Five Ways to Improve Sewing Skills {Without Actually Sewing}

Oh man, I’m really sorry about the lapse in posts over the last while! I had no intention of neglecting the blog so much but we’ve had a busy few weeks with a good amount of traveling. I’ve mentioned I’m not sewing as much lately AND I only have so much energy in the day! So maintaining the blog isn’t always at the top of my list. But I do love to post and I’m always looking for things to write about. My favorite is when I’m able to share things I’ve made, but I guess we’ll just take what we can get here and go with the next best thing which is to just talk about sewing!

When I finally started taking sewing clothes seriously, I realized there were a lot of ways to improve my novice sewing skills without having to bust out my machine. Here are 5 that have helped me the most:

Familiarize yourself with your sewing machine’s manual
When I got my machine I already knew how to sew (I mean, technically. Not necessarily skillfully), so I didn’t bother looking at the machine’s manual. Years down the road I had to pull the manual out to look up one thing or another and when I cracked it open I realized there was a ton of valuable information in there that I had never known about. It talks about care and maintenance, using different feet, how to sew various things (like how to sew a piped buttonhole or how to sew a blind hem). I realized I had been oiling my machine in the wrong place (whoops!). It just has so much information. I haven’t read it cover to cover, but I’ve gotten to know it better. So if I forget exactly how to use my invisible zipper foot, I know I can find that information in my manual. If your machine didn’t come with a manual, you can probably find it online!

Get your hands on different varieties of fabric
I think one of the biggest mysteries to me when I started sewing clothes was fabric. Until that point I had only had experience with quilting cotton which is easy to find and fairly easy to know high quality from low quality. When I started sewing clothes I was baffled by the sheer variety of apparel fabrics, I had no idea how one type of jersey (or rayon or denim) differed from another, and I was especially confused by what constituted as good quality versus poor quality. Luckily, at the time we lived in a town where the gym where Ben swam was right next to the Joann’s. So we’d head over, Ben would go swim and I’d haul the girls off to look at fabric. We usually didn’t even buy anything. We would just go walk down the aisles feeling different fabrics and learning their names. Sometimes I’d have a project in mind, with a list of acceptable fabrics, and we’d go and find the fabrics on the list. After doing this for awhile, I became much better versed in different types of fabric. I typically buy fabric online (because selection locally is limited) and after buying and using a variety of fabrics for over two years, I typically know what to expect by the name of the fabric. I’ve also gotten a lot better at determining the quality of a fabric, although that has definitely come with experience. You might not be able to go in person like I did but there are options available like requesting swatches. I think most fabric websites have gotten pretty great at sharing as much information as possible about their fabric, so you can know what to expect when buying online. But being more familiar with types fabrics has helped immensely with my fabric shopping, online and in person.

Study the construction of the clothes you wear
When I first started sewing clothes, I became a little bit obsessed with understanding clothing construction. I would consider the clothes I wore and think about how many pattern pieces they would require. Things like t-shirts were pretty straightforward, but even those occasionally had a cuff or a neck reinforcement that would require an extra pattern piece. Things like lined jackets were totally outside my realm of understanding (all the lining pieces and facings!), but now that I’ve sewn stuff like that, the construction has been demystified. But I think considering these things helped me to grasp a better understanding of levels of difficulty of particular projects, and gave me at least a small ability to know what to expect when taking on varying types of garments.

Learn about fit
I think fit is something you can take seriously or lightly, but I do think it should be addressed at least to a certain extent. I have never spent a ton of time altering fit on any of the patterns I’ve made. But for patterns I’ve made twice or more, I do try to alter fit in small ways to better fit my body. That’s one of the benefits of sewing your own clothes, right? For basic fitting understanding, take thorough measurements and study the pattern to understand how the garment is intended to fit. When I make a pattern a second time, I typically try on my first version of the pattern to know how I might tweak things to help it fit better (which usually leads to me liking the item better and wearing it more). The pattern may not have fit great from the start, or maybe you’ve changed a bit (lost or gained weight, for example). A pretty cool thing about sewing is that if you regularly notice your clothes not fitting correctly, chances are other people have had the same problem and it’s likely there’s already an adjustment for it (like a full bust adjustment, a broad back adjustment, or a knock knee adjustment, just to name a few). It will probably take a bit of research, and maybe even a few rounds of muslins, but it’s worth the effort to get better fitting clothes.

Follow other sewists (via Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, blogs, forums and/or podcasts)
I started a sewing Instagram account right around the same time that I started getting into sewing clothes. One of the first accounts that I followed mentioned the Love to Sew Podcast, so I started listening. They’d already been doing the podcast for almost 2 years, so I started way back at the beginning and made my way through dozens upon dozens of episodes. I haven’t listened as regularly for awhile (they’ve changed their posting schedule anyhow), but I have learned so much from listening to that podcast! They have episodes covering everything from fabric to patterns to pins (seriously). I’ve even gone back to listen to episodes (like listening to their jeans making episode when I was ready to make my own pair). Following other sewists on Instagram and on blogs has also helped me improve my skills and especially introduced me to new patterns, new designers or new fabric shops (new to me, anyway). The sewing world is big and there are a lot of people who know a lot more than me, or who’ve experienced different things than I have. It’s nice having so much information available so easily and I try to take full advantage.

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