Zakka sewing group: tote bags

 

This week our zakka sewing group met at our house for the second time.  We made tote bags.  The day fell on a school holiday, so there was a bit of anxiety (mostly on my part) having all the children around.  But the kids were remarkably well behaved, and played outside chasing my rabbit, while we did a lot of sewing inside.

We made a simple tote bag with lining, a gusset and a magnetic button closure. Everyone has come up with their own design and fabrics.  Here are the bags the two beginner sewers made.  This is the bag Kinuko made.  Can you believe it was only her second time using a sewing machine?

Jetty, another beginner, has made this gorgeous large tote bag for her daughter.  I love the pink lining. 

And here’s a bag Karoi made.  The large-scale print from Ikea worked really well for a large tote bag.

Gabby, who is taking a fine arts course at TAFE, made an enormous bag to fit her drawing papers. I totally forgot to take a photo… 

It was another hugely successful sewing session.  And what are we making next month? Cushions.  Vicky, who is a talented sewer has graciously agreed to teach cushion making. Yay! Check out her gorgeous patchwork cushions, quilts and other creations on her blog here.  You can also see her truly spectacular potholder.  Wow.  We are so lucky to have Vicky in this sewing group.

I was going to write a tutorial for a simple tote bag, but I am betting there are already tons of great tutorials online, so next time I’ll find a few links for you. 

 

 

 

Tutorial – Three ways to appliqué

 

I feel funny writing a tutorial on appliqué, because I don’t do it very often.  But appliqué is such a useful and fun technique in zakka sewing that I just have to mention it. In many ways appliqué is more accessible than patchwork, and with nothing more than a bit of scrap fabric, you can transform a potholder from plain to spectacular in no time at all.

Here are three simple ways to do an appliqué. 

(1) Use a bias tape

If you are new to appliqué and want a quick result, playing around with strips of bias tape is a lot of fun. You can buy pretty pre-made bias tapes in craft shops (or better yet, look for lovely handmade ones on Etsy), or you can make your own.  Remember how to make the hanging tab for a potholder? That’s a bias tape right there (well, before you folded it in half just before stitching).  

Bias tapes are even easier to make with bias tape makers – they come in different sizes to make different widths.

(a) Make strips of bias tape (or use bought ones).

(b) Arrange them on the base fabric (cut already to a potholder size).  Pin, and machine stitch at both sides.

Or you can use a fusible webbing tape (as you see in the photo – you can buy it in a large craft shop) and glue the bias tapes onto the base fabric instead of pinning. More on fusible web below.

 

(2) Use a fusible web for free-form appliqué

You can buy fusible web at most craft stores.  They come in little packets or they might sell it by the meter. It’s about AU$13 a meter – but you don’t need a lot of it. It’s just a very thin sheet (web) of dried glue, backed with paper on one side.  

(a) You cut a little piece of fusible web, iron it on a piece of fabric (with the paper side up), and draw shapes on the paper.  

(b) Cut the shapes out with scissors.  Peel the paper away.  Lay the pieces out on the base fabric, already cut to be a potholder.  Make sure the glue side is facing down, or the fabric will stick to your iron.

(c) When you are happy with the arrangement, press the pieces with hot iron so they stick to the base fabric.

(d) Because the glue might come detached, it’s better to stitch over them. You can do a mini zig zag stitch around the edges for a very secure stitching.  I found this too tedious for a potholder here, so I just did a basic running stitch by hand, for a simple embroidery effect.

That’s it! Proceed to make a potholder (or something else) like you normally would.  

Be warned, though.  Fusible web might cause appliqué addiction. Because you can arrange and re-arrange the pieces till you get the picture just right, before sewing them in, it’s easy to get a good result without too much advance planning like with patchwork. 

(3) Turn corners neatly with iron-on interfacing

You can also do an appliqué the old-fashioned way: (a) cut a simple shape, (b) turn the cut edges inside, and (c) stitching it on (by hand with a blind stitch or sewing along the edges with a machine).

