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Feb 5, 2010

How I learned to sew

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  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.

I've never worn that robins-egg-blue crinkle cotton caftan out of the house, to be honest, but it's not embarrassing or anything!

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).

Last October, I decided to enter the PR Little Black Dress contest and use some of the four (4!) bolts of black fabric I'd found in the street earlier that fall.

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?


  1. Hi Peter -
    I so enjoy your blog and am very impressed with your creativity and skill. It's amazing you've been sewing such a short time.

    I am self-taught (with a few pointers from my mother). I got started making prom dresses. My high school was small so all 4 years were invited and I didn't like what was available in the stores. Then I built costumes for the theatre dept in both high school and college.

    My most difficult project was a man's tailored jacket in a glen plaid (don't ask me about matching - it was a nightmare!). After that, I'll try anything.

    Now, in my early 50's, I find that, with figure changes, sewing is the only way I can get a good fit. I'm also a cheapskate when it comes to buying ready to wear - prices are so high for shoddy workmanship and materials.

    I love the fact that you use recycled sheets and find inexpensive fabrics. But, treat yourself to going to a really good fabric store and splurge when you can afford it. There is nothing like a winter shirt made in a fine merino (which you can machine wash on gentle and dry on an air setting or dry flat before cutting). Now that you have the skill, you can treat yourself now and then. Just my 2 cents.

    Thanks again for the wonderful blog!

    -Louise in NYC

  2. First let me state that I love Brian - he's the best and I aspire to copy a RTW pair of jeans as he did. He convinced me to get an older machine (not specifically, just said they were better so I opted to got that route).

    I taught myself. I had the same problem - needed jeans hemmed, and actually paid the $10/pair and figured that I could learn to do that myself. My mom used to sew all of her/our clothes back in the 70s and early 80s and she did all of my hemming until she moved to the southwest.

    I bought a cheap Brother at Sprawlmart and slowly started learning. I use Pattern Review a lot as well as other web resouces. I bought some books as well. I also will try just about anything regardless of if it is in my skillset. The result is a lot of unwearable things but I feel I progressed rapidly in 1 year. I am taking a pattern drafting class now and I have learned so much just from that class alone.

    I love, love love sewing. I love clothes but never had much in the way of a wardrobe because I don't have a lot of money to spend (used to be a teacher, currently a grad student) and I am not a standard size and thus cannot find much that fits anyway.

    I usually ask my mom for help - she offered to do a web video for setting in sleeves - how cool is that? She's 65 but a retired teacher so I guess the teaching thing is in her blood.

    I use the internet/you tube alot. Yesterday I was working in replacing an invisible zipper in a friends cycling skinsuit, only I had never done one. AFter 2 failed attempts I watched a video on youtube and the 3rd try worked perfectly.

    I would say in terms of technique it has been trial and error with me. Some things I find really easy (welt pockets, fly zipper insertion) but then things like dressmaking give me a hard time. I like tailoring. I like mens shirts and tailored coats and nice trousers. I also like learning new things, because every time I learn a new skill I can now expand my wardrobe. I look at the things I sewed last year and 90% of them are not really wearable without it being really obvious that I made them myself. But I recently did 5 pairs of nice trousers and everyone complements them, so I guess they don't totally suck.

  3. Oh, man, Peter - this has so many overtones of my own experience (only mine started Oct 28,09). My great aunt was a seamstress at Lord & Taylor in NY in the 50's and, while I didn't know her well, I coveted her ability to make beautiful clothing. My husband finally got sick of listening to me bitch about wishing I could sew and bought me a machine. From that point on, I became a sewist possessed! I can't stop myself - I love it so much. I have been blogging for 2 years, so I already have a great community of online friends, some of whom sew and have been so generous with their expertise. My next project: lingerie. I've bought the resources from Bra Maker's supply (should arrive today!) and I've joined a sewing forum for lingerie makers. I would LOVE to be able to sew bras and undies.

  4. I started by watching Mom. She had an old Singer with a knee controller. (My sister has it!!!) I made doll clothes of my own design. Arms included in the front and back pieces, no less. But, the dolls liked them, as their arms stuck straight out too! Then, Home Ec...BEFORE they split it into Home Ec/Shop. (Sis got that, too!) Did a skirt for class, then a plaid blazer...both double knit. Cut the plaid using a ruler, and only one layer at a time. Gosh, the hours I spent!

