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How-to

Bad Sewing Habits

Oct 19, 2011
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Tick tock--letting the clock rush you through a sewing project or cutting corners to save time is a bad habit we can all fall into.

Readers, we all have not-so-good habits, and for many of us these habits come to the fore when we sit down to sew. They manifest as things we do—or don’t do—that make it harder to get great results. In effect, our bad habits can sabotage our good intentions and goals.

Bad habits can range from simple things like poor posture at the sewing machine or not using a fresh needle for each new project to more acute things that interfere with the process—like delaying machine maintenance or not pressing while sewing, ignoring pattern instructions and winging a complicated construction, or skipping basic preparatory steps, such as laundering fabric. Poor time-management or procrastination—underestimating the time necessary to make something or waiting until the last minute to sew a special frock—are also habits that can doom a sewing project from the outset.

Time-Savers Often Aren’t

Perhaps, when you get right down to it, bad habits are really about time—something we all seem to be lacking enough of—and our management of the time available to us for sewing. Many of the ways people attempt to save time involve cutting steps from a process to complete a project quickly, forgetting how key those steps are to a desirable outcome. Rushing through a sewing project can also create tension, which often leads to poor posture (creating more tension) and a willingness to take shortcuts that can end in failure. And they can all feed on each other and perpetuate more bad habits—if we don’t take charge and break the cycle.

Knowing is Half the Battle

Being mindful of one’s bad habits is the first step toward breaking them. What are mine? Over-planning and procrastinating: I figure out all the details, purchase all the materials, and then put off starting the project—usually in some nebulous future when my current 5 works in progress have been completed, unless of course something new and interesting occurs to me in the meantime. I haven’t figured out yet how to break myself of this. Also, I slouch at my sewing machine and tend to eyeball adjustments instead of measuring. On the bright side, I religiously pre-treat my fabrics and always change my sewing machine needle.

What are your bad sewing habits and why do you think they developed? Have you tried to retrain yourself—and have you been successful? Do you have any kick-the-habit tricks you can share with fellow sewers?

What good sewing habits have you tried to adopt?

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  1. User avater roylaverne12 January 30th

    Impressive :-)

  2. User avater scottnicholas2 February 19th

    I like your effort

  3. User avater Nancyjc March 8th

    I am so glad I read this post. I am guilty of buying patterns ... I have so many and already I'm seeing more I want. I doubt I'll ever get to creating all the clothes I've bought patterns for. One thing I am doing though is to recycle/give away/donate all the patterns I've collected and have outgrown (turning 50 does horrible things to one's body).

    I also buy fabric for projects and then I get interested in something else and I go off on a tangent. I have everything I need for a gorgeous dress and matching jacket just waiting to be sewn up and it's been there for TWO years! So before I can do anymore shopping, I've set myself the goal to use up what I have first. I don't have the room to hoarde (wish I did)so I have to follow through with this.

    Another bad habit ... until recently I NEVER did a muslin - this was no problem when I was younger but now I run between 2-3 sizes so the muslin step, while frustrating is a must.

    And finally I clearly spend way too much time on the internet and not enough time sewing!

  4. user-4258047 January 10th

    My worst bad habit (among many!) is that I only use the pattern as a size template, and change everything else, usually without consulting instructions. It almost always turns out wonderful, but all these changes take forever. When it comes to instructions, I don't ever look at them, unless I get stuck, then its too late. Of course, i have been sewing for years and like my late Grandmother, I have the ability to figure out how to do something. She was known in her community for her ability to draft a properly fitted wedding dress for a pregnant woman, based on the wedding date and her due date!

    No one has mentioned my best habit: wash your hands before you enter the sewing room. Don't put your grubby paws on expensive material. I developed this habit when I was making a christening dress from high end Swiss batiste. In some cases, even hand lotion can leave a smear on certain fabrics. By the same token, the only liquid that I take in my sewing room is water.

    Happy sewing. I love every minute of it.

  5. RuthW December 12th

    Procrastinating and then binge sewing was my worst habit but these days I am learning to organize my time and break down a project into manageable chunks. The other bad habit was overbuying fabrics, adding that extra half yard or three quarters of a yard, which led to a build up of fabric in pieces too small to be useful, but large enough to use up space and create clutter, more time spent searching and sorting and less time spent sewing. These days I am more confident that I am not going to make cutting mistakes so I can buy just what I need. I have to disagree with the "new needle for every project" idea. I am sure the sewing machine manufacturers will love you for that, but how many hours of actual sewing does a single project require? Even making something as large as a coat, the time spent actually punching through the cloth by the needle is less than an hour. For something quick and simple like a shirt or skirt, clearly nobody needs a new needle. And that leads me to another bad habit to be abandoned: believing bloggers or any other self-trained "expert". I have lost count of the amount of bad advice I have seen on the internet.

