Home Sewing
An Interview With Judi Harris

Home sewing is perhaps not something that is done as much as it once was. I remember growing up watching my Nan mend socks, make some of my clothes and even make the occasional toy for Christmas, all with needle and thread.

Well perhaps in these times of money problems we should all take another look at picking up a needle and thread again ourselves and make it another string to our frugal living bow.

Let me introduce you to Judi Harris from Lovetosew.com. Her website and teaching school are one of the best I have found on the internet. She has many years of experience and is bringing home sewing back into fashion by showing us all that we can all do it and just how much fun it can be too.

I hope this interview will inspire many of you to take up home sewing again and make it as popular as it once was. After all being frugal can be fun too.

1. Hi Judi, thank you for taking the time to answer some questions and sharing your expertise with us today. I like to start of by offering you an opportunity to briefly tell us about yourself and how you first became interested in home sewing.

I actually came from a family of sewers. Both of my grandmothers sewed and my mother was an avid sewer. So, as child, I was amazed of what they could make just from fabric and a machine.

When I began hand sewing at age 6, I would get all the scraps of fabric and make clothes for my dolls. Later, when I was in elementary school, I upgraded and made curtains and pillows and blankets for our girls' tree fort in the back yard. That led to majoring in home economics and fashion design in high school, learning to make everything from men's three piece suit, to bathing suits, to luggage.

I consider myself very lucky to have gone to a school that offered so much considering most schools today don't even offer basic sewing. The next 25 years I began making dolls, quilts, and crafts and selling them world wide.

I also adventured in designing and making costumes for many local theatre companies, and of course for my own family. After that I had the desire to teach others how to sew, quilt, craft, and fashion design and that is when I opened up the school.

What kept my interest at an early age was when I was in middle school I went to a private school which had a dress code that all skirts and dresses must only be 3" above the knee.

This was in the early 70's when only mini skirts, hot pants, and short dresses were in style, and nothing else could be found anywhere. So my mom began designing and making my clothes. I was so fascinated that she could do this that I had to try it!

2. I notice your website www.lovetosew.com is a family concern and that three of your daughters are also very much into home sewing and design.
It is rare these days that families do anything as one and have anything in common with each others lives, do you find that home sewing brings you all closer together as a family and what would you say were the main benefits of having a shared interest?

Absolutely it brings us closer together, and it allows us to spend more time together. We have designed many garments and costumes together both for our family and local theatre companies. We also work together on new patterns, new ideas, and summer sewing camps, and judging some of our sewing contests.

When my grandmother was still alive we had meetings discussing my sewing school and my sewing website with 4 generations of input. That was awesome getting ideas from everyone. I have a son too, who is my youngest. Although he does not sew, he certainly doesn't hesitate to ask me to make him another sweatshirt hoodie, or new jacket!

3. You run a home sewing school in Pennsylvania, could you tell us what sort of skills you teach there and how would learning home sewing benefit families especially during these times of recession and the dreaded credit crunch?

We teach skills from learning how to use a sewing machine, to hand stitching, to quilt making, craft making, to designing your own clothes. We also go over patterns, supplies, and fabrics.

The students first make a simple project like a drawstring bag, which becomes their "sewing locker" which they keep everything in it like their sewing portfolio or the pieces to their next project they are making.

Learning to sew could benefit tremendously during a time of economic crises. One could save plenty of money mending, fixing, and re-doing things themselves. Sewing up a hem on a pair of pants can cost you $8.00-$12.00, however if you did it yourself it only cost about 15 minutes of your time.

Learning to sew can help out in other ways besides the obvious like sewing on a button, sewing up a hole in a pair of pants, or fixing a strap on a top. Sewing can go as far as recovering a chair, saving you literally hundreds of dollars.

One could make their own prom dress or even something as simple as favors for a baby shower instead of buying them. Making gifts for everyone for the holidays is not only a great way to safe money but what an awesome way to show someone how much you care, that you took the time to make something.