Turning the edges in sounds simpler than it is. It’s hard to get nice clean outlines.  But there is an easier way using a lightweight iron-on interfacing – which you can buy very cheaply at any fabric shop.

(a) Cut out the appliqué shape.  (I’m using a little square of patchworked piece I found in my sewing room here.)  Cut out the interfacing in roughly the same shape.

(b) With the glue side of the interfacing and the right side of the fabric together, saw about 1/4″ around all the outer edges. 

(c) cut a little hole in the middle of the interfacing, and turn the piece inside out.

 

(d) finger press around the edges to make a nice shape.  Place the piece on a base fabric and apply iron to glue the piece on temporarily.

 

(e) Blind stitch by hand around the edges, or machine stitch to secure it.

That’s it! This method works pretty well with circles as well. 

Oh, the orange flower appliqué I did above? I thought it looked too nice for another potholder, so I made a shoulder bag for Miss M with it. Which, by the way, is what we’ll be making next week at our second zakka sewing group.

 

 

 

Tutorial: Potholder variation 1 – simple patchwork

 

 

I have this gorgeous cookbook called Simple to Spectacular, by Mark Bittman and Jean-Georges Vongerichten.  What I love about this book is its organisation.  For each section, there is one easy, basic recipe.  And then the book offers several variations based on the basic recipe, making it progressively more involved, interesting, and luxurious.  For example, there is a recipe for a simple boiled egg, and the luxury version has a sauce with caviars that makes the dish restaurant quality.  I love this concept, because this book shows you the very process of cooking – learning to cook is all about coming up with variations yourself, not blindly following a recipe every time you cook.  The books shows you how to think like a chef.  

So I thought of this book when I thought of starting a free sewing class.  Instead of showing people how to blindly follow a sewing pattern, wouldn’t it be great if I could inspire them to come up with their own variations on a basic pattern?  You just have to learn to think like a crafter. 

Okay, so back to potholders. How do you make a potholder go from simple to spectacular?  Some techniques include patchwork, quilting, and appliqué.  In this post, I’ll just demonstrate the very basics of patchwork.  There are hundreds of books on patchwork out there, with more tutorials on the internet than you can ever use.

Two-Patch Patchwork Potholders

Step 1: Prewash the fabrics:

If you are using different types of materials for one potholder (like linen and cotton canvas), it is best to prewash all fabrics before cutting them.  Each fabric may shrink at a different rate, so if you don’t prewash, chances are you’ll end up with a wobbly, uneven potholder when you wash it once.  Just wash the fabrics with or without a bit of soap in the washing machine, and press it flat with an iron when it is about 90% dried.  Prewashing is also a good idea when you are using brightly coloured fabrics, to be combined with white or cream coloured fabric.  You don’t want the bright colors to come off and stain the white fabric after the potholder is finished… 

Step 2: Make a pattern (or not) and cut the patchwork pieces

You can make a pattern for each piece, or do without a pattern.  

(a)  How to make a paper pattern

(1) Copy the potholder pattern (say, 8 1/2″ x 8 1/2″ including a 3/8″ seam allowance around the square – see my previous tutorial) on a piece of paper.  

(2) Draw a line where you want the patchwork piecing to happen.  For each piece, copy the shape, and add 1/4″ seam allowance where the two pieces will be sewn together.  (See picture below).  That’s it! Cut the two pattern pieces out.

 (b) Two-patch without a paper pattern

If you have a rotary cutter / mat / quilting ruler setup, calculating the size for each patchwork piece and cutting it is simple.  Even if you don’t have the setup, here’s one fun way of making a two-patch with no pattern.  

