May 24, 2014 by

DIY is the trend that’s never going to go away. Ever seen anything on Pinterest or Etsy that made you think, I could totally do that, only to be confronted by a certain lack of skill? Sewing an A-line skirt might be something your grandmother could whip up in 30 minutes, but it’s an endeavor that’s more than a little intimidating for some.

Fortunately, Bonnie Smith is one Omaha grandmother willing to share a few of her tricks with newbies who want to overcome their sewing anxiety. As a grandmother of 12, she keeps her sewing skills sharp with lots of crafts for the kids. “Right now, I’m in a major project making quiet books for everyone,” she says. The colorful, intricate books made from fabric are pricey, time-consuming, and not at all what Smith would recommend a newcomer begin with.

Select Your First Project
Pick a project that’s realistic, which means avoiding clothing or alterations. “Something with straight seams,” Smith says. “Like a baby blanket. Or infinity scarves are super simple.” She recommends finding an online video tutorial instead of a written pattern. “There’s just something about seeing someone do the steps.” You can always upgrade to a more complex pattern, like a simple skirt, for your second attempt.

Collect Your Tools
Smith runs down the list of small tools she keeps close by during every project:

  • cutting mat
  • iron
  • pins
  • rotary cutter
  • scissors
  • seamripper
  • tape measure

For anyone trying to build a sewing kit from the ground up, Smith says to hold off on the more expensive tools and either request them as gifts or make use of the coupons that are always in ads for local hobby and fabric stores.

Choose Your First Machine
Speaking of expensive, “don’t go hog wild over a highfalutin machine,” Smith advises. “The old machines are heavy and made to last. The new ones are made out of plastic.” She suggests finding a used one to begin with—Millard Sewing refurbishes old sewing machines, for example. At minimum, Smith recommends a machine that can sew straight, zigzag, and buttonholes. “You can always upgrade.” Plan to spend under $200 for a decent machine.

Set Yourself Up For Success
Finish off all of that planning with a few extra tips from Smith, and your first sewing project is primed for success.

  • Start with any materials found around the house. Fabric can get expensive. For good-quality material, Smith recommends Country Sampler. For your first project, consider turning an old T-shirt into an infinity scarf or a baby’s headband.
  • Get familiar with your machine. “Thread it and practice on some scrap,” Smith suggests. Maintain it by keeping it oiled and take it in once a year for cleaning. Have the right needle for the fabric you’re working with. Replace the needle after several hours of sewing or whenever it seems dull.
  • Iron everything. “Prewash and dry the fabric in case of shrinkage,” Smith says. “Then you need to iron it. Every time you make a seam, you have to iron. It turns out sloppy if you don’t iron, iron, iron.”
  • Have your seamripper handy. “You’ll be ripping stuff out a lot,” Smith admits.
  • Ask the experts for help. Smith is a fan of Hancock Fabrics and Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft largely because of their helpful staff of professional seamstresses.

“If you enjoy it, for sure don’t give up,” Smith encourages. “It’s so fun to get to that finished product!”

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