I recently had the privilege of being a guest on a podcast with Lisa from Farmhouse on Boone on her Simple Farmhouse Life podcast! If you don’t follow her blog or YouTube channel, I encourage you to do so!
I’ve been following 6 or 7 years and I think it’s one of the best well rounded, calming, informative channels about homemaking out there! Check out her blog, Instagram and Youtube with recipes, DIY projects, and so many aspects of life on her farm with her husband and soon to be 8 children!
It reminds me of my younger days raising our girls with gardening, from scratch cooking, homemaking and sewing. God wired me to love homemaking and I soaked up all the learning I could. My mom spent most of her time corralling all 8 of us kids alone, as a single mother for many years. She taught us a good work ethic, so we grew up knowing how to clean house, run a household, iron properly and do lots of laundry. She didn’t like to cook, but we did have a garden and her friend taught us to can food during my teen years, so that was nice to know how to do all those things before I had my own home. What I didn’t learn from my mom, I learned from books and magazines, because we didn’t have the internet when I was raising my family. And I learned sewing from a few classes and trial and error. God taught me alot throughout the years!
So, this was an honor for me to get to talk about sewing! Lisa specifically requested that we talk about sewing for beginners. We also got to talk about more advanced skills throughout the interview as Lisa explained her current sewing projects.
(By the way, I have recently put up a few posts for beginner projects in case you or your children want to tackle some easy sewing, but they are also great projects for seasoned sewists. Just keep scrolling down past this blog post to find them or use the search box. I plan to add many more, so check back often and keep on sewing!)
Because the podcast interview took about an hour, we didn’t get to all the questions those of you on Instagram asked, so I thought it would be helpful to go through those questions, one by one, and answer them. I also realized, after the podcast, that there were so many things I wish I would have said that I think would have been helpful, so I wanted to expound on those answers in some of the questions below.
This was my first podcast interview, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. But, Lisa has a professional scheduler who is amazing to work with. There are lots of behind the scenes things that have to happen before a podcast starts taping and she made the process smooth as silk! We began emailing back and forth about 2 months before the interview. And of course, Lisa was equally amazing to talk with and spent time after the podcast chatting longer, even though she and her family had just returned home from Hawaii the night before! She is just as warm and kind as she is on her channel!
All right, let’s get to your questions…!!
- Lisa asked: What is your sewing experience? Me: In a nutshell: My Dad Taught Me to Sew at age 7, my parents enrolled me soon after in a Singer Sewing Machine class where I made a dress with darts, a zipper, facings, hem and sleeves. By age 10, I was stitching crewel embroidery by hand and becoming proficient in all the hand stitches along with making clothes for myself and my mom. I also sold items such as pillows and craft items at local craft fairs. When I was 14, I took a hand piecing and quilting class from a quilt shop in downtown Denver. Later in my teens, I made a down jacket for a brother (does anyone remember Frostline kits?) and continued to make clothes. In college, I majored in Textiles and Clothing, taking a tailoring class making bound buttonholes, hand stitched keyhole buttonholes, welt pockets and custom made shoulder pads which were in every men’s and women’s jackets in the 1980’s. I designed and made my wedding dress at age 23 and by age 28, I started a business sewing bridesmaid dresses. I also sold custom diaper bags and baby quilts. It didn’t take long to realize that a more lucrative business was found in sewing alterations, both bridal and traditional. I began this blog in 2009 and have been helping people sew and alter for the last 15 years! My e-books explain so many of the details of starting a sewing or crafting business as well as how to price your work for successful profits.
- Lisa: What are some projects that a beginner can easily make? Me: There are so many things a beginner can sew. I think you want to make something you will use or give as a gift to someone who will appreciate it. Some ideas for kids are: doll blankets, bean bags for cornhole or other games, rice bags for heating up in the microwave, pillowcases, tote bags, etc. For adults: cloth napkins (make each one out of a different fabric. Let each family member choose their favorite fabric and you’ll always know whose is whose. Or make them out of all one fabric like linen or other beautiful fabrics for dinner parties or holidays.) Baby swaddle blankets, baby flannel blankets, gift bags, envelope pillows, easy fast pillows with zippers, curtains, etc. Lisa mentioned making aprons. Some aprons are easy to make, some are not. If they are basically a rectangle shape, they are easy. Try one! Basically, anything with straight seams is a good beginner project!
