Be a Have a go Hero!
When it comes to sewing and crafting are you a have a go hero? Do you have an idea, get the kit together and just have a go? A lot of people are put off by the myths about sewing that there is one special unquestionable technique for everything. They feel discouraged before they start if they don't know 'the right way' to do something. A lot of people are put off even starting to sew because they think you have to buy so many specialised items. The cost of setting up before they even look at fabric or a pattern put's them off even having a go.
I belong to many sewing related forums partly because I can often give help and advice based on half a century of sewing both for myself and commercially as a bridal wear designer. I've tackled just about everything and currently am half of Boutique Unique Designs designing bags. The other reason is I just love to see what people are making, basically I'm a bit nosy. But amongst the many forums there are two noticeable threads, There is a sense of friendship and support among contributors and someone will always have an answer to your questions. I applaud all the people who take the time to give guidance to 'newbies' and encourage them, but whilst well intentioned some advice can make things seem too complicated and more difficult than they need to be.
I first started sewing with a needle, thread, an old pillowcase and my mum's kitchen scissors - oh and my Barbie, she was the model. Today if I wanted to start sewing and asked for advice I would have a list as long as my arm and possibly adding up to several hundred pounds. Yes there are some fantastic and clever things you can buy but you don't need them to start off, you may decide in time you don't need them at all.
1. What do I need?
An entry level machine can be bought for between £70 and £80 something like the Brother LS14 (other machines are available in this price range) A basic machine like this will enable you to do all the things you need to do to construct clothing or craft items. You could also get a reconditioned bargain at your local sewing machine shop. The only other items of equipment you need are a good pair of scissors an iron and an ironing board, some pins and needles. You don't need to buy specialist scissors straight away but you may want to in time. Your sewing scissors are for sewing an should not be used for any other purpose so that they stay sharp.
2. Do I need a pattern?
No not always. Sewing patterns can cost anything up to £10 but they are regularly on sale for half price if you are patient. You can also get indie patterns on Craftsy and some of them are free. When you are buying your first pattern look for one that says 'easy sew' or 'beginner' and to get value for money more than one item in it. OR Have a go at making your own from an old favourite that's had its day. Just cut along the seams and use it as a pattern remembering to add 1/2" seam allowance and hems where necessary.
3. Do I need to trace my bought pattern?
No you can but you don't have to. There is a modern myth now that you should trace your bought pattern off in the size you want and yes there is a case for this. If you are going to be making multiple sizes or multiple copies if the same garment it will preserve the original pattern. BUT if you are only making for yourself no you don't need to trace your pattern it is time consuming and unnecessary. Either cut the pattern out on the biggest size and fold the edges in to the size you want or if you are confident it will fit and your weight is not going to fluctuate too much cut out the size you need.
4. Do I need to wash my fabric?
Not necessarily. There are two reasons people wash their fabric before cutting out their garment. Firstly to get rid of any chemicals leftover from the production of the fabric. Secondly in case it shrinks. If you have spent hours making something and the first time you wash it, it shrinks and no longer fits you it will be a big letdown. It's personal choice I fall into the don't bother camp especially if you are making craft items that are unlikely to be washed, and luckily I have never had a garment shrink on its first wash.
5. Do I need special machine needles?
No not really. The manufacturer of your machine will have supplied a set of needles with your machine and they will vary in size. The general rule is the thicker the fabric the thicker the needle so a size 12 needle would be good on chiffon or fine silk anything thin, a size 16 for denim or canvas, generally thicker fabrics. I find a size 16 needle is a good one to have for most general sewing. The only other needle you might want for fabric garment making would be a ball point needle. These are designed for knit fabrics such as Jersey and the ball point pushes between the threads as you sew rather than piercing them and weakening the fabric. Some of the fabrics will benefit from using one such as Scuba, Spandex and Lycra. Having said that I have often sewn knitted fabrics with an ordinary needle and not noticed any damage so I would say get a scrap of your fabric and have a go.
6. Are stretch fabrics really hard to sew?
No, they are not and the beauty of stretch fabrics is the drape and an ease of fit because of the stretch in them. There are a lot of myths around sewing stretch fabrics e.g. you need a special needle, you need a walking foot, you need to have a stitch on your machine especially for knits. These things aren't always necessary but all will work and if it works for you, it's the right way for you. Most knits including jersey can be sewn with an ordinary needle and an ordinary foot with a small zigzag stitch of 2 length and 2 width. Get an old T-shirt and have a go. The key thing to remember is the stretch, don't pull or push the fabric through the machine pin it evenly and take the pins out as you sew. Never ever sew over pins you can break a needle and it may fly at your face.
Have a go at things. For a lot of things there are different approaches what matters is what works for you, nobody is right and nobody is wrong if there is a successful outcome. What matters is that you had a go and made something and during that process you learned something. So be a have a go hero and send us a picture of your makes to firstname.lastname@example.org