My First (Serious) Attempt to Sew
I was that bored high school kid with a sewing machine, so I would occasionally make a few wearable “fashion” here and there – mainly because mum didn’t really let me go shopping but was ok with buying fabric from time to time – especially if there was a sale.
I had no idea how things were supposed to be done. Instead, I just made it up as I went.
I simply traced off from my own clothes and never used a pattern. It mostly worked, so I’d sometimes wear my own creation to Casual Days at school, and I guess words spread that I sew.
One day I got a call from Katherine. A friend of a friend from a neighbouring school.
School Formal was coming up and Katherine was in big trouble - because she had blown most of her formal dress budget on a pair of shoes (as you do). And now she had to come up with a decent dress with next to no money. Would I help?
I thought about it for a moment and agreed to meet her at the fabric shop.
Together we picked a pattern, got some cheap & cheerful fabric on sale, some boning because the pattern said so, and some tulle for added volume (it was the 80s – everything needed to be BIG).
It was the first time I’d ever used a commercial pattern - it was this one - from Simplicity I think.
She chose the version in the lower right-hand corner – and the fabric was paper taffeta in hot pink (!)
I followed the instruction to a T and got busy. At the end of the week Katherine had a dress.
It had princess lines on the bodice and a full skirt – Disney-princess style – and boning to give that cinch-at-the-waist look. The tulle was scratchy and brutal to stockings, but the main thing was that it fitted her…..
And this dress looked amazing to a couple of 16-year-olds.
She handed me the last $30 bucks from her budget, told me to keep the pattern, and happily went off to her formal.
Something “clicked” inside me. I promptly went back to the fabric shop, spent that $30 bucks, and got busy again.
By the end of that week I had a formal dress. It was the top left-hand corner version - satin bodice, organza skirt with a giant big organza sash that tied into a big bow, all in black. I put in extra layers of tulle and made sure I lined it this time.
And so I wore it to my own school formal – which was completely overrated. I spent the entire evening dreaming up more dresses and wishing I was sewing at home!
That was my first (serious) attempt in sewing. I went on to make a few more variations from that same pattern before buying other patterns and more fabric. I was addicted. What started off as a simple favour for a friend eventually lead me to fashion school.
Here are stories shared by your fellow Sew Much Easier members:
I started sewing from then on . in high school I did sewing as well and was asked by friends to make their basket ball uniforms. I made the pattern from copying from another uniform. From the age of about 13 I was sewing and making patterns. I then went on to curtain making . I still do a bit of sewing
I first started sewing around the age of 5, my mum was a sewer and she use to let me cut out Barbie doll (very basic, trace around Barbie) clothes from her scraps.
As I got older mum showed me how to do shirring (sewing elastic as the bobbin cotton so the material was stretchy) little dresses for my self.
When in high school I made a lot of clothes for my niece and nephew during Fabric(sewing classes). When I had my own children I use to make all the PJs, track suits and even under wear for them. I don’t make clothes any more, now I do patchwork and quilting which I enjoy a lot.
Thank you for reading my little story.
I was 6 years old when my uncle gave me a “Peter Pan” sewing machine as my grandmother had seen what I had been doing with a needle and thread in attempting to make doll’s clothes. I am the eldest girl in a large family, 4 boys and 4 girls. We wore a lot of hand-me-down clothes, some of which I hated and used to cut into to make the doll clothes.
I am now 77 years old, and my interest was really pushed along when I was in grade 6 at school and we learned to make a baby’s dress (all by hand). When I reached technical school I learned drafting and all sewing techniques along with doing a commercial course. I wanted to go on to teaching but because of the large family I had to leave school after year 10 and go out to work to help with the family finances. I spent 25 years doing secretarial/office work before realising my yearning to really dress make.
