How to sew

Sewing for others has made something very, very clear.  When I sew for myself I’m really, slapdash.  When I sew for others I do things by the book.

And guess what?


The stuff I make for others always turns out better. Like….miles better! Even if I’m time constrained.  Or it’s a ridiculously tricky fabric.  Or, as is usually the case, a combination of the two! Who knew?

I know I’ve touched on this before but I’ve never really instigated a plan. Or maybe its more a set of guidelines.

Rules to Sew By!

Ooooh, that has a good ring to it!  There’ll be a book offer on the table by the weeks end!


But seriously.  I’ve been sewing for the best part of 40 years and still I’m focused on cranking out stuff to wear rather than upskilling to make them more beautiful.  And it’s not like I’m making 20 garments a month.  I’ve got no excuse.

So here are my new Rules to Sew By!

Rule 1 – Measure twice…..

I’m about to make an admission that will have seamstresses up and down the land beating a path to my door bearing pitchforks and burning torches.

Whisper it!

I don’t have an up to date set of my measurements.

Quelle horreur!!!!!

I know…it’s sewing sacrilege.  It would explain why I have such issues with fit. And why, because stuff doesn’t fit as I want, I’m loathe to start sewing something for myself.

I need to fix that problem post haste and get my measurements down on paper. Regular updates wouldn’t go amiss, either.

Rule 2 – It’s all about the fit!

With my new found measurements in hand I’ll be all set to get the fit perfect first time, right?


Yeah.  No!

I’ve always wanted to poke admired those folk who say such things as “I made my usual 1″ SBA, 1/2″ sway back and 1/4″ forward shoulder adjustments and I was done”.

It struck me that if I kept ordered notes on each pattern brand of the adjustments I make for each brand, then I too could be one of those smug clever folk who know just where to start to give them a fighting chance of a toile fitting with fewer adjustments.

Because, as you we all know, all the patterns are cut from the same blocks.

*hits desk with forehead repeatedly*

Rule 3 – It’s all about the fitting!

No….it’s not Rule 2 again. Not only do I have to figure out what adjustments I need to make, but how to make them, dare I say it…..properly!

You know…actually do a FBA before you even make a toile because you’re haven’t been a B cup since you were 13!

And its time to learn to do a dartless FBA too.  Just sayin’

And when you roll the shoulder forward, you need to adjust the sleeve too!  No, really…you do!

Rule 4 – Make a damn toile!

For every new pattern.

No excuses.

No exceptions.

Rule 5 – Follow the damned instructions!

I know that I know how to sew, but I’ve also been doing it long enough to fall into some appalling habits.  So actually, I suppose, I’ve gone all the way round to the beginning and really shouldn’t be let loose with scissors and thread!

So it’s back to basics.

Using the instructions and (when they’re out of storage) the rather fabulous range of sewing texts I own.

Rule 6 – Fit as you sew

Just because the toile looked ok, doesn’t mean the fashion fabric is going to behave in the same way.  It’s better to fit as you sew than just stick your fingers in your ears, sing la-la-la-la-la and hope it works out at the end.

And then wonder why it doesn’t.

Rule 7 – Stop buying all the things

Why yes…that fabric is beautiful, but purple and green poppies aren’t really your thing.

Oooooh, look at that fabulous new indie pattern that every single sewing blogger and her dog is making….but don’t you already have something similar in your pattern stash?

Amazon called…can you please leave some sewing books for everyone else!

I’m not saying don’t buy stuff…just not All. The. Things.

Rule 8 – Make what you wear

This follows neatly on from Rule 7.  Because whilst all the cool kids are making party dresses out of purple and green poppy silk dupion, what you wear in real life is jeans, tops and Ugg boots.

So why aren’t you making jeans and cute tops?

It’s probably pushing it to make your own Ugg boots.  Unless someone out there has come up with a kit.  In which case I’ll be all over it!

Until then…if you sew what you wear you’ll wear what you sew.

I should make that into a poster!

Rule 9 – Rome wasn’t built in a day

Primark may be able to make a bajillion t-shirts a day but thats why they are crap. Not even getting starting on the conditions and pay of workers in fast fashion sweat shops.

I don’t need to make a bajillion t-shirts.  In a day or otherwise.  I need to make a few really well fitted ones that work with my life and my style.

And if it takes me two weeks to fit the pattern, then so be it.

And it it takes me four versions to really nail the fit…….I think you know the answer.

Rule 10 – It’s meant to be fun!

I know I’ve discussed before how when I create I focus on the product, not the process. This isn’t necessarily a good thing.   For starters, being focused on the finished garment doesn’t give me much headspace for creativity.  And my life is probably the poorer for that. Felicia discusses this topic far more eloquently than I do.  If you’re all about the product I highly recommend you check out this post. Even if you’re all about the process, go read anyway.  She’s fabulous!

