Bust, part II

I was going to add some thoughts about your comments right in my previous post, but considering how helpful I’m finding your guidance in my sewing class dilemma, I decided to make a new post entirely. This way everyone will see it, and perhaps suggest more/different alternatives.

Actually, reading through what you’re about to read below, this post accurately portrays exactly how insane I am. Feel free to be amused.

First, let me tell you a small story. I have a rotation student right now in lab – a first-year graduate student who follows me around every day, watches me do experiments and mimics my methods when she tries things out for herself, with the eventual goal of deciding whether our lab is for her or not. The other day she told me, “you are a good teacher. You mention the tiniest of details for all procedures, never leaving it up to me to figure anything out.”

Similarly, let’s say I’m explaining to someone how to do a slipped-stitch selvedge (the fabric is stockinette or mainly stockinette). Do you think I mention that on the right side, the first stitch is slipped k-wise, and on the wrong side the first stitch is slipped p-wise? Feel free to roll your eyes at my crazy meticulousness.

So, thank you all for your words of encouragement and your suggestions! I agree with those of you who recommended I inquire about classes at a sewing machine store, preferably an upper-end one like Bernina. That’d be awesome! I haven’t seen a store like that in my area, though (please keep in mind I’m car-less).

As for being able to teach myself to sew from a book, just like I did for knitting – I’ve tried with absolutely zero success. I’ve had the easiest time with Sewing 101, but not enough to buy my own copy (just keep borrowing it from the library). I do have my own copy of Reader’s Digest New Complete Guide to Sewing, and I love that book! I leaf through in amazement because it’s so detailed and doesn’t depend on patterns to teach technique. But, wow, it’s over my head right now… one day, one day.

I also have a habit of borrowing Singer’s The New Sewing Essentials, and have just requested a copy of Sew Basic: 34 Essential Skills for Sewing with Confidence on Angela’s recommendation. They know me well at the library ;).

I’m usually quite good at learning from pictures and verbal descriptions, but… Here’s the thing – you know I’m a lab bench scientist, right? Well, learning lab techniques from a book (like this one) is frustrating, confusing, and probably useless in most cases. For whatever reason, sewing is the same way for me. I just need to see someone else do it, once, and I’ll be all set.

I’ve found it crucial to have someone on hand to guide me through the little details, like how to pin two fabrics together when sewing (how frequently, which way the pins face, the edge which should go into the sewing machine first, etc.). This is equivalent to being in the lab and having someone show you exactly how cool the media has to be before antibiotics are added. Sure, both things are explained in books, but it makes so much more sense to just see someone else do it, once.

I know it probably doesn’t matter to the final outcome, but to me, it really does. I can’t emphasize it enough – it may not matter to someone else, it may not matter to most people, but I need rigid instruction about the tiniest of details. And books/internet don’t cut it for me.

So, yeah, that’s that. I’m going to keep my eyes peeled for sewing machine stores, retired seamstresses and home ec. teachers, affordable (both in terms of time and money) high-caliber sewing classes, and new medications to ease my sewing uptightness. At least I don’t deny it ;).


80 thoughts on “Bust, part II

  1. Emily

    There’s a sewing machine store in Davis Sq, but I don’t think they do classes. And then across the street there’s a dry cleaner/tailor that might be more helpful in pointing you towards good classes. They’re so cute! They have what look to be antique sewing machine and old ladies sit in the window and sew on them all day. It’s right across from the Starbucks, and the other store is on the corner.

  2. Stephanie

    I understand where you’re coming from. I don’t think I would have been brave enough to try sewing again if I hadn’t had some hands-on lessons and I knew my mom was around to help me out in a pinch. There’s nothing wrong with needing to see something once and I really hope you find a good teacher because I think you’d really like sewing.

  3. anne

    Have you thought about going to a fabric store, maybe Winmill in Chinatown, and asking one of the employees if they’d be willing to give you a personal private lesson, on your own machine? Especially if you only need to see things done once, it might be worth it.

  4. Tania

    Similarly, letโ€™s say Iโ€™m explaining to someone how to do a slipped-stitch selvedge (the fabric is stockinette or mainly stockinette). Do you think I mention that on the right side, the first stitch is slipped k-wise, and on the wrong side the first stitch is slipped p-wise? Feel free to roll your eyes at my crazy meticulousness.

    I’m not rolling my eyes at all, because it’s stuff like that that I never really think about, and probably do wrong because no one ever tells me the right way. Either that, or I figure it out through trial and error. I know from experience though that with sewing, you really do need someone to be able to teach you. I wish I had more suggestions other than ‘keep looking’ .. maybe you can find some local classes, and can contact the teachers to see if you can sit in on a class, to see if it’s what you’re wanting?

  5. Sara

    you pin the fabric with the ball facing you when you are sitting at the machine, so that when you sew, you can easily remove them as you go.

    i usually use more pins rather than less, b/c it’s better to have to frequently remove them than to have the fabric pucker unevenly.

    i also find this site invaluable. not only are there tons of great pattern reviews, you can really learn from expert seamstresses who do the most beautiful work.

