Reader questions... Sewing FAQ

This week's post is based on questions that have been emailed to me about learning to sew. (TheSnobbyFoodie.... This means you!) 
As I sat down to answer these I thought that some of you fellow seamstresses might have more to add too,  so please lend your thoughts in the comments box, or feel free to add other questions too! 

1. The nitty gritty part of sewing.... What's annoying and frustrating about it?

For me there comes a point in almost every project when I have to reach for my seam ripper. Either I've made a mistake in construction, or after I try it on (thinking I'm finished) I realise major adjustments are needed. I know that part of the point of sewing is to be able to make garments that have a bespoke fit but it's frustrating going over bits again. Lately I'm generally frustrated by using a pattern size that matches my measurements only to find that it's too big.

oh, and when the bobbin runs out just as you are on the last hem. grrr.

2. How do you decide when to sew something from scratch vs just buying and tailoring? 

Generally I decide to sew something because I have something specific in mind that I can't see in the shops, or for the enjoyment of the project itself. There are times when it's cheaper to buy, but it's not always about the money. I haven't honed my alteration skills much so haven't really had a go at buying and tailoring be honest ready to wear can fit better than the clothes I have made!

3. When are you better off buying a garment vs making it yourself? (And vise versa)

A couple of key considerations come into play here, but I think really it's down to what you are wearing the garment for and what your sewing skills are up to. A lot of the time ready made is cheaper. It's certainly quicker and will definitely be ready on time. Ready made is also a lot less likely to come apart at the seams!

However, you can be better off making yourself if you are after a particular type of garment that isn't in fashion, or you want made in a certain way. For example, a while ago everything in the shops was mid-calf length and this just doesn't suit me so I made my own dress in a style that I know looks good. I've also been after a good stripy top for ages that I hadn't seen, and then decided to make it instead. I'm glad I did because it was easy and I wear it a lot.

Generally I think there are a lot of day to day items that are quite fiddly to sew that are inexpensive to buy and will do just fine. There is a certain reliability with shop bought, but I like how a handmade item will always be entirely unique to you.

4. How long does it take for you to make dresses: from buying fabrics to the final production?

Okay....this depends on whether you count online fabric browsing or from getting the fabric in your hands. I, like many other sewists, spend a long time looking at fabric online. Sometimes I have a specific project in mind. Sometimes I'm just looking. I have a box full of fabric that I liked the look of at the time, and have a vague idea of something to make with it sometime, but no immediate plans to do so. It's also rare for me to buy fabric in shops so I do always have to factor in delivery times too when making a garment. Once you've bought fabric it also needs to be washed straight away in case it shrinks. So this already adds (in my case) a couple of days for drying.

The rest kind of depends on your sewing skills and experience.....
Is it a pattern that you've used before? A pattern you've already used is going to be faster.
Does it need tracing or is it a pdf that needs sticking together? This is going to add time (for me, an hour for tracing or half an hour for pdf sticking and cutting).
Laying out the pattern and cutting the fabric takes me a while. Partly due to my need to double check everything and partly due to the size of my dining table.
I usually set aside half a day for these first steps.

Construction; this really can be anything from a couple of hours to a couple of days.

Simple patterns with few pieces in knit fabrics are definitely quick and satisfying makes (like this Molly dress - half a day to cut out and sew).
Some patterns are fairly straightforward and easy. If you have mastered key skills they might take a day. The Francoise dress is a good example of something that took me a while the first time I made it because was learning, but will be a lot quicker in future.
Then come the more complicated pieces. Patterns that include lining will take twice as long (as you are essentially making twice). Using sheer fabric also adds a fair amount of time because of the techniques that are required to get the best finish. This Macaron was lined and used some expensive fabrics. It also needed a lot of alterations so took a while. I had to squeeze in lots of sewing on this one so can't say how long it took for sure - maybe a week? This Betty dress was lined and used silk. Hemming two full circle skirts for a special occasion dress definitely took a fair chunk of the week it took to make.

However, those are only my sewing times, not everyone else's

So, I hope that answers your questions for now. Please do add more, or give your own answers too in the comments too.


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Welcome to Sewing and Other Stories; my journeys with sewing and knitting; pattern reviews, tips and guides for beginners. I'm also the designer behind West Beach Knits knitting patterns and I host a Knitting and Sewing channel on YouTube where you can see all of this in person. Come have a look!

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