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How to improve sewing skill level

almost | Posted in General Discussion on

I am what I would consider a beginner/intermediate sewer and I wonder how I can get to the level of intermediate/ advanced.  After having visited the website sewing.patternreview.com a number of times I can certainly see quit a difference in the quality of the end result of a project when it is constructed by someone that is an advanced sewer.

I don’t have much time to sew, so does that mean I’ll be forever stuck in my level or is there some way to bump up your skill?  I love to read Threads for ideas and refer to them at times, but rarely do my attempts to replicate what I see or turn out the way I want.

So what do you advance sewers recommend?




  1. MaryinColorado | | #1

    I learned to sew in high school home ec classees.  Since then from books that I have either purchased, borrowed, or checked out at the library.  Sewing machine dealers usually have classes for a fee, which is where I have learned many specialty techniques.  The dealers here offer quite a variety, not necessarily related to the machines they sell.  Public television stations here show a different sewing program each day: Sewing With Nancy(Zieman), Martha Pullen(Sew Beautiful Magazine), Kaye's Quilting Studio to name a few.  There are also websites.  You also might try checking local schools and colleges which may offer adult classes.  And the county extension services and recreation centers and senior centers. 

    I dicided I wanted to learn quilting.  I got a book on how to make 101 potholders.  I realised pretty quickly that this was nice for gifts, placemats, wallhangings and that I was glad I had not attempted a King Sized quilt as it would have been too much for me.  That was years ago, I never made a complete quilt but do use the knowledge for smaller items.   I love to make art to wear type clothing so this experience crossed over.  Also it crosses over to gifts and purses. 

    I am a visual person so love to get instructions for the vcr or dvd.  That way I can pause them and restart them as I go along if I want. 

    Good luck!  If you start with small projects and concentrate on techniques and honing your skills you will enjoy it more.  MaryL

  2. sewingkmulkey | | #2

    I learned to sew the basics from my Grandma but always felt the clothes we produced had that "homemade" look so I made it my goal to educate myself.  The only class I took was a tailoring class in high school and the rest I learned by examining high quality ready to wear and reading, reading, and more reading!  You'll be amazed at how much you can teach yourself by observing and reading books!!!  I consider myself a self taught advanced fabric artist.  You can do it too!

    Best of luck and visit your local library and send questions to this site!

    1. busybee | | #3

      Hi Everyone.   I spent many years at the lower end of the scale and then enrolled on a speed-tailoring course on two or three occasions. I went to shows and listened in on the lectures. I bought  " Threads "  and other sewing mags. I found the courses in valuable because you pick up so much along the way.  I'm in the UK of course and my tutors were Alison Smith and Terry Fox known to some you I expect. I know there are many tutors out there with you.   All the best BusyBee

  3. mimi | | #4

    almost:  wouldn't it be wonderful to devote as much time to sewing as we wanted and thereby increase our skill level?  Maybe when we retire!  In the meantime, sew as much as you can as often as you can.  Make every new project a little more difficult than the last.  Come back here and ask lots of questions!


  4. User avater
    Becky-book | | #5

    I agree with the other answers and would only add this little advice:

    Attention to detail - careful cutting, precise seams, uniform trimming of seam allowances, PRESS EVERY SEAM before continuing to the next step.

    Much (but not all) of the difference between beginner and advanced is a matter of doing what we already know at a higher level of precision learned by doing it over and over till we get it right.

    Patience, my dear sewer, and perseverance!  You can do it!


  5. mem | | #6

    hello I think I am on the way to being an advanced sewer . I think its a state of mind as well as actual skill . JUst have a go at things and before you actually cut into anything do your research on how to do it and then make sure that you make a toile . I also had some lessons in advanced stuff like welt pockets etc but really that  was just a confidence booster. Practice alot Make lots of pockets ,bound buttonholes and buy a pattern making book and just DO it .

    I dont have much time either but I read sewing books and magazines constantly and every now and then have a day of just sewing. I also decided I didnt want to spend any of my precious time sewing things I didnt want to sew or for other people . You can do it . Its just being brave enough and not being happy with near enough is good enough .

  6. bksews | | #7

    It's great that you want to improve you're sewing skill.

