When starting a new sewing project, you’ll often find that the instructions you’re following tell you to prewash your fabric. We’ve all been there - staring at the fabric, wondering if prewashing really is necessary. Why wait for the washing machine, the drying, and the ironing process to be over with when you could just dive straight into your next project?
As annoying as it is, pre-washing fabric is actually a vital step in most sewing projects. To learn why you should pre-wash your fabrics, how to wash them, and a few exceptions to the rules, keep on reading.
Why you should pre-wash your fabric before sewing.
Avoid shrinkage by pre-washing your fabric before sewing.
The main reason it’s advised that you prewash fabric before sewing is to avoid shrinkage. Seasoned sewists will tell you that most natural fibres shrink during their first wash - a fact they probably found out via the hard way! Cotton shrinks by about 5% when washed for the first time, but it’s not uncommon for cotton and other natural fibres to shrink by up to 10%.
Wash your fabric just like you’ll wash the final garment.
The old “measure twice, cut once” phrase won’t help you if your fabric shrinks when wet, so avoid this problem completely by washing your fabric before sewing. If you’re planning on hand washing the garment, you need to prewash the fabric in the same manner. This means that if you’re planning on making your garment machine washable, make sure the fabric has been pre-washed in the washing machine at 30°C.
It’s also handy to throw your fabric in the tumble dryer too if that’s a method of drying you’re going to be using as part of your normal laundry routine. Even if you’re planning on air drying your garments, it’s good to put the fabric in the tumble dryer, just in case your garment ends up in there by accident.
Pre-washing also helps rid fabrics of dyes and chemicals.
Another great reason to pre-wash your fabric before sewing is to wash away any chemical treatments, dyes, starch, and dirt. A starch treatment is often used on the fabric to make it look crisp and clean on the bolt, so pre-washing the fabric makes it softer and easier to work with.
When is it okay to not pre-wash fabric before sewing?
There are a few cases where a pre-wash is not strictly required, although some preparation might help with the overall sewing process.
If the item you’re planning on sewing is unlikely to need washing - for example pencil cases, peg bags, scrunchies, bunting, and other accessories, then it’s not strictly necessary for you to pre-wash it. If it can be cleaned with a damp cloth effectively, there’s no need to wash the fabric before sewing.
Fabrics that are dry clean only and garments that need to hold their structure would benefit more from a light steaming before cutting and sewing. Hold an iron above, but not on, the fabric and let the steam penetrate the fabric, this method also allows for any fabric shrinkage.
100% synthetic fabrics aren’t likely to need pre-washing to prevent shrinkage, however it’s still worth washing the fabric as this will remove dirt and dyes.
Pre-washing denim may lead to white lines where the fabric creases and folds during the wash. For this reason, some people don’t pre-wash denim and prefer to cut and sew with it straight away.
How do I pre-wash my fabric?
We already spoke about how you need to pre-wash your fabric just like you’re going to wash the finished garment.
One thing to consider is the raw frayed edges of the fabric. In some cases, you may need to protect the raw edges before pre-washing your fabric to avoid losing length. Pre-fraying your fabric is one option, or running a zig-zig stitch or overlocker up the raw edges is another method to prevent fraying.
Of course, you could always pre-wash your fabric and remove the frayed edges afterwards - but if you are planning on measuring the shrink rate - you will need to finish the edges first. and ALWAYS finish the edges on Sweater Knit fabrics as they will die a death in your machine without it.
Looking for a few more tips on pre-washing fabric before sewing?
If you have any questions about pre-washing hop on into my free Facebook group Kernow Sewcial to ask any questions - I'm very quick to comment or reply and there is a huge community of wonderful sewists just waiting there to support oyu as you go!
For anyone who wishes to create their own clothing, learning how to measure your body for sewing patterns is an essential skill. Making your own clothes is an incredibly satisfying and rewarding way of expanding your wardrobe. It can also serve as a fantastic way of doing your bit to reduce the environmental impact fast fashion has on the planet - especially if you source fabrics sustainably by thrifting or upcycling.
Slow Sew with Kernow Sewcial
If you are a keen garment maker or want to improve your me-made, over on our brilliant Kernow Sewcial Facebook page, we host optional monthly challenges to encourage creativity among our members. Many people use their body measurements to hack and alter patterns and a recent challenge focused on ‘reinvention’ encouraging our sewists to create something completely new out of unused duvet covers.
We had some absolutely brilliant creations shared on the page, from delicate summer dresses and floaty harem trousers, to the ever practical cotton dungarees and storage baskets. If you are interested in taking part in our monthly #GetSetSew challenges, head to our Facebook page and introduce yourself.
Why taking accurate measurements is so important
What equipment do you need to measure yourself for sewing patterns?
In order to accurately measure yourself for clothing, all you need is a tape measure and something with which to write your measurements down. If you’ve seen my Essential Sewing Supplies For Beginners blog post, you’ll know that tape measures are an invaluable tool in the world of sewing, they’re also cheap and hard wearing (although they can stretch over time). It may help you to have another person on standby to write the measurements down for you or help you with accurately placing the tape measure.
However, it’s possible to do it yourself by using a full length mirror to check you’re measuring the fullest part of your body.
Tips and tricks to guarantee an accurate body measurement.
Before you get started, have a quick read of these tips to make sure the process is as easy as possible.
