How do I approach learning to sew by way of this very specific project?
May 8, 2020 3:33 PM   Subscribe

I want to teach myself to sew by replicating this apron, probably many, many times. I bought the apron; what next?

After spending a lot of the past couple of months in a Bon Appétit rabbit hole (thanks MeFi!), I'm obsessed with this apron that seems to be favored by many of the presenters. Despite its ridiculous price, I went ahead and bought one as a bit of retail therapy.

Well, it arrived today and I loooooove it. I want to give them to all my friends and family, and I want ten of them hanging in my own pantry, but spending $5K on linen aprons from France isn't on the agenda.

So, no time like the present to merge this motivation with another long-standing goal, which is to get competent with my sewing machine, a Singer from... maybe the early '90s? It was given to me by a friend about ten years ago, and since then I have used it three times, always with a more experienced helper to thread the machine, help cut the pieces, etc. The last time it came out of the closet was at least four years ago, so please assume that I am starting from zero.

I have watched a fair amount of Project Runway, but despite that I do not really know where to begin :) This tutorial seems reasonable easy to follow to make a pattern, but... then what? Is there anything more to it than just trying and trying again, presuming I can't ask or hire anyone for help in the foreseeable future? What is the absolute cheapest fabric I can practice on that will help me not ruin the first few yards of linen that I (with luck) will ultimately graduate to? Can I just use reasonably-sized rags/old clothes from the basement?

Any general tips on learning to sew on your own as an adult are also welcome!
posted by slenderloris to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (19 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I just did this with the only comfortable pair of pajama pants that I have. It took a couple of tries but now I have the final pattern and two wearable versions (with pockets!). Old sheets are the best for experimental pattern making and you can try the critical part first. In my case I made shorts because the tricky bits are all on top. For the apron I would also make a cut off version of the top. When that works do a full sample in sheeting or some very cheap fabric. Then you should be ready for the nice stuff. At that point you can do it assembly line fashion if you are making several.

If the machine is giving you trouble: check that the bobbin in inserted in the correct direction, check the threading and put in a fresh needle. I usually use a scrap to test my stitches whenever I change the thread or the setting.
posted by Botanizer at 3:54 PM on May 8, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You can totally make that apron with only a little practice, it's pretty straightforward! You'll be sewing it as a flat piece first, then sewing the crisscross of the straps in the back very last. Old sheets are good for sewing practice, and if you don't have any most fabric stores will have some kind of cotton for a couple of dollars per yard -- you should get at least 4 yards to practice on. There's a million YouTube tutorials for everything from threading the machine to sewing your first seam.

The basic idea of sewing is that you put the "right" sides of two pieces of fabric (the side that you want to be seen) facing each other, pin along the edge, sew along the edge, take out the pins, then open the fabric like a book. It will be a bit of a puzzle figuring out all the pieces and which order to sew them in but that's part of the fun!
posted by EmilyFlew at 4:03 PM on May 8, 2020 [5 favorites]

When you're pinning your fabric, pin perpendicular to the direction you're going to sew. You can sew right over them as you go along. (Sorry if this is obvious to you; I watched a sewing video the other day where the fabric was pinned parallel to the seams, and they were taking each one out just before they got there. Drove me crazy!) Happy sewing. This looks like a great project.
posted by kate4914 at 4:24 PM on May 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Here is a step-by-step tutorial for a very similar cross-back apron. I saw a bunch of other tutorials when I googled "cross-back apron", this style definitely had A Moment a few years ago but Purl Soho usually has decent instructions geared for beginners, they should give you a good idea of the basic steps and order of operations.

It looks like the main differences are the body of your apron is three pieces instead of five, the pockets are "patch pockets", and the straps are wider. These all things that should make assembly easier. Anything that doesn't make sense, Google is your friend here. I learned to make legit looking garments almost entirely off of sewing blogs, there are tutorials out there for every step of the sewing process no matter how basic or complicated. Have fun!
posted by yeahlikethat at 4:33 PM on May 8, 2020 [7 favorites]

Etsy has lots of patterns for this style apron.
posted by xo at 4:35 PM on May 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

This is totally doable - I bought a very similar apron in a nice heavy indigo fabric (I think from Japan, and considerably cheaper) and I promptly started copying it. The crossover back was a bit confusing at first, but since it is essentially one piece it was pretty easy once I'd worked it out, with only the 2 seams. Since I didn't want to unpack it, I used an old sheet as a pattern, as Emily Flew suggests, and I've made three more so far.

With a couple of garments that I have loved and worn to death (including a fine corduroy dress that I had literally worn the pile off), I unpick them at the seams and use the original pieces as a pattern. Much more durable than a paper pattern!
posted by Fuchsoid at 4:38 PM on May 8, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Also if you need a source for fabric, I've bought a ton of stuff from Gray Line Linen. I'm pretty sure they're the suppliers for Purl Soho's house brand of linen.
posted by yeahlikethat at 4:53 PM on May 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Kate4914 says to sew over pins. I say, as a person who had to get a piece of needle removed from her eye, please don't!
posted by vespabelle at 5:22 PM on May 8, 2020 [17 favorites]

Yes, please don’t sew over pins.