I had by age 40 married and reared 4 children who were near to going their own way. I had been sewing all my life up to then making my own, my children’s, mother, sisters, etc clothing, including my grandmother who had encouraged me in the first place. I did not find out until she passed away that she had been a seamstress herself. I went into business, with a friend, teaching dressmaking and selling fabrics and associated haberdashery. I have lost count of the number of bridal gowns, and bridesmaid’s dresses I have made over the years, the last bridal gown last year.
I retired a few years ago and since then have got heavily into quilting and to date have made and donated to the Children’s Hospital in Adelaide nearly 180 quilts which the children who are hospitalised long term get to keep and take them home when they go.
Just thought I would share this with you after reading how you started.
I first started sewing at school in sewing class and my first garment was for one of my nieces it was a smocked christening gown and it turned out beautiful. Then when I left school I bought my first sewing machine at 17 and started to make my first real big project.
It was my wedding dress it took me 12 months to make it but I wanted it to be perfect. Then 1 weeks before my wedding I tried on my dress and found out it was too big I was so disappointed that I had to work out how to alter the whole dress to fit me. So for a week before the wedding I was frantically unpicking and resewing my dress it would have been easier to remake the dress from scratch but I only had a week to do it in. I finished it the night before I was to be married and it pit perfect.
From there on I didn’t stop. I was making clothes for my mum and myself all the time then when I had children I made all their clothes and even till now.
I am still sewing but only just started to do quilting now. I love sewing and will never give it up. I’m a craftaholic and a sewaholic lol.
My Nana and Mum were seamstress by trade when I was around 4 years of ages I took an interest in Mum and Nana sewing they were very excellent sewers hand embroidery and machine sewing and taught me from basics and if it was not done properly I had to unpick and re sew.
My first sewing lesson was on Nanas singer treadle sewing machine that was quiet tricky but I soon got the idea of sewing the raw edges of the material very fine my next sewing feat was making hankies for the family from their I progressed on to an electric sewing machine making dolly clothes skirts shorts blouses and dress to this day where all my special leaning has taken me on to the path of quilting applique embroidery by hand and machine
I am ever so grateful to Mum and Nana for teaching me those skills of which I have passed down to my 2 children my son being very clever and has learnt and taken on board everything he has been taught and my daughter well sad as it is she did not get the gene to do any of it
I feel sad that the children of today are not taught these dyeing art but while I am alive I am endeavouring to teach my 4 grandchildren some basic sewing etc
I HATED sewing! At school you could never get close to the old treadlie we had, and beside I could only get them to go in reverse!
My mum tried to inspire me, but I was a ‘near enough is good enough’ sewer and mum would make me unpick! Imagine my distress when my fiancé came with an offer from his mum to help me sew my wedding dress!!!!! How to get out of this without hurting anyone’s feelings and my sanity????
So I came up with the compromise: a going away outfit. I had dreamed of a simple green velvet skirt and bolero with a bought blouse. In 1974 I couldn’t find what I wanted anywhere, so this was it. A long skirt and bolero couldn’t be that hard could it? My M-I-L to be took me to the local material shop, green velvet it was to be, she helped me choose the pattern and off we went.
It wasn’t until years after I realised how little I did (what little I did was often wrong – opening on the wrong side etc!) and how much my lovely, patient M-I-L did. But I had the outfit I had wanted and thought I had made it myself.
A few years later I started sewing classes at Tech (now TAFE) and realised how wonderful my M-I-L was. Four children later and I love sewing – just need to find more time for this relaxing pastime.
Thanks for bringing back memories of that skirt and bolero.
I got started sewing at 15, when I joined the local softball team, and I needed a uniform, which my parents couldn’t afford, so I asked mum if I could have one of dads white shirts, of which he had many, as he was a waiter at the local Army base, and one of his black pants that he didn’t wear anymore.
