Sew how? Rachel reveals her secrets on recreating runway looks.

Pic 7Rachel combines two of my favorite topics in her blog, Shoes and Sewing. For are there any other lighthearted topics closer to our girly-girl hearts than the clothes we make and the shoes we wear with them? I say no. Emphatically.

Rachel kicks her sewing up a notch. Or two. Or three. She is inspired by a look, then she recreates it. I am impressed. Much. Read on to see how she learned to accomplish this enviable feat.

How long have you been sewing?

I have been sewing since October 1999.  I actually learned in high school in Home Ec during the late '80s.  I remember sewing a couple of dresses and a pillow, but I did not do any more sewing after that.  I started back in October 1999 when I began taking a sewing class.

What inspired you to learn?

In 1999, my neighbor was taking a smocking class.  She showed me some of the beautiful children?s clothing that she had made, and I was fascinated.  I began taking the class and learned to smock and sew children?s clothing.  This class was much more than that, though, because my teacher was willing to teach me to sew whatever I wanted.  We met on Thursday nights for about one-and-a-half years, and I learned a lot of basic techniques, but also a lot of heirloom sewing techniques. 

Another inspiration was a dress that an aunt of mine hired someone to make for her.  I remember as a child being so fascinated by that dress and thinking that one day I would love to learn to sew something that pretty.

Did your mother or grandmother sew?

My mother sewed on an old-timey pedal sewing machine.  I am not sure about my grandmother.  I remember one time there was a dress in JCPenney that I wanted, but it was too expensive.  My mother sewed a knockoff of it for me, and it looked just like the catalog picture.  She was very talented.  My mother told me about an aunt of hers who sewed suits for her husband.  He was a preacher, and they were very poor.  They could not afford to buy the suits he needed to preach in, so she would go in a department store and look at the suits.  Then from memory, she would go home, draw out a pattern and make it.  My mother said it looked like it came from the department store.

Tell us a bit more about your learning experience.

I took a class for one-and-a-half years from 1999-2001.  Even though I had taken Home Ec, I could not even remember how to thread the sewing machine the first night I sat down in class.  Once the class ended, I kept up my sewing.  I have taught myself a lot by just reading patterns and following sewing blogs.  I started out with easy patterns and have just gradually over the years tried harder and harder patterns. 

What was the first garment that you made?

The first garment I made was a dress in high school Home Ec. I don?t have a picture of it

Did you wear it?

I did proudly wear it.

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

Well, it depends on what you mean by basics. I could not even sew a straight line when I started taking the sewing class in 1999.  I also did not have any respect for seam allowances.  I just took them as suggestions. When the sewing class ended, and I didn?t have a teacher to look over my shoulder, it forced me to develop confidence.  I just forged ahead and became more and more confident.  I am still learning. 

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

I would say I really began to feel confident when I successfully knocked off a garment I had seen in a store.  I don?t have a picture of it, but I will share a few pics of my knockoffs.  Sewing knockoffs is really what motivates and inspires me. I particularly love sewing knockoffs of Anthropologie clothing and other designer clothing.  The hunt for the fabric and pattern is so much fun.

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

Yes.  I recently made a pair of pants, and I won?t wear them.  I am horrible at making pants.  Part of the reason, I think, is that I really don?t like making them.  I just love making pretty dresses and skirts much more.

How many hours a week do you sew?

I probably sew about 4-6 hours on the weekends and maybe one hour during the week.  I work full time so I don?t have as much time as I would like.  But, then again, if I didn?t work full time, I couldn?t afford to sew. 

What are your five favorite sewing books?

Reader?s Digest New Complete Guide to Sewing

Pattern Magic Books

Decorative Dressmaking by Sue Thompson

The Zapp Method of Couture Sewing by Anna Zapp

The Art of Manipulating Fabric by Colette Wolff

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

I really don?t have any sewing DVDs.  However, I would love to get one of those DVDs that have the Threads magazines on them.

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

Invisible Zipper Tutorial at Adventures in Dressmaking

How to Make Perfect Scallops

Faux Welt Pockets

Anything by Gertie

Sewaholic (Her sew-alongs are great ? I participated in the Lonsdale Dress Sew-Along (First pic, above.)

