I would say a majority of the people that I talk to today are self-taught. First off, can I just say you rock? Sewing can be complicated and even a bit scary at the time, but you guys figured it out all on your own. Way to go! Me? My grandmother taught me to sew at the tender age of 9. She was picky, guys. About everything. There was lots of ironing, lots of hand sewing, and very little time sitting in front of an actual sewing machine. My 9-year-old self just wanted to sit at the sewing machine and rev it to its full potential like a 16-year-old driving their dad’s sports car. Which brings me to my list…
10 Mistakes Beginner Sewists Don’t Know They Are Making
1: Driving Too Fast
OK, honestly, this isn’t really just for beginners. I am super guilty of a lead foot. But the faster you sew, often times the wonkier your seams are. And no one likes crooked topstitching
2: Not Paying Attention to your Seam Allowance
This is huge guys. I know using a 1/2″ seam allowance over a 1/4″ seam allowance may not sound like much, but it can easily make the difference between a garment that fits and one that doesn’t. Be sure to figure out the seam allowance that is included in the pattern and stick to it.
3: Not Using a Specialty Foot When Needed
Did you know there are specialty feet that will help you get near perfect edge stitching? No? How about one that will make installing a concealed zipper a breeze? How about a foot that will do a beautiful rolled hem on your sewing machine? Or a walking foot that will make sewing with knits so much easier? Specialty feet can positively impact the quality of your finished product. I am a little addicted to presser feet, to be honest. I’ve found great luck with buying them from Amazon. I own this kit, and it’s my favorite (and an amazing deal too.)
4: Not Using a Quality Pattern
OK, OK. As a pattern designer, this is a bit of a shameless plug since the above picture is of our very own Sweet Lilly Pintuck Dress pattern, but it is so true! Nothing kills your confidence like spending all day making something and having it not fit. You think, what did I do wrong? But sometimes, that problem may lie with the pattern itself. If the pattern designed drafted it wrong, even Martha Stewart is going to have a hard time. I highly recommend using patterns that have been tested and have great reviews.
5: Not Measuring your self/child/friend/model/person
I always hear, “Well my daughter is 4 so she would wear a size 4.” or “Well she wears a 6 in ready-to-wear so that’s what size I’ll make.” That’s a recipe for disaster. Here’s why. Does Gap fit the same as Express? What about H&M? Ralph Lauren? J.Crew? Nope. They all use their own measurement chart. Pattern designers are no different. Plus, even if you measured two months ago, measurements may have changed by then. If you are going to spend hours making a garment, spend two minutes to measure first so you can be positive you are making the right size.
6: Ignoring Grainlines
Those little lines with the double arrows may seem insignificant, but ignoring them can really warp your project if you aren’t careful. The reason is that the grainline is the direction that the fabric is the strongest. If you cut something on the bias that’s not meant to be cut on the bias, it can make a garment stretch and warp. (And for those that don’t know, the grainline is parallel to the selvage.)
7: Not Using the Right Needle
Using the wrong needle can cause major problems with your project. It may seem like you could use a universal needle with everything, but it may be too dull for heavier fabrics like leather and too sharp for stretchy fabrics like knits. I like to order my needles from Amazon. They are cheap, you can get a variety and can order in bulk. Which will be perfect to prevent next mistake…
8: Not Changing the Needle Often Enough
As I mention in my 15 Bad Sewing Habits post, It is often recommended that your needle should be replaced after every project. Now I don’t usually replace until after every 3rd or 4th project, but a lot of people don’t even replace that often. A bad needle can cause lots of sewing stress. If I’m having a tension issue, its often because my needle needs to be replaced.
9: Ignoring The Pattern Instructions
I’m not talking about when you are personally trying to hack a pattern. I know, this is another one of those pattern designer rants, but hear me out for a second. Sometimes, even when the instructions seem off, there is a method to our madness. I’ve helped customers out that have had problems with their projects that could have easily been solved if they just followed the directions. While a beginner might think things like basting and stay stitching seem pointless, they are important for a quality, well-finished garment.
10: Not Trying New Techniques
I know good seamstresses that won’t sew anything with a zipper because they’re scared. The same can be said for any type of technique: buttons, blind hems, knit fabrics, welt pockets, etc. If you never try anything new, how will you get better? While elastic closures and straight seams are great when you are first starting out, you never know how proud you will feel about that beautifully installed zipper, if you never even try to sew one.
I know I promised 10 mistakes, but I’ve thought of two more as a bonus!
BONUS 11: Trying to Make Something Outside of Your Skill Set
This seems contradictory to my last point. I’m not talking about growth here. I’m talking about trying to do something so advanced that the average seamstress would run in fear. I see in sewing groups sometimes new seamstresses that have never sewn a garment before wanting to make a wedding dress which is often 7+ layers of fabric and using high-end couture sewing techniques. Know your limits. Nothing will make you feel frustrated more than a project that is far more advanced than your current skill set. And you never know, one day you might make sewing couture gowns look easy.
BONUS 12: Not Ironing Enough (Or At All!)
This is the biggest mistake I see seamstresses make. Nothing can make your garment look more homemade (and not in a good way) than not ironing. In truth, you should be at the ironing station longer than you are at the sewing machine. Iron your fabric after every seam, and you will see a huge difference in your finished project.
Alright, fess up. Which one did you not know about? Know any other mistakes that I’m missing? Let me know in the comments.