Sew how? Kristin's done it in 13 months! (The show-off.) January 10, 2011 14:39 8 Comments

Kristin of k-line has only been sewing thirteen months (OK, a few days more, but, really, just a very few!) and she makes her own bras. Wow! I bow down in deference and respect, woman. That is totally impressive. So. If you want to find out more about how this paragon learned to sew, read on. 

How long have you been sewing?

I've been sewing for almost 13 months. I started on Nov. 1, 2009

What inspired you to learn?

I've always wanted to sew, but my husband finally couldn't stand to hear me natter on about it any longer. When we were at Walmart (not somewhere we go regularly), we found ourselves in the sewing machine aisle. He proceeded to buy me my machine and a bunch of accoutrements. All the while I kept telling him to stop, that I'd never be able to figure out how to operate machinery!

Did your mother or grandmother sew?

No and no — but my great aunt was an accomplished dressmaker. She designed and produced garments for Lord & Taylor in NY in the 1940s-60s. She used to make me gorgeous, couture doll clothes. I so wished I had saved them.

How did you learn? A class? Your mom? Home Ec?

Well, I guess my husband taught me. But he was learning at the same time. We read the manuals (mostly him) and the pattern instructions. He understands schematics, so he wasn't intimidated. But he did think the instructions were remarkably complicated. I never took a Home Ec class. They didn't offer it at my school. I have taken a class, but it was after I had learned for a few weeks, and I knew all of the intro stuff that was being explained. I should say that I had some excellent help from blog friends like Mardel from Resting Motion :-). People went above and beyond to help me to decipher instructions.

K-line-first-skirtWhat was the first garment that you made?

An A-line miniskirt in denim!

Did you wear it?

Hell yes. I've worn it a few times. But I'm afraid to wash it. It's not exactly sturdy. :-)

How long did it take for you to get the basics down?

It's hard to answer this question. The very initial basics came in about a month (four projects). The broader basics took about 6 months. But I was sewing a lot. Some of it was not v. successful, though all resulted in good learning.

K-line-braHow long did it take you to feel confident of your dressmaking skills?

This one's also a bit challenging to answer. I feel confident about all the things I've done in the past that worked out well (or from which I learned how to do it differently the next time). Some things — that I either haven't encountered or that haven't gone well — still freak me out.

Do you still make things that you simply won't wear?

Yes. I give them away.

How many hours a week do you sew?

I sew about 20 hours a week. Most of that time is on the weekend, though I do my shopping, cutting, tracing and planning during the weekdays.

What are your five favorite sewing books?

You ask all the hard questions, Denise! I really love everything by Claire Schaeffer. Her Couture Sewing Techniques is great. The Fabric Sewing Guide is also awesome on so many levels — just in terms of telling you about fabric and how to use it and care for it. Tailoring: The Classic Guide to Sewing the Perfect Jacketby the Editors of Creative Publishing is very good. If you want to tailor, this is a must-read. I really enjoyed the three Wendy Mullin books, specifically her most recent one: Built by Wendy Dresses: The Sew U Guide To Making A Girl's Best Frock. It includes some very basic drafting/design information, and it's very intelligently written for potentially newbie, but creative, sewists. The Dressmaker's Technique Bible by Lorna Knight is a great flip resource. It's got good instructions, excellent photos, it's well laid out in a spiral bound book which isn't large. Oh, and one cannot forget Fit for Real People by Palmer/Pletsch. What a life changer that book is. But SO seriously hideous to look at. Someone should force those authors to bring the design into this century.

Are there any sewing DVDs that you like? If so, which ones?

I'm not so into the DVDs, but I have watched Full Busted? (also by Palmer/Pletsch) on a number of occasions. It's useful in nailing down the various versions of an FBA.

If you're a fan of free online tutorials, name five for the beginning sewer, please.

I do use a lot of free online tutorials which I've bookmarked.  They're numerous and not so difficult to find. I will say that there are some masters of the art. Gertie and her New Blog For Better Sewing offers up tremendous learning opportunities, especially in the form of sew-alongs. Tasia of Sewaholic is terrific. She too will be having a sew-along starting in January. Patty of Patty the Snug Bug has done some awesome instruction on the Full Bust Adjustment. No doubt I'm forgetting some fantastic tutorial creators.

What garment would you suggest that a newbie make first?

A simple skirt. It's got enough wearability to make it exciting, but it's not too complex. Mind you, for a person who's sewn nothing, its more than complex enough!


My second item was a simple cowl-neck top (with the cowl cut onto the front piece). That meant I got to enjoy the drape of the cowl without the extra step of sewing it on. I love cowls and it gave me a full outfit, along with the skirt. So I'd go with a top next. But you know, some people like starting with scarves and pencil cases. Objects with fewer curves.

What is the favorite of all the garments you have made?

Oh, I have quite a few that I really appreciate. What comes to mind: The vintage inspired Vogue 8640, which I made in navy wool. Vogue 8123, also vintage inspired, which I made in a light cocoa felted wool. The collars on these just thrill me. I've made some chic skirts which I get a lot of use out of. Vogue 8413 is a terrific pattern (six dresses, all quite different) with a beautiful cowl draped front. I LOVE it and it's very flattering on my shape. Vogue 1170, a Donna Karan sack dress, is very flattering. And yes, it's another cowl. (I think I have to branch out, people.) Vogue 8634 is my current go-to top (you guessed it, a cowl). It's got raglan sleeves, it's so flattering, and it takes 3 hours to make on a serger. I realize that all of these are Vogue patterns. I also really like Colette patterns, and I've enjoyed Hot Patterns, too.

