Monday, February 15, 2010

Back to Basics: For the Beginner

I've been at Alewives for 11 years now, and I have seen a lot of beginners come through our doors.

It's very important to me that the beginning sewer have an encouraging and positive first experience, because if you do, you are that much more likely to come back!

It breaks my heart when someone comes into the shop for a button or a bit of ribbon and they look around at all of the beautiful fabrics and say "Oh, this makes me wish I knew how to sew!"

Because anyone can sew, really.

A lot of times, these very people have had what I like to call a B.S.E.

A Bad Sewing Experience.

They tried to teach themselves how to sew (or had their parent teach them how to sew... almost as bad an idea as having a parent teach you how to drive!) and things didn't turn out well.

They botched a step or two and ended up with a half-finished project in their closets, reminding them of how frustrated they were and of the money they wasted.

Nobody wins with a Bad Sewing Experience.

With that in mind, here are my tried and true projects for all of the first-timers out there.

These projects are encouraging, well-written and attainable for a beginner.

Best book for beginners:

Seams to Me
by Anna Maria Horner.

The reasons I recommend this book:

What makes Seams to Me such a great choice for beginners is it's super-thorough introduction.

Anna Maria is your own personal Mr. Miyagi, making you wax-on, wax-off as she guides you through setting up your sewing space, how to use a machine and the different parts and functions on a machine, how to select fabrics and colors that work well together, different needles, different cutting tools, and much more.

No stone is left unturned.

Finally, once you have finished reading the introduction (which is even FUN to read!), the projects in this book are modern, contemporary, appealing to today's sewer and cover a wide range of uses, from a small pin-cushion caddy to a simple quilt.

There are even some projects that don't involve any sewing at all!

And the gorgeous photography doesn't hurt none, either.

This book sells itself and I am so glad Anna Maria wrote it and so glad I have a go-to book when a beginner walks through our doors asking for my advice.

Best quilt pattern for beginners:

Turning Twenty by Tricia Cribbs.

The reasons I recommend this pattern:

You've heard the expression don't judge a book by its cover, right?

Never more true than with the Turning Twenty pattern.

Depending on the fabrics you choose, this quilt reflects anybody's taste!

It's easy for a beginning sewer to pick out fabric for a Turning Twenty quilt: you just need twenty fat quarters...

or get yourself ten half yards... it's the same thing!

(I just blew your mind there, didn't I?)

Of course, for those of you who are absolutely terrified of choosing your own fabrics, you are not alone and you could always order one of our Turning Twenty kits... that's a sure-fire route to success!

The Turning Twenty quilt makes use of four simple shapes, so it is very easy to cut out.

Because the shapes are so large ("inexcusably large" is how my friend Nicole describes it), there are less seams and your fabric goes a long way, meaning this project costs less than a more traditional bed-sized quilt would.

The other great thing about these large pieces of fabric is that you really get to see the designs.

A lot of today's fabric doesn't need to be cut into teeny, tiny little pieces to look good.

You can get away with a simpler pattern that lets the fabric be the star of the show.

I also find that this style of quilt appeals to the more modern quilter.

And this quilt is quick!

The cutting goes relatively quickly and you can "assembly line" sew your blocks, saving time and thread along the way.

(Interesting side-note: I have been thinking about teaching a "virtual" Turning Twenty class one of these days... if you are interested, let me know and I will think about it a little more seriously!)

Best garment pattern for beginners:

The Anna Tunic by Amy Butler.

The reasons I recommend this pattern:

I wish Amy Butler were here right now so I could give her a big smooch.

Not only do we make oodles of money when she puts out a new fabric collection, not only did she single-handedly make sewing sexy again, not only does she write sewing patterns that are clear and concise and thoroughly modern, she did something even more profound to me...

She writes sewing patterns that include larger sizes as well.

As someone who will always struggle with weight and who is in the pre-wedding uber-struggle right now, I have been so grateful to Amy for writing patterns that include my size and that look good on any body type (even though I suspect that Ms. Butler has probably never had to worry about that herself!).

The Anna Tunic is the perfect example of this.

If you have Michelle Obama arms you can wear the tunic "al fresco," but if you are a little shy about letting your arms hang out you can wear this number under a cardigan or over a shirt.

The shape of the Tunic flares from the hips, skimming those "wobbly bits" (as Bridget Jones would say) and is universally flattering.

