See this dress? Does it look easy to sew/make?
Every day in the shop a few people walk in and ask about sewing lessons. We get phone calls every day asking the same. I always like to get to know them, what their goals are, whether or not they have a sewing machine and we talk about their experience with mother, grandmother or aunts who may have sewn. Most students enjoy the conversation and can’t wait to dive into sewing. They realize that learning to sew is a process that takes time.
About once or twice a month someone walks in and asks to learn to sew because they have one thing they want to make. And they want to make it by next week. And all they have is a photo on their cell phone. This ambitious project is usually (but not always) something made from lycra and lace and very stretchy. Definitely not something a beginner will tackle in their first lesson.
When I tell these ambitious potential students about the learning curve involved in sewing, that they must learn how a sewing machine operates, how to thread it, and how to sew a straight line before they make their first item – a simple project like a pillow or tote bag – some decide they do not have the patience for all that. Some become intrigued and decide to undertake a series of classes regardless of the time it takes to learn. Sewing is not for everyone.
Five Things You Need to Know if You Want to Learn to Sew:
1. Take sewing classes. Sewing may or may not be something you enjoy. Start simple, and if you enjoy the process think about buying a machine.
2. Do not rush to buy a machine. I know several people who decided they were going to learn to sew and bought a machine that just sits in their closet. They did not enjoy sewing as much as they had hoped. Before you purchase a sewing machine, ask your friends that sew what type machine they use. Test out different brands of machines when you take lessons. Choose a machine that you are comfortable using. Never order a machine online unless you are familiar with the brand name and model and have some experience with that type machine. You may luck out and find one for sale on Craigslist or an estate sale. The more you know about how a machine operates and how to use it the more qualified you are to purchase your machine.
3. Gather the proper and necessary tools and have a box or tote to store them all in. Basic supplies can be purchased at reasonable prices. What do you need? Good shears in two or three sizes; thread in various colors; seam ripper; measuring tape; seam gauge or small ruler; iron and ironing board; straight pins; disappearing or erasable fabric marking pen/pencils; safety pins; sewing clips; thimble; hand-sewing needles; pincushion. There are many other supplies to consider later on.
4. Learn to do basic hand-sewing. Sewing on buttons, hemming a skirt, mending a pair of pants – all this will build your hand-sewing skills. All machine sewing involves hand-sewing in the finish work. YouTube has wonderful tutorials in just about any area of sewing.
5. Go easy on yourself. Take your time in learning to read and understand a pattern. Choose patterns for beginners or purchase a beginner sewing book that includes patterns.
Sewing is mostly a solitary process, but it doesn’t have to be. To really enjoy sewing, find a sewing community where you can learn tips and tricks of long-time sewists and quilters. Sewists love to gather and share projects and ideas. Sew social!
Call our shop if you’re ready!
Lemons still on our tree
The best thing about New Orleans is that everything grows. The worst thing about New Orleans is that everything grows. Given time, a tiny cat’s claw vine will take over anything in it’s way. It will even invade an attic if there is a crack in a window. It will grow underneath siding and emerge through a hundred-year-old wooden shutter, clinging to rusty hinges and reaching towards the sunlight.
Every year Robert makes preserved (salted) lemons. He squeezes the lemons, cuts them up, adds Kosher salt and seals this up in jars. After about ten days or so, the lemon juice becomes syrupy and the lemons become soft enough to mash. The juice has a distinctive rich lemony taste that adds deep flavor to anything – guacamole, soup, salads. We have several citrus trees in our yard. Our semi-tropical climate is conducive to thousands of plant species. Many we don’t want. Many we do. Our grapefruit tree has its first 3 fruits that we are waiting to pick, as soon as the green disappears.
Grapefruit, almost ready
There is an old storage shed in our backyard made from the original slabs of bargeboard in the walls of our house. Beside the shed grow invasive elephant ears and Mexican petunias. We dig them up month after month and they keep coming back. On the walls of this shed, the cat’s claw vine creeps up. At one time it covered the roof but we hired someone to pull it all down and dispose of it. But it comes back. Always. In dry climates I hear that the plant is propagated because it is drought tolerant and has pretty yellow flowers. Well, yes, it does. But it grows maybe a half-foot per day here in NOLA.
