What's a good second sewing project?
December 7, 2012 10:12 AM   Subscribe

So I finished the apron! What should I sew next to really improve my fledgling skills?

I learned a lot from the apron project* (and your tips/answers in my previous question), but now I'm trying to figure out what type of project I should go for next.

Should it be quilting? Working with jersey and knits and making a dress/skirt/shirt or something else? Attempt a zipper, or is it too soon for that? What really lends itself to a "second project" kind of learning curve?

If it's clothing, it'd be nice if it could be simple (I like BurdaStyle type ideas-- clean lines with some detail or asymmetry that makes it unique). My only problem is that my second-hand machine is missing the buttonhole foot, so unless there's another way to make them, functional buttons are out.

*There are pics of the finished apron in my update at the bottom of the first question linked above if you'd like to see what I made for my first project and how it turned out!
posted by mireille to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (21 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Pajama pants. Cotton flannel is easy. You'll learn how to make a casing and insert elastic. Kwik Sew has great instructions on this.
posted by Fairchild at 10:17 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Cotton sheeting (like the material that medical scrubs are made of) is also a good fabric for pajama pants.
posted by Fairchild at 10:18 AM on December 7, 2012

Lined, zippered pouches are small, fun projects, make great gifts, and are a low-overhead, easy way to master zippers. (My favorite tutorial is accessible by Wayback, and there are about a kabillion other patterns and tutorials if you search for them.)
posted by BrashTech at 10:21 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think choosing a book full of projects might be a great next move for you. I like Sewing In A Straight Line by Brett Bara and One Yard Wonders by Patricia Hoskins and Rebecca Yaker.

Both of these books have great projects that vary from clothing to toys to household things (quilts, pillows, oven mitts and tea towels, etc) that are fun and easy but that help build your skill set as a sewer.

Your apron turned out adorable! Thanks for sharing the pics.
posted by Brody's chum at 10:21 AM on December 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

These fabric bowls are just one of the projects from Sewing In A Straight Line that I've made and given as gifts. If you choose the right fabric, these can turn out really nice.
posted by Brody's chum at 10:24 AM on December 7, 2012

I'm thinking back to when my Mom decided she needed a hobby and resurrected the long-packed away sewing machine (an old Singer she'd inherited from her mother). She took a four-week course at Montgomery Ward that taught the basics - how to read a pattern, etc, and her final project for that course was a T-shirt with raglan sleeves. She made several of those afterward and then decided she was ready for the Big Time. She took me to the fabric store with her, set me at the table with all the pattern books and instructed me to choose something I would wear to work. I chose a cowl-neck long-sleeved shirt - not a sweater, too warm for me - made from a stretch knit fabric. She made me several beautiful tops from that pattern, and moved on to things with zippers shortly afterward. Congrats on your success thus far, and best of luck with future projects!
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:27 AM on December 7, 2012

Seconding small zippered bags! They're quick and easy and more forgiving than clothing and make good gifts. Here's another tutorial, and here's a patchwork-y version.

Box bags are also a popular project, though I've never made one myself.

Zippers are not terribly difficult - my sewing skills are super basic (not even apron level!), but I can install functional zippers.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:50 AM on December 7, 2012

A-line skirts are a quick and easy project, and you can always use the little metal fasteners rather than buttons. I think you are probably ready for a zipper (really, all you need is a zipper foot and a bit of patience), but wrap skirts are a great option too and there are infinite tutorials online.
posted by susanvance at 10:51 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nthing a skirt. Very easy.

I learned a fabulous way of doing a zipper.

You sew the seam all the way up to the waistband. Then put the zipper in, sewing in a U shape, down one side, over, up the other side, on the inside side of the skirt, Then, turn it right-side out and rip the seam. Voila! Home Economics. You laughed at me when I took it, but by God, it was worth it!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:54 AM on December 7, 2012

Re-usable grocery bags! BurdaStyle has a few templates. The Charlie has a whole bunch of variations. I made several with quilting cotton and bias tape and gave them as Christmas gifts a few years ago when I was at the "second project" stage.

Pot Holders are a good introduction to batting, quilting and using bias tape.

Also the Buttercup bag is a good gift and intro to interfusing. Plus it just uses 2 fat quarters!
posted by fontophilic at 10:57 AM on December 7, 2012

Basic pants (pajama or lounge-type) make a very rewarding project. Want a new pair of pants tomorrow? make 'em tonight. Make the first pair without pockets, since they can be a bit fussy. The apron you made (lovely job!) is actually quite a bit more advanced than simple pants -- you'll be surprised how fast and easy they are.

