A very beginning sewing lesson

On Sunday I taught a very beginning sewing lesson to three friends who all wanted to learn how to sew and have been begging me to teach them for months! I decided we would learn to use the machines and make a simple bag, and that would probably be more than enough for a first lesson. So I set up my little red machine, my everyday vintage machine, and made space for Veda to bring her new (purple!!) John Lewis mini machine up in the saloon…

The Sewing Machine Driver’s Test

After showing everyone the various parts of the machines, I put an old or blunt needle in each and I had them “sew” on the lines while the machine was unthreaded. The object is to get every single hole touching the line on the page, and when we did this in my home ec class in middle school, the teacher circled any errant holes (if we had more than three, we’d have to repeat that sheet). You start with straight lines, then corners, then a spiral, and finally wavy lines. My girls did great, but opted to redo the last two sheets to get some practice in!

Download my Sewing Machine Driver’s Test here! (Pdf, 200kb)

They all said that this really helped them to get comfortable with the machine and said the curves of the bag were way easier because of it!

The bag

Then we moved on to BurdaStyle’s (free!) Charlie bag pattern, and I showed them how to trim and tape the pattern pages together, then how to lay out the pieces and obey grainlines and learn how to find the selvedge.

I really didn’t like that BurdaStyle’s instructions have you trim off the seam allowances on the bag handles and then overlock them (wtf? What beginner sewer has access to an overlocker??) so I had my girls make a facing for the top of the bag. It got them to practice sewing curves, the importance of clipping the seam allowances, and flipping inside out! And I personally think it’s less fiddly than bias binding when you’re just learning.

Here’s the one I made earlier, to refresh your memory…

I found it really fiddly to fit the bag into the pouch, and frankly, it takes up less room in my handbag to just fold it in half and roll it up, so we didn’t make the pouches!

So my method for sewing the Charlie bag is the following. I tried to do a photo tutorial so it really would be useful for beginners but my photos were really not clear enough to be helpful. So consider these a helping hand for existing sewers wanting to teach newbies.

Better instructions for the Charlie bag

  1. Sew one side seam of the bag
  2. Sew one side seam of the facing
  3. With right sides facing, place the curved edges of the bag and facing together. At the ends of the handles, fold back 5/8” of the facing. Sew the bag and facing together along the curves, stopping at the folded edge of the facing.
  4. Clip the curved seam allowances, flip the handles right sides out, and press.
  5. Sew the other side seam of the bag and facing, making sure the joining seam is aligned and the facing is also being sewn right sides together (not folded against the bag as my girls wanted to do!)
  6. Sew the bottom edge of the bag
  7. Pinch the bottom corners of the bag so that the side seam and bottom seam align in the centre, and sew across the triangle at whatever width you’d like the bag bottom to be
  8. Sew the bag handles together, making sure to stitch only through the bag, not the folded facing edge. Press the seam allowances open and tuck them inside the folds. Hand stitch closed. Or topstitch through all layers if you’d rather. (Note: you want the handles of the same pattern piece to join together, so that the hole of the bag opening is over the whole bag piece, not over the side seam. Ask me how I know.)
  9. Strut into work/school the next day with your finished bag!

And here we are with our finished bags!

L-R: Veda with her turquoise bag with a stripey facing, Nessa with her vibrant green bag, me with my black and cream bag, and Holly with her denim bag (bought from the offcuts table at Dittto a few weekends ago!).

All this took about 4-5 hours on Sunday, with left me exhausted but them begging for more. So I may have agreed to teach them to sew a basic A-line skirt…

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