There are no buttonholes or zippers to fear with this pattern, and a minimum of pattern pieces (basically a front, back and 2 neck yoke pieces) mean you don't need to spend your whole life cutting.

The sewing instructions are very well written, like all of Amy's patterns, and I have found that the garment comes together quickly and easily with very pleasing results.

My only words of wisdom for this pattern is to take your measurements carefully and choose your size according to the corresponding measurements on the back of the pattern.

I also like to line mine with a coordinating solid or a fun little print instead of muslin ( I like those little details!).

And I wear my Anna Tunics over jeans.

Love the tunic-over-jeans-look, even though I may or may not be "getting away with" said look.

And that is all for tonight.

I hope this is helpful to all of you first-timers out there.

Believe it or not, I was once a first-timer myself, and I was most certainly NOT someone to whom sewing came naturally.

But I loved sewing and fabrics, and I kept at it.

And I had a lot of really great teachers.

It would be fabulous if everyone's road to sewing success was like mine, but even if you are not someone to whom it comes naturally, you can at least surround yourself with friendly projects, and avoid the dreaded B.S.E.

Have a nice evening and I will be back again soon!


Rhea at Alewives


Beej said...

This was a great post. I just bookmarked everything that you recommended.

Thank you!!!

Francesca said...

As always...a great inspiration. In fact I am going to get off the computer right now and finish the back of my first quilt! I can start another project..

Ritu said...

Thankyou so much for your words of encouragement for us newcomers. I have just pulled out my mother's sewing machine again after at least 10 yrs, and have bought 'Seams to Me', and am dying to get started (but am a bit nervous too...) I had forgotten how much I love fabrics, there is something so satisfying about handling them and then creating something too. So thanks for the impetus to get going, hopefully I won't join the realms of those who have had a B.S.E.

Ritu said...

PS - Would LOOOOOOVE a "virtual" Turning Twenty class - at home with 2 kids in Australia does not make for an easy way to get sewing lessons.... xox

Suzanne said...

How sweet that your heart goes out to us "traumatized" ones when you hear us oogling and oggling in your store and that you have taken the time to write such a sweet and inspiring post.

I was not so much a victim of a BSE as I was one of MSSE (multiple suboptimal sewing experiences) when I walked in your store and was overwhelmed by the color, organization and charm. Such inspiration could not go ignored so I signed up for the Turning Twenty class and loved it. Now, with a wee bit more confidence, and lots more inspiration, I am overcoming my MSSE.


Colette said...

Hoping you will get the Turning Twenty pattern back in stock soon??? I would love a virtual class!

Rhea Butler said...

Colette! Ask and you shall receive!

Turning Twenty is back in stock!

(Actually, it never was out of stock... I took a look and have no idea how the T20 description got the "out of stock" bit tacked on the end! Computer mystery, I guess!)



john & catherine said...

Would love a Turning 20 tutorial as well. Thanks for the help!

Amanda said...

Oh this is good. I get excited about sewing every once in a while and often end up discouraged. I think its time yet again to break out the sewing machine.

Kaylovesvintage said...

wonderful idea

Anonymous said...

Excellent post, alewives girl, but don't sell yourselves short. You are making sewing sexy AND from the viewpoint of an older sewer in Belfast, Maine, you are bringing beginners along very nicely.
And you have another fan-- in Castine, Maine:

Colette said...

doing the happy you just have to teach the virtual class!

abbie said...

would so sign up for the virtual class...I have been secretly loving your fabrics via SouleMama. My mom taught me how to sew (and to drive!) when I was in my teens, and thankfully it turned out well, and I am still spending too much time sitting at my machine. :) As much as I love intricate projects, I also LOVE simple ones that can be whipped up in a flash...thanks for these wonderful ideas..I am going to have to take a look at that tunic pattern...I am way in to yoke styles right now. thanks!

Anonymous said...

Such a great post. I am a new sewer. I took a class, have been working on a few pieces, but what a useful list of books and ideas. Thanks!

Colette said...

Do you have a favorite (or favorites) fabric you like for the Anna Tunic?

Rhea Butler said...

Hi Colette,

For the Anna Tunic I like the quilting weight cottons... they wash so nicely and get so soft. I like that they are a little bit substantial but a little bit delicate, too.



Anonymous said...

Definitely interested in the Turning Twenty class!

*aja said...

Enthusiastic yes to possible online class! Great article, many thanks.