Many of my friends have told me that for Christmas or in the past year, they have a new sewing machine in their life. The popularity of this hobby called “Sewing” has exploded recently and I’m not sure why, but I’m going to chalk it up to an inherent need to put the phone down and get back to basics. There is something so comforting about the entire process of putting a needle into a piece of fabric and forging ahead on the desire to create. This is true whether you are sewing quilt tops, bedding, tote bags, or clothing. Or maybe you just want to hem pants, sew on a Scout patch, or make a zipper repair. Whatever you’re about to dive into, here’s some classes and advice to hopefully make your life much easier. Some of the classes are free and some are paid, but all are worth your time.
In the previous paragraph, I mentioned four types of sewing: Quilting, Home Dec, Bag Making, & Fashion Garments. While each of them share many skills that can build off one another, each one has its own special construction techniques, fabrics, threads, and machine accessories, not to mention its own share of frustrations.
This post is about what I wish I’d known years ago or sources to valuable things I’ve discovered in my sewing journey. The very best piece of advice I can give to newbies is to take a class before your first project, and that includes those who have sewn before but it’s been years and years. Today’s machines are very different from the non-computerized machines of the past. You will save yourself time, money, and an incredible amount of disappointment, frustration, and swearing by taking a class before you ever make a bobbin. You WILL make mistakes…a lot of them (and you’re in amazingly good company!). The second best piece of advice I can give is to be patient and accept any failures as a lesson. Learn from them, chalk it all up to experience, and press on.
If you don’t have a sewing machine yet but you want one, you’re going to want to know the best one to get. The best one to buy is one that you can afford and there’s a factory-authorized maintenance shop nearby. You don’t want to have to send your machine away for maintenance and incur the expense of shipping as well as the repair or tune up. If you have a non-computerized machine, your local machine repair shop will work fine. However, if you’re getting a computerized machine (and I highly recommend that you do because they’re nothing like the old ones and they make life SO much easier) then know that a local machine repair shop may not be able to order new parts from the manufacturer. They cannot do much more than a simple tune up or make timing adjustments. When the power supply on my Brother PE-770 embroidery machine blew up during a storm, I had to take it to an authorized Brother repair shop after I spent the time and money to be told by the local repair guy that he couldn’t order the part.
Classes – The classes I mention below are courses that I have taken myself so I can recommend them from first-hand experience. I must be enrolled in 50 Craftsy classes and while the information is sound, sometimes the instructor can drives you bats. I’m only going to recommend classes that have good basic instruction and info that I really got something out of and I was able to listen to the instructor for a couple of hours. Any money spent on classes will be worth every penny even if it is to just brush up on your skills.
If you are just getting acquainted with your sewing machine, this free class, Sew Ready, Machine Basics will get you started with understanding how today’s computerized machines work. This course covers everything from how to make a bobbin to the different types of sewing machine feet, threads, needles, troubleshooting, etc. In this video, she is using a Baby Lock machine, but it is identical to the Brother machines on my Power Tool Arsenal page. They are the same company! The Brother machines are less expensive than Baby Lock and I’ve not found a difference between the two at all. Think of them like GMC and Chevy. Same-same.
Quilting – For basic block construction, your best bet is any video produced by the Missouri Star Quilt Company. Jenny Doan makes the complex seem simple, and the introduction of fabric pre-cuts solves the basic problem of “Do these fabrics match?” A single pre-cut will contain a sampling of each design in a fabric line and will be cut in anything from 10″ squares to 2.5″ strips.
If quilting is your thing, or you want it to be, sign up for Missouri Star’s Daily Deal, add it to your favorites, and hit the site first thing every morning. Shipping is always $5, and the cost of the deal is around half or less than what you’d pay in a store. They also recommend the right shade of background fabric and a pattern to use that goes with the daily deal. You simply can’t go wrong! The daily deal can be anything from fabric, to rulers, or quilting accessories like thread, pins, clips, …you name it. I’ve built my entire stash from the MSQC for a fraction of the cost I’d of paid at a quilt shop.