With white shirt and black pants I was on a roll, I had a yellow T-shirt that I cut into strips, the white shirt’s collar and sleeves were removed and the yellow strips were slowly sewn around the armholes and collar. The black pants I unpicked the waistband and took it in, in the back as the professionals do it (hahahahaha) then removed the zip and sewed it shut. Then I sewed the yellow strip around the waist and used the old waistband to make a tube that I then sewed onto the waist, and threaded a long boot lace through holes that I cut into the tube at the front and hand sewed two buttonholes to pull the lace through…I was almost done, I only had a yellow stripe down each leg, and cut the legs down so they were just below my knee. I took the hem up and again cut and sewed button holes to lace the other boot lace, which I cut in half, and then I could pull the lace through and I was done.
Mums old singer had done a great job, I was so proud of my effort I just had to put it on and show it off to Dad, who was so impressed that I could make something out of something else that he promised to buy me my own softball glove….the girls in the team were very impressed with my efforts as well….
I have been sewing ever-since. I got a trade as an Upholsterer and have sewn lounge covers in leather and fabric as well as dresses, Wedding and formal and soft furnishings. I make my own patterns, and can make just about anything on my old faithful Janome….My grandfather was so impressed with my sewing ability that he bought me my first Janome for my 18th and it is still going strong (well sort of )….I would love a new one that had an automatic buttonhole….that’s my start into the world of sewing, still going strong and loving it still….
I can’t remember not sewing.
My mum taught me. I made clothes in high school, I made my formal dress. I made the outfit my future husband said he loved because he could spot me in the crowd at uni. The dress in your post is reminiscent of my engagement photo dress! I made my bridesmaid dresses - teal green water taffeta (I put the pressure on mum to make my wedding dress!). I think I just aged myself incredibly!
I have got busy and finding the time to sew has been difficult but I have been determined to continue. I have started making quilts and costumes for myself – you can’t take life too seriously!
I want to make good corsets and historic costumes – I can always scare the neighbours wearing them!
I am now planning for a retirement gown – I’m hoping to set a trend – we have special outfits to mark so many milestones but not retirement – it may be some years away but I’m planning. I am wanting to make something inspired by history – so many periods to choose from!
People might think me insane, but I am thinking a retirement gown has to symbolises what you are planning to do moving forward and for me that will involve sewing. I have a studio full of fabrics to enjoy creating.
I moved back home with my Mum and she suggested I do a stretch sewing course to make maternity clothes for myself and clothes for the baby. Mum had heaps of fabric as she also sewed and could help me when I got stuck. I made nearly all my son’s clothes back then.
I had a break for a long time doing little sewing but am now back at it for my grandchildren.
Well I started without sewing at all – making draped fabrics over my Barbie Doll in 1962 approximately – I did do sewing at high school for one year – but had observed my mother sewing stuff all the time.
Following patterns – It wasn’t really until I got married & started to have a family – I had an old beat-up cheap machine – that was OK for a long while – but as I got more interested in harder patterns to follow – I made lots of stuff – with lots of materials – all different – then made clothes for my 3 little boys – out of wonderfully different stuff – dressed them all for their Uncles wedding except for their shoes – made my outfit completely except for my shoes & my husband’s shirt – he had his own suit & shoes.
I got to the point that while my youngest was at school one day – I completely changed his room – lined curtains & all his bedding – he came home & said WOW what happened to my room – I used to get so sick of ironing my husband’s business shirts that I decided to have a go at one & as I am a person who will finish it – he used to come home & have a new long sleeve business shirt to wear to work the next day. I continued to sew on & off for several years – my best achievement was a suede out-fit for myself – it was pig skin leather – I had bought two hides – I made it up unlined (lining – one thing I kind of dislike) – with the skin side against the body – it was a wonderful feeling – the suede side was outside – a top & a pencil skirt – I left the natural holes in it & got the pile all the correct way – also left the raw hems as they came – varied up & down – it was that midnight blue/purple colour – looked magnificent – I had so many comments – but after age took over & I became plump – the skirt didn’t fit me anymore – It was my evening attire – if I had to go anywhere.
I have just started up again recently – as I could sell all my fabrics back to the stores – but I will use them – it is just the odd zip or other notions that I have to replace – I now have an old Janome machine a 3 thread & a 4 thread overlocker – plus a Husqvarna in a sewing cabinet – but I haven’t used it for ages & it probably would need a good service.
