Seamstress in Training

I’ve had the loveliest Tuesday at home. Just a peaceful day of solitude and creativity. Can’t beat that really.

I began the day with a trip to a local fabric shop, one not far from where I live. I wish I could say it was nice. I mean, I came out with some lovely pieces of fabric and general supplies, but I also came out with a sense that it isn’t a shop where enthusiastic newbies can comfortably ask a couple of questions and feel like it’s an ok thing. I’ve never found this shop particularly friendly in the past when I’ve gone there to buy buttons. I think maybe I’ll stick to the shop where we bought my machine. They were friendly, supportive and offered classes.

As I can’t show any of my knitting at the moment because it’s either gift stuff or hasn’t progressed enough to be interesting, I’ll show you what I’ve got for sewing.

It’s hard walking around a fabric shop and not really knowing what to buy – I think once we’re competent at something, like knitting, it’s easy to take for granted to level of knowledge we’ve picked up. So what I’m trying to do, being utterly clueless, is apply what I’ve learned from my years of knitting and crochet to my seamstress-in-training status. For eg, I love to knit with pure fibres so I’m no less likely to sew with synthetics. I stuck to cotton fabric and cotton thread today. I’m looking forward to finding out what other natural fibres I can learn to sew with.


With my bundle of fat quarters, and a strip of sunflower fabric I bought after work yesterday, I now have three draw string bags, in varying sizes, to call my own. I whipped up the sunflower one after dinner last night and I have to say, the speed wasn’t that satisfying. The rough edges and half-doneness of it meant the experience overall was disappointing. The burgundy one next to it was the third one I made, a little more finished off than the first one, but I have a lot to learn about seaming.


The one I like best, but which has really only raised lots of questions for me, is this little one which will be a storage bag for my cotton reels.


I took more care with seaming the fabric and it feels more finished but now I have lots more to look up and find out about. Come July 20 I start classes. I can’t wait.

The nice thing about the photo above is that it shows two items my mum gave me ages ago which are now going to get proper use. I’ve kept sewing items in the box for a long time but it gets used only really when I’m sewing on buttons. And the pin cushion was a gift from her as well, which lives in the box. I love that I’m getting to use them properly at last.

DrK asked me today if I feel sewing is competing with knitting yet. I answered no. The reason I’ve put off learning to sew for such a long time, despite a few lessons and some dabbling, is because I’ve worried that knitting, and to a lesser extent crochet, take up so much of my life that there isn’t really room for sewing.

A few days in, basking in the glow of new love, I still wonder how easily the two will exist beside each other. I got a sewing machine only once I was sure that it was something I definitely wanted to learn. I didn’t want Sean to invest in it only to have it sit in a cupboard unused. So I think I’ll set realistic goals. Knitting is still the most portable, easy to pick up work I can do but in time I hope I’ll have a level of skill in sewing that will mean I can fit it in my life in a satisfactory way. Knitting is for every day, sewing will probably be for weekends – I can imagine claiming a whole afternoon for getting a project done will be something I’ll enjoy very much.



28 thoughts on “Seamstress in Training

  1. I bought a machine 3 years ago. While I keeps saying I’m going to take lessons, I never seem to. I asked my mom to teach me. Her standard answer, “It’s easy.” Okay…. Can’t wait to see what you create.

  2. Oh, I wish I knew how to sew! I’m terrible at it – even buttons! But mostly I spend most of the time fighting with the machine, getting the bobbin to stay threaded, etc. Just can’t seem to get past it…

  3. Congratulations on your purchase and also your determination to take things as they come. As with most things being prepared to frog or in this case unpick is a very good thing and something that will come in handy! Sewing is one of those things that you can see your progress quite quickly in but doing your preparation work surely does make a big difference. Good Luck with your new endeavour!

  4. One of the few things that I am adamant about is that the sewing scissors (and I bought myself a good pair) don’t get used for anything else. Never.

    I agree with the washing of the fabric. And ironing your seams open. It’s a nicer looking finish. I think I want to sew something now.

  5. Starting with cotton, or cotton poly – good idea. And I second every remark about pre-washing, and heartily endorse all remarks about using QUALITY sewing threads. Mettler and Gutermann spring to mind.

    In between classes, it can be a big help to have a reference book: mine is ‘Simplicity’s Simply the Best Sewing Book’. I have relied on it for help for DECADES, have absolutely no idea if it is still in print. All I can tell you is that at some time I paid 19.95 for it! If it is not in print ask some of your mother’s friends (after all I am 66), second hand book shops, let your friends know what you are looking for – they might be helping clean out the possessions of a deceased elderly aunt, you never know.

    Gae, in Callala Bay

  6. Your bags look great. I used to do loads of sewing, and now it’s confined mostly to making the occasional set of curtains. I must admit that I don’t really have time for multiple hobbies, and for me, knitting fulfils more of my needs. I look forward to seeing how your new skill develops!

  7. I third (fifth?) the recommendation to pre-wash and dry your fabric. I’ve sewed some project bags and a roll of 1/2″ white grosgrain ribbon that was on sale makes perfect drawstrings. Have fun with your new toy!

  8. yes, sewing is a great complement to knitting i think. imagine of the skirts you can whip up to match your cardigans! once you make a basic a-line skirt that fits, you wont want to buy any. and i second the tip about ironing, it does make things work better.

