Hello Everyone! In September I went back to the basics of patternmaking with 2 posts on budget-friendly patternmaking tools. This month I want to deal with sewing by helping my sewing friends, who are beginners, avoid some time and money wasting situations. Sewing is one of my favorite things to do, and I want it to be one of yours, too. So today, I’m going to talk about 20 mistakes that sewing beginners make.
If you’ve already made some of these mistakes, don’t feel bad because I have too. Which is the reason why I can tell you what to avoid. Ha!
Being a newbie or a beginner at anything is never a bad thing because we all have to start at the beginning. None of us were born knowing how to sew. We had to learn, make mistakes, start over and try again. The purpose of this post is to help you avoid the mistakes that don’t need to be a part of your sewing experience.
I believe experience is the best teacher, but it doesn’t have to be your experience. You can learn from the experience of others. So, let’s get to it.
Here are the 20 mistakes sewing beginners make:
1. Buying (or deciding to buy) an expensive sewing machine
You want the best sewing machine on the market, the one with all the bells and whistles. A computerized sewing machine that can not only handle your beginner projects, but also handle those fancy projects you intend to make in the future. One that can sew, embroider, quilt and has hundreds of decorative stitches. I understand.
But here’s the truth. As a sewing beginner, you don’t need the Mercedes of sewing machines to learn to sew. You especially don’t need to invest thousands of dollars into a sewing machine before even sewing your first project. What if you discover you hate sewing? What if life happens and you have to put learning to sew aside for a while?
Now, I’m not suggesting you buy any old cheap thing. But I do suggest you get a quality sewing machine that fits your budget and your needs. You don’t have to spend $1000 to get a quality sewing machine. You need a machine that will meet your needs without overwhelming and bankrupting you. You can always upgrade when your needs and your budget changes.
So, I have 3 resources to help you buy your first sewing machine:
The Best Sewing Machines for Beginners is an article by Christine CYR Clisset that details the results of 18 hours of research she did with her team to find the best sewing machines for beginners. They had 2 popular bloggers with many years of experience sewing clothing and 1 novice to test the sewing machines. And they all cost $300 or less. Isn’t that great?
They also mention in the article that they were told by several experts “that in the under $300 range, it’s better to go with a manual machine if you want quality.” In other words, if you want to buy a sewing machine under $300, to get quality for that price you should buy a manual and not a computerized sewing machine.
The second resource is A Buyer’s Guide to Your First Sewing Machine by Manda McGrory. This article gives you 10 things to consider before you buy a sewing machine. The author then gives you her top sewing machine picks for beginners, dressmaking and quilting. She also gives you her choice of the best low-priced computerized sewing machine, and yes, it’s under $300. Just a heads up to my US friends, some of the machines she recommends is Euro pricing.
If you like her recommendation or you find a low-priced computerized sewing machine, make sure you read the reviews if they’re available. Remember, you also want the best quality you can get for your money.
The third resource is Tips for Buying a Sewing Machine by Christine Haynes on Craftsy. She discusses the key elements to consider when shopping for a sewing machine that’s best for you. These key elements are brand, features, price and location. And one suggestion she makes that I love is to give the machine you’re interested in buying a test drive. That’s the advantage of buying in person instead of online.
2. Starting more than one project at a time
I admit, I’m guilty of this. In fact, I’m guilty of a lot of things on this list that I’m telling you not to do. Let’s not call it hypocritical, let’s call it speaking from experience. Yes! That sounds so much better.
As a sewing beginner, you might be very excited to get started. You may want to sew, sew and sew some more. But I encourage you to make and finish your first project before starting the next. Why? Because there will be some things you learn to do and learn not to do on your first project that will benefit you on future projects. This will probably happen on a few of your projects. The funny thing is, in sewing, you sometimes learn more from your mistakes than anything else.
The goal is to mess up as little fabric as possible. Also, completing a project is a good motivator to not just start but also finish future projects.
By the way, if you avoid mistake #5, you won’t have any fabric to start project 2, 3, and 4. I’m just saying.
3. Using the wrong sewing tools for the job
Sometimes in an effort to save money, we won’t buy a specific tool designed to do a specific job. Instead, we’ll use what we already have. There’s nothing wrong with that if it works. But if it makes things harder to do or makes them take longer, what you saved in money will now cost you in time and effort. In fact, if you mess up a pattern or fabric as a result, you’re actually losing money if you have to replace those things.
Using the wrong tools can also make your project look homemade. I talk about 10 sewing mistakes that make your clothes look homemade in another post, but sewing mistakes can make any project look homemade, whether it’s clothes, pillows or a quilt. Using the right tools will help you avoid some mistakes, but also save you time and frustration.
For example, if you have to rip a seam out, you can use scissors instead of a seam ripper. Scissors will get the job done, but a seam ripper will not only do it quicker and better, it’ll also prevent the ripping of your fabric while ripping the seam. Scissors won’t do that. In fact, you might accidentally cut a hole in your fabric. Not good! Yes, I’ve done that too.
Here’s another example, and this one is so important I have to make it bold: don’t use your household scissors that you’ve used to cut paper, packaging, clothing tags, etc., to cut your fabric. Buy a pair of good scissors to be used for fabric only, and lock them up or put them somewhere so no one in your house can find them.
To the non-sewer, scissors are scissors. They don’t understand that you need good, sharp scissors to cut your fabric and that paper and other things will make them dull or possibly damage them. This is going to have to be stressed several times and they still won’t understand what the big deal is. So just hide them and save yourself the headache and high blood pressure. Seriously.
4. Taking your own measurements without any knowledge of taking measurements
This one is tricky because many of us are flying solo when it comes to sewing. We don’t have anyone else in our house, family or among our friends that’s familiar with sewing, so we do a lot by ourselves.
