Hello! So my (awesome) mom let me take her $4000 Bernina sewing/embroidery machine because she never got much use out of it. She's more of a crafter so sewing never stuck with her. I've wanted to learn how to sew for a while now but I feel rather intimidated. I once took a sewing class but it was very poorly organized and didn't really help me at all. Is doing a pillow really the best first project? Any other ideas out there for how to practice my sewing skills?
I would probably start with a simple bag - ie a reusable shopping bag. There are lots of great step by step tutorials out there. And you can pick fabric up for a song (its a great way to recycle vintage sheeting for example.) For a pillow to be usable it needs to be fairly well done but a bag is usable no matter how it turns out - even if it just catches the odd socks in your laundry room.
There are some new learn to sew books on the market. I'd check the library and don't forget to look in the kids section. When I am trying to learn a new skill often I find kids' books are the most clear and easiest to follow.
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When I was starting I made fabric gift bags, which we reuse for birthdays and Christmas. I started off with a very simple one - basically a rectangle with a hem at the top, and a ribbon sewn on near the top to tie around; and then got a bit more adventurous and did several in different shapes, with casings, French seams (which are awesome, look 'em up!) and so on. You could use them to practice machine applique, topstitching, sewing rickrack or ribbon on, lining them with other materials, working with cottons or knits or sheers, patchwork... mine were fairly plain, in countryish subdued colours, but you could go really nuts and make beaded, fringed, quilted ones if you wanted to!
Sturdy reusable shopping bags were another early project. Skirts can be fairly simple too - definitely the easiest kind of adult-sized garment to make. Google "paneled skirt tutorial". You could also make a peg bag, or a fabric Advent calendar with little pockets, or a roll-up crayon holder (Indie Tutes has a good tutorial for that), or one of those long sausagey bags to keep plastic bags in, or pillow/cushion covers, or a wheatie bag, or a pincushion, or placemats, or a simple child's apron, or potholders, or an elasticated headband....
There are heaps of amazing sewing tutes online. I like "Ruffles and Stuff" and Indie Tutes, but in general if you just google "tutorial [item]" you'll find a few.
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Shorts or skirts are super simple and practical. Also the patterns that are like "sew so easy" or whatever the other name for them are all really easy. Aprons are fun and easy.. they make great gifts as well.