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Topic: Newbie Questions  (Read 6996 times)
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« on: February 27, 2012 09:58:40 AM »

My boyfriend said I need a hobby. In time he will learn to regret that statement.

I'm not new to sewing. I've been creating and designing with fabrics since I was 6, and got my first sewing machine when I was 8. I started making my own doll clothes patterns when I was 9, but somewhere along the way I stopped practicing. Over the last few years all I've made were hammocks for my rats (really complex, multi-level hammocks mind you). I'm very rusty, but not a novice when it comes to thread and needles.

For years I've been talking about learning to make my own renaissance dresses, and that is my ultimate end goal. But for now, I'd like to start from the basics - general everyday clothes made from patterns - starting with PJs. I'll be making my own body form (a duct tape model) to help me get started.

With my tax return coming in, and no more pesky car payment (who needs a car, anyways?) I can begin purchasing all of the necessities for my new/old hobby! I am clueless where to begin and literally starting from scratch here, so that's where I need help. My last sewing machine was a late 70's/early 80's model, and I'm sure they've become both more complex and simple through the years.

* What is a good beginner's sewing machine? I'd like to keep it in the <$150 range.
* What other necessities am I going to need? (And I mean EVERYTHING. I don't even own an iron.)
* What are the best space saving storage containers for everything?
* From your experience, what are the best patterns to begin with?
* What are easy fabrics to work with, and as a newbie what should I avoid?
* Is there a website to translate "technical terms" applied to sewing? (i.e. What is a princess seam?)
* What is the best way to keep your cat out of your sewing supplies? My "sewing room" doubles as the His Highness's sleeping quarters. "Removing the cat" is not an option. Tongue
Any other useful links, comments, help is welcome and much appreciated. Thanks! =)
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« Reply #1 on: February 27, 2012 11:10:53 AM »

You can find a decent beginner machine at Walmart for under $100.  It is a Brother.  Not a lot of bells & whistles but it will get you started.

Get your hands on a good sewing book.  The Readers Digest one is very good.  I also like Vogue.  It doesn't really matter how old it is.  The basic information is the same.  I collect old books and the ones from the 1940's and 1950's are fun to look at for the illustrations.  This book will be valuable in explaining the various terms and techniques.

You will also need:
1. A good pair of scissors to be used only for fabric
2. A cheap pair of scissors to be used for everything else
3. Decent thread.  (Don't get the kind in the bucket at 4/$1.00.)  To start: white, black, brown, gray.  Colors to match your project when you get there.
4. Pins.  I like the longer ones with the yellow ball on the end.  It makes them easier to see not only on your project but when you knock your container over and spill them on the floor.  Along with this, you need a pin cushion.
5. Measuring tape.  A 60" one is usually good enough.  I have a 120" one but I do a lot of costuming work.
6. Marking instruments.  I have chalk pens in different colors to use on different color fabric.  White chalk doesn't show too well on white fabric.
7. Hem gauge.  This is a little ruler with a slider.  It helps you make consistant markings.
8. Needles.  You will need both hand sewing needles as well as needles for your machine. 
9. Extra bobbins for your machine.
10. Seam Ripper!!!  This will be your best friend.  Be prepared to use it.  A lot. 
11.  An Iron.  It really helps to make your work look more professional and polished to press your seams as you are working.
12. A thimble if you want.  Some people swear by them, others don't.  I use one every now and then.  If you are doing cartridge pleating for an Elizabethan skirt, you will need one for sure!  Trust me!!

I can't offer you any tips about the cat.  I don't have animals in my house so I don't have that problem. 

I store most of my stuff in Rubbermaid containers of various sizes (shoebox to big tubs).

To start, cotton or cotton blend fabrics would be the easiest.  Don't mess with knits until you have the basics down.  Check out your local thrift store for sheets.  They are great and cheap source for trying out patterns. 

If you have a Joann's near you, be sure and sign up for their mailing list.  They will send you sale flyers and coupons!

Don't call it trash...I can make something with it!!!
« Reply #2 on: February 27, 2012 08:31:45 PM »

Thanks marypoppins! You gave me a lot of useful information.

I work in a shopping complex with a Walmart, JoAnn's Fabric, Hobby Lobby and Michael's.  I'll check out the Brother sewing machine you mentioned (I also saw a Singer there, I'll read some reviews). It won't take me long to remember how to use one, but the fewer bells and whistles the better - at least for now.

