Sunday, January 18, 2009

My Sewing Story

When I posted about the last pair of pants I made, Dei from, Lyndsay T from, and Melodymcfarland from asked how I learned to sew and draft. So, this is how…

I am almost completely self-taught. Started sewing as a kid for my dolls – by hand, or by machine. My grandmother could sew a little and my dad would help with the machine. My first machine was a toy one that actually stitched. My first real machine was an old hand-driven Singer. It did not have zig-zag and I overcasted by hand. In high school my parents bought me a zig-zag foot-operated machine (the brand I don’t remember but I got it through a sale of Home-Ec machines).
Back then in Bulgaria the apparel stores did not offer much and there were a lot of seamstresses who sewed for profit. Many of my clothes were made by a seamstress. I wanted to be able to sew my own clothes and when I was 13-14 y.o. I made myself a pair of shorts with a side zipper and a top with dolman sleeves that came down to above the navel and tied in the back (both woven). I wore them the whole summer!

In the early 90s, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, more foreign language literature became available and I began buying Burda WOF in German. I think it was back then when I developed the habit of not reading instructions due to my not speaking German. A few years later I started buying Burda WOF in Russian, a language I well understood, but still ignored instructions. I learned mostly in two ways: 1. By observing RTW, and 2. Through the illustrated sewing courses in Burda WOF.

In college I sew a little, rarely for myself. By that time there was no shortage of capparel for sale; my time, however, was limited. I did mostly alteration and some garment sewing for profit. Immediately after college I started a fairly demanding job and did not have the time, space, or desire to sew.

In 1992 my parents bought me a basic PFAFF and I used it till I moved to the USA in 2003. I did not bring it over here because of luggage restrictions, etc. When I moved-in with my now-husband, he lived across the street from the Harold Washington library in Chicago. They had a great sewing section and I borrowed a lot from there. Those were the first sewing books I ever read! Still did not sew though! By reading all those books I not only learned the sewing terminology in English, but also became aware of all kinds of notions and techniques I have never ever heard of before. Then, my husband purchased a new condo and we needed window treatments. We decided he would get me a machine and supplies and I would make the draperies. That is how I started sewing again. It was then when I tried my first non-Burda WOF pattern - a Vogue pattern for a blazer. A year later I bought a Juki serger.

As far as drafting pants… There is a place a Chicago where a tailor teaches drafting and sewing - EWS Academy ( . You start with pants, then skirts, shirts, blazer, and a coat. I became pregnant after the skirt draft and had to stop for it was impossible to fit muslins on me and firtting on yourself was part of the instructor's process. I was too stresses to start taking classes again after DD was born, and soon thereafter we moved to Colorado. I feel grateful that I learned how to draft pants though since I wear bottoms so much!
I also like to copy RTW pieces that fit me well; I have unstitched (and then stitched back) a pair of trousers that I love to get the pattern from it.

Now, I read blogs and learn a lot from them. I also love to browse through brick-and mortar boutiques and observe the techniques used by established designers. For example, a few days ago I came across a Robert Rodrigues dress with very interesting seaming detail.
What it is:
1. The seams are stitches wrong sides together.
2. The seams are pressed flat apart.
3. A satin bias strip is cut. The strip is about 3/8” narrower than the width of both seam allowances.
4. The bias strip is stitched on the right side, in the ditch of the original seam.
You cannot see this well in the picture, but trust me, it was beautiful!
So, this is pretty much it as far as my sewing history goes.
In my sewing *now* is a button-down plaid shirt I am working on now and will post about it as soon as it is ready!


Myra said...

What an interesting story. You definitely have the skills and the vision, because your garments are gorgeous and you are not afraid to be innovative.

Dei said...

Now I understand. What a great story. Not only are you talented, but determined. Outstanding!

Christina said...

You definitely have a natural talent for drafting and sewing.

BTW - The seams on that Rodriques dress are so interesting. I have a Marc Jacobs dress in which the skirt seams are also stitched wrong sides together, with a Hong Kong finish. I guess these examples are just a reminder that anything goes!

Geri said...

Oh this is quite funny - I also had a toy sewing machine as a kid - I only stitched straight seams and was happy. Then my mom was sewing a lot...
And I have the same habit of skipping instructions due to the same reason at the time. I still never read them, also I understand the german perfectly. Still I have never used other than Burda and self made patterns!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your story! I am in Chicago and will be taking EWS courses next year when all my kids are in school! You definitely have a natural talent!!

Tany said...

I *think* I've seen a similar seam treatment! I also like to inspect good RTW clothes, and learn from them. There's always something new and unexpected to learn from.

luckylibbet said...

A wonderful sewing story! actually, a wonderful life story - sounds like you've experienced a lot. Thanks for sharing!

Lindsay T said...

Yes, thank you so much for sharing your sewing story. You really have an eye for this, you know.

geek sewing said...

It's very encouraging to know that you're completely self-taught. Your story gives me much hope for myself!