For the last 3 months I’ve been talking about how to use your leftover fabric scraps, organising and de-cluttering your fabric stash and how to pair your newly organised fabrics and patterns into winning combinations. The last of this mini series is all about planning your projects; to make best use of your time, to avoid stressful sewing and to improve your skills and knowledge.
OK, every project doesn’t have to be a battle to master a new technique; we all love to sew and often the most pleasure is to be had in just sailing through a project, feeling confident in what you’re doing and having everything go right. But occasionally it’s good to choose a project that is going to challenge you in some way and enable you to learn something new, even if it’s in just one aspect of that make: maybe it’s a fabric you haven’t sewn before, a fiddly detail that you always struggle with or a difficult garment to fit.
My first piece of advice is: tackle one challenge at a time! Don’t combine all those challenges into one garment – trying to tackle a tricky detail in a difficult fabric on a garment that might not be the best fit is a recipe for frustration and disaster.
My second piece of advice is: don’t try to learn something completely new with every project – practice makes perfect. I’ve encountered students in the past who as soon as I’ve taught them a new technique and they’ve tried it once, are all too keen to move onto the next one. You don’t collect new techniques, they’re not fully formed and perfected after doing them once, the process of learning new skills and techniques needs practice and you need to master each one until they become almost like second nature. Identify the bits you find most difficult and explore ways that work for you to make them easier – that might be extra tacking, chalking seamlines or simply just practicing on fabric samples until you’ve got it right.
Try and plan your makes with this advice in mind, so if you have a tricky fabric in your stash that you’re planning to use up and it will work equally well in 2 of your patterns, choose the pattern that either; you’ve made before, or is the least technically challenging for you.
It’s rewarding to use your hobby to develop your skills, it gives you a greater sense of satisfaction with your end results and you’re continually building on what you already have. I call this approach “Progressive Sewing”, I’ve written about it before in more depth here, but it’s basically an idea I took from my gym. The instructors in my gym like to encourage everyone’s training to be progressive which means regularly changing your exercise routine by adding new exercises and increasing the difficulty of existing ones. This pushes your body to increase in strength and fitness.
Here are some ideas for a progressive approach to sewing your own clothes that will build your skills and techniques.
In the previous part of this series I went through some common fabrics and the styles of clothes they’re best suited to, this month we’re adding those all important fibres to the mix. Fibre content is important for knowing how the fabric will handle and most crucially – what it will be like to wear. From now on, when you’re shopping for fabric, make a note of the fibre content of the fabric (and the recommended washing instructions!)
Here’s a quick reference guide to the most common fibres, what they’ll be like to wear and what they’re best used for. Print off a copy so that you have it on hand when you’re fabric shopping.
Now you might not always know the fibre content of a fabric in your stash, you might buy fabric that isn’t labelled with a fibre content or you may want to check the fibre content of a fabric that you suspect might be mis-labelled. The only way to check fibre content accurately is to burn a bit of the fabric. CAUTION! Use a small piece of fabric, hold it with tweezers and do the test ideally outdoors or at least over a sink.
Here’s a table of what happens to the most common fibres when they’re burnt. Obviously fabrics made from a mix or blend of fibres can be more tricky to identify, but if you’re trying to check if the fabric you’ve been sold really is 100% cotton or really does contain some elastane or really is silk, this should help.
We touched on planning in the 2nd part of this series; mainly talking about seasonal versus non-seasonal sewing and setting yourself realistic goals.
Heed this advice that I’ve personally learned the hard way and that I’ve experienced with lots of my students: don’t decide to make yourself something “special” to wear on the spur of the moment for an imminent event!!
It’s stressful, you’re unlikely to enjoy the process (even if you do enjoy the end result), you won’t learn much as you’ll be rushing rather than taking the time to do things well, you might make some bad fabric / pattern choices and end up wasting money and you might not be happy with the results.
If, however, you enjoy flying by the seat of your pants and have to sew to a deadline, choose a fabric that you know you can sew easily in a colour and print that you know you will wear and ideally choose a pattern that you’ve made before, don’t try to learn new techniques in a project with a tight deadline. Or if you do, don’t bring it to your sewing class!!!