For each fabric you want to use, cut one shape 8 1/2″ x 9″.  So you have two pieces of fabric of different patterns.  Stack them together neatly.  Along the 9″ side, draw a vertical line where you want the piecing to happen, and cut along the line, with the two pieces of fabric together.  Switch one piece from fabric 1, with the same-shaped piece from fabric 2 — and patch them together.  Repeat for the backside of the potholder.  That’s it – you should have two pieces of two-patch squares at 8 1/2″ square.

If you can do this for a two patch, three-patch is just as easy, using the same concept.  If you want to use more patchwork pieces and don’t have the patience to work out a pattern first (like me), just roughly cut each piece, start piecing them together, and in the end trim the whole thing down to 81/2″ square.  

Step 3: Sew the two pieces together

(1) Lay out the fabric pieces in the finished position.  (See photo below at the top right.)

(2) Where the pieces will be sewn together, stack the pieces together, with the right sides of the fabrics inside.  Pin.  (See photo below at the top right.)

(3) Sew the two pieces together at about 1/4″ from the raw edges of the pieces.  (See photo below at bottom left)

(4) Press both seams to one side. (See photo below at bottom right).  

You are done! Make the potholder, following Step 2 of the tutorial onwards.  When you are quilting over the whole thing at the very end, you should quilt just near the patchworke seam.  It looks good that way, and it makes the joined seam more durable.

 

Spectacular potholders?

Patchwork variations are endless, so it’s up to you to come up with a spectacular creation!  I made this nine-patch potholder (I actually made a pattern for this) just to give you an idea.

Next week, I’ll write about appliqués.  

But I’d LOVE you to go make a patchwork potholder now.  And please take a photo of your spectacular creation, and post it to our Flickr group called “Zakka Sewing with Piggledee” here.  

 

Circle skirt

 

 

Miss M and I had a skirt crisis the other day.  She was getting dressed for preschool — she put on a shirt, undies and tights, and then she realized that her favorite blue skirt was not there.  It was not there because it was in the wash.  She was not happy.  I took out all the other skirts so that she could pick one, but she refused.  She had to have that blue skirt, which was her favorite.  She cried.  I realised then that she needed a new favorite skirt in her wardrobe to avert this crisis in the future. 

So in the afternoon after our first zakka sewing class, I made not one but two new skirts for Miss M.  The pattern was a circle skirt from a Japanese craft book called Everyday Girl’s Clothes by Yuki Katakura (まいにち着る女の子の服).  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The pattern had one seam pocket.  I had never made seam pockets before (or a circle skirt, for that matter), but it seemed simple enough.  I thought Miss M would probably want two pockets, not just one.

First I made a pink skirt, with white polka dots, with green floral fabric as the waist band and the pocket lining.  Very girly! It made me sad how much of the expensive fabric the pattern required, but it’s all right.  It was for my special girl.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The only thing about this skirt I wasn’t sure about was that the fabric was medium-weight cotton linen blend.  It was a little on the heavy side for a circle skirt.

Since I had some time left before the kids returned from daycare, I made another one, this time in a more lightweight cotton linen fabric.  I used black and white check print for both the skirt body and the waist band.  I had doubts as to whether Miss M would wear a  black skirt, so I made the lining of the seam pockets bright pink – not that you can see much of it when wearing it.  It almost looks cuter turned inside out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And Miss M’s verdict? She loved the black and white one.  She wore it for the next three days straight – so that was a big success.  The pink one though… she wouldn’t even try it on for a photo shoot… Why, why, why, I have no idea.  This just confirms my past experience that I could never predict know what my four year old would or would not like.  At least I got one out of two right.  Not too bad.   

 

 

 

 

First zakka sewing class

Well, I am still buzzed by the success of our first zakka sewing class yesterday.  I was having so much fun I nearly forgot to take photos.  I managed just a few at the very end.  We did the sewing in the tiny (but sunny) dining area, and did the ironing and cutting in the family room.   I think there was a good mix of socialising and creating.  Aren’t the finished potholders gorgeous?  Such a creative group!  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Potholder Tutorial – Basic Method

 

Today was our first day of zakka sewing class at my home, and it was so. much. fun.  I had fretted over how to teach three sewing beginners, but I needn’t have worried.  They were all such quick learners, and completed their lovely potholders well within the two-hour time frame.  And it didn’t hurt to have two other friends / helpers who were experienced sewers helping me out.  Thank you guys! 

