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Before December 2010 sewing was something that I had struggled through during Textiles at school. I even made my own 50's style occasion dress (still have it) and I enjoyed making my own clothes but found it a real struggle so by the end of that GCSE I was done with sewing, until last year that is! I had recently become a student, the local Primark wasn't living up to my expectations and everywhere else was too expensive so I decided I was going to try and do it myself. I started off using my mum's sewing machine (and her expertise) to see whether I'd stick with it. I didn't start small, I dove straight in and went for a dress pattern, Burda 7739 to be precise! It definitely wasn't the easiest first project I could have chosen, it had a zip, puff sleeves and a collar but with my mum there to help me wade through the sewing jargon I managed and I still love that dress! Since then I've made skirts and other dresses and I even made my clothes for my most recent job - I managed to make two black work skirts out of £15 of fabric which had the same fabric composition as the workwear they sell on Oasis and Warehouse at £40 a go. Most people seem to think that dressmaking is ridiculously difficult but once you've worked your way through a pattern or two it becomes clear that they're all much of a muchness and pretty soon you find yourself knowing what you need to do without even looking at the pattern. As for skills like darts, zips and linings, you just pick it up as you go through trial and error! Most patterns give you very clear instructions and pictures to guide you through the process so it's not as scary as it sounds. I think making your own clothes isn't very popular today because you can buy clothes so cheaply from places like Primark and the supermarkets, however even if you just learn how to adjust a hem and sew on a button you can make amendments to your clothing or buy damaged clothing at a reduced price and repair it yourself. One of my early projects was a maxi dress which was £3 in the sale which swamped me but I turned it into a mini dress. Another project was another £3 maxi dress bought 8 sizes too big for me so I could use the fabric to make something else out of it! Having the skill of sewing gives you so many more options, for example I tried on a skirt in a shop because I loved the colour but it was way shorter than I like my skirts so I found a pattern and made a similar one which suits my requirements better. I love the flexibility in being able to create a garment that fits the way I want it and is in a colour of my choice rather than having to accept second best. Once you start sewing your own clothes you also then realise how awful the quality of the clothes in some stores are, there are a few places where I don't buy clothes anymore because once I looked properly at the sewing I realised that the item was badly sewn (a lot of the time the stitching is loopy where the machine has not been threaded properly or the tension is not right for the fabric) and seams were starting to come apart before it had even left the shop and I realised that even I as a novice could do a better job and for a better price too! Places like Fabric Land sell a variety of fabrics for cheap prices (and some more expensive fabrics for occasion wear) and so you can make clothing quite cheaply and it's also original, not everyone else is going to be wandering around in it. Even though I'm a novice sewer I get so many compliments from strangers about clothes I've made and I always feel really proud when I can tell them that I made it myself and they look shocked! I would thoroughly recommend getting a second hand machine and having a go at sewing your own clothes, you may not be a pro at first but it's really worth it in the long run!
Sewing seems to be a dying art that is reserved for dear old fogies like me! Over the past few decades I admit to having worn out many a crewel needle and hopefully intend to keep on going for a good few years yet. Sewing can be addictive, interesting, time consuming, fascinating, challenging and absorbing. Just take a moment to think about some of the amazing needlework that has been produced through the ages. Many years ago huge tapestries were worked, I would suppose that the most famous of these has to be the Bayeux Tapestry. The Flemish worked some incredibly elaborate tapestries and wall hangings depicting lifelike scenes. the 19th century saw the introduction of the Berlin woolwork, canvasses were painted and then embroidered with soft wool. Women of the Victorian era were generally very adept at needlework creating intricate family samplers and beautiful beaded pincushions. Being very keen on patchwork myself I often have a look at the patchwork quilts that are on the auction sites. If you go the the antique textile section on EBay you will see some excellent examples of early patchwork quilts. To a certain extent patchwork is still alive and kicking, our local library stocks many books with patchwork patterns and over the years I have bought a few intriguing books from Amazon, which have cost little more than the postage. All in all the American women were deemed the patchwork masters, if you ever get a chance just `Google` American patchwork and take a look at the craftmanship that went into each