Once we can sew proficiently by hand, we move on to machine sewing. We have by this point attained proficiently in eye-hand coordination and fine motor skills. Now we need to be able to coordinate our foot on the foot pedal and our hands and eyes directing the material so that we do not sew jerkily or in the wrong place. We must also learn to keep seams the same width, to take curves smoothly and to make tidy button holes. Both pattern layout and accurate cutting are gradually acquired by practice, with adult supervision of course. Matching plaids can be quite difficult especially for beginners. This is even more so with uneven plaids. Matching plaids requires extra material as does the lengthening of skirts (if necessary). Machine sewing can be learned quickly and mastered easily by sewing a lot and stretching yourself (sewing things you find difficult). This alone will teach one much. Mom, Hannah, Sarah and I all enjoy sewing and have sewn many different items over the years. We have learned much and have organized it into a system to help our younger sisters learn to sew proficiently.
When I was first learning to sew I made a draw string bag. Hannah taught me by making one while I made one. After this initial instruction, I have made many more. We use them for organizing and protecting all sorts of things - everything from games to tools and backpack equipment. In our hope-chests they protect other more elaborate and/or time consuming items. In all, draw string bags have too many uses to count, just employ your creativity and you'll find there's no end to the uses for these handy bags.
This bag was designed by Mom years ago to keep our toys and projects tidy. When I was little, I would use mine for doll clothes and treasures. More recently I have kept quilt block pieces clean and safe in it. Though it isn't necessary, Mom always did a simple bit of paper applique on the front of each to make them special and personal, the rest of us do the same. Because these bags will probably see quite a bit of wear, we always make them out of a heavy weight material. While we are young, we have the time to put into making things a bit more elaborate than Mom was able to when she was in the midst of raising us, so some of our applique work is quite detailed, like the horse and skunk pictured here. Even so I found paper applique to be very simple and fun.
We have some pretty towels that don't match our bathrooms so Mom lets us make them into bibs. Wash cloths can make one bib but some are very thin. Some of the other girls use hand towels and make two bibs, but I only had big towels to make my bibs out of, and I could make more than four out of them. When Joanna and I were picking towels, we made sure we had bias tape that went well with them. I used one of our family bibs as a pattern and cut around it to make my own. When I had it cut out, I had to pin the bias tape all around. The easiest bias tapes to use were the pre-folded ones. Sometimes I sat next to Nathanael and he saw how hard it was for me to get the bias tape folded over just right and smooth, and he would help me so that I just had to pin it. On some of my bibs, I put on a pretty flowered ribbon. I had to sew on the ribbon before I sewed on the bias tape. I still have some to do later, but I have finished about six and I have some pinned already.
Puppets are really simple to make. It is easiest to make them out of felt because felt doesn't need to be hemmed, just sew on the faces and zigzag up the sides. Don't forget to put in the hands. You can spruce up your puppets with lace, ribbon, rickrack, hearts, or even stripes - use your imagination.
One holiday season, I received a piece of material. On the paper attached, I read that it was destined for aprons. Pulling out our apron pattern I set to work pinning, cutting, pinning again and finally sewing. I did several things I would do differently now were I to make another apron. I ended up with one adult sized and two children's aprons. Aprons make a nice addition to my hope-chest.
I was 12 or 13 and it was the first time I had ever sewn something out of stretch knit material, it amazed me how differently it handled than woven cotton. It cut different, pinned different and sewed different. Definitely the biggest adjustment for me was getting used to material that had no rigidity to it. It would just flop out into any shape or heap and get stretched out of shape on a moments notice. It had no backbone! What distressed me most was how it responded to the machine. Not only did it have trouble feeding but also the normal needle broke the threads of the material as it passed through, resulting in runs in the knitting. I was so relieved to learn from Mom that I had to use special needles (Ball Point) for knit material. That one little change helped a whole lot. Baby hats are very straight foreword and quick to produce, which makes them super to learn on.
In the basement by our washing machine, hangs an odd old faded apron. It's made like a big pouch which is bulging with weathered clothes pins. And in my hope-chest, crisp and bright, is folded one that our old apron resembled years ago. My father's mother made our old apron from heavy denim material bound with a bright patterned strip, and she cut out two more just like it. Through the years the apron saw much use, keeping clothes pin in a handy way for (grandma and then) Mom as she hung out the wet laundry. These days in doesn't get used nearly as much. But when our septic system needed work or when the electricity is out and we have to use the wringer washer and the clothes line, we are grateful to have Grandma's old clothes pin apron. And each spring and fall it comes out when we put up and take down the netting over our blueberry bushes. The two precut aprons have come to Hannah and me. We've finished them and tucked them away, one of the few treasured items "from Grandma". Grandma died before I was born, but even though I never met her, I feel somehow closer to her when I look at the apron she made with me.
Organization is a key issue when it comes to getting things done, especially when you have a big family. Mom came across the idea for these versatile organizers long ago. I remember the very first one I ever made, with help of course (I must have been about 8), was for a set of Dad's wrenches. Since those first ones, many others have followed, providing organization for everything from pencils and crochet hooks to knitting needle and wood files. Last fall (05) I helped Joanna, Ammi and Caleb make three-tiered knitting needle organizers out of white sheets, for Christmas gifts for some of us girls. Afterwards, Sarah helped the children dye them purple. With some good creativity the options are almost endless.
After mastering machine sewing we go on to more elaborate projects. These projects are mainly for our hope-chests but some are used for gifts or around the house. Here are a few of the projects we did.
