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Learning to Sew?
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Mongoose 10
(mongoose10) - F
Learning to Sew? on 06/05/2011 07:45:27 MDT Print View

For all of you guys out there who are making these amazing packs and bags on your own, where did you learn how to sew? I know how to work a basic sewing machine and can sew a straight line, but I have no idea where I would learn the techniques that I would need to sew a backpack (and to make it durable). Just trying to figure out how to get started, and not really keen on taking a sewing class where I have to learn how to make skirts and shirts, etc., when what I want to be making are bags! Thanks! (And amazing work on here)!

Aaron Benson
(AaronMB) - F

Locale: Central Valley California
Re: Learning to Sew? on 06/05/2011 07:52:09 MDT Print View

In short, for me, it was all about "just trying stuff" while starting small. Stuff sacks, rain skirts and whatever other simple(r) items you can think of to make are good starters. Using the bargain scraps that many fabric stores offer is a great way to practice on the cheap. There is much reading and references in the MYOG forums/articles sections that will help with theory/technique. Take your time and have fun. It can be a frustrating but rewarding process.

John Donewar
(Newton) - MLife

Locale: Southeastern Louisiana
Re: Learning to Sew? on 06/05/2011 08:07:23 MDT Print View

My incentive was that I wanted all the really light gear but I didn't have the "heavy" wallet to buy it. ;-)

What did the trick for me was signing up for a BPL membership so I could gain access to all the MYOG articles. There is so much knowledge and experience in those articles.

After that it was just sitting down in front of the machine and trying the small stuff. You already know as much as I did when I first started.

"I know how to work a basic sewing machine and can sew a straight line..."

You will be amazed what you can do with a straight seam.

Party On,


Terry Trimble
(socal-nomad) - F

Locale: North San Diego county
Learning to Sew? on 06/05/2011 10:52:13 MDT Print View

When I was boy scout back in the early 1970's My troop backpacked every other weekend, I wanted a down sleeping bag they were almost just as expensive as they are today but we could not afford one. I found a ad in backpacker magazine for frost line kits they sent me a catalog. I ordered the sleeping bag kit I had some knowledge of using a sewing machine because I had two sister sewing clothes .

I made the down sleeping bag with the help of my Mom it came out pretty nice. So I ordered the down jacket kit and it was a night mare from the start we knew a neighbor lady who was seamstress and she helped me sew the jacket. Ever since then I have been sewing off and on my own backpacking and surfing gear.
If I were you take the sewing class making skirts and shirts and your sewing skills will way beyond most of ours. Toward the end of the semester or in advanced classes in your free time get a rain shed day pack pattern and sew a day pack. Show it to the class and maybe the teacher will add that to a class project because all kids carry day packs to school theses days.
Take a mechanical drawing or drafting class to understand how to draw up plans to draw up your own backpack plans.

If you need a personal sewing machine buy a older all metal sewing machine body used like singer or I own a Riccar rm 540 and it has a 1 amp motor. The older sewing machines can sew through several layer of fabric. My next goal is to get a more powerful commercial sewing machine with a walking foot .
You can buy your fabric and pattern from Outdoor wilderness fabric, Rain Shed ,Rocky mountain fabrics,Quest fabrics and when you sew a great day pack. Thru hiker has some of the high tech fabric and kits for light weight backpacking clothes,some links to backpack and quilt plans and basic sewing skills .

Also go in to your local sporting good store and study the backpacks inside out and what the manufactures did to make the backpack. When I built RC gliders we call it reverse engineering. Sewing is a journey you will always learn some thing new from each project.

Edited by socal-nomad on 06/05/2011 10:56:29 MDT.

Andrew Schriner
(lettheguydance) - F

Locale: Midwest
Re: Learning to Sew? on 06/07/2011 10:45:34 MDT Print View

+10 on just trying some stuff

You will learn as you go, and the seam ripper will be your friend.

I actually started mostly with kits (Ray Way tarp and quilt, bomber hat), and when I finished those I knew enough to be dangerous. Then I started making some things from patterns with instructions, and then I started designing my own stuff. From zero skill to being able to make basically anything I want to.

Just jump in!

James Dieffenwierth
(shorembo) - F

Locale: SWFLA
Re: Learning to Sew? on 06/09/2011 16:47:07 MDT Print View

Let's see....two weeks ago I had never touched a sewing machine. Now I have a handmade G4 backpack (material and pattern from QuestOutfitters). It has shoulder traps, a waist band, velcro pockets, stretchy mesh pockets, etc. And it looks magnificent.

