I recently saw this article on Colette Patterns on Ten Ways to Ruin Your Sewing, and wanted to share my own. I’ve only been sewing for a short while, but I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way. These are the things that I’ve discovered that infallibly lead to poor quality projects.
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A Small List of Sewing Tips
1. Pattern and Fabric must match. – Many times I feel compelled to use fabric that I have instead of buying new fabric for a project. At times I won’t realize until halfway through sewing a garment that the fabric is flimsy, thin, see-through, and not the right weight for the project. The last time this happened, I ignored my instinct and kept plodding along anyway, to less than satisfactory results. Changing your course of action once you’ve realized something (especially if your gut instinct dictates it) is important.
2. Fabric should be in a color that you will wear. – Color is important. It’s best to stick to a palette of a few complementary colors that go well with your skin tone and your comfort level. The fabric that you buy will then go well with each other, and you will be more inclined to wear what you make. Go through your closet and look at the colors of the items that you wear often, and pay attention to the pattern and color palette.
3. Trust your muslin. – Inherent to this advice of course, is make a muslin. Many times I will be in a fabric store and purposely buy cheap fabric, because it is cheap and I feel less pressure to get the project done right. After all, wasting cheap fabric on a pattern that doesn’t fit correctly puts less pressure on myself to get the project done right. Your muslin should match the drape and quality of your fabric, and should mimic the finished project. Making muslins means that you will trust your own skills in terms of sewing something that fits, and you will be able to strike a compromise between affordable, beautiful fabric and something that you will wear.
4. Pick pattern styles that you will actually wear. – I haven’t been wearing the last three dresses that I’ve made, but I wear my capri pants and skirts constantly. I went through my closet the other day and picked out five favorite dresses, and noted some similar characteristics amongst all of them. For me, they were: high waist or empire waist, straight or fitted skirts, flowy skirts with a fitted bodice, knee-length, low cut necklines, and jewel tones. Details that you are already comfortable with means that you will wear your sewing projects more often.
5. Work from your bodice, pants, and dress block. – This is more important when drafting patterns from scratch, but blocks that already fit you save time in fitting, and often require minimal changes. It takes more effort and imagination to draft together a dress and is not as straightforward as cutting out pattern pieces and tracing them, but often the end result will fit well.
6. Don’t rush through your project. – Sewing successful projects takes more time, planning, and precision than just going to your local H&M and buying an outfit. Take your time, enjoy the process, and don’t feel compelled to impose a deadline on yourself.
6b. Don’t sew when you’re tired. - So important that it wasn’t lumped in with #6, I often find myself in my pajamas sewing on a weekday night until 2 am, anxious to see how a project will turn out. I work 9 hours a day M-F, and sometimes have freelance work to come home to, so sewing time is precious. Being tired and striving to finish a project often leads to more mistakes.
7. Don’t hoard fabric. Buy only when you have a pattern in mind. – Fabric is not about to go extinct. Buying fabric in small batches that you have a plan for means that each project is thought out and methodical. Don’t buy fabric just because it is cheap or on sale. Less fabric means less compulsive sewing, or sewing to just finish the fabric in your stash. When each piece that you make is planned out, each piece will have a place in your wardrobe, and you will be more apt to wear what you sew.
8. Pay attention to detail. – Check to see if side seams match. Interface button bands, waistbands, and anything that requires stability. Check to see if the hem of your skirt is even. Be careful when finishing necklines and armholes. Press seams flat as you sew. Sew slowly and pay attention to small details as you go along. If your instinct gives you a red flag that something is off, listen to it and fix it.
9. Baste side seams on the self and check for fit. – A muslin will help, but I also baste side seams of my garment and try it on before I sew the finished project together. Sometimes the cloth used for the self does not behave in the same way the muslin does, and basting seams is a quick and easy way to check for fit.
10. Don’t be such a perfectionist. – Sewing is your hobby, and your hobby should be fun. If the project looks professional and wearable, by all means wear it. Nit-picking minor things that are visible only to ourselves (or to other eagle-eyed sewers), can take the joy out of sewing. Not every ready-to-wear garment looks perfect or fits perfectly, and often we are our own worst critic. Wear the garment once or twice, and if the imperfections go away by then and you feel comfortable in it, then it is probably not as bad as you think.