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This archived content is from Mary Wilkins’ sewing and quilting message board “Sew What’s New,” which was retired in August 2007. It is being provided by “Sew What’s Up,” which serves as the new home for many members of “Sew What’s New.”
From: Die Monster
Date: 06-19-2006, 11:32 AM (1 of 19)
Hello all, this is my first post, so thought I'd introduce myself. My name is Sarah, and I live in Maryland. I'm 27, own my own business with my DH (a retail game store), and have 3 children (6,3,5 months).

As for sewing, well, I've never done it. I never had a home-ec class, have never used a sewing machine.. nada. I've done a tiny bit of hand-sewing, and even tried to make a dress once that way (gave up in frustration cuz hand-sewing is soo sllloooowwww). I can replace a missing button (if I only had a needle and thread :wink: ).

Anyway I really like going to rennaissance faires and would like to start making clothes for the faire for my family and friends. I would also like to make t-shirts and shorts/pants for my children. The most complicated thing is this: I may be interested in leathercraft once I become proficient at using the sewing machine.

So, here's my question: could someone provide me a list of tools I'll need to get started. I don't have a million dollars to spend, however if I'm going to start sewing I want the experience to be as efficient as possible, so if purchasing an extra machine will remove a huge headache, I'll be willing to do it.

My understanding of the sewing process is this:
1. Get a pattern
2 . trace the pattern onto tissue paper, cut out tissue paper and then cut out fabric from that
3. piece together the pieces of fabric with the machine
4. add any extras.. buttons/holes, ribbons, etc.

I'm guessing the pattern will come with directions for what is needed for the garment, right?!

Oh, and for the sewing machine, there is a dealer right down the street and he said I could get a "decent" used machine for under $100.

Thanks for any input!
User: Die Monster
Member since: 06-19-2006
Total posts: 3
From: Patty22
Date: 06-19-2006, 11:57 AM (2 of 19)
Hi Sarah....

Oh, you make it sound so easy and it is if (and this is very simplistic of advice).....
* when you buy a pattern read the back of the envelope for fabric suggestions and follow their guideline (hence don't try to use a t-shirt knit if the pattern calls for a woven)
*take your body measurements and buy your pattern according to their charts - don't use your ready to wear size as your guideline. Don't pull the measuring tape tight when taking the measurements either :sad:
* make sure when cutting out the pattern that you follow the direction of the grain with the arrows marked on the pattern (it will say grain on it).
* read through all the instructions included in the pattern making mental notes of seam allowance size (whether 5/8" or 3/8").
* press when they indicate to do so. This will make all the difference in the world and it is not a step that should be skipped!

I can see if you love the faires that you would want to make your own costumes as they can get very expensive. I want to caution you though as I haven't actually seen the instructions on them - I recently did a civil war historical dress and it took time. I just would have never have suggested this type of garment as a beginner outfit as it was lined, had boning, and mega pleating by hand to accomodate the style of the full skirts. The pattern designer was being historically accurate and the method of construction was a bit different than how clothing is presently assembled (such as using woven tape as a facing). Also, with the faire outfit, you may be working with fabrics that have nap (such as velvet?) and the pattern pieces need to all be placed in the same direction. (I'm assuming that you're going for the beautiful dresses rather than waif look in burlap?)

Why don't you begin with making some simple outfits for your tykes and this way you can get accustomed to working with fabric, a sewing machine and pattern directions.

Sewing is such a wonderful experience, I would hate to see you get frustrated on a project that would give the queen hives. Is it possible there is a cooperative extension around that could direct you to a resource for some sewing help or lessons?

As far as notions you need to sew with - a good pair of scissors that you don't let the kids or your husband use is a must.

Good luck.......
User: Patty22
Member since: 03-29-2006
Total posts: 1194
From: Die Monster
Date: 06-19-2006, 01:08 PM (3 of 19)
Thanks for your prompt reply!

As for the complexity of the costumes.. I was thinking of making simple dresses at first.. without all the boning and such. I think they're called Irish overdresses or something like that.

Obviously I have more research to do, but I do tend to just "jump in" feet first and either find it works or doesn't :up:

What I'm really looking for is a list of sorts so that when I go to the craft store I have specifics in mind to purchase so I can sit down and proceed to sew something instead of "oh, I forgot the needles" and have to run back to the store.

Probably the first thing I'll be sewing will be a t-shirt since it's probably pretty simple and our kids wear them all the time.

