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twenty years of sewing

Megan Nielsen // twenty years of sewing

People always ask me how i got started sewing, so today as i turn 31 and celebrate 20 years of sewing, i thought i’d share with you these photos of how it all began.

I learnt to sew when i was 10/11 years old. I had my own ideas about what my Barbies should be wearing, and so i cut up my own clothing, and hand sewed little outfits for them. When my mom found out, she gave me a sewing machine, taught me how to use it, and helped me through my first real apparel project using a sewing pattern – a quarter circle wrap skirt.

Megan Nielsen // twenty years of sewing

The machine was an Elna Lotus from the 60’s. I could wax lyrical about this machine – it’s gorgeous and so precious to me. All metal construction and manufactured in Switzerland, it still works like a dream. It only has two stitches, straight and zig zag – but as a beginner, do you really need more? Nowadays I keep it in my workroom where i can see it all the time.

Armed with the sewing machine manual and a lot of determination, i spent the next few years teaching myself to sew and fumbling through figuring out how things were made. I moved on from cutting up my own clothing to cutting up my mom’s clothing (sorry mom!). I would rip things apart to figure out how they were made, what stitches and finishes were used? I was constantly investigating and trying and imagine the order and method in which things were constructed.

Sometimes i would try using a sewing pattern, but I would be frustrated by the instructions and poor fit, and had little knowledge of how to work through fit issues or alter a pattern properly.

I wish it had occurred to me to buy a book, or ask to be sent on sewing lessons! Oddly i was a child who didn’t like to ask for help, so my world was sewing machine manuals and reverse engineering.

I made some truly terrible things – but i learnt a lot about what works and what doesn’t – don’t try and use velcro in jeans instead of a zipper! don’t sew your trainer bra to a blouse! hehehe

It was only when i learnt to drive and began going to sewing stores regularly and asking questions (so many questions!) that i found how much more there was to learn. I began collecting books and tools at lightning speed, and i feel like this is the point when i started making things that didn’t smack of “homemade” anymore.

When Chris and i were married my mother in law passed on her overlocker, pressing ham and vintage dress form to me, and again a whole new world of techniques opened up to me. After that i switched to text books on pattern drafting and grading, fashion illustration and anything i could get my hands on that was at a technically high level.

But I never ever forget that it all began with Barbie, a pair of scissors, a needle and embroidery thread.

Megan Nielsen // twenty years of sewing

When we found the box of these little treasures a few months ago Bunny asked to play with them, so we snapped a few photos of her playing Barbie dress ups with my childhood creations. The only one we didn’t play with was my favourite, the red blazer and skirt set as they didn’t fit any of her dolls. I’m so glad we got to share them together, it feels full circle, and i look forward to the day when i can show my kids how to use a sewing machine.

So here is to twenty years of sewing and never being too old for Barbies!

Megan Nielsen // twenty years of sewingMegan Nielsen // twenty years of sewingMegan Nielsen // twenty years of sewingMegan Nielsen // twenty years of sewingMegan Nielsen // twenty years of sewing

About Author

Meg is the Founder and Creative Director of Megan Nielsen Patterns, and is constantly dreaming up ideas for new sewing patterns and ways to make your sewing journey more enjoyable! She gets really excited about design details and is always trying to add way too many variations to our patterns.

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Fröbelina
6 years ago

Happy Birthday Megan! I’m so glad you started sewing so you could enhance my wardrobe with your beautiful designs years later :)

Mandykatt
6 years ago

That’s such a sweet post! Very similar to my own start in sewing, at about 10 years old, 21 years ago. Crazy to think you’ve been sewing for 2/3 of your life, right? Happy birthday and congratulations on your sewing anniversary!

Fadanista
6 years ago

Such a lovely post and happy birthday! I know what you mean about the Elna Lotus. I have two – one is nearly dead but I use the other one when I’m camping. It sounds like a tractor but goes like a train. I love them both to bits. I adore your Barbie outfits and your story.

Colesworth
6 years ago

I Basically sewed 2 patterns through undergrad, a home drafted 3/4 circle wrap skirt for daytime and a new look A-line mini skirt for going out! I have them all in a bag in my storeroom, too small for me now!

eimear
6 years ago

you bought back a flood of memories by mentioning using velcro instead of a zipper….. did that for a skirt once (felt so smart when I thought of it, and a complete fool when I tried it on). I, too, am a mix of self taught, and taught, and book read… and from watching my niece now 13, I think at that age life is about trying it for yourself, and when it goes wrong then finding the solution from a better source…. the sewing i did in school seemed to be on a parallel universe to the sewing i did at home with my made up patterns….. I am now in my 40s and am always waxing lyrical about how useful the internet is for sew-ers and swopping tips etc….. having said that, when i look back at my dodgy topstitiching on my vinyl leather short (o so cute) trench coat, i still dont cringe as i have always been strangely proud of my makes (except when I mismatch plaid….)

Jennifer
Jennifer
6 years ago

I love the daisy stitch embroidery, I remember being so proud when I learnt how to do that one. I was probably the same age you were too. Thanks for the lovely memory :)

Deepti
Deepti
6 years ago

Happy birthday Meg! Love this post. What a wonderful journey.
My start at age 12/13 was very similar.. I was obsessed and addicted. My grandma still has a bag I made for her at 15. But for various reasons I stopped and didn’t pick it up again until I was 31!!

Kelly
Kelly
6 years ago

I love this! We are the same age, so I was wondering if you ever had the CD Rom game Barbie Fashion Designer as a girl. You could design outfits and if you had a printer, print out the patterns. They were basic enough that you were meant fold them from the paper (like a 3d paper doll) but I remember trying a few times to apply the patterns to some ugly extra fabric my Mom let me use, haha…

It was this: http://image.allmusic.com/00/agg/cov200/drg000/g004/g0048221qq2.jpg

Great memories. And yes, you’re never too old for Barbies!

Sundari Carmody
6 years ago
Reply to  Kelly

Oh I had totally forgotten about that Barbie computer game. I remember it now! I tried designing but got really bored of it quickly cause I didn’t have a decent enough printer at home or something. I don’t ever remember actually applying one to my barbies. Oh memories.

sharon
sharon
6 years ago

What a lovely post, I was 12/13 when my nan taught me to sew. My first attempt was a school skirt , i was so skinny I could never find a ready made one to fit !

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[…] birthday post about her sewing story was so sweet.  I love all the little barbie clothes she made as a […]

Tracy
6 years ago

I love this! What a treat that you still have some of those earliest creations! My 8 year old daughter sews for her Barbies (she just recently made one a halloween costume to match her own ~ http://pursuingjoy.blogspot.com/2015/10/cinderellas.html if you want to take a peek) I’ll need to remember to save a few… (unlike your mom, though, I’ve been stingy with sewing machine lessons….

katrynarae
6 years ago

Beautiful post. That yellow dress with grey sweater outfit it pretty killer.

Amy
Amy
6 years ago

These are so awesome. I never made Barbie clothes but my grandmother did (lots of them) and when I was 13 I thought I was too grown-up to keep doll things, so I sold it off at a garage sale! Definitely wasn’t thinking ahead…