Don't Fear the Bobbin
May 24, 2014 09:42AM
By Kristen Hoffman
Fortunately, Bonnie Smith is one Omaha grandmother willing to share a few of her tricks with newbies who want to overcome their sewing anxiety. As a grandmother of 12, she keeps her sewing skills sharp with lots of crafts for the kids. “Right now, I’m in a major project making quiet books for everyone,” she says. The colorful, intricate books made from fabric are pricey, time-consuming, and not at all what Smith would recommend a newcomer begin with.
Select Your First Project Pick a project that’s realistic, which means avoiding clothing or alterations. “Something with straight seams,” Smith says. “Like a baby blanket. Or infinity scarves are super simple.” She recommends finding an online video tutorial instead of a written pattern. “There’s just something about seeing someone do the steps.” You can always upgrade to a more complex pattern, like a simple skirt, for your second attempt.
Collect Your Tools Smith runs down the list of small tools she keeps close by during every project:
- cutting mat
- rotary cutter
- tape measure
Choose Your First Machine Speaking of expensive, “don’t go hog wild over a highfalutin machine,” Smith advises. “The old machines are heavy and made to last. The new ones are made out of plastic.” She suggests finding a used one to begin with—Millard Sewing refurbishes old sewing machines, for example. At minimum, Smith recommends a machine that can sew straight, zigzag, and buttonholes. “You can always upgrade.” Plan to spend under $200 for a decent machine.
Set Yourself Up For Success Finish off all of that planning with a few extra tips from Smith, and your first sewing project is primed for success.
- Start with any materials found around the house. Fabric can get expensive. For good-quality material, Smith recommends Country Sampler. For your first project, consider turning an old T-shirt into an infinity scarf or a baby’s headband.
- Get familiar with your machine. “Thread it and practice on some scrap,” Smith suggests. Maintain it by keeping it oiled and take it in once a year for cleaning. Have the right needle for the fabric you’re working with. Replace the needle after several hours of sewing or whenever it seems dull.
- Iron everything. “Prewash and dry the fabric in case of shrinkage,” Smith says. “Then you need to iron it. Every time you make a seam, you have to iron. It turns out sloppy if you don’t iron, iron, iron.”
- Have your seamripper handy. “You’ll be ripping stuff out a lot,” Smith admits.
- Ask the experts for help. Smith is a fan of Hancock Fabrics and Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft largely because of their helpful staff of professional seamstresses.