Sew how? She who muses elegantly stitches exquisitely. June 10, 2011 02:30 3 Comments

Casey's blog, Elegant Musings, is fun to read. Her clothes are lovely to see. She learned to sew when she realized that doing so could lead to clothes she wanted to wear and help her attain the image she wanted to project. Isn't that the most? Yes indeed.

How long have you been sewing?

I've been sewing since I was very small; probably about age six is when I first picked up a needle and thread!

What inspired you to learn?

The idea of being able to make my own clothes – even at a young age! I have always been fascinated with past fashion and spent hours pouring over books on historic costume as a child. The idea of being able to replicate these looks (even if just for my dolls) was exciting. Making things with my hands has always had a strong appeal for me as well. I am very curious about handcraft techniques (of all sorts) and am intensely satisfied when I create something.

Did your mother or grandmother sew?

My mom sewed quite a bit when I was younger, and I think that inspired me. I still remember some of the pretty dresses and gorgeous winter coats she made my sister and me – I think that is when I started to realize (in a very tiny way!) that sewing could be a portal into both acquiring clothes I like and achieving the look I wanted to project.

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

Primarily my mom for the basics; although she didn't teach me to sew on her machine until I was 10. We spent several months with a "how-to-sew-for-kids" book and made some wacky little projects. But they were useful in teaching me how to operate the machine! After that it's been largely learning through books, magazines (like my favorite publication Threads) and online resources.

What was the first garment that you made?

From start to finish? Does a badly drafted and hand-stitched (this was prior to learning to use a sewing machine) top count? I found a book at the library when I was about 8 or 9 called Slapdash Sewing. It was a slim, little 70s DIY book that showed how to make your own patterns to create your own clothes. I made a flutter-sleeve top out of some awful blue cotton (quilting weight). It lasted about 10 minutes when I wore it because my hand stitches weren't all that great! But I was pretty proud that I created the pattern on my own!

Did you wear it?

Yep - outside to show off to all my neighborhood friends, before it ripped at the underarm! Hehe!

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

I feel that for a long time I didn't focus on the quality of basics as much as I should have, because more complicated and advanced techniques were really enticing. In my late teens, I went back and started to review a lot of those basics (still am – it's amazing the things I relearn with every project!) in order to improve my sewing overall. I feel that learning to sew isn't so much a series of defined steps, as organically learning with each project. 

Caseydress How long did it take you to feel confident of your dressmaking skills?

It probably wasn't until about five years ago that I started to really think I could sew well. Even though people had told me for years I was good at sewing (and this wasn't just from people who didn't sew), I lacked the inner confidence in my own know-how. Definitely being able to write about it on my blog has helped me a bit with my confidence as well!

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

Occasionally! This is something I'm really trying to get better about, simply because I only have so much space to store pieces that I make that aren't worn. For me, sewing isn't always about finishing with a garment that I can wear but also learning techniques. As I said, I'm very curious when it comes to handcrafts, and sometimes I make something that is more about exploring new ideas or silhouettes then compatibility with my wardrobe/lifestyle. 

How many hours a week do you sew?

Like most other sewers, some weeks, I sew a lot, and others, I barely have time to touch my machine! I would say on average about 6-8 hours. Sometimes, it's compressed all into one weekend, and other times, it's a series of short sessions in the evenings.

What are your five favorite sewing books?

Vogue Book of Sewing (I have the '70s edition).

Professional Sewing Techniques for Designers by Julie Cole.

Sew U: Home Stretch by Wendy Mullin.

Couture Sewing Techniques by Claire Schaeffer.

Fabric Sewing Guide by Claire Schaeffer.

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

I haven't really explored the world of sewing DVDs yet!

What garment would you suggest that a newbie make first?

A simple skirt or top. Something without too many details that require more skill (like set-in sleeves) or time, but allow the novice sewer to be able to work on mastering things like sewing a straight line, adding a detail or two (patch pockets and elastic waistbands come to mind), grading seams, and finishing. Simple gathered skirts are a great option or a sleeveless summer top is another.


Work on improving those skills by learning to add a zipper or doing a couple buttonholes. As I said, I tend to view sewing as something that you build on your skills organically, based on the projects you choose. I also think that the truly inspired and determined novice can tackle more complicated projects (as long as they have the basics down) with the proper patience and resources. It may not be the final product you are able create in a couple years, but it's worth it for the learning experience.

