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How Can You Tell if a Seamwork Pattern is Beginner-friendly?

Episode 96: Sarai and Haley share three levels of beginners and show you how to pick patterns that will grow your skillset.

Posted in: Seamwork Radio Podcast • June 27, 2022 • Episode 96

It helps to know where you currently fall as a beginner so you can identify patterns that match your skill level.

So let’s look at all these different beginners and find some Seamwork patterns to help grow their skills.

Podcast Transcript

Welcome back to Seamwork Radio. Today we're talking about how to know if a pattern you want to sew is beginner or friendly or not. We're going to cover the three different levels of beginners, how to know where you fall currently as a beginner, how to identify patterns that match up with your skill level, and our own specific recommendations for Seamwork patterns that will work for the level that you're at. So we will start with our ice breaker. Today's icebreaker comes from Seam Rick member Nadia. I love the name Nadia, by the way. It's such a beautiful name. Nadia asks, “What is the most last-minute project you ever finished? I know many of us have stories of working on something the night before or even hours before the event we want to wear it for. And follow up question were you happy with how the crunch time item turned out?”

All right, Haley, what's your crunch time item that you remember?

Well, first of all, I do this with practically every event that I make something for. Specifically, I just want the record to show that one that stands out to me is —I made years ago —when my best friend Rachel had her baby shower. I threw it for her, and I wanted to make a special dress for it. And I made this beautiful ivory wrapped dress with this cool floral green floral motif. And I didn't finish it in time. I wore it, but I had to get help, like, safety pinning myself into it, and I had to tape the lining down so that I wouldn't have, like, a wardrobe malfunction. It was seriously, like, junk drawer engineered. But I wore it, and it looks really cute, and I finished it eventually, like, weeks later.

I also feel like every time there's an event, if I'm making something for it, it's right up to the last minute. That's just the way, right? Does anybody not do that? I'd be surprised. That's how you do it once it comes to mind. It was kind of a bigger project for me. This was when I was in college, so I was probably, like, 19 or so, and I was going to this big event in New Orleans, and there was a big costume party that was part of the event, and so I was making this very elaborate dress at the time. I was, like, really into —I wouldn't say really into —but I was kind of into learning how to do historical garments and, like, some historical costuming. But it was costume, so it wasn't, like, historically accurate. And it was made with this —I lived in New York at the time —and I went to the garment district, and I bought, like, ten yards of this white taffeta with a black flocked pattern on it, scroll pattern on it. Very costumy, but kind of cool looking.

And I made this really huge, elaborate, this is like, probably the most elaborate thing I've ever sewn, kind of dress that had all of these gathers and ruffles and corseting and all of this stuff in it. And I just remember the night before I was going to leave for New Orleans, like, staying up almost all night working on this damn garment and trying to get it done. This style of garment has, like it's a little hard to describe, but it has all these gathers that are kind of offset on the back, so it creates this really voluminous, huge look. And sewing that much fabric and that many gathers and having them be all offset so they're like, all interfering with one another was just such a pain in the butt. And I just remember being so frustrated trying to rush through, but I got it done, and then I had to fit it in my suitcase, which was a whole other issue, but I got it done and I wore it and I don't know, I guess I looked cool. I don't know. I was 19. I had pink hair at the time. It was the whole thing, but sounds cool to me. That's the one that really sticks out in my mind, a good one. It's happened a million times. Thank you, Nadia, for that icebreaker. That was a fun one to reminisce about.

If you have an icebreaker for us for a future episode, Seamwork members can go to and leave it there, and we will probably share it on a future episode. So thanks again, Nadia.

Okay, so getting back to our topic for today, which is how can you tell if a pattern is beginner friendly? I think when you're a beginner, it can be really hard to know which patterns are appropriate for you. Last week we talked about choosing projects to build your skills and how you can go about doing that. So today we want to talk a little bit more specifically about how to do it if you're a beginner, because I think that's when it's even harder, because you might not even be aware of what skills you need. I think when you've got some experience under your belt, it's a little bit easier to understand what the next step is because you at least understand what the skills are that you need to build.

When you're a beginner, that part is even difficult. So that's what we want to talk about today and how you can approach that. Haley, when you were a beginner, what was your approach to choosing projects? How did you kind of go about building your skills as a beginner?

I think I just kind of went for it. I was just a very adventurous beginner, so I didn't really think things through or have much of an approach, which backfired lots of times because I would end up being really frustrated by things, and I would get kind of a bad taste in my mouth about a certain technique or skill. And usually it was just because I had no clue what I was doing. I didn't have the right tool, I didn't have the right technique. So it was pretty chaotic. What about you?

Yeah, same. We talked in another episode about adventurous versus more cautious styles of learning, and I definitely fall into the more adventurous camp. So I just kind of went for it. And I think that's like we talked about in that other episode, I think that has advantages and disadvantages. So I think in some ways it can help you learn new skills that you might not otherwise have learned, but sometimes it can really set you back because you're not taking the time to really think about them strategically. So I just sewed a bunch of stuff, and some of it was really ugly.

Well, I have a question for you. How did you know that you were out of that beginner phase?

