How to upscale clothes and sew on a budget
For total beginners
By a beginner
Ah, clothes. You love the way they look, and the way they can make you feel. You hate the way you can never find the ones you want, the style, the fit or the price you want to pay when you do finally manage the previous. Beginning to sew can be rather intimidating; at least I found it so. None of my friends sewed and my mother’s machine broke long before I can remember. There were no classes offered where we lived, so I was on my own. I turned to two old fail safes; books and the Internet. Both can offer you copious amounts of information and inspiration.
The first thing I realized was that supplies were expensive. Including but not limited to a sewing machine, needles, thread, fabric, sewing scissors, pinking shears, patterns and a host of other things that would come in handy. The list quickly became long and expensive. As the wife of an Army Staff Sergeant money isn’t exactly plentiful. One thing I was thankfully taught growing up was how to pinch a penny till it bled and how to think outside the box.
The second thing I learned was that I’m completely hopeless when it comes to patterns. Whether it’s drawing them, copying them, or simply cutting them out it doesn’t go well. Even managing to find one that fits my size is a challenge. It certainly doesn’t help that my bust puts me in size x while my waist is size z and my hips y. That was the whole reason I took up the mystery of making clothes in the first place!
So in this book we’ll explore some techniques I’ve gleaned from other sources and adapted to suit me and ones I’ve found out on my own. Where do you find cheap fabric, what to do if you’re pattern incompetent, and how to save money buying supplies, are just some of what we’ll cover.
The term Frankenstein Sewing comes from a reference my husband made in response to what happened to a few of his shirts. It’s amazing how much fabric there is in a men’s medium or large shirt. The end results of the projects in this book probably won’t look all that fantastic most of the time but the concepts are solid and I’m sure you’ll be much more talented than myself in the art of Frankenstein Sewing.
As mentioned previously supplies can be expensive and the list intimidating to a first time sewer, especially if you’re not sure you really want to continue. The first item is a sewing machine. If you’re not sure if sewing is for you but want to give it a try you might want to forgo the machine and simply hand stitch. It’s more time consuming but saves you on money. If done right it’ll look just as great as a machine sewed project. Don’t be afraid of mess ups. Some of mine still look rather… rough around the edges even after three years of being a beginner.
The type of sewing machine you buy is purely a personal choice. Ranging from brand to amount of stitches and accessories it quickly becomes intimidating and confusing. If you’re determined to stick to sewing come Hell or High Water go with something with more stitch options; if you have the money and the desire spring for one that doubles as an embroidery machine. First think about what you need, then about what you want.
A free arm is pretty much a must. It’s infinitely easier to sew a cuff if you can simply slip it around a nice flat piece that will prevent you from sewing that cuff closed. Another handy feature is a self-winding bobbin. On my Singer I just have to thread it a certain way flip the bobbin over and press the petal! Most machines will have these as part of the basic package. Something to seriously consider though is how many stitches do you really need? Are you going to use all forty-five? Including that rather charming vine one and the Greek key? Once you’ve decided what you need you get to shop.
A tip to save money: look for a refurbished machine that meets your needs. Yard sells, thrift stores, and begging an old one off family and friends is perfectly viable as well. And if you’re lucky enough to know someone who can find deals online that are amazing, utilize them! My husband was able to find my Singer at over a hundred dollars cheaper than the average price by buying refurbished. Do a search for “sewing machines for beginners” and you’ll find plenty of choices for reasonable prices. If you’re not proficient with the internet ask your local dealer for one suited for your intended purposes.
You might get confused between sewing machines and sergers. When I told my husband to find one for me he asked if it was a fancier version of a sewing machine. Not quite. A serger specializes in finishing raw edges. See those seams inside your shirt? Those are serged. If you want to sew lingerie sergers have options for that to help add the lace and finish the seams and hems just right. With plenty of practice that is. For now finish your hems with a zigzag stitch for strength and ease.