  6. User avater SusanInBoston January 16th

    Interesting post. Good to see that I have company ;-)

    FWIW, I decided to not add to my stash until I have used at least half of it. One interesting part of this process has been to see which pieces still excite me and which don't. I've been using the latter as "muslin" when I want to try out a new technique or pattern.

    Another discovery has been to look at the exciting pieces with a fresh eye. A piece I bought for a blouse 15 years ago became a dress I wore most of last summer. I'm now considering a piece of linen originally destined for a dress as a skirt or shirt.

    But the best part has been to see what I can do within these limitations. I can't "solve" the problem by running to the store, so I have to think about it more, which never hurts.

    I'm sure I'll break my rules at some point, but not soon.
    This project should keep me amused for at least the next 10 years.

  7. SewFascinated December 29th

    My biggest problem is that my sewing room is small and I wish I had more space. My 2nd biggest problem is that I have somewhat of an addictive personality. I hoard fabric and patterns - more than I have enough time to sew.

    However I have to keep my space organized or else it's stressful for me and I won't go in there. I keep my fabrics folded in a bookshelf. It's pretty easy to find what I want since the front is open.

    I try to keep my workspaces free from clutter. I have a basket underneath my cutting table for scraps/remnants and a trash can right next to the table for pieces too small to hold on to. (I'm pretty anal about straightening up as I go along. I repurposed a vase left over from my wedding to keep all of my shears, rotary blades, turning/marking tools, etc. I keep that in the corner of my cutting table.

    One of my favorite things is the wall over the cutting table. I found that I was constantly frustrated trying to keep the layout instructions within reach but at the same time out of the way when cutting out a pattern. My solution was to make a magnetic wall using a magnetic primer. I then painted over it with white paint.

  8. User avater michellepaganini October 31st

    There is a giant mess in my sewing room and I can't find what I need when I need it. The other day I could not find my duckbill scissors to grade a seam and used my regular shears, sure enough I cut into the garment, arrrgh! I contribute to the problem by focusing on sewing and then not cleaning up after each project until I develop layers of stuff on all surfaces. In fact my new serger has been on the floor for weeks as the table top is covered.

    It makes me laugh when I do clean up when I find duplicates of things I bought out of frustration when I am unable to unearth the one I already own.

    I want an assistant to clean up after me... when I win the lotto this will be so.

  9. MabelMade October 29th

    Over planning and letting other, less important things take up my time. I thought I would find many others who procrastinated and I am astounded that over planning is also a common thread (no pun intended). I think they are often one in the same.

    Procrastination usually comes from not wanting to tackle one part of a project, like being worried about getting a zipper in right. If I make myself sit down and tackle it, the rest becomes fun again and I finish the project.

    Just like life...

  10. Mamato8 October 27th

    I think I spend too much time collecting ideas and spending time on the computer, instead of sewing. As someone who collect ideas, I am inspired by so many fabrics, but I'm not a bad stasher, especially considering that I work at a fabric store! I sew vicariously through my customers and helping them with their projects. What is nice about working at the fabric store is I can see the fabrics and watch the sales to get the best price once I know what I want to do with it.

    I do procrastinate in sewing, spending too much time figuring out how I want to do make something. We have a family tradition of sewing up something new for Easter. Our Easter pictures have a very tired looking Mommy in them... I stay up too late getting these things done.

    Thank you for the article to bring these bad habits to our attention!

  11. Sandiloks October 26th

    I put things off tooo long and then rush. Pocrastination is my worst enemy; which creates lack of confidence in my skills. Although, when I do finish a projecct it's usually pretty good. I'm my own worst critic.

  12. User avater purpleperson October 26th

    Over-planning & procrastination are my downfall.
    Somewhere in my cupboards are the all the bits (fabric, haberdashery, pattern, etc) bought for specific projects I haven't done yet.

  13. carolrv October 26th

    For anyone interested in setting up a sewing camp or class, go to sewinglounge.com
    It is in St. Paul MN and I have attended several times to learn new skill (I am a returning sewer). Maggy has classes and camps on her schedule. She started out in her home but now has a storefront.