    I started sewing when I was 8 and in 4-H, but really did not get into sewing until I was a sophmore in high school.  I really liked clothes and this was a great way to get them. Also I could put my personal touches into what I am making.   I enjoy garmet sewing more than I do making things for the house.  I have been sewing for almost 40 years now.

    You're sewing level will definitely improve the more you sew.  Once you feel comfortable with the sewing level you are at, you can definitely move up a level.  The major pattern companies have indicated the different sewing levels of the patterns.  The more detail in the pattern, usually indicates a more advanced level of sewing.  There are a lot of independent pattern companies which can also improve your level of sewing.

    Even though a sewing level means it is easy, does not mean the piece of clothing will not look nice.  The type of fabric used, plus those personal touches can definitely make a simple garmet look special.

    To me make jackets and blouses are more difficult.  Making a garmet that is more difficult does mean you may not get instant gratification, but you will appreciate the results at the end.

    Good luck and you will definitely advance with time.

  7. AndreaSews | | #8

    I agree with the comment above about adding only one or two new skills with each new project.  I learned a whole lot from using one pattern multiple times, too.  The first time, you struggle over the instructions, step by step.  The second time, things start sounding familiar.  The third time, you already have some of your own ideas about how you could do it better, and you're adding your own embellishment,expderimenting with design details, and merely glancing at the instructions now and then to make sure you're on track.  Now you've really reinforced some skills, and you've personalized a few things in the process.  And if you choose different fabric types each time, you'll get a good feel for the hand of each, and you'll get to know how fabric selection effects the final product as well as the ease or difficulty of the project in some cases.  Have fun!

    1. SewTruTerry | | #9

      Let me add to the above discussion. Practice Practice and more Practice is all good nothing bad can come out of Practice.  However even with all of the practice we all want some type of instant gratification and want to do things easier.  To this end I would also like to suggest that you invest in the right tools for the job.  Yes you can put a zipper in a garment without a zipper foot but the foot makes the job easier and faster than without. Also a good pair of scissors just for fabric will make the job of cutting pattern pieces out a lot less of a chore so you can concentrate on the job at hand. This list should also include a good machine in great working order that you do not have to struggle with everytime you get it out.  Also don't be shy about asking for advice on particular techniques as we all struggle with them at one time or another.

    2. marijke | | #10

      All good suggestions.

      I do 't have much time to sew either, and I alternate between doing projects that I know I can handle and doing projects that include new skills.  Sometimes I just want sewing to be fun and easy, sometimes I am up for challenging myself.

      I read in a book one time to never cut out a garment from fabric where you have to match patterns when you are tired.  I think that's good advice for anything that stretches your skills, too.  When I am tired I am more easily discouraged when something doesn't go as well as I would like.


  8. user-182649 | | #11

    I agree with all of the above.  Just as in anything, practice, practice, practice.  Push yourself to do new and different skills. 

    "The devil is in the details".  That is one the main difference between a beginner and an a advanced project.  Pay attention to the the entire process planning, cutting, and constructing your garment.  When you go to high end retail stores, look at how it is done. 

    Becoming an "advanced" sewer is just like any thing else.  The amount of effort  you put into it will determine just how good you get.  Talk to other sewers anytime you can, read books, take classes and again  practice.  After all, practice really does make perfect (or just about as good:.

    1. ixs | | #12

      One more observation......  I have a good friend that is an expert sewer.  She is an invaluable source of information because she has done it all.  And I do call her.  Remember, sewing is an inexact science; don't be too hard on yourself if a project isn't perfect.  One will do better the next time. 


      1. almost | | #13

        Thank you everyone for your great input! 


        1. Teaf5 | | #17

          Lots of excellent advice! I like the suggestion to learn one new technique with each project and would recommend doing about five samples of that technique before you do it on the actual garment.  Especially with zippers, welt pockets, and hemming, the more relaxed you can be while doing it, the better your results.

          Another way to get the practice you'll need is to volunteer to help sew costumes for school plays and productions.  The non-sewing moms will love you, the teachers will love you, and the children will love you, no matter what your sewing skills are!  Costumes are quick and easy, and if you do multiples of the same design all at once, you get tremendous practice for all your basic construction techniques.  Costumes don't have to be perfect, but you can practice perfect sewing on them to benefit not only yourself but others.