I know I'll need:
Sewing machine
tissue paper

What am I missing?
User: Die Monster
Member since: 06-19-2006
Total posts: 3
From: DorothyL
Date: 06-19-2006, 01:13 PM (4 of 19)
Add a tape measure to the list. If you are using a knit be sure you have ball point needles. Universal may do in a pinch.
User: DorothyL
Member since: 12-09-2002
Total posts: 3883
From: mozeyrn
Date: 06-19-2006, 03:18 PM (5 of 19)
If you're just starting out.....................a seam ripper.
I'm sure even the most experienced sewer has ripped out a seam or two in her lifetime. :mad:
It's gonna happen - it just goes along with the territory.
- Maureen.
Learning something new with every stitch!!
Kenmore 16231000
User: mozeyrn
Member since: 11-29-2005
Total posts: 349
From: LeapFrog Libby
Date: 06-19-2006, 04:28 PM (6 of 19)
You also need a good iron for the pressing you have to do to have a top notch finished garment when you complete it..(the pressing is as you go along, not after you finish)
Sew With Love
User: LeapFrog Libby
Member since: 05-01-2002
Total posts: 2022
From: paroper
Date: 06-19-2006, 05:22 PM (7 of 19)
I would suggest a 6 inch seam gauge. You'll find these on the notions wall for a very inexpensive price.

Make sure that your scissors are dressmaker scissors. They will have a bent handle to hug the table as you cut. Smaller scissors, snips, whatever are nice at the sewing machine but not necessary.

A pin cushion, wrist cushion, magnetic pin holder or something like that is great for keeping your pins together and organized. I wish I just had a penny for every pin I've knocked on the floor!

Needles for hand sewing. I like the longer sharps. You may or may not need a needle threader. How good are your eyes?

Many of the people in the group wouldn't agree with me but I use tracing paper for marking darts and many other important features of the pattern. Along with the tracing paper, I like the solid tracing wheel rather than the one with teeth. The one with teeth tends to tear your pattern. I also like the two sided paper rather than paper that is only one sided.

You may need help with your thread. You do not want embroidery thread and you may be attracted to that side of the display because of the lovely colors. Check with a clerk to find out which thread to use. There are several weights and a new seamstress doesn't need the added stress of the wrong thread.

Be sure and get a couple packs of needles from your dealer. I would probably recommend that you get universal or sharps unless you plan to use knit fabric.

As for your first garment? I would suggest some pull on pants/shorts/ or pj bottoms for either your kids or yourself.

Your machine should come with an assortment of feet and accessories. Most machines will have some sort of seam gauge. Ask your dealer about this and ask him to show you how to install it. Most dealers will give you some basic lessons on how to thread your bobbins, place them in the machine, how to thread the machine, make a button hole, set the machine for a zipper, etc, even if the machine is used. Don't be afraid to ask for this kind of help. Make sure that YOU have done these things before you leave the store. It is especially helpful if they will show you and let you do it too. Make sure that you have a manual. Leave the door open to the dealer that as you learn you may be open to coming back to trade up to a higher model. That will give them motivation to help you as you are a potential long-term customer.

Bernina 200e, Artista V5 Designer Plus, Explorations, Magic Box, Bernina 2000DE & 335 Bernette Serger, Bernina 1530 Sewing Machine, Bernina 1300 DC Overlock (with coverstitch)
User: paroper
Member since: 02-03-2004
Total posts: 3775
From: Pudge99
Date: 06-19-2006, 05:37 PM (8 of 19)
First let me start by saying DON'T start with a T-Shirt. You need to learn the basics of sewing before you try to stitch a stretchy fabric. If you are going to jump right in and try to teach yourself you need a book either from the library or you can pick up some good books for Homeschooling Home Ec. possibly from a homeschool co-op book store. There are basics you need to know or you will be totally lost when trying to read the pattern. If I were going to teach you I would start you out on a pillow. You can learn to cut and sew a straight line. Then you could move on to a woven pair of shorts for your little ones where you can learn to sew curves. Then try a button shirt to learn to set sleeves correctly. Perfect your sewing skills on woven and then move on to the t-shirts.
A good idea if you are going to sew a lot of kids clothes is to invest in the Kwik Sew books(can be found at Hancock Fabrics or a few places online).
As for a list of supplies.
Iron and Ironing board
measuring tape
a large table or floorspace for laying out your patterns
knee pads if you are going to use the floor
scissors for cutting out your patterns
pins or pattern weights to hold the pattern in place while you cut
pin cushion
chalk or marking pencil for darts and dots
Shears for fabric only
Sewing machine
Needles that fit your machine and for your type of fabric
Thread that matches your fabric or a neutral color that can be used on several projects
Seam ripper (maybe a couple as they are small and easily lost)
whatever the back of the pattern says you need ie. buttons, twill tape, ribbon
Patience is the number one thing you will need I have been sewing for 20+ years and I still screw up and want to chuck it all.