So for those of you who would liked sew along with our little group in Sydney, here’s a tutorial for what we did today.  

Materials you need:

  • About 1/4 meter of medium-weight woven fabric (canvas or home dec weight)
  • A small piece of quilt wadding 
Step 1: Make a paper pattern and cut the pieces
If you have a rotary cutter and a mat, you don’t need a paper pattern.  Go ahead and cut TWO pieces of the pretty fabric, each at about 8 1/2 inches x 8 1/2 inches and ONE piece of wadding in the same size (I know, we live in metric Australia, but in the quilting world we still use imperial measurement, so I’m using inches here as well).
If you don’t have a rotary cutter, it helps to make a paper pattern first.  Here’s the easiest way — Take any A4-sized paper, and fold it over in a large triangle snap, matching the left short side onto the top long side.  Like this.  
Draw a line along the folded edge.  Cut along the line to make a square shape about 8 1/4″ x 8 1/4″.  Place the pattern over your fabric and wadding, trace around the pattern with a pen or pencil, and cut.  You now have three pieces of fabric and wadding in the same size.  For the hanging tab, cut another small piece of fabric, about 4″ x 1.5″.

Step 2: Make the hanging tab and baste it
Fold the tab into half along the long side and press with an iron.  Unfold, and fold each edge again towards the centre fold line.  Press.  Fold the whole thing over again, so you have a long, narrow strip of fabric with four layers of fabric folded in.  A picture is worth a thousand words.
Sew the folded tab together, very close to the open edge.  
Instead of making a tab like this, you can use any cotton tape, ready-made bias tape, a piece of ribbon, yarn, or anything similar in shape.  Now sew the tab onto a corner of one potholder fabric, about 1/4″ from the edge of the fabric, like this:
Make sure you sew over the tab back and forth a few times to ensure it’s securely attached.
Step 3: Stack the three potholder pieces and pin
Neatly stack the three pieces you’ve cut on top of each other in the following order, from the top: (1) fabric piece 1, with the wrong side showing on top; (2) fabric piece 2, with the right side showing on top; and (3) wadding.  Secure the three layers together with pins.
 
Step 4: Sew around the edges, leaving an opening for turning
You want to start sewing about 2/3 of a way along one side, at about 3/8″ from the edge of the fabric (or 1cm seam allowance).  Sew all the way around the square, and finish sewing about 1/3 of a way along the first side — like this drawing below.  You want to leave about 2.5″ of a seam unsewn, so that you can turn the potholder inside out.
Step 5: Turn the layers inside out and press
Through the open seam, turn the potholder inside out – so the wadding stays in the middle.  Make sure the corners are nicely shaped (use a pin or a chopstick to make a nice-looking corner).  Press into shape.  Now fold the raw edges along the turning opening inwards in the finished position, and press.  
Step 6 (nearly finished!):  Topstitch over the open seam and around the entire potholder
It is only slightly tricky.  You want to topstitch over the open seam pretty close to the edge, about 1/8″ from the edge, so the opening is actually sewn shut.  Then continue topstitching around the rest of the potholder.
Ta-da! All finished!
Step 7 (optional): Machine quilt over the finished potholder
Actually, there is one more fun optional step. Using a fairly large stitch length (around 3.5 to 4), sew over the potholder, freestyle, in any pattern you like. A few straight lines are cool.  Or you can do diagonal lines, or any combination.  It would give the potholder a lovely puffy, quilted look.  The stitching would secure the wadding inside as well.
Now that you can make a basic potholder, you can make a lot of other things using the same technique.  I will post more on variations and modifications soon.  

