Sewing With A Plan 2016 11 – Improving my sewing technique

posted in: SWAP, Tips and Techniques | 34

I have a big confession to make.

I won the SWAP contest in 2014 and 2015. I haven’t told many people, but of course the world of sewing is quite small and many of you found out.

But that is not the confession.

The confession is that I really shouldn’t have won, because my sewing wasn’t nearly as good as those who came second and third, and many who were not placed. I am a good enough seamstress but I cannot do fine work and many of my techniques are pretty ropey. I am not very patient, and not very accurate, and anyone who has a good eye will know that. I am embarrassed actually by some of my seams, the fact that my zips don’t match up that well, that I have struggled with a simple lace skirt. When I look at the quality of sewing offered up by Ruth of Core Couture, Stephanie of My Vintage Inspiration, Twotoast of the Spotty Dog Social Club, and the amazingly talented Carolyn of Handmade by Carolyn. I am blushing. Deeply. They show their workings, their beautiful neat seams, their perfectly mitred corners.

I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I am a bodger. I try quite hard (for example my Chanel jacket is pretty good, but not as good as most others you can see on the internet) but I am just not a perfectionist and I get bored long before I get it right. I don’t have a wide range of tools, or the right colour or brand of zip. I often choose the path of least resistance.

Of course being a great seamstress does not in itself guarantee you will be able to make a successful wardrobe. As well as being competent and effective at construction, making a nice set of clothes involves a number of factors.

  • The overall colour palette and how it works together
  • How the colour palette works with the colouring of the wearer
  • The overall shape of the garments, and how they work together
  • How the shapes of the garments complement the figure of the wearer
  • The quality and suitability of the fabrics for the garments
  • Getting the fit right
  • The styling and photography

And, if I am honest, I am reasonably good at getting these things right, but it is not enough. I am going to try harder – not to win. I really don’t want or need to win again. I really hope someone else does. I am going to try harder to do better work.

This year my challenge is to try to up my game. I will be using some difficult and tricky fabrics plus old fashioned couture techniques to see if I can use this experience to learn to sew better. By concentrating on vintage designer patterns I need to use some couture techniques, and frankly honour their marvellous designs.

Just to remind myself how much I have improved I will show you two zips. One from SWAP 2014 and one from SWAP 2016. The pink skirt has a handpicked zip and you can see that the tab is a bit wonky and the end of the zip has come open a little bit as I didn’t finish off my stitching securely. The one on the right is what I am working on now -the1960 Biki skirt in light blue cotton with a silk waistband (Spadea NS 249). In between SWAP 214 and today I bought an invisible zipper foot and learnt how to insert them. It is pretty neat and I am pleased with it.  Admittedly the pink skirt has been worn a lot but I felt a bit ashamed when I looked at that zip the other day.








34 Responses

  1. Joanne

    Hi, SWAP appears to have passed me by. What was really interesting was your description of yourself as a good enough seamstress – you were describing my approach/style exactly! Another interesting post – thanks

  2. Karen K

    A very honest post. We all bodge sometimes. I’m learning to be more efficient in my sewing so the quality has dipped as I learn to sew faster. Sewing fast, efficiently and with high quality? One day, maybe?

    • fabrickated

      I read your blog on SWAP Karen and I was interested you were working on doing things fast. I would love to sew fast but I have got to the stage where I need to sew slower and be more patient. If I can improve the quality I will try to work faster too. Arrrghhh….

  3. Demented Fairy

    Good enough is exactly that! It’s never a bad thing to know you COULD have done better, but is it always worth unpicking to make it so? Not in my [humble but entirely correct] opinion. If the clothes I produce make me happy, or the intended recipient, then job’s a good ‘un.
    And why be dissatisfied with a luxurious hand picked zip? I dunno why everyone is so enamoured of invisible ones anyway…I bet it’ll break and need replacing!
    Your artistry always sings out- you understand colour, shape and proportion. What else does anyone need? Now enough chit chat, I have a tiny pleating board to make…

  4. Bunny

    Sewing is a journey, for all of us no matter the level of skill or experience. It is a wise sewist who accepts this and keeps moving on that road. I appreciate your honesty but as Demented Fairy says, you understanding of design rules far outstrips that of many sewists. Pat yourself on the back, right now!

  5. Stephanie

    Good comments here. I am not much if a seamstress yet…only a bit obsessive compulsive! I love the fun you have with your designs and always come away from your posts with new ideas percolating. Yes, as Bunny says, pat yourself on the back! I don’t think anyone who participates in SWAP cares about winning. It is about meeting personal goals and enjoying the comraderie. It is wonderful to challenge oneself to make a cohesive wardrobe. Ultimately the goal is to make things one will wear and love.

  6. Chris

    I think the skills you have in choosing styles,colours and shapes are much harder to learn than ‘perfect’ sewing. I see so many examples of great sewing, but often the end result is lacking because not enough thought was put into the overall look and style. I would include my own work in that – the sewing and construction is the easy part for me, but choosing the right projects to work on is the difficult part.

  7. Ruth Wilson

    Echoing the previous comments, your blog is a joy to read, and very inspirational. I think we have phases in our sewing journey. I want to produce something quick and wearable currently. All my items are imperfect, but I am not at a stage where I have got time to address that, plus I get bored and just want to finish, so I am a bodger too! I am looking forward to see what you produce for SWAP 2016. I love the patterns you have chosen, and look forward to your views on improving the quality of your sewing.

  8. Kim Hood

    My mother described herself as a perfectionist. She wasn’t – she was just frequently a complete pain in the a***e. Sometimes doing something well is knowing when to stop. Good enough is often well done.

