Sewing 101: Fastenings

Yesterday, my Brother and I navigated uncharted waters with fastenings of all kinds: buttons, zippers, snaps, and elastic.  It was quite the educational experience.  I even got to change my J foot for the first time and swap it out for three different feet a.k.a. “robot claws.”  I felt really proud of myself when I got in the groove of poppin’ ’em off, and poppin’ on new ones.  (Oh, the small delights of a beginner!)

Sewing 101: Fastenings - The Thinking Closet


I have been collecting buttons for the last several years in part because I used them in a special poetry activity with my freshman English students.  Each student would choose one button from my button box and create an imaginary character as they pondered the question, “Who did this button belong to?”  Eventually, they partnered up with a classmate, and the two characters’ stories were intertwined.  My favorite aspect of this project was the mystery of it all.  I only gave students one step at a time (which they loved / hated), until, three days later, they reached the grand finale assignment: to transform their elaborately developed narrative into a poem in the style of e. e. cummings or Robert Frost or Lucille Clifton or Eavan Boland.   Those poems were some of the strongest pieces of writing I got out of them.  And it started with just one button.

(Props to Professor Maura Gouck at N.Y.U. for introducing this activity to me in the first place.)

Sewing 101: Fastenings - The Thinking Closet

Anyway, after getting all nostalgic about my poetry unit, I dove into exploring three different ways to hand-stitch buttons, and even managed to machine-stitch a button without breaking a needle.  My favorite part was watching my machine work its magic in creating a perfect buttonhole at lightening speed.

Sewing 101: Fastenings - The Thinking Closet


I think the most miraculous feat of the day was successfully shortening and installing a zipper.  I can hardly believe it actually zips!  Now, when the contestants on Project Runway lament about still needing to sew in a zipper before time runs out, I can nod my head empathetically and talk to the T.V., saying, “I know, child.  I know.  And you’d best get on that because it certainly ain’t going to install itself,”…like I’m part of the club now.

Sewing 101: Fastenings - The Thinking Closet


Snaps were by far the easiest fastening to install!  No needle, no thread, no machine – – just a hammer, block of wood, and a little show of force.  Something about the pearly finish on those snaps makes me want to stitch up a country western shirt and quote John Wayne.

“I won’t be wronged, I won’t be insulted, and I won’t be laid a hand on.”  –The Shootist

Sewing 101: Fastenings - The Thinking Closet


This last one took us past sundown (hence the less-pretty picture).  I ran into a few troubles with my first type of elastic.  My machine’s feed dogs seemed a little weary and slow at moving my fabric through while I stretched out my elastic.  So, please don’t look too closely at those stitches.  Just be distracted by the pretty polka dots…you are getting verrrrrry sleepy….

Sewing 101: Fastenings - The Thinking Closet

I’m proud to say that after today’s fastenings extravaganza, the only thing I have left to complete in Raechel Myers’s Sewing 101 course is the market bag itself!  I’ve had my fabric since September, so it’s high time to put it to use, doncha think?

Sewing 101: Fastenings - The Thinking Closet

Recognize this photo from a certain header?  {Ahem.}

And before I say “over and out,” there were just two more photos I wanted to share with you, lovelies.

First, Mark came down to the dock while I was taking pictures and showed me the new nylon string he bought…it’s rainbow colored!  How cool is that?  (I love that when given a choice, Mark opts for rainbow over a solid.  That’s my kinda man.)  They sell this string at Hobby Lobby.

Sewing 101: Fastenings - The Thinking Closet

And lastly, because I resolved to share more honesty, more mess here at The Thinking Closet in 2013, I present to you my workspace at the end of the day yesterday:

Sewing 101: Fastenings - The Thinking Closet

As the saying goes,

“Creativity is messy, and I’m VERY creative.”

Welp, I guess it’s clean-up time!

Over and out,

This is Lauren, signing off.

Lovely comments so far...

