10 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Started Sewing

10 top tips for anyone who loves sewing.

It is one of the best hobbies ever, but here’s a few things I’ve learnt over the years that I’d advise to anyone just starting out.

Take regular breaks

My innocent thought of ‘I’ll just carry on another half hour to finish this bit’ has often led to hours spent unpicking, re-working and generally patching up silly mistakes.  Far more is achieved by taking a break and coming back fresh, than relentlessly pushing through to the next bit.  We get so engrossed in what we are doing, there can be a danger we don’t notice getting uncomfortable, getting tired, generally needing to move and breath fresh air.  In the world of Star Wars; fear leads to anger, which leads to the dark side.  In the world of sewing; lack of breaks, leads to tiredness, leads to mistakes.  Don’t risk it, step away from the machine.

Pressing is vital

Unless you have the luxury of a devoted space to leave your ironing board set up and ready to go, it can be a real bore to get it out every time you sew.  And to keep going from sewing machine to ironing board and back again can start to feel a bit tedious.  The temptation therefore is to skip this bit, surely it won’t matter that much?  WARNING! Do not give in to that thought!  Pressing at every stage of your sewing project is one of those vital elements that takes your work from looking homemade to handmade, and ultimately makes sewing easier in the long run.  It may seem dull, but ALWAYS get the iron out when advised.

Practice first

Again, its one of those things that delays the pleasure of getting stuck in with that lush bit of fabric you’ve just bought, along with the satisfaction of seeing your lovely project all finished.  But taking the time to practice on a scrap bit of fabric is so worth it.  Maybe its a new technique you’ve never tried before, or you need to check you’ve understood something properly, taking time to have a go before you embark on the real thing is a good habit, and saves time (and a bit of heartache) in the long-run, because when you do get to that lush bit of fabric you are far less likely to make a mistake.  With dress-making its essential for getting the fit right, and with all sewing projects its always worth at the very least doing a quick run of stitches when you change thread to check the tension is right.

It’s about progress not perfection

You see that lovely picture on your latest pattern and you just know you have it in you to make it perfectly.  Well yes, you probably do.  Just maybe not on the very first attempt, or the second (or sometimes beyond).  But every attempt sees improvement, and this is a wonderful thing.  And really whose judging anyway?  As adult learners we have an unhelpful habit of setting the bar way too high, then losing heart when we fail to achieve perfection first time.  Give yourself permission to make mistakes, and switch your focus instead to what you’ve learnt and what you can improve on next time – it leads to a far more satisfying journey.  Which leads nicely to the next point…

Allow plenty of time

The generosity of spirit that exists among those who love to create means that we also love to give, and can often be found rustling up some lovely handmade item for friends or family.  A beautiful thing.  But when you find yourself sewing into the wee small hours of the morning the day of said family or friend’s birthday/anniversary/leaving do, the pressure of meeting the gift-giving deadline begins to zap all enjoyment.  And then mistakes are made (plus tears, despair, significant other avoiding making any sudden movement etc).  Give yourself plenty of lead-in time to make your gift(s) at a leisurely pace, do all the pressing and practicing, and re-doing if those pesky mistakes do crop up, and still have time to wrap beautifully and hand-over looking fresh-faced and glowing with a sense of achievement over the unique and thoughtful gift you’ve made (as opposed to looking sleep-deprived, harassed and on the verge of a nervous-breakdown over the slightly wonky-but-better-than-nothing compromise you had to make).

The answers are out there

If you hit an obstacle, find something hard to fathom or just don’t know how to tackle a particular sewing challenge, fear not!  Some lovely, thoughtful person will have taken the time to share their skills, knowledge and experience especially for you.  Be it a blog post, a magazine article, a course or a YouTube Video, you will be able to track down some help somewhere.  And if what you find still doesn’t quite make sense, try another one.  We all have different learning styles, and one size never fits all.  Don’t give up, with a little help from the sewing community, you will figure it out soon enough.

There’s always more to learn

I’ve been sewing since I was a kid, and now many and several years later, it amazes and delights me when I discover some new technique or tool or approach that I haven’t come across before.  However much you know, there is always more to learn.  Sewing really is a life long journey, and that is a beautiful thing.

Not all patterns are good patterns

You’ve checked everything more than twice, you’ve read and re-read the instructions, and yet what you hold before you has gone horribly wrong somewhere and you simply cannot fathom why.  Don’t despair just yet, it may not be you.  Sometimes patterns have mistakes.  Sometimes tutorials just don’t suit your learning style.  You may be new to this, but that doesn’t necessarily account for every obstacle or challenge that crops up.  If its really not working out, maybe step away and try a different approach or project.

Its ok to say ‘no

A strange thing happens to some people when they discover you are into sewing, they instantly think of all and any sewing requirements in their life they can ask you to do.  I doubt its unique to this particular hobby, but my advice would remain the same regardless.  Harsh as its sounds, when met with that sing-songy request ‘can you just take this in/out/up, make my blinds, repair this cushion etc’ its ok to say ‘no‘.  The time and added pressure for you is another sure-fire way to zap all enjoyment of your new found hobby.  There’s a reason people charge for sewing services, and its because they have spent years perfecting their skills and deserve to be paid for this experience.  Trying to match that when you are just starting out isn’t fair to you or them.  You can be polite about it, but you can say no.

Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy

When I was at school, the approach to teaching us how to use a sewing machine was to ‘sew’, without thread, along A4 Foolscap paper (old term), so that the holes the needle made matched perfectly with the lines on the paper .  We had to perfect this skill before being allowed to embark on the next step of actually threading up.  I was sent back to my machine over and over again due to the odd hole being a tiny bit wonky.  It was dull.  It was soul destroying.  And it left me with a very uninspired outlook on what it means to sew, or to be good at it.  My point is, yes you want to master the technicalities, yes you want to improve and be in a position to make those aspirational pieces.  But it is so important to have fun along the way.  A fine line exists between perfecting the craft and just giving stuff a go.  Find those achievable first-step projects but but allow yourself to take on those that will stretch you, master the techniques but allow yourself to play along the way.  Get giddy in the fabric shop, learn from the mistakes and celebrate all and any achievements (my suggestion would be with tea and cake).  The most important piece of advice to share is enjoy, enjoy, enjoy.

If you love to sew, why not sign up to my Creative Sewing Challenge?  You’ll receive a new prompt each month to inspire your sewing.  Sign up below, or find out more here.

And here’s a handy pin for later!