How Did You Start Sewing?

Believe it or not, "embellishment" is one of the most searched sewing terms online. So I guess that means that it's a sewing technique that is near and dear to our hearts.

I would say that embellishment was among my first "successful" stabs at sewing. I had done a bit of sewing, starting around age 5, but until this first success couldn't really hold up any one item with pride and say, "Look what I made!"

This simple daisy was among
my first stabs at sewing.

It was the early 1970s. I was about 11, and embroidery was all the rage. Stores were selling out of embroidered blue jeans, jean jackets, and just about anything else that could be embellished with thread. (This was to be followed by rhinestone craze. Anyone recall the Rhinestone Studder?)

Well, I didn't have much money, but I did have a really pretty sunset yellow cotton blouse. I bought some embroidery thread, pilfered a needle from my mother's sewing kit, and I set to embroidering the blouse. I stitched little hot pink flowers with bright green leaves on the button placket and cuffs, and then I added a bright pink and orange snail on the breast of the shirt. Why a snail? I have no idea. But when I finished I was so proud of that shirt. It was prettier than anything I could buy and I was smitten with sewing.

There was another not-so-successful project: bell-bottom blue jeans trimmed with orange fur. I still remember the look on the face of my best friend's mother when she saw them. It was definitely horror. But you can't taste success without a little failure.

I think that embellishment is so attractive because it's so accessible. With just a little time and money, you can transform anything.

Would you believe that I still have that shirt in my closet? It's about a million sizes too small, but it still makes me smile.

If you are looking for some great embellishment projects, check out the Inspired to Embellish kit in the Sew Daily Shop.

What was your first embellishment project? Was embellishment a part of your early sewing? I would love to know!

Happy stitching!


Other sewing topics you may enjoy:


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About Amber

Amber Eden is the editor of Stitch and She LOVES sewing and editing Stitch and She also loves dance, yoga, iced decaf triple espressos, and her two golden retrievers. She divides her time between Boston and New York.

37 thoughts on “How Did You Start Sewing?

  1. My mother was a skilled sempstress but my first sewing experience was with embroidery and I was hooked. I really don’t remember how old I was when I received one of those (fifties era) kits with tiny stamped “handkerchiefs”, a cardboard hoop, embroidery floss and needle. I learned and applied the basic stitches and – when I’d finished the included supplies – went with my mother to Woolworth’s for prestamped pillowcases. I embroidered a pair with poppies for my parents and one with birds for me and I still had them up until my last move a few years back now. I still love embroidery. When my daughter was small, she had ridiculously detailed embellished clothes and linens. I’ve been casting about for a new project lately but the denim barn jacket I’m making for my SO probably isn’t a good candidate.

  2. I learned to sew early at the hand of my grandmother. I use to love to see how fast I could get that treadle to go. As a teenager in the late 1960’s, I discovered embroidery and started to embellish my jeans and jean jackets. The first thing I made in the late sixties was a huge butterfly on the thigh of my favorite bell bottom jeans…..then I added white stars around the bottoms as a tribute to my brother-in-law who was leaving for Viet Nam. I also took a coloring book character and embroidered it on the back of my boyfriends jean jacket. They were done with lots of french knots. Wow, that was crazy. Many years later I did a jacket back with cross stitch, this one I still have hanging in my closet. Thanks for the memories. Sandi

  3. My mother bought me a cross stitch kit, which usually had the thread, needle and the pattern was already printed on the fabric, when I was about 8, from there she taught me embroidery and when I was about 10 she taught me to sew on my great grandmothers Treadle Machine, Which I have now. I then used my moms electric sewing machine while I was still at home. I made my first formal when I was 14 and made a lot of my clothes from there on. After I was married I had an old portable sewing machine my husbands mother found at an auction. When our second son was born my husband bought me a new singer sewing machine with drop in cams. It lasted for 35 years. It had all kinds of decorative stitches and I learned to a few tricks of my own. When Our 3rd son came along my husbands aunt was taking a quilting class and asked if I would like to go too, which I did, and my first quilt was a baby quilt. then I made sampler quilt with various designs. When my youngest two children were born I combined the skills and embroidered and crossed stitched a quilt for each of them. I got a new sewing machine this past year but haven’t got to use it much. I am looking forward to finishing our house and getting it sold and get moved so I can get back to my sewing and crafts. I also do plastic canvas. I love to take various patterns and make them my own by rearranging them into totally different patterns or look at a piece of material and know what it could be.

