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Conversational Threads

What makes homemade look homemade?

GailAnn | Posted in Feedback on Threads on

The first answer in the Biggest Sewing Fear thread was that her garments would look “homemade”?

Another writer wondered why so many of the Photographs in Threads magazine looked “homemade”.

The pat and standard answer is failure to press as we sew.  I don’t think that is the whole story, but what is?

Obviously none of us relish the homemade look, so maybe if we can identify what that is, it would help to avoid it.



  1. Cherlyn | | #1

    I have found that using all my tools appropriately makes a big difference in the finished look of the garment.  I love to use a good fabric and quality threads and interfacings.  I'm picky about buttons on some things but not everything.  Just depends on the purpose of the garment.  Details get more attention for things I wear to work, to church, out on a date with my husband,.....  If its a garment for around the house, then I'm not so picky. 

    I have learned more from designer patterns and from various books and articles that I have collected over the years.  I've become more daring over the years in order to challenge my talent.  Otherwise, I would be bored. 

  2. damascusannie | | #2

    The things that scream "homemade" to me are often those little finishing details like top-stitching, hems, buttonholes, etc. A badly done hem or poorly executed topstitching can undo all the good work done in constructing a garment. It was mentioned that the jeans on the cover a few issues back looked homemade, and so they did. It doesn't take much extra time to properly place a belt loop, but if you don't take that time, it doesn't really matter what you did before. That one belt loop will ruin the look of the finished product.

    The best compliment I can get on an outfit is, "You MADE that? I don't believe it!"

    1. katina | | #6

      Hello Annie

      This is probably the wrong place to post this, but I wonder if you could help me, as you work with treadle machines. Last year I wrote about needing to get a handcrank machine for an Albanian family. We had a good discussion here on Threads, but I still have neither the machine nor a treadle. Do you know of any manufacturer who makes NEW handcranks? There are many countries where there is little or no electricity available - surely someone makes handcranks? If I can get a machine for the family to start learning on, I can keep searching for a treadle.

      Thanks - Katina

      1. damascusannie | | #7

        There are new handcrank machines being made in Asia, but I have no idea how to get hold of one. The mechanisms are readily available and can easily be mounted on any old Singer machine that has a spoked handwheel and a raise boss for attaching a motor bracket. I don't remember if we discussed where you live. I have friends all over the country and it's very possible that I could put you in touch with someone reasonably close to you who could help you out.

        1. katina | | #8

          Annie, thanks so much for your help. I'm in Austria at the moment. I guess I could easily find such a machine when next I'm in US, but carrying it back on the 'plane...hassle!


          1. damascusannie | | #9

            Katina--handcranks are COMMON in Europe, way more common than they are here in the U.S.--have you tried looking around the antique shops, secondhand stores, etc in Austria for one?

          2. katina | | #10

            Thanks, Annie - yes, but no joy. It's quite weird actually. Could it be a function of the particular area, I wonder? Maybe people upgraded a good while back and the handcranks are just not around any more. I'm going to make a very serious effort to look, ask people and so on.

            Appreciate your help.


          3. damascusannie | | #11

            Any chance you'll be crossing the channel to England, they are still easy to find there by all accounts and I have collector friends there that would be able to advise you.

          4. katina | | #15

            Yes! What a grand idea - I can surely do that. Thanks so much, Annie, you're a great help.


      2. GailAnn | | #12

        Did you know that Lehmann's catalog, which caters to Plain people, offers a conversion from electric to treadle?  Gail

        1. damascusannie | | #13

          Oh, don't go with the Lehman's kit--it's grossly over priced when compared to a vintage treadle machine. I do electric to handcrank and electric to treadle conversions all the time, for a fraction of what it costs for this set-up. Katina's biggest problem is getting the machine to her recipient. They are bulky and heavy and it's expensive. If she can find something in Europe, she'd literally save at least $100 shipping for a handcrank, closer to $300 shipping for a full treadle.

          1. GailAnn | | #14

            Good to know that.  Gail

          2. katina | | #16

            I tell you, ladies - it's a whole saga in itself where these good people live. And they are SUCH good people. The youngest daughter in law is pregnant with her first child - she knows how to use an electric machine as she was taught at school in Tirana. I must get a machine to them ASAP - desperately needed. We bought them a generator last year - it's so difficult for them in the winter when the snow is thick on the ground and people are ill; the women are alone.  A generator provides light in these situations, but is still very expensive to run - gasoline - so is minimally used. It certainly can't be spared to run a sewing machine. The father of the family - a migrant worker - fell to his knees and wept when we gave it to him, kissing our hands. I wept too. I am determined to get this machine! Just a good solid model, straight stitch is plenty - they all do exquisite handwork.