I’m a member already so I can’t see what the free offerings look like (looks like you have to sign up for a trial first), but the beginner classes on Bluprint would be a good place to start for video instruction. Random blogs and YouTube videos can have conflicting and confusing advice. But there is some good stuff out there — IIRC, Professor Pincushion on YouTube isn’t bad. Also web tutorials by pattern companies and stores like Purl Soho are generally better than random people’s blogs.
posted by liet at 5:40 PM on May 8, 2020

Best answer: Another "please don't sew over pins." Even if you don't take one to the eye, you'll get a direct hit eventually, which can damage your needle, your machine's timing...

Pattern-making isn't rocket science. I second the suggestion for old sheets. Make sure you've got decent fabric scissors, which will make cutting fabric much easier. The $10 ones Target sells are fine and might be in stock at some stores. Use them only for fabric - nothing else. If the machine's needle hasn't been replaced, get some new universal needles in a multi-size pack and replace that sucker. For thread, if your only thread is from the 1990s as well as your machine, you'll want to buy some new stuff -- it breaks down over time. I'd normally give you suggestions but right now thread is a scarce resource; do what you can and try for a medium-weight. Etsy is probably the best place right now for finding needles, thread, etc. that will ship in less than four weeks, but it's all a crapshoot.

The other thing you'll need to figure out is how the apron is assembled and hemmed -- like, the actual type of seams/hems they used -- or another type of seam/hem that you would like to use instead. I can't tell that from the linked image, but if you google "types of seams" and compare your garment to the images, you can probably figure it out. Aprons get washed a lot, so you'll need to finish the seams somehow to stop them from raveling.
posted by pie ninja at 7:25 PM on May 8, 2020

Seams square to the fabric are more obedient than seams on the bias (diagonal), so sewing a few rectangular things first is a good way to get into it. Bags to keep your new sewing doodahs on, perhaps, made of old sheets and later of nicer material.
posted by clew at 9:09 PM on May 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

Get a seam ripper. Douple check your machines tension. Have a few old pieces to practice sewing a straight seam.
posted by sammyo at 10:19 PM on May 8, 2020

Best answer: To answer this question:

Can I just use reasonably-sized rags/old clothes from the basement?

It depends on whether they're knit (stretchy, look like really tiny knitting if you look up close) or woven (look like a grid up close). Not that you can't sew knits, but they can be tricky to sew (lots of stretching) and it helps to have a different type of needle for them. I wouldn't use them to practice sewing wovens.

Right before you make the apron you might want to practice with scraps from the actual fabric you're cutting the pattern from, just because sewing can be a slightly different experience with different fabric weights or weaves. While you're learning, pay attention to the idea of sewing with the grain versus on the bias and to how the original apron is sewn. Whatever fabric you're working with can stretch or warp when you're cutting or sewing it, so experiment with ways to work around that (pins, weights, pressing, presser foot pressure, etc.)

Other suggestions: learn to clean the bobbin area (good to do on a frequent basis to avoid problems) and how to oil your machine (not urgent, but good to do eventually unless you have a self-oiling model). At some point you might have thread tension issues. If you get a rat's nest on the underside of the fabric, make sure everything is threaded correctly and in the right direction. When you have a thread or fabric-feeding problem you just can't seem to fix, try using a new needle (even if it doesn't seem relevant!) If buying needles, make sure you're getting the right kind. The link in this thread has some tips for diagnosing issues with your machine. (You probably won't need to mess with the bobbin case tension that she mentions, though.)

Do you have an iron? Pressing is actually an important part of sewing and can also make some things much easier. (Ideally, you want to be pressing any folds into place before you sew them, which can also make the sewing go easier. In practice, you'll figure out what to press and what you can skip. Sometimes after sewing a seam you'll use the iron to open creases and make them flat.) If you don't have an iron, you might be able to get away with pressing with your hands or some other object for now. If you do have one, make sure you practice with a scrap of the fabric you're going to use for the final product to make sure you have the right heat settings and so forth.

Use google and youtube and you'll find answers to pretty much any issue you come across.

Making mistakes and having to unpick everything is what everybody does and you should feel good about it.

Have fun :-)
posted by trig at 10:23 PM on May 8, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer:
Another very similar pattern and tutorial.
Very suitable for absolute beginner sewistas!
posted by sconbie at 5:36 AM on May 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

damage your needle, damage yourself, mess up your machine's timing... not worth it to sew over pins!

Also since your goal is linen, just get into good pressing habits now. Your iron will be your right hand companion!

Also like sconbie's link there are probably a lot of patterns online similar if not functionally replicas of that apron. A lot which will be printable and all the tracing etc to make a pattern can be avoided.

Most importantly have fun and messing up isn't the end of the world! Seam rip and go at it again!
posted by wellifyouinsist at 6:16 AM on May 9, 2020

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! Inspecting the garment more closely, the vertical seams connecting the three largest body pieces are this type: Mock Flat Fell Seam

The edges appear to be "bias bound," which looks kind of hard.

But I will start with just trying to make the pieces and put it together with the plainest possible stitch first!
posted by slenderloris at 6:45 AM on May 9, 2020

Best answer: I see your machine has an overcast stitch, and probably an overcast foot to do it with, which will be very helpful on linen that gets washed a lot. The mock-flat fell instructions mentioning finishing an edge, for instance - overcasting is a good secure way.
posted by clew at 4:11 PM on May 9, 2020

(Doesn’t replace bias binding the edges, alas, especially on linen. On the other hand, learning to make your own binding and piping makes everything look a lot nicer.)
posted by clew at 4:12 PM on May 9, 2020

This very similar pattern is currently being offered for free:
posted by brilliantine at 4:24 PM on May 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

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