Down the road if you really find you like sewing there are a lot of things that are nice to have.
Embroidery Machine
Cutting table with self healing mat
Rotary cutter
Rulers of all shapes and sizes
Circle cutters
The list goes on and on.
This can be a very addictive and expensive hobby. I have probably invested at least $5000 dollars in equipment and I don't really have very much compared to some of the ladies on this site.
Good luck! If you decide to take the plunge this is a great group of people here and we are glad to help. We can talk you through things step by step and even sometimes we show pictures.
Welcome to the insanity we like to call sewing!!!!
Pictures of my successes and failures
Pfaff 2040
Janome Mylock 134D
Singer Futura CE-100 w/ Autopunch
Husqvarna Viking 3D Sketch
User: Pudge99
Member since: 10-30-2001
Total posts: 1375
From: Dede
Date: 06-19-2006, 05:55 PM (9 of 19)
If you're lucky enough to find someone to teach you or join a class at a reasonable price, go for it. Enjoy yourself; sewing can be very rewarding.
User: Dede
Member since: 03-23-2001
Total posts: 469
From: Die Monster
Date: 06-19-2006, 06:30 PM (10 of 19)
Just thought I'd let y'all know that I went out and got a machine.. it's a Janome 3018. It was a bit more than I'd hoped to pay (cough.. $499..cough).. but I've been able to play around with it for a couple hours and it seems ok.

The dealer did show me how to fill the bobbin and thread the needle, and when it kept getting jammed, he told me what was "probably" wrong.. and was right! (I didn't bring the machine back to show him, just described what it was doing).

He did say that I can trade up if I want to within a year or so. I also bought some scissors (Ghingher) that he said were the best :whacky:

I've been playing around with it on some old fabric I had laying around, but now I've got to get to a fabric store to get a pattern and "real" fabric for actually making something.

The hardest thing I've run into is making the lines straight. There are #s on the working surface of the machine, are those the seam gauge? I'll ask about it at the craft store when I go.

I'll definitely try out the pillow idea, I can see what you mean by not sewing stretchy material at first.

Thanks again!
User: Die Monster
Member since: 06-19-2006
Total posts: 3
From: paroper
Date: 06-19-2006, 08:08 PM (11 of 19)
Unthread your machine. Start out with a needle that you will be throwing away. Take out some lined paper and just start by watching the lines on the paper and following those.

When you are comfortable, draw a few lines and make some different angles off of those. When you get to the point, lift your presser foot (on the paper) and turn your paper. Stitch to the end of your line and quit. When you are comfortable with those, go in the kitchen. Draw some arches with plates, pots, cups, saucers, etc. Do the same. You can even put circles within circles. Start with the large arches and work down to small. When I was in class we did a continuous spiral from the outside of the paper to the center. Once you have done this, put some scrap paper under your paper and make some more lines. Then, with fabric under your paper, put the edge of your paper on the 5/8 line. Watch the line! If you've followed all the other steps, by now your should do this like a champ. When you sew, your eyes watch the seam allowance. Do NOT push your fabric. hold your fabric straight in the front by letting the fabric slip through your right thumb and forefinger. Hold your left hand flat and use it only to gently push the bulk of your garment, like the skirt forward. Let your machine do the work to pull the fabric through. So, you have eyes on the seam allowance, in most cases 5/8 inches, your right hand in front, and your left hand flat ready to feed your skirt forward or position your skirt so it can go around. You can probably do this over a period of days or even an evening. It doesn't necessarily take a long time.

Ginghers are excellent scissors and they hold an edge a long time. Tell yourself and your family that these are to NEVER be used for anything but fabric!!!! Paper will dull them quicky, not to mention that there are things (like wires on braces) that can put nicks in them. My oldest put nicks in 3 pair of my best scissors ranging from $26-$56 in about 3 min while looking for something to cut her braces wire!

