The Joy of Alterations: A Low Stakes Introduction To Sewing

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My mother bought me a sewing machine as a christmas gift in 2018. I really wanted one; I’d become overwhelmingly frustrated with never finding the clothes I really want to wear in my size so I wanted to learn to make my own. I was filled with the best of intentions, but fast forward to March 2020 and I think I’d gotten the machine out two or three times. It intimidated me! I was scared of how long it was going to take for me to learn how to use it, so conversely I never really tried. Then during my stint in COVID-19 shielding something magical happened: I got the sewing machine out again and vowed to get to grips with it. Turns out there are only so many banana loaves one person can make before they need something a little more challenging.

Although I have a bunch of sewing patterns that I really like, and some material I’ve picked up to make them, that kind of project still felt too advanced when still I didn’t know my bobbins from my backstitch. As an interim measure, I decided to work through the pile of clothes I’d put to one side after my latest wardrobe clear out and put my machine to work on some low stakes alterations as an introduction to sewing.

All the images in this post are taken from my Instagram stories from earlier this year, my apologies for the quality but at least they give you an idea of just how simple my starting point was. Initially I wasn’t doing much more than cutting dresses in half and hemming them, my sewing definitely has a tendency to wander off to one side or another so the challenge was in keeping everything level and straight. Every time I got something wearable from an alteration it felt really special, almost like I’d made the whole thing myself.

Eventually I took things up a gear and began removing sleeves, adding pockets, and then tailoring things so they fit a little better. Through this process I began to notice how the clothes I was working on were constructed; the little tips and tucks that go into making a finished garment reveal themselves when you begin to take them apart. I also noticed how the quality of finish varies wildly from piece to piece, and it’s not always the most expensive clothes that have the superior finish.

One of my favourite early alterations I did as an introduction to sewing has to be the jumpsuit I chopped in half. I loved the garment as a concept, and it really suited me, but it was the most difficult thing to contend with when out and needing the loo. When I altered it into a loose top and culottes I found myself wearing both pieces much more often and it became even more comfortable to wear. When I felt ready for a bigger challenge, I was able to make a skirt that needed a waistband putting in from an old ruffle dress. I was really proud of that, I even wrote about it on here the other month.

Running alterations on some old clothes did wonders for my confidence as a sewist and helped me to find my way around my machine. As an introduction to sewing I don’t think it can be beat. The first time I set it all up and got sewing automatically without looking anything up felt like magic! I was happy to put the work in on clothes that I’d bought and loved in the past but sadly couldn’t wear for one reason or another, and it felt like if I made any mistakes I hadn’t really lost anything. A true case of nothing to lose and everything to gain, as a successful alteration made the garments wearable.

The main takeaway for me was the eco-friendly aspect of it. Firstly it has made me look at things differently when clearing through my wardrobe, if there’s something I’m not wearing my first instinct is to look at why and how I can alter it to suit my purposes better. And secondly it’s surely better all round if I’m using the fabric from or transforming something I have rather than buying something new. If you have been looking to start your sewing journey but don’t know where to start I’d thoroughly recommend grabbing a neglected little number from your wardrobe and getting creative, it helped me tremendously.

Post Signature 2017

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