10 things I wish I’d known when I started sewing

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Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and tell myself a thing or two.

Not about anything major. I’d let my young self make most of her big mistakes and learn her life lessons.

But it sure would be nice to give little me a few sewing pointers.

What I’d tell her wouldn’t be anything very technical. No lessons about seam finishes or zippers. Just some simple advice no one ever told me.

These days, so many of us are self-taught that we often don’t know what’s missing. And what I think we often miss isn’t necessarily the technique, but the approach and the mindset that will help us learn best.

Here are the 10 things I’d say to myself when I was a sewing novice:

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1) Start with the right equipment.

I’m a big advocate for quality. My beautifully made Bernina is one of the best investments I ever made. It’s a pleasure to use and definitely makes my sewing better and easier.

When I started to sew, I had no idea that such machines even existed. One of my first sewing machines had so many issues, I felt like throwing it across the room every time I put my foot on the pedal.

If you are truly just dipping your toes and not sure if you’ll continue to sew, by all means start with whatever machine you can find.

But once you decide you like sewing and want to stick with it a while, get a machine you can grow with. It doesn’t have to be super fancy and expensive, but it should have the features you want and be something that will last. A well made machine will be worth every cent.

That said, they say the best camera is the one you have. Same deal. Don’t get discouraged if all you have (or can afford) is an inexpensive model. You can always upgrade later.

But don’t suffer with a finicky machine any longer than you have to.

2) Start simple

I got interested in sewing because I wanted to make really cool stuff.

When you’re in that mindset, eager to make all the beautiful things floating around in your head, it’s tough to hear that you should make pajama pants or a wrap skirt.

But starting with the basics gives you the confidence to keep moving. It also gives you a chance to make simple things you’ll get a lot of use out of, like curtains, pillows, or a bag.

They may seem less glamorous than a new dress just like the $400 one you saw the other day, but every time you use them, they’ll make you happy and excited to go back for more.

3) Learn one skill at a time

This is one of the biggest lessons I learned from knitting.

When I started knitting, I approached it a bit systematically. With each new project I started, I added on a new skill I wanted to learn.

My first project was a stockinette scarf (half of which I knitted with twisted stitches, by the way). Next, I tried a project that involved a bit of shaping. Then, I tried a sweater. Soon I was adding in cables, color work, and more.

This kind of approach helps you to focus on building skills gradually and intentionally without diving into the deep end too soon and becoming discouraged. I’ll talk more about this in a later post.

4) It’s not a race

I’ve mentioned before that I think self-imposed, arbitrary deadlines are the devil.

Being someone with a somewhat obsessive personality, I never wanted to leave a project half finished. I’d stay up until 3am to finish a dress I’d started that very afternoon, making myself insane, frustrated, and angry with every new mistake.

Chill out. When it stops being fun, move on. It’ll still be there later.

Nowadays, I have a loose rule that I don’t cut and sew on the same day. I break it for really quick and easy projects, but generally I find I’m much happier if I don’t turn my sewing space into a little sweatshop.

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5) Become a fabric snob

This might seem to contradict my “start simple” advice, but I think it’s important to learn about what makes fabric work and why.

I cut my teeth on piles of cheap polyester and quilting cotton, because that’s what was available. It let me do a lot of sewing, so I’m not knocking it. And some of those quilting cottons were awfully cute.

But the more you learn about the wide world of fabric, the more your creativity expands and the easier it is to create the clothes you dream about.

It also gives you more chances to explore your personal style and aethetic preferences. Do you gravitate towards rough linen, or slinky silk charmeuse? Wool jersey or fine cotton lawn? Chambray or chiffon?

I’m not saying you should waste fine silks on experimental projects that you’re unure about. What I am saying is that learning about fabric is a worthy goal for anyone who cares about clothes.

serged-french-complete

6) Learn how to finish seams

I know I said I wouldn’t tell myself about finishes, but I wish I’d at least known that I should finish my seams.

Raw edges inside my handmade garments always bugged me, but I honestly had no idea what I was supposed to do about them.