I'll write down your list and go on a shopping spree my next day off work. I'm not sure what kind of project I want to start with, but I'm sure something will inspire me with three craft stores literally side-by-side-by-side.
« Reply #3 on: February 27, 2012 10:07:16 PM »

I also recommend getting a brother. Under the $150 price point, stay away from Singer! I've had a lot of experience with low-end Singers through teaching sewing and by far I've never had the problems with my $80 Brother that I've had to deal with low-end Singers. I also recommend a drop in bobbin instead of a vertical loading bobbin. You should also think about getting a machine with a one-step buttonhole if you are going to be doing a lot of projects with buttonholes.

I agree that old sewing books are an excellent wealth of information. However, you don't really NEED to have a book, most of these things can be found on the internet.
I have a pinterest board for sewing technique tutorials that I found useful - http://pinterest.com/jordannhall/sewing-techniques/
Also See Kate Sew has a lot of excellent beginners info that will help you out http://seekatesew.blogspot.com/p/supplies-i.html

In addition to ALL of the things that marypoppins mentioned, I also recommend:
- A loop turner, I use mine pretty frequently. http://www.amazon.com/Prym-Dritz-R-Loop-Turner/dp/B000Y3GS5E
- Pinking shears would probably be a good idea
As for starting sewing patterns. Simplicity has a line of "Learn to Sew" patterns. The main difference with these patterns is that they include a lot of extra info in the instructions. Simplicity's "Perfect Fit" line has a lot of useful information on fitting your garments. A solid beginning project is always PJ pants.

As for your cat, my old man does what he wants ,where ever he wants, whenever he wants. He's also a large (not fat, just large structured) cat with long grey fur... fur that gets everywhere.  So, it's not about keeping your cat out of your projects it's about keeping your projects out of your cat's way. Store your fabric in places that your cat can't get to in order to sleep on top of them. Don't leave fabric/pattern pieces laying around for long periods of time if your cat is going to mess with things. My cat loves to play in the pattern tissue paper, so watch out for that.

« Reply #4 on: February 28, 2012 07:17:16 AM »

As far as machine goes, I've never found anything as simple and reliable as the old Singer my grandmother passed down to me. Old machines aren't too hard to find, and can be pretty affordable - for example, mine is a 404, and I just saw one on Ebay selling for $60. You just have to trust that the one you're getting is in good condition (and know that you feel ok about no fancy features).

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« Reply #5 on: February 28, 2012 10:23:26 AM »

Glad to get you started!

My Joann's will accept competitors' coupons...Hobby Lobby, Michaels, Hancocks.  I hate to pay full price for stuff!  A good time to stock up on all kinds of notions is when Joann's puts their 50% off sale on their notions wall.  That's when you can get snaps, hooks, elastic, Velcro, and all the neat notions that make sewing easier but aren't essential like the loop turner JHall mentioned.  (They are great though!)

Don't call it trash...I can make something with it!!!
« Reply #6 on: February 28, 2012 11:02:58 AM »

Thanks, everyone!

JHall, I wish I had known about the loop you mentioned years ago! I hated flipping the straps to my rat hammocks inside-out. In the beginning I used a pencil, but over the years I ended up just using scraps of fluffy fleece and I would sew right up the center of the strap. I will be adding that to my shopping list for sure just for the off-chance I ever get another pet rat. lol Maybe I'll make hammocks and sell them on Etsy.
Also, my kitty is a young, long-haired white cat who rules the house. He's not allowed in the bedrooms (boyfriend has allergies, roommate doesn't like my cat), the bathrooms (he plays in the toilet), or the basement when no one is home (I have a fish). That leaves the living room as his domain, and I'm going to take over it with my sewing projects. He loves string, and I can't even tie my shoelaces without him lunging at me. This should be an experience, that's for sure.

Iron, that's a great suggestion. I don't know why I didn't think of it. I loved my old sewing machine, and if it wasn't cheaper to just buy a new one I'd have my mom ship it to me. I'll definitely check out ebay for "antiques" before I run out and buy a cheap new one.

Mary, I'll stop by Joann's after work and see if they accept competitor coupons. I also will check out the ads (I work retail, and we price match all local store ads, so I can check while getting paid!) and see who's got what on sale. I hate paying full price for anything, too.

