It’s Sew Easy

Friday, May 7, 2010


There are so many skills to learn as a homesteader – building, gardening, tending livestock are the one’s we think of first. But, there are plenty of indoor skills to be learned as well – canning, cooking, baking and of course sewing and knitting. Sewing and knitting are two of the most practical skills a homesteader can learn. They give you the ability to mend damaged clothes, extending the life of your clothes; they enable you to make old garments into new useful pieces; and they allow you to pursue something fun that in the end produces something practical and made for you.

Now, I’m not a highly skilled seamstress, nor a tailor. You won’t see me or any of my sewing projects for that matter on the latest episode of Project Runway. I’m a practical sewer. I sew to mend my daughter’s jeans or make them into shorts that will carry her through the next summer season. I make quilts out of scrap fabric and garments that are no longer useful or are too worn out to save. I fix hems, replace buttons, shorten waistbands…you get the idea.

The lack of skill in this area and other home keeping related skills is a sad commentary, I think, on our school system and society in general, but I will refrain from political commentary. I remember taking Home Ec in High School. We learned cooking, sewing, household budgeting, money management and frugality. But most women I know can’t even replace a button. And something simple like fixing a hem requires a trip to the dry cleaners or tailors shop.

While in 4-H I learned more about sewing from my project leader. I remember sitting around her dinning room table with the other girls (and some boys) as she taught us how to make simple garments like skirts, shorts, tote bags, aprons and pj pants. As our skills improved our projects got more intricate – jumpers, coats, dresses, suits.

I haven’t sewn full garments in years, but my turn to a simpler life has reawakened my desire to be more handy in this area. And, why not; making your own clothes is a guarantee that what you wear is of high quality and custom made to your tastes, not just a comeback fad of old-fashioned practicality.

Before you go out and buy a pile of fabric with patterns to match, I strongly suggest putting together your own basic sewing basket or kit. Nothing fancy is needed. A basket or lidded tin will do the trick, but these are must-haves for any would-be sewer so that all your supplies will be in one place when you get ready to start that project. It just makes life simple. My sewing basket is an old wooden, lidded box that has feet and a stationary handle. I found at a thrift store, and inside it contains

– Scissors
– Cloth tape measure
– Straight pins and a pin cushion
– Thread in assorted colors
– Seam ripper
– Needles, different sizes
– Washable fabric pen and pencil

If you think you’ll be using a sewing machine most of the time, you’ll also want to have sewing machine needles and bobbins for your machines make and model, but the above list is the bare-bones basics for simple hand sewing.

Knitting doesn’t take as many supplies as sewing does, which means less cost in the beginning. But, the results are very similar – handmade garments that reflect your personal tastes and are useful. If you’re just beginning, try using large diameter knitting needles and a thick, chunky yarn. I suggest this for a couple of reasons, 1) it’s easier to see what you’re doing when everything is larger, and 2) you’ll finish your project quickly which will give you a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. My friend Nancy can finish a hat in the time it takes the Women’s Club to finish their meeting. Now that’s speed knitting!

Once you get the hang of knitting, you’ll see all the possibilities because each project – from scarf to hat to sweater – starts with just one simple row. After that it’s all good.

So – thread that needle or cast on that yarn folks! You know what they say about idle hands…

To try your hand at either sewing or knitting, check out these easy projects and inspiring websites. Or, for a more communal experience check out your local fabric shop or knitting store.

Free Tote Bag Patterns:

Creative Commons License photo credit: m,!

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