A big part of learning to sew is making mistakes, getting the unpicker out and starting again – and you’ll still need to keep that unpicker handy whether you’ve been sewing for ten months or ten years, as there are always new skills to learn (and fail at).
We sewists are a tough bunch, though, and however many times we have a #sewingfail, our obsession with stitching never falters. So, to celebrate resilience in the face of wonky seams, I’m sharing a few of my embarrassing newbie mistakes. Here’s to getting it wrong, and trying again!1. Using the incorrect needle for the job. I didn’t really know that different machine needle types were a thing when I first started sewing, which, as I’m sure you can imagine, led to lots of snapped needles, a few ruined fabrics and a whole lot of frustration. Sewing through layers of denim with a universal needle is not a good idea, FYI. For your safety and sanity, stock up on lots of different machine needle types and thicknesses and change your needle regularly.
2. Picking the wrong fabric. Matching the right pattern to the right fabric is a skill, and, while I still don’t always get it spot on, I’d like to think I’m much better at it than I used to be. My Colette Taffy blouse is a case in point – the pattern is meant for floaty chiffon, but, newbie stitcher that I was, I decided to make it in a beautiful paisley print cotton with very little drape.
I loved the sewing pattern, I loved the fabric, but just not together. Although I was proud of it at the time (I think it was only my third or fourth finished garment), it ended up unworn at the back of my wardrobe and I’ve since given it to the charity shop. The moral of this sad story is: use the pattern’s suggested fabrics until you feel more confident with your fabric know-how.
3. Ignoring notches and other pattern markings. It seems I was, shall we say, an over-confident (read: cocky) beginner sewist, as I basically ignored all notches and winged it for my first few sewing projects – to quote a certain pirate film, I thought notches were guidelines for people who have no idea what they are doing. Which, ironically, was me. And then I wondered why I ended up sewing the wrong pattern pieces together. Notches and pattern markings are there for a reason. They are your friends. Don’t ignore them!
4. Not checking my measurements. For my first couple of projects, I chose my pattern sizing based on the clothing size I usually am in high street shops – which, given the high street’s penchant for inconsistent sizing, is just asking for trouble. Just like the high street shops, each pattern brand will draft their designs using a different block, so you may find that the size you need to cut out often varies – you may even need to grade between sizes for a perfect fit. Always check the size chart against your measurements before you cut out your pattern, even if it’s a pattern brand you’ve used before, as sizing can vary within brands – I also find it useful to measure the pattern itself, too. Eventually, you may even find the sewing holy grail: a pattern brand that fits your measurements to a tee (mine is Tilly and the Buttons. Hurrah!).5. Not pressing enough. In a similar fashion to my flagrant disregard for notches, I just couldn’t understand what the big deal was about pressing. It seemed so boring to spend my precious sewing time pressing seams. And what difference does it make anyway? Erm, quite a bit, actually. I have learned this the hard way, with finished projects that look far from professional with bulky unpressed seams and hems. Plus, pressing is actually strangely satisfying to do (just make sure you use a pressing cloth on delicate fabrics – learned that the hard way, too).
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