Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Sew Much Fun!

When I was about 8 years old I was taught to use a basic sewing machine by the craft teacher at school. The sewing machines were old and heavy – I’m sure you know the sort – black and gold with a foot pedal and a wheel to one side - not an electric plug in sight! To build up a good stitching speed we had to pedal as fast as we could. So busy was I (pedalling like mad) that the outcome of the stitching on my fabric was always a total disaster, with uneven stitching, loops of thread at the back of the work and (in the dim recesses of my brain) I seem to remember an incident where I managed to sew my school tie to my work and had to be cut free! Using a sewing machine was a messy – and sweaty – affair; needless to say sewing machines and I never really hit it off!
Over the past couple of years we have seen a dramatic rise in the number of people taking up the art of sewing and all things crafty. Rowan have been busy building a stunning fabric collection and now have a huge diversity of prints and plain fabrics on offer, including designs by Amy Butler, Kaffe Fassett and Heather Bailey. The Rowan team have created a range of sewing workshops too and it was with some trepidation that early one Saturday morning in September I set foot once again into a room full of sewing machines and fabrics……

The Heritage Suite at Liberty was the setting for the day long ‘Learn to Sew’ workshop tutored by Rowan Consultant Jenny Stillwell. I took my place at the table along with 9 other ladies all of whom explained that they too either had bad memories of child hood sewing or had never sewn before.
We started by cutting out our paper patterns, and (surrounded by pots of tea and Danish pastries) were soon on the path to finding our inner sewing skills.
With Jenny’s expert help and patience we pinned out our patterns making sure we had them in line with the warp of the fabric (which Jenny explained was vital as we did not want to cut our fabric on the bias), we tentatively cut out our fabric pieces then stitched and pressed our seams, swore a little and un picked a little when things went wrong, drank more tea and ate some more cake. We learnt how to read a pattern, how to stitch in a straight line using a cm guide on the machine and how to top stitch. The atmosphere was relaxed and chatty and by 4.30pm we had all completed our sewing project in the shape of a rather nifty fabric bag with a contrast lining and base, stitched handles and hemmed top.

My day was over far too quickly and it was with regret that I left the sanctuary of the sewing room. Jenny had shown us all lots of wonderful projects that we could go on to tackle, such as a larger bag, a cushion cover or a pillow case and there are even a range of follow on workshops which teach more skills such as inserting a zip and making button holes. Emerging out onto Regent Street into the late afternoon sunlight I felt like the sewing world was my oyster and I was eager to start my next project.
A few of my fellow class mates headed off down Oxford Street in search of a sewing machine to buy, others were off home to dig a machine out from the attic, desperate to recreate the excitement of the day and tackle their next project.
As I headed home I wondered why I felt so elated. In my time I have produced countless knitted garments, probably meters or even kilometres of both knitted and crochet fabric, I have created thousands of stitches and have worked the most complicated of patterns, yet I couldn’t remember feeling so excited or proud about anything else I have ever produced (other than my 2 babies obviously). For the past month my little bag has been taken everywhere, it has held my lunch, my knitting, my library books. I have told anyone that wanted to listen that I made it myself and I have even bought a matching corsage to decorate it. Goodness knows how I would feel if it got left on the bus or devoured by the dog.

I realise now, a month down the line, why I love this little bag so: not only is it very handy and the fabrics I was given to make it with are very pretty, but it is also the embodiment of something us knitters and crocheters know very little about – that thing is instant gratification. When I knit or crochet a project I will select the pattern and the yarn knowing full well that it could be a couple of months before my hard work even half resembles something wearable or useable, yet my little bag (reversible I might add) was made in approximately 5 hours. It had started the morning just like all the other meters of fabric on a bolt in Liberty’s store and had materialised like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon. I realise that the craft of sewing offers its followers the chance to create projects in a relatively short space of time and (with the vast and sumptuous range of Rowan fabrics available) there are patterns out there for pretty much anything from floor cushions and duvet covers to skirts and baby changing bags. I am no longer scared of a sewing machine or nervous of my sewing ability, (ok so I may not be able to tackle something complicated just yet) so to finish, I have just three words..