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Conversational Threads

Beginning Sewers

lifelongsewer | Posted in General Discussion on

Hello Sewing Friends and Enthusiasts!

I started sewing at my mother’s knee at age 5, and bypassed home-ec sewing in high school, because I was a better sewer than the teacher at that time.  When my mom conceded I had become a Better Sewer than her (title won at about age 20), I gained the freedom to sew without her examining my hand stitches or ordering me to rip out uneven machine stitching.  More freedom followed with two years of theatre costume design in college. 

Fast forward to today, and I still sew for myself, and more than ever value the perfection and precision my mother taught me.  I have continued to educate myself and am a dilettante of costume and textile art and history.  I especially love the plethora of new books, magazines, fairs and conferences, new machines and materials, new techniques, magazines, and more.  I have had a continuous subscription to Threads Magazine since issue #1.  I am also a sewing teacher!

And yes, there is a renewed interest in sewing, knitting, various handcrafts, and a lot of skills (such as gardening and cooking) that were denigrated for too long by radical feminists from the 1970s; plus many public schools dropped arts programs from their curriculum.  Several generations of young women and men were left out of the opportunity to learn how to create something for themselves. 

Happily, in the last few years, many tv channels (esp. HGTV) have begun do-it-yourself programs, many new magazines are available, and the internet is a fabulous source for information and tools and materials. 

I have been teaching sewing classes, mostly beginning level, at Sewing Arts Center in Los Angeles for two years.  The majority of my students have never picked up a needle and thread in their lives.  Those who come to class with the idea that sewing is easy learn quickly that a certain minimum effort is required, and that repetition is how one learns.  That being said, I make my classes fun and fuss-free – a crooked seamline does not get ripped out, unless it is WAY-off, and garments and projects are very simple. 

The reasons why my mother’s generation sewed are completely different than what motivates my younger students to enroll in classes.  Sewing is not based in necessity or economy – it is basically entertainment, until the ones with determination to design their own ‘stuff’ realize what a fabulous area sewing comprises.  Those who desire specialized instruction take private lessons with me at the store. 

For anyone else who teaches, I would love to share with you my “Sewing Zone and Machine Etiqutte” techniques, which gets all but the most heavy-handed into sewing clean lines, and learning to analyze the results of their efforts.  I tell them sewing teaches one to be observant on an intimate level.      

The ‘discovery’ process is so gratifying to observe, and I am grateful to have an arena where I can pass on my knowledge and love of sewing to young people, as I have no children of my own.

Reaching these new sewers is a big challenge for publications like Threads Magazine, because as many of your readers commented, the articles slant towards the ones who already have a fair amount of sewing experience. 

This subject needs to be pursued by Threads, because although my beginning students have little-or-no-sewing skills, most of the projects featured in Sew News are decidedly UN-HIP, and in Los Angeles, these young women are VERY sophisticated.  There was an article in Threads about two years ago(?) that featured a very creative, resourceful, and no-rules-apply young woman who made very avante-garde garments for herself, and one would have thought Threads magazine had committed a heinous crime, judging from some of the snippy-sniffy comments to the article.  I enjoyed it hugely, and wish you would do more like that article. 

Los Angeles is a market waiting to be developed!!!

Thanks for the opportunity to comment, albeit a lengthy one.

Kay E.


  1. punky | | #1

    Heck, I'm a radical feminist, and I LOVE to sew!

    Tracy in San Jose

  2. louise | | #2

    Dear Kay in LA

    I disagree with your opinion of Sew News. While the projects may be un-hip, it sounds like you  are doing a fine job of teaching interpretation to your students.  The information in Sew News is accurate and clear.  In fact, my aunt who was an actual couturier seamstress sent me a gift subscription to Sew News when I started calling her for advice on more advanced tips and alterations.

    I too have been sewing from about age 6 and I too knew far more than my home ec. teacher. 

    I guess I have a new cri de coeur.  Leave Threads alone, apply yourself to improving the deficiencies you see in Sew News, but remember a basic sewer needs basic clear instructions.  You can't write an article that would permit unexperienced sewers to produce high fashion garments.  Threads can remain inspiration and reference for your budding seamstresses.

    We who have moved into the advanced sewing arena need the high quality detail and proficiency that Threads offers to the advanced sewer.  There is already more than enough basic detail offered in Threads.  Perhaps you could suggest that the budding sewers purchase a basic sewing text like Vouge sewing or Singer's sewing series?  These books tend to be updated often and the Singer series is not 'uncool'.  They would cover all of the neophytes needs.

    1. lifelongsewer | | #3

      Hello Louise,

      Please do not think I meant to demean Sew News - I subscribe to it myself, as it is a great source of industry news, and I bring sample copies of it to my students, as well as issues of Threads, and other fine publications that have broad appeal, as well as books on subjects such as couture design, costumes, purses, etc. 

      The issue I deal with here in Hollywood is the "average" student is well-versed in the ways-of-the-web, sees all the latest movies, is media savvy, shops at current boutiques on Melrose, and, to use an over-used term, is edgy and hip.   By-and-large, Sew News does not appeal to these young women. 

      In addition, I do not advocate that Sew News come to my part of LA, and try to profile a new customer readership here.  The number of fabric stores per capita must be about 100,00 to one (a guess based on the paucity of such stores in LA), and I think the percentage of sewers here is lower that in many other areas of the country.  The group I mention might be difficult for magazines to target, but their mothers (my age) buy Sew News, and it is a great source of projects for my Kids Camp classes. 

      The biggest challenge facing the sewing  industry (stores, magazines, web-sites, etc.) is to attract the youngest generations to sewing as a life-long habit.  I thank Threads for throwing open this forum to face this issue!

      Kay in L.A.

      1. louise | | #4

        Dear Kay in LA

        Hmmmmmmmm.   This is a tricky point, because Threads will lose a large share of its readership if they bend too far toward the novice.  The masthead reads "for people who love to sew" or something like.  That means we know the basics and we are looking to broaden our horizens.  At least once a year, I pitch a fit because an issue that I have paid for and waited for, dancing from foot to foot with impatience is virtually worthless to me because it is "dumbed down" for the novice reader.  My position is rather rigid I realize, but you yourself have brought many references to your classes to cover the basics.  Would it not be better and more inspiring to your fledgling sewers to see where their new craft can take them?

        I really could scream when Threads covers things like how to sew a(n ordinary) dart!

        Perhaps it would be better if Threads spun off a second magazine directed to the novice sewer?

        Sorry to be a crabby appleton!

        Just as an aside, click into the general discussions quay and you will see a survey posted by threads, 98% of voters wanted more couture sewing, only about 6% wanted articles aimed at novice sewers, Interesting in light of our discussion no?


        Edited 10/25/2004 2:04 am ET by Louise

        1. lifelongsewer | | #5

          Dear Louise,

          All newstand-and-subscription magazines constantly receive threats from readers that if anything is changed, they will stop buying the magazine, but remember that if new readers do not pick up an issue, Threads will die with the older sewing generation.  Just because an ocassional issue has "virtually worthless" content to you does not mean that many other readers do not find value in the same subject.  As a teacher, I am always looking for different styles of construction and application. 

          No where in my previous words have I advocated that Threads "dumb down" its content, but their goal IS to sell more magazines.  Beginning sewers are also "people who love to sew".  If the appeal stops at the intermediate-to-advanced sewers, the novice sewers may feel left out. 

          When I look at the index of articles from past issues (and I own every one!), I see a lot of repetition of subject matter.  Much of it based on basic techniques - the charm is in novel and inventive applications, using new materials and new tools, and meeting new designers in the pages of Threads.  And then of course, we also get treated to totally new goodies in each issue. 

          The store I work for, Sewing Arts Center, is filled with sewn samples of everything from the simplest-to-the-more-complex items - garments, purses and bags, pillows, soft-goods and more, as samples for my novice sewers.   Most of our business comes from novice sewers who are looking to take classes buy sewing machines, so there is some kind of 'revival' going on. 

          The number of stores in the greater Los Angeles area that offer sewing classes can dance on the head of a pin - that is unfortunate.  So maybe in the meanwhile, more of the advanced (or not) sewers can teach a young person some simple sewing techniques? 

