So, you have decided to start [historical] sewing? Where does one begin? What tools might be needed?
Actually, not many! Go to a haberdashery, buy a couple of needles, some bleached linen thread, then go buy linen and off you go sewing your first chemise!
OK, maybe such a prospect doesn't entice you much, it certainly did nothing to me, that's a rather boring start, right? In our time and even a bit back many people could afford to buy a sewing machine and sewing for yourself and family was not uncommon, not to mention WW2 time, when home sewing, mending and fabric recycling was encouraged.
I am not immune to shopaholism, so buying new shiny things is something that definitely can lift my mood and provide a good kickstart to many projects, be it planks for homemade shelves, a new chisel or SPES HEMA lobster gloves I really need! One day you will be mine!
So, for me, a sewing machine was the first tool I thought about buying. It also was and still is the biggest one-time investment I had to make. By now though, I most likely have spent more money on books and fabrics will soon catch up. Anyway, let's wrap up this introduction section and go shopping.
Hey, wait a second, are you going to sew a gown from the 17th century on a machine!? The answer is yes and no. Of course one can take pride in handstitching absolutely everything. The problem is, a lot of mockups and adaptations are necessary for historical garments since they come with no standard sizes, or rather no sizes at all! Historical patterns are taken from extant pieces and adapting them to your own size is your job, there is no grading like in modern patterns. So, a quick mockup put together on a machine is going to save you a lot of time and let you make more mockups, if necessary, to obtain the best fit.
When I decided to buy a sewing machine, I had no idea how exactly I am going to use it. Do I need a blind hem stitch and what is it? The same with a satin stitch and others. Luckily I had a rather limited budget, so the choice was made for me. I got Singer 4411 Heavy Duty. Why this one? Well, it is heavy duty! Really though, it doesn't look or feel plasticky, has some weight to it and it starts to vibrate only when I press the pedal all the way down (and I seldom do that, maybe only for overlocking). Also, I thought that it is a decent choice for leather since I might want to do some HEMA related leather projects. I will not go into details, this is not a review of any particular brand/model. All I can say is that this machine has only the basic stitches such as straight, a couple of zigzags, blind hem, buttonhole and a couple of decorative stitches. Even for modern sewing, I haven't yet used anything except straight stitch and zigzag, that I use mostly for overlocking since I don't have a serger.
Speaking of overlocking, this is where I should mention the wonderful "32 piece presser foot set". You definitely should google it and marvel at its beauty and cheapness. Compared to brand presser feet those are cheap. The set includes overlocking feet that you probably want unless you plan to use pinking shears for everything or want to get a serger right from the start. The set also has other feet that are nice to have for modern sewing, e.g. invisible zip, adjustable blind hem (still can't master this one) etc. There is a good chance you will never use all of them, but it is nice to have them at your disposal and see for yourself what feet you like and need. Youtubers produced quite a lot of tutorials for this set, so if you feel lost, youtube is the place to go. The only reason to not buy them is if you are not going to do any modern sewing whatsoever.
Now, the last point I want to mention is the pedal! So many troubles I had with that generic "electronic" pedal. It seems many low/mid-range sewing machines come with it. The first 2 months were pure hell. Either my machine wouldn't go at all, or with a bit more pressure it would go way too fast for me. Recently I have finally found a fix for the problem. The beast has speed setting! There is a small hole on the bottom of the pedal, it is so small that none of my screwdrivers would fit into it, so I had to pry the pedal open to find the potentiometer inside that regulates speed/sensitivity. A minute later I was in heaven because I shouldn't have played with electricity! OK, who am I kidding, me and heaven? But of course, opening the pedal is not something I recommend doing. Whichever way you go, make sure to unplug the pedal and proceed at your own risk. The result is - I can do single stitches by pressing gently on the tamed beast!
Stuff I mentioned:
- Singer 4411 Heavy Duty sewing machine
- 32 piece presser foot set
- If you are reading this around xmas time ;-)
The links are just for illustration purposes.