I haven't used a Janome but chances are excellent that there is a machine seam gauge in your box. Sometimes, not ordinarily they are a little block magnet. If your machine came with one, fine, if not, don't use one because they can be a problem on some computerized machines. (Yours is a computerized machine). Sometimes they have a little flat edge that stands up and a area that is cut out which allows a screw to tighten and set the seam allowance. This is probably the most common. Your machine probably has a little screw hole or two and this type of seam guide fits there. My machine has a little bar that has a little bent paddle that come down and rests on the machine. The little bar fits in the back of the presser foot, tightens with a little screw in the back of the foot and lowers and raises with the presser foot. There are also some that are little bars made of plexiglass that just stick to the machine. Whatever guide you use, if you use one, you just let it ride or lay against the 5/8 inch line. You gently let your fabric ride against the edge of the foot. The fabric should not roll, just lightly touch.

You'll be miles ahead if you don't use a seam guide but for beginners it is sometimes a blessing.

Bernina 200e, Artista V5 Designer Plus, Explorations, Magic Box, Bernina 2000DE & 335 Bernette Serger, Bernina 1530 Sewing Machine, Bernina 1300 DC Overlock (with coverstitch)
User: paroper
Member since: 02-03-2004
Total posts: 3775
From: Patty22
Date: 06-19-2006, 08:33 PM (12 of 19)
(*&* you move fast :shock:

In less than seven hours you've gone from thinking about a machine for less than $100 to a new machine!

Gesh, when you mean business, you mean business :up:

Welcome to the world of sewing; you're not going to regret a moment.

I wanted to tell you to check your local stores for sales on the sewing implements - at certain sales you can get notions at 50% off and there will be sales on patterns. Now that the sewing bug is hitting, I'm sure you're going to be keeping your eyes peeled for deals on fabric and the likes.

Guard your Ginghers with your life....I'm talking hiding them!

Don't discount checking out yard sales'd be surprised at some of the little treasures to be found that are useful (ie: my BIL picked up a FW (antique lightweight singer) at a yardsale this past weekend for $25.)
User: Patty22
Member since: 03-29-2006
Total posts: 1194
From: Magot
Date: 06-19-2006, 10:46 PM (13 of 19)
Look on the needle plate - the metal bed that the needle goes through - you may find that there are marks engraved in there that are indicative of
5/8inch 3/8inch or in cms. Use these as your seam guide. I have heard of people sticking a piece of masking tape parallel to the needle at the correct distance - but do as Pam says and practice sewing those lines on paper - then after you have finished through the needle away. When you were learning to drive you didn't jump onto the motorway straight away I guess. Take time to learn your machine and not get frustrated that you don't seem to be producing anything - it will pay off in the long run and is much cheaper than the wasted fabric syndrome...
Welcome to the House of Fun! My first re-enactment piece was a tudor costume for my daugter - I thought I was just making a dress but forgot that it entailed, chenise, petticoat, underskirt, separate sleeves pattern was sketched on the back of a piece of least the big companies do ren faire patterns!
love and kisses, Jan
Cells a Speciality
DNA to order.
User: Magot
Member since: 12-22-2002
Total posts: 3626
From: paroper
Date: 06-20-2006, 12:31 AM (14 of 19)
I believe you said your marks were identified. If they are not, just put the edge of a tape measure even with the front center of the needle. You'll be able to identify the correct mark.

When you get ready to sew for real, be sure and change your needle be sure and put it back in the way it came out. For most machines the flat part of the needle goes to the back but it can be totally different. Be sure that you insert hyour needle all the way when you change it.

Bernina 200e, Artista V5 Designer Plus, Explorations, Magic Box, Bernina 2000DE & 335 Bernette Serger, Bernina 1530 Sewing Machine, Bernina 1300 DC Overlock (with coverstitch)
User: paroper
Member since: 02-03-2004
Total posts: 3775
From: Sancin
Date: 06-20-2006, 03:37 AM (15 of 19)
I forgot, until mentioned, that sewing lines on paper is a good way to get used to handling 'something' in relation to the needle and speed of the machine. If your machine does not have line markers on the plate to indicate the seam width (the distance from the thread seam to the edge of the material) I find that foam mounting tape (for hanging pictures etc.) is handy. You would use the seam guide Pam talked about and then lay down a strip of the foam tape, leaving the paper on the top. You then have a raised guide to ease the fabric along at the correct distance from the needle.

