The Beginner Blues

There is always this interesting point when acquiring a new hobby of trying to work out where you sit in the “beginner – intermediate – advanced – expert” scale.

I would consider myself a beginner in sewing terms. But when I read things geared towards beginners, they seemed to be geared towards people who don’t even know which way is up on a sewing machine. I am aware of the fact that I have weird sewing experience. It is not the common experience of most home sewers to have been part and parcel of a home sweatshop or to have threaded industrial sewing machines almost before one could read.

I know this does not really matter, except for trying to find projects that are within my skills and that I might want to do. I never previously took up garment sewing because so much of it – for beginners – involved skirts and dresses. And I don’t wear either very often.

What drove me to finally sew clothes was Sewaholic’s Thurlow trouser pattern. Yes, I’m well aware launching into sewing trousers is possibly a huge beginner mistake. Advice for beginners always includes: Choose something within your skill level. Yes, I struggled with the trousers and, yes, I did plenty of things wrong. But that’s okay, because if I hadn’t sewed the trouser pattern, I doubt I would have started anything at all. I didn’t know fly front zippers were hard. I just did it.

There is a good reason behind the advice to pick something easy, manageable and within your skill level. Because if it becomes all too hard, you may well give up and never touch sewing again, which is fair enough (the reasoning for the advice, not the giving up). But consider this: it is also worth while to (this above all) know yourself. I know me pretty well. I’ve been hanging out with me for many years now, and I reckon we get on okay. I know I’m stubborn, persistent and not prone to discouragement when I fail. (Well, that’s not quite true. I am prone to feeling discouraged, but rarely does such discouragement lead me to give up.) Plus, I like challenges. Lastly, I want to make things I will wear, things that are useful, not things that will languish and rebuke me for the waste. I hate waste.

Wanting to sew the Thurlow trousers (though I wasn’t silly about it; I made the shorts) spurred me onto doing a few simpler projects that I would not have done if the target trousers weren’t in sight. My Thurlow shorts are not a complete disaster (just mostly). But I now know what my shortcomings are and where I need to learn more techniques. As a result, I have more motivation to attempt less ambitious projects to develop my skills so I can make the Thurlow trousers again.

Since the shorts, I have made my partner a very well-constructed (even if I say so myself) bag: the Two Zip Hipster bag by Erin Erickson.

Two Zip Hipster Bag

Bag, plus lining detail and zipper detail.

The instructions are excellent, particularly the zipper instructions.  The hardest part was picking out suitable fabric that I thought my Partner would like.  I have plans to make myself one of these bags.  It will be a lot more crazy-colourful.  Matter of fact, I’ve picked out the fabric already (that part was easy): multiple primary coloured childish flower shapes, and bright sunshine yellow lining.  Just like all the other lawyers are sporting in court this Spring court season. Ha.

I have also made Pattern 1A from Simple Modern Sewing.

Pattern 1A (catchy name, ha?) – Simple Modern Sewing

This is not a dress wearable by me.  On me, it looks pretty much like it does on the hanger – shapeless – except that those gathers at the waistband do give me shape: a pregnant belly shape.  When I paraded in front of my Partner for his opinion, he said, “Is there something you’re not telling me?” and we laughed. (In Partner’s defence, I had already told him that it was too big. And then I entered, stage left.)

Construction of this dress went smoothly.  I had decided I would follow instructions to the letter, rather than messing with it.  I should have messed with it.  The two things I was skeptical of turned out to be the two least positive parts of sewing this dress up: (1) The Strap and (2) that gathered skirt.

I struggled almightily with turning the smaller (hidden) straps, even with Helen‘s wonderfully patient assistance.  The fabric frayed like it much preferred to be bits of thread.  I gave up and used ribbon.  For the longer strap, I did succeed in turning the inside out tube rightside out. But it took me almost an hour.  Next time, I do straps my way (which also happens to be Erin Erickson’s and Nicole Mallalieu’s way, in case you don’t trust my expertise.)

All is not lost. I love this fabric (despite its preference for being bits of thread): it is a linen mix of some kind that means it does not wrinkle so much. When I am feeling patient I will unpick that skirt and salvage almost a metre and a half of fabric, with which to make something I might actually wear.

Next on the sewing table (already cut): a Sorbetto top .  I need some summery tops that I can wear to work.  After that, an Alma blouse.  After that, a boned satin evening gown with full skirt (kidding).

I’m trying to pick projects that will both advance my skills and that I will wear. At the same time, however, this is supposed to be fun. It’s a hobby after all! So I am also bouncing around like crazy, collecting patterns and with so many plans inside my head I’m a bit dizzy. I need to document, more clearly, a sewing plan.  I started writing down what I want to make.  It is so laughably ambitious that I will save it for another post. I may even have to make it a Page. You have been warned.



  1. Oh, that’s a handsome bag indeed. Can’t wait to see it in your new colorful zany fabric. You were brave to begin your sewing adventure with trousers, but now you’re ace at zippers! The blue fabric of the dress looks wonderful — not sure how faithful the color rendering is online, but it’s a rich rich blue. Perhaps instead of gathers, you could try pleats or darts (not sure I’m using the right term). Your indefatigable persistence is evident in that you’d *consider* picking apart a fabric that frays so much!


    1. I’m hoping to complete my zany bag this weekend…
      The blue appears fairly true on my computer. It is a lovely colour, and actually also has purple threads running through it, so I definitely have to recover the fabric to make something wearable!


  2. Oanh that bag is fantastic – I think it’s time you gave up your day job and set up a little business making bags! I hope Nic was suitably impressed with his new bag! Re your dress – over the years I remember many hours of unpicking (don’t you love a swift unpicker) sewing, unpicking sewing, unpicking etc and then turning out something to be proud of!! Persevere and enjoy! After you wrote in one of your blogs that you were going to make something to wear to the wedding I lashed out and bought 3 metres of material to make a ???? for the wedding. Still haven’t decided what it will be!
    One thing I do hate is that Spotlight have the monopoly on fabrics in Hobart and waiting in that queue is terrible. I have now sourced some online outlets for fabrics – lovely baby fabrics of course 🙂
    I also love your links to different pages and I always go to them for ideas.
    Keep up the good work and happy sewing!!!


    1. Nic was suitably impressed, although the first thing he said was, “Where’s the second zipper?” (he had not noticed the front pocket.)
      You know what we will have to do when you are in Melbourne? Go fabric shopping! There are some wonderful, not-Spotlight stores here.


  3. hooray for ambition. and boo to garments not working out. I say keep up the ambition – and I don’t think that trousers are any harder than dresses really, except maybe for the fly front. Both are tricky to fit and construction wise don’t think there’s much difference. You should certainly go your own way.

    Can’t wait to see what’s on your plan!


    1. Glad you say that about trousers not being any harder than dresses. I think my weird fit issues will all have to do with my upper half and that FBAs are in my future, but I’m avoiding them.
      I started writing out my list of things I want to sew and then realised that though I disclaimed dresses, half of the list was dresses! It’s just that they’re so pretty!


  4. Well, pattern 1A is kinda Amish like isn’t it? That could be an untapped market?! It does look good though! I take it your next big secret project is not constructing a hiking tent from scratch…?!


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