Sewing with Confidence

Sewing with Confidence

Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced sewer, there will always be projects that seem too tough, that are hard to feel completely confident about taking on. Without a way to approach projects confidently, it can be tempting to skip doing them all together. What a shame it is when we miss out on making something special simply because it seems too hard. Instead, try using these tips to build your confidence and get that project done.

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Break it Down

Often, I find myself feeling overwhelmed by a project if I try to look ahead at all the directions. With simpler projects, I can do that and picture the whole thing coming together in my mind. With more complex projects, reading ahead sometimes makes me feel like it’s too hard. I won’t see the project. Instead, I get lost in the words of it and panic at the sight of terms I’ve not seen before.

The simplest and quickest way to overcome my fears and boost my sewing confidence is to take it one step at a time. Instead of reading through the whole thing, I only focus on the step I’m currently working on and the move on to the next. This makes it easy to look up any terms I’m not familiar with and complete each step successfully. And, of course, doing this generates more confidence. I have a hunch it will be the same for you. Give it a try and let me know how it goes.

Ask for Help

Although sewing is largely a solo hobby, that doesn’t mean you have to work through every project on your own. If you’re stuck, bring your fabric and the pattern to your local fabric or sewing machine store and ask their experts to help you out. They may be able to give you an explanation that’s easier to understand than the one written in your pattern instructions. Also, having the corresponding fabric pieces may help to show you a way to pin or cut the pieces to match what the instructions are asking you to do. And once you’ve learned it, you can apply it, confidently, to future projects.

These two tricks have helped me tackle everything from a sundress to a wedding dress with confidence and wind up with gorgeous completed projects that I’m proud to wear. The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed by a project, don’t fret. Try these two tips and get the confidence you need to complete the project without stress.

Sewing With Voices

Sewing With Voices

As is my custom, this weekend, I was out with the guys riding bikes up mountains and we got to talking about podcasts and television shows and books and stuff. One of them said he didn’t really ever have time to listen to podcasts and was surprised I had time to do so.

“I listen while I sew at work,” I said.

“Really? You can pay attention to both of those things at once?” he asked.

“Yes, I really can,” I answered. And I can.

Listen while you work

I hadn’t ever really thought about it before, though. I’ve always been able to listen to radio shows or audiobooks or podcasts while sewing. I’ve even been known to watch Netflix if I’m not in a super time crunch. By “watch”, I really mean listen to a show I’ve already seen and don’t have to pay that close attention to. Or something like Law and Order that you don’t need to see the whole thing to get the gist of. Or something really cheesy like The Ghost Whisperer that only requires half your brain, at best.

Long ago, when I worked at The Alley Theatre in Houston, TX, we’d listen to audio books on the shop stereo in the afternoon. It was actually a really cool way to “read” a book. Then we’d get into lengthy debates and discussions about whatever we were listening to. We had our own sewing book club down there in the costume shop.

Hammer time

My friend Kassandra and I used to watch the morning talk shows while we made costumes for the VH1 special on MC Hammer. And these days, if I’m at work and not in a fitting, I’m listening to something like This American Life, StarTalk , Stuff You Should Know, Undisclosed, Radiolab, Ear Hustle – my list goes on and on.

Every once in awhile I come across an article that claims that humans are, in general, unable to do more than one thing at once and anyone who says they are a multi-tasker is not being completely truthful. Usually, the author will then go on to explain that people can’t really concentrate on more than one thing at once, that its scientifically impossible.

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Neil deGrasse Tyson.

But I just don’t think that’s true. I can listen to Neil Degrasse Tyson talk about black holes and the speed of light and measure, cut, pin, and sew at the same time. I can even pattern or drape while listening to something. I guess because, at this point, a lot of what I do sewing-wise I’ve done countless times before so its kind of second nature and I don’t need my full concentration to do it correctly.

In contrast, though, I can’t talk on the phone while sewing and if someone has questions or needs to have a conversation with me, I have to stop what I’m doing (and its not just because I think its rude to not look someone in the eye when conversing). I have worked with people though, who seem to be able to video chat or skype while sewing. One of the ladies who worked for me on Boardwalk Empire was always skyping Russia.

Which reminds me of one particular day during Boardwalk. It was the afternoon and we were super busy. There was music on the background. We always had music on, just some Pandora station that we’d take turns choosing. Everyone was working away steadily on different projects, immersed in their own little worlds. I was patterning something, I don’t remember what, when I paused for a minute to look up and listen to the conversations going on in the shop.

