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Conversational Threads

I’m too much of a perfectionist to sew

Ritzy | Posted in General Discussion on

I’ve been working on a “easy” blouse pattern and it has become a week (?) of frustration. Looking at the beautiful (in my eyes) fabrics I’ve purchased over a lifetime,I am becoming overwhelmed, knowing I’ll never live long enough to incorporate them into my fantazied wardrobe. 

When I do go shopping for clothing I am appalled at the “fit”. I think to myself I can do better. I’m tall and have problems finding the proper length. I hate the idea of some “kid” sewing my clothing in a foreign nation making next to nothing in wages.Surely I can do better, but always sense failure when I try. This has been going on for ten years and have yet to sew anything I would wear in “public”. Can’t understand why I am so hard on myself. Sorry, this is not a self-help group, right? 


  1. Ralphetta | | #1

     You, at least have labeled your problem  and that is a really good start.  I thought I was just lazy and incompetent because I couldn't finish things and would just give up and do nothing.  I  was stunned when someone told me I was a perfectionist, it had never crossed my mind.

     I learned by watching my mother sew.  She wasn't very patient and moved quickly.   I spent several years feeling like you described and then I took a tailoring class.  I learned that I'd been doing a lot of the basic things wrong.  Mom had a lot of experience and could do things w/o basting, etc., but in my inexperienced hands that just didn't work.  The tailoring class went great and that suit was the first thing I'd ever been really proud of. 

    With several years of experience, I bet a class would help you quickly identify what specifically  is making your garments look unacceptable to you and how to correct it. Then, with some confidence you could start work on those gorgeous fabrics.

    Oh, one other thing...are you sure it's you?  Could it be your machine?

    As for EASY patterns, their instructions leave out too many important things to suit my taste.  I can understand why you might be unsatisfied with your blouse and it probably isn't your fault at all.

    Good luck



  2. jtp | | #2

    Perfectionists, by their nature, should make excellent sewers.  They can handle all the little details and techniques that make beautiful garments.  So maybe it's not your personality tha't the problem.  You may just need more help.  I agree with Raphetta that a class can be very helpful.  I recently took a t-shirt workshop for "Pamela's Perfect T-shirts" and learned some much about sewing knits and perfect fit that I've made 4 tanks and tees since - and they look really good. 

    It's also helpful to read good sewing books to supplement your pattern instructions.  I like to pull out Sandra Betzina's Power Sewing and read the appropriate section for my project.  Also, Claire Shaeffer's Fabric Sewing Guide is loaded with information. Sometimes the fabric that your working on has special needs or is just difficult -- such as tencel.

    I think the biggest frustation in sewing is acheiving that perfect fit -- the reason so many of us want to make our clothes.  I love to sew but hate spending hours on a pattern making it fit perfectly.  When I was searching pattern websites, I found Unique Patterns and decided to give in and try it.  You buy a measuring kit, take about 40 measurements of your entire body and they computerized custom fit patterns.  I'm anxiously awaiting my first custom patterns - a basic blouse and pants. I'll keep you posted.

    Don't give up.


    1. MaryinColorado | | #13

      I look forward to your input regarding those patterns!  Fitting is giving me fits!  Mary

  3. User avater
    dayenu | | #3

    supposedly "easy" patterns with very few pieces and turned edges rather than facings are often the most difficult to execute well. items with more pieces give more room to fudge and can fit better and look better, ironically.

    I think the responder who mentioned your machine might be onto to something. some machines just don't drive well and even the most simple line can be problematic. and then make sure you are using the right presser foot. for example for top stitching I always switch from my all purpose foot to the center straight stitch foot with the teensy hole because it gives me excellent control.

    another factor is fabric. always use fabric you adore because you will be thrilled with it even if a few stitched go awry.

    and finally consider the zen master's approach to art. They intentionally add a flaw to honor of the concept that nothing in the universe is perfect. Live long and prosper.

    1. solosmocker | | #4

      I agree that being a perfectionist is an attribute in your sewing. But don't be too hard on yourself. We all have "wadders", those garments that just don't work and end up getting rolled into a ball and pitched to the trash! Read about sewing voraciously. The two books mentioned are great. I love Sandra Betzinas books. Every day I read something about sewing, usually at bedtime. It could be a great magazine like Threads or one of these books. Then I re read them, over and over. Right now I am on the last chapter of Roberta Carr's "Couture...The Art of Fine Sewing". There is info in here for EVERY sewist. Take those classes whenever you can, even if it is unrelate, like how to make a bag or basic quilt. It will put you in the sewing groove and if its about dressmaking and fit, all the better. You would make a wonderful heirloom sewist, where perfection is valued and necessary. Heirloom sewing is using fine laces, hand stitches, some machine work, classic patterns, and the finest fabrics possible to make your garment. In other words, it is worthy of being passed down and worn by the next generation. You may want to try that and if you live in the South of the US there are many shops with classes to offer. Fit can make the most well executed garment go to the back of the closet or even turn into a wadder. Study fit issues. I suggest Nancy Zieman's "Fitting Finesse". It is clearly written, easy to execute and understand and any beginner can implement its advice. I wish you the best on your quest to improve your sewing. It can be done. The more you sew the more you will learn even if you have a wadder or few along the way. I still get them now and then and I have been sewing for 47 years. Good luck. solo