How to measure your body for sewing patterns
There are three basic measurements that most garments will require: bust, waist, and hips. There are also quite a few additional measurements that you may wish to take to either ensure a better fit or create a specific garment. Remember that when measuring yourself for sewing patterns, you need to breathe normally and stand up straight.
Bust: Wrap the tape measure around the fullest part of your bust and measure the total circumference. Ensure the tape measure stays flat and horizontal all the way around your body - using a mirror is helpful.
Waist:Your waist is the smallest part of your torso, where the body bends. Wrap the tape measure around yourself and have a little wiggle from side to side, this will help you find the ideal spot. Once again check that the tape measure stays flat and horizontal the entire way around your body.
Hips:Hip measurements are not necessarily taken where you’d think they ought to be. Most people assume that to measure this area you must measure where the bones of your hips are. However, this is often not the case. You need to measure the widest part of the area, and that often means measuring around your bottom. It helps to stand sideways in front of a mirror to make sure you’re measuring the widest part.
Additional body measurements you may wish to record
Some types of clothing require additional measurements, such as trousers and formal shirts. Use the following guide to ensure you get accurate measurements - remember to breathe normally and keep the tape measure flat against your skin.
There is a FREE PDF download for you available on the Resources page which you can use to help you with your measuring... It's available for both male and female bodies.
What to do next?
Now you’ve got to grips with measuring your body for sewing patterns, it’s time to start sewing! Some of my recent garment makes include the wonderful Tessuti Isla Top and the Sapporo Coat by Papercut Patterns.
Start To Stitch Freebies
If you’re not quite ready to make your own clothes, I offer several free beginner patterns on our website that are perfect for beginner sewists to get stuck into and hone their skills. You can choose between our Start To Stitch Bunting, Start To Stitch Free Twist Headband, or the ever practical Start To Stitch free Face Covering pattern. I would also invite you to head over to Facebook and join our thriving Kernow Sewcial group as mentioned above, where I post monthly challenges, as well as share great tips, tricks, pattern suggestions, and advice.
Start to Stitch Courses
If you’re new to the world of sewing and garment making, first of all - welcome! You’ve entered into a magical world of creativity and individuality, and I’m so glad you’re here. When you discover a new hobby, sometimes the terminology and additional hobby-focused information can be a little overwhelming at first. We’ve all been there, trust me. But never fear, because I am here to help!
As well as hosting Beginner and Intermediate Sewing online courses, I also run workshops and evening courses. Feel free to view our course page if you’re interested in finding out more information on the type of tuition I can offer you. I’m experienced in teaching beginners everything they need to know about sewing, and often find that terminology queries arise on my social media channels, and the Kernow Sewcial Facebook Group.
Getting started with sewing is an exciting and rewarding experience, so let’s go through the A-Z of basic terminology you’re likely to come across as a beginner sewist.
Note: This glossary has been written for beginners!
This blog post is aimed at complete beginners who want to start creating projects straight away. A more comprehensive list of sewing terms will be available in the future - sign up to the Start To Stitch newsletter if you’d like to be among the first to receive it.
Sewing a piece of fabric on top of another layer of fabric, so that they seamlessly look as one. The layer that you’re applying on top is sometimes folded slightly at the edges to create a clean look, or a satin stitch is used to completely cover the raw edge of the piece being appliqued.
Back-tack / back-stitch:
This stitch is used at the beginning and end of a sewing machine seam to anchor the thread in place. It refers to adding a couple of extra stitches backwards and forwards and can also be referred to as back tracking. Back-stitching can also refer to a type of embroidery stitch.
Baste or basting-stitch (also known as tacking):
Temporary stitching used to hold fabric in place; this is removed when your permanent sewing is done. Can be done by hand or sewing machine.
Diagonal cross-grain of the fabric at 45 degrees; the area of fabric that has the most stretch.
Narrow strips of fabric that are cut on the bias of the fabric at 45 degrees; the area of fabric that has the most stretch. This makes a tape that can be used to bind or face curved areas of your make.
A plastic or metal spool that you wind thread around. It goes into the bottom of your sewing machine to feed a line of thread beneath the needle and must be inserted and wound up properly.
A long, flat, needle-like tool with a blunt end that is used to thread elastic, ribbon and other materials through casing. We sell some lovely, handmade wooden bodkins in our Start To Stitch shop.
A small cut in the fabric that’s bound with small stitching. The hole is just big enough to allow a button to pass through it.
A folded over edge in a garment, usually around the waist. Used to enclose a way of adjusting the fit of the garment, such as using a draw string.
Precut 5″ squares pieces of fabric used for patchwork and other sewing projects.
Repair a hole in clothing without using a patch.
A hem that’s folded once to enclose the raw edge of the fabric, then folded again for the hem allowance.
Creating a sewing pattern based on body measurements.
A way of sewing a length of fabric into a bit of a smaller space without resulting in gathers or puckers.
Also – the amount of space in a garment to enable it to fit the body better.
Edging:Trims or decorative needlework that is used on the edge of the fabric.
A decorative item added to a craft project for aesthetic reasons; includes beads, buttons, patches etc.
Small holes are cut out in the fabric, then finished with an embellishment of thread around the opening.
The method of fastening two separate bits of fabric together, such as zippers or buttons.
A piece of fabric that is stitched to an opening such as a neckline, armhole or hem, on the inside of the garment. It stabilises this area and ensures a smooth fit and finish.