  9. Jane

    Interestingly this morning I was eyeing up the zip on a skirt I’ve just finished and worrying about an imperfection. I then decided to stop worrying – how often does anyone get that close to your rear end to inspect your zip finish? You have such a great sense of style which overrides any occasional – and minor – shortcomings!

  10. Jennifer Miller

    Always amazed when you show something that is a “little off” or problematic; your work seems so perfect. But maybe it is that your rule knowledge transcends the expertise? One could sew with precision (oh what joy that would be) and still not produce quality work. For example, I am struggling to learn the techniques, but struggling even more with all the other factors you listed. Some day it will all come together! Won’t it? Please? 😉

  11. Realale

    The pink zip looks mighty fine to me!!
    I was at a sewing exhibition a few years ago and happened to follow one of the most well known sewing tutors and authors as she left a lecture theatre and walked back to her stand, My word, the zip on the back of her skirt left much to be desired!!!
    I think your brilliant sense of colour and style far outweigh an imagined wonky stitch here or there. Of what use is an immaculately sewn garment that doesn’t suit/fit the wearer? Don’t be so hard on yourself!! (Although I’ve got DF down to win SWAP this year Lol, Sorry!!!)

    • fabrickated

      Oh yes – DF is going to win! No doubt about it. She is technically very skilled and her collection is going to be outstanding. She is such good fun too. And thank you for the story about the author with the wonky zip! Makes me feel loads better!!

  12. Seamsoddlouise

    What a great post. There are some amazing sewers in blogland, you shouldn’t be embarrassed to have won. The thought that goes into your makes is obvious. Very thought provoking.

  13. twotoast

    Credit where credit is due! Your submissions and garments were gorgeous! It is interesting to see how one progresses and improves. I was looking at some garments (blog posts) that I had made when I first started blogging (long since donated) and I really liked the style . . . . . so I am going to make some more using the same patterns. But using the techniques and skills that I have now, three years later. Will they turn out better? We will see!

    • fabrickated

      Thank you twotoast for your interesting reflection. I sometimes wonder what the people who get our cast offs think! I buy handmade garments sometimes and really love them, especially knitted items for the kids.

  14. Annieloveslinen

    You needn’t feel unworthy Kate, your swap clothes look great on you, they’re stylish and mix and match, as I understand it that is the objective of the swap. Competitions are divisive, although to be fair the swap contestants are generously supportive toward each other.

    I also think that technically perfect sewers can unwittingly undermine new or less experienced sewers, it serves no purpose to highlight imperfections unless opinions are asked for yet it happens often. Learning can be hard at the best of times but it can be brutal on the web. In this respect your blog is endearingly inspirational because you succeed despite minor imperfections.

    I like your blog because it’s authentic, that’s refreshingly normal and something I can relate to as I’m inclined to give up on projects when they go wrong. You power on through setbacks an that has given me a different perspective.

    Other, blogs may be better presented to showcase skillz but are not nearly as interesting. Here’s to keeping it real.

    • fabrickated

      Thank you, as ever, for your lovely remarks. I do think authenticity is important and I do try hard both with the sewing and being true to myself. I really appreciate your warm and kind support – it really makes a difference.

  15. Wendy

    Struggling with what to say here. You are in great company in this current SWAP, as in past ones. I think you nailed it when you talked about the photography, the pattern/fabric choices, and presenting the garments as a collection, that these are key components of a successful SWAP. If that gets missed, the technical aspect of the sewing doesn’t matter. Good for you though, to ID things you’d like to improve upon for this SWAP. It is a pleasure to be sewing along side you, even though we are an ocean apart!

  16. Jane

    I’m sure you are far harder on your self than you need to be. We are all too quick to point out imperfections in our hand made clothes and forget that even attempting to make something makes us more skilful than most.

    I like your invisible zip, once you have mastered how to use the foot they really are the easiest way to go.

    • fabrickated

      I know that most non-sewers would not notice our errors and failings, as they are used to shoddy RTW and wearing clothes that don’t fit. But I find myself disappointed with myself and I don’t mind sharing it. I am not apologising I just feel one needs to be self aware.

  17. Alli

    hehehe, I’d be perfectly happy with that pink zip! Anyway, I’m always impressed with your sense of style and the thought you put into the things you put together, so I’m looking forward to seeing what you do this year! 🙂

  18. Amanda

    I am SOOOO GLAD you posted this!! I can relate, a thousand percent to all you describe. You are far better than I am! Both your zips look very good to me – I’ve made and worn much worse, trust me LOL. I do try really hard every time, but rarely get my techniques perfect. Some stuff I fix, some I leave wonky. What I consider “wearable” might be a wadder for someone more perfectionist than I LOL. To further my shame, my mum is VERY talented at sewing and everything she does is picture perfect ^_^

    That being said… it is my mum that has taught me that perfect technique isn’t everything. She is light years better than me at technique but I am more proficient at fit and fabric. I think style, colour, fashion, fit… those are things that are somewhat more elusive. A technique can be practiced, and eventually we will become much better at them – the reason you won the SWAP (I’m guessing) is because your outfits all looked amazing on you, your colours were inspired, and your pieces were all incredibly wearable, flattering and fashionable – not because you had nice inside seam finishes LOL (although you probably did ;)). You DESIGNED that collection – and a collection is exactly what it was; I was so inspired by the photo of all the pieces hanging together – it was like looking at a designer’s seasonal collection – that is what made me want to do the SWAP too! 🙂

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