So let's see... Got my list... add...
"Learn to Sew" Simplicity patterns.
"Perfect Fit" Simplicity patterns.
A book, if any catch my eye. I'll also check my nook for ebooks.

Now I just need to do some research on sewing machines, and wait for my tax returns to come in. I'm so excited.
« Reply #7 on: February 29, 2012 11:20:42 AM »

Some great suggestions have already been offered, may I add my two cents worth? With almost 40 years of sewing, pattern drafting and teen fashion design experience, the most important advice I would offer a newbie to sewing is to start out at the bottom, which is always the best place to start (in anything in life worth achieving). In other words, before taking the big plunge into investing alot of time and money into acquiring anything and everything you MIGHT need, start out with a small, easy project and buy just the supplies and tools you need for THAT project. When that project is finished (I mean REALLY finished), then go on to another project and buy only the needed supplies for that project. It won't take you long to see exactly what tool supplies you will frequently use and which ones were a waste of money. Smiley  This spreads out tool and supply expenses, which always helps!

Also, I didn't read anything about how you might plan to re-coup your start up expenses for this 'hobby'.  A hobby is a hobby but there's no reason why you can't make some money while you're at it to support your new hobby. There are alot of accessory items that can easily be made and sold (like on Ebay for instance) while you're getting some practice under your belt. Scarves, belts, pillows, crop tops, and yes, even lounge pants. All these are basically straight sewing and straight sewing projects is where you need to start. Keep that end goal of renaissance clothing in sight though, and I would even go by a pattern to study the pieces and instructions for. You can learn alot just by studying how different pattern pieces are used for what areas of the body.

The easiest fabrics to work with are woven cottons. They're durable enough to rip stitches out of (and yes, you will be doing lots of ripping out of stitches in the beginning). The most difficult fabrics to learn on are knits, sheer or stretchy fabrics of any kind. They take a bit of experience, patience and know how and also they're harder if not impossible to rip stitches out of without destroying the fabric.

Forget the duct tape body form idea. You don't need a body form, you need a pattern that fits you. Patterns already have all the necessary darts, pleats, seam allowances and instructions printed on them for how to do all of them. Before even going shopping for a pattern, you need to take your own measurements and buy a pattern accordingly. Baggy or loose fitting clothing patterns such as for lounging pants, are much more forgiving if you've mistakenly bought the wrong size pattern. And many clothing patterns have multiple size patterns included. Don't just go looking for a fabric color or pattern that you like. Each pattern has suggested fabric types printed right on the pattern.  Stick with these until you have some experience under your belt of using different kinds of fabrics. And always, ALWAYS pre-wash your fabrics according to the instructions on the bottom of each bolt of fabric before using them, to remove sizing, pre-shink the fabrics and rinse out all the dyes that might bleed later in the laundry.

As mentioned by others, a basic sewing machine is needed. I recently bought a Brother off Ebay for about $80. for my daughter and it works just as good as mine that was 5 times more expensive. It doesn't go as fast, but you don't want it to for a beginner.  All you will ever need is basic straight, zig zag and stretch stitches. I've bought new machines with over 100 stitches and they are fun to play with, for about an hour. For a couple of bucks you can buy a universal zipper foot that works with any kind of zipper and any kind of machine.

Other than a sewing machine, two good pair of quality fabric scissors are a must.  You need a regular pair and if and when you graduate to using sheer fabrics or fabrics that fray alot, youw ill need a pair of pinking shears, which eliminate the need to finish many kinds of seams. I've had the same pair of regular Fiscars for 7 years now and they are just as sharp as the day I bought them. But then, I only use them for fabric. Smiley I stock up on the basic colors of thread (black, white and cream) when it is on sale and only buy other colors when I am starting a new project. I always use Dual Duty All Purpose thread ONLY. I've never had a problem with it on any kind of fabric and I work with many kinds of fabric.

