Sew how? She's a sewing fanatic, and I am one dedicated fan. August 13, 2012 01:45 4 Comments

Fanatic_jacketI am so excited about this Sew how? Why, you ask? Because Carolyn's Diary of a Sewing Fanatic is one of the first sewing blogs I discovered, and I am still a loyal reader. Very. I bet you are, too.

So. Pour yourself some lemonade and enjoy the story of how she learned to sew. You are in for a treat.

How long have you been sewing?

Since I was 11. 

What inspired you to learn?

I think my grandmother pushed me more than I was inspired.

Did your mother or grandmother sew?

My grandmother taught me by taking me to Woolworth's (does anyone remember Woolworth’s) to buy a pattern to make clothes for my Barbie dolls. She gave me one of her cast-off dresses for fabric, taught me a few hand stitches, and I was off.

How did you continue learning?

Started with my grandmother and then I took every class I could. When I was younger, there were so many more of them around, besides the ones in school, there was an afterschool club as well as the classes at the Singer stores.

What was the first garment that you made?

A maxi-jumper with suspenders . . . I can still see the green plaid that I used to make it.

Did you wear it?

Of course I did, proudly!

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

You know, I’ve been sewing almost nonstop for 42 years. I just don’t remember that anymore . . . but I do remember being fearless and sewing anything.

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

Right away. I knew I was supposed to sew, that it was my talent almost from the beginning. It’s probably why I never stopped sewing completely.  I had a sewing machine in college in my dorm room and in every home I’ve lived in since.

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

I don’t think there is a sewist around who hasn’t made a wadder or two. So of course, I’ve made pieces that I won’t wear.

How many hours a week do you sew?

12-16 hours . . . basically most of my weekend 

What are your five favorite sewing books?

1.  The Vogue/Butterick Step by Step Guide to Sewing Techniques

2.  Any book by Adele Margolis

3.  The Singer Sewing Library (every single book!)

4.  The Taunton Sewing Library (some issues can now be bought on ebook)

5.  Any book by Sandra Betzina

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

I have a few by Nancy Zieman and Sandra Betzina that I would grab in case of fire.

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

Can I suggest blogs instead? Gigi Sews; The Sewing Divas; Ann of Gorgeous Things, who now has the video Sewing University and finally YouTube. If you don’t know how to do something, search YouTube. It’s amazing how many videos are there!

What garment would you suggest that a newbie make first?

I highly recommend and use to teach a skirt first. My thought was how could you possibly convince someone that they could make garments by teaching them to make a pillow or a tote bag. And a skirt gives you lessons in applying a zipper, some fitting, interfacing for a waistband, etc. The goal should be to teach techniques that can be carried into the next garment. I truly believe that’s how you hook a newbie.


Nowadays,  a quick knit t-shirt. There are so many great patterns out there now!

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

My pink Chanel knock-off dress — because I realized that I could cut up a pattern and get a wonderful wearable designer-inspired garment.

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

I made a two-tone (black with black/white houndstooth) shirtdress that fit so well, and everyone asked if I’d bought it. I wore the heck out of that dress and sadly have no pictures of it. 

Name your five top tips for beginners, please.

1. Watch the grain when cutting out.

2.  Just do it.

3.  Be fearless.

4.  Learn what silhouettes work for your body type.

5.  Press your seams flat and then open. Pressing is the difference between a good-looking garment or a happy hands made at home one.

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

My trendy lace dress, because not only did I make another version of my TNT dress, but I also dyed my own fabric.

Have you sewn with unprinted vintage patterns?

No, I haven’t.

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

Honestly, even with the years of sewing experience that I have behind me, I still take a deep breath before using a difficult pattern. And there are some techniques that I avoid like the plague because I haven’t been successful with them. 

Share with me your funniest sewing adventure, please.

I can’t even remember one now . . . see what happens when you’ve been sewing so long? 

And your most exasperating or difficult.

I don’t sew chiffon anymore, because the slippery slitheriness of it drives me to distraction.

What's your favorite pattern ever to sew?

My TNT dress pattern. It can be whatever I want and it always fits! 

Do you sew vintage patterns?

I’ve sewn a couple. 

Do you find instructions easier to follow on vintage patterns?

I find the instructions to be more complete and hold so much more information in 2 pages than the 4 to 6 pages included in current patterns.

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

I think it totally depends on the person and that there is no set formula to it. I do believe that if you keep sewing, there will come a moment when you’re sewing along and you just know what to do. You’ll realize that you’ve arrived at a point you were attempting to reach, and the feeling of euphoria that accompanies that moment propels you forward, giving you courage to attempt things you hadn’t thought of trying before.

If you're a newbie, are you totally inspired to stick with sewing now? I am. And a round of grateful applause for Carolyn. Thank you for sharing!