For the Love of Sewing - Lessons Learned in my First Year

*the following article was written by me and first appeared in Issue 6 of One Thimble Magazine (affiliate link)

Just over one year ago I began sewing more seriously and jumped in to the online sewing and blogging community.  It’s been a great year.  I never could have imagined the techniques I would learn in just one year or the projects I would be able to complete.  When I began, my sewing history consisted of the occasional valance, curtain, or Halloween costume.  About a year before I really took up sewing, I sewed a ruffled crib skirt for my first daughter and it was a huge deal to me that I even attempted it, let alone completed it.  Even though I sewed occasionally, I had the idea that I couldn’t sew, really.  In my mind, there were Those Who Can Sew, and then I was in the other group with people who could not.  Through the encouragement of a few friends and the generous loan of a newer sewing machine, I tentatively tested the waters in the pool of Those Who Can Sew and I never came back.

I am still learning and as I celebrated my one-year blog birthday [in January 2015], I took time to reflect on significant lessons from my first year of seriously sewing.

Machines Matter  Having a top-of-the-line or even expensive model is not necessary for quality sewing; but, a good, reliable machine can make all the difference in having an enjoyable and successful experience.  I had been sewing on a handed down disco-era Elna machine.  With every curtain or Halloween costume, I would just barely make it through.  Constant tension problems, tangled bobbin thread, and trouble adjusting stitch length plagued me.  I always felt like I was merely ripping the fabric through the machine.  Each project was a frustration and discouragement only seeming to further prove I couldn’t sew.  Little did I know the problem actually was the machine. 
A friend loaned me her spare sewing machine.  It was in great condition, computerized, and a breeze to operate.  Turns out I actually do know how to properly thread a machine, load a bobbin, and adjust stitch length.  Suddenly, sewing was incredibly fun and satisfying.  I returned my friend’s machine and used my birthday and Christmas money in December 2013 to purchase myself a new sewing machine and we’ve been great friends ever since.

This lesson was further driven home during my search for a serger.  I won’t go in to the details, but let’s just say I wasted a lot of time, money and energy before buying one from my local sewing shop that I am now very happy with and works well.  I’ve learned through trial and error that a quality machine that you know how to properly operate matters when sewing.

Jump In With Both Feet  One year ago at this time, I was making my first muslin.  In my inexperience, I had never made a muslin before.  I also had no idea how to insert a zipper, add a placket, install handbag hardware, sew with knits, or how to use a double needle.  I had never topstitched anything, eased a sleeve, done applique, or even created button holes.  My temptation was to look for patterns that didn’t require any of these techniques.  Sure, maybe I could attempt a muslin, but those other techniques seemed like they were out of my league.  Now, a year later, these are all skills I’ve tried and am developing.  I learned this year that it’s best to jump in with both feet.  Instead of being afraid and avoiding sewing techniques that are unfamiliar; give it a try.  PDF pattern tutorials are often a great way to learn a new technique, as a good designer will carefully walk you through the steps involved.  I owe all of the skills I learned this year to pdf pattern tutorials and Google search results.  Sewing blogs and YouTube also give great tutorials and advice for attempting and perfecting these techniques.  If I had spent the year only sewing patterns that used skills I already knew and understood, my sewing year would have been much less exciting and satisfying.  I wouldn’t be any further along at this point.  Now, I can look back and realize a true sense of accomplishment and I am eager to keep trying new skills.

The Seam Ripper Does Not Mean Failure
As a person with a life-long temptation to please myself and others with efforts at perfection, a seam ripper appears to be a tool for failure.  A friend and sewing mentor would frequently say to me, “You can always rip it out and do it again.”  At first, this sounded absurd to me, but over the past year I’ve realized the truth in it.  It may not be convenient to re-do a sewing mistake, but it is not failure.  I have come to believe that one of the advantages of sewing is that the stitches come out and can be resewn.  Rather than being frustrated with myself and getting discouraged with my sewing errors, I’ve come to see how freeing it is that mistakes can usually be corrected.  I am able to venture out and try new techniques knowing that my seam ripper is at hand, if necessary.  One of my most common mistakes is forgetting to leave open a few inches when I need turn a project.  But now I am grateful that instead of throwing out the whole project, I can grab a seam ripper, pull out a few inches’ worth of stitches, and keep going.  A seam ripper does not mean failure; it is another tool in my arsenal of sewing supplies and nothing to be discouraged by.

Don’t Get Stuck In A Niche  One of the reasons I was most eager to begin sewing more regularly was the birth of my first daughter.  After three boys followed by four miscarriages, she was an extra special gift and I was eager to enjoy every aspect of having a little girl.  I planned on sewing outfits for her and never really imagined moving outside little girl clothes and perhaps a few things for my boys and Halloween costumes.  But as the year went on, I ended up trying a few sewing projects I couldn’t have imagined enjoying so much.  One of those projects was sewing the Swoon Glenda Clutch.  Generally, handbags and purses aren’t important to me.  I usually have one or two that I use for a couple years and then replace.  I can’t even say for sure why I bought the pattern and sewed it (I have purchased multiple patterns I’ve never sewn, so actually sewing it is more significant than the fact I bought it!).   In fact, I didn’t just buy the pattern and sew it once, I made one as a gift and also participated in a swap, and I have supplies and plans to sew new bag patterns this year.  If someone would have told me I would enjoy sewing handbags, I would have insisted they didn’t know what they were talking about.  But I do and I am so glad that I didn’t stick with one niche this past year.  I learned that by branching out and exploring other types of patterns and projects, I developed new skills and found enjoyment in ways I never imagined.

Be Inspired, Not Intimidated  The online sewing community, especially Facebook and Instagram, provide a wealth of inspiration, flooding our feeds with new project ideas, fabrics, and patterns.  Blog and Facebook posts show beautiful fabric combinations, creative modifications to patterns, and innovative adaptations.  This visual sewing buffet can be quite inspiring, but it can also be very intimidating.  Countless times I have found myself dwelling on the fact that my own skill and creativity don’t measure up to what I see online. Few things can rob me of the thrill of a finished project more than seeing how someone else made it (and did a better job).  I am not the most creative pattern mash-er, nor am I an excellent photographer.  I don’t buy the most amazing fabric or have a natural eye for putting together amazing fabric combinations.  In the last year, I have learned to remind myself that the love of sewing is about the enjoyment of the sewing arts, not all these other things.  If I let myself believe that I need to be a creative blogger and professional photographer and have an artistic touch in selecting fabric and imagine new and exciting ways to modify patterns; then the pressure of sewing a project that will wow the whole sewing world will soon rob me of the enjoyment that drew me to sewing in the first place.  There are men and women who having amazing skill in these areas and they provide great examples and ideas of how to push myself, branch out, and develop my skills.  But I am learning to take inspiration from them and then resist the pressure to measure up.  Being happy with who I am and where I am can be difficult in all areas of life, but it is equally essential in my sewing craft.

Looking back on my first year of regular and purposeful sewing has been encouraging and satisfying.  I am grateful to so many real-life and online friends and mentors for helping me to fall in love with and develop such and enjoyable skill and creative outlet.  I hope the lessons that stand out at the end of this first year are ones I will continue to learn from and add to in the coming years.

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