Doing anything over and over again usually results in improvement, at least to a point. Back when I was new to sewing, I had a project I was working on — making a stole or sash for one of the fraternal societies of which I’m a member. I used cheap cloth, and used white thread to sew right-sides together, and didn’t properly adjust the tension on my sewing machine. The result was the sash on the right, which has been an embarrassment to me almost every time I put it on.
While my sewing machine was out for repairs, though, I purchased new fabric that was more jewel-toned. I sewed some trim onto the ends before sewing the back and front together, as well, which you can see in the second photograph. And I sewed much more carefully and much more slowly as I worked my way through the project overall.
The result is a much higher quality sash (which in truth is almost the same as a deacon’s stole in an apostolic-orders Western church like the Episcopalians, Catholics and so on, though not the same as an Orthodox deacon’s stole, which wraps around the body quite differently).
My seams are much better. The jewel tones of the fabric are much nicer, and the golden thread in the trim is a nice touch against the variant blues in the trim. The project still needs some final touches of pressing and seam matching and so on. But I know how to do those things now, and I didn’t when I first began learning to sew.
And that’s the relevant point, here, I think. Schools do a great job of teaching about subjects: Here’s what you need to know about English. Here’s what you need to know about history. Here’s what you need to know about biology or chemistry or physics.
But the Maker movement does things differently. It doesn’t rely on about. You don’t start off reading about sewing in a sewing class, or reading about table saws in a woodworking class. You start off learning how to sew, how to saw wood to the correct dimensions. A good teacher starts with some very simple projects, like an eye pillow, or a glasses case or a pencil case or a komebukuro, that are designed to build confidence and know-how. Later on, you might move up to quilting, or making clothes. Later still, you move to English Paper Piecing or more elaborate constructions in garments. At each step, the skills you already have, help inform the skills you’re trying to acquire. You make mistakes, but the mistakes are often a frustrating combination of the old, basic errors and completely new ones.
Most of us hit natural barriers to improvement from time to time. That’s normal. Often, it’s because there’s a mismatch between your standard-issue solution that worked in all the other examples of projects you’ve ever done, and the brand-new-to-you! solution that’s been best-practice in your craft or Maker art form for decades (if not centuries). That’s when you have to seek out a teacher, or a YouTube video, or an essay or a book. That’s when you learn about your craft — somewhere in the middling range of your skills, not at the beginning. Some of these small things learned along the way, as a result of seeking to learn about my craft?
- Thread your sewing machine with thread the same color as the fabric
- — unless you want the contrast between thread and fabric as part of the design.
- Use the right weight of interfacing that’s appropriate to your project.
- Regularly change the needle on your sewing machine, approximately every four hours that the machine is in use.
- Sew right-sides-apart after fold-press-pin
- Iron more frequently than you want to.
- Use your fabric scissors only for fabric; pink the extra fabric as needed.
- Service your machine at least annually; save the old parts.
- Improve your hand-sewing skills alongside your machine sewing skills
- Learn to cut fabric accurately.
- Modify patterns with a ruler and with French curves, not by eye.
- Pinning is important — but pin in proportion to the desired finish-quality.
It’s nice to return to a project I did some years ago, and discover that I can do it better and more effectively and faster now, while also taking my time. There’s an efficiency of process and movement that comes from knowing what you’re doing the second or seventh time around, that’s simply unbeatable. But it takes time to acquire that level of skill. No amount of knowing about will replace doing, when it comes to Making things.