When I learned about pinking shears, it was like an epiphany. Later, I discovered all the many ways I could finish the inside of my garment and it seemed like my confidence and enjoyment in my creations multiplied tenfold. Finally, they looked like they’d at least last a few washes.

dress-forms

7) Learn fitting basics

Fitting is a frightening subject for many, because the domain is so vast. There are countless combinations of adjustments you can make, and the very idea of altering a pattern might seem way beyond the skill level for a newbie.

It’s not. The process is dead simple.

Just make a test garment. Check out what looks weird. Pinch out excess fabric, or cut it up a little to make more room. Then make those same adjustments to the pattern.

But even more simple than that, the novice sewer should know that she is perfectly free to make these adjustments. Just try it out, see what you like, and tweak to your heart’s content. It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that.

8) Make things you can wear (or use).

Nothing increases confidence in your abilities more than actually getting to use what you make.

So even though I said “start simple,” don’t waste your time on things you don’t care about. Find that sweet spot of easy, versatile projects that you can make your own.

The more use you get out of your finished project, the more your confidence will grow.

9) Get help.

This would have been a tough sell on my younger self.

I love figuring things out on my own, sometimes to a point beyond all reason.

Even today, I sometimes forget that I have the entire internet at my disposal when I get stuck on things. I’m just so used to hacking away at problems instead.

This is not always ideal. You’ll learn much faster if you get help from experts now and then.

If you’re like me, you might prefer books, ebooks, or blogs to help you learn. Others might like online videos, and many people will get the most from in-person classes. But don’t forget, these things are there to serve you.

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10) Mistakes are good.

There is no growth without mistakes.

Embrace them. Laugh about them. Accept that they are all part of the process of learning and do not reflect badly on you as a human being.

You’ll be much happier that way, and you’ll learn a lot more.

Sarai Mitnick   —   Founder

Sarai started Colette back in 2009. She believes the primary role of a business should be to help people. She loves good books, sewing with wool, her charming cats, working in her garden, and eating salsa.

More about our writers

Comments 85

Quinn comptonia.blogspot.com

Thanks so much for this! Very helpful :)

Canal Couture canalcouture.blogspot.com

Thank you for this post!
I am that beginning sewer, so I will take all these suggestions to heart.

Especially number 5. Before I was always tempted by the cheap and cheerful fabrics, not realizing how much it was interfering with my sewing process and result. The first time I actually invested in good quality fabric resulted in the first item that is actually worn on a regular basis. And it fills me with pride, so I will force myself to continue buying the right fabric for the job.

Sarai colettepatterns.com

So true. I splurged on some expensive silk this week and made a dress over the weekend that I am so in love with. The sticker shock of paying so much for the fabric completely fades when you make a dress you adore.

maddie madalynne.com

The game of sewing is not a race! That is a skill I completely agree with and contribute to my slow pace. Personally, I like to work on projects piece meal and that’s because every time I put a project down after completing a seam or two, I get to think about not only the ramifications of the seam I just sewed, but what I need to do next. Even though I consider myself slow, I have prevented a lot of mistakes.

Great post!

Robin

Great post! I would also add….go clothes shopping for ideas. Preferably at stores with higher priced garments. Check out the seams, the inside construction, the facings, bindings. Feel the fabrics. The next time you shop at a fabric store, remember what you were drawn to. This helps me curb those fabric purchases that always end up in a pile of “what was I thinking? That is cute fabric, but I wouldn’t wear it!”

Sarai colettepatterns.com

Absolutely! And also looking at your closet and what you really feel good wearing, I think. I love to wear black, cream, white, and camel. But those aren’t the fabrics that will jump out at you all on their own.

heather

And then comes the day you meander into a Versace store with a mate out of curiosity, start checking the construction of the more interesting items, find an absolutely fucked seam on a £100 shirt, and exclaim ‘Jesus, what sweatshop made this?’ and emerge from the rail because your mate is killing herself over the mortified expression on the previously very sniffy shop assistant who’d thought we were below his notice.

Katie

:) too funny

kristi sweetkm.com

Such good tips! Do you mind sharing what sewing machine you use? I bought the nicest one I could afford 8 years ago, but recently I want to throw it across the room (am hoping that’s a sign of personal growth)! I would love a recommendation.

