Darling, Buy a Sewing Machine

0303000059-lYou should learn to sew.

I am not saying this as your mother or your overly nostalgic hipster friend who only wears hemp. I am saying this as that ridiculous girl whose blog you enjoy, because she is honest with her crazy and quick with a Buffy reference. If I were elected President of the Universe and asked to give one piece of advice to high school seniors, it would be this: Get thee a sewing machine! Other things are important, but people already learn those virtues from Mrs.Piggle-Wiggle. She does a much better job of telling you to bathe than I ever could. Instead, I suggest the needle.*

I can hear your doubts, kittens. Sewing is hard! Sewing is for old people! Why should I waste my time sewing, when Anthropologie exists? A couple of years ago, my thoughts were similar. For eons, my mother insisted that I learn how to sew. This advice usually came when she was mid-construction of a She-Ra: Princess of Power costume for Halloween, so I chalked it up to parental annoyance. Imagine my surprise when, in a fit of exasperation with current trends, I made my first dress and realized she was right. Sewing was the bee’s knees!

grace-kelly-rear-window-620a-102710My biggest reason for sewing is simple: I adore clothes. My closet, large and spacious to most eyes, is stuffed with dresses and skirts and charmingly bow-bedecked cardigans. I’ve always held with the theory that a perfect outfit gives confidence in any situation. However, this love can bring woe. There is no worse feeling than setting out in search of a party dress, only to return home empty-handed, cursing fluorescent lights and designers who think boob ruffles are so hot right now. Or, worse, finding the perfect dress…in every size but my own. Quelle horreur! That never happens with sewing. Not only can I recreate Grace Kelly’s organza confection from Rear Window, but it’s always in my size. There is a freedom in that. No longer am I bound by tacky fads! I don’t have to worry whether something is well made, because I know it is. I made it myself!

What’s more, it’s super easy. When people go all wide-eyed at the mention of my hobby, insisting that they could never, not ever make actual clothes, my eyes fight a heavy roll. Y’all, have you ever seen Project Runway? There have been contestants who couldn’t navigate elementary social situations, but still worked a sewing machine. This is not quantum mechanics. I learned the basics from one afternoon of sewing with my friend’s mother, with later questions mitigated by the magic of YouTube. Sewing from patterns, specifically, is nothing but rudimentary cutting skills, second-grade reading comprehension, and following straight lines. You can do it, I swear.

It doesn’t even take that much creativity. Admittedly, I’ve always been one to fantasize about dress designs, but such sartorial daydreams are not a prerequisite. In addition to the your mother’s pattern companies (Colloquially known as the “Big 4”: Simplicity, McCall’s, Butterick, and Vogue), there are an increasing number of super fashionable independent labels, like Colette Patterns or Deer and Doe. Take one great pattern and some fabric you like (online fabric retailers are the bomb) and – voila! – a cute new dress appears in a couple of hours.

For even more inspiration, we have the sewing blog-o-sphere, one of the most vibrant, positive internet subcultures I’ve participated in. Five minutes of internet-stalking is all it takes to disabuse one of the notion that sewing is a lost art. From New Zealand to Wisconsin, smart, savvy women are stitching up divine creations. There are those who specialize in vintage patterns and those who favor thrift store revamps. Down to a one, they’re welcoming and helpful and interesting. They also have the best Pinterest boards around.

sewing pin up girlLet’s be honest though, kittens. I want you to sew, because it will give me more people to gossip about fabric with. Plus, the eventual Wee Esmerelda O’Kelly-McGregor is going to need costumes for her school play and I don’t want to make them all myself. So, darling, please buy a sewing machine. Just don’t go down the path of quilting, because all those little pieces make me queasy.

– Grace

*For sewing, not heroin. Perhaps I should follow up with a secondary piece of advice: Don’t do heroin. Track marksΒ so ruin the look of a sleeveless dress.

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37 thoughts on “Darling, Buy a Sewing Machine

  1. I would love to learn how to sew…unfortunately sewing machines seem to be a tad expensive and I have no one to inherit one from.

    • Caitlin, that is an excellent point and one I should have addressed. I had the same problem, when I first learned. I originally used my mother’s super fancy machine to learn on, then needed one of my own, but both didn’t have and didn’t want to spend the amount of money she had paid. However, thanks to other bloggers, I learned two things: good sewing machines aren’t necessarily expensive and Craigslist is amazing.

