Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Facebook Competition - Attention Beginners!

I'm running a giveaway this week for fans of The Sew & Sew! Facebook page. You can win one of my 90-minute Starter Sessions - this is the intensive session I developed specifically for people who are just getting started with sewing. It introduces you to your machine and to the basic principles of sewing, and it's designed to get you working straight away.

'Easy' diagram... You think YOUR machine is complicated?

So many people bought sewing machines the last couple of years! I think it was a combination of cheaper models being available (like the 99 euro machines in Lidl and Aldi) and the massive surge in interest in remodeling, alterations, and home crafts in general. But sitting down at a sewing machine for the first time, with no guidance except a poorly phrased manual, can be completely frustrating. I think an hour of wrestling with complicated threading or a belligerent bobbin, and a lot of people abandoned their machines to the back of the wardrobe.

There's no need for Beginners Despair! Really, with a few basics and a run through the most-encountered machine problems, I believe anyone can start working away on small projects. I designed the Starter Session - not to turn you into a professional tailor in 90 minutes - but to bring even a complete beginner from the point of blind frustration to a point of comfortable confidence by the time the lesson's over.

On top of the 90-minutes, the Starter Session also includes comprehensive notes - these cover all the basic problems you're likely to encounter with your machine, as well as a suggested sewing kit, ideas for easy projects, and reminders of everything covered during the lesson.

All lessons with The Sew & Sew! are carried out in your own home, on your own machine, working directly on your own projects. This is by far the most effective way to learn.

Plus, I completely understand that learning anything for the first time can be a bit boggling. After my first driving lesson, I sat in the car and couldn't remember a word the instructor had said. So, with that in mind, the Starter Session - like all lessons with The Sew & Sew! - includes 3 weeks free online aftercare. This means that for three weeks after your lesson, you can message me, Facebook me, or email me, with any of your sewing problems, and I'll do my best to help you sort them out.

The Starter Session usually costs 70 euro - but if you want to win one, just get over to the Facebook page. Details on how to win will be posted on Friday!

Good luck!

- Rhona

**As all lessons are carried out in person, in your own home, this competition is open to Cork residents only. Email me for details and conditions***

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Buttons, The Easy Way

Well now, here's a real essential. This, to me, is like being able to change a lightbulb or boil an egg.

On Your Marks....

There are a few basic principles to remember here:

- Keep your stitches small and tidy.
- Keep it simple! You're attaching a button, not a limb.

Get Ready...

To make sure your button is going in the right place, put on the garment in question. So if it's a coat, for example, put it on, stand in front of the mirror, and close it over naturally. If there are other buttons, close them, so the coat hangs properly. Put a pin in the point where the button needs to go.

If you sew a button on at random, or in the 'general area' where you think it should be, don't be surprised if your clothes hang funny or your coat doesn't line up at the front.

If you're moving a button/buttons, either to tighten or loosen something, mark with pins. It's best not to adjust button positions by more than 3cm in either direction - any more than that and you effect the shape of the whole garment.
And if you don't have the original button, just make sure the replacement is the same size. If it's bigger, it won't fit through the buttonhole. If it's too small, it won't stay closed.


Thread a needle, preferably with roughly the same colour thread as the garment. Draw your thread all the way through so it's doubled, and tie a knot near the end. You don't need 10 metres of thread to sew on a button! Using way too much thread will just make things difficult on yourself, as they will snarl up and get tangled.

Next, get your button.
You'll either be using a stemmed button, or a flat button.

Stemmed buttons, like these, are mostly used for thick, heavy fabrics - you'll see them on coats in particular. This is because when you close the button on your coat, all that thickness of fabric has to fit in behind the button. If the button isn't stemmed or is too tight, the pressure will pop it off.

Flat or un-stemmed buttons like these are on almost everything else - shirts, trouser waistbands, suits - most everyday clothes. But even with very light fabrics, you want a small stem - so read on.

Attaching an un-stemmed button:

Your first stitch goes through from the inside of the garment, at the point you have marked with a pin. Starting on the inside means all your knots and loose threads are hidden away. 

Draw the thread through as far as your knot. Pass the needle through your button, and back through to the inside of the garment. Repeat 4 or 5 times, keeping your stitches small, and about the same size.

Please note! Your button does not need to support the gravitational pull of the earth! It's just a button - and it's better off a bit loose than too tight. Buttons sewn on too tightly are under pressure, and they're far more likely to pop off as a result. So keep your stitches tidy, and a little loose. It helps to keep a fingertip under the edge of the button to stop you pulling too tight.

Once you've looped through about four times, bring the needle back out to the front. Now you're going to make a little stem, to strengthen your stitching and secure the threads. Simply wind your thread around a few times behind the button - this binds your looped threads together into a stem!

Pass the needle back through to the inside again.

And just tie a knot with the thread left from your first stitch (the loose threads behind your first knot).


Attaching a stemmed button:
Just the same as above, except you don't need to worry about thread tension and creating stems. Just sew through from the inside, loop through from inside to outside passing through the button a few times, and tie off.

Some Variations:
Tying a knot in the end of your thread is useful for beginners, as it stops you pulling your thread all the way through by accident. It's not essential though - if you like, just leave a few centimetres of thread on the inside when you start sewing, and tie off with this at the end.

Back-stitching is technically the proper way to finish your stitch - this just means that after your last stitch, you add one more in the opposite direction. It's a standard feature when machine sewing, it's just a different way of tying off. But for beginners, and for hand-sewing and buttons in particular, I find people are happier tying a knot. 

