How Do You Rate Your Sewing Technique?

Like so many sewists, I have a perennial inferiority complex about my sewing. Part of this is based in well-founded fact. When I first returned to sewing a dozen years ago, I was very rusty in my skills and it took a while working with my hands to awaken the memory of lost techniques. But there wasn't a whole lot to awaken. I had developed only the basics of sewing knowledge in my early years, and most of my work was driven by the passion to make.

This couture suit took
100+ hours to make.

However, from there I worked hard to teach myself to sew, mostly by stitching my way through hundreds of patterns in a few short years.

And then I decided to get some real education. returning to fashion design school to study draping, patternmaking, and most relevant to this story, couture technique.

I remember the first jacket I made after beginning sewing anew. It was a light denim blazer that was in desperate need of lining, underlining, interfacing, seam finishes, oh my. As I turned out better and more improved jackets, someone commented how far I had come since that denim blazer. I was a bit hurt, because I loved that jacket so fervently that I couldn't see its shortcomings.

As I worked my way through various couture courses, I came to learn that most sewing technique is about 10% knowledge and 90% slow, patient work. I created a whole portfolio of beautiful samples, and I was amazed at what I could sew under the guidance of kind tutelage.

I have physical proof of what I can do in sewing, but do I feel any more confident about my sewing technique all these years after that denim blazer? Not really. And I know a lot of sewists who vastly underplay their technical skills. Perhaps because we spend so much time working at close range with our projects, because we know every stitch like the back of our hands, we are much too aware of the tiny imperfections and way too hard on ourselves.

For lots of products to expand and practice your sewing technique, check out the Hurt Book Sale in the Sew Daily Shop.

How do you rate your sewing technique? Are you too hard on yourself. Do tell!

Happy stitching!







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About Amber

Amber Eden is the editor of Stitch and She LOVES sewing and editing Stitch and She also loves dance, yoga, iced decaf triple espressos, and her two golden retrievers. She divides her time between Boston and New York.

12 thoughts on “How Do You Rate Your Sewing Technique?

  1. I have been machine sewing off and on since around 1961 when at five I began fumbling with one of the the front load SuperNova Necchis in my father’s drapery factory. Well, those pesty front load bobbins finally drove me away from sewing in the early 80s and I didn’t machine sew again until January 1994. That’s when I saw a top drop-in Singer for under $100 in WalMart.

    OH WOW what a difference that top drop-in bobbin system made for me; discovering Vogue patterns (typed Very Easy and Easy) was the final touch and I have been sewing like mad ever since!

    I’m sewing Vogue advanced patterns now on a more advanced but still top drop-in machine, and routinely create wearable garments. But until recently I would have said I was at best an advanced beginner.

    Lately I’ve come to realise the better way to describe my sewing is ‘competent’. I say that now because I’ve been teaching others to sew since 2004 without killing their enthusiasm, lol, and because I’ve known for years that if there is a new technique I need to learn so I can sew something gorgeous, I can learn the technique from pattern instructions, my reference books, or even trial and error putting the existing skills to work developing new ones.

    Early in my return-to-sewing I was turning out garments and home decor that earned honest compliments. At one parent-teacher night (1995) a white linen jacket and skirt (a Very Easy-Very Vogue pattern) had so many of the women there admiring it whilst doubting the outfit was ‘home made’ that I took a couple into the ladies room and stripped off the jacket to show the obviously home sewn edge finish (simple pressed over then zig-zagged seam allowance).

    Clearly, I was classable as ‘competent’ much earlier than mid-2013:) I was too hard on myself for a long time, it took me from 1994 to 2012 to feel comfortable even buying a sewing pattern typed as for advanced sewers. I self-restricted myself and as a consequence missed out on sewing some beautiful items. Never again!

  2. My father thought me to sew on my mother’s converted to electric Singer. The Vogue sewing book did the rest. I am a superb sewer but I make myself crazy trying to reach perfection–every stripe must match, if it’s a flamingo shirt the head can’t be cut off on the pocket. I once sewed all my clothing, but now there are so many petites (I’m 4’10”) that I can concentrate on evening bags-my hobby. I love to sew coats but live in N.C., hardly ever wear one. Note! I sewed my daughter’s 1st. Communion dress-it was so beautiful that I am sure I had Divine assistance.

