Friday, October 30, 2015

Learning Blog 5: I made animals!

Okay, so maybe I didn't make them...  my mom had already precut all the pieces, so she did all the hard work.  But I sewed the pieces together!!!  All by myself!  :)

Soulless sewed animals...they still need their stuffing.  
This was great practice.  Three weeks ago when my sister was showing me how to use the basics of my machine, she knew me well enough to tell me not to rush it.  If I make a bad stitch, go back and undo it, redo it, and then move on instead of saying "good enough' and regretting later.  While still not an expert, she knew me enough to address one of my biggest weaknesses,  a lack of patience, before I got myself in a tangle.  I kept hearing her voice while I worked on these, and several times I found bad stitches I needed to pull out and redo.  I'm grateful: I only needed two minutes to take out and redo bad stitches, and hopefully these little critters will last for quite a few years!

I was also glad for the practice to just sew.  I'm getting more used to how much pressure the foot pedal requires, and how fast it will respond.  And I found myself getting into the flow!  After feeling tense the past couple weeks, it was wonderful to settle into the "mode" of following the seam lines and hearing the machine hum.  A wonderful change from the snagged messes and tension problems I was dealing with before!

However, I've still felt very novice in our I feed the fabric into the machine.  I've seen others sew, and they seem to be able to just guide the fabric in circles to get the needle where they want it to go.  For the critters, I was stopping to pull up the foot every time I needed to change the direction of the needle.  Any tips?

I'm also practicing testing the stretch of fabric, and even printed off a couple patterns to start trying to make sense of them.  While I liked math in school, I have always struggled making sense of drawn diagrams showing how to construct things (unless it's a landscape-those I understand).  With patterns, it's still a struggle to understand how to lay them out on a bias.  I'm also finding what kinds of patterns are easiest to read: ones with a drawing of what the finished piece looks like, a list of needed items, a brief summary of how to put it together, and then the pieces.  Some patterns seem to be written by experts with little teaching experience: they draw the pieces on paper without any sort of description and expect that one can figure out how to put them together.  I'm sure other experts could, but for now I'm grateful for very detailed instructions.  And for DIY bloggers who document nearly every step with photos and written descriptions.  :)

I realized another mental barrier I have with sewing is that I feel like I need to know EVERY detail before starting a project, and I want it to be perfect.  Looking at blogs of professional seamstresses, I was starting to feel very tense.  But once I found a carefree blogger who had stitched a top piece out of scraps of fabric, I felt liberated.  I need to keep reminding myself that I can learn and grow bit by bit, and I will have small successes which build on each other as I keep pushing myself to do more.  

Friday, October 23, 2015

Learning Blog 4: Expert help and increased confidence

This week my mother in law Shannon was able to help me.  I'm so grateful for her expertise!  She has years of sewing experience, and was able to teach me what I hadn't understood from reading.  She also reminded me of a quote in our book that talked about how just because someone is expert in an area doesnt mean that they know how to teach well.  Shannon was able to connect with me on my level, and could remember what tricks I needed to know to overcome common beginners/novice mistakes.

First, we worked through the tension problems I experienced last week.  Flipping the bobbin around opposite to normal bobbin positioning solved the bunching thread problem!  The tension worked perfectly, and we were able to experiment with different thread patterns.  She taught me about the different stitch lengths (4 for basting, between 3-3.5 for regular stitches, and 3.75 for top/decorative stitching).  We figured out the different stitch types, and she showed me how to use the button hole stitches (alternating between a "bar tack"/side-to-side stick and two other steps).  I also showed her three of my favorite skirts/dresses, and she showed me which stitching options on my machine sewed the different seams/hems on my clothes.

I'd also been confused about reading about the grain of fabric.  All woven fabric have orientation of the threads which affect how they hang on the body when sewn into garments.  The selvedge (edge of the garment that was last on the loom) is parallel to the straight grain which has the least amount of stretch in a fabric.  The cross grain runs perpendicular to the straight grain and has a little bit more stretch.  And two bias grains run at 45 degree angles from the straight and cross grains.  I've heard about the bias before, with ladies explaining the importance of them in making skirts when I was younger, but I never knew how to tell how to find it.  Shannon explained that the bias grains are the stretchiest parts of the fabric, and showed me how to pull a fabric in different directions to help me determine which grain I was following.  If a flimsy fabric is cut along the bias, it can look shapeless when worn on the body.  But if a stiff fabric is cut along a bias when making a garment such as a round skirt, the bias helps create the openness of the piece.

This time with Shannon was invaluable.   Besides showing me how to determine the grains of fabrics, she taught me in which situations they could be used.  Associating the application of the information has helped me to remember it with less effort.  She also helped me identify some of the miscellaneous parts that came with my machine (I have a button holer and zipper foot!), and taught me that I can use regular sidewalk chalk to mark fabric for cutting.

She also showed me the different needles my machine came with.  Thicker needles are good for quilts and jeans, size 12 needles work for almost anything, and size 10 works for stretchy fabric and delicates because the needles are thin.  Long narrow spools of thread tend to be higher quality than the short squat spools, and almost anything can be sewn using just white, black, or grey thread.  Finally, if thread is bunching underneath the fabric and the bobbin's orientation is not the problem, I probably have a dull needle and need to change it.

