Friday, June 17, 2011

Why Learning To Sew Is Good For Your Brain

How I Decided to Learn to Sew ...

A couple of months ago I was listening to Andrea Kuszewski talking about keeping one's brain supple by constantly learning new things ...

No, wait, I have to back up to 2010, when my husband and I began restoring an old house that had once been the home of  Julian Onderdonk, the American impressionist painter (and his father Robert before him, and his sister Eleanor, both talented aritists of lesser fame than Julian). The house was in terrible condition -- every time I talked to the contractor there was more bad news. We ended up going more than 200% over budget, which meant there was no money left over for curtains or blinds. Ever the optimist, I said, "Don't worry, my grandmother showed me how to sew when I was a kid. I'll make curtains. It will be easy."

So I dragged out my grandmother's old Necchi BU that I hadn't touched in more than 20 years. Amazingly, I was able to get it running. But I couldn't get it to sew a tight stitch. The top thread didn't seem to be looping over the bobbin thread the way it should. The closest repair shop I could find that works on antique Necchis was 150 miles away. I didn't want to drive that far, and I didn't want to ship the machine. One day I will, or I'll find someone closer. But meanwhile, I did a little research on basic sewing machines, went over to JoAnn Fabrics, and bought a Singer Heavy Duty Model # 4423. I promised myself that if I enjoyed sewing and was still doing it after a year, I'd consider buying a nicer machine. For my present purposes, the Singer 4423 is perfect. To master basic sewing skills, I don't need a machine with two hundred computerized stitches. In fact, I'm not sure I'll ever need such a machine, but I would like to get one that runs a little more smoothly. The 4423 is pretty rough compared with the Necchi BU.

Making the curtains turned out to be a dreadful experience. I was using a synthetic upholstery fabric that was very heavy and also sort of slippery. So even the straight seams were kind of a pain. But what was really hard for me was trying to do blind hems. Even after purchasing a blind hem foot and watching several videos, I still had a terrible time. The curtains are atrocious up close. I'm too embarrassed to post a photo of them. But long as you don't look too closely, they're OK, and the do their job.

For some reason, instead of being discouraged by the curtain experience, I was inspired to try sewing clothes. Thoughts of beautifully tailored suits and cute casual dresses were floating around in my mind when I heard Dr. Kuszewski's talk about how good it is to get outside one's comfort zone, learn new things. Sewing would be an ideal new thing to learn, since it involves the intellectual exercise of translating a flat pattern into a 3-dimensional garment and also hand-eye co-ordination. So I rummaged around through a box where I thought I might find some sewing stuff, and lo! there was a pattern for an unlined suit -- Butterick # 4616. I have no idea why I had that pattern, or how it came to be in the box, but there it was.

Since I had not attempted to sew clothes for more than 20 years, I thought it would be best to make a few trial garments before cutting into expensive fabric. So I made the suit from an old sheet. Good thing, too, because my first efforts were pretty bad. Here's the first thing I made. I've saved it so I can look back at it later and see how much I've improved.

I altered the pattern, as instructed in the Vogue Sewing Book, and the fit wasn't too bad. But my technique was appalling (although that's probably to be expected from a beginner). For example, look at all the puckers in this sleeve cap:

I'm very pleased to say that the second set of sleeves I made turned out much better:

So I'm making progress, and far from becoming discouraged, I've become obsessed. Fortunately, there appear to be others who share this obsession with sewing. I've been able to find all sorts of inspiration and practical knowledge by looking at videos and sewing blogs. Much more on this later ...

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