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dear reader | to the one who is scared to sew

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This time of reassessing my business and blog has been so rejuvenating for me.  I find myself flooded with ideas, anxious to create, bubbling to write…almost to the point of being overwhelmed by it.  It’s like my ideas are little children who keep interrupting one another and I have to tell them to pipe down and wait their turn.  So, I’m making lots of lists and trying to shape them into a plan of action that does involve time to eat and sleep.  I’m working on it.

One of the ideas that keeps surfacing is doing more series on my blog.  Not just individual blog posts, but ones that are strung together by a common topic or tell a story that arcs over several posts.  I have three blog series currently underway – how my business began, the evolution of my house (we’re almost done with that one) and Megan’s office makeover.

And now I’m going to add another one, dear reader.

This series will be open letters to readers with a specific challenge, issue, circumstance.  Whether it’s to someone who’s tired of renting, struggling with contentment or doesn’t know how to use a hammer properly, I want to share my thoughts and speak directly to them.  I’m not going to give answers.  Just my thoughts, opinions, “two cents”, if you will, and hopefully some encouragement.

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Today, I am writing a letter to those who are scared to sew.  This is also for those who “can’t sew” and hate sewing.  I know you’re out there.

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dear reader

I know that sewing has earned a bad reputation with you.  You’re used to tangled threads, crooked lines, fabric that ends up bubbled and pulled.  You’re used to frustration.  You’re used to your creations being a disappointment.

Maybe you’re even afraid to try.  You’re afraid you’re going to mess something up.  The sewing machine that was handed down to you looks foreign and even a little frightening.

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I want you to not worry about the machine for a minute.  Set aside the thought of winding a bobbin and adjusting thread tension.  Let your past frustrations, failures and disasters go.

Instead, let’s look at all of the possibilities that come with knowing how to sew.  The slipcovers, pillows, curtains…

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The things you could transform…

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…and customize.  The mis-matched furniture and accessories that can be made to match.

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Look around your house.  What could you do?  What would you do?

Take a minute to daydream about it.

Are you with me, now?  Do you see the potential and why sewing is a worth-while skill, especially for those who love homemaking?

I know, for some of you, there are still those bad memories or doubts, trying to suck the hope out of the moment.

I know what it’s like to want to chuck a sewing machine out the window.

I have felt the red-faced irritation that comes when something doesn’t turn out as planned or when a seemingly quick project turns into an all day ordeal, because the machine is giving you attitude.

Sometimes I need a minute.  Or a month.  And then, I come back and finish the project.

I don’t sew because I love sewing.  It’s a means to a end.  I want a custom pillow or chair or slipcover and I’m not willing to fork out the money to pay someone else to make them, so I have to step up and give it my best try.

If you really look at my sewing (and I know some of you have), you’ll see that my finished results aren’t perfect.  Sometimes the piping goes awry or things don’t line up the way they should.  And I have decided that I am totally okay with that, because waiting until I’m good enough to sew a perfect slipcover will mean that I will never sew a slipcover.

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So, I want to encourage you to let go of the idea that the result needs to be perfect.

Oh, I how I wish I had a picture of some of the first pillows and curtains I made!  I actually took a cheap valance from Wal-Mart and sewed some new fabric directly over it, so I wouldn’t have to sew a pocket, which seemed intimidating.  I have no idea why I did that, but it made sense to me then.  And my first slipcover?  Oh, goodness.  It was baaa-ad.

And still, after years of sewing and hundreds of projects, most of my finished pieces have a “good side”, wonky places and mistakes.

You know why I’m okay with that?  Perfection isn’t the goal.  Getting something completed that looks great in the overall room is the goal.

Isn’t that an easier goal?

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Remember that sewing is a learned skill.  There may be some people with an affinity for it, but no one is born knowing how to sew.  It’s something they have learned and practiced.  You can, too.  So, I don’t want to hear “I can’t sew” anymore.  You may not want to, you may not be willing, but you can.

Get to know your machine at a time when you’re not working on a project.  I don’t know about you, but when I’m working on a project, I want to finish as soon as possible.  When I get slowed down by “technical difficulties”, that’s when I get bummed out.  And I’m sure I’m not alone in that.  So, take time to learn to thread your sewing machine, get the bobbin wound and working, make sure the needle you’re using is sharp and the right one for the fabric you’re working on and make sure you understand all of the settings, so you don’t end up smocking fabric when you’re just trying to sew a straight line.