Fabrics for zakka sewing, and where to find them (learn to sew post no. 4)

I am so excited that a few people have read my blog and contacted me to attend my little sewing class.  I never know if anyone is reading my blog (aside from my faithful family and a few friends), so I often feel like I’m just talking to myself.  It is fantastic to hear that I actually have readers out there!   

Well, today I wanted to write about fabric choices for zakka sewing, and a few of my favorite fabric sources in Sydney and online.  First off, the word “zakka” is Japanese for random household items – it just means little things you use around your house, anything from an apron to a shopping bag to a potholder.  The word zakka has spread to the West these days, and there are even English language books on zakka sewing, like this one or this one

So what types of fabrics are suitable for zakka sewing? The short answer is, pretty much any woven fabric (i.e. not knit, jersey, or stretchy fabric).  Natural fabrics like cotton, linen and hemp are best.  Japanese people LOVE linen, particularly natural-colored linen.  So when I think of zakka, I have this mental image of beige linen fabric, combined with colourful but understated prints like Liberty of London tana lawn (wildly popular in Japan) — sometimes embellished with simple hand embroidery or trims like lace and buttons for the handmade look.  

Canvas or home decor fabric is a little on the heavy side, and is ideal for things like bags, aprons, fabric baskets and potholders — things that need a bit of structure.  Cotton or linen blend canvas is also easy to sew.  Lighter fabrics like quilting cotton or Liberty fabrics are useful for softer things, like cushion covers, tissue box covers, and also as a lining for bags, pouches, and fabric baskets.  

So where do you find these fabrics for zakka sewing? Quilting cotton is easy to find anywhere.  Finding good-quality cotton or linen canvas fabric is a little more challenging if you are in Australia.

Below are some of my favorite sources of canvas and home decor fabrics.

Ikea

Ikea sells home decor fabric by the meter. The selection may not be huge, but they have good-quality cotton and linen interior fabric suitable for zakka sewing.  They have a basic selection of solid-color fabrics, as well as a few stripes and prints.  The price is quite reasonable. 

Etsy and eBay

Did you know that Etsy also has a “supply” section, and you can find a wide range of fabrics, including printed canvas, at quite a reasonable price?  

eBay is also a good source of fabric, and you can often find great deals.  The downside is eBay is so huge, you have to know how to look for the fabric you are looking for.  If you are after a particular designer fabric (say, the “Far, Far, Away” ranges of children’s prints by Heather Ross), it is easier to find it.  

Online fabric shops

Many online fabric shops in the US and Australia now carry lovely canvas / home decor prints (most of them are, surprise, imported from Japan).  There are too many shops to choose from, but here are some of my personal favorites.

  • Superbuzzy (US) – This online shop is like a shrine to Japanese fabric goodness.  You can find not only canvas, but also quilting-weight cotton and double gauze in cute Japanese prints.
  • Purl Soho  (US) – Fantastic selection of various Japanese canvas prints.  Pricey, but not as pricey as buying from Australia-based online shops.  Purl also has a great blog, with tons of free tutorials for everything from quilts to lunch bags to table napkins.
  • Fabricworm (US) – Has a good selection of Japanese canvas fabric as well, and they often have a sale going on.
  • Kelani Fabrics (Australia) – I was so excited when I first “discovered” them at an annual quilting show in Sydney several years ago.  They have a ton of cute Japanese prints! They also carry other home decor fabrics, and beautiful hand-printed canvas fabrics by Australian screen printers.  It’s not cheap – as fabrics in general are more expensive in Australia – but the upside is you’ll get fast shipping, and you don’t need much fabric for making small things like potholders.
  • Duckcloths (Australia) – Another beautiful online fabric shop based in Australia.  Carries a wide range of Japanese, home decor and other fabrics suitable for zakka sewing.

