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The Rewards of Pushing Yourself Out of Your Comfort Zone

Guest post by Heather

Learning to sew was the smartest financial decision I’ve ever made.

I was in 7th grade when I took home economics. I wasn’t very good. I remember the teacher made us start by sewing lines across paper. My lines were never straight. In fact, if it wasn’t for the cooking half of that class, I might have actually failed!

Fast forward a few years. My stepmother bought me a small sewing machine for Christmas. I believe it was a Barbie sewing machine. I tried and failed, tried and failed. I simply did not have the patience for it.

It wasn’t until my daughter was born that I realized how important it was for me to learn to sew. I’m a girly girl. I like pretty dresses and boutique-style clothing, but my bank account (and my cheapskate nature) doesn’t.

For my daughter’s first birthday, I wanted her to wear something special and unique. After a quick scan of area boutiques and $100 price tags, I was determined that once and for all, I was going to conquer my failure at sewing. It took several tries. It took a lot of ripped seams. I remember shedding some tears.

Learn to sewWhen I was done, I had so much more than a pretty party outfit in front of me. I had a new skill — a skill that I honestly wasn’t sure I was capable of mastering. I began to sew the majority of my daughter’s clothes and as my talent grew, my confidence in myself rose.

Others took notice as well. Before I knew it, I was sewing clothes for friends and family members and friends of friends. The girl that couldn’t sew a straight line was making an income off of her new talent (albeit tiny!). I learned how to mend, I learned how to get more mileage out of my family’s clothing and I had a newfound confidence in my ability to learn to do things myself.

That was only seven months ago. Since then I have expanded my do-it-yourself mentality to:

  • home repairs
  • scratch cooking
  • couponing and strategic shopping

The confidence I gained from conquering a past failure opened up so many doors and windows for me. It gave me a sense of control over myself and over my financial freedom. I didn’t realize the potential in me to find a passion that could not only save my family money, but also make my family money. I didn’t realize that this passion would translate into every single area of my life.

Don’t take “no” for an answer. If you think you can’t, prove to yourself you can. You never know your hidden potential until you push yourself past the edge of your comfort zone. Everyone has a marketable skill, some of us just require a bit of a nudge (or in my case…a party outfit!) to find it.

Heather Shaw is a wife and mother of 2 who resides in Houston Texas. She has a passion for sewing, scratch cooking and getting the best deals for her family. She blogs about her life and how she works hard to save her family money at Family Friendly Frugality.

Have you pushed yourself out of your comfort zone and discovered new skills or passions in the process? Tell us about it in the comments.

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73 Comments

  • Amanda says:

    Not about sewing… but that little one is gorgeous!!! What a doll! 😉

  • faith says:

    Wow this story really inspires me it sounds so much like me I can’t sew and I want to so bad you have inspired me to give it another shot thanks wish me luck I’m gonna need it

  • Erin says:

    Hello…I have a question for Heather…how do you find good deals on material and patterns? I love to sew, but find that a lot of times, it’s cheaper for me to just buy clothes for my kids (on clearance and using coupons of course!) than to buy the material to make them!

    • Sarah Halford says:

      @Erin,
      Living in an area with 3 national fabric/craft stores, one of them seems to always have patterns on sale for $.99. Sew…that’s how I have saved on patterns…material, I just try to catch it on sale and if you get on the mailing list for Joann’s, Hancocks, etc, they send coupons in the mail! Now…if only I could stay off the computer long enough to get some sewing done! =)

    • Keri says:

      Hobby Lobby runs patterns for .99 -$1.99 for McCalls or Simplicity, you can also price match at Walmart. As far as the materials go, we find some at Thrift stores or we recycle clothes we no longer need or wear. I started with cheap store finds and added embellishments or monogrammed something on them. I have a Brother sewing machine that monograms and does embroidery, I love it. You can do an image and then add their name. Towels, bibs, pot holders, gift sacks, the ideas of a personal gift are usually well received.

      • @Keri,
        Keri and Sarah have great ideas! Also, look around your house! I’ve turned old jeans into outfits for my daughter.
        I used an old button down of my husband’s to make the most adorable dress for my daughter.
        Fabric stores online (like fabric.com) have sales all the time.
        Also, youcanmakethis.com has great patterns for beginners. They seem pricey up front, but most of them span from 6-12 months old to 8-10 YEARS old…for one pattern.

