Learning Curve

Lately I’ve been thinking about my sewing learning curve.  In some ways I feel I’ve come far and fast (I’ve sewn two coats, sewn a little boy’s shirt complete with collar and stand, and have found and fitted one TNT to name a few of the things).  But in others I feel so dreadfully behind, like fabric selection. 

There are a few fabric pieces in my stash that I just have no idea what I would make with them.  They’re beautiful, but just completely overwhelming because of their individual characteristics that either make them hard to sew and or just plain hard to figure out what I would sew them into.  They came into my stash based purely on their beauty with no other consideration going into the purchase decision.  See the lovely lavendar silk below?  I bought it at the PR weekend in Philly this past May.  It’s the most unique weave that ravels at the slightest touch.  I have no idea what to make with it or how to sew it so it will stay together.  It’s like a silk linen with a stiff hand.  It seems like it’s silk yarns woven with cotton threads.  That’s the only way I can describe.  I can’t imagine that just stitching it together would hold up at all.  but it is beautiful….

PS Fabric Outlet silk linen and matching trim

Recently, I bought a collection of doubleknits in a wide array of colors, but I am hesitant to use them.  I don’t know if I will look good in a double knit as I have such a lumpy body now.  Doubleknit fabrics might show off all my lumps and be to0 figure hugging for my comfort level. 

T to B: RL Wool, silk charmeuse lining, red d-knit, black d-knit, interfacing

And then there’s the moving target that is my body, constantly changing on me.  I don’t understand how anyone can have a dress form when our bodies change so much all the time.  I’d probably spend more time changing the padding on the dressform than actually sewing.  *sigh*

Nancy K wrote an interesting post about learning to sew recently and how she likes to help out on PatternReview answering newbie questions.  I was once like those people.  Wanting all the knowledge right away, not having the patience to learn from my own mistakes which is how most people learn.  I remember pestering Carolyn and Karen with questions all the time until I found my teacher Thea.  They were very patient with me but still managed to show me that I would have to learn through trial and error,  that being the best method to learn anything.  Not because they were withholding information, but for the very practical reason that they weren’t in the room with me handling the fabric.  Each fabric is unique.  Even if it’s 100% cotton, the weave, the weight of the fabric is different from bolt to bolt.  Every fabric handles differently and requires different sewing techniques.  There’s no way to teach fabric hand over the phone or in an email.  It’s a skill and hard-earned knowledge learned over time (a lot of it) and with many different fabrics passing through your hands and under the needle. 

Sometimes I feel sad that I came to sewing so late in life and despair of ever accumulating the fabric knowledge which I so covet.  But that doesn’t deter me from continuing on the learning curve. 

I think the best advice I can give to a beginning sewist who’s just starting out is this, practice, practice, practice.  It is only through doing the act of sewing that one learns how to sew.  There is a knowledge gained through doing, that no amount of reading or asking advice can give you.  There is no substitute for manipulating the fabric yourself.  The pattern instructions that flummoxed me when I first started sewing two years ago seem so simple now.  Yes, it’s confusing in the beginning, but it gets better.  It gets easier.  The really hard thing to learn and most valuable to have is fabric knowledge.   But that, I think, takes a lifetime and you probably never stop learning. 

I wish you much fabric knowledge and joy in the learning process.

And a Happy Thanksgiving to my U.S. friends!

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11 responses to “Learning Curve

  1. Hmm. I think that beautiful pink screams jacket. Or maybe skirt. Would it be easier to sew underlined (or possibly even fused, either to a super-soft interfacing or a wash-away stabilizer?). …I kinda have jackets on the brain, though.

    You’re so right about the things you can’t teach. Not only is every fabric different, every machine is, too. So much trial and error…

    Those doubleknits look luscious. What about a wrap dress or something else mildly adjustable?

  2. Fabric selection is absolutely the the most difficult thing I’ve tried to learn. (I say “tried” because I still feel like I haven’t mastered it yet, but I’m learning.)

    I agree with you that practice is the answer to learning how to sew. Look at anyone who seems to have made “quick” or significant progress in sewing, and the answer is that they are sewing a lot. I personally feel that I mastered fitting just shortly after I started sewing with patterns; but the truth is that I was spending literally 2-3 hours a day, playing with patterns and worked through at least seven different fitting and drafting books, during the course of a year.

  3. I’ve never really sewn with slippery silks and double knits scare me! There’s definitely a learning curve. But, I swear I’ve grown just because of the internet. You’re in good company.

  4. Okay mama says to you and Cidell both to put your big girl panties on and sew something from the double knit. It is very easy to work with and if it works well on my plus size body without any lumps or bumps (which I have wayyyy more of than you do) it will be fabu on you! The Macy’s dress doesn’t even have a lining in it to cover anything and it’s all from Double knit fabric and it works. Also a double knit is sooooo stable and easy to sew. Pick something and make it. I have faith in you that you can handle it.

  5. You know, I’ve been sewing for about 30 years now, and I completely agree that learning about the hand of fabric and the way that it will behave is one of the most difficult things to figure out. You’re right, it’s all about practice. I realise now that I stagnated for years working with the same types of fabrics all the time, and only recently (thanks to blogs and the internet) have I been branching out into just giving it a go with other fabric types. You just have to be prepared for a few wadders along the way and make sure that you are enjoing the process as much as the potential finished product. I still want to just spend some more time wandering through the fabric shop feeling and draping and trying to work things out.
    And the double knits? I have a constantly changing body too, and I actually find that they are very forgiving of the fluctations, as long as the style isn’t too fitted in the first place. Go on, give them a go!

  6. Marie-Christine

    Totally agree with the practice practice imperative. It’s not like you can’t learn -some- form other people’s experience, but that doesn’t substitute for your own.
    As to double knits, they’re great. Use a pattern for wovens, with knit techniques (ie serge, and don’t expect too much drape) and you’ll get the best of both worlds. Without the clinging to the lumps effect of too-light knits.

  7. First of all give yourself a pat on the back for how far/how fast you have come! Go on, do it!
    And I agree with a few commenters that sewing/fabric choice is a trial/error kind of thing. Sort of like cooking experience when you can read a recipe and *know* if it will be pretty successful or not. AND double knit is great!! It’s stable and east to work with and will SKIM over things….really. I’m up here in the wilds of Alberta, Canada and wish I could access the lovely fabrics you have. Sigh…

    Oh and (sorry) How about a skirt (say a pencil skirt) for the silk. If you underline it and line it it should be okay. Also, I find skirts easier to fit – you just have the waist to hip curve to deal with.

    Good luck!

  8. Ever since that B5559 came out, I’ve been thinking of doubleknits…but I live in the Caribbean so that doesn’t make sense, even during the cool weather, even with AC at work…

    But I understand you position completely. I tend to overthink things , I want all the info before hand because I want everything to be PERFECT. I remember some UFOs who became so for stupid reasons. Like I wasn’t sure how to finish the front neckline and if it’s not perfect and just right and amazing, I don’t want to go on.

    I’m still learning and I think I have to remind myself of that every now and then…

  9. Thanks for your post! Here’s an idea for double-knit: I’ve made several tops from Simplicity 2852. The necklines are flattering and anythink unflattering below is disquised by soft pleats. Check out my PR review here: http://sewing.patternreview.com/cgi-bin/readreview.pl?readreview=1&reviewnum=55358
    The gray color looks cozy. Good luck! – Kris, http://soundstitches.wordpress.com

  10. Sewista Fashionista

    I agree with the above comments that double knit is much easier to sew than you think, and more figure flattering than you might imagine. It was a surprise to me the first time but then I suddenly understood the GI Gen sewers love affair with the stuff!

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