  1. says

    Sewing is one frontier that I am yearning to conquer. Every year I have intentions to take a sewing class, and every year the class offerings conflict with my schedule as a mother and wife. One day…. Thanks for the primer.

    • says

      I didn’t know you wanted to learn how to sew, too! I took one class at my local Jo-Ann’s, from which I made that denim skirt, but I’ve been amazed at how much I was able to learn through this online sewing course. You might consider giving it a try if you end up with some pockets of time here and there…especially if you already have a machine (?). I guess I just selfishly would love to see the punny post titles you would come up with that were sewing related. 😉

  2. Linda says

    It’s a testament to your entertaining writing style, Lauren, that, even though I detest sewing in all its forms, I still read your sewing blogs all the way to the end…well done! :-)

    • says

      Aw, thanks, Linda! That means a lot coming from you – – your writing has always captivated me, even in forms as “mundane” as a school email or informational document (remember those meetings on the grading scale?). I’ll do my best to keep entertaining you through my sewing endeavors. You can certainly expect more John Wayne references and photos of my messy craft spaces to come!

  3. says

    Lauren, I LOVE this post! From the realness of your work (don’t worry…I was almost lulled into a trance by your hypnotizing polka dots) to your hilarious tales of John Wayne inspired pearl snaps. You had this Texan at pearl snaps, by the way. Once again, I’m so impressed by the kind of teacher I know you are by your button poetry story. That is the way our children will be challenged and inspired! Your zipper is fabulous and now that we’ve connected via phone I can just hear your sweet voice talking to those Project Runway contestants! Watch out for the upcoming competition…I think we have a contender in the zipper category!

    Thanks for sharing your process and your creative space pre-clean up. I’m on pins and unbroken sewing machine needles waiting to see your finished bag!

    • says

      Oh, Jessica, it was such a treat to talk to you last night! I think we could have gone on for hours, whadya think?

      Your comment makes me smile, chuckle, and feel inspired to keep on keeping on with my sewing projects…and what a writer you are! “I’m on pins and unbroken sewing machine needles waiting to see your finished bag!” You are too clever. 😉

      Heading over to your blog to drop you a comment on your fabulous tea tray! Despite the craft fails involved in the project, it ended very much a success.

      • says

        I’m glad it made you smile and chuckle. You deserve it with all of the smiles you give your readers. Seriously, I sometimes have to slap a hand over my mouth to stifle my loud laughter when reading your blog because everyone else is sleeping!

        • says

          I love imagining you stifling your laughter! Mark and I like to joke about how using the phrase lol should really be nrlol (not really laughing out loud…because how often are we actually responding in a full-bellied laugh?!). But in your case, it should be llol (literally laughing out loud). I take that as a great compliment! 😉 Thanks, Jessica.

  4. says

    Look at you! All those fastenings under your belt now. I’m so excited for you! That bag looks like it will be so much fun. Especially with the fabric you chose! Can’t wait to see your final product. And that mess? Just some splish, splash.

    • says

      You made me chuckle with your last bit there. That’s right! I’m all about embracing the mess, especially in the midst of a project. Thanks for reminding me of how my own tagline applies very much in this case. (And a confession: I still haven’t cleaned it up yet. I’m in a chair right next to my machine, the mess is glaring me in the face, but I’d still much rather respond to comments than clean it up. Ha!)

  5. K Lewis says

    There’s also Velcro (hook and loop) fasteners. I personally don’t trust the sticky backed ones for fabric, so I always machine tack them.

    I am just about 60 years old now and have been sewing since I was in the 8th grade. How I got started was by complaining about my mom always making my blouses with “puffy sleeves”. The button down tailered shirts for girls and women were just hitting the fashion market and that is the look I wanted and I wanted her to make them that way. At that point she told me that if I wanted my blouses to have those kinds of sleeves, that I better learn how to sew for myself. I did too and I became obsessed with it.

