Levelling Up – Thoughts on Pattern Difficulty Rat...

I listen to Love to Sew podcast religiously. As soon as it comes out and shows up in my podcast app, I am tuning in. I think both Helen and Caroline are very special ladies and I really enjoy their company in this podcast form. A few episodes ago, it may have been an episode with Heather Lou from Closet Case Patterns, the ladies mentioned pattern difficulty levels and touched on the idea of jumping into patterns that scare you and “just doing it”. This thought really resonated with me and over the next few weeks as I kept thinking about it, I decided that I want to put my two cents in and write a blog post on this topic.

I started sewing with Burda Magazine patterns. Growing up in Russia I was exposed to Burda as pretty much the only source of patterns and sewing inspiration. Flipping through the pages of Burda magazine was my favourite past time when I stayed at home sick. I started sewing as a teenager and by that time I was pretty familiar with technical drawings and the pattern difficulty rating system Burda uses.

For those unfamiliar with it, Burda magazine uses what I call a Circle System. The easiest pattern in Burda magazine is half a circle and the most difficult pattern is four circles. Pretty much anything under two circles is considered more or less easy. A two circle pattern is a bit more difficult and three circle is even more challenging. For example a skirt with a zipper would most often be rated as two circles and a coat pattern could be anywhere from three to four circles, depending on the design.

It must have been my mom who told me about the circles and I do not think she has ever explicitly said that if I want to learn how to sew well I need to start with easy patterns and progress to more difficult ones. But somehow I had this idea that if I am to become a good seamstress I simply must progress upward only and level up my sewing skills that way. I remember feeling that I almost need to pass some kind of exam or earn some kind of merit on a lower level before I can even think about trying the next level of difficulty. I didn’t know what that would entail exactly, but I anticipated that I will KNOW when it happens. Just like when you meet “the one”, I expected the skies to open up, a column of light to come down on me and sewing angels to start singing while accompanied by a melodic roar of sewing machines. This is when I knew I finally will be able to graduate from a half circle to a full circle pattern.

There were two problems with this. Not every issue of Burda magazine had even one half circle rated pattern, let alone two or three for me to continue honing my skills like a good little seamstress I was. If I was to follow this line of thinking and only practice patterns within “my level” I would most certainly mess up my fabric, waste everyone’s time by going above my level and spend the rest of my life living in a cardboard box under the bridge. I wasn’t sure whose time I would waste and which bridge would become my homestead, but I really didn’t want to risk finding out. The other problem was that super easy patterns were plain and quite frankly patterns classified as two circles seemed more fun. And I ogled three circle patterns like an awkward teenage boy checking out his crush but who is too afraid to make eye contact and say hello. No, I simply had to work my way up, the proper way. Who was I to challenge the system with my radical ideas? Sewing police would surely get me.

Then I did unspeakable. I skipped a level and went for a whole two an a half (!) circle rated pattern. I can hear you guys gasping as I type this. I know, if I ever become an outlaw, this is surely where my downfall has started. But did the sewing police come and arrest me? No. Did the sewing angels visit me with bobbins and scissor sharpeners? Nope, they didn’t. Did I waste anyone’s valuable time? No, not unless you count my time. And to be honest if my cardboard box under a bridge has a sewing space I would still be happy.

Folders upon folders of instructions to my Indie patterns…

So what happened? Well, I decided to trace a shirt pattern I chose for my first sewing offence onto white fabric with a black ink pen. A really old pen as well, but not the kind where it is so old it’s dry and therefore barely visible. But the kind where it has been used long enough so that the ink comes out thick and messy. I then went ahead and put this shirt together the best I could using what sometimes seems intentionally baffling instructions that Burda Patterns provide. I didn’t finish the shirt because I couldn’t figure out how to attach the collar. And halfway through assembling the shirt I realized the ink from the pen would never come out. Essentially what happened is I messed up. But I was so happy! Sure I would never wear the shirt out in public, but I learned things! Things that would take me long time to learn have I pursued my original course of actions of trying to gradually level up.

The thing is, there is no one looking over your shoulder, watching you sew, quietly evaluating your skills and marking it all down on your sewing report card. It doesn’t happen. If you are waiting for a sign from above that you can finally try a slightly more difficult pattern, guess what, it is not coming.

Life is not linear, neither is sewing. Would you expect yourself to only sew four circle patterns once you have those mad sewing skills? Well, you would have a lot of coats and wedding dresses and if that is your thing then go for it. I can only speak for myself here, and I tend to go all over the place with my sewing. One day I will make a super easy scarf or a shirt. Maybe a pair of underwear. Then the next day I will want to make a coat and then a bra, or maybe a swim suit. I wouldn’t want to limit myself to just one difficulty level of patterns. This would really limit my creativity and I want to let that baby soar.

Cascade Coat by Grainline in progress. Note Misha’s paws in top right corner. She really likes to help out.

I don’t think of pattern difficulty levels as such anymore. I think of them as general guidelines. Only a clue that will give me a couple pointers about a project before I start working on it. There are a few things that I consider without explicitly thinking about them. Is this a project that I need to make a muslin for? Do I need to only muslin part of the pattern? How long would this take me to make? Can I make it in a couple hours? A day? Should I break this project up in chunks? Do I need instructions? Do I need to read the instructions? Do I need to read the instructions before I actually start sewing? Is this a project I need to start in the morning when my mind is fresh? Or can I work on it after a day of work? Should I drink wine when I am working on this? Or would tea be preferable? Pattern difficulty level is not a barrier that is meant to keep you out until you prove yourself worthy of it. In my mind it is a guiding light that is meant to encourage you and help you figure out what you will need to succeed with this particular project.