  6. Lotta

    I totally understand your dilemma. I was just going to tell you that what you need is to befriend an elderly seamstress that would tell you all the secrets of the trade, but I guess you already figured that out on your own.

    I’m no professional seamstress by any means, but I’ve done my share of sewing, so feel free to ask questions, if there’s details you’re wondering about, and I’ll do my best to help out.

  7. Martha

    Sara mentions a valuable thing re. pinning: you remove them as you go. When I started sewing, I had a book that told me that you could sew right over the pins, the needle would never hit them! Well, it turns out the needle does hit them, all the time. And when it does, it messes your machine up badly.

    And, as for which edge you start on, the way I remember it is: the fabric begins in your lap. Meaning, the sewing machine treadles the fabric AWAY from you. So when you are starting your seam, you should have a big mound of fabric in your lap. When you’re done, it’ll all be on the table.

    And the seam I sew first is whatever seam the pattern tells me to sew first. I’m not good enough to wing it yet!

  8. chris

    Your lab references totally crack me up because I can TOTALLY relate . . . I’m currently training a surgery resident who is doing a 2-year research fellowship in my lab, and he has absolutely no lab experience . . . funny, too, I gave him the “at the bench” book to read during his training time!

  9. pixiepurls

    learn how to quilt first, you can do that from a book and you can do any part of the quilt first. You can practice machinr stippling, you can practice peicing, you can practice binding.

    Also pillows are a great start, you could get a pattern for one that is sewn so you can slip the pillow in the back and button it up, then you can try vairations on the pillow, adding popping, adding lace etc.

  10. Kim

    Funny — I know when to add the antibiotics to the media, but not the first thing about sewing. Just how is it that people sew a STRAIGHT line?

    My favorite lab teaching experience (only because it turned out OK) — one of our fellows asked me what he could put the ethanol in so that he could heat it up over the flame.

    NO NO NO — Flammable — “See, it’s written right here on the bottle.”


  11. mote

    Have you thought about trying to find some sort of instructional video or DVD? There are a few different ones that I see broadcast on public television every once in a while…

    But I totally understand about books not being quite adequate. It was so much easier to learn to spin once I could just _see_ someone do it.

  12. Liz Cadorette

    I have found Threads magazine to be an absolutely amazing resource for sewing tips with the sort of meticulous detail you seem to crave. They have a number of publications on sewing out there that I would highly recommend you peruse, to see if the voice and style are to your liking. I am a self-taught, trial-and-error sewer, and as such I’m still not happy with my skills after more than ten years of it thus far; most of the little fiddly details I’m most proud of having learned, however, I got out of Threads magazine. And they’re now, after years of catering to sewing experts, also including stuff for rank beginners. So that’s one direction I would recommend you look.

    Good luck!

  13. TrevorKane

    Have you tried to call the County Extension Agent? I wonder if there is an Extension Club out there with folks who sew? If so, that should be free, and as they often supply the judges for County Fairs, will teach you the kind of detail you seem to crave.

    I put the pin in the other way, ball to the inside, but I still take them out as I get to them. Every four inches is fine, unless you have a curve or something else picky. If your machine does not have a good stitch guide, put down a piece of masking tape at your stitch width, generally 5/8 inch, which will help keep your seams even. Hope that helps.

    Always stitch from the bottom to the top, into curves (which means, when done properly that you stitch down to the bottom of the curve, turn the fabric over and stitch back down into the curve.

    Also, there is no reason you can’t get some muslin, cut out a button band, facing, sleeve and arm scythe, waistband and do your little swatches before you make a garment. It is just that most folks who sew want to actually make something that sewing is not taught that way. BTW my first suggested garment is boxer shorts. A lot of detail, but the finished product can be hidden under clothes.

  14. Sylvia

    The Bernina website has sewing lesson videos (free, and yes, a neighbor of mine who knows Alex Anderson says she really is that nice in real life). It also has wonderful little videos with sound instructions on how to use each kind of presser foot (they have different feet for different needs, like rolled hanky hems or adding piping or putting in a zipper). If you watch a bunch of them you’ll see how the fabric flows under the foot and is sewn (you know about feed dogs yet?). http://www.berninausa.com, Products/Accessories/Presser Feet, select a foot and scroll to the bottom of the description to click on the video link.

  15. Charity

    I’m just about to start up some machine sewing again, after many years away. I’m planning on doing a whole bunch of “practice sewing” on scrap fabric before I actually get started.

  16. Liz

    I would bet that if you call the Button Box in Wellesley (just off Route 9), they could either (a) put you in touch with someone who would be willing to pick you up at a T or Commuter Rail stop to bring you to class, or (b) be willing to have one of their employees come get you. Also, there’s a woman in Needham Center who teaches sewing classes — and there’s a Commuter Rail stop right in Needham Center. Also, have you heard of ZipCars? They might get you where you need to go.