As the name suggests, a fat quarter is a quarter of a metre of fabric but instead of being a strip cut on a linear length, it is a square (and because its a US measurement for quilting measures 18×22. It’s often used for patchwork and other crafting projects. Here’s a YouTube explanation that delves into what a fat quarter is and how it’s measured.
Metal teeth like ridges that help to push the fabric along as you sew.
This refers to the fold in the centerfold or along the grain of your fabric. Many pattern pieces are placed on the fold line for cutting out.
The part of a sewing machine that controls the speed at which the needle enters the fabric, and therefore the speed at which you sew. It is controlled by your foot and usually attaches to the sewing machine via a cable.
A seam often used on delicate and sheer fabrics that helps to hide any raw edges in a neat double fold. Seam allowances are enclosed in this type of fold.
Running a thread along the fabric and then bunching the fabric up along the thread to create a ruffle a frill or the top of a puffed sleeve or gathered skirt at a waistband
Grain / Grain line :
The true grain runs parallel to the selvedge, and is visible in a woven fabric by looking closely at the threads - the warp threads denote the true grain. Pattern pieces are generally laid along the grain line, and this direction is shown on them by a double headed arrow
The cross grain can also be used in place of the true grain on some stable woven fabrics - this is found at 90 degrees to the selvedge and can be spotting by following the weft threads from side to side of the woven cloth.
Because some cloth is woven slightly wonky - it is always best as a beginner to focus on the true grain only to ensure your makes hang well and are as easy as possible to sew.
Finishing the last details of your garment or sewing project by hand, as opposed to using a sewing machine.
Hand wheel (also known as balance wheel):
Use the hand wheel on the edge of your sewing machine to adjust the height of your needle.
The edge of the garment or fabric project that is folded over and sown under in order to keep the raw edges from fraying and unravelling.
Interfacing is used to stabilise areas of a garment such as necklines, facings and zip insertions. It is a material used as a secondary layer of fabric in order and adds more stability and thickness to a garment. It can be stitched in, or ironed on ( fusible )
A hand stitch used to close a seam invisibly. Use commonly to close gaps after you have pulled an item through to the right side.
Layout or lay:
The optimal layout refers to laying the patterns on your fabric in a way that ensures you do not create too much waste fabric, remain on grain, and ensure that the decorative pattern or nap of your fabric is in the same direction on all of your cut pieces.
An inner layer of fabric underneath a top layer, often used in garment making to reduce friction ( to make things hang better ) and to hide all the inner workings of the make.
A dominant design element, usually ironed, embroidered or stitched on.
This term is used when dealing with fabrics that have a pile, such as velvet and corduroy. It’s important to cut these fabrics with the pile running in the same directions as the fabric’s hue changes depending on the way it is rubbed.
Small indents, usually diamonds or triangles, that are printed on the cutting line of a pattern, on the seam allowance. This indicates where the seams should meet, or another pattern piece should fit.
All the other items that you use while creating sewing projects - things along the lines of buttons, hooks, and elastic.
A specialised sewing machine that trims and neatens the edge of fabrics.
A weight that’s used to keep paper patterns in place, rather than using pins. Commonly used in combination with a rotary cutter and cutting mat
A decorative finish where a piece of cord is encased in a piece of bias binding and stitched into a seam so that on the wrapped cord is visible. Usually used on homesown items such as cushions, and also on garments.
To leave the needle in the fabric, raise the presser foot, and turn the fabric at a 45-degree angle. Then lower the presser foot and start sewing. Used to sew square seams.
Pleats are folds in fabric that add to fullness, and reduce a long width of fabric into a shorted length to attach to a waistband or sleeve head for example. There are different varieties of pleats, and these depend on the style and fitting of the garment you’re making.
Holds the fabric in place as you sew with your sewing machine.
The unfinished edge of fabric, after cutting before you have overlocked, or hemmed.
The right side of the fabric is usually the design side. There are instances of fabric with no right or wrong side visible, or you may choose to use the reverse of your fabric to face out on your garment and so the determination and appropriate markings are then made by the person doing the pattern cutting and sewing.
A tool used for cutting fabric quickly and easily. It can cut through several layers of fabric at once. It is a circular wheel / blade attached to handle which you roll along your fabric to slice through - you will always need a cutting mat to prevent damage to your table!
The amount of fabric which is between the edge and the seam. In older patterns this is ⅝ of an inch. More modern patterns tend to leave 1cm unless extra is required for fitting or french seams.
Where two pieces of fabric have been sown together.
A tool used to rip seams from the fabric and undo stitches previously made.
The finished edge on either side of your cut cloth
Keeps the spool of thread in place so the thread can be fed through your sewing machine.
Sewing a line of straight stitch along the curved areas of a cut pattern piece before assembling into a seam, in order to stabilise and prevent distortion.
The length of your machined stitches. In general, regular sewing is made with stitches that are about 3-4 mm and basting/gathering/bunching/sleeve easing stitches are about 5mm.
The width of your machined stitches. A regular straight stitch has no stitch width because the needle is in a stationary position and does not move from side to side.
When you make a zig-zag stitch, the needle moves left to right as well as up and down, and the width is the distance in mm of needle drops left to right. A good zig-zag stitch for stretch top stitching is 2.5mm length and 2.5mm width.
The stitch setting on your machine that looks like a straight line. The needle creates this by puncturing the fabric up and down on the same spot as the fabric is pushed through the machine by the feed dogs.
A sharp tool on the edge of your sewing machine for cutting excess thread.
