If I were in a court of law, I’d have to testify that I’ve been sewing since I was a little girl. My mother, the greatest seamstress I have ever known, taught me the basics then. But it’s only been in the last eight years or so that I’ve really devoted time and energy to it.
There have been many moments of frustration and disappointment, of course, but I’ve recently realized how far I’ve come. I know now that I could have saved myself some trials had I known a few things (or understood their importance) during those times I struggled. There will be more rough spots — sewing is so very challenging — but if I could offer any advice based on my own hindsight, it would include:
Your iron is the most important tool you have. Considering the results for the amount of effort it takes, there is no greater return when it comes to elevating the quality of your finished product. Any time you’re about to sew a seam that crosses an existing seam, stop. Don’t go on until you’ve ironed that newly created seam. First, press it just as you’ve sewn it (the way it was when you removed it from the sewing machine). Then press it again, this time in the direction it should permanently lie, such as a dart that should lie toward a back seam. Pressing is really nothing short of magic.
There are no shortcuts when cutting. So you tend to be a little loose when cutting out your fabric? Maybe you veered off track a quarter of an inch here and there? It may seem inconsequential. It isn’t. The bad effects from it will multiply as you go along, sometimes to the point where your final product is unwearable. Think of it as a construction process akin to building a piece of furniture. When every cut is as near to perfect as you can get it, each section of your garment will go together beautifully.
Transfer all marks from your pattern to your fabric. Because gelato. Think all those funky triangles and dots and squares are just silly things? Ignore them at your peril. You’ll find yourself at the point where the instructions tell you to sew “from the small parallelogram, leaving open above the large dot” or some such thing, and you’ll be all “Hey, where’s my dot at?” If you try to simply take a guess where those marks should be, you could end up with a zipper placed so that you can’t get your pants up over your hips. Then you’ll be sad because you wasted all that time making the pants and your melancholy will cause you to eat a carton of gelato, then you’ll have yet another reason your pants won’t go up over your hips.
Stay sharp. Dull scissors are a bummer. They chew your fabric and pull it out of alignment. They fray your thread so that it won’t go through the eye of your needle. Same goes for rotary cutter blades. They won’t go through all of your layers of fabric in some spots and will pull your fabric. Dull needles in your machine? Just. Change. Them. Often. Sharp tools make for faster, easier and more precise work.
Got nice fabric? Make a muslin. Test garments are worth the time and little bit of money. Buy muslin fabric by the bolt (watch for coupons or sales and you can pick up yards and yards inexpensively). Make up your garment, sewing just the major seams and omitting the styling details. Draw right on the muslin while it’s on you to mark the problem spots. Pin it, cut it, do whatever needs doing, then transfer everything to your pattern and make another muslin. You don’t, of course, need to use actual muslin. Any old cheap fabric will do as long as its characteristics are similar to your good fabric. I’m talking wovens here — if you’re testing a garment that will be made out of a knit fabric, try to find a cheap knit with the same amount of stretch as the fabric you plan to use.
Very little of your sewing time will involve actual sewing. Almost everything happens away from the machine. Laying out your fabric straight, cutting, ironing, pinning, trying on … this is where the action is. Sitting at the machine is the least of it. Learn to enjoy every part of the process if you can.