I know you’ll ask about the sewing class, so I might as well answer before you do ;).

I don’t want to get into the gory details, but the sewing class was a total bust.

Not what I expected and definitely not what I was looking for. Even taking it for what it was I found myself hugely disappointed. So, being the Grumperina that I am, and following the refund guidelines of the Boston Center for Adult Education, I wrote a letter this morning explaining why I was dissatisfied and why I felt I deserved a refund. They were very understanding, and a credit for the full amount, every last penny, was issued within a few hours of the letter’s receipt.

I’m thrilled. I have my money back, and now it’s just a matter of finding a class which will work.

What am I looking for? Well, when I was learning to knit, I was attracted to Pam Allen’s Knitting for Dummies because I was able to learn knitting technique without committing to a project. I made dozens of little swatches, simple and complicated, practicing every stitch, every maneuver, before I ever launched into something more significant.

In my ideal world, I would learn sewing in the same way. I don’t see a reason to make an entire blouse in order to learn how to fashion a button band or a collar. Furthermore, I’m not interested in wishy-washy, fly by the seat of your pants sewing. No, that will never work for me. I want rigid rules. I want to know the right way to execute complicated sewing techniques.

Very picky, I know. But I won’t be satisfied with anything else.

Tonight: Mountainash and I cuddle up on the couch while watching the premier of Project Runway! Oh my God, I’m so excited! I’ve been watching DVDs of Seasons 1 and 2 over the past month or so (over and over and over again), and I can’t wait for some fresh designer meat!


56 thoughts on “Bust

  1. Connie

    If you taught yourself to knit using books, why can’t you do the same with sewing?

    For many of us, the sum total of our sewing lessons was seventh grade sewing class, and when you think of how little real instruction that involved, we taught ourselves.

    Find the book or books that make sense to you and start sewing.

  2. Amanda

    I have been learning by doing more complicated projects as I go. I have to tell my self that if it works out, great! But if it doesn’t it was a learning experience.

    I also don’t buy the nice, expensive fabric until I have messed up a huge pile of the cheap stuff!

  3. Carole

    I wish you lived out near me, I’d tell you to sign up for a sewing class at Saftlers. It’s where I learned to sew and they are great. I went the traditional route and my first project was a nightgown – I figured that way if it came out like crap no one would see it but me and Dale. I do think picking a garment with a lot of techniques included is smart. You want to learn to put in a zipper and make button holes and darts and all that jazz. Good luck on your search for the perfect sewing class.

  4. Carla

    Hey..I taught myself to sew. OK my grandma showed me how to thread her 100 year old, once a treadle, then converted to electric, factory machine. But thats it. She told me to get a pattern, follow the directions, and so on. Its the best way to learn.

    Pick a project and go with it. Just buy some cheap fabric if you screw up. Worst case scenario, you have a new dust rag, best case..you get to wear it.

    The rigid rules are not in the sewing, but in the preparations (get yourself a good iron, and become friends with it) learn about the notions that will help you make a nice garment, like interfacings. Buy GOOD patterns (Indie patterns are always better than “the big three”)

    OR..find yourself an indie fabric store (not necessarily quilting store) in the area and ask around there for a teacher or mentor.

  5. Nancy

    They have a sewing for dummies book, have you looked at it yet? I usually find that a class tends to move too slowly for me to learn something. Give me a book and the the internet, and I’m all set. If I take a class, I skip the “beginner” level and move right up to whatever the second level is because I usually have taught myself the basics by the time I am interested eonough in something to learn more.

    About.com has a good set of links too:


  6. Rhiannon

    If you go to a fabric store that also sells sewing machines, many of them offer the kind on lessons that you are looking for because that is how they demonstrate the machines. They have little precut collars and button bands and various squares of different kinds of fabrics that they show you how to seam together using the different machines.