Sarai colettepatterns.com

I use a Bernina Aurora 430. I am a huge Bernina fan. My model is computerized, but they make a mechanical model as well.

I believe you can get great results with almost any machine, but having a really precise, well-designed machine like my Bernina makes it much easier. It’s a pleasure to sew with.

Melli fashion-fantastica.com

Good article, most of them I would also tell my younger sewing novice me :)

Jenny cashmerette.blogspot.com

My main advice to my baby sewing self would be: you can’t do something until you try it! I’d put off doing anything new for ages thinking “well I haven’t done it before…”. But you’ll never learn unless you try.

Sarai colettepatterns.com

So true! I feel like there are two ways people often go with new skills, either being intimidated by the idea of failing, or jumping in without hesitation or much forethought.

I’ve found the middle way to be much better, to see it as a fun opportunity to learn, do a little research, and prepare to practice! It’s sometimes hard to remember that, though.

Lisa

I was very lucky to have a mom who taught me how to sew. Really sew. My best friend in High School proudly announced “Look, I sewed the entire blouse together without pressing it!” She never pressed as she went and it looked horrible. I knew, of course, to press as you go. I also learned if you make a mistake early on it becomes a bigger mistake as you continue. So, consequently, I learned how to rip out a seam correctly. My mom would rescue me in my early sewing years. When I was screaming with impatience about a seam I needed to rip out. She would say, “Oh, give it here, I’ll rip it out.” Now there’s something you want to hear, huh?
I learned that you bought your pattern, then picked your fabric. Logical and thrifty way to not waste fabric. That one I disagree with. It wasn’t till college when a fellow roommate brought down a box of fabric that the thought of buying fabric for future garments came to mind. She had large cuts of fabric ready to make a garment. The light bulb came on, the clouds parted. You see fabric you like buy 3 yards. You are giddy about the fabric buy at least 5 yards. Depends on how much fabric you need to make the average blouse or dress.
Also realize there is more than one way to sew a particular step in the pattern. With experience you will find the best way you like to put on a collar or waistband, etc. Yes, there sometimes is a good reason to sew something the weird way they describe. But sometimes there isn’t, and you’ll know when. You will know when some instructions are stupid and you know better.

Rosie Sparkleneedles sparkleneedles.wordpress.com

Yes! I am really looking forward to getting to the point where I can see beyond the pattern instructions (or at least understand them enough) to do things my own way, and not the weird way they tell me to. Until then I will be reading everything like a (confused) hawk.

Lynn Coady

I hear yah, I find the language used in patterns confusing tot he max!!! So much so a dress I made recently now has an entire bodice which has been “faced” within in an inch of its life instead of just the bands!! When did English get so hard to understand?

Rita Demarinis

I was also very lucky to have a Mom who was an excellent seamstress. One time during my high school years, I was sewing on a blouse, and made a mistake. I asked her, “Is this all right?” And she said, “would you be happy with wearing it that way?” Of course, the answer was “no”, so I ripped it out and did it over!! Great lesson!! Thanks, Mom…A few important points about sewing, always make sure you measure so your patterns are on the straight grain of fabric, otherwise, your clothes won’t hang right. Always press as you go, very important, you can’t make up for it later…Pick the right fabric for your pattern; use the fabric guide on back of the pattern. It’s very helpful to learn about fabrics. Natural fabrics are easier to sew and more comfortable to wear; they breathe. There are lots of good books these days on sewing and related subjects. Craftsy.com also has great sewing classes.

Chris

I agree whole heartedly with ironing as you go. When my old iron finally died and I bought a new one I discovered that, for me at least, the feature of the iron turning off after a period of inactivity became a bump in the road of sewing for me. To have to wait for the iron to heat up again bugged me a lot. That iron is now used for “laundry” ironing and a cheap iron that doesn’t have that energy saving feature is in the sewing room.

Sarai colettepatterns.com

Yes! Also, the pattern designer doesn’t know exactly what fabric you are sewing with, what techniques you are comfortable with, whether you like hand sewing or hate it, whether you prefer to sew fast or slow, etc. There are a lot of variables and it’s good to have your own ideas and preferences to come back to!

