Take the Fear Out of Learning to Sew

A few months ago, I was talking to a friend and recommending sewing to her as a hobby. Every chance I get, I do my best to spread the word like some kind of sewing prophet because I love it so much.Take the fear out of learning to sew

After extolling the joys of sewing and quilting to “L,” she told me it really wasn’t her thing. When L was younger, she had to complete a class assignment of making a quillow. (You know, a quilt with a pocket on it that can be folded into a pillow)

It had gone horribly wrong, with L sewing her finger to the quillow and breaking her mom’s sewing machine. She’d also left some of the pins inside, and it was “less than comfortable” in her own words. This conversation took place over Facebook, and even though I was alone with an iPad – I was laughing out loud.

I asked her what grade she got on the project. Her response: “I think a B, because the teacher felt bad for me.”

Experiences such as this one deter many people from wanting to ever sew again. This is certainly understandable, as I too was afraid and absolutely convinced I could never become halfway decent at it. During my childhood I did some hand sewing, but when I tried to use my mother’s sewing machine it was very finicky and the thread jammed up – causing a huge mess. Never went near that machine again.

Fast forward twenty years, and I can personally attest to a complete turnaround.

I credit my own ability to learn how to sew mainly to four factors:

  • Getting a sewing machine a couple steps up from entry-level with lots of features that is easy to use
  • Free YouTube tutorials / sewing blogs (See our RESOURCES page)
  • Learning alongside James
  • Starting off with beginner projects to gain confidence and gradually working my way up to more advanced projects/patterns

At least a couple times a week, someone approaches me to say how much they like seeing my sewing and quilting projects on the blog. Usually they also comment on their mother/grandmother being a wonderful seamstress. But when I inquire to them about giving it a try, the idea is immediately shut down with excuses such as a crappy sewing machine or not being talented in this area.

If that is you – do not be hindered by those obstacles that can be overcome. With some practice, anyone can be a great sewist.

I was in the same boat two years ago, in awe of a college friend who made clothes and cloth diapers for her children. In fact, I even bought handmade dresses and monogrammed baby blankets from her to give as gifts.

The topic came up yet again when my friend Amy, who I’ve known since elementary school, told me she was really interested in sewing. She had seen lots of modern quilts all over the internet, and had talked with her husband about making their own clothes. While trying to give Amy advice on starting out, I came to a stumbling block in the road – particularly when we were discussing sewing machines.

It’s very difficult to understand what type of sewing machine fits your needs if you’ve never sewn before, but it’s important to have a good machine to learn and enjoy it.

One thing about the sewing and quilting community that I love is how welcoming everyone is, and how much encouragement and knowledge they’re willing to share. I decided to reach out via Instagram to get outside advice on taking the fear out of sewing.

Of course, the response was terrific.

“I tell everyone that if they can sew a straight line, they can make a quilt,” said Kate Starcher (@katiemaequilts) of Katie Mae Quilts. “And if they can’t sew a straight line, wonky is a quilt style, too.”

Several ladies seemed to be in agreement to purchase a sewing machine that is feature-rich (somewhere between $150 to $400), so that it will behave enough for you to learn.

Angelina McKenna (@weenchaweena), organizer of the official #bitchesgetstitchesswap on Instagram, started out on a $150 Brother CS6000i before recently upgrading to another sewing machine.

“There was a lot to learn, but very easy to learn and not a huge investment if I didn’t stick with it,” she recalled. “I think if I would have bought a $70 machine that didn’t have as many features, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much… Getting an affordable machine that you can grow with is key.”

Experienced sewists also recommend learning with a friend, and finding and spending time with people like them who can answer questions and share their vast knowledge.

Diana Ray (@rayssewcrafty) started out on a $400 machine she purchased from her local quilt shop. Ray is so passionate about sewing and quilting, she now works as a Social Media Coordinator for Eleanor Burns of Quilt in a Day.

“I learn best when someone is showing me in person,” Ray said. “I took several classes each week and started joining sewing bees to just go and work on a project around other ‘quilty’ ladies so that if I had any questions – they would help me. Being around experienced quilters really helps and it’s very motivating!”

Elsa Hart (@elsabean), 2015 president of the Portland Modern Quilt Guild, has been sewing since age eight. Her father took her shopping for a dress pattern and fabric, showed her how to pin and cut out the fabric, and taught her how to use a sewing machine. Then off she went!

“I think it would be best to learn from someone who has some experience sewing, is patient as heck, and learn on a fairly good machine,” Hart concluded. “Nothing worse than using a machine that’s hard to sew on. Use a fairly simple pattern, too – whether it’s clothing or quilting.”

Elle Harris (@LauraLovesPugs) says you should “start small.” Instead of aiming for a hard project, focus on something quick that can be completed in a few hours.

“Having something finished really boosts that confidence,” she states.

“I have dozens of placemats and napkins from the first month while I learned proper tension, stitch length, seam allowance, and pressing,” confesses McKenna. “There is a great satisfaction in making something functional while learning the basics.”

Harris also advises those new to sewing to get on Instagram, add and follow sewing and quilting blogs, and start making friends.

“We are all so supportive here,” Harris promises. “Sewing is my happy place. I hope others will be inspired to join us.”

Thanks to all of the amazing women who added their wonderful input to this post. If you’re considering sewing as a hobby – feel free to ask any questions you may have in the comments. I will do my best to answer them.

For all of you who already sew, please share this post with all of your family members and friends who are missing out and tag #MooreApproved !

See you next time!

– Jennifer

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