      Edited 8/19/2007 12:51 pm ET by solosmocker

  4. sewfar | | #5

    I have been sewing for years and ages ago ( or so it seems now ), when I was a stay at home mom  and living overseas I made myself well fitting detailed clothes that I was genuinely proud of.  Then my body aged and I spent less time at home I became addicted to easy patterns that never fit me well enough to wear with pride so I quit sewing for myself and devoted my efforts to household items and children's clothes.

    I recently read an amusing article that said in essence that easy clothing without darts, facings, detail etc is the equivalent of putting  holes in a cloth sack for head and arms and expecting it to fit your form or look like anything.  And frankly that is what most easy patterns are...a basic sack.  So I am going back to the days of yore and looking for patterns with darts, princess seams and interesting detail rather than the Easy Make it Quick type .  With the help of books and on line...for example  Debbie at Pattern Review comes to mind,   I have found my proper bust, waist, shoulders and I am starting to enjoy clothing that fits me so much better than ready to wear.

  5. Fi | | #6

    Don't be hard on yourself.  My husband had the shock of his life when he found my stash a few years ago.  I have bought lots of fabric since then, but I have also make lots of clothes.  The best thing to do is to make yourself do an hour each evening and before long you will have completed a garment, or what ever you like to make.  I am a bit scatty at the moment, but I have managed to make a pair of trousers (which fit!) and I am half way though making a jacket.  I have done a lot of sewing for myself this summer, after finding that I could not get anything I liked (I am not a pre-pubescent teenager) and anything that fitted over my slightly cuddly figure!  After buying 6 pieces of linen for blouses, I made all that up, gaining confidence with my fit, then a jacket, with material I bought 20 years ago, then cut out the present jacket and the trousers.  The jacket material I bought last year and the trouser material this year from a fantistic fabric shop in Shrewbury (if you are not in England, that is where it is).  The linings I have also found in my stash and have only had to buy cotton and buttons and I forgot shoulder pads.  Enjoy yourself and read as much as you can about sewing and fitting, I have been learning all my life and still am.  The more I learn, the less I seem to know.  I have only recently found threads and sewstylish, both excellent mags.

    1. ella | | #30

      Hello Fi, Did your fabric from Shrewsbury by any chance come from Watson and Thornton? I can't imagine there's more than one fabric shop in the town, tho' it may have changed hands since I bought a length of brown poly viscose crinkle there.Wonderful shop - you could sit down whilst bowsing the patterns,and - they attached a little tag to the cut length detailing %composition,care instructions etc. I was most impressed. and by the fabric choice. I think I need to go there again, even tho' the former purchase still awaits its fate (at least 10 yrs. on) (but you know how it is!) I live near Derby,by the way.

                                                 Best wishes, ella











      how it is!!) I'm from near Derby, by the way.Best wishes

      1. Fi | | #32

        Hi Ella

        Thats the shop.  It still hasn't changed and it is the only fabric shop left in Shrewbury, the quilting shop closed and is now on the internet.  I do not know how people get quilting fabrics from the internet.  I now go to a little one in Whittington.

        I actually do not live in shropshire.  My daughter lives in Whittington and my husband sometimes works in Shrewsbury.  Nice place though.  I bought my daughters wedding fabric there, mind you she changed her mind and did not get married and now I have  7 or 8 metres of duchess satin.  Luckily I had not started making it before she called it off.

        Do you do a lot of sewing?  My husband asked me what I do with all the things I make, I think he seems to think that a garment only takes a few hours to make.  I am just about to make some cross over tops in some lovely fabric I bought from Leon's, in Chorlton, (Manchester) not far from where I live.  Why is it you never have the right material when you want to make something and have to buy some more.



        1. JanF | | #35

          I know this shop - but - it does tend to be the reason why I spend too much money - and then - stock up my shelves - or stash as Americans seem to say!
          haven't been there since last Autumn but I presume it is still in a state of flux - which is what it appeared to be last year.
          No doubt u know of Abakhan's too - however - this seems to be going over to curtaining in a big way - a pity I think as I go for school stock and apart from curtain lining which I buy in black, tan and cream(doing African stuff!)the dress weight appears to be slowly dwindling or be getting very expensive and lots of man-mades which I hate personally!. I do believe there is a good store at Boundary Mill - Colne? but it is ages since I went there too!
          I have to say - Shrewsbury is a very attractive place to shop though!
          I live near Chester but fabric buying there is a no no!