Once you become experienced at sewing, you may be able to take some measurements yourself. But as a sewing beginner, I don’t recommend it. This is just my personal opinion. Get help from a friend, if you can.
Regardless of whether you can get someone to help you or you have to take your own measurements, make sure you have a guide you can use to do it right. Use this article from Threads Magazine, How to Measure Up. Your measurements will have a much better chance of being accurate.
If you can’t be objective, don’t take your own measurements. When you see what your measurements are, if you’re not happy with them, you might be tempted to make them what you want them to be by pulling that tape measure a little tighter. Or you might “suck it in” to get the measurement you want. Trust me, I’ve been there. Sometimes we do it without even thinking.
But if someone else takes your measurements, they’re not emotionally tied to the outcome. It is what it is. They just want it to be accurate and you need accuracy, not someone else’s idea of perfection.
I’m reminded of my first sewing class in college where we were instructed to measure each other. My instructor didn’t want anyone taking their own measurements. But there was one young lady in the class that didn’t want anyone else to know her measurements and wouldn’t let anyone, not even the instructor, take them. She insisted on taking them herself. Because she wasn’t happy with the measurements she was getting, she kept retaking them.
She made her first garment, which was a dress, and tried on the muslin. To her surprise, it was too tight. She was able to get it on with a struggle, but she wasn’t able to close it. I want you to avoid this frustration because it can be very discouraging.
There are some measurements you can carefully take yourself, especially if you have no other choice, like the bust, waist and hip. I suggest you use a full length mirror to make sure your tape measure is level as it goes around your body. (If you have a tilted waist, then it should follow your waist.) And again, use the Threads Magazine article, How to Measure Up, I mentioned above.
But there are some measurements you’ll never be able to take yourself or take accurately, like your center back width or length or your back shoulder slope. Unless you have arms like rubber bands, that is. So, at some point we all need help.
Craftsy, for those of you who don’t know, is an online Web site that offers different types of online classes. This includes, but isn’t limited to, sewing classes. They have a new class teaching you how to take your own measurements and how to fit your muslin solo. She may prove me wrong and even show you how to take your own back measurements, too. I hope she does.
This is definitely a class worth taking if you don’t have anyone to help you. The name of the class is Fitting Solo: From Measurements to Muslin with Linda Lee. For solo fitting you can also check out my blog post on 7 Ways to Make Solo Fitting Easier.
5. Buying lots of fabric, patterns and notions before you sew your first project
The sales, sales, sales! I know they’re hard to resist. Especially when those patterns go on sale for 99 cents. And that fabric is 50% off. Yes, we experienced sewers are guilty. But please don’t be like the rest of us with a stash full of patterns and fabric we’re going to get to one day. Do what we say, not what we do. I promised myself I would never use that parenting phrase. Oh well, I tried.
I’m a hypocrite in this area, (any experienced sewers reading this, I need you to admit I’m not the only one). But I’m telling you this because I don’t want you to waste money as a sewing beginner-especially if you haven’t sewn your first project yet. Those sales will come again, I promise. And the good news is, you won’t need to reorganize a closet or buy storage containers to store all the extra fabric and patterns.
You may be able to find free patterns online that you can download as a .PDF file. Just make sure they come with instructions so you don’t have to spend most of your time figuring things out.
After you sew your first project and you decide sewing is definitely something you’re going to do long term, then take advantage of those sales. But be very careful, or you’ll have a fabric, pattern and/or notions stash like the rest of us. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
6. Buying patterns according to your ready-to-wear size
When I went to the fabric store to buy my first pattern and saw that based on my measurements I would have to buy 2 sizes larger than my ready-to-wear size, I was distraught. “This can’t be right”, I thought to myself.
The fashion industry and the sewing industry use two different measurement standards. They’re not even closely related to each other. If you wear a size 18W in ready-to-wear, don’t be alarmed or surprised if you have to buy a larger pattern size based on your measurements. It’s not you, it’s the industry standards.
I know this is hard, but don’t focus on the size at all. Focus on the measurements. They’re what’s important. I usually buy patterns according to my bust measurement for tops, dresses and jackets. The last thing I want to do is make a full bust adjustment or any kind of bust alteration. That’s a headache I definitely don’t recommend for a sewing beginner.
For pants and skirts, I buy according to my hip measurement. I’ve found that it’s easier to alter the waist, depending on the pattern design, than the hip. You’ll discover what works best for you as you gain sewing experience.
The one thing you don’t want to do is buy a pattern size that’s too small. Its’s always easier to make your pattern smaller by taking it in, than to make it bigger by letting it out.
7. Choosing a pattern that requires major alterations
Major alterations are not the friend of a sewing beginner or an experienced sewer, now that I think about it. The last thing you want to do is make major alterations or even lots of small alterations. Alterations can be discouraging to experienced sewers, so please don’t do this to yourself.
I always encourage people who have never sewn before to start with something simple, like a pillow, tote bag or scarf. No alterations are required and you get an item you can use in the end. These items are also small projects that won’t take you weeks or months to finish, even if you can’t sew everyday.
I suggest you ease into altering patterns, even after you’ve sewn a few simple projects. Unfortunately, if you want to make clothes with a commercial pattern, you’re going to have to do some type of alteration. But you don’t have to start with something major.
Here are 3 alterations I would definitely stay away from as a sewing beginner:
- Bust alterations: increasing bust or cup size is major, usually referred to as full bust adjustment. I try to avoid any alteration that involves the bust because they tend to be the most complicated.
- Re-sizing your pattern to a size that’s not already included in your pattern: referred to as grading. Whether grading up to a larger size or grading down to a smaller size, this can get very complicated.