  3. For me, it is ALL about the process. I love sewing! Love Love Love it! I’ve sewn since I was 6 and Barbie was my own personal model. I learned to drape scraps under my mother’s feet while she sewed my clothes. She sewed for utilitarian purposes. I sew for the sheer pleasure of it. I enjoy making unique clothing and I enjoy sewing for others. Through the years, I have taught myself to fit clothes and I have learned to let my imagination have free reign in my sewing. I hold fabric and “see” the garment way before it is made. I also love couture and have made many things that would fit under that category. I too have lots of “samples” of my ware. And when someone asks what my hobby is, I don’t say sewing, because for me, Sewing is my Passion, not my hobby. Crochet/knitting is my hobby (among other things). Sewing is something that I just cannot call a hobby. It is so much more. I am in my Zen when I am sewing. As to how I rate my sewing, I don’t bother worrying about how it would rate. I can see how I’ve improved over the years, and I am always open to try something new. Rating my sewing techniques takes the fun out of sewing. I do try to improve my skills but I’m not so hard on myself that the joy is driven away by the need for perfection. And as to your denim jacket, I too have a “denim jacket” and when I take it out to admire or wear again, I do so proudly because it is a badge of courage that inspired me to go on and learn and explore and discover new techniques. So enjoy your denim jacket and never get rid of it. It is part of you and a testimony of where you have been. I like to think of my clothes as my “children”, each one unique and precious in its own way.

  4. I am way too hard on myself as I strive for perfection. I am one of those that points out my flaws to people when they admire my work….which makes my hubby upset. He, among others, think I do fabulous work (like I said, I point out my flaws…so NO, not fabulous!). I consider myself intermediate, but the only thing I think I would not tackle at this point is a man’s suit jacket…they scare me some.
    I have learned many things over the 15 or so years that I have been sewing. I am self taught after getting a hand me down sewing machine from my mother. I have researched online (gotta love technology) and in resource books, etc. But the most important thing I learned is that there is more than one way to do things and no particular RIGHT way. If it works for you, it is right! When I first started sewing, I thought the pattern instructions were gospel. Now I hardly look at them. Beyond that, knowing what can be sewn as ‘instant gratification’ and what needs time and patience is key. Happy Sewing!

  5. I learned to sew from memory – remembering watching my mother sew as a child, and through trial and error after receiving my first sewing machine as a 21st birthday gift. My first project was a full length gold peau de soie evening gown. I’m nothing if not ambitious! It turned out not bad, although inserting the zipper just about did me in – I ended up just sewing up the back seam and putting the dress on over my head!

    Over the years my sewing techniques have improved somewhat, mostly from reading the pattern instructions and tips very carefully, but I’m still nowhere near an expert. I’ve often joked that I belong to the “Oh sh-t” School of Sewing . My latest project is my daughter’s wedding dress: medieval style satin with brocade inserts and lace and pearl trim. Going very slowly, it’s turning out surprisingly well, and she looks beautiful in it. With any luck I’ll even have it finished in time for the wedding Aug. 10!!

  6. Despite sewing for as long as I can remember, at school I went through a two year needlework course. The needlework teacher (Mrs not joking!l lol) soon seemed to favour me. I was allowed to use the best sewing machines and had my own workstation. She let me make a tailored skirt while all the other girls made a simple gathered and waistband skirt. Soon she had me sewing all sorts of technical things, which at the time I really just didn’t realize was so technical, I just sewed. I loved it!

    That two years culminated in a self patterend, highly detailed pajama set which I sewed with absolute precision, making sure every stitch and teqnique was perfect. It won a major award. But still I didn’t really realize my sewing potential, I just enjoyed it, it did seem to come easy. Mrs Button cried when my parents wouldn’t let me continue needlework and insisted I do more acedemic (science based) studies.

    About 5 years later (although not wihout sewing things in between) I ended up, after marrying my military husband and being based somewhere where I couldn’t work at my “more parentally respectible” job; I saw an advert from the military tailors who wanted someone to hand sew.
    Thinking that was easy, I could hand sew no problem! I went for the job. Well little did I know that in fact according to the tailors I couldn’t sew at all!! and that there is far more to hand sewing than one would think, or imagine! lol. It was nearly a year before they let me anywhere near any machine sewing or cutting!! lol. So at that point despite thinking I was a competent sewist and could sew fairly well, to the tailors I was a beginner!

    After graduating to the sewing machines, but really thinking I could not sew worth a bean, the tailor approached me and suggested I take up the evening gown and ball gown side of their services. I was stunned, since before I started working with them I thought that I could sew, but after working with them and their magnifying glasses! I had no faith in my ability whatsoever! So to be offered to sew beautiful gowns became a daunting prospect!! The tailor looked surprised at my obviously aghast reaction and just laughed and told me that of course I could sew, and that apparently I sewed extremely well!!! LOL!

    After that interesting episode in my life I went on to own my own couture, dressmaking and alterations business and provided sevices to a number of exclusive boutiques as well as continuing tailoring work for the military. After a few years I was headhunted to return to the military tailoring world and ended up being one of the head tailors!

    Over the years I have continued to sew always, whether I was in a sewing related job or not. I have taught sewing techniques and I have even worked for a while making, sewing and repairing outdoor wear adn equimpment etc which is totally different and has different rules to follow which turns some sewing teqniques on their head!