    At that time I was in my last year Catholic grade school and at the end of the year I was given a choice as to whether I wanted to continue with Catholic school or go to public school (which was a great deal closer to home). I chose public school. What I did not realize was that I was able to choose some of the classes I wanted to take. I chose Home Ec and was told that half the year would be learning cooking and the other would be to learn how to sew. Since I already knew how to sew, I asked my teacher if I could work on my own projects. She had me make a few small items to prove that I knew what I was doing. Once that was done, I was able to make anything I wanted in record time – so at least every week I was able to produce a new outfit to wear. When the end of the year rolled around, there was always an awards ceremony for the entire school to present from the different teachers, students they felt achieved beyond the requirements of their class. To my great surprise I was awarded a certificate for my sewing. I was stunned and the happiest person in the world at that time.

    Over the years I have made just about everything you could think of. I don’t do much sewing now, but I still have several machines, including an industrial Singer. I’ve pretty much traded in my time sewing for cooking – you see, now I am the chef/owner of two restaurants. You would not think those two fields would be related, but they are. It takes tremendous organization skills for both trades. AND you must do one before the other or it does not turn out the way it should.

    I am so glad you are enjoying to learn sewing. I can be a great satisfaction knowing that you have relied on your own skills to produce a worthy project.


    • says

      Karen, I soaked up every word of your history with sewing. I love the impact that your penchant for fashion, your mother, and your Home Ec teacher all had on your development as a sewist! And my heart skipped a beat for you when you shared about your experience of winning the award for your achievements in sewing; it’s a great reminder to me of the value and importance in formally recognizing students for their work, growth, and talent. In fact, I had a tradition of giving out an individual award to every single student (and there could be up to 22) in my theatre classes. Students helped nominate their peers, but in the end, I had the final say. I gave out awards from “Most Supportive Student” to “Best Improv Actor” to “Class Clown.” The kids always sat a little higher in their seats on awards day. And I was reminded of the profound impact we teachers can have in the lives of students. Thank you for brining that to mind for me today.

      You hit the nail on the head when you wrote, “It can be a great satisfaction knowing that you have relied on your own skills to produce a worthy project.” I agree wholeheartedly – – and perhaps that’s why I’m falling head-over-heels for sewing. I’ve been slowly but surely practicing different different techniques and skills, and after exploring fastenings yesterday, I’m anxious to start creating projects and feel that satisfaction you speak of on a whole new level. While my stitches may not be perfectly straight just yet and while my head is still buried in the manual half of the time, I’m enjoying each and every stage of the process of learning this new skill. And have hopes to become an adept sewist as you, as my grandmother, and as my mother.

      Thank you for your response, Karen. Have a wonderful day!

  6. says

    I’m impressed! I have yet to tackle sewing a button on with my machine…it scares me!;) After you finish the market bag, what’s next on your sewing journey?


    • says

      It scared me, too! The key was going really slowly using my hand wheel at first to make sure my needle wasn’t going to hit the foot and break! Somehow, I measured correctly, and we were in the clear. Phew.

      And I love your question – – yes, I’m already thinking ahead. I’m really eager to get started working with knits (I still have your email from way back when with your expert advice). I have a few friends gearing up to have babies this spring, so I thought it’d be fun to work on onesie appliques or hats or burp cloths. Any recommendations for a good baby-related starter project that deals with knits?

      • says

        Let me think about it and if I come up with something, I’ll email you. I didn’t start sewing with knits until my “babies” were out of the baby stage.;)

  7. says

    You should be proud of yourself! What you are doing is very smart… Most people never use all the accessories (or feet) included with the sewing machine… you are teaching yourself how each one works and the basics of sewing. Once again, I must say, “Good for you!, you brave girl!” Well done! :)

    • says

      Thanks, Daisy! And I was definitely intimidated to start messing with screws and changing feet…but I figured what better way to learn to dive head first?! And your “brave girl” comment means just as much as it did the first time. Thanks, friend.

