“I’ll use this every day!”

My two soldiers with their fabulous bags -- we had another student, but she left early

My two soldiers with their fabulous bags — we had another student, but she left early

Drawstring bags were meant to be one of the easier projects I was planning to take on. It wasn’t.

I contacted Nina immediately after looking at the pattern I would be using, knowing full well I didn’t have the tools necessary for this item. I sped to her house, fabric and instructions in hand, and we settled in to begin our process. We quickly realized the instructions were poorly written and confusing, leading us to draft our own. It was lucky that Nina was so proficient in making drawstring bags because without her, I would have been completely lost. But then again, isn’t that what a mentor is supposed to do?

Even though we had a better idea of what we would be doing, I still managed to make laughable mistakes. First, it became apparent that my measuring skills were a bit rusty so I had to measure two different sizes of the bag. Then, I encountered difficulties using a zig-zag stitch (which has become my favorite for its inverted look but it definitely takes some getting used to). One of the more challenging elements of the project is the concept of hammering in the little circles that you thread the string into. You don’t have to add them, but they look nice and keep the bag more stable.

A few other tips: for an extra touch, add a straight, decorative stitch on each corner of the bottom of the finished bag; burn the edges of the string to keep them secure; and use a paperclip to thread the string through the bag. The  zig-zag stitch is going to feel strange at first — you will probably want to try to straighten it out — but try to give the machine the reigns and let it sew freely.

This class was unfortunately much smaller than I had hoped — we had three students rather than our usual 6-7 — but we made do. Having fewer kids actually allowed us to have the one-on-one time we needed to make the best bags possible. The girls got a kick out of hammering the holes, and they figured out quickly that feather-light taps wouldn’t cut it to get the job done. The zig-zag stitch was a challenge for all, but after I explained that the machine could do most of the work, they let go and actually sewed some straight zig-zagged lines.

I used a different pattern for my bag, but they can come in any shape, size, or style. If you’re interested in making your own, follow the link below.

http://www.sewmamasew.com/2011/08/how-to-make-a-drawstring-bag/

“What are we gonna use THESE for?”

Before...

Before…

A few weeks later, word got out (by way of my fabulous mentor) about our lesson and my class quickly multiplied. We welcomed two new students as well as another who hadn’t been available for the previous meeting. When I told the girls about our latest project, they each simultaneously cocked their heads and waited for further explanation. Seeing as how this was my third time on the stand, I was prepared. I proudly brandished my travel coffee mug and proceeded to wrap my example cozy around the neck. Again, they appeared confused, as if silently asking me why a group of 10-12 year olds would need a holder for their caffeinated beverages. Flabbergasted, I exclaimed, “You can make it for your moms!” And that’s all it took to get them onboard.

It wasn’t a shock to discover the girls had a knack for sewing curved lines (see previous classes for examples), which is the main focus in this project. They were excited to have the freedom to stray from my weekly preaching of “straight lines are the way” and they excelled beyond my expectations. Even the two sisters who were facing their first lesson caught on very quickly. In fact, at one point, a number of students leaned back and asked, “Is that it?” One girl’s machine malfunctioned more than once and I spent much of the lesson trying to repair what was broken. This was actually quite beneficial for me because I had to familiarize myself with someone else’s machine — without instructions or help of any kind — and I eventually managed to find the problem and adjust to the situation.

I had been expecting the sewing of the Velcro strips to be the most difficult part — due to their size and my girls’ continual struggle with straight lines. But I must have been a better teacher than I had thought because each one finished her cozy with plenty of time to spare. This lesson was effective in teaching the girls about patience and taking pride in their work. My sister, Caroline, had to undo her stitching two or three times before she was finally satisfied with her work. And you know, I was extremely proud that even though she was clearly frustrated, she wanted it to be the best cozy she could make, and she followed through. With or without the product, that determination and focus was something much more valuable than I anything I could have taught her.

If you’d like to make your own cozy, follow the link below for details:

http://stitchwerx.net/free-cup-cozy-java-jacket-sewing-pattern-and-tutorial/

After!

After!

“Sammy, can you make me a pillow?”

My final product

My final product

There is nothing I won’t do to appease a small child, especially when the child in question is my adorable 5 year old sister. And she’s giving me the puppy-dog eyes.

Emma is probably my biggest fan, so when I do something fun or out of the ordinary, she immediately wants to be a part of it. She’s too smart for her own good, and she’s very aware that I am wrapped around her pinky finger.

When I told her I was learning to sew, she asked me if I would make her something. Again, this wasn’t really a question. We both knew I couldn’t deny her anything, but I tried to act cool and give off a “will she or won’t she?” attitude.

A few weeks passed and Christmas was coming dangerously close. I was out of ideas as to what to get Emma before I realized I finally had the time to make her the pillow she wanted.

I endured the Saturday morning traffic to drive to JoAnn Fabrics and scoured the aisles for the perfect fabric. Emma was a big fan of Frozen but I thought everyone would be grateful to see something that wouldn’t encourage an outburst of the chorus to “Let It Go.”

I purchased a pillow form and a fabric for her next favorite film: How to Train Your Dragon.

I got the fabric for a steal — $10! – and raced home to start my project. Now, this was the first project I had attempted without Nina’s help, and I was outwardly nervous. I only had a few hours left in the day before I had to escape to basketball practice, so I set to work and crank out a quick pillowcase. I found a beginner’s guide on the Internet that supposedly worked for any size pillow.

