You Are Not Alone: Advice From One Newbie to Another

Thoughts from a new sewist.

I’m very new to the sewing community and to say that I’m a very keen sewist is an understatement. The most frustrating thing for me at present is this: my skills do not match my creativity. Sound familiar? This can make me feel downhearted, particularly as there are so many wonderful projects I would love to attempt. Even the simplest projects get me flustered and take much longer than I anticipate. I am happy to report that I am making progress and in each project I am challenging myself in a variety of ways, whether it’s learning a new skill, or using a more challenging type of fabric. As I come to the end of my third week of sewing, I want to share some of the most significant things that I have learnt on my sewing journey thus far.

1) There’s a lot of getting it wrong before you get it right:

Make friends with your seam ripper. Seriously!! Be prepared to feel frustrated, mildly annoyed, and even to shed tears and want to give up. Not wanting to finish a project for a few days (or even longer) because you’re struggling with hemming/interfacing and you can’t face unpicking ANOTHER seam is completely normal. Having lots of these moments when you first start out is a given. The quicker that you embrace the fact that making mistakes are inevitable, the better that you will get at rectifying them and independently finding solutions to your problems. This helps to improve your sewing skills.

2) A sewing room is the dream. The dining room table is the reality:

My fiance and I live in a 2 bedroom, mezzanine flat. The small living room where our dining table lives is now bursting at the seams with sewing-related items, as well as everything else we’ve managed to fit into it (musical instruments, coffee table, bookcases, sofas etc). The dining table, which often turns into an office desk, or a place to collect regularly used items that never get put away, has most recently turned into a sewing table. It’s where my sewing machine, overlocker, material and various sewing tools live. Navigating the living room is a challenge at the best of times, but its a space that helps with my creativity. When you first start out sewing there’s not always an ideal space. What matters is that you find any space you can in order to get going with your sewing. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just needs to work for you.

NB: Try to keep your sewing space as tidy as possible, especially if it’s not very spacious. After every sewing session, I tidy up all of my off-cuttings, scraps, etc and leave the space presentable for the next time. There’s nothing more depressing/off-putting than returning to a project and there’s mess everywhere.

3) You are NOT alone:

It seems as though everyone else in the sewing community is an experienced dressmaker/sewist and you are the only one struggling to improve. This just isn’t true and even the most experienced dressmaker/sewist will have times when they feel as though they just can’t seem to get it right. There is no project that is perfect the first time around – there are always things that you wish you could have executed much better, additions/alterations you want to make in the future, lessons to be learned, unpicking to be done!

I must admit that I have struggled to find established blogs of sewists that have just started out, but there are a few out there and when I read about their experiences I immediately feel a sense of relief and camaraderie. I then start to have much more positive thoughts about my sewing journey, such as: “That happens to them too!” “So it’s normal to feel this way.” “I’m not the only one who thinks a project will take 2 days and it lasts 2 weeks.”

Starting from scratch is never easy, but it’s important to remember that you are not alone with those feelings. That’s exactly why I started blogging. If one person in a similar position reads just one of my posts and feels encouraged to continue their own sewing journey, despite the trials and pitfalls encountered at first, then all of my efforts have been worth it.

4) Things do get better:

After 3 weeks of sewing I am amazed at how much of the terminology I now understand. I know the basics of a sewing machine, having never owned or used a sewing machine previously. I can make 5 different items reasonably well. I know the basics of using an overlocker. I even created a pattern for a tie because I wanted to make one but did not have a pattern to use. Most importantly, I have the desire to continue pushing myself and  improving my skills – next up, making garments. Definitely not what I expected myself to be thinking of sewing after only 3 weeks. All of these mini victories are proof that things do get better and much easier with time. Just keep at it.

5) There’s an entire community out there:

There is an established sewing community that is welcoming, supportive and extremely helpful. Find ‘sewcial’ events that you can get involved in, or join the online community. There is help and advice available from a variety of sources. Make sure that you use them. I am just starting to get more involved in the sewing community. It’s a bit daunting and I really need to give myself a push but I’m willing to step outside of my comfort zone, in order to improve my skills and make some new friends along the way.

I really hope that this post gives encouragement to another newbie. I intend to read it back to myself whenever I feel discouraged or disheartened by my sewing abilities. I hope that one day I can look back at this post and appreciate how far I have progressed. For now, it’s back to re-starting my latest project – zipper pouches. Now THAT experience is a story and a half. I’ll save that for my next post. Until then, happy sewing!