I enjoy your news – I am in the middle of making a wrap dress for myself – told my daughter-in-law – if it doesn’t fit she could have it if she likes – I think I am an extremely neat seamstress – who thrives on a challenge.
I must have been about 4 years old and had a teddy bear that had been handed down to me from my two older siblings. This teddy had done hard duty through the war years with my sister then suffered the rigors of my brother and his rough friends. By the time Ted got to me he was rather threadbare with little fur left and I thought he must be rather cold. Mother found me some brown tweed fabric and I laid Ted down and cut out a trouser shape for him which I sewed up the side seams and the inner leg seam on my mother’s old singer hand crank sewing machine. After folding a rough hem at the top I threaded some elastic through and bingo warm trousers to keep Ted cosy and decent!
Old Ted still wears those trousers today though a jacket and scarf has been added by someone since I grew up.
Poor old Ted is in a very bad state now with fabric rotting away and paw pads gone, you can even see the straw stuffing in his nose. I was able to rescue him after my mother died and her effects were being disposed of. 65 years later and on the other side of the world he is still much loved but carefully wrapped up and safe in a cupboard. I wish I could encase him in something to preserve what is left and have him on show but its safer to keep him packed away, protected from moths and silverfish etc.
- Paula & Old Ted
I have been sewing forever.
I began at age 7 with hand sewing and bits of embroidery and my grandmother. I loved dolls and wanted to dress them and by age 10 I was designing and making dolls clothes and rag dolls on my grandmothers machine, which was controlled by a bar and one knee. That machine had no zigzag and no reverse – just one stitch forward.
By 14 I was making my own clothes with paper patterns but once I began designing for myself at 16, I made my own patterns. I went on to study design. I sold clothes and bed covers at market stalls but it was always an extra to other work. I found that sewing was a way I could give to causes or friends and certainly family. I have turned my hand to stage scenery and ballet costumes, dolls and soft toys, curtains and cushions, patchwork everything, baby and children’s wear, fabric sculpture, mini quilts, lamp shades, mittens and pouches for baby native animals and I have made all my own clothes (except undies and shoes) for over 50 years.
The sewing machine is a permanent fixture on the dining table. My favourite sewing task is altering things – I just love turning a curtain into a dress, a sarong into a curtain, a shirt into a jacket, jeans into a shopping bag or a tee shirt into a toy.
I married a beautiful woman, was retired (and bored). Beginning of story.
- John in the mountains of Veracruz
My childhood when I think about it was pretty close to Dolly Parton’s except I lived in southern Victoria, Australia.
When I found employment when I was 17 yrs old. The problem was I only had one outfit to wear which my Grandmother had bought me. My mother was a Dressmaker & she was really good at it. I had watched her over the years and I had asked her to teach me. It never eventuated so I bought a pattern and made myself a suit. A lined Jacket & a skirt. It was brown checked Woollen material.
From there I realised I had a talent I eventually dressed my daughters as they were growing up. I also taught myself to Knit & Crochet.
Making dolls clothes on my mother’s Singer treadle machine.
I got started as a little girl. I loved the smell of my Grandma’s treadle machine. I was never allowed to touch the machine, but I was allowed to peek in the drawers to look at her notions and smell the wonderful timber which she always kept polished.
For my upcoming birthday (I was turning 6), my mother took me into town to the toy shop and I was asked to look in the window and choose something for the big day. They had a beautiful toy plastic pink sewing machine. Thats what I wanted!!!!!
I was so excited when the big day came to get my little pink toy sewing machine that when my dad produced an antique, wooden, hand crank, shuttle bobbin, Singer…I was devastated!
But of course after the initial shock (no pink), I realised I had been given a real grown -ups machine and I was ecstatic! It even had the beautiful timber smell like Grandma’s! I sewed all my dolls clothes on it (still have some) and learned to master the basics. I still have the machine in perfect working order!
