It’s perfectly normal to sew swimsuits in the dead of winter, right? Apparently, it is for me. I jumped right into learning how to make swimwear in early 2018 and I have since learned it is addictive. Once I messed up a few swimsuits, which is to be expected anytime you learn a new skill, and eventually started to feel confident with the new techniques, I wanted to make ALL the swimwear. I don’t even care that I rarely go on beach vacations. I would just keep all those pretty swimsuits in my drawer and look at them when I feel sad and need a little pick me up.
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.
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.
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.
I was so excited to make this coat that I put it together in one day. I don’t know how I did it and if this phenomenon can ever be repeated again, but one thing is certain – it was a very, very long day. I stayed up late and drank too much wine, but I finished the coat. In hindsight, I don’t think drinking copious amounts of wine was beneficial for my sewing, although I’m thankful that the fur hides mistakes. The wine really helped me with seeing the project through to the end. See, when I first put the coat together, sleeves, collar and all, just enough to try it on for the first time, I didn’t know how to react. The statement fur I used coupled together with my quite haggard appearance at that time of the night made for a very interesting look. My first reaction was “OMG. I made a pimp coat”, to which Shaun promptly replied “Well, looking like you do right now, you come across more as someone working for a pimp…” Needless to say, I threw the leftover fur, fuzz and all, in his direction. Keep reading “Me So Fancy – Faux Fur Coat”→
Hello! I am popping in today with a quick note that I wrote a blog post about history of stripes over on Sewcialists blog today. I had no clue that striped clothing had such a rich history behind it until I started reading Devil’s Cloth by Michel Pastoureau. Did you know that stripes have been associated with societal outcasts throughout centuries? Neither did I! So, if you are interested to find out more, head on over to Sewcialists and let me know what you think of stripes.
January is that time of the year for me. The time when my lingerie drawer starts to inevitably falter. I noticed this last year and I am noticing it again this year. It could be that the colder weather calls for thicker knits that just cuddle me up in a warm cozy hug and somehow make me think of luxurious lace I could be wearing underneath. You know, a fabric juxtaposition of sorts, or something like that. There also could be a much simpler and banal explanation to this sudden lingerie craving phenomenon – without many new additions throughout the year my everyday lingerie is simply worn out and I am in dire need of new pieces. Whichever reason it is, I still greatly enjoy this time when I am eager to explore new to me patterns, fiddle with the fit and think of new combinations of lace and findings colours.
Look, my coatigan is making another appearance! Well actually, this blog post is all about those pants you can barely see in this photo. I have been cautiously considering the cropped wide pants trend since last spring. I did not think it was for me though. It seemed too fashion forward and I didn’t know if I could pull it off. Well, this Fall I decided I need to give the cropped wide pants a try. I wanted a them to be quick to put together and easy to wear, just in case I didn’t like the style on me. And what better pattern to use than True Bias’ Emerson Pants?