  4. What a sweet story! I enjoyed it very much! My first sewing project took the form of embroidery in a hoop. It wasn’t much, but it was a start. I was about 7 or 8 years old. I still continue to cross stitch. I dabbled in sewing, but have never felt comfortable with the machine. Maybe that’s because my foster family would not let me even turn the TV on.

    I’m going to try very hard to make my Granddaughter a dress. She just turned 7 years old. I bought the pattern and material for her 6th Birthday. I definitely have a mental block about sewing. I will try to push past it!

  5. I was in elementary school, I remember embroidering a pre-stamped cross stitch toaster cover. My mother used it and I was so proud of my first creation. She gave me sewing lessons in 6th grade and I entered and came in first in the singer sewing contest. a few years later I was preparing to enter the Make it with wool contest. Part of my “ensemble” was a simple vest and an inspiring picture I found. I spent many intensive hours chalking my design on to both front pieces. A tall tree with leaf and bark detail, even a spiderin it’s web. The other side continued with tall grasses and a variety flowers. Even the lower back had a small strawberry plant. Well, I didnt come in first but I loved my vest and still have it 30 years later. The power of embelleshment stayed with me through college,with most of my sketches or garments including an embroidery detail. My creative embelleshment journey contines with the same joy and passion

  6. My first embellishment was a Bell Pull for my brownie badge. My Mother was the one that taught us. I have been hooked since. I prefer hand sewing to sewing machine. I smocked clothes for my children as an experiment…. I am guessing the experiments were because what I made was mine and no one else could claim it; good or bad…. they were mine and I was/am happy when I can give a piece of myself.

  7. What a fun conversation! I had precious little sewing experience / training, but my first embellishment effort was decorating the front of a pair of bib overalls. I embroidered a rainbow, butterflies, flowers, etc. It was the mid 70’s and I was about 15 years old.

    My next sewing experience was the following year. My grandparents on my Mom’s side owned a “general store / quilt shop” in Harper’s Ferry West Virginia. There was a wall of fabric bolts. I “went shopping” at the store for some cotton fabrics to make my first quilted pillow.

    That really inspired me. I have made a total of 6 quilts so far. A really special one for me was the lap quilt I made for my other Grandma. She used it daily for years and loved the little photo of the two of us that I put on the back corner, with a love message to her.

    Now I’m branching out. I made a quilt for my Mom last year when she was sick, but I have also made baby bibs for friends/relatives and some aprons. The current project is pillow cases for the national pillowcase drive. I LOVE sewing.

  8. I am now 65 and have been sewing since I joined 4-H at age 6. My first projects were hemming a tea towel and making an apron. I also learned to embroidery and later self taught myself to crochet.

    My teachers were my mother and my Aunt Millie and my 4-H sewing project leader, Evelyn Noll.

    I taught my daughter to sew and she later earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Textiles and Apparel Marketing.

    I finally finished some quilt squares that I had embroidered and sewed it into two baby quilts for my granddaughters. I made my grandson a full-sized quilt. I made many more baby quilts and doll quilts. Now I am using that knowledge to make bedding for dogs and cats. I cut up used comforters and cover them with sheets or pillowcases and donate the bedding to local animal shelters. I am currently making dog collars and leashes and selling them. Funds generated are donated to the local Vet clinic to pay for medical needs of abused or neglected animals that are seized by the Animal Control Officer.

    I am also finished a full-size quilt that I purchased at an auction. Someone had done all the cross-stitch and I am doing the embroidery work. I also purchased other quilt tops and have sent them off to be machine quilted.

    I lost my mother-in-law to brain cancer in 1983 and her sister had a meminigioma removed in 2009 at age 93. I heard about making chemocaps and recently purchased some yarn at an auction. I will crochet chemocaps and donate them to Saint Luke’s Hospital Brain and Stroke Center in Kansas City, Missouri.