          1. chichm | | #18

            The best advice I can give--I learned to sew in home ec and am now retired and still sew whenever I can--is to take the time to do every detail from cutting, marking, pressing, etc., even basting to the best of your ability.  That way the garment will always do you proud!

            Limit yourself to the patterns that work for you, and from time to time weed out unused patterns, so it's not so overwhelming each time you decide to sew something.

            I live in a 55+ community with a sewing group, and one member is a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.  She was gracious enough to show me how to do those dreaded  welted buttonholes that add so much style to a garment.  Don't be afraid to try something new, but each time you do, give it your best.  Have fun

          2. lilah | | #19

            I've been reading this thread and really enjoying all of the good advice!  I've been sewing for a long time, but there's a lot of difference in what I sew now and what I used to sew.  I started out quilting and making little smocked dresses and things for my daughters.  Those things are very simple to sew together - quilts are flat and children's dresses are simple to make.  The difference is that now I'm learning how to fit garments.  I agree that you need to take your time and concentrate on each step of the process, and for me fitting was the hardest thing because I wanted to get right to sewing.  The preliminary steps to sewing are so important to success - choose the right pattern, fit it and then make a practice garment.  I have found that once I've made a pattern a couple of times I can do whatever I want to personalize it without fear.  I also like to pay attention to clothes that other sewists make, especially in the overall silhouette of a garment.  Is the style flattering to their body type?  I also pay attention to the overall look of the garment's construction - are the seams smooth, etc.  I keep these things in mind while I'm sewing to remind me to not rush the process, check the look of each seam, finish SAs, press as I go.

          3. lbbray | | #20

            Just caught this thread.  My mother taught us needle work before she would let us sew.  She would look at the back before the front and make us rip it out if she did not like the way we had done it.  Then, guess what, when I began to sew and would show her what I'd done, she did the same thing.  So, look at the inside of your garments.  I bet you will see a BIG difference from some of your early projects.  As it has said, it is the little details.  And I do buy patterns from all "levels".  An "easy" pattern is perfect to try out new techniques you have read about.  Saves wear and tear on your nerves not trying to do some new technique on a difficult pattern.

  9. Marionc032 | | #14

    Great advice from everyone. Besides practice, pratice, practice I found that buying better quality fabric made a real difference in my sewing. I found that when I spent more money on the fabric, I took more care in making the garment.

    Another thing that I found very helpful was reading books on garment construction. There can be many different techniques used to produce the same end result and some techniques just may work better for you than others.


  10. ChrisHaynes | | #15

    Practice techniques on small projects.

    Sometimes you will see something in a Threads magazine (or in a book from the library) and think it interesting.  But instead of trying it out on a major project, do it on something small.

    When my kids were small I made them costumes for Halloween and for their dress-up box.  I made the boys knight armor where I practiced using quilting, and doing some form of thread painting (including using a cool dragon printed on an old T-shirt that was falling apart).  For a fund-raising auction I made costumes that embroidered things on with my new embroidery machine.

    At the time many of my friends were having babies I made personalized baby bibs.  I practiced putting in ribbing (they were the terry cloth bibs with a ribbed neckline), and putting on customized applique.

    I also practiced putting in various kinds of zippers on bags.  There are lots of things you can do to make specialized bags.  From making pockets to installing linings.

    You can see some of my efforts at small things in the Threads Gatherings Gallery:



    1. Josefly | | #22

      Off-topic, I'm afraid, but...What great photos. I'm hoping to make some kind of super-hero costume for my grandson, who saw pictures of some things I had made for his father when he was a tadpole and is now excited about having something specially made for him. I hope I can do as well as you did. I bet your kids' high school drama classes would love to make use of your skills!

      Edited 8/5/2006 9:11 pm ET by Josefly

      1. ChrisHaynes | | #23

        Thanks... and I am actively hiding from the high school drama department (I have too many projects of my own --- after years of kid sewing, it is time for ME!!!)

        1. Josefly | | #24

          Yay, and good for you. I feel the same way, but these days it seems easier to find thiings I want to sew for my daughter or my daughter-in-law than for myself. I need to devote the time to fit myself up with some good patterns, though.