It lied.

I ended up with faulty dimensions that didn’t match and had to restart the project twice. Finally, I found a reliable video on YouTube that fit my pillow form and the type of pillowcase I was trying to make. Once I had the proper dimensions and understood the steps (there were really only a few), the project came together seamlessly and I ended up with an adorable pillow.

The size was tight, but it was still open enough to change the pillowcase if Emma ever got tired of the same case.

When Christmas Day rolled around, I proudly placed my gift in my sister’s hands. Her eyes widened and she shrieked with glee at the surprise.

The girls' final products -- notice the variety?

The girls’ final products — notice the variety?

If you’re interested in making an envelope pillowcase, follow the link below for a quick and easy video guide.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4LJnPEvjdDo

Who doesn’t need a potato sack?

Example potato sack from the online pattern.

Example potato sack from the online pattern.

One of my overall goals throughout this experience was to come up with ideas that will be interesting to the kids I would be teaching how to sew.

So when Nina contacted me about making potato sacks, I jumped at the opportunity to create something I would never use in my daily life. The process was more challenging this time; I needed more fabric and there were many more steps than the previous projects.

I found it most difficult to wrap my head around the idea that certain steps required me to position the fabric so that the “ugly” side was facing me. I guess it’s a basic instinct to want things to look their best, and having to essentially work backward for a few steps was a strange experience.

I practiced my straight lines once again, this time working with a rotary cutter that made my job of cutting 100 times easier. I also worked with a cutting mat, which allowed me to measure my fabric accurately based on the pattern. It also made it easier to cut the fabric without it moving.

The final product turned out very well considering the various mistakes I made – having to rethread the machine’s needle, forgetting to put the foot down before beginning to sew, and pressing the edges in wrong direction. Only once we had packed up our supplies did we realize that I had pressed the opening where the potatoes would go inside out; the potato sack would still work the same and I think my mistake gave it character.

I was extremely proud of what I had achieved, and I became inspired to add potato sacks as one of the projects for my four-part sewing class.

IMG_4573

The team at work

The team at work

The final products

The final products

If you’re interested in trying your hand at making a potato sack, follow the link below to download your pattern (it’s free!)

http://www.craftsy.com/pattern/sewing/other/microwave-baked-potato-sack/105512?SSAID=261334

Bathrobes: Friend or Foe?

My very first bathrobe in all its dysfunctional glory.

My very first bathrobe in all its dysfunctional glory.

Nina and me working on our robes

Nina and me working on our robes

A few weeks later, I returned to Nina’s for my next lesson: how to make a bathrobe. My initial reaction came close to that of sheer panic; the instructions were detailed and I knew I would be there for a while.

My cutting skills had improved since the last lesson, though I did occasionally “chew” my fabric. I found myself continually puzzled by the sewing machine I used, so I paid close attention as Nina and her daughter, Elizabeth, took various steps to prepare the machine.

All sewing machines are different; some require fewer materials or steps than others. Setting yourself before you begin your project is going to save time and your full head of hair will thank you later – I’ve developed a habit of yanking on my own out of frustration and if you are a beginner like I am, you probably will also. I worked with a Babylock machine, one meant for more skilled beginners and typically younger students. I didn’t take too much offense to this notion.

The bath robe took me approximately 5 hours. It’s true that this process is a longer one, but my limited knowledge proved to be a hindrance that slowed me down. But despite my mistakes – sewing pockets on the inside of the robe and later sewing them closed – I managed to complete a passable final product.

If you’re planning to make your own robe, follow the link below.

http://mellysews.com/2013/10/sleepy-robe-free-robe-pattern.html

Getting Started: My First Adventure

A basic idea of the stockings I created. You can use a similar fabric or choose your own.

A basic idea of the stockings I created. You can use a similar fabric or choose your own.

Elizabeth and me working on our stockings.

Elizabeth and me working on our stockings.

It isn’t a secret that I am DIY-project impaired.

I’ve never been very good with clothing repair or creating various items from scratch. When I heard that a friend of my father’s was an active sewer, I decided to reach out to Nina — my mentor — and have her teach me to sew. Our first lesson took place on November 30, 2014 and our project was basic stockings for the upcoming holiday season.

The project seemed fairly simple: the supplies list was limited, the stockings would be small, and it seemed it wouldn’t take too long to finish each stocking. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this overall experience, it’s that you should never underestimate your project.

I’m not quite sure what tipped Nina off that I was an exceptional beginner; perhaps it was my inability to cut fabric neatly or the fact that I had initially intended to start cutting my stocking in the center of the large piece of fabric I was given.

When it became apparent that I had no idea how to cut my fabric, Nina had me practice on scraps until I got the hang of it. She made me press my own fabric again and again – I couldn’t seem to remember that sewing often requires you to do things a bit backward – until I ended up with a set of perfect stockings.

As a whole, the process took me about two hours to complete a set of stockings, considerably longer for a seemingly basic project. But we laughed a lot at my lack of knowledge and I was able to figure things out on my own — under Nina’s ever-present watchful eye.

If you’re interested in trying your hand in the art of holiday crafts, follow the link below. Happy sewing!

http://www.youcanmakethis.com/products/easiest-christmas-stocking-sewing-pattern