Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sewing 020: The Next Tier of Stuff to Have

Naturally, there are a few things you might want to have to make your life easier (and there are more gadgets appearing ALL THE TIME.)  Here are some of the things I use pretty much anytime I’m sewing anything.  If you have the means, they are worth having.

Scissors.  I do get tired of biting thread with my teeth.  If you are just doing the most basic fix-the-clothes-so-you-can-get-to-work, it doesn’t really matter how wonderful the scissors are or how sharp.  You just need something that will cut thread (whatever kind you have) fairly easily.  There are many other sharp things that will work, but I don’t want to suggest anything that might get you hurt.  Primary school scissors work just fine.

Seam ripper.  This is a handy device whose sole purpose in life is destruction.  It is the crowbar of the sewing world, but much smaller and MUCH sharper.  Sometimes, even before you can sew up the patient, you have to clean out the wound.  The seam ripper is happy to help.  (How’s that for mixed metaphors?  Anyway, get one.)

Pins.  I usually use straight pins, which, surprisingly, are just….straight.  A straight little piece of metal with a sharp point on one end and a plastic, glass, or metal “head” on the other.  I personally prefer the ones with large, white plastic or glass heads, because I can spot them and pull them out of fabric before a) sewing over them (which causes shrapnel!) or b)ironing over them, which can cause melted plastic.  Ew.  You can also use safety pins, diaper pins (those both take a bit longer to attach and cause more distortion in your work, but you won’t get poked as much), clothespins (really—especially for thick, heavy, grumpy materials), or bowling pins.  No, I made that last one up.

As I said, there many more “things” available to make sewing easier (notably, you know, sewing machines). But with these and the most basic-est basics, I can sew anything, eventually.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sewing 020: What It Takes

Of course, you need three things to sew; the rest—ALL the rest—is optional.

You need a needle, and you need thread or something similar. Of course, you need something to sew together, too: material, clothes, leather, wire mesh in your window screen…something.

Needles: in a pinch, most drug stores and general-merchandise grocery stores carry at least the basics.  You will of course find a better selection at a fabric store or online, but if you are just trying to get by, find what you can.  You can also hit up your local sewing-able person; we have a ton of needles (trust me.)

For thread, look in the same places.  There are a bazillion different kinds of thread, but to start with I suggest the basic cotton-wrapped polyester (Dual Duty is one brand name I see often), and having some white and some black will take care of almost anything.

This is not color matching: this is survival!  Yes, the ideal is to have a thread that magically disappears into the fabric—unless you want the contrast—but we are not being perfectionists just now.  Maybe not ever.

Thread is generally available where you find the needles; and if all they have in the store is polyester, it will work (it’s just a little harder to thread the needle with it, and may not look as pretty later on).  Many hotels give away little sewing kits that will net you more colors, and a needle, and a thimble (ooooooh…a thimble! Raise your hand if you know what a thimble is for….  Anyone?)

Friday, January 7, 2011

What I’m Up To

I’m a teacher who isn’t teaching—at least, not anybody except my own kids.  I do get to volunteer at their school, but it’s not the same.  Sewing is one of my favorite things to do, when I have the time. Someday I would love to combine those two parts of my life, and teach sewing.  This is my testing ground, my focus group, my chance to plan and refine handouts I might use later, and get useful feedback on my ideas.  Along the way, I may accidentally teach you something you didn’t know; I have a hunch it’s easiest to learn sewing when there is someone right there to help you, but I’m ready to try the written-word way, too.  I like to help, I welcome feedback, and questions are absolutely loved.  There is no question “too stupid” to ask: I’m a teacher and I live for the questions!

Fair warning: as part of the experiment, I sold my soul to The Man.  You’ll probably see ads along the sidebar.  Click ‘em, don’t click ‘em, either is okay with me.  I decided to try them out to see how obnoxious they were, not really to make any money.  When I have to show up in person to teach….that, I would expect to be paid for (and, in conversations with a friend, I’ve decided would only happen during months without horrible weather!)  Since I have an ad blocker program riding on my web browser, I don’t even see whatever is over there.