          1. Fi | | #36

            Hi Jan

            Have you ever been into Oswestry, to the Fabric shop there, it is absolutely wonderful for both fabric, craft and curtaining fabrics and bits and pieces.  I have bought lots from there (I have lots everywhere in the house!)  I get my curtain lining from there by the roll.  The last roll I got was seconds and the whole roll cost me £20 and I am still using it.  I have also bought lawn there for shirts and smocked dresses, I like doing smocking.  I have heard of Abakan, haven't been there since I last had to buy netting for a veil I was making.

            Anyway, I am just about to go and finish a cross over top.





          2. JanF | | #37

            Yes I have - but didn't say anything about it cos I couldn't remember its name!! Yes - ive had some good stuff from there - but as usual - get sidetracked into other stuff - last time lots of lovely beaded tie-backs!
            Didn't use them all for that though - some are centres for the ends of the bolster type cushions on my sofa!
            If ever in Oswestry again - contact me for a guide to a walk around there that we did. It was in a "walks" book and was very interesting!
            Have u been to the cafe behind the fabric shop (whose name i still cant think of)in the heritage centre? Its not bad!

          3. Fi | | #40

            Do you mean the one more or less in the church grounds where they sometimes have craft exhibitions?  When I go into Oswestry (my daughter lives in Whittington) we do not often just wander anymore, otherwise I spend too much money!

            Do you know of any other places around shropshire?  I must admit, I do not just drive and look in places I do not know without a reason.  I like to go to National Trust properties and country fairs and such like when I have the time.

          4. JanF | | #41

            I hope youve visited Erddig then (outside Wrexham)Nat Trust star I think! and yes i do mean the centre by the church - where they have craft exhibitions - some really good stuff sometimes!
            Have you been to Clun? quaint old place - actually i think i mean Montgomery and there is a very good antique clothing shop in Welshpool's main street.A bit whacky the owner - but interesting to see fabrics etc.
            Have to bear in mind that some stuff is also not far off tat (in my eyes)but it depends what taste u have really.
            I live just North of Wrexham and Ive no doubt you will have been to Chester already - everyone does!
            I'll try to think of other suitable crafty/sewing type places locally and send u a list!
            Jan ps Whittington is a lovely place isn't it?

          5. Fi | | #42

            Errdig is my favourite place of all, the next after that being Chirk, I have been to both many times, and I never tire of both the houses and gardens.  I also often visit Llangollen when I can, good place to walk.  I must say that I was disappointed with Chester for material and craft shops, lovely place though.  I also like Wrexham, I have been with daughter. 

            I feel sometimes, that I do not have enough time to explore different places in England.  I have often said that I would like to pick a different area each year, just out of season and visit all the NT properties and also the shops.  The problem would be though, that I would end up buying more fabric, wool and anything new to try and do.  My husband was not impressed when on a visit to New York, I came back, not with desgner clothes, but fabric.  Still making it up now.  Fabulous place for fabric.

            Anyway better go and make some dinner.


          6. JanF | | #43

            UR right - Chirk is great - though i haven't been since my children were young! (In fact hubby and i went a couple of weeks ago when we had come back from our disastrous trip in motorhome to France)but it was closed - and we haven't had time since then to go - but I thought we should go sometime - on our doorstep really.
            If I can remember there is always a great craft show at our church in Gresford - usually about July (All Saints, Gresford - famous bells)we do have a website too, but it is very much centred around patchwork and quilting - not always my favourite textile medium. It is worth a visit if u do like this - they do other things too - but quilting etc. is its core.
            I will try to think of other places for u. - I'm fairly good at finding out where things are going on - just not so good at actually finding the time to go!

          7. Fi | | #45

            You sound like me, I always want to do things and then something else takes over.  How old are your children, mine are grown up now, but strangely enough, we used to have a motorhome and toured a lot of europe with it and the children.  Had great fun.  My husband and I were talking about it this year.  Ours unfortunately went up in flames about 8 years ago, we were going to sell it and then it burnt to a cinder on my way to work.  Luckily I got out when I realised it was smoking.  Still makes me feel sad even now.

            I like patchwork and quilting.  I do not do as much as I do sewing, but when I get an urge I will make another one.  Must try and do some more sewing this weekend, I have got a top and a jacket that need finishing. 

