Hot! 10 Things I’ve Learned

I started writing in second person narrative because it felt most comfortable to me.  I hope it doesn’t come across as domineering, but rather as if I were speaking to a younger version of myself.

  1. You can do it, whatever “it” is.  You would not believe the number of people with whom I have casual conversations about sewing, who say to me, “Oh, I’d love to be able to do that too, but I can’t.”  Full stop.  Not “I’d love to be able to do that too, and I think I’d like to try someday”.  I hate hearing people limit themselves, even in this small way.  If age has finally taught me anything, it’s that limitations more often come from within than without.  Which I think springs from #2:
  2. When you start, it will look like crap.  Perhaps we tend not to try new things because we expect perfection right out of the gate, but you should know that nothing is perfect on the first try.  I was once at a museum in the Netherlands and saw some early sketches by Vincent Van Gogh, which were shockingly amateur.  It graphically illustrated (literally!) to me that we all have to start somewhere.   Which leads to #3:
  3. It will get better pretty quickly.  As hard as it is to hear, “Did you make that?  Yeah, I thought so.”, it’s so great when you hear “Did you make that?  OMG, that’s amazing!”  Unfortunately, it’s usually followed by, “Can you make me one too?”  Which leads to #4:
  4. Don’t sew for other people unless you really, really love them and/or they will appreciate the time and effort it takes.  Offer to teach them the basics and then see what they say.
  5. Use the recommended fabric for the project.  Don’t use chiffon for something that requires body or you’ll struggle and end up tossing it out.  Don’t use denim for a blouse unless you want to look like a stiff-armed robot.  On the other hand…..
  6. Don’t always use the recommended fabric for the project.  Play around.  Sometimes you’ll get some interesting results that far exceeded your expectation.   One of the first things I made for my daughter was a dress that called for lightweight cotton.  I used a fairly heavy thrifted twill tablecloth because she liked the bugs printed on it.  And you know what?  It was stiff, but she wore it to death and still tries to squeeze into it, even though she has grown about 5kg since I made it.
  7. I agree with Cheryl’s previous post:  get a room of your own.  Or at least a corner of one like I have.  I used to sew on the dining table, which meant that every time I thought about making something, I first thought about clearing the table, unpacking the machine, finding the boxes of notions, retrieving the fabric from the basement….and didn’t start.  Now I have my territory staked out and no one dares mess with my setup, upon pain of death.  Well, upon pain of having a bedtime story taken away.
  8. Give your creations a second chance.  It’s sometimes easy to become frustrated with the fit, or to be overly critical of the construction and toss something.  Let it incubate.  Some of my favourite things never get noticed, but some of my “meh” creations constantly garner compliments.  Our perception of ourselves and our creations is not always accurate.
  9. But know when enough is enough.  That UFO ain’t gonna fly back to Jupiter on its own.  Make room in your closet for things you’ll really wear and let the charity shop decide if it should be cut up for dusting rags.
  10. Have fun!  Don’t fret if you can’t complete a challenge by the deadline, either Sew Weekly or self-imposed.  We’re not getting paid for this; we do it for the fun, the challenge, the community, and the experience of teaching and learning from each other.  Don’t we as women put enough unreasonable expectations upon ourselves without turning this into a chore as well?  Relax and enjoy it!



Vicki used to sew when she was young and free, but then raising young'uns and bringing home (some of) the bacon took up all her time. Now her closet is full of skinny clothes, maternity clothes and post-partum clothes, none of which fit properly. Maybe that's why she started sewing again in 2010.


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  1. I completely disagree with Nos. 2 and 7.

    No. 2 – The first garments I sewed did not “look like crap” – they did, in fact, look great – which was the main reason I continued sewing. I’m glad I never read this “advice” before I started sewing because it may have put me off the whole idea if I’d believed that I could put in a load of work and it would “look like crap”.

    No. 7 – Many people do not have room to have a dedicated sewing area (not even “a corner”) but that should not stop someone from sewing. If I couldn’t sew on my dining table then I would simply never sew because in my tiny flat the dining table is the only sewing (and tracing, and cutting) space.

  2. Great list! #1 is so true, so many people say that to me and I say, “I can teach you if you want” but usually they are just saying it because as per #3 they are fishing to see if I’ll offer to make one for them, which is no, I will not ;) Also #7 is a must, having to put stuff away because your sewing space is also the dining room is such a bummer.

  3. Um, this is a list of 10 things that Vicki learned, and she’s written them speaking as if she’s writing to a younger version of herself, so you are, in fact, disagreeing with Vicki’s lived experience.


