Monday, January 23, 2017


I am not great at sewing. I started taking sewing seriously around 1996 when my husband purchased me a sewing machine and I started driving my friend Ruth to the different sewing stores. Prior to that I had not sewn since high school (1977). That is twenty years of sewing off and on but I can sew.

Since I have determined that I need to do as much for myself as possible, sewing my own clothing came to the forefront of my to do list, that and the fact that I hated what was in the stores.

With the rebirth of my sewing activities I took a step back to discover what worked for me. As with everything else I don’t need fancy things thus what I had was what I needed. My basics are the tools that every sewer has and needs.

SCISSORS- You have to have a good pair of scissors that are ONLY to be used for cutting fabric. Don’t even cut a strip of paper one time with your sewing scissors. Dull scissors can mess up fabric.

MEASURING TAPE- You could guess at the length but then you would have poorly fitting projects. Accurate measurements are key; the reason manufactured patterns have to be adjusted is because your body is not created the same as anyone else’s.
When a sales person cuts a 9 and 1/4 yard of fabric instead of a 9 and 3/8 piece of fabric that you need that one-eighth of a yard (particularly if there is an obvious pattern) will make the world of difference in your garment.

SEAM RIPPER - I am not perfect therefore I make mistakes. It is easy to pull seams out when you sew something by hand but the struggle is real when it comes to undoing a machine sewn stitch. The seam ripper makes a tedious activity faster and easier.

SEAM GAUGE- another measuring tools though you could do without it I find it is easier to use when measuring hems and double checking your work. The marker on the instrument serves as an indicator of where you want the seam, or hem to be exactly. It may not be a ‘must have’ but it is a ‘should get’.

PINS & NEEDLES - Both items are fabric dependent, meaning the type of pin you use to hold fabric in place and the type of needle you use to sew them together varies with different material. A sewing needle strong enough to penetrate the denim will leave holes in satin perhaps not seen by the untrained eye).

THREAD SNIPPER- Now these are not a ‘must have’ but I started using these special type of scissors in 2016 and I love them! Most sewing machines have a thread cutter however, since I purchased the thread snipper I use it. It is great for cleaning up your sewing projects, cutting those loose threads you see.

THREAD- I keep basic colors black, white, blue and brown on hand for hand sewing needs. It is always a good idea to purchase thread and other accessories when you purchase your fabric. There are various types of thread depending on what you are making, I usually purchase All-purpose thread since I have no idea of what the various nuances are of each thread type.
I don’t remember there being any other thread company but Coats & Clark when I first started sewing, in the 70’s. Though more expensive I am gradually making the transition to Gutermann brand, I have less problems when sewing with this particular brand.
With thread, size does matter. If you can afford it buy the larger spools of your basic color- black, white, and whatever is the predominant color of your household’s wardrobe.

BOBBINS- Your sewing machine should have come with a few. After you have sewn awhile you will determine how often you change colors and if you have to take thread off of a bobbin to put the color you are using on. When they go on sale get a few, they do make bobbins with thread already on it but I doubt if the color will match the color you are using.

FABRIC- My first sewing project was with a solid colored gabardine. Your first time out you do not want to work with anything stretchy or with patterns. Until you get comfortable with pattern terminology and how fabrics present themselves on your body try not to let your first project require you purchasing more than the basics in thread, pins and machine needles.

TAILORS CHALK  & TRACING PAPER-  You will need both eventually. As a beginner, if you are working with patterns the tracing paper will help with the markers you will have to transfer from the pattern to the fabric. Now that I am making my own patterns I find the tailors’ chalk is used more often.

With any of the tools remember more expensive is not always better. If you watch my video you will find that I am currently using an inexpensive pair of scissors but will upgrade to Fiskars eventually. In addition, the inexpensive sewing machine I purchased as a gift is another purchase I will get for myself, eventually.

THE SEWING MACHINE- I purchased for my friend a BROTHER 17 stitch JX2517, it sews very well. She has had it for more than six months and she loves it. Though I don’t need one I am going to purchase myself one as a traveling machine. I purchased it on sale for $70 plus tax.

PATTERNS- I am so done with patterns! When I first purchased patterns it was one size per pack now it is multiple sizes. This is actually a good thing if you know how to adjust a pattern to fit your body but, as a beginner, if you are going to cut the actual size it can become frustrating. Most patter companies have indications of the complexity of the pattern look for ‘easy’ or ‘beginner’ and do not become frustrated if the pattern says you can make it in one hour but it is taking you 4 hours or more.

Sewing for me is fun. When it stops being fun I stop sewing, I resume when I remember how blessed I am to own 3 machines and paid for none. There was a time when I had very few maxi skirts to wear and now I have plenty- because I can make my own.

You have to find your own motivation for sewing, work on projects that give you joy. I have a friend that makes and sells pillows, another that makes and sells draperies, and yet another that makes her own clothing but embroiders for others we all sew because we like it not because we have to. Just remember when you begin sewing: T.E.A.

THINK before you cut- make sure it is the right size, right direction, patterns match and the correct side of the fabric.
EVALUATE before you sew- many of my mistakes have to do with seam allowances and sewing pieces together in the wrong order. It is important to consider what you are doing and in what order.
ASSESS frequently- often the best made plans have to be adjusted. The pattern may be your size but your curves can be slightly different. As you bring various pieces together determine if the seems are aligned, the patterns are not clashing and it will fit properly.

Like driving once you done it often enough you will not have to think about how to do it. xxx Marsha L. F. Randolph