Tuesday, May 15, 2012

How I Learned to Sew

Steph over at 3 Hours Past was discussing how she learned to sew, and I realized half way through writing up my own history that it was long enough to be it's own post. Plus I thought that you all may be interested, so I thought I'd share.

I come from a family of home sewists, although most of them are 2 generations back. Three of my Grandmothers's have always sewn, either quilting like my Memere, home decor and self-stitched clothes as my Mom's Mom, or almost the entirety of her and her family's wardrobe like my Dad's Mom. As did my Mom come to think of it, although she mainly stuck with making our Halloween costumes. By the time I was old enough to show interest, my Mom and her Mom were no longer sewing, and I didn't meet my Memere until much later. However, my Dad's Mom was actively sewing when I was a child and she taught me the basics. Later on, I took sewing in grade 7 or 8 when we still lived in the city and I attended one of the big local schools. I remember making stuffed bears and sweat shorts and other similar little things, and not having much of a problem doing so since I already had the basics.

After that, I sewed a bit, on and off, usually when I visited Grandma in the summer. Later on, my Mom bought me Herbert for Christmas ($20 Walmart special...a little plastic thing - fit perfectly in a tote bag though), and I used it to hem curtains or t-shirts. When I moved to Kingston for Grad School fall of 2008, I brought him along with me.

One of my first wearable garments, a skirt traced off from a thrifted skirt. I refuse to show my non-invisible invisible zipper.

I thought that sewing up a scrabble quilt for my Mom for Christmas 2009 was my first re-introduction to sewing, but my journal says otherwise. I started to pick up men's t-shirts and button-ups from the thrift store and played with them in late summer/early fall 2009. I mostly got inspiration from craftster.org, which basically consists of a sewing community that just does it dammit, and to hell with having the right tools and skills! I created a hoodie out of three t-shirts, tried to reconstruct men's button-ups to fit me, and basically putzed around. There were a lot of failures, but I was never discouraged because I learned a lot. One of my first successes was a skirt I made by tracing off a skirt I'd bought at a thrift store. I remember trying to sew from a pattern during this time, a pair of pants, but I made the classic beginner's mistake of using my RTW pants size and not my actual measurements size. Perhaps I was tramatized by the experience, and this explains my block with them? LOL!

Scrabble quilt, measuring 3.5 feet x 3.5 feet. Almost entirely sewn on Herbert, although I stitched the layers together and bound it on my Grandma's Kenmore.

I dabbled in quilting, sewing my Mom that scrabble quilt I mentioned. I learned a lot doing that, the best of which was that accounting for seam allowance is very important. That quilt wound up a lot smaller than originally planned.

I eventually got a "new" sewing machine, a 1970's Kenmore that I blogged about here (along with a view of my Kingston sewing space. I'm still proud of my fabric organization skills, and have a similar set up now).

Thrifted RTW tank top with added lace and bow. I mourn getting rid of this when I moved to Manitoba.

Denim skirt reconstructed from a pair of jeans. I still wear this.

A purse made up from this tutorial from a tutorial from Disney at Ruffles and Stuff. I still use this purse, but it's starting to get faded and a bit threadbare.

I played around a lot with reconstructing garments, including a demin skirt from a pair of jeans that I still wear to this day. I made up maybe a half-dozen garments from a pattern (not all of which were successful), including this first me-made (from a pattern) t-shirt, when the 2010 wardrobe contest over at PR happened, and I decided to join up. What made me decide to do it, I don't know. I hadn't even sewn 10 wearable garments before this time, and I had to create a coordinating 10 piece wardrobe? I guess I was looking for a challenge. Something other than my M.Sc. thesis, anyways.

I think that joining this contest was the best thing I did for my sewing skills. It challenged me in a way that nothing else could've, and I gained a lot of friends in the sewing community - along with scads of help - by getting involved in the discussion over at Pattern Review. Just looking at my first and last garments, you can easily see how my skills improved by leaps and bounds. Where once I was content to have unfinished seams, wonky hems, and sketchy construction, I learned to:
  • finished seams neatly,
  • value handstitching,
  • take the time to do things right,
  • how to fit to my body (well, started to anyways),
  • identify what works for me,
  • let go of a project if it's just not working,
  • look at individual garments as part of a whole, and
  • pants are hard.
I still have and wear many of these garments, although sadly some of them were tossed/donated when I moved to Kingston.

My sewing skills are still improving, as I hope they will continue to do in the years to come. I can't say that I'm more confident to tackle projects now, since I was pretty fearless to begin with. But I'm certainly more patience approaching more challenging projects, and I definitely have less failures than I used to.

And maybe someday, I'll get over my fear of pants.

What about you? How did you learn to sew? Were you self-taught, family-taught, or educationally-taught?


  1. Fun read! I did a brief go-over of my sewing history in my first blog post or two. Mostly self-taught, although my mom showed me the basics and was around if I got in over my head. My mom gave me a machine for my M.Sc.-finishing-present, and then a couple of years ago I decided I wanted to *really* learn to sew, got a copy of Reader's Digest Complete Guide To Sewing and read it cover to cover. And the rest, well, is blogging history. :)

    1. Thanks! Steph should get the credit though, she's the one who inspired this post. I actually wrote nearly all of it in a comment field on her "How I Learned to Sew" post. :D

      I think I remember your sewing history post. You made a lot of your costumes for dance, eh? And Barbie clothes, if I remember correctly!

      That is a cool MSc-finishing present!

  2. awesome post! my mom sewed a lot of her clothes as a newlywed to my dad (then almost all her maternity clothes!)... by the time i was old enough to learn to sew, she had moved on to cross-stitching so i learned that in elementary school. 2 years ago, i got tired of not being able to find (and also afford!) clothes i liked and the vintage things i loved were inevitably too small or too large) and i was tired of hand hemming circle skirts, so i bought a 60's Singer off eBay and made my first self drafted dress. the rest is blogger-documented!


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