          8. JanF | | #49

            You sound like me too - children grown up and left home - Im nearly 57 and counting the days I'm afraid until I can stop going out to work!!
            Ive always got too much on my plate - in fact last week I went for some hypnotherapy to try to solve a stress problem (continuous lump in my throat)and its obvious that Ive got to do some serious prioritising.
            By the way after 1 session the sensation of the lump in my throat has greatly improved - Ive decided that as long as it works - dont care im having hypnotherapy.
            Alas we dont seem that bothered about the demise of our motorhome dreams - now changed to something else!

          9. SewNancy | | #50

            I too have a lump in my throat, but mine is from gurd or acid reflux.

          10. JanF | | #51

            I do suffer with too much stomach acid - but I think stress related - even though I take acid suppresants at the mo - they have stopped the pain in stomach/any indigestion etc. but the lump in my throat isn't always there - comes on if I'm at all anxious etc. - funny creature that I am. If u suffer with gerd do u always have the lump sensation? Mine moves about - up and down gullet and never stops me eating (ooh p'raps that's my problem)
            I have to say - wether its in my mind or what - Ive been tons better since my 1st. session of hypnotherapy - and I started back to school today, when I thought it would be much worse - so here's to my 2nd. session.
            Sorry to "talk symptoms" to anyone else who reads this
            I still cant get round how everyone accesses posts - even though I just post back to sender usually.

          11. SewNancy | | #52

            I don't always have the lump in my throat, but it gets worse if I eat too late. I am not supposed to lay down until 3 hours after I last eat and night time eating is a bad habit, but not feeling well is helping to control it.

          12. solosmocker | | #53

            Just wanted to say I suffer from this as well. The dr. gave me a long list of nonos and what to dos. I tried them all but wouldn't give up my coffee. It didn't help. I have found the solution however in giving up all coffee, subbing with mild green tea, and religiously not eating or drinking ANYTHING after dinner. I have found that I have been able to get back to eating most anything as long as I follow those two big rules. I feel lots better and it is so worth it. I don't even think about coffee any more. And I am so much more comfortable when I go to bed. I get a better nights sleep too. Hope this helps.

          13. JanF | | #54

            I suppose in a way - I could be classed as lucky - in as much as the lump is all activated by the subconscious - and I dont suffer with it at night - or any accompanying symptoms re. gerd. It must be difficult if it doesn't go.
            Touch wood - another day without symptoms - so hope 2nd session on Sat will just strengthen my "mind" - acid test (if u excuse the pun)will be tommorrow when kids in school - so far just teachers and loads of planning and paperwork.
            JanEdited 9/4/2007 3:53 pm ET by JanF
            I do have just 1 coffee a day - and so far this week - ok! which is great cos I really look forward to that 1 cup.

            Edited 9/4/2007 3:54 pm ET by JanF

          14. Fi | | #55

            You sound as if you need to learn to relax.  No easy but I learnt to by meditation and yoga.  I do not go now because I have bad knees, (total wreck) and cannot do too much kneeling or strange positions anymore, but relaxation I did find good.  I got so good at meditation that when I suffered with migraines, I would get rid of the pain with the meditation.  Luckily I don't suffer like I used to and so I got out of the habit of meditating.  Similar type of thing to your hypnotherapy I guess.

          15. KathleenFasanella | | #56

            okay ladies, I think we can safely say this thread has been hijacked. :)I'm getting notifications by email and I don't want to unsub from the thread because I don't want to miss out on the discussion but maybe we can move these OT discussions elsewhere? I don't dare suggest health issues aren't worth discussing but probably not in this thread.begging your indulgence :)

          16. JanF | | #57

            ooops - sorry!
            Notice taken!

          17. JanF | | #58

            Thanks 4 ur reply Fi - but i think I'd better stop the posts re. health - obviously not the correct area here - I genuinely didn't think about it. I wish I could meditate though!

  6. jane4878 | | #7

    I'm a lot like you--I can visualize all these beautiful clothes, but executing them is another matter!  I made one "easy" Simplicity skirt and it SUCKED!!  I won't ever do that again.  I'm liking Burda, because they're very stylish and the give several areas to lengthen and shorten.  I'm very long in the back, so they allow my to lengthen in that area specifically.  They're also drafted for 5'6" or 5'7'' and I'm 5'8".  I took Heirloom sewing classes when I first started sewing (last year) and they really helped with technique and learning patience and it was a lot of fun.  I picked the minds of all the more experienced sewers in the class and learned tons.  I also pick up more advanced books when I find them and read them cover to cover.  I have a very patient dealer who sold me my machine and I pester her when I need advice. 