I feel a lot more confident this week.  I'm learning more of basic facts of what tools work best in different situations and needs.  Our book said that we feel more motivated and learn more by success rather than failures--I feel excited to start sewing more, and to use our own machine.  I look forward to what the next week will bring!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Learning Blog 3: setbacks and progress

I’m super excited: I was able to turn the skirt I ripped apart last week and remake it into a blouse-thing.  It’s the first “clothing” I’ve ever sewn without a teacher!  What was really exciting was that because I didn’t have a pattern, I had to put it on and pin it how I needed it to fit.  The blouse is super simple, nothing fancy.  But what I’m most proud of is that I had to pin and sew a set of darts: folding the fabric into mini triangles so that it fit better rather than just hanging on me.  I’ll never wear it in public, but I’m excited to wear it around the house and feel proud that “I did it!”. 

The frustrating part of learning to sew this week was learning how to use the tension on my sewing machine.  The model I have is old enough that the tension needs to be manually adjusted, rather than the new models which automatically adjust.  I found a great website which has three different graphics demonstrating how to understand tension functions, rather than say “if your thread looks like this, do this to solve the problem.”  This reminded me of our reading this week.  Experts first seek to develop an understanding of problems, while novices search for correct formulas (pg 49).  Most sewing materials create cheat sheets for problems, but the website I read actually explained what causes tension and why loosening or tightening the thread helps solve the problem. 

However, I really felt the pressure of doing everything on my own this week.  While I was able to adjust the tension, and I could see how gradually loosening the tension slowly made the bottom thread go back to where it needed to be, I couldn’t solve the problem completely.  I took the tension as low as it could go, but I still had bottom thread popping up.  The thread also consistently bunched up and strangled underneath the fabric—and I’m not sure if that is a matter of tension or something else.  I did start developing a system to check if the needle was threaded completely.  I’m hoping my mother-in-law can look at the machine this weekend and help me understand if it needs oiling.  I finally just switched to a basic sewing machine a neighbor let me borrow, and finished the project in 15 minutes.  That was a relief!

When I first started this project I had goals to learn about different kinds of stitches, fabric, and the parts of the machine and what they were used for.  This was a very novice-based approach.  As I learn more about “real life” sewing, I’m learning it’s more useful to focus on not just function, but HOW parts achieve their function.  I think with my pfaff I’m going to need to be more aware of how parts work so that I can trouble shoot problems and fix them on the spot.  This is definitely more time consuming that being able to just sit and sew (like on my neighbor’s machine), but I think it will pay off in the long run.  And probably save on service repair costs too. 

Friday, October 9, 2015

Learning Blog 2: Getting more and more excited :)

This week has been fun.  I went through my mom's material scraps and found the types and colors of fabric that I love to wear!  She also showed me the pre-cut-and-ready-to-sew fabric for TWO baby blankets!!!  Both share an adorable baby bear pattern, but one has a light blue backing and the other a light pink.  They share the one-piece "tied" style that mimics the baby blanket I loved to shreds.  This changed my plans in a good way.  Instead of making a piece baby blanket, I'm going to stuff and tie both the blankets, and begin making a big jean pieced blanket.  Mom also gave me a mini Noah's Arc sewing kit, with the ship and animals already cut out, just needing to be sewn and stuffed.  I've excited-I feel like the children's blankets set and the baby blankets will be easily accomplished this semester, and I'll even be able to start on the jean blanket.  

Along with these projects, this week I used my seam ripper to take apart a skirt I never use to repurpose the material for a new skirt.  I'm excited to be learning the names of different widgets.  One of the most helpful moments I had was just spending time in the sewing isle of the craft store looking at the names of the packaged materials.  I was able to sew the new plastic versions of antique tools in one of my sewing books (such as a pattern tracer).  And I was grateful I could get advice from one of the sales associates.  I found a "self healing" mat and rolling cutter, which she told me would help make cutting all the jean squares much faster than fabric scissors.  I was happy that my husband also affirmed that when he got home (admittedly, it took me aback that my husband knew more about that particular element of sewing than me.  I've viewed sewing as female oriented, and my husband prides himself on being a very manly man.  At least he proved he has paid attention to all the projects done by his mom and sisters).

Along with learning about the different types of blanket patterns (tied versus pieced), I also listened to several sewing podcasts.  I'd heard about podcasts, but these are the first I've actually tried, and it was nice being able to hear a person describing the tips and tricks they've learned over the years.  In one of them, she talked about how important a good iron is, and how effective different types are.  

I loved this week's readings on motivation. One of the biggest ah-has was learning that people view themselves as having either a stable capacity for skill or learning that doesnt really change, or the progressive view as seeing themselves as able to learn incrementally more and more.  Sometimes, I understate my self-efficacy at projects when I compare myself to others who I perceive as more skilled.  I think at times I've compared myself to others in a "I cant learn more about this subject.  They are just more naturally skilled then I am" mindset.  But in reality, I have the ability to learn bit by bit, and improve, until I am skilled.  But this depends on my personal effort instead of accrediting failures to lack of skill.  I loved the mention of the Bronte siblings, who started out as lackluster authors, but who over the years with consistent practice and refinement and open critiques, became highly regarded and skillfull.  My father has pointed out that I do have a tendency for starting so many projects that I leave a lot unfinished.  And I definitely have some subjects that I do want to master and become an authority in.  This reading helped me recognize that I can become skilled, but that I must be willing to focus, exert intelligent effort, and seek constructive feedback.  I look forward to what the next few weeks, and lifetime afterwards, brings!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Learning Blog 1: SEWING MACHINE!!!!

Kindergarten and First Day Back to School 20 Years Later!!! :D 
I've wiped the dust off my keyboard and have returned to blogging!  A lot has happened since February: I started a new full time job, and after a year of just working, now I've been able to start taking two graduate courses again!  WOOT!!!