  5. My grandma was an excellent seamstress and I adored her. I watched her sew, proudly wore the gorgeous prom dresses and other clothing that she made me. But my mom didn't sew, we didn't have a sewing machine so although I did learn from watching her, didn't have a lot of "hands on" sewing lessons.
    Fast forward to high school at an all girls Catholic high school with an ANCIENT nun that taught sewing. I took the class, learned nothing, except that the Ancient Sewing Nun hated me and left it at that.
    Got married, DH worked full time (days) and went to school at night. I was bored to death. By that time my mom had bought a Singer sewing machine (just for the helluva it, she never touched it). I took it home to our apartment and just started sewing and teaching myself to sew. Believe me when I say that I learned NOTHING from the Ancient Sewing Nun. I kept at it and became addicted to sewing and have sewn ever since. I'm now 57 years old and make almost everything that I wear, sew for my 7 adult children, their spouses and all 9 grandkids. One daughter has 4 kids and has NEVER purchased a pair of RTW pj's for any of her kids.
    I know that my Grandma's sewing skills are what sucked me into sewing. I remember the smell of her iron when she pressed her seams open, I remember being fascinated by all of her sewing notions, etc. I adored her and I still think about her everytime I sit down at my machines. She would be blown away by todays' sergers, coverstitch machines, computerized sewing machines and all of the wonderful things we home sewers have access to.
    I love your blog and am so impressed with your sewing skills. I can't believe you just took up sewing such a short time ago!

  6. I started sewing for the exact same reason!

    I had taken 2 pairs of sweat pants to a tailor and he charged me $15 a pair for alterations. I left his shop thinking... I should learn to sew so I can do this myself!

    A few months later I signed up for my first sewing class. And started researching vintage sewing machines online.

  7. 1st of all, could you be any cuter in that photo?

    I was raised by my grandmother, who was an incredible seamstress. I remember showing her pictures of clothes I liked in Seventeen magazine. she would then make a pattern of what I had shown her out newspaper and the finished result would be identical. Needless to say, I never felt the need to learn to sew beyond the basics out in HomeEc.

    I went off to college, grandma died and I inherited her Singer 201. It was at this point the I really began to sew for myself. About this time, early 70's, stretch material was all the rage and I ended up trading in the 201 (I know, but I was so young)and got an Elna 62 Super, which I still have. That machine and the dog would be the two things I would take if there was a fire.

    This was really the golden age for me and sewing. I was living in San Francisco; Britex Fabrics, Satin Moon Fabrics, etc. It was wonderful. Sadly, after many moves and dwindling fabric stores asessibility, I stopped sewing, other than an occasional alteration.

    I now live in Norther Michigan (where we have to make our own kind of fun)and with the advent of the internet I have returned to sewing. Started following the sewing forums, where I have learned so much and then started ordering fabric online.

    I have reached the point now where sewing is almost a Zen thing. I am no longer impatient ,just wanting the finished results, but into each and every step of the process.

    I am so in awe of you and what you have accomplished in such a short time. Love your blog and am appreciative of the time you give to us.

    My idea of the perfect luncheon; NYC, you, Gertie,Pattern Junkie, and of course Cathy.

  8. Peter,

    Thanks for your intro. to sewing.

    I am making my first shirt with a Palmer Pletsch pattern. But I think it is beyond my ability but what the heck. I could really use a sewing buddy.

    My inspiration was my grandmother who had an ancient treadle sewing machine in her apartment bedroom. I remember turning the foot treadle thingie and playing with it as a kid. She made day dresses for $1 each during WWII to keep the family afloat.

    I started sewing by making my Barbie doll clothes and they were pretty ugly. That was it until I took a summer school sewing class many years later.

    Fast forward to 2004 when I stopped working for a period. My husband bought me a new expensive plastic machine. Then I became fascinated with old black Singers: 201's, 221's, 15-91's, etc. I rehabilitated many and sold them. Still have some really beauties though.

    Because of my middle-aged body, I wanted to sew well-fitting clothes and got into garment sewing.