    I use sewing as a stress reliever as I am pursuing justice thru the legal system as a victim of social injustice. It took a lot of courage to seek the help of a lawyer, file a lawsuit, and report the crime to local authorities.

    I was the caregiver for my inlaws and my aunt. I lost my step-mother-in-law and her sister in 2011. This year marks two years without them. Sewing has help me to transition from grief to acceptance.

    Sew, sew to your heart’s content.

  9. My first embellishment was also my first sewing. Around 5 yrs old my grandmother would give me a tea towel and the button box. I would sit for hours sewing buttons all over that towel. Grandma started threading my needle but by 6 I had to thread myself. The next week end I would go over and there was the same towel and same button box – but grandma had cut off all the buttons and I would start all over again. Loved it and it start a live long love of sewing. Sewing really helped me during my 35 years in the Air Force. A lot of places I would need curtains, slip covers, and bed covers – no problem give me material or sheets and off I would go. Thanks Grandma xo

  10. I remember being around 4 or 5 years old, sitting on the screened in front porch of my great-grandmother’s house in Iowa as she taught me to cross- stitch. I was lucky as a child to have many beautiful hand-made dresses in gingham checked fabric that had designs cross-stitched into the skirts and bodices. This is called Chicken Scratch and it’s a wonderful art.

    It is summertime and I can vividly see myself sitting in my little shorts and crop top, head bent down over my beginning cross-stitch stretched tight in a small embroidery hoop. I’m pretty sure I had my tongue out, because we all know that helps you concentrate, and a frown creasing my forehead. Boy, has that crease gotten deeper over the years — great reason to wear bangs!

    I had the embroidery hoop balanced on my lap and I completed several stitches. And, with great excitement, when I lifted the hoop to show great-grandma my work, we realized I had stitched the fabric to my shorts. I stood up and it just hung there off my leg. I know she had a huge laugh over that. I’m sure this began my long history of making something and having to tear it out and start over again. You know, some things you can fudge on and little mistakes are acceptable. Walking around with an embroidery hoop sewn to your shorts just doesn’t cut it.

  11. When I was maybe 4 or 5, I was visiting an aunt and uncle, and noticed my aunt had a bag of old clothes to be used as cleaning rags. I picked one of my uncle’s pajama tops that had a pattern I liked. When I got home I asked my mom to show me how to sew, because I wanted to make my Barbie doll an outfit. She showed me how to cut fabric and stitch by hand. Worst outfit ever, but it fit and I was excited because it was clothing and I made it! Fast forward to about age 6 or so, mom finally got a basic sewing machine. She only had it to do repairs and such, she was never crafty. I wasn’t allowed neat it, because it was machinery and had a sharp needle. She kept it in their walk-in bedroom closet. I sneaked the instruction book, read it, and went in there while mom was busy one day, plugged it in and tried sewing something…that was it! Ever since I have been a sewer, knitter, crocheter, jewelry designer…all sorts of things, and I love it! She had no idea I had been sewing until 6 years later when I went into Home Economics at the age of 12, and had no problem using her machine to complete my school projects. I guess one could say, it was in my blood…I am the only person in my family that has these creative traits.

  12. I always loved watching my mom sew, and I knew I wanted to sew too. She would give me scraps of fabric, thread and needle and let me play. I remember making a blouse for my Barbie and some felt clothes for my troll doll (remember those?). In 1970, when my grandparents were visiting, and I was turning 14, we girls (Grandma, Mom, my sister and I) decided to spend our time embroidering quilt squares. Mom had quite a stash of embroidery floss, and enough needles to go around. I think Grandma bought the fabric for the squares and an envelop of iron-on embroidery designs. We spent hours on those squares. I sewed them all together and we made my a quilt for my sister. Now it was my turn. I drew a simple 70’s style flower, and we used yellow and brown yarn to embroider my design onto blue hopsack fabric squares. Before we were finished Grandma and Grandpa had to go home. Grandma took several of the squares home with her and said she would finish them. Fast forward 1986. Grandma finally sent me the finished squares. I moved those squares with me everywhere, but never made the quilt. Fast forward 2007: I had just quit my job and was in the garage doing laundry. There were the squares – out of whatever I had them in – as though begging me to finish my quilt. And that’s what I did. 37 years later – I have my quilt.

