So, you've cut out your dress pieces, and you're ready to begin sewing. If you've never used a sewing machine before, I suggest that before you do anything else, you sew a few practice stitches on a scrap of cloth. Line up the edge of the cloth with the cloth guide (the little thing near the needle and needle plate of the sewing machine that has inch markings on it) and practice sewing in a straight line. Learning to control the machine can be a challenge as well; control the speed with your foot, going as fast as you are comfortable with. If you're barely crawling along, don't despair! I promise you that you'll speed up as you get a little more used to the machine. If you accidentally "race" the machine (put your foot down really fast and making the machine race along) don't worry; you've not done anything other beginners haven't done. Simply take your foot off of the pedal, and try again, going slowly.
Before you begin sewing you're garment, you'll have to wind a bobbin of the same color thread that you're using. Each machine is a little different in this regard, so consult your sewing machine's manual. You'll also need to thread the machine through all sorts of little cracks, up and down, and so on. Your manual should have a detailed diagram of how to do this. If you're unable to figure it out (as I was), ask around among your friends and at church, to see if anyone has used a sewing machine before. Chances are, they'll be someone there who will at least know a little about sewing.
With your machine threaded, and a little knowledge of how to run your machine, you're ready to begin sewing your garment. Before you begin sewing, take a moment to read through your pattern, to kind of see what's in store. This helps figure out some of what you'll be doing, and gives you hope that after completing each step, your garment will turn into something beautiful. = ) Then, start at step 1 and work through it. Once completed, go to step 2, then step 3, ect.
If you get stuck and make a mistake, don't stress. Use your handy dandy stitch riper and take out the stitches that messed things up. Read the directions again, and try again. Don't expect to get everything on the first try. When making my first dress, I must have redone almost everything at least once - and sometimes more. Don't get discouraged! If you're really stuck and tears of frustration spring to your eyes, take a break. Leave everything how it is and just walk away. Come back a few minutes or a few hours, or even a few days later and try again. It's amazing how much a fresh perspective can help. If you're still hopelessly stuck, ask for help. If you know a friend who sews, ask her to help you figure things out. If you don't, feel free to email me or search the web. There are many sewing sites out there, and even sewing message boards that may be able to help.
While sewing, you may run into a little terminology that leaves you a little bewildered. Hopefully this will help you decipher it, and figure out what they're wanting you to do.
- Stay-stitch - This is simply stitching that will help you put the garment together. Your pattern should have arrows showing the direction you are supposed the sew, and where you should sew it.
- Gather - This is what you do when you attach most sleeves an skirts. First you sew two lines of long (3 1/2 to 4 inch) stitches, leaving long threads wherever you end the stitches. Pining the skirt (for example) to the bodice, matching notches and dots, separate the long threads, so that you're holding one strand from each line of stitching. Gently pull on the threads. This will make the fabric bunch up. Slide the bunched up fabric to the middle of the stitching, and keep pulling and sliding until skirt fits to the bodice, matching dots. Try to keep the gathers fairly evenly distributed. Repeat to the other half of the stitching. Generally, you stop and start again with the gathering stitches at each side seam. I know that it sounds confusing, but it's really not all that hard. Sometimes the pattern will refer to this as "easing". Once your skirt or sleeve is gathered to fit where it's supposed to fit, sew the pieces together. Once everything is nicely sewn together, you can finally cut off those long and annoying gathering threads!
- Press - When the pattern tells you to "press" something, it's merely telling you to iron it flat, so that it's not wrinkled, and the seam lays flat. You should usually press each seam after you're done sewing it. Pressing while you're sewing helps the garment look nice and well-made.
- Baste - Before sewing seams, patterns will often tell you to "baste" them. This usually refers to sewing the pieces together with a long stitch, so that you can make sure that they'll fit together. Another way to do this is to use pins to pin the pieces together. However, when you're sewing, don't sew over the pins or you could break your pin or your sewing machine needle, or both. Whenever you're almost to a pin while sewing, pause for a second and pull the pin out before proceeding.
- Finish Seams - This is a good thing to do to ensure that your garment stays together and beautiful with frayed strings hanging all over the place. Basically, you "finish" every seam that you sew. If you're blessed with a serger, sew the edges of the seams together, serging the edges nicely so that they won't fray. If you don't have a serger, don't worry. You can still finish the seams nicely. Set your sewing machine to the zig-zag stitch. Then, trim your seam so it's not ragged, and zig-zag over the edge of the cloth. This will finish it nicely
- Back Stitch - This is something you should do at the beginning and end of each line of stitching; doing this makes sure that the seam won't unravel. Most machines have a button that you hold down to stitch backwards, then you let it go to continue stitching forwards. This will ensure that your garment will stay together!
Sewing is a wonderful activity that produces a beautiful result. Things to remember: Don't stress - take breaks if you're getting frustrated; keep your stitch riper always at your side; have fun, relax, and enjoy making something to wear or decorate! Take risks; don't be afraid to try something, and don't be afraid to ask for help if you get stuck. Sometimes what seems to be the simplest thing can actually be the hardest to understand!
If you have learned the basic sewing techniques, yet don't quite feel up to tackling a more complicated pattern on your own, Sense and Sensibility has photo instructions online to help you through each step of your Regency or other era dress. They also have video clips on the same page. So if you don't know of sewing classes that you can take around where you live, learn how to do things online!
I hope this post as helped you. Now I need to go and get back to the sewing I need to finish before Christmas. Happy sewing to you!