      • Aimee says:

        @Keri,

        @Keri
        Which machine do you have? I have a Brother and love it but want one that embroiders? Thanks!

        • Keri says:

          I have a Embroidery and Sewing machine by Brother SE-350 Enthusiast. I love this one, it is easy to thread and works well. My first was a Disney SE-270D by Brother and I did not like the way it threads. I found both of mine on clearance @ Walmart, but the funny thing is they still carry the same machine. I made several outfits and sold them on ebay and also made some gifts to justify the cost of the machine. My latest was a quilt of our German ancestors and it was auctioned off at our family reunion. Each square was a embroidered pic ( house, tree, flower, etc) with a family name. If you have a facebook account send me a friend request and mention MSM and I will add you. Keri Reneau Orr , I have outfits and things that I have made pictured on there. Thanks Keri

    • Rae says:

      @Erin, If you have a Joann’s around you, sign up for their newsletter (you can do this online). I get their sale flyers in the mail (half the time I don’t even get them in the paper) w/ extra coupons. The most recent one I got has a coupon for 50% off one cut of fabric (regular price). But the ones I like better are the coupons that are 10% (or occasionally but rarely 20%) off of your whole purchase (sale and clearance included!). I have gotten GREAT deals on fabric, patterns, scrapbooking stuff, etc using those coupons on clearance and sale items. I’m talking $20 scrapbook kits for less than $5, fabric for a deep discount, sticker packs that were originally $10 for $2, etc. Whenever I get that kind of coupon, I ALWAYS go check the clearance sections. It may be a smaller discount as far as the coupon goes but the fact that you can combine it with 50-75% off clearance makes it amazing. I usually have one during black Friday too and they have early bird sales too! I just know to get my ticket early then look so I don’t have to wait forever. If they call my number before I was done looking, it just means I will spend less money lol. The fabric ends up being cheaper than the $2/yard rack at Walmart and the quality is much better. They also do $.99 sales a LOT on Simplicity and a few other brands for patterns and a lot of those packs have several patterns in them.

      Another thing like mentioned above is repurposing older clothing. I have a hard time cutting up perfectly fine clothing so if that’s the case I usually sell or donate it unless I really love the fabric. But clothing with tears/holes/stains/etc, even thrift stores won’t take it half the time but the center of the fabric is still very usable (and don’t forget buttons and stuff like that). Sometimes I will see people giving away clothing for free (like at the end of a yardsale or on craigslist/freecycle, etc) because it wouldn’t sell or has something wrong with it. If I like the fabric, I look past the style/condition of the piece and take it for the fabric.
      And my biggest tip for fleece is to look for fleece throws on sale. I love buying a fleece throw for under $4 (have gotten them as low as $2.50 at Big Lots before) with the intention of using them as material. Fleece is very expensive per yard even on sale so $3 for 50″x60″ is well over a yard 😀

  • Stephanie says:

    Love this story! I have never been good at sewing despite the fact that I have a mother that has done it all her life. I never had the patience for it either. My mom actually bought me a nice sewing machine several years ago but it has never been used. I guess I’m scared of putting money into something know I will only mess it up. However I just decided the other day that I really need to learn. I know I can do a lot with it, it’s just taking the time to try it out again. Thanks for your story!

  • Melissa says:

    What a precious little girl! The style outfit you made for her is in demand. Have you considered opening an Etsy store? That would be a great way to bring in even more income. Congrats on your great skill.

  • Laura says:

    Thanks! Love your story!

  • chelsea says:

    Great article!

    I love that she added “home repairs” to her list-of-things-I-taught-myself. I started doing the same thing when my husband started working long hours and I just needed little repairs finished in a timely manner!

  • Jeannine says:

    Yes, I do my own sewing and have taught one of my children to sew. I am amazed at how taking the time to pass this on has paid me back immensely. This child a young teen can now sew for herself and others!