    Perhaps you should write a list of 10 things that you’ve learned?

  4. Hi Vicki, thanks for sharing your list. It’s really interesting how we journey through our experiences of sewing. I always learn from sharing, have a great week.

  5. Thanks for sharing these Vicki, so many of these feel familiar! I never wear the first dress I made but I keep it hanging in my sewing room to remind me how far I’ve come. And to take it slow!

    • I really wish I had kept my first garment, but unfortunately, it was donated to a charity shop during some move along the way. It was a quilted jacket that I made for my 4H graduation project: I handpainted / batiked the fabric, sewed in batting and lining, bound the edges with self made bias, and quilted it! I can’t believe that was my first project ever. Why didn’t I choose a gathered skirt?! Oh yeah, I was an overachiever :P It would be so interesting to take a look at that now, 30 years later.

      • OMG – no wonder your first garment looked like crap. ;) This sounds so extremely elaborate and difficult! My first garment was a very simple jumper dress (actually I batiked a bed sheet for this) and now I would say it looked pretty crappy from the inside but it was totally wearable and my 16-year-old school friends were actually quite envious.

  6. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on sewing and more! I really enjoyed reading this. Thank you!

  7. Good list – thank you!

  8. This is a very good list, it’s very common that we give ourselves a hard time, I thought your approach of giving yourself a ‘talking to’ was spot on and that you clearly explained that was what you were doing. I’m going to try the ‘I’ll show you how’ technique from No4, good tip :)

  9. No. 4 and 7 are my favorites. Most people really don’t appreciate how much time and effort it takes to sew something. I usually only sew for myself (feels good to be selfish) and occasionally some simple clothes for my little son to save money and get better quality. A friend recently suggested that I could sew something for my husband because he really doesn’t dress well but that’s exactly why I don’t want to sew for him. He doesn’t care about his clothes anyway and wouldn’t truly appreciate the garments I’d make for him.
    And it definitely is easier to sew when one has a sewing room or a designated sewing area. Every since I have my sewing corner I can sit down for 5 minutes and make a few seams when I find the time. Sewing for 5 or 10 minutes each day adds up in the end – but who would sew for 5 minutes when one has to set up everything first?

    • Yeah, I sew for my kids because it gives me pleasure, and I know pretty well what they will and won’t wear, so I don’t waste my time. I actually had to delicately explain to someone this weekend that giving my cousin (a designer with her own label who usually sells her handmade purses for about $400) a thrift shop leather jacket to cut up would not mean that she would make her a purse out of it for free! (“But I am giving her the leather!”) *rolling eyes*

  10. Brilliant and generous suggestions. I love you all at the Sew Weekly. I’VE learned so much from all of you.

  11. I so agree with #4! I’ve had a couple people approach me about paying me to make something for them (and offering to pay is nice) but after I spent the time to actually research patterns and materials, they are always like “um, I can’t afford that right now” and never speak of it again. Generally, the materials alone are more then they want to pay especially since they usually want it fast so I can’t lurk around and wait for sales. So now I don’t bother. I have sewn for my husband but since the only thing he’s asked for in the two years I’ve been sewing was a simple monk costume for which the most difficult part was finding fabric that wouldn’t look cheap and costumey I can live with that.

  12. I should now add #11: Pick a smiling photo for next week’s post ;)

  13. Vicki, these are all great. I had that awkward moment when I was proud of making something myself and the person commenting was like, “Yeah, I thought so.” Luckily, that preceded the moment of the “OMG, Really?!” reaction by about 30 seconds. I guess I did a far better job (and actually picked a far more appropriate fabric) on the pants than on the shirt. :) And actually, now that I think of it, sometimes the amateur look comes from using one of those beginning, easy patterns because they often don’t have much shape and are often quite unattractive even if they are sewed well! Anyway, I agree with all of these.

    • Yeah, I always did the beginner mistake of choosing fabric that was far too stiff (because it was usually what I had on hand or was cheap or I thought it would be easier to handle).

  14. These are great Vicki. I almost want to instapaper it and read them when I’m down on myself. I am especially struggling with #4 and #10 right now. Having to come up with polite refusals to the barrage of “Can you make me a dress?”…. No, because I want to make ME a dress! (Although I’ve just bartered a dress for some web design help – this is a much smarter way to do it). And I am SO hard on myself all the time – thank you for reminding me to chill out and have fun!

