Saturday, September 02, 2006

How to Sew, Part One.

September is International Sewing Month, which got me thinking about writing a series of posts on learning to sew for BlogHer.

It started when Maria emailed me about a post where Frugal for Life wrote 10 tips for the frugal fashionista. Bizzeemom wondered why one of the hints wasn't LEARN TO SEW. A discussion followed in the comments with most commentors disaggreeing that sewing could be frugal.

Dawn considered the situation and examined her own feelings:

I believe sewing is becoming a lost art, besides sewing up a hole or replacing a button on a shirt. Too many people seem to think that any sewing beyond tears and buttons isn’t worth the time or the money.
So Dawn asked Bisseemom to guest post The Sewing Culture. Go read it and think about your reaction to what she wrote.

A moment of honesty here: I disagree with much of what Bizzeemom says. Yes, sewing clothing can be economical. Yes, learning to sew is rewarding. Yes, once you find basic patterns and adjust them to fit you, you can make lots of quality garments. And proudly wear what you have made yourself.

But to advocate the $1/yard stuff at WalMart and to shy away from easily sewn trousers in favor of elastic waists? This is a move from frugal-wise to fashion-foolish unless fabric quality and fashion styles are quite different in Bizzeemom's hometown. It might be. But I doubt it.

Sewing is becoming "HOT" among the twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings. It might be because sewing in Home Ec classes was phased out before this age group had to deal with sewing useless aprons and ugly corderoy A-line skirts and wear them in school for a whole day! (ooops.. sorry. personal teenaged nightmare leaking out here).


So you think you'd like to start sewing, but you don't have a clue. You might have a cast-off/ inherited sewing machine or one you found while out thrifting. Maybe you don't have one at all.

Where to begin??

I say, First learn about The Fabric.

Fabric can separated into two main kinds:

1. Woven. The easiest to sew with. When you can see threads running perpendicular to each other that's a woven fabric. One set of threads are strung onto a loom.. these are the warp; the threads woven through from side to side are the weft.

Warp threads, because they have tension on them in the weaving process, are less prone to stretching. Weft threads will stretch a bit. Because of this difference in "stretchiness" and because of the 90 degree angle in the weave, woven fabrics have what is called "grain".. the characteristic of behaving differently depending upon how a cut piece is align along the fabric.

You are probably most familiar with even weave fabrics (think jeans), but there are variations in the weaving and a variety of patterns can be developed in the fabric from this simple change.

2. Knit.

The second major kind of fabric is the knit. This is created by looping a thread or yarn through itself. With yarn, this might be knitting, crochet or tatting. In commercially produced fabrics, this is accomplished on large machines that make hundreds of loops in one pass. The fabric created by machines or my hand knitters make appear different, but that difference is merely in scale. The fabric is the same.

Knit fabrics do not have warp/weft threads but they still have grain. The stitched are made in one direction and will behave different when cut at different angles and in different directions. The major difference between a woven and knit is that a knit will stretch in both directions, although it will stretch more across the fabric (from side to side) than from top to bottom.

This stretchiness, however, can be controlled by the manufacturer when they set up their machines by adjusting tension and choosing threads with different properties. So knits can be fairly stable or quite stretchy.

Knits will not ravel like woven threads do, but they will unravel and they will run, so care must be taken while constructing anything with these fabrics to prevent too much damage. Most knits are "overstitched" or serged to finish the edges and prevent unravelling/running.

You can learn more about fabric at:
Fabric University
Jessica's Pre-Costuming Page.
Wikipedia Fabric Info pages

I suggest you find and visit a local fabric shop. Spend some time walking around the store. Touch the different fabrics, read the labels. Test it on the bolt to see how it stretches. If the store is not too busy, ask a clerk a question or two about their fabrics.

And, if you wish to continue this journey, purchase a quarter yard of muslin (any width), a package of hand sewing needles (sharps, the 3-9 variety pack is good), and a spool of thread in a color you like. If you have a sewing machine, maybe pick up some needles that will fit your machine too (universals are good here).

Interested in this whole topic? In the next three weeks I will be writing additional articles:
How to Sew, Part Two: All about the stitching (both hand and machine).

How to Sew, Part Three: Let's Sew Something Easy.

How to Sew, Part Four: Where to go from here.

And in the future: How I dye fabric (and clothing). How I bleach/dye/paint/stamp and otherwise disguise stains on my clothes.

Hat tip to fellow CE Maria Niles for a heads-up on the Frugal sewing discussion.

Whatcha Doing Today? Uhm... writing these four articles while the spouser paints.

What's for dinner? Broiled chicken, coleslaw, fresh tomatoes and some green veggie.