(an older photo, but a personal favorite of me sewing in our last apartment in my homemade brown blouse and brown skirt)
I'm a little slow catching on to internet sewing events since I've left Instagram, but one that has caught my attention (albeit a little late) is Slow Fashion October, hosted by Karen Templer of the Fringe Association Blog. As I recently switched the clothes in my wardrobe from summer to autumn and winter wear, I pulled a few things out to give away that I haven't enjoyed wearing as much as I enjoyed sewing them. It was a disappointment to me that I wanted to give away some of the things I've made over the past year, and it made me feel that though experimentation is and can be helpful (how else do we know what we like, if we never try anything new or different?), I would like to have more focus in my sewing projects and I would very much like to make things that I want to keep and wear until they are fully worn out. This year's Slow Fashion October seems to be all about that theme: sorting through one's wardrobe and giving it a lot of thought through discussion prompts, interviews and readings, and then using what you've learned about yourself to make more mindful decisions about acquisition, making new items, and the difficulties of giving away or re purposing what isn't being worn in an ethical manner. It is so hard to live as harmlessly as possible! But a recurring theme on the Slow Fashion October discussions is that small steps help, and we can each do what we can to make a small step or two every year.
To help myself regain some focus in my sewing projects, I think I will fill out the prompts from the Slow Fashion feed, and then I will probably do Colette Media's Wardrobe Architect again. Wardrobe Architect is a series of blog posts that help you write about the many things that influence your sewing choices (from body shape to climate, color preferences, silhouettes, personal style philosophy, etc.) and end up with a page or two of information that will help you plan your projects with more confidence that they will be items that are heavily worn, rather than rarely taken out of the closet. If you've never tried it out before, I'd recommend it---and it's free.
My sewing goals don't really fit in with the current sewing challenge from Closet Case Patterns and True Bias to "Sew Frosting," but that's okay with me. I'm still planning out some challenging and exciting projects alongside the more pedestrian ones (such as some simple wool skirts and a new cotton nightgown), like making myself a winter coat with fabric I got for my birthday---I think it is more practical "cake," or even bread, really, than "frosting," but it will be a special project for me nonetheless, and I'm looking forward to spending time hand sewing and underlining and doing all the other lengthy details that go into constructing even a simple coat.
For some sewing inspiration, here are some new-to-me links that I've recently discovered:
- I'm going to try listening to the Love to Sew Podcast this week while I sew. I haven't listened to their podcast before, but they have some interesting topics like 'sewing struggles,' 'planning projects,' interviews with notable sewing business owners and bloggers, and even an episode on 'the financials of sewing,' (something that doesn't get discussed often, but I'm very curious about, since one of the reasons I started sewing seriously again was to save money----a reason I don't find often openly shared in the sewing blogosphere).
- I may not sew very many 1940s patterns, but I enjoy seeing the beautiful projects made by people who do. Two 1940s sewing bogs that I've been enjoying are: the Ugly Dame and Ms 1940 McCall.
-I've really been enjoying the autumnal hues of Goody McGoodface's vintage outfits on Eat the Blog. Her amazing purse collection has inspired me over the past two months to try my hand at sewing some of my own bags to match my outfits, which I hope to share here soon. Her jewelry collection is also enviable (and an inspiration to those who make some of their own jewelry, like me), and altogether her boldness in getting dressed is always inspiring.
-I've also enjoyed following Folkwear's blog. Their patterns are rather new to me, and I find them intriguing. I like Folkwear's emphasis on ethnic, historical and vintage fashion. Molly Hamilton always has interesting advice on fabric choices on her blog, and also photos of finished "art wear" that are really impressively made.
Another Bastheva prairie dress----this one is from Oroboro
Laura Ashley dress photographed by her daughter Jane Ashley - for more more of her photos, visit the Laura Ashley Archive
1970s Laura Ashley prairie dress (sorry, I can't find the original link)
Velvet prairie dresses by the Vampire's Wife, also known as Susie Cave (photo found on the Red Carpet Fashion Awards website)
front and back of a vintage Gunne Sax prairie dress from the FIDM blog
Lately I've been reading some of the many many articles popping up across the internet about the revival of prairie fashion: like this one from the NYT ("Pioneer Women Are Roaming the City"), or this profile of Batsheva Hay by the New Yorker, or this piece by the Washington Post. The Washington Post article, though short, is also the most positive and thoughtful. Robin Givhan recognizes why prairie styles are so surprising to so many onlookers, and also so intriguing to the women who wear them: ". . .there's no hiding in these clothes. They are provocative but only because they are so darned civil and precious and sweet. They don't swagger. They don't brag. Their power is in everything that they refuse to be."
