Recently, many people have asked me how I learned to sew. In brief, I taught myself. But I had help, too.
I bought my first machine with the intention of learning how to shorten my pants, a simple adjustment I resented paying for. In May 2009, I'd picked up a pair of Edwin jeans at Goodwill but they were about 4" too long (a common problem for a man who's 5'7") and I didn't want to just cut off the bottoms and leave the raw edge. Having them hemmed professionally would have cost more than I'd paid for the jeans. Fuggitaboutit!
It occurred to me that I could pick up a sewing machine for around $100, and it would pay for itself in very little time. I started doing research on the web at websites like Amazon and Overstock.com. I didn't know where to buy a sewing machine in NYC -- I still don't, actually.
I started to notice user feedback for the cheapest machines (which were the only ones I was interested in) was pretty mediocre. I read a few blogs, where I found many recommendations to buy used machines instead of new ones, particularly (at least where I was reading) old Kenmores. So I went to eBay and found a used Kenmore. The seller had embedded a YouTube video of the machine, so I was confident that it was in good working order. This was a simple 158 series from the early 80s that only did straight stitch and zigzag. But it seemed like enough so I clicked on "Buy it Now" ...and that's how it all started.
As soon as the machine arrived, I realized I wanted to do more than shorten pants with it.
I'd read a recommendation on somebody's blog of Diana Rupp's book, "Sew Everything Workshop." This was the first sewing book I ever bought and it's excellent for the basics. Rupp is very good at explaining what you need to set up a sewing space, and recommends the basic notions you need to get started. I'm fortunate to live a few blocks from the FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) bookstore, and I was able to find almost everything I needed right there. I found the Garment District stores very intimidating and not geared to the novice home sewer.
I had never even touched a sewing machine let alone threaded one, but I watched a lot of YouTube videos, read the instruction booklet that came with my machine, and read through Rupp's book.
"Sew Everything Workshop" comes with about a dozen simple patterns for things like tunics, boxer shorts, and simple home deco projects, so I didn't have to think about buying patterns. My first project was a pair of boxer shorts in red cotton gingham. It took me nearly three days to complete them! But they came out looking fine --at least on the outside. After that, I made a few more boxers, and then decided to try a top. I bought a vintage caftan pattern on eBay, figuring that a garment without a collar or cuffs would be easier than a standard mens shirt.
And I went on from there. I joined Pattern Review. I discovered a guy named Rocket Boy who seemed like a masterful sewer and who had posted many pics of the imaginative things he'd sewn. I reached out to him via email and Rocket Boy (Brian of BrianSews) became my self-appointed, unofficial sewing coach. All summer we were in daily contact, discussing the virtues of vintage sewing machines (he encouraged me to try some different models, like Necchis and Singers) and sharing ideas for our next sewing projects. He also walked me through some difficult zipper insertions and tension adjustments via webcam.
I strongly recommend that anyone who's learning to sew find themselves a buddy -- either in-person or online. It's a lot easier and much more fun when there's someone you can turn to with a question or when you need a recommendation. It would have taken me longer to figure things out without Brian's guidance. Of course, Pattern Review is a tremendous resource in that regard and I've found many members to be endlessly generous with their time and knowledge.
In the fall I attended the American Sewing Expo in Michigan and got to meet Brian in person, along with Deepika of PR. I've bought many more sewing books, like the Reader's Digest Guide, and a few by Nancy Zieman, and now Adele Margolis and Donald McCunn. I've found some great books at thrift stores and in the paper recycling receptacle in my apartment building (where I found those sheets I wrote about yesterday).
On Brian's recommendation, I also got a copy of the Islander shirtmaking video, and that helped me tremendously with mens shirts. They're hard to put together well with just the pattern instructions and it's so much easier to learn when you have someone like Margaret Islander guiding you along the way, albeit in low tech 80s video.
I entered the flowered shirt that's in my blog header in the PR Beginner Contest, and I won! That was very validating to me; sewing was a good fit (no pun intended).
Enter my identical cousin from England, Cathy Lane. Nearly four months later, Cathy has a better wardrobe than I do, a growing fan club, and an insurance policy on her legs.
Sometimes I wish I'd learned to sew years ago and wonder how my life would have been different. I'm not a big regrets-type person though, and I try to stay focused in the "now." I'm very grateful to have found sewing at all. I could just as easily have brought my thrift store jeans to the tailors, paid the $10 and left it at that!
What's funny/strange to me, is that I have an aunt (by marriage) who was a professional dressmaker and my paternal grandfather (whom I barely knew) was a tailor! But no one thought I might like to learn to sew. Of course, we didn't have a sewing machine at home, either.
How did you learn to sew? Were you taught by someone, or did you learn yourself?
Anything you wish had happened differently?