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Is Learning To Sew Hard?

The other day when my 8-year-old granddaughter was sewing lines on scrap fabric, she asked me, “Is sewing hard?” 

Is sewing hard?  “Hard” is a relative word.  Press the foot pedal and the machine does its magic.  Nothing is required except to guide the material through.  The sewing machine, no matter how basic or top of the line, does all the work.  To answer her question, I said, “No, sewing is not hard.  You are sewing.”  

Then she stopped me cold with the next question.  I had to think about how to answer it.  “Is learning to sew hard?”  I gave her an honest answer.  “I’m still learning.”   Her eyes popped open as wide as they would go, and her jaw dropped to her belly button.  I guess she thought at my age, I couldn’t learn anymore.  Good thing she’s cute.

She raised an interesting question about sewing, though.  I am not old.  My body, on the other hand, has been around for 66 years, but I am not old.  I have been sewing since I was eight.  So, is it difficult to learn how to sew? And what keeps me sewing?

Note: Some of the links on this page are affiliate links. This means I will receive a commission if you order a product through one of my links. I only recommend products I believe in and use myself. 

Sewing can be daunting, overwhelming, and confusing.  There are many steps of preparation before you sit at your sewing machine.  Pattern, layout, marking, cutting, interfacing, thread, needle, stitch length, presser foot, seam finish, pressing, topstitching, closures, and hem, all of which can be learned.

The best books I have in my sewing library, an excellent reference, and my go-to books, are titled Fabric Savvy and More Fabric Savvy, both by Sandra Betzina. And in the image, you see her current book, it is the third in this series.

According to Amazon, I already bought this, though I can’t find it.  I need to reorder this because I want it.

The preparation list above came from her books.  She tells you everything you need to know about how to sew different fabrics.  Her current book removes some fabrics from her previous book, but in the newest book, she adds new fabric types such as scuba knit, single-knit, ethnic fabrics, laminated, Minky, and oilcloth, to name a few. 

To answer my granddaughter’s question is it hard to learn to sew, I told her, “When you —

“Grandma, what is this?”  “It’s chalk to mark fabrics.”

“You still use chalk?”  “Yes.” “Continuing on,” I said, “when you were a baby you didn’t even know how to turn over, let alone crawl, sit up, stand up, walk, or run.  Each new growth period required you to experiment.  You would try, you would fail, you would try again.  You kept failing until you mastered each step before starting the next step.  Sewing is just like that.”

“Grandma, what’s this?”  “That’s called a binding foot.”  Funny, normally curious, she didn’t ask what the presser foot did.  But then she’s eight. 

Yes, I used the word fail.  I like that F.A.I.L stands for First Attempt In Learning.  Embrace your fails.  Learn from them.  Laugh at them.  Just never give up.  Just dust yourself and try again. It is a step forward.

This is my first fail. I was nine, not far from my granddaughter’s current age. Dollie’s poor arms fell off when I took her out of storage. It makes the dress look better with arms. Yeah, really.

So why have I stayed with sewing for 59 years?  Dollie’s dress was designed by me.  I felt very proud.  Dollie has been wearing it for decades, traveling from California to Ohio to Arizona then back to California.  I made it.  I designed the dress.  I engineered the pattern and cut the fabric, even if the fabric design is going in the wrong direction.  I became her wardrobe consultant, not a very good one, though.  I became a mathematician, even if one of the underarm seams is too small.  I became an artist.  And all of this is something that I took control of and created.  And it felt awesome!!  I still get that feeling when I finish any sewing project.  I will never fail.  I will either win or learn.  All experts in sewing started out making a Dollie dress.  I am on the right path.

“Grandma, what is this?”  “It’s a ruffler.  It makes ruffles so I don’t have to.”

The secret to success is perseverance.  I created a few tricks to keep me focused when I have trouble getting through a step.  The first one is to pretend that you are teaching someone.  It forces you to focus as you work through the issue. 

