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Are you a natural?

2014 May 7
by elizabeth_admin

Did you take to dressmaking like a fish takes to water?  Did you fall in love with sewing with your first gathered, poofy, dirndl skirt?  Did your first self-sewn t-shirt  convince you that your calling had been found?

Me too.  Except not.

I love sewing, but I’m not a natural.  I don’t know what the heck I’m doing most of the time.  I’m filled with more questions than answers.

Seriously.  I’m effing clueless.  Fitting?  I don’t know how to.  Order of construction?  I’m just winging it.

Most of my problems come from going off book.  Take, for instance, the dream skirt I’m working on right now.  I’m using a beautiful silk linen fabric.  It ravels if you just look at it.  So one would automatically assume one would use their serger to finish the seam allowances.  But, as you will recall, my Brother 1034 D serger is unfixable. So now, I’m left with a dilemma: how to finish the ravelly seam allowances.  Simple, you think.  French seams, duh.  But there’s a side seam zipper.  How do you do french seams with a side zipper?  Yeah, I have no clue either.  I tried googling it, but came up with zilch.

Oh and the Burda pattern I am using, 9-2009-121?  Yeah, I’m not even looking at the directions because well, Burda.  I was never even on book for this one.  And I’m adding a waistband although there isn’t one included with this pattern.  This leads to all sorts of questions like: If I add a waistband, how high do I insert the side zip?  How do I handle the waistband closure?  Yadda yadda yadda.

I’m so sick of these questions.  I don’t find them fun or intriguing.  I’m not excited about these questions…  How do I do this?  How do I fix this?  How do I fit this body?  I find them paralyzing.  Why?  Because I’m not a natural.

I don’t mean to be Debbie Downer here.  Honest.  This has been a hard year for me sewing wise.  Yes, I have sewn a lot, but I have had tons of fitting issues.  I think I’ve hit a sewing plateau.  In fact, I think I’ve come close to quitting a couple of times.  And my serger issue has really been getting me down lately too.  I’m desperate people!  In fact, I was so desperate that I went out and bought a new serger.  But that’s a tale for another post.

So tell me, are you a natural?  Do you have the instincts of a couture expert?  Or are you a bumbling idiot like me?  😉

31 Responses leave one →
  1. May 7, 2014

    I know exactly what you mean and how you feel and only now in my seventh year of sewing I start to notice that I found my own way of doing things. And it works. Well, most of the time.
    But because I am making my own patterns I am rather good in avoiding uncomfortable situations …

  2. Wendy permalink
    May 7, 2014

    Bumbling idiot here, I often wonder why I put myself through it and threaten to shop RTW . Then a little magic mojo happens and I make something I love and love wearing and all the fails are forgotten for a while. Just for a while.

  3. Hels permalink
    May 7, 2014

    Bumbling idiot here too. Had to rip out a zip THREE TIMES yesterday. Followed by ripping the waistband apart before giving up! When it clicks it’s worth it though…I think!!

  4. May 7, 2014

    Oh Elizabeth, what can I say, you sound a little jaded. I know a little of what you speak, having a few unsatisfactory makes that need to be fixed and faffed around with before I can wear them. I think mine stem from not understanding what I need to do to prevent making the same mistakes. I’m not a detail person and I do get discouraged when things go wrong, or the image in my head does not match the reality.

    As to your present malaise I would keep this project simple. If you’re not going to tuck your tops in, why not do a invisible waist using petersham, it has less bulk under clothes and it would be easy to line the skirt, the seams and zip then become less of a problem. You can zigzag the seams or turn them under and stitch and trim (like Peter did with his topstitched sleeves).

    I realise that I am chucking more choices at you when it’s the last thing you need, too many choices can be overwhelming, feel free to ignore.

    Here’s to you getting your sparkle back soon, sending you warm thoughts from across the pond.

  5. May 7, 2014

    Well, it took me a very long time to start to understand things. I’ve screwed up so many times, you have no idea. I would finish the garment, push it under the bed and whistle nonchalantly.
    Regarding the french seam and the zipper – you snip seam allowances, your french seam finishes at the snip and your zip begins. Of course, interface this area first to avoid the fraing. And never give up! It is never a mistake, it is whether a learning experience or a design element :))

  6. May 7, 2014

    One word: Craftsy. Taking sewing classes has revolutionized how I think about sewing. I wish I had realized how visual of a learner I am when I started.

