guide to sewing: my background


I’m so excited to finally being posting this series; it’s something I’ve been knocking around in my head for awhile and resulted in writing countless draft versions, but never being quite sure how I wanted to organize it! I get at least a couple emails every week asking for advice or help with sewing. So many gals are curious about learning to sew, what my background on sewing is, and how to get started; I knew this was the perfect topic to blog about! Every week for the next three weeks, I’ll be posting an installment of this series. I’ll be going over resources, tools, favorite books, inspiration and my sewing background. Whether you’re itching to start sewing for the first time or someone more experienced and just enjoy reading anything about sewing (that would be me!), I hope you enjoy these posts...


[ some past projects (l to r): costume based on J.W. Waterhouse's painting of "Ophelia", black voile summer dress, 1830s style day gown. ]

Sewing Memories, Philosophy & Inspiration

I've been sewing (or wanting to sew!) for as long as I can remember; as a child I used to raid Mom's scrap bag to sew garments for my Barbies (all of a very Victorian nature; I continually check a book from the library on drafting Victorian style clothes for dolls...). She used to sew quite a bit herself, and made many cute outfits for my sister and I! It wasn't until I was older, around 10, that she allowed me to use her sewing machine and showed me the basics using a little book on sewing for kids. I made a few, small projects, and then moved onto clothes--my real interest in the sewing world.

Sloper Draft (skirt/01)

[ drafting a skirt sloper back in 2006. ]

I also dabbled a lot with pattern drafting, even as a child. We would make weekly trips to the public library, and I would raid their sewing books, many of which were books from the 1970s hippie, diy movement. They had such a carefree, you-can-make-this! attitude that engaged my young imagination and I started figuring out how to draft patterns from my dolls and myself. I continued just dabbling in sewing and drafting until I was a teenager. Around that time I stumbled on Jennie Chancey's Sense and Sensibilty pattern line, and was enchanted that there were other women interested in old-fashioned styles and actually making and wearing them. I became quite active on the forums and made friends with many of the historic costumers (including my dear friend Jenny Rose). I learned a lot from these ladies, and started doing my own costumes and learning the value of researching your projects.

During my last "semester" of high school (I was schooled at home, so we didn't really follow the normal school year or grade system), I had the opportunity to intern with Jennie Chancey for a month. I went to stay with her, and helped around the house and with the children in exchange for her teaching me some of the tricks of the trade. I learned quite a bit about drafting, sewing and designing clothes from Jennie; we spent many, many hours talking about fashion and the resurgence of the retro look (this was in 2003, right around the time the "vintage" resurgence were starting to make a big splash on the runways again). Jennie shared with me many of her antique and vintage sewing books, as well as her incredible vintage pattern collection! (I credit her with really starting the “pattern collector” bug in me!) She was one of the first people outside of my family to encourage me to start a sewing business. A dream that I have kept close to my heart over the years (and am working towards finally making a reality)!

sewing spot

[ my sewing space, March 2007. ]

Since then, I have continued to work on my skills, take a few classes at a local sewing store (mostly on seam finishes and inserting zippers!), and read a lot. I've read books on everything from overviews of fashion history, to sewing manuals (yes, I have read The Vogue Book of Sewing cover to cover; no joke), to dry textbooks on drafting and pattern manipulation. In that respect, I am very much self taught and my sewing skills have developed in a very organic manner over time. The books I remember reading on sewing during my childhood really encouraged the idea of "just doing it" if you had a true passion for the craft. In my eyes, there is no right or wrong way, and every project has the potential to teach you something!

My sewing has varied over the years. I started out making clothes for myself, veered off into historic costumes for most of my teen years, and then back to the various facets of sewing "every day" clothes for myself. I have definitely taken a turn back towards the costume side of things with my interest in vintage patterns and styles of the 1930s through 1950s. For me, sewing offers not only a pleasant hobby, the ability to get the style and fit I want, but also allows me to cater to my more theatrical sensibilities in dress. Looking back on my experiences at sewing, I often wonder where it will take me next!

03.12.08 {scribble, scribble}

[ a page from my inspiration notebook, March 2008. ]

I believe encouraging everyone who expresses an interest in sewing to jump in with both feet; total immersion learning if you will! Even if you take a sewing class, make sure you branch out as you feel ready. Want to try making something more complicated than a pillow case or tote bag at first? Surround yourself with lots of resources (and maybe a helping hand!) and just go! Sewing is not brain surgery and I firmly believe should not be treated as such. Although I have a deep respect for the tradition of sewing and time-honored techniques, nothing delights me more than to see a curious person strike out on their own to try an idea or technique that excites them. There is no one way to learn how to sew, and even many sewing techniques have multiple ways of achieving the same end, so finding a way that makes the best sense to you is easy.

07.11.08 {tshirt sketching...}

[ technical sketches and a draft-in-progress; july 2008. ]

Keeping my inspiration banks filled is a huge part of my sewing as well; even though most of the time it’s a rather passive activity that involves books or my computer. Being inspired by past eras, fashion designers, and photos helps give me new ideas and new techniques to try! I keep a notebook handy, and give myself downtime in the evenings if I want to just browse my massive "inspiration" folder on my computer. You never know where your next sewing idea will come from! One of my favorite sources is inspiration from other bloggers; the rich and varied things that come through Google Reader never fail to make me sit up and look at something in a new light!

If you sew, how did you start out? What are your favorite sources of inspiration for sewing projects? I'll share some of mine in the later installments... Next week: my list of recommended sewing tools.


Popular Posts