Some weeks ago, I bought a sewing machine and joked that I just needed to channel the confidence of any middle aged white man doing a task with entry level skill. How wrong I was. This is the tale of how (and why) I took up the noble art of home sewing.
I don’t need to home sew because I am fortunate that I can (and have) found plenty of clothes off the rack that fit. My love of vintage/thrifting means that I have a wide range of styles and colours etc to draw from, so it also wasn’t about being able to make things that I just preferred to current offerings. It was, quite literally, all about seeing if I could.
Other people being able to make clothes has always fascinated me and, to be honest, made me hella jealous. Just whipping up a pair of pants? Amazing. Deciding you want a new dress for a party and then making exactly what you like? Sensational. I watched a season of the Great British Sewing Bee and immediately believed that I too could be making rolled hems with the best of them. One idle weekend I hand-sewed a rough top and that was it…it was just a matter of time.
You need a lot of stuff to start home sewing. The machine is an obvious one. Thread, in various colours, replacement needles for the machine (apparently you have to change your needle every 8 hours you sew???), fabric for the project plus any zips etc, really good shears for fabric, a pair of scissors for every time you cut something that isn’t fabric, tailor’s chalk, pins, a quick unpick, a tape measure. You’ll need patterns, too, which you can find online and have printed out in large sheets, or at your local haberdashery (I have bought patterns from op shops and Spotlight and found them all good).
You will need to watch a YouTube video on how to thread your machine, because the written instructions will make no sense and the digital instructions will be on a DVD (what the heck. It’s 2019). You will want to add that video to a playlist, as you will watch it many times.
The best bits
The absolute best bit is buying fabric. For me, it’s like buying clothes but without any of the annoyingness of having to find things that fit properly, and with added anticipation as you dream up what you will make. At this point, you have not yet disappointed yourself. Enjoy this time.
In fact, I think home sewing has three truly good bits:
(a) the anticipation of sewing
(b) doing something you absolutely thought you would choke on (sleeves) without totally effing it up
(c) finishing and getting to admire your work
Honestly, home sewing is just an extended metaphor for life/human behaviour.
The worst bits
The worst worst bit is cutting out the pattern – not cutting out the fabric, but the actual pattern itself. It requires precision and attention but you don’t feel like you’re making any progress. It’s stinky sewing-homework. And you don’t even get to use your amazing new shears that make everything fun to cut.
I am also not a fan of that bit where you realise you have fluffed it and have to undo an entire seam. On this jacket I had to take off a cuff and re-pin and sew it when I realised it hadn’t caught in one spot. In fact, next up is taking off both sleeves on this jacket and replacing them with the other style of sleeve (without a cuff) because these ones make me feel like a Mother of the Bride kinda scenario. Nah. That’s not for me.
Seriously though, is it really hard?
Look, all I’ve made so far is a pair of pants, a practice jacket, and a real jacket. I don’t know if it’s hard – yes, would be my headline answer. However, it’s in no way as hard as I thought it would be. Mostly I just go for it and hope for the best, and that seems to work reasonably well for my entry level projects/pretty low expectations of a quality outcome.
I thought reading the patterns would be a nightmare and to be frank, it does require me to switch on a level of reading comprehension that I don’t otherwise use that often. Sometimes I read a step out loud because what. How. What??? Overall though, much less jargon-y and complicated than expected at this stage. I hear that online pdf style patterns are even better.
I can tell this is one of those hobbies where you’re really proud of your early work and then within six months you look back at it and realise it’s garbage. That’s okay – the goal here is not immediate perfection, but instead just an opportunity to try things out.
Do you need lessons?
Lessons would not hurt. I will bet a cool hundy that I am doing things in a wrong, or nonsensical, way on my journey to home sewing and I think at some stage I will need an hour of private tutoring just to teach me how to sensibly sew. However, my attitude to this is that lots of women and quite a few men have been courageously sewing without tutelage for generations, and since nobody is going to be holding me to couture standards, for now I accept my “I guess I do it like this??” attitude.
My goal is to do a project every two weeks (allowing one week for cutting and preparation, and one week for sewing and finishing) until the end of October, then revisit the frequency of projects. Next up is another pair of trousers. Then I might try a simple dress. And so on we shall go. I’m very conscious that I don’t want this project to produce a bunch of shite clothes I will never wear, since that’s just a very time consuming version of buying clothes and throwing them in a clothing bin. I am trying to make things really well (as well as I can, in any case) which is great for me, since it forces me to slow down and be careful and meticulous. Except for sleeves, which I will continue to sew in with a very strong “chaotic energy”.
I’ve also already fully embraced my ability to alter clothes I already own, thanks to my trusty sewing machine. I’m keen to try some “thrift flips” for a future blog post, and ultimately I think it would be amazing to get real skills in pattern editing and drafting. That will take a long time. That’s okay.
In conclusion – you guys. Sewing is so achievable. I am NOT good with my hands or good at crafts (I am doing a pottery course at the moment and when I get all that work back in October we can have a good laugh at it then…it is terrible). In the wise words of my Mum: if I can do it, so can you. Get out there and give it a hoon!
My top, pants and shoes are all op shopped. My sunglasses are some sweet dutyfree Versace action, the earrings are Elk from Wanda Harland, and the handbag is my Deadly Ponies Mini Mr Verne Python (a gift to myself when I resigned from my job. I felt very sad about it, and then an email popped in telling me it was restocked and I decided that was sign enough for me to finally pull the trigger and get it).