But that’s okay!
(Alternate Title: Basic Steps to Sewing Mastery)
This is going to sound like a humblebrag, but every time someone finds out that I made something I’m wearing, the response is usually, “Ohmygod, you’re so talented,” or something along those lines. If you sew, I am sure you have been met with the same lovely compliment many times before. And I always really appreciate it– it’s nice to have someone recognize your skills or the time you put into a garment– but what happens next always bums me out.
What I usually say back is, “Thank you- I could show you how I made this if you want to learn,” and then person almost always says, “Oh no,I could never. I’m not talented like you.”
WRONG. Wrong, wrong. I am not fishing for compliments when I say that I am not a technically gifted sewer in any way. I prefer simple shapes and styles, which is lucky for me because that means that most of the things I wear come together pretty easily. A pencil skirt, a teeshirt, an a-line dress… these things are fairly easy for the novice to tackle! So here’s what I tell people:
I’m not really that good at sewing. Sewing is just not as hard as you think it is!
I think the belief that sewing is a totally unattainable skill is something that puts a lot of people off trying it out! I have had several coworkers and friends in recent years tell me that they’ve always wanted to try sewing or that they have a project in mind that they want to do, or that their mom/grandma/aunty gave them an old machine but they just don’t know how to get started (A note to all those people: Find the manual or look it up online and learn how to thread the dang thing. That’s the hardest part!). Most of the time, the only thing that is getting in their way is confidence!
The following is a list of skills that I think are imperative when learning how to sew:
Can you make a cake from a boxed mix?
If you can follow the directions on the back of a box of Betty Crocker, you can sew. A lot of sewing is being able to read and follow directions! That’s it! Don’t know how to thread your machine? Find the manual and follow the instructions until you have the thread feeding smoothly! Nervous about tackling your first garment? Read the pattern instructions all the way through– nearly all commercial patterns these days have detailed instructions showing you how to lay out pieces, measure the seam allowance, even how much hem to turn up and how to sew a zipper! I’ve read a lot of vintage patterns and they were not nearly as user-friendly as they are today. Companies like Colette pride themselves on their great instructions and tutorials for beginners as part of their business model. If you can follow simple directions, you can make something. I promise.
Can you drive a car or ride a bicycle?
Most beginner patterns (your elastic waist skirts and pajama pants– we’ve all been there) rely on sewing one or two straight lines and very little else. If you’ve passed your driver’s test and can follow the lines of a paved road, you can also follow the lines of a garment to stitch them together. If you’re the kind of person who sees the road curving right and violently jerks your wheel to the left, sewing might not be for you, but anything short of that I think will be okay.
Sewing the side of an a-line skirt is barely more complicated than sewing test seams in scrap fabric. Really! Think about it– pant legs, skirt seams, shift dresses, hems– a lot of these items are primarily composed of a simple straight seam. Don’t freak yourself out by thinking too far ahead. Just go one straight line at a time.
Can you make a paper airplane?
Another major part of sewing that freaks people out is all the technical stuff, like zippers, darts, pleats, hems, French seams, plackets– dudes, all this is is FOLDING. Folding! You measure something, fold along that line, use some friendly steam from your iron to make it smooth and flat…a paper airplane is way more complicated than folding up a hem for stitching. Trust. It can get technical and tricky but it’s not magic. It’s just a matter of manipulating the fabric into a different shape and then using one of those straight lines you’ve mastered to tack it into place.
That’s really it! You don’t have to be an expert to learn how to sew. Just start small and with a few basic steps, and before you know it you’ll be trying new things, have a favorite seam finish, and be bragging to all of your friends that you totally made the skirt you’re wearing.