Y’all, if I had a nickel for every time I see something like the following phrase, “I wish I could sew (pants, jeans, shirt, etc) but I’m afraid I’ll mess it up!” or “Please suggest a pattern with no zippers or buttonholes” I would be a rich woman and we’d all go on a sewing cruise together. But since no one’s handing over nickels, instead I want to address those statements – and tell you why you should sew BADLY. Like every chance you get.
You should sew badly because making mistakes is the best way to learn.
The human brain is wired to learn from mistakes – which means that the more mistakes you make, the faster you’ll learn and grow your expertise, right?
In my experience teaching high school students to sew as I did for years, the students who learned the fastest made a lot of mistakes. The key was that they 1) weren’t afraid of the “cost” of a mistake, and 2) they didn’t make the same mistake twice. So how can you get to that place and supercharge your sewing skills?
The first thing is to minimize the cost of your mistakes.
How to Minimize the Cost of Sewing Mistakes
1) Fabric. We’ve all been there…you picked the perfect pattern and the most gorgeous (and expensive) fabric, and now you’re paralyzed at the thought of messing up the perfect creation in your head. How do you get unstuck?
Well, with my high school students a lot of the fear was gone because they didn’t buy the fabric, the school did. Even so, there was a “cost” to messing up if they ruined fabric we couldn’t replace for a costume. So it was my job as a teacher to make sure that before I handed over the irreplaceable fabric that both I and they were confident they could handle it. How did I do that?
I had them sew sturdy, cheaper fabric first. I had a specific project (costume bags) I would give first time sewists, and because there were a lot of them every year, I would stockpile cheap quilting cotton whenever I could for these.
Even in my studio I buy a bolt or two of cheap fabric every year, for the express purpose of making muslins and MISTAKES.
Other sources to look for cheap fabric:
- Your closet. Find garments you were planning to donate anyway. Though they might be useful to someone else, the truth is also that we (in the US) generate more donations of textiles yearly than thrift stores will ever sell, so you might as well repurpose the fabric for learning. But if you’re a minimalist with only a capsule wardrobe, then…
- Head to the thrift store. Buy old clothes, curtains or bedding. After all, if it was good enough for Scarlett O’Hara to wear, then surely curtains are good enough for you to learn on? You can also salvage zippers and buttons to practice with.
- Check garage sales, estate sales, and Craigslist or other online classifieds.
- Save your fabric store coupons and stock up on clearance fabric when you can.
2) Time The other thing we are often afraid of wasting besides money is time. Again, with my students this wasn’t an big issue – I think they honestly took as long as they could in class sometimes to avoid getting another project! But if you’re learning to sew, or you have a specific project in mind, you may be afraid of wasting time on mistakes. Again, I’d say the faster you get the mistakes out of the way, the faster the project will go overall. If it’s your first time with a certain technique, take the time to practice with your cheap fabric. In the long run, taking this time will make you faster.
3) Embarrassment Sometimes, especially as adults, we don’t want to admit to not knowing something. This requires some mental reframing on your part if you fall into this category. Instead of thinking of mistakes as failures, you need to approach them as learning opportunities. My friend Alida wrote a great post about how to get to acceptance of a DIY disaster. And personally, I think it’s more embarrassing to be the type of person that never risks failure than the type of person who never fails. Besides, with sewing, you don’t have to tell anyone if you make a mistake. Most of the non sewists in the world probably wouldn’t notice anyway.
Plus, there’s always the seam ripper.
I hope this article gives you pause for thought – and frees you to make mistakes!
Common sewing fears and tips to help: