Saturday, 22 September 2012

Pass it on

Dear friends in the sewing world, please join me in welcoming two fresh recruits to our ranks! Last month my young cousins (aged 15 and 11) gave a new home to our grandmother's vintage Necchi sewing machine, and I like to think the old machine itself might be almost as excited as these girls are about the sewing adventures that await them.
Gratuitous chipmunk shot -
I forgot to take photos of the Necchi
Before the Necchi was handed over, I spent a long, hot afternoon guiding my cousins through a simple little lined bag project, to get them familiar with the basic functions of the machine. Threading up came surprisingly easily to them; sewing straight was very nearly mastered; fancy stitches were delighted in; and I did my best to communicate the importance of NEVER SEWING OVER PINS. We also discussed Fluff's unfortunate role as the Great Enemy.

This all took place in upstate New York, where the extended family had gathered to scatter my grandfather's ashes a year on from his death. Now I'm back in London, and my cousins have taken the sewing machine home to Toronto, so I'm not on-hand for further assistance. It was great fun to get these two girls started as sewists, though - passing it on is one of the best bits of crafting, don't you think? (And I hear the machine has already been used to make a cat toy!) So I'm going to put down a bit of information and advice for my cousins below, and invite all sewists reading this to share what you know in the comments.
We did some of our sewing outdoors; this is the best view I've
ever had from behind a sewing machine
As my aunt's a non-sewist (put off by a ruched-and-embroidered apron project at school!), I wrote a shopping list of the bare essential tools for life with a sewing machine:
  • Scissors - big and sharp, and never to be used for anything but fabric
  • Scissor sharpener (e.g. Fiskars)
  • Pins - glass-headed are best
  • Machine needles - universal type, mixed sizes (e.g. Schmetz)
  • Seam ripper
  • Tailor's chalk or erasable fabric pencils/pens
I promised to provide some links to sewing tutorials and information, so here are a few to start off with:
Also, girls, it seems your vintage Necchi makes you eligible to join a club! And some people even collect Necchi machines.

A few thoughts about fabrics: for now, I'd stick with woven cottons. Quilting cottons are available in all sorts of beautiful prints, and they're a good choice for beginners because they're easy to sew with. Heavier cottons (e.g. 'home dec' weight) are nice for bags, cushions, and aprons too. These fabrics don't fray easily, don't curl up, and don't slide around when you're trying to work with them. Finer, fancier weaves and knits can come later. I choose to buy only organic cotton, for lots of reasons, and it now comes in loads of fun and pretty designs. Think about re-using fabrics, too - old bedlinen or your dad's past-it shirts, for example (but don't tell him it was my idea). Although we didn't do this for your little bags, I'm a firm believer in washing (and ironing) fabrics before using them, so they get any shrinking or dye-bleeding out of their systems before you turn them into something lovely. For me, the easiest way to do this is to wash and iron fabrics as soon as I buy them, rather than waiting until I want to use them, when I might be too impatient to launder them.

OK, readers, your turn... Does anyone know a good, helpful sewing shop in Toronto? Perhaps one with classes? Are there any tools that you consider necessary for even the simplest projects? Any websites or books that you refer to often, easy tutorials you've spotted, or just general advice for beginners? Please pass it on!

p.s. Happy Equinox!