Sew how? The Mahogany Stylist learned when she was a wee bit. June 7, 2012 02:09 1 Comment

S2812 Me 1
When I began to edit this, I was exhausted. So very. (We went to Prescott this weekend, loaded a truck, drove home to ABQ. The last load after six months. We can put the house on the market. At last.) I just wanted to crawl into bed. Pull the covers over my head. Sleep. Et cetera.

But then, I started reading the sewing story of Cennetta, who writes the fabulous blog, The Mahogany Stylist. I perked right up. Worked like amphetamines.  Truly. She — and her adventures at the sewing machine — are that interesting. You are in for a treat, dear readers. You are. Definitely. Read and enjoy.

How long have you been sewing?

I’ve been sewing for 39 years.  It all started when I was about 10 years old.  I used scraps from my mom's and my neighbor's sewing projects to make doll clothes. I actually hand-sewed them while “draping” them on the doll.  I guess this was my first experience with draping.  Lol! The only problem was when I wanted to change the outfit I had to cut them off the doll, because there were no snaps or Velcro closures.

What inspired you to learn?

When I was a kid, I was very tall and very skinny.  None of the RTW clothes fit me.  Everything had to be taken in. So, in the beginning, I was inspired to learn because of fit issues.  Then as I got older, I became excited about having the ability to make something unique.  And besides, why not learn?  Sewing was all around me. I come from a family of creative sewists.  It’s in my blood.

Did your mother or grandmother sew?

Yes, my mother and both grandmothers sewed — each of them specializing in a particular type of sewing.  My mother sewed mostly garments and a few baby clothes.  In recent years, she has made quilts —and lots of them.  My grandmother, on my mother’s side, also made quilts and baby clothes.  My dad’s mom made everything: clothes (for everyone), home dec, crocheted and knitted.  I think she impressed me the most with her many exciting sewing tales.  Several of my relatives think I’m most like her.

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

My first and only sewing class was in junior high.  It was a six-week course.  The class basically taught me how to “drive” the sewing machine, to make a straight and zig-zag stitches.  Very basic.  In class, we made a simple tote bag and hand-stitched a stuffed dog made of felt.  From then until about two years ago, I’ve learned from books, magazines, online sewing forums, and of course trial and error.  I belong to the Haute Couture Club of Chicago and have opportunities to participate in workshops and seminars.  So far, I’ve participated in purse and glove making workshops.

What was the first garment that you made?

My first garment was a pair of pants that my best friend’s mom helped me make.  It took forever to finish them.

Did you wear it?

Yes, with great pride.

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

Oh, I guess I could say, about three or four years.  I was in high school when I started feeling good about my basic sewing skills.

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

Believe it or not, it took several years before I felt confident.  And it seems with each decade and each evolution of my body, I’m challenged with fit issues. Additionally, I try to continue to learn new techniques.

By reading sewing blogs and learning and fit books, I'm proficient with making adjustments and executing construction processes with no problem.

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

Yes, every once in a while, I have a wadder.  As a matter of fact, last week I produced one of these beauties.  I’m still trying to salvage it. The dress has a wonky hemline, because I cut the center front and back on the bias.

How many hours a week do you sew?

That’s hard to say; it depends on the type of project I’m working on.  But to give a rough estimate, I would say from five to ten hours.

What are your five favorite sewing books?

Vogue Book of Sewing; Palmer/Pletsch Fit for Real People; Threads Easy Guide to Serger Fine Fabrics; and the Singer Sewing Book collection.

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

I have not. But I do subscribe to And, there are hundreds of video clips online that are an excellent resource.

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

The Threads website, YouTube (many sewing bloggers post tutorials there), Sandra Betzina’s Power Sewing has some free tutorials, has tips and techniques.

What garment would you suggest that a newbie make first?There are a few good projects for newbies:  an apron, simple skirt and pair of PJs. The newbie will learn/practice using the sewing machine, practice making straight stitches and possibly zigzag stitch to finish seams, practice making a casing for elastic and practice making a hem.


