How did you learn to sew? Have you had sewing lessons? Were they at school? Did your mum or dad or granny teach you? Have you been to evening classes? College? Or are you self taught? There are loads of different ways that a person can learn to sew, and most people try out a variety of ways as they progress along the long and eventful road to becoming an expert seamstress. This road can be even more eventful if you are curvy….
I am largely self-taught (thanks internet!) and very much still learning, but about six months ago, after making a few fairly dodgy and amateur-looking items of ‘clothing’, I decided I really would like to make something a bit good. So I booked myself on a one day ‘make a dress’ course. When I signed up for the course the instructions said that those up to a size 16 would sew from one pattern (with three different neckline/strap combinations to choose from) and those sized 16-24 would sew a different pattern. There was no mention about what would happen if you were larger than a 24. I thought it was a little strange that they hadn’t just chosen a dress pattern that offered the full range of sizes (which err, loads of them do) so we could all sew and learn together, but whatever.
When I arrived there were four of us in the class: all a bit daunted that we were going to make our first lined dress with a zip. Two women in the smaller size range had chosen a sweetheart neckline and the other had chosen a halterneck. I had no choice and just had to sew the ‘flattering’ style pre-selected for me. (And the dress was quite flattering, though not for anyone with boobs…) But what the hell, I thought between four of us we are sewing three different dresses in a range of different fabrics, so we would all have different experiences.
I didn’t quite realise how different my experience would be until the (slim) teacher started talking about the patterns we would sew. She gave the three smaller women their pattern pieces and talked them through them, which I listened to, and then she loudly and faux jauntily announced that they could all start sewing while she talked me through my ‘SPECIAL PATTERN FOR SPECIAL PEOPLE’. Why I had to be given some kind of separate treatment when we were all making different dresses I don’t want to know. The other ladies looked at me a bit confused as if I had some kind of impairment or had paid for an extra gold-plated service, so I just loudly and faux jauntily announced right back that ‘I AM MAKING A BIGGER SIZE THAN YOU’. For f’s sake. There ain’t no shame in my game.
We also had a joyous moment when my skirt needed gathering. ‘You can’t do this on the machine. With HUGE amounts of fabric like this, it’s just not going to work. You are going to have to do it by hand’. To be fair to her, my hand stitched gathers came out very nicely and we were both pleased, and she was probably right that it wouldn’t have come out as nice on the machine. But she still made sure I knew I was a ‘very special person’. While I got the ‘special’ treatment for my size, she also found other things to pick on with the nervous other women. Let’s just say that she wasn’t a natural nurturer.
I’m tough enough to not take this too personally, and actually made a really awesome dress. I learnt loads about how to do linings, insert zips and ignore snarky teachers with their own body image issues. I had to insert a modesty panel when I got home because the pattern was obviously designed for that rare breed: a plus sized woman with no breasts whatsoever, but I was really pleased with it.
However, I was put off going to another class. This is partly because I don’t want to run the risk of being singled out or humiliated again, partly because sewing classes are really expensive (£100 for a sewing lesson- fabric not included!?), and partly because there aren’t many classes that will accommodate me. Most of the classes I have seen offer to teach you how to sew a specific dress, often one of the trendy indie patterns, and as we know, those trendy indie patterns don’t offer very big size ranges. I have seen one class that will offer to grade up an indie pattern for you, but you have to pay extra for the privilege. With classes already being very expensive, and my ego rather bruised, I don’t want to pay extra for being fat.
I have signed up for some more classes but they are very much based on techniques rather than specific items of clothing. I did a great little course with ‘So Zo What Do you Know’ on how to use commercial patterns, and have one on zips coming up in a couple of weeks with Lladybird. I’m so excited! I’m also booked on a quilting course and a hand embroidery course. Hopefully in none of these classes will my size ‘cause an issue’. I’ve also got some great books (Hi Barbara Deckert!) and I have enrolled in some Craftsy classes where the tutor has no idea who I am or what shape I might be. Susan Khalje is teaching me to make a couture frock, and she is awesome and she doesn’t judge! There are also a million gazillion you tube and blog tutorials that can teach you anything from how to thread a needle to how to make a three piece suit. And there is no snarking.
I had one bad experience, and you may have had a very different experience to me. I hope so! But there is no need to put up with being marginalised or charged extra for lessons when there are so many other wonderful ways to learn. What is your favourite way to learn sewing? Do you have any curvy-positive class recommendations?