  13. When I was small, my sisters and brothers went to school leaving me at home. My Mother during cold weather, would set up her quilting frame and invited several ladies over to quilt; often alternating the quilts the ladies made. Being young I would get under the quilt and play as they would quilt, which did not please them at all. So, my Mother got out a little leather seated rocker and started me on embroidery work. At the age of four years, I completed my first piece of embroidery. Later Mother would remove the thread, bobbins etc. from sewing machine, provide me with paper and let me run the machine. I learned alot from Mother, and have sewed all my life, as well as other needle crafts. Such good memories I hav of days long gone.

  14. My Mother taught me to sew, knit, crochet, embroider and cook. She was such an inspiration to me. In Home Economics class in grade school, one assignment was to do hand-stitching on a piece of fabric, practicing a hem stitch and a straight stitch. I got an “A” on mine. After my Mother passed away, I got her big console cabinet sewing machine, filled with her sewing supplies. As I was going through it, I saw a little rolled up piece of white cloth. It was my sewing project from grade school! She had kept it all these years! It also has a piece of paper pinned on it with my hand-written name. I now have not only a sample of my early stitching practice, but also a sample of my early handwriting. I was 54 when she passed away. It is again rolled up and stashed in her sewing cabinet, and there it will stay. It touches my heart that she was proud enough of me to keep it all those years. She was 86 when she passed away.

  15. Back in my days of “rude crude and socially unacceptable” behavior, I embellished a jock strap for an officer (his rank and gave it fur lining) who was going to Korea without his wife. It’s a bit disgusting, but it is also a bit on the “strange” side.

  16. I learned to embroider from my maternal grandmother. She gave me a little hand towel that was stamped with a cute design and showed me how to get started. Not sure exactly what age I was – maybe 8 or 9. It took me years to get that towel done, but I still have it. But that instruction spurred me on to other projects – mostly doll clothes – that I would embroider. I still love that embroidery look and have been adding it to art quilts in the past couple of years.

  17. My grandma and aunt were always sewing. ,beautiful baby blankets..I learned to sew cause I was 5 ft 10 at age ten and clothes would not fit.. I loved to tell everyone I made this..always used ribbons to make collars stand out

  18. Even though I learned sew and made some of my own clothes when still a teenager, I don’t remember embellishing any of them. The first time I think I embellished was when I started to sew for my toddler daughter. I turned a lot of t-shirts into dresses for her by adding a fabric skirt to the bottom of the t-shirt. Then I’d applique a select design element from the fabric onto the t-shirt and add fabric paint to dress it up. Didn’t involve embroidery, but embellishment none the less.

  19. My first sewing project was when I was about 4. Mother had an old treddle singer sewing machine that belonged to my grandmother. For Christmas, I received a child’s sewing machine; it really sewed but you turned the wheel on the side of the head and that made the needle go up and down. Every time Mother would sit down to her sewing machine, I would also. I learned to love thread and sewing, embroidering, crocheting, and someday I hope to knit.

  20. I was working with yarn and thread from the time I was very small. The embellishment project that stands out in my memory was a pair of jeans-style brown pants that I embroidered with flowers and free form designs on the pockets and down around the lower pant legs. I was very happy with how this project turned out and I wore the pants until they wore out.

  21. First of all-you chose a Snail because in the early 70’s they were “far out” and also because as a beginner you did not have the confidence to attempt a Mushroom!! I decided at 10 that the blanket stitch was the one for me,and prompty began to stitch the edges of EVERYTHING I could. My daddy decided I was an “expert” when I customized one of his neckties and suggested I move on to another stitch,that I please not embellish any more of his wardrobe and that I might consider expanding my color pallette to include more than varigated blue! Great article-thanks for stirring up the memory!

