Starting from Scratch: Learning to Sew

I worked in a craft studio for seven years and completed an honours degree in art, so, while I’m certainly not claiming to be any sort of expert – I think it’s fair to say that I’ve always been a relatively arts and crafty person, obtaining a relative level of proficiency in working with various media from acrylic paint to clay and silk to glass… but put me near anything “string-ish” and I’m hopeless. This includes sewing, embroidery, crochet, knitting and yes, even pom-pom making was beyond me. I’m not sure why, but I can cause a sewing machine to malfunction from 100 yards away. My mum is a fantastic knitter (is that the technical term?) and my maw-in-law (who was also the owner of the craft studio where I worked) is a dab hand at most things, but especially good at sewing (and baking, but that doesn’t seem relevant here), anyway, my point being that both of these skilled women invested significant time over the years trying to teach me “the way of the thread”… and they both gave up, and remain a little traumatised from the experiences.

close up shot of the foot of my sewing machine, with fabric in the background.

There are a lot of things in life that I’ve realised I’m not good at and have happily walked away from (mum told me I would regret giving up the violin when I was 10… STILL WAITING MUM), but sewing is not one of those things. Not only does it open up so many cool doors for me, a mixed media artist, but when you start tying it in with an interest in sustainable living – the idea of being able to repair and alter my clothes seems too good an opportunity to just give up on.

Fortunately for me, and somewhat by random chance, I found myself at the Kinning Park Complex (my local community centre) a few weeks ago, taking part in a patch-making workshop as part of Fashion Revolution Week – it was a spur of the moment decision and I’m so glad I jumped at the opportunity. I met the lovely ladies from Kinning Park Couture, who make amazing up-cycled jewellery from waste plastic materials, and also have incredible patience and enthusiasm for helping newbies like me get comfortable with a sewing machine. At the end of a couple of hours not only had I not somehow managed to burn the place down or kill someone just by my being in proximity to a sewing machine, but I had also made my very own activism patch, and learnt to thread a sewing machine, and to not scream audibly every time I put my foot on the pedal.

Well, after that I was hooked, I was back at Kinning Park Complex a few days later for Social Sunday, and Kinning Park Couture helped my fix up a pair of Kenny’s Levis jeans which he had managed to somehow entirely rip the crotch out of (?????). The satisfaction I got bringing those jeans home to him and knowing that I had salvaged them and saved all that fabric from being wasted, was so immense, so much greater than if I had gone into a store and just picked him up a new pair of jeans. And not only is it so “worth it”, I also find sewing incredibly therapeutic: time somehow flies by and I just sit absorbed, stitching away (then unpicking, then stitching again… I’m enthusiastic, not skilled).

close up of all the bits and pieces in my sewing box at the moment
Ah, a box of sewing bits and pieces that was passed on to me – let’s just pretend I know how to use any of the things in this box…

I totally lucked out as well, because, after telling my mum about my sewing (and reassuring her no lives were lost in the process), she suddenly realised she still had her old sewing machine buried in a cupboard somewhere (hurrah for my mum never having read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up that I gave her 18 months ago), and so she fished it out and brought it to me and now, sitting proudly on my dining table is my very own sewing machine. Old, strangely creaky, but working perfectly fine – and I couldn’t be more excited!

Currently, I’ve gotten as far as making reusable cotton pads to take my eye makeup off each day, using scrap fabric from a pair of Alice in Wonderland pyjama bottoms that I had somehow managed to completely rip the crotch out of (????? seriously, why does this keep happening to our trousers?!). While not exactly a technically ambitious project, it’s a good example of how learning a skill like sewing to even the most basic level can make allow for the making of something that is actually useful in every day life. No more wasting of cotton pads and the plastic bags they come in for me, no sirree (and yes, my sewn ones have survived the washing machine, trust me, I was just as surprised my stitching held up as you probably are after reading this post).

overall shot showing my sewing box, machine and fabric.

While it’s obviously still early days for me, I do have my sights set on making a sort of “zero waster companion pouch thing” (erm, still working on the name there). Basically I want to make a type of roll, like a jewellery roll, but something that will have a section for me to store a reusable straw or two, some metal cutlery, and also a couple of cloth napkins – all things I’m trying to get in the habit of carrying, but am not quite sure how to safely/cleanly transport them in my hand bags. If you can sew and have any tips or ideas on how I might go about making this please (no seriously, please) share them in the comments below, or, even if you’re not a sew-er (again, is that the right term?), let me know if you have any ideas of other sections I might want in the pouch – I have the overwhelming feeling that I’m forgetting something obvious that “zero wasters” might carry for eating…

So anyway, I hope maybe this post gave you a chuckle at my hopeless sewing skills, but I also hope that maybe you take away from it that if something is important to you, don’t give up, you can find a way. No, I’m probably never going to work as a seamstress (oh, it’s seamstress, not sew-er isn’t it?) for a major European couture fashion house, but that’s OK. With a bit of hard work and yes, 17,000 mistakes along the way, it’s entirely possible that I can become competent with sewing, and like I said, sometimes that’s all it takes with a skill to be able to create something that can improve your, or someone else’s, quality of life.