Please don’t let me dissuade you from frequenting your local quilt shops – they are a wonderful experience (most of the time), and you’ll be able to sign up for classes or Shop Hops (tours), fondle yummy fabric, and make many new friends. I also hit the local shops for backings, batting, and specialty threads. What I’m about to say however is very controversial, but it must be addressed if you aspire to be a quilter. I believe that forewarned is forearmed about what I consider to be quilting’s dirty little secret. Don’t be intimidated when you walk in your local quilt shop – just waltz in like you own the place and browse or shop to your heart’s content. If your local shop is full of quilt snobs – and they are out there in droves – find the fabric you want, then go home and buy it cheaper online or look elsewhere locally where you feel comfortable in the store. Do not reward snobby shops with your money. These snobby quilt shops are behaving to their own detriment and being replaced one-by-one by technology. As Jenny Doan from MSQC says, “Finished is better than perfect.” Find a store that supports you no matter your skill level. And if that shop is online, then so be it.
A note about quilting cottons from big box stores like Wal-Mart, JoAnn’s, or Hancock Fabrics. You get what you pay for in feel, color fastness, and wear. Balance the level of effort you’re going to put into the project against the cost of the fabric. As your skills progress, you’ll want quality quilting cottons for projects whether heirloom or not. However, if you’re just starting out with your first table runner, it might be a good idea to start with less expensive fabrics until you figure out the piecing aspect of the blocks. It’s so frustrating to spend a ton on fabric only to screw up the project. Again, the MSQC Daily Deal is a good way to start so you get quality fabrics at a fraction of the cost.
When it’s time to put the quilt top together and make the magic happen, this is probably the best class I’ve found. Ann Peterson is very thorough and explains the why’s and how’s of making all your time and effort on the quilt top turn into a successful finished quilt. Small Machine, Big Quilts, Better Results You don’t need a big long-arm quilting machine to finish your quilt. If you’re just starting out, use some clear thread and stitch in the ditch through where the blocks intersect – easy peasy! All the fancy quilt designs can come later. My first quilting project was a MSQC Christmas table runner and it was a success.
For Home Dec – This is a great class for making duvet covers. Custom Bedding: Designer Duvet Covers. If you want to make curtains or learn how to recover a chair or make cushions & pillows, search Craftsy and find a course you think will work for you. I haven’t taken any so I can’t recommend one.
Bags & Totes – Bag Making Basics by Kristen Link. This is a free class on Craftsy and will show you how to make two different types of tote bags. This is also a good basic sewing class.
Are you pretty familiar with your machine and just need to brush up on some garment skills? Then Design and Sew an A-Line Skirt and Mastering Zipper Techniques are for you. The instructor in the zipper class is Sunni Standing and from this class I began to also follow her blog, A Fashionable Stitch. She’s an amazing garment seamstress and her blog links to many advanced sewing tips and tutorials.
Making clothing for adults or tweens with curves is a real challenge. Fit has always been my nemesis. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, can take a commercial pattern straight from the package, make your size and have it fit right on the first go. So don’t even bother. Most commercial patterns are a B-cup, and even if you are a B-cup, there are a ton of things that need adjusting before it will fit right. If you are going to attempt to make clothing from scratch, do yourself a huge favor and invest in Sure Fit Designs. It is worth every…single…penny. The basic dress kit contains everything you need to make your own basic body blueprint with step-by-step DVD’s and templates for full-bust adjustments, darts, plus size, and a gazillion other things. There’s also a segment on adjusting commercial patterns to your perfect fit. You need the commercial patterns for design elements and instructions, but you’ll need your body blueprint (called a sloper in the industry), to make adjustments to the commercial pattern lines. Really, I mean this…just pony up the cash and consider the investment in Sure Fit Designs just as important as the machine itself. I can’t tell you how much time, effort, and money I’ve wasted making myself garments that don’t fit. There are some SFD videos on YouTube so you can check it out before you buy.
So that’s it! I wish each of you the best of luck in your new sewing adventures! I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas and I wish you all a Happy and Safe New Year!