Want to make something by hand? Sew start, already!

Recently, J.D. wrote about the value in finding something that you enjoy making by hand. As I read his post, I couldn't help but to think about my mom, who is hands-down one of the craftiest, most creative people I know. (Yes, I'm biased, but everyone who knows her agrees.)

While she can make just about anything — from floral arrangements to jewelry to gorgeous Christmas ornaments — the thing she does most these days is sew. She started her hobby as a little girl, turning scraps of fabric into Barbie clothes. Then when she had a little girl of her own (that's me!), she sewed the dresses that I wore to elementary school. The teachers bought them as soon as I outgrew them. She continued to sew clothes for me, hem pants, and fix buttons, and when I bought my wedding dress, she hemmed that, too. She also embroidered and stitched the ring pillow, among other things. Now she has come full-circle, starting her own side business creating clothing for Japanese ball-jointed dolls. Most of her dresses sell for more than $100, as these collectors are quite serious about their hobby.

The Value of Sewing Skills

Talk about the value of learning to make something by hand! Sewing is a hobby (and now a business) that my mom loves. She can stay up until the wee hours of the morning when she's sewing, but crashes at 9 p.m. on other nights.

In addition to giving her a creative outlet, the money she's saved over the years by using this skill is impossible to calculate. Sewing clothes is a savings. Never needing to pay for alterations is a savings (and a huge one when it comes to wedding dresses). Her craft has made her money, too. The dresses I wore as a child were sold after I'd outgrown them. The doll clothes she makes now have turned into a lucrative side business that she plans to do full-time when she retires.

Also, it's worth mentioning another benefit: giving loved ones something unique and handcrafted. I have pretty spring bags and the perfect pencil skirt, and my mom made those things for me, which makes me love them all the more. On my wedding day, almost everything decorative was made with my mother's hands, and there's nothing more special than that. When people compliment something she made, I'm incredibly proud to tell them my mom made it because most people can't do what she can do.

Which Leads Me to…

I can't sew. I mean, I can sew on buttons and work through simple patterns, but I've been too intimidated to really learn how to sew. Let's face it, in my case it has been too easy to just ask Mom to do it for me, rather than to learn how to do it myself. This is a shame for so many reasons.

One, I have her old sewing machine in my house. She moved on to a more sophisticated model, but the one she gave me is a nice machine.

Two, Mom has the newer sewing machine plus two sergers. (A serger stitches at twice the speed of a conventional machine and creates ravel-free seams, among other functions — they are very cool.)

Three, she lives next door!

A Small Project

J.D.'s post might have been the kick in the rear I needed to get serious about learning to sew. It's been on my to-do list forever, and there's no better time than now to finally get to it. To get my feet wet, I decided to on a quick project I saw on Design*Sponge, a spring tablecloth created with IKEA dishtowels.

Last Friday, Mom and I spent a couple of hours at the serger making this tablecloth. She showed me some of the features and how she would adjust the settings and run the fabric through it. One dishtowel was made shorter than the others, so she showed me how to let out the seam to get extra length. I came home with a pretty, inexpensive tablecloth and eagerness to find another project.

Sewing 101

If sewing is a skill that interests you, here are a few tips that I've picked up from Mom:

  • Don't invest too much at first. If you don't have a sewing machine, find out if any relatives or friends have a machine that you could borrow for an afternoon to try your hand at sewing. Make sure you're going to stick with it before you spend too much money.
  • Learn how to use your machine. My mom took lessons on how to use her newer machines. Sometimes lessons will be included when you purchase a machine. If you are borrowing one, ask the owner if they have a manual, or if they can give you a quick lesson on how it works.
  • Start with something small. I loved the immediate gratification of the tablecloth project. When you are deciding on a place to start, pick a simple project. If you will be using a pattern, look for the ones that are marked “easy” or “quick start.” Most pattern books put these in a separate section.
  • Save on fabric by recycling. Old sheets, clothing, tablecloths, etc. can be cut up and re-purposed. This is especially great for a beginner, as beginners are bound to make mistakes (and it's better to do so on inexpensive fabric). Mom shops garage sales, second-hand shops, Goodwill, and antique stores, picking up clothing and vintage lace that she can sew into doll clothing.

Of course you could take sewing lessons, as well. I might do that in the future, but for now, I'm going to keep things simple by looking for projects that excite me and booking a sewing session with my mom.

What have you always wanted to learn to make by hand? How can you get started today?

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