  17. hellahelen

    Well, thank GOODNESS you make it clear whether to slip stitches Pwise or Kwise! That’s about the most frustrating thing–I need these things spelled out in excruciating detail. Even pattern writers who are otherwise wonderful with the details tend to ignore the slipped stitch issue.

    Good luck with the sewing! I’m about at the same level as you–so far, I’ve made one simple skirt, that’s it.



  18. kelpkim

    Yay! I’m so glad that you mentioned some books that were helpful to you and that were recommended to you! i was just looking at the first 2 you mentioned–sewing101 and the Reader’s Digest book. I was wondering about the SewBasic book and i’ll definitely take a look at that one too. I’m very impatient to start this whole process so i can figure out if i need to take a class as well at my local fabric store–I too feel like i need to see it rather than read about it. Hands-on is just so much better than reading about it. BUT i’m going to the bookstore today after work to check out these books and get the ones that speak to me the most. and then maybe, just maybe, my sewing machine will sew for me.

    may the knitting and sewing force be with you…

  19. holly

    I agree, there are just some things that are better demonstrated. Plus, it is much easier to ask a person questions about why they are doing something a particular way. Also, if a person has made incorrect assumptions about your current knowledge level, it is easy to correct them – “No, really, I have no idea how to thread this thing! Can you show me?”

  20. Laura

    I can’t believe that book is real. I clicked on the link and thought it was a joke. I would have never thought about learning how to work in a lab from a book. How is it possible?

    You know, I worked for years in molecular biology labs, despite the fact that I knew nothing about molecular biology when I started my first lab job. But I learned by doing and eventually became the lab manager of that lab! I think anything that involves using your hands (like knitting, sewing, cooking, and labwork) is better learned by watching and doing.

  21. Jenipurr

    I learn things the same way – I need to *see* it done, and then I can go to books and pick up from there. I never would have been able to learn knitting straight from a book, but once my knitting ‘mom’ showed me the basics, I was off and flying. The pictures in the books now make sense to me because I’ve seen it in real life and I can make it work in my head. Even with sewing – I had a friend sit with me and walk me through all the basics, because I needed to see it done before I could go forward.

  22. Kym

    Once you get going, you’ll find that sewing is VERY individual. Take pinning, for example. I place pins ONLY perpendicular to the seam; ball-head to the right hand side. But it’s sure not the only way — it works best for me, though. I also don’t use many pins — I’ve been sewing a long time, and I’m perfectly comfortable manipulating fabric as I sew. See? It’s very individual. Someone can SHOW you how they do it — but you’ll come up with your personal preferences as you go along.

    Don’t give up!

    And — I agree with Carole — Husqvarna over Bernina any day!


  23. Molly

    If you can wait until August, I can get the same pattern that you want and make it along with you. I can record it on mini DVDs with my Handicam and send it to you. You could watch it over and over until you get the basics.

    Just to qualify myself, I have been sewing for over 40 years and went to design school in the mid 70s. I know a lot of techniques that speed the process without compromising on the quality.

  24. knitnana

    Have you called the public schools? They usually have adult-ed courses in such things as sewing…and gardening, etc…Once upon a time we learned this stuff in home ec. (I did anyway, ok, I admitted my age two days ago on my blog) But there are still people who teach these things thru adult ed. Try that? Good luck – and YES of course, you need to “see it, to do it.” Makes all the sense in the world!


  25. Connie

    Is it just me or do many sewing teachers at local fabric stores talk down to their classes? The ones I’ve overheard talk as if their students are very small children with no brains, which is why I’ve never taken a class there.

    The store sells Bernina machines, specializes in quilting (the original owner wrote books many of you know and her son was on TVโ€”no idea whether they fall into the talking-down category or not), and pulls in teachers that have big reputations.

    If you can overhear a class while you are in the store, you might get a clue whether that class is for you. I’d suspect that getting a full refund from a fabric store sewing class would be lots harder than getting one from adult education.

  26. elisabeth

    As someone who has really had a complete inability to sew (I got a v.v.v.v. bad grade in 8th grade home economics because I did not complete the required sewing project AND did not appear for class on the day of the complusory fashion show!) I am not myself jumping on the bandwagon to learn how to sew or quilt or do whatever needle and thread project seems to be overcoming the knit blogging world. (In fact, if truth be told, sewing machines have been known to hiss at the mere sight of me. Yes, that is how bad I am at sewing.) THAT said, I think you might want to step back and have your scientific mind consider this: maybe the fates are telling you that you are NOT meant to take a sewing class just yet. Or, maybe that you were not meant to sew? So, sew….why not sit back, bide your time, and when the time is right, the right class will come your way. [Also, is there a fashion school in Cambridge or Boston? You might want to explore that option as well.]

