Sunday, February 13, 2011

How to Combat Fear of Sewing

A neighbor confided that she’d rather read or spend time with her kids than to learn a new craft like sewing. My first thought was, "Since when is sewing a craft?" Being able to thread a needle and replace a button are life skills on a par with being able to open a can of soup and heat it.

The trick to learning anything is to break it down into steps you can succeed at, so trying to thread a Milliner’s Sharp before you have threaded an Embroidery needle is not your best move. It also helps if you use good thread, as opposed to the cheap no-brand spools of polyester. Good thread is easier to poke through the hole of a needle. No-brand thread has almost invisible hairs that fight you.

I’ll bet that most folks who hate the thought of sewing on their own buttons have hairy thread and needles with tiny eyes, because those are sold on the racks of sewing supplies you find in stores that don‘t have fabric departments. There’s a paradox for you: sewing supplies for non-seamsters are pre-selected to make them fail. Lesson Number One is to thread the needle.

So what if your stitches aren’t as tiny and regular as the ones you see in quilts? You think quilters learned overnight? My mother let me play with a big-eyed needle and a spool of thread on my own. Once I had mastered threading the needle, we ventured into knot making. Sewing a strip of fabric and pushing the fabric back against the knot was magic: a flat piece of fabric turned into a ruffle. My stitches were large and higgledy-piggledy across the top of the fabric, but I had learned a new trick. It took awhile before I cared enough about the shape and size of my stitches to do anything about it.

For awhile every button I sewed was put on with lavender thread. I thought white and black were boring. My mother said," As you sew it, so shall you wear it." I took that to mean that I could add buttons and lace and sequins to boring clothing. I’m pretty sure she meant simply that she wasn’t going to come along and fix my mistakes. She was a good teacher. She’d show me how to do something, then go away and let me try it myself.

Sewing clothing is very forgiving. The first time I sewed a "straight" seam on a sewing machine, it meandered all over the place like a lazy ribbon. It was the side seam in a gathered skirt with a pre-elasticized waist. The seam was on the inside of the skirt and didn’t show. I soon mastered the idea that pressing the foot control hard meant the machine would go faster. I went so fast that I was finished with the seam before I had time to make a mistake. Lesson Number Two is to sew something where mistakes won’t matter.

Lesson Number Three is that clothing manufactured for stores is made to somebody else’s measurements. If it isn’t too long or too short, it’s in a color that you wouldn’t wear if you were paid to. It can be cheaper to buy manufactured clothing than to make it yourself, but the search  for acceptable clothing can take weeks.If you can sew even a little, you can fix  manufactured clothing.

Sewing is a life skill like any other. Give yourself the chance to have fun. Don't expect perfection. Relax, give yourself an easy assignment, and let her rip.