How I learned to sew

Drawer full of reels of sewing thread - green, blue, orange, yellow, red
Box of delights: my thread collection

I’ve been sewing since I was a kid. I can’t remember exactly when I started but it was my mum, who studied at St Martins in the late-1960s, who taught me how to use a sewing machine.

I grew up surrounded by women who made stuff – my gran, a prolific knitter, had a haberdashery shop in Westhoughton, and later ran a stall on Bolton market selling all the wool, thread, patterns, and notions she had left over from her days behind the counter.

Every now and then she would slip me a few sew-on badges or end pieces of ribbon. When I wasn’t cobbling together strange outfits for my teddies, I could be found playing with my mum’s button tin, sorting the jewel-like pieces of moulded plastic and imagining what incredible outfit they might complete.

I started to get really interested in sewing, and making my own clothes, when I was about 14. I have a horrible feeling it was inspired by a character on the Australian soap Neighbours, who ran up a tennis skirt in half an hour because she had nothing to wear for a hot date on the court. Yes, it was Gaby. Gaby Willis. I’m not even going to pretend I’m over it.

After that I largely taught myself from vintage patterns from my gran’s stall. She also gave me half-finished dresses and fabric from the 1960s and 1970s that were gathering dust in her attic. I’d finish or refashion them. People would ask me where I got my clothes, and in my Uni days ‘from my gran’s attic’ became something of a catchphrase.

In my twenties I buckled down to work, beginning my career as a journalist in London. But the bug never disappeared. I sewed throughout my twenties, on and off, but it was only in my thirties, after I started a family, that I began to take sewing seriously.

I started to get really interested in sewing, and making my own clothes, when I was about 14. I have a horrible feeling it was inspired by a character on the Australian soap Neighbours…

Discovering Instagram a few years ago was a revelation. Seeing the level at which beginner sewists were operating was an eye opener – that’s if you believe in an immaculate first attempt at top-stitching. I’ve always been a bit of a slapdash sewist (more on that another time!) but it made me reflect and realise that, with over 30 years sewing experience under my belt, I really ought to up my game!

I worked on the innards with Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York perfectionism. I’m not saying my cuts were quite as precise, but working on finish really helped improve my sewing skills to a level where, today, I’m able to make most of my own clothes. And if I don’t make a particular type of garment yet, I have plans to. Yes brassiere, I’m looking at you.

It was around this time that my mum gave me her old overlocker – probably the best bit of sewing gear I have ever had the good fortune to come by. Out of the window went the French seams and bias bound hems and in came the noisy plough of victory. If you’re yet to overlock, I can promise you a thrilling new world where slapdash looks shop-bought and everyone is rolling around in the hay bales with glass tankards of cider.

It wasn’t long before I started working with a few fabric brands, blogging about my makes in return for fabric and, after about a year, I was editing Love Sewing magazine. Truly a collision of two hitherto opposing sides of my life: journalism and sewing.

Today I still work part-time for Love Sewing as consultant editor, and for myself as a freelance writer and editorial consultant (if you’re interested in working with me, check out Services). But all the while, I sew. It’s in the blood.

So, how did you learn to sew or are you just about to start? Tell me about your sewing story in the comments – and if you’re new here don’t forget to subscribe by dropping your email into the box up there on the right.

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