Retail quilting and craft shops in Australia

Some quilting shops are now branching out to carry some home decor or canvas fabrics, some imported from Japan.  The range is still pretty small compared to online shops mentioned above, but at least you can touch and feel the fabrics in person if you live nearby.  The trendy quilting shops these days are not your grandmother’s quilt shop! Here are some of my favorites in Sydney. 

  • Calico & Ivy – This stylish craft shop has branches in Perth and Sydney (10 Birchgrove Rode, Balmain). They carry a small but lovely selection of Japanese canvas fabric, as well as a few Japanese craft books.
  • Material Obsession – I am partial to this shop because this is where I first leaned to make quilts years ago. I remember being happily overwhelmed by bolt after bolt of beautiful modern prints they carry.  Definitely not your grandmother’s quilting shop.  Their shop in Drummoyne has mostly quilting fabrics, of course, but I have seen a few cotton-linen and home decor fabrics as well.  Worth checking out if you live nearby.

Well, that’s it for now I think.  I am sure I have missed many other sources of fantastic fabrics, but if you have no idea where to start, the above links will get you started in the right direction.  I’d love to discover new fabrics shops, too, so if you have a favourite shop, please do leave a comment and share! 

One more thing…. I often get asked where I get the Japanese fabrics I use for my online shops.  I get most of my fabrics directly from online shops in Japan (or send my mother to search for fabrics when she visits Japan).  These sites are in Japanese, unfortunately, and are hard to access and navigate if you don’t read Japanese.  Many shops don’t deliver internationally, either.  That is the reason I didn’t mention those shops here.  

Happy fabric shopping!

Thoughts on choosing a sewing machine (learn to sew post no. 3)

So now that you are keen to get started on sewing – great! Now you probably want to get a sewing machine, which is a useful thing to have.  Here is a couple of my thoughts on what sewing machine you might need, and where to get it from.

Thought 1: A basic model will do just fine

Domestic sewing machines of reputable quality starts around $200 in Australia, and goes up to all sorts of fancy computerised quilting or embroidery machines costing upwards of thousands of dollars.  If you are just starting to sew, and your aim is to make a few household items, simple clothes, and maybe a quilt or two, believe me, you just need an entry-level machine.

Because all you need is basically two types of stitches: straight sewing, and zig zag. Even the most basic machine would come with way more than these two stitch types. 

If you are considering extra features, and you want to make clothing, the one feature I recommend is a buttonholer.  The cheapest machines normally have a “four-step” buttonholer, which does its job.  It’s not as nice as a “one-step” version, but it may not warrant the at least $100 in price difference.  

But what about quilts? Wouldn’t you need a special sewing machine for quits, you ask? Well, you don’t.  My old quilting teacher had a basic little home sewing machine, and did all her quilting on that machine.  What you may want to buy though is a separate “walking foot” for quilting or sewing bulky layers (and maybe a “darning foot” for free-motion quilting, if you’d like to give that a try), but you can find these feet to fit most basic machines.

Eventually, after sewing for a while, and deciding you like to sew a lot (or start a sewing business), you may want features like automatic thread trimmer and needle up and down option.  I discussed more about these features earlier regarding how I upgraded, after five years, from a basic home sewing machine to an industrial one.  But for occasional home sewing, you really don’t need these high-end features.

Even if you have, say, $800 to spend on a sewing machine with nice extra features, I’d still recommend a $200 basic machine (or perhaps a $400 machine with one-step buttonholer) – and buy an overlocker with your remaining budget. Because while an overlocker is not a necessity, it is a very nice thing to have for professional-looking finish.

Thought 2: Try to get a cheap (or free!) second-hand sewing machine

I confess to having a dark past of mindless consumerism, but these days I am a big fan of frugality and recycling.  Especially when it comes to sewing machines — just how many sewing machines would you guess there are in this world, stowed away in attics and storage, gathering dust?

