YOU Make Sewing Special

High Expectations

When scrolling through social media, I sometimes find myself concluding that everyone else sews perfectly all the time. The beautiful clothes and the well-matched quilt points convince me that I’m the only one who spends hours with my seam ripper. The only one who has creations that don’t work out, who makes silly mistakes, or who gives in to the occasional lazy tendency.

When these intrusive thoughts occur to me, I try to remember two things:

One, social media is not a reflection of reality. (No one likes to share pictures of their worst mistakes!) 

And two, the reason my quilts and garments don’t look like the proverbial ‘theirs’ is precisely because I’m not them. I’m me! And that should really be celebrated.

Just call me 'Ms. Frizzle'

What I’ve learned about my approach to sewing is that the process is just as important as the results. For me, sewing is one huge science experiment. I love to theorize about what might happen, observe the results, change one thing, and try again.

I’ll use one of my favorite patterns – the Sew House Seven Free Range Slacks – to illustrate my point.

Get messy, make mistakes!

My Free Range Slacks in Essex Speckle Linen and Manchester Yard Dyed Cotton.

If you follow the Confident Stitch, then you know I have pretty good sewing habits. I prewash my fabric, I alter the tissue before cutting out my project, and, I cut everything out on-grain. And yet, projects still don’t always work out the way I’d intended! 

Though I’ve made the Free Range Slacks four times (and I’m currently working on a fifth!), I’m still finding new ways to tweak and improve my process

Here’s what I mean:

Pairs 1 & 2

With the first two pairs, I dutifully lengthened the pattern pieces four inches, and pre-washed and dried my fabrics – one was a Speckled Essex Linen, the other a Manchester Cotton. But even with all my preparation, both pairs still turned out a little too short after the first wash!

I like these slacks (the colors are great!) and I still wear both, but the gangly middle-schooler in me (who was teased mercilessly for her too-short pants) feels a little self-conscious.

If at first you don't succeed

So, for my third pair, I made adjustments to my original process, adding an additional inch of length to the bottom of the hem with tissue. These slacks – made from a gorgeous reversible cotton jacquard – turned out great and didn’t shrink too much after being prewashed.

Once we started carrying the Blue Jay colorway of the Brussels Washer YD Linen, I was inspired to make my fourth pair. Though I’d been very happy with my third pair, I was conscious that the change of substrate might affect my process. So, I put my scientific thinking cap back on!

On the left – my Free Range Slacks in the Shifting Points Double Faced Jacquard in Navy. The right, the Brussels Washer Linen in Blue Jay.

Testing my hypothesis

I know from experience that Brussels Washer Linen shrinks 5% in the wash and sometimes has a tendency to shorten even after it’s been prewashed.

So – to circumvent this potential problem – I washed and dried the fabric TWICE. Then, I refrained from ironing before cutting out the pattern pieces; the reason being that too much pressing can cause the fibers in some fabrics to ‘stretch’, adding temporary length that will disappear once the finished garment is washed. 

These safeguards worked, and my fourth pair is what I consider to be the perfect length! 

Try try again!

A look at my lengthened pattern piece!

I saw a phrase the other day, “I succeed or I learn,” which sums up how I feel about sewing. As I made my pairs of Free Range Slacks, I learned to wash and dry my fabrics twice before cutting out my pattern pieces. I learned that I needed to lengthen the pants five inches, not just four. (Even though my daughter informs me that the shorter length is “cool.”)

For my fifth pair, I’m going to try serging all the edges of my pattern pieces and see how it improves my process.

Wonderfully, uniquely you!

In one way or another, each of our personalities guides our approach to sewing. For some, joy comes from making perfect quilts with all points matching and jeans with flawless topstitching. Others love the excitement that comes from improv quilting or whipping up a dress made from old curtains ala Maria Von Trapp. And still others fall elsewhere – enjoying the satisfaction that comes from a well-executed technique, but not overly bothered when it doesn’t all go according to plan.

My personality puts me somewhere in the third category. Though I was a little upset when the first two pairs of slacks shrank, I was also excited by the possibilities that this problem presented. Shrinking, re-thinking, and trying again – though these may seem like mistakes or complications to hide (especially from social media!), I realize – for me – it’s all part of the journey! 

The point is that no single approach to sewing is more correct than another. So go ahead – relish your mistakes. Revel in your special process! And – most importantly – trust that everyone is out there doing the same thing.

Remember, however you derive joy from sewing is amazing, and – just like the things you create – wonderfully, uniquely you!

~ Kate

38 thoughts on “YOU Make Sewing Special

  1. Diane Gatley says:

    Hi Kate!

    Thank you for this upbeat article!

    As a recovering perfectionist, I try hard to remember that good enough is good enough. Most of the time, I’m able to remind myself that those details I might fuss over would not be noticable to others, and are not worth the time and energy to unsew and redo.

    PS I love those red pants!

  2. Karleen says:

    Thank you for your honest share, and finding a positive way to view these projects that don’t always live up to our original plans!

    All four look pretty amazing to me!

  3. Barb Kennedy says:

    Hi Kate, I loved your blog about the pants. They all look great. I needed to hear this info since I just got back into my fabric art after several crazy months… I’m enjoying trying different colors of stitching in an effort to blend a background. I don’t enjoy changing thread on the machine constantly, but the results are actually interesting. Who knows what it may look like when I’m done. (And as they say, it keeps me out of the (saloons) fabric stores for a while. ).

