Sew how: Dee nurtured & sustained an interest in learning to sew.

Deehead2Dee, of the terrific EC blog, Seams Sustainable, rarely fails to amaze me with her ingenuity. She's so creative. She's been kind enough to share some tidbits about her sewing odyssey with us. Enjoy, readers. I did.

How long have you been sewing?

A little over 40 years.

What inspired you to learn?

I wanted to learn to sew for the freedom! Freedom to use customization options not available in a retail store, freedom to add to my wardrobe independently (my mom was not very fashion-forward, and when retail shopping, gravitated toward things I thought were ghastly), and freedom from high retail prices.

SimDid your mother or grandmother sew?

Yes, both my mom and my grandmother sewed.  By the time I was learning, my grandmother rarely sewed garments.  At that time, she was very into knitting and crochet. I remember my mother making my dress for my sixth-grade graduation (back then, elementary school ended at sixth grade, and it was off to junior high for seventh through ninth).  It was a very cute and mod dress with bell sleeves, Simplicity 1742. She made the sleeves out of a sheer fabric. 

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

I began sewing in seventh-grade home economics.  The first thing we made was a tote bag.

What was the first garment that you made?

The first garment I made was a purple-and-black maxi dress, I believe made with Simplicity 9164. This dress was NOT uncomplicated for a junior sewist. It had raglan sleeves, a zipper that spanned across the upper back, midriff piece and into the skirt piece, gathers, and elastic insertions in the neck and sleeves.

Did you wear it?

Wear it?  I practically wore it out!  I loved that dress, and I felt very stylish in it. It was definitely something my mom would never have bought for me.

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

I feel like I'm still getting the basics down!  No matter how long I sew, there is always a technique I haven't used in a while to brush up on, or something new to learn.

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

I would say I felt prematurely confident, which was, of course, a double-edged sword.  It allowed me to try things that were probably outside my skill level, which helped my skills to grow; however, there have been a lot of failures along the way.  Plunging ahead into the abyss can be an expensive way to learn!

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

Unfortunately, yes. Mainly because for a while I had an unfortunate tendency toward amassing UFOs, those maddening uncompleted projects.  Now, as I finish them, I find that I am no longer the size that I cut out several years ago! (Alas! Though I am trying hard to shed some pounds.)  Also, I do a lot of restyling.  Sometimes the finished piece will look well on me, and sometimes not.  I sell the "nots", along with creations made just to sell, in my Etsy shop.

How many hours a week do you sew?

Currently, about 10 to 20 hours a week. I'm unemployed at present, which opens up a lot more sewing hours. I'm constantly impressed at the ladies who manage to sew a lot while balancing homes and outside employment.  You go, girls!

What are your five favorite sewing books?

Only 5?  I have a huge weakness for books!  Almost as huge as my weakness for patterns!

1.    The Colette Sewing Handbook by Sarai Mitnick

2.    Little Green Dresses by Tina Sparkles

3.    The Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Sewing

4.    Make Your Own Clothes by Marie Clayton

5.    Fast Fit by Sandra Betzina

I think this is the first time the Betzina book has made the list. I have it, and I love the format. Do share the reasons you like it?

1.  It, like many other sewing books, teaches you how to take proper measurements, which in turn, of course helps you to choose the appropriate pattern size.

2.  The author explains ease really well, and gives examples of differing amounts of wearing ease in garments.

3.  She covers "simple" upsizing and downsizing.  This ability is needed when sewing vintage patterns which are not in your exact size.  For instance, I generally use a Bust 38 pattern.  Vintage ladies tended to be a lot smaller, so finding those 38s and 40s is tough.  Learning to size up (and down) is essential.

4.  Then comes the "complicated" part.  She dissects over 100 little individual differences, like small bust, sway back, protruding tummy (and obviously many more) and shows you how to correct for each one.  In the book, Betzina alters the actual patterns, but I have used her techniques to alter the muslin instead in order to keep my patterns in their original condition.  Though I'm really not sure why . . . I guess so when young sewists come to the estate sale held when I'm gone they don't cry over the abuse I perpetrated to my patterns! (Editor's note: Good girl!)

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

As visual as I am, I don't really do DVDs.  Probably because when the medium came out, often the offerings were so expensive.

What garment would you suggest that a newbie make first?

Pink-sorbettoI would suggest something fairly simple, with no fancy closures or set in sleeves.  The Colette Sorbetto Blouse comes to mind, or an elastic waistband skirt.  What you're going for in that first garment is success.  When you've had that first success, you are going to want more.


Next, I'd suggest a sheath dress.  You can make it sleeveless to delay putting in sleeves a bit longer.  Most sheaths will have bust darts, shaping darts and a zipper.  Another option would be a skirt with shaping darts and a zip.

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

I would have to say, my daughter's Odette tutu.  It was made from my mother's wedding gown.  I took apart the gown's bodice to make a corseted basque and made the top layer of the tutu from the gown's netting lace so that the two pieces would match.  This one garment made three generations happy.  My mother loved that her granddaughter was wearing her wedding gown, I loved making the costume for my daughter, and she had a professional grade tutu for far less than we would have paid a costume shop.

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

I'd say it was that first maxi dress.

Name your five top tips for beginners, please.

1.  Make a muslin or trial garment before cutting into expensive fashion fabric.

2.  Take your time and cut as precisely as humanly possible. This will save lots of aggravation later in the sewing process.

3.  Especially when starting out, read the directions and follow them.

4.  For new techniques, consult online tutorials, books and live sewists you know.

5.  If at first you don't succeed: Try, try again!

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

The last garment from a pattern was Burda 8995 (out of print), a sixties-styled sheath dress with a really cute back closure shortie jacket. I'm very pleased with it, though the dress is a bit snug in the hips right now ? hopefully that will change!

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

I've done one.  Plunge in, give it a try ? it's only fabric!

Share your funniest sewing adventure, please.

While not laugh out loud funny, the funniest sewing experience was sewing two full size (10' x 10' floor space) Viking A frame tents.  The seams were forever long and the heavyweight Cordura fabric was (go figure) heavy, so a friend would have to hold the fabric behind me and feed it to me slowly, while another one caught as it came off the sewing table.  This prevented the weight of the fabric from breaking needles or causing skipped stitches.  Sewing alone is one thing, but a three person tag team is quite another!

And your most exasperating or difficult.

The most difficult was another dance costume for my daughter.  It was Kwik Sew 2796, with a sleeve modification.  The pattern itself was not the difficult part, but I hand-sewed thousands of silvered glass bugle beads to the costume, one by one.  It was hours and hours of work, but, by golly, she sparkled up there on stage!

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

Every pattern becomes my new favorite, but I think my current favorite is vintage Butterick 4228.  It's a sixties pencil skirt and top. I've made a wearable muslin of the top, and I'm planning to make the whole suit from lavender linen.  The wearable muslin is made with a print which complements the lavender, so the skirt will have two interchangeable tops!

Do you sew vintage patterns?

Yes, I love them. There's something fabulous about each and every one. I love feminine little details, no matter what era they are from! I am somewhat limited in terms of collecting vintage patterns, as I am unemployed right now, but I always have a wish list to use my birthday and other gift money on!

Top2Do you find instructions easier to follow on vintage patterns?

Actually, now that you mention it, yes. I'm not a real vintage veteran, having only done a few at this point, but the directions were awesome.

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

I think 10 to 20 concentrated hours of actual sewing will make someone at least able to produce basic garments.

So. There you go. Motivated to sit down at the machine again? I am. Absolutely.

(And, pretty offspring of Dee, you lucky girl, be thankful for all your momma's hard work on making your costumes shine!)