There was one in Russian, another in Turkish, still another in French, a couple in English (obviously), one in Spanish and one in Arabic. It was all quite wonderful and made me really proud of the amazing diverse shop full of talented people I had around me.

And speaking of languages; that’s another thing you can do while sewing. You can listen to a language learning app or book.

I love that I can learn something new or get lost in someone else’s story while still creating something with my hands. I think it’s a wonderful ability to have, a gift even.

I think most of us who sew are true multi-taskers. (We’re pretty cool like that). I’d love to know what other people listen to or watch while working on projects.

I’m also in search of any new and interesting podcasts to listen to if you have any suggestions.

Happy sewing! (and listening).

Summer Trends: Embroidery

Summer Trends: Embroidery

Summer Vacation 2017 is upon us!

Summer Vacation 2017 is upon us!

Summer Vacation 2017 is upon us, and as could be the case for any season and time frame, it’s showing up with its own trends. There are a number of these that you can apply to your sewing, but the one that I primarily want to focus on is embroidery. According to one source, “[t]he biggest trend that is coming in 2017 is definitely embroidery,” which makes it a popular topic to explore and try your hand at. For me personally though, it isn’t my main focus in sewing, so there’s plenty of room for me to learn and grow within that category. What better way could I have to do those things than to explore and research for the sake of a new blog post?

Start at the beginning

Let’s start with the very basics, like what exactly embroidery is. In regard to the world of sewing, that definition has been given as the following: “Embroidery is ‘thread art’ used to embellish a garment, hat or some other product by adding a sewn pattern. Generally, this sewn pattern includes a design and can also include lettering and/or monograms.” If you find that a bit too far-fetched of a definition though, think of it like drawing artwork on a product or fabric. Just as you would take a marker, colored pencil, or crayon to create an image on paper, “thread or yarn” can be used in embroidery to build the picture you mean to make.

Clearly, embroidery has changed over the years, but the long-reach of this style of artwork speaks volumes to its appeal & application.

Clearly, embroidery has changed over the years, but the long-reach of this style of artwork speaks volumes to its appeal & application.

Embroidery, as it happens, is not a new concept either. It dates back to prehistoric times — “to Cro-Magnon days or 30,000 BC” — so prominently that “fossilized remains of heavily hand-stitched and decorated clothing, boots and a hat [have been] found.” Clearly, embroidery has changed over the years, but the long-reach of this style of artwork speaks volumes to its appeal and application. If it has remained for so many millennia and through the technological changes within the later centuries, it’s safe to say that it’s a topic and technique that has captured interest through the passage of time!

Your only limitation is your own imagination

One reason for that appeal is clear since, because of the many forms embroidery can take, the possibilities for design are almost limitless. If you want a picture of a flower, a bird, a house, a doughnut, or a dragon on your work, you can add any of the above — or whatever else you have in mind — so long as you don’t over-exceed your own abilities. If you can physically create it, you can do it! It’s important to note though that this is one area that merits consideration since if you try for something too large-scale on your first embroidery project, you could fall short and become discouraged with the whole process. When you start off with such a bad experience, it can be a psychological obstacle to overcome if you want to better yourself in the field. Keep in mind then where you are with embroidery, and choose projects that are fitting for your level.

If you can physically create it, you can do it!

If you can physically create it, you can do it!

In essence though, embroidery can be incredibly personal and project-specific. You don’t just have to rely on the fabric at your disposal to create a work that’s perfect for you and your purpose. If you want to sew a blanket for a friend’s baby shower, for instance, you could add to whatever adorable fabric you use for that work by personalizing it with the baby’s name. If you’re making some kind of wedding gift, you could add the wedding date right onto the material. That truly is a beauty of embroidery. Whatever you want, if you physically can do it, it’s an option — even if you have to use an embroidery pattern to make it happen!

Unlock your creativity & see where it takes you

Add to whatever adorable fabric you use by personalizing it with a name.

Add to whatever adorable fabric you use by personalizing it with a name.

Of course, this can be applied to your clothing, as is evidenced by the notion that “Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana and McQueen” have all been credited with embracing this trend. The level of creativity involved with this clothing idea, again, can’t be overstated because you can tailor your designs to what you have in mind. If you want a blue top with a colorful butterfly on the left shoulder, you could make that happen even if you can’t find it in stores.

Overall, I honestly don’t know if there’s a more creative way to make your own items unique, so if you want to create a piece that’s as yours as you can manage, you might want to step into the world of embroidery! It’s trendy this summer, and a number of the popular embroidery concepts are very spring/summer-inspired — like flowers and birds. All in all, if ever there was a perfect time to step into this creative category, it’s now!

