big sewing fails and how to avoid (some of) them
Crafty lady Ashlynne McGhee shares a few common mistakes beginner sewists can look out for.
So, there I was, feeling smug as can be. For the first time, I have a dedicated sewing space in my house – not my kitchen table. I’m part way through sewing a self-drafted number that I’ve managed to really over-complicate, but it’s looking amazing. As it’s gliding through my machine, my mind is skipping through all the bits of advice I’ll proffer for this column: big sewing fails and how to avoid them. And I’m smiling to myself, because it’s all in the past tense. And then. Of course. You know. What happens. Next.
I trim the thread after ‘sewing’ this very long and tricky seam that I really should have pinned and pressed (more on that later) and pull it out to admire my work (and feel a bit more smug) – but alas, I’ve failed to sew a single stitch. My bobbin has run empty in the first few stitches and I’ve been punching holes (the sewing equivalent of firing blanks) ever since.SEWING FAIL NUMBER ONE: NOT ACTUALLY SEWING. D’OH It’s easy to focus so intently on what you’re feeding into the sewing foot that you forget to check what’s coming out the back. You know, an actual line of sewing. Even if you’re a step ahead of me and do master that line of sewing, it’s good to check it’s not wonky or looping, which could mean you need to adjust your tension, stitch length or width.
SEWING FAIL TWO: THE SLOW UNPICK So now you’ve discovered that dodgy line of stitching, it’s time to unpick and try again. There’s a very small corner of the internet dedicated to seam ripper “jokes” and, yes, it is very frustrating having to stop and hit CTRL Z on your hard work, but it’s also inevitable. After years of persisting with a $2 slow unpick, I doubled my budget to $4 and bam! Quick unpick ma’am! You should see how quick I unpick those seams now.
SEWING FAIL THREE: PICKING THE WRONG FABRIC As I warned in my last column, I’m a bit of an overly ambitious can-doer. I once thought it was a good idea to make a stretchy 3/4 tee in a stiff, silver jacquard with no stretch. It was not a good idea. I looked like an astronaut at a kids’ fancy dress party stuffed into a compression chamber. It was unsalvageable. The lesson here is to follow the fabric advice on the pattern; they know what they’re talking about!
Don’t mix up your wovens (mostly non-stretch) with your knits (stretch). Think about patterns and whether you can be bothered matching them, and, if your fabric is sheer or lacey, whether you can be bothered with lining. Think about natural or synthetic fibres because it can get sweaty in there! Think about how the fabric drapes and any volume you want; I’m a bit obsessed with the soft volume of double gauze for the dreamy sleeves on the McCall’s 7969 pattern.
SEWING FAIL FOUR: FORGETTING TO PRE-WASH YOUR FABRIC All fabrics shrink, so before you cut, before you caress, before you put a needle anywhere near it, whack it in your washing machine and maybe even your dryer. Yes, it delays your project by a few hours or maybe a day, but also, your garment will still fit you after its first real wash, so it’s a win, right?
SEWING FAIL FIVE: NOT CHANGING YOUR NEEDLE For a while there (OK, years) I thought needles were just like scissors and stayed sharp. They absolutely don’t. I learned the hard way on a MN Darling Ranges dress when I finally checked my line of stitching (way too late, refer to fail one) and found it pocked with green spots from the binding that the blunt needle had pulled through. Ew.Change your needle every project, and use the right type of needle; a small ball point for knits and delicates; a big whopper for denims.
SEWING FAIL SIX: FAILING TO PRESS Press. Every. Seam. Always. And. Forever. Not in one big hit at the end, but as you sew. Sometimes before you sew. No one likes a soft seam.
THE BIGGEST FAIL OF ALL? FOLLOWING ALL THE RULES So that overly complicated self-drafted number I mentioned at the start? I failed to sew seams. I swore at my quick unpick for not being quick enough. I picked a sheer fabric that had to be lined. I picked a fine fabric that frays easily. I accidentally sun-bleached the lining while it was out drying.
To borrow from Paul Kelly, “I did all the dumb things!” But to completely bastardise the great man this time, “from little fails, big things grow” and there’s just no better way to learn.
Look how my dress turned out!Until next time, you’ll find me feeling smug over here on my Instagram @sewinthewild.