Intermediate skills and beyond

I wrote a specific post reviewing the ‘Dressmaking’ book by Alison Smith, its pros and cons for learning to sew at intermediate level.
I like project based learning and detailed guidance, so that book suits me well.

This post suggests some other routes to learning at intermediate level, with notes on learning beyond that. The possibilities are near infinite, if you enjoy learning and using high levels of skill.

At this level, many of us get more interested in fit, or making our own patterns. This post is just about sewing skills. See Index page 2 for posts on fit, and Index page 3 for posts on pattern making.

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Additional intermediate sewing skills

The ‘Dressmaking’ book just has patterns and techniques for classic styles and standard woven fabrics.
Here’s my pdf listing the skills covered in the projects :
31 projects.A4.pdf
31 projects.USletter.pdf
Might be of interest as a general guide to developing skills at intermediate level.

Here are some possibilities for learning about other skills and fabrics.

For an easy guide to patterns and sewing techniques for knits and fleeces, see Meg McElwee’s Craftsy video class.

Look at Sandra Betzina’s book More Fabric Savvy for guidance on sewing many fabric types.

More on interfacings, and other classic garment techniques, in DVDs from Palmer-Pletsch on band collar shirt, notch-collar jacket, jeans.

There are brief comments on learning to use a serger in my post on sources of advice for advanced beginners.

I think many ‘Very Easy’ patterns from Butterick-Vogue are at this level. Plus ‘Easy’ patterns from the Big 4, and ‘two dot’ patterns from European companies.

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Making your own way in learning at intermediate level

Most people develop their skills at this level simply by making clothes. Which is why people get upset when pattern instructions are poor.
Pattern Reviews are well worth looking at, as they have a section on the quality of the instructions.

To support this learning, we need a good general sewing reference book.
Many people like the Readers Digest Guide. Full of illustrations – drawings.

My favourite technique book is Cole & Czachor Professional Sewing Techniques.
Aimed at the quality in high-end RTW boutiques. Many more techniques than in the ‘Dressmaking‘ book by Alison Smith. Not for everyone, and not for beginners, as it has detailed written instructions with few illustrations.

I also refer to one of the old Vogue Sewing Books. First issued in 1970, I have the Vogue Sewing Book 1982 edition. I can remember the awe with which I bought it when I got a better job, as it seemed hugely expensive at the time it came out !

It can be worth finding the old Singer Sewing Reference Library series, books full of photos.

There are notes in my post on learning help for advanced beginners about video series which go from introductory to more advanced.

If you like the style, Cutting Line patterns by Louise Cutting are noted for their quality instructions. She also has DVDs with Threads magazine (download or view on-line versions from the Threads magazine site).
And Sewing Workshop patterns by Linda Lee have a Sew Confident course of written tutorials. She also has video classes at Craftsy on sewing knits and silks.

Many other interesting video classes at Craftsy.
And pdf classes with support videos at Pattern Review.

Threads magazine has their technique content on-line at their magazine site.

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More advanced skills

Many of those books and links help you develop skills well beyond intermediate level.

I don’t aspire to make beautifully tailored jackets or couture, though I greatly admire and enjoy looking at the work of people who do. I prefer learning more about pattern altering to make my own styles. I used to think I ‘ought’ to learn tailoring, but now realise it isn’t my style for sewing or wearing.

You can be very well clothed without going beyond intermediate skills. You’ll need to move on to more advanced sewing skills if you like something structured – tailored classics or edgy jackets. Bound buttonholes, welt pockets, sleeve headers.

For tailoring guidance, see my post on sources of blazer sewing advice.
There are many links to jacket tutorials in the menu at blog Easy Jackets

I am interested in other more advanced skills.
Complex draping.
Slippery, lacey, heavily napped or sequinned, loosely woven, ‘performance’ protective fabrics.
Appliqué, quilting, machine embroidery, heirloom and other surface embellishments. I learned most of what I know from Quilt University, but sadly that is closing down at the end of this year. There are dozens of craft sites and embellishment books. Here’s a post with some links on piecing and embellishment.

Butterick-Vogue ‘Average’ patterns are at this level. And ‘three dot’ patterns from European companies.

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Once you move into learning couture skills the sky’s the limit. Hand-worked support for tailoring and special occasion wear. Rich hand-made embellishment. Exotic fabrics. Multiple pattern pieces.

Look at the couture collections at for eye-popping awe.
Some companies, like Chanel Savoir Faire, have videos on the techniques used by artisans with a life-time of experience. The most recent is a dazzling one on hand sewn embellishment. Notice how slowly every move is made – the intention here is supreme quality, not maximum speed and minimum cost.

Many sources of advice. Some easy to find starting points are :
Susan Khalje’s Craftsy video course on a dress.
She’s developing video classes on other garments on her own site.
Claire Shaeffer’s Vogue patterns for jackets and pants, which include 2 levels of technique – high end RTW and couture.
Marcy Tilton’s embellishment DVDs (scroll down left side).
A Challenging Sew has.written sewalongs on couture garments.

Search ‘couture’ and ‘tailoring’ at Amazon for books on how to achieve these effects.

This is the level for people who love the challenge of Vogue ‘Advanced’ patterns or Burda ‘four dots’. And the articles on technique in Threads magazine.

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Most sewing skills are ‘craft’ skills, best learned by demonstration and guidance from an expert. Now sewing is rarely taught in school, it’s good to see the development of on-line and DVD video resources.
There are many links to on-line sources of advice and DVDs in the right hand menu here. (Click on red header if the menu isn’t showing.)
I like to learn from videos supported by books. Some people are good at remembering demos. Unless the video segments are short, I need a good reference book to help with remembering the details.

I’m happy with sewing at intermediate level.
I do prefer sewing slowly and I like quality, but these attitudes can be applied at every level of difficulty.

The higher levels of attainment are not for me to work towards for myself. But I do enjoy looking at and being awed by the marvellous achievements of people with these high levels of skill.

No one develops all these skills overnight. But they can be very rewarding to learn and use, if that’s what you’re interested in.
Have an exciting time if you enjoy learning 😀

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Links available April 2013

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Explore posts in the same categories: learning to sew

4 Comments on “Intermediate skills and beyond”

  1. Vildy Says:

    I got a small length of dark iridescent sequined fabric and thought it might make a nice little shell. But when I got around to seriously thinking about it, I thought, “What the heck! How on earth do you sew fabric plastered with sequins? It doesn’t seem like fake fur where you can push the pile out of the way.” Though I haven’t yet been so ambitious as to find out.

    • sewingplums Says:

      Yes Vildy, I haven’t tried it – but Sandra Betzina’s advice in More Fabric Savvy looks good. Not quick as there are several special processes.

  2. ejvc Says:

    I bought that same Vogue book in 1982. I was 13, and learning to sew, and somehow I managed to convince my mom I should have it. I still do!

    • sewingplums Says:

      Yes Elizabeth, it’s well worth referring to for quality technique. I don’t remember ever seeing a sewing book as a child. . .

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