The Simple Steps to Start Sewing: Lesson 5 Gradually Stitching to Suddenly Designing Your Own Clothing
Gradually to Suddenly - How my favorite student set up a successful sewing and design practice and how you can get started too!
It's important in the beginning to keep the inspiration alive, to remember why you want to sew, and that all of the work is going to pay off in great ways as you work through your sewing projects and sew many things for yourself and others. It's also important for beginners to keep perspective- it does take a lot of practice and many projects to really solidify your sewing technique and style.
I’m writing this post to inspire you about your practice and to show you a real life case study as to how you can develop a practice of sewing. My husband Paul knew how to sew – and by sew he says “put two pieces of cloth under the machine and stitch it” – before he met me. But early on while we were dating, his sewing interest grew and he was able to practice and learn techniques to create patterns and create his own wardrobe. Yes, he lives with a sewing teacher, but I think sharing his experience as a very busy person learning to sew, and what can be accomplished will inspire you. This article will also give you a peek into what your sewing can become if you practice and commit time to learning.
We were also featured in this radio interview for Art Scouts, here in Baton Rouge. Paul and I were interviewed by Bruce Morgan, and we talk about how we set up our lives to sew and create and practice our skill sets. In this interview, I describe how I develop my runway collections, and Paul discusses his process of sewing. There's lots of information in this 20 minute interview, if you want to learn more please listen in here:
How Paul Started to Sew
Paul didn’t really know what he was doing, but he was fearless enough to use the sewing machine like any other tool and just play with it. He wasn’t insecure or precious about his materials- rather Paul used thrift clothing to play with and practice his ideas.
Later, as his interest and confidence grew, that’s when he decided that he wanted to learn new techniques to refine his sewing process. The inspiring thing about his sewing journey is that it reminds us that starting to sew doesn’t have to be a big costly endeavor. He started out with an old machine, some thread and clothing he either thrifted or had on hand.
This is how sewing can be more immediate. You can borrow a machine, buy some thread for $2 and grab an old shirt and have a go at it. You just have to start, and get motivated to try. For this post, I want you to look around your house at your everyday items that you can use to start your sewing.
Here is Paul’s sewing story and some of his projects. I hope it inspires you to take the leap and run some cloth under the machine ;)
Paul, tell me why you sew?
I like making things. I enjoy things that are handcrafted, and I enjoy understanding the process of how those things are made, so sewing fascinates me from that perspective. As a hair dresser, I am a pattern maker and designer for my clients, and cutting hair has patterns and rules, just like clothing. The difference between hair dressing and sewing is that the pattern is in my mind- I’m not laying a piece of paper up against my clients hair, lol. I think it’s really interesting that sewing has a recorded history though patterns that are physical that you can examine and reinterpret.
What type of sewing and clothing do you like to make?
I make things that are well structured and defined like men’s fashion. I like the way men’s clothes are utilitarian, and now even women’s clothes are made more like men’s clothes, even though they are softer and feminine. I like clothing that looks like it serves a purpose, and I enjoy the craftsmanship of work clothes.
Tell me how you learned how to sew.
When I was younger, I started sewing because I was a thrifter. I was interested in the 90’s grunge look, and I would buy things that were large and alter them to fit me better. When I was in my 20's one of my favorite projects was to take bootcut jeans and turn them into skinny leg jeans. This was in 2002, or 3 and skinny jeans were not in style- you couldn’t find them at the store.
I like to believe I am a trend spotter and knowing how to sew my own clothing allows me to be a trendsetter and make things that are not available to buy anywhere else.
How did you learn how to sew?
When I was younger, I was not disciplined enough to learn the proper process of sewing- but I got the gist of it. Take 2 pieces of fabric, put them on top of each other, and sew them. There are limitations to my early approach- you don’t understand that there is a pattern and when you don’t have a pattern you don’t know how to make garments fit. In my case, I was working with thrifted clothes and adjusting them down a size or two and it was a lot of trial and error.
The way I sewed before I met my wife Andrea is that I would get an idea for a pair of pants, or a thrifted item, and then reimagine it by pinching and pinning the areas I wanted to change. Then, I’d run it through the sewing machine and re-sew a line. I also would take a garment completely apart, and retrace it onto new material and use it as a pattern. Those were my first projects.
I started sewing and designing, even though I didn’t know what I was doing. And even though I didn’t know what I was doing, I just kept doing it. I would trouble shoot and be a true diyer. It wasn’t until I met my wife, who was a professional designer and sewist, that I learned new sewing disciplines, and over the last 3 years I have worked my way back to the basics of sewing practice.
How did you start to sew on a sewing machine?