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

Hmmm . . . I always want to say the last piece I made! I've made a couple things since this, but the one project that still excites me is my take on the Sewaholic Pendrell blouse pattern. It's a modern style blouse, but I redid the neckline and added a scalloped collar for a bit more of a vintage 30s flair. 

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

An 1830s style cotton afternoon dress. I created it to possibly enter in a contest, decided not to, but was paid quite a high compliment by an experienced seamstress and pattern maker when I showed her the garment! That was when I was 17, and it meant a lot to me and encouraged me that yes, I could sew.

Name your five top tips for beginners, please.

Don't let yourself be intimidated by other people's sewing. Each of us learn at a different pace, and some are more naturally talented than others at sewing. But just because you don't think you have a "knack", doesn't mean you should give up. Keep learning and improving your knowledge, and you'll get there.

Learn the basics well (things like stitching a straight line, clipping curves, even cutting out and marking a pattern accurately!), and spend time honing your understanding of fabrics and seam finishes.

Pick out projects that appeal to you and are within your skill set (in other words, if you just started sewing last week, a tailored coat might not be best to try just yet!). You don't have to sew a pillowcase because that's what a beginner is "supposed" to sew. Maybe a straight, gathered skirt or simple apron would be a better choice (and something you can get excited about).

Invest in good tools. While sewing isn't the most expensive of hobbies, it does require some specialized equipment. Know where you can save and not; things like machines can be bought second hand, but don't get chintzy on a pair of fabric shears!

Surround yourself with learning resources: books, classes and sewing blogs are a great place to start! I have a large sewing library at this point because it makes the task of looking up a technique or refreshing my memory on an old one very easy. Caseycami

Is there a garment you are particularly pleased with?

My first piece of lingerie that I made earlier this year. I used a graphed pattern from a '70s book for cami-knickers that had a distinct '30s flair to them. A post-Christmas splurge of some silk charmeuse and gorgeous vintage lace I found online really contributed to how beautiful the final piece turned out. I also really took my time to carefully construct this piece; it's something I love wearing and admiring!

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

Yes! I would say that the first step is to carefully study the patterns and understand the perforations/markings on the patterns (you can usually find the meanings for these markings on the instructions sheet). Trace the patterns on lightweight pattern paper and transfer all the markings and write in the meanings for each. This helps loads with deciphering the pieces!

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

Haha! I'll let you know when I get there! LOL.

Share your funniest sewing adventure, please.

Hmm . . . Would the myriad of times I've sewn in an invisible zipper wrong be considered funny? No matter how many times I sew them (which admittedly, isn't a lot any longer; I prefer using regular zippers), invisible zippers are my sewing Achilles Heel. For some reason I always end up having to rip out part of them and redo, usually because I sewed the teeth pointing in the wrong direction. I've been working on that lately and trying to make it more second nature than comedy of errors. I'm sure I've had something completely hilarious happen with my sewing, I'm just drawing a complete blank at the moment!

And your most exasperating or difficult.

My first (and ongoing) foray into tailoring Colette Patterns Lady Grey jacket. Part of it was the fabric I chose; it was really too light, despite being described as perfect for coats (I bought it online. Live and learn.). My lack of tailoring knowledge really showed with that purchase! Thankfully, I had a backup fabric that worked a lot better and hid all those hours of pad stitches. Now just to finish the jacket . .

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

I would probably have say the Sense and Sensibility Swing Dress pattern, as I've made four dresses from that pattern. It's one of those patterns that goes together quickly and is flattering!

Do you sew vintage patterns?

Yes I do. I'd say about 50%-60% of my sewing is with vintage or vintage reproduction patterns.

Do you find instructions easier to follow on vintage patterns?

I wouldn't say they are easier, they tend to be a bit more complicated in some ways and vague in others. But, I do love the attention to detail that they provide! Plus all those lovely vintage touches – who couldn't resist?!

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

I hesitate to say a specific number of hours, because I think it really varies from person to person and their attention to detail. Some people will naturally pick up sewing more quickly than others, but I think overall one thing I can say is that a persistence and dedication to learning are what takes one from novice to intermediate sewer.

Wasn't that informative? And inspirational? And isn't the fabric for her swing dress darling? Yes. Yes. Yes.