Ask a sales clerk at your fabric store to help you with selecting an assortment of sewing machine needles because the packages can be very confusing for a novice sewer. I try to always go to the same sales clerk every time. They will go out of their way to help you find what you need if you treat them with friendliness and appreciation for their help. A package of assorted hand-sewing needles is a must too for sewing on buttons, hand-sewing hems etc. Pins (I also use the yellow ball  ones) and a pin cushion is a must as well. My favorite pin cushion is plastic that is heavy enough to sit on the corner of sheer fabric while I cut it and also has a magnet in it for holding pins in place or picking them up quickly off the floor. (this kind would be too heavy for a cat to knock off too). They're about $16. now though at Joann's but mine has lasted for years.

Plastic bins with snap on lids are a must for storing fabric and projects. Keeps the dust and cats out. Smiley I use large ones to store like types of fabric in (cottons in one, knits in another etc). Again, always pre-wash fabrics as soon as you bring them home from the store because many have dyes that will rub off on other fabrics when stored together. I use smaller shoe-box size plastic bins for smaller items, one for thread, one for notions like zippers, zipper feet and other sewing machine attachments, and one for lace, trim, ribbon etc. You can buy these as you start accumulating though. Smiley

I would suggest NOT setting your sewing area up in your living room for a multitude of reasons. Visitors might accidentally spill, knock off or just out of curiosity move stuff around or damage things, not to mention your cat would have a field day when you're not around. Plus it would only annoy your boyfriend sooner or later. But the most important reason is that if it is all out in your living room, you will be prone to put things away for one reason or another. If and when that happens (because it will) you are less likely to get it all back out to work on it. Best case scenario would be to set up a work room somewhere that you can leave things out to run back to and work on when you have a moment. I'm fortunate to have an extra bedroom that I have converted to a sewing room. Its always a mess but I know where every single item is at least and I can shut the door and keep the world out of my business. Smiley
Good luck. I would love to hear how things are progressing...


Becki Pavlik
30+ years sewing, pattern drafting and crafting experience. Designed the infamous Pound Puppy toy in the mid 80's, designed and sold one-of-a-kind teddy bears at annual shows for 17 years, and launched by own line of craft patterns in the 90's. Busy, Busy, busy! Smiley
« Reply #8 on: February 29, 2012 02:14:52 PM »


Thank you so so much for the reply! Those are extremely wonderful suggestions. I don't really have much time to write out a thoughtful reply right now, as I have to get ready for work in a few minutes but I just wanted to thank you.

I do want to mention the living room, however. We have a full basement, which acts as our living room. The boyfriend and roommate throw parties, but for the most part they remain in the basement. The living room is used mostly as shoe and jacket storage (let's just say I've only needed to clean it 3 times in a year). So really, it's the quietest, least used room in the house. The real activity is in the basement or kitchen. It's the perfect room for quiet hobbies, and it'll give me an excuse to actually use the room.

I'm looking into two Brother machines, but can't decide which one. The first is the Brother XL2600i (Retail : $80), and the other is a higher-end Brother CS600i (Retail: $160). I have an employee discount on both, so they'd be $72 and $144 respectively. I figure I'd grow out of the CS600i slower than the XL2600i. I'm not exactly a beginner, but not a professional (though that is my goal). Which one do you recommend more?
« Reply #9 on: February 29, 2012 10:05:50 PM »

I guess I can't edit posts.

I called my mom earlier and talked to her about our old sewing machine - the one I grew up with. It's an old Singer, bought sometime in the early '90s. She bought it new for about $200 at Sears. I can get a model number from her tomorrow, but she didn't feel like going down to the basement and digging it out today. It's a lightweight machine, and very basic with several stitch options. I remember it has a plastic casing, metal pedal, a backwards stitch switch, several metal and plastic bobbins, and a clothespin holding the spool of thread down lol. It's never been maintenanced, oiled, or anything of that sort.  It survived my childhood antics of who knows what. The last time I used it was late 2010, and it worked okay from what I remember. I was sewing a rat hammock; a piece of flannel, several scrap pieces of bed sheets, and fleece together. As always, it was easy to work with and rarely tangles the thread (though it does happen from time to time).

Why I bring this up: My mom said it would cost about $40 to ship it out here. Would I be better off buying one of the two Brother machines I mentioned in my last post, or spring for shipping for my childhood Singer?
I am going to visit my mom in a few months and if I opt for the Brother now, I can bring the Singer home with me. Price doesn't matter to me - quality does. If a 15-20 year old Singer is better than a brand spanking new Brother, then I'll take the Singer any day. Problem is; I don't know anything about sewing machines.
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