  14. cree99 October 26th

    I find that I am so disorganized that I lose things - I lost a bolt of fabric that was the background of a drunkard's path - I have about 14 large blocks already finished and I can't find the main fabric. It will turn up but the amount of time I have been looking for it when I could have been sewing - I have more ideas that I never get to - I was going to make a flamingo pillow for my grandson many years ago, he is now 18&1/2 and I still have the unmade pillow. I just found the quilt top that I was making last xmas for my son now I have to remake all the diagrams that once were part of changing the whole design from place where I started - I just found these and I had remembered correctly about what I had put them in but I missed the second part about where they actually ended up. I also got much more fabric than I intended as I got the whole pattern wrong to start with - and I learned why quilters use all the directions as this actually saves lots of time and money. I also collect fabric but that is a whole nother story.

  15. User avater Martykay October 25th

    Like Andysmom I can't stop buying fabric. To many ideas and not the time to get them done. My sewing room is like a fabric store and it takes so much time to find what I need. I need to be more organized. I'm trying to only buy fabric for one or two projects at a time and not buying more until they are done. Now to the rest of the fabric untouched.

  16. User avater Piecemaker October 25th

    My worst bad habit involves valuing just about everything above sewing/quilting. Once I finally get to the machine I thoroughly enjoy myself and wonder why I didn't do it sooner. Good question. Some of it is the "Mom guilt", but my children are grown and gone now. I don't need to pack lunches, take my turn at carpool, run the kids to the library, or help them with homework. As you mentioned, bad habits (and old habits) die hard. Why do I now let relatively unimportant things keep me from sewing? The other habit I have is avoiding sewing because I can no longer sew in marathon fashion to finish projects. My body needs breaks and the way I have sewn most sucessfully in the past involved non-stop working at a project. The transition has been a mental one and I often revert to sewing for too long and living to regret it. I can't seem to enjoy sewing by dividing up the project into doable parts. Strange....but as I said it is a real mental battle.

  17. gremol October 25th

    I always got in trouble in sewing class at school for holding straight pins in my mouth instead of a pin cushion, 40+ years later I still do !! I also have too many projects going on at once, I'll start a new project before finishing the previous one. I don't really have a permanent space for my sewing, so my stuff is scattered here & yon !

  18. LucyJane October 25th

    ahhh, I am not the only one and I thought I was the only one.
    I too have way too much fabric. Semi-organized. I read somewhere that if you fold fabric and place it in a box like a filing cabinet you can see at a glance what you have. It is easier if you stand the box on end and just stack the fabric. Ofcourse this probably wouldn't work for gigundo pieces but those sm-medium sized pieces that tend to get lost in the scramble.

    My problem is that I make a mess with threads and cuttings despite the fact that I have a large waste container between my serger and sewing machine. I even have a bag around the serger and sewing machine and I am still a slob.

    Usually before I sit down to sew I automatically plug in my iron so it is ready to roll.

  19. TheSeamstressLady October 25th

    I am so happy to see that I'm not alone. Procrastination is my biggest bad habit, although I'm sure there are many more. And it almost always gets me upset with myself because when I finally tackle the job - it was not nearly as bad to do as I had originally imagined.

    And then one of my really good habits, is organization. I am quite organized here at my shop and that really makes sewing a joy.

    I really enjoy the newsletters from Threads and learning new ideas and sewing tricks of the trade...

  20. AdelaideCrows October 25th

    Oh yes I can relate to all of the above re bad habits. Mostly being unorganised. I am in the process of trying to get organised. I am saying to myself an affirmation many times a day "I am more and more organised each and every day" I am trying to sort my sewing things our by job ie: pattern making tools such as rulers, tracing velumn, pencils narking tools, cutting tools. into one large clear plastic ontainer. Materials, linings, Interfacings. I also put all my commercial paterns in manilla folders and write the number on the top and file by the number, I put these in a filing cabinet drawer, while I put the pattern envelope and instructions in plastic sleeves and file them in ring binders and flick through them when I want some inspiration. these could be in different categories if you like. Mind you I did notice in one of my magazines a programe for this as well. But can't afford at the moment.
    I also have some very large Snap Closing plastic, I have put my cut out projects in these with zips patterns thread etc and punch a hole and hung on a coat hanger. I am sick of hunting for things each time I get an idea or want to start a project. My next project is to make a clear plastic shoe like hanger for my sewing things like machine needles, sewing feet, embroidery hoop, hem tape, bias makers, any gadets. etc.
    Well go sewing to you all.