  • Melissa H. says:

    My story is really similar, except insert crochet for sewing. I remember my grandmother trying to teach me to crochet when I was little, and I tried so hard, but just couldn’t quite get the stitches even. Then about 10 years ago, a couple of my aunts tried again to teach me, but to no avail also. (Although one still has a large number of rhombus-shaped dish cloths, lol) Finally about 2 years ago, I quit smoking, and I needed something to keep my hands busy. I decided I would pick it up again, and try once more. I finally mastered it, and wound up making hats around Christmas time and sold quite a few of them! Once I had mastered crocheting I decided I wanted to knit. That I’m still working on, and I have to admit my knitting needles have taken a few beatings in the name of frustration, but I’m getting much better. I agree that patience is the key and sometimes I don’t think we learn that until forced to by life (or children!). So I think everyone should challenge themselves to just keep trying.

  • Abbie says:

    Out of my comfort zone? Canning! I never, ever would have thought that I would want or could learn to can. I enjoy it greatly and it benefits my family so much. The fruit and veggies we have all winter from our garden is well worth the effort and time. 🙂

  • Eleanor says:

    What a cutie!

    I too played around with the sewing machine when I was younger & wasn’t very good. I was also drawn back to sewing once we had our daughter!

    In the past 2 years I have made pillow case dresses, frilly bloomers, curtains & just recently perfected the overstitch & made tons of receiving blankets for friends who are expecting or have just had a baby! It’s a nice release to have a creative hobby & I am proud of myself for coming back to sewing!

    I too have pulled out many a stitch/seam but an always proud of my finished product!

    Great post!

  • Denise C. says:

    Sewing + me= disaster. The bobbin gets me every time, & I always end up frustrated. After reading this post, I just may have to bring my Singer out, dust it off & see what I can do. 🙂 I’d love to be able to make, mend or create by sewing.

    P.S. I took Home Ec too & failed at sewing. I was supposed to sew a stuffed animal of a cow, & well, when all was said & done it looked *nothing* like a cow. 🙂

    • @Denise C.,

      been there!

      For the bobbin…that used to trip me up as well. There is no special technique other than make sure you are using decent thread, and that the tension settings are correct.
      I finally sat down and read my sewing machine manual from cover to cover and learned what settings worked best for my machine, and only than did it get easier. I have a nothing special Kenmore, but we know each other very well now!

  • Lois says:

    This has inspired me to step out and do what I was feeling impressed to do… sew blankets to sell. Toddler ones… I can sew and enjoy it somewhat. But we are finding ourselves in a health situation that will require more money and we are needing to find ways to supliment our income. I have 3 boys and am a SAHM, so it is something I can do!!!

    Thanks for sharing!!

  • Diana says:

    Mine is in the realm of sewing–but learning to sew things without using patterns! I learned to sew when I was young but always stuck very closely to the pattern. Now I have made curtains from a photo, a grill cover from an imagination, and modified several of my existing patterns. It’s so much fun!

  • Kris says:

    When I first got married I realized that I had nothing that I was proud to bring with me to potlucks or parties. So I actually set out learning how to bake. I LOVED it! So much so that I starting making cakes for friends and family, and I’ve even done a few weddings. Now that I’ve had kids I’ve had to cut back, but it could have turned into a business for me.

  • Megan says:

    My 4-year-old is quite prone to (permanently!) staining clothes, so we get our materials from those. For instance, I found her pillowcase with a permanent marker scribble on it…rather than throw it away, we throw it in the stained clothing bin and repurpose all of the good fabric from them into crazy quilts, or reviving old hoodies with cute stripes.

  • That is adorable..thank you for sharing.

  • Natalie says:

    What an adorable girl and outfit. Great article. Sewing is a great way to make special gifts for people too. Once you get comfortable with it, you learn to make patterns out of newspaper, or other clothing etc.

  • Kim says:

    Thank you for the encouragement! I started making a skirt for my daughter yesterday & was ready to quit the whole thing. After reading this, I think I’d better give it another try!

  • Lori says:

    Stepping out of my comfort zone…that was going from a high profile career in the medical field {I have a Ph.D. in Chemical Biology} to a stay at home mom of 3 last year. Along the way, I followed what He was telling me to do ~ care for my spouse and children and do something that makes me happy. I decided to start my own cake and cookie decorating business and just launched a website last month. http://lorissweettreats.blogspot.com/

  • Kristy says:

    Since being a SAHM I have conquered cake decorating, scrapbooking, selling on ebay/craigslist, couponing, sewing, home daycare & cooking. I freeze foods, menu plan and can. I never thought I would be doing any of the things I do today but I love it and can’t wait for the next challenge.