A pencil skirt with darts and regular zipper is a good second project.

Ivory Lace Dress Front Hand Hip
What is your favorite of all the garments you have made?

That’s a hard question. I have so many that are favorites. But if I have to pick one, it would be New Look 6824 (ivory lace dress). And because I do a lot of sewing for others, my favorite client project would be Vogue 8355, a suit that I made for P. Bell.

V8355 Paulette Front
What was the first item you sewed that made you beam with pride?

It was the first pair of pants that I made in junior high. From that project, I knew sewing would always be a part of my life. The pants fit in the waist and were long enough plus I got to choose my fabric and pattern.

Name your five top tips for beginners, please.

  • Purchase a fairly decent sewing machine. It doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. You can buy a good machine for about $300.00. Then learn how to drive your machine. Don’t be timid about testing out the features. Try projects that you can incorporate the use of those features.
  • Purchase basic sewing tools. Then build on that. Good tools are an investment, and it is important to have the proper tools to achieve great results.
  • Purchase a good reference/fit book and subscribe to some online sewing forum.  Some forums are free. is a good place to start. 
  • Practice, practice, practice . . . Don’t let a wadder or people discourage you. All sewers have produced garments that are less than show-off worthy. Keep sewing!
  • Challenge yourself. Build on your current skills. For example, make a few unlined skirts or dresses. Then try a lined one. After successfully installing a regular zipper, try a beaded handpicked one. The goal is to become proficient in your sewing.

V8190 & M4321 All Smiles
What's the last garment that you made? Are you pleased with it?

The last advanced garment made was a prom dress for my cousin (Vogue 8190). The pattern read average. But I considered it to be advanced. And yes, I was very pleased with the results.

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

I haven’t sewn an unprinted vintage pattern, but I do own a few and plan to sew one.

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

It depends on your eagerness to try difficult patterns. You should possess intermediate sewing skills and zero fear of an advanced pattern. If I must put a time on readiness to try an advanced pattern, I would say at least a couple hundred hours of sewing, and during that time, experience with a variety of intermediate skill leveled construction processes.

Share your funniest sewing adventure, please.

Sorry I really can’t think of a funny sewing adventure. But I can tell you about an adventure that made me cry. In 2007, I was doing the final press of an organza coat that I made for Ms. P. Bell, when I forgot to check the setting on the iron. Needless to say, I touched the iron to the coat, and immediately, the coat stuck to the iron. That little mistake made me cry. I was finished. So I had to rip that piece out, go to the store for more fabric and replace the front of the coat.

And your most exasperating or difficult.

The most exasperating was making Vogue 1015 for Ms. C. Bell, another client. Many, many steps in the making of this dress; and I had neglected to transfer some of the markings. And that worsened my anxiety.

V1250 Front Blk Floral
S4076 Green and Purple FrontWhat's your favorite pattern ever to sew, if you remember?

This is another hard question. This is like asking me what’s my favorite color? I don’t really have “one.” So here are a few: New Look 6824, McCall 5818, Vogue 1250 (shown above), Burda 7576 (pictured below), Simplicity 4076 (at left), McCall’s 5247 (used to make DD inspiration coat).

Burda 7576 Fascinator 7
Do you sew vintage patterns?

Yes, I love vintage style. Especially those from the 40s and 50s. To date I’ve sewn many re-releases of vintage patterns. But have only sewn a few original prints.

B5672 6Do you find instructions easier to follow on vintage patterns?

In my experience, I can’t say if they were easier. They weren’t difficult to understand or to follow.

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

It really depends on the eagerness of the person to try different construction processes and techniques. If they continuously try new processes, I would estimate four to five hundred hours.

Did you find this time with lovely Cennetta as inspiring as I did? I hope so. I'm chartreuse over her wardrobe. Absolutely. Especially the ivory lace dress. Wow! And the shoes she's wearing with the dress are gorgeous, too. Very.