Sew how? Fearless Elle shares her sewing history.

Elle of It's A Sewing Life did not feel the  fear of the needle. She did not feel frightened about ruining fabric. She was not terrified by her machine. And she wore and loved the first ensemble she stitched. Amazing! So unlike me, the sewing mouse hiding in the corner, trembling as she looks at her Bernina. Perhaps I can gain some of her confidence by reading this. Perhaps. Perhaps. It could happen.

Sew-how-ellencc How long have you been sewing?

I?ve been sewing about 38 years!

What inspired you to learn?

I?m not sure I was inspired, or it was just something I did.

Did your mother or grandmother sew? Both. A lot. Which must have been what inspired me to learn.

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

My grandmother taught me. And then my mom followed up with questions I had as I went along. I love to try out new techniques and have dabbled in lots of different kinds of sewing (i.e., smocking, heirloom machine sewing, quilting, home dec), and I will often take classes for these, followed up with books and now online information.

Sew-how-ellen-1st What was the first garment that you made?

I made a dark green skirt first, and then a matching vest to wear for my confirmation.

Did you wear it?

I sure did!

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

Wow, it was so long ago. I think I got the hang of it pretty quickly. My grandmother was a stickler for perfection, so I got to know my seam ripper early on.

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

I?ve been naively confident since Day 1.

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

Sure! Though I?m often game to wear them at least once. Sometimes, you can?t tell a garment won?t work until it gets a test wear. Oh, except for a pair of shorts that I made last summer. Sometimes, you just know right away.

How many hours a week do you sew?

It varies. Maybe anywhere from 5 to 30 hours. I have an Etsy site that I sew for besides personal sewing, so, sometimes, it?s quite a bit more.

What are your five favorite sewing books?

Singer Sewing Book, the complete guide to sewing ©1969; Vogue Sewing ©1982; More Fabric Savvy by Sandra Betzina; Fit for Real People by Pati Palmer and Marta Alto; and my go to for quilting info: Quilter?s Complete Guide by Marianne Fons and Liz Porter.

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

I have one for making decorative pillow covers that?s good, but I?m not even sure where it is right now. Otherwise, I haven?t used any. I?ve heard the one that Threads Magazine has is excellent.

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

I?m a fan, and have used these by searching for a specific technique (for ex: installing a picked zipper), especially those on the Threads website. I also use the videos on the Bernina website for specific sewing machine feet. YouTube is also great for searching out specific techniques. Individual sewing bloggers also have some great tutorials. Yikes, not the succinct list you were looking for.

What garment would you suggest that a newbie make first?

I think skirts are always a good choice, but I would suggest that you choose a pattern that looks like something you would buy in a store, or you will end up not wearing it, thinking that it looks homemade.


Pajamas or a nightgown are good because they often have some additional techniques, and the risk of being seen in public in a homemade garment is low. Now that I think about it, night wear would be a good first garment, too.

Sew-how-ellen What is the favorite of all the garments you have made?

Do I have to pick just one? I love just about all the smocked dresses I made for my daughter, but the favorite that I made for myself was a formal cocktail dress I made in 1991. I am also quite proud of the Christening dress I made for my niece. Sew-how-ellen-cocktail

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

Oh, I was really proud of that skirt and vest I made.

Name your five top tips for beginners, please.

1. Invest in good scissors, and a decent, easy to use sewing machine.

2. Take a class (or two).

3. Take it one step at a time.

4. It doesn?t have to be perfect.

5. Don?t be afraid, and don?t panic.

Sew-how-ellen-mac What's the last garment that you made and are you pleased with it? 

I made myself the Colette Macaron dress, and I am extremely pleased with it!

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

I?ve opened one up and made a muslin of the bodice, but didn?t get farther than that. I?ll take another stab at it this year.

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

Here?s where I?ll tell you how I feel about patterns. I have always just jumped in, pretty much regardless of rating. They are to me how recipes must be to those who like to cook (*ahem* not me). I just take them one step at a time, regardless of rating. So, how long? You?ll know it when you feel you?re ready. Try it out in a cheap fabric, and see how it goes.

Share your funniest sewing adventure, please.

Can you believe it? This is the hardest question. I don?t think I?ve really had any funny sewing adventures.

And your most exasperating or difficult.

Anything I made on my first sewing machine, which was my mother?s first machine, a Singer Rocketeer. Definitely a sewing adventure with a lesson in mechanics.

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

It?s almost always the one I just made.

Do you sew vintage patterns?

I own several, but have only finished one garment so far. Unless you count the fact that the patterns I began with in the early '70s are now considered vintage.

Do you find instructions easier to follow on vintage patterns?

I don?t think I have enough experience with them to answer this one.

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

Hmm, another hard question. It?s funny because I don?t really think of sewing in hours but in projects. I would say, by your third or fourth project you would have the basics down, as long as they increased in difficulty, adding in skills such as making buttonholes, putting in zippers, sleeves, etc. I?m just not sure sewing proficiency is quantifiable.

Sew-how-ellen-smocked Are you green with envy over Elle's sewing? I am. I love the Vogue cocktail dress. Totally grand. Totally. And isn't her daughter full of cutitude? Love the smocked dress. Precious. Precious. Precious. Absolutely.

And do check out Elle's Etsy shop, Jenna Belle Designs. Gorgeous bags. The lime green Ginny bag makes me drool. (I know, not a pretty sight. Gets the keyboard damp, too. Messy, messy.)

Check back: This weekend, we'll visit a popular blogger's sewing space. You don't want to miss it. Really. You don't.