Showing Off Your Sewing Skills

15th March 2019

By Nancy Williams 

My sewing machine and I aren’t always friends. Oftentimes we have arguments because of its nasty habit of doing what it wants to do, not what I want it to do. I’m a hand embroiderer first and foremost. However, this standoff was becoming unpleasant for both me and my machine and so I took the initiative and started sewing classes. And suddenly, I began to see how we could work together to make beautiful things.

The first step to working with my sewing machine was to find a pattern to make. Modern commercial paper patterns for making garments first became popular in the 1860s, when McCalls and Butterick produced tissue paper patterns for both women’s and men’s clothing in various sizes. Over the years, patterns reflected fashions and were available for all kinds of garments and accessories including hats, bags and gloves. Soon, ready to wear fashion became cheaper and more available, and so dressmaking shifted from an essential skill to a leisure activity, not unlike most other handcrafts today.

Vintage sewing patterns (source)

Modern patterns are readily available at fabric stores and haberdasheries. However, if you prefer vintage patterns, you have a choice of tens of thousands of free patterns available online. Once you have your pattern, you just need to choose your fabric, and you can begin.

But as embroiderers, we have that extra ability to look at a pattern and imagine something more.

What’s to stop us adding some smocking to an empire line dress? How about some satin stitch flowers on the front of a homemade shirt or blouse? Or a stitched panel in place of a waistband or wristbands? And this is just on clothing – when one starts to consider accessories, the possibilities open even further.

We’ve all faced the issue of seeing something we want to stitch but wondering whether it is possible to put one more thing up on the wall. Not to mention the enormous cost of framing.

A leisurely flick through the accessories and home decorating tabs in the latest Butterick catalogue can be a revelation. Bags, cushions, curtains, chair covers, hats and even stitching totes are all available and could all be used to show off our embroidery skills. Suddenly, not everything is limited to the walls of our own homes. The world can see what we do every time we leave the house.

We know there are many of you who are skilled at creating wonderful things with the sewing machine, often without even needing to refer to patterns. I can but aspire to be like you. In the meantime, I am grateful to Mr. Butterick although I have yet to succeed in sewing a straight seam. But I’m pleased to report that my sewing machine, my needle and I are forming a deep and lasting friendship.

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