I want to mention another general strategy my mother taught me: never use cheap fabric. If you do, no matter how carefully you work, the result will not be pleasing and you'll get discouraged. Working with fabric you love gives you an incentive to work carefully and take pride in what you do. (Every now and then, you'll make an irreparable mistake that will break your heart, though.)
posted by Corvid at 11:21 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Definitely a simple A-line or straight skirt. I think skirts are where you can save the most money for the least effort, and they almost always look the way you thought they would on you. Unlike some projects. Ahem.
posted by HotToddy at 11:25 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think you should sew something that interests you! Do you think you want to be a quilter? Then you could do a pillow or a small wall hanging that teaches you some things about quilting. If you do a pillow, you can also add piping and a zipper as things to learn about besides just piecing a quilt block.
posted by freezer cake at 12:20 PM on December 7, 2012

You can totally do a zipper. I actually put in all my clothing zippers by hand but small zippered bags are definitely a low-stress way to learn how to use a zipper foot.

An A-line skirt would help you learn how to fit a waist and put in a zipper but would otherwise only involve a couple of straight seams--you could do one easily in an afternoon. You can use a hook and eye for the waistband fastening.

But yeah--project #2 should be something you would like to wear or use. If you're not a skirt kind of person, sew some pajama pants. If you need some stocking stuffers, whip up some little zippered bags.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 12:37 PM on December 7, 2012

The first machine-sewn full-on garment I made was a vest (Variation A of Simplicity 5254, minus the tacky applique) It's a mens'/boys' pattern and a simple one at that, so perhaps less shaping on the front than a womens' vest might entail, but the instructions were surprisingly good and understandable, which I've been told is a Simplicity thing. Very gratifying and not too intimidating because there were no sleeves or collars to contend with.

Bow ties and four-in-hand neck ties are pretty straightforward and can make nice gifts. (Depending on the recipient of course!)

Oh, and button holes can totally be sewn by hand - it just takes longer!
posted by usonian at 12:43 PM on December 7, 2012

I agree with freezer cake -- you should make something you want! I love sewing clothing myself, so if that's the route that interests you, I can make a few recommendations.

If you like to wear skirts, there a lots of simple skirt patterns that are a-line or a little fuller that don't require much fitting. Or, you could try a dress with just a little shaping (I like Sew Serendipity's Claire Cami dress pattern). (The Claire Cami pattern does suggest button holes as a way to create reinforced openings where the waist tie goes through, but you could improvise with parallel satin stitching.)

If you'd like to try knits, a simple top like the Renfrew top from Sewaholic Patterns (which comes with great, very detailed instructions) is a great option. Cotton or rayon knits with about 5 percent Lycra for stretch will produce the best results.
posted by Lost Cities at 12:55 PM on December 7, 2012

My machine has a buttonhole function which I never use. I use my Greist buttonholer attachment becuase it makes really nice buttonholes. You can find Greist and Singer buttonholer attachments at thrift stores and on ebay for cheap!
posted by vespabelle at 1:10 PM on December 7, 2012

I'd suggest not jumping immediately to jersey. My mom sewed most of my clothes when I was a kid. She made some really incredible things, priceless garments with all kinds of beautiful details. She would usually add needlework on the collar or bodice, as well -- cross stitch, smocking, stuff like that.

The one time I remember her complaining about a project was the time she made me a very nondescript sundress from jersey.

That said, this is circa 1987 and maybe fabrics and equipment has changed. Also, for all I know my mom complained about it for some other reason not related to inherent qualities of jersey knit fabric.

But still -- it stands out to me that she was able to cross-stitch adorable little mice to the bodice of a gingham dress but not sew a basic garment out of jersey.
posted by Sara C. at 8:07 PM on December 7, 2012

A circle skirt with an elastic waist is super easy, and awesomely twirly. I make them whenever I find a bedsheet I really like at the thriftstore. You just do a little math, cut out a giant fabric donut, and sew on the waistband. Oh, and hem for a million years. That's the only not-fun part.
posted by nonasuch at 9:59 PM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sew whatever you want!

However, I would avoid (for now) clothes that are overly fitted. So A-lined or circle skirts, empire waist dresses without sleeves, or sleeveless shirts, instead of pencil skirts, trousers or tailored dresses. Making clothes that fit well is a whole other skill set.

Bags are also really easy and you generally don't need a pattern.
posted by kjs4 at 7:12 PM on December 9, 2012

It might be worth having a look around on Pattern Review. The best part is that people put up photos of their finished products so that you can see how a pattern looks on a range of different body types. They also have forums that are probably full of this type of question.

Craftsy also have classes, which could be good if you want something with a bit more guidance. I haven't done one, though they have been recommended to me.
posted by kjs4 at 7:24 PM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

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