The New York Times piece is more biting, making references to the Donner Party, the TV show Big Love, and "Amish dowdiness," but it is also perceptive, making connections between the resurgence of prairie style with current political and economic anxiety, and also the the fluctuating relationship most women have with modesty during a moment when sexual injustices against women are being exposed in the news. Still, my overall impression of Chloe Malle's article was one of ambivalence: a mixture of mean jokes with genuine interest and curiosity.
The article on Batsheva Hay in the New Yorker is interesting, too, not least because it profiles a woman living in an Orthodox Jewish household who is now one of New York's most popular new fashion designers. Her interest in prairie styles is also not without conflict---a mixture of affection for the modest and feminine looks and rebellion towards the way they have been presented and perceived as restrictive and repressed.
It's this recurrent theme of ambivalence towards historical women's clothing as being symbols of repression and oppression, and the association with "cults," that makes me a bit puzzled. When and where have women ever held equal social status with men? We are still striving for that elusive equality today. What is left for women to wear if we don't wear clothing that references the past?
And what clothing of the past can be more associated with feminine strength than prairie dresses, which are named after the garb of the pioneers? Pioneer women of the mid-1800s were the Victorian counter-cultural rebels: they walked from one side of the country to the other to follow dreams, opportunities, the chance to have more choices than many of their female peers and to be respected as essential members of their households and struggling communities. Pioneer women were adventurers; they showed courage by facing hardship, disease, and hunger on the trail and in their new homes on the very edge of the known world.
I can't really see how their clothes can be used as particular symbols of female oppression, given that the women who wore them were straining against the bounds of what the "gentler sex" were thought to able to accomplish at that point in history.
When I was in college I wore a long calico dress with puffed sleeves to school and got teased by one of my classmates that I looked like a fundamentalist polygamist cult member. Historically, this is an exaggeration, too. Some of my ancestresses were polygamists on the Mormon trail, but some of my husband's ancestresses were pioneers on both the Mormon and Oregon trails, and they were adamantly monogamous. Whether or not I agree with the choices my predecessors made in regards to marriage, I'm proud of their strength and courage to leave what they knew behind and make new lives out of scratch in the desert and the mountains.
I like the historical associations of prairie dresses. I also like the way they look: they have a wide, feminine, and varied vocabulary of print, pattern, ruffle, and puffs. Prairie dresses aren't boring---they are individual, and interesting, and brave, and sometimes bold---much like the women who wore them in the 1800s and again in the 1970s-1980s, and now.
What do you think about prairie styles? Did you wear them, and do you wear them still? Are you interested in trying them for the first time? Do you find their historical associations troubling, or interesting?
Photo of the Crisman sisters taken in 1886. They were homesteaders in Nebraska. Photo from the Denver Post website.
I finished this blouse a while ago (and took the photos a few weeks ago, too) but kept delaying making a post about it. The pattern is a Simplicity E.S.P. (Extra Sure Pattern) from the late 1970s or early 1980s, judging by its cover. I made my version out of a twin-sized navy cotton-blend shirt from the thrift store and on-sale thin-line buttons from JoAnns fabric stores. It all came together well and easily except the collar, which somehow was missing its notched look the first time around. I'm not sure if I was clumsy when I was cutting it out and it ended up a little long, or if it is a small flaw in the pattern itself, but I fixed it easily enough by unpicking the collar a little and making the seams smaller where the notch is---hard to explain, but it worked to make the notch visible between the upper collar and the shirt top where the bottom collar folds over.
The blouse has several interesting features: a yoke with gathers in the back that extends into a forward shoulder seam with gathers in the front. I forgot to cut a yoke lining when I first cut out the blouse, so I used a piece of blue and green plaid cotton from our scrap basket, which gives it a nice bit of secret interest on the inside. The sleeves are actually sewn into two parts, which are sewn together and the bottom and overlapped at the top and then eased into the armholes. They have a narrow seam along each edge, and then tie over the arm. When I started wearing my shirt, I found that they were flopping open all the way to my shoulder when I reached for things, so I sewed the top of the slit together for about two inches so the sides of the sleeves don't move around and gape so much.