    I found sewing world online and then, took some classes at a local community college and then went on to classes at sewing stores. All these things helped.

    My biggest problem is my impatience but when I am in The Zone, it is nirvana. I loooooove to sew. I have made loads of duds BUT! have made enough cool stuff to get compliments and be encouraged so there you have it.

    I am really inspired by all the ways you and other upcycle used fabric. That also keeps me going.

  9. I love this post Peter! I also am mostly a self taught seamstress as well. I started sewing when I was a little kid, making barbie and doll clothes and such. My mom and grandmother taught me a few things and I did take a 2 sewing classes in high school. After high school, I didn't touch sewing until I was finished with college and my parents gave me a cheap little sewing machine for Christmas. Since then, I've tried to get more involved in the sewing community online and have rediscovered a fanatic love I have for sewing my own garments. With sewing, I find that there is always something new to learn and that you can always keep perfecting a skill. I love that. I love being inspired by other people's creations too. Thanks so much for this fantastic post!

  10. Good post. I learned to sew 3 years ago, first with patchwork quilting. After a miscarriage, I needed something to focus on. I made valances for the office and a few other rooms in the house. Then I got pregnant with the baby, #4, and started on maternity tops and baby clothes. Now I flip back and forth between quilt tops and clothes. My grandmother and great aunt both sewed beautifully, my mother sewed, but I resisted taking home ec. No one ever really showed me how to sew, but I understood some from watching them back in the 70's. My grandma did teach me crochet in that era, though. I am self-taught from internet, books, asking other bloggers, my mom and MIL, friends. I have lots of UFO's, but oh well, I will eventually finish or modify some. They were inexperienced mistakes, wrong fabric, etc. It keeps me sane as a mom of 4. I look forward to the few minutes I get to sew.

  11. I just came across your blog via Selfish Seamtress and love it! I have just started sewing and your advice to find a sewing buddy is great. I am really going to try and make garments that fit my unusual figure that I will love wearing. I took a sewing class at Jo-Anns, and am trying to figure out the rest myself. I find adjusting patterns to fit and finding good fabric to be the biggest challenges.

  12. My first machine was this same Kenmore model too! My dad worked at Sears so we have several of these old Kenmore machines in the family. I agree it's a trooper (although I've moved on . . .) When I got my fancy new machine I thought about getting rid of it - but my Dad was horrified at the thought. He said "Are you crazy? It's metal, not plastic! It has a good strong motor. It was made in Japan!" I still have it.

    But I could swear the feed dogs dropped! Do you have the manual? I can scan mine if you don't . . .it's got a hilarious cover illustration.

  13. Wow, so many great stories. I guess I should be glad I never had an ancient sewing nun in my life, LOL!

    I think one of the things I love about sewing is that the more you do it the better you get (which is true of most things I suppose) and you really CAN teach yourself -- and this is NOT true of many things. Tennis, comes to mind for reason...

    The Internet has also made it possible to find a sewing community and to connect with others regardless of location. I sometimes forget how new it is and how different things were only a decade ago or so. Of course, there were books...and stone tablets.

    I'm inspired by all of you, and I'd just say, keep sewing!

  14. Well you know a bit already about how I learned! But it runs in the family too; my grandmother was a floor supervisor in dress factories and she was really skilled (I think her old industrial is still in the basement of her house.) She would bring home cuts from the factory and make them up for me so I was able to wear the latest styles before they hit retail stores. My mother is as equally and sewed most of my clothes when I was a girl and I loved loved loved looking through pattern books and picking out the fabric. I was taught a lot of things by my mother and grandmother but I've also taken plenty of classes, everything from Home Ec as kid to Cynthia Guffey to Susan Khalje as an adult. Now I'm really into couture techniques.