Perhaps you can start out by borrowing an unused machine from your mother, grandmother, or mother in law. Make her a gift of something pretty, like a patchwork potholder, and chances are she’d let you keep the sewing machine for good! If your family does not have a spare sewing machine, I bet someone else you know does – ask around your friends, colleagues and neighbours.  Check out Freecyle in your area to see if anyone is offering a sewing machine for free.

Secondhand sewing machines are everywhere and good ones are easy to find.  Check out sites like Gumtree (the last time I checked, I found a basic Janome for $25), eBay, and the Trading Post for good deals.

Thought 3: Newer doesn’t necessarily mean better

I am no expert, but the basic function of sewing machines has not changed much in many, many years.  Unless you have a need for shiny computerised sewing machines with fancy features (which most of us don’t), a 20-year-old sewing machine you find on eBay will do just as well as a new machine you’ll find in shops today.

It is even possible that a vintage sewing machine is better made, with better materials, and will last much longer than newer machines made with flimsy plastic.  My beloved industrial machine is probably around 30 years old, and still works perfectly.  

Sure, newer machines might be lighter and thus more portable than 30-year-old machines.  But if you are just sewing at your home, does it really matter? So my point is, don’t be put off by how old a sewing machine is, when you find a free one sitting in your grandmother’s attic.  As long as it still works – sews straight and zig zag stitches – take up on it! 

My next post will be on where to find fabrics.  

 

Five reasons why you should learn to sew (learn to sew post no. 2)

So if you are interested in learning to sew, but are a little hesitant to actually get started, here are my reasons why you shouldn’t wait any longer, and just do it. 

(1) Sewing is about self-sufficiency

In the old days, everyone (well, maybe most woman) sewed because they had to. Someone had to make quilts to keep themselves warm at night, or mend torn clothes because they could not afford to throw them away and buy new ones. You might think those days are long gone (thanks, Walmart!), but you know what, I have a feeling those good old days are coming back.  

The days of $5 shirts and $10 sweaters made in China will be over soon. The world is running out of oil. The price of cotton is on the rise. Long-suffering garment workers in third-world countries are demanding better pay and working conditions (as they totally should). Soon, it’ll be a matter of economic necessity for us to stop and think before tossing that pair of toddler jeans in the bin just because there is a hole in the knee area – or that once-pristine white bib that now has a patch of spaghetti sauce stain on it that doesn’t come off. 

That’s where your sewing skill comes in handy.  How hard is it to mend torn jeans, and maybe apply a faux leather patch to make the jeans cuter than it was before? Not hard at all. Or appliqué a little heart-shaped fabric over the spaghetti stain on the bib? You just saved yourself a lot of money and made your kids happy. And you didn’t even need a sewing machine. Same idea if you lose a button on your skirt, or buy a dress that should be 5 inches shorter.  Being able to sew is like being able to change a lightbulb yourself and not call an electrician.  It’s empowering.

(2) Sewing saves you money

It is related to my first reason above, but sewing does save you money.  Especially if you are in an anti-“made in China” (pro human rights) mindset, or if you have a taste for having beautiful things around your house (luxury items are always expensive!) 

 

Here is a stack of double gauze handkerchiefs I made last night (yes, in one night).  I was inspired by necessity, as usual, because the kids and I all have a cold and are in constant need to wipe our noses.  Sewing skill required: minimal. Money saved: ??? I think I’ll list these handkerchiefs in the shop for about $10 each… See, I hope you don’t buy them and start making your own instead!

(3) If you sew clothes, you’ll wear clothes that fit you better.

Do you find it difficult to find ready-made clothing that fits you well?  People come in all sorts of shapes, so it’s no wonder that most people won’t fit into standardized sizing of ready-made clothing.  For instance, I always have trouble finding pants and skirts that fit me – if it fits snugly around my waist, it is too tight around my hips.  If it is just right around my hips, the waist is too loose.  Same story with the tops and dresses, because I suppose an average size 4 mannequin would come with a bigger bust than I do.  