      I did some research on brands and read a ton of reviews, before I ended up buying a lower scale Brother off of Amazon. It ran me about $125 and is still trucking, three years later. It’s not computerized or super modern, but it has every basic stitch I need and built well. However, if you haunt Craigslist, there are even better deals to be had. People regularly do inherit machines that the don’t want, then throw them up there. Even a machine from the 70’s, as long as it hasn’t been misused, can be a great starter machine. I’ve so many selling in Austin for less than $50, or even “Free to a good home.” What’s more, there are even a ton of reviews for older machines online, because they do last through generations. I actually could talk about budget options for machines (and fabric) for eons, so if you are at all interested, shoot me an email and I’d love to help you track one down.

      • This has been my obstacle too. I learned to sew as a kid on my mother’s machine from the 70s and crappy modern machines just don’t feel right. I should definitely poke around on craigslist to see if I can find an old machine and invest in a good repair.

        I remember my mom having trouble with her machine so my dad and I went shopping for a new one to give her as a present. When we explained this to the girl at the store, she said we should spend the money we would have spent on a new machine and put it towards repairing the old one. They simply don’t build them like that anymore.

        • They really, really don’t build them the same way. Most of the new machines, even ones with prices in the thousands, are built on plastic chassis. One of my major requirements, when purchasing a new one, was that it had to be mostly metal. Otherwise, sewing denim is a freaking nightmare! I’m always amazed at the people giving away perfect wonderful sewing machines on Craigslist, simply because they’re old. This is really one case where quality lasts and lasts. They don’t know what they have! It kills me. (But is so very good for the rest of us…)

  2. Well you don’t have to tell me twice. I’ve been a’sewin’ an a’bloggin’ for nigh on two years now. And when I started out, it was just me trying to share something I’m head over heels in love with, I could never have hoped for such a tight knit and welcoming community in the sewing blogosphere! I’ve even added a whole new group of friends to the mix from meeting up with other bloggers and sewing enthusiasts. At the tender age of 29, I realised had FORGOTTEN what it is like to make new friends. The excitment is almost as good as the rush one gets when you start dating someone so lovely you didn’t possibly think they could exist. Kinda cool really – you don’t often get the chance to double your friendship group outside of starting a new school, going to university or if you’re really lucky, a new job.
    Best advice ever, Grace. I only wish you’d told me this 10 years ago!

    • Melanie, I wish I’d told myself this, as well! I have to shake my head at all the time I spent angsting over party dresses and formals in high school when, if I’d just listened to my mother, I could have sewn my ideal dress every time.

      Also, you’re so, so right about the sewing blogosphere! I had the exact same giddy excitement, once I started connecting with other bloggers. It’s so amazing to meet other who share the same quirky little interest we do! Being able to geek out with someone about Liberty lawns or the new Colette pattern is priceless. πŸ˜€

  3. I’ve only been sewing for a year now, and I wish I had back all those years I didn’t sew – think of what I could do now! And now I’m a sewing evangelist – I tell everyone who will listen that they should learn to sew because, second only to the birth of my son, it has revolutionized my life like nothing before or since. Yay for sewing!!

    • Hooray sewing! Megan, I’m so glad there are other sewing evangelicals out there. Revolutionize is the perfect word for what it’s done to my life. There is so much freedom in the act of creating your own garment. It’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve learned how to do!

  4. I love sewing! I don’t really make anything for myself, although I have some unopened patterns for sundresses. I do, however, make things for my daughter. Every year I make her a fancy Easter dress, and lately I have taken up other dresses, pillows, and even Barbie doll clothes (apparently you have to make your own to avoid Barbie dressing like a whore).

    • I am so jealous that you have a wee one to sew for! I keep telling Professor McGregor that, when we eventually have children, we need to have at least one girl…if only so I can sew adorable things for her.

  5. I love sewing until the bloody thread gets all bunged up halfway through a seam and my needle (not my heroin needle) jams and I have to rip the crap out of everything and verbally abuse myself about what a fuck up I am at sewing. Otherwise, I love it.

    • Ha! You and me both, denmother. I had one sewing machine that bungled up the damned bobbin every ten minutes and there has never been such rage. Sewing is delightful, but also infuriating as hell.

  6. I LOVE sewing!! I have to confess that a friend and I recently bought patterns and fabric for our Halloween costumes. We’ve already finished hers and will be starting mine next. Added benefit is these costumes will last 10x’s longer than anything we could have bought and actually fit us perfectly – all for cheaper than what we could have bought them ready made. WIN!!

    • Oh, I am so, so jealous that you’ve already started on Halloween costumes! I always, always leave making them to the last minutes, so they’re never quite as grand as I imagine. What did y’all end up deciding on?