    I learned how to sew one project at a time (and also watching the other projects of my classmates), but not all of them were big projects. Part of setting in a collar is what you do with the rest of the blouse or jacket while you sew, so while you can practice pleats, button holes, and even to some extent darts without making an entire blouse, sleeves and collars I really think you should make a whole project.

  7. JulieFrick

    Oh! Oh! I KNOW! Mr. Frick and I discovered Project Runway while in Key West and we spent the entire last day of vacation watching season one. Yes, inside, watching t.v., on our last day in Margaritaville. It’s that compelling. That Wendy really needed a good smacking.

  8. kelpkim

    That sucks! and i was thinking of signing up for a class because i literally just got my sewing machine yesterday and i can only thread the machine and put thread on a bobbin. i tried to sew a piece of “practice” fabric last night and the machine refused to cooperate. absolutely refused. silence. no sewing action at all.

    I think i’ll go onto amazon and get me a book–these comments have been very helpful for me as well. i have my placemats for my dpn case and some fabric with sheepies on it for my other needle case and i just need to learn how to use this machine! :o)thanks for the inspiration!

  9. Cyndi

    Considering your learning style, I can definitely understand your frustration. I don’t think there is a book out there that will teach sewing the way you want to learn it. [if there is, please let us all know!]

    The main problem, IMHO, is that in order to learn to sew a button band or collar, or anything in particular, you need pattern pieces for whatever you are sewing (if not real pattern pieces, at least appropriately scaled ones). And, that means you need a commercial pattern. And, as you’ve noticed, patterns are sold for blouses, skirts, and dresses, but not for collars, button bands, and zippers.

    One option might be to spend some time at a fabric store looking at patterns, and buy a few different ones that will allow you to learn the techniques that you’re interested in (not necessarily anything you’d ever wear). Buy some cheap muslin fabric to practice with, and use a contrasting color thread (makes things easier to see). You don’t have to sew the whole blouse/skirt/dress if you don’t want to – just cut out the pieces you need for the skill you want to learn, and follow that part of the pattern.

    Sorry for the long comment – I’d be happy to discuss it more via e-mail if you’d like.

  10. wenders

    Ah, but what if there’s not a right way? Just like there’s no right way in knitting… I think you’ll manage just fine.

  11. Christina

    I learned to sew through a few venues: first, I sewed costumes, where mistakes could be covered by trim. Secondly, and probably the most technical training I had, I learned to piece quilt. Cutting accurately, piecing with pins and learning my sewing machine parts intimately helped so much. Finally, I became an accomplished seamstress by making mistakes. You really don’t know how to anticipate problems like your dog feed getting clogged and how to let up on the bobbin tension until you’ve clogged the foot about 10,000 times. Practice, my Grumpy one, practice!!

  12. Marisa

    I have a couple of recommendations…. “The New Complete Guide to Sewing” from Reader’s Digest (amazon has it) is a great book, as are the books from Sandra Betzina (such as “Power Sewing”). There are online classes available from http://www.patternreview.com (I took two of them when I purchased a serger and loved them). I know they’ve offered a beginner’s class before, maybe an email to them would prompt another one??

  13. Nancy J

    The Bishop Method was a learning to sew course which taught exactly what you describe. There were courses taught but there was also a text with pictures and diagrams. Perhaps you could look into that as being available somewhere…

  14. Christie

    I’m really getting mad about these sewing classes! There has to be a way for you to learn how to do it that won’t be totally lame!

    Ohmigosh! Is the premier tonight! Not that they won’t show it all week long, but thanks for the reminder! I totally would have missed it! I guess me and Butterfly are going to double date with you and Mountain Ash [in different locations and time zones, of course! ]

  15. jess

    I’m having the same struggle with sewing. I taught myself to knit and crochet by sitting down and meticiously learning stitches (it’s that engineering background, I swear). I’m teaching myself to sew now, but there are very basic things I just haven’t been able to learn yet.