Material, such as cotton or wool, that is used for filling items.
The threads that travel along the width of your fabric from selvedge to selvedge
The threads that travel along the length of your fabric, running parallel with the selvedge
The opposite side of the fabric to the side you have chosen to face out
The stitch setting on your machine that looks like a zig-zag line. The needle creates this by puncturing the fabric up as well as moving from left to right as the fabric is pushed through the machine by the feed dogs.
A zip is constructed from two tapes, usually attached at the bottom, each with a row of tiny ‘teeth’ that interlock when the tapes are pulled through a ‘pull’
Invisible zips are designed so that the seam covers up the teeth mechanism and the zipper can be concealed.
Open-ended zips still have the 2 parallel rows of teeth, however the ends are not joined. Instead they meet in a small box and pin mechanism, allowing you to separate two parts entirely - this is often found in jackets and coats.
And... don't forget if you have any questions at all - just pop into my FREE Facebook group Kernow Sewcial for tips tricks advice and an incredible and lovely community to support you!
So you want to start sewing - amazing news, welcome to a wonderful world of creativity and expressionism! There are only a few supplies you need in order to get started, and those supplies will see you through 99% of all projects you’re likely to start off with as a beginner sewist.
After you acquire the sewing supplies for beginners listed below, you’re ready to begin your journey. Once you’ve become familiar with your sewing supplies and equipment, the world truly is your oyster. Free beginner projects, such as our Start To Stitch Bunting, Start To Stitch Free Twist Headband, or the ever practical Start To Stitch free Face Covering pattern are all great for sewists who are just starting out and wanting to create something practical and pretty.
As your confidence grows and your love for sewing blossoms, you may wish to take your sewing to the next step. Here at Start To Stitch, we are proud to offer excellent valued courses for Beginners and Intermediate sewists. In each course, you’ll learn new techniques and troubleshoot common issues, as well as create wonderful handmade items. Both courses are held through a dedicated Facebook Group, with detailed video tutorials. Live video support and weekly tutoring calls are also included as part of the course, meaning that support and encouragement is always only a click away. Head to our Online Courses page for more information.
Sewing Supplies For Beginners
If you’ve landed on this page, you’re likely here for one reason, and one reason only: to find out exactly what tools and equipment you need in order to start sewing. Below is a list of the basic, yet essential, sewing supplies you’ll need as a beginner. There are obviously many more sewing tools that can be added to your collection as your confidence grows, however the list below will enable you to get started as soon as possible. So if you want to know what sewing supplies you should be looking out for as a total beginner, keep reading!
You’re going to need needles for your sewing machine. Picking up some spare needles is a great idea as sometimes needles do break, and you should change your needle after every project - if this happens to you, here’s a great YouTube video tutorial on How To Change A Needle On Your Sewing Machine. You may also want to purchase some needles for hand stitching as well.
Bobbins pass the bottom thread up in your sewing machine. These need to be wound up and inserted properly into the machine. Here’s a video tutorial on How To Wind A Bobbin On Your Sewing Machine. Bobbins are cheap to buy and come in a variety of materials, including clear plastic and metal. Check what type your machine uses - some brands use a different design.
A marking tool is always handy for marking out patterns onto your fabric. There’s lots of choice, so it’s whatever tool you feel most comfortable using. Some sewists use good old fashioned chalk, some use heat erase marking pens, and some use disappearing ink that vanishes after washing the fabric.
Clear rulers are a definite must have for any beginner sewist. Clear rulers allow you to see exactly what you’re doing, where you’re marking and what you’ll eventually end up cutting and sewing. If you can get one with a metal edge you can use it with your rotary cutter too!
It’s not just beginners who need a good seam ripper, even the most experienced garment makers make mistakes. Not only can the seam ripper be used to rip out stitches that were sown by mistake, but it can also be used to open up button holes, cut threads and remove stitches. In our Start To Stitch store we sell beautiful handmade seam rippers made from reclaimed, sustainably sourced wood.
Iron & Ironing Board
It’s essential to iron your fabric and get all those wrinkles out before you get to work. Wrinkles will affect the shape of your fabric, so make sure it’s lovely and smooth before you start cutting and sewing. You should press every seam as you stitch it too - it will level up your making game!
If you have any questions don't forget you can hop on over into my free sewing group Kernow Sewcial and ask away! Its a hot line to me and many other very experienced sewists and is a wonderful community to be a part of!
Ever found yourself rummaging through a box of fabric and feeling a tad unsure about what it is that you’ve actually got? Sometimes sewists need a little extra help pinpointing the fibres that make up their fabrics, and it really doesn’t matter if you’re a complete novice or a seasoned garment maker - we have all found ourselves pondering a fabric’s make-up at least once.
Inspecting the fabric closely may give you a few clues as to its quality and fibre makeup, however, oftentimes this is not enough. For a more conclusive identification, you can conduct what is commonly referred to as a ‘fabric burn test’. This simple, easy test will give you the information you need to more accurately identify your fabric. It’s a relatively straightforward test to carry out and can be done at home in a well ventilated area.
In this blog post, I will tell you how to carry out a fabric burn test safely and help you to compare your results in order to identify your fabric and fibres. I’ve also provided a handy fabric burn chart printable that is 100% free and makes the perfect accompaniment for your studio or work space. If you’re ready to get started - read on!
What is a fabric burn test?
