Monday, January 25, 2010

for all the beginners...

I have a soft spot for learners. Hey, I'm a teacher! Comes with the territory! But especially beginning seamstresses, because I've been there.

One of the reasons I wanted to begin sharing my projects from the beginning of my sewing journey, was to encourage those of you who are also getting your feet wet. Because we were ALL beginners at some point! Heck, I still feel like a beginner most of the time. And I actually AM a beginner for some techniques. (I'd wager most seamstresses have a technique or skill they're afraid to do!)

For example, I've never made a welt pocket that I can remember. So I'd be a beginner if I tried one. I've made lots of lapped, center, and fly zippers. But I hate invisible zips, and rarely do them. So I'd consider myself a beginner for those. I consider myself intermediate to advanced for most of the construction basics, and ditto for some specialty techniques like French sewing by machine or smocking.

But once I was a beginner in all of these.

One thing I really don't care for, but I see more and more of, is a list of "rules" for new seamstresses. Don't do this. Don't do that. If you do this you'll look frumpy or dowdy or "becky home-ecky". These lists don't really add anything to the sewing community. They're judgmental, as a rule, and tend to make beginners (the very people they're aspiring to "help") feel inadequate and ill prepared.

And I just don't like them.

I think they're detrimental for a very real and very important reason: they make you afraid. They make you afraid to take risks, take chances, try new things. They make you afraid to go with your gut, choose a fabric you've never sewn with before, or try a new technique, for fear it will look bad. They make you afraid people are judging your skills every time you walk out the door wearing something you've created.

I also find it ironic that many times I see these lists perpetuated by seamstresses with less than a few years experience. I am also developing a dislike for the "humor" injected into these type of lists. Is this an attempt to soften the blow? I'm not sure.

I enjoy a spot of humor. Very much! I'm sure if you've read my blog very long, you already know this. I don't enjoy sarcasm for sarcasm's sake. I don't enjoy snide. I don't enjoy the snark that overstays its welcome. Even if its funny. Maybe I'm just a Pollyanna...but I find myself preferring sweet, genuine people in my blog-reading.

I think I might be in the minority in this.

Although, I think Conan O'brien knows what I mean. I'm pasting a quote from his last appearance on the Tonight Show below, because it really spoke to me and is a good match with how I've been feeling about this great big, yet snidely funny world of late:

"All I ask is one thing,
and I’m asking this particularly of young people:
please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism, for the record,
it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere.
Nobody in life gets exactly
what they thought they were going to get.
But if you work really hard and you’re kind,
amazing things will happen."

I've been sewing for almost 12 years. Most people would not consider me a beginner. But I once was. And if you are now, I hope you take heart with this words-only post. I have felt all the discouragement, nervousness, frustration and excitement you feel when you begin a new project.

Here's a secret for you...I still mostly feel that way, whenever I begin a new project today. When I don't feel excitement and nervousness and the thrill of my heart beating a little faster at the smell of freshly prewashed cotton, I'll probably hang up my needle and thread.

And I think about that young mother, who dove in and tried to make a 1930s reproduction lace baby dress as her first project, because she had no fear. And how she chose the wrong fabric and wore it blissfully unaware. And how she fell in love so hard with sewing, even today, 12 years later, her heart sings when she sits at the machine.

Because she had no list of "rules."

This post is for all the beginners.


  1. Anonymous9:04 PM

    well said!

  2. Yep. You're a keeper.
    I once heard a motivational speaker talk about the excitement you see in young children in classrooms, and how they aren't afraid of failure, nor intimidated by being wrong. They throw their hands up in the air eagerly, begging to be called on and offer their knowledge, right or wrong. You try, and you learn, whether it comes out good or bad. Bravo, this is an awesome post!

  3. Awesome words, Angie. I have been sewing for 3 years now, still a beginner at some things, more than a beginner at others. It's hard enough because people sometimes judge it homemade-looking as soon as they find out you made it. Then the additional snark makes it harder to take the plunge. I, too, have read some of the posts you may be describing, identified with some of it as good advice, but also remember not that long ago, many women made their own clothes and their families' clothes and didn't worry if someone thought it was homemade, because that was the norm. Thanks for the encouragement!

  4. Fabulous post! Thank you for it. Your right - there are many things I can do with my eyes closed (Simplicity 5914 anyone?). But give me wool? Argh! What do I do with that? Scary stuff and so far I haven't done anything. Need to throw out the rules and just do it! Thank you :) g

  5. Angie I enjoyed your post. You are so right in your comments and observations. I am a larger girl and it is difficult to find RTW items that fit well. My own sewing is sooo much better even if it is a bit Becky-home-ecky. Every time I sew I try to add a new technique or tend to one fit issue. Practice may not always make perfect but it certainly provides a better clothing choice for me!

