Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sew what? Sew buttons!

If you're like me, you don't know a bobbin from a bias. After receiving a hand-me-down sewing machine for Christmas, (to provide some context, my grandma looked it over and commented that she hadn't used a model like that in "decades." Ouch.) I set out to change that. I signed up for a beginner's "Sewing 101" class at The Needle Shop in Bucktown.

While I don't see myself becoming a seamstress extraordinaire, the ability to fix clothes and make handmade gifts is something I'd like to be able to do. Not only useful, the urge to sew is becoming more popular with young women again - I overheard one such lady in my lesson saying to her friend that she hoped sewing would be an entryway into domestic womanhood for her, as she'd "failed at everything else, like cooking." With any luck, you can also find a community, or sewing circle, to learn from. In Paris, where any activity can be stylish when paired with a smoke and un cafĂ©, sewing aficionados tailor their creations in tandem at the SWEAT SHOP.

The Needle Shop seeks to grow such a community in Chicago, and offers pretty robust class offerings that teach you to make something new each time - and bring the finished piece home with you. Since mine was a beginner's class, we started with an orientation of the machines followed by a hands-on lesson for sewing a zippered pillow.

To be honest, I was a little worried about what I'd signed up for when I arrived. The lesson was to last 4 hours, and we began at 10am on a Saturday - not my brightest time. We were lead downstairs from the fabric store and into a brightly lit basement with a U-shaped table where five sewing machines sat at the ready. Aprons, slippers, bags, quilts and pillows - energized with offbeat patterns of city buses, farm animals and, of course, birds, hung from the walls. Our instructor Cheeri quickly announced that, as we would be spending 4 hours down here, drinks and snacks would be provided. Breathing a sigh of relief, I settled in and waited to begin.

We started by practicing a few stitches on scrap paper before tackling our pattern. When the actual sewing commenced, I was completely engrossed, child-like in my intent to learn how to do this stuff. Seriously, it is a magical thing to "reveal" your zipper after sewing it in through the "wrong" side of your fabric. A very dramatic moment for all of us.

Here's my new throw pillow:

Making something that you would normally pick up at Crate & Barrel for $30 is incredibly liberating. After I finished this pillow, I felt like I would never buy home furnishings again.

Not so fast, Cheeri reminded me.  A few words of wisdom from our instructor to remember:

1) Instant gratification is key
When you're starting out, aim for simple projects (like pillows) that are doable within a few hours so you can finish and flaunt your skills right away. This will give you a sewing "high" that leaves you craving more.

2) Don't worry so much
Although sewing is precise, it doesn't always have to be perfect. And mistakes can nearly always be corrected.

3) Practice
The Needle Shop offers FREE studio time to their students.

I will definitely be hitting up The Needle Shop for another lesson. And maybe upgrading my machine to the 21st century, too.

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