quilt. Although we can take a look at some of the needlework through the ages we can only touch on the subject without writing an epic. How many of you remember the family button tin? Every garment that was destined for the bin was stripped of any `useful` buttons, which were then all stored in an old biscuit tin to reuse. That also applied to zippers, hooks and eyes, press studs. Now we all tend to hurl the whole lot into the bin and think nothing of it! My Grandmother turned shirt collars and darned woollen socks, her Singer sewing machine was often heard chugging away on a cheap and cheerful project. But today if I want to buy any embroidery or crewel wool I have to either go online and order it or take a trip to Bakewell to the nearest stockist, which is a good half an hour by car. The shop that I visit is just like Aladdin`s cave, it is packed from floor to ceiling with tapestry canvasses, sampler kits and all the paraphernalia that goes with it. If you were hoping to take up tapestry as a hobby then the price of some of the canvasses would quickly frighten you off. The Elizabeth Bradley and Beth Russell designer canvasses can run into the hundreds of pounds. Although they are beautiful I much prefer to buy my wool and thread and just create my own design. After all, if I create it myself it is unique! Just going back to patchwork for a second..Don`t be put off or intimidated by professional patchworkers. I make my own templates using the cardboard form a cereal box, I can always manage to find scraps of pretty fabric from charity shops ( strangely enough they aren`t expensive either ). Rather than work to a conventional pattern just randomly patch, it was good enough for the Victorians and it is good enough for me. Again if you take it back to brass tacks it can be an inexpensive hobby, if you buy cotton fabric from a patchwork specialist and use proper templates then the project becomes expensive. In short I feel that you can enjoy needlework without it costing a small fortune, if you have developed needlework skills and you pass them onto your daughters then the likelyhood is that they will follow in your footsteps. It is enjoyable and time consuming but it is well worth the end result.
A Millennium cross stitch kit lured me into cross stitch. My mom said she would buy the kit if I sewed it. When it arrived I could not believe it was simply a blank piece of Aida and that I had to count each stitch. I foolishly thought the design would be printed on. I was very close to sending it back, but I enjoy a challenge and became determined to suceed. Two years on it is still not quite finished as I have had breaks whilst doing Christmas, birthday and even engagement cards. Now I've got the bug, I no longer want to buy cards, but cross stitch them instead. I find designing your own is so much cheaper. I would also recommend buying one or two of the cross stitch magazines on offer at seasonal times to get patterns and ideas. Then buy the Aida and threads separately, i've had some great bulk buy bargains on threads from markets. I have to say though that the card board mounts are expensive, even on the internet. I have made my own but it takes ages and doesn't give the professional edge that you get with proper ones. I would check out internet auctions though, as there are many patterns and accessories available. I love country music and got one with a country and western theme, I cannot wait to start it. I'm so glad I sent off for the Millennuim cross stitch kit, as i've had so much fun since. When it is finished I am going to dedicate it to my Grandad who sadly died last summer.
If you want clothes at a fraction of the price you pay in the shops, then learn dressmaking. At first you may well think that you cannot do it, but like everything, practice makes perfect. If you start off by making simple things like cushion covers and curtians, then progress onto a little bit harder things. The main thing you need to be able to do is to sew in a straight line, get an old curtain or sheet and practice on these until you can sew in a straight line. The best kind of sewing machine to buy is the ones that do everything eg: buttonholes, buttons, hemming stitch and overlocking. If you have one of these kind, they are really good as you don't have to make buttonholes by hand or sew the buttons on. If you want to make a straight skirt that fits you perfectly, then take one of your favourite skirts, and take the waistband off and unpick all the hems and seams, then press all the pieces flat and you've got a pattern for a perfect fitting skirt. As you make things, you will find that you can make harder things next time round. A lot of people think they can't use a sewing machine, but once you've learned to thread it up the right way, and can sew in a straight line, then it is easy. When you first start out, and you buy a pattern, they say pin your seams together, then tack them before sewing on the machine, but when you get better you'll find you can just sew them straight away on the machine. I was lucky, when I left school I became a machinist and now I can make almost anything from a simple cushion cover through to a coat or even a pair of jeans. The greater kick is when I make my daugher a nice tendy top, and she loves it, and tells me that all her mates were asking about it, then feels so good.
