How I learned to sew

If you read this blog, you know as well as showing off my sewing and craft projects, I  love to tell a story.

Here is a little yarn about the long and winding road I took to becoming  a somewhat skilled seamstress .

How I Learned To Sew-by Justine sew country chick

I grew up in Los Angeles in the eighties. Sewing classes had been taken out of the public schools so I didn’t have the opportunity to learn at school like the generation just before me did. My mom did have an old Kenmore that she bought at Sears to make some living room curtains with, but I don’t remember her sewing much else after those curtains were done.

At 14, I wanted to try making a skirt like I had seen Madonna, my teen idol wearing, so I got out Mom’s sewing machine and an old pillow case and I went to work. I ended up jamming up the sewing machine pretty badly, and put it away before my mom would find out.

I forgot all about my sewing ambitions until I decided to take a sewing class at the local community college four years later. We spent the whole semester making a straight skirt in the class with an interfaced separate waistband, a zipper, and a back vent. I was so proud of myself, but the fabric I chose was too stiff so I didn’t wear it much and I didn’t make anything after that until I got to design school.

At 20, I went to Florence, Italy for a semester to study Italian. While there, I decided what I really wanted to be was a fashion designer. So I went home, applied to fashion design school in Los Angeles and was accepted based on my sketches. School was difficult for me because my limited sewing skills made it almost impossible to realize the ambitious designs I was sketching. Surprisingly, when I applied to design school they asked to see my sketches only, not actual garments! Many of the students in design school were in the same boat as me, and could barely sew when they started, but after two years we had gotten much better, although I still had trouble with zippers and you can forget about buttonholes!

So now I will flash forward many years… I had met my future husband while I was still a student, gotten married in a whirlwind, and had become a stay at home mom, indefinitely putting my career on hold. I was pregnant with my fourth child and had long since stopped sewing anything besides Halloween costumes, curtains, and pillows. We also had recently moved to the country from Los Angeles. I felt isolated and needed a creative outlet.

Suddenly I was seized with an urge to start making clothes again. Maybe my nesting instinct had gone haywire?! I started sewing simple things, like baby dresses and bibs.

I started my blog  soon after that in July of 2010 and I haven’t stopped sewing since. I am happy to say that say I love what I am doing now. It’s such a blessing to have this great community of other sewists to share projects with and learn from. Anything you should want to learn about sewing and design is now available with a mouse click. I also think that I wouldn’t have sewed nearly as many things if I didn’t have a blog. Having other people that share my passion of vintage and Japanese patterns,  fabrics I am obsessed with, and pattern making is extremely more motivating than just showing something I made to my husband who takes a quick glance and is like, “Oh that looks nice…”

It wasn’t until I started blogging that my sewing skills started to really improve at a quicker pace. Practice makes perfect and feeling like I had to complete something each week to share has been a big help to improve my sewing. Recently, I made my first welt pocket and that was a big one for me. Another technique I have yet to conquer would have to be bound buttonholes. So much time to spend on such a tiny detail! But they really are lovely.

What about you readers? How did you learn to sew? I’d love to hear your stories too!

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  1. says

    It’s my mother’s and grandmother’s fault. And they were sneaky about it. It started with embroidery and cross stitch. “You mean you can make pretty pictures with thread? Wow!” That was their method for teaching me how to make nice, even hand stitches. Then it was doll clothes out of scraps. A good deal of my sewing skills came from making those tiny garments. By the time I was a teenager, it was simple pairs of pajama pants. In college, I started making dolls and quilts and when my nieces were born, I started making full-blown wardrobes. Not formal classes, but advice here and there from Mom. I grew up in the 80s, too, but my mom was born in the 40s, so imagine my surprise when I found out that a lot of the techniques I used as a matter of course were “heirloom” sewing! I’ve discovered things on my own, only to discover that they *teach* that sort of thing in classes. I’m not a perfect seamstress, and I still need patterns for most things, but with more practice, I hope to continue to get better….

    • Justine/ Sew Country Chick says

      That is a great way to teach children! i’ll have to try that with my youngest sometime!

