My personal history with sewing šŸ§µ

I promise I’m going to write about what I learned from sewing napkins soon. But first: my personal history with sewing!

I’ve known how to machine sew for a long time (and how to hand sew for even longer). My mom is an accomplished sewist and made a lot of clothes and costumes for my siblings and I as we were growing up. She even made my prom dress. I didn’t sew with her, but I learned a lot of techniques just from being around while she sewed. Mainly how to be a perfectionist about your sewing, which has both benefits and drawbacks. (She never presses seams open or leaves a pinked edge. All her seams are French seams. Gorgeous, but intimidating to a less experienced sewist.)

I didn’t actually use any of what I’d learned from watching her until I took a required tech class as part of my dramatic art major; I chose costuming (this is where W. shakes his fist because in his day you had to do both cost shop AND set but by the time I got there 3 years later, you got to choose). One of the assignments was to design and construct a garment. I made a dress to fit me, lightly inspired by this Drusilla costume from Buffy the Vampire Slayer:

The process involved making a paper pattern on a dressmaker’s dummy (heavily padded in my case), then a muslin, and then finally the real thing. I finished the edges with a zig-zag stitch and pressed the seams open, because that was what I had time for. I wished I’d been up to French seams but it just wasn’t going to happen.

The dress had darts out the wazoo: bust darts at both the sides and bottom of the bodice, back darts, darts at the back of the waist. I made sure it fit me just right and I wouldn’t settle for anything baggy or saggy. (Maybe that’s why I didn’t have time left for French seams.) The director of the costume shop saw it and said I could do haute couture with that level of fitting.

I loved making it. I was very proud of it. I also learned that you really need to include a slit in the skirt if you’re going to make a long sheath dress, or your stride will be limited to teeny tiny steps. (I did not include a slit. In spite of it’s excellent fit, the dress didn’t get a lot of wear because of this.)

I wanted to sew more but I was saving all my money for traveling to *BtVS* fan parties (that’s an account written by a journalist of the first Posting Board Party I went to) so I didn’t grab a machine until my mom noticed one at a yard sale down the street from her. The machine and its cabinet were going for around $70, so I bought them.

I sewed exactly one thing on that machine, a costume for me to wear to go to the movie Troy. (Remember when Legolas and The Hulk were brothers?) It was actually a costume that, if historically accurate, would have been no-sew, but I was afraid a no-sew version would fall off. So I made myself a chiton with some success.

And the next time I used that sewing machine, the needle got stuck in the bobbin. And so I did not use it. I kept moving around with it; I think that machine moved with me five times.

At the North Carolina Maker Faire in, I don’t know, maybe 2014? I sewed a quilt square for a big communal quilt somebody was building there. I loved it. It reminded me that I actually loved sewing, and I wanted to do more. So I promised myself I would.

But I didn’t.

When I finally got the machine out for the first time recently to try again, after great success winding the bobbin and threading the needle, the same thing happened. I tried cleaning and oiling the machine, but that didn’t fix the problem. I decided to give up on that machine, for which I could not find a manual online and which was lacking many features of modern machines, such as numbering on the thread guides to tell you what order to thread it in.

So I asked for a new machine for my birthday, and I got one!

And I decided to use Craftsy’s Sewing 101 class to help me get back into it, since I hadn’t really sewed in 17 years.

Which is how I ended up making those napkins.

And I’ll tell you what I learned from making them soon, I promise!

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Kimberly Hirsh, PhD @KimberlyHirsh
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I acknowledge that I live and work on unceded Lumbee, Skaruhreh/Tuscarora, and Shakori land. I give respect and reverence to those who came before me. I thank Holisticism for the text of this land acknowledgement.


We must acknowledge that much of what we know of this country today, including its culture, economic growth, and development throughout history and across time, has been made possible by the labor of enslaved Africans and their ascendants who suffered the horror of the transatlantic trafficking of their people, chattel slavery, and Jim Crow. We are indebted to their labor and their sacrifice, and we must acknowledge the tremors of that violence throughout the generations and the resulting impact that can still be felt and witnessed today. I thank Dr. Terah ā€˜TJā€™ Stewart for the text of this labor acknowledgement.