The break-up of my first marriage found me cashless, job-less, and stuck at home with two children under three. I needed to find a way of making some money that didn’t involve a massive financial outlay, or have me going out to work only to pay most of what I’d earned to a childminder. At the time, my solicitor suggested I had two options – I could become a childminder myself, or… stick a few cards in ‘phone boxes and stand around quite a bit on darkened street corners – quite what he thought I was going to do with the kids while on the job he didn’t say. The red light bulb idea was abandoned pretty quickly (straits were dire – it did receive some consideration!), and most people in the house all day every day with small children could tell you why I didn’t need anyone else’s. And so it was that I sold my beloved Amstrad CPC 6128 (stop laughing at back – this was the cutting edge of home computing at the time!), bought myself a reconditioned sewing machine, and became a dressmaker. Quite what the logic was behind this decision, I’ve no idea. At school it took me a year to make a cookery apron, and in an incident still legend within it’s hallowed walls to this day, I was actually un-picked by the teacher after embroidering a tray-cloth to my skirt. Still, you don’t know what you can do until you try, and by the time I gave up dressmaking six years later, I’d successfully produced, amongst other things, articles of everyday clothing too numerous to mention, dozens of lifejackets (there’s nothing quite like the terrifying thought that someone’s life depends on your sewing to make you treble check every stitch!) wedding dresses, curtains, part of the set for the concert of a well-known band, and even re-upholstered the inside of a boat. I learned a lot along the way (mostly the hard way!), and the purpose of this piece is for you to benefit from this without ma king my mistakes. There are a lot of reasons for wanting to make your own clothes – outsize and very tall people often find it difficult to buy off-the-peg, and even the ‘average’ person can’t always find just what they’re looking for. Financial considerations aren’t as pressing as they once were – with cheap overseas imports more readily available than ever, it’s often more cost-effective to pick something up ready-made from a market stall. However, it is sometimes worthwhile, particularly with ‘special occasion’ clothes. I’ve seen beautiful wedding dresses and ball-gowns made for less than fifty quid, with the added bonus that these were one-off originals. Looking for a double quilt and pillowcases for my bedroom, I saw a set on sale for £6.50, so bought two and made matching curtains, lampshade and cushion-covers with the second. A multitude of gadgets and accessories are available to part you from your cash when you take up sewing, but in reality there are just three pieces of equipment that are vital to the success of your finished product, probably the most obvious being your sewing machine. The machine I was using when I first started out as a dressmaker was a second-hand Jones. It only had three stitch widths and was so old that it was probably used by Mrs Noah to run up curtains for the Ark, but what it did, it did well. It’s since been superseded by an all-singing, all dancing Toyota, costing little more than the modern day equivalent of the Jones. This is allegedly capable of straight-stitch, zig-zag, blind-hemming, button-holing, and 20-plus fancy embroidery patterns. In action, unfortunately, what it does, it does badly. You only get what you pay for, and if you’re choosing a new machine I’d advise you to spend your cash on a good quality model with fewer features – after an initial fit of experimentation, many of the ‘talents’ ; of my Toyota are rarely used anyway. An additional over-locking machine provides a neat finish and saves many hours of trimming seams by hand, but is not essential. Your second most important purchase should be your scissors. Buy the best you can afford – more sewing projects have been ruined by scissors that wouldn’t cut warm butter than have ever been ruined by an inadequate machine. You can always unpick stitching, but once you’ve cut your fabric there’s no going back. Keep a separate pair of scissors for cutting out your patterns, as paper will blunt the blades. Thirdly, you will need a steam iron. It needn’t be an expensive model, but it’s just not possible to construct a garment to decent standards without pressing the seams open at every step of the way, and some fabrics will only respond to steam. Press your paper pattern pieces flat before you use them too – creases in these can leave you with badly matching fabric pieces that are difficult to fit together accurately. Since the popularity of dressmaking for economical reasons has waned, haberdashery outlets have become fewer (even in a city the size of Bristol I can think of only one or two), but it’s still possible to pick up patterns pretty easily. Before you know it, you’ll be altering these to produce garments that are more to your taste than that