Everyone loves a handmade gift. I would rather have a gift someone made for me than a store bought gift any day!

4. Home sewing used to be something that every little girl would learn from a young age and making their own clothes and soft furnishing was nothing unusual, unfortunately these days it doesn't seem to be so widely taught.
Your home sewing school encourages children to attend your classes and you even have sleepovers and birthday parties. How would you say children benefit from learning sewing skills both socially and economically and is it something that both sexes could be encouraged to get involved in?

Children can benefit from sewing in many ways. They gain confidence in themselves, and learn the value of completing a project. As soon as our new students finish their drawstring bag, they look at what they made with such pride, and they can't wait to begin their next project.

They learn what it is like to work on their own, how to set a steady pace, and have goals for the project that must get done. Math and reading are a big part of sewing, with following directions and calculating how much fabric one will need.

Both boys and girls who have learned to sew can take that skill and use it in many ways. We have students as young as nine years old helping with sewing costumes at their school play, and some who are helping their teacher make a classroom quilt. Many of my students have designed and made clothing for their teachers as gifts.

Some students have even taken it a step further, and at a young age of twelve, have begun to know what it is like to have their own business, with their own label, selling their items at local craft shows, and on the internet, like; hats, headbands, scarves, and purses.

5. Many of my visitors to this site are looking for ways to keep costs down and to live a more cost-effective and frugal lifestyle. If someone was thinking of getting started with home sewing to make their own clothes etc, what advice would you give to the beginner in what would be an easy and economical first piece to begin with?

First I would like to say to someone starting to sew, it's a great skill to learn and I think once you have made your first article of clothing or accessory, you will be hooked! You are never too old to start. I begin teaching children at age 7 and up to adults. I know a lady at a nursing home in Florida who is 102 years old and her machine is set up in her room where she is still making quilts! 

We always have beginners start with a simple, easy to sew, elastic waist band skirt, or pajama shorts. The skirt would be the easiest to sew. You will want to start with something like this so that you do not get overwhelmed and give up. Both the skirt and the pajama shorts do not require a lot of fabric. Denim or a cotton calico can be used for the skirt, and flannel can be used for the pajama shorts.

One can find these fabrics at a local fabric store for about $3.00-$4.00 a yard, and you will probably need 1 yard or less. Keep an eye out for sales on fabric; many stores have great sales like 25% - 40% off. Once you have made your first project, make a couple more from the same pattern, per haps one for a friend or relative, and then move onto something more advanced.

Patterns can be expensive so never throw them away. You can use a pattern over and over again. We have many pages on how to alter a pattern and how to make your own patterns. One of the best things about making your own clothes is that you get to pick everything out and make it the way and the color that you want to.

One may want to start sewing for another purpose like to sell crafts and items they have made at craft shows or on the internet. That is what I did for more than 25 years. It served me two purposes. One, I was able to stay home and raise my children which is very important to me, while at the same time I was able to sew which is what I love to do.

And two, doing this, saved me so much money. It would not have been worth it to my family for me to go to work and pay for a day care. I sewed at home all the time anyway, and saved all kinds of fabric and supplies. So from that fabric I made quilts, dolls, aprons, and crafts and sold them. 

One last thing I'd like to mention, once you start buying fabric and cutting out your pieces, don't throw any scraps of fabric away! Back in the mid 1800's and during the depression nothing was to be wasted. Scraps of fabric from sewing, and old clothes that were torn and could no longer be worn, were made into aprons and quilts, both were necessities back then.

Today, your fabric scraps can be made into quilts, raggedy quilts, pillows, dog toys, baby bibs, holiday crafts, stuffed animals, rag dolls, and much more. Why not after you cut out fabric for that skirt you want to make, use the scraps to make a matching headband! We have thousands of photos and we offer many free patterns and ideas on our site, so take a look around at lovetosew.com and Best Stitches in all you do!

Home sewing for your pets saves money too, all pets need toys, coats, and costumes… and what better way to save money than to sew your favorite pup a new toy from fabric scraps!"

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