I love that fabric!! What garment would you suggest that a newbie make first?

I would make a simple wrap skirt.  They don?t have zippers.


I would tackle another skirt, but this time with a zipper.  You may as well go ahead and get over the zipper fear.

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

A Tiffany blue coat I made that is knockoff of a coat Anthropologie sold.  Mine was much cheaper that the Anthropologie version.  It required me to draft a flounce and rework a couple of the pattern pieces to insert the flounce.  Drafting is something I prefer not to do.  I would rather put different patterns together to get what I want.  The fact that I was successful at the drafting is part of the reason for it being my favorite.  Also, I think the inspiration for my knockoff is one of the most beautiful pieces of clothing I have ever seen.

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

The first item I ever drafted and sewed is what I am proudest of.  Drafting is not my favorite thing, but I decided I just had to have a replica of Anthropologie?s Fluttering Pencil Skirt.  I could not find a pattern like it, so a  wonderful blogger who is excellent at drafting wrote me up a tutorial when I requested help on a sewing message board.  Here are pics below and a link to the tutorial:

Name your five top tips for beginners, please. 

1.   Start with a simple pattern without a zipper.

2.   Don?t be upset with yourself about mistakes.  Right before I sat down to type this, I sewed something together backwards and had to rip out.  You will never quit making mistakes.

3.   Ask for help ? the online sewing community is great.

4.   Always, always make a muslin.

5.   Purchase a good basic sewing book. 

Do you have any fitting advice to offer?

Always make a muslin.  I have been sewing long enough and am familiar enough with the Big 4 pattern companies that I have figured out that I really only need to muslin the bodice for myself.  However, when I working with an unfamiliar company, I muslin the whole thing.  It is worth the few extra dollars for some cheap fabric to check for fit, than to cut into your good fabric and your garment not fit.  Been there and done that.

Do you use a dressform?

I have one, but I only use it to model my sewn items for pictures.  I do better by just trying my garments on as I sew them.

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

The last garment I made is a skirt that I have yet to blog about so I don?t have a picture of it.  However, I am very pleased with it.  It is a knockoff of a skirt from Anthropologie. 

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

I am not sure what an unprinted vintage pattern is.  Is it any different than just a vintage pattern?

It has no printing, simply perforations instead of printed markings.

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

It is hard to say, because it all depends on how much you practice your sewing and how consistently you sew.  I would say after you know the basics very well and have a few successes under your belt, just go for it.  I have never been scared enough, so if there is a pattern I want to make, I just plunge right in. 

Share your funniest sewing adventure, please.

The first pair of pants I ever sewed, I sewed the legs together in the middle.  That was quite funny.

And your most exasperating or difficult.

Several years ago, before I started sewing muslins, I was sewing one of my first Anthropologie knockoffs.  I made the dress, tried it on, and it was too large in the chest.  I was so furious that I packed up my sewing machine and promised never to sew again.  In a couple of hours, I decided to make a muslin, tweaked the fit, and then I made the dress.  That was a hard lesson.

Pic 12What's your favorite pattern ever to sew, if you remember?

Vogue 1174. I found the perfect fabric for it and everything came together well.

When I look at the dress, I smile.

I noticed you added straps. Was that a difficult task?

I changed it to have straps because I feel like strapless dresses are about to fall down on me.  I just cut out two strips of fabric, sewed them together, turned them inside out and sewed them on.  It wasn't hard.

V1174-my favorite garment

Do you sew vintage patterns?

I have only made one vintage pattern, V2517, a vintage Diane von Furstenberg pattern.  It Pic 13 is a colorblock dress that I made two years ago before colorblocking was even popular like it is today.  I am currently working on my second vintage pattern.

Do you find instructions easier to follow on vintage patterns?

Not really.  I think they are harder to read. 

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

It depends on the person.  I read a lot of sewing blogs, and there are bloggers I follow who are newer seamstresses and are more proficient than I was at their same number of years sewing.  I think if you really want to do something, you can do it.  It just takes practice.

Completely awed? I am. And here's my favorite ensemble Rachel copied:


She looks even more amazing in her Chanel jacket than the bold-faced type. I know you agree. So scurry over and read her blog. That is, if you haven't already. And what are the chances of  that?