  16. Angela

    Those are on DVD?! I must have them! I can’t wait to watch tonight! Sorry to hear about the class (I almost asked you about it when I responded to your comment, so I’m glad I didn’t), but you got your money back so hurray! If you find a good book like the Knitting for Dummies, let me know. I’ve got the Reader’s Digest sewing guide but would be definitely interested in something like what you mentioned. The Reader’s Digest definitely is way over my head lots of the time.

  17. Kat

    I took a sewing class years ago through Brookline Adult Ed. We made lots of small projects involving different techniques: sachets (sewing straight seams), simple pillow cover (buttons), basic notions bag (zipper installation), and finally a pair of pajama pants (pattern reading, cutting, etc.). It was perfect. I need to take it again, since I have forgotten everything. The class was right on the C Line too.

  18. Miriam

    If you liked Knitting for Dummies, why not try to find a Sewing for dummies book. It might be just what you’re looking for.

  19. Stephanie

    Bummer. I’m sorry it was a disappointment. Maybe you could look at fabric stores or ask the clerks for recommendations. I’ve never watched Project Runway, but I guess I’ll be tuning in tonight.

  20. Elizabeth

    It’s too bad that your sewing class didn’t work out for you. That full refund must have been nice though. Oh, and I can’t wait to watch Project Runway either. I’ve watched it since the beginning when I thought Jay was the craziest guy in the world. Maybe you can Santino-it-up sewing-style and not take lessons at all. Hah

  21. tevana

    I’ve learned that sewing can’t be learned in the same way knitting can be. You can’t perfect a collar unless you’ve got the rest of the garment constructed correctly to attach it to….believe me, I’ve tried. I can’t even wrap my mind around how a collar works within the garment until it’s pinned to to the jacket/shirt and sewn on. Maybe this one thing you’ll have to learn a different way?

  22. Daphne

    I think Cyndi is right on with her comment. But something just came to me: We have knitting classes where students knit a mini-sock or mini-mitten in class to learn the technique, then have a “master pattern” to make the same garment (accessory) in full size later. So, why not try a kid’s garment to learn techniques? Unfortunately, I don’t recommend trying a true mini, such as a doll dress, for technique, because it’s so tiny that it’s quite different.

  23. kitty kitty

    Do you have a Bernina or an Ellna Sewing machine store (where they only sale those machines)around? The funny thing I have found that in 8 different cities I have been in the owners were all classically trained in Europe and they all offered sewing classes. So old world tailoring techniques and very classical rules of sewing were taught. They started you creating a notebook of all the sewing elements. So it is worth a looking into, if you want strick rules look for a teacher that is European.

    To be honest, the American teachers I have had, were all pretty loose in there instruction. Not a bad thing, but it has it’s place.

    Good Luck.

  24. Cheryl

    I second the Bernina dealer suggestion. I’ve been looking into sewing classes too and I’m looking for pretty much the same thing you’re looking for. The closest thing I can find to that sort of rigid instruction is offered at the shops that sell the Bernina’s.

  25. pixie

    I just realized you and I are a lot alike in our way of approaching crafting! Your far more committed then me though I think.

    With quilting I was the same way, very much wanting to know how exactly to do things, what are all the different ways to do it and why do it each way. For example when you sew to squares together and you look at the back side you can press the selvagdes to one side together, or split them apart so they each fold back on the same peice of frabic they came from. I read lots of interesting reasons why to do it either way. I really went all crazy when I learned to quilt. I got several books (1 dummy type book) and then I scoured online resources and chat rooms getting advice and asking questions.

  26. Rita

    Kathy, 136 Newberry Street Boston is the home of The School of Fashion Design. I took a 6 wks class there one summer in pattern drafting, I loved it. It is a great School, very tough. I passed my class with A-. You can find out what classes are available this summer. It is definetly your caliber School for sewing, etc.

  27. Erin

    I’ve been knitting like a fiend while Bravo runs all-day marathons of Season 2. Tonight I have a date with the TV.