All Tied Up

My first attempt at making a tie.

With the pillowcases safely put to bed, I commenced my next project – a tie. I followed a tutorial from the same vlog where I found the pillowcase tutorial, ‘MADE Everyday’. The tutorial was easy to follow, however this was a bit of a trickier project from the outset because I did not have a pattern for a tie. I had to ask my fiancé for a tie he no longer liked and then proceeded to cut it apart. It was a win-win situation: I got to use the tie as a makeshift template and he got a much nicer, handmade tie as a replacement.

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The ill-fated tie

Using the tie as a template (bearing in mind that I had deconstructed a previously made tie, therefore would need to add point to the fabric, make the shape much neater, allow for seam allowances, etc) I proceeded to cut out the fabric I needed. I then pinned the fabric I had cut to the lining and used it to get an exact copy of the shapes for the front and back of the tie.

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One of the hardest parts (aside from the faff of cutting out the shapes for the tie without the use of a pattern, coupled with my shoddy cutting skills) was pinning together the front and back of the tie and sewing them together, in order to make one long, continuous length of fabric. There was a 1/4″ seam allowance and I had to get the edges together perfectly. Needless to say, unpicked my first try!

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Pinning the front and back of the tie for the lining and outer fabric

I carefully followed the instructions of the tutorial and was very happy with the finished results. Unfortunately, I made the loop on the tie too small, so it could not be used to hold the back of the tie in place. Lucky for me, my fiancé informed me that he does not bother to use the loops anyway (RESULT). I had also placed the loop too far up the tie, which meant that had it been big enough to use, it would have been impossible to do so. Shortly after taking the photograph, I cut the loop off – problem solved!

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Happy with the overall result from the first tie, I made a second tie (it turned into a skinny tie but mainly due to me making a mistake and refusing to unpick the entire length of the tie). Much like during the pillowcase project, my mistakes came thick and fast when I started making the second tie. I tried to complete the project with minimal assistance from the video (will I ever learn?!) and soon my best friend came out once again (the seam unpicker). Sigh….I HAVE learned my lesson since and I will follow tutorials, instructions and guidance relentlessly until they are firmly ingrained in my mind. Only then shall I try to sew from memory. I am blessed with the ability to somehow rectify any mistakes I make, regardless of how catastrophic, and still end up with a project that I can be proud of. I hope that this gift follows me throughout my sewing career. It is one that I am very happy to have.

The second tie turned out great and is a skinny tie to add to my fiancé’s collection. The first tie certainly got his seal of approval, as he proudly wore it to work at the beginning of this week. What a sweetheart! He made me a very happy lady that day. I must say that the other difficulty I had with the tie was turning it right-side out once completed. On the tutorial, the vlogger successfully attaches a safety pin to one end of the tie, turns the fabric on itself and pushes/threads the fabric and safety pin along the entire length of the tie.

I tried that method and failed miserably. I was also concerned about potentially ruining the fabric by using this method, so opted for a long-winded method that was much more time-consuming but worked for me. Horses for courses – I got the job done in the end. I would use this tutorial again to make other ties, which I intend to do very soon as my mum has requested one as a birthday gift for a relative. Another project all tied up. Next on my to do list is a zipper pouch.

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Everybody Needs a Pillowcase for a Pillow

My first attempt at making bedding.

Pillowcases were my next project, after finally completing the two aprons – my labour of love. I am planning to give my mum a collection of my sewing achievements as part of her Mothers’ Day present on 26th March. She is so thrilled that I have finally decided to take up sewing and is eager to see some of my projects, so I’m making an extra special effort to complete a few simple projects that I can do to the best of my abilities and make some special gifts for the special lady in my life.

So far, my mum can expect 1 cushion and 1 apron. Now there are 2 pillowcases that have been added to the collection. Making the pillowcases was the first time that I independently found a project to create, that I hadn’t already completed in a sewing class. I looked for a simple and easy to follow tutorial on YouTube and stumbled across the vlog, ‘MADE Everyday’.

