How I Learned to Sew: A Case Study

Getting to grips with sewing can be quite a challenge, but with hard work and dedication it’s possible to achieve things you might never have thought yourself capable of. Saffron Greenwood, from Oxford, tells us how she Learned to Sew.

“I started knitting about three years ago and that was when I first started making clothes and thinking of things in terms of, say, how well they fitted, and using different materials,” Saffron explains. “I made a few jumpers and cardigans and I decided I’d like to try sewing so that I could make skirts and dresses to go with them, and that kind of thing. So that I could make things that fit better than the things you can buy on the high street.”

There’s no doubt that many people find shopping in the high street frustrating – but Saffron also had another big reason for wanting to make her own clothes.

“There was starting to be a lot of stuff in the media about sweatshops and the sourcing of materials and dreadful working conditions,” she says, “which made it seem that making my own clothes was a good thing to be doing.”

First Attempts

So how did she go about learning? Like most people, she began with the basics.

“I bought a sewing machine. I’d bought some curtains from Ikea. Their curtains only come in one length, and it’s about eight metres long, and they sell you this iron-on stuff to turn them up with, but I knew that I could do better than that so I bought a sewing machine very cheap on eBay and sewed a straight line across the bottom of the curtains. That was the first thing I did, and then I though, Oh my God! Is that the only thing you can do, straight lines? And I didn’t know how to do anything else.”

She Persevered

“I bought a book called ‘Yeah, I Made It Myself’, which taught me that I could easily make a skirt by just taking a piece of fabric and making a drawstring waist, and it would look amazing. And I got a piece of fabric and put a drawstring in it, and no-one above the age of six should ever wear anything that looks like that! And I didn’t really know where to go. I experimented a bit on my own, and I tried to make a skirt and got half way through and realised I had no idea what I was doing.”

Fortunately for Saffron, help was just around the corner.

Getting on Course

“I signed up for a dressmaking class at my local college, and that was about eighteen months ago. It was two and a half hours once a week. It was really good. The teacher used to work for Jaeger and was a pattern cutter there so she knew all about how to use dressmaking patterns. And because she’d worked in the industry, she didn’t make us do really boring things like tacking every seam. She said ‘Pin it. Just pin it.’ So we got started really quickly.”

If you’re ambitious about your sewing, learning almost always seems to take too long, but in this case it wasn’t long at all before Saffron began to get results.

“In the first term I made a dress and it actually fit me really well,” she says. “And then I wanted to make more things on my own. I made a couple of things and I even wore them out of the house. I’d been too worried before that people would point and say ‘She made that herself’. Then I got a bit more confidence.”

So would she recommend taking a course like this to other people who are struggling to acquire sewing skills? For her, being part of a group was a big plus. “After the first twenty mistakes when I had to unpick everything and completely recut, if I’d just been doing it at home I think I might have just given up and gone off in a sulk,” she admits, “but I stuck at it, and after making a lot of mistakes I got better.”

However, there are a lot of ways to learn, and she also has tips for doing it on a budget.

“Learning from someone else is really good. It’s very difficult to learn that sort of thing from a book,” she says. “But there are a lot of short movies on YouTube that are quite good, where you can see other people doing the same thing. Still, for me, more than anything else, it was a matter of just sticking with it. If you keep doing it over and over, after a couple of times you’ll get it right.”

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