Finding my way into sewing – a guest post by Liz Smith of Made in Lowell May 09, 2014 07:00 1 Comment

For my college graduation all I asked for was a sewing machine. I had already been collecting vintage fabrics before I got the machine. I scoured thrift shops for outdated velvet sport coats, bright, flowery dresses from the 60s and 70s with rips and stains I could cut around, pillow cases, sheets, remnants. I boxed these potential future sewing projects and shipped them to myself wherever I moved. Shipped them back to my parents’ house. Shipped them to my next apartment.

I never took a class, never followed a pattern. The way I learn is to become familiar with a technique then apply it to a project where I've made my own pattern. Over the years with that sewing machine I made pillow cases, duvet covers, curtains, a few bags.

I had hints I wanted to sew more; I collect vintage sewing notions, I make pincushions! I fall in love with fabrics and get crushes on fabric designers. I linger in quilt shops overwhelmed by the choices. I buy fat quarters and tuck them away. I collect all the scraps my sewing friends discard. I inevitably got the question, “What are you going to do with all those fabrics?” You mean besides neatly sort them by color into plastic boxes? Well, I don’t know.


I didn't know what was holding me back. But soon the invisible hurdle would be overcome with the help of items from the past.


A few years ago I came across a remnant of an unfinished crazy quilt at a summer antiques show. We couldn't afford to buy it but I took its picture and it stayed with me. All that handwork, the mix of fabric types, the embroidery, and the randomness of it! I was entranced.

At a thrift shop I bought a thin vintage quilt that caught my eye. I took it home, carefully hand-washed it and let it dry. When I examined it more closely I could see it was very old, entirely hand sewn, and probably from clothing scraps. It was the classic red square log cabin pattern. The blocks weren't all the same size, corners didn’t line up, and the fabric strips were of different widths. My heart exploded with love.

An epiphany illuminated my mind and I immediately began sewing. Hand sewing. I used scraps, vintage fabrics, and the most modern designer fabric pieces I’d been collecting, all mixed together. That gentle, simple act of hand sewing, especially with scraps and other folks’ discards led me where I’d longed to be all these years.

I’m currently working on hand piecing 3 queen sized quilt tops; two log cabin, one with patchwork squares. I even restored a 1914 Singer 66 Red Eye treadle machine and will start sewing on that as well.

How about you? Have you danced around an artform, a craft, a skilled trade before finding your own, personal way in?


Liz Smith is an artist living and working in Lowell, Massachusetts. She studied printmaking, painting, drawing, and sculpture in college. She's been working with polymer clay since 1989. She also loves transforming wool into felt, as well as knitting, crocheting, sewing, buying handmade and local, and Instagramming her cat.