Can you guys give me some recommendations for a good sewing machine. I want one that is sturdy and wont break, easy to use, and gives a professional finished product. I want to spend under $500 if possible.
White and Kenmore are generally considered reliable brands. Brother is controversial - I hate them with a white-hot passion, but as you can see, others swear by them. Singer used to be the cream of the crop, but their brand has become diluted and you can't depend on them for quality (although I have a basic Singer that's been running for 10 years with no service problems - knock wood!)
I agree that it's best to go to a store where you can try different machines out and see what feels good. You should be able to get a machine with a basic straight stitch, 4-step buttonhole, and some zigzags and other fancy stitches for well under $500.
And will I still need a serger?
I may have misunderstood you - I read "serger" and "overlocker" interchangeably to mean machines that bind off the edges of seams as they sew (some cut excess seam allowance, some don't). What are you planning to use the serger or overlocker for?
I would still advise someone starting out to get a basic sewing machine and make a few garments before you evaluate whether you want a serger/overlocker. Many people never have one and don't miss it; it's perfectly possible to make garments without them, using various other seam binding techniques that depend on the fabric you're using. A sewing machine is more versatile than an overlocker, so it's a good investment to start out with.
I would recommend the Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Sewing and Vogue Sewing (particularly if you are planning to sew clothing). They are great references - not necssarily for sitting and reading, but great to turn to if you have questions about fabric care, techniques, "what the hell is a baby hem?" etc.
I would start with a regular machine, and think about an overlocker after you've got a least a few garments or bags or what-have-you under your belt. An overlocker can't replace a standard machine for most projects, and they're a better investment for people who do oodles and oodles of sewing.
From Simplicity 4171 - the only changes I made were to eliminate the piping, and to do solid flaps on the pockets with contrasting stitching, instead of pieced pockets. (These decisions were equal parts design choice and laziness.) Oh, and I only had the buttons go halfway down, then sewed the skirt of the dress shut in front - this was a "I don't enjoy accidentally flashing strangers" choice!
This pattern was great - very easy to use, with good instructions. The complicated bits, like the pieced collar and pleated, gathered sleeves, came together nicely. I'm definitely using this pattern again - seems like it could be very versatile, with the different collar and sleeve options. I am loving shirtdresses in general right now, so I might try the long-sleeved, plain collar version for the fall.
As for sewing stuff in the area, there are two discount fabric stores nearby (though they aren't on the subway, you would have to take a bus, I think). One is Sewfisticated Fabrics and the other is Sew-Low. They both have tons of random fabrics for really cheap (most are only ~2 USD per yard).
You can walk to these stores from the Lechmere stop on the Green Line; just make sure you don't load up on TOO much fabric or the walk back is rough! It's a mile at most to Sewfisticated, which is the furthest from the station. Both stores sell patterns for cheap but they're mostly quite out of date - lots of big 80s shoulderpads, etc.
Also a must-visit: The Garment District. It's come down a little in recent years from the dizzying heights of vintage goodness that it used to provide, but it's a Boston institution and there are still many awesome finds there.
Before sewing the lining to the outside at the top: 1. Rub tailor's chalk or other dressmaking pencil on the bottom of each little "leg" of the clasp.
2. Position clasp where you want it to be on the right side of the lining fabric, and rub the legs against the fabric. (Legs should be side-by-side, not up-and-down, in relation to the top of the bag.) This should transfer a little of the chalk onto the fabric, marking where the legs will go in.
3. Fold the fabric in half at the marks, and make tiny (tiny!) snips in the fabric on the marks, creating two little slits.
4. Push legs through slits, then use pliers to fold them outward, securing the clasp to the lining fabric.
5. Repeat on other side, making sure that second half of clasp lines up with the first half.
Optional: if there isn't already interfacing on the lining, I usually attach a square of fusible interfacing to the back where the clasps will go, to reinforce and make sure the fabric doesn't wear too much.
Make sure you leave enough room from the top of the bag so that you can avoid the clasps while sewing the bag the rest of the way together! (Not that I've learned that by doing anything incredibly stupid, or anything...)
Fade2black, I totally bow to you and your mom - this pattern was a struggle for me from start to finish! I still don't like the way the contrast band was attached, although I thank you for the suggestion to skip the slipstitching (I actually just topstitched the damn thing on). And am I nuts, or do the sewing instructions screw up the zipper insertion? I'm pretty sure that they have you to do to the lining what you should do to the outer fabric, and vice versa, up until the end. So the lining ends up lapping over the zipper instead of the fashion fabric. At any rate: although I like the dress, I am SO GLAD this project is done!
Yeah, my mom did it exactly as it said to in the instructions. The only thing we did differently was add a straight stitch right across the bottom of the band because the fabric was too heavy and the hand stitch wasn't holding well.
Thanks for the info! I may try something different, because I'm not into all that slipstitching. (Although I'm beginning to think this dress is not meant to be...the fabric I bought for the contrast band turned all streaky in the wash! Grrr!)
That dress looks great on you! Just out of curiosity, what did you (and/or your mom) think of the pattern? I'm planning to make the same dress, and I Have Issues with the way they tell you to attach the band at the top and am considering trying a different method. Did you follow the instructions explicity, or go offroad?