Last year, I wrote a post about the things I learned during my first year of sewing. Of course, the learning process continued throughout my second year of sewing, of course, so I thought I’d share some of the lessons I learned as an advanced beginner. These are the lessons I learned during my second year of sewing.
Sewing Lessons Learned in My 2nd Year
1. It’s still okay to make mistakes. Once you have a bit of experience, it feels like you shouldn’t make big mistakes anymore, but you will. Sometimes you’ll have to start a piece over or scrap a piece entirely. I spent weeks working on my first bra, and it did not fit at all. It’s sitting in a cupboard waiting for me to take it apart and try again.
2. On a related note, other people won’t see little mistakes as much as you do. And every piece has at least one mistake. Some pieces are unsalvageable, like the bra I mentioned above, but others are fine, and you only think they’re fatally flawed. If you’re really frustrated with something, put it aside and look at it again after you’ve slept on it. Sometimes the piece isn’t that bad at all–you just couldn’t see it in the moment.
3. Clean and oil your sewing machine every couple of months. It’s easy to forget this because you want to have more time for sewing, but maintaining your machine(s) will serve you well in the long run. See my post on cleaning your sewing machine for some tips.
4. Learn some basic pattern drafting skills, if only so you can adjust store-bought patterns. As much as I love using sewing patterns, they don’t always fit quite right out of the envelope. I often have to adjust the bust and hips on patterns. Knowing how to make adjustments is also helpful if you have a pattern that is slightly too big or too small. See my Pattern Drafting board on Pinterest for a bunch of tutorials.
5. Dress forms are your friend. I sewed for over a year without one, and having a dress form made such a difference. When you try a work-in-progress on, it’s much harder to gauge how it really looks and what needs to be altered, simply because you have to hold it closed or try to pin something while wearing it. Having a dress form was a game changer. See my post on making a custom-sized dress form.
6. Always make a muslin (a practice copy of your piece in cheap, white cotton or any other fabric). I get impatient sometimes and I just want to have the finished product, but it really helps to figure out how the pattern will fit and where it needs to be altered before cutting into your good fabric.
7. You don’t have to pin everything. When I first started, I would spend loads of time painstakingly pinning every seam. Unless the piece you’re sewing requires a lot of precision, you can usually get away with just holding your fabric together and readjusting every few inches. I learned this after starting to use my serger a lot. Because sergers have knives, you cannot let a pin go through the machine–it will cause serious problems, so I just stopped using pins when serging. And then I mostly stopped using pins while sewing. It saves a lot of time, and I haven’t noticed that my seams are any less accurate than before.
8. Wait for a sale to buy that expensive fabric. I get impatient sometimes when I want to start working on something, but especially for fabric-heavy patterns, keep an eye out for a good deal first.
9. Keep a couple of small projects along with a bigger project. Some of the bigger projects I’ve worked on can take months to finish, and it’s easy to get stalled out because it feels like everything takes forever to do. Working on a couple of smaller projects in tandem with a bigger project will help you stay motivated on all of your projects because you’ll get to feel a sense of accomplishment when you finish those small projects.
10. Just work on everything a little at a time. Even 20-30 minutes a day can move your project forward. With a bigger project, you can start to feel overwhelmed and like each step takes forever to finish, but small amounts of work add up. Even if you just iron something or prep a piece of fabric or look over the instructions, it really does add up. Don’t wait until you have a stretch of a couple of hours to work on a big project, just do a little bit here and there.
11. I still can’t sew a perfectly straight seam. My fabric always wobbles a little bit from the guidelines on my sewing machine, especially on long seams. Most of the time it’s not going to ruin a piece, and those wobbles are only about 1/8″ from the proper seam size.
12. Vintage sewing machines can be addictive. Once you start looking, you’ll see them everywhere and they’re so cheap! They’re really durable and well made, plus some of them have interesting features and strange attachments that you can’t find on your modern sewing machine. See my post on resources for restoring vintage sewing machines.
13. When you start sewing things backwards and inside out, take a break. When I’m coming to the end of a project, I often get a second wind and just want to finish that project RIGHT NOW. This is when I start making a lot of mistakes and messing things up. Don’t push too hard to finish something just because you’re excited to see it done.
14. There are a bunch of awesome free public domain sewing books. If you start getting into vintage patterns, reading these books can be really helpful because vintage/antique patterns can be light on details. These books will help you brush up on techniques that you might need.
15. Pin cushions look a lot like dog toys. My dog has destroyed two of them. Luckily, one was empty and the other only had a single needle in it, which I found on the floor in the pin cushion wreckage. I now keep my pin cushions in a box when I’m not using them or on a high table, far back enough that even a counter-surfing dog can’t get to it.
16. Buy good quality tools and/or upgrade your sewing tools when you can. I started with a pretty crappy iron and recently upgraded–I can’t believe how much easier a good iron makes your life. See my post on sewing tools that make your life easier.
17. Try making the same thing more than once. You’ll learn something new each time, and your skills will advance. Come back to patterns that frustrated you initially. Usually, with a little more experience, you can make that pattern work.