- Redesigning a pattern or combining 2 different patterns. For example, using the top of a dress from 1 pattern and the bottom of a dress from another.
There may be other alterations that I don’t think are major, but you may consider major, and vice versa. If alterations will take the joy out of sewing for you, don’t rush into them. If you love a challenge and think you can handle it, it’s up to you. You know what you can handle. But don’t use your good fabric until you have the fit you want, to be on the safe side. Use an inexpensive fabric, like muslin, to test the fit first.
8. Choosing a pattern style meant for intermediate or advanced sewers
Today, you can learn so many things on YouTube, blogs and in Facebook groups. I’ve looked up so many things on YouTube, both sewing related and non-sewing related, and learned exactly what I needed to. It’s great to have these resources available to us. But I want to caution you against trying to do too much, too soon. There are basic things you need to learn as a sewing beginner that you can build on for the success of future projects.
I know you want to jump right in and make a one of a kind piece of clothing. But don’t rush into it. For your first few projects, keep it simple. Use patterns created for beginners until you get used to your sewing machine and basic sewing techniques. Practice the basic techniques in other projects or on their own with fabric scraps or muslin. It’ll save you a lot of headaches and seam ripping later.
The good news is, you can also learn basic sewing techniques on blogs and YouTube. If you don’t quite understand the pattern instructions, you can look it up on YouTube and actually see it being done.
With sewing, the more you do it, the better you get at it. There’s no set time frame for you to graduate from beginner to advanced. You can go at your own pace. So, there’s no need to be in a hurry to tackle the complicated stuff.
9. Failing to learn how to read a sewing pattern
Every label, marking and symbol on your pattern pieces mean something. The grainline, finished measurements, shorten/lengthen lines, fold lines, etc., are all important. If you don’t know what any one of them mean, it’s important you find out. In number 13 I talk about my failure to find out what the grainline was for. I wasted a lot of fabric as a result.
If you intend to be a self-taught sewer, you’re going to need to educate yourself as much as possible. So, if there’s anything on your pattern pieces you don’t understand, go to your friend Google or whatever search engine you use and look it up. It could be the difference between wasting time and money or saving time and money.
I have 2 great blog posts by The Sewing Loft that will help you. The first is How to Read a Sewing Pattern. This post gives you things to keep in mind regarding the pattern envelope and things to look for in the pattern instructions.
The second post is Understanding Pattern Markings. This post decodes the symbols you’ll see on commercial sewing patterns. Heather, the author, calls it a cheat sheet and deciphering tool. It’s a great tool for a sewing beginner.
10. Ignoring fabric suggestions on your pattern
The fabrics listed on the back of your pattern envelope are there to give you an idea of what fabrics are appropriate for the style of your pattern. While you can use the exact fabrics they recommend, they also act as a guideline. It doesn’t mean you can’t choose a similar type of fabric.
As I said in my post on choosing the right fabric, you’re not limited to the fabrics your pattern suggests, but if you’re a beginner it’s a great help until you become familiar with which fabrics are suitable for which type of garment.
The checklist is 4 pages + a resource page, but I’ve created sections so you can easily find what you need. Again, this checklist is to help you avoid the mistakes I made as a sewing beginner so your sewing experience can be the best it can be.
And at the end of the checklist I included a list of all the resources I mention in this post so you’ll have them at your fingertips.
11. Skipping fabric preparation
Sometimes we’re so excited to jump into our project, we don’t want to take the time to do the prep work. Did you notice I said we? That’s because beginners aren’t the only ones who can’t wait to get started so they can wear or use their finished product.
Some fabrics, not all, need to be washed or dry cleaned before we use them. Examples of this would be denim, (machine wash) and wool, (dry cleaned). This depends, of course, on how you’re going to use them and what kind of care you’ll give them after your project is made and put to use.
If you’re going to make a garment, fabric preparation is a necessity. Some fabrics shrink after machine washing or dry cleaning. This is could be a disaster if you skip this step and make your garment. Shrinkage after a wash or dry clean will make your garment tighter and/or shorter, if it still fits at all.
Taking the time to prepare your fabric is a small delay compared to the disappointment of not being able to wear the garment you put your time and effort into. Fabric preparation also applies to the items you’ll be sewing to or inside your garment, such as lining, interfacing, trim, etc. Some of these items will have to be preshrunk as well. You’ll have another unwearable garment if the lining shrinks and the garment does not.
You must also make sure the care of anything that will be sewn to your garment is compatible with the care of your fashion fabric. For example, if you make a skirt you want to be able to throw into the washing machine, don’t sew trim or accents to it that are dry clean only.
12. Choosing a fabric that requires a special pattern layout, seam finish or advanced sewing technique
Examples of fabrics that require a special pattern layout are corduroy, satin and velvet. If these fabrics are placed on your fabric incorrectly, you’ll get two different color shades of the same fabric.
I can’t emphasize enough that you want your first few sewing projects to be simple so that you don’t get overwhelmed.
While satin is not difficult to sew, corduroy and velvet are definitely not fabrics you want to tackle as a sewing beginner. Corduroy and velvet also require special care when pressing seams. I’m not going to go into the details of how to press these fabrics, but please save yourself the headache of working with them and learning to sew at the same time.
An example of a fabric that requires a special seam finish and advanced sewing is chiffon. Because you can see through chiffon, the inside has to look just as good as the outside. You can’t just sew the traditional seam, it requires a special finish, called a french seam, to hide raveling edges. Stitches from a serger even look bad on chiffon.
Again, there’s no need to rush into fabrics that require extra steps and care. You can learn to sew with all the fabrics I mentioned and the challenging fabrics I haven’t mentioned. As you get more sewing under your belt, you may want to challenge yourself. Just remember, you don’t have to challenge yourself right away. Take your time and go at your own pace.