- Lisa: How do you help a child learn how to sew when you don’t know how yourself? Me: This is a great question! I think it’s very helpful for you both to learn the parts of a sewing machine before you even get started. That way, when you do get a machine (I recommend borrowing one from a friend or relative before buying one), you’re ready to start sewing! Sewing machine parts are pretty universal to all machines and so is how to thread them. I also recommend to take the thread out of the machine, and draw some lines on computer paper and “stitch” on those lines with just the needle to practice stitching straight. Yes, it will dull the needle a little, but that is worth the price of one needle to become proficient at “sewing” before you actually have fabric under the presser foot. Mark that needle with a magic marker so you’ll know that is the dull needle.
- Keep stitching on paper until you feel comfortable enough to put fabric under the presser foot. Use scraps when you are starting out so that if you make a mistake, you haven’t spent alot of money on new fabric. Friends or family who sew will surely have scraps to give you.
- Start sewing 2 pieces of fabric together, stitching straight lines and curved ones so you become comfortable with the process of sewing.
- Lisa suggested letting the kids play with fabric and that’s a great idea. This helps them with creativity and making their own “patterns” and ideas. They can play for hours with just a little fabric.
- Buy them a few necessary supplies: Fiskar scissors are great and not expensive, thread, machine needles, seam ripper for mistakes!
- I recommend not ripping out seams that your child stitched by mistake. Let your child learn by taking the stitches out themselves. No better way to learn than from our mistakes. The same is true for kids. It also helps them learn why they made a mistake.
- Lisa: How do you make prepping patterns enjoyable? Me: When your project requires alot of fabric (shirts are usually 1 1/2 yards of fabric and dresses can be at least 3 yards of fabric), often times, you’ll need to lay the fabric and the pattern pieces all out on the floor and that can be back breaking when you are cutting out all your pattern pieces. Cut around each piece at least an inch or more away from the cutting line all the way around the pattern piece and then take each individual pattern piece to the kitchen table or island and cut them one at a time standing up. It will save your back. Also, I cut out notches by clipping inward about 1/4″ inside the seam allowance (not all the way to the seam allowance. I clip once for a single notch and two clips for a double notch.) One more thought…always make alterations to a pattern before you cut out the fabric. It is very difficult to make a garment fit properly after you’ve sewn it. If you would like me to write a post about how to do that, I sure can. Leave a comment below if that would be helpful!
- Getting started…what stitch should I use? How to measure for dresses?
- First, I would recommend using a straight stitch on your machine. Consult your sewing machine manual or look at the manual for your machine online. Each company now offers those on their website. I recommend a long stitch when you are beginning because then the stitches are easier to take out if you make a mistake. I also think that shorter stitches are overrated. They don’t hold a garment together any better than a longer stitch because there’s not much difference in the stitch length. I haven’t found any difference with garments I have made over the years. I also don’t think you will wear that garment for decades to come.
- You can also benefit from learning a hem stitch by hand. Now some people prefer to use the machine for everything, even hemming and that is totally fine. But if you want to learn hand stitching, check out this post on How to Hand Sew a Hem.
- To measure for dresses, you generally need three measurements: 1) The bust measurement: Measure around your body at the fullest (largest) spot of the bust and write down that measurement. 2) Waist: measure all the way around your waist. This is the spot that is the narrowest spot on your trunk. Write down that measurement. 3) Your hips: Measure 9″ down from the waist measurement on one side of your body and then measure around your whole body at the hips with the tape measure parallel to the ground. Write down that measurement. 4) I also measure the back length of a dress. This is the measurement from the large round bone at the base of your neck to the waist. This is important because if you have a long torso or a short one, you can adjust the pattern before you cut out your dress. There are more measurements than these, but these are the basic ones. You might also want the measurement of how long you want your dress to be from the waist down. Or how long you want your sleeves to be. The time to make adjustments to your pattern is before you cut out the fabric.
