The Costume Counselor: Sewing 101

Sewing is one of those weird things that, like cooking, you may have learned in some sort of home-ec class or from your parents or that you just randomly picked up because you decided you wanted to learn. If you didn’t learn how when you were younger, it can seem intimidating and look like an insurmountable mountain even though it’s not. Like any skill, it will take time and practice so don’t get discouraged if it’s a struggle early on.

If you’re brand new to sewing, you may think that you have to dive right into sewing garments with a machine. Don’t. Well, you can but I strongly recommend that you get comfortable with the basics of hand sewing first. Get acclimated to working with needle and thread by learning how to sew a button back on to a shirt or a cool patch on to your jacket. No matter how good you get with a machine, you’ll inevitably have to do at least some hand sewing for any given project so you might as well get comfortable with it now.  In fact, there are some costumers who only hand sew all of their work (and they have so much of my respect because wow.)

Before you actually start sewing in earnest, you’re going to want to pull together a sewing kit with basic supplies. Inevitably, you’ll end up wanting to get more things to add to your box so it’s overflowing and you haven’t been able to close it in months but to start, you can keep it simple. Here are my recommendations for a starter kit:

  • Pin cushion
  • Straight pins
  • Sewing scissors (The set with three sizes can be nice!)
  • Seam ripper
  • Measuring tape
  • Black and white thread
  • Marking pen
  • Small 6” ruler
  • Safety pins

Don’t be surprised if, over the years, your sewing kit slowly grows so you’ve got a box entirely thread and another box entirely for all of the various ribbons that you’ve needed to buy over the years but now have no use for. It happens just like how fabric multiplies at an unholy rate even though you swore that you’d only buy fabric specifically for projects that you were committed to doing.

Now that you have your basic supplies (which, I’d like to note, doesn’t need to include a machine quite yet!), you’ll need to actually learn about this sewing thing. There are a bunch of options that you can mix and match depending on what’s available to you and what suits your needs.

Friends and Family
Did your mom sew when you were a kid? Does one of your local friends occasionally break out the sewing machine? Ask them to teach you what they know! Sewing is a very hands-on-art that’s always easier to learn when you can have someone else explain it to you. It’s a lot easier to watch and have someone explain how to sew pleats or darts to you than to read about it in a book.

In-Person Classes
If you don’t have anyone you want to or can ask for lessons, head on over to your local fabric store. Odds are, your local Jo Ann Fabric or Hancock will offer some beginner sewing classes and if they don’t, the people who work there can probably point you in the direction of somewhere that does. Classes could also be an opportunity to learn new skills even if you already know the basics.

Online Classes
If you can’t make it into a store, online courses are another option. Pattern makers like McCall routinely send emails about their array of online sewing courses through Craftsy. These tend to range from the more general beginner techniques to something far more specific like sewing a leather bag. These will likely come with an associated cost.

The best thing about the internet nowadays is that you can find a YouTube tutorial for almost anything for free. YouTube tends to be the first place I turn when I’m trying to figure out a more complex technique but there are definitely plenty of tutorials out there for beginners. It’s also a great place for a refresher course when I can’t for the life of me remember how to pleat. (It’s happened more times than I care to publically admit.) If you find a YouTuber whose tutorial style you like, chances are that they will have more videos that can teach you other techniques as you progress.

This is not my preferred method because my brain simply doesn’t work this way but if reading about how to do something works best for you, you should definitely swing by the library and see what basic sewing books they have or flip through a few in your local bookstore. Same goes for the internet as there are plenty of bloggers out there who write about sewing.

Up next week… I’m not sure yet! It might be Sewing 102. It might be an impassioned piece about shoes. It might be about a question that one of you asks me!

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