            Thanks for your concern.


          3. damascusannie | | #17

            I can definitely put you in touch with some collector/users in England. Just say the word. Feel free to e-mail me privately if you wish: [email protected].

          4. katina | | #18

            Annie, thank you very much. I'll contact you soon.


  3. BernaWeaves | | #3

    1.  I agree!  Press as you sew is number one.  Unpressed seams scream homemade.

    2.  Fitting the pattern and making adjustments BEFORE you make the garment.  I'm always amazed to read the number of people who just follow the pattern and then try to fix the finished garment after the fact.  The time to make adjustments is before you ever cut out the fabric.

    3.  Finishing!  I had an aunt who sewed beautifully, but then left all the thread tails hanging everywhere.  My mother always trimmed everything beautifully and hand sewed hems and hand tacked facings down so they stayed in place.

    4.  Inappropriate fabric choices for the pattern also scream homemade, and too much embroidery just because your machine will do it.


    1. User avater
      ThreadKoe | | #4

      Homemade is not using interfacing in anything because it is a pain to use.

    2. User avater
      maer | | #29

      I agree with your number one comment - Press as you sew! It just adds a professional touch to every creation.

  4. AmberE | | #5

    Hi GailAnn: I mentioned in a reply to another reader that most of the garments in Threads, such as the jeans, are created by our authors, because they can best exemplify the techniques. It sounds like you know how to sew beautifully---when are you going to write and article and the create the garments that go with it for Threads? I'm sure that readers would greatly benefit from your experience and expertise! :-)

    1. rodezzy | | #19

      That sounds like a great idea.

    2. denimmaven | | #20


      The reason the jeans look home made is their lack of professional laundry.  I am a denim expert with over ten years of industry experience around the world.  The jeans that were featured on the cover mentioned were actually very well made and really the starting point for turning them into a great pair of jeans.  They lacked the final process of aging that can either make or break a jean.  It is not something that is easily achieved at home no matter how much sand paper you use.  We simply do not have access to the chemicals or stones in order to achieve the looks of jeans at retail.   Its the main reason I don't make my own jeans.

      1. AmberE | | #22

        That's interesting---I actually like both pairs of jeans myself, with the unusual belt loops, cut, etc. And lots of other people my age and younger did as well. Very interesting to know about the breaking process---I know that's what sets the $200 jeans apart from the $30 jeans.

        1. denimmaven | | #25

          Hi Amber,

          I thought the jeans looked great as well.  I have always been a big fan of Sandra Betzina and her tips in this article are great.  I think they will make great jeans, I just personally won't be doing them in denim.  Twill or canvas are always great options.

          1. AmberE | | #26

            Yes, the colored denim is likely a fashion trend that will last about one minute this spring and then be out, but I could be wrong

      2. User avater
        ThreadKoe | | #23

        When I sold denim in the shop, I was instructed to tell the customer to wash and dry the fabric in a hot wash, cold rinse, hot dryer at least 5 times before they even think about cutting and sewing a garment.  This was in days before lycra anyways.  For the home sewer, what is the best pretreatment for denim now?.  Not all denim on the shelf is pretreated.  some of it is still sold in it's original form, esp in discount places where I'm sure it is cut ends from manufacturers.

        1. denimmaven | | #24

          HI ThreadKoe,

          If you want to sew with denim your prewash instructions are good for raw denim.  Raw denim meaning untreated.  By washing in hot water you are not only removing the shrinkage but also the excess indigo dye that will get on everything as you start to work with it.  If you handle raw denim for even a small amount of time you will notice your hands turning blue!

          If you are using denim that has been pre washed it is still a good idea to wash it at least once before you start your project.  Denim has higher residual shrinkage then most fabrics and it never hurts to wash it again.

          Good luck with your projects!


          1. BernaWeaves | | #27

            Indigo is a vat dye.  It's very different from other dyes which color the fiber when soaked in the dye bath.  Indigo requires the fabric to be removed from the dye bath and aired, so that oxygen in the air turns the fabric from yellow pee color to indigo blue.  Repeated dippings and airings make the blue darker. 