I really like how this blouse turned out: a practical, camp-style shirt with a little extra style and interest in the sleeves. It is easy to wear, easy to wash, and cool and comfortable in this summer heat.
In these photos I'm wearing my new blouse with my three-year-old ochre skirt, which unfortunately just got a hole last week. It was in an obvious part of the skirt near the waistband. I couldn't figure out a way to repair it inconspicuously, so I took out the waistband interfacing, the zipper, and the skirt hook and eye to reuse on other projects, and put the rest of the skirt in the scrap basket (to get used as rat bedding for Daisy and Marigold, most likely).
I've been thinking a lot about the problem of fairness, and how difficult it is to attempt to be fair in one's actions towards others in a world where we are born into such radically different and often unfair circumstances. It is hard to try to live morally and ethically; it is surprisingly hard to live while causing as little harm to others as possible. We are often implicated in unfair practices just because we are ignorant that those things are happening on the farms where our food is grown, or within the factories where the items we buy and use daily are made. This article from Vogue Australia brought this dilemma freshly into my mind with its revelation that the fashion industry is the second largest industry in the world that practices slavery, right behind tech gadgets and just above fish, cocoa and sugar cane. The article quotes from the most recent Global Slavery Index that about 40 million people are trapped in slavery worldwide-----a truly heart-rending statistic. 71 percent of those enslaved people are women.
I don't mention this article just to make us saddened or to open our eyes to pain of others (although I think it is a good think to be aware of the pain of others---so we can do what we can to alleviate it). I mention it so we can consider that our efforts to sew our own clothes are never a waste of time. Yes, clothing may be cheap and plentiful and we don't have to spend time making it ourselves. But that kind of fashion comes at a great human cost, much greater than the pleasant hours that we spend sewing our own clothing. We sewers know that every time we put a hand-made garment on our bodies, we don't have to wonder if someone suffered to make it. I think that is a wonderful gift, and I'm thankful for it every day. I hope that we sewers can help educate other people to have more respect for sewing and the skill and time it takes to make clothing. If we join the growing movement to help garment workers gain fair wages and good working conditions (Fashion Revolution has interesting ideas about how we can help agitate for change), then everyone who gets dressed can share our innocent and untainted pleasure in putting on our clothes.
Gia Sick graphite on paper 2018
This past month has been a hard one. Mr Rat and I have been calling home often to hear about our families' latest troubles (which don't need to be listed here), while meanwhile we've been dealing with trouble of our own: at the end of May, we noticed that our dog, Gia, was feeling ill. By June 1st, we were very concerned, and when she woke us in the middle of the night by throwing up all of her food and then laying panting and insensible on the floor, we decided to rush her to the all-night emergency room at the animal hospital. A very long four hours later, we found out that she is diabetic. This has been a hard adjustment for us all, since now Gia needs twice-a-day insulin shots after her meals, she can't have very many treats or snacks or trimmings from the counter when I'm cooking, and even with her new medication, she is still more easily fatigued than she used to be.
Learning how to take care of our best friend's new needs has been absorbing a lot of our time and energy over the past month, so I'm afraid that all my hopes to make new posts fell by the wayside as I tried to balance attention for Gia with finishing a commissioned painting and doing some sewing and crocheting during moments of rest. Now that we are getting used to the insulin injections and are getting into more of a routine, I hope to start posting here more regularly again. I miss sharing the things I'm working on, and having a reason to take pictures on our walks and outings.
Monday May 28 - Day 28
This was Memorial Day, a bank holiday in the USA, so Mr Rat and I got to stay home. Since I knew I'd be doing some housework, spending time in the studio, and going walking (stormy weather or no), I chose to dress for warmth and comfort and wore my flared denim skirt along with one of my rare t-shirts and a thrifted sweater.
Tuesday May 29 - Day 29
I wore my denim peplum blouse and my long black Simplicity 7880 skirt.
Wednesday May 30 - Day 30
The weather started to feel summery so I pulled out some older favorites: my Laura Ashley jumper dress and my puff sleeved muslin blouse.
Thursday May 31 - Last Day
I wore my just-barely-completed new summer dress, made from a 1990s pattern. The dress and collar and cuffs are all made out of thrifted cotton sheets and the white buttons are thrifted too, from a long time ago. I'm glad that I finally tried this pattern, because I can envision it becoming a firm favorite. It could easily be redrafted as a loose blouse, too.