  27. Molly

    Out of curiosity, what kind of linguist are you? I find this interesting because I’m a linguist also, and I am the same way–have to understand every little detail, hate to have people brush over little things (like how to slip the stitch, even if it should be “obvious”), etc. Do you think linguistics favors those of us who are so meticulous?

    I also was capable of teaching myself knitting from a book (though good diagrams are key) but am much more than hesitant to try with sewing. I haven’t gotten to the point of trying to really learn sewing, though, as I’m still enjoying my knitting too much to invest in the tools to sew.

  28. Angela

    Good luck on the quest! I’m pretty detail oriented myself. I’d also do the same thing as you when instructing on slipping stitches. Anyways, let me know how that book is when you get it.

  29. Loretta

    First, I am a lurker who has enjoyed reading your blog and I admire your creative abilities! Given your questions, I thought I would share a few thouhts. I was lucky to have learned to sew from a favorite aunt. She is also the same person who taught me to knit. As I thought about your question, I had a few ideas. First, Hancock Fabrics is in the Northeast – check into some basic sewing classes there. Another idea that was mentioned was quilting. Now that really is cutting the whole cloth to recreate a new fabric…but in terms of sewing they do techniques that are applicable to sewing, but it is different. However, knowing how to thread a needle and create fine stitches is a skill. So, a privately owned small quilting store may be just the thing. It is a major time commitment all the cutting and hand sewing. In terms of making clothes and ideas I would also suggest PBS. They have a number of programs like Sewing with Nancy where they demonstrate the techniques and your local library may have copies of those DVD/Videos or you could stream them. I know I enjoy watching the programs and they do offer techniques. Hope this helps.

  30. Felicia from sweetgeorgia

    Vogue Sewing (great book). Threads (great magazine). But I can completely understand the need to see things done right before your eyes. I was the same way with spinning and needed to see what others were doing to see if what I was doing was “correct”. I should have known better though! After seeing how everyone spins and knits so differently yet still “correctly”, I guess the bottom line is it doesn’t matter as long as you are getting the result you want. I did some coat/jacket tailoring a few years ago and wanted to learn old-school, classic tailoring techniques — there just aren’t classes for things like that. I had to learn it all from library books.

  31. Cindy

    Do you have a local community college? You might look into that. You would probably have to start out with a stupid starting class, but then you would be able to go to a tailoring class and learn those techniques which would enable you to sew darn near anything.

  32. JJ

    I’ve found one of my fave books is Simplicity’s Simply the Best Sewing Book. Everytime I go to sew (there are long lapses) I have to get the book out and re-learn stuff. I think I actually have two…if I find the other one, would you like it?

  33. E to the M

    OK, you can ignore my comment on the last post, re: Sweing 101. What about putting an ad in the personals to see if you can find a group or an individual who can teach you?

  34. Joanna

    Oh man – where were you during my freshman chem lab?? I must have driven the TAs crazy because I had to ask for help on every. single. thing. Well, not help per se, but our lab book was very vague and I had to make sure I was doing everything just right! I think that’s a big part of the reason I stayed away from chemistry after that – I don’t need someone to hold my hand, but I also don’t want to be the little bird that gets thrown out of the nest and has to learn to fly on the way down. Anyway – good luck with your sewing adventure!!

  35. Christie

    Here’s a thought [since you work on a college campus], why not pay one of the students from the school to teach you to sew? There has to be a fashion design department or a lab connected with the dance or theatre department and more than enough students looking to make a buck. And you could do it over your lunch hour, which means no travelling! If it’s a design student who knows about pattern manipulation, even better! You can learn all the good stuff…one on one!

  36. Louise in Maryland

    I have been sewing for lotsa years – at one time I sewed all my clothes, even made one custom 3-piece suits for my hubby before the demands of children and dogs and home-ownership knocked me back down to mostly mending and halloween costumes. My take is that you need to get basics down and then build on that. Just like knitters start with a scarf or dish-cloth since a sweater with all the decreases and increases lined up just right will look crappy if the stitches are really uneven, you need to be able to sew a good straight seam before you consider how to set a collar. My mother had me “sew” with an unthreaded machine on lined paper until i could get perfectly straight lines before I did anything with fabric. Then I made a few VERY simple garments like straight skirts with elastic or aprons. Maybe you are already beyond that stage, but if not consider that until you can manipulate the machine and get a straight even seam, and follow curves accurately, nothing you do will look decent.

    And learn to press your work – pressing seams correctly is as important as blocking knitting.

  37. Purly Whites

    I second the comment about a local community college with some sort of fashion design curriculum. That would be the most meticulous and detail-oriented type of class you could probably get, and it would allow you to take more classes from the same program if you so desire later on. Plus, since the instructors are actually teachers, as opposed to someone who has sewed for a long time and teaches through a local sewing store, you would probably get a higher caliber of instruction. And they would be able to cater to your whims. Not to knock those lovely ladies who have been sewing for years and years, I’m just saying those classes, as you are well aware, are much more hit and miss.