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If you’re having trouble, refer to the manual or call the company for support.

And don’t worry if you have a cheap or old sewing machine.  My first sewing machine was older than I was.  I currently have two machines and neither of them are digital or fancy-schmancy.  My light-duty machine was only $150.

Whether you’re just starting or starting over, start on a simple project with straight lines, like making a pillow cover out of a tea towel.  Give yourself success in a little project, so you feel confident to move onto bigger projects.

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In that same vein, work with an inexpensive or free fabric in the beginning.  That way, if you mess up, it’s not a big deal.

If you’re even nervous about starting a specific project, just sew two pieces of fabric together and see how that goes!

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As I said before, it’s about success in the little things.

If you haven’t noticed, I get a little passionate about sewing.  Again, it’s not because I love it, but because, of all of the skills you can learn, there are two that will transform your home on a budget more dramatically than any others – painting and sewing.

I want for you to learn, so you can pick up that free wing chair with a great shape, but ugly fabric.  I want for you to envision a color scheme for a room and be able to make pillows and curtains to perfectly match that vision.  I want you to experience the satisfaction of turning a flat piece of fabric into something that you made!

And if this letter encourages even one person to try sewing or to try it again, then I am a happy blogger.

 If you need some inspiration and instruction, you can scroll through all of my sewing posts HERE.

Sincerely, Marian

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Do you have an idea for a “dear reader” topic?  If so, just leave a comment or send me an e-mail ([email protected]).

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Comments

  1. I am longing to know how to find good real antique pieces for my house like little tables and bookshelves. I can find chests all day long, but not good accent tables. They all look cheesy, even were I to paint them. Thoughts? Where do you find yours?

  2. What a timely post! I grew up with a mom and aunt who both loved to sew. I can remember many a weekend spent camped out with my cousins with popcorn and movies while our moms sewed into the wee hours. Everything from clothes to crafts to upholstering. I have said many a time oh how I wish I had paid attention and had the patience to learn. I recall early on in my marriage when my husband had to sew a button on for me! My daughter is 10. Two years ago she sewed and stuffed a pillow all by herself! She has sewn holes in her stuffed animals- she decided she wanted to learn and she just did it! For her last birthday we got her a sewing machine. My mom, who is 79 now, has been spending a day a week giving sewing ” lessons”. My daughter has learned how to thread the machine, wind the bobbin, and today she made a little pillow set all on her own! She was so proud of herself. I’m sitting in on the next lesson- I see a new shower curtain in my future!!
    Thank you for all the inspiration Marian. I’m a long time reader. I love your blog, really have enjoyed your new series- no complaints of the old ones !

  3. Marian, I loved this post! I have been sewing for over 25 years and LOVE it! But I can still remember when I didn’t know how to sew and how intimidating it was.

    My recommendation to anyone wanting to learn to sew is to start with an easy pattern. Keep in mind as you choose a pattern that the fewer pieces the easier the project. Or, take a class from a vocational school or JoAnn Fabrics. One class will give you the courage to try more and more difficult projects.

    I would love to hear a post on the computer promoting of blogging. Not how you got started, but how to promote your works. Like, how to instagram, tweek, etc. I mean, what is the deal with the hashtags, etc…?

  4. Maaike says:

    What a great post!!! I love sewing, and I completely agree – sewing and painting are two skills that are never wasted!!! I can’t wait to see what your next series will be, I’ve been so enjoying the current ones!!
    And for another “dear reader” post; how about a similar pep talk for those of us who are scared of ruining our freshly (milk) painted furniture with botched hand drawn birds, leaves, etc.? I love what you do (that dresser with the tree on it!!!), but feel NO confidence that I can emulate you.

  5. Marian, did you know that my machine, forlorn and dusty in the attic almost caused me to break leg the other day? Poor thing is begging to be used.
    I need to give it another try. It’s not my favorite and I am ashamed because my grandma was a seamstress and my mom is great at sewing and needlecraft but I got a 65 in middle school sewing class

  6. Natalie says:

    Please teach us what to use, and how to best clean soiled/dirt caked, or rusty antique and vintage pieces we buy/acquire. I have a rusty vintage aqua kitchen scale and a red painted wooden child’s chair I need to know how to clean.