The only instructions I got were how to load a thread and bobbin. It must have taken me three hours to sew my first piece. But once I got the hang of it, things keep getting easier. I finished in around 20 hours. If I make one for my son, I think I could get it done in 10 hours. (I lost two hours just to a problem with sewing straps when it turned out that all I needed to do was lower my stitches per inch...which is a big lever on the front of the machine!)

The best thing I had going for me was the G4 yahoo group website. Someone had a picture of each step.

I did make a few "permanent" mistakes (sewing too close to the drawstring makes it hard to pull on the drawstring). But overall, it is one of the coolest things I have done in a long time. And right now I am going to look up more make-it-yourself gear.

So...just do it.

David Cohen
(TheNewGuy) - F
Re: Learning to Sew? on 06/09/2011 18:37:07 MDT Print View

Hi Monica:

I bought a bullet-proof old singer sewing machine from Goodwill for $15.00, and did a bunch of practice sewing on scrap fabric. After that, I re-upholstered a bench seat in my old Chevy Truck. Some of those old machines are super strong and can go forever if properly adjusted and lubricated. Look at the underside of the machine ... if you see lots of heavy steel parts and connecting rods that remind you of the rods connecting the wheels on an old steam locomotive, that's a good thing. If it's heavy when you pick it up, that's a good thing. Pull the bobbin out of it, take the belt off the flywheel, and spin it over ... if it glides nice and smooth, that's good too. Make sure you get a machine with a zigzag capability. Most all home machines have that.

After the upholstery job, I made some stuff sacks, then a gore-tex bivy, then a goosedown quilt (based on the "Hungry Howie" design), then a couple of backpacks.

Take a look at, where you will see a lot of instructions on the left. It's also very helpful to look closely at other gear you have, and examine how it's put together. Soon, you will be able to see that you have to first sew this seam, then sew this other piece on top ... etc. In other words, you will be able to see how it is made and in what order.

To make a bar-tack, set your zig zag stitch width to about 80% of max, and your stitch length to very very short ... almost zero. Then run it on some scrap fabric, and you'll be amazed to see you've just done a bar-tack.

Get some $1/yard fabric from Walmart and just play with it ... practice different things and you'll get a LOT more confident as you go. Take your time and enjoy it. If you get frustrated and loose your groove, put it down, take a hike, and enjoy yourself. Be calm and relaxed while working on an item you'll love. Let yourself go, and you'll feel a "flow" of work coming from your hands. It's very rewarding.

Best of luck, and be sure to share your results here on the forum.

Edited by TheNewGuy on 06/09/2011 18:40:23 MDT.

Blake Lytle
(cirrusbl) - F

Locale: Upper Peninsula
you can do it! on 06/10/2011 17:11:37 MDT Print View

I agree with the above posters - if you can sew a straight stitch, you know enough to make some great gear! I recently made my first down quilt and it's essentially just a lot of straight stitches. Small items are a great way to start, but don't be intimidated to dive right in and try something bigger.

I had to take a sewing class in middle school and almost failed. I learned way more by trying to make gear, both designing my own and from kits. I'm still learning how to sew every time I do a new project.

I also recommend the G4. Great pack, lots of fun to make and use, and lots of help out there.

Edited by cirrusbl on 06/10/2011 17:14:42 MDT.

Christopher Zimmer
(czimmer) - F

Locale: Ohio
Just jump in! on 06/10/2011 18:18:08 MDT Print View

What everyone above said, just start trying stuff and see what works best for you. I know I read a lot of posts on here before I ever got the courage to buy a machine, now I wish I would have gotten one a lot earlier. If there is something you want to make just do a search and i'm sure you will find what your looking for. If you can't find it just ask, there are a lot of great folks here that will be more then happy to help out!

Javan Dempsey

Locale: The-Stateless-Society
Re: Learning to Sew? on 06/10/2011 18:51:20 MDT Print View


If you can actually sew a straight line, you're miles ahead of many of the "pros" I've met.

I've tried to train numerous women with seamstress background that can't actually sew a "straight" line, because they're so used to working hidden seams. ;)

I started with a thriftstore kenmore that had tons of issues. I made a hammock first, then a quilt. All straight lines. I've been making gear professionally ever since. Other than bar-tacking, I find I use zig-zag about once a month, the rest of the time I'm just straight stitching straight lines, or occasionally curves.

Like Chris said, "Just jump in!".

First project will come out better than expected, which will make you cocky, and make your next project come out worse than expected.. Then you can really start learning. ;)