  • Cherish says:

    Such an awesome post! My goal is to be considered a domestic goddess so I’m always tackling new things.

  • Jan says:

    I’m a family and consumer sciences teacher (formerly called home economics). I’m so glad to hear about your story. I would love to share it with my students to encourage them.

  • Kerry D. says:

    I love your story. Definitely learning something new out of one’s comfort zone is great, great to add on a new skill and great to feel that “I can learn to do anything.” For me, I recently learned to make dough/pizza from scratch, and am also learning how to handle and feed horses. Definitely feeling that I can learn to do anything! It’s a great feeling.

  • Amanda says:

    If you’d told me 5 years ago I would have my own vegetable garden I would have called you crazy. Last spring, though I took a free veggie gardening class and had a 10×10 plot of my own with peas, green beans, carrots, zucchini, and pumpkin. It was a heck of a lot of work and the carrots and pumpkins didn’t turn out, but my family ate more veggies than ever this summer. I was never a cook but started cooking, and even cooking more from scratch! You are totally right Heather—the power of learning to do something yourself carries over into all areas of your life!

  • Jaclyn says:

    If anybody has any suggestions are how one goes about learning to sew I would love to hear it. I don’t have any family or friends nearby that can show me. I’ve never sewn before but I would like to learn- just simple stuff. We are a short family and pants are always too long. I would be willing topay for lessons!

    • Rae says:

      @Jaclyn, The internet is a GREAT resource for free “how to” videos for just about anything. Just google “learn how to sew” or search youtube and it will pull up all sorts of free videos to watch then link you to related ones 🙂

  • Shawn'l says:

    For all of you pulling out your sewing machines after year(s) of lack of use here is a tip. Let your machine run with your foot (or a brick or heavy book) for about 10-20 minutes without any thread loaded BEFORE you start sewing with it again. The machine needs to relubricate itself. If you have the original manual look up where to put the oil and what kind of oil to use to lubricate it before you let it run. If you don’t do this you will have a mess of tangled thread on the underside of whatever you are sewing. I learned this from a sewing machine repair man that I took my machine to that I thought needed major help and this was all it needed.

  • Catherine says:

    Thrift stores are a great place to get cheap fabric!!! Just buy any clothes that are cheap and have a fabric you like. Often you can get a lot of fabric from a plus size dress or skirt for $1-2 at a thrift store. I heard some stores let you fill up a grocery bag for a $1 on certain days.

  • Alea says:

    I commend all of you that can find cheap fabric that’s also cute! I once thought I would save money by making my 3 kids their easter outfits and when I was done I’d have spent more than it would have cost to buy them.
    I think being able to sew is great, but I think the payoff comes with making curtains, as they’re usually more expensive than clothes (and so much faster to make – straight material – straight lines!)

  • Margaret Lind says:

    Your little daughter’s dress is so cute! Take it from me, a former seamstress, it gets easier with practice. And sewing is a talent! You’ve done really great! BRAVO!

  • Margaret Lind says:

    It’s a coordinated outfit … I knew that, I just put “dress.” And it is cute!

  • Hey Heather–what a great post!

    I, too, have just been meaning to bite the bullet and JUST DO IT already. My mother bought me a new sewing machine for my 30th birthday and I’ve just been too afraid. But now I have a project I REALLY want to do–I want to make a custom quilt for my sister in law for her wedding gift, so I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to break that bad boy out and just get it done.

    I’m heading over to your site to go check it out. 🙂

  • Annie Kate says:

    For me the big thing was blogging. After being too ill to function for more than a year, I needed something I could do even when I was too weak to move around much. So I learned to blog and to review homeschool material. That hobby has expanded and continues to expand, giving me greater confidence in every way.

    It’s truly a wise thing to try to do things that need doing but that you’re not sure you can do.