  38. freecia

    I only wish others would specify in such detail. The many conditionals of slipping a stitch (difference in slip1 (purlwise) and ssk (knit wise)) resulted in some unsightly knitting until I figured it out. Plus some pointers from other knitters.

    Reading the above comments- Your readers are the Best! How about asking around for a talented sewing teacher at the Senior Center? It might sound nutty, but they come from an era when women commonly sewed. They might live close-by and willing to teach on the cheap. Plus, they get the satisfaction of passing their knowledge on to the next generation.

  39. Mary

    As a former lab scientist of many many years myself, (who has had many a grad student and medical resident follow me around), I know EXACTLY, and I mean, EXACTLY, what you mean.

    I took three summers of sewing classes as a kid (at a Singer store and of project-, rather than skill-oriented lessons in nature), so sewing is neither a struggle, nor a current hobby for me, but I can definitely sympathize with you about wanting a real person there to answer the questions regarding the most seemingly minor of details that are roadblocks if you’re not sure how to proceed, and don’t want to screw up that expensive fabric.

    I feel this way about knitting — when I learn a new and seemingly complicated knitting skill (socks, for example), I want someone there to answer my questions. Which is why the baby sock on DPNs I took in June was PERFECT for me. And I want that same kind of hand-holding for things like learning cables, continental knitting, fair isle, intarsia, etc. At least with knitting, if you make a mistake you can re-use your yarn, unless you’ve cut it. If you eff-up your fabric in sewing, you have to get more.

    Best of luck to you in finding the perfect instructor you need.

  40. Kat

    I volunteer to teach you to sew, Ms. Grumperina! I had an awesome teacher – my Nana – and I can teach you how to sew. I learn like you do, tell me each step of the way so I get all the steps! That is how I teach knitting, each step – no guesswork.

    I also nominated you for a dinner guest at the Harlot’s blog. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  41. Kristin

    I agree with the sewing machine store recommendation. When I bought my Elna, it was just for quilting but they offered a class in the purchase price. It only involved making swatches for all the techniques and it would have been great if I had wanted to learn about sewing with jersey knits and putting neck bands on t-shirts. I didn’t get that much out of it because I was only interested in quilting which they didn’t talk about at all, but I do think what they did was exactly what you want. I think you need a mentor! I hope you find what works for you!

  42. Sue F.

    Actually, I did not know the stitches were slipped differently for the right and wrong sides. Sigh. Have you checked out Spark craft studio at Davis Square? Also, a friend of mine is taking a class at a woman’s house in Arlington Hts, at the end of the #77 bus route (leaves from Harvard Sq). She said it was $210 for 6 lessons and the teacher is very meticulous; even ironing is covered in detail. (forward direction only! who knew!). I can ask her for contact info if you want, my email is shforbes@earthlink.net,

  43. Erin

    Hands-on works for me, but have you looked for a “Sewing for Dummies” book? I learned to cast on and knit from my mum, but purling, ssk, yo, decreasing/increasing, basic things like that, I learned from the “Knitting for Dummies” book.

  44. Melissa

    I rarely post a comment, but your frustration with the sewing class got me thinking a little. I completely understand your wanting to be taught in person, but I just want to add an issue that doesn’t really come up in knitting. (I learned to sew as a teen, but only recently learned to knit.)

    In my experience sewing, unlike knitting, relies a lot upon what your sewing machine can do. Sure there are lots of complicated stitches in sewing, but they generally rely on owning a machine that can perform those operations. And really, it’s pretty close to impossible to get professional looking clothing unless you own a serger. I don’t know what kind of machine you have, but if it’s like mine it can probably do a few kinds of stitches and buttonholes (poorly) and that’s it.

    I agree with the above posts about the importance of ironing and cutting and so forth, but I just wanted to let you know that the actual sewing part is more a matter of what your machine can do, not what you can do.

  45. TracyKM

    I know.

    I needed to be shown which way to pin things, and to sew with the SMALLER edge on the inside so the big swath of fabric was not bunched up inside the sewing machine.

    If you’re looking for an economical way to learn, I’d ask at your local senior’s center for someone to be an adoptive grandmother and teach you, on your machine if possible. A donation to the center, or a nice lunch out might be payment enough for her.

    But I do think in general, it would be good to work through a project, just so you know how it all fits together–from pattern cutting, to getting it on the fabric, matching points/stripes, the order to sew. It’s great to learn how to make a collar, but there’s a gazillion collars, and they behave differently with different fabrics…like, you learn to make cables with a nice elastic wool yarn….then you tried to make cables with a cotton yarn….So I think you have to learn both ways–individual techniques and a focus project (too bad you can’t make a sampler afghan–collars on one square, buttonholes on another, zippers in the corner, pocket flaps here, belt loops there…)


  46. Sarah

    Ahhh, that makes sense. I’m a lawyer – in my job, my supervisor gives me a vague idea of where to start (if he has any idea himself) and then I’m on my own. I guess that’s kind of the way I figure out stuff like knitting and sewing too.