  7. This was an encouraging post. I’ve wanted to learn how to sew as I got older, but just the thought intimidated me. I get an anxiety attack trying to sew a button on! I would break out into a sweat if I had to hem something! Does JoAnns Fabrics really give beginner sewing lessons?m

  8. Love your “how your business began” series, very informative and encouraging. You had mentioned before that Jeff might do a few posts on tools. I would love to learn about the Kregg jig, and routers. I’m already proficient with all of the other basic power tools.

  9. Barbara Bussey says:

    Great post…great ideas. Yes, the time to learn your machine, is not when you have to make a dead-line, or pick the kids up from school in an hour. Give it time and a chance to breath. For one week, turn the dining room table into a work room, to experiment in. Have I learned how to do piping, upholstery, quilting? No, but one thing I do know, is that it can’t be rushed by a dead-line.

  10. Thank you for this post Marian!! I have been scared to sew for years and years. I have a love seat I bought material for in hopes to make a slip cover for it. I bought a sewing machine years ago and have never used it because I can’t figure it out, lol. You should be a happy blogger because you have encouraged me to do something, I am going to enroll in a beginners class some where and sew my slipcover, yay! Thank you, thank you and thank you.

  11. I love this post! I desperately want to get back into sewing, all the pillows, curtains, table runners are calling my name! Can you recommend a basic, dependable machine that can do zippers and maybe buttonholes?

  12. Marian,
    You had already inspired me before this post. I have a chair that I have been wanting to redo but I was intimidated about sewing a new cushion cover for it. The chair has sat waiting for a year now. I recently inquired about having someone just make the cushion for me and me do the rest but I didn’t want to pay $75.00 for 1 stinking cushion. Finally after reading through your blog and hearing how you just started making those things I found the courage to just throw cation to the wind and do it myself. I am happy to say that I DID IT! I finished the cushion last night and will be working on the rest of the chair over the next few days. I will let you know when it’s done. :) Thanks for the inspiration and sharing your beautiful home with us.

  13. Hi Marian,

    Great post! And yes, I completely agree… I’ve had times I’ve been SOO frustrated with my machine… My $50 walmart machine and I weren’t on speaking terms after sewing an upholstery fabric cushion, it’s a little wonky, but hey, it’s okay!

    Quick question, can you share the source for the blue floral pillow fabric on your couch?

    Thanks!

  14. Antonella says:

    Thanks for the new series: I’d like to suggest the topic of how to clean older things (how to wash textiles, how to remove “crud” from metal, wood etc).

    Hope this interests other people as well :-)

  15. Marianne

    This is a great new series! I love your content lately, it feels much more you and helpful and real :)

    Thanks for sharing! As I am a sewing hater and really should practice and get back into it for my future kids & career enevours

    Lauren Baxter | Lovely Decor
    xx

  16. I looked like a bobble head while reading this because I couldn’t agree more! I also don’t love sewing (or painting) but I do love how both transform my home. I make a lot of drapes and pillows, and normally when people come to visit our house for the first time, those are the things they complement is on. Thanks for this nudge, and it makes me feel good that I’m not the only one who wants to chuck her machine out the window sometimes.

  17. Debbie says:

    What a great post! I, in the last year, have gotten back into sewing. I made most of my clothes in high school, even a prom dress. I’d add details like covered buttons which I had embroidered! Very creative…..Life intervened and I put my machine aside. One day I looked at some clothing and realized, “Good grief, I can make that for just about nothing!”. Pulling out the machine, I happily started making my skirt….as my two youngest kids bounced around the room and on the bed. My skirt went together beautifully and I excitedly tried it on to mark the place for the buttonhole! Looking at myself in the mirror, I put my hands in the in-seam pockets….backwards….yep, I’d excitedly pinned the pockets in backwards, sewn them in backwards, sewn the waistband on top of the pockets that were….backwards…..I calmly took off the skirt, rolled it up, and put it in a sack. The next time I donated to GoodWill, it was in that pile. Twenty-five years have passed, with only small projects and repairs being done. Kids are grown, I’m retired….and I’m gonna get back at it. You’re my inspiration!

