Sew how? Take a bow, bloggers: Joanne learned from you! June 12, 2012 01:16 7 Comments

I am so impressed. Joanne, of the peachy keen blog Stitch and Witter, calls herself a beginner. A beginner! But, I say, look at all she's made. Pretty darn amazing, eh? Read on for the details. Do.

How long have you been sewing?

I’ve had a sewing machine for ten years, but I only sporadically used it for cushions and basic projects until around May last year - so I’ve been sewing in earnest (and sewing clothes) for about a year.

What inspired you to learn?

I decided to take up sewing after seeing an old flatmate make her own cushion covers. I realized how quickly and cheaply you could run something up on a sewing machine. Deciding to make my own clothes took a lot longer though . . . I always shop with a specific garment in mind (I hate window shopping), and more often than not, I could never find what I was looking for, funnily enough! So I decided I would try to learn so I could create my own unique wardrobe.

Did your mother or grandmother sew?

Not at all, although my mum has bought herself a sewing machine after seeing how much I was enjoying it - so quite the reverse!

How did you learn? A class?

I took a basic dressmaking course about 6 years ago and made a dress I never wore - it was a hideous silky sixties affair. Then about a year and a half ago, I discovered the world of sewing blogs and never looked back. Everything since then has been self-taught or gleaned from sewing pattern instructions, books, blogs and helpful comments from the community. I’ve learnt more in a year of sewing at home with the help of the blogging community than I ever did in that course.

What was the first garment that you made?

Oh, dear - I drew around an existing dress and cut it out, then sewed the front to the back and hemmed all the edges (badly. Another was a pleated skirt made from a floral bedsheet with an unfinished waistline cinched in by a pink ribbon! It was an abomination against fashion AND sewing. To be honest, there were lots of fails and half-hearted attempts before I truly got into it and enjoyed it.

Did you wear it?

I wore the dress once when I was at home with a bad head cold during Self-Stitched September. I don’t think I ever had the gall to wear the pleated skirt out of the house.

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

I would say it took about four months of sewing regularly at weekends to really feel comfortable using patterns, cutting out and putting a garment together, without freaking out at the thought of buttonholes or zips.

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

I have to be honest and say I’m still not there. In so many ways, I still feel like a beginner, and I’m happy with that. Almost every project has some learning curve in it, no matter how simple. But that’s the joy of it - and why I feel so pleased when something I’ve made fits me and looks good.

However, I suppose there must be some confidence bubbling away there as I would never have even contemplated a coat a year ago, and I’m absolutely delighted with my March Minoru. I’m still not confident with adjusting patterns and fit; I find it incredibly difficult and frustrating when you’re on your own in front of a mirror trying to assess how to fix a gaping back.

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

Less and less so, but yeah - I sometimes make something that after a few wears I realize doesn’t suit me. I guess you can impulse sew as well as impulse shop!

How many hours a week do you sew?

If it’s a great week, I get in around 12 hours - on a bad week - none. I hate bad weeks as they can run into each other and then you get in a rut. The only way out of it is to sew.

What are your five favorite sewing books?

The Sewing Book by Alison Smith for tips on just about everything

Pattern Magic by Tomoko Nakamichi - not for practical use at my level, but I love the photography and styling

The Colette Sewing Handbook by Sarai Mitnick - great patterns and packed full of tips for beginners and intermediate sewers

Fit for Real People by Palmer, Alto & Schilling - a great book to dip into - especially if you’re trying to improve your fitting expertise like I am

Sew U: The Built by Wendy Guide to Making Your Own Wardrobe by Wendy Mullin - a practical guide to a basic wardrobe which includes patterns

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

Ooh, I don’t know any - any recommendations?

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

Got four for you that I can heartily recommend:

Sorbetto by Colette 

Make a bow belt by Tilly

Anything  by Flossie Teacakes

Prudent Baby snappy top and free pattern

What garment would you suggest that a newbie make first?

A basic pull-over-the-head top without fastenings will give a real confidence boost, like the Sorbetto, or the Grainline Scout tee.


Then move onto something like a simple A-line skirt with zipper and waistband. Nothing too detailed - just front and back. You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to put together.

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

It’s usually the most recent! But seriously, it’s probably a toss up between Simplicity 2444 (my Portlandia dress, shown above) and Simplicity 5961 which I used for Julia Bobbin's Mad Men Dress Challenge earlier this year.  

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

I think it’s got to be my Mad Men dress, made with Simplicity 5961. It’s my first lined dress, it’s made with the most divine and expensive wool, and I feel like I really made it my own with the trimming and buttons.

Name your five top tips for beginners, please.

I’m barely out of being a beginner myself! But here you go:

1. Always prewash your fabric - there’s nothing worse than a shrinking garment after you’ve spent all that time on it. Wash it as soon as you buy it and then store away.

2. Practice buttonholes and zippers whenever you can on scraps of fabric. Don’t practice on actual garments like I mostly do. That way madness and certain tragedy lies.

3. Give as much thought to your fabric as possible. Touch it in fabric shops, pull it off the bolt and drape it against yourself, consider its transparency, whether you’ll need a lining, what kind of interfacing you’ll need etc.

4. Always, always, always measure twice and cut once.

5. Accept you will always be learning and that it’s a good thing!

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

A silky kimono dress from Salme Patterns, and I love it - it’s not only made with gorgeous Marc Jacobs crepe de chine, but it’s got the silkiest lining and feels so comfortable and glamorous to wear.

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

I have some in my stash but have yet to sew with them.

Share your funniest sewing adventure, please.

Um - not so funny at the time ­­- but I once had an (early) project where I not only managed to sew a sleeve on inside out, but I also managed to snip the top off the zipper so the slider flew right off the top! Needless to say it’s still a UFO in the sewing room. 

And your most exasperating or difficult.

There are exasperating bits in every project to be honest!

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

So far, probably the Colette Violet - easy, quick and very adaptable.

Do you sew vintage patterns?

Yes, mostly little dresses or blouses from the sixties.

Do you find instructions easier to follow on vintage patterns?

I think it depends on the pattern maker, to be honest. I’ve found both vintage and modern patterns to be mostly quite clear in their instructions.

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

I’m nowhere near proficient yet, so I couldn’t possibly say :) I think it probably takes years but that mustn’tput people off, because the journey there is so brilliant and creative in itself, and you can make wonderful garments that express your unique style without necessarily being proficient, as it were.

Not proficient yet? Mmmm . . . pardon my skepticism, but the Mad Men dress looks quite professional. Very. Don't you think so? I hope y'all enjoyed learning about Joanne's sewing journey as much as I did. I enjoyed it immensely. I did.