A fabric burn test is, as the name suggests, a test in which you burn a small part of fabric; by burning the fabric and observing the flame, the smell, and the ashes, you’re able to better understand what fibres your fabric is made from. Once you know whether your fibres are natural or synthetic, you’re able to make informed decisions when working with it.
It’s worth nothing that some fabrics are made of a blend of fibres which can make burn tests an unreliable way of identifying fibre content. Some fabrics also have chemical finishings applied to them which can also make the test unreliable.
How To Conduct A Fabric Burn Test
A fabric burn test is a relatively simple test to conduct - all you need to do is observe the smell, the flame and the ashes that are left after the flame has died. The more complex part comes when you move on to identifying fibres using your findings. This is where this blog post, and our handy Fabric Burn Test Chart comes in use!
Equipment: Gather the following tools and equipment to help you carry out the test.
Cut a small but workable amount of fabric; a good amount is around 2 square inches. Next, place the fabric into a flame proof container and set one corner on fire. You need to then pay attention to the:
It’s a good idea to use long handled tweezers in order to better examine the flame. Make sure you take all the necessary precautions and have a bucket of water at the ready in case you need to extinguish the flame. If you’re conducting the fabric burn test outside, please make sure that it isn’t a windy day, as this could prove to be extremely dangerous! When conducting the fabric burn test indoors, make sure that you’re in a well ventilated area.
Once you have your findings, use the chart below to help you identify the fibres. (You can download this in full resolution from our resources section here)
Hopefully you now have a better understanding of your fabric’s fibre content and you feel more confident working with the materials at your disposal. Now that you’ve got the basics, how about getting your teeth stuck into one of our free sewing projects? If you’ve enjoyed this post and found it useful, please give it a share on your social media platforms and help spread the joy of sewing!
And don't forget if you have any questions on any aspect of sewing you can drop into my Free facebook group Kernow Sewcial and call for help and I'll be happy to answer!
Is clutter taking over your sewing space? You can have lots of great ideas and sewing projects you want to complete, but if you’ve got clutter blocking you from working on your projects it can be a challenge to get things done.
As a professional declutterer (and quilter and sewist!) who works with creative women who love to sew, I’ve created a unique framework that explains why clutter accumulates in our sewing rooms (I’m no exception! I still have clutter build-up from time to time, although I’ve learned how to keep it to a minimum). My framework is based on the habits and behaviours that trigger the accumulation of clutter. My philosophy is that in order to clear the clutter, you need to understand HOW and WHY it got there. In my experience, most quilters and sewists will be familiar with at least two or three of the Seven Clutter Triggers. Which of them might be affecting your sewing room?
TRIGGER 1: OVERBUYING.
You often bring extra items into your space – items that eventually become clutter because you can’t use them fast enough. Buying tools and notions because they’re on special offer or buying fabrics that appeal to you (without having a project in mind for them) can lead to this kind of clutter.
Combat overbuying by practicing CONSCIOUS SPENDING. Set a budget, only shop for fabric when you know you’ll use your purchases right away, and remember that sales and special offers happen all year round so if you miss one there will be another one coming soon! Spend your money consciously and bring in only the things you know you need right now.
TRIGGER 2: SCARCITY THINKING.
You may tend to over inflate the value of what you have, thinking it’s worth more to you than it actually is. You’re reluctant to let go of fabrics or tools that you secretly don’t care much about, because they ‘might come in handy one day’ or they’re ‘perfectly good’. Scarcity thinking comes from us unconsciously repeating a story about lack that we’ve learned sometime in our life – either from our own experience or our family’s experiences.
Work on transforming scarcity thinking into an ABUNDANCE MINDSET. Look around at all the wonderful items that you have in your sewing room that you actually use! Those tools are serving you well and you love them – you have abundance in your life. Now take a look at those ‘someday’ items – are they really as valuable as the ones you use all the time? If not, let them go.
TRIGGER 3: SENTIMENTALITY AND NOSTALGIA
Sometimes we treat things as a substitute for a person that’s dear to us (like a sewing machine passed down by a loved one), or a happy memory of a past time in our life (like fabric we might have picked up on a fabulous holiday, or a garment pattern that used to look great on us but no longer is our size or style). If you’re reluctant to let go of these sentimental items, you may end up storing items in your sewing room that you would never actually use - but sometimes it feels too hard to let them go.
My suggestion is to LOOK TO THE FUTURE. Take a photo of some of those nostalgic items and let them go, and then think about your future projects – the ones you really want to do. If you’ve got real sewing heirlooms, give them an appropriate future by using them as art in your home instead of letting them into your sewing space where they won’t be of use.
TRIGGER 4: SENSE OF DUTY
Like many sewists and quilters, you may get requests from family or friends to make them something or teach them how to sew, and you might feel obligated to do so even if you don’t want to. You might also be hanging on to projects or ideas because you feel the duty to ‘finish what you started’ – even if the project no longer appeals to you!
Remember to PUT YOURSELF FIRST. Make sure you prioritize the time to work on projects that bring you joy, rather than doing favours for others or finishing an unwanted project. Find a way to say no to the requests that come in, unless you’re truly happy to do them. And here’s a challenge: look through your sewing projects, find one that is no longer fun and enjoyable for you – and toss it! Make room for what you really love now.
TRIGGER 5: SENSE OF IDENTITY
If you have a less-than-clear sense of your creative identity, you may not really know what types of sewing projects you truly love, and you may accumulate projects that reflect trendy styles or mimic the work of someone you admire – but then end up not finishing them because they’re not quite your style.