My dad bought me a Lemair when I was 13 for my home economics homework (zig-zag at last! Yay) and I learned to make my own clothes, swim suits and whatever I needed.
These days (I am 52 now and still an avid sewer) I am a Janome girl. But I still appreciate all the knowledge and the joy my Singer gave me when I was little and have always been terribly grateful that I didn’t receive the little, pink, toy one!
I had to smile when I saw this email and the simplicity pattern – I helped my mum sew up the exact same dress for a formal event I was going to.
And in a similar hot pink colour. The dress is still at my parents house
My daughter had a great idea for her first prom dress.
I had a movie front cover to look at and make her dress from that. It was from the movie "Wild, Wild West" but she wanted it to be made from satin with a lace bodice and fur on the shoulder straps, around the bodice and around the hem.
Needless to say, I had to find a pattern in her size and eventually had to sew the fur on by hand. It was a midnight blu with a black fleck throughout, black lace over the bodice with black insertion lace with gold ribbon threaded through around the cup of the bodice and across the top.
The shoulder straps were satin material with the fur on top and the skirt was a full skirt with the fur on the bottom hem.
She arrived at the prom in a double horse drawn carriage which was black also. The horse were both white and she looked absolutely beautiful.
Since then she has made another prom dress for herself in another state school graduation, plus lots of costumes for fancy dress functions. She designed and made her girlfriend's wedding dress last year which was held in Canada.
Both so us love to sew costumes, dresses and other clothes for family and friends.
I am currently making little girl clothes and clothes for my grandson.
Story from Kathy Barlow.
Reading about how you got started brought back some memories for me.
I was only 16 and really keen on ballroom dancing, I bought some I think they called it Iced Cotton in a candy pink colour, bought a pattern and set about making it myself (By the way I did not have a sewing machine) so I hand sewed the complete dress, and I loved it.
It had a boat neckline at the front dipping at the back of the neck to tie a small knot, the skirt was fully flared.
I made a lot of my daughters clothes over the years, even both their wedding dresses, even though I was working full time. And at 78 am still sewing, more quilting now, but I shall always remember my first dress I made.
My family and I were holidaying in Melbourne.
My daughter spotted ‘the dress’, she wanted for her year 10 formal. She tried it on and it looked amazing, and was told by everyone in the shop.
The only problem was, I was not prepared to part with $599.00 for a formal dress.
Back home in Canberra, we made a trip to Newcastle for kids sport. On the way home to Canberra, I made a quick detour to Cabramatta, I purchased, black raw silk, for the skirt of her dress, a heavy cream bridal satin for the bodice and bridal tulle for the little bits of decoration on the bodice, I also bought the invisible zip and boning. A vogue pattern replicated ‘the dress’ of her dreams.
I made the whole thing for less than $100, including the pattern. And she looked like a princess!
I do have a formal dress story! It was THE dress I will never forget.
I lived in a town on the border or WA & NT in the early 1980’s. The Newsagency had turned its store room into a fabric shop with a ‘few ‘ fabric choices.
It was the early 80’s so you can imagine the choices: fluoro, seersucker, gingham.... you get the picture.
A Cabaret was planned .... the first the town probably hosted! I had to go! My baby was a few months old...I needed a sitter. My brother in law was living with us at the time.. yes he’d forgo the cabaret and look after his nephew. Yay! We were going “ out”!
So one week out from the gala night.... I needed a frock.
A visit to the “ fabric” shop resulted in a pattern and some amazing black net fabric ( new in) with multi coloured spangles, tulle ( as you know all these formal patterns in the 80’s had tulle), and lining! Problem: black fabric, brown cotton for the lining. What was a girl to do? Never mind, I needed that frock! Brown lining it was!
Well, this frock was awesome! I loved it! I felt like Cinderella going to the Ball...( new Mums can relate to this!) the dress was perfect! And off we went.
One hour later.... SOS call from my brother in law!
And that was that! My night out was over!