  7. May 7, 2014

    The first 20 years of sewing were not my best work, the second 20 years got better, and now into the next 20 years very few challenges make me nuts. Imagine the sewing world before sergers…wander back to 1970 before computerized machines, sergers, and all the gadgets that had not been invented or even accessible to home sewers. Flash back to only cotton threads and no invisible zippers and mainly cotton wrinkle every time fabrics and nasty poly double knits…we have come a long way and I think new sewers have the best chance these days of loving this craft with so many resources and machines available online and such a resurgence of classes locally through the ASG and Craftsy. To me fitting is everything and when I see women buying expensive fabrics and turn then into ill-fitting garments and wadders it breaks my heart. Never have we had better resources for learning sewing and being connected internationally since sewing began!

    • May 7, 2014

      Love this comment! I’ve only been sewing for 4 years but I sometimes wonder what it must have been like (even 10 yrs ago) when lycra was less available in home sewing fabrics.

    • May 7, 2014

      That was my thought when I read this also. That my first 10-15 years of sewing looked like crap but I didn’t have the internet to tell me that or to show me other sewists amazing works of arts. So I had nothing to compare it to. Just knew that I wanted to be better than I was so I kept working at it. That is one of the downsides of sewing blogs and the internet in general, there is so much out there that sometimes it affects you in a negative way. I’m speaking from experience here because it happens to me too.

      Elizabeth – may I remind you that every sewist goes through periods where because they are being challenged and are growing which causes them not to love what they are producing. It’s definitely growth. You know you want to be better than you were but you’re struggling to reach that next step. I can tell you that you will get there, just keep going!

  8. Anne permalink
    May 7, 2014

    I know the feeling.

    That is why I love having sewing friends to sew with. We help each other out when we can’t wrap things aroud our head – and help each other with fitting. Can you find sewing friends in your hood?

  9. Karla permalink
    May 7, 2014

    Re: the skirt….Even with a working serger, I keep Seams Great in the arsenal all the time. It’s a thin knit tape that folds itself around a raw edge, all ready for a single pass of stitching to enclose the raw edge. For fabrics that are a rough weave and prone to fraying, I like it better and trust it more than a serged edge.

  10. May 7, 2014

    I think we all go through this phase when fitting starts to take precedence. At first, it’s all we can do to learn techniques, but techniques do not a gorgeous garment make. The fit is all that matters, in the end. And it’s much harder to nail than stitching. I feel your pain. I LOVE sewing. I’m not natural at it. But I’m the most tenacious person I’ve ever met – I’m using that in lieu of natural talent. 🙂

  11. May 7, 2014

    It may be a pain, but bias bound edges are beautiful – couture and high end sewing doesn’t use a serger, so you can do without, too!

  12. May 7, 2014

    I definitely am not a natural. When I started learning, I followed (and still do) tons of sewing blogs and thought how amazing all these bloggers were and couldn’t wait to get better. Well, 2-3 years later I would say I’m still a beginner and it’s for the reasons you mention. I’m not a natural so everything seems to take FOREVER and with results I like 50% of the time. So, I have all these grand palns for things to make but always conveniently find other things to do but sew.
    I know the solution is practice and I’m hoping to get to the point where my experience will help rather than being tied to the instructions.

    Good luck!!

  13. Barbara permalink
    May 7, 2014

    Good question.
    There is no “natural”. “Natural” comes after encountering and working through many, many difficulties. “Natural” is the ability to think ahead up to maybe ten steps so you don’t have a problem at the tenth step. I find talking to myself helps a lot. The monologue usually starts with…”if I do this now, then when I get to this step what happens…”and my imagination kicks in. I still make mistakes after sixty years of sewing.
    Use the best quality of everything you can afford. It makes a big difference.
    Practice, practice, practice. Perfect your techniques. If there’s something tricky do one or more tests till you get it just right.
    Don’t be in a rush. Enjoy the process.
    Learn what colours suit you best. Learn what fabrics suit you best. Learn what styles suit you best. Make garments that suit your lifestyle.
    Love what you make.

    As to your serger, it sounds like a timing problem.

    As the Italian women say to each other: “Corragio avanti!” Go forward with courage.

  14. May 7, 2014

    I have no spatial skills, which makes sewing quite challenging. I have been sewing for, oh, about 40 years now, and I swear my skills are actually getting worse. I think maybe one of every five things I make actually fits. But you know, I enjoy sewing and thinking about what I am going to make, so I try not to get too frustrated. It is a hobby, after all, right? I do wish it came easier, but it hasn’t, so I just try to muddle through and do the best I can (lowered expectations help, too!). Anyway, you are not alone, and honestly, I find it helpful to read about failed projects and problems; we can all learn from them! Hang in there!

  15. hoosiermama permalink
    May 7, 2014

    Go with a Hong Kong finish on those ravelly seam allowances. Use something lightweight like China silk or organza and you will be sooooo proud of your seam finish you’ll want to wear the skirt inside out!

  16. Jean S permalink
    May 7, 2014

    Be of good cheer! it’s a nasty, discouraging phase–we’ve all been there–and you’ll get through it.

    Have you thought about working with someone? Craftsy might do the trick, but I wonder if your “issues” are so particular that they require a tutor’s guidance. It might be the best deal for your money in the long run.

    As for sergers, I have been heard to say, “Chanel never used one, why should I?” But then, I’m not doing a lot of home dec or sewing for children (or making theater costumes, etc.), and I actually like couture finishes, even though they take more time.

  17. May 7, 2014

    You may already have a copy, but a basic, comprehensive sewing book like Reader’s Digest (any edition) is a great resource — every sewing technique is included and everything most sewers will ever need to add a waistband or a zipper. I also agree that nobody’s really a “natural” when it comes to sewing. There’s so much to know and to learn and the best advice is just to soldier on and not get too discouraged. I also agree that working with someone privately, if you can afford it, is a great way to speed up the learning process. Glad to hear you bought a new serger. Since you like to sew knits, it’s really an invaluable tool.

    • elizabeth_admin permalink*
      May 9, 2014

      Books are great yes. But they can’t answer complicated questions like how do I handle a french seam AND a zipper in the same seam. That’s my one complaint about books. I always have a question that is never answered in the books or involves two techniques simultaneously which impact each other. So I used to look in my books all the time, but as I kept not finding answers, I looked less and less. I guess I’m illiterate now as well. Sigh.

  18. Nicole permalink
    May 7, 2014

    About the seam with the zipper, before you sew anything on that seam, fold each seam allowance 1/4″ and stitch it down, then sew the seam. When you open up the seam it’s clean, and it’s less fiddly to do it before hand. This is how i do it for anything that I’m doing french seams on and then has a zipper.

  19. Ruth permalink
    May 7, 2014

    I had this phase recently. I sewed a fair bit in my teens and twenties, but like for others, retrospect does not lend enchantment to the view. I returned to it again about 5 or 6 years ago and have built up to making more or less all my clothes. I have learned a lot about fabrics and fitting in these last few years. But learning involves developing new and more accurate criteria, so inevitably we grow critical of our product. As a teacher I know that a burst of self-criticism and discontent is the immediate precursor to every learning spurt. So when I get discouraged, I don’t get discouraged, if you see what I mean. I just had one of those bursts of discontent. I am pretty good at trousers and skirts and all my own “fitting issues” there. I can even fit other people’s bodies. I have sewn coats and jackets for other people. But my own fitting of my own shoulders was yeuch! I took a Craftsy course. I found I did in fact know everything on the course, but it was nice and reassuring and persuaded me to slow down and make one perfectly fitted blouse. I did. And wow! I also recommend Craftsy. Identify what you want to work on, find the course, and do it. It definitely brings back mojo.

  20. May 7, 2014

    Thanks for a good honest post. I’m going to take a detour before I answer your Q.

    I used to play HS and club volleyball. One of my teammates was 5’8″ to my 5’5″. Moreover, I am long of torso and she is long of limb. We stood next to each other and put up our hands to block. Her extra height and wingspan meant that she started out a whole hand taller when blocking up at the net. Yeah, a 3″ height difference translates into a 6″+ blocking height.

    Then our coach measured our jump height with a standard 10 foot line approach. I jumped 20″ beyond my standing reach, she jumped 21″. 20″ is a higher % of my starting height than her jump, which is especially impressive given my shorter legs. But, still, her block is 7-8″ higher than mine–nearly a whole ball diameter.

    Off digression and back to sewing.

    Sewing is very spatial. I am unusually spatially gifted. I know this because psychologists in the school district got very, very excited. And then other specialists would call to see if they could run me through more tests. And math teachers always knew me before the first day of school and save a seat up front for me. And I earned a BA in math and a PhD in theoretical physics. And my professors were almost always very nice to me.

    Life’s not fair. You have perfect pitch and I had to work to have almost but not quite perfect pitch.

    I had to work harder to block one ball width lower than my teammate.

    Just keep working at improving. It doesn’t matter where we start, we can all improve with deliberate and thoughtful practice.

  21. May 7, 2014

    I’m no no bumbling idiot and neither are you. Oh, I do have my moments. Moments when I question whether I really know how to sew or not. It seems that I am attracted to projects that cause me to have to search and search for information to make feasible. There are times when I get tired of searching for info, but thank God for the internet and for sharing minded people. Then there are the failures, what is it that we call them, yeah – wadders. Everybody has one from time to time, but not everyone talks about them. Leaving us to think that others sew perfectly, but we don’t. And the issue of FIT. For me muslins are the hero, time consuming yes, but they help me prevent some of the wadders. I’ve seen some lovely things that you have made, and virtually heard joy in your voice when you post about them. Although we don’t know everything I contend that you do know what you are doing, and that you are a great sewist!!!