    It will be so nice when I have a social life again!

  28. Laritza

    I know exactly what you mean. Make a skirt to learn how to make ONE button hole! Nope not for me. I have taken one sewing class 6 one hour sessions. It came “free” with my sewing machine. They taught us the technical part of the sewing machine: how to thread it, bobbin winding, oiling, cleaning, tension control, stitch length and how to use the different stitch options. Then samples of how to attach binding, edges, ruffles, etc. At the end they sold a book that is a Singer sewing technique book. Old as the century (as last century I guess) but it has the how’s and where’s. I also have a Burda sewing techniques book that has closeup ilustrations of the different processes, so to call them. The result: when I need to do something I go to the books, look how it should be done. Make sure the machine is in good working order and off I go. I am not a professional by any means but things look right and hold together well. Worked for me.

  29. Beth

    I have the New Complete Guide to Sewing from Readers Digest as well.. and I can’t say enough good things about it. It’s very process orientated.

  30. Shannon B

    The last issue of Taunton’s “Threads” has an excellent intro to sewing for beginners. Library back issues contain literally all you need to know, so just check out stacks at a time and read what interests you, then get a bunch of fat quarters and try things out.

    Keep in mind that the techniques are the easy part… it’s the fitting (fitting YOURSELF) that can be frustrating.

  31. Nicole

    It’s too bad the class didn’t work out for you. Although I know HOW to sew, I’m really terrible at it. One summer I set out to make a dress for myself. It probably would have taken my Mom or my sister 2-3 weeks to finish. I didn’t finish for 3 months. Thank God I found knitting!

  32. Nicole

    I have a friend who (at Indiana University) is studying costume construction and she does just what you’re talking about – a few months ago she was stitching a piece of fabric onto some backing so that the piece curved (?) – it seemed pretty coplicated – it was just a swatch, practice piece – but short of taking formal classes, I don’t know where you’de get that.

    Best of luck!

  33. SallyT

    You might want to look into a class at a sewing machine store. Places that sell high end machines cater to customers who are into technique. I took a class at a store that sells Bernina machines that showed me a lot of interesting finishing details. That said, I’d go straight to the source. Find someone who makes the kind of thing you want to create and ask if that person teaches. Maybe someone who does tailoring would be better at showing you how to make garments that fit.

  34. SallyT

    I obviously didn’t read the other comments before I posted but I guess I’m in good company.

  35. Tania

    I’m sorry the class didn’t meet your expectations. Hope you find something better!

    And how funny .. I was about to rent the dvds for Project Runway tonight .. until I found out what arses the kids at the video store are, and decided to never go there again.

  36. Marlene

    My mother is a professional seamstress and costumer. I kinda learned by osmosis. She never realy sat down and taught me. I followed the pattern, and if I had a question or a problem I’d ask her for help, but that’s about it.

  37. Lynn

    Have you taken any of the Singer Sewing Reference Library books out of the library? They are *excellent* (and very well photographed). They’re not a replacement for a class, but they would give you good background while you’re looking around for a class.

    Do you have a sewing machine shop in the area? One that exclusively sells sewing machines? They might offer classes or know of someone who does private sewing lessons. They might be a little bit more than at the Community College, but you might be able to get instruction closer to what works best for you.

    You’re welcome to email me with any questions. I don’t profess to be a total expert, but I’ve been sewing on and off for about 20 years.

  38. Siow Chin

    I find sewing more hands-on than knitting (for me at least). Like I was trying to sew that lapped zip from a book and just couldn’t get it. Thanks to Joy who gave me a demonstration during our meetup, I think I learn more from her than from the book. Hope you’ll find the right class and/or book.

  39. Kym

    I have been sewing for over 30 years – learning basic techniques in home ec class in 6th grade, and then having the great fortune of participating in 4-H with a classic sewing instructor (we even learned tailoring and pattern design — things that have served me well through the years). The problem with most community sewing classes is that they’re designed to teach shortcuts — great in their place, but not what you’re looking for.