Things I have learned from participating in Me Made May 2018:
I am amazed that in a month's time I rarely wore the same garment twice (skirts excepted) and yet I still didn't wear all of my hand-made wardrobe options. I don't have an especially large closet----I think it's average, or even rather small by American standards. So that shows me that my whole wardrobe is really wearable, which gives me a lot of choice. Over the last six or so years I've made a lot---enough to gradually switch almost all my clothes from thrifted to handmade (right now I have two button-up shirts, one drawer of knits, sweaters and jeans, and one coat that I am in the process of relining----everything else is handmade by me). This weekend I'm going to see about selling my faux-fur winter coat because I have plans to make my own heavy wool coat. Then my wardrobe really will be homemade, for all seasons. I'm really pleased with my progress, and glad to have the many combinations I can make with all of the homemade clothes in my closet.
I don't enjoy taking a photo of myself everyday, but it is helpful in making good sewing plans for the rest of the year. Looking at photos of myself wearing my handmade clothing helps me see what looks good, what particular features and shapes I favor in my pattern choices, and what I still need to sew to make my wardrobe fully functional and practical.
It reaffirmed for me that I like the color palette that I've chosen for my clothes: I wore a lot of black, navy, brown, and white, as well as a little bit of tan, cream, rose, and olive green.
It helped me see that I like simplicity in my clothing and accessories. It also helped me identify some of the features that I like in my clothes: peter-pan collars, softly puffed sleeves, small prints rather than large ones (particularly gingham, stripes, and floral prints with lots of roses), solid-colored cotton fabrics, bishop sleeves, button-up shirts, jumper dresses, peasant blouses, and full skirts with a midi-to-ankle length hem. I realized that I prefer a semi-fitted or loose bodice over a highly fitted one (except for dressy clothes to wear to church on Sundays and other special occasions), and I also realized that I don't care for scooped necklines anymore, since my skin has had such a hard time transitioning to the dry weather here in Utah. I find that I like to be covered up, and then I don't have to worry much about sunburns or skin troubles or quick changes in the weather from cold to hot or vice versa.
I chose a few items that I think I will give away, as they are silhouettes or prints that I've realized were an interesting experiment, but don't fit in well with my other clothes. Right now I've pulled out three blouses to give away or put away for a while while I consider their place in my closet. I also put one dress away into my sentimental keepsake box.
This year's Me-Made-May also helped me realize that I don't need so many sewing patterns, or to keep collecting so many new ones. I have a good variety of patterns that I have tried and liked, which I can keep refining as I make new versions. As I wore different versions of the same patterns through the month, I realized how much I've come to like tried-and-true patterns. Tried and true patterns have many advantages: I already know how they will work with other parts of my wardrobe, I can count on a good fit, and they are easier to plan for. While I'll still try out some of the patterns that I already own which I haven't made yet, and I'm sure that I'll also still keep an eye out at thrift stores for the occasional pattern that catches my eye, I don't think I'll be buying many more patterns, because I like what I have to work with right now. Inspired by this realization, I've also been slowly working through my patterns and weeding out ones that I don't think I'm likely to ever make (or be satisfied with if I did make them) to give them away. This clean-out is helping me fit all of my supplies and patterns in an orderly way in my new sewing cabinet, which is exciting. When I have it all in order, I'll have to take some photos of our sewing space and how we organize our supplies for a future blog post.
This week marks the fifth anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh that killed 1138 people and injured many more. In remembrance of that great loss, all over the internet, people have been asking "who made my clothes?"
For me, that answer is simple. I make almost all of my clothes. This morning I counted my wardrobe and found that out of the 66 woven garments that I own, only 6 are not handmade by myself. That means that 91 percent of my clothes are made by me. I am not counting sweaters, knits, or underwear in the total number because I don't currently have the capacity to make those things, but in case you are wondering, my few sweaters and t-shirts fit neatly in a single drawer along with my one pair of jeans and my one set of exercise clothes. My socks and slips other delicates also fit in a single dresser drawer. I thrift most of my sweaters and turtlenecks, so I don't think they are adding much to the problems that beset global fashion right now. If you want to learn more about the toll that the fashion industry takes on garment workers, the environment, and even the people who wear clothes that they may not like but feel pressured into wearing and quickly discarding because they have no personal relationship with the garments on their body, there is a lot of information on the Fashion Revolution website.