13. Eyeballing the straightness of your pattern pieces on your fabric
I also talk about this sewing mistake in 10 Sewing Mistakes that’ll Make Your Clothes Look Homemade-number 3, but I thought it was worth mentioning again.
I see people lay their pattern pieces on their fabric and if they look straight, they go with it. Don’t trust your eyes because they will deceive you.
You should not eyeball the straightness of your pattern pieces on your fabric. In fact, you don’t have to because every pattern piece has a grainline to help you make sure it’s straight. The grainline is not only there to tell you which direction to lay your pattern on your fabric, but also to use as a guideline for measuring to make sure your pattern is straight.
I started sewing when I was 14. I had no idea what the grainline was for on the pattern and I never bothered to find out. I just figured it was nothing I needed. (Crazy, right?) It wasn’t until my first sewing class in college that I learned what the grainline was for and how to use it. “Ooooooh, I do need this line”, I remember saying to myself. You learn new things everyday. Tee hee.
The reason I’m emphasizing this is because cutting your fabric with crooked pattern pieces can result in your garment hanging incorrectly. It will also feel weird and no amount of pulling and tugging can fix it. Neither will any alteration known to man. You’ll have to start over and your fabric will be wasted.
14. Ignoring sewing pattern instructions
Ignoring sewing pattern instructions is like ignoring the GPS’ driving directions when you have no idea where you’re going. Raise your hand if you’ve ever thought Mr. GPS was wrong and you were right. Yep, me too. (And when I was learning to sew, I also thought I knew better than the pattern instructions.) Do this in sewing and you’ll have to recalculate your route and rip some seams with your BFF, the seam ripper, along the way.
The sewing instructions are written with sewing beginners in mind.
I used to work for Simplicity Creative Group when they were just Simplicity Pattern Company. A coworker from the pattern instruction department explained to me that they write the instructions assuming the customer is a beginner. They do this because they know if a beginner can understand the instructions, then the intermediate and advanced sewer will definitely understand them.
The pattern companies want everyone to understand the instructions no matter their skill level. They keep them as simple as possible, even if it means telling you how to make your project the long way.
After you sew a few projects successfully and get more sewing experience, you may find a short cut or a more simple way to make something. That’s great as long as it doesn’t jeopardize the quality of your project. You don’t want to put in a lot of time and effort just to make something that looks homemade.
15. Failing to learn sewing terminology
There are some sewing terms you’re going to see and hear quite often. Yes, sewing has a language of it’s own. Many of the sewing terms identify certain parts or features of a garment or specific sewing techniques, so it’s important that you know them.
Now, I’m not saying you have to buy a big sewing dictionary and learn at least 10 words each day and test yourself on what you’ve learned. It’s not that intense.
You can learn the sewing terminology as you go, just don’t ignore it. Here are 2 great sources to get you started. Again, no tests are necessary.
The first is The So Sew Easy Sewing Glossary by Deby. She explains sewing terms and even says the glossary is ideal for beginners. The second source is Sewing Terms 101, A Beginner’s Sewing Glossary by Ashley. She gives you a list of common sewing terms and techniques that you can refer to as you work on your sewing projects.
16. Failing to press your seams as you go (before they’re joined to another seam)
As a sewing beginner, I made this mistake over and over and over again. I thought I knew better than all the sewing experts that stressed pressing as you go and before joining seams.
One day, after getting multiple projects that looked homemade as a result, I decided to do it their way. I was amazed at the difference pressing made. I mentioned this in my blog post on 10 sewing mistakes that’ll make your clothes look homemade-number 6, but I wanted to emphasize it again because even some experienced sewers still make this mistake.
You don’t have to get up and go to the ironing board each time you sew a seam. Sew a few isolated seams first. For example, sew the shoulder seams of your blouse, the shoulder seams on your facings, the seams of your sleeves, the side seams, etc. Then, take them to the sewing machine and press them. After they’re pressed, sew the neck facing to the neck of the blouse and the sleeves to the armhole, etc. This will save you lot of time.
17. Sewing for others while still learning the basics
Give yourself time before you start sewing for others, because while it can be a joy, it can also be a nightmare. People mean well, they really do. But most people don’t realize the work that goes into sewing anything, whether it’s a pillow or an entire garment.
In the beginning, you may not even realize the work involved in their project and under charge for your services. Run and run fast from people who say things like,
- “I need you to make me a [insert skirt, costume, window treatment, etc.] because I can’t afford to buy it in the store.” If they can’t afford things that are mass produced, they most certainly can’t afford things that are custom made.
- “Can you make me a dress by Friday? It’s really simple.” It’s Monday of the same week. So they want you to put your life on hold because they need a dress in 4 days. Don’t do it. That’s time you’ll never be able to get back. And for the record, it’s never as simple as they say it is. They have a totally different definition of “simple”.
- “If you make this for me, I’ll help. I used to watch my grandmother sew when I was a little girl (or boy -no fellas, you’re not exempt).” That was 29.9 years ago.
If you run, you won’t have to explain why there is no way on earth you’re going to voluntarily sew for pennies, (if they want to pay you at all), put your life on hold, or watch them mess up a pattern or fabric because they thought they could do something they saw their grandmother do 3 decades ago. It’s not worth the headache, time or stress to put yourself under that kind of pressure – not as a beginner or as an experienced sewer. Just. Run.
18. Taking sewing shortcuts
I mentioned a little about shortcuts in number 14, but I thought it was worth going into it a little.
When you start sewing your first project, you’re so excited to finish something. In your excitement you might be tempted to skip an “unnecessary” step you think will slow you down. We’ve all been there and done that.
Remember, in sewing, each step is a stepping stone to the next step. They’re all done for a reason. As a sewing beginner, you may not understand why step 3 is important until you get to step 7. Then you realize you can’t continue with step 7 until you go back and do step 3. That may require you to undo step, 4, 5 and 6 (unless you skipped a couple of those, too). Oops!
Learn it the long way first. It’ll take more time but it’ll also show you what the end result should look like. As you gain sewing experience, if you find a shortcut that will give you the same result, use it. But I encourage you to never jeopardize the quality of your project. It’s not worth it. Make something you’ll be proud to put your name on.
19. Not knowing when to take a break from your project
You will have a sewing project or technique that will drive you crazy. Hopefully that won’t be your first project or even your first few projects.
When there’s one step you just can’t seem to understand or sew correctly, you may refuse to be defeated by it. In an effort to figure it out so that you can finish it, you may sew, rip, sew, rip with determination until you’re totally frustrated. That’s when you know it’s time to take a break.
Taking a break is not an admission of defeat, it’s a way of keeping your sanity.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve temporarily walked away from a project. It’s okay to go get your favorite dessert or watch your favorite TV show and take your mind off your project for a while. I love a reason to take an ice cream break. It does wonders.
I’m not saying to permanently abandon it. Noooo. Just to TEMPORARILY walk away from it. Give yourself some time, whether it’s an hour, a day or days if necessary. You’d be surprised the difference the time away will make. Looking at your sewing project with fresh eyes will sometimes hep you solve the problem and end the frustration.
20. Allowing sewing mistakes to discourage you
Oooh, the sewing mistakes I’ve made. (I could add them to this already long list, but I know you probably have other things to do today.) Sewing the right side of one pant leg to the wrong side of the other. Cutting a hole in a pair of pants that were almost done. Hmm, it seems I’ve made a lot of mistakes involving pants. But trust me, I’ve made my share on plenty of other types of sewing projects, too.
In sewing, mistakes are a part of the learning process. And like those of us who are experienced sewers, you’re going to make plenty of them. But don’t let them discourage you. Instead, let them make your sewing better.
I’ve found in life and sewing that oftentimes the most effective teaching is learning what NOT to do or how NOT to do something. Allow your sewing mistakes to be the teachable moments they’re supposed to be.
If you really want to be good at sewing, don’t give up. And don’t be afraid to make mistakes, even if it’s one on this list of 20. (Perfection is overrated anyway.) Learn from those mistakes and celebrate the things you get right, no matter how small.
You’ve heard the old proverb, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again.” I think whoever came up with that proverb was learning how to sew. Haha!
I hope this is a help to all my sewing friends who are beginners! This post comes from loving sewing and loving you enough to help you avoid my beginner and in some cases, current (*cough* too much fabric, *cough*) mistakes.
To all my sewing friends who are experienced, can you think of any other mistakes that our beginner friends should avoid? Share them in the comments. I’ll appreciate it and “sew” will they. Get it, huh, get it? Okay, I’m done.
A sewing machine is an investment. Be sure not to buy the cheapest sewing machine you can find, as it will likely break after a few uses or have problems with tension and other mechanics that are difficult for non-experts to fix.
Thak you for posting the great information regarding sewing that helps you learn all the techniques of sewing. Thank you a lot.
You’re welcome, Laura. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment.
Granny G. says
As one who’s been sewing for over 60 years I’d like to say this is a very well-written and insightful article. It’s wonderful advice for any “newbie”. Plus I made most of those myself when starting out! I was lucky enough to have a mother and grandmother as sewing mentors, but I still had to “do it my way” at times and suffered the consequences as a result.
I’d like to offer some suggestions of my own:
1. Get to know your new machine. Don’t just take it out of the box, pop your first project under the needle and start sewing because the first time you experience a thread jam you’ll freak out. READ the manual! Use scrap fabrics and try out the stitches it will create and the features it has, so you can see what it will and won’t do. Regardless of how uncomplicated or sophisticated the machine, they all have one or two idiosyncrasies. (Really!) Learn and practice adjusting the tension of both upper thread and the bobbin, so if you have a problem with it while making a garment, you’ll recognize the symptoms and know what to do – rather than hair-pulling and gnashing-of-teeth. Tension is often one of THE BIGGEST challenges for newbies, but it’s easy to manage if you’ve seen how it works and know how to fix it if something goes off-kilter.
2. Do find a sewing mentor; a family member or friend who is a competent sewer. They’ll love to help you. And if you can’t, become a Pinterest fanatic and you’ll find lots of wonderful advice like this article from Katrina.
3. Learn what machine needles are required for different fabrics. After using a needle for a project or two, replace it. A dull needle is the devil’s work and can cause you heartache.
5. If there’s one at your church, or school, or community center, join a sewing group. You may not always receive the correct advice but you will enjoy the encouragement and camaraderie of those who “have been there”.
6. And this one is VERY important – BE PATIENT WITH YOURSELF, accept that no matter what, sometimes something will go wrong. Rome wasn’t built in a day, to coin a phrase (joke!) and you won’t become a super-seamstress in a week. Enjoy the process and learn from your mistakes, they’re often your best teachers.
Thank you so much for your excellent suggestions, Granny G. The experienced as well as the beginner seamstress will benefit from them.
Robin Reece says
Great suggestions here, but I especially love the voice and grace you bring to the subject. I definitely think you speak from experience, not hypocrisy. Plus, there’s something there that reassures beginners that it’s okay not to follow these tips–so long as you don’t mind making mistakes and going through some extra fabric along the way. Once someone gets past the initial learning pains….well, I’ve seen some truly incredible pieces from amateur sewers.
Yes, I’m definitely speaking from experience. Thank you for taking the time to comment, Robin.
