Sewing Lessons, Life Lessons

A friend recently came to visit and as I was showing her my projects, she asked if I would help her learn how to use her new sewing machine. The coincidence that I had just finished up a sewing course reminded me that sewing is yet another creative outlet which can help people express themselves.

The sewing machine my mom gave me years ago.

My history with sewing

When I was in seventh grade my mom had me take sewing lessons with a neighbor.  All I really remember was making corduroy coveralls, which I actually wore to school.  Since then, I’ve never really had the desire to sew clothes.  I did once take a knitting course, but when my boyfriend was a better knitter than I was, I gave up.  To be fair, it wasn’t because a “man” was better at a “traditionally female” craft, but I was frustrated with not getting the hang of “knit one, purl two” and not feeling like I was gaining a talent.

A few years ago I ‘discovered’ the garment district in NYC (despite the fact that one of my cousins had worked there for a good part of her career).  One of the reasons for exploring the garment district is I had started socializing with a group who attended parties where people dressed up to match a theme.  Think Halloween, Mardi Gras, black light and even an event that had Mad Max as inspiration.  For most of these events I was able to create outfits using hacks, glue and a little hand sewing.

One of the bigger and more popular stores I had started frequenting, Mood Fabrics, puts you on their mailing list when you sign up for their loyalty card.  In those emails they often promoted their sewing classes, with the beginner course touted as “free”.  For a long time I dreamed of being able to take the course so I would really know how to sew again, to create outfits I’ve designed in my imagination.

T-shirt on display by the Mood U classroom

Ever create a bucket list?  I did one recently and saw a pattern emerge of my desire to create outfits and pieces of clothing that I could see in my mind’s eye.  I couldn’t do it at my current skill level.  As things go, whether you believe in coincidence, the Law of Attraction, or the Universe providing a means to realize your dreams, it was that moment I received a Mood Fabric email touting their courses.  I finally clicked on signing up for the free beginner’s class. Going for a dream, a bucket list item, felt so good!

The Beginner Sewing Class

The bag of materials you need to buy for the “free” sewing class

Examples of the beginner class projects.

So many choices of patterns, textures & textiles.

First lesson, before I even started, is that ‘nothing is for free’.  And this is New York City.  While the class was free, we had to buy the starter kit.  Looking through what was in the kit, I already had about 87% of the contents.  At first I was upset at having to pay for it (about the same cost as one of their paid courses!).  While my original expectations were the store would make their money by creating new sewing aficionados, I took a closer look at my feelings of disappointment and realized that taking this class is an adventure + a way of taking care of me = I’m worth this investment.

An assistant showing on the teaching screens how to piece together part of the project

My school desk!

Don’t be too caffeinated when cutting paper patterns out!

The first class we went over what was in the bag of materials.  This class was led by the two assistants.  Included in the course materials was the pattern we were going to use.  It was a large tote (alternatively we could have made a messenger bag).  One of the points they discussed was the type of materials to buy for the bag.  Since we were beginners, using stretchy materials was not recommended.  The second class was spent cutting out the pattern and learning about the instructions.

I missed the third class.  It couldn’t be helped – I had gone to the Women’s March in DC and had picked up a cold.  This was the class where students had their fabrics approved by the instructor and started pinning the pattern to the material.  I remembered how to do this basic sewing skill.  I went hunting through my home fabric collection and found two zebra patterns that I really liked and was happy to finally find a use for these pieces.  I also had a thrift store find of an 80’s zebra jacket.  I decided I wanted to cut the sleeves to create the interior pockets.  At the fourth class I learned my next lesson.  That faux fur and fleece fall under the category of “knit fabrics”…exactly what they said they did not want us to use.  I realize I have more to learn about fabrics.

I had to leave class to go buy the facing, which would fix my choice of materials. This was an excellent point to learn, as I often like using knit fabrics.

Flatlining the facing (a special cloth that keeps knits from stretching too much) to the knit material to bond them together.

In this photo you can see the white facing on top of my zebra fabric through the protective linen cloth layer. One side of facing is grainy, which contains the bonding glue.

Fusing by steam iron. I learned to place linen cloth over the facing and my material to keep the iron from getting glue on it or possibly ruining my material

Take Chances! Make Mistakes!

