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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sewing 101: Thread, needles and scissors

This is Sewing 101, a sewing class for beginners.

This marks the beginning of a series of how-to guides for those wishing to be a bit more self reliant. Why I'm doing this is a long story which I'll state thus: It seems to me that I did not do a great job being a mother--a mother who teaches her kids what they need to know in order to be self reliant. I'll fix that here and now, starting with a sewing lesson. If you follow my Thursday posts over at Self Reliance Works you'll be familiar already with some of my lessons in frugal needle crafts. This is just a continuation of that.

This is mostly directed at my own kids, but if any of you could use a re-fresher or simply never learned this sort of thing from your own mother or grandmother-- I'm dismayed to say I know quite a few people who fall into this category-- then by all means do stick around and learn. It most certainly won't kill you to know this and it may actually come in handy.

You may even want to pass this along to your college-bound kids or grandkids and/or those almost-grown-up kids who insist they are ready to "seek their fortune" --Tyler comes to mind here--without help from anyone just like the three little pigs.We all know what happened to them, don't we?


You'll need sharp needles, thread and sharp scissors. At any quilting shop, notions section of a department store, a fabric store like Joanne's fabrics (Gosh, I hope there are some of those still around! Not quite sure) or a craft store like Michael's, you should be able to find all you need.

Ordinarily, the thread color should match as closely as possible to the fabric to be sewn. That might make you think you need threads in a rainbow of colors, but this is not really the case. You can get by with just a few basic colors, those being: Black, navy blue, white and tan.

In most cases, whatever mending you have to do, those colors will suffice. Because I know I have much more colorful clothing in my closet than perhaps the average person, I expand my thread selection to include, red, pink, green, gray and yellow. With these colors always on hand, I never have to worry about having thread to match just about anything which needs repair.

For practice--yes, I expect you to practice this until you know what you're doing!--thread color doesn't matter, but we should talk about the thread itself. As is the case with most things, not all thread is created equal. There's the cheap, crappy thread you get at the dollar store three-four spools of thin polyester for a buck and at the extreme other end is the high priced and high quality cotton thread which can run you $3-4 for a stool of 300 yards and then there's some good quality type somewhere between the two.

The cheap stuff is barely worth the price. Yes, the quality is that poor. It practically dissolves after a few washings and it often breaks while you're sewing. Unless it's to be used on a project which isn't meant to last, it's just not good enough. All it's good for is to use as a practice thread for teaching beginning sewers.

At the extreme other end is the rather pricey cotton quilting thread. This stuff is great. It's thicker than most thread, is super strong and usually has a glossy feel to it so it glides right through several layers of quilting material. If you're making a quilt , especially when done entirely by hand, and you wish it to last forever, use the good stuff.

For every day mending, the thread which falls somewhere between the two is fine to use. I buy mine in large cones at Walmart. They are about $2-3 for 6000 yards of relatively strong, medium weight thread. I love these cones! They last FOREVER! You see the navy blue cone just below? I've had that one for more than 4 years and three quilts and a heck of a lot of mending later, it's still not half done. I'll have great-grandchildren before I'm done with these.

So much for thread...onto the needle. Needles come in sharp and blunt point. Get the sharp ones. They come in regular sewing, machine and quilting needles. Obviously, you won't need machine needles as we're doing hand sewing, but regular verses quilting needles? That would be up to the individual to see which is more comfortable and practical to use. I would start with regular needles first just because they are a bit more thick and possibly easier to use when you're not used to sewing.

When I first tried quilting needles I thought they were too delicate but I found I got used to them very quickly and now, the regular needles feel a bit too bulky and stiff. You can never tell until you try them for yourself. Once you get the hang of sewing using the regular needles, the quilting needles may be a better fit for you--or they may not. You'd have to see for yourself.
The three colors I use most often, black, navy blue and white
Now the scissors. For sewing you must have scissors strictly and only used for sewing. Why? Because scissors used for paper, cardboard and other craft materials will dull quickly. You want your sewing scissors very sharp. You want then to be able to snip tiny threads and cut through fabric with ease.

So, run along and get your supplies Thread, needles, and scissors and while you're at it search your closet for a ripped seam. Next time I'll show you how to fix it.

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