  15. Peter - absolutely thrilling. Only goes to show you that aside from brain surgery self-taught, all that stops us is our own fear. My mom sewed, badly, most of her life. She was absolutely fearless, would make anything, but it never occurred to her that she should or could ask anyone for lessons or tips or anything like that. Everything she made was two shades off being good but she did not care, really and made all of our clothing until I graduated from high school. Coats, prom dresses, skirts, jumpers, suits and dresses for herself..I think she once made my father a corderoy sport coat. Her idea of teaching me to sew was to sit me at the age of 11 in front of the electrified treadle Singer that she'd inherited from my father's mom, with a cut out skirt and pointing to the marks on the sole plate, said, "See that mark? Line up the edges of the fabric, put your foot on the pedal and sew from beginning to end. When you're done, come get me." She didn't like the result and made me pick it out...three times. I took a 5 week Home Ec class in 7th grade and a half-year of sewing in high school where my teacher taught me to make a semi-tailored jacket. It was the first time I made something where I realized when I was done that it looked 5 times better than anything my mom had ever done. Since then, I've taken a couple of classes, bought books and gotten very involved with the Internet. The level of skill out there is amazing, as is the willingness to share (and the video technology to do it with as well). So, today, with over 40 years of sewing under my belt, I'm probably 5 times as good as I was after that high school class, which of course makes me probably 10 times as good as my mom was. I taught all my kids how to use a sewing machine; the only one for whom it stuck (at least for a while) was my son who was wild to make crazy Hallowe'en costumes in high school (Samurai armor out of corrogated plastic, anyone?). Given the level of 'quality' out there in terms of retail (for everyone), it would probably do us all a lot of good if we took even one young person (of whatever gender or gender identification) under our wings and helped them make something they love. My first project was a horrible cap sleeved blouse; I've heard stories of people making depressing aprons. I think we should ask 'what do you want to wear?" and help the newbies to learn how to make that, so that they will love it and wear it and stand in front of the mirror and twirl around and smile. If we want sewing to survive and grow, if we want people to have clothing that is made well, fits well and is sustainable in the long term, I think that is the way to go.

  16. Awww, I *did* have a sewing buddy. My friend Johanna introduced me to Burda magazine, and then I promptly went to the grocery store and bought a crappy little no-name machine for 50 Euros. I have to say, that little machine served me well, and I managed to squeeze all kinds of coats and dresses out of it, and to this day I don't think they look any worse than what I make with my fancy Husqvarna (a lucky eBay find.) But then I left Germany and with it Johanna, my grocery store sewing machine, and super cheap sewing magazines. I guess this is why I'm such a bitter and angry seamstress now. Well, that, and because of you, Peter.

  17. Peter,

    I'm so glad you started a blog! And perfect name for it (pairs well with your groovy flowered shirt....and the suit we last saw half of on PR Day).

    My sewing story: my mom, having recently arrived in the U.S. and newly married, bought a Singer Rocketeer secondhand (so you see where I get it from) and sewed clothes for me and my younger sisters when we were growing up -- plaid pants with matching vests, overalls, little wool capes with edelweiss trim (she was, and still is, a diehard Sound of Music fan). This lasted until I was about 10 and demanded my first pair of store-bought jeans =)

    She taught me how to thread the machine, but otherwise I was pretty much on my own. The last garment I sewed for myself, when I was about 12, was a Diane Von Furstenburg knockoff made of green Qiana -- very '70s and, I suspect, very flammable.

    Last year I thought I'd finally buy a machine for the same reason you did -- hemming pants. That turned into a full-blown case of vintage SMAD, but I'm slowing down now and trying to get more into the sewing (ha!)

    I'm so impressed that you started sewing less than a year ago....kudos to you! Strangely I think I was less intimidated by the whole process when I was younger, but I'm also encouraged by all the resources now available to beginners (or re-beginners) such as PR and newer books like S.E.W. Workshop and SEW U. (though of course like the machines, I have a soft spot for vintage books too).

    Looking forward to more adventures in pattern boldness!

  18. My mum taught me how to thread a machine and do the basics. I picked up a few extra skills at school (including hand stitching) but from there on in I learned from pattern sheets. When I was sewing in the 80's the shapeless fashion was more forgiving, so my appalling work wasn't so obvious. I didn't sew for a while as I had a career that kept me on the road most of the year. I started again in about 2000 and although I knew the basics, I realised I had a lot to learn if I wanted to make the clothes I like to wear. Like you, I turned to the internet. Stitchers Guild, Pattern Review and the blogging community helped me in so many ways. I've acquired a load of books from op shops and friends and I've even bought a few at full retail. I print out tips when I see them on a blog and I refer to it all time and time again. As my confidence grew I started experimenting and morphing patterns and making things up. I still have a long way to go and a lot of things to learn. I live in the country, many miles from fabric shops and garment districts and I don't know anyone who sews, so the internet is essential on my journey.