An iron was mentioned and an ironing board. If you are going to make costumes (eventually) you will be sewing different types of fabrics that take different degrees of heat and weight from your iron. I would recommend you invest in a good pressing cloth. There is nothing more frustrating than spending time sewing nice seams only to have an iron ruin the material. :shock: Working with fabric is not unlike working with foods. You need to learn what dough feels like, how cake batter is different, how frying is different than boiling. By handling (really run your hands over the fabric, pick it up, drape it from your hand etc.) different types of fabrics you will learn what you can and can't do. You will learn what is slinky slippery and hard to seam, how firm fabrics almost seam themselves, what loose weave feels like and how it can catch on things and how different they all are when you sew on them. It also helps you to not expect too much from all fabrics.

Another suggestion I have is to keep a file on your computer desktop, either a word processing file or a text tile, and everytime you see something 'on line' that seems like a tip do a cut and paste to that file. It is amazing how much information and knowledge you can pick up in a very short period of time.

Good luck and have fun. :up:
*~*~*~* Nancy*~*~*~* " I try to take one day at a time - but sometimes several days attack me at once."
User: Sancin
Member since: 02-13-2005
Total posts: 895
Date: 06-20-2006, 08:58 AM (16 of 19)
Welcome.....I think you will really enjoy this forum...the sewers here are so helpful and kind.

I am also a beginner, keep in mind they do have free sewing lessons on this website....Julie Culshaw from Timmel Fabrics does a very good job explaining and she doesn't mind questions.

For me these work out perfect because our local fabric store here has no sewing lessons. Plus I can work at my own pace.

The beginning project is a skirt and .....the drawings are very helpful. I think there is alot of instruction in them, definetly better than just the pattern.

Welcome aboard.....if you start dreaming about your next project....that is totally normal.
Member since: 11-30-2005
Total posts: 27
From: pucktricks
Date: 06-20-2006, 10:37 AM (17 of 19)
pattern 8587 for a simple skirt and general peasant outfit ( All of the major pattern companies have a "easy section," Simplicity has two of them "It's So Easy," and "Sewing for Dummies." The It's So Easy line has a bunch of cute kids patterns that from the look of the patterns, are probably less than 5 pieces to put together.

Simplicity It's So Easy (

The first pattern, 4142, looks to be cute and you can use it for both boys and girls.

I do lots of costume sewing for Ren Fest, and depending on how historically accurate you want to be it can actually be fairly easy. I tend to go for the less accurate, but comfortable to wear (I'm in Texas, and wearing lots and lots of layers in 90 degrees, just doesn't sound fun). Here's a pattern that I've made the shirt from several times and loved it, it is very simple, and has limited number of mistakes you can make. The second pattern gives you a nice simple skirt pattern to make.

Pattern 5359, great shirt (

Just thought I'd give you some ideas of where to go from here, now that you have a machine (congrats, by the way).

User: pucktricks
Member since: 03-31-2004
Total posts: 570
From: Sparky
Date: 06-20-2006, 12:05 PM (18 of 19)

I'm just echoing what everyone else has said. DON'T TRY TO RUN BEFORE YOU CAN WALK! That's the surest road to frustration and yes, I do speak from experience.

Some other super-easy ideas for first projects are aprons. A chef's apron isn't what you had it mind, but they're very easy and you can always use another one, right? And a simple gathered apron can be short--to wear in your kitchen, or long--to wear with your peasant getup. In fact, even a beginner can probably figure out how to make one without a pattern.

Also, several people have mentioned a seam ripper. Get a good one because you'll use it a LOT. Not only when you make a mistake, though you'll make plenty (we all do), but it's a handy tool for a number of things.

One other thing not yet mentioned is an invisible-ink fabric marker. Some people like these and some don't. I swear by them. But get a chalk marker too, because the ink markers don't work on dark fabrics.

Stock up on black and white all-purpose thread when it's on sale. You may find you want to stock up on other things too, such as fusible interfacing, but that will probably come later. Never pass up a chance to pick up extra bobbins for your machine at a good price, but be sure they work in your machine before buy. You can never have too many bobbins.
User: Sparky
Member since: 03-13-2005
Total posts: 94
From: Butterflyrf71
Date: 06-24-2006, 09:05 AM (19 of 19)
Sewing a straight line is a learned thing, the lines are not always visable on your mahcine.

When I came back to sewing I ordered something called the creative feet satin edge foot. This has a guide on it - and helped me get back into sewing a straight line again.

One of the best purchases I made when I started sewing again. It's like ten feet rolled into one.

Congrats on you new machine! Welcome to the forum, you will love it here! I am addicted.
You Lord, give perfect peace to those who keep their purpose firm, and place their trust in you. Isaiah 26:3, AV
User: Butterflyrf71
Member since: 05-02-2006
Total posts: 257
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