Some say there are no mistakes when it comes to sewing and that everyone has their own unique way of doing things, and while that is partly true there are a few errors that many – including myself – sometimes make when starting out that can really affect the outcome of a project. I’ve compiled a few key ones here, partly in the hope that a beginner will be saved a few hours of unpicking, and partly to remind myself not to make them.
1. Forgetting to pre-wash your fabric. Imagine spending hours and hours on a project and ending up with something you’re really happy with, only for it to shrink in the wash and no longer fit comfortably. This is what will probably happen if you don’t pre-wash your fabric – it’s the first thing you should do when you get your fabric purchase home. I use the same washing/spin setting I usually use for clothes (depending on the fabric, obviously), sometimes twice so I know what it’ll look like when it’s been washed a few times.
2. Choosing the wrong fabric. Fabric shopping can be overwhelming – SO MANY pretty prints and colours and textures – but before you make a purchase (in fact, before you even step into the shop), make sure you read the pattern sleeve closely for the fabric recommendations. That’s not to say these are gospel, but it will give you an idea of the types and weights of fabric that the pattern will suit. I also like to scope out the high street shops to see what types of fabrics they use, as it can be a really useful way to see how different fabrics hang and drape.
3. Slap-dash cutting, measuring and marking. It’s easy to be over-eager to get started on a project, quickly cutting out the pieces and using guesswork for the rest. I have to admit, I have had some success with this method, but that’s more down to luck than judgement and I wouldn’t recommend it – it’s just not worth the time it will take to put any mistakes right. Measure yourself, check your measurements against the ones on the pattern, and always transfer the markings properly.
4. Using cheap, it’ll-do sewing equipment. I recently made the error of buying a cheap zipper foot from eBay. One side of it worked fine, the other not so much (the groove wasn’t deep enough so I kept sewing over the zip – oh, the rage) resulting in many hours of sewing and unpicking, sewing and unpicking, then more sewing and unpicking before I eventually got the darn zip in. Never. Again.
5. Not ironing your fabric before you use it. Ironing your fabric before you get started seems like a really boring task and, I’m not going to lie to you, it is. Unless you’re a big fan of ironing, obviously. But, as with many boring tasks, it’s unfortunately necessary. Bumpy fabric can result in inaccurate cutting, pinning and sewing, and no one wants that.
6. Not pressing your seams. Again, another thing that seems dull, but it really does make a difference to the overall finish of a garment. Pressing seams reduces the chance of puckering where the seams meet and cross over, and helps the stitches sink into the fabric so it looks more professional. Don’t over-press, though, as that can distort your fabric.
7. Not having everything you need to hand. Realising you need more thread/bias binding/a zip when you’re midway through a project and in the sewing zone is just the worst, especially if you don’t live near a sewing shop and rely on online retailers for your sewing bits and bobs. It is also maddening not to have scissors, pins, a pin cushion and a seam-ripper nearby at all times when sewing, so do yourself a favour and grab them before you start.
8. Altering patterns and not testing them before you sew. If you’re going to make major alterations to a pattern, taking time to test it out by making a muslin is a must. End of. You don’t want to go wasting lovely fabric on a garment that doesn’t fit, now, do you?
9. Rushing to get a project finished. When the end of a sewing project is in sight and you can’t wait to get it finished so you can show it off, it can be tempting to rush through the finishing touches. Yet these finishing touches are often the most important, as they are usually the bits that people will see when you’re wearing your creation – the hem, the collar, the topstitching, and so on. You don’t want to end up with a top or dress that looks quickly or badly made (let’s face it, you might as well buy something from Primark instead if you’re going to do that) so take your time throughout the sewing process.
10. Sewing when you’re not in the mood to sew. While we’d all love to be super-productive all the time – and get loads of sewing done in the evening even if you’ve had a hard day at work – it’s sometimes better to admit defeat and chill out with a cup of tea and a film on Netflix. If I try and sew when I’m tired or just don’t fancy it, I find that I’m more likely to cut corners and not sew to my full ability. It’s much better to leave it until you have the time and inclination to get it just right.