Sew how? Debi began with a teacher found on Craigslist! May 19, 2011 03:33 9 Comments

Debi of My Happy Sewing Place creates beautiful garments from vintage patterns. And she's new to sewing. You'd never know it from the looks of these garments. I am in awe. I am.

How long have you been sewing?

I've been sewing for almost a year and a half.  I finished my first garment in December 2009.  I first became interested in 2005 but was more contemplating than actually sewing for a couple of years.

What inspired you to learn?

I've always been interested in vintage fashion and began looking online for images and stumbled across Casey's Elegant Musings and Wearing History blogs.  I credit these two lovely bloggers with inspiring me to learn to actually sew!

Did your mother or grandmother sew?

Both my mother and my grandmother sew, but I was never formally taught.  Now that I sew, I do ask them for advice and pick up lots of extra tips from them.  My grandma showed me how to hem when I was visiting her last summer!

How did you learn?

I took some sewing lessons (three to be exact) from a sewing tutor I found on Craigslist in New York City when I lived there (before moving to Scotland).  After viewing Casey's and Lauren's blogs, I knew that I wanted to sew using vintage patterns! That's when I became completely obsessed with vintage patterns and bought up a bunch before I even knew how to sew!!

What was the first garment that you made?

It was a bit daunting and very slow going in the beginning.  In my lessons, we made a muslin of the first pattern I wanted to try.  I didn't really get the concept of the muslin at the time, and I didn't stick with the lessons long enough to figure out that you transfer any changes you make back onto your pattern! Haha!  So I did a muslin and then just started over from scratch to make the dress. I finished it in 2009 right around the time that I finished my first blouse.  However, it didn’t really fit me at all!!

Did you wear it?

No! It didn't fit!  So in 2010, after I had made a few other garments, I felt that I could tackle that first dress again.  Here's a list of alterations I ended up making to it:

I took the dress up by about 3 inches on each side in the shoulders (via darts). 

  • I put in a princess seam on each side of the back bodice (took out about 1-2 inches of fabric on each side) tapering down to the waist sides. 
  • I shortened the sleeves up by about 3 inches. 
  • I also tacked the cuffs to the bodice (because the original interfacing was too heavy).
  • I hemmed the dress and took about 4 inches off the length.
  • I made a matching fabric belt and covered a belt buckle.
  • I redid part of the center-front seam, to bring it up higher.
  • I attached the collar deeper into the dress (so that it wasn't as large).
  • I had to redo the neckline because of the darts I made in the shoulders.
  • I had to tweak the sleeves so that the cuffs fit (because I had shortened the sleeves).

 And now it fits, and I love it!  Though I don’t wear it as often as I'd like to.  I learned that while wing-tip cuffs look cute, it's nearly impossible to wear a sweater or coat with it, and well, it doesn't get that warm here in Scotland!  I do love wearing it on the few warm days we get!!

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

The first couple of lessons helped me to understand how to cut out fabric and pin it, how to ease in and sew seams as well as the basics of the grainline, etc.  The basics were relatively quick to pick up.  Other parts of sewing, like the fitting process, is a constant learning curve.

How long did it take you to feel confident of your dressmaking skills? After I made my first pair of trousers, I started feeling like I could do this and make garments that I really adore. 

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

I try not to!  There are a few things that I've sewn that won't have a heavy rotation in my closet, but I try to wear everything I sew at some point!

How many hours a week do you sew?

Five-15 hours

What are your five favorite sewing books?

I have a few sewing books that I like.  However, if I am stumped by something, I tend to look online at everyone else's blogs!

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

I haven't seen any sewing DVDs 

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

There’s so many that are useful! I find Tasia’s (from Sewaholic) tutorials easy to follow and really comprehensive! I also like the tutorials I have seen recently on the Colette blog and from A Fashionable Stitch!

What garment would you suggest that a newbie make first?

Whatever gets you really excited! Honestly, it's about making something that you passionately want to make.  It will help the process.  I could never get excited about wrap skirts or the other traditional‘beginner’ projects.  I wanted wing-tips, handmade belts and puffy sleeves!!

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

That’s a tough one.  I think it’s a toss up between three items: 1) my 1940 faux fur jacket, 2) my 1933 Eva Dress pattern dress and jacket, and 3) my 1934 gown.  The funny thing is that they were all very ambitious projects that turned out OK!

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

Debi-blouse My very first blouse from a 1943 DuBarry pattern.  I still wear it all the time!

Name your five top tips for beginners, please.

1. Sew what you love,

2. Aim high and learn along the way,

3. If you are losing your sewing mojo, do another project for awhile and come back to your current project,

4. Make things you'll wear,

5. Get involved in the online sewing community (it really helps!). Starting a blog about sewing and my projects really helped me to integrate into the online sewing community (which is so supportive) and encouraged me to get over my fear and really start spending the time doing what I loved.

6. Don't compare your sewing with others — one of the beauties of sewing is that you sew what you like and to fit your own taste!

Sorry — that's six tips!

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

My 1970's poncho and pants.  This was a complete departure for me (I tend to sew mostly 1930s and 40s garments), so I am quite pleased with it and glad to finally use a pattern that was lurking in my pattern stash completely neglected!

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

My second ever garment to sew was using an unprinted pattern (the Du Barry blouse).  It's not as daunting as it appears.  Each symbol means something.  I've found Tasia's pin marking method very helpful in marking darts and other things on the actual fabric. (I use this for printed and unprinted patterns.)

How long does it take to get to the Vogue "Plus Difficile" rated pattern?  (I can dream, can't I?)

I've only ever sewn with one modern pattern (Colette’s Parfait which is rated Intermediate).  It all depends on what you are used to, I suppose.

Share with me your funniest sewing adventure, please.

Starting my Valentine's Day gown two days before I needed to wear it — including grading from a B30 to a B36 and sewing the hem literally seconds before walking out the door.  My partner, David, has written a great guest post on my blog about that experience!

And your most exasperating or difficult.

Having sporadic buttonholer issues while trying to finish up my 1947 blouse. (That had several buttons in the front!)

What's your favorite pattern ever to sew, if you remember?

My two favorite patterns so far (my Tried N’ True or TNT patterns) are Simplicity 3688 for 1941 trousers and Du Barry 5327 for blouses!

Do you sew vintage patterns?

Oh yes!!

Do you find instructions easier to follow on vintage patterns?

Much easier depending on the decade and pattern company.  Simplicity instructions are fantastic (even for early 30s patterns).  McCall patterns have lots of picture diagrams for their 30s and 40s patterns and more directions for late 40s-50s.  Hollywood patterns are somewhere in between.  

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

I think it's a constant process. You are always learning.  Depending on the person, it can take sewing up a few garments before you start to gain confidence, which is a huge step in taking risks and pushing yourself in your own sewing.