  19. My mon taught me how to sew when I was in about 6th or 7th grade as a way to get me out of her hair. I've been sewing ever since. I bought my first machine, a Singer, in a pawn shop while in college. Hey it was pre-internet. I have since donated that machine to the local high school and sew on a Pfaff, but I have many fond memories and hopefully it is inspiring someone else. Love your blog.

  20. Great stories, all. So fascinating to read about how different people's experiences are -- with some strong similarities as well, of course. Something obviously keeps us at it!

  21. I taught myself on my mom's little Elna Grasshopper. My dad bought it for her when I was born. The first garments sewn on it were two little sunsuits that he made for me with no pattern. I still have them. He is a carpenter and very creative, so I think I got the visual/do-things-with-your-hands skills from him. My mom didn't really use the Grasshopper much except to mend, but I sure did!
    The first thing I made was a shift with cut-on cap sleeves when I was 12. My mom had a length of fabric which I had coveted ever since I first laid eyes on it. It was tan with bunches of yellow flowers overlaid on white fans. That fabric made me learn to sew. I had no idea what pattern to buy, so I just bought the smallest size there was. Maybe that was the first time I exhibited my inability to see my body as it really is and thus choose an appropriate pattern.
    I have sewn every type of garment, toy, quilt, accessory that there is but mostly childrens' clothes.
    I now have a lovely new-to-me Pfaff at home in Idaho and am using a vintage Singer while in Pennsylvania. I am a SAHM after many, many years working full time while singlehandedly raising three beautiful daughters. They are all married, so I did, too, and we are raising his son.
    I have time now to sew, but it's hard to make myself sew for me because I've never been satisfied with the outcomes. I'm going to have to just do it and have some failures along the way. Perfectionism is paralyzing...

  22. I don't remember not being able to sew. While I'm not an expert, and I need patterns, I'm a fair hand at making clothes. I instinctively know how things fit together just from the pattern pieces. Three-dimensional mind, I guess.

    When I was three, my maternal grandmother (who was a pro seamstress) stuck a needle in my hand and started teaching me chicken scratch embroidery. From there, it was doll clothes, regular embroidery, and cross stitch. My first real people clothes was around 12-14, and it was shorts. I still make my own pants, some 20 years later. I don't have a "normal" body because I have a disease that causes limbs to swell to 4 times their regular size, combined with the fact that manufacturers don't really make clothing for a 6ft tall woman, sewing has become a necessity rather than just a hobby.

    My mom taught me a little, and my grandmother a little, but the rest I've figured out on my own. I've made everything from men's shirts to soft toys for my nieces and nephews. I even bit the bullet and made pants for my brother-in-law for Christmas last year.

    I sorta wish I'd had a bit more help. I mean, most of what I know I figured out without instruction. No home ec for me. And sewing lessons are too expensive. Especially as I prepare to embark on the most complex project I've ever done--a Christening dress for my new niece--I wish I more than sort-of know what I'm doing with it. Especially as I consider doing inset lace.

  23. Hi Peter, my name is Antoinette. Your blog seems to be popping up in front of me a bunch this past week so I've come for a visit. You are adorable and seem very approachable so rather than lurk for a bit I will jump right in and comment. :)

    My mom apprenticed with a master tailor in her native Vietnam, so my sister and I grew up with handmade clothes for much of our early childhood. Since she has always been very impatient, she never taught us how to sew. As an adult I bought a little machine and taught myself, but didn't get past pillowcases and drapes. About 3 years ago I took a class and then another and another and I haven't stopped sewing since! It's fun now to visit my mom and bring sewing projects -- she still tries to take over when she sees me struggling with a new technique or fabric, but she has some great tips and ideas and I always learn from her.

    I guess I don't wish for things to have happened differently, 'cause I have a much better sense of my own style now and my sewing time is used more wisely than if I'd been a sewing teen. And I love getting a chance to re-do things, like taking my custom-made 90's high school Homecoming dress and refashioning it into a more updated cocktail dress for the holidays.