  9. Sewing is a great skill to have – you’ll be able to make some pretty cute stuff for Alice. I’m happy to help with some tips and tricks if you want to have a sewing session one day – consider it payment for ball winding and blocking help!

  10. In my (very) limited sewing experience, I’ve found ironing seams open and flat makes a big difference to the finished product. And if you’re interested in making bags generally, Nicole Mallalieu from You Sew, Girl ( has a brilliant range of bag patterns for different sewing abilities. She even has them rated so you can go from being a beginner to expert in four patterns! Her instructions are extremely clear and easy to follow. I managed to make a more than acceptable laptop satchel for my hubby using one of her patterns, and he’s used it every day for the last 9 months!

    Have fun with the sewing, and remember, just like knitting, every time something turns out not quite right, you learn something for next time!!

  11. I use Mettler 100% polyester thread, on the advice of the woman who sold me my machine (it’s also what she stocks.) The one time I accidentally used a different kind–I’d grabbed the thread that came with the machine–I had the worst time. The difference was remarkable. You might ask where you bought the machine if they have recommendations, especially if they also service that brand there. I’ve often seen the advice not to skimp on thread.

    Definitely prewash everything!

    And oh, a class. What a luxury, you know that, right? I haven’t been able to take a class in anything yet. I have a little mental list. Interestingly, knitting and sewing are not on the list! Bookbinding, though…

  12. Great looking bags. Here is another tutorial on making a drawstring bag. It is one of a series.
    The tutorials move gradually through from a very simple unlined bag to a lined bag to a padded bag to a backpack.

    Prewashing fabric definitely saves on shrinking disasters later. I usually use the zigzag stitch on my machine to stop the edges fraying, throw the fabric in the washing machine and then put it in the dryer. When my children were young I sewed a lot of their clothes and my theory was treat the fabric how I want to wash it once I have sewn it. It meant that lots of my kids clothes could be put in the wash and the clothes dryer (if the weather was bad!) and there was very little hand washing done.

    Cotton wrapped polyester thread can be used for most projects. This has a bit more give than cotton thread. I came across a site just recently but cannot find it again which showed some very good macro images of various thread types. A good sewing thread for your machine will always be one that does not shed lots or have many “fluffy” bits to clog up the works.

  13. You’ve articulated how I feel about sewing v knitting!

    I’m an impatient soul, so the thing I find difficult about sewing is having to start from square one. Tis so easy to forget that it was baby steps with knitting too.

    The drawstring bags turned out really nicely, and so useful too.

  14. Lovely bags. I second the comment to wash the fabric before you use it – not only can it shrink but some fabrics can twist on the bias when they get washed, and if they do it after you’ve sewn them up you get twisty things. I’ve only had it happen with really cheap fabric, but it was a lesson I learned very thoroughly!

  15. Your drawstring bags look great and it seems you have a few good links already for finishing touches. I sew but not all the time, I need to be in the mood or when I need to make a gift for someone. I am sure after your classes you will pick up lots of handy hints and there are a few knitters who are also fantastic sewers in blogland too. Sooz is a fantastic sewer!


    Congratulations on your bags. You will like this link as it introduces you to a double drawstring bag and shows you how to sew the corners so your bag can sit flat.

    Think of a bag that you could put your lunch box in and have it sit flat and you get the idea. You will like this flat bottom for any bag where you want something to sit flat. Now think of NOT doing the casing and sewing some simple handles (either fabric strips you sew or handles you can buy) on and you have a flat bottom tote to carry your new plants home from the nursery or a box of eggs etc.

    Finally, think of me – a very experienced sewer – trying to come to grips with double pointed needles and sock yarn. Two books, one magazine and YouTube videos are on constant replay and I haven’t even knitted the first row. But my 5 year old told his 17 year old sister – don’t go near Mutti, she’s using meat sticks to make something and she’s very cross.

    Someone’s mastery is always someone else’s mystery and vice-versa.

  17. ” it isn’t a shop where enthusiastic newbies can comfortably ask a couple of questions and feel like it’s an ok thing “. That’s exactly what it’s like being a bloke wandering into Spotlight …

    I so want a tie made from that sunflower fabric!

    Good read, Helen!

  18. I found an excellent tutorial for a lined drawstring bag, I must dig it out for you – it hides the seams, mostly!

    Sewing is definitely great for those one day or less projects, it can give (almost) instant gratification in a way that knitting (mostly) can’t. A very useful skill to have. Go you!

  19. I’m sure there will be lots of people offering hints and tips. I usually use natural fabrics myself, mostly because I like the feel. My time is usually divided between projects that are quiet and ones that make noise. Since hub often is asleep while I roam the house with insomnia, I usually knit at night. I save the machine work for when he’s up or at work.
    Finding a good fabric shop is as important as your favorite lys. Keep looking until you are comfortable.

  20. Nicely done!!! I’m a bit sewer, myself.. just love it.

    One thing to remember about natural fibres, is that they will probably shrink (especially quilting cotton), so you might want to give them a good wash first. Even with other fabrics, taking the sizing out can help them be easier to deal with.

  21. you know i am totally expecting those little project bags for gifts now, because one can never have too many project bags! they looks lovely, and your matching ribbon drawstring is a really nice touch. i am just a little envious, because i tried to learn to sew at school and was terrible, but i do think its such a handy skill to have. i wish you many hours of sewing joy!

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