Sewing Lessons

For the past several weeks I have been teaching sewing to an 11 year old girl. We meet about once a week. My student's mother is an artist and a very cool dresser and my student has a pretty sophisticated sense of fashion.

My student had been sketching lots of clothing and wanted to make the garments she was thinking about. My students mother and I travel in the same circles, and she asked me to teach her daughter to sew.

I know that most sewing curricula have one start by having the student sew the lines on lined paper until they learn how to sew straight lines. I thought that it might be a better idea to start making clothes and then have the experience of sewing teach you how to sew straight line.

One of the things that I had been working on teaching myself for the past few years is how to sew without a pattern. Basically I have been attempting to recreate a lost skill using bits of oral knowledge passed down by the grown children who saw their mothers sew in this manner, but never learned this set of knowledge themselves, and snippets from old sewing books.

I make most of the clothes that I wear and I don't use patterns. I create clothing using a mixture of finished clothing and my measurements as the starting points of creating garments. I find that this is a quick and direct way to get from idea to finished garment. I have been wondering if it is possible to transmit this knowledge that I have learned through a mixture of trial and error and intuition, to another human being.

Last night, my student finished a garment that she designed from beginning to end. She began with a general idea of what she wanted.Last night as she tried the garment on, evaluated what she saw in the mirror and made decisions about the next step, I realized, that in fact, I have been successful in transmitting how to make garments without a pattern.
As for learning how to sew a straight line, while her earlier garments are, in fact, constructed out of wobbly lines of sewing, the blue blinding on this top was sewn beautifully. The process of actually constructing garments has taught her how to sew straight lines. But rather than ending up with reams of lined paper with evenly spaced holes, to show that she has mastered this skill, she has a collection of cute clothes that show her progress.
I'm teaching my student the skills I wish I had learned earlier on. I have allowed her to make some dumb decisions. ( More than one garment has been made with the greatest stretch going north-south rather than east west.) Living with the consequences of those decisions is a much better teacher than I could ever be. My student is willing to struggle into some of her clothes to achieve the look she wants.

Next week, we begin making a dress. So far my student has made two skirts, a jacket ant the top she is wearing in the photo above. Her idea of a bodice made out of strips of woven fabric is a challenge. I still haven't worked my brain around that set of problems.


  1. That is so fabulous, I had a great sewing teacher as a teen, I can do a fine finish with the best of them thanks to Mrs Johnson but alas I cannot make a garment without a pattern. I have been know to mix elements of different patterns together. I love project runway and wish I had the ability to start from nothing like they do. Or should I say the courage ?I love that this young girl already has such creative thinking about her sewing.
    By the way, I used to read your entries to Creative Machine long ago and am so glad to see your blog.I have learned very interesting things from you , not only about sewing but about your religion and customs. I am one of those people who wants to know everything about everyone ( and not in a gossipy nosy sort of way) I just enjoy learning about people,(if only O could somehow make a living out of that). Anyway, thanks for all your sharing and I would love to be able to meet you in person some day maybe? Who knows ?
    Tiffani in Ohio

  2. sarah .... i love what you have taught this young lady and i love it that she has such great intellect and determination to work hard to achieve what she wants ... you have taught her to think for herself, and, most especially, to learn for her mistakes and to make the best of her decisions -- a skill many, many adults (sadly) don't have ...

    good job, sarah and your *student* ... LOL .... darlene

  3. Should I start posting tutorials for making garments without a pattern?

    Which garments would you like to learn how to make pattern free?


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