So how do we co-exist with things that grow and are valued elsewhere, but are hated here in our own back yard? I think of the cat’s claw vine like I do my husband’s cancer cells.
Cat’s claw vine trying to take over our backyard shed
We tolerate them, but we try to live as if they are not there. We try to do what we can to eliminate them, and we hope what we do is good for us and for the “good” plants (and “good” cells). All we can do is try to keep these things under control so they do not smother out the good things in life.
We enjoy our fruits, and keep planting good things – like more orange trees, more herbs and veggies – the “good stuff”. Maybe the good stuff will outgrow the bad. We can only do what we can. We can only hope.
That’s what this Christmas season brings to me. Hope. Hope in the future. Hope in good health, good energy, good friends and
Cat’s claw vine growing through our neighbor’s historic shutters. There’s no apparent origin – unless the vine is growing under the siding.
Posted in New Orleans, Uncategorized
Tagged cancer, cat's claw vine, Christmas, gardening, gratitude, health, home, lemons, New Orleans, preserved lemons
Every year this happens. We celebrate a nice Thanksgiving with family; I think how close to the end of the year we are again, and our neighbors put up their Christmas decorations. About two weeks later I look up and realize Christmas is only 2 weeks away.
I should remember that after Thanksgiving it’s a downhill slide to Christmas. Every year, Emma. Every year. Our house is not decked out for the holidays. No tree. No lights. We look like grinches. When you have a retail store, that’s where the excitement happens: Christmas handmades, classes, cheerful customers, bright and happy children. I’m busy making things to sell and to give. Too suddenly time passes and all this busy-ness will slow.
One thing Robert and I love to do in the days before Christmas is attend the concerts at St. Louis Cathedral. This year we have several such events on our calendar. As long as the temps are not bitter cold and there’s no rain we intend to go. The Luna Fete is another draw for us. Gotta see those lights, just in driving down St. Charles.
And if we have the time and assistance we may be able to retrieve our holiday decorations from the attic. And we may even put them up before Christmas. This may be the year. This may be the year! I’ll keep you posted.
How do you find time to decorate and make?
Mary Ann Pettway
The long leaf pines swayed in the mountain breeze. The atmosphere inside electric with color, song and humming sewing machines. This past week I attended a 4-day Gee’s Bend Quilting retreat in the beautiful rolling hills of northern Alabama. We were in the midst of two inspiring Gee’s Bend quilters: Mary Ann Pettway and China Pettway.
The Pettways have an interesting way of teaching. Demonstrating, then observing. Showing, then praising. They loved us through the process until we “got it”. The quilting itself was not the Big Thing. The Big Thing was the small voice inside that spoke through our hands as we worked. From time to time the Pettways would break into song – sounds of praise so deep, the voices of the two women reverberated in that room so that anyone would have thought there was a choir of twenty.
Basil ready to slice his strips into angles
There were fifteen quilters. Basil, the only male quilter there, is an art quilter from St. Louis. Arleen brought her Gee’s Bend Quilts book for the ladies to sign. She worked quietly in the corner and produced gorgeous angles in her blocks – obvious that she had studied the style prior to the workshop. Others struggled to let go of all they had learned about quilting to learn a new way of sewing tiny pieces of fabrics together.
“Yes, you’ve got it! You’re quilting the Gee’s Bend way.”
When one of us heard that, we knew we finally understood that we were slicing and dicing our way into a new way of quilting. On the 2nd day, I finally got it. Allow the Spirit to take over in your sewing! Sew with your soul instead of what the world says you should do. Forget about straight lines. Forget about patterns. Forget about bringing a preconceived notion of what you will make. Let the quilt develop into what it wants to be.
“You’ve got it.”
“That’s where the art is,” China Pettway says.
What have you learned to do in a new way? When have you realized that they way you have always done something may not the only way, the best way?