Fabric is possibly the single most expensive reoccurring expenditure you’ll encounter. And I’ve found a few ways around that. If your project requires new material check out stores like JoAnne’s, Wal-Mart and Hobby Lobby. Also check your phone book for local fabric discount stores or surplus warehouses. Before you splurge on that nice fabric consider if you really need it. Look through your closet for old clothes you’ve yet to throw away and for sheets and blankets, even curtains.
There is a ton of fabric in a queen or king sized sheet just waiting to be reused. Clothing can be upscaled into new clothing as well. For example you can take the sleeves off a shirt you no longer wear and add them to a tank top you love. Slit the back of a shirt and add some fabric ties to make it into something new. An all-time beginner sewer favorite is converting those jeans into a skirt. A personal favorite of mine involves cutting up my husband’s old unwanted shirts and slimming them down for my son, custom made to fit his tall slender frame.
Harvesting goes beyond fabric however. I recently wanted to try my hand at a waist cincher. My first attempt failed horribly but did provide great laughter for my Facebook friends. In my search for boning I discovered that my bras actually contain some boning! I had several higher quality bras that no longer fit and when harvesting for parts such as straps, underwire and lace I discovered slivers of plastic boning about an inch from the sides of the underwire. Hello, solution! Another option is using collar stays if you can’t find boning to suit your needs.
That attempt was a success. So before you give those old clothes to Good Will consider if you can harvest them first. A small list of things you might find from harvesting your old clothes is; buttons, boning, collar stays, fabric, lace, sleeves, and even collars.
There are some things you will have to buy, however.
Needles are definitely something you’ll have to buy. You’ll need two kinds of needles; either for hand sewing or the kind for your machine. Make sure your sewing machine needles are the ones your machine calls for (the type will be in the instruction book) and that you use the correct needle for the fabric. Needles come in different sizes depending on their intended use. A size 100 for instance is a needle for very heavy fabric whereas an 80 is for lightweight fabrics. If you attempted to sew denim with a needle for taffeta you’re going to break your needle at best.
You’ll probably run through a lot of straight pins. At first it’ll look like a lot that you’ll never use but you’ll use them all. You’ll either break them, bend them or they’ll dull over time.
Measuring tape is another item you’ll need if you don’t already have it. You might be able to get around this expense for a short while by using your household tape measure but eventually you’ll want to invest in an actual measuring tape.
Unfortunately you cannot harvest thread. That is an expense you’ll have to spend. Luckily thread is relatively cheap. If you’re looking for a color that you can use on most of your projects and eliminate buying tons of colors all at once go with a light tan or camel color. A light shade of tan will blend in with most colors. Keeping black and white thread on hand is always a good idea as well. Other than those three buy as needed; preferably when on sale, but thread is relatively cheap, normally about a dollar.
You’ll need a pair of fabric scissors as well. Don’t use your household scissors. If they’re anything like mine they’re gummed up from cutting up packages. Buy a pair of fabric scissors and keep them just for your fabric.
You probably already have an iron and ironing board but if not they’re cheap and something you’ll want for more than sewing.
Now you can go out and buy tailors chalk, fabric pencils and even air soluble markers, or you can raid your kid’s crayon box. They’re a fraction of the price and you might even have some lying around. Best of all they’re washable and come in tons of colors to match all your fabric needs. Fabric pencils and markers are sold one a time in a verity of colors from a buck fifty to over three dollars.
A seam ripper is a great, cheap, investment. Its sole purpose in your life is to rip apart seams and misplaced stitches.
Now I want you to dig into your childhood arts and crafts and think outside the sewing box.
After careful consideration I’ve decided to end the supply section of the book here in favor of mentioning it in each project. Several of the supplies will be unique to my sewing style and projects herein this book.
It’s in your best interest to read all of the instructions to the projects in this book before starting it.
I want to give a huge thank you to Joanne Angeletti; a seamstress of several decades for critiquing my book and pointing out where my instructions went horrifyingly wrong. I also want to extend a large thank you to Amanda Jafari a woman who bravely experimented with the projects within.