- How to find fabric. Here are some ideas:
- If you are just starting out, you don’t want to spend alot of money on fabric in case you make a mistake. However, if you’ve finished a project and you like it, you can always spend more money and make that project again using a fabric you love. I didn’t describe all that on the podcast, but that is the reasoning behind using cheap fabric to start with.
- My first choice would be to find fabric in person at a local store. Not only can you see the fabric in person, you can feel it and look at the color to make sure it’s what you’re looking for. You can also support local business owners if that is important to you. It is to me because I value all the reasons I just suggested.
- Also, ask your friends and family members if they have fabric you can have. Many people have offered me fabric over the years. I also love going to garage sales and estate sales and I am amazed at the quality of fabric that many people are willing to part with for pennies on the dollar.
- However, there are many good options online as well. On my Instagram account (thesewinggardenco), I have listed 21 online fabric stores in my highlights reel that will be great resources for you to shop online if you’re interested in that. These came as recommendations from followers as well as my own experience using online stores. I hope to also write a post here with those same stores if you don’t follow on Instagram.
- What is the best machine for basic, simple projects?
- I would ask around and borrow one before I bought one. I ran into a lady the other day that said she has 2 sewing machines in her closet and they are like new and she said she wanted to give them away. So, just ask, it won’t hurt!
- There are several brands out there that are working for the beginning sewist. I have heard many people say they like the Brother brand that you find at Walmart. Others like Baby Lock and Janome. I have not heard alot of good things about Singer for many years, but then I come across someone who loves theirs. I used one in the 1970’s and it was very difficult to use. The bobbin wound in the bobbin case and it was always making a birds nest of tangled thread in the bobbin case while it was winding. It’s a wonder that I kept sewing. Some people I talk to still have this issue with Singers. I have a bobbin that winds on the top of the machine. It is one more step to put it in the bobbin case, but I’ve never had any trouble winding a bobbin. I have a Bernina 930 Record which was made in the 1980’s and it has been an incredible workhorse for me through the decades. It has only needed a new light bulb and foot pedal. It has all metal parts, even the bobbins. If you can find one on ebay or at an estate sale, buy it!! The 800 series and 1100 series are also very good choices.
- Look at reviews of several machines and do your homework. What stitches do you want? I like the basics. I have hardly ever used embroidery stitches, so I haven’t bought an embroidery machine. If embroidery is your passion, you should definitely look at reviews because those machines are much higher in cost. Or, borrow one from a friend. But a basic machine with a straight stitch, zig zag and buttonhole stitch are pretty much standard these days.
- What is your budget? That is something to contemplate too. If it were me, I’d buy a basic machine and then graduate someday if/when you feel like you love sewing and want something else out of your machine.
- Check out my post on How to Choose A Sewing Machine for more tips!
- Tips for keeping a straight stitch:
- Depending on your machine, you should have some lines engraved on your presser foot plate. Those are markings that show what your seam allowance would be if you kept the edge of your fabric along those lines as you stitched. You should have markings at 3/8″, 1/2″ and 3/4″. If you need a larger seam allowance, put a piece of masking tape or painters tape on your machine at the appropriate mark (measure out from your needle).
- If you need a 1/4″ seam, use the right edge of your presser foot and guide your fabric along that edge as you sew.
- If you are quilting, you need a “scant” 1/4″. That means that you want a seam just under a full 1/4″. That’s because the fold of the fabric takes up a fraction. Quilting is very precise and if you used a full 1/4″, your pattern would be off by quite a bit by the time you finished your quilt. I hope to share more on quilting soon.
- How to Thread your machine and not get the thread all jumbled on the bottom? This is a tip I gave on the podcast, but it is worth repeating here because it is my most asked question of all time. It’s the main reason most people stop sewing because they are frustrated with it. The answer is: Before you start stitching a seam, hold both the bobbin thread and the needle threads in your left hand and stitch two or three stitches and then let go of the threads. This is also the time I backstitch, so I do them both in one motion. This keeps your threads from getting sucked down into the bobbin case. You might not like doing this at first, but it becomes a habit real fast, especially if you forget and you get a “bird’s nest” again!
