Patience, Practice, and Learning a New Skill

Back in the 7th grade, students at my junior high were required to take one of two classes. We could take “Shop” and learn how to make things out of wood, or we could take Home Economics and learn how to sew and cook.  Being afraid of machinery that might render me without a finger, the choice was obvious: I took Home Ec.  The course was divided into two parts. For the first half of the semester, we would learn to sew, and the second half of the semester was devoted to cooking.

I remember my mom taking me to JoAnn’s to pick out fabric and a pattern (blue and white polka-dotted shorts).  I’m fairly certain it was during that trip that a passion awoke inside me.  I remember walking along the long wall of fabrics, divided by color into the loveliest rainbow, and I was completely in awe. 

That was my first experience with fabric sensory overload.  I wanted it all.  

My mom only bought me one fabric that day but, much to my husband’s dismay, I now buy ALL the fabric.

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I was the only student in my class who was excited about sewing.  Everyone else wanted to cook.  Our teacher was strict.  There were no shortcuts or fudging the rules.  Even if we hated it, we were going to sew our shorts properly.  And believe me when I say that everyone hated it.  Except me.

I was in love.

My mom had an old sewing machine at home, and she allowed me to play with it.  I say “play,” because these were the dark ages.  In 1993, there was no YouTube, no Google, no Pinterest, and no blogging.  The internet might have existed, but I have no idea who used it or what was on it.  Any family member who knew how to sew had long since passed away.  So I played with old clothes and ruined them.  I found old linens and ruined them.  No piece of cloth was safe.  I loved every minute of it.

It wasn’t until high school that I had the opportunity to test myself.  I was giving a presentation for National History Day as a suffragette, and I needed a 1910s era skirt.  Back to JoAnn’s we went!  Tim Gunn would have been appalled by my construction technique, but oh my gosh – I made a skirt on my own!  I continued to make small things during high school, almost always for a drama class activity.  A hat for Eponine.  A skirt for a 19th-century street painter.  Under the bright lights of the stage, these garments were magical. 

I didn’t sew during my college years.  It wasn’t until I became a mother that the interest once again sparked.  I now had a whole new world of resources at my fingertips.  There are limitless tutorials and videos right inside my own home.  I discovered online blogs and patterns and fabric shops filled with inspiration.  Pinterest then came along and took all of those tutorials, blogs, patterns, and fabrics and categorized them into one tidy little space for me.  My Pinterest board is seriously ridiculous. 

The project that really got me back into sewing was something I stumbled across on Pinterest.  I knew I had to make the Bapron for my daughter the moment I came across it.  The Bapron, by Craftiness is Not Optional, might be the cutest baby bib ever created.  With the Bapron my obsession was reborn. 

My First Bapron
My First “Good” Bapron

There is a moral to my story.

I often have a friend or acquaintance tell me that they wish they could sew, but _____.  There is always a ‘but.’  Any number of reasons can fill in the blank, but the one I hear most often is “…but I’m just not good at it.” I hate to say it, but if you have never sewn before, then no, you aren’t going to be good at it. 

Those shorts I made in 7th grade?  They lasted a month!  The costumes I made in high school?  They were hanging together by threads!  All of the clothing and linens I destroyed never became anything but trash.  The first Bapron I made looked like a dishcloth with strings.  My first attempt at making a shirt defied the laws of garment construction.  I sewed the back of the first dress I made for my daughter on backward.  My first attempt at button holes destroyed my project.  The first time I set a sleeve, I ripped it out at least ten times and then ended up bleeding all over the fabric after I sewed my finger.  And don’t even get me started on zipper installation.  To this day I avoid zippers like the plague.

Worst zipper install ever
Worst zipper install ever

There are a lot of things I wish I could do. 

I wish I could dance.  Throw a baseball.  Carry a tune.  Play the piano.  Speak publicly without having a panic attack.  I realize that natural talent can play a significant factor in what a person is good at, but you know what plays an even bigger factor? 

Practice. You will never be good at something until you try. 

And you will very likely fail–a lot–in the beginning.  Just keep trying.  I can’t do any of the things I listed above for one reason: I simply haven’t tried very hard. 

So if you want to learn how to sew (or sing, or dance, or play an instrument), invest in yourself and do it!  It’s not always easy, especially if you are self-taught as I was, but if it is something you think you will enjoy, you should go for it.  So much of my learning how to sew was trial and error and learning from my mistakes.  It might come naturally to you, or it might take years, but learning a new skill can be so incredibly satisfying. 

Practice 1

I can’t help you out if you want to learn to sing or dance or throw a baseball, but if you are interested in sewing, here are some blogs that have inspired me tremendously:

Craftiness is Not Optional

See Kate Sew

Made By Rae

Melly Sews

Sew Caroline

Now, get out there and make yourself something pretty (even if it does take a couple of tries)!

Practice 5

Caroline is an Arizona native who moved to Iowa in 2007 ‘for love.’ She and her husband live in Coralville with their 8-year-old daughter. Caroline works full-time at the University of Iowa and recently earned her MA in Higher Education Administration. Caroline is a self-taught sewer, fabric hoarder, Starbucks lover, wannabe graphic designer, and avid reader. Her greatest aspirations are to raise a kind, strong, and fearless girl and have a clean house.


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