  47. SallyT

    So I’m not the only one who started sewing on paper! I thought that perhaps it was a unique idea my mom had.

  48. Dove

    Not knowing how to sew myself, I can’t help with the sewing dilemma at all. But being a lab bench scientist, I can definitely relate! I frustrated many mentors in my early days by demanding the answers to the tiniest and, seemingly, most insignificant questions, and reading protocols just did. Not. Work! Knitting was not like that for me, because I just kinda said, “Eh,” and made it up (usually correctly, as I found out later), but sewing…it just doesn’t work for me when I do it that way. Knitted fabric can hide a multitude of sins; sewn garments cannot. And unlike knitting books, where all you really need to see are details like stitches, sewing books just can’t give a clear enough picture of what the hell you’re supposed to be doing.

    Anyway, good luck! I’m sure you’ll be a master seamstress in no time.

  49. kmkat

    Oh, I wish Wisconsin were closer to Cambridge! I’d come over and teach you to sew, and you could teach me your amazing knitting techniques. (I always slip the first stitch purlwise on both knit and purl rows because that way the slipped stitch ends up on the right-hand needle with the front leg and back leg of the stitch going the same direction as the worked stitches. Am I missing something?)

    A couple weeks ago I taught my 17-year-old son to use the sewing machine, and he immediately made himself an apron. The pattern was for a “barbecue apron” but he decided that for himself it would be a “spray-painting” apron. No cooking of any kind for that boy. Anyway, I would second the recommendation to stitch with an unthreaded needle on paper with straight and curved lines — have fun when you draw the lines, make it challenging, work up to loop-the-loop! Then do the same thing sewing for real on some scrap fabric on which you’ve drawn some more lines. Use one color thread on the top, another color on the bobbin, and sew on a third color of fabric — that way you can see every little detail of what you have done.

    The recommendation to press as you go is also right on the money. When my mother taught me to sew, she said it wasn’t necessary (thanks, Mom), but I have since found that it makes everything so much easier, neater, and more precise. Pin a hem, press it, and it will end up looking much better than if you didn’t.

  50. Cymru Llewes

    My suggestion is to check out your local nursing homes/assisted living complexes and ask them if they have any residents who sew and would like to pass along their skills.

  51. Vicki in Michigan

    “Iโ€™ve found it crucial to have someone on hand to guide me through the little details, like how to pin two fabrics together when sewing (how frequently, which way the pins face, the edge which should go into the sewing machine first, etc.). ”


    I’m sorry to raise what may be a painful issue, but …….. I’m afraid the answer to a lot of these sorts of questions is “It depends.” rather than “Here is The Correct Way.”

    Some people use a million pins, some don’t use very many, for example. Just because something works well for someone doesn’t mean it is the only right way.

    I think that with anything that is and has been so widely practiced, there are going to be a lot of different Only Best Ways…. Sorta like holding knitting needles, and/or getting the yarn around one of them, one way or another…..

    Of course learning someone else’s Only Best Way can be useful, but it’s good to reserve judgement about the “only” and the “best.”

    In my humble. ๐Ÿ™‚

  52. Zelda

    Amen, sister. Although you don’t mention the other vital half of the learning process for lab technique: having someone experienced watch *you* the first time you do a procedure, to catch anything you missed while watching *them* do it.

    Don’t panic, but the answer to how frequently to pin is, “It depends on the fabric and the pattern.” More often for lighter fabrics and for curves or fiddly bits. This all highlights your talent for knitting, though– I couldn’t believe you’d only been at this for two years. Clearly an inborn aptitude.

    Oh, and to Joanna above: Don’t worry about driving TAs crazy; every question is a little ego stroke, reassuring them (okay, us) that they know something worth imparting. And *especially* in a chemistry lab, it’s very true that the only dumb question is the one you don’t ask!

  53. Kate

    Have you considered a nice Pinot Grigio and a Benadryl? No really, have you? We are all crazy about your tightly wound self Kathy.

  54. amy

    What worked for me (who similarly needed to *see* it done), was a good friend who was very adept and talented at sewing. I offered a big lunch and speciality dessert in exchange for personal sewing lessons (although she is a much more talented cook than I am as well, but she’s also very gracious). I’m still no where near as good as she. But definitely passable. I couldn’t have done it without her. Of course, I lucked out having a very adept and talented friend close by.

  55. Willa Jean

    If you find the lessons you want, then this is moot, but if not, get the library books, look up some sewing blogs, get a really large frozen mocha something at Starbucks, carry it across the street and watch the little old ladies sewing in the window. You can teach yourself sewing like you did knitting, and you will draw seamstrisses to you like you draw knitters. Have you looked for a quilters guild? Most quilters know how to sew other stuff as well. Just start. The universe will send you what you need. Really.

