Right after Mardi Gras (worst timing ever), I was at a local craft store with the boys. They were going through a Pixar phase and were especially obsessed with The Incredibles. We went to look for some fabric for a pillowcase (I can sew a straight line, surely?) but there was nothing Incredibles-themed, so we left with a pile of sketchbooks for the boys (they were also obsessed with drawing) instead. But before we walked away, the cashier mentioned sewing classes for kids.
The idea stuck in my head. And I thought, why kids? Why not me? So the next day I started researching sewing machines and before I spent any money, reluctantly pulled my mom’s old machine out of storage. Fortunately, the user manuals were still nearby, so I gingerly opened them up, dusted off the machine, and decided I would just check to see if it still worked before spending money on a new one.
Wouldn’t you know, once I threaded the bobbin (not too hard with the instruction manual) and dripped oil in the right spots, that old thing came to life? This old Swiss sewing machine, which is from at least the early 1970s and built like a tank, didn’t even miss a beat. Before long, we were stitching together like old friends.
(Not really, I barely managed a straight line.)
But the possibilities! And the memories!
… Sitting next to my mom as she sewed at the desk that her machine was built into (what I wouldn’t do for that desk now!)
… The sound of her scissors as they sliced through fabric and tissue paper. (We were forbidden to use them, but they were left-handed so we couldn’t anyway.)
… The dining room table, carefully protected with the felt pads, covered in fabric, pattern pieces, and pins. Pinking shears around the fabric edges to stop the fraying.
… The humming sound of the machine going late into the night as she finished another dress, another costume, another last minute outfit.
I signed up for a class a couple of weeks later, so I could learn to make a pillow. But I was too impatient. I bought a pattern for a simple elastic-waist skirt and some woven cotton with whales on it (the boys helped pick it out.) The pattern said “2 hours.” Yeah, right! But late that night, I had a skirt! It was only …. slightly wonky.
And thus began my obsession.
Within weeks I had made pajama pants, a knit skirt, a shirt, and another skirt. I bought a used serger, which you use to sew knits and to finish seams on woven fabrics. I learned that sewing your own clothes may not be cheaper than buying (fabric is expensive!) but you get exactly what you want, and something that fits your body.
Being tall and broad and plus-sized has made it difficult to buy clothes that I like. But now I can just make what I like! I no longer feel bad about myself after shopping. In fact, I’ve only bought a few ready to wear items since I started sewing, and only because I ran out of time before trips.
I bought four yards of gorgeous sequin fabric that I don’t have the skills to sew yet, but hopefully by the end of the year I will be able to turn into a gorgeous skirt or dress. And no one else will own the same outfit! When I went to Singapore for a work trip in April, I brought back a few meters of silk brocade as my souvenir. Someday I’ll turn it into a garment that will always remind me of that trip, instead of yet another Starbucks mug. (Okay, I also bought a Starbucks mug.)
Gifts are no longer stressful but instead are an opportunity for more sewing fun! I’ve given newborn babies tiny outfits, pajama pants for the boys’ friends, wide-brimmed sun hats, and I’m working on unicorn-and-rainbow festooned leggings for my nieces. How wonderful that I can give them something no one else can! (As long as they don’t mind their gifts being a tad late. Sorry girls!)
I also made these tiny hats to donate to Delivering Hope, who will give them to newborn preemies. They’re super simple to make, and if you sew and have some leftover knit fabric from another project, will help you use up your scraps.
You can get the pattern free from the Patterns for Pirates website (a great source for sewing for the whole family).
Don’t know how to sew but want to learn? There are so many great resources. Local sewing shops offer classes and opportunities to sew with other people. And online there are countless blogs, videos, tutorials, and patterns to try.
Great article Pam! A friend taught me how to sew. A beloved neighbor gave me her Bernina. I had a similar journey. My sewing has been limited to girl scout patches, with this season of life. I look forward to sewing more when we move to Algiers this month. Appreciate the inspiration!
Well, I live in Algiers, so maybe we can start an Algiers sewing club! 😀
Thank you for this! I’m 36 and after being in media and marketing for years, I had an accident and torn my mensicus and was out of commission. After seeing a delicious cake on Pinterest, I decided to try my hand at it, after not baking for over 10 years. Now, I’m trying new desserts and may apply to NOCHI and become a pastry chef :). It’s never too late to rekindle the crafting spark