I remember that hour and the many hours leading up to making the perfect dress! I still have it today. It has been used as a dress up, fancy dress.... so many wonderful memories.
Sharon Tunbridge. WA
I started sewing at the age of 12 ... I grew up poor and in the 60's....I would go down town and look at the latest styles.
I was artistic so I would draw them and my mother who was a genius would cut them out...no pattern used.
When my daughter got married, she wanted a Western wedding and she picked out this gorgeous dress in a western magazine....it was beautiful with lots of lace at the top, fringe at the bottom of the top part and cut into a triangle at the bottom with fringe.
When I called, it cost over $5,000, so I knew that the dress was completely out of my budget....however, I told myself that I could make that dress.
We went to the local fabric shop (Hancock's, I believe it was), looked through their sales material and found the dress material just like the picture (God send).
I purchased three different patterns (I wasn't as gifted as my mother), and I made the exact dress for around $100 with the veil. The most expensive part was the lace for the top that was not on sale and it cost me $50.
Then one week before the wedding, the wedding rental store called and explained that the vests we had rented for the guys had no back in them. So, at the last minute, my mom and I sewed six black vests.
The wedding was beautiful and I was very proud of the dress that my daughter wore.
So many people do not sew these days....it has become a lost art.
My daughter never sewed, but I have taught my granddaughter to sew.
And to make a story short, when my son was 16, he asked me to teach him to sew...nothing fancy he said. Then he would stay in my craft room sewing into the night. I could not imagine what he was doing.
Come to find out he was making Star Wars costumes (no patterns) and selling them for anywhere from $200 to $300 each....yes, you can make money sewing for others and save money sewing for yourself.
Loved your story....I am fixing to fit two patterns together to make my great granddaughter that is set to arrive in November a little dress.
Have a blessed day.
Ginger Lymbery, Texas
My sad story of my one and only ball gown!
I had sewn other items at school but after I left school I had my first ball to go to and no dress. I don't exactly know the pattern but it was something from the sixties. Scooped neckline with a bell skirt, made in a pale blue satin with sort of dots on it (it did have a name but I can't remember it). Also made a stole to match. I think I only ever wore it the once and had it around in a trunk for ages before it got spoilt from dampness and threw it out. I'm afraid balls don't excite me much as I've never been to another one.
I'm sure other people have more interesting stories.
I just want to say I love reading your stories and this was my favourite about the dress. I made this dress for my daughter and had never boned before. It was a success for a school formal.
- Maree Adams
Lovely story started seeing when l was 8 brought up in London just after the war no money for cloths so my aunt gave me a skirt that l made into a dress on my grands old hand machine and from there l have made clothes
- Lynn Gibson
I have always made my own clothes, couldn’t afford to buy them.
My first sewing was at primary school by hand, making a long flannel nightie.
At home mum helped me make dresses for all of us on the Singer treadle machine....so much fun, because you could go at your own pace.
When I left home, couldn’t afford a machine, but my land lady let me use hers, & I ended up making her some dresses & then for my sister-in-law to be.
I made my own wedding outfit. Pattern was Ives St Lauren. Beautiful suit... style in those days, 3/4 jacket, frog buttons, & lightly flared pants. The whole outfit was white gabardine, fully lined [which] I started making it weeks before the wedding.
Week before wedding, rushing to finish in order to have it dry cleaned,
I sewed my pants.... two fronts together & two backs together...
Panic set in when I tried them on, & one leg was so loose, & mis-shapen, & the other ever so tight.
Took them off with tears. On inspection realised what I had done, stayed up all night unpicking, including zip, & resewing.
Final fit was perfect. Off to dry cleaners in morning & begged to have them back Friday night. All went well, having nearly not picked up the outfit on time.
That was my first & worst disaster ... no other disaster even came close.
Stana ... Alice Springs NT
Thank you for sharing your story and this email, a wonderful read. Have a lovely weekend!
How did you get started? Do you have a sewing story to share?
Simply share your story by sending me a quick email