  6. You are a sweet, sweet, sweet woman! Thank you for the words of encouragement.

  7. I so agree! I think I get more nervous the more I learn and the more I become aware of what I don't know. I taught myself to sew on knits and put a zipper in the first garment I made. Nobody told me beforehand that was supposed to be difficult. I just jumped in. Then I found out some people thought sewing knits and zips were difficult and I became nervous about doing them.
    As you say, even Advanced sewers will often have something they haven't done before.

    Lol, my word ver. is 'vilso' - an accented affirmation do you think? I vil sew the dress tomorrow! :)

  8. I agree, but couldn't have said it half as well. :-)

  9. Thank you so much!! I'm a total beginner as of this fall, have started 3 skirts that I got stuck on and finally just finished one. (I also feel very slow!) I absolutely feel unreasonably scared of sewing but really want to learn and have to keep reminding myself to just go for it. Your post will help me forge ahead!

  10. As a former sewing instructor, I agree about the "rules". I am not a formal teacher but rather volunteered to teach sewing (my love) at our kids private school. In preparing for that, I talked to many adults who said things like "I hated sewing in school. My teacher made me rip out every seam that was not perfect". After hearing that repeatedly, I decided to talk about straight seams, and things to strive for but did not require them to rip out seams unless the mistake really hindered the wearability of their garment. We were making pj bottoms so there was plenty of room for a wobbly seam! I wanted to them to enjoy the process and "see" the process from flat fabric to pj pants. I loved the kids and they all seemed to love the sewing class. Blessings. Linda

  11. Here's what I think inspires those lists of rules from relatively new sewers: embarassment. They're in the process of realizing that much of what they first did looks not-so-great. And they're learning what would have been a better alternative and realizing that maybe that "fabulous" first or third dress they made that they wore to death maybe didn't look quite so fabulous as they thought. I think this hits most new sewers at about three years.

    So saying that, while I totally agree that scaring the crap out of new sewers is a bad bad thing, I think much of the motivation behind this is to mollify their own embarassment and (I would hope) also a genuine urge to "spare" newcomers the same embarassment.

    Of course, it doesn't work that way, because you don't learn if you don't make mistakes!

    So there, I have completely gone against the grain. LOL You hate me, right? I knew it. ;-)

  12. So good! Any time I worry too much about "the rules" I freeze up and don't get anything finished, so I have to not be worried about a wadder and just make things the best that I can.

  13. Lov the post!!! I'm a eternal begginer !!

  14. Aak! I'm so happy that I stumbled across your blog! I have looked at your flickr pics and never realized you have a blog. I LOVE the stuff you sew. I have this dress pattern and am so excited to make it. You are a great inspiration to this not so much a beginner to sewing but a beginner to sewing things that FIT ME.

    I can't wait to peruse your archives. : )

  15. Well said!!! As a teacher, I always want to encourage my students to give it a try and/or try again. I choose well meaning words that will boost, not squash. This is how it should be with sewing.
    I enjoyed your "sewing history". It revived many memories of my own history. Keep sharing, because someone needs to read it to get the courage to try that "next" project.

  16. Thanks for that post! I really want to learn to sew, but I have been so afraid of messing up and having everyone know it that I've been really hesitant. That gave me some good encouragement!

  17. Anonymous6:38 PM

    I love your post! You have a good point. I've been sewing for 12 years also. I remember my first projects being a boned corset top, a lace overlay sheath dress... I should blog about them! I wish I still had that top! I didn't know it was beyond my skill level, but I learned from it and enjoyed myself! I think that lack of fear of failure is what kept me sewing despite the disasters.

  18. Hi, Angie! I like your post... As a beginner sewer, I am really shy about my projects... Thanks for the encouragement!

  19. Susan b9:16 PM

    I can quilt and piece till the cows come home but a sewing pattern intimidates me. I once bought a beginner pattern and had no idea how to do a specific step ... my engineering hubby didn't either. I just winged it. I hope to finish my daughter's winter dress before winter is over! My mother had a masters in home ec and taught sewing at the local community college. I guess this talent must've skipped a generation!

  20. Anonymous6:20 PM

    <3, for lack of a better word.

    Hi, by the way! I'm Garnet. I just found your blog by way of someone else's. I really liked this post.



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