To transform this identity crisis into DEEP SELF-KNOWLEDGE, do some thinking to find out what kind of creative elements you truly love – whether these are colours, styles, types of garments, or other elements. Incorporate them into your next sewing project to boost your creative self-confidence.
TRIGGER 6: DISORGANIsED THINKING
Although you may love and need all the items in your sewing space, they’re not organised in any particular way – so you end up wasting time searching for things and are unsure of what you have.
Restore order by creating HELPFUL SYSTEMS: group items like by like, store them in clear containers, and let go of any multiples of items. Make a note of which supplies you need to top up for specific projects, and – most importantly – create a routine of putting things away as soon as you’ve finished using them.
TRIGGER 7: OVERWHELM
You have a huge amount of ideas for sewing projects and want to do them all! But you tend to start things and not follow through on finishing them, so you accumulate unfinished projects that eventually lose their appeal because you’ve left them too long.
Conquer overwhelm by creating a MASTER PROJECT LIST: make a list of every sewing project you intend to work on, including current projects, partially-completed projects, and ideas for projects. Then rate each one a scale of 1-5 for excitement level (1 means you don’t like it much; 5 means you can’t wait to start working on it). Cross off everything that only rates a 1 or a 2 and declutter it from your workspace, and from the remaining list pick a maximum of five projects to work on right now. Every time you finish one, bring another up from your list. Prioritising your projects and limiting the number you work on at any one time will stave off the overwhelm.
So, which were your telltale triggers? And how did it feel to let go of some of the items you realised were clutter? By becoming more mindful of your habits and behaviours, you’ll start a huge transformation in both the way your sewing space looks and the way you think about the materials and tools you own.
Nadia Arbach is a professional declutterer at Clear the Decks!
She loves helping creative women clear the clutter in their sewing spaces so that they can do their best creative work.
Her podcast, ‘Declutter and Organize Your Sewing Space’, has helped sewists and quilters around the world start decluttering their sewing rooms.
For a limited time you can purchase four of her best-selling courses and e-books in the Creative Woman’s Decluttering Bundle, at https://clearthedecks.teachable.com/p/declutteringbundle. and for a limited time she is offering Kernow Sewcial (my free Facebook group ) members a discount of £5 using the special code - hop on into the group to get it! - thanks Nadia!
First things first - the best advice is always to buy the best that you can afford - because any sewing machine is better than no sewing machine, and because even entry level machines provide decent functionality these days that you can learn to use to your requirements as you grow and develop as a sewist. Having said that, most people who get the sewing bug will out grow an entry level machine very very quickly - and I would always advice against buying any of the space saving / mini models that are touted for people to start on. You will be wasting your money.
Ask yourself are you looking make clothes, or quilts?
Essentially sewing falls into two camps and each one has a slightly different set of requirements though they aren't mutually exclusive - what I suggest below is for the aspiring garment makers among you, as that is my thing and what I know best!
There are a few key things I do think EVERYONE should try to prioritise when buying a new machine in order to future proof your purchase...
1) Ability to alter manually both stitch width and length in addition to pre-set stitches
2) One step automatic buttonhole
3) Manual speed control on the machine in addition to a pressure sensitive pedal
4) Decent range of stitches including a stretch stitch (lightening bolt is perfect)
5) Ability to use a twin needle
6) Free arm capability
These will add money to the cost (sophisticated functionality is just more expensive) so you need to think carefully about what compromises you're willing to make or whether or not you are going to go down the second hand route.
Please don't be blinded by 300 stitches available on a machine. These are not important and not necessary - if you have around 20 you will have pretty much everything you need unless you are particularly into quilting when a million decorative stitches may come in usefully. I will write a blog post on which stitches I think are useful soon, but it will be short! Because in truth if your machine goes forwards and backwards in a straight line and you can alter the width to make a zig-zag then you have all you need ( with a bit of creativity in your approach ) - you need a machine to do LESS, but to do it well...
Many people would say that an automatic needle threader is a necessity. I think a lot depends on age and eye-sight, I have never needed one - and in truth have found them pretty temperamental. I am short sighted and don't struggle, but for my older students or those with long sight problems, I can see how one could be useful. This is nice to have not a need to have - and is entirely up to you.
Buying second hand...
I am all for buying second hand in the name of saving the planet and getting more bang for your buck but there are a few things to be aware of if you do this...
1) If you are a new to sewing you need a machine that is reliable and functioning smoothly to assist you as you learn. Second machines, especially vintage ones, can be extremely temperamental and as an inexperienced sewist you will struggle to know whether the knotty bobbin thread is something you're doing or something mechanically wrong with the machine.
2) Because of this, although you may be saving yourself money, you need to factor in the cost of a service to your purchasing budgets. Sewing machines, like cars and other machinery seize up if they are not used ( a prime reason for a secondhand sale ) or if they have been used a lot but not looked after. You have no idea how well a machine has been maintained with its previous owner so getting it serviced once you've purchased it can add £40-70 to your overall budget, but PLEASE do not skip this step as it will ensure whatever money you have invested is protected.
3) Avoid buying second hand vintage unless you know what you're doing and are willing to invest to keep it on the road. I have many students who come to me with vintage sewing machines who love the look of the them but soon realise they aren't up to muster when it comes to the projects they want to make, and they can cost you a LOT of money to keep going.