    • says

      The first I ever did was chicken scratch embroidery. You know, the kind on gingham so that all the stitches go into the pattern in patterns so if you do it right, it’s all neat, even stitches. I was three when Grandma stuck a needle in my hand…

  2. says

    When I was a little girl playing with Barbies I would take my grandmas scrap fabric and make the dolls clothes to wear- Like a blue and white Stewardess uniform from pale blue polyester! But I was only allowed to hand sew. When I was 14 I wanted to start making ME clothes and my mom (who had a machine but also only made a pair of curtains!) let me use her machine. My aunt sewed a LOT! And I remember picking 3 patterns and her helping me. I’d run next door to her apartment for help…I made a sundress, a skirt and overalls. 🙂 From there I just never stopped. Baby clothes, my clothes, quilts… and I am still at it! ~Laurie

    • Justine/ Sew Country Chick says

      My ten year old always makes her Barbie’s stuff. Hopefully she will want to learn some techniques when she gets older. Right now, she has to do it her own way.

  3. says

    I took home making class in junior high school and made an apron, which I still have today. I gave it up after that and it wasn’t until I was married and had kids that I started sewing again. When they got older they didn’t want home made clothes, so I made clothes for myself and home accessories. I quickly got tired of that and gave it up all together, until recently when I discovered blogging and the sewing world. I have learned so much and I think its made me a better sewist because of all the information out there and like you, I like to show off what I’ve made to people that appreciate home made items. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Valerie says

    Sewing is in my DNA and I heard the sound of the sewing machine in utero. My grandmother taught me to make dresses for my dolls and my mother let me use the sewing machine more than she did. I thought I was a hot sewing tomale until I discovered Pattern Review soon after it was established. Then I Really learnt to sew and am still learning.

  5. Madeleine L. says

    Thanks for sharing Justine:) I’ve always loved sewing and my mother taught me some but the majority of what I know is self-taught… that lovely trial and error and unpick and throwing it to the corner.. 😉
    But with emigrating, having kids and returning to full time study, I neglected my sewing for many many years:( So, this year, inspired by your blog and the many other talented ladies out there – I also started a blog to (keep me accountable) document my year of sewing. I was so sad to discover the other day the cutest fairy fabric in the bottom of my cupboard that I remember buying when my daughter was not even a year old. Now she’s almost 12 and won’t be wearing fairies and I can kick myself for all the wasted time! Anyway… there’s still so much to learn… luckily there’s always great tutorials here on your blog and around the online sewing community:)

  6. amy mayen says

    Sitting on grandmas lap making Barbie clothes! I kinda sorta learned how to sew in design school- but what I really learned was the industry. I really feel self taught, because I don’t think I made a useable thing until the last year or so.

  7. DollyCreates says

    My mom has taught me how to sew, but it wasn’t really until I got my grandma’s sewing machine last year that I really started to sew a lot of stuff. That’s about the time that I started my blog. Check it out at
    Thanks for sharing your story!!

  8. says

    I learned to sew from my grandmother at first. Then in 7th grade Home Economics with Mrs. Hall. I was not very good at all but she saw something in me. I continued to sew and took my 1st quilting class that same year. I than went on to college where I received my B.S. Liberal Arts, Textiles & Clothing.

    • Justine/ Sew Country Chick says

      That is so interesting Sandra. I have been enjoying the textile work of the American Indian contestant on Project Runway. What a neat fir

  9. says

    My mother (now 84) always sewed as a business from home. My older sisters and I learned quite young. My mother was a constant hands-on teacher. She taught tricks that were never on the pattern instructions. I remember by junior high, I was already making money sewing. I have since taught my 3 children to sew. My older son and daughter did not take to it much, but my youngest one has. We have gone on to teach sewing, and recently I have begun having some tutorials as part of my “mom encouragement” blog. Read my post on teaching children to sew in a Summer Sewing Camp format:

  10. Toni Barsi says

    I love hearing stories like this! My Gramma taught me to sew when I was little, and my Mom could but didn’t like to. They think creativity skipped a generation in our family. ;D By the time I got to college I was shocked that we weren’t going to sew anything for the whole first year, and when we finally did begin it was just like you said… Most of the other student had never even threaded a needle. I couldn’t understand how anyone would choose to be a fashion designer if they didn’t know anything about clothes other than how to put them on. I ended up absolutely hating everything about it. I slacked on all my projects and sketchbooks, and did as little as I could in my design classes to get me a passing grade. It was pretty bad, and I’m a bit ashamed of myself for it now, but once I had my daughter it just clicked. I’ve sewn more “proper” and detailed designs for her in the past 2 years than I ever did in school. Guess having kids changed me more than I thought! 😀

    • Justine/ Sew Country Chick says

      So funny we both went to design school. Were did you go?I went to FIDM. Sewing for my kids on the blog really inspired me too!