  21. User avater scarrlett October 21st

    For me it's the same, rushing something that I had a month to do. Lately have been trying to organize so that this part will make it easier. Also washing fabrics I plan to use in November; setting them aside with patterns & notions.
    But it's still October and I do still have to finish drafting a pattern for halloween. Putting it off because I know it will be harder than with a ready made pattern. But I always end up at my friends Halloween party early... hemming something or finshing some hand sewn trim. I doubt that tradition will ever fade :C...

  22. User avater Andysmom October 20th

    My bad habit is my compulsive fabric shopping and hording. My sewing area and room would be so much easier to use if I didn't have a fabric store in the space. Is there a 12 step for this addiction? If not, there should be!

  23. User avater frostedthreads October 20th

    I am so glad to read other people plan sewing projects and procrastinate like I do! I LOOOVVEE shopping for fabrics and I think I have ADD when I am at the store. I always pick up more than what I am shopping for.

    I also think besides drinking at my machines ( I have no switched to cups that have a lid), is not clipping threads as I sew. Then at the end , there is so much to clean up!

  24. BoldlySewing October 20th

    I definitely over-plan and procrastinate! My husband teases me about tackling projects at the last minute. I also tend to dismiss difficulty ratings. I'm not sure if that is a bad habit or not? I like to think it helps me learn and grow as a sewist. Maybe it causes frustration?

    I seem to have a hard time just getting started. My sewing room lacks proper lighting and is woefully short on adequate storage. I spend too much time rummaging around for things I need. I have made a tiny bit of headway in that regard recently. I bought inexpensive cardboard boxes for my patterns, hung some caddies from the wall to keep up with tracing paper, button cover kits, etc. I also gathered some tins and jars from my kitchen cabinets for scissors, zippers, and other tools. I picked up containers for thread and bobbin storage, as well. That has been a huge improvement. No more winding bobbins unnecessarily!

    I think being disorganized, like I am, is a bad habit and real time-waster! The more organized I become, the less stressed I feel in my "atelier" and the quicker I am able to start and complete projects.

  25. Cherlyn October 19th

    I used to hate to press so much, but this is such an important step. Now I find that I will do what I can before I go press so I might not work in sequential order of the pattern instructions. For example, I may work on the main parts of the body of a shirt, go to sleeves or cuffs, put together collar parts, then go press. I get things done that I can without effecting a next step that should have pressing before I attach something.

    I am just getting back into sewing from a long break. I have found that I have to read instructions more closely because some of the steps have been re-written so I'm learning something in a different way. I used to know the instructions so well, that looking at the picture was enough. I was always correct, but not anymore.

    Fabric prices have changed over the years, but you still get what you pay for. Quality fabric is not something anyone should be willing to to give up, if money permits. I would rather have a nice quality fabric, well sewn garment than most of the ready made garments I see on the racks. It is sad to see what people pay for and wear once or twice then pitch it.

    I am glad to see people wanting to learn to sew again. I have students that want to learn, so I have considered a sewing camp for the summer. I think it would be fun. Has anuyone ever done somethig like this?

  26. Stormee October 19th

    I think one of my bad habits is rushing. Once I get a project cut out then I want to stay up all night to see the finished product sometimes I am so tired that I make mistakes that I don't see until the next day. But I am getting better with that. I don't always read the pattern instructions first It always takes a mistake to lead me back to the pattern instructions.
    One of my worst bad habits is eating cookies while I sew. LOL And that is a habit that is hard to break.

  27. User avater Rogues_of_Thread October 19th

    First let me just say "amen."

    I don't think I can begin to detail the bad habits I have or used to have! The upside to your post is the reminder to step back from your projects occasionally. Consider the process you go through when planning, preparing and executing a project and remember to allow yourself the time needed to complete the project without stress. Giving myself enough time is always the key to a good finished product, while not allowing enough time always results in stress. Written timelines can be very helpful.

    One thing I'd like to point out is that, as you get more experience sewing, you can sometimes ignore the pattern instructions. While there are steps that need to be taken to achieve certain results, the pattern is not a sewing bible; think of it more as a learning tool. There are different methods to reach a certain ends (some things can be pleated instead of gathered or there can be old hand-sewing versions of similar, more modern, techniques). Just because you saw something in an old sewing manual, doesn't mean it is a useless technique and techniques learned from one pattern can sometimes be applied to another.

    - Rogues of Thread
    bythebodkin.wordpress.com

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