Five mistakes I made as a beginner Sewist – who is very much still learning…

If you’re thinking of trying out sewing or dressmaking but are worried about making mistakes, don’t let it put you off! We’ve all been there and I for one am very much still learning… Here are five (there are many more) mistakes I made in the beginning which have helped me to learn and hopefully might be helpful to you too if you’re thinking about starting out on your own dressmaking journey.

Trying patterns that were beyond my skillset as a beginner

It’s all too easy to be tempted to sew that beautiful dress that you’ve seen and fallen in love with but so many times in the beginning of my sewing journey I’d buy a pattern thinking to myself ‘how hard can it be’ only to get started and realise how hard it actually can be if you haven’t yet had chance to master some of the techniques involved.  Far better, I have learned, to take note of the skill grade of a pattern, if there is one, and build up accordingly.  Some patterns I feel are excellent for beginners are the Sew Over It Silk Cami, the Sew Over It Ultimate Shift Dress or the Tilly and the Buttons Coco top and dress. The Ultimate Shift Dress I believe, was the dress that made me fall back in love with dressmaking after a bit of a love hate relationship. Both of these pattern companies have excellent tutorials and sew alongs on their websites too which is helpful!

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This was one of the first patterns I tried and I still use it so much now

Using the wrong fabric for the pattern you are using

I cringe at the time I attempted to make a delicate shift dress out of a stretchy jersey and wondered why on earth it wouldn’t work. Urgh!  You have to admire my enthusiasm though right?? 😉  Using the correct recommended fabric for your chosen pattern is a game changer.  Like a lot of beginners I used quilting weight cotton for a lot of my projects and it took me a little while to wonder why some of them didn’t feel as comfortable as they should.  I remember making my first cami top from a viscose crepe and feeling for the first time that I was wearing something as good as shop bought because I’d made the garment from the fabric it was supposed to be made from (now I know handmade is better of course :)) but the point is that, if I’d made it from a cotton it wouldn’t have been half as comfortable and drapey.  The patterns I mention above are also great as first patterns to try using a fabric with more movement, you could also try and Ogden cami perhaps if you feel confident with those little straps. 

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The importance of the mundane tasks

Cutting out your pattern on the grain line, marking darts carefully, stay stitching etc all mundane tasks that it took me a little while to understand the importance of.    I’m not ashamed to admit that in the beginning I would skip stay stitching in my haste to get on with my project but of course I now know how important these stages are in making a garment that is handmade versus homemade.  I am now almost obsessive in taking my time with these tasks and sewing by the book in the hope that I’ll give my project it’s best possible chance 😉  I probably slow myself down sometimes now trying to be too careful. How things have changed!

Skipping the pre wash

How important can washing your fabric before you start be – really?? are words I’ve uttered to myself in the past.  Well, as it turns out, very!!  Pre washing is pretty essential in ensuring that any shrinkage and sometimes colour run will have sorted themselves out before the first time you wash your lovely handmade garment. A couple of non pre washed projects, including my lovely Tilly and the Buttons Fifi Pyjama set below, that have shrunk after their first wash have shown me that the hard way.  Apparently a very steamy press with the iron can also do the job but I’ve not been brave enough to try just that yet. I’m trying to get into the habit of washing my fabric as soon as it arrives but I don’t always remember yet!

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Not knowing when to walk away 

So many times I’ve been struggling with a project to the point of tears and not simply left it alone!  Something I’m learning, is that, if you’re struggling and feeling fed up with a project and can’t quite work out what to do for the best, sometimes you just have to walk away and leave it for a little while or even sleep on it and come back to it the next day refreshed.  This has proven so helpful to me to do on a few occasions, trying to fit my first jersey neckband in correctly being one of them.  Walk away, have a cup of tea, a glass of wine or a sleep and come back to it another time when you feel calmer and ready to give it another go.  If it still doesn’t work look it up on YouTube and if that doesn’t work maybe leave it for now and make something simple in between that will boost your confidence and then come back to the naughty project when you feel better about trying again.

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  So those are just five things I’ve learned but oh there are so many more I could list. The point is that every one of those mistakes I’ve made in the past has taught me something and helped me to grow. There is still so much more about sewing I need to learn and I look forward to all the new challenges I still have to try. I just need to take a deep breath and not strive too much for perfection.

Let me know some of your lessons in the comments below – I’d love to read them!

Until next time…

Sally xxx

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