- When should you use a serger? (A serger is also called an overlock machine).
- Good question. It’s optional. You don’t need a serger, but let me tell you, if you have one, you’ll never go back. I use one most often to finish seams in order for them to look professionally finished. But that’s because I run a business sewing for others. I just never loved the look of a zig zag stitch on someone’s bridal gown or garments. Not that anyone would look, its just my preference.
- I would buy one if you have the budget to do so. It’s definitely a luxury spend, but its nice. Some people use it to stitch seams, but a three or four thread overlock stitch is not as tight and secure as a seam stitched with a 5 thread overlock. So, look for a 5 thread machine if you want to stitch seams with your serger. Many sergers are self threading now, but if you get a used one, use my tip for threading a serger here. It takes all the stress out!
- Another use for an overlock machine is for stitching t-shirt hems or making swim suits or yoga pants if you are doing that sort of stitching. You need to get a model with what’s called a “cover stitch”. They are more expensive, so that is a consideration. But, the t-shirt, swim suit and yoga pants all look more professional than stitching two lines of hem or using a twin needle. However, with practice, you can make your twin needle look professional, it’s the underside that doesn’t look finished. But who is going to look at the underside of your t-shirt?? Or swim suit? Or yoga pants?? I never traded in my basic serger for a cover stitch serger because I do use a twin needle and find it looks great on the right side of the garment.
- How to make chair covers? I am getting ready to reupholster a chair. But I think this reader is looking for instructions on making a slip cover?? If you asked this question and I don’t answer it fully, send me an email. But, basically, to make a slip cover, I take fabric pieces larger than each piece of my chair (the back, the front, the arm pieces, the band around the bottom, etc.) and turn them wrong side out. I then begin pinning the pieces tightly and using pins as though they were seams. The pins should be aligned with the seams of the chair pieces. Then, I pull the fabric off of the chair carefully and stitch where the pins are. There is a bit more to it than that, but Lisa has a post on that if you’re interested. They are easier than you think. I had a fully upholstered chair that I made a slip cover for and it took about 6 yards of fabric, but not all chairs need that much. Do some careful measuring and figure out your yardage before you buy fabric. Most importantly, you want to buy enough because if you run short, they may not have the fabric available later. That’s true for all sewing projects! Ask me how I know!
- Easy valance tutorial. Email me if this is you and I’ll write you the instructions! Valances are another easy beginner project and each one has specifications that are made to your window measurements. If your window is small, you’ll want a proportionate valance and the same if your window is large. Again, email me if this is your question at TheSewingGarden@gmail.com.
- Is it possible to stitch a large quilt with a standard sewing machine? The answer is yes! First, make sure you baste the quilt layers together really good with hand basting stitches. I like to baste in rows starting at the center of the quilt and basting out to the edges in rows no more than 3″ apart on the quilt. Next, I roll the quilt up like a burrito, and hold the burrito with hair clips, using 3 or 4 (or more depending on the size of the quilt) along the burrito. Then stitch one row or section at a time. You have to keep unrolling and re-rolling the quilt up and re-clipping it and then stitch the next section. It’s not hard, it’s just time consuming, but it will save you alot of money to do it yourself. When you stitch, just make sure that all the fabric underneath the presser foot is smooth or you will have puckers and problems.
- How do you sew over thick jeans? I roll up fabric or use a jean-a-ma-jig to make the process work without breaking a needle. Check out this post about a Jean-a-ma-jig so you know what I’m talking about. You don’t have to use the Jean-a-ma-jig gadget. You can roll up a small scrap of fabric to do the same thing.
I hope this has answered your questions and given you alot of helpful tips on your sewing journey. If you have other questions or comments, please scroll to the bottom of this page and let me know. Chances are, if you have a question, others do too!
And remember to check out Lisa’s blog at Farmhouse on Boone!