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As a child, August was always a wonderful month for me -- not only because it was still summer holidays but also because it meant my mother would soon begin making our new clothes for back-to-school. With four children to sew for, she always started early. Back then, the variety and style of fabrics and patterns was somewhat limited. Sergers were never found in the home and notions that were available were basic -- nothing like we have available today. Today's home sewer can find and use a variety of fabrics and tools to make garments comparable to or even better than those available in the ready-to-wear market. Here are some tips and ideas to help with your back-to-school sewing projects.
Before you begin to cut and sew, spend some time and decide what clothes will best complement an existing wardrobe. Take a good look at the clothes your child is already wearing and ask yourself some questions. What is it your child really needs for the fall? Plenty of pants but short on shirts? Do they need a bit of everything? Look at the colors of the clothes in the closet and work from there. It is not very practical to add a color that does not coordinate with anything else in the closet. Consider what your child really needs, but remember to leave some room for FUN -- choose something that isn't really necessary but would be fun to make and fun to wear. I have a weakness for jackets and hats and I always seem to be making one or the other.
Before picking out fabrics and patterns, be sure to plan ahead. Make garments that will be good for both fall and winter or even spring. Clothes that can be layered with a variety of colors and styles work great. A polar fleece vest can be worn with a short sleeve shirt in the fall or a long sleeve knit top in winter. The same vest can also be worn under a jacket for added warmth in the winter. By making a few good basic items, you are able to mix and match to achieve a different look. Layering garments with different textures and shapes will give lots of variety and opportunity for children to "express" themselves.
Once you have a good idea of garments that are needed, involve your child in picking patterns and fabrics. Doing this can only end in a winning situation. If kids don't like something, they won't want to wear it --- better to get it right the first time! Start by looking through pattern books, magazines and even department or chain stores to come up with design and sewing ideas. Many of the fabrics used by large manufacturers are available to the public. You might need to search a bit, but it is probably worth the time. After learning what the child would like and finding some patterns, sit down and decide what to do first. Each year, I start out with great expectations of the many projects I will complete.
More often then not, I run out of time and some projects are left unfinished. Plan your sewing time, considering the time you have available to sew and the amount of time it will take you to construct each garment from start to finish including pre-washing, cutting and all those little finishing touches. You'll probably want to start by sewing those items that are needed the most.
When planning for back-to-school sewing, don't lose sight of how quickly children grow. They grow FAST! The last thing you want to see is that the jacket or pants you just spent many painstaking hours putting together no longer fits. Before you cut out the pattern, consider these questions. Do you need to add a few extra inches on a rolled cuff to allow for growth? Can you add a knitted cuff to the shirt after the sleeves have become too short? Do you need to lengthen the body of a dress or shirt to give a little bit more room. Knowing how you can adjust a garment for growth before you start works better than trying to figure it out after you are finished.
Now for something I come back to time and time again -- when shopping for fabric and notions for your children, always buy the best quality you can find and/or afford. Why put so much time, money and love into a garment that won't survive the first wash? Have you ever wondered why two apparently similar fabrics have a huge price difference? Often, that difference is due to quality. The original plain fabrics used to print on may have been of differing quality. The inks and the dying process used might not be the same. The fabrics may look very similar on the bolt but the difference will become apparent after washing. Better quality fabrics really are worth the money!
When buying fabrics for kids -- make sure the fabrics work well with their lifestyle. Fabrics that require a lot of special care are usually not well-suited for kids. Kids generally need clothes that can be washed and worn, and are highly durable. Fabrics that do not require ironing, knits for example, are great because they do not crease and still look good at the end of the day.
With all the back-to-school sewing for the big kids, don't forget your little ones! Just because they are not going to school doesn't mean you can't sew for them too. This is a great time of year to make something in the toddler or baby department. I find that after spending hours making something for my eldest, it is so nice to put together a simple play suit for my youngest. The pieces are a lot smaller, the whole project goes together quickly. And remember, a ten month old won't complain about what you have made, in fact, she'll probably just drool over it!!
When sewing for back-to-school, it is easy to forget about all the other great accessories you can make. Accessories can be quick projects and are great ways to use up all those small pieces of fabric. Make scrunchies to go with girls outfits but don't just stop there. Hats are a great addition to an outfit and are always great to wear. Hats help keep the sun off in summer and the warmth in during winter. Other uses for scraps include bags, backpacks and lunch bags.
With all this said and done -- HAVE FUN!! There are no fashion and sewing police out there so enjoy what you are doing and try something different. Mix and match buttons, combine two different color separating zippers together to make a new zipper combination. Don't feel that you have to follow the pattern exactly -- take a chance and you might be surprised how well the whole thing turns out!! Sewing for back-to-school is great.
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