That's a good question. I think when you kind of have a sense of where you want to go and you have a really pretty firm grasp on it's, not that you can sew whatever you want, but it's more you know how to get there, you know what the path is to get there that if you wanted to sew, for example, a complicated pattern like a tailored jacket or a coat or something like that, you might not know how to do it, but you kind of know what you would need to do in order to get there and the skills you need to learn. I think that's one of the signs that you've exited the beginner phase and maybe you're in the more intermediate phase that you have that kind of confidence. What do you think? Are there other things that you can define that?

Yeah, I was kind of similar, but different was I feel like when you're a true, true beginner, you kind of don't know what's what. You don't even have the vocabulary to talk about construction or sewing. And I think like a good sign. What defines a beginner versus an intermediate sewer is that one of the symptoms is that you have a vocabulary for talking about sewing. You kind of understand the ingredients something takes, even if you don't have a mastery of the actual skill yet.

I think that makes a lot of sense. We've talked about this a few times, but there's a certain set of skills that are kind of your foundation. So we've talked about, in our sewing by design framework, the layer foundation portion of it, which is really about building those 80/20 skills, those skills that are really the basis of everything else.

And I think there's something about conquering those particular skills that kind of helps you exit maybe not completely exit the beginner phase, but I think at least get into that more advanced beginner phase because you have the tools in order to put things together, to take those component skills and put them together and it just makes learning a lot faster.

Yeah, definitely. I think for me that being a beginner really means that you're just putting together, you're still assembling those component skills for yourself, for sure. So Sarai, we have some really good tips today. How can beginners go about picking patterns to so in order to keep up or build their momentum?

So we talked about this a little bit and what we did is, first of all, think about what level of beginner that you are right now. So Haley and I talked about this and we identified three levels of beginner. So within that beginner category, you need to kind of figure out where you are, because not all beginners have the same amount of knowledge or the same amount of confidence. So the first part, the first category of beginners are the absolute beginners. And the absolute beginners are the folks who are still learning how to use a machine, how to do things like measuring yourself, using a pattern, probably not a huge amount of awareness of all the terminology in sewing. So there's a lot of terms to learn. Hasn't really gotten into even those real basic skills yet. So that's the absolute beginner. So that's really the very beginning of your sewing journey. And then the next of these three categories of beginners is the true beginner. So that's somebody who can make a few projects and maybe even with assistance, but you can make a few projects and you can operate your sewing machine, you can sew straight lines, you can do those real simple basic things that will allow you to create something, even something as simple as maybe a pillow or an apron or something like that.

And then the advanced beginner and the advanced beginner is somebody who can do core skills for garment sewing, like sewing curves, creating hems, installing facings, putting in sleeves, things like that. So that's somebody who has gotten the hang of those 80 20 skills that we just talked about and is on their way to building that momentum to become more of an intermediate sewer who can really do a whole host of other projects. Those are kind of the three levels.

I think the first step is just figuring out where you are because that'll help you to chart your path on how to get to the next level within that. So we broke this down into some tips for each of those categories. So once you know kind of where you are, we're going to give you some tips for each of those categories of beginners. If you are an absolute beginner, if you are somebody who is really new to sewing and you're still learning the very basics, the first tip is just to choose small projects. So don't choose anything that is really large or really time consuming, and that's going to really help you to get that initial practice in.

Just doing very simple things like learning to use your sewing machine and learning to sew straight lines. So choose something small. It's really helpful to choose projects that don't require any fitting or something that's just very loose fitting. So if you're going to make a garment, make it something that you don't really have to worry too much about. Is it going to fit me in my bust? I might be able to get it over my shoulders. Don't worry about any of that stuff yet. Just choose something that's going to be really easy. Or it could even just be a non garment project to start or something simple like an apron or something that you don't have to worry too much about fitting. I think sewing home decor things and like, organizer things is really underrated because it can be really quick and satisfying and really help you to get that motor skill practice that we talked about in the last episode. So I think those are all some good things to choose. Pillows are great napkins, even if you want cloth napkins, replace paper napkins in your home, tea towels, things like that. It doesn't sound exciting, but you can use really cool fabrics, beautiful linens, or really cool prints.

So it's still fun and it's still something that you're going to get a lot of use out of. So that's a really good place to start. But if you do want to make garments, something that's loose, something that is not fitted is going to be your best bet. So, Haley, if you're going to recommend some patterns for them to try out, what would you recommend for these absolute beginners?

Absolutely. So again, I would probably stress. I think that non garments are really great for your first couple of projects. So the first pattern I'm going to recommend is the Ollie grocery set. It is an online tote bag and a drawstring produce bag that comes in two different sizes. I think that this is really great for practicing those straight lines, practicing some pressing. It's a really great project. Something even smaller would be the James glasses case. And this is just a simple glasses case that you can use for your sunglasses for your readers, whatever spectacles you put on your eyeballs. The James glasses case is really great, and I think that I'm probably biased, but it's super cute. I named it after my brother.

If you are just totally dead set on making a garment for yourself, then I would recommend, like Sarah said, something really loose fitting. The Quince jacket is a kind of robe style, loosely structured jacket, comