Monday, September 18, 2017

Fashioning My Cyber Microcosm: 10 Things I Wish I Knew.

There was a discussion I read that I thought might be a fun topic to think about and write about here; it was a '10 things you wish you knew when you first started sewing'. Being that I am almost completely self taught, it's safe to say I wish I knew a lot of things. Most especially now.

The history of my sewing background is long and a little complicated but to make a long story short: I was sewing on and off since I was 10, mostly hand sewn doll clothes and little repairs to my own clothes. I didn't tackle a wearable garment till I was 14 when my mother bought me my first machine, an Omega. The serger I own was always in my life (it's older than I am-- my parents bought it new), but I never used it until a few months after getting my Omega; I didn't really understand it's full purpose, so how could I even use it effectively? Heh.
When it came to sewing my mother knew only how to hand sew, which she taught me, but after that I was on my own. Consequently, I spent a lot of time at the library, maybe more than I did at my machine... but everything I learned, I still learned the hard way despite those long hours with my nose in a book... surely one can write an essay on the lesson of theoretical vs. practical knowledge using 'teaching yourself to sew from books' as evidence.

So if there were 10 things I could tell myself at the beginning? Well, in no particular order...

1. Keep your measurements up to date and accurate.
Taking proper measurements is time consuming, and making sure to take your time to do it right and do it at least once a month makes it tedious. I still have a hard time making myself do it, but I do know better now. I will on occasion head onto projects willfully ignorant every now and again, heheh. Whereas when I began, many projects were dubiously "successful"-- mostly out of pure luck.
I use this template I created now, popped it in a glass picture frame and use dry erase markers, now I have a no-waste reference sheet always available.

2. Don't skip hand basting 
Once I didn't skip this tedious little task, the quality in my sewing sky rocketed. Everything was more accurately placed, with far less warping and puckering, not to mention painless to sew.When you're dealing with a lot of layers, or delicate and slippery ones... pins just don't suffice for accuracy. 
Even when you're sewing over pins (which I used to be guilty of, but don't anymore), there's still a considerable margin for error between each pin.
Always use contrasting thread, because you should always be taking it out afterwards.
It does suck to do and it's time consuming... but again, worth it-- a couture standard and for good reason. 

3. Take ergonomics seriously
When you're young, you feel invincible, but... that's pretty far from the truth. Bad lighting, bad posture, no preventative gear... it catches up. Especially when you're enjoying yourself.
Thimbles, chair cushions, extra lamps, wrist supports... these are a few of the things that will cut down fatigue and strain that cause aging to suck ass. 

4. Develop the habit of finishing your garment properly
I confess, I didn't line my garments for a very long time (but I always finished my seams!). It's kind of tough working backwards, that much is true. I wish I started learning this much sooner than when I did actually start. I think it's invaluable in learning the fundamentals in garment construction-- there's something to be said about learning something, and doing it backwards to ensure you understood what happened. Pathways in the brain open up!!
Plus, it's impressive looking as hell... heh. 

4. Don't "Cut on the fold"
I have always been one to make copies of my patterns to keep the original intact, but one thing that took me a long time to get into the habit of was mirroring those 'cut on fold' pieces into whole pieces. Cutting on the fold is a somewhat troublesome habit that pattern companies reinforce. The reason pattern companies do this is to make it easier to save on fabric, and to save on the tissue they print on... but you'll soon learn that it's not always possible, and no good has ever come from cutting corners. If you're keen on matching your print or you need to be especially conscious of your seam allowances, piles, grains, bias... basically anything (lol)... save yourself headaches and heartache by just doing the extra step.
In the photo above, you'll notice I still write in the cutting instructions; sometimes I mirror after I finish copying all the pieces, as a reminder to go back and mirror pieces. Later that will be erased.

6. Pay Attention to Grain lines. 
Seems like a no-brainer... but since I was so stingy with my fabric at first, I preoccupied myself on how much material I could save rather than pay attention to the placement of my pieces on the fabric. Cutting your material along different grains can severely warp your final product, but it won't be obvious until you try and wear it and it's not fixable mistake. Usually the material's selvage works as a guide to find your grain lines, but sometimes mystery fabrics happen and in that case research is key!

7. Be patient with mock ups, and use a material closest in drape as your 'good fabric'
If something is not working during the mock up stage, continue to work on it till it does and never mix weights; a cotton muslin material doesn't drape the same way silk crepe de chine does, and as tempting as it is to use because of how cheap it is per yard, it's not a good idea if you're looking to gauge how the fit or fixes will look as the crepe de chine...

8. Learn and apply pressing and ironing techniques and tools
Another one for the finishing technique pile but can stand on its own. Nothing looks more sloppy and more obviously homemade than an unpressed project-- it's not always needed, but it's important to learn when, where and how it should be done. I once heard someone say that an iron is as important as the sewing machine. At the beginning, I would laugh at such a statement... and now, I nod my head in agreement so fast I could sprain it.
There are almost as many tools and ways to press a garment during the construction process, as there are steps to constructing any garment... Above are just some of the 'basics'. Makes my head spin! 

9. Use and transfer pattern markings.
My very first self pattern drafts did not include a single marking, so I was unable to learn or discover any mistakes I made. I learned my lesson even harder going into commercial patterns, because without transferring the markings or even understanding why they were there to begin with, meant any attempt I made at alteration a futile one.

10.Keep Your Space Clean.
I know, ground breaking concept, heh.
Seriously, though, I think of my space much like I think of a laboratory-- hence why you'll often see me referring to my creative space as a "creative laboratory". You're dealing with a lot of things that, as funny as it is to think, can cause bodily harm. If not to yourself than perhaps a curious paw or tiny hand... You might be dealing with some substances that can destroy hours of work; like excess machine oil or grease that wasn't cleaned up properly... and suddenly you find an unsightly stain on that finished dress made up of out of print fabric in a very unfortunate and visible spot...
Shit happens, best prevent it as much as possible.


I guess the real lesson here is take your time, and your sewing will reward you. One well made garment is worth 100 crafted pieces of mediocrity. Even if one simple blouse takes you days... that's really ok, as long as you're taking away something from the experience.
There's comfort that with enough dedication and time, speed is an eventuality.
Find and know your way before you attempt short cuts; they can be so very seductive... but in the beginning, they can only be reductive.

So those are my ten, good luck to any future sewist out there.

Spook ya later!


  1. I don't sew anymore, but I suffered through all of these mistakes.

  2. Some great tips I still very guilty of cutting corners.

    1. Oh I hear ya, with my own projects-- I cut all kinds of corners, curves and points hahah!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...