    I've learned to walk away when I get frustrated, as well as being calm and relaxed when dealing with screwups.  I should've started sewing decades ago--it's great for character building.  I'm an insane perfectionist and I've learned to relax on that.  My husband who is a magnificent carpenter, calms me down by saying that because we live in a machine age we correlate "good" and "perfect" with all the "same", not the quality of the work.  Handcrafted is not, by it's very nature, going to have everything the same (i.e. hand machine-lathed table legs are not exactly the same). He told me my Roman shades were worth more because the seams are slightly off square!  No-one but you will notice a lot of the booboos.  It's figuring out the ones that will be noticed.  Hang tough...:^)

  7. User avater
    VKStitcher | | #8

    Hello, my name is Vickie, and I'm a PERFECTIONIST!  I'm not making light of your frustrations, I share your pain!  I too have problems finding quality ready-made clothes that fit, and I also have to adjust patterns to fit my short body, with its flat chest and wide hips!

    All the other responses you have received are good ones.  A couple of things that have helped me (and that I have learned the hard way): - Lighten up (this is hard for me!) and realize that not everything will be perfect.  Some things won't go together right, some things just won't hang right, some things don't feel right when you wear them.  Try to figure out what to adjust and do differently next time.  I've made several pairs of pants from one pattern that I like, and I think I've finally got them to fit me.   - "Easy", "Jiffy", "Make-it-in-an-Hour" patterns don't usually result in things that fit me well. - I joined ASG, and at meetings we share our problems/tips/techniques.  I've discovered lots of new resources for information (websites, authors, workshops, books, DVD's, etc.).  Our Guild has a lending library where I can check out books/DVD's that I don't want to purchase or can't find in the public library. - I enjoy reading the posts on this forum.  I always learn SO much from everyone's comments, and I'm inspired by the photos of their projects. - When I'm frustrated, I stop sewing for a while.  Or pick another kind of project or craft to work on that's not so detailed.

    I've been sewing for a long, long time but probably just in the last 3-4 years have really focused on better fit.  I've still got a lot more to learn, but I'm enjoying the process.  You will too, just don't be too hard on yourself.

  8. loomchick | | #9

    In addition to everything mentioned, I would emphasize the need for pressing while sewing . . . in general, sew a seam and press it.  Pressing is so critical to a great looking garment and it seems seriously undervalued.

    Without seeing what you've sewn, it's difficult to respond what you should be doing differently.  You may not be getting a great fit, you may be choosing fabric that isn't the best choice for the garment, the pattern pieces may be cut slightly off, etc.  In other words, the sewing may be fine . . . it may be something else that's affecting the end result.

    You may learn what to do better by taking a couple of your garments to a sewing instructor (and one that specializes in garment construction techniques!) for their feedback.

  9. piggyannie | | #10


    I can assure that to be an excellent dressmaker, you need to be a perfectionist.  I am a perfectionist as well, and I understand very well the frustration that you feel.  However, if I wasn't studying and taking private sewing lessons from a teacher, I would have not been able to accomplish the kind of things that I wanted to make.  Also, another way I often encourage myself is to use good and beautiful fabrics. But only do it if your budget allows.  It is precisely this reason that I always tell myself that because it is a piece of expensive fabric, I need to do a good job on it, and I need to finish it.  And once I finish it, I have a piece of garment that will be worn for a long, long time.

    Sewing books are also helpful, but having a teacher is even better.  They are able to examine the garment and pinpoint exactly where the problem is.  At the same time, you will also learn additional skills.

  10. sewelegant | | #11

    You say you cannot wear what you sew in public... so, is the problem that you don't feel in control when you sew?  That, maybe your seams are wacky?  A key to a garment looking good is making sure you keep that 5/8 inch seam and match the pieces properly.  I find all the responses to your note interesting and helpful and I can remember when I was learning stages (in high school) my work left a lot to be desired, but I wore what I made and no one was critical, in fact I enjoyed others being envious of what I could do!  I never attempted anything hard until I read everything I could get my hands on about sewing, probably because I loved it.  Back in the 60's the Bishop method was the rage (I found it stuffy and impossible)  Then I bought the current issue of Vogue sewing and it was my bible for a long time.  But the real boon was the birth of Stretch and Sew!  Now, everything seemed to look good.  It didn't matter how wide or uneven my seams were.  Which brings me back to my original thought... no control.  I learned to watch the edge of my fabric instead of the stitching line as I sewed.  And... I pinned a lot!  If that wasn't enough, I basted... does that sound like a perfectionist?  It helped me a great deal to watch sewing shows on TV like Nancy Zieman and Sandra Betzina.  They came along when I was trying to make more complicated things like jackets, blouses, etc.  The hardest challenge for me was a set in sleeve and today I can't believe just how easy it really is (and the directions are right there in the pattern sheet).  Even today, after 50 years of sewing, if I am having difficulty, I find the lightbulb going off if I study the directions very closely.