I started sewing my clothes when I was quite a small child. My mom taught me how to sew with a plastic needle and plastic canvas when I was a toddler, and by the time I was seven years old she had me sewing myself a matching shirt (teal blue with a pattern of white cats---I'll have to find the photos of me wearing it to share some time) and shorts set (with lots of her help, of course). I remember crying when the thread would snarl up, and laying on the floor feeling like I would never finish. But I did finish that outfit, and I wore it until it was worn out. Although I made things here or there through my youth and teens, it took me until I was married and had a sewing machine of my own to take up sewing my own clothes again more seriously. It has been a long six years since then of learning and making that I am glad that I continued with. My classmates at art school questioned whether spending time doing things like sewing was worthwhile, especially if it took time away from art-making. It is something I have questioned myself, since sewing certainly takes time and patience. But it also brings creative and aesthetic pleasure, and it is part of the 'total work of art' which is life. Artists like Georgia O'Keefe (who sewed quite a few of her own clothes) and Frida Kahlo valued their clothes as a means of expression. Why shouldn't I, as an artist, a seamstress, and a woman?
Sewing my own clothes means that I have a personal relationship with my clothing. I get to wear things that I like and that fit me. My clothes are made from mostly thrifted fabrics and cheap remnants from the fabric district, so I can feel confident that I am making as little negative impact on this beautiful world that I love that I can.
Every year we have the chance to make a little progress if we keep practicing.
Do you make your clothes? How does sewing impact your life?
(The photo above is a sneak peak of a new review coming soon. I've got three sewing reviews worth of photos ready to post, so expect some action here on the blog in the next week!)
I, Mrs Rat, of Mr and Mrs Rat, do pledge to wear me-made garments and jewelry through the month of May. I pledge to minimize outfit repeats, wear as many me-made items as possible, and to be more adventuresome while creating outfit combinations. I will document this here on the blog and I will also attempt to document it on Instagram if time allows me to (you can find the link to my profile by clicking here) with the intention of discovering which sewing projects will be useful to plan for the rest of the year, how to make my wardrobe more cohesive and practical, and how to be more confident wearing my me-mades.
Are you planning on participating in Me-Made May this year? I like to photograph my outfits as part of the challenge, but Zoe, of So Zo What Do You Know, who runs the Me-Made-May challenge has made it clear that you do not need to take photographs or have a blog or social media account to participate. My first time participating in Me-Made May was last year (you can find the link to my posts on the right hand of the blog) and I thought that it was an interesting and challenging experience, and it did help me plan out my sewing projects for a while afterwards. You can find the sign-ups for this year's Me-Made May by clicking here. With fashion revolution week right before Me-Made May starts and right after Earth Day (Sunday, April 22) ends, I think it is a good time of year to ponder our relationship to our clothes and to consumption and production (since we are not just shoppers, but sewers and makers also). It is also a good time to plan for the rest of the year ahead, as we creep towards the halfway mark of June.
(the photo above is one I took of myself during last year's Me-Made May wearing a homemade blouse from a 1980s pattern, a homemade skirt from my favorite 1970s Simplicity 7880, and a homemade sodalite necklace)
Here is my way of using up fabric scraps: save up money, adopt two beautiful rats in a big cage, clean said cage with repeated scrubbing, cut leftover fabric scraps in pieces and use to decorate cage for rats, let rats enjoy. Enjoy rats. Repeat cleaning, cutting, decorating (also watching the rats redecorate), and enjoying.
Marigold and Daisy seem to like it, anyway. And I really like having pet rats again.
I think most of you readers are not new to sewing, so you can skip this post if you like. One of Mr Rat's coworkers has asked us to teach her how to sew, so I've been putting together a list of supplies she needs to get started. Since it has been very difficult to get photos of my new sewing projects with all of the snowstorms we've been having the last few weeks (and are supposed to keep having the next few days), I thought I'd post the same list here in case there are any visitors to this blog who are curious about learning to sew and don't know quite how to start going about it.