What was the first item you sewed that made you beam with pride?

The very first skirt thrilled me to bits. I couldn't believe I'd made something from scratch. But V8123 was the first thing I made that a) looked really good, b) looked really good on me, and c) was well-constructed.

K-line-slip-patternName your five top tips for beginners, please.

1. Practice, practice, practice. When you're not sewing, read blogs and books and watch tutorials. Immerse yourself.

2. Push yourself. Make something that frightens you. You'll be amazed by what you can accomplish.

3. Create a dedicated space (however small) and keep it very tidy. Come up with a system for everything from the get-go. Then you won't ever become disorganized (which is just a distraction).

4. Read sewing blogs and, if you've got the drive, start your own blog (if you don't already have one). This will help to keep you focused and will give you a community of practice from which to draw on — and which you can give back to.

5. Join an online sew-along.

What's the last garment that you made and are you pleased with it?

V8634, my fourth one, a modified version of the three pattern options (longer length hem, three-quarter  length sleeves). I am pleased, but, weirdly, I cut the knit against the grain of stretch. It was an accident, and I've never done that before. It's pretty close to too-small. Mind you I have a slim tween daughter and a slim friend who can both benefit if I choose to regift. (On my daughter, it will be a loose tunic.) The pattern itself is drafted very large, so even mis-cut in a small, I can likely still get away with it. That's a good feature in a pattern.

Have you sewn with unprinted vintage patterns? If so, please share pointers for newbies who might want to try them.

No, I haven't, and they fascinate and scare me! I definitely want to hear more about these from the other sewists who take this survey.

K-line-lady-grayHow long does it take to get to the Vogue "Plus Difficile" rated pattern?  (I can dream, can't I?)

I can dream, too! You know, I've heard this about Vogue — and I'm inclined to think it's true: They rate the patterns largely by number of pieces and number of steps. So a pattern that you might find quite straightforward can be rated very difficult. I think it depends, also, on one's comfort level with the techniques we think of as difficult. Tailoring is labor-intensive, but it's not actually difficult. But, would I have tried tailoring on my own (if I hadn't been able to rely on Gertie's Lady Grey Coat sew-along)? I think it would have taken a while.

Share with me your funniest sewing adventure, please.

My first skirt covered all the bases — but my husband and I, even as we toiled into the night (all night) on our 1-hour skirt pattern — managed to keep a sense of humor. There was a lot of laughing and threatening to throw the sewing machine in the garbage.

And your most exasperating or difficult.

Truly, there are too many to name. If I were capricious, I would have quit sewing LONG ago, because it can be project after project of intense difficulty, especially as one is learning. For me, so relatively new to the game, every single project involves something new. New can be tricky and tiring and unpleasant. However, as I go on, I do find fewer things that are totally out of the ballpark. So the projects tend to be less intense. Well, except for that coat I just made.

What's your favorite pattern ever to sew?

I really can't say for sure. There's been a lot of fun in a lot of patterns. I guess I'll go with the Colette patterns Sencha blouse.

It's beautiful to sew. And it's not so complicated that a relatively new sewist can't give it a go. Mind you, I think it takes more general knowledge than the average newbie is likely to have. I'd suggest it no sooner than fourth or fifth garment project.

Do you sew vintage patterns?

I've sewn with reissued vintage patterns. Nothing that's actually from, say, 1950. I don't really have the money to prioritize on these amazing pieces of history, given that I'm still really on a learning curve, and there are a lot of modern patterns with vintage elements that are less risky to try out. Of course, as I get better (less hit and miss) I will buy vintage patterns. Complicated things you can't find everywhere — coats or tailored suits, for example. And I'll definitely trace them!

How many hours of sewing do you think it takes for the average person to become proficient?

Well, Victoria of Ten Thousand Hours of Sewing blog posits it's 10,000 hours. That's Malcolm Gladwell's (Outliers) perspective. I've been sewing a conservative average of 80 hours a month for 13 months. That gives me a few more than 1000 hours of experience, and I feel I am an adequate sewist. If you give me a pattern and instructions, I will figure it out (though depending on the complexity, I may have a dicey result or the process of getting from fabric to finished garment may be very painful!).

What can take a sewist a very long time, especially depending on the shape of his or her body and how well (s)he understands it three-dimensionally, is making clothes that fit perfectly. That's an entirely different art form. That's dressmaking or tailoring, not simply sewing. I'm going to estimate that it takes about 2000 hours to become competent at that. Some people have very challenging shapes (i.e. lots of alterations and adjustments are required) and others don't have a great eye. So if you fall into those categories, maybe it would take 3000 hours. It's well worth the effort, though. Once you can do that, you can do anything.

Sewing really is an art form. I truly believe one gets back what one puts in (unless one is extremely talented, in which case the world's her oyster). If you want to be good, I suspect you have to think about it all the time — at least for a couple of years. What I can tell you is that, by nature, I have very minimal 2D-to-3D spatial reasoning skills. I've spent the last year developing those, and I've come a tremendously far way. It's like my brain has learned another language. I LOVE that I have taught myself to do this. The moral for me: Don't let weaknesses fool you into thinking you can't get good. Rise to the challenge, and you will achieve amazing things.

How about that hubby? Is he a keeper or what? Hubbies out there, take a lesson. OK?