  56. Judy

    I echo many of the above comments, but want to emphasize three things that are important to a successful sewing project.

    1. a sewing machine in good working order

    2. a decent iron because pressing IMO makes the difference between homemade and handmade

    3. a pattern that works for the fabric chosen. I’ve helped with sewing classes at our local school and the problem that most of the students have is that their fabric is inappropriate for the pattern making the whole class an exercise in frustration. Good luck and try the quilt shops. You probably would like quilting. It’s a very precise craft. Judy

  57. Stephanie C.

    It’s Toughlove Time – what you need most is a reality check. You’re out of your comfort zone. You’re anxious. You have questions. Feel the fear, take a deep breath, and Get On With It. Remind yourself that it’s just cutting fabric into shapes and sewing them together, pins or not. Most of us who sew never had a lesson beyond the initial “turn it on, press the pedal, don’t sew your finger” type. The only lesson I ever took was in constructing tutus. You’re a neuroscientist, for Pete’s sake. This is a linear process. Try a little girl’s dress with gathers, collar, set-in sleeves and buttonholes if you want an all-in-one project of basic techniques. Use muslin or gingham – something cheap. Blindly follow the pattern instructions for the first try and see what happens. This is strictly a “learn by doing” proposition – what seems daunting becomes simple as you complete the process of construction. Think of it as just another experiment! Here’s a big hug and a swat on the rear – get to it.

  58. marie in florida

    i understand what you said about learning to sew. i’m a self taught knitter/crocheter. i’ve only seen a handful of other people knit. i really need to fix that and go see what other people actually do with their hands.

    the book i actually used to learn was a children’s book. an old fashioned one; big photographs, little words.


    you’re car-less? i thought i was the only one!

    bytheway; ‘when the student is ready the teacher will appear’

  59. lorinda

    I think it’s great you are in touch with your learning style. Don’t ever be ashamed of it.

    That said, why don’t you post somewhere a swap? If I were a good seamstress, I would move heaven and earth to teach you to sew if I knew you would knit something for me.

    My girl Marji is an excellent seamstress http://fiberartsafloat.blogspot.com/, check with her for advice. She probably has friends in your area who could help you.

    You learned to use two sticks and string; you can learn to use two pieces of cloth, a needle and thread.

  60. Heather

    I’ve had my machine for a while, and immediately upon receipt, my mother gave me a crash course in sewing. But, it wasn’t until I took an 8-week sewing class through a local continuing education group that I really developed any confidence in using the machine. I would imagine that one of your local communities or schools has some sort of adult education program. For point of reference, I’m referring to this one (in Philadelphia): http://www.mtairylearningtree.org/

    If you’ve got a vo-tech school or a community college nearby, they may be able to suggest something, too.

  61. Megann

    You might want to try an arts school for college-level sewing classes. I live in NYC, and there are several universities here that have fashion departments which offer continuing education classes. The descriptions I have read seem to cover the techniques you are looking for and the level of detail you require.

  62. Becky

    At my fashion design school (which is a very reputable school) there’s no one-on-one guidance or detailed explanations, not even for the sewing and there are students who start their first year without ever having sat in front of a sewing machine. The fashion design studio where I work is very much of the same attitude; I’m given something to do with a very brief explanation, and expected to create it successfully. I’ve heard from others that things work that way in the industry over here. It works for me but I’m sure it wouldn’t work for everyone. Good luck with your hunt for what you’re looking for. Maybe a few individual one-on-one classes for starters?

  63. Susan

    I don’t know the Boston area, but keep your eyes peeled for tailors too. Sometimes they can be found in dry cleaning stores. Never hurts to ask if you’re near one. Good luck!

  64. Sue

    I learned to sew years ago in high school Home Ec class. The teacher chose the pattern; it was a skirt and top and had every detail imaginable. The skirt was pleated and had a zipper; the top had set in sleeves, a button placket so needed buttonholes and buttons sewn on the right way. No one looked particularly good in the finished product, but we learned a lot–if we were paying attention. My kids had sewing in middle school and only made pillows; times have changed. What you really need is an old style home ec teacher.

    Lacking a good teacher, all I can suggest is practice. Try something one way and if it doesn’t work, try it another way. But then this assumes lots of free time and enough money to cover your mistakes.

  65. Irene

    I totally understand where you’re coming from. I just had my first 3 hour sewing class last night, (which happens to be at a quilting store). The gal spent the first night just going over different materials and their care, how to read a pattern, notions, etc. and I loved it. I want to learn everything about following a pattern and making a garment and I want a sewing expert (which this gal is) guiding me every step of the way. Then later, when I’ve become VERY comfortable with all the steps, I might choose to skip or fudge the little things to speed things up. I’m so glad I kept looking until I found the perfect class!

  66. Molly

    Here’s what I’ve learned about sewing:

    1) Some ways of doing things will work better than others most of the time, but there are always exceptions. Don’t get too hung up on finding the one true way.