Staying open to knowing that mistakes are how to learn, my attitude wasn’t one of defeat and being wrong.  The teacher told me how to work with the fabrics I picked – by using “facing” that you iron on the back of the knits to make them stiffer and easier to sew.  I was pretty proud of learning something that I considered really useful!

Our teacher was Ben Mach is an Australian fashion designer based in NYC. He was featured on Project Runway All Stars – Season 4 and was also a contestant on Project Runway in 2013.

Pinning the canvas to the outside layer. This fabric helps the bag maintain it’s shape.

1/4 baste stitch. Use the edge of the foot (part of the sewing machine that clamps the material down) to measure the 1/4″. Fur pile moves, so sew that side up.

Strap must be U shape, not V shape to hang correctly. My zebra material was too stretchy for a strap. So I “cheated” and used canvas webbing. I like how it balances the pattern. Plus it made the project easier & faster.

This was interesting to learn – how to piece together and sew the bottom of the bag.

In the next class the teacher was enjoying my mix of zebra patterns.  His questions showed how he was trying to fill in my background.  He imagined that I was a big user of animal prints in my home décor.  He had a hard time believing that my home is actually a calm collection of blues.  He helped me to correctly take the sleeves from the second hand jacket and make a workable pocket (or, multi-pocket since the sleeve created an extra insert inside).  At home, I decided to also use the thrift store coat’s buttons as an accent.  The last class I was able to finish the entire project right at deadline.

“I see a theme going on here” (said my teacher). You can see all the layers & fabrics I used – from the prefab strap, the canvas inside for structure, the fleece inner lining, the faux fur outside to the former jacket sleeve used as a pocket.

I hand-sewed the buttons. It wasn’t part of the pattern, but another flourish that made the design uniquely me.  Sewing the last seams around the button proved to be a challenge

Right at the last minute of the last class, I finished the last seam on my tote.

Connecting With Others

During the 6-week course I was able to get to know some of my classmates.  Each one had a different reason for being there.  One young person works as a dresser for Broadway plays, but said he failed his sewing course.  He was there to try again, at a different pace.  One older woman loves the company  -during this session she was making her 15th bag.  Another woman is an interior designer, and she wanted to understand more about her industry.  My favorite classmate was completely new to sewing, but is a big fan of “Project Runway.”  She was the one who told me our teacher was actually one of the contestants.  She was taken by surprise when I complimented her on her bravery for learning something completely new to her.  She has a mindset of minimizing and downplaying her good points.  I  hope she continues with her adventures and gains confidence to go out and do more.

My Life Lesson Learned

I have a daily inspiration book, and one of the entries is apt for this life lesson through sewing. Below are selected parts, slightly altered to make sense here:

“Many of us have denied of devalued our talents, feelings, achievements, and desires. We learn to know, appreciate and express our true selves. Creativity is a powerful way to celebrate who we are. It is spiritual energy that nourishes our vitality. It is a way to replace negative thinking with positive action.

Every one of us is brimming with imagination, but it often takes practice to find it and put it to use. Yet anything we do in a new way can be creative –building a bookcase, trying a new seasoning on a vegetable, taking a new approach to handling finances, finger painting…(**or learning to sew!**). Creative energy is within us all and all around us, whether we are writing a masterpiece or folding the laundry.

Every original act asserts our commitment to living. We are encouraged to acknowledge our achievements and to live each day fully. When we create, we plant ourselves fully in the moment and teach ourselves that what we do matters.

my finished project! so proud!


Does this inspire you to try a creative project?  Have one you’ve already done you’d like to share?  Let me know in the comments below!






*Courage to Change

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  1. Pat

    Hi Stacey. I enjoyed reading about your adventure very much.
    I remember Mood Fabrics having a really wide assortment of fabrics –
    you took me there last summer on a fabric-scouting trip pre-Burn.
    I am wanting a nice looking Burner tool / stuff bag —
    You’re inspiring me to consider working at figuring out:
    Could I make one?! Thanks for sharing your story!

  2. Lisa

    I love how you faced all the challenges and used them to enhance your creative project!

  3. Harlow Pinson

    Enjoyed this! I’m getting into sewing too – making my own outdoor gear. I plan on making a down topquilt, but will do a project first that uses much less expensive synthetic insulation. Lots of skills to learn! I tend to try and teach myself, but there are many local classes available too. Have you ever visited this:


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