Learning to sew is a common new year goal. You’ve been thinking about it for some time, and you are finally ready to commit. That’s awesome! But what about if you have been sewing for some time? How can you set a plan that will help you level up your sewing this new year?
Like any other skill, if you plan and practice with intention, you will become better at sewing. The more time you dedicate to your craft, the more you will grow as a sewist. If you have a lot of time to spend sewing, the growth process can happen more organically. If you don’t have a lot of time, though, you can still make gains if you intentionally plan your sewing projects. No matter which path you take, the secret to becoming a better sewist is more sewing.
As an educator, my approach to any kind of learning is: 1. Get your fundamentals down; 2. Build on what you know; 3. Never stop challenging yourself; and 4. Accept that frustration and failure are an essential part of learning. This is the framework I use with my own sewing, and one I recommend no matter where you are in your sewing journey.
Here are a few ideas as you work to become a better sewist.
If you are a beginner sewist
When you first start sewing, everything seems magical and fun. You are learning how to use you machine and its many features. You are getting used to the world of sewing—how to read a pattern, what each of the techniques mean, which tools work for which jobs. You have completed a few projects, and you know how to sew a straight seam and how to keep an even seam allowance. You may have tried to sew a zipper or make buttonholes, but you don’t feel confident enough that you are doing this right.
As a beginner, this is where you will see the most growth. Enjoy every win, but don’t stop there. Continue to challenge yourself.
How to grow as a beginner sewist
• Stick with stable fabrics that press well like cotton and linen. They are much easier to work with and will help you get used to garment construction.
• Find patterns that have mostly straight seams, but make sure that you will enjoy what you are making. You don’t have to sew a million pillows to get the basics. There are many patterns labeled “beginner” that will have you sewing real clothes really quickly.
• There are a lot of great sewing books for beginners. Sew Everything Workshop and Love at First Stitch helped me a lot, and they both have great projects way beyond the usual pillow cases.
• Take advantage of the thousands of videos, tutorials, and free classes available on the Internet. You can learn a lot from there resources and not spend a dime!
• Don’t be afraid to go for a project that intimidates you. Even if you fail, you will learn from your failures—and that’s what learning is all about!
If you are an intermediate sewist
You know your machine and what it can do. You can read pattern directions, and you follow them without issues. You are okay with zippers and buttonholes. Stable woven fabrics are your jam, but you have experimented with knits and even tried a few slippery choices. You understand garment construction and have even hacked a few of your favorite patterns.
How to grow as an intermediate sewist
• Expand your fabric repertoire. If you have never sewn with knits, choose an easy pattern and go for it. And now that you feel more comfortable in your practice, maybe it is time to invest on a nice cut of silk or wool.
• Make fit a priority. Now that you know how to sew, spend more time figuring out the most common pattern adjustments you need to make to get a nice fit.
• Learn about pattern designers and the kind of block (body shape) they design for. This will help you figure out how much type you might have to spend adjustment a pattern.
• Don’t be afraid to hack patterns that you know and love. You can save time and money by changing details on a pattern you are familiar with instead of starting from scratch with a new one.
• Go for that pattern you don’t think you can sew. You will be surprised with how much you can do now.
If You Are an Advanced Sewist
Welcome to the Olympus of Sewing. At this point, is there anything you cannot do? Your closet is a testament to your dedication to sewing. Other sewists compliment you on your makes (this is when you know you have arrived!), and you are often sought as a resource when it comes to a difficult technique or pattern. But don’t get complacent or let yourself get bored: There is still a lot you can do to keep yourself challenged.
How to grow as an advanced sewist
• If you have not done so, create slopers (bodice and skirt blocks personalized to your measurements). They will help you adjust patterns much faster.
• Design your own patterns. You can mix and match different pattern pieces to create your ideal garments, or you can start from scratch.
• Create patterns based ready-to-wear or haute couture garments. Copying another designer’s pattern is a no-no, but you can use them to inspire you to create your own.
• If everyday patterns have you bored, challenge yourself with historical or costume sewing. Use fabric, notions, and techniques specific to a time period or theatrical costuming.
• Sew for other people. This will help you expand your skills as you sew for other bodies and styles.
A Word on Growth
You will never grow if you don’t fail. To level up, you must be good with frustration and failure. If you stick to what you know, you will never learn something new. I can spend all day singing the praises of the Growth Mindset model in education, and how much students need to fail to learn—but when it came to my sewing practice, it took some time and tears to accept that I was not going to be excellent from the beginning.
So give yourself some grace, expect success but accept failure as a way to get there, and remember: Perfect is the enemy of good, and done is better than perfect!
Keep on sewing!