    • I’ve had people say things to me like “You have a sewing machine? Great, so you can hem all my pants!” No, YOU can hem all your pants if you want to come over and borrow my machine for the day.
      Although I would love to learn how to use Photoshop, so I may barter some sewing with my cousin who is a photoshop teacher.

  15. I enjoyed your list – and TOTALLY agree with #4. Over the years I have tried to make sewing a “job”, and that is what it became – a JOB. When anyone asks/hints for me to make them something I usually jokingly share that they “couldn’t afford me”. Which is so true.

  16. vicki, i think a lot of us can relate to your experiences! i especially like #8: sometimes an incubation period is the perfect cure for UFO frustration. and when it isn’t, i just take the dress apart and think about if i can use the fabric for something else.

  17. so yeah, i was all GET OUT OF MY HEAD until i got to number 5, then bam, number 6 and i was all YOU’RE BACK IN MY HEAD AGAIN!!!

    i think our younger selves were sewing twins.

    fantastic list, vicki :)

    • I’ll admit that #5 was for beginner me, who tried inserting strips of fabric down the sides of my jeans in the ’80s, and rather than using a fun quilting cotton, I tried chiffon. It was a fraying disaster. (Was that weird jean hack solely a Nova Scotia phenomenon, or did people do that everywhere?)

      You however, could get away with anything made from anything. If you are in the mood for another Oona Does It, I CHALLENGE YOU TO MAKE A BLOUSE OUT OF NON-STRETCH DENIM!

  18. Fantastic, list, Vicki! I need to focus on channeling #8 more this year…I’m so afraid of being a hoarder that I often ‘go nuclear’ on my UFO pile every few months :-/

    • I’ve had a dress in my UFO pile since May 2011. I pulled it out yesterday because of the red, white and blue challenge coming up. I tried it on half-heartedly, and lo and behold, one year of sewing experience meant I immediately knew how to remedy the situation. A few nips and tucks here and there and I’ll have a beautiful new dress; one that almost got ditched.
      But I did finally throw out that ugly polyester knit top that I attacked for the UFO challenge back in the winter. ugh.

  19. YES to #2 – while my clothes looked slightly passable on the outside, I knew nothing about seam finishings or interfacings and they just turned into a big ol pile of mess while I was wearing them. And I completely agree with #4 – I’ve started teaching my friends how to sew so they can make things for themselves – and stop asking me to do it!

    Brilliant list, my friend.

    • It’s funny when people ask you to make them something; they say it like they are giving you a treat. I guess they figure that if you sew for pleasure, you’ll be doubly pleased to make something for them, for free!

      I remember being taught how to fold over the hems twice and top stitch, so I thought that you did the neckline like that too. You should have seen the wonky messes I made.

  20. A really great list Vicki, my favorite so far! I still make things that look terrible, but I learn from them each time not to do x, y or z ever again.

    • Everything I make has at least a tiny imperfection that I notice and think, “Next time I’ll remember to do X”.

      Usually I do, but not always.

  21. I totally agree with # 7. A dedicated sewing space is a must! Sewing takes time and it’s messy. I love being able to sew a little here and there and not get a neck ache from marathon sewing because you have to clean up!

    • I never get marathon time; I snatch minutes here and there, so having thrown out one of our tatty old sofas and taken over that corner of the living room is the only way I get things done. (I actually started out on the coffee table, which was hell on my back and made me realize that I’m no longer 20 and need better ergonomics.)

  22. Loved your list. For myself I would add not to worry about the lack of sewing production over the course of weeks months or years. Career and family might keep you super busy and away from your sewing for a while, but you will come back to it.

  23. This is an awesome list!! I needed to read this! Thanks!

  24. OMG! I love this post. Everything is so true! I can’t tell you how many people I hear that say, “Oh, I wish I could sew,” Well, give it a try. But # 4 is my fave because I am a perfectionist and whenever someone asks me to make a special dress or something for them I cringe because they don’t realize the considerable amount of time and effort needed to complete the project. It took awhile, but I’ve actually gotten quite better at politely declining. Life is too short, now I only make what I want to make.

  25. I also like your list. I keep dreaming of a real sewing place, large enough to have a cutting table, a sewing table and tons of shelves.

    About #3: for the first garments I made, I heard “Did you make that ? That’s great !” I guess the “That’s great” was just a way to say it was not too ugly… But my greatest pride came when someone told me “Did you make that skirt ?”, I answered: “No, it’s RTW. But I made the jacket.”, and the reaction was: “No ! Really ?”