Overall, the tutorial was very easy to follow and this vlogger is really upbeat and encouraging, without sounding patronising or condescending. There were times in the video when I had to rewind and go over steps that I was unsure of, however, I was able to create not 1 but 2 pillowcases in the space of an hour. The instructions were clear and the vlogger sews the pillowcases during the video, which was helpful for me to watch her technique and attempt to emulate it. The pillowcases that are created in the video do not have the inside, overlapping fabric that covers the end of the pillow. Following the tutorial to a ‘T’ will leave you with a very basic pillow covering, which is great if that’s the look that you are going for.

I, however, wanted a pillowcase in the true sense. This meant me scrutinising one of my own pillowcases to ascertain exactly how it had been sewn together, then making a few adjustments to my project, in order to create the overlapping fabric to cover the end of the pillow. It was a very simple alteration and the result was very effective. The amount of fabric used leaves more than enough room for slightly larger/bulkier pillows. Less fabric can be used than is recommended in the tutorial, in order to give a snug fit to a standard sized pillow. I liked how the pillows looked with the use of slightly more fabric, so I would keep to the same amount of fabric the next time that I make pillowcases.

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Pillowcase
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Pillowcase interior

For such a simple project, I made quite a few mistakes, but this is simply down to my status as sewing newbie. I am still perfecting all of the ‘easy’ skills that intermediate and advanced sewists take for granted. Another problem of mine is following instructions to a ‘T.’ My biggest problems came when making the second pillowcase. I thought that I knew all of the steps and could easily recall what should happen next, therefore I tried to make the pillowcase without the aid of the video…..EPIC FAIL!!

My brain was still getting to grips with all of the skills required to make this new project, so adding on the additional chore of memorising each step AND trying to get each step done as perfectly as I could led to many mistakes and the inevitable use of my best friend (the seam unpicker). Note to self – go easy with the seam unpicker, otherwise it leads to rips/tears in the fabric where rips/tears are not welcome.

THANKFULLY, the small tear occurred on the inside of the overlapping fabric that covers the end of the pillow, so I did a quick patch job to ensure that it didn’t turn into a major issue. I let my mum know about my slight error and she was very understanding, reassuring me that it didn’t matter and that she would be happy to accept ANYTHING that I made (oh, a mother’s love). I really enjoyed making these pillowcases and will make more in the future.

Sewing Kit Upgrade

An upgraded sewing kit for my continuing sewing journey.

My sewing kit is no longer as basic as it was almost 3 weeks ago. I now have a growing collection of sewing accessories, as you can see:

I acquired a sewing box to house my accessories. My newest addition is an A2 self-healing cutting board and a rotary cutter. My cutting skills leave a lot to be desired (I am slowly improving) however the rotary cutter will enable me to cut fabric in a much more precise manner. This will be particularly important as my projects become more complex and also for when I start to make garments.

The cutting board will protect my dining room table, which also doubles as my sewing station. I’ve always been the kind of person who needs to know the use of an item before it is purchased. I suppose that I could have immediately bought all of these items at the very beginning, however I have preferred to collect them as and when I need them. This has helped me to understand the use of each item in my sewing kit and its importance for different projects that I have completed so far.

I’m starting to feel like a proper sewist…or at least as though I have the right equipment to become one. I regularly use all of the items in my sewing box, a fact that I am really pleased about because it feels as though it is money well spent. With any new interest there will be an initial cost and because I have started from scratch, everything I required at a particular point in time needed to be purchased.

I am relieved that I am now reaching the point where I will not have to make any more essential purchases to my kit. The last remaining items on my list are a French Curve ruler and pattern weights (I’ve got my eye on some particularly cute pattern weights from Oh Sew Quaint). It’s been an expensive few weeks getting started with sewing, but it has been well worth it. Long may the passion continue to grow and the skills flourish.

Projects Projects Projects

A collage of my sewing projects in 2017

This is the start of my third week of sewing. So far, I’ve made 3 aprons, 2 cushions, 2 pillowcases and 2 ties. More in the pipeline!

Labour of Love

The process of making two aprons from scratch.

It’s been challenging. It’s been frustrating. I almost gave up…many, many MANY times. I’m happy to say that I persevered and even though I would have liked better results (I expect far too much of myself, I’m working on this flaw) the 2 aprons are finally complete:

I made mistake, after mistake, after mistake. Even right up to the very end of the project, when I thought that I had completed my final apron; I turned it around and noticed that I had stitched one of the apron ties to the main body of the fabric. Gggrrrrrr!!! I had to dig deep and find the strength and will to finish those two aprons. I had a moment (it lasted for 20 minutes) when I contemplated throwing away one of the partially completed aprons. I was desperate, disappointed and fed up beyond belief with myself, my supposed lack of sewing ability, the fabric not doing what I wanted, the sewing machine not doing what I wanted, life being unbearable, blah blah blah…..I was at a low point.