    • says

      I’m finding that I feel like an amateur, too, with most of the new skills/sports I try to tackle in adulthood. Not sure what that’s about – – if our brains just don’t absorb things as quickly as they used to or if we’re missing the reckless abandon of youth…but I feel ya, girl. But from what I’ve seen on your blog, you’re far from an amateur. Still, if you’re looking for a refresher, I’d definitely recommend Sewing 101. I bet you’d knock those lessons outta the park! 😉

  8. says

    Some things I really loved about this: one, the cute fabric for your bag…so excited to see the final product (and the journey)! Also, the messy picture at the end. I just cleaned my room this Friday and I almost took a picture to document how messy it was…but I resisted because of the shame! Way to go for embracing the CREATIVITY! :)

    • says

      What boggles my mind is how LONG it takes me to a clean up a space and then how quickly I mess it up again! If only it were the other way around. Oh well! Guess I’ll just have to keep embracing the mess / creativity. 😉

  9. says

    I should post one of the photos of my work area after a sewing frenzy – not a pretty picture, but then…like your saying goes…I’m pretty creative. :-) (I actually did take photos of one of the worst messes I ever made) Loved reading this!!

    • says

      “Creativity is messy!” That was a quote from a recent episode of Project Runway I saw; it resonated deeply – – as does your comment. Glad I’m not alone in my craft and sewing messes! And I love that you took a photo of one of your epic messes. Would love to see that sometime!

  10. says

    interesting post- I learned some things -i have never tried to do buttonholes but it seems like it would be helpful to try and tackle it- I want to make some basic, very basic things for the twins down the line – I will keep up with your sewing posts and decide if something keeps nudging at me to give it a try!

    • says

      One of the frustrating things about doing a project one time is that just when you master a skill or figure out a pattern, the project is done. But with twins, you can put those skills into practice a second time, and whip out a copy in no time flat!

      I’ve been impressed with how many “simple” and “beginner” sewing projects there are out there. (I have a Pinterest board full of them.) I’ve had a nudging in my spirit to really learn how to sew for a long time…so I decided this fall to take it on. I’d be delighted to be a “nudger” for you in your sewing endeavors, especially when the time is right for you, Kelly.

  11. says

    Lauren, great job! You’re coming right along, aren’t you? I’m just now catching up on my blog reading, so I don’t know if you’ve created your market bag, but I’ll be back and I can’t wait to see it! I love the fabric you picked out. I also love the unit you did with your english class, starting with the button. Your students must love you! Lastly, I wanted to mention that your sewing machine might have an adjustment you can make to increase the pressure on the presser foot. It’s made for exactly the problem you were having with trying to stitch the first type of elastic. I would look in your manual and see if there’s a setting for this on your machine. Good luck!


    • says

      Thanks for your sweet comment, Debbie. The market bag is yet to come – – I have a few other projects clamoring for my attention in the meantime – – but I’ll be sure to post about it when it’s complete! Also, I didn’t know I could adjust the presser foot pressure; I’ve had my nose buried in my manual quite a bit lately, but haven’t come across that yet. Will have to look for it! Thanks for the heads-up and for helping me trouble-shoot this problem! I appreciate it.

  12. says

    Hi Lauren! Wow, I’ve been reading all over this blog- you’ve got your hands in a little of everything! I love using the buttons with creative writing. How clever!! Looking forward to organization tips with Hannah- super nervous too !

    • says

      I suppose I am quite the dabbler! And yes, that creative writing project using the buttons was truly one of the highlights of the year for me. (Though I did have a few buttons grow legs and “walk off”…it was worth those losses to see my freshmen English students bursting with creativity!) And after visiting your blog and spying your beautiful creations, I know you’re going to have something awesome to share for Hannah’s organization tips. Just speak from the heart…or let the buttons speak for you! Thanks for stopping by, Amy.


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