“The seamstress’s needle pecks like a fastidious chicken.”
– Jules Renard
With the progress of industrialisation, sewing machines have replaced human hands at the needle for over a century – and now robotics are making ever greater progress.
Though the young, soon-to-be saint Joan of Arc would spin thread as she watched her flock of her sheep, though mothers and daughters of yore would weave their own cloth during the long winter nights, most clothing is now made in Spain or Italy – when it isn’t from Turkey, Indonesia or China!
In the past, tailors were a mainstay of every village in Britain. Not only in fashionable London, but throughout the countryside they made clothing and accessories and disseminated fashion.
Today, sewing is considered a luxury profession, with bespoke tailors catering to the famous and wealthy, while home sewing is a hobby, practised to relax while making nice things and letting your imagination run wild.
In fact, many modern hobbies – bookbinding, knitting, crochet – used to be necessities of life.
There are two main reasons for learning to sew:
Not all tailors have little mice to help them out – so it’s best you learn how to sew! Photo by Smithsonian Libraries on Visual hunt
But first, you have to start at the very beginning – but how? This article will show you some of the main digital and physical supports that will let you take your first steps in learning how to sew, and then – who knows? – perhaps even become a famous designer!
The luckiest among you have the advantage of the helping hand of a crafty grandmother or mother to teach you needlecraft.
The less lucky, though, had better turn to private sewing teachers, whether weekend sewing courses at your local haberdasher’s or private sewing tutors seeking to make a pound or two by giving sewing lessons.
Sewing tutorials can teach you step by step to make whatever you want. Photo by ohsohappytogether on Visual Hunt
But if you are reading this, you have probably decided to learn to sew by yourself, at home (perhaps you live in the country, on top of a mountain or in the suburbs?), with the help of the solutions proposed by the newest technologies – of which the Internet is by far the most far-reaching.
The World Wide Web is full of sewing tutorials and books tailored to your skill level and to your favourite sewing technique (plain sewing, tailoring, dressmaking, embroidering, quilting…)
Whether you’re an absolute beginner or sewing at an intermediate or expert level – there are sewing tutorials at your fingertips with a simple Internet search.
The interfaces vary – some describe in longer paragraphs, other in short, step-by-step increments, some prefer to rely almost entirely on pictures, others use videos…
We suggest you take a look at some of the most popular tutorial sites to find out what methods work best for you:
And don’t forget Pinterest: interested people have done your work for you in gathering some of the best sewing tutorials on their boards – so you can learn how to sew a skirt, a dress, how to make felt keychains or sew a pincushion from remnants or a cushion from fat quarters.
If you are a visual learner and want to access numerous tutorials from a single portal, look to YouTube, Dailymotion and their equivalents: there are a fair amount of seamstresses who don’t have a written blog, but offer sewing “vlogs” in a YouTube channel of their own.
Try The Crafty Gemini, stop by Q2HAN on your way to withwendy and round out your sewing lessons out with a peek at Sew Over It and you will have a wide range of skills at your fingertips. Not to mention all the new channels being created every day, some of which might be the next pearl among video tutorial.
Are you more the traditional type? Not to fear, there are enough sewing books out there to satisfy you: from beginner sewing books to crafty books on how to sew a tote or plushie. Try out your local library or bookseller.
Where tutorials are step-by-step explanations for specific projects – pillowcases, drapes, dresses, pincushions… blogs will take you through the trials and tribulations of sewing enthusiasts, letting you feel slightly less alone in front of your sewing machine.
For now, let’s leave aside the commercial sites (blogs of sewing magazines or sewing pattern firms) nor paying e-learning platforms, but merely sewing blogs kept by sewing enthusiasts.
Whether professionals or amateurs, each one has her (or his) own sensibilities, tastes, preferences, specialties and styles – so it’s a good idea to follow several sewing blogs to experience different methods to learn how to sew.
Naturally, just because a blog is popular doesn’t mean it’s very good. But popularity is not our only criteria for choosing our blogs: we have tried to offer interesting blogs with a good didactic approach.
The Spruce will teach you basic sewing skills in small increments, while Colette offers a lesson plan with sewing projects that progressively add new skills. Male Pattern Boldness is the blog of a man who decided to learn dressmaking and shares his experience with the world.
We have probably forgotten some other excellent bloggers, but with the treasure trove of sewing blogs out there, it’s impossible to name them all. If you have found a good blog, don’t hesitate to share it with our readers in the commentaries.
But remember that sewing is not a virtual skill, but a manual one: you will need a certain minimum amount of material, since imaginary sewing needles are not much use for making a beach bag (though they have the advantage of not pricking, so you save on thimbles, too.) Make sure you find a blog entry about the right sewing supplies, and learn how to choose the best thread, the nicest fabrics and the best sewing machine.
Enough of being an amateur? You want to make sewing your profession?
If that’s the path you want to take, you will need to apprentice to a tailor or get a diploma in tailoring or fashion design. Even the best of amateurs will have trouble finding a job and clients without a formation.
There are a fair amount of universities offering BAs in fashion design, as well as specialised schools for textile arts; enough to make an informed choice. A BA will take you 3-4 years depending on the university. In addition to Fashion Design you can learn to design men’s footwear or theatre costumes. If you want, certain institutions also offer postgraduate degrees.
But if design is not your thing and you want to learn the practical craft of sewing, you should try and get an apprenticeship at a tailoring company or a small dressmaking shop. Apprenticeships have the added advantage of actually paying you minimum wage while you are learning your craft.
With Newham College, you can do an apprenticeship with Savile Row tailors. Photo by bill_comstock on VisualHunt.com
Some of the trades you can learn through apprenticeship are:
If you’re not certain that either fashion design or dressmaking is the career for you, apply for an internship at a firm during the holidays. You will get to observe real professionals at work and possibly even acquire a few basic sewing or pattern making skills yourself.
You found a lovely garment you want to reproduce?
It’s entirely possible – provided you can find the sewing pattern for it. The most talented can make their own patterns from a garment or even a picture, but this requires an expertise that is often beyond that of a casual seamstress.
Industrial patterns cost money – and the Internet is full of free sewing patterns for all sorts of garments. Photo by M.P.N.texan on VisualHunt.com
Fortunately, the Internet is teeming with free sewing patterns, often organised according to sex and age, but also according to type of clothing or even style.
To use a sewing pattern, you will at some point have to manipulate it physically to cut out your fabric so you can sew it together on your sewing machine.
In that sense, it seems that no pattern can be truly free: they are sold in haberdasheries already printed on silk paper, or in sewing magazines.
But with the rise of computers, you can download PDF or JPEG files with only a few clicks: a printer is sufficient to get the one you want into a physical form.
So Sew Easy, Craftsy and Allfree Sewing all offer clothing patterns for free.