      • She will be a gorgeous fairy and I’ll be a sassy pirate wench. The fabric is very elegant (for both costumes) and bonus – everything was bought on sale! πŸ™‚

  7. I got a sewing machine for christmas with high hopes for making things, but i have no human guide and don’t know where to start 😦

  8. I’m still not convinced. I just have no desire to learn how to sew! I just imagine my hand getting jammed in the machine, and at the end of the day, I’d rather just cut my losses and fork over the cash for my clothes at Forever 21. I’m a sorry excuse for a woman.

    • Ha! Katie, you’re not a sorry excuse for a at all. I swear to god, those were my exact thoughts a couple of years ago. Sewing really doesn’t sound appealing to a lot of people, for very good reasons…not the least of which is Forever 21. πŸ˜‰

  9. I love sewing and I’m addicted to sewing blogs! The sewing community is fantastic but since I don’t blog (I have a blog but haven’t written anything in something like two years – I tend to use tumblr these days) I feel like a bit of a lurker and no one knows me so when there are exciting sewing meet ups, I’m always too scared to go along!

    • Janey, I haven’t been to any sewing meet-ups either! We’re in the same boat. I do have a blog, but it’s been a couple of months since I posted (thanks to a certain professorial distraction) and I’ve devolved into lurking at my favorite blogs. It can be super daunting to commit to a meet-up, especially when the other participants are such active and well-known bloggers! Maybe we should make our own for introverted lurkers?

  10. I grew up sewing and learned quite young. I used to make dresses for Felicity my American Doll. I love sewing! I have a sewing machine now that I inherited, but which is quite broken. The bobbin holder thing doesn’t hold the bobbin. . . . Yah. But I love sewing, so I understand your excitement.

    Also, totally excited you know who Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is! I have mentioned her to several people in the past few years and NOBODY knows who she is (though most recently a blogger friend did). What the what?

    • Agreed! I was very excited at the mention of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle–she’s been a favorite of mine since first or second grade. Five points to Grace and to you, Jami, for knowing the awesome children’s stories reference.

    • I can’t believe people don’t know Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle! Those books were my absolute favorites growing up. I was a super diligent bather, out of fear of radishes growing on my arms! And the time the whole town flooded, so they went on a hunt for pirate treasure in her house? Brilliant. I still fantasize about canoeing in her basement. The world is full of deprive children, apparently…

  11. God bless youtube teaching us all how to show. Also, my mother. She sort of taught me. My first dress I sort of half assed, and she made like 70% of it, but the point was that I was [successfully] using the sewing machine without cutting my fingers off.

    YAY, arts and crafts!

    • Ha! L.A., my first sewing project was also a dress and it’s totally, ridiculously bad. I still wear it, because it’s cute despite how poorly it’s constructed, but it’s made with at least three different colors of thread, the zipper is wonky, and I didn’t even attempt to finish the seams. But it was a success! Yay arts and crafts, indeed!

  12. “Track marks so ruin the look of a sleeveless dress.”
    Truly the only exhortation one needs to avoid substance abuse.

    P.S. I work in a quilt store, and thus heartily applaud this post! Thank you!

  13. You know what? You’re right. I need to learn how to sew. I’m not ridiculously short, but apparently short enough so that I can barely find a pair of trousers or a skirt that looks right. Usually end up buying things which don’t fit with the intention of getting them adjusted, but do I? Eh, no. If I could sew, I’d have a whole wardrobe of things that would actually fit!

    • Jaina, this was exactly the reason I learned how to sew! Only instead of troubles with trousers, I had troubles with blouses. Commercial retailers seem to find it impossible that a woman can have a large bust, but a small waist. Finding a dress shirt or shirt-dress that didn’t swallow me whole was impossible, so I just gave up and made my own. It’s so damn freeing not having to buy things, then schlep them to a tailor.

  14. I went out and bought a sewing machine today! I thought the idea had just come into my head, but I guess you planted it there Grace because I read this post a few weeks ago. I’m going to start by making some simple curtains for the bedroom window then move onto altering clothes and making them from scratch. My mother was a dressmaker and had her own business for a few years, so even though we’re living in separate countries now it’s nice to know I can call on her for help. Although, truth be told, I’m excited about “lurking” around the sewing blogging community too πŸ˜‰

  15. Hello, a note from “A GUY.” I learned to use a sewing machine in the US Navy. It was not only better to sew my own uniforms, but I made money sewing for others. Years later I bought a new machine as a birthday present for myself. After that, I hemmed my own new pants. Soon I bought a house and I had to make a few curtains. It was better than going to the store where I am convinced that if you die and go to hell, you work in a curtain department. For those who don’t think it’s MANLY enough, I also repaired the sails on my boat and repaired my ski bag, saving me hundreds of dollars to go ski and sail some more………SEW ON!!

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