So there we go.  My new guidelines for sewing.

Except they’re not new, really.  They’re what I should have been doing all along. They just got lost in the rush to get stuff made.

Does any of this ring a bell with you?  Or are you one of the smart ones who remembers to do things right?

13 Responses to How to sew

  1. Do you know that most of them ring a whole peal of bells with me? They are great rules to sew by. Quality is definitely much better than quantity but I will still be swayed by that lovely fabric. 🙂
    When I sew for clients everything is hand basted, I take a bazillion measurements, make multiple toiles and fit them in person and then baste fit the final garment with big seam allowances as fit insurance until I am happy with the fit and can deconstruct and sew together. For me I *might* do an FBA but generally that would be the limit of my patience. Then when things don’t fit as I would like (or at all) I get disheartened and don’t sew anything for ages. I do baste darts and tricky things though. Maybe it is time to start following your rules too. I would like to actually make something that I can wear for once. 🙂 Xx

    • Pendle Stitches says:

      “I would like to actually make something that I can wear for once” This!!!!! Perhaps its time to start treating ourselves as our most demanding clients.

  2. Karen says:

    Fabulous. I agree with every point. You had me in stitches but by the end of the blog blushing with shame. We deserve better you are so right. Great write up thank you for putting us back on the right road K xXx

    • Pendle Stitches says:

      I glad I raised a smile. I’ll admit it felt rather like putting photos of yourself in your underwear on the interweb at some points.

      But, half the battle is admitting you have a problem! So they say…. 😉

  3. K-Line says:

    I LOVE these guidelines. I can’t call them rules or I will ignore them out of rebellion. Seriously, if everyone did all of these things, we’d all be making some gorgeous stuff. I find that I fall down most on the having fun. Scott says that I become miserable when I sew (unlike when I knit) and I think it’s because I put a lot of expectation on myself to do everything well – and have a finished thing (or 3) by the end of the weekend. And that makes me crazy so I get all “I don’t have time to talk to you about what we should eat for dinner”. Apparently that’s bitchy. In my most recent sewing jag, I deliberately set my sights on fewer outcomes, things I’d made before (in 2 of the 3 instances) and “easy” patterns. And I still only had one actual success! I suppose I should be glad of that. It’s not exactly like I need any more items of clothing – RTW or homemade.

    Having said this, I stopped at a reasonable time each day and, when I had to throw one thing in the garbage, immediately after sewing, I didn’t set up to cut out a new version later that day. I knew it was time to quit.

    I think the measurement guideline is the most relevant one to most home sewists. It’s easy to think that one’s measurements from last year might be applicable to this year (though in no universe is that the case for me). Seriously, I didn’t remeasure before I purchased my latest Custom Fit pattern (more to come on that) because I couldn’t bear it. BTW, I do have a pretty good bead on what’s what (just because I am so compulsive) but that doesn’t give me a get out of jail free card. Now I feel like eating a Dairy Milk Mint bar, just out of self-loathing!

    I suppose I should finish this comment cuz it’s taken me 20 min to write 🙂

    • Pendle Stitches says:

      I don’t know how we got to the stage where we stopped having fun with this. Is it because we’re “grown ups” and have to be “productive” and “social media” perfect.

      Stuff that, I say. I’m leaning towards simplification so I can get a good result, so I can chill the f*&k out and actually enjoy it.

      And, to be honest, that applies to all my life at the moment, not just the sewing.

      Let’s make gorgeous stuff, have fun doing it, and then go out and have fun wearing it. Deal?

      And I do hope you ate the chocolate! If not…go do it now! 😉

  4. Emily says:

    Oh man, I need to do the fit as I sew thing and measure. I think I know how to measure but I can’t be sure. There’s rather a lot of evidence to show that I don’t but I’m going to ignore that.

    Dairy Milk Mint bar? Don’t mind if I do….

    • Pendle Stitches says:

      “There’s rather a lot of evidence to show that I dont…” had me roaring with laughter.

      Chocolate is the cure!

  5. Pingback: What to sew – part 1 – the unselfish stuff | Pendle Stitches

  6. Love your rules, especially #9. My sewing changed a lot when I stopped my infamous deadline sewing. Like starting to sew an outfit the day before a big event :s It takes as long as it takes now, and if that makes me a slow sewist, that’s fine!
    PS can I order that poster? Spot on!

    • Pendle Stitches says:

      I used to do that all. the. time. I even left my wedding dress till the very last minute!
      I’m trying to learn to slow down in all aspects of life. It seems to make things so much better.

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