  22. I learned to tat from a doily my great grandmother had made, and I had a blouse that I loved but was in need of repair. I made some tatted motifs to help hide the holes, and decided that the motifs would look better if I added to the front yokes a simple galoon braid done in a deep blue pearl thread I found at Joann Fabrics. The result was gorgeous!

    Then I needed a skirt for a history conference (ah, grad school). I had four presentations I needed outfits for, and not one store locally sold skirts suitable for such ventures that actually made me look like I’m 30–every single skirt my size screamed “High school tart!”, and the decent professional skirts that I could find were all twenty inches too big in the waist. I hauled out my mum’s sewing machine, found a suitable black fabric, and got to work.

    Then I joined a historical society that dresses in Victorian clothing for special events. Guess what I need to make now? Yep–a traditional Victorian outfit. I’ll forego using the linsey-woolsey material they used (a mix of flax and wool) so that I can use up some of my fabric stash. But I’m still going to make the lace with my trusty tatting shuttle! I might even be adventurous and try making some needle lace trim for the collar!

  23. I learned to sew at school when I was 8 and I made a sewing bag to hold my sewing,(50 years ago) I still have it
    I embellished it , of course with my first name in big purple letters, and did some fancy ‘equal’ signs around the edges. I remember my teacher saying that perhaps I should use a pale blue, yellow or pink like the rest of the girls, but no, I wanted purple and I love all the mauves and purple shades to this day.And my embellishments are a lot fancier.

  24. My sewing career began in a very unconvential way. A lady I teach with was expecting twins and she says to me, “Cindy, will you sew the girls a baby blanket? I really want them to have something homemade from someone I really care about.” To which I reply, “I have never even sewn a button on a shirt!” Her comeback, “Well can’t you learn? The babies won’t be born for another 5 months.” And thus the adventure began. There was an OLD sewing machine in a house my husband had just purchased to flip so I asked him if he would bring it home. (Yes, he was confused about this request) He brought it home and I began searching for sewing tutorials on-line. (Including how to thread the machine! Lol) I bought some cheap material to practice on and before long I felt I was ready to begin the baby quilts. Long story short, I completed the quilts and machine quilted them and they were the hit of the baby shower. Then Santa brought me a new sewing machine for Christmas and I’ve never stopped. I love it! My latest endeavor…embroidering….

  25. Flower Power! I was a teenager in the 60’s so my first embellishment project was embroidered daisies on my bell-bottom jeans! I don’t know if tie-dye is considered an embellishment but I loved to take ordinary T-Shirts and blouses and make them bright and colorful with Ritz fabric dye….to my eyes they were very “hip”.

  26. I started hand sewing doll clothes while sitting under my Mother’s Necchi sewing machine. I was about 4 years old. Mom would give me fabric scraps and I would put them together to make something for my Toodles doll. Then my Mom gave me an old treadle machine, and I made Barbie clothes. I started to embellish while in college, keeping old jeans together with decorative stitches. I love the embroidered quilt squares and am working on my first one as a Christmas quilt. This is a way to join my two favorite passions.

  27. My mom taught me how to sew when I was 6 and I remember receiving my own child’s sewing machine for my birthday, I was so excited! When I was in high school in the 70’s I made my own dresses and blouses. I remember embroidering a peasant-style blouse and thought I did a great job. When I attended college I embroidered a dolphin and coconut tree beach scene with a rainbow on one of my roommate’s jean leg. She told me when her jeans wore out she cut and kept my embroidery. Ah, good times, good times!
    Fast forward to to today. My 6 year old grand daughter really admires my sewing machine (“your sewing machine is awesome Grandma!”, lol) and someday soon I will teach her how to sew and I plan to take her to next year’s Puyallup Sewing expo. I want her to have those fun memories too!

  28. I was about 11 when I started sewing. I am ony 4’11” and was always the smallest in my class. I was still wearing little girl’s clothes when my friends were wearing Jrs. Back in the 70’s there was a big difference in style between little girls and Jrs clothes so if I wanted things to fit and be fashionable I had to sew them. I learned crewel embroidery about the same age. It was only natural to combine them.
    Mostly I embroidered jeans for myself and friends. My most unusual request was for my friend, the Pastor’s daughter. She asked me to embroider the pockets and cuffs of her brother’s jeans with flowers. Now this was during the “Flower Power” era and all but I still thought it was odd for a young man (he was in college) to want such flowery pants.Was he gay or just a hippie? Either would have been pretty scandalous for a Lutheran Minister’s son back then.