With modest clothing at such a premium these days, the sewing of wardrobes holds highest priority on our list and thereby makes up the majority of our machine sewing. I still remember the first garment I ever made. I must have been around 9 at the time. That dress turned out to be a real challenge for both of us involved, for me learning to sew and for Mom learning to teach sewing. I cherish that time as being truly influential in my life. You see, I was a timid child and really would have liked Mom to have been there every moment of the process showing, helping and doing it for me. With a growing family, that was absolutely imposable for her. The alternative that I got instead was worth a thousand times more because it was my first lesson on learning to teach myself and discovering the desired answer on my own, even
The summer of 2004 saw assembly line work at our house as we mass produced 15 summer nightgown. Hannah cut them all out. Then she handed it off to Sarah and me to finish. (Mom helped with the pinning, as she often does.) Gradually we worked our way through each of the individual steps until everything was finished. What a relief to have that large project finished and behind us. Joanna and Ammi sewed the buttons on to complete our multi-person project. Now they are tucked away with our other clothes in the attic ready for use. We were all glad to be done yet glad we had done it
Mom made all of us children Bible covers for our Bibles in order to protect them and help them last better, which they definitely accomplish. Naturally, when we went to put pocket New Testaments in our backpacks, we did the same thing. The flap and snap fastens the book securely closed protecting it from a lot of unnecessary wear and tear in backpack life. I had a good challenge (I like this kind of challenge) along with a lot of fun, first designing the pattern and then making the 12 covers. A different color for each helps us tell our Bibles apart, as well as, lending interest to the production process. I sure was glad I made an extra one, when I was hammering in the snaps I hit one too hard and the parts of the snap sliced through the material leaving a snap sized hole in one of the covers. I was gentler with the rest and didn't have any further trouble. The covers add much life to our Bibles.
I have made two types of dolls. One is very simple with the clothes made right into her and with long arms and legs, the type babies like. I know, because I took the pattern from a doll I had when I was a baby. That doll has been played with by all the babies who came after me and we all loved her easily holdable arms and legs. Grandma and I worked together making a pattern off her and sewing up a crowd. Despite her simple appearance we found it time consuming and a bit tedious replicating her.
The other dolls I made are for little girls. They have hair and numerous outfits to change them into. Making small clothes can be more difficult than making large clothes. Guiding and contorting tiny waists and wrist bands through a sewing machine takes skill and patience. Sewing the hair on is also tricky. I made the heads two layers thick to avoid the disastrous result of the hair ripping out of the head of the well loved dolls. Someone asked me once, if after all the work it took to make these dolls and their clothes, I would want little girls playing with them. My response is, after all that work I would not want them to remain idly packed forever.
After mastering machine sewing we move on to more complicated projects like clothes. Once we have mastered this (there is a learning curve to it) we move on to one more level of difficulty which is patterns. We split the area of patterns into 3 categories, altering an existing pattern, taking a pattern off of another item and pattern drafting. Now we will see what Hannah has to say on this topic.
Pattern making is perhaps the most advanced step of sewing. It begins with basic alterations like adding a pocket and lengthening the skirt and progresses all the way to raising the neckline and re-fitting the bodice. Another form is taking a pattern off of an existing article; some times this
Machine sewing does not have to be hard to learn. In fact it can be very simple and enjoyable. The coordination that is required varies depending on the project, hence the simplest projects come first, gradually working their way up to more and more elaborate projects. With each project, skill and confidence grow. Once a student has mastered machine sewing they can take it anywhere they like.
As a little girl, I did not enjoy machine sewing. It was painfully difficult guiding the material through the machine, and I could drag a project out over months and even years, as was the case with my first project. Gradually I became more skilled but I didn't really enjoy my work. All this changed the year I got my treadle sewing machine. I was about thirteen at the time. A friend of ours saw the treadle after the yard sale was ended for the day, and the people were preparing to throw it in a dumpster. She didn't want it herself but she thought we might, so she got it for us. When it arrived, it looked rather hopeless. It was extremely dirty and the machine sat at an odd angle on its stand, making it appear broken. I arrived on the scene after the others had left, shaking their heads over the broken derelict. Zechariah joined me and I watched as he went over the machine. It had been set carelessly on its stand but there was nothing broken about it. The metal parts were sound, the machine itself worked beautifully, the wood was in good condition and in the drawers was the old manual and all the attachments. I was excited. Mom said that it would be mine if I got it cleaned up.
Zechariah was the master mind behind all we did together on my treadle. We took the entire stand to pieces, cleaned and re-painted the metal parts, stripped and re-sealed the wood parts and cleaned and clear coated the machine itself. We had great fun working together and a deeper relationship developed between us that has continued to grow ever since. My respect and admiration for my brother steadily increased as he ably directed the whole process, teaching me a lot about re-finishing and the workings of the machine. The final step was to put it all back together and I had no idea how we would do that. Since Zechariah understood the workings of the machine, he was able to solve the puzzle, and we soon saw the fruits of our labor. It was a beauty! We moved it into the house, and with the manual open before us, figured out how to thread it. I set to work at once, and I haven't stopped sewing since. I now enjoy sewing very much. It is no longer a frustrating problem because I set my mind to learn and excel at sewing. I greatly enjoyed the work I put into fixing my treadle and all the work I have since done on it, but most of all I am grateful for the time spent with my brother because of my machine and the friendship that resulted from it. He willingly gave of his time to help me, and I am thankful.
Sewing does not have be boring or hard to learn. It was very interesting as I discovered and learned this practical skill. Sometimes I found it to be difficult, but usually there was a solution if I looked for it. I find that trial and error, though a hard way to learn, teaches me best. So I try to learn from my mistakes. We have organized both hand and machine sewing into a simple plan that works for us, this does not mean it will work for you, although it certainly could. Sewing is a simple skill that is easy to learn and will always be practical.
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