Sewing with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Sewing with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is a repetitive motion injury in the wrist.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is a repetitive motion injury in the wrist.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is a repetitive motion injury in the wrist. Typing, hammering, sewing and other actions can be the cause. Those some actions can cause an existing injury in to flare up. The numbing, tingling, pain and stiffness CTS causes can make it all but impossible to sew. As someone who writes for a living, CTS is pretty much a given. I don’t want to give up my livelihood or my hobbies over it. So, I’ve learned to modify. Sewing with CTS was a challenge at first, but if I can do it, so can you!

Wear a Brace

My CTS started back in highschool when I worked in an ice cream shop. Back then, we called it scooper’s wrist. I bought a cheap brace from the drug store up the street from the ice cream parlor and managed to keep going. The next time it flared up was college – as an English major I did A LOT of typing. A sturdier, more expensive brace helped with that. The things to consider are how immobile the brace keeps your wrist and comfort. Don’t be afraid to try on several at the store to check for fit and comfort.

Use the Other Hand

I’m a bit naturally ambidextrous, so this wasn’t too hard for me, but if you’re not, it could be a little harder. Gripping tiny pins is much too painful for me to do with my right hand. The CTS makes it nearly impossible. Instead, I taught myself to pin with my left hand. This wasn’t easy since it also meant holding the fabric differently. Be patient with yourself and with the process. It will come with time and practice.

Get Lefty Scissors

Just like pinning with my right hand is nearly impossible, cutting can be equally as challenging. If you’ve ever tried to use your regular scissors in your left hand, you know it’s pretty difficult. The blades are one directional. Instead, invest in a pair of lefty scissors. You’ll find that cutting with your left hand is pretty simple after that. You may need to make other modifications to the layout of your cutting surface, etc. to accommodate using the opposite hand.

Don’t let carpal tunnel syndrome take away your sewing time. Instead, try out these modifications and keep doing your favorite hobby. And don’t forget to talk to your doctor – they may have treatment options that can help long-term.

Grateful for Sewing

Grateful for Sewing

I don’t get enough time to sew these days, but when I do, I’m incredibly grateful for it. Sewing is unlike any of my other crafty hobbies. I can express myself and discover myself in ways I can’t with any other hobby.

Truly Alone Time

Grateful for SewingWith my other craft hobbies, such as knitting, I tend to do them in front of the television surrounded by my boyfriend and our four four-legged children. While this is a great way to combine downtime with family time, it also means I don’t truly shut down. When I get the chance to sew, everyone else is out of the way. The four-legged babies don’t like the noise of the machine and since I’m not in a communal family area, my boyfriend doesn’t feel compelled to join me.

Creates Space

Our house, while adorable and comfortable, is also small and sometimes feel crowded. When I bought it, I was single with two fur babies. When I met my love and he moved in with his two fur babies we quickly realized finding our own space would be a challenge. I can create space for myself working on a sewing project and he creates space for himself by practicing archery in the back yard.

Unique Clothes

I’m not a clothes hound by any means. My wardrobe is small, but I do enjoy making it pop with a few really unique pieces. For me, the most fun way to do this is to buy a pattern I love, find the perfect fabric for it and make a dress, skirt or shirt no one else will have. Add on the compliments and feeling of success I get each time I wear something I made myself and I’ve got the perfect way to punch up my wardrobe.

Helping Others

Being able to sew is a skill fewer people have these days. Being able to sew affords me the opportunity to help others. Whether it’s fixing a zipper or shortening a head for someone I care about or making handmade items for charity, I’m grateful for the chance to use my skills to help others – and save them the cost of buying new clothes when the item could be repaired.

Creative Outlet

I write for a living, but I write factually based things, not fiction. I’m not known for an amazing imagination, but I am creative and that expression needs an outlet. For me, sewing is one way to let my creative side play.

Why are you grateful for sewing? What else are you grateful for?

Sew Calm

Sew Calm

Like many hobbies, sewing can help you relax and put aside the stress of daily life. Depending on the hobby, there can be many reasons for this. For me, sewing is relaxing because it requires intense concentration, which means there’s no room left in my brain for worrying about life stressors. And then there’s the rhythms – they call to something deeper much the way drum beats do in Native American rituals.

Snip Snip Snip

Next time you’re sitting down to cut some fabric really listen.

Next time you’re sitting down to cut some fabric really listen.

