The Great Depression taught an entire generation how to make do with what they had. Perhaps you, your parents or your grandparents experienced it, or maybe you’ve only heard about it in documentaries or read about it in school history books. It was a time when it was necessary to know how to create things for yourself: to cook from scratch, repair rather than buy new, grow your own food, and – yes – to sew! These are real life survival skills. Unfortunately, even with the rise in popularity of the reuse-and-recycle movement, we’ve lost touch with many of these skills. Now is the time to remember, to re-learn, to reach out and teach others. Our area of expertise is sewing, and as a S4H follower, it’s likely yours as well! We invite you to join us, along with our friends at Janome America, as we pull together information, tutorials, and projects to rekindle sewing as a real life survival skill.

Check the links at the end of article if you are lovin’ our Sewing Survival emblem. It is available as a free PDF, and as a finished embroidered patch or a machine embroidery file in our S4H Etsy Shop. 

Your Tools

One of our mottos here at Sew4Home has always been: the better your tools, the easier the process and the more professional the result. Nowhere is this more important than in the main tool required for sewing: your sewing machine. Pulling an ancient machine down from the attic or picking up a used machine from a yard sale is unlikely to be your best option.

Just because a sewing machine runs doesn’t mean you’re going to want to spend any time sewing on it. Even the most simple seam requires dozens of parts in the machine to be moving at hundreds of revolutions per minute – all in perfect sync. Anything that’s slightly off results in problems. A cheaply-made machine, or one with mechanical problems, will turn what should be a rewarding process into a series of frustrations. Take a look at our classic article on the Top Five Sewing Machine Buying Tips.

Yes! You can still buy a new sewing machine!

S4H is a Janome Exclusive studio, and so it’s the brand we use and recommend. We’ve been in touch with both Janome America and Janome Canada during the recent shut-downs, and we know that most dealers are doing their very best to make sure customers can still find and receive the machines they want and need.

Janome M7 Continental Professional

While brick-and-motor shops have temporarily shut their doors, many dealers are offering virtual shopping demonstrations. Sales and gift-with-purchase offers are still happening – perhaps more so! And, dealers may be able to do curbside pickup or drop ship a machine right to your door. Reach out to your local Janome dealer to find out what they are doing in your area to keep their businesses open and running, and to help you keep sewing!

Janome MC550E

We’ll also be helping you find the best links to shop for and buy your fabric and notions online.

Add a serger to your sewing room.

Now more than ever, a sewing machine is an appliance every home needs. Read on to see how it can help save money, reduce waste, tap your inner creative, and open up a fun hobby that uses both sides of your brain. Your dishwasher and toaster can’t do all that!

Start with the basics: repair

One of the best ways to begin to teach a person to sew and provide instant gratification is to show him/her how to repair something. Hemming, closing up a torn seam, replacing a button … if you’ve sewn forever, it can seem unfathomable that someone would not know how to do these things, but remember, schools eliminated many domestic arts courses years ago. There are generations of kids who, unless they had parents or grandparents who could step in, have never had the opportunity to learn sewing basics.

Learn different hemming techniques to extend the life of clothing.

Sew4Home has lots of great techniques to follow at the basic, intermediate, and advanced skill levels as well as other tutorials for specialty tasks, like riveting or setting snaps.

Repair broken belts, bags and other handles or straps.

As mentioned above, we’ll be bringing forward a number of classic projects and techniques onto the home page over the next days and weeks – so look for the Real Life Survival Skills emblem that will ID these articles. In the meantime, browse our main Techniques categories for ideas.

Fix simple tears, ripped out seams or torn belt loops.

Waste Not – Want Not

Recent shopping shortages and restrictions have made us all more aware of the need to extend the life of something we already have on hand. No, we do not have any DIY toilet paper tutorials… the country’s waste water treatment plants are already being pushed to the limit trying to deal with “TP alternatives”! But there are many other things you can re-purpose with very good results.

Don’t toss them, repurpose them.

Americans throw away over 32 billion pounds of textiles every year! It’s one of the biggest categories in the nation’s landfills. Commercial production of just one t-shirt and one pair of jeans can take up to 1,500 gallons of water during the manufacturing process. That’s how much water you’ll drink in about 13 years! Extending the life of your clothing by just three months or re-purposing the “good parts” into something else can reduce carbon and water footprints up to 10%.

Serge to finish raw edges.

Do you have a pile of old cotton t-shirts that were destined for donation or the garbage? Turn them into washable cleaning rags. Simply cut large squares from the front and back and voila, an instant, lint-free cleaning rag that can be washed and sterilized over and over. Knits don’t ravel much if at all along a cut edge so finishing isn’t really necessary, but if you have a serger, you can zip around all four sides in minutes.

Stitch up falling hems… or turn long pants into shorts, long sleeves into short for a whole new look.

Woven cotton blouses and button-down shirts are also good candidates for cleaning rags – although less adsorbent than knits. Their cut edges should be finished; we have a four-part series on the top machine sewn seam allowance finishes. Plus, don’t forget to snip off and save the buttons from your old shirts!

We’re working on other easy projects to do and share that offer ways to reuse rather than buying new. Be watching for ideas on how to remake-and-reuse pouches, napkins, storage bags, pillow covers, and more. Save money, keep textiles out of the landfill, and learn to survive on less.

Don’t forget to have fun

Our goal with our Real Life Survival Skills series is not to frighten you, but to remind you. We need to remember how to step away from the prepared-and-packaged world, to remind ourselves of our own inventiveness and ingenuity.

