Improving sewing success
How can we know what we’re getting before we finish sewing ?
I recently wrote some comments at Stitchers Guild on sources of wardrobing advice for beginners. Ejvc commented it’s easy to find garments in the right colours, shapes, personal styles (all except fit !) when shopping. Because you can try before you buy. But much more difficult to get it right when sewing, because you have to wait ’til you’ve finished to know what you’ve got.
Good points. But I think there are many things we can do to increase our success rate. We haven’t got to work completely in the dark until the last moment about what we’re getting.
Incidentally, these are all things that designers do. They don’t expect to get their designs right first time without any testing of the real life item (as opposed to the mental dream or the glamourised sketch !). They develop on from styles that have been used before, rather than starting afresh for every garment. And they test frequently during development, so they can give up quickly and without guilt on styles that don’t work out.
Colours and fabrication
I always check colours and fabrics before cutting (preferably before buying !). Hold them up against myself in a full length mirror. Is it a flattering colour ? fabrication, texture, pattern in my style ? good on my body (too stiff or too soft) ?
Also hold the fabric up to test how it drapes.
If you have a dress form, pin the fabric on in a rough approximation of the style – does it look good ? drape right ? have the effect you were thinking of ?
There is no longer a fabric shop here. And buying fabrics on-line is a problem for me. Small differences in shade can make a big difference to whether the colour is flattering. And those small differences aren’t usually reproduced well on screen.
I have a rule not to buy without a sample. I still have problems with :
- fabrics that look different in a large piece than in a small sample.
- fabrics that I’ve bought samples of, and then a different dye lot turns out to be completely different. . .
But those problems happen less often than they would without taking any care.
Good on your body shape
Sketching a style onto a personal croquis is a great help (if you have the skills ).
Even if you don’t make fit alterations to patterns : know what wearing ease you like for this sort of style, and measure the pattern to make sure it won’t be too large or too small. I remember a top in a favourite fabric that looked so fool-proof I didn’t make any measurements or trials – and it had cut-on sleeves that were too tight round the armhole.
Though measuring doesn’t save me from all disasters. I made a top from a pretty print in just the right colour. PR reviews warned about the neckline. I carefully measured, and all seemed well. But when I tried the finished garment on, it slipped off my shoulders so much it was unwearable.
If I had tried on either garment part-made, a simple alteration could have solved the problem. The neckline problem wouldn’t have shown up in tissue fitting, as it was caused by the way fabric flexed on my sloping shoulders, which made the neckline much wider in wear.
There are many good reasons to make a muslin as part of the pre-planning – check the proportions, ease levels, style element placing, etc. as well as the fit, before wasting the good fabric.
Moral – much basting and frequent try-outs needed at each possible stage of making. . . Many problems can be rescued (let out seam allowances, add a dart, pleat, or godet :D). If not, a UFO in the middle of construction is a better outcome than spending a lot of time finishing something that turns out to be unwearable.
Go to a store and try on new styles to see if they flatter you, then look for a similar pattern.
It helps to be aware of your own style – quickly filters out a lot of options. Remember one person’s ‘faves’ can be another person’s ‘never’. I enjoy a recent post from The Vivienne Files. Several of the softer items she avoids are my everyday wear (my thoughts on a successful cascade jacket are here). And most of the trim-fit ‘modern classics’ she loves would look dreadful on me – not flattering for my body shape, personal style, colouring. (Try Burda Style or styleARC patterns if you want to copy.) I do agree with her about many ‘no-no’ items, but a ‘goth’ or an enthusiastic fashionista would love those spikes and skulls or designer logos. Or perhaps you enjoy casual casuals (here are my posts on sweatshirts and hoodies). Or do you feel at your best in square cut loose fitting ‘arty’ clothes and love Sewing Workshop or Cutting Line patterns.
I’m lucky I have a good visual imagination. I stand in front of a mirror holding a picture of a possible style, and imagine myself wearing it. Also while I’m around locally I imagine myself wearing the style. Has saved me from many mistakes. I now know it’s waste of time starting a project that I’m not sure about, as that will just languish as a UFO.
Or find a designer that works well for you, and stick with their patterns. Not a 100% guarantee of success, but better than random.
If I had to use only one designer, it would be a few patterns by Loes Hinse (here and here, and Textile Studio). But she designs for people with very different shoulders and hips than mine. So her main patterns are not a good starting point for me. Instead I make ‘inspired by’ versions. Or morph the style elements onto my own basic blocks. I also don’t follow her fabric choices, as black, gold, and glitter are not good on me. Hmm, I haven’t got an overlocker (serger) and never wear shoulder pads. Obviously I’m not her ideal customer
Repeat successful patterns
I tend towards a repeating wardrobe because I know what has worked well in the past. (And I’m a timid learner.) But not to worry – that fits in well with most wardrobe building suggestions
Here’s a valuable comment from CCCouture at Stitchers Guild.
“I was just in Las Vegas for the International Textile Expo and lived a dream for a bit in the Chanel RTW Boutique in the Shops at the Bellagio.
I was quite surprised, that while the fabrics are gorgeous, there’s really not much sewing in the RTW pieces. It’s the fabrics, trims and other findings (buttons) that make them so unique.”
Making small variations to a basic style is what some of the top designers do
Improving your success rate is another good reason to develop new styles by changing details of familiar patterns. Or morph style elements onto good basic personal blocks. Rather than starting from scratch with a new commercial pattern every time.
Though repeating isn’t the best strategy for people who like a lot of variety in their wardrobe. Or variety in their sewing
Practice unfamiliar skills
I always do this, and it amazes me that some people don’t practise before trying a new technique for real. But I know this is another strong personality feature, and many people would not be at all happy if they had to follow my slow and careful ways
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The use of time
For every aspect of getting things right (colour, fabric, shape, fit, style, technique. . . ), the best tool for success is try on, try on, try on, at every stage possible.
Many people enjoy the sewing but not the testing. And many other people like to just ‘jump in and have a go’. I think they have to accept that their emphasis is on the sewing not the result. So, much of what they make will be samples to learn from, rather than wearable items. For me, the good results are well worth the extra effort.
Part of sewing success is a recognition of the use of time – it’s not just about sewing.
Pattern preparation, fabric preparation (my biggest dislike), cutting out, marking, developing sewing skills and finding good techniques for a particular process, pressing, checking what you’ve made so far – they’re all processes which take substantial amounts of time to get right. They can’t just be rushed through (or left out altogether !).
So find a way of making them fun. Sew in a way that makes all the processes a treat for you
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Links available April 2012
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