  4. Karen Mackenzie says:

    Love this. I follow you and your store through the weekend emails. This blog speaks to me on a couple levels. You’re correct about those voices in my head telling me I’m not good enough to share my makes. Like you, I follow all the best practices. But I get in a funk and and never make the pattern again! Your idea of approaching it scientifically is great advice! The “Maria sewing from curtains “ scene is one of my favorites! How did she come up with all those different outfits?? Each one was different!!
    And I was also the gangly junior high girl who got stuck with high water pants because money was tight and denim shrink up a whole lot more then!! To this day, I can’t wear crops or 7/8s pants because I keep tugging at them!

    Thank you!!

    • kate says:

      Thanks Karen!
      When everyone else in Junior High School was wearing jeans that dragged on the floor, I was mortified to wear jeans that were too short!

      🙂 Kate

  5. Mfedna says:

    All of your pants look wonderful to me. I feel it is a matter of styling…if you feel your pants are right, they are right. Let’s work to rid ourselves of the “negative committees inside our heads” which impede our joy of sewing, and life.

  6. Mary Jo Forbes says:

    As Joi Mahon says, “embrace the curve “ , the learning curve, that is. That’s what I find so exciting about sewing. Here I am, admittedly mature, having sewn my entire life and I’m still learning. Those challenges are better than the puzzles in my morning paper!

  7. Lenora says:

    I loved this. I literally laughed out loud at “I keep waiting for someone to ask me where the flood is”. Ha ha ha…so went my Middle School years as well. Thank you for this blog and all the time you put into it. Hoping I can leave Wyoming and come visit your store sometime.

  8. Rae says:

    After making dozens of pairs of pants with my Eureka! Pants that Fit pattern personalized to my size, I can say that the fit of pants needs to be tweaked with each pair. Try then on as you sew and adjust if needed to assure they will fit well. Always cut them a bit long, in case the hang will be short. The extra is easily trimmed off or folded into a deep or double turned hem in case the fabric might continue to shrink and they will need to be let down. My DIY pants are way better than anything I buy in the store even if they each require a bit of fitting TLC. You are right Kate, a fun way to spend a day.

  9. Frances Giacobbe says:

    A wonderfully helpful post! The photos were a great addition to show exact examples of what you wanted to explain! Thanks!

  10. Alice Locke says:

    Your pants are lovely! I like the look of the shorter pants but find for me they need to be tapered a bit so they don’t look so ‘high-water’! And maybe everyone already knows this, but when it comes to cotton knits, I always wash and dry once, then throw the fabric back into the washer for a rinse and spin cycle and back to the dryer on high. Cotton knits always need that second dryer time. And I just did the same for a couple of pieces of 100% cotton flannel. Don’t need short sleeves on the shirts! Will add linen to that list after reading your experience!

  11. Jeri Fisher says:

    What a great article, Kate! I haven’t tackled pants yet, but will taking the plunge soon with the Brussels Washer Linen after my tweaking for fit. Just wondering, do you think the linen prep you suggested in another post would help with the Brussels for less wrinkles? BTW, loved all your wonderful pants! You do such a nice job 🙂 Was by your shop today, and it’s such a pleasure going in and visiting with all of you!

    • kate says:

      Thanks Jeri! Brussels washer is much easier than 100% linen. Just wash and dry it a couple of times before you sew with it. You don’t need to do the dry-iron prep!

      🙂 Kate

  12. Nancy says:

    Such an interesting read! I’m tempted to get back into making some shirts. You may have convinced me. Could you please share what pattern you used for the red shirt with the interesting hemline? Thank you! I so wish one of my local quilt stores would give classes again.

  13. Christine says:

    Thank you for this……the best teacher is trying and trying again, I take lots of notes along the way.
    Love that red button down shirt you’re wearing… there a pattern?

  14. Elizabeth F Robertson says:

    Very timely info, thank you. I had washed my Essex Speckled Linen once and was about to iron. I will wash and dry again and NOT iron before I cut out.

  15. Linda Garcia says:

    I am a little behind on reading blogs and whatnot. I agree with you completely about pant length. As a child of the 70s when the pants weren’t long enough unless they drug the ground (LOL), I do not feel comfortable if I feel that my pants are too short. That may be the style, but it doesn’t make me feel comfortable in my clothes, and that is what I look for, comfort. If it’s not comfortable, I won’t wear it. Life is too short to wear clothes that do not make me feel good or make me feel uncomfortable.

  16. Cathy Huber says:

    One of the reasons I began sewing as a teen was that RTW was too short. So I am reminded of the dreaded “flood pants” (too short) and am not comfortable with the current ankle pant styles. While you may think some of your makes are too short, they look GREAT on you. A short bootie will minimize any shortness you may think exists. Sewing pants is always a challenge; all fabrics make up differently and trying to figure out how the fabric will react is not an exact science. My engineer husband calls this “empiracally derived”. In English this means you learned it through trial and error. We continue to learn with every project we undertake.

  17. Susan says:

    Came across your website today while googling info on Brussels Washer Linen. Thanks so much for the washing, drying and cutting tips! It’s always a good day when I learn something.
    I’m soon to be embarking on my 7th pair of Closet Core Pietra Pants in the BW linen blend, and I believe I finally got the fit perfected…only took 6 previous makes😂 & several hacks.

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