Now… don’t think for a minute that all of us at S4H aren’t just as anxious as all of you to be able to shop at and support our favorite stores again. We love something new as much as the next person. However, we also know we don’t have to rely on stores and wavering incomes to provide every single necessity.

Sew4Home seamstress member, Debbie, pulling scraps from her stash.

In all of this, never forget that on top of everything else … sewing is fun! It’s the perfect fusion of technology and creativity. Both sides of your brain are firing when you’re sewing. You’re designing with the right side, while processing data and operating a machine with the left. Activities that achieve this kind of fusion are great ways to expand overall thought processes and boost problem solving abilities.

We encourage you to consider sharing your own sewing skills with others. There are a lot of kids stuck at home right now without the structure of school. While they might be loathe to admit it, they are getting bored with being slumped on the couch with a phone and a bag of chips.

Teens are especially good candidates for learning to sew. They are all about seeking independence, creating personal style, and wanting to be noticed for what they wear, have and use. “I made this!” is a powerful statement for a teen. It’s accomplishment, pride, ingenuity, and fun. Check out our article on the Top 7 Tips for Teen Sewing.

That’s the big picture, and – as mentioned – look for our Real Life Survival Skills emblem to pop up on articles within our home page Highlights, Trending Topics, Featured Projects, and more. One of the things we love about the new Sew4Home website is how all the search options return not only an article title but also a small image so you can more easily select exactly what you want.

We are makers! Celebrate that you have one of the Real Life Survival Skills and join us as we put it to use. Stay In, Stay Safe & Sew.

Get the Emblem to Show Your Sewing Pride

We got so many requests for our Sewing Survival emblem that we turned it into a cool machine embroidery patch.

You’ll find it in our Etsy Shop as a ready-to-sew, finished patch for just $5.99, including free shipping in the continental US.

Have your own embroidery machine? You can also download the design in any of the seven major machine embroidery file formats for just $2.99 in our Etsy Shop.

And, you can even find a full-color PDF of the design as a FREE download to print right here on the site should you wish to use our emblem as an iron-on transfer and there is a second page in the PDF that is an outline version to use as a template for your own hand embroidery or… maybe just to print and color for fun.

Lots of great options to show and wear your sewing pride!

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2 months ago

Yeah, I stopped by because I was looking for articles on HAND SEWING. You talk about the great depression & sewing. But, what you fail to mention is that most people couldn’t afford sewing machines, they did hand sewing. A lot of people can’t afford the ones you advertise. If you get stuck or lost (wilderness) and need to repair or make new clothes you’re out of luck if no electricity is near & you can’t haul a treadle machine if all you know is how to use a sewing machine.

Jane Coombs
Jane Coombs
2 years ago

This is a great post. All of us need to educate ourselves about textiles going into the landfill. I recently attended a workshop called The Conscious Closet with the author, Elizabeth L Cline. Americans wear 18 % of their wardrobes. Men are the biggest offenders. The book talk also featured a a Fix it Cafe and a clothing swap. When the Shelter In Place subsides, the thrift shops are going to be impacted. Host your own clothing swap. It can be fun. If you have Netflix, watch Hasan Minhaj Patriot Act where he discusses The True Cost of Fashion. Cline… Read more »

Ann Hixon
Ann Hixon
2 years ago

I learnt to sew when I was about13 years old. I nagged my Mum to teach me because what she was doing seemed so interesting so I dragged out a couple of slacks, as we had then, no jeans then, and wanted them remodelled. Mum spent hours showing me and I have never looked back. I had 4 children who were all sewn for until they got to be teenagers and past Mum’s sewing at home for them. My 44year old daughter who is our youngest, has made all her own clothes since early teens. I have a Janome MC4900… Read more »

minnie pesl
minnie pesl
2 years ago

I gave my four daughters sewing machines when they left the nest. Now my gr. daughters have their own sewing machines and make interesting things. I am so glad that I found your site. My mother and my mother in law were both sewers and my dad loved to embroider on rainy days. I guess you could say sewing is in our blood. I am the proud owner of a Janome 15000. I love your product and look forward to reading about more ideas on this site.

2 years ago

There was a time in my life when my sewing skills put food on the table. When my husband lost his job, I was able to earn enough to feed my family each week by doing alterations and creating original clothing for others. That’s why I am teaching my granddaughter to sew (on the pink Janome I bought for her!). I love owning the skill as much as I do my nursing degree! I think my granddaughter will, too. Makers make it through tough times and enjoy the satisfaction they earn in all times. Now I am sewing to protect… Read more »

2 years ago

My 8 year old granddaughter has been interested in sewing for at least a year and a half. This past Christmas she got a sewing machine. She took some fabric I had and sewed it together. It didn’t amount to much but she was so proud she made something. Her mother didn’t take sewing in school but has learned since and is doing okay at sewing.

2 years ago

I like the idea of teaching kids to sew. I’m one of those who was lucky enough to have a home economics class way, way back. It truly was a a gift. I also like your idea of we who know how to sew, sharing our skills with young people. So how about Sew4Home putting together a quick sewing lesson plan to help us teach this skill to young people?

Jacqueline Estabrooks
Jacqueline Estabrooks
2 years ago

At the moment, I am making face masks for a social worker friend and her staff. I raided my stash of poly-cotton and elastic.
She wanted to pay me but I asked her to make a donation to the local Humane Society. This is a win-win, charity gets some money, I clean up my stash and help with the current plague situation.

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