Things you need to get started sewing:
A sewing machine – for dressmaking, the only essential stitch is the straight stitch, although it is convenient to have a machine that also does a zigzag stitch. If you want to sew with knits, look for a machine that has a stretch stitch as well. It isn’t necessary to have lots of decorative stitches unless you want them, and I would avoid getting one of the expensive quilting machines or a computerized machine (which can break when exposed to magnets), since they are more specialized than you need as a beginner. We used to use a contemporary Singer Heavy Duty machine before we found and refurbished our current Singer, which was made in 1946. The vintage metal-body machines are more durable and reliable than modern machines. If you decided to buy a used machine you can either buy a refurbished one from a shop or look online at sewing forums such as patternreview.com for advice on what brands and models best fit your needs. It is useful to have an automatic button-holer on your machine, but not a necessity, since we can teach you to make your buttonholes by hand. You’ll also want a cover or case if the machine doesn’t come with one. You can use the box the machine came in (if it had one) to store the machine when you are not sewing with it, or buy a portable carry-case, or some older machines come inside of cabinets (special sewing machine desks) and cannot be carried, but still need to be covered or put back inside their cabinet in between uses. Dust can clog and damage your machine, so you need to protect it somehow when you are not using it---a piece of cloth will work in a pinch.
A small brush and a tiny screwdriver – most machines come with one, but if yours doesn’t, you will want a small brush to clean the lint out of your machine. If you are using an older machine you will also need to buy sewing machine oil to keep your machine running well. Not very many contemporary machines are built in a way that you can open them to oil them, so refer to your manual to see if your machine needs to be oiled or not. If you buy an older, used machine, you can usually find and print the manual off the internet. This will instruct you on how to use and thread the machine, how to clean and care for it, and how to switch stitches and fix problems. If your machine does come apart to be oiled, then you will need a tiny screwdriver to open the machine to oil it.
A steam iron and ironing board – it is helpful if your steam iron also has the feature of using concentrated bursts of steam, and the ability to adjust the amount of steam as you iron. Your ironing board should be a comfortable height and have a padded cover.
An ironing shield/cloth – I use a plain white cotton bandana for this purpose. You can also use a large square of white cotton. This is used to place between the iron and your fabric when you are concerned that the iron may leave a shine or a mark on the fabric.
Bent-handled sewing shears – these are the scissors you need to cut out fabric. The bent handle makes it easier to keep the bottom blade flat against the floor or table when you are cutting. It is worthwhile to spend some extra money to get a good pair (we use Gingher) because you will be using them a lot, and will want to get them sharpened every year rather than having to buy a new pair when the blades get dull.
Sewing or embroidery scissors with a pointed end – these are your all-purpose sewing scissors, used for trimming seams, making notches, and cutting threads, etc. If your machine doesn’t have an automatic button-hole feature, then I would recommend getting some small embroidery scissors with a sharp and pointed end for cutting buttonholes.
Ordinary scissors – for cutting out patterns. You don’t want to ever use your sewing scissors on paper, as it will dull the blades very quickly.
A package of hand-sewing needles – you will need these for doing slip-stitch as well as sewing on buttons, etc. You can buy sets with different sizes, just be careful you are buying a set that is intended for hand sewing rather than embroidery or leather, etc.
A thimble - this will protect your fingers when you sew by hand, especially if you are sewing into a heavy fabric. It should fit tightly but not squeeze your finger. There are many varieties of thimbles out there---we use old-fashioned metal ones, but there are also leather and rubber ones.
Dress-making pins – if your pins don’t come in a closable box, you will also want to buy or make a pin-cushion or a magnetic pin holder to keep your pins handy while you sew.
Weights for cutting out patterns – we use small canned goods from our pantry. You can also use large, heavy, clean washers from the hardware store.
Measuring tool/point turner – this is very helpful for measuring seam allowances and hems, adjusting the placement of buttons, and turning things inside out.
Seam-ripper – self-explanatory, I think, and very necessary. We all make sewing mistakes and need to unpick seams from time to time.
A marking tool – while you may not use this all the time, it is helpful to have a washable fabric pencil or piece of tailor’s chalk, or even a small sliver of soap to mark pocket placements, pleats, etc. We often use pins to mark our projects, so buying this right away isn’t a necessity.
A flexible tape measure – this is important for taking measurements, especially of your own body, and also the fabric and pattern-pieces, to make sure that they will fit.
A box or basket to keep your sewing supplies in – there are lots of sewing baskets at the fabric store, but you can also use any handy medium sized box or basket that you like to keep your supplies in. It is useful if it is lidded to keep everything dust free.