So when I first took up sewing, I made a few skirts.  They were not very well made — the supposedly “invisible” zippers were very visible, and I chose wrong fabrics (I used a lot of quilting cotton for wearables, which was a mistake — but more on this in a later post).  But I wore them all the time anyway because they fit me.  And it’s such a joy to wear clothes that fit you properly.  These days I don’t have much time to sew my own clothes.  So even though I can probably make better-looking skirts now that my sewing skill has much improved, I still wear those wonky skirts I made years ago because they are so comfortable.   

And the problem of fit isn’t just with grownups.  Children come in all sizes and shapes, too.  If you knew how to sew even the simplest garments, like summer shorts and simple dresses, your children will thank you.

 

Here’s an example.  I made these wide shorts for my two-year-old son , who has a lovely curvy bottom.  Combined with a bulky cloth nappy he was wearing at the time, I had a hard time finding pants that would fit him (and not be a mile long).  So I found a pattern for wide shorts, and cheap cotton seersucker fabric I found for $5 a meter, and made several pants like these.  Each took less than an hour to make.  My son loves them, and wears them all the time even on freezing cold days.

(4) If you have kids, they would LOVE the things you make

It’s true.  I know I’ve written about Miss M’s famous inclination to reject the clothes I lovingly make,  but deep down she really adores that I make things for her.  I know this because when she goes to daycare of preschool, she proudly tells everyone “Mommy made this!” (Or this, or this….)  Kids know that you are taking the time to make them something special.  And even if it is a really small thing, like an appliqué on an old bib, they feel the love and appreciate it – even when they don’t quite like the way it looks. 

(5) And finally…. sewing can be fun.

Sewing is fun for me, and for a lot of hobby sewers.  It offers a creative outlet in an otherwise-hectic life filled with mundane chores — be it a nine-to-five office work or taking care of little ones day in and day out.  You don’t have to be a “creative” person to begin with.  I believe for a lot of people, like me, creativity comes with practice.  There are lots of beautiful fabrics in the shops, and easy-to-follow instructions or patterns.  At first all you do is just blindly follow the instructions, and that’s totally fine.  Because when you end up with something you created, it’s very satisfying.  Over time, with practice, I bet you’ll find that you are a creative person after all, and may start making your own patterns, modifications, and even fabrics.  

Well, I rest my case for now.  My next post will be how to find a cheap sewing machine. 

Zakka sewing for beginners (learn to sew post no. 1)

It’s been nearly 18 months since I started making and selling handmade bags and other children’s accessories, and it’s been a lot of fun.  Along the way I learned so many new things —  not only how to make certain things, but how to source fabrics and how to manage a website.  Also along the way I’ve met a lot of people, fellow stall holders at markets, crafty friends, and of course my wonderful customers.  Most of whom are other moms of little ones.

One thing I often  hear from these moms is, “I wish I knew how to sew….” Every time I hear this I say, “But you can! It’s easy.”  And often I want to add “Why don’t you come over to my place and I’ll show you how to sew.” But I realize that for most mothers, learning a new skill while taking care of babies and toddlers is difficult, to say the least.  I mean, it’s hard enough sometimes to even take a shower undisturbed.  

But I began to think how fun it’ll be for me to teach sewing to complete beginners.  Making things to sell online can be a little anti-social.  Wouldn’t it be fun to get a group of people together at my house, from time to time, chat about how hard it is to be a mother etc., have a nice cup of coffee, and then help them learn to sew at the same time? Absolutely!

So I’m excited to tell you that I’ve set aside some time to do it. I don’t have many “clients” yet, but I believe they will turn up eventually.

If you are in Sydney and and would like to attend, just email me. I’ll also post sewing tips, fabric shopping tips, and more tutorials from time to time.  Stay tuned.

Oh by the way, “zakka” just means various homewares, the sort of things I make for my shop – bags, washers and other accessories.