So I urge you not to let self limiting beliefs discourage you from trying new and exciting patterns you’ve been eyeing that seem just a tad out of your comfort level. Go ahead and try them. Mess it up. Take online classes if that is your thing. See how others have done it. Learn new skills. Try again. Take this experience  with a light heart. After all in order to become great at something we need to fail at it first. We learn better and achieve a deeper level of understanding and appreciation when we struggle and mess up a few times. Because when you finally get it on your n-th try it will be worth it. And guess what, when you think you’ve finally got that hard pattern figured out and made “the perfect” thing, next time you make it it may be even better. Don’t wait until you think you can make something perfectly. Perfection is a kill joy and as someone once said “the pursuit of perfection often impedes improvement”. Let go of unnecessary self imposed limitations and let yourself and your sewing soar.





Update Post or Why is Anya MIA


Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you! I hope everyone has enjoyed holiday season and time with family and close friends. I can’t believe it is already 2018!

It’s been a long, long time since I visited my blog or even Instagram. The world hasn’t come to an end and people’s lives have continued on in my absence, and that is a great thing, although my ego may think overwise. Even though my absence probably has not been overly noticed, I do feel that an update is in order.

Keep reading “Update Post or Why is Anya MIA”

Me Made May and Updates

This post is a quick update on a couple things. First off, May is here!! Also known as Me Made May, and in our household it is also referred to as “Anya is late every day” May. I insist on taking photos in the morning, as I find I am the freshest and haven’t gotten grumpy yet. So I just come across nicer in pictures.

Last year was my first time taking part in Me Made May, a challenge ran by Zoe from So, Zo… What do you know? . I loved participating and I am really looking forward to this year! I enjoy seeing what others wear, what the go-to garments are and discovering new patterns. There is just so much inspiration in May!

I am not sure what my goals this year are, other than successfully take a photo of myself every day, which is a lot harder than I imagined. I do wear mostly me mades everyday so that part is covered, but I guess I will challenge myself to think of new outfits and try to find even more holes in my wardrobe. Here is my pledge for this May:

I, Anya from www.anna-zoe.net and @anna.zoe.sewing , sign up as a participant of Me-Made-May ’17. I will wear at least one me made garment every day for the duration of May, 2017. In doing so, I hope to find more go-to garments as well as challenge myself to create new outfit combinations.

On that note, I think an update on my No Buying Clothes for a Year Challenge is in order! As a reminder, last year I challenged myself not to buy any clothes for a year. Everything that I needed, I had to make myself. I was planning to provide monthly updates, but somewhere halfway through I stopped doing it.

First off, I think I succeeded in my challenge! I didn’t buy anything, except for a rain jacket. Which I don’t consider a failure, as I don’t want to make a technical garment like that, and I really needed one to walk the dogs on rainy days.

I think it was a great challenge for myself, I learned a lot and it definitely curbed my clothing spending habit. Here are some things that came out of it:

  • I no longer have an impulsive desire to buy clothes and I am a lot more picky when I do. All in all, I think I’ve only bought a few garments since the challenge has ended
  • I pay a lot more attention to the fit of the clothes, especially when I want to buy something. It made it a lot harder to shop, as I am not longer willing to forego little fitting issues (I am looking at you, short sleeves)
  • I also think that not everything needs to be made myself! This was a surprise to me. But the rain jacket is the prime example. The truth is I don’t want to make everything. I want to spend my time making garments I truly enjoy making, so I do not oppose buying things at all!
  • Having said that I want to try and be picky when I spend my money of clothing and I try to buy ethically made items when I can
  • I spent way too much money on shoes last year…. none of them were ethically made
  • I also spend way too much money on fabric. Way too much!
  • I became a lot more picky with my fabric choices. I used to buy just about anything that seemed right, now I am willing to spend more money on quality fabric, even if it means buying less
  • I wore a lot of ill-fitting pants until I got pant fitting down pat. Those were dark days of 2016
  • My sewing skills have really increased! By challenging myself not to buy clothes, I inadvertently challenged myself to make garments I otherwise wouldn’t or would avoid making because they seemed difficult

All in all, I think it was a great challenge and I am very happy I did it. And even though I don’t think that making everything I wear is for me, I do appreciate what I learned throughout past year. Majority of my wardrobe is me-made and I am proud of it!

To wrap it all up, I am super excited for this Me Made May! I can not wait to show you guys some items that I haven’t posted anywhere. My closet and I are ready! And I can’t wait to spend my nights scrolling through the day’s photos of other makers.

Until next time,


The Seamstress Tag

I was tagged with The Seamtress Tag by Jenny from Ms. Jenny Homemaker. I first read about the tag on Sarah’s blog Sew Sarah Smith and I loved the idea. Sarah even asked me to write on it but I got busy with renos and successfully forgot about…

I think the tag is a great way to get to know your sewing friends a little better and bring the sewing community closer together. So without further ado, here are my answers to the 12 questions.

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Fall Sewing Planning

Hello! It has been a while… The end of summer has been extremely busy and with the start of September I sort of fell off the blogging train. I was still making things, but finding time to write about them was harder. Then we went on our trip to Georgia to celebrate my cousin’s wedding, and all hell broke loose and I gave up on social media almost completely. I do have to say that I enjoyed this little break and the time with my family. I feel refreshed and I am ready to jump back in. And what a perfect time it is! I find the change of seasons very exciting and it almost always boost my sew-jo as I start thinking about new fabrics, looks and garments.

Keep reading “Fall Sewing Planning”