I plan to organize posts this way:

Sewing 22: This is information for those who are completely at sea with the whole idea of sewing. They have never willingly held a needle.  My seven-year-old is the source of many of the ideas here (she doesn’t come up with the ideas; she inspires them in me as I teach her how to sew!  She is, however, willing to the point of belligerence.)  The number is reflective of community college classes taught to those who have NO background in a given field of study.

Sewing 103: This is for those of you who know what end of the needle to put the thread in, and who know how to tie a knot and such, but get a little lost doing things like hemming pants (especially, horrors, pants that do not fall straight down from the knee!  EEEEK!)  Again, think of College Writing—you know how to use words, and how to write, but you need to learn more about the finished product.

Philosewphy (I’m really sorry; I just don’t seam to be able to help myself with the puns) : Reasons to sew.  Things it makes me think of.  Power tools (yes, really).  How not to end up in the Emergency Room, or bleed on your work.

Projects: Posts that share either what I’ve done, what I plan, or what I am currently working on.
This child is not sad about sewing.  She had just been crying about something else, and I asked to take her picture with her finished quilt block partly to distract her.  I wouldn't want anyone to think that sewing will make you sad!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Why I Want You to Sew

Or at least, know how to sew.

1. I consider it a basic survival skill. I am always amazed at the number of people who say, "I wouldn't know how to sew on a button!" or, "Help! My hem tore out and I don't sew." Life should not have to be lived around the nearest dry-cleaner with sewing service, nor around iron-on hem tape (NB: not only is that adhesive evil, but it often comes off after a wash or two. Hemming saves time in the long run). It seems to me that, just as people who drive ought to know how to change a tire--even if they have the means to get someone else to do it--people who wear clothes ought to know how to keep them wearable.

If you're going to get the iron out anyway--and you own one to begin with--you might as well take the next step and use it to sew.

2. It has the potential to be good for the world. (Note that I said "potential"--there are also some fairly foul things that you might purchase or use.  Hem tape is not the only obnoxious chemical, and let's not even start on fabric source materials, production, or dyes...) A number of books have been published explaining how to change vintage clothes into new garments. Most of them expect you to have a bare minimum of sewing knowledge, and for you to not run screaming at the sight of a needle. A sewing needle, anyway. In any event, re-purposing or re-using fabric that used to be something else actually is a reasonable way to reduce overall consumption.

3. I am tired of feeling like a freak. I will confess I like the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, but I don't wear dresses from the 1800's. Yet, when people find out that I not only can but do sew...well, I see a lot of sidelong glances. Maybe it's just me, but I find a subtext in the rest of the conversation: "Hmmm. Tread carefully. This woman is probably related to that Unibomber guy. Who sews these days? There must be something fishy there..." The irony that only a few decades ago, pretty much everyone HAD to sew if they wanted to wear clothes, is not lost on me. No, while I'm sure there were worse options, I do not like Ike; I wasn't even born yet, and my parents were barely potty trained.

Also, I would rather teach you how to hem than do it for you; I like you, but that way you can fix your own pants the next 1,456 times. And the kids', too!

4. Useful creativity is allowed in the house. We are bombarded with conflicting messages: we need to do more, to save our house, save our kids, save our marriages (not necessarily in that order). At the same time, we are supposed to relax, meditate, slow down, relieve stress. Exercise is good for these things, and so is making things.

I have to confess: I'm not really into art for art's sake. I like making things that are useful...and then, if I'm going to make the effort anyway, I like to try to make them attractive. Personally, I think one reason scrap-booking is so popular is that most people have a need to create, but we feel like we need to be productive as well; and using up and displaying all those pictures feels useful. In much the same way--only, perhaps, even more usefully--sewing allows us to create, and to have an end product that makes our lives better. While I enjoy "doing" art, I am much more likely to make a nightgown for my daughter than I am to pull out my sketchbook....because the nightgown is useful! I don't think I'm alone in needing to feel that my time is well spent, and in needing some creative outlet. Sewing fits those bills nicely.

5. I know I will learn things, too.  As a teacher, I have truly lived the cliche that your students teach you more than you ever knew before.  Since this is already one of my favorite things, I'm excited to find out what I don't know about it.