Have you ever noticed the sound scissors make when cutting fabric? There’s something almost melodic about it. Try it out next time you’re sitting down to cut some fabric really listen. If you can safely close your eyes for a moment to tune into the sound, do so. The crunch, snip, clip is mesmerizing. I allow it to become like a mantra – if there’s something I’m working through, the rhythm of the scissors can help me hone my focus and energy. Try it – you’ll see.

Whirr Whirr Whirr

I don’t have a lot of experience with modern machines; I’m still using the old Singer my mom taught me on, so I’m not sure if newer machines have the same wonderful whirring sound. When doing a long straight row of stitches and keeping steady pressure on the pedal, that whirr is as rhythmic as train speeding down the tracks. The whirring helps organize my thoughts and creates a space where my only focus is the machine, the fabric, and the whirr. As my problems and stressors take a back seat, they also subconsciously begin to resolve.

As with the snip and whirr sounds, my anxious thoughts fall away and my focus hones in on the task at hand.

Motions

Sewing also has a lot of repetitive, and thus soothing, motions. The body and brain disconnect during these moments and the subconscious takes over. Just as our brains are able to work out problems as we sleep, so too can they work out problems while our conscious brain is disconnected during waking hours.

Pin and Unpin

The motion and concentration needed to properly pin a sewing project are often all consuming. I find this quite soothing. As with the snip and whirr sounds, my anxious thoughts fall away and my focus hones in on the task at hand. When I’m done, the thoughts and anxieties plaguing me don’t seem so all-encompassing.

Joy of Completion

I’m sure you know the feeling. That moment of elation when the hours of snipping, pinning, and sewing come to fruition with the final product. For me, the only thing that tops it is when I’m wearing something I made and someone compliments it, giving me the opportunity to say that I made it. Oh man! Is there anything else like that? I don’t think so.

How about you? What part of sewing speaks to your inner being and helps you relax and release the stressors of daily life?

Blending Interests with Hobbies

Blending Interests with Hobbies

Last time, I wrote about the art bug biting, and I’d like to continue with that theme this week. Why? Because when he does bite, it’s relevant to uncover what form of the virus you were infected with, and any particular interest you can bring into that hobby or artistic area.

Everyone isn’t involved with every artistic pursuit just because he or she was bitten by said art bug. Whereas one person might be a wonderful painter, another might excel at photography. One person who is awesome at sketching might be terrible at music, while a musician might not be able to draw a believable landscape. For this post, I’ll refer to this as the Artistic Division of Labor, or ADOL. Sound good? Okay!

ADOL can be driven by skill, in that someone might simply have a talent for a specific division. Maybe someone has been good at sculpting since his or her Play-Doh years, and that skill has grown in the years that followed. If such is the case, it wouldn’t be too surprising to find that said person was well-known among family and friends for that ability.

In other situations, eventual interest might lead to artistic pursuits, and that interest might be something a person has to explore to define. If that doesn’t make sense, hang on! I’m about to give you a real-world example—from my own life!

The inspirational snowball bush. So many flowers!

The inspirational snowball bush. So many flowers!

I remember picking flowers when I was younger, though they were admittedly mostly (if not completely) wildflowers. As far as actual gardening goes, one or two of the adults close to me at the time had some kind of flowers planted in a more deliberate fashion than renegade weeds springing up. Even now, my mom has this snowball bush in her front yard, which is flower-ish enough to make this post, and pretty enough when it’s in-bloom to catch my interest. Either way—whether wild or chosen—flowers were a part of my childhood, and I decided I was going to try my hand at flower gardening not too long ago. I got flowers from a store, planted them, watered them, and let them grow. And they were doing okay!

But I eventually realized I wasn’t interested enough in the gardening prospect to tend to it as much as a garden should ideally be cared for. Honestly, I don’t know that I watered the flowers at all after that initial amount, and there was little to no chance I was going to trim weeds away from them. At some point, I was told the weeds around them were moving—something that could be bad when you live in territory that has copperheads and rattlesnakes—so goodbye, flowers.

So far, what this situation amounts to is that I had a childhood interest that became an artsy pursuit I actually had the ability to see through, but didn’t have the focus to continue. The result of this predicament might seem simple: I could just give up on my flower-interest and try other ideas for artistic endeavors. The trouble though is that I still like flowers, even if I don’t have the desire to keep a garden healthy and catered to.

A possible solution then would be more along the lines of what I said earlier in this post. I could explore the topic to see if there was any flower-related ADOL that could hold my interest.

As I said in last week’s post, I tried my hand at floral arranging, and that was a fairly decent win for me. Overall, it was an ADOL I was kind of okay at, and one that could hold my interest enough to keep me involved with it. The idea has led into constructing floral arrangements for display outside of the house, as well as around-the-house projects that catch my eye. For instance, a broken down lamp could potentially use a little prettying up!

Is that a busted lamp? Or a new vase...

Is that a busted lamp? Or a new vase…

But that’s a pretty specific category, and if flowers are a particular interest of mine, that idea could surface in an ADOL that isn’t specifically built around floral arrangements and gardening. And they have! In fact, flowers have become a part of two of my primary ADOL pursuits: writing, and sewing/quilting. With writing, more than one set of lyrics I’ve written has incorporated flower and/or garden themes, including a song that a character of mine sings to his girl in Emblazed.

More than one set of lyrics I’ve written has incorporated flower and/or garden themes.

More than one set of lyrics I’ve written has incorporated flower and/or garden themes.

More importantly for this blog, floral options are available in sewing/quilting patterns, and of course there’s a number of fabrics that a person can buy with floral designs—which is okay with me! In fact, my current quilting project has had a floral arrangement design to it, in that every piece that’s been sewn on it so far has been a pattern that has some form of floral quality to it. The overall design, when all is said and done, will be floral-related from top to bottom (minus a potential border and back-overlap).

My current quilting project has had a floral arrangement design to it.

My current quilting project has had a floral arrangement design to it.

All in all, I may not have had the focus or interest to keep a flower garden going, but the world of art is so vast that there are plenty of ADOLs out there to try, and enough room to explore within each to come up with ways to utilize interests that maybe weren’t committed enough to make into their own hobbies.

Bottom line: If you’ve been bitten by the art bug, explore to find your ADOLs, and you can find ways to bring your interests into those ADOLs — even if they seem more fitting for another. For the flower-admirer who doesn’t garden, paint pictures! Make floral quilts! Do floral arrangements! Sculpt a flower! There are options to blend your interests into your art, if you look for them!

Pressing Forward – A New Idea

Pressing Forward – A New Idea

As I was organizing my new sewing room, I thought about what components I could use to make sewing organized and efficient. Sewing is my favorite part but keeping things in order can become a challenge.

Sewing is my favorite part but keeping things in order can become a challenge.

Sewing is my favorite part but keeping things in order can become a challenge.

Of course, quilting takes a few more supplies that some hobbies, but I was thinking specifically about how I can make the pressing of quilt squares and fabric as part of my desk area rather than an ironing board and standing each time I had to press.

I made an ironing table on my counter top which has an insulated pad so I could sew and turn my chair to iron. It works fairly well but needs to be adjusted at times, as the pad wriggles around, and I thought there has to be something better.

I have to say that ironing is NOT my favorite past time with all the laundry we have, but somehow when I am making quilt squares, it is not too cumbersome. I use a fabric stabilizer when I iron that smells nice when it is heated so it, it gives me ambition to sew my squares and press them neatly to look professional as I go along. I have been thinking that an investment in a Home Pressing system will be beneficial.

Thinking back, actually, when I was a little girl, my Mom had what she called a “Mangle” Iron. I have not seen those again until recently in this website. I always wanted to help her press the sheets and pillow cases and my Dad’s handkerchiefs when she set up the what seemed to be an “ancient” machine. In fact, this type of machine was first used to wring out clothes by washer women beginning in 1843. Mom had hers in the late 1950’s, and used it often.

Sheets, tea towels, table cloths and fabric scraps would be so easy to run through the iron and save time to enable more sewing.

So, with that in mind, I have been researching Pressing Systems. I have come across some great reviews on the Magic Steam Press ESP2 Electronic Iron, and the Miele B990E Rotary Ironing Board. Check out the other brands here as well. The first is a small table model and the second is a rotary iron on a stand capable of ironing most everything. This is easy to use by sitting and makes ironing a breeze! Just be careful about the buttons and zippers, please!

I think these models would be particular good for bonding interfacings and stabilizers to fabric and to make quilt squares, totes, curtain panels and much more. Sheets, tea towels, table cloths and fabric scraps would be so easy to run through the iron and save time to enable more sewing.

Check out the irons on this website, and consider using a Pressing System for your sewing and ironing needs.

The reviews are helpful to see how valuable and what a time saver these systems are.

My next purchase will be to order for one of these products. With time saved and beautifully pressed quilts and clothes, it is an investment well worth the money with energy to spare! Press forward, and enjoy ironing! See you next time!