The learning curve for sewing can seem steep at times, especially when you're just getting started. There's so much to know, so many tips and tricks and variations, that it can feel overwhelming. But by breaking it down and mastering skills as you go, you can take your sewing from basic to professional. Here's how to get started!
1. Take a Class
You don't need to graduate from fashion design school, but don't underestimate the value of a class or two. Even private lessons from an experienced seamstress in your area can have a huge impact on your sewing ability. This is especially true if you work on clothing, because fitting tips and tricks are quite difficult to learn from a tutorial or reference book.
When selecting a class, choose something that's at the appropriate level for your current skills—you want a challenge, but not something that's going to be too frustrating. Check with local colleges to see if they offer classes you can observe, or sewing stores that offer instruction of their own. In a pinch, you can try online classes, though, whenever possible, try to be in the same room as your instructors.
2. Learn from the Pros
You'd be shocked by how much you can learn by taking apart well-made garments, or even just looking at how they're made. The next time you go clothes shopping, look for the little details that make for a professional finish, like types of linings, placement of boning, interfacing, and padding, and decorative finishes. Take a look at the clothes in your closet that fit you best and work out what makes them so flattering. Just be sure that you're modeling your own work on high-quality garments!
3. Use Quality Equipment
While highly skilled sewists can get good results from mediocre equipment, it does make trying to learn and improve your skills that much harder. If you're serious about taking your sewing to the next level, you need to invest in equipment that matches. You don't need the fanciest or most expensive machines on the market, but you do need sturdy, reliable equipment that will give you consistent results.
4. Sew for Someone Else
It's one thing to be able to whip up a blouse or skirt that fits you perfectly whenever you want, but you're limiting yourself if you don't learn to sew for different body types and aesthetic tastes. Start with friends and family—people who are willing to be patient as you learn. Practice fitting clothes for a whole range of shapes and sizes, and learn to identify what your customers find most flattering so you can create clothes that wow.
5. Finish Your Edges
This tip seems basic, but it's one of the major hallmarks that sets professional sewing apart. Finishing all the edges of your projects, even those that aren't immediately visible, gives an immediately noticeable polish to the finished piece. It also helps to limit wear and tear, since there aren't any loose edges that can fray.
6. Know Your Fabrics
A huge part of being a skilled sewist is knowing how different fabrics behave and how to manipulate those natural properties. Spend some quality time at a fabric store, the bigger the better, and learn what different materials look and feel like. Learn the difference between expensive material and cheap stuff better suited to making practices projects. Experiment by making up the same project with different material and see how the different fabrics affect the final look, as well as the changes you need to make to your equipment settings to sew it properly.
7. Talk the Talk
It's tough to ask for help if you're not sure what you need. Learn the different parts of a garment, and how they go together. Learn to read sewing patterns, and, more importantly, to understand them. Brush up on all the sewing terms you can find. It will make it easier when you're studying on your own, or in classes, and allow you to understand the process more fully. Plus, it's can be a bit of an ego boost when you can at least talk like a couture sewist, even if your skills haven't quite caught up yet.
8. Learn to Sew by Hand
Wait a minute. Didn't we just say to go splurge on some good equipment? Well, yes, you'll definitely need that, but never underestimate the power of a few well-placed hand stitches. There's a reason couture fashion is almost entirely hand made. You can't beat the finesse and control, and it really gives you a fantastic appreciation for accuracy (and speed!) once you switch back to your machine. Learn all the basic hand sewing stitches, plus a few decorative ones for embellishment, just in case.
9. Dedicate the Time
How fast do you learn when you're distracted? If you're serious about sewing, make sure that you set aside time to work when you're focused on what you're doing. Sewing while your attention is divided leads to mistakes and frustration, and it can be hard to tell what's an issue with your skills that needs to be addressed and what was simply a mistake.
10. Practice, Practice, Practice
It's not the most fun, or the most glamorous, but it's definitely the best way to improve your skills. Sew a lot. Sew different things. Sew the same things, but in different ways. Experiment. Make mistakes. Try again. Keep notes as you go to help you remember the lessons from all those...er...teachable moments, when everything seems to go completely wrong for no apparent reason. All you have to do is stick with it and keep trying, and before long, you'll be sewing like a pro!