Lisa

I read your comment and kept thinking, “Huh. She sounds a lot like me!” My mom taught me how to sew beginning at age 7 in 4-H. There’s a photo of her the day I got married, ripping out bad stitching on my husband’s belt loops two hours before the ceremony. (I made his vest and pants, my dress, petticoat, and the bridesmaids’ dresses.) I even have the same 3- and 5-yard rule. What really cracks me up, though, is that we have the same first name. Ha!

Jen

Fitting and learning to use an appropriate fabric are the two for me. I stopped sewing for years, but then when I learned that FBAs existed, it kind of changed my sewing life.

Jess sometimessewist.wordpress.com

Yes! Love this post, Sarai. Rock on.

knitmo

I learned many of these when I was learning to knit (because I started that before I started garment sewing extensively). These techniques translate easily to multiple applications.

I would add read and read and read some more. You will learn so much to see how different things are done.

Sarai colettepatterns.com

I really think learning to knit improved my sewing immensely. You can’t really rush through a knitting project, and you have to get pretty zen about ripping out your work and redoing it.

knitmo

I re-knit one sweater three times. Was it worth? Oh yes. I wear that sweater three or four times a week during the winter.

The other huge thing that I learned from knitting: It’s only yarn. Or It’s only fabric. It isn’t the end of the world if it gets messed up.

Rosie Sparkleneedles sparkleneedles.wordpress.com

Oh goodness this is so heartening and reassuring. Thank you! I’m just starting out and making all these mistakes and worrying about all these issues. I am so pleased to hear it’s not just me, and that even people who are super super good at sewing and everything still once didn’t know how to finish seams. Tonight I’m going to attempt a French Seam for the first time. I’ll just also have to remember not to stay up till 3am trying to angstily get it right!

rita

Buy a used sewing machine recommended by a good sewing machine repair place. You’ll get better quality per dollar. It may sound backwards but a relationship with this place is like finding a good car mechanic. You WILL need this service periodically. Sewing machines are often abandoned and this is what he’s fixed and knows about.

sj kurtz erniekdesigns.blogspot.com

I have all sorts of advice for my younger self, but the one I learned the hard way from knitting was: go back and fix the mistake. Rip it back and fix it now. Enjoy seam ripping (like loving to frog/unravel/tink back) . Get a seam ripper that feels good to use. Use it.

Love the process. Ommmmmmmmmm…..;)

(and use wider seam allowances)

Rita Demarinis

Buy a good used METAL mechanical sewing machine. They’re made to last and repair, when they need it. A good machine will help you sew better, and you won’t be ready to to throw it out in the yard…I recently bought an 830 old mechanical Bernina for $400 that was like new..Love it!!

rita

Yes, a metal mechanical machine!! That’s my advice too.

Amy

This idea deserves a second. It seemed for a while the only new sewing machines that were selling had 3000 stitches, computerized dodads, and checked your twitter feed between sessions. There finally appear to be entry level machines emphasizing quality over massive amounts of different stitches. Those are worth a look, too.

However, the right old machine will work as well in 2014 as it did in 1954. I should know, I work on my grandmother’s 1951 singer. A repair shop will know the quality of older models.

The caveat here is that old machines may require more maintenance. I’m okay with a bit of light oiling for a sewing machine that’s still going strong after 50 years. :)

Teresa Ward

When I learned to press each seam before crossing it with another seam, my finished projects ( and confidence) improved immeasurably! That is one tip
I share with new sew it’s!

Linda

I recognize that one still: don’t cut and sew on the same day!

Rachel nevermindthebobbins.co.uk

This is a great post! I get so engrossed when I’m sewing I often have to tell myself to slow down and take it easy. I try my hardest not to rush through and miss out on the enjoyment of making the garment. I also find that when feeling stuck or frustrated that walking away is often the best decision, when I come back with fresh eyes those confusing instructions make so much more sense.

Sarai colettepatterns.com

This is true for so many things. I am someone who will hack away at a problem until it’s solved, so learning to rest my brain and stop before I’m frazzled and frustrated has been life changing.

Carla tinyangrycrafter.blogspot.com

Thank you for this list. I think I’ve been inspired to make a similar one of my own.
I will still cut and sew things the same day, depending on if it’s something I’ve sewn before, and know it’s a good pattern.
But one thing I’ll say now: make friends with your seamripper. When I first started sewing my mom would point out my mistakes, and I’d stubbornely leave them in. When I finally listened, I’d see what a fool I was.

Sarai colettepatterns.com

I’m like you, I try not to cut and sew on the same day, but I will for quick projects or something I’m familiar with and have done lots of times.

Also, I strongly agree with your second point (which others have mentioned too). When I was sewing this weekend, I noticed that I’d made a slight error that resulted in a tiny wrinkle in the back of my dress. For a second, I thought I’d leave it because it wasn’t that noticeable. But then, another part of me realized that I was spending hours making this dress from an expensive fabric, so why not take the extra five minutes to eliminate the error?

Marnie marniemaclean.com

For me the hardest thing to learn (and I’m still learning) is that it’s ok to use the nice stuff I buy. I tend to buy fabric/notions/trims/patterns I love and then I’m so scared I’ll mess up a project that I never use them. Sometimes I wait so long to use something that it’s deteriorated or fallen apart and can no longer be used at all. That happened with some fairly high quality elastic that I bought many years ago and that has since moved from Boston, to Los Angeles and now to Portland. When I pulled it out of my stash, the elastic had deteriorated and just crumbled. What a silly waste that was.

I enjoy sewing and I have to remember that I can enjoy the process even if I end up not loving the end product.

Jo from Making it Well makingitwell.blogspot.com

These are all good! When I was a beginner I went about it in all the wrong ways, so much so that I started hating sewing and wanted to quit. I’m glad I didn’t!
The most importatnt thing I had to accept was to ACCEPT IMPERFECTION! I wish I hadn’t been so hard on myself, it was really just self torture. Everyone starts out a beginner. And blogs make it so easy to negatively compare yourself to others. Please don’t do it.

The other thing I personally learned was that if you care about fit, to stick with a few basic patterns, get them fitting you well, and reuse them instead of having to tinker the fit on every new pattern! (this is less important if you’re one of those people that have a body that naturally fits most pattern pretty well. I’m not that body at ALL.)
I now have a goal of learning to draft my own details onto pattern I know fit me.

Hope this helps someone out there :)

kc theactofmaking.tumblr.com

Oh, your advice to make a pattern fit and then make lots of versions really hits home for me.
I only recently have gotten into the “fit once, remake forever” camp. I took the time to fit a vintage pattern of a very simple shirt, and now that shirt has become a staple in my wardrobe–made in silk it’s a more upscale alternative to a t-shirt, in cotton it’s a great pajama top, with a self-drafted skirt it’s a very easy shift dress. I get faster and more precise each time I make a new version, and that’s helping my confidence no end.

Peggy

In my 44 years of sewing, I’ve found #2, #3, and #5 to be spot on. For those of us who learned sewing in junior high school, our amazing home ec teachers had us start with something simple that could be completed successfully, for me a basic A-line skirt in a stable fabric of my own choosing (basic seams + zipper + waistband), after which we slowly moved our way up from there, garment by garment, to blouses and more detailed dresses. And after sewing piles and piles of garments over the years that were worn only once or twice (and looking back they probably never should have left my sewing room), I know that matching fabric to pattern is essential to sew a comfortable, attractive garment that I will want to wear over and over again and that I will be proud to wear (and that won’t look handmade). A simple tee made from a luxurious silk, a shirtdress made from a mid-weight linen, a sheath dress from an Italian lightweight wool.

Hannah surfjewels.tumblr.com

This was an interesting read, thankyou, Tip 5 related to my biggest thing recently, I want to learn a lot more about fabric. I most often go for cotton or a polycotton. It is cheap, easy to use and there’s a lot of choice of colours and patterns. I have experimented with other fabrics, more recently jersey fabric, chiffon, lace and tulle, but I still feel like it is a minefield out there. I see cotton lawns, rayons, crepes and many other things, some the same things but with different names and I am just confused.

I really want to learn more, but where do I start? Where do I look? (Any advice welcome!)

For example I need a fabric that would work better than a polycotton fabric for a nice maxi skirt that is drapey and not stiff, any tips?

Hannah
http://surfjewels.tumblr.com/

kc theactofmaking.tumblr.com

You should try a rayon or viscose fabric. They’re nice and flowy, but they’re not slippery or difficult to work with (like some silks can be). Good luck!

Rita D.

The Fabric Savvy books by Sandra Betzina have lots of good information on fabrics. Her Fast Fit book is also very good. Good information on the amount of ease, which is important, but no one talks about much.

miss agnes readytoknit.com

Great tips. This is going to my reference list about sewing, as I’m about to get started and actually learn how to use a sewing machine.

The Nerdy Seamstress thenerdyseamstress.net

I agree with all of these tips as I’ve learned over the last couple of months. It’s so hard to decide which one is more important. Right now, I’m really focusing on learning one new skill at a time. When I first started, I just wanted to sew dresses. A lot of them, I don’t think I really learned anything new. Now, I’m willing to branch out and try different, new skills.

I love quilting cotton when I first started. At the time, I was going to live and die by it, but now I realize I should venture out and try different fabrics. I think quilting cottons were very helpful when I first started sewing.

I’m starting to learn how to finish different seams and it applies to taking my time. I don’t like the zig zag stitch and currently, I can’t buy a sergerr, so I’m trying different seams.

Stitchin’ Away

Re fitting: “The process is dead simple.”

I laughed uproariously and shook my head at this generality. It is so *not* true for everyone.

For some of us, it’s a tricky deal because our shape is different than the standard pattern block in a lot of different places — 14 (so far) for me.

I’ve been trying to fit a simple button-down blouse for two years. I’ve taken 2 online classes, an in-person class that met 3 times for 3 hours each, and hired my teacher for two private sessions. I have several fitting books that I’ve spent hours poring over. No blouse to wear yet. I keep hoping.

Once I’ve figured out a change I need, altering patterns is not complicated, just time-consuming. It takes me about 2 hours to make all the adjustments I need (so far) to a pattern — but it’s systematic.

Sara handmade.saraberkescreative.com

Great post! I find I’m a pretty big fabric snob nowadays, and I definitely don’t regret it. Sure, it sucks to waste a really nice fabric, but it sucks even more to sew something beautiful in a fabric you can’t stand wearing. My polyester stash is down to one single fabric that I love the print of and am trying to find something to do with, and other than that, I’m pretty much all-natural fibres all the time, minus things like pontes and stretch knits with lycra. I’d never buy polyester in a store, so why would I sew with it?

Heidi G

What’s the easiest way to get familiar with garment fabrics besides getting online and either 1) buying random 1/2 yds of fabric to pet, or 2) investing in 3 yds of something that looks fabulous but you’ve never used before? I don’t have a lot of access to non-quilting cotton fabrics in person. I touch everything in clothing stores but can’t put names to fabrics!
Also, I have to agree with your knitting viewpoint. You have to find peace while you rip out large swaths of yarn and know that it will be better the second time! I’m still working on that zen with my seam ripper…

Sarai colettepatterns.com

Some online fabric stores allow you to buy swatches at a low cost! I’ve done this when buying from Mood, for example. You could get a good book on fabric, like More Fabric Savvy, and then buy some swatches of the fabrics listed in there to keep as a reference.

Of course, there will always be variations among each fabric, but that could be a good place to start. The book tells you about each fabric, different finishes to use, needle sizes, etc. Having the swatch along with that info is very informative!

Debbie-Ann

GREAT article! I smiled when I read point 2 about starting small. My first item I wanted to make was a ruffle neck dress ! What a mess I got myself into – it remains unfinished to this day. My next project was a mug rug. After I made that I was extremely humbled because I realised I couldnt even sew a straight line.

Jessica alittlebitofjess04.blogspot.com

Love this! All of your points are things I have been trying to apply to my sewing this year especially the slowing down part! I now break my sewing up into smaller portions (cutting one day, sewing on another day etc) and have found my garments turn out so much nicer. Great list :)

Isis isismade.blogspot.com

I couldn’t agree more with your points. Spot On!
The other thing i’ve learned lately is not to feel guilty about how much MORE time I spend dreaming about and planning my sewing projects than actual making. While I used to think ‘I should stop dreaming and be making these things’, I’m now happy I spend more time dreaming and planning than actual making… it means I don’t making anything on a whim, and all of my projects are well considered.
then again, like you said, perhaps i needed those mistakes that came out of rushed, unconsidered projects
x

Lynn Coady

Hi I’m just learning to sew and am loving it. Two skirts, a butchered sun dress and two little girls shift dresses later I do think I’m learning, but like you I had unfinished seams, and hems are just beyond me!! I’ve been hand stitching all hems and using the pinking sheers but am still not happy with the finish (hate raw edges). What techniques to you recommend to a starter sewer for neat and presentable finishing? Do you think an overlocker would be worth investing in?

Sarai colettepatterns.com

It really depends on the type of fabric you use! I’m hope to do a whole month of posts on seam finishing at some point (and one on hems too). You might want to check out my book (you can usually get it at the library if you don’t want to buy it). There is a whole chapter on finishing. :)

Paola lasartora.blogspot.com.au

One thing I wish I’d learned as a beginner, that only came to me later on was not to proceed to the next step, until I was happy with the step I had just done. Ï was guilty of ploughing on with projects regardless, because yes, I was too lazy, and too interested in getting on with it, to go back and unpick.
Beginners, the seam ripper really is your friend!

Jessica alittlebitofjess04.blogspot.com.au

Totally agree! I always used to say “oh well” instead of going back and perfecting my sewing. It is so much more satisfying knowing you have done the job properly and your sewing looks better & more professional.

MaryLynne

“but generally I find I’m much happier if I don’t turn my sewing space into a little sweatshop.”

Please do not equate anything to the horrors of an industry that kills people, destroys families and exploits the least of these. Sorry for such a polemic comment, but I’ve been a fan for a while, and this sort of equation doesn’t seem at all like y’all.

Sarai colettepatterns.com

I’m sorry, it was a flippant comment.

Robin

Excellent post. Love the pun, using waist in place of waste “fine silk on experimental projects”lol …I like your pics also, especially of the sewing room. I picked up an idea, or two, from ut. Thanks! I enjoy your blog!

Sharon | the teacup incident theteacupincident.typepad.com

These are wonderful points that really resonate with a beginning sewer like me. I’m inventing softies (a very doable project for the rebel beginner) but your tips still apply. Thank you for that!

Kath northknittery.blogspot.com

I laughed when I read your first point here. When I began I was using a hand-me-down machine which jammed so often I spent more time swearing at it than using it. Some wise words here and some good advice :)

Heidi inchingcloser.co.uk

Totally agree with buying the best sewing machine you can. I too have a Bernina and love it. I made the mistake 10 years ago in buying the cheaper Bernina brand Bernette. Once I started seriously sewing with it, I found it ‘tinny’ and a bit light weight. I sold it on eBay and bought myself a Bernina instead. SO MUCH MORE PLEASURABLE! Sorry, just had to write that in CAPS! :)

Jennifer in KS

Regarding the expense of a good machine, look for a sewing or stitch lounge close to you – might be a dealer or in a fabric store. Even here in my little burg of 20,000 people we have a Bernina dealer who makes machines available for sewing on given nights. Pay a fee for a couple of hours and try out the machines.

April Freeman hotmesshomeschooling.wordpress.com

I’d add that ironing IS sewing.

Amy

Yes, ironing, pinning,etc is sewing, just like the endless cleaning, sanding, smoothing, filling, and priming is painting. It took me a while to accept the later but thankfully it took less time with the former.

Gwendolyn

Thanks for the suggestions. They will help me start over.

Greg sewingmonster.com

I definitely agree with the 10 tips. What I like about them is that most of these tips can be not only for sewing, but for life in general. All the time I tell myself “It’s not a race, it’s not a race” and it helps me enjoy the details of life without getting caught up in the task at hand. Great advice that I will be sure to use in the future!