The second one is to stop what you are working on and pick up an easier piece of the project.  Start sewing and stop sewing in the middle, leaving the needle in the fabric and the presser foot down, and begin it the next day when your head is clearer.  This starts the new sewing day off with a positive attitude, reinforcing your skills, and ready to tackle that issue that once stumped you.  Perseverance.  I know all about perseverance.

“Grandma?” “Grandma?”
            “I’m sorry.  What?”

             “Grandma, what’s this?”  

“That,” I said, “is frustration in a physical form.”

“But what is it?” 

“It’s called a seam ripper.”



For all of you who were wondering about the books, here are the three versions of the book I like very much. I recommend, if you can, buy the latest one, either the electronic format or the hardcover version, paperbacks have a nasty tendency of wearing out and I have a feeling you would like to keep this around for a longer time. But if you happen to have an earlier version, the newer ones might still be useful.

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Pujiann

Sunday 5th of July 2020

My seam ripper was my Mom until she passed. Now when I need to seam rip, I call her last surviving sister and we reminisce about how frustrated I would get when I sewed something incorrectly and take it to Mom to have her rip it out for me while I was at work. When I came home that evening she would have my project ripped out and ready for me to continue on. Seam ripping takes on a whole new meaning for me and I do it with a smile on my face and think of Mom with a tear in my eye.

Carol Diane

Sunday 5th of July 2020

Pujiann, I enjoyed reading about your sweet, beautiful memory! Thank you for sharing.

Carol Diane

Sunday 5th of July 2020

Arlene, Thank you. Yes, there is definitely a need for seam rippers! And kudos to you for teaching beginning sewists. Loved the question about straight lines the students ask. It doesn't matter when you start sewing. It only matters to not get discouraged. It is an art form that takes practice.

Arlene

Saturday 4th of July 2020

Beautiful letter. Good job Grama on the answers to the curiosity. Much like you, I started to sew at 8. And I'm not old either. I've maintained my body a few years longer, but I'm not old , too!!! I love your F.A.I.L. but disagree somewhat about the seam ripper. After a fitting, it's the 1st tool in doing alterations of 'ready-to-wear'. Often bridal wear. I still love to sew and have a great fabric stash (some of which I've turned into reusable face masks, donated to local grocery, cheese packaging company employees and our church congregation etc) Many of my students ask 'why do I have to learn to sew a straight line? putting their first garment together they start to understand. I agree on the usefulness of those books but I'm lacking the 3rd. I'm on the hunt now. Thanks for the tip. Keep up the good work. Be blessed in your efforts

Chris B

Saturday 4th of July 2020

Hey, Carol,

Great article! I'm aging myself, but I remember that fabric (the doll dress!). Also love the F.A.I.L. acronym. A very entertaining and informative article!

Carol Diane

Saturday 4th of July 2020

Thank you, Chris. What a memory! I don't even remember where the scrap of fabric came from!

Carolina

Saturday 4th of July 2020

Hi, i´m a fashion designer. Today I turn 35. And I love lingerie making. I wish i learn when I was a child, maybe now I would be more confident. But not only in sewing, in everyday life. Sewing has its own philosophy. Too many skills. Patternmaking, using a sewing machine (each one is unique), patiencie, tolerance... When you learn some things at that age you don´t feel the pressure as an adult to make it good because on that depends your work for example. So it´s nice and sweet that letter and warms my heart. I mostly learnt alone, and I build patiencie every time jajaj My english maybe is not very good...

Carol Diane

Sunday 5th of July 2020

Happy birthday, Carolina!!!

Olga Balasa

Saturday 4th of July 2020

Your English is excellent, at least as good as mine - my first language is also not English. The good part is that you no longer need to feel alone, the Internet has brought us all closer than we would have dreamed 25 years ago. It is also true that learning never ends, no matter what age you are, there will always be new things to discover. And I love this, makes life interesting, don't you think?

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