Top Sewing Issues for New Sewists
Sewing is new, it’s exciting, and we get a sense of accomplishment with each finished project. With this excitement, sometimes we tend to forget some basic sewing rules. Because we are having so much fun. That is ok as long as you don’t let it hinder your sewing.
The easiest way to end up not liking to sew is by having a few lousy sewing projects, and then when you feel defeated, you’re no longer having fun. I don’t want that for you, so I put a list together of some basic sewing mistakes and how to combat them!
I am going to go over some examples of issues that new sewists encounter. Hopefully, this list will help you in your sewing journey to not be afraid to jump in and sew. Make your mistakes and LEARN from them.
Choosing something too complicated for first projects
When starting down your sewing journey, make sure you are choosing projects that are within your wheelhouse—the fewer the sewing pieces, the less chance you have at becoming confused and upset. Start simple just like in school; your not able to do algebra before basic math, so don’t set yourself up to be defeated.
Start with straight line sewing projects with six pieces or less. Make at least three of the same project. You will be learning new techniques with each new project, so give yourself some practice space. Great starter projects are tote bags, pillows, pillowcases, business cardholders, tissue holders, coasters, simple bags.
Once you are confident with the straight line, projects slowly add in soft curves, etc. If you think of sewing as a skill and not a “hobby,” you will see that learning is as simple as it was in elementary school. Build your techniques and add on as your master them. The creative side of sewing is choosing your fabrics, trims, and textures, anyone can learn the skills to sew!
Not buying enough fabric for the project
This common issue, the material isn’t cheap, so we try to skate by with the least amount of material needed. We will not know how much a project will take because we haven’t learned enough about sewing to know how to calculate how much is required correctly. Having the experience of a few projects will help you understand how to add up how much you will need.
If you are not sure how much to buy, reach out to someone you know that sews to help or ask the person at the shop you buy your fabric. Make sure to have your project pattern or measurements for the project you want to sew.
I always tend to buy at least a half yard more than I need for any project. I mess up on cutting. Then I have some wiggle room. Also, if I don’t need it for the sewing project, I have a little bit to start my sewing stash. You can do a lot with a half yard of fabric.
Also, don’t forget about thrift stores! Bedsheets that are not super expensive have a lot of fabric and perfect for practicing. Use your best material on the second or third make of that project. The first time you do anything, you are going to be learning, and you don’t want to mess up expensive fabric.
Using the wrong fabric for the sew
The BIGGEST issue I see, using the right material and this is so important! Yes, that other fabric might be the best color or texture; if it is not on the instructions as a fabric you can use, don’t, you will thank me later. Especially if you are new to sewing, stick with the suggested material from the project.
All patterns will give you a fabric suggestion for the project. The more you sew with other types of fabrics, you will learn the little quirks of each kind. An excellent book for fabric references is Fabric A to Z by Dana Willard. This book is full of great information for the fabrics that are on the market. A great way to start understanding how diverse material is.
Choosing the wrong pattern size (garment sewing)
If you are sewing clothing, please please please take your measurements each time. Read the back of the pattern envelope and choose your sizing from your measurements. Pattern sizes (the big box stores McCalls, Simplicity, Burda, Vogue, etc.) are standardized. You should be the same size in each brand using your measurements. Indie patterns, you will need to find your size each time.
Most indie designers use their body measurements to make the pattern. Also, making a wearable muslin is a great way to know how the design will fit, also do an Instagram search using the hashtag of the pattern to see what others have made!
*PRO TIP* Sewing patterns are not sized like departments store clothing, just because your size X at XYZ does not mean you make that size when using a pattern. Also, most people do not fall into one size for the pattern, sewing garments is a bit harder than most, but once you understand how to grade and fit patterns, it’s so much easier. Experience comes with practice, so keep at it even if its a fail, you will still learn something!
Laying out the pattern pieces incorrectly
All patterns come with layout instructions, you can deviate from these instructions; however, if you are new to sewing, you will most likely want to follow. The reason is you will get the most out of your fabric if you follow the layout. That part of the pattern (especially in significant box patterns) is vital to how much material you will need!
As you make more and gain experience of pattern layouts, you can change it up to suit you, but if you want success every time, use the arrangement that they provide.
When cutting pattern pieces out, you want to try to be as precise as possible (especially garment sewing and quilting). There is some wiggle room when working with accessories and home decor, but mostly you want to try hard to follow as close to the pattern or adjusted/modified pattern as possible. If you are not great at cutting, find cutting practice sheets online and practice.
Using the wrong thread or needle or Infrequently changing your sewing machine needle
Using the correct sewing needle for your fabric and thread will help out a lot. There are different sizes and types of sewing needles to use. For instance, if you have a lightweight ITY Knit, you don’t want to use a size 16 denim needle. It will eat up your fabric. If you are not familiar with the different types or not sure what one to use for your material, again, Fabrics A to Z by Dana Willard would be an excellent book for your reference library as it breaks down that information for you.
You can also check out the different needle brands websites to learn about the needles and why to change them.
Sewing needles get dull. You need to change them every 5-8 hours of sewing. You can damage your fabric or even your machine if they are bent or broken. Another rule of thumb is if you are not sure when the last time your needle was changed, change it.
Not pre-washing your fabric
A biggie when making items that will need to be washed, like garments and bags. You want to pre-wash to remove the sizing from the fabric; this is a chemical that’s added to make the material stay nice and crisp while it sits on the shelf. Once it’s washed out, the fabric will shrink, and this will cause issues with any garments (too small after fitting great), and bags that have interfacing will get slightly “bumpy” due to the interfacing not shrinking, but the fabric did.
When quilting, you do not want to pre-wash your fabric, you want your fabric stiff for piecing, and then you will also get a sizeable wrinkly texture on your quilt after it’s all together, which is so lovely!
Using the wrong seam allowance or not using seam allowance at all
Seam allowance is so important in sewing. Seam allowance is the distance of fabric from the needle to the raw edge. It’s different for all projects. This added measurement is to make sure that all the pieces fit together and match up. Make sure to read your instructions before sewing to see what the allowance is for the specific project.
Mainly it goes, 5/8 inch for garments (sometimes 1/2 inch or 3/8th inch if using indie patterns).
1/2 inch for home decor and accessories.
And typically 1/4 inch for quilting.
Read through all of the instructions as the seam allowance is not always the same for every pattern. One tip is to highlight any change or different seam allowance during the construction. Sometimes the instructions will instruct you to sew something with a smaller or more significant seam allowance during the construction of a specific part.
At the end out if all
We have only touched on a few of the most common issues for new sewists. I know this is also A LOT of information. Please don’t get deterred on sewing and use this as a helpful guide to getting the best sew each time. There are rules in sewing and techniques that are too critical to sewing and need to be followed.
However, if you find a way that works for you and you get the same outcome, by all means, use your method.
You are supposed to have fun and enjoy sewing. I hope this helps you past some of those little issues that can make or break it for you.