Buying second hand can be a brilliant thing to do if you know very specifically which make and model you want - and you have found one that you know has been looked after or isn't that old - unwanted gifts are always a great find - as you can often buy a better, modern model for a second hand price, than you'd have afforded if you were buying new.
In all honesty this is what I would recommend if you're a total beginner and this is why:
1) you know the machine is working tip top and if it isn't you'll be covered under warranty
2) you can have a chance to try before you buy and have a decent conversation with your retailer about what the functionality it
3) Modern machines have so much more functionality built into them then vintage or older ones. As time goes on machine design improves and improves.
So, how much should you spend? And what brands are best?
How much you spend depends very much on how much you have, but also what brand you go for. At the current time, there are two brands I would really recommend, although they all have their plus points these are known for reliability, functionality and ease of use. They are Janome and Bernina. I would like to say that I am not associated with them in any way, I have just taught for a long time and know that they are really great makes.
If you buy cheap, you will compromise on quality - just like cars or TV's or anything else. I have some very bog-standard Brother machines that are about £80 each that I use to teach on if a student is in need or has been temporarily deprived of their machine. There are a number of things that aren't great about them - the button hole function, the stability of the foot attachment, the number of preset stitches. They are light weight and a bit flimsy, but they do, and they're good enough to learn on if you are a first timer. If you get the bug however you will soon want something better.
Janome and Bernina are fabulous brands. Bernina is very expensive (and aspirational) but the build and functionality of the machines are incredible. For most people they are out of their price range so I usually recommend a Bernette - which is their domestic line. The B37 and the B38 are amazing models which fit all of my 6 requirements above.
You will get more machine for you money with Janome, and although they are still very well built they are more affordable. It's a little bit like choosing between a BMW or a VW or a Skoda. They are all pretty good and solid cars, they will do the job, they will just drive differently and some of the functionality and smoothness will vary depending on the make and model.
The main difference is that if your budget is around or less than £370 you will get a good Janome (The 230DC above retails at around £370), but you won't get close to a Bernina or even a Bernette (the cheapest Bernette doesn't have all the functions I think it should have though it is still a solid machine at around £270). BUT If you have more than £350 I'd say go for the Bernette's either B37 or B38 and you will have a solid, reliable machine that you can use for life.
If your budget is closer to the £1000 mark, look back at Janome, you will get a lot of functionality!
If you are lucky enough to have over £1000 to spend then go and try some Bernina's and see how they compare in terms of the 'drive'...
I will admit that I am a die hard Bernina loyalist - I learnt on them, the art schools I trained at always had them in the studios, my career in theatre showed me that pretty much every wardrobe has the Bernina 1001 as its staple machine. These are basic by the way but solid as an eternal rock. Forwards, backwards and side to side is all they do, but if you know what you're doing then that's all you need!
In many ways increased functionality can make you a lazy sewist - because you have a widget to do something for you, you don't ever learn how and why you can do it without, but in this time poor life, anything that saves time has got to be a blessing.
What machine do you use? Have you got loyalty to a particular brand?
During Lockdown 1 back in the Spring I became a bit obsessed with head bands because of the inevitable 'Lockdown Hair'. I bought quite a few and wore some of them but I do have an impossibly big head that to me is also a strange shape so I struggle a bit to find something that I like and that suits me, most especially while all the shops were shut!
Having joined the fabulous pre-order group for Clarabelle fabrics I saw a few people making them out of Claire's amazing European fabrics so I watched a few tutorials and had a little play, tweaked it all a bit and then found I loved the results!
With Lockdown 2 impending imminently, the timing couldn't have been better because despite managing to get a last minute hair cut, who knows how long it will all last this time, and it's better to be safe than sorry!
I have made this video tutorial for you to show you how I have done it - and you can download the FREE patterns for both widths of head band here.
By the way, the beautiful fabrics I use in the video came from Clarabellfabrics.com too. Claire's selection is totally fabulous and she's a valued member of my sewing community Kernow Sewcial as well as running her own pre-order group too. If you love mostly stretch fabrics in amazing prints and especially if you like making for the small people in your life (though there is plenty here for adults too) I really recommend you check her out.
The bespoke pattern weights came from Pattern Weights, another awesome local to me Cornish Company run by LOVELY people providing a super service. If you are a rotary cutter user then check out their varied and beautiful collection of designs. One day I'd love to design a set for myself !!
I have a history of trauma dating back from a very young age, and as a result have battled daily to function - through eating disorders, depression and a level of anxiety that just sits like a fluttering bird trapped under my sternum sucking all of the joy out of life. It is almost always there - even and often especially, in what are supposed to be the happiest moments.
The start of the UK Lockdown was immensely triggering for me & I started my Facebook group Kernow Sewcial because I knew if I, as someone who spent years in and out of therapy and who was pretty good an functioning effectively these days was finding it hard, others who might be on an earlier stage in their journey to healing, if they'd started at all, would be finding it frightening and overwhelming.
Much of the time, when people have experienced trauma, their brains respond by creating patterns of behaviour that come in to play when there is a perceived threat. On a very basic level, this is what anxiety is, your body keeping you in high alert to future threats because of the pain it has experienced from past ones. You can see now how the Pandemic, for someone who had experienced this was a major flashing beacon because for the first time in our memory the threat was REAL.
