Ever since I had my first baby last year, justifying the expense of decorating doesn’t come as easily as it once did.

Sure, I can buy something for the house, but I could also use that money on something for my daughter. The choice is always easy.

But I’ll be honest: I miss those days of picking up a new pair of lamps or having curtain panels made without thinking twice about it.

When I recently pined for a pretty designer lumbar pillow for my bedroom but wouldn’t allow the splurge, I made a decision. Instead of going without the pillow, I would make it myself.

I decided to learn how to sew.

A quick Google search led me to Bits of Thread ( www.bitsofthread.com ), a sewing studio in Dupont Circle (which has since moved to Adams Morgan) that offers workshops, group classes and private lessons. I felt my skill level (zero) would benefit most from one-on-one attention, so I chose the private route.


When I showed up for my first lesson with owner Allison Lince-Bentley, 31, I was nervous. I had never touched a sewing machine, and numbers aren’t my strong suit, so the thought of measuring and adding fractions made me sweat.

But my anxiety was normal, Lince-Bentley said. “I teach about 50 to 60 people per month, and a lot of them show up for the first time nervous. It’s all about getting used to and comfortable with the machine.”

She had me pull up a chair to one of the heavy-duty sewing machines (she uses the Janome 11590) and gave me a rundown of all the knobs, dials, controls and functions. She threw out terms such as presser foot, basting stitch, feed dogs and seam allowance, explaining what each one was.

To get me comfortable controlling the foot pedal and guiding fabric through the machine (using the feed dogs, thank you very much), she had me practice with paper.

“Learning to sew is mostly about where to focus your eye,” Lince-Bentley advised.

I made straight lines, wavy lines and, eventually, 90-degree turns. My lines were neither perfectly straight nor perfectly curved, but they were good enough to begin my first project.

Lince-Bentley had me pick out a piece of fabric and a color of ribbon from her stash. Per her instructions, I folded an 8-by-16-inch piece of floral fabric in half, with the pretty sides (the “right” sides) facing each other. I pinned together the two open sides and left the top open. I repeated the steps with a piece of lining.

I made several quick stitches, turned the fabric 90 degrees a few times and stitched some more. I sewed the fabric and lining together, turned the fabric right side out and guided the off-white ribbon through the top with a safety pin. Before I realized it, I had made a lined drawstring bag.

I used the ribbon to open and close the pretty little bag several times, feeling disproportionately proud of myself. It was a beginner sewer’s project, for sure, but for a non-crafty person such as myself, it felt as though I had just stitched together an heirloom quilt.

The next challenge

My next lesson began with laying fabric across a long table as Lince-Bentley helped me make precise measurements based on the pillow size I wanted (14 by 18 inches). Once we marked our places and checked them twice, I cut the fabric into several pieces.

I’m embarrassed to admit that all the measurements began to confuse me, and I started doubting my ability to complete the pillow without significant assistance (translation: Lince-Bentley doing it for me). I even suggested we forget the piping, which she warned would be a challenge based on my limited experience.

But my teacher persuaded me to forge ahead, even with the piping. “You’ll be glad you did,” she said.

With her patient guidance, I spent the next two hours measuring, cutting, ironing, pinning and stitching. It was hard work, much harder than I had anticipated (painful, too; straight pins can be very unkind).

Finally, I sewed my last edge, trimmed the long threads and turned the whole fabricated piece right side out. All I had left to do was insert the pillow form; after inspecting my work, Lince-Bentley let me do the honors.

My pillow wasn’t flawless, by any means; some of my straight stitches were curved and some of the piping wasn’t properly aligned, but I loved it just the same.

I left the studio that day with a pillow that cost me $46 in supplies and $105 for two private lessons. (Having a pillow custom-made would have set me back about $200.) In addition, I had the confidence to continue sewing and happy thoughts about all the pretty things I could make for my house: curtain panels, duvet covers, tablecloths, shower curtains and, if I’m feeling adventurous, Roman shades.

I’ll get to those eventually.

Right now, I’m tackling a more important sewing project: learning how to make dresses for my daughter.


6Share your sewing projects Submit a photo of your favorite creation to a reader gallery at wapo.st/sewingphotos .