I learned to sew as a young girl. I got my first sewing machine around the age of 10, an item out of fashion in modern times. My mother is a skilled and talented seamstress and sewing was part of her work, so I grew up surrounded by bolts of fabric and the whir of a sewing machine. Despite my mom’s best efforts however, I just wasn’t disciplined enough to really learn what I was doing.
In high school, I sewed evening gowns from vintage reproduction patterns, ones that never saw the light of day. I was still very much outwardly invested in my tomboy image, so they hung on my wall like poorly-crafted works of art. Other than that, sewing was never a big part of my life. In fact, it was a skill and activity I totally left behind when I went to college.
Thus, it was a surprise when my mom offered to buy me a new sewing machine when I left to start my adult life in DC. “You never know when it might come in handy,” she said, and I reluctantly accepted, figuring it would sit in a closet and gather dust.
And so it did for a year, until one day I had to create a burlesque costume. I pulled it out, felt the power of the bouncing needle, the excitement of creation, and it was the start of an obsession. Soon after, I decided I wanted to make a 1960s mod dress and discovered the wealth of vintage patterns available on the internet. I dove headfirst into the world of vintage-inspired sewing.
I soon realized that I really didn’t know what I was doing. I knew the basics of the machine: how to thread the thing, adjust tension, and change the stitch length. I knew a few other basics too, like how to read a pattern, different fabric types and things of that nature. I just really didn’t have any technique. I didn’t know how to fit, how to take advantage of all the bits and bobs that came with the machine, the importance of pressing, how to insert an invisible zipper, or set a sleeve properly.
Not knowing what else to do, I turned to the internet. The online sewing community at that point was just starting to blossom. Many of the blogs that were starting up have now become institutions, and the communities have blossomed with young DIYers.
Here are some of my favorites from my forays. The blogs I’ve followed mainly have a retro focus, but still have universal sewing appeal.
Gertie is as close to a celebrity as one could get in the online sewing world. She started out by taking on sewing every pattern from a 50s book, and her blog became so, so much more. Everything from tips on couture sewing techniques, to full sew-alongs (step by step guides through a project), to larger discussions such as feminism and vintage sewing and body image and sewing. She now has classes on Craftsy, an amazing published book, and a pattern line with Butterick. Gertie is a force, and her blog a wealth of resources. I owe a lot of my sewing enthusiasm and skill to Gertie. Seriously, she’s a big deal.
Another blog I found early on. Peter represents a minority in the online sewing community: a man who sews. He started sewing later in life, his blog being his record of his growth. His work now is now so beautiful and well-made. Because of the dearth of interesting men’s sewing patterns, he often sews pieces for his “cousin Cathy.” He also hosts sew-along, discusses technique, and poses interesting meta-questions with high frequency. Oh, and he’s hilarious.
Debi is another sewist who started blogging as a beginner sewist and has grown. An American living in Scotland, she’s active in both the American and British sewing blog communities. Her work is almost completely from vintage patterns and her work is fairly prolific. She posts a lot of interesting stuff on sewing and pattern company history, but Debi is most significant for fostering community. She’s a doll and clearly a great networker, as she hosts a lot of collective sewing blogger events. A great blog to start with if you want to dive deeper into the sewing blog community.
Colette is a small, independent pattern company out of Portland, OR. Their patterns are vintage-inspired but very modern. The log on their sight offers a number of tutorials, detail inspiration, and fabric information. A lot of resources on the blog. The Colette book is also an excellent resource for beginning sewists.
Online sewing communities
Pattern Review is sort of an online go-to for information and community. The crux of the site is individuals post projects they’ve created and review the patterns they used, pointing out any issues with instruction or fit. There’s much more to the site, however, such as contests and classes. It’s a great access point to the online sewing world.
Under the same subsidiary as burda style magazine, BurdaStyle is its own entity. A community for people to share projects, vary on a theme, and learn through tutorials and forum inquiries. Burdastyle also has a ton of free and cheap patterns to download, that are copyright free so you can do whatever you want with them. They also have contests and fun motivating things along those lines.
A great community of individuals who sew vintage or vintage-inspired garments. Mostly just posting projects, but it’s a very supportive and inspiring community.