Home Sewing Beyond Patterns (Part 5)

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Whew! After a month of posts on sewing, we’re approaching the home stretch. For those of you entering here for the first time, in part 1 we looked at how cheap clothing manufactured overseas killed home sewing. In part 2, we discussed simple clothing repairs. In part 3, we looked at the types of complex clothing repairs you can learn how to do. And in part 4, we looked into working with patterns. This time, we’re wrapping up the series with moving beyond patterns into the wide world of creative sewing.

(And if you want to start the Suburban Stockade series, discussing how to preserve your family’s wealth and health in the 21st century, start here.)

So, what else do I sew? One-of-a-kind garments I can’t buy or can’t afford to buy. I want a collection of stylish coats as that is what everyone sees me in for much of the year. What I want is not likely to turn up at the thrift shop and I certainly can’t afford to pay retail for what I see in my mind.

I buy basic sweaters that are the right color and fit at the Jubilee Thrift Shop and then I trim them out to make them unique. I’m not keen on sewing knits and I can’t knit a sweater so this is my work-around.

I make all my curtains, drapes, window quilts, pillows, bed quilts, shopping bags, lingerie bags for fine washables in the washer, and pot holders with heat-resistant fabric. On the to-do list is a fabric bag to put a cooking pot into — similar to a haybox — for saving cooking energy. I can, for damn sure, make a cloth cooking bag for far less than Amazon charges. A salvaged ironing board cover and pad, which I already have, plus more batting and a fashion fabric from the stash and I’m good to go. I want to sew a roman shade for the dining room window to save heating energy. Again, like other unusual home-dec items, I can make this for far less than I would be charged at a store.

Queen of Hearts costume for Halloween.

Queen of Hearts costume for Halloween.

When the kids were younger, I sewed complex Halloween costumes. These got used both for trick or treating and for the annual Hershey Halloween Parade and Costume Contest. Sometimes I even won prize money.

Some of the garment sewing I do really does save money compared to commonly available ready-to-wear. I like good quality flannel or fleece pjs for me and the family as we keep the heat low in the winter (64 degrees during the day, 55 degrees at night). Better flannel goods such as Lantz of Salzburg are gaspingly expensive, and I don’t like the patterns they come in. But if I shop carefully for a good sale on flannel and pick out the best, I can make simple pajamas for far less money than I can buy them. I use the same pattern over and over so I only pay for the pattern once.

Another piece of nightwear I don’t seem to see in ready-to-wear is a flattering nightgown in flannel-back satin. The idea here is to be attractive and warm. It is possible to find a flannel-back satin nightgown, but they are uniformly tent-like in appearance, Grandma wear at its finest. This thought was confirmed when I was in Boscov’s where I saw the Isotoner gloves and the fleece shawl mentioned earlier. Since I was in the store, I spent some time looking over the ladies nightwear. It was divided up into two looks. “Put the money on the dresser” and “Don’t ever touch me again.” I was appalled. There has to be some middle ground. Am I the only woman in the world who wants to look fetching and not turn blue from cold at the same time?

home sewing nightgowns

I spent some time looking over the ladies nightwear. It was divided up into two looks. “Put the money on the dresser” and “Don’t ever touch me again.”

Moreover, the non-slut nightgowns came in two equally unfortunate looks. Solid baby-colored pastels or worse, nursery prints suitable only for baby blankies! I ask you, how can you look desirable when your muumuu-like night gown is covered with dancing lambkins and cute cows.

home sewing simplicity nightgown pattern 1260Back to the sewing machine. I spent some time going over patterns and settled on Simplicity 1260, view D. Now imagine it in deep purple satin (flannel backed for warmth, of course) with wide creamy lace and teal blue satin with narrow strips of black lace. Warm and pretty. And, they are something that I cannot buy in ready-to-wear.

So this is why I sew:

  • I sew to repair and reuse garments until I’ve extracted every possible minute of use out of them. That saves me cash, suits my philosophy, and keeps things out of the waste stream.
  • I sew to remake old clothes into new, more personal garments. This saves me more money and lets me express my personality in a way that I can never find down at the mall.
  • I sew completely new garments from whole cloth to advertise my design and sewing skills.
  • I sew to get exactly what I want, for me, my family, and my house.
  • I get clothes that are unique.

So should you sew? Yes, at a minimum you should learn to do the basic mending and repair work, and learn to rehem pants. It will save you some money and prolong the life of your clothing. After that, it gets harder. Everyone has to eat so everyone should learn basic cooking. But sewing clothing and household items is a more complex choice. Clothes are readily available and very cheap at the price. Drapes and curtains range in price from thrift shop to Wal-Mart to the sky’s the limit. Sewing all these things from scratch can be quite time consuming, taking time away from other things that have to be done. But you express your individuality and get exactly what you want while learning a new skill set.