            Once the fabric is dry the indigo dye will "crock off" on anything it rubs against.  The way to prevent this is to paint the fabric with soy milk, then let it dry for 3 to 6 months (one month at the least).  Then wash it.  Then you won't have the blue crock off on you ever again.  When I'm dying indigo fabric, I usually dye it, dry it, paint it with soy milk, dry it, and then just put it away for 3 or more months.  I write on the calendar 3 months in the future to remind me when to go get the fabric and wash it and do something with it.

            You don't have to buy expensive soy milk in cartons.  Just buy dry soybeans, soak then in water, grind them in a blender, and then strain the "milk" through a strainer (pantyhose works great for this).  You can even resoak the ground soybeans for a second run through the strainer.


          2. denimmaven | | #28

            The indigo dye process has always been one of my favorite parts of denim because it is so unique.  I did not know about the soy milk bath for stabalizing the crocking.  Great information.  Thank you for passing along!

          3. katina | | #30

            Fascinating info on indigo dye, Berna. Thanks. Makes me eager to read the history of the process(es) How on earth were these techniques discovered, one wonders.


          4. jjgg | | #31

            Can I copy your post to another list? We were recently talking about denim and indigo dye, no one mentioned about soy milk.

          5. BernaWeaves | | #32

            Sure.  I got the soymilk trick from 2 different fiber artists.  John Marshall, who does amazing Japanese style clothing and stencil dyeing; and Judy Dominick, who uses the technique for mud dyeing.


            Thanks, Berna

          6. jjgg | | #33

            Berna,Will this work for jeans we've bought - dark ones that we want to keep dark? can we soak them in soy milk and then leave them for 3 months?Do you rinse out the soy milk after soaking it?

          7. BernaWeaves | | #34


            The soymilk technique does not keep the indigo from fading.  What it does is keep it from crocking.  Crocking is where the excess dye rubs off on everything.   If you remember way back about 40 years ago, you'd buy a pair of jeans and have to "break them in" yourself by washing them several times to keep them from turning  your legs blue.  Modern jeans are pre-finished now, even the dark ones don't crock off on you.

            When I do my own indigo dyeing, I use the soymilk to make sure the dye does not crock off.   I don't do it to my jeans.  As long as I don't wash my jeans with bleach or other rough garments that will rub them hard in the wash, I find they don't fade.  Indigo is hard to fade.  You really have to bleach the hell out of it to make it fade. 

            For the technique:  You paint the soymilk on.  Let it air dry.  Let it sit for 3 months,  and THEN wash it out.


  5. User avater
    JunkQueen | | #21

    I agree that pressing, or lack thereof, may be the number one thing that screams 'homemade'.

    Another thing is the lack of well-executed sewing techniques. For instance, points that are not pointy or that are bunched up on collars or lapels or cuffs. Or curves that are not curvey -- collars being the first thing that comes to mind. Ill-sewn zippers.

    Lack of detailing. Detailing like well-executed top stitching or tucks. Detailing like well-placed piping or cording or other trims. Poorly chosen buttons.

    Might I add, none of these things lend themselves to 'quick and easy', but they do add to pride of workmanship. Just as the proof of the pudding is in the taste, so is the proof of the sewing is in the result!

    One of my proudest memories as a young woman was wearing a pantsuit to a family gathering and having my eldest sister and my mother, both of whom were accomplished sewers, say to me, "you MADE that?"

  6. fryman | | #35

    I have found the following to be "giveaways" to garments made by the home sewer.Inferior fabric and not pre-shrinking the fabric.  Buttonholes not the same to eachother.  Patterns (print or lines) do not match up at sideseams.  Hem stitches are too tight and sleeves are poorly set in. 

    I feel that experience can work out a number of the above mentioned, esp., hemming and pattern layout on the fabric so that sideseams do matchup.  I suggest  buying the best appropriate fabric you can afford as it sews better.  Also, DO NOT use cheap thread as the stitches will reflect this inferiority. 

    Enjoy the activity of cutting, pinning, marking, fusing, "tweeking", sewing and wearing. 

    1. GailAnn | | #36

      I absolutely agree that it is impossible to make a superior garment with inferior fabric and notions!  The too tight hem, good call!  Gail

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