    The best suggestions for a class — look for independent courses or instructors (indie fabric stores, upper-end sewing machine shops, retired home ec teachers. . .) that will teach you the classic method of sewing (no quickie stuff for you!)

    Like so many others have commented — you can do this yourself. It’s obvious you have some basic know-how —- you made that very cool sewing machine cover, after all! Get the Reader’s Digest Guide to Sewing (it really is the best — with great photos and classic instruction), and then buy some patterns. You can just sew collars, or just sew cuffs, or set in 5 or 6 sleeves. You can do this on your own — to suit your own needs. (But I don’t recommend doing child patterns – they’re small enough to be cumbersome when you’re just gaining experience.)

    Go for it! If you can teach yourself to knit, you can teach yourself to sew!

  40. Kim

    Okay, get this! When I learned to sew in junior hi in 1976, my teacher started us off with a dickey!!! You ever heard of such a thing??? They’re fake blouse things that you wear under a sweater. So, I learned a collar, buttons and button band, and interfacing, without much fabric/time commitment. Grumperina – go make a dickey!!

  41. Sarah U

    If you would rather take a class than try to learn from a book (classes work better for me 🙂 then I would recommend contacting your local sewing/quilting guild. I’m sure they could recommend a place that has good classes. Otherwise, I would look and see if anyone at the sewing/quilting guild would be willing to teach you how; this way you could tailor (lol) the class to exactly what you want, making dozens of smaller samples rather than a larger project.

    I’m also learning how to sew (although my teacher, my mother, disagrees, she says I already know how to sew, she’s just teaching me how to use the machine) although my learning style is a bit different. I would rather work on a project and learn the techniques by doing that project, rather than individually. But hey, that’s how I learned knitting too. 😀

  42. Kate

    I’m sorry the class didn’t work out. Be prepared however sewing is much different than knitting. Knitting in the end is combining knit and purl. Sewing is about the equipment. Cutting and ironing are two of the most important things. It’s harder to “swatch” sewing than knitting. Woven fabric behaves differently than knitted fabric. There are many different types of seams, stitches, and finishing. If you are serious, buy a really good heavy iron, it will be your best friend in sewing. Get yourself a book and buy a yard or two of medium weight denim or twill fabric. You can create “swatches” of regular seams, flat fell, french, button holes, and a zipper. Good luck!

  43. Sweet Caroline

    All the previous suggestions for learning to sew are spot on. I’d like to suggest a good REFERENCE book, however. Dorling Kindersley’s “Complete Book of Sewing” presents an intense OVERVIEW of tools, materials, supplies, notions and fabrics. It also gives examples of various techniques. With the Reader’s Digest book on sewing, it makes a very good reference library. The DK book can be picked up very cheaply on used book sites – try to buy the March 2006 version if possible, although there is absolutely nothing wrong with the August 2003 printing.

    If, at some point AFTER you learn to sew, you would be interested in drafting your own custom patterns, I suggest the Lutterloh system from Germany. It is a garment sloper/pattern drafter that allows you to make customized patterns after taking only two body measurements. I have been using it for about three years (I use the “extended sizes” version, because, um, I am no “mere” woman!) and I have found it to be fast, accurate and adaptable to all sorts of silhouettes. It is not for the beginning seamstress because it provides no instructions on order of construction or techniques.

    Good luck!

  44. Manise

    There is a Sewing for Dummies book out there. I saw it at Borders in MA. If it’s anything like the Knitting for Dummies then it should be good. Good luck.

  45. diana

    Sorry to hear about the class. Hope you enjoyed the first episode of Project Runway. We must discuss the outfits!

  46. Kim

    Oooo.. I’m so glad to see someone else into Project Runway besides me! I wonder if they’ll ever fix thoes apartments…

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