Thanks for posting information about sewing that help to all the learners who want to learn sewing
You’re welcome, Laura. Thanks for reading.
I found your site while looking for help. I bought a pre-printed apron panel. I’m a new sewer. Well, I did the dumbest thing. I misunderstood the directions, and didn’t look at the very good picture of the finished product. It wasn’t until last night that I realized I cut three inches off the bottom of the apron material. I thought the bottom piece I cut off was another tie. Nope. It was the bottom part of the apron. If I just try to sew it back together it will cover up a critical part of the design, which will be noticeable. I guess in my own defense I can say I have been sick for 2 and 1/2 months and I have just started to get well. I decided to sew to give myself a reason to get up out of bed every morning. I don’t know what to do to fix this. Any ideas?
Try to insert a solid color that will match a color in your design that is only 1and a half inches wide using a quarter inch seam allowance for this piece. Then reattach the piece that you cut off using a quarter inch seam allowance also. This will add a special effect to your apron….
This is such a timely post for me. I’m working up to make a Simplicity vintage dress and hope to finish it in 5 days for a wedding. But realistically, it’ll take longer than that coz I’m still a beginner (have only done dresses and shorts for my daughter). I fully intend to do it slowly but surely, not wasting time/money/resources – but still enjoy sewing and learn along the way. I’m sure I’d have other events to wear that vintage dress to
Thank you so much again
You’re welcome, Madel. I’m so glad you’ve decided to slow down and enjoy the learning process in your sewing. Sewing is so much better that way and you’ll avoid the mistakes that happen when we rush through it.
Welcome to the sewing community!
Don’t forget the beginner mistake of cutting the pattern paper to one persons’ size! Having to re-purchase patterns is always a pain and definately expensive.
Thank you, Parker, for mentioning that. I make a copy of my pattern in the size I need. It’s an extra step but definitely better than re-purchasing.
Sarah Turnbull says
My biggest mistake as a beginner has been trusting patterns. Just this week I cut out a Simplicity pattern for beginners. The side seam was misaligned at the dart when I tried to sew it. Turns out the pattern was wrong – the dart legs weren’t symmetrical and the side seam hadn’t been trued. My advice to beginners is to learn how to “proofread” a pattern, because it’s quite common for there to be mistakes. Additionally, the big pattern companies do not publish errata (corrections) so check reviews to see if anyone who already sewed the pattern found mistakes in it.
That is such a good point, Sarah. It’s always good to check, or proofread as you said, your pattern. They are subject to human error.
Thanks for sharing.
Stina Aadland Jensen says
Hello from Norway
I just discovered this post and it’s really good. As a beginner, I have done most of the mistakes in that list:) Right now I am really struggling with adding a bias tape on a baby body, to the point that I had to cut away the bottom and make a t-shirt instead. I just dewed it on and it looked really awful. So I gave up basically. Do you have any good tips or resources on this topic? How to add bias tape on jersey and into curves. I use a lot of You Tube, but I am still confused. And Jersey is a bit tricky to work with, as it is “moving” a lot.
( This is not my first project, but I tend to dive into the too complicated ones:)
Kind regards Stina
I’ve been sewing for 55 years and I couldn’t resist telling a story about scissors. When I was married my husband kept using my scissors. I finally told him that every time he used a pair of my scissors I would purchase a new pair. I ended up with with about eight pairs of Fiskars, scissors that he had used once and could be sharpened, but I was making a point! Don’t use the scissors I use on fabric! They are for one thing and one thing only, FABRIC! Needless to say, he was a slow learner.
Also, you are absolutely correct about pressing as you go. That first pressing when you make a garment makes all the difference in the world. You just cannot get it pressed completely right if you have already joined it with another seam and it will never look as good and sharp as if you press it right away. That’s not to say that I jump up and press every seam before doing another. When I start a garment I will stitch all darts and all of the first seams before going to the iron. You just have to make sure to press before joining!
Lastly, I feel your pain about accidentally cutting into the leg of a nearly finished pair of pants. We all have probably done that at one time or another. We can learn from our goofs and I for one keep some of them around as I may come up with a solution to disguise the mistake. Like the time I made a broomstick skirt and while it was wet tossed it on top of the basket with the bleach so that I could put it in the stocking to pleat while wet. You got it! Bleach spot! After a year or so I decided to use silk ribbon to make random flowers all over the skirt. I received so many compliments on that skirt and only I knew about the spot!
I love your scissors story, Patricia. And I’m not surprised your husband didn’t get it until after you bought about 8 pairs of scissors. Very funny!
I also press before joining. Although I probably could use the exercise I would get if I jumped up every seam.
Sometimes the best garment is the one you have to fix because of a mistake. I’m glad you were able to wear your skirt.
Thank you for the funny story and for taking the time to comment.
Hi Katrina I just stumble on your website because I am looking for information on how to create a perfect pants pattern from scratch. I’ve tried making on for a slim fit pants but I am African so our hips are much wider. After finishing the pants it looked like a harem pants instead of a slim fit pants. I don’t know how to fix this problem. My front crotch was too sharp, the curve after the hipline was too deep in, the knee too narrow, the hips too sharp pointed. I have no idea how to get this right. Please help me?
It would help to see pictures of your pattern. If you’re on Facebook, you should join my free group and share your fitting issues with pictures. Not only will you receive my help but also the help of other experienced sewists who may have similar pants fitting problems. You can join the group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/thesewingcurve
Also, here’s a link I think might help you: http://bit.ly/2GLIwkL. You can find a list of pants fitting problems with tutorials that show you how to fix them.
I hope this helps.
