Saturday, 3 July 2010

Sewing on a Saturday

I mentioned in my first blog that one day I would love to make my own clothes. There are a number of hurdles to overcome before I can do this – not least my absolute lack of patience. I throw the ‘c’ word at far too many inanimate objects each day! I do intend to work on this...but in the meantime my lovely friend Lisa has been going forth and learning how to use a sewing machine. She recently took a one day ‘Introduction to Sewing’ course in Brixton and I asked her to report here it is!

“Waiting for the ‘introduction to sewing course to start at some studios in Brixton, I surveyed my fellow students. I'd wondered about my outfit too late as I was changing buses at Elephant & Castle early that morning (not the most glamorous start to the day!) - would the course be full of budding, stylish designers?! Thankfully no, a standardish group composed of a girl in semi vintage gear, a befringed former indie kid, a mother wanting to make cushions, and me and my friend, women who've cautiously welcomed the recent addition of a sewing machine into their lives.

We made small talk, the sole purpose of which was to find out whether anyone was a secret whizz with a sewing machine, enabling us to work out the humiliation quotient. Vintage girl breezily expressed her wish to make 50s dresses. The instructor started the course by telling us what we'd learn - how to thread the machine and how to make a canvas tote bag. "My nightmare is when new students say they want to make a 50s dress" she stated. Everyone tried to hide their sidelong glances at vintage girl, who stared straight ahead.

We selected our machines at the studio workbench. My practice at my own machine made my attempts to thread this one go much more smoothly. The trick is to listen to what the instructor says and not to fuss about how or why it works. Just trust that somehow it does. When it comes to threading a sewing machine, a practical demonstration is essential. My epic struggle with the manufacturer's instructions and YouTube videos only resulted in a deep loathing of my machine. Within 5 minutes of someone showing me how, I was threading bobbins with a dangerous confidence!

Stitch time. We practised on bits of fabric (ah, practice, another top tip - don't breeze ahead and mangle a garment). We reverse stitched and zig zag stitched and hem stitched and embroidery stitched. It's all reasonably straightforward but there is still some skill involved.

Fabric time. An unseemly wrestle for the cherry fabric in the offcuts bin and I returned to my machine triumphant. Whilst stitching my pattern (a skull) onto my bag fabric, I discovered how difficult it is to manipulate the needle round eye sockets, or indeed any kind of curve. I was racing my machine, ducking and diving and twisting and turning, flushed and panicked. Taking my foot off the pedal I met the pitying gaze of the instructor. "Use the speed control,” she offered.

Handle time. Pinning my handles onto my cherry bag, I was humbled again by the instructor who grimly re-pinned them, pointing out that the idea was to leave space to insert your arm and shoulder. Another necessity for sewing and item-making - a mechanically minded brain, or failing that, the humility to follow the pattern instructions to the letter. Never, ever, guess.

A little over two hours later, the bags were born. Not a long gestation perhaps but long enough to try the patience of several of us. Making your own things is rarely a cost or time saving, but the chance to inject an ounce of creativity into my life? Priceless!”

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