          Thanks!  Kay in L.A. 

          1. louise | | #6

            Dear Kay

            I figured I would tick you off!  That is not my intent, but, if the experienced sewers  cannot find or develop resources to keep on growing they will stagnate and no "new blood" will enter the line either.  My skill with the needle, exponentially greater due to the advanced content of Threads, has inspired several youngsters to pick up needle and thread.   It has caused me to remember many skills learned at my grandmother's and mother's knee and dust them off to include with my sewing projects.

            The Guild systems were built the same way.  Master craftsmen would network amongst themselves for skills development and they were proud to do it.  Apprentices were brought along over a period of time, their desired goal - to attain the scope of knowledge of a "master" craftsperson, along with the respect (and profit) that their hard work bestowed.  What you are asking is to remove the ability for the skilled to develop and expand on their skills.  Threads is the only publication available which caters to the experienced seamstress, barring trade publications, to which the public-at- large has no access.

            It is a small thing to ask, to keep one's standards high.  There is a growing tendency in modern society to cater to the lowest common denominator.  Your argument (in the debate sense) seems an exemplar of such to me.  You have a great store, you have tons of stuff, sadly you are one amongst a handful in your area, you admit to knowing about all the other sources and resouces for novices which you regularly bring to your classes.  So why does Threads have to service your need?   They are in fact, serving your expressed desire - to inspire and develop a following generation- by keeping their standards high.  It gives your novice sewers something to aspire to. 

             We only have one magazine and you list a virtual constellation of sources and inspirations for the novice.  It is almost funny that you in LA, have the same complaint that we have here across virtually the whole of the "Great North"  - a paucity of stores and supplies.  I suspect it is a hazard of your particular demographics.  Here it is because our population base is 10% of yours.  We lack the economic base to support the variety of resources and products available to the larger market base of the USA.

            Everyone here marvels at the cornucopia offered to the American buying public.  They shop till they drop! They bring back things that inspire envy in their family and friends.  So with all the resources that your great country offers, could you not put up with having to mail order once in a while?  Otherwise your argument (in the debate sense) does not wash.  There needs to be a standard to aspire to.  If you remove that there is no desire to excel and interest fades along with the sorts of skills that we almost consider magical at this point.

            We are seeing the results of the planned obsolescence push of the '50's and the ravages of the Industrial Revolution.  The entire range of hand rendered skills is in danger of extinction. Your argument would blow out the final candle.  The advanced need light and nourishment to grow and inspire as well.



          2. FitnessNut | | #7


            FYI, trade publications don't generally address experienced seamstresses, or seamstresses at all for that matter! At least, none that I have seen. At the small business where I worked as a patternmaker, the samplemaker and I used to both read Threads, albeit for different reasons.

          3. louise | | #8


            Interesting to know.  It seems Threads is the penultimate source for all of us.


            Edited 10/26/2004 2:29 pm ET by Louise

          4. edgy | | #9

            I want more creative ideas. Belle Armoire lacks the how to and you really have to study it hard to get any idea. Please take more risks and plan for "how could you" letters. PUSH us, don't baby us. PLEASE!!!!!!!!


          5. bobbinhead | | #10

            Can I say that I am a novice sewer? I guess I'm a novice because I just started to teach myself how to sew things a few years ago with the idea that I could make clothing that was either higher quality than what is offered at your usual retailer or less expensive than higher-end shops. My machine has to be around 40 years old and I really really need to make a dress form really soon...

            My point: Threads is inspiring. It gives me ideas and instructions if I want to try something. I am certainly not an expert but I know that the only way I'm going to learn and grow as a sewer is by diving in, hopeful, a little intimidated sometimes, but really excited about the prospect of making something all by myself that could be potentially really beautiful. I don't think Threads is snooty at all or that it doesn't apply to novice sewers like me. It makes me do more and learn more quickly and gives me confidence with every new piece.

            I have a ton to learn as I assume everyone does as this is an interest that is always evolving with technology, and fashion and time.

            Thanks for the lively debate. We call our sessions "Stitch & Bitch", what do you call yours? Ha ha


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