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
Overall, it was relatively easy to put together but it was after I thought I'd finished that I started to have problems!!
Earlier this month I hosted a flat pattern cutting workshop for the members of my free facebook group Kernow Sewcial witb Jef Newsam of Spinone clothing.
Jef is an expert pattern cutter and we wanted to provide an intro to patten cutting by working through the instructions for Winifired Aldrich's incredible pattern cutting method for a basic bodice block.
My dressmaking stand - who Jef has christened 'Doris' is a standard size 12 in old sizing (before we vanity sized) which is slightly small than me in bust and quite a lot in hip, but about right in waist. I wear a UK size 8 - 10 depending on the shop I am shopping in which gives you an idea about why some of your shop bought patterns may not make up to your usual size and why you must ALWAYS measure your body and look at the finished garment size numbers to work out which size to actually make for you.
We worry about sizing - but in reality it is just numbers. I will write another post on this more another day.
So I made this pattern in a size 2 which is a size 8 even though my measurements worked for the 'made for' measurements of a size 3 (10 ).
This is because I could see there was a LOT of ease built into the garment and i didn't want it baggy and oversized. Overall this was the right strategy...
However when I made it up (in a hurry with no toile - slap wrist!!) I was rather dismayed to find that not only did it protrude flat at the shoulders (leading me to ask if I had slopey shoulders) but it also had a terrible gape around the armhole.
I am so fortunate that we had Jef and that workshop because in looking at the standard bodice block it became clear that the armhole needed to be much tighter (with more angled shoulders) and that this terrible 'make' wasn't as a result of my crap body after all.
I have said that out loud because a lot of my 'stuff' boils down to a self perpetuating inner narrative about my shape being crap - a hang over from a few years of disordered eating and a lot of other stuff besides. However I know that I am not alone in this.
The reality was that it is actually to do wit the drafting of the pattern and its relationship to my shape, which is a HUGE difference in story!
Because I had already made it - I sold the problem my sloping the shoulders more, and putting a dart into the arm hold to bust point giving a rather pleasing shape actually, which I am glad about!
A few final points on this pattern...
I think it should be lined. I am a bit obsessed with lining things because it raises something from good to lovely in terms of fit and hang and is so simple to do. It allows you to make something that truly feels like a quality garment... I might actually make a lining for this as part of a live in Kernow Sewcial, if I do that I will be sure to share it with you.
Finally - the press studs. BOY did these drive me to the edge. I had some sent by my amazing local fabric store Truro Fabrics but partially because I am cack-handed and partially because they required a bit of bulking in the seam, it didn't work out. I then tried some of the made in China variety on amazon but wasn't convinced by their rust-proof-ness and they came with no instructions and I finally solved it with some heavy duty press studs in antique brass and a fitting tool kit C by Hemline. Suddenly it all came together very easily.
Overall I am really pleased with this now - it fits nicely and is what I had hoped for. It could do with pockets, but then couldn't everything!!
Have you made this? How did you find it?
One of the things I cover in Back to Basics the online sewing course for beginners and refreshers, is how to change a sewing machine needle.
How often to you change your needle? Did you know you should change it for a fresh one every 3/4 bobbins full? Or at the start of every new project?
A blunt needle can cause all sorts of issues - including problems with stitches ... when you're troubleshooting a problem with your machine, changing a needle is one of the first things you should do!
Did you know that when the dressmakers made Kate Middleton's wedding dress they changed their needles every 3 hours? It's so important for precision and optimum use from your machine..
But do you actually know how to change a needle on your own machine? If not - watch this short video I made to explain it, it's a sample lesson from LEARN TO SEW: Back to Basics, my brand new online course launching 29th October - I hope you find it useful!
I'm so thrilled that my sell out beginners sewing course is now online - It has been 6 months in the planning and recording - with 66 video tutorials and all the hand outs to accompany it - but its finally here!
I never thought that in 48 hours I’d go from awkwardly trying to operate a sewing machine to feeling confident enough to want to try some simple dress making.
Back to Basics is beginners and refreshers sewing class covering all your machine basics, how to thread, sew, troubleshoot tension, change a needle, adjust stitch length / width. You will make 5 completed projects over the course and it will set you up for solo sewing! Work the comfort of your own home on your own machine so you can really get to know it. Detailed instructions, handouts and clear video tutorials.
I run this course in a closed Facebook group, with both recorded videos and regular weekly zoom calls for anyone who is struggling to understand a particular aspect of the teaching that week.
This brand new online class begins on 29th October for 5 weeks. Each week we will have a live (optional) zoom call to check in and share progress, and then I will upload the course material for the following weeks.
Each session introduces a series of skills for that week, which are consolidated into a weekly project - each of them practical, gift-able and useful!
I will teach this course a maximum of 6 times a year - and after this launch the next opportunity won't be until 2020 - so if you've ever want to master your machine, bite the bullet and join us today! Next year the price will go up too - so grab it at the discounted rate while you can :)
A comprehensive foundational sewing course, 65 video lessons, one year access and live support as you go for £85 - what's not to love!? You can book yourself on here
Here are some of the things that past students have made as a result of being on this course:
Come and join us! It will be so much fun :)
We have found ourselves in challenging time! Staying at home, distanced from loved ones, and waiting for a storm to pass...
There is so much positive talk about of coming back together into our communities when all this is over... of street parties and picnics and spending time together in celebration and remembrance, and what better way to focus on that happy outcome than to prepare the party decorations whilst we are all in hibernation!
After all, what is a street party without a few hundred bunting flags!
This is comprehensive tutorial for making bunting - something I run as part of my Back to Basics: beginners sewing course and its a super project for getting your hand back into sewing or for those just starting out! Plus it's brilliant scrap buster for your bits and bobs or up-cycled materials!
You can view the video tutorial below and download the equipment list and pattern shape for FREE from my shop here.
This was made at the beginning of the UK Lockdown in March 2020 and was designed to give us all a positive focus ... Don't forget to tag me in your makes #isewlationbuntingchallenge - I'd love to see what you come up with!
G E T S E T S E W September is upon us!!
Its a double whammy this month - conscious that we have busy and strange times with the return to work and school for many, its a pick and mix month which you can make as small or as large as you like...
Option 1: UFO challenge: In sewing speak a UFO is an unfinished object! I have a few, some of you are completer/finishers and so don't have a pile (I wish!!), many of you will have a LOT because like me you have shiny new object syndrome and get sidetracked by the new ideas.... (autobiography LOL) Choose ONE and commit to finish it this month. I will post a pic of mine soon! If you haven't got a pile but you are a serial buyer of fabrics and patterns that you never get round to actually making.... then this also applies. Clear some space by reducing the pile!
Option 2: Remnant Challenge: Use an off cut from a previous project to make something practical! OR treat yourself to a reduced price remnant from a fabric shop, choose something that appeals to you or challenges you and if you feel scared of it but you have an idea for it BUY IT. We've got your back... Post a pic in Kernow Sewcial and ask advice if you are at all unsure how to handle it or what to make.... or tag me on your social platform @starttostitch
You do NOT have to take part in these challenges, they're just prompts to keep us going, but if you fancy it, give it a go!
And to be clear - you don't have to make clothes, this could be ANY THING.... are you ready?
Get, set, SEW!!
When I signed up for The Fold Line's amazing online Sewing Weekender event I knew I wanted to utilise the rare occasion of a whole weekend dedicated sewing time to one large project I have wanted to complete for ages.
Despite having a large UFO to finish ( The Wardrobe By Me Cocoon Coat - more on that later! ) I went with the Sapporo Coat by Papercut Patters because I literally have SO many of these saved from instagram for inspiration and I knew I would love it as a garment, especially as a throw over in the transition seasons.
I had in my mind a bright mustard yellow one and hunted and hunted for the right, affordable fabric (tricky when coating is so pricey). I found this fab one from Minerva but when it came it was much more ochre in tone and i have to say I was a bit disappointed when it arrived.
The Sapporo Coat is a total legend on the indie sewing scene and I was keen to see if it live up the hype... I was not disappointed! It was my first foray into coat making for myself having only ever done some soft tailoring for clients during my bridal days, and I learnt quite a bit, the bagging out of a lining is totally magic!
Getting started was hard in itself because the boucle weave is so loose the fabric was horribly unstable. I ended up taping a bed sheet to my cutting table so that I could increase friction and stop the slipping about which worked quite well. I cut a size 2 which was a size smaller than my measurements ( UK 10 - 12 ) and the fit in the end was wonderful. The amazing lining you can see below was a bargain at £5 a metre from Fabworks Mill Shop
The fray factor was a HUGE concern when it came to removing pattern pieces and stitching so in the end I heavily pinned all the pieces and then carefully removed the pins one edge at a time while pressing on iron on interfacing onto each seam. I did this with scraps I had left over from scrubs making so it is not a pretty effort but it did the trick when it came to assembling. You can see from the seams how serious the fray situation was!
Assembly wise there was nothing that was tricky or hard to understand, and you can see from the birdseye view how the assembled coat looked on the inside with all the interfaced edges.
It's really worth thinking out of the box with fabrics if they present you with a challenge - these tools are in our arsenal for a reason. My problem: unstable fabric - my solution: stabilise it - my tool: fusible stable interfacing. It worked a treat and the finish is clean and crisp and lovely!
Christo and I did a proper shoot for this coat and the huge number of other garments I've made since Feb one very windy day last month, and I'll share the pics for that in another post but here's a teaser - I feel so glamorous and snug in this coat and I literally want to make a thousand more to accompany the many Zadie Jumpsuits I have in my head
Sewing. pattern cutting, teaching, tea and Jelly Babies!