Well! This is long overdue, wouldn’t you agree? I thought I’d write a run down of my week studying sewing with Beth of Sunny Gal Studio.
First off, you need to know more about Beth. She’s been sewing since she was eight years old. If you’re interested in her pedigree, you should really check out her blog post on the wedding dress she made for a customer from vintage Japanese kimono silk. It’s soooo beautiful.
To remind readers, I wanted to work from the early 60s vintage pattern, Simplicity 4934. I’d decided to use this project as an opportunity to study one-to-one with a teacher who could help me improve my techniques and generally increase my knowledge base. My experience making the Vogue coat had shown me the desperate horror that is a novice working in isolation with no one to turn to for advice.
This pattern needed a lot of redrafting to fit my figure. An extra two inches for my chest, but an extra five inches for my waist. Guess this dress and jacket combo were drafted in the age of girdles! (Either that, or I have a barrel waist.) Before my trip, I’d tried to do some toile adjustments at home, but failed miserably. One morning in Beth’s company, and she’d whipped me into shape. We had this baby fitted! I was very, very grateful and in total awe. There’s a big difference between 3 years’ sewing experience and decades of knowledge – that much became abundantly clear, not least in Beth’s total lack of FEAR!
So how did our days together play out? I’d catch the BART train to Beth’s part of San Francisco and by 10am we’d be sewing. I was absolutely delighted and honoured to be working on Beth’s vintage sewing machines, handed down to her from her grandmother, I believe.
The sun was shining, the coffee brewing, Beth and I chatting – all we had to do was sew! Of course, as we worked, we discussed all the really important matters: Downton Abbey, the London Olympics, British versus American dentistry (ha!), politics, celebrity spotting and big screen crushes.
This isn’t to say we didn’t work hard. Oh, we worked hard! Beth worried that she was a severe task master, but I don’t think she put a foot wrong. I wanted to be challenged and stretched – isn’t that why I was here? For ever more I will have Beth’s voice ringing in my ear when hand basting: ‘Work on the flat, Karen!’ My bad habits of scooping work up in a cupped palm were quickly amended.
The silk thread Beth allowed me to use for hand basting.
We covered many techniques that were new to me. Flat pattern measuring, adjusting patterns, underlining with silk organza, hand basting with silk thread, tailor’s tacks, making a collar, a new bound button hole technique, a really neat technique for the points of darts, pressing darts – even new ways of knotting a thread! (I must share that with you.) I even discovered why the thread often ‘pops’ out of the machine needle when I start a new line of sewing – I hadn’t been leaving my needle in its uppermost position when finishing the previous line of sewing. The whole week was punctuated with an ‘Oh!’ and an ‘Ah!’ of delight and comprehension as Beth shared a new revelation with me. (Well, new to me, at least.)
Making Bound Buttonholes
I didn’t complete my dress and jacket, and I hadn’t expected to. That’s a lot to do in a week! But we covered all the most difficult steps and that was more than enough for me. More than more than enough. In our first class, Beth asked, ‘What do you want to achieve this week?’ I felt like a simple-minded fool when I replied, ‘I just want to sew.’ But that’s really what it was about for me. I knew I’d learn along the way.
So, would I recommend working one-on-one with a sewing teacher? Based on my experience with Beth, I’d say a resounding YES! But I think Beth and I were lucky. I brought to the US an open mind, a relaxed attitude and a willingness to learn. Beth hosted with consummate expertise, a gently guiding hand and flexibility. I think she had an excellent eye for when to push me and when to draw back. ‘Are you getting tired?’ she’d sometimes ask of an afternoon, just as I could feel my brain starting to shut down. You can’t put a price on emotional intelligence like that. The whole week was a lovely meeting of minds and hearts.
Now, I have half-made items in my suitcase, waiting to be unpacked, shaken out and allowed to hang. Then I will finish this outfit for Beth. I learned a long time ago that a good teacher will make you want to do your best, but a GREAT teacher will show you that your best is better than you ever imagined.
Thank you, Sunny Gal! And thank you to her friend, Alice, who was fabulous lunch company, shared her expert knitting (yay, knitting!) and took lovely photos.
If you want to study with Beth at Sunny Gal Studios, her contact details are here. I truly recommend it! If you’re in the San Francisco area, why don’t you add an extra day to your trip for some great sewing teaching?