  29. My mom was (and still is!) a very accomplished seamstress. She was making a wedding gown. I helped her cut out motifs from YARDS of lace, then sew them on the skirt of the gown. It was beautiful when it was finished and I was hooked! I helped with many projects after that until I got too involved in high school. I lost interest until I got pregnant with my daughter. I started taking heirloom classes and fell in love again.
    My mom had quit sewing for the public and went to work outside the home. After she retired, we started our own business making custom window treatments and soft goods for the home. We are going on 9 years working together and I still love every minute of it! I am so blessed!

  30. It was 1976. I was 12 years old and in girl scouts. We put on a bicentennial demonstration at our local mall. I had tinkered with embroidery since I was 5 years old. This was different I began my love affair with quilts and quilt blocks and sewing them together by hand. That led to hand quilting of course. With my first child came the desire to sew her clothes which I did. Today I am a seamstress and a sewing instructor and I still get the same thrill from sewing 2 pieces of cloth together that I did sooooo long ago. Sewing is a daily activity that I refuse to give up. When I lost all my machines and fabric in a house fire I took all the mens shirts that we couldn’t use and turned them into quilts for our new house.

  31. I was about 3 and a half Years old when Mom was teaching my 3 older brothers 2 boy cousins and 2 boy neighbor How to embroidery. I remember her talking about teaching them and trying to teach me. I’ve been able to Embroidery as long as I can remember. She also tought the 2 younger sisters and younger brother to embroidery when they were young.

  32. My first sewing was making doll clothes. When I was about 9 yrs old I joined 4-H and that was where I first really learned about sewing. My grandmother sewed, but my mother did not. I loved it from the very beginning. During high school I made a lot of my clothes. Along with this love of sewing was a love of paper dolls. I spent hours designing clothes for them and would have loved to have been a dress designer, but that was not to be. I have sewed for our home, my children, myself, my husband and now my grandchildren. And I still love it. It is the best stress reliever I can think of.

  33. My story is incredibly similar to Amber’s. I had been sewing since I was a preschooler, but my first embellishment/embroidery project happened around 1970 when I was 10 years old. My older sisters came home from college wearing chambray shirts they had embroidered with “lazy daisy” flowers and leaves up the button placket and around the cuffs. I begged to be given the supplies to copy their fashion, so they took me to the store to buy a shirt. I quickly learned how to make the daisy stitch and concentrated on that project till I was finished. I made the flowers in a variety of colors and wore that shirt proudly for years!

    Now, I don’t have a story to match Amber’s orange fur bell bottoms, but around that same time I sewed myself a pair of bright pink seersucker plaid elephant pants. Remember elephant pants? Bell bottoms gone wild- I think the bottom circumference of each leg was close to 50″! I wish I still had those pants just to prove they really existed!

  34. I started making Barbie clothes when my grandmother gave me her treadle sewing machine. She got her first electric machine and I got the hand-me-down. My mother decided if I could make Barbie clothes for the neighborhood, I could make my own clothes too (I was 12 at the time). She bought me easy patterns and notions and put me to work during summer vacation. I was so proud of my A-line dresses when I went back to school in the fall. I still remember that machine fondly – I think of the dresses my grandmother made for me with the pleats and tucks, and bows and crinolines (remember the late 50’s), and will always wish I still had it, even if it’s just to set the TV on. I still drag my own machine out when I can’t find anything I really like at the store. It’s a shame they don’t encourage more sewing in school anymore. Cathy V.

  35. I was always really impressed with any one who had a Mum with a sewing machine. I just thought that was amazing. I must have kept talking about sewing, as one of my friends suggested we do some sewing. I loved it! I made a bag out of Faux fur and took it everywhere. When i say bag, I mean two rectangles sewn together with another rectangle sewn on as a flap and a tube of material for the strap. It did the job!