  11. drmck | | #16

    Make a muslin of the garment to work out all the problems before you cut into the good fabric. This is called a sloper. I use 4 or 5 patterns only and change them with fabric or detail.Diane Erickson has some great patterns and ideas for unique wearables.

    Also change your machine needle frequently - every 8-10 hours of sewing. This prevents tension problems and fabric snags. Have your machine checked an cleaned at least once a year.

    Edited 7/29/2006 10:27 pm ET by drmck

  12. red2375 | | #21

    If I had to choose between my sewing machine and my iron - I would chose my iron. You can sew by hand, but you can't get a good looking garment, pillow, etc. without an iron. http://www.taunton.com/threads/pages/nmt037_14.asp

  13. DONNAKAYE | | #25

    It is absolutely critical, in my humble opinion, that your sewing education be a stepwise progression of basic techniques, each of which builds one upon the other.  Sometimes this involves re-learning the basics that you may already know so that the methodology makes sense to you as you carry each teaching forward.  You should begin, for example, with some sort of torn project, where you can study such simple things as how to select fabric wisely, studying grain awareness, etc.  Because the art of sewing involves so much more than simply running a sewing machine but, rather, careful and masterful manipulation of fabrics, turning a one-dimensional fabric into a three-dimensional design, these basic techniques must be mastered before one pursues more challenging projects.  I would recommend you begin with a simple tote bag or some other item where you can practice blocking and straightening fabric, basic staystitching, hem, casing and pocket applications, then progress onward to a simple straight or A-line skirt, then a simple blouse with, say, a slit opening, a simplified or jewel neckline facing and set-in sleeves.  Progress from there to collars, cuffs, zippers, and lapped closures, then on to regulation shirt collars/sleeves/cuffs, then (traditional style) shirts (collars, cuffs, closures, etc.); then on to a simple dress, then a more stylized dress, such as a shirtdress or some other classic design which might incorporate details not previously attempted.  Then comes pants, then the more advanced techniques of tailoring and couture of jackets, coats, and other garments (there are many successful methods of tailoring and couture currently available), then specialty items such as formal wear and lingerie.  Along the way in all of these steps the skills of fabric selection, handling and technique must carry through from project to project, with each project reinforcing the one before it.  My point is that you are learning how to sew, NOT how to make a garment.  It is like the old story of giving someone a fish or a fishing rod.  There are fortunately many resources available nowadays for the seamstress who wishes to learn in an organized stepwise fashion.  If interested, don't hesitate to post me a reply.....D.


    If you would like more information, please post your reply and I will be happy to try and help further.

    Edited 8/6/2006 4:22 pm ET by DonnaKaye

  14. jend | | #26

    I'm not an advanced sewer yet, but my skills and knowledge took a huge leap when I joined the American Sewing Guild. Now I have people of whom to ask my questions, and they have many educational presentations. You can get more info from the website: asg.org

  15. SewNancy | | #27

    The more you sew the better you will get. Get some good sewing books and read. Every project, try a new technique. Challenge yourself and you will be amazed at your progress. Good luck and good sewing

  16. SAAM | | #28

    One of my most important tools on my journey to reach an advanced level of sewing skill has been my stitch ripper.

    The one thing I've realized over the years is that in order to create beautiful garments, you must be willing to look critically at your work and be willing to rip out and start again when that work does not measure up. I have ripped and resewn, recut pieces when necessary, and, on occasion, gone back to the store for more fabric when I've made a stupid mistake.

    Every time I sit down to sew, I am faced with moments when I have to ask myself, "Is this good enough?" When I answer truthfully and have the patience to do the work properly, even though it means ripping out, the difference is obvious in the finished garment. The added plus is that each time I complete a garment that looks professional, it gives me the confidence to try something a little more difficult the next time.

  17. pingu812 | | #29

    Years ago, when fashion design was popular at the junior colleges in California, I took a few courses. One of the projects that we did, was we practice some detailed sewing, in making welt pockets, invisible zipper, buttonholes, etc., we just took the leftover fabrics from our projects and practice sewing these until we perfected it.

    I'm trying to re-learn all of this, because I left sewing about 17 years ago, and now I'm trying to remember all the things I use to know and do.

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