So, Kernow Sewcial was born, in a hurry without my usual prior planning and over thinking, actually on the same day Cornwall Scrubs was born too (it turned out to be a busy month LOL) and I wanted the group to be an uplifting and joyful space where sewists of all skill levels, gender and genre could come together, share their work, ask questions and cheer each other on. It's important isn't it? To have someone tell you that something is good and you did well, especially as you're learning... I can't imagine a kid going to school with no one ever telling them that they're getting something right. It's part of growth mindset - and it's vital to success in life, I feel.
Not many of us live in houses with other people who sew - and our partners and kids are wonderful I am sure, but peer support is a very different kind of support!
When the GBSB left us, I decided to carry on the momentum with a monthly sewing challenge called Get Set Sew which keeps everyone on their feet and helps push boundaries and learn and develop new skills (though participation is entirely optional of course)
In my face to face classes the focus is on community and togetherness, jelly babies feature heavily (I'll do a blog post about the jelly babies factor on a later date) to lift it from class-room to community, we sit in a circle, and the group is never more than 6 so that everyone feels they can chip in and chat during the down times. In the early stages of new motherhood, when I first started teaching, these classes were for me a glimpse of something normal and not baby related, and over time, with students booking back on to other classes, they have become as much about seeing friends and making new ones as they are about the all important income stream.
Covid could have killed my business, and all my face to face teaching has stopped, but thanks to my amazing husband who has more faith in me than I've ever had in myself (work in progress, it's getting better!) and who also happens to be a professional photographer and film-maker (you can find his beautiful film The Yukon Assignment on Amazon Prime) I managed to pivot. He quite literally got his camera out - told me put some mascara on and we filmed the who beginners and intermediate courses during the toddlers nap time in the lockdown period. Imposter syndrome and perfectionism would have stopped that happening had we not been in that unique set of circumstances, and I am forever grateful because it has shown me that I have the potential to grow a digital community alongside a face to face one, reach more people, and have a greater impact.
My first beginners class which I'm beta - testing this month has just sold out with 10 days left until we start, and the buzz and vibe in Kernow Sewcial is super lovely. I came over all soppy yesterday and went live to say thank you to them. What a team of gorgeous people.
The next pandemic that is going to grip us when Covid is water under the bridge will be our collective mental health : PTSD, stress, anxiety, jobs lost, domestic abuse survivors living with the legacy of a three month lockdown, grief at losing loved ones either from Covid, or from something totally unrelated. Mummies who have given had to navigate pregnancies and births with their partners banned from sharing the journey with them. The list goes on and on and on. Massive life rituals affected by restrictions on our liberty. Funerals being interrupted because a son wants to sit next to his grieving widowed mother to hold her hand and comfort her from Less than a 2m distance.
Trauma is real. It doesn’t have to be war zones or horrendous car accidents. It doesn’t have to be violent and dramatic and cinematic. On a very basic level Trauma occurs when our bodies nervous system is overwhelmed into a fight flight or freeze response, and is flooded with stress hormones.
You can experience all of the drama but if your nervous system is not soothed straight away back into calm, long term damage can occur. If someone gives you a hug, provides you with support and care, if you feel listened to and supported and held and if you are able to understand how to calm yourself and process, then something relatively traumatic for one person can have no long lasting effects in another. This is the basis of Polyvagal Theory ( look it up, it’s flipping changed my LIFE )
No, we haven’t been in a war zone this year. But we have experienced collective trauma, some people soothed and soothing, and others alone and still in a heightened stress response.
I personally have had a year like I’d never have been able to imagine and it has literally brought me to my knees triggering things in me I thought I had long since dealt with.
I’ve found a new groove now, checked back into therapy and started to do the work again. I have no shame in sharing that, I want to live my best life, and there is still work to do. Life is short and after a HUGE and very painful life lesson this year in putting others above everything else I am using my impending 40th birthday to pull up the draw bridge and work on getting it right before it’s too late. You never know what is around the corner. I have sewn, boy have I sewn, garments and garments and garments, and it has kept me afloat, but there is no shame in admitting that you need some extra assistance, and asking for it when you do.
So, Be kind, talk to each other about everything. Take the time to listen, put a hand up if you have something that needs saying. The more I talk to people the more I realise we all have a story to share that others can learn from.
You are an incredible human being, you deserve to be ok, to feel safe, to be heard, to share your stories. There are so many places to get help if you need them but I would personally recommend these things (apart from sewing obviously):
Polyvagal theory : look up Irene Lyon and Steven Porges on YouTube - GAME CHANGING
Trauma and the body : read ‘the body keeps the score’
Obviously in Cornwall there’s outlook southwest though CBT didn’t even scrape the surface of my issues it’s hugely helpful for many.
Hypnotherapy totally works and got me through a very traumatic medical procedure without having a nervous implosion - Body and Mind Hypnotherapy
If you have experienced any kind of domestic violence the Women’s Centre in Cornwall offers an incredible programme called Pattern Changing. I think you can self refer. If you aren't where I am most Women's Centre's will offer a version of it.
EFT (EMotional Freedom Technique) is a practical and useful thing to do when you’re triggered into a stress response. There are many qualified folks about.
And talk. Share it. When you offer your story into the universe and you look for an answer, it comes. It really does. I’m living proof of this.
My door is always open, you don’t have to deal with this stuff alone.
And if you fancy taking up a new hobby or meeting others for some sewing fun - join in with the lovely members at Kernow Sewcial, it would be so lovely to have you there xx
Sewing. pattern cutting, teaching, tea and Jelly Babies!