    • marian says:

      Funny, but only 25 years later! I actually helped “mini mustard seed”, if you remember her, with making a dress. She brought a pattern and fabric to me and asked for help, since I “know what I’m doing.” I warned her that I really didn’t, because I hadn’t used a pattern to make anything since I was 11 years old (a halloween costume with my mom.)

      We pinned and cut out the fabric and I was feeling pretty good about the whole thing, but then I realized that we didn’t have anywhere near enough pieces cut out to make an entire dress. And I was right. I didn’t “book” the fabric, so we had enough to only make half a dress! And I ruined her fabric, since it was already cut in little pieces.

      So, I hear you, Debbie! :)

  18. Krista says:

    This series is a fantastic idea and I loved this post!! Thank you! I do have a suggestion for the “Dear Reader” series, “What are you afraid of?” What I mean by this is I have ideas, plans, goals for my own business/craft projects but I always put them off. I’m too busy with house cleaning, gardening, and kids to just do my own thing. So I never ‘do my own thing’. And I wonder why. Why can’t I just make time for me to do what I want to do? Certain things can wait so why don’t I try? I think I’m just afraid to do it. How did you do it? How were you able to justify time on what you wanted to do when you first started out? Do you know what I mean?

  19. Oh man, you totally nailed it for me, and i’m sure a lot of others out there who are intimidated by their sewing machine. I have one, but have only used it once or twice. I may take another look at it with a different eye now, because there is this fabric i really want made into a pillow!

    Cindy

  20. Martha says:

    Thank you for this. Great post. My mother was a good seamstress & my sister nearly an expert but I’ve always disliked sewing. I am, however, a fabricholic & get a thrill out of finding a beautiful piece & envisioning how it will look in my home. I’ve bitten the bullet & forced myself to embrace my. 50 year old hand-me-down Singer & am now proud to say that every window treatment in my home was made by me, as well as most of the pillows & a few slipcovers. It’s always great to hear that others have struggled & don’t always wind up with a perfect finished product! As always, you are the soul of encouragement!

  21. No matter how many times I have tried, sewing and card games just don’t fit into my brain. I desperately would like to learn to sew (I ask my mom all the time why she didn’t teach me when I was a kid!), but all of my previous efforts have been utter, total disasters. Maybe, just maybe though I will give it a try again :) Thanks for the encouragement. As for card games, that is probably a lost cause. I will never be able to play spades.

  22. peggy smith says:

    What an interesting post. it seems there are so few that can sew anymore. I used to sew all the time. I enjoyed and it was proud of many things I made. I made sure that I taught both of my daughters to sew. But neither sew now that they are grown. One simply doesn’t have time and I think the other one sees it as something I did because we couldn’t afford to buy the things I made. What she missed was that sewing was my creative outlet. The only other thing I would like to add is about the machine. Yes, use what you have but if you enjoy sewing but hate the fight you have with your machine start saving your pennies. The machine can make all the difference in the world. A few years back my niece wanted a machine. Her mom bought her one at a chain store when they were on sale. My sister bought their top of the line but that thing was a piece of junk. Anyone that tried to use that thing would have given up on sewing FOREVER…and felt like a failure!!!!!! A quality machine is worth every dime and will last forever.

  23. I was taught to sew by a neighbor when I was 9 or 10 years old. Over the years, I sewed several dresses, and one of my prom dresses. And then, like others, for a quite while I never sewed. But now I have a machine, and lots of projects on my schedule. I LOVE to sew; I call it my zen. The step-by-step process soothes and calms me. And then, of course, I have results with runners, pillow covers and curtains. So, thank you for the rallying cry to sit down and sew – ! By the way,a does anyone have any fabric websites to recommend?

  24. Denice says:

    I asked my mom for her sewing machine that is practically brand new (unused) so I could learn how to sew. I hate to admit that it’s been sitting in my office floor – staring at me – daring me to give it a try – for weeks. I have actually been afraid…of a sewing machine…that I have control over! It’s silly, really, but the fear is real that I won’t be able to do it AND that the frustration will leave me in a puddle of tears along with the confirmation that the fears were well-founded. This letter is just what I needed. Thank you so much for the encouragement and gentle kick in the pants to just. do. it.

  25. Michelle says:

    OMG You are the best! This is just what I needed to get going.
    – ( terrified DIYer)

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