Hooks & Eyes: Once you know how to sew on a button, you can fix loads of things! Once you have a tidy, even hand-sewing technique, you can use it to attach hooks and eyes, as well as any number of embellishments.

Buttons on modern clothes are not sewn on to last. Even on good quality shop-bought clothes, it's common for the buttons to start falling off from the very first wear. So if you want to be able to lash them back on quickly and without a fuss (or without them languishing in the back of a wardrobe for 6 months first), pull out a shirt or jacket now. Use something already missing buttons, or pull something old out and cut the buttons off. And sit down and sew them back on! Ok, your first couple of tries might be a bit messy - but do it four or five times, and you should be happy enough by the end. It should only take a minute or two once you get the hang of it, and it's a little everyday skill that will be useful for the rest of your life.

Any questions, just ask!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Getting Started - The Basic Kit

People constantly tell me how they would love to be able to sew. That means a lot of different things to different people - but like learning anything else, you just have to take the first step. That's what I'm here for.

Like taking up anything new, everyone worries that it'll cost money. Plenty of people buy 'basic' sewing kits that are anything but - they're frequently filled with too much of what you'll never need, and too little of what you will. The end result just confuses the beginner, and means these things usually end up as a tangled mess of threads down the back of a wardrobe. 

Now, a note on machines: This blog is not intended to explain your machine to you. For that, you can read the manual, or if you prefer, I offer home tutorials for this very purpose. Although I will include projects that are made infinitely easier by having a basic home sewing machine (and knowing how to use it to sew in a straight line), this starter kit can see you through anything. 

So here it is - this is the kit I take with me where ever I go. And it's all you need to get started.

 Number 1: Needles & Pins (great, now I'll have The Ramones in my head all day...)
One small pack of assorted needles. What do I mean by 'assorted'? Well, thinner needles for thinner fabrics, thicker (stronger) needles for thicker fabrics. A thick needle in a fine fabric will leave a noticeable hole. Needles will have a small eye (the hole at the top where you send the thread) for fine threads, and a larger eye for things like thick darning threads or embroidery. So, an assortment is the best way to go. The one pictured here is handy, because the different sizes don't get mixed up.
One pack of pins. Get the pearl-tipped ones (with a kind of ball at the top) if you find them easier to handle. 
Please, please, PLEASE don't bother buying dirt-cheap pins. They will be blunt, end of story. You won't be able to get them through thick fabrics, and they'll wreck thin ones with ladders and thread-pulls. A pack of good quality (eg: Pony) pins will only cost a couple of euro anyway, and will save you no end of headaches.

Number 2: Threads
Pretty obvious, this one. But a couple of things to bear in mind all the same.
For an easy life, only buy 100% polyester threads. This is one area of sewing where it's best to go with synthetics - cotton thread, or polycotton (a mix of polyester and cotton) will shrink in a hot wash cycle, and all your careful stitching will pucker.
Instead of having tiny amounts of every colour under the sun, just start with one black and one white. Keep. It. Simple.

Number 3: Scissors & Blade
A fairly decent fabric scissors will set you back about five euro. Ones that can be re-sharpened  (like the one pictured) will start around twenty euro, but here's the thing - unless you're doing semi-professional quantities of fabric cutting, why would you need to re-sharpen? One reason, and generally, one reason only. You've used it to cut something other than fabric. Paper, plastic, and anything other than fabric will blunt your scissors immediately. Get a different cheap scissors for chopping household junk - and keep your fabric scissors for fabric.
The blade pictured is an old-fashioned razor blade, properly called a Bohemian blade. They are mostly useful for undoing seams - letting down hemlines, or letting out clothes, or just undoing a line of stitching that went wrong. A seam ripper tool will do the same job, but I find these much easier to handle. Plus, they only cost 25c in the pharmacy.

Number 4: Measuring Tape
Called a 'soft' or 'dressmakers' measuring tape, because it's, well, soft. As opposed to the kind of measuring tape you get in the hardware aisle, which is pretty useless for alterations. 
No need to get anything very long, a 60 inch/150cm tape is fine for most people. It's handy to have metric on one side and imperial on the other, but that's up to you.
Almost every house in the world has one of these tucked away somewhere. This one belonged to my Nan originally. Eagle-eyed readers will note that it's been a while since there was a  'West' Germany.

Number 5: Chalk & Pencil
These are for marking fabric - your sewing will be vastly improved by first marking where you want to sew. If you're using patterns for dressmaking, you'll use the tailor's chalk to first mark the outline. It's usually available from any shop selling sewing supplies, and shouldn't cost much more than a euro. The pencil isn't essential, but I find it easier with light coloured fabric to just mark a little on the inside with a thick, soft pencil.
At a pinch, regular chalk will do. You just want something that won't stain and will wash or brush out later.
At a total pinch, you can mark your hemlines and alterations using pins, but especially if you're just starting, I thoroughly recommend marking first.

If you haven't got these things lying around your house already, ask around. Sharp pins, needles, and scissors are completely essential, but everything else can usually be scavenged, or rescued from the dark corners of every house where abandoned projects lie.

Keep them together somewhere, in a bag or a small box, so you always know where they are when you need them. And keep a needle threaded for those buttons that invariably fall off, just as you're leaving the house.

Next Post: The right way to sew on a button.