7th grade in homeec. It was like working with any other machine or tool, so I wasn’t intimidated. It was just a tool, but the problem I always had was working with the finer functions of the machine , like tension, why it jams, why the stitches aren’t right. I still have room to grow and improve in this area with my machine.
One of the first projects that Andrea had me do was help her with her clothing line. She had me flatlaying the small pattern fragements to prepare them for assembly. I had to sew a perfect ½ inch seam and that felt like true sewing. I had a good working machine, I had instructions to follow a pattern, and had to sew over a 100 pieces. I was just doing single seam pieces and running a line. It helped me straighten out my sewing, I learned where to keep my hands, and my eyes, and adjust my speed to improve accuracy. I became a real beginner all over again.
See Below: Photo courtesy of Rachel Maloney. Dress by Andrea Eastin and Hair by Paul Eastin
Then I learned pinning and cutting. I learned how to work with a pattern and pin it. That helped me to visualize what the pattern pieces actually looked like, and how to use the grainline of the fabric. And then I learned how to cut. Specifically with the cutting, I was having to learn how to eyeball a ½ inch seam allowance, because the patterns I was cutting did not include seam allowance, and I had to learn how to cut long cuts with shears, which is really different than the small snips I make as a hairdresser.
Next I learned how to sew the pieces together using proper seam allowance and testing my accuracy.
After all that work, I was inspired. I wanted to design clothing with everything I was learning and apply it to my previous DIY process. I started buying material, and made my own patterns by using my existing clothes as a template and starting point. I’d lay out the clothes, and look at the seams, and curves and attempt to redraw it to my own measurements.
There was a lot of hit and miss, but some attempts came out really great. When I had a miss, it was because I was still in a trap of thinking that in order to make things look tailored, I would make things small. I didn’t know what ease was in a garment, and everything I was making was really tight.
So took a Fair Fit basic patternmaking class and would allow myself to take a break from sewing when I needed to refresh my practice. I have other interests that I pursue, music, painting, and editorial hair, that inspire me as a creative and keep me active through the periods of time where I might be discouraged in sewing. Sometimes, I my breaks from sewing last a month. But what I have done to keep my sewing practice active is consistently go back to the drawing board and start a new project. ½ inch by ½ inch, I am refining my process!
What are your next goals for your sewing practice?
I’ve become more determined to make straight seams. I continue to be inspired by garments that I buy that are really simple. When you look at the sewing, its so precise and straight. I always think, if someone in a factory did this, than surely I can do it too. So I practice all the proper techniques, and refine. I try not to be satisfied with things that are not accurate. If its not good, I rip it out and do it over.
My sewing projects can take 1 hour for a wallet, to up to 2 weeks to make a design like a jacket. I try not to get caught up in how long something will take, and I try to stay determined to commit to making it how I want it to turn out, instead of putting a deadline on the project. I practice patience with my sewing and walking away when I need a break because mistakes start happening. I return to the project when I am fresh and patient. That always helps and it’s an important practice because it keeps you willing to sew it the right way. Every time I rush, I make a mistake.
So what is a “gradually to suddenly” practice?
Gradually to suddenly is a concept I learned a long time ago, and really can be said for not only creative practices, but things like finances and how compound interest works. It’s the idea that whenever I continue to do something steadfastly, that the gradual process results in you suddenly being at your end goal. You stay in the process of learning and working where you can each day, that you stop looking for the light at the end of the tunnel, and one day you look up, and your realize you are in the light! That looks like great expertise, and this is applied to all things in your life, it’s a way of being. I’m okay with mistakes, I appreciate what each step has to teach me. In whatever you are doing, if you can fall in love with the process, then you take away the feeling of the grind of practice and learning.
I keep my practice from being a grind or getting disappointed by deciding I won’t live my life that way. I recognize that I’m practicing in every facet of my life, and if you set your sights on things you love and are passionate about, then you are happy to practice and play with the discovery process.
What is your best advice for others who want to learn how to sew?
My best advice for beginners is to get a good teacher. A good teacher is going to be able to recognize little things you might be doing that if continue, will result in you not being as masterful. I had to overcome how I hold my hands, where I stand when I cut and how I position the material. A good teacher also pushes themselves, they are often learning along side you and are refining their craft and applying it to their teaching.
I don’t learn by myself. I can do my best to mimic what I’m seeing visually, by reading, or watching videos. I do my best to mirror what I see them do, but a good instructor can point out something that you can’t see that you are doing, which is why I say find a great teacher.
Also, take the time to learn and practice the fundamentals. And remember that each single step is not particularly hard. But a well made project, consists of many simple steps, done in the right order, results in a beautiful outcome.
If you missed it above, here is the link to our radio interview- in it we share how we practice and what makes fashion and sewing so much fun: