Nope, I’m not showing you a handmade garment this week. 🙁 It’s not that I have not been sewing — I am working on a few things at the moment — its that I’m a bit lackadaisical about it as of late. I go through stages of this, so it’s nothing new. Eventually I will get back in the groove, especially since summer is waning and I still have summer dresses I want to make and wear!
Anyway…. I’ve been thinking that perhaps I should share some of the little things I’ve learned here and there over the years whilst sewing. These are things that have saved me time and money and numerous trips to the fabric store.
Firstly, let me take you on a little journey to my sewing of yesteryear. I decided I wanted to sew something. My grandma or my mom would take me to the fabric store. I would sit and look at the pattern books and pick out what I wanted to make. I’d get my pattern. I’d go and search for fabric to make that pattern. I’d buy the thread and notions needed to make that pattern. I’d go home and make it with the help of my grandma. No sales flyers. No coupons. No plan.
Let me explain to you why this method is not cost-effective:
- Here in the US, patterns go on sale on a regular basis at our chain fabric stores (and online). If you wait, you will get your “Big 4” pattern at a drastically discounted price than what’s on the envelope.
- Thread also goes on sale quite often. Pick it up when it’s on sale.
- Some notions like buttons and the notions wall go on sale regularly. Zippers never seem to — that’s what a coupon is for.
- Fabric also goes on sale. Buy it when it’s on sale or with a coupon.
Of course this method only works at chain stores such as Joanns and Hancocks when shopping in person. This does not often work at a small independent fabric store (of which there are none around me….), although many of those indie stores have periodic sales.
I did not learn this until I started fabric shopping with my MIL about 5 years ago. Before that, I would just decide on making a project and then go out and get the supplies needed for it. If they happened to be on sale — YAY! Otherwise, I just paid the piper. I did this for many years until I learned how to navigate the sales and stock my sewing room.
This is the most important thing that I’ve learned on the road to being a savvy sewist: MAKE A LIST
- Look at patterns that you want and make a list and get them when they’re on sale.
- When you’re getting low on a thread color, put it on your list and pick it up when it’s on sale.
- Look forward to your future projects and add any notions you may need to your list and pick them up when they’re on sale.
- Think about what fabrics and colors that you want and make a list of them and pick them when you see them for a good price.
- Have a list of fabric yardages that you need when you find your fabric so you don’t under or over buy.
I have ongoing lists in my Evernote app. If you are not aware of Evernote, it’s a note taking app that can be integrated not only on your phone, but on your computer and tablet as well, so you’ve always got your list with you. I used to keep a list in a little notebook in my purse, but sometimes I would take it out and leave it somewhere and then I’d be out shopping and would not know what patterns or thread colors were on my list when I would happen upon a sale. Now, my list is always with me as my phone is always with me.
Making lists helps you buy what you need and helps you not to buy things you don’t need. (Of course that takes a bit of self control…. especially when I am amidst a room of glorious fabrics screaming: “Buy me!”)
And as far as indie patterns go, you can make a list of those, too, as sometimes they are on sale. I also don’t like to pay shipping, so I will pick some up when I’m in the Bay Area at Britex or Stonemountain & Daughter when I’m there.
I’ve heard a lot recently about how bad having a stash is. I really don’t know why a sewist would not want to have a stash. Whether your stash is patterns, notions, fabrics or all of the above — you have the ability to walk into your sewing space and MAKE SOMETHING without having to go anywhere or order anything. Want a new dress? You’ve got the goods. Need a new shirt? Yay, you’ve got the fixin’s for it.
When I first met my MIL I was amazed that she had a fabric stash. If I needed something — she had it! This was just mind-blowing to me. The only fabrics that I had “stashed” were odds and ends of leftover projects. Nothing so awesome as having an arsenal of fabrics waiting and ready to be made into something! I had no clue that such things existed as I was used to buying my fabric and supplies when I was going to make something. My grandma’s only stash was of thread, notions and interfacings. My mom’s was of patterns. This was such a novel idea to me.