  22. May 7, 2014

    I was going to suggest bias tape or hong kong finish or something of that nature to deal with the naughty fabric. No need to stress over zip insertion then.

    And, well, 90% of the time I feel like a bumbling idiot. 10% of the time I feel like a genius. Sewing for me I have fun about 75-85% of the time. Sewing for other people… depends on how nice they are. I guess as long as I like sewing most of the time I am still going to do it? Though I haven’t been enjoying it as much lately. Mostly because I am sewing for other people. And it just isn’t as much fun when you have to work on someone else’s schedule, budget, and expectations. This isn’t shaping up to be a great sewing year for me either.

  23. TinaLou permalink
    May 7, 2014

    I think that technique comes from experience + aptitude; I’m fairly adept spatially. Fitting, however, is such a struggle for me. Recently another blogger I follow published her daily entry entitled ‘Don’t Quit Before the Miracle’. She told of being ready to throw in the towel on her blog, on her business, because she had identified what she needed to do to reach the next level, but had no expertise in that field. She discussed it with a trusted advisor, who confirmed that he believed that she had the skill and talent to reach her goal, even though she had her own doubts. So, with that encouragement she dedicated a full work-week to her task, launched a new website and has gone on to achieve even more than she thought possible. Just one day after I read her story, I received a delayed response to a request I had made to a fitting expert in my area to complete – in person – all of the advice and trials I have received from so many online sources for my fit issues (some of them have already left you encouraging words here). Bottom line, I think that seeking out an experienced fitting or alterations professional may be the best tool at your disposal. I found mine through http://www.sewingprofessionals.org, the website for the Association for Sewing and Design Professionals. Don’t Quit Before the Miracle!

  24. KathyB permalink
    May 7, 2014

    I am not a natural in sewing, I did not come from a sewing background and very little natural talent in this area alas. I will probably never advance beyond intermediate but that is okay. Why I started years ago was to have clothing made with good quality fabrics in simple designs (which look better on me anyway). It still gives me sticker shock to see the prices on wool skirts or even a linen shell for summer both of which I can make for a lot less money. This gives me more money to spend on items I can’t make such as better shoes and handbags. I really don’t have a passion for sewing as much as I have a practical reason for doing it and this is fine for me.

  25. Elle permalink
    May 7, 2014

    Some learn step by step by step. Others, like you, plunge in and learn as they go. You have good skills! And the current make is a challenge: a Burda pattern, a squirrelly fabric, new-to-you techniques–and missing one of your favorite tools. No wonder things are rocky. I’m with Peter– get a good book like Reader’s Digest. It will save time and frustration. Can’t let the mojo die! Especially when you’re as much a natural as anyone.

  26. Kathy - Ohio permalink
    May 8, 2014

    Obviously you aren’t alone in this sewing love / hate relationship. I’m not a natural but wish I were. Like you I’ve just about given up on sewing. I’m stymied on fit and can’t seem to make myself take the plunge and cut something out. I have too many patterns, too much fabric to quit. I need clothes for work. I think disappointment is keeping me from trying.

  27. Sue K permalink
    May 9, 2014

    Take classes. Craftsy is great but sewing expos are better. This year the national ASG is in St Louis, but next year is San Diego. The KC ASG just hosted Lynda Maynard and I learned so much. You’re frustrated because you’re trying something new. We could all make the same thing 100 times and be perfect. What fun would that be? I take every class I can find and just keep trying new things.

  28. Wendy permalink
    May 9, 2014

    Like you, I have a curvy body and therefore lots of fit issues. I kept buying patterns and tweaking them for fit, but kept finding that I still wasn’t happy. It took me a long time, but I did manage to understand that unfitted patterns always look bad on me because their flat pieces don’t stay flat on my body, and that I always have to add darts and shaping, even in knits. Then I took a class that made a princess seam vest, starting with a pattern but modifying it, with lots of individual attention so everybody came away with a really good fit. I used that vest pattern to make a jacket, using a sleeve from one of my failed experiments, and it fit. I finally figured it out–instead of using commercial patterns, I needed to accumulate basic pattern pieces and modify them to make design and style differences. If I love a neckline or a drape on a pattern, I buy it, then figure out a way to combine it with my basic patterns. Patterns are so seductive–you always hope that maybe this will be The One, and sometimes it is, but most times it isn’t. I still have failures, but they’re usually because the fabric wasn’t right or I forget that some things just don’t look good on me, no matter how much I love them.

    You’re one of my favorite bloggers–I always look forward to hearing about what you’re going!

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