Lorraine C says
As a begin-termediate (by necessity – and with LOTS of headaches – I managed to leap headlong into sewing clothes, for others, with very little experience), I’ve had to learn to resist the urge to “just figure it out myself”, and instead admit that I don’t know what I’m doing and just ask my mom, who is has a lot more sewing knowledge than I do 🙂
I really like the word, “begin-termediate”, Lorraine. I have to add it to my vocabulary. It’s good you have your mom to show you the sewing ropes. No matter how much sewing experience you have, there are always new things to learn. I’m glad you’re getting the help and wish you well in your sewing journey.
Lorraine C says
Thank you so much!
Ow I make special costumes and boy did I make that frustrating mistake of taking on a huge project one day without a single bit off experience. Historical outfit of the the revolutionary british red coat was like my very first thing I ever made. Though it definitely turned out alright and been asked where I bought it I cringe at the mistakes in it now that are covered up from the outside. There are a lot of mistakes in that dam coat so many mistakes I made that you mention especially also guilty on the way to much fabric buying. One important thing though I want to point put you missed is and this for me was with pants. I had friend who was sewing over 8 years still had not figure it out. You gotta also be able to think outside the box sometimes to though do follow what patterns and manuals say don’t go off do your own thing. Button holes are my example here. I use to avoid them with press buttons all the time but recently I finally manage to make by studying the sewing machine manual and also Google tips. I had to add one extra step to the manual steps cause it works better on my cheap sewing machine (note manual button holes not automatic machines who do it for you). But I never trow patches of fabric away I use them like in this case to teach my self new skills without using it on fabric you might need and waste it. Like you said after first frustrating hour I took a few hours break and then came back to it and second try it worked perfectly. It’s definitely very important to study and even look up at other people tips and stuff. This could also lessen a whole load of frustrations like I had it. Cause boy was I frustrated with some things and mistakes I did.
I love that you do the research to learn how to sew things you don’t know how to sew. And then you practice what you learn on scraps of fabric. That’s great, Sharon.
Julia Westmoreland says
I do a lot of these things without really realizing what an impact the have on the finished project. Thank you for this list.
You’re welcome, Julia. Yes, it really makes a difference in how well your finished project turns out.
Tess Golding says
Hi there, greetings from regional Victoria in Oz. Came across your site, and signed up! Being vertically challenged, I have found that most commercial patterns are designed for people 5′ 8″ or taller…….so if I lifted the garment shoulder seams level with the top of my ears, well the bottom part would sit right…Anything I know, I’ve picked up as a self taught person, but didn’t realise till reading some of your tips that commercial pattern sizing and clothing sizes from stores were different”…… No wonder I’ve been perplexed lol. I must admit if I needed a nice top or two I would go to a dressmaker……mostly these days I make quilts, bags etc, but your site could tempt me back to sewing for me!
Hi Tess, quilts and bags take a lot of skill so there’s no doubt in my mind you can handle sewing garments for yourself. I hope my site will bring you back!
Thank you for the very thoughtful article. I have been sewing for almost 50 years, off and on, and I still learned from the article. Thanks again!
You’re welcome, Diane. I’m so glad to hear that. Sewing is an ever learning process.
Jerri Badgwell says
I enjoyed your post so much, and all the comments. Thank you all so much. I am a seamstress of 40 plus years and still learning. Yes yes hand sewing is very important it finishes the project.
Thank you all. I teach sewing to beginners and family, I own my own home alteration business and find it all very fun. Still shocked how many young women won’t sew a simple seam, but then again i don’t like cooking or looking at a recipe.
So we all have our favorites.
I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Jerri. And I’m with you on the dislike of cooking. I’m glad you enjoy what you do. I think that’s so important. I wish you all the best in your alteration business.
Your tips are great! I just finished sewing five simple dresses for my daughter’s wedding last week and they turned out great, however, I don’t think I could do it again. I barely had time to get into the sewing room with all of the planning. I probably should have said no in the first place because I didn’t finish until four days before the wedding. Getting the girls over here for a fitting and running a business didn’t allow for the time for me to actually enjoy the sewing. I certainly know now to tell others no… very nicely of course. 🙂 Thanks!!
Wow, Kendra! Congrats on getting it done. Four days before the wedding isn’t bad, but I’m sure it was stessful nonetheless. I was once asked to make a gown 1 week before the wedding because the bride had been ripped off by the person she’d previously hired. As my mind was saying “no way” my lips said yes because I felt sorry for her situation. That was the most stressful week of my life, so I know how you feel. I guess we had to learn how to say no the hard way, lol.
I have been sewing since I was 12 (now 42) and EVERYTHING on your list is true. I still do a few of those. It is so important to take the time out to do it right. Sewing is calming for me but when I make that mistake and have to remove even one stitch.. Argh!!! Time for a break!
Good luck everyone on your new and continuing projects…it’s a lost and beautiful art.
Christine, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made some of these mistakes. But you definitely have to know when to take a break. The project isn’t going anywhere. Good luck on your projects as well and thanks for taking the time to comment.
I am new at sewing and feel like quitting already. There isn’t a decent class in my area. Being plus size is also makinge rethink this. It seems cheaper to buy off the rack! I’ve spent a decent amount of money creating my sewing room only to lack motivation and direction….sheesh..smh
Hi Angie. I know sewing can be very overwhelming when you’re first learning. Especially when fitting and alterations get into the mix. What I would suggest is that you learn to sew by making very simple projects that aren’t necessarily garments. Once you get the sewing basics down you could then move on to garments and fitting. You can find free classes on YouTube. Also, http://www.craftsy.com has some that are free and some classes that are not free, but if you catch a sale you can get them for $19.99. I’ve taken a couple of their classes and they are very good. I hope this helps and you get your motivation back so that sewing room of yours gets plenty of use. Be encouraged!