    SInce all of that I have returned to my first love of making beautiful clothes and provide some alteration services. My guilty pleasure too is craft sewing and embroidery, I love making cute and beautiful things!

    So do I think I am an expert? Well at times yes I have and yet at other times I haven’t. Am I hard on myself? Definately, becasue I feel over the years of sewing experience and the teachers I have had, I should be an expert and perfect! Sometimes, if I make a mistake then I can hear the master tailor bellowing from the other side of the room at me!!lol Despite the fact that I reached his status in my life(I’m in my early 40’s) I have never felt as “expert” as him!!..and yet I obviously was..and am! 🙂

  7. I would say a high- end intermediate. That is because I have been sewing for most of my life since I was 7, so that is 55 years. I have also made many types of things; clothing, costumes (even regulation dance costumes for competition and stage, also for theater), bridal, plus I sewed (and made up) items for stage and for artists installations in shows. For many of these things there were no patterns or even guidelines to be found anywhere, so I had to use my own imagination and knowledge of fabric and sewing techniques to come up with practical and working constructions.
    Yet there are many things I have never sewn or have only scratched the surface of – such as quilts. I have only done wall hangings, some from patterns, some from my own ideas. I have not done furniture covers for chairs or couches. Or drapes (tho I have done curtains.) So while I have a lot of skill, there is still a lot out there I could learn how to do.
    Lately I have been doing recycled sewing – made a skirt out of cafe curtains and left the curtain rings on, a purse with harvested decorative items off of another favourite purse. A bolero jacket of bubblewrap. (These were for my daughter in her college ecology club events. But she wears them still – except for the bubblewrap jacket..

  8. I began sewing as a girl with hand sewing and embroidery. Then when I was 10 or 11 my mom started teaching me to sew my own clothes. By the time I reached high school I was pretty accomplished at altering and sewing garments for my 4’11” 5lb frame. In high school I enrolled in the sewing class offered. Once the teacher saw my basic a-line skirt she let me take off on an independent study course! I made pleated and lined draperies, fur bathrobes for my baby sister and brother, I learned to design and draw the pattern for my own prom dress. Finally, I made a fully tailored wool dress coat complete with hand stitched horsehair buckram interfacing for a professionally turned collar.
    After college I made my own wedding gown, adapting a pattern to my own design and petite size. I sewed on hundreds of faux pearls never realizing that most bought gowns just glued them on. Then came kids and work and my efforts were mostly confined to simple projects and of course, hemming everything I bought. When my daughter was ready for prom she could’t find anything she liked. She wanted something vaguely medieval and certainly unlike all the strapless gowns with big skirts, or the sleazy dresses featured in the stores. so out came the machine and I found that while my sewing skills were good, my fitting skills were poor. The dress was FAR too small for my large busted daughter. After another trip to the fabric store for yards of extra fabric I managed to turn it into a princess cut dress that fit pretty well. She got tons of complements from her friends though I wasn’t pleased with it.
    Recently I’ve been making more time for garment making. I recently made myself a dress for a wedding I attended that fit me perfectly. I’m no longer skinny, but I’m still short. I managed to make a dress that was flattering and fit great and everyone was surprised when I told them I made it. So I guess I still have the skills after all. But I’ve learned to pay close attention to pattern measurements. In ready made, when I weight 85 lbs 35 years ago I wore a size 6. Now I’d probably wear a 0, a size that was almost non-existent when I was 18. Pattern sizes have not undergone this size deflation.

  9. Because I sew most of my clothing and all my husband’s pants I consider myself an intermediate level seamstress. For a rating of “advanced” I’d need more than this minimal awareness of tailoring. (although I had used my mother’s sewing machine when I was a child I was not very effective with it: it was mounted to the desk with a knee controller that I really couldn’t reach. In 7th grade all the girls got home economics and the boys got shop class; sewing on a machine with the controller on the floor was much easier, the course was easy for me) I started sewing again after I was married, had my first child and was faced with buying clothes that were overpriced, didn’t fit right, and not my style anyway. I also had to sew most of the clothes my children needed: they were short and thin. My daughters started kindergarden wearing a size 3 toddler size, much lengthened. I made the girls’ dresses for my sister’s wedding. Two years later those dresses were too short but still big enough in girth so I lengthened the pattern and made new dresses for them. As for “Perfection” I had to deal with it when my daughters started to sew: one wanted to make a plaid skirt (she was still in grade school, less than 10 years old) I matched the plaids for her when we pinned the pattern and sewed the seams but she still saw some irregularity. Rather than cut the seam and wear out the fabric I suggested she look at it from across the room; she agreed that it was OK. She still sews her skirts on that machine, which she asked for when I got another in 1980. I expect to learn more about sewing as I continue to practice. Lee