I’m sending out a huge Thank You to the Gee’s Bend Quilters and the Alabama Folk School at Camp McDowell!
a few quilts the Pettways brought with them
A couple of months ago, my husband R. was diagnosed with Metastatic Carcinoma of Unknown Primary. At first we are numb. Walking around staring at each other, trying not to get teary-eyed, but doing it anyway. Now, a few weeks down the road on this new journey, we’ve moved into another phase. Not acceptance. It’s something else for me. R. has an “attitude of gratitude”, and I’m into some other twilight zone of feeling I have not quite owned up to. I’m dealing with this new circumstance as I deal with most others.
I’m making things, keeping my hands moving. Yes, I’m escaping in a sense. Sometimes escape and denial is necessary to get you through. I’m making tiny houses. What is a house but a place where a soul resides. Little doorways. When I’m stitching, I do not have to think so much about the fact that my husband will gradually disappear from this life. But all these thoughts jump back into my stitches. I pray for him to not have pain. I try not to think about how lonely I will be in the future in this house.
I try not to think a whole lot about what I’m doing and my mind can wander off down the endless avenues of my brain. Every stitch a prayer. Going down one way I think of the beauty of the fall season here in New Orleans, which is the cooler temps. Then my thoughts take off another way and wonder about that hurricane that is forming and heading our way.
But with each stitch, each pull of this deep purple thread tightening that little doorway, I am thinking of what these cancer cells are doing to my husband day by day. And that I can do nothing to stop them, nothing to stitch those cancer cells up in a little box and burn them – and my scissors cannot cut off their threads of multiplication. It’s going to be a long journey. Over time, about twenty minutes into my little house, my brain settles into the rhythm of my stitching, and I am once again in a meditation zone. I’m not in charge. And every stitch is a prayer.
Posted in cancer, creativity, depression, healing, life-writing, memoir, Uncategorized
Tagged cancer, creativity, family, gratitude, hand-stitching, New Orleans, sewing
There’s something I love about hand stitching. Actually several things.
- The stitcher must slow down and focus on the work at hand.
- There are choices to be made (threads, colors, designs), or not – free your mind and choose intuitively and quickly, with no plan.
- The mind opens to dimensional possibility (beads, buttons, tassels)
- Stitches, colors, shapes bring memories of past projects, events and people
- Thoughts and feelings, sometimes about others, are incorporated into the stitches
When I stitch I do not always plan the colors or stitches. I like to see what develops as I go along. I add dimension as I stitch, and use a variety of stitch styles and a variety of cords and threads. Today, I used wool felt squares and DMC #8 cotton embroidery thread – my fave. These are what I call Prayer Flags. I know, there are prayer flag traditions all over the world. And each style is unique. Mine are a little unorthodox and wonky, but meaningful to me. I stitch tiny pockets on the back and write names of people, events and such on small papers and tuck those into the pockets as prayers. As I complete each set of 5, they represent time spent in conversation with the creator of the universe, and a time spent not thinking about myself.
As I stitch each ‘flag’, I may go back and forth between them until I’m satisfied that the square holds all the stitches (prayers) it can hold.
The chaos of every day. How do I focus on each one? Do we need to? should I prioritize?
And then there are the storms. Do I cause the storms? Am I in the middle? the sidelines? Am I being injured by the swirling winds? Can I escape? Where can I hide?
Roots run deep. What you see is only the tip of the iceberg. Patience is the gift of the gardener. Nurture the place where you are. Can I really do that?
Do I struggle to open the door to something different? Why is the door closed? What is hiding there?. Is it locked? Perhaps it’s the wrong door.
Am I in a precarious place? Should I run away? Or should I stay? There is comfort in a safe secure place. Remember, the ship that never leaves the dock does not experience adventure. Fly. Fly Away.
When do you find time to think of others – of their pain, their needs? How do those thoughts manifest in your life?
Posted in creativity, embroidery, Hand sewing, Uncategorized
Tagged dimensional embroidery, DMCembroiderythread, embroidery, hand sewing, hand-stitching, intuitive stitching, prayer, prayer flags