    My 8 year old granddaughter was just visiting a couple weeks ago and we (I) sewed up a skirt with flounces.  The fabric was a flimsy rayon.  If I hadn't watched Susan Kalje (sp) demonstrate how to hem delicate slippery fabric, I couldn't have done it.  I keep a notebook and when I see a technique that is new to me I write it down so I can refer to it.  It's hard to remember all the details when you need them.  I was glad I had written it down.  I spent a  lot of time ripping and starting over.  Even though some of the stitching was "off" I let it go thinking who would know?  It turned out so cute I think I am ready to sew up some more ruffly rayon things. 

    1. Ritzy | | #14

      Set-in sleeves give away the appearance of "homemade". I never had this problem years ago, but then I guess I sewed more knit fabrics.

      Since I live in a rural area, I have no one to "help" me. I'm on my own. I do own SB's "Power Sewing" but find it difficult to follow. Feel like she's all over the place. Just my opinion.

  11. moira | | #12

    I was amused reading about perfectionism. Yesterday I had a client in for a fitting and although, while with the client, I sounded as though I was going to 'fix' a couple of fitting problems, in my head I was planning to visit the fabric shop where I knew she had bought her fabric, and buy a whole new piece and start again. Which I did in the afternoon, and then sewed from 8.00 last night till 4.45 a.m. to get it done for today. This morning the fitting went so well and it fitted beautifully, and I thought how worth it it had been. Of course the client will neither know about nor pay for any of that, but I have satisfaction. My motto at the minute is 'You're only as good as your last job'.Ironically, at the shop the lady beside me was wishing she could find a dressmaker to remake something very badly constructed by another. Guess who offered her services?!

    1. fabricholic | | #20

      Hi Moira,Hooray for you! I know you are eating the cost, but if you sent it out and you weren't happy with it, it would probably always bug you. You want your work to show quality and that is just what she received. Some people don't even care about their workmanship.Marcy

    2. dressed2atee | | #21

      Kudos to you...I've done that a time or 2!

  12. DONNAKAYE | | #15

    Okay, I'm going to throw my hat in the ring (again)!  Ready?

    Whenever I hear this lament, and I do hear it often on this and other forums, I am reminded of the difference between "learning to make a garment" (i.e., a "project") and "learning to sew" (an "education").  One does not learn to sew by making a garment; quite the contrary.  The learning process is like any other: one does not solve a trigenometry problem before solving a simple algebraic equation.  We often forget that sewing is -- or at least should be, in an ideal world -- a stepwise progression of LEARNINGS, not a sequence of WARDROBE ITEMS.  The learnings -- what the Bishop Method calls, among other things, the "sequence of learnings" -- absolutely must precede the project.  Students these days are very project-oriented and really don't want to sit through a four- or six-week class of foundation skills.  And that is what they are -- skills -- acquired through practice and experimentation.

    When mom and I taught Professional Beginnings sewing classes in the Bishop Method (the old "Basic 100" course), I can tell you that the biggest hurdle was not teaching students how to make a garment but teaching students how to sew.  They would come into class convinced that they should walk out with a Donna Karan (or Claire Shaffer!) couture garment that fit in every detail.  Sewing education is a PROGRESSION of learnings, each teaching built on the teaching before it.  For example, class sequences (in the old glory days of sewing classes with 30 to 40 students) went something like this, with some variations:  Basic 100 (later "Professional Beginnings"), which taught torn projects and grain awareness, fabric handling, cutting and constructing a simple garment such as a straight skirt with zipper and waistband and "simple" top with gathered cuffs, set-in sleeves and neckline facing with or without collar; Basic Dressmaking, which included the fitted bodice and skirt, i.e., the one-piece "little black dress," to acquire your master pattern; Shirts, with and without neckbands, or with the "regulation" collar and fold-back facing, front band, and cuff treatments; Pants, including fitting; Fitting, which overlapped some of the other teachings related to fitting but which focused strictly on fitting problems; Advanced Dressmaking, with shawl collars, gussets, designer details, etc.; and Couture, which is similar to Advanced Dressmaking but focused more on understructure and design; and, finally, Line and Design, for desigining your own wardrobe from your basic master patterns, the crown jewel which combined all previously acquired skills and knowledge of the art.

    Now, we would not expect a fifth-grader to have the skills necessary to run a Fortune 500 company, so why do we expect ourselves to sew and fit perfectly when perhaps our foundation in learnings has been lacking somewhere or other?