Newbie here! Katrina, I can not print out these handouts. It keeps telling me I’m already signed up… 🙁
Welcome, Macy! Check your email, I sent you the link to the handouts. Don’t forget to also save them to your computer so you can access them whenever you need them. Sorry for the inconvenience.
I loved reading this – so true it made me laugh. Although I’ve been sewing a while I am also guilty of the same things. I now try to treat all my projects as a work of art, rather than something to be rushed. Thank you.
You’re welcome, Jackie. Treating your projects as works of art is a great way to look at it.
Rebekah Marks says
I’ve been sewing for thirty years – Mom taught me as a child. I’ve seen and done all those mistakes listed. Now I sew alterations as a business, and I use a basic model Janome I bought 13 years ago. I’ve sewn miles of seams on that machine, and it just keeps going! Anyway, it’s what I use for 90 percent of my work. I also have a serger and a computerized machine, but the regular old sewing machine is what I use for most of my work. (I work on wedding and prom dresses all the time and also lots of suits.)
Another point: it’s VERY important to be competent with a needle and thread! If you can operate a machine, but don’t know basic hand stitching, you won’t have a good product. I’ve learned how important hand finishing is in my business and in making garments from scratch. Machines can’t do everything for you!
One more thing: have the right needle. Ask an experienced seamstress if you don’t know what needle to buy for your fabric. It makes all the difference in your sewing and produces a better finish when you have the right machine needle paired to your fabric. It’s worth the extra $5 at the fabric store!!!
Hi Rebekah, a Janome machine is on my wish list. I’m so glad to hear from people like you who use one that it’s a work horse. To have a machine for 13 years with no sign of quitting seems to be a rare thing these days. I have one now that started acting up after only a couple of years.
I totally agree with what you said about hand stitching and using the right needle. These can be very easily overlooked. Five dollars is a small price to pay for a successful sewing project. Thank you so much for sharing your years of experience with us.
I have a new home machine that is over 40 years old and still going strong. I’ve just made two pairs of pantaloons for a bellydancing costume with it this week!
That’s great, Teresa. They don’t make machines like that anymore.
Thanks, Katrina, you always bring it home ! I always enjoy your posts!
Thanks, Dara. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Your support is so appreciated.
After you have done all the maths and made the alterations to your pattern. Lay out the pattern pieces on the fabric, use the floor if you have to so you can see the WHOLE outfit. Check from every direction that the pieces are laid out correctly. With the direction of the pattern all going the same way. Step back and sit for a while. Go back to it again and check all the pieces are straight or on the fold or on the direction that the piece needs to be particularly bias pieces. At this point take a breath and start cutting!! as you cut start pinning right sides together.or using a marker to indicate right side coz its just going to get turned around the wrong way somewhere along the process use those marking pens (Flexion) to put all the marks on the fabric (You have already checked that the pen will iron out haven’t you??) After that its much easier to keep track of all the pieces.
If I could also add another handy hint??? Do not start with a complicated garment until you feel comfortable with sewing also follow the paper instruction sheet even us experienced sewers can be caught out with a pattern designers way of putting that garment together. and there should be few problems Dee
I always like to lay out all my pattern pieces first to make sure I have enough fabric. That is such a good tip. And I always tell beginners to start small and simple. Thanks for all your tips, Dee. I’m sure they’ll be a help to our friends who are learning to sew.
All excellent recommendations. I would also add #22) don’t buy bargain bin thread or fabric for your first project. Sew your first few projects with decent quality fabric with a some natural fibre content (cotton, linen, wool) that is naturally a bit more stable and easy to stitch and press – don’t choose a cheap satin that will frustrate you! And good quality thread lasts longer and is much easier for any hand-sewing required.
#23) Buy a can of spray starch and use it to control slippery or gauzy fabrics. The starch will stiffen the fabric and make your cutting and sewing much easier and more precise, for a better fit. Yes, you may need to wash the garment before you wear it, but I promise you will save time overall because you won’t be fighting your fabric.
Ahh, yes Tara. Good quality fabric and thread are a necessity. I’m so glad you said that. I made a satin dress out of cheap satin that the customer chose without me. If we had gone to the fabric store together, I would’ve told her it was a bad choice. No amount of sewing skill can make cheap satin look good.
I love the spray starch tip. I will definitely be using it the next time I sew slippery fabrics. Thanks so much for sharing.
I am guilty of so many of these. I learned to sew many years ago but I learned an unconventional method without using patterns–a lot of math was involved. You marked the fabric with your measurements. When I returned to sewing , I’d forgot the formulas and patterns scared me. I was the wadder queen. I still consider myself a novice because of being self taught-ever learning. These articles are really helpful. I’d like to add number 21 for novices: Don’t start a project with an unrealistic deadline. I have many times and ended with disastrous and depressing results.
Thanks for sharing your comment in the group and over here on the blog, Robin. I think everyone needs your tip about unrealistic deadlines. That is so important.
Brenda Pletcher says
In my life I have been guilty of all the above mistakes a few just recently. I work at a fabric store and occasionally buy an extra yard or 2 or 6 of fabric because it appeals to me. I recently came across a yard of calico floral that had a gold metallic thread as a ribbon through it. I had been saving it “for a special project” for (gulp) over 20 years! Beware! I recently made a mug rug or 2 out of it and handed the rest over to my granddaughter I am teaching to sew. The right tools make a job so much easier and better.
“An extra yard or 2 or 6”. That is too funny and I can definitely relate, Brenda. I really should not be feeling good about the fact that I’m not the only one with fabric issues, but I can’t help it. I need to find someone to to give some of my fabric to. Your granddaughter is very lucky.
Great article. Wish I’d seen something like this when I started sewing a few decades ago.
Thanks Sherrie. So do I. I could’ve saved myself a lot of headaches.