Your first pattern, fabric, thread, and notions – it is easiest to start with a less-fitted pattern (such as a loose, pullover dress without darts or a pullover blouse with few or no darts) or a pattern that is fitted in only one place like the waist (a full skirt gathered to a waist-band would be an example). But if you want to sew a basic, fitted dress with bust darts and a full or a-line skirt, it is not too complicated to sew for the first time if you have some guidance along the way. For your first few times sewing, I would recommend buying inexpensive fabric, since you will be figuring out fitting and sewing techniques. Cotton is among the easiest of fabrics to sew with, since it frays very little, washes and presses well, and can be used for all sorts of clothing. You will want to pre-wash your fabric before you cut out your pattern. Use the same method to wash and dry your fabric as you will for the finished garment. This is in case the fabric shrinks or warps in any way---it is better to know this before you cut into it than after you’ve finished sewing your garment. Before you choose your pattern size, know that the sizing on patterns is quite different than ready-to-wear from the store. You will want to use your tape measure to take your own body measurements and write them down. It is not uncommon to fall within two different sizes for your top and bottom; most modern patterns are multi-sized, so this is not a difficult issue to work around. Most patterns will fit better if you use your upper-bust measurement rather than your full-bust measurement. It’s very helpful to get onto JoAnn fabric store’s e-mail or mailing list for coupons and mailers. They do pattern sales regularly where you can buy the patterns on sale for anywhere from 99 cents to 5 dollars each. The pattern envelope will tell you what fabrics are recommended for your sewing project, and what notions (zipper, buttons, bias tape, etc.) you will need to buy to complete your garment.
Interfacing – Almost all sewing projects require interfacing to give fabrics structure, stability, and support in necessary areas (such as collars, button bands, cuffs, necklines, and sometimes hems, pockets, lapels, and waistbands). I usually buy several yards of it when it is on-sale at the fabric store and keep it stored with my sewing supplies so I can use it when I need it. Lightweight or featherweight fusible interfacing is a good all-purpose weight for most sewing projects.
Things that are nice to have, but you don’t need to buy right away:
Tailor’s ham – This is incredibly helpful for ironing darts, princess seams, and any kind of curve. If you are going to sew fitted, darted dresses, then I would recommend buying this sooner rather than later, because it gives your pressing a much more professional look.
Pinking shears – If you sew a lot with firmly woven fabrics such as cotton, pinking shears are a quick and easy way to finish your seams so they go through the wash better.
French Curve – This is helpful for making fitting adjustments on your pattern, copying patterns from books and magazines, and drafting your own patterns.
Yardstick – This is helpful for measuring fabric, measuring dress lengths, and pinning up your hems or checking that they are even all the way around.
Extra bobbins – Most machines come with two or three extra bobbins. You can also buy them at the fabric store in a little case. It is useful to have extra for when you are switching thread colors---this way you don’t have to unroll your bobbin to switch colors every time.
A white glue-stick – this can be helpful when putting collars and cuffs together, or when attaching trims that you will sew on by hand or machine. The glue helps things stick together while you work and washes out of your finished garment.
Sewing books – I like the Vogue sewing guide from the 1970s-80s, although I also have a 1970s-era Butterick sewing book that is packed full of useful information and diagrams. These books will help you solve problems and learn new techniques.
Extra sewing machine needles – as you sew, you will need to switch needles as they get dull after a few projects. Size 10-11 is the most common needle we use, since it works for light and medium weight fabrics. But if you sew with especially light or heavy-weight fabrics, you will need different sized needles to accommodate your fabric choice (the smaller the number, the lighter the fabric----the larger the number, the heavier the fabric). If you sew with knits, you will need a ball-point or special knit needle so as to not damage the fabric. You will also need special pins for sewing with knits, or fine and delicate fabrics such as silk.
Beeswax - this is very useful if you sew a lot by hand. You pull your thread through it, which strengthens the thread and makes it harder to tangle.
Mr Rat has been hard at work on his newest project, squeezing out the time to sew on the weekends and the occasional weeknight evening. He's been making great progress and we are both looking forward to when we can share his finished garment with you all. . .
There is something so therapeutic about sewing. It is varied, interesting, challenging, and yet also restful. There is something reassuring about following pattern instructions and knowing they will lead to a finished garment. And there is something so magical about taking a flat piece of fabric and turning it into a beautiful, detailed, dimensional item of clothing you can wear. It may take time to create, but the act of creation is a pleasure in itself, well worth the hours spent.
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew