A couple of weeks ago Becca asked in the capsule wardrobe sew along facebook group what we wish we could tell ourselves when we first started sewing. I have never thought about this. I do wish I could go back and tell myself some things, but I also am grateful for all the mistakes I’ve made and everything I learned from those mistakes.
Here’s a quick recap my sewing journey: I started sewing in high school. I mostly altered items and refashioned items. I rarely constructed with a pattern. I made loads of mistakes, but I look back fondly at those items because they were so creative. I went to college and studied clothing construction where I learned lots. I made lots of items from scratch with a pattern, but I didn’t plan them very well with my wardrobe. After college I had my first two babies while my husband was in law school. I did a lot of refashioning and altering, and only a little bit of sewing from scratch. After law school I had another baby, worked through Wardrobe Architect, and started making a lot more items from scratch and planning with my wardrobe.
1. You will make mistakes, and it’s okay. Those mistakes will teach you for future items. You’ll make something and think it’s amazing. A year later you’ll make something even better. You’ll look back to previous items, and they will seem so imperfect. Learn from past items and get rid of them so you don’t hold on to the emotional baggage. Look at ready to wear, it’s not perfect either. Only tell other seamstresses about your mistakes. Everyone else will believe your item is perfect and let them think that.
2. Figure out fitting. Patterns don’t fit you without alterations. Your body is perfect the way it is and the pattern needs to be altered, not your body. We sew because we can alter patterns. Pay attention to your proportions and the proportions of a pattern. I have almost no hips and large calves. I don’t look good in items intended for pear shaped bodies (even though I wish I did!). I have yet to take an online fitting class, but Fast Track Fitting* gets lots of good reviews!
3. Follow fabric guidelines. You can’t force a fabric to drape. You can force a fabric to have body. Don’t buy polyester; stick with the natural fibers. They wash and wear so much better! I learned the most about fabric from the book Fabric A to Z and the online class Fabric Know-How*.
4. Plan. Plan. Plan. Draw the item. Plan the style lines. Plan the fabric with the style lines. Check your existing wardrobe so you can see what you’ll wear it with. Is it a color that looks good on you? Is it a flattering silhouette? Does it work with your lifestyle? Is the fabric easy to care for? I love this for drawing items and outfits.
5. Sew slowly. Iron each seam. Put love into that item. Make the inside look as nice as the outside. Long projects are really hard. I love a quick sew, but I love a slow, perfect handmade item better. I used to not seam rip and fix things, and then I never wore them. Now I’ll take the time to make something really good, and I will seam rip something (even when it makes me want to cry), so that I can get an item that I’ll wear.
6. Don’t buy or test every single pattern. I have over a hundred patterns that I have maybe sewn once and I will never use them again. Then I have patterns that I have sewn over ten times. I only want those in my library. Also, research free patterns. You can do a lot of pattern alterations to get what you want with basic patterns that fit you really well. There are some online classes, like Patternmaking for knits: Essential Slopers*, that will teach you all the patternmaking skills needed to create any top from a basic pattern.
7. Use a pattern, specifically a pattern from an indie designer. I used to think I was above patterns and often tried quickly drafting them myself, but I never loved the finished item. Once I started using indie pattern designers, my entire world changed. I love that a good indie designer will hold my hand through the instructions, so that I can be successful. I love that a good indie designer doesn’t add extra ease like the big 4 paper pattern companies. I love that they are easy to get ahold of to ask questions during the process.
8. Sew basics and solids. Find holes by trying to wear a handmade everyday for one month (Me Made May just started and is a great way to figure this out!) It’s okay to buy and wear prints, but a closet full of prints cannot be worn.
I have been sewing for over ten years, but I have made loads of mistakes. I have thrown away and given away tons of items that never even made it to the blog. I’m a little embarrassed of some items that made it to the blog. But all those mistakes helped me learn and improve. I don’t make the same mistakes that I used to. (I make new mistakes!) Each year I think I’m doing well, but when I look back at what I was doing before I realize how far I have come. I like the reflection to help me to see where I’ve been and to see where I’m headed.