Sew how: Oonaballoona leaves Kalkatroona to share her story.

She's cute. She's sassy. She blogs. She sews. And she does it all with panache. Grab a cup of joe and learn all about how Oonaballoona from Kalkatroona learned to sew such beautiful garments. 

How long have you been sewing?

Five years, maybe six?

What inspired you to learn?

We (that is, my hubs Ruggy & I) were living in Los Angeles, and a wise friend said, ?get a hobby?.  Add to that the need for fun clothing with no dough to spend on it, and hey presto!  New hobby that became an obsession.

Did your mother or grandmother sew?

My mom did have a sewing basket around  . . . As a kid, I remember my father yelling every so often about a needle in his foot. My mom's reply was always WELL WHY WERE YOU WALKING THERE. And my nan (grandmother) worked at a dry cleaner's at one point, but neither sewed garments, or on a machine.

How did you learn? A class? Home ec?

I have a dim memory of one month of home ec, and my mom still has the evidence: one two foot wide pink taffeta pig.  I remember doing lots of DIY hacks to my clothing as a kid.  I?d slice up my jeans and paint cartoon characters on t-shirts, but I didn't really learn to sew until grown-up-hood.  Burdastyle, and the community there, were my first teachers. This was back when the site first started. The internet continues to be my schoolroom. 

What was the first garment that you made?

I always say it was the Danielle dress from Burdastyle, but now that I think about it, it was a robe I sewed up for a play I was in. I was quite, erm, disrobed in the play, and I wanted something pretty to step into when my scenes were done.  I didn't use a pattern or anything, just attached a sleevish shape to a long rectangle. I had no machine, and no idea how to use one, so I handstitched it together in what I now know was just a loose basting stitch. It's a wonder the robe kept me covered!  It was discarded shortly after the play was over, but I do still have the Danielle dress.

Did you wear it?

Danielle dress, yes, and robe, oh yes. It was either that or catch cold on my way to the dressing room.

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

Maybe a year to feel like I had them down?  But really, I'm still getting the basics down! 

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

Again, about a year.  But that was mostly false confidence. When I look back on those early makes, I cringe!  But I think you need to feel that confidence no matter what stage you?re at, so that you keep sewing and truly get better. Delusion is sometimes a very good thing.  If I didn't think the first sad dress I made was the height of fashion, I might not have continued trying!

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

Definitely. Sometimes I just want to make something crazy, and sometimes I'm dared to, like this muppet-inspired pinup playsuit . . . never wore it out. Not once. Don't know where you would wear it. Sometimes I'll make things I adore, but have no reason for in everyday life.  Also, I have an aversion to muslins, so I'll often make something and realize the fit is not for me.  But it all makes me happy  . . . and now I'm pleased enough with my finishing skills to gift them to friends when they don't work out for me!

How many hours a week do you sew?

Depends  . . . any minute I can get to sew, I'm probably doing it. About ten hours seems the norm.

What are your five favorite sewing books?

I actually have just one favorite at the moment, that I refer to constantly: an older copy of Claire Schaeffer's Guide to Fabric.  It's the definition of invaluable, and I bought it for like two dollars at an estate sale.  I had no idea what was in my hands, I just saw "fabric? and was sold.

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

I've never tried a DVD, but I love Craftsy's online courses!  They're extremely well done.  I was thrilled with Gertie's Bombshell Dress course, and at the moment, I have Kenneth King's Jeanius and Susan Khalje's couture dress in my queue.

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

I'm not super loyal to any specific tutorials, I jump around quite a bit. Gertie's are quite clear!

I've loved this free cowl dress pattern by Ichigogirl for years.

I'm constantly pinning things to try.

My best advice is: decide what you want to do, and google it. But be wary of free tutorials, especially if you don't know what level the instructor is at. If you're willing to try something new, and you're OK with chalking it up to a learning experience if it goes awry, dive in! 

What garment would you suggest that a newbie make first?

A simple A-line skirt is a great start.  I think it's important to have a win on your first make, so that you don't lose the desire to keep sewing! However, it's also important to choose something that excites you. If that's a cocktail dress, go for it.

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

Hard to say . . . I go back and forth!  Currently, my vintage McCall's lace dress ( competes with my Anna Sui draped maxi . . .

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

This is going to sound completely obnoxious, but most of the things I sew induce that reaction!  Then, as I (hopefully) get better with each new garment, I look at those older "perfect" things and scoff derisively!!!

Name your five top tips for beginners, please.

1. Sew. 2. Sew. 3. Sew. 4. Sew. 5. You can always rip out a seam. 

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

Wooo, yes, just once, and it was a brain teaser.  My pointers would be more harm than help here. I  believe several vintage sewist bloggers have done tutorials, though. Check out Debi's site. (! 

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

You can and should dream!  personally, I've never tried that ranking. There are sewists who fly through those, yet shudder at the thought of draping.  I think of sewing like yoga: Some people excel at bridge position but can't touch their toes.  You'll never know till you try.

Share with me your funniest sewing adventure, please.

Sewing up the armholes when trying to write out a tutorial for my double agent dress.(!

And your most exasperating or difficult.

Probably my last lace skirt, for the Mood Sewing Network ( That lace drove me crazy.  Several times, I told Ruggy I abhorred it. I tried to force it into a gazillion different overworked iterations, and in the end, I realized it just wanted to be a gathered skirt. Now I love it!

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

I won't say ever, because I fall in love with new patterns all the time! Right now, it's the Elisalex dress from the gorgeous ladies at By Hand London ( Deeeeelicious.

Do you sew vintage patterns?

Yes! Beautiful vintage envelopes are what got me to see past the questionable envelopes of today.  

Do you find instructions easier to follow on vintage patterns?

It depends on the company. I find that simplicity is my favorite. Lots of tips, and very clear steps.

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

In my opinion, you're always becoming proficient. For example, I learned a BUNCH of new techniques for this lace and silk chiffon dress, and did a large amount of seam ripping along the way! There is always more to learn, new ways to improve, new techniques to try . . . perhaps that's why this ?hobby? has stuck with me and become a true passion.  It absolutely never gets old.

Are you completely inspired now? I am. Absolutely. And doesn't Oonaballoona take the most darling pictures? A big bow to Oona for taking part in Sew How. The Blue Gardenia thanks you.