A crash course in sewing

Posted by Erica on Sep 26, 2011 in Making |

I’ve been meaning to learn to sew for a long time. I knew the basics, of course, sewing on a button, fixing a tear, and making a (crude) hem. It was clear that learning to use a sewing machine would make things much easier and provide a useful option for projects. I love engineering, and sometimes fabric is a practical and attractive solution for construction.

Maker Faire featured some beautiful sewing projects. Inspired by that, I signed up for a sewing course at G Street Fabrics. I wanted to learn enough to justify getting a sewing machine, and not take too long to do it. So I signed up for the intensive version of Beginning Sewing I, only two days, but 6 hours per day. Our goal was to finish two projects: a tote bag, and pajama bottoms. This went start to finish. We learned how to select fabric and interfacing, purchased a beginner’s kit, selected and understood a pattern, pinned, steamed, and operated the sewing machine.

I finished in less than 12 hours, but it was a challenging experience both mentally and physically. The sewing part was relatively quick, thanks to the machine. The bulk of our time was spent ironing, pinning, and cutting, all of which needed to be done with a certain amount of precision to ensure good results. Six hours was a long time to be doing this each day, and I began to appreciate (in a very small way) what working in a sweatshop must be like. The results, though, were extremely satisfying. The first project was a tote bag. Since it was custom made, I could choose exactly the fabrics I wanted and the precise length of the straps:

Tote bag made in sewing class

The pajama bottoms took things to a new level. They were part of a complete pattern that included an entire outfit, with a top, two types of pants, and other items. It was necessary to decode the pattern to figure how much fabric to buy, lay out shapes with the proper orientation relative to the grain of the cloth, to use different stitches for inner and outer seams, measure and create a hem. Much of the time one operates in a weird reverse geometry world. I have fairly good spatial abilities, but until the end I could not see how on earth these were going to turn into pants.

My primary interest in sewing is for crafts, but I quickly saw the advantage of made-to-measure clothing. These bottoms fit me like a glove, and in exactly the fabric I wanted. They are the best pj bottoms I’ve owned, and considering this was a beginning project that is saying a lot. I now understand why people make their own clothes. Financially, it is not a bargain in terms of time or materials — good cloth is priced accordingly, unless you are clever about sales. But the results can be stunning and I will probably go back for further courses on clothing.

Pajama bottoms

Made-to-measure pajama bottoms

In the meantime, I have purchased a sewing machine: the Brother PC-210 PRW Limited Edition Project Runway Sewing Machine. That should arrive tomorrow. I have a few outfits where seams are coming loose…and Halloween is coming up. I suspect the kids and I will find some fun things to do!

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