On Her Own

Sewing up another life skill

Welcome back! I hope you’ve all had a great long weekend and are settling comfortably back into regular life.

As I was catching up on long-neglected chores around the house over my couple of free days, I realized there was one area we haven’t talked about here, at least not in a while. It started when I was sewing the button back on a pair of my favorite shorts. They’re ancient, but they fit great and they have excellent pockets, you see. I couldn’t trash them over the loss of a mere button. While I was at it, I fixed the seam in the pocket of another pair because the pockets were already useless enough without having a hole in them. Neither task took more than a few minutes and salvaged some clothes I liked…but it made me wonder how many of you have basic sewing skills. While going to a tailor or seamstress makes total sense for some things, you might not always have the time or budget available to fix an article of clothing or make it fit correctly. That’s especially true when you discover you need a repair or alteration in the minutes or hours before an important event like a job interview, or when you must save your pennies or can’t justify the cost of a professional but still want to save your most flattering shirt or wear the really nice new pants you bought at a steep discount. So let’s talk about some of what you need to have and know to check this essential life skill off your list.

First off, you don’t have to have a sewing machine. One can make a lot of projects easier and faster, especially if you catch the DIY bug, but you don’t need one to be able to accomplish a lot in relatively little time. In fact, the learning curve of a machine and the effort of setting one up if you have to store it away between uses can mean you won’t use the machine for everything anyways. What you do need is regular old sewing kit, which will cost you less than $20 (here’s an affiliate link to an example), and be useful even if you do get a sewing machine later. The kit should include various colors of thread and some pins and needles at a bare minimum. A tape measure, a needle threader, a small and sharp pair of scissors, and some spare generic buttons are also helpful. You might also want an iron and a surface to use it on, if you don’t already have them. Beyond that, the sky’s the limit and some tools you’ll find in kits will be more useful than others depending on exactly what you want to do. When you’re starting out or only wanting to deal with small emergencies, though, you don’t need much.

Then you’ll want to learn some of the core skills, preferably when you aren’t under a time crunch to use them or needing to work on an especially nice piece of clothing. Whether you rely on a search engine, YouTube, a book, or a friend, I suggest that you pick up these at a minimum: how to thread a needle and tie a knot that won’t slip through your fabric. How to sew a straight or running stitch and a back stitch to attach two edges together. How to sew an invisible hem stitch such as a slip stitch or catch stitch, so that you can neatly hem a pair of slacks. How to sew a blanket stitch, to reduce fraying on a piece of fabric’s edge. How to sew on a button, at the very least the kind with two or four holes through it. Once you’ve picked those up and practiced them a bit, you’ll likely find the confidence to learn and experiment more so that you can use the right technique to get the results you’re looking for. After all, more complicated tasks like sewing in a new zipper or making an entire home project like a decorative pillowcase or slipcover to revitalize your aging couch only require baby steps beyond what you’ll have learned in the beginning. Until you tackle those, these basics will get you by. Even if you can’t do them very well, just some care with choosing thread colors and being neat will help make your work look more skilled. In a pinch, you only need it to hold together for a few hours or a day anyway.

There are some ancillary skills you might need as well. Ironing is a big one, not just to make your clothes look sharper (see what I did there) and your outfits look more put-together. It’s also helpful when you’re shortening the hems on a pair of pants, or patching holes or adding decorations to any article of clothing. If you decide to take on more difficult sewing projects, the iron will also become important to make for more successful final products. You might also want to start learning about fabrics and fibers, both to make better selections for the clothing you buy and to understand what kinds of repairs and alterations are possible both in your hands and when taking something to a professional. Another area to expand your knowledge is understanding clothing construction, including by reading patterns. Even if you never make something from just a length of fabric and some thread, having that familiarity will help you find better-fitting, higher-quality clothes and know whether and how to ask for certain changes to a particular piece of clothing. The more you know about how your clothes are made, the more you will be able to spend your money wisely and look fantastic and feel comfortable on a budget.

Sewing is part of what can make you self-sufficient when you need to be, and better able to ask for help when you need that instead. It might not seem as exciting as learning to shoot a gun or perform CPR, but it’s the kind of everyday skill that can keep your everyday life chugging along with less drama and perhaps a little more satisfaction. It’s an important part of being able to dress intentionally, in ways that can smooth your path and allow you to pursue the goals you’re really interested in. Besides, it might turn into a fun hobby, and that’s worth something too.

Hi, I'm Annette.

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