    Once mom and I could convince students that they needed to sit still for the first four to six weeks of their "basic education," they realized how few well-developed sewing "skills" they actually had.  I saw another posting recently from a poor young lady who lamented that all her clothes looked homemade and asking how she could get a better result for her efforts.  Believe me, there are so many people who share her frustration.  It is a lifelong STEPWISE progression of learnings that leads one to master the SKILL of creating a three-dimensional garment from a one-dimensional piece of fabric, and it's not to be gotten overnight.

    My simple advice, for what it's worth?  Change your whole mindset.  Set out on your path with the idea of learning to acquire good sewing skills rather than setting a goal of making a good-looking garment, and the good-looking garment will soon follow....

    Love all of you and hope I haven't been too "chatty" once again!

    1. GladysK | | #25

      That was a really helpful and realistic response.  I agree with you completely.  I just don't know where you can take classes like that anymore.  But, I'm grateful for your insight.  GladysK


      1. Lynnelle | | #26


        I realized my challenges in sewing were made all the more difficult because of my negative attitude.  If I thought something wasn't going to turn out right, it didn't.  If you sense failure, then don't be surprised when you fail.  You knew it was going to happen!

        Before you can attempt anything, reassess your attitude and your thoughts.  I can certianly relate and share your frustration.  I have envisioned many wonderful garments and sewed them up only to be disappointed.  It was at this point that I had to make a choice:  either give up and say that it will never happen, or put it aside for a moment (as someone else suggested) and come back to it later.  I chose the second option.

        I mentioned the challenges of a skirt I made a month or two ago.  Boy, everything that could go wrong, went wrong!  I didn't have mistakes.  I had learning experiences.  My second attempt at the same pattern turned out faaar better.  It still has areas that need attention - but it was 100 times better than the first because I didn't give up on it.  I intend to make at least three more of the same pattern.  And when I do, rest assured that they will increase in their professional look as will my skill at constructing them.

        Give yourself some time to have learning experiences.  How else will you learn?

        1. SewNancy | | #46

          I used to let my perfectionism stall my sewing. No more. I take heart in Sandra Betzina's advice, that if you can't see the mistake from normal viewing distance no one else will see it either. Participating in this discussion group and the one at Pattern Review has also helped my sewing enormously, because now when I have a problem I can ask for help from a huge community of sewers.
          My daughter also complements me when she asks if I made whatever it is that I am wearing, why does she know I made it? It fits.
          The more I sew the better I get. If I didn't sew past the mistakes I'd never get to be a better sewer. The more I sew the better I like what I sew.

          1. celkalee | | #47

            so true Sewnancy. I do tend to fret over things, but also learned that "unsewing" and resewing have taught me much. I have taken a couple Sandra Betzina classes, she is amazing. The first one I took where she stripped down to a black leotard and stockings blew me away!  Again, the more you do the better your skills will be. I am also somewhat impatient and have to make sure that I set myself on a lower speed so that I don't make mistakes related to rushing! These forums always provide support and challenges. What did we do before the internet??? 

      2. jtsadler | | #31

        You can get videos from Sewing With With Nancy that are helpful, but there is still nothing like hands on help.  Usually people who sell machines have classes.  Community Extension Services in your county have sewing classes sometimes.  Also, people who sell fabric sometimes have classes.

        Good Luck in your search.

        Edited 8/31/2007 6:12 pm ET by jtsadler

    2. stitchintime | | #33

      Bravo! I couldn't agree with you more. You and Mom should write a sewing book (or at least a few articles). 

      We've been so brainwashed that sewing is "easy". Like weight loss..."easy". Advertisers have swept the word "practice" under the rug where no one can see it anymore and replaced it with "easy". Sewing is enjoyable as is playing a musical instrument or mountain climbing or any other hobby but you have to learn how first and then you have to practice, practice, practice. 

      1. jjgg | | #39

        This is why I teach an advanced sewing class that is advertised as "no shortcuts" and "not quick and easy"

    3. celkalee | | #44

      I am thoroughly enjoying the "perfectionistic" thread. I have been sewing for longer than I should ever admit. I self-taught on  my Grandmother's 1890's treadle machine. I used to "borrow" bedsheets from my Mother's clothesline, cut them up and make summer shorts and tops. Everything was white (white sheets wouldn't you know!) with contrasting thread top-stitching. At that time she had red, black and blue thread....so you can just picture that! I was 9 years old.  The topstitching was really not bad now that I think back, but there began the perfectionistic trait. I never have and will not apologize for that. I have had many machines since then. Loved them all. I have many unfinished and in-progress projects almost all the time. I also have a quilting passion. Seeking to perfect one's skills at any level should be encouraged. Formal education in basic sewing skills is also the best way to build on one's knowledge. If it were possible to apply patrern to fabric and come out couture....someone would be very, very rich indeed!!!