I then pulled myself together (somewhat) and felt absolutely horrified at the thought of WASTING FABRIC!! NO!!! Then I began to wonder if anyone kept a stash of projects that had gone wrong, simply to remind themselves of how hideously something had turned out at the first attempt. Out of curiosity, does anybody out there do this? I am genuinely considering creating a fabric room 101-esque stash of reject projects. I dispelled that idea, because it felt too much like giving up (which I cannot stand to do) and that’s when I formed a new relationship with my ‘unpicker’. It turns out that this bad girl was the best £1.25 I’ve ever spent:

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My best friend: the fabric unpicker

Those 2 aprons had me unpicking like I’d never unpicked before, as though my life depended on it. I could easily call myself a master unpicker. If you need stitches unpicking, I’m your girl. I essentially more than doubled the time needed to complete both aprons, because I had to unpick the majority of my work. What I can say is that this experience has taught me never to be afraid of unpicking. This might sound strange, but I had this idea that every stitch I made HAD to be perfect FIRST TIME. That the calibre of sewist was directly proportionate to the number of times you made a perfect project. Now I know that thought was completely ridiculous, because there is no perfect project and there will always be mistakes.

I should never be afraid to unpick stitches that are not correct, because as I have experienced, it can be the difference between completing a project that I am proud of and binning a project altogether. These 2 aprons will always be remembered as my first sewing labour of love. They taught me patience, the importance of paying attention to detail, the art of taking my time and they also showed me the full extent of my love for sewing. They are going off to wonderful homes where I am know that the love and appreciation for these handmade treasures will far outweigh the love, care and hard work that went into making them.

I have now made 5 projects in the 13 days since my sewing adventure began. I have already compiled a list of projects that I wish to complete. I am really itching to start making clothes and I must admit that in the early hours of the night when my insomnia had firmly taken hold, I started to peruse blogs of other sewists whose sewing skills I greatly admire. One particular blogger had made ‘The Bettine’ dress from a pattern by Tilly and the Buttons. I love the style and the pattern is ‘easy,’ so a great first garment for me to make.

I am currently awaiting the pattern’s arrival and it will be one of the projects I will start in the next few weeks. I am very excited to see how it turns out. Shout out to Emily, writer of the blog, ‘Self Assembly Required’ for posting about her experience using this pattern. It definitely helped me to find my first garment pattern. While I wait for ‘The Bettine’ pattern to arrive, I will start on my next project: pillowcases. I am anticipating that they will be simpler to complete than the aprons and provide a much needed break from my ‘best friend’ the unpicker. It has been said that absence makes the heart grow fonder…

First Unsupervised Project

My experience sewing solo. No workshops, just me at home with my sewing machine.

A few days ago, I started and completed my first unsupervised project. It was another ‘envelope’ back cushion and the results were not too shabby. I could easily pick apart (pun intended) my project and be really hard on myself, but I will resist the temptation to do so. I have to be realistic: it’s my third EVER sewing project, it’s my first ever time following the instructions and creating it by myself, PLUS I finished it within 3 hours. I’m very proud. Here is the finished product:

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‘Envelope’ back

My mum will be the lucky recipient of this cushion, along with my one of the items of my next project that I’ll start today, which is 2 aprons. For the aprons, I have had to create a pattern using the original, completed project, as I was not provided with the dimensions for the material. This has meant pushing myself further and taking the initiative to start learning more sewing skills. I’m very excited for where this will take me in terms of upcoming projects (pillowcases followed by a simple gathered skirt, perhaps).

Remember when I wrote about my unsuccessful use of the overlock stitch on the sewing machine, during my first unsupervised sew, which prompted the purchase of the overlocker? Well, I have to admit that I am now very happy with my decision to purchase the overlocker. An expense that I could perhaps have done without, however the results are brilliant. See for yourself:

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Now that I have proved to myself that I can really sew, that it’s not just a fluke that occurs when I’m in a sewing class, I am ready to start the next project. I’ll let you know how it goes. My sewing adventure continues.