So…. yes…. I do have a stash now. 🙂
And that leads me to: FABRIC
I go through spurts of fabric sprees. I’m doing one right now…. honestly….. there’s about 4 packages en route to me as I type this. At the beginning of the year, I decided to detox from buying fabric. I had bought a lot of fall/winter weight fabrics at the end of 2013 which of course led to filling up a couple of bins with fabrics that have yet to be sewn into anything. I can blame that on our uncommonly warm winter and the CA drought as I did not have a use for wool crepes or coatings. However, it made me feel a little bad as a lot of what I had purchased were things that I did not necessarily need and bought because it was a good deal. Yes! Who could resist not buying that gabardine for $1.99/yd? Or that silk chiffon for $2.99/yd? What about that poly that I’ll never wear that was $1.00/yd? Well…. yeah…. that stuff is still sitting in my stash….
That’s when I decided to be serious about my fabric purchases. No, I wasn’t going into debt over it or anything. I just decided to be smarter about what I was buying so that I did not add unnecessary bulk to my growing fabric stash.
Like I said before — make a list of what you need and stick with it. This method has worked very well for me, even whilst shopping at places like The Fabric Store in LA. It even helps me while meandering around Joanns. I seem to be tempted less by all of the beautiful prints and fabrics I see when I am searching for something in particular. I also use this method when shopping online.
And as far as shopping online goes…. I have had good and bad experiences. I suggest ordering a fabric swatch first, especially if it’s an online store that’s new to you. I definitely learned my lesson in the past and will not shop at certain online stores due to bad experiences shopping there. However, I have found a handful of stores that I repeatedly buy from and am never disappointed with.
Here are a few tips for navigating online fabric stores:
- A lot of online fabric stores tell you on their site how many yards they have of each fabric. If there is a lot of yardage available, put it on your “maybe later” list or “design wall” and wait until there’s a sale to buy it. There will always be a sale. I would not do this with a very popular fabric or something that is OOAK. If you really want something like that and you can buy it — don’t hesitate.
- Pay attention to the fabric descriptions, especially when they tell you the weight of the fabric or it’s best uses. You can’t see it or feel in person, so this is what you have to go by. I’ve bought a few fabrics that were too light for what I needed them for because I did not pay close enough attention to the descriptions.
- If there is a particular designer fabric that you want, search for it on other sites and see if you can find a better deal. This just happened to me with a Cotton+Steel print and a Joel Dewberry print. I saved about $2 and $4/yd (plus got free shipping) buying these on Fabric.com rather than another site.
- That being said, sometimes if I need a fabric in a timely manner, I will go with the more expensive option if their shipping is quick. (Britex and Harts Fabrics are relatively close to me and I can have my fabric in a couple of days as opposed to a week or two with Fabric Mart and Fabric.com)
And yes…. sometimes I will be willing to spend more shopping in person at fabric stores rather than online. I often justify this in that I am not paying shipping, but there is a difference between seeing and feeling the fabric in person as opposed to looking at it on the computer screen. I also like buying from small indie fabric stores when I find them.
A few thrifty tips:
- Check out the sewing/craft/home dec section at thrift stores. You can sometimes find lengths of fabrics there (and notions! and patterns!). Apart from the one time I found 10 yds of white cotton damask at a thrift store in SOMA (San Francisco), I rarely find anything….. But I’ve heard of many others finding AWESOME fabrics. Sometimes the fabrics are with comforters/duvet covers/etc or sheets. (Also, I’ve seen some sewists make glorious things out of sheets!)
- Sometimes you can be lucky to happen upon a garage/yard/estate sale of a sewist and find fabrics and supplies. This only happened once to me…. then again I don’t hit up the sales too much…
- You can also find some great fabric deals on ebay and etsy, just make sure you read the reviews first and be wary about where the seller is located. Although…. I have in the past got a great deal on quality silk organza bought on etsy and shipped from China.
Now on to: NOTIONS
Like I’ve stated previously, these go on sale often at the fabric chain stores here in the US. I will generally wait to buy these until they are on sale or use a coupon otherwise. I have a bit of an addiction to notions and will often stand there staring at the notions wall to see if there is anything I
need want. I have a bit of a bad habit about this actually…. but I’m trying to stop….
A few ideas:
- Sometimes there are things that you can use for sewing notions that are not sewing notions — like kitchen or office supplies. Karen (Did You Make That?) wrote a great post with a few notion hacks with even more ideas in the comments!
- You don’t need to buy things like pattern weights or pressing aides as you can make them yourself.
- Zippers never seem to go on sale. I use coupons when I can and also have some that are inherited or found in thrift stores.
- You can make your own bias tape/piping/etc.
- Interfacings — I buy them up when they go for $1 (or less) at Fabric Mart and sometimes I find remnants of them at Joanns. On Black Friday there is usually a good sale on an interfacing bolt as well and I stock up.
- Don’t forget Amazon when searching for notions!
I live 30 miles from my nearest fabric store, which is most of the reason why I started stocking up on sewing supplies. I can’t run to the store whenever I’m out of thread or need a zip, so it’s a good idea to have these things on hand for when I need them.
And lastly…. SEWING MACHINES
Ask a group of sewists what sewing machine to buy and you will receive a myriad amount of replies. These are just a few of my thoughts after sewing on various machines for many years.
When it comes to sewing machines, some people are Fords and some people are Mercedes. I’m a Ford. I’m not sure whether I will ever be a Mercedes.
As with vehicles, some people like the best of the best like Berninas. Others are happy with more lower-range models Singers. To me, I think it’s wrong to belittle anyone for their personal choice in either area. Some have plenty of money to spend on the machine of their dreams while others budget for less expensive models.
I learned to sew on my grandma’s Pfaff and my mom’s White — both relics of the 1960’s. These are both sturdy, mechanical metal machines that taught me the basics. My grandma told me that her Pfaff was “the best of the best.” I was always seizing up her machine and she would have to come fix it. Then my mom got me a used 1970’s Kenmore. That thing took me through many dresses, my first quilt, several costumes and more pillows and curtains than I could count. But it was always needing to be repaired. (Of course I’m sure that my tendency to not change a needle until it broke or my un-cleanliness had nothing to do with it…) I was just so happy to have my own machine that I could traverse the world of sewing by myself with and I didn’t care what make or model it was. With that machine I explored making my own buttonholes and testing out different stitches and I had a blast. Especially since I didn’t have another set of eyes peering over my shoulder…
And then I decided that it was time to grade up. I got an electronic Singer as a Christmas present and I used the heck out of that thing. It was amazing to me just to have a drop-in bobbin and a needle threader! I even sewed my wedding dress and my bridesmaid dresses with it. I never had a problem, but decided that it was again time to grade up. That’s when I got a computerized Singer (the anniversary edition) and it blew my mind away with how easy it was to operate. I sew almost daily with this machine and it is wonderful. How awesome it was to just push a button for this or that and how easy it is to thread it.
But again, I feel that as my sewing expertise progresses and I spend more time sewing that I would like to have a more advanced machine with some better features. I’ve been reading reviews and testing machines and picked out what I want. So maybe later this year I will move away from the Ford into the Mercedes territory with a new Pfaff. 🙂
But, do you really need a fancy, expensive machine to sew beautiful garments?
A big emphatic NO.
Most of the online sewing community often tells you to get a Bernina. Berninas are spectacular machines and if that works for you — great! But if you’re just starting out with sewing, I don’t think I’d recommend it. This article on The Sweet Home — “The Best Sewing Machine for Beginners” — is by far the best that I’ve ever read on the subject.
That being said, if you sew a lot and are willing to pay for it, you should definitely buy the best you can afford if that’s the route you want to go. Sewists who sew almost daily on their sewing machines need ones that will last. We will often run a sewing machine into the ground. I honestly did not know the importance of having a good machine until I met my MIL (a professional sewist) who sews with a fancy top-of-the-line Janome. It basically just depends on which features you want and how much you want to spend.
Oh… and…. TAKE CARE OF YOUR MACHINE!!
I’ve learned that the hard way….
Basically, I’m not gonna tell you what kind of sewing machine to buy nor will I recommend any. To me, that’s a personal preference and every sewist should do what’s right for you. I’m just trying to tell you that you can sew beautifully on a machine that will not break the bank.
In conclusion, I’m still learning the ways of savvy sewing and perhaps someday I will be an expert at it. 🙂
Do you have any tips?