    2) Just because a pattern guidesheet tells you to do something a certain way doesn’t mean you have to.

    3) You will never know everything there is to know about sewing, drafting, and fitting. People spend their lives doing this stuff, and still can’t do it all. Pick a few things to master, and then take it from there.

    4) You will make a lot of lumpy, ill-fitting garments as you start out. There really is no way to teach a person (whether from a book or a class) how to make different fabrics behave as you want them to. You have to put your hands on the goods and discover the consequences for yourself.

    5) It’s just fabric. No one will die if you do the “wrong” thing to it, so go ahead and have some fun.

    Some others have commented on this, but perhaps you’d be more content finding a friend, or friend of a friend, who is an experienced sewer who could find the time to just sew stuff with you and talk you through things.

  67. LoriO

    There is a blog called On Pins and Needles (http://onpinsandneedles.org/) and she’s posted some really good detailed photos with good detailed instructions. She also had some links to other sewing sites.

    I know exactly how you are feeling though. I just sewed my first article of clothing and it was very confusing.

  68. Risa

    I am coming out of lurk-mode to agree with many of the comments above. A good iron, which I know is a dangerous weapon in your hands, when used correctly can hide a multitude of sewing sins. As someone said above, practicing your stitches on paper is a good and inexpensive way to get started.

    Good luck! I can’t wait to hear about your progress.

    Bernina all the way!!!

  69. Erin

    I don’t know if someone suggested this or if it’s too far for you, but The Fabric Place in Framingham is great. And they have lessons/classes among a great selection of fabrics and some yarn.

    I took one class in college (Framingham State) and made my own blouse, pants and skirt. The class made all the difference for me.

    Good luck!

  70. Ruth

    I don’t know how helpful this is, but I have been sewing for considerably more years than I’ve been knitting (albeit with very little formal “class” instruction – it was all passed on to me by my mother), and I still find sewing a great deal harder. Or I should say, it’s much more difficult to come up with an impeccably finished product.

    I hope this doesn’t sound overly obvious, but it hasn’t been said yet – I really think the reason is that woven fabric does not stretch (except a little bit on the bias) and is therefore not nearly as forgiving as knitted. You can’t block away little imperfections, and while you can rip seams, the fabric starts to look ratty before long. A set in sleeve, for example, requires far more mathematical precision to look smooth.

    Also, machine sewing is rapid, even at the slowest settings, and therefore requires considerable familiarity with and mastery of a piece of machinery in order to achieve good results – there is just no short-cut to time and practice, and as with all machine processes, there is a big element of intuitive finesse. When piecing quilts, I still find it much easier to get precise results with handsewing than with machine, because you control the tension and alignment of the fabric stitch by stitch – and I’ve been working with my little Elna for 30 years. I’m sure you will master sewing, like everything else you set your mind to, but the learning process may be different than you envision.

  71. Beth S.

    You’ve hit upon one of my enduring frustrations in the world of knitting. Within a pattern, when the designer just says to “slip” a stitch, I tear my hair out. Which *way* to slip? Same for increases and decreases–there are eight zillion ways it can be done, so which one gives the very specific effect I’ve been admiring in the pattern photograph? This isn’t splitting hairs–details like these can absolutely make or break a project.

  72. niteowl

    It’s a shame. My mother-in-law is a retired seamstress. She took sewing in for as long as I can remember and is also a crack tailor. I say it is a shame because she probably lives about an hour from you and has all the time in the world but her driving ability is suspect. She is lonely since her brother died last year. So much good could have come from such an arrangement. The devil is always in the details isn’t it? If this is true of her, there may be another 80 year old seamstress in your area in the same boat.

  73. Chandra

    Lurker here. I know exactly how you feel about the need to learn all of the details and feeling that the Reader’s Digest Book is “over your head.” I actually took a “get to know your sewing machine” type of class at a local Joann’s and I felt that it helped me get over that initial hump so that I was able to understand some of the books and get started. Granted, I still haven’t gotten very far with sewing because I completely dropped it once I became obsessed with knitting ๐Ÿ™‚

    Also, I’m not sure if anyone has suggested this yet, but http://www.patternreview.com is an excellent resource for tips and advice from other sewers. If you haven’t already you should check it out!

  74. Vicki Stammer

    If you really want to learn technique-by-technique rather than within the construction of garments, you may want to read “High-Fashion Sewing Secrets from the World’s Best Designers” by Claire B. Shaeffer.

    This is a very detailed and well-written book on individual garment elements. It is somewhat advanced, but does meet the criteria of learning techniques in isolation that you mentioned.

  75. judy

    Sorry if this is a repeat. Did wade through all the previous posts. ๐Ÿ˜€ This is a double-pronged approach: Nancy Zieman has a book (I know, I know) called Sewing with Confidence. It dovetails with a series of the same name on her Sewing with Nancy show on PBS. It’s really worth a look. She’s a good teacher, too.

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