Adeline adesays.wordpress.com

When I first started learning sewing, I didn’t have many friends who shared the same interest. Most people prefers fast fashion and online blog shopping was a big part of where I lived. 1 thing I wish I’ve known when I started sewing is how big this sewing community is. Even though we may not be sharing the same time zones, but it’s heartening to know that there is a fiery passion in the things we do and friends to learn from. I’m still on the search on finding more like-minded people who lives near me..

jacqueline

Loved this article! I think that you are dead on. These are all of the things that I struggle with. I like that you said to leave cutting and sewing on different days. I find myself getting more and more frustrated when I do my cutting and sewing on the same day!

Laura G

This os an excellent post. I work in a fabric store and I tell people many of the same things. The last item it the most important its and that is embrace mistakes and learn from them

Joanna McCartney seejojosew.blogspot.com

I love this list! I literally just spent two weeks angrily trying to make a dress from a quilting cotton. Being unafraid to explore new fabrics really opened up my sewing world. GO LINEN!

Ruby

Excellent refresher points, even for those of us who have been sewing lo these many moons. I’d also add these items: Use quality thread (I prefer the German brands). The “10 spools for $2” variety tend to break, snag, & generally make a linty mess of your machine pronto quick. And learn basic sewing machine maintenance—it’s not rocket science! There’s a fab free tutorial over on Craftsy which your blog may have previously mentioned.
Thanks as always for the ongoing advice and encouragement. Love your work!

Wendy Ward wendyward.co.uk

It’s like you read my mind!! Great advice and exactly what I’m always telling all my students.

Naan stellulastyles.blogspot.com

This is so spot on on all levels. I find myself sharing these same advice here and there with the various sewing groups I belong to and in all honesty I was beginning to wonder if perhaps my Italian Sartorial training made me see things differently, at a point I feared coming across as snobbish especially when I refuse certain fabrics in my stash or prefer to finish my garments a certain way. I’ve been told often enough “who sees the inside but the wearer?” I should refer this page to my sewing buddies so they know I am not nuts….yet lol.

BJMarley

I wish my younger sewing self had someone to tell me about fitting adjustments. This is exactly the advice I would give a novice.

I would add that I have learned there is a point past which I will make too many mistakes and it is faster just to go get some sleep than to push through the fatigue.

LynDee

Great advice but I’d be tempted to move number 10 to number 1 ;)

Kalie heartrockmoon.blogspot.com

You guys always have the best advice! I’ve only been sewing for a little over a year and I always find my self wanting to sew the most challenging thing I can and I have to remind myself to start small! But I am in the process of experimenting with different types of fabrics. I have a really beautiful silk crepe de chine that I want to make into a chantilly and I am wondering what type of fabric I should use for the lining? Thank you!

Shannon

I usually don’t make an issue of being the grammar police, but I thought it was cute that you wrote “waist” instead of “waste” when talking about silk fabric. It did make the sentence read a bit differently!

Janette

I’ve got a beautiful piece of black linen which I thought I’d use for the Colette Meringue skirt, but not enough for a whole back and front, so thought I would cut two back pieces and put the zip at the back instead of the side.

I’m new to sewing so don’t know if it’ll work – any thoughts would be appreciated :-)

I made the mistake on my first Meringue of cutting the back with the flowers pointing downwards, and the front with the flowers pointing upwards – a mistake I won’t make again – it’s a good learning curve!!

Sarai colettepatterns.com

Sure! Just make sure you add seam allowance for the back seam and you’re fine. :)

Melanie

A new sewer commenting here. :) I will probably show my lack of fabric savvy, but I was wondering what is wrong with making clothes with quilting cotton? I haven’t yet branched to making clothes for myself but I often make clothes for my daughter with quilting cotton and have been happy with the results. Am I missing something?

Sarai colettepatterns.com

There’s nothing wrong with it if you like it! Quilting cotton is easy to work with and comes in many cute patterns, many of which are fantastic for kids.

The main thing with quilting cotton is that it uses short-staple cotton, which is stiffer than the softer cottons you might see in garment-weight fabrics. This makes it durable and sturdy (great for quilts, and maybe even a great choice for children’s clothes as well!), but not as soft and drapey as you might expect in clothing you’d buy at a store, for example.

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