  13. GailAnn | | #16

    Haven't you ever bought (and paid a fine price) clothing, only to later discover the zipper doesn't meet at the top and forms an ugly little pouch?  Haven't you seen plaids that don't match ANYWHERE?  Sleeves too long or too short? Hems uneven?

    Come on, Ritzy, I know you can do better yourself!  Gail

    1. Ralphetta | | #22

      My neighbor told me one time that her daughter said  her music teacher complemented her on the new dress her mother had made and said she knew her mother made it ..because the plaid matched!

  14. dressed2atee | | #17

    I find those easy patterns crappy!  Try using a Vogue or Butterick, they may have more pieces and details, but you get a better fitting/looking garment.

    Read the books mentioned and measure yourself and the pattern.  I also use the measurements listed on the pattern pieces as well.  Remember patterns are for A or B cup so that presents another whole set of issues.

    My latest discovery has been Wildginger pattern making software, it is wonderful.  You put in numerous measurements and then you design a pattern that is made to your shape!  You make a sloper first and when you get that right, all of your other patterns should turn out great.

    http://www.wildginger.com  check it out! 

    I have been sewing for over 30 years and it is the best tool I have found for fitting issues by far.  Reading about pattern drafting is also helpful in understanding the concept fitting too.

    Don't give up, happy sewing...


    1. DONNAKAYE | | #19

      I am currently checking in to the Wild Ginger Cameo software (the "top of the line").  I've heard good things about it, most especially from people whom I would consider experienced stitchers.  Can we start a new thread posting on the Wild Ginger software so we can chat about it at length?

      1. dressed2atee | | #23

        there's already a forum on wildginger...but I don't see why we can't start one hear too!

  15. user-51823 | | #18

    oh, yes this is a self-help group!
    i am only now, at age 51, learning to be realistic about my sewing stash and my expections of myself in general. better now than never.
    ease up on yourself (easier said than done, but it's possible)

  16. jtsadler | | #24

    I have been sewing for 40+ years.  Over that time I have learned one thing about sewing and about life.  You learn from your mistakes.  Yes, I hate to make them, but I know "I will never do that again."  Sewing is suppose to be fun and creative.  I do find sewing for others is easier than sewing for myself.   If that is the wrose that happens to you toady, you have it made.  :)

  17. KathleenFasanella | | #27

    [I post a message like this every six months or so on the variety of sewing boards out there]I intend no offense but I don't know why home sewers set these standards for themselves. Professionals don't do this. No designer on the planet does this. Rather, they'll have a pattern recut and a sample made over and over until they're happy. While costly, it is not unusual to have one design made five or six times. Keep in mind this is all their staffs do, all day long for years. They're not working in sewing time btwn caring for their families or a full time job, scraping spare moments on weekends and evenings. This IS their full time job. So, if it takes professionals several tries to get it right, why oh why, do lovers of the craft set such unrealistic expectations for themselves? If we're failing four or five times ourselves before we get a good result, why do you think you're a failure if you don't get it right on the first try? Why are people so mean to themselves? Perfectionism doesn't mean getting it right the first time. It means doing it over and over until you do.

    1. DeeOh | | #28

      Wow!!!! You are so right. Thanks for the attitude check.

    2. User avater
      Becky-book | | #29

      Doing it over and over and over.......
      and then I got a few of my patterns "right"; then meno-p hit and the figure "went south" . So I get to start over again!!
      Thanks for the reality check!Becky

    3. stitchintime | | #34

      You have so much to teach us. Sure you don't want to write a book for home sewers?

      1. KathleenFasanella | | #38

        I will be writing one and you're certainly welcome to get it but it won't be geared for home sewers. As much as I love all of you, there's much to unteach first and I'm not up on what's currently popular and who all has said what in order to address it. My experience has been that people read the tutorials (there's tutorials on my site now) and ask how to mesh that with incongruencies they've learned elsewhere without actually trying it first. That never works. The way I see it is if other book authors can't make their way work for you, I'm even less able to do so. All I can do is show quantifiable engineering processes -starting at the drafting level- rather than relying on heuristics or anecdotal iterations handy as those can be. Iow, it's not a situation of opinion or "whatever works best for you". I know it's said we do a lot of short cuts but I don't think that's true (contextual examples please). We do a lot of extra work at the outset which saves sewing time later on. A lot of people want the easy stuff, the short cuts at the end without the extra work at the beginning. I know that's a crass broad generalization but I'm not talking about the kind of dedicated people who hang out here. Soon, I'll be launching another blog (by subscription only) where I'll be testing material for the book. I won't be able to post that here as it amounts to advertising.

  18. Tortus2 | | #48


    I have been feeling exactly the same.  I did not know that anyone else felt the way I do.  I need so many things to wear and have a lot of material that I am suppose to sew, but can't get started!  I understand exactly!


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