If you’re new to sewing, complications and frustrations are bound to happen. However, I find that all beginner sewers tend to make the same or very similar mistakes. Sewing is a fun and exciting endeavor, mistakes included, but creating garments are much more fun when you make fewer mistakes and truly grasp what you’re doing.
Now I’m not pushing the idea that you should sew perfectly without mistakes as a beginner because that’s simply realistic. Additionally, the more mistakes you make, the more you learn from them. Nevertheless, the eight common mistakes I discuss below are simple and easily avoidable beginner sewing mistakes that will make learning to sew much more enjoyable.
Choosing An Overwhelming Project
As a beginner sewer, starting with a small sewing scale project is the biggest favor you can do for yourself. Your first few projects should be something small that will not take you a very long time or too much skill to complete. Sticking to an easy project will boost your “sewing confidence” and your enthusiasm for more challenging sewing projects.
I always tell my students to go with beginner projects that seem like loads of fun and only require simple stitches. I also suggest that beginners choose a beginner project that doesn’t require too many fabric pieces or too much precision in fit or form. So if you decide to sew a garment for your first sewing project, I’d suggest sewing a simple pencil skirt as opposed to a pair of pants.
Not Changing Your Needle
Dull and ineffective needles have been the culprit of far too many sewing disasters. Sewing with a bad needle can ruin your whole sewing project, and even worse, I’ve had many a sewing students believe they were the problem when an ineffective needle was the real source of their sewing mistakes. Sewing needles don’t last forever; they’re usually only good for about six to eight hours of sewing time, and depending on the type of fabric you’re sewing, you may need to change your needle even more frequently.
The good thing about needles is that they’re the most changeable/customizable part of your sewing machine. When you start a new sewing project, I instruct my students to always start with a new needle, and I also instruct my students to change their needle if they notice any of these problems:
- The needle bends, sustains damage, or completely breaks
- The end of the needle dulls or becomes blunt
- Your sewing machine begins to skip stitches
- Thread begins to break or fray as you stitch
- Tension on the thread begins to slack
Using Cheap Thread And Needles
I know that most people don’t want to invest tons of money when they start sewing. However, if you want your work to be top-notch with as few mistakes as possible, then there are certain sewing tools that you absolutely should splurge on, and needles are one of them. Chefs don’t buy the cheapest kitchen utensils. Painters don’t buy the cheapest paint and brushes they can find. Just because you may be a beginner doesn’t mean you should cheat yourself by purchasing the cheapest sewing materials you can find. You not only want your garments and projects to look professional, you also don’t want to place undue stress on your sewing machine, and cheap needles and thread will do just that.
Poor Fabric Cutting Techniques
When I first began to sew, the most important cutting rule I learned was, Measure Twice, Cut Once. Inaccurate cutting is perhaps the only sewing mistake you can’t fix, unless you have more fabric. If you sew a seam wrong, you can always take it out, but once you cut a pattern out inaccurately, the project is already ruined because one fabric piece will either be too large or too small for the rest of the project.
I tell my students to always cut their fabric on a flat surface. Don’t rush when you’re laying your pattern pieces, because you want to ensure that all grain lines are properly aligned. When you’re starting out, use as many pins as you need to to ensure that your fabric pieces stay properly aligned. If you’re working with a slippery fabric or if you’re having a hard time keeping the fabric in place, I suggest using washer weights to hold the fabric down and prevent it from sliding all over the table. Never underestimate the power of a sharp pair of scissors. I have scissors that I only use for sewing and I suggest you do the same to prevent them from dulling because dull scissors will gnaw through your fabric and throw your pattern off.
When I first started sewing many, many, many years ago, I ignored notches. Yep, I did because no one explained to me what they were for. Notches have a purpose, and honoring their purpose will save you tons of trouble. A notch tells you that a specific point on a pattern piece needs to be matched to a specific point on another pattern piece. Notches also indicate starting and stopping points for certain stitches on a garment. Notches are a gift from patternmakers. If you were sewing a project without a pattern, you’d have to measure and mark the match points yourself, but notches take care of that for us.
When I finally learned that notches were important, I discovered a neat little trick to make notches easy to see and hard to ignore. When you trace your pattern piece, notches are the little upside down triangles that you’re supposed to snip down into the seam allowance, exactly as it appears on the pattern. Instead of doing this, I suggest cutting a triangle right side up and away from the pattern. This will do two things. One, it’ll make notches easier to find, and two, you won’t have to cut into your seam allowance. Additionally, when you’re done sewing all of your seams and everything, these little triangles won’t show up in the finished product.
From improper sewing tension to the wrong threading, there are several reasons your seams could be unbalanced. Whatever the reason, you need to make the correct adjustments to your sewing machine before proceeding with your project. The seams should look the same on both sides of the fabric that you’re sewing. If the thread pulls out of your stitch easily when you give it a pull, then you most likely have tension problems. Follow this guide to troubleshoot your tension problems before it leads to unbalanced seams.
Not Pressing Seams
I always say that the most important part of garment sewing doesn’t actually involve sewing. Pressing as you sew will help your seams lay flat, prevent puckering and bulkiness, and even improve the fit of your garment. Never wait until you’ve finished your garment to press, because even within that relatively short amount of time, bulky and unattractive seams can set and it’ll be practically impossible to get them to lay flat. When you press your garments and press them well, your project will take shape much quicker and help you completely avoid the “homemade” look.
Not Reinforcing Seams/Poor Seam Finishing
Fraying and unraveling fabric is a sure sign of poor seam finishes. Reinforcing your seams will not only make your sewing projects stronger, they’ll also look cleaner and professionally made. The method you choose to finish your seams depends on the type of fabric you’re sewing and whether the seam is load bearing (a seam that connects two fabric pieces) or not. For most beginner projects and fabrics, a simple straight stitch or zig-zag seam finish is enough to reinforce load bearing seams and hems to keep them from unraveling. If you’re working with more complex fabrics and more intricate projects, the seam finishes you need to reinforce your project may be a bit more involved, which is another reason to adhere to tip #1 and stick to simple, beginner sewing projects.