    Annie Kate

  • Dawn says:

    The sewing gene has skipped me, at least that has always been my excuse. My mother sewed and quilted; my sister has had many gorgeous wedding gowns pass through her talented hands. Years ago I received my grandmother’s old Singer, it sits untouched. My mothers productive Pfaff has just been passed on to me. I have no more excuses, in fact the pressure is mounting in the shape of a six year old daughter, who the sewing gene apparently hasn’t skipped, begging, “Mom, I want to SEW.” I need to be brave.

  • Allison V. says:

    My mom has been sewing forever, so I grew up watching her sew, and wearing many of her creations! I tried here and there growing up, took home ec, and as an adult decided to make Christmas stockings for my immediate family. I had each person’s name done by a clothing monogramming place, and the stockings turned out beautifully. I also made some for my nephews with the leftover fabric. I have had a friend ask me to make some for her family! Last year I made my then 3-yr-old daughter some tiny doctor’s scrubs for Halloween, less than $4 total for the pattern and a yard of remnant fabric, plus I improvised on the chef hat pattern and made the “cap” that surgeons wear from the extra. This year she will be a Renaissance princess, and right now I’m getting started on a simple block quilt for a friend, made from her late father’s clothing. My mom got me an antique machine for Christmas, one of those old heavy duty ones that never break, so I have my own machine that will last me forever! I tried knitting, but I have carpal tunnel and my hands go numb after just a few minutes of holding the needles. Oh well, I like sewing a lot, so it doesn’t matter!

  • Katherine says:

    My out-of-comfort-zone experience is with homeschooling my children. Back when I was single and a missionary in Tanzania, I took over the education of my director’s children for a month so his wife could attend Swahili-language classes. It was a disaster!! When I got married and started a family a few years later, I told God he HAD to put us in a city with a mission school. I WOULD NOT teach my own children. (I know, I know, giving ultimatums to God is never a good idea!) And behold, here I am 10 years later, living in the US, and I’ve been homeschooling both my children since Kindergarten. I was so scared when I started with my first one, but I knew it was what He wanted me to do. It hasn’t always been easy, but God has been faithful to supply what is needed day by day.

  • Bonita says:

    Whoo Hoo! Love this post! Thanks, Heather, for sharing your story and inspiring us all to push out of our comfort zone and try something new!

  • Melodie says:

    I got past my frustration with patching denim and I’m getting pretty good at it now. It’s helping with the bills since I don’t have to buy my husband new work jeans several times each year now. He’s got several pair that are going on three years old. Yay! He’s pretty hard on them, so by now, with all the patches, they are kind of a work of art to look at. LOL!

  • Nisha says:

    Very inspiring! I too am working on my sewing skills, thanks for the motivation!

  • I just want to say thank you to everyone who took time to read and comment on this! Your comments have me on cloud nine…and if any of you pull out your sewing machines and create something…I want to see it!

    I love reading about where everyone else has stepped out of their comfort zone as well. You have given me some great ideas of what kind of things I want to conquer next!

  • Lisa Morosky says:

    Cooking/baking has been my “push out of the comfort zone and, holy smokes, I actually like it and I’m not half bad” realization. Many burnt/undercooked meals came before it though (oh the story I could tell about being a newlywed and trying to cook a whole chicken for my husband for the first time) – and you’re right, the key is to push through it.

    But I don’t know. I think I’ll leave the sewing to you. 😉

  • I am terrified of my sewing machine. Not joking–here’s a story to prove it:
    http://momforhim.blogspot.com/2010/03/my-fear-of-sewing-machines.html

    But I know it would save us money and I wish I knew how to sew, but reading about your home ec and initial failures–that is totally me! If you did it, *maybe* I can too?? Plus, I have 5 girls, so I feel like I should know how to sew, so I can teach them someday–I just have to get over my fear! And actually, I told my husband just last night that maybe I need to take a sewing class at the tech college to try to facilitate that…

    Thanks for sharing your story! 🙂

  • Stephanie says:

    I’ve always been decent at sewing (I consider it one of my few natural talents), but I took the giant leap out of my comfort zone and made my own wedding dress in 2011. The slippery silk and the lace were a nightmare, but I did it! It only cost me around $100 total and I even made my own fabric covered buttons (I was concerned about the dress matching the buttons because it was ivory) with a kit. I got compliments on my dress and everyone was floored when they found out that I made it myself. Plus, I can 100% guarantee that I was the only bride ever with that custom dress.

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