Sewing depends, I think, on what you want from it. If you just want to keep your body covered while saving money, use the yard sale, thrift shop, the consignment store, and the clearance racks. Participate actively in pass-along and hand-me-down circles.

But if you want one of a kind clothes for you or your family, then you either pay big bucks to someone else or you learn to do it yourself. Start with remaking old clothes into new ones (altered couture). As you learn how garments are put together, think about finding the time to make some of your own clothes from patterns you design or select and fabrics you choose. Begin small with a top or an elastic waist skirt and see how you like it. Progress to simple fleece or flannel pajamas and see if you enjoy the work. If you do, you may have found a new, useful hobby/skill that shows off your designing abilities and may even make you a little money when you do sewing work for non-sewing people. If you don’t like sewing, you will still know how to do basic repair work and you will have a better understanding of how a garment should be made when you purchase ready-to-wear.

Your Basic Sewing Library

Overall, I love the Singer Sewing Reference Library series. There are dozens of books in the distinctive black bound series, covering every possible sewing topic. They are lavishly illustrated and very detailed. I buy them on sight at thrift shops and library sales. I can’t recommend them highly enough. They are wonderful.

Another amazing series is Time-Life ‘The Art of Sewing”, a 16-volume set published in the seventies. Each volume addresses a separate topic and is bound in a coordinating fabric. They are beautiful, lavishly illustrated, and go into great detail on every possible topic that is sewing related. Look past the clothing styles and be amazed at the wealth of techniques the books provide.

Basic Mending & Repair

Clothing Care and Repair (the Singer Sewing Reference Library); the editors at Cowles Creative Publishing; 1985

Handmending Made Easy: Save Time and Money Repairing Your Own Clothes; Nan L. Ides; Palmer/Pletsch; 2008

The Mender’s Manual: Repairing and Preserving Garments and Bedding; Estelle Foote, MD, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976.

Mend and Make Fabulous: Sewing Solutions and Fashionable Fixes; Denise Wild; Interweave; 2014

Mending and Repair: Essential Machine-side Tips and Techniques; the editors of Singer Worldwide; Creative Publishing International, 2007

Mend It Better: Creative Patching, Darning, and Stitching; Kristin M. Roach; Storey Publishing; 2012

Sewing 911: Practical and Creative Rescues for Sewing Emergencies; Barbara Deckert; Taunton Press; 2001

Remaking Old Clothes (aka Altered Coture)

GladRags: Redesigning, Remaking, Refitting All Your Old Clothes; Delia Brock and Lorraine Bodger; Simon and Schuster; 1974

How to Make Something Out of Practically Nothing: New Fashions From Old Clothes; Barbara Corrigan; Doubleday; 1976

New Clothes from Old; Gloria R. Mosesson; Bobbs-Merrill; 1977

Wardrobe Quick-Fixes: How to Lengthen/Shorten, Loosen/Tighten, Update, Embellish, Repair and Care for Your Clothing: Jan Saunders; Chilton Book Co., 1995

Clothes From Your Own Patterns

Design It, Sew It, and Wear It: How to Make Yourself a Super Wardrobe Without Commercial Patterns; Duane Bradley; Thomas Y. Crowell; 1979

DIY Couture: Create Your Own Fashion Collection; Rosie Martin; Laurence King Publishing; 2012

Dressmaking: The Complete Step-by-step Guide to Making Your Own Clothes; Alison Smith; Doring Kindersley; 2012

The Illustrated Hassle-Free Make Your Own Clothes Book; Joan Wiener Bordow and Sharon Rosenberg; Skyhorse Publishing; 2008; This is a reprint of a 1971 edition. Get past the hippy-dippy text and illustrations and this is quite a useful little book.

Clothes With A Pattern

The Burda Style Sewing Handbook: 15 Creative Projects and 5 Master Patterns; Nora Abousteit and Alison Kelly; PotterCraft; 2011

The Magic Pattern Book: Sew 6 Patterns Into 36 Different Styles!; Amy Barickman; Workman Publishing; 2014

Dozens more titles on sewing can be found at any library, book store, library sale, thrift shop, ABEbooks, sewing store, and at Amazon. Quilting books do not, as a rule, ever talk about garment construction unless they specifically tell you in the title, so don’t waste your time and money on them unless you want to quilt.

Next Week: Keeping Your Home Safe