of sewing when I was in school, we used to have this class called "Home Ec".  I'm not very fast at learning muscle-memory tasks, so I wasn't a straight-A student... but I did get the general idea.  And my Home Ec teacher wouldn't let us *touch* fabric until we could sew curves and corners flawlessly.  (We used pictures of cats, as I recall - sewing without thread on the outlines).  Mom sewed, so she showed me a few tricks.

But basically I started sewing with my own machine knowing:  1) how to thread it, 2) how to sew a straight, basic seam, 3) that you have to press between stages.  I was able to struggle through making very basic cotton curtains for my son's first bedroom...

So, how did I get what learning I have?  (I'm no couturier!) 
1) I just started sewing.  I started with very basic items - I think I started with an A-line wrap skirt.  This is absolutely the way to start!  Little fitting, no closures, and you still end up with a finished product.
2)  I read up on bits as I went along.  "How do you put in a zipper"? 
3)  I started reading sewing blogs.  Almost all the bloggers will put in instructional bits and bobs occasionally - some do it regularly.  Bloggers have helped my sewing more than anything else - that's how I found out about the cardinal "interface under every zipper you sew" rule - it's *not* in the pattern instructions!
4)  I challenged myself progressively, and was willing to do it over in six months or so and try again. My first clothes weren't that great, but they were wearable, and I *wore them*.  Which motivated me to improve.
5)  When I decided to pick up more specialized skills, I hit online classes.   You pay for these, but not much.
6) When my sewing machine got upgraded, I went to all the sewing classes that my sewing shop offered.  I learned a *lot* about my sewing feet that I'd not known, and it has made a very great difference in my sewing acuity. 

Things I would pass along to folks wanting to learn to sew:
- Go ahead and make that first skirt from quilting cotton.  It's cheap, it makes a great A-line skirt (it's crisp, it holds out well) and there are a lot of cute patterns to play with.
- But switch up your fabric as soon as you're pretty sure you're not going to make a total botch.  Lightweight denims are easy to work with, as is linen and shirting weight cotton - and so is lightweight washable wool.  Okay, wool is a total dream to work with.  And a "real fabric" won't be a tell that you've made it yourself.  I know the embroidered denim with the twee flowers would make a great skirt - but it's going to feel SO homemade.  (BTDT). 
- Start learning to fit your figure as soon as you're comfortable sewing that straight seam.  Fit is *everything*.  
- Joanne's is a fine place to buy thread, most notions, and constantly has its patterns on sale.  The fabric is really hit or miss - and it's expensive.  See if you can't find somewhere else to haunt. 
- Online fabric stores are the bomb, once you know what you're looking for.  Fabric is such a tactile thing... :p
- You need one basic book about sewing.  The older, the better.  It's a reference book, it can be totally boring. 
- A meticulous nature is a blessing.  I don't have one.
- Make sure to cut carefully, and on-grain.
- Start cruising the online sewing community, and bookmark the sites that give you good info/sew to your style.  Read, read, read.
- Buy good scissors, good hand-needles, keep everything sharp - and if your sewing machine is wonky, have it checked.


Tilly has a very straightforward style, and has *the most basic* learning to sew instructions that I've found online.

Not updated with as many lessons as it was before she started sewing professionally, but her archives are useful, and she's got a lot of eye candy. 

She's specializing in knits these days, but she's very careful about fitting her patterns to most body types, and she's extremely pleasant reading. 

Specializes in historical sewing, with historical accuracy.  Does a lot of historical sew-alongs.  Beautiful clothing, lovely attitude.

Specializes in patterns for the pear-shaped figure.  Very cheery writer, cute patterns, clear explanations.

As I go along and see good instructions (or just instructions for something I've been wanting to try) I pin them to my sewing stuff pinboard.  You'll have to sift through the other things there, but there's quite a list:  Pinterest has a lot of tutorials, look around!

I picked up some good information from watching the Great British Sewing Bee on youtube.  :)

Surf around - most of the blogroll stuff on most sewing blogs tend to be extremely safe viewing and you'll come upon gems.

Collette patterns have good clear instructions, fwiw.  They don't fit me well, but the instructions are good.


Better Homes and Gardens Sewing Book:  If you can find a vintage copy of this book at an estate sale or thrift store - snag it!  I have two, very slightly different copies, and they're worth their weight.  Really good instructions, very clear.

I have a few fitting books, none of which make me blindingly happy... but I think "Fast Fit" by Sandra Betzina is the best of the lot.  (I have high hopes of the craftsy course I bought on fitting - it gives a new approach.  I'll post back about my work in this area - I have a very hard-to-fit figure, so if it works for me - it works).

Threads Sewing Guide is a good overall guide book.  If you can't get a vintage Better Homes - or if you just want to add to your library, it's recommended.  Lurvely pictures, it has.

I *really* like Sewing Machine Classroom - I didn't think it would be all that helpful, since I know how to use a sewing machine, but I was very wrong.  It's one of the more useful books in my collection.  Put that with the Better Homes and get going.

Hopefully all of this helps someone out.  I love sewing.  It's not the fastest thing to get amazing results with, but once you learn anything, no one can take it away from you.  :)


  1. I'm in a season of my life in which I have little time for sewing. My sewing table is in my bedroom but I haven't touched my machine in a year. However, I enjoy sewing so I'm bookmarking all of those sites for future reference. I had just started learning to fit things (darts are my friend) when I hit the time crunch but I fully intend to go back to sewing in the future. Is there an online fabric supplier you prefer? I like what I see and would obviously need to order swatches but I have no experience ordering fabric online. However, the fabric in local stores is so often synthetic or mixed and I prefer natural fibers when I can find them.


    1. I've had good luck with fabricmart, as long as I don't succumb to the "too cheap to be true" pile. Or try to make the fabric do what it's not meant to do. That's the hardest thing with online shopping, the lack of the feel test. Most online stores are now working with fabric content buttons, making it easier to avoid the dreaded polyester monster. :)

  2. I like these hand sewing instructions:

    1. Thank you! I'd never thought of whipstitching in that regard.


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