of the designer. I’d advocate that you go further, and learn the art of pattern drafting. It’s deceptively simple (even for a mathematically challenged person such as I!), and once learned you need never buy a paper pattern again. I taught myself using a book entitled ‘Metric Pattern Cutting’ by Winifred Aldrich (currently £15.99 at Amazon), and for the price of a couple of paper patterns there’s no reason why you can’t do the same. There are also the kind of patterns that come printed on a small grid for you to scale up using squared paper, the cost of which can be reduced using a 3’x2’ sheet of hardboard, marked off into a 2” grid. Simply lay ordinary household greaseproof paper over this and, since it’s semi transparent, you’ve got instant squared paper. Just be very careful to keep it still – tape it down if necessary. To eliminate the terror involved in cutting into expensive fabric when you’re not fully confident of the fit of a pattern, make it up using an old sheet first. If it’s wrong, you’ll know where, and if it’s right you can always tie-dye it into something… unique! Wash your fabric before you cut your pieces out, as some can shrink by up to 10%, and tumble dry it too if that’s what you intend to do with the finished garment. Test a small scrap from the corner if you’re uncertain about colour-fastness. Detailed dressmaking techniques are beyond the scope of this opinion, but for these and general reference, the best book I have on the subject (and I have many!), is the Reader’s Digest ‘Complete Guide to Sewing’, currently priced at just £9.48 at Amazon. As always, the web is a great source of all the news on all that’s newest on the scene, and a quick search throws up http://www.lillyabello.com/sewdir.htm http://sewing.about.com/hobbies/sewing/ Another useful online resource is the newsgroup uk.rec.crafts.sewing If you decide to go beyond dressmaking for yourself and sew for other people, remember that the customer is always right. There’s absolutely no reason why the gentleman shouldn’t have a PVC mini-skirt even if he doesn’t have the knees for it, but for truly awkward clients like the larger lady who wants a dress but refuses to be measured, claiming to be a perfect 12, you’re just going to have to guess. Estimate on the generous side and you can always take it in. Your client will go from being needlessly embarrassed about her size to flattered that she’s smaller than you thought she was, resulting in satisfaction all round and very often repeat custom too. These things happen. You’ll also require more space than you’d probably imagine too, and that’s on top of storing your machines, buttons, zips and cottons etc. Although cutting out most garments can be done on the dining room table, cutting out curtains for even a small window can take up most of your floor space. It’s also a good idea, before agreeing to make half-a-dozen four-foot inflatable stars from parachute silk, to ask yourself just where you’re going to put them until collection… I wouldn’t want to be a dressmaker again, been there and done that now, but I do think that anyone who can sew for themselves are at an advantage. It would be a shame to see the art die out, and all the haberdashery outlets with it, leaving us with just the options on the rails. If you have the slightest inclination to pick up a needle and thread, give it a go. You don’t know what you can do until you try!
I have been sewing since I was a mere teen and have a normal sewing machine and overlocker. Although I do cross stitch when a friend announced her pregnancy the mind went into creative overdrive and I decided the time had come to buy a sewing machine for embroidery. I looked into it for about two months getting all the brochures. In the end it came down to two machines both Brother. The 300 does normal stiching as well as embroidery pictures frames and three alphabets for £795. The PE150 does the same with out the normal stitching for £469. The embroidery sewing area is the same for both these machines. I eventually decided on the PE150 as I already had a sewing machine and I only wanted it for embroidery. I bought it and am pleased with the results of the stiching.The machine comes with 3 alphabets in two sizes and 90 pictures. However it can be expensive if you want more. There are two options available to you. One is to buy a memory card with the design you want on at around £59 a time or invest in the PE Design system which comes with 35 alphabets for £395.00. Although a lot more to pay out the design system is the better deal as you can scan pictures using your own PC and using the software add them to a reusable memory card. You can also store designs on your PC or floppy disks. Another advantage is that you can download free deigns off various internet sites. The PE Design is something I am longing for and who knows if I work really hard I could use next years bonus for it. If you do decide to buy an embroidery machine I would highly recommend the Brother PE150 but would wait and buy it with the PE Design to save months of frustration.