  24. Just found your blog - love it. I also bought the SEWorkshop book and have made a few ties from her enclosed pattern. I made them in cottons from Josephine Kimberling and Amy Butler.
    My parents renovated an attic room for me when I was 13, and I started sewing on my mother's ald tabletop Singer - just because it was there. Lame, but true.

  25. Great post! It's nice to be in the company of another newbie, albeit one that is obviously quite talented. :)

    I finally decided I wanted to learn how to sew this past summer, just before my 30th birthday. It was something that I kept thinking about, just never got around to actually getting a machine and stuff. My mom gifted me my machine, I signed up for a local beginner class and I was off and running. I love working on projects at home, but also enjoy classes for the social aspect. I'm kind of addicted to this whole sewing bit now and like you, I wish I had picked it up earlier than I did.

  26. Peter! Thanks for sharing :)...I never thought I'd be sewing myself! sometimes...I wonder why I took that Engineering degree....why didn't I like sewing I could've taken some design class (project runway style) but I don't regret anything in my life too :) (except for my damn braces)....I started sewing when I had my first daughter...I guess the rest is is one of the most relaxing (when not seam reaping) and productive hobby :)

  27. Oh Peter, When I first found you on Pattern Review I thought, "Why the hell doesn't this guy have a blog?" Well, I'm not the brightest bulb in the box and it took me a while, but guess what??? You do have a blog, and I found you!!! Oh happy day!

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  29. I am late on this comment train but love your blog so much! I just started to sew again about 5 weeks ago. I sewed for a year or so 20 years ago. No skills, mainly pillows and had a little sideline sewing stuff bags for sleeping bags (I lived in camp crazy Oregon at the time). Being an avid thrifter, I have hoarded vintage patterns and sewing books the whole time, however, in anticipation of the day I DID actually sew. I started back because I needed pinch pleat curtains and my seamstress was going to charge me $400 a pair. I jut didn't have that kind of money. After reading the glorious step by step post on Textile Love and following the awesome directions in a vintage Time Life sewing book "Making Home Furnishings, I now have made 2 pairs of beautiful wall to wall floor to ceiling pinch pleat drapes. So freaking excited, can't tell you. I found your blog as I was researching the Singer 66 treadle I found in my boyfriend's garage. My Great grandma and great aunt had a sewing shop and repair business for many many years. I stayed with them a bunch, so anything sewing related gives me the warm and fuzzies. My great grandma was insanely creative. She once sewed me a doll for the living room stuffed with a full size mattress that I could lay on! My great aunt is still alive. I love going through her homemade wardrobe. She must have corseted, because the waist is impossibly thin, so with most pieces I can only look, not wear. But she would make these insane mod dresses then cut off an IZOD and slap it on there. She also made some fabulous square dance dresses that I wear all the time (I like to dress up probably more than even Cathy Lane!)She is 90 years old and sharp as a tack, and a great resource on all things sewing, plus she has a basement packed full of vintage sewing loveliness. She lives far away though. Wish me luck in getting a straight hem and learning to put in a zipper. I have a hard time slowing down to learn the basics. I want to go straight to recreating old circus costumes! Well, that's enough I guess. I have so enjoyed reading through your blog. You are so talented and genuine.

    1. Welcome to MPB, Laurie, and thank you for your wonderful comment!

  30. Hi, Peter!

    I found your blog while researching vintage clothing. Your story resonates with me, as I know it does for many other commenters.

    My mother was a seamstress/dressmaker in Greece, and she brought her skills and a 1920s-vintage Singer with her to Canada in the late '50s. I don't know why she ever gave up that exquisite beast. Her last machine was a Kenmore that we were finally unable to get a replacement belt for--this might be a caveat that you should include in your advice about buying used sewing machines, the availability of parts, or lack thereof.

    Mum passed away 2 years ago and I miss her very much. I think she'd approve heartily of my interest in sewing, as she took great pleasure in her craft, whether she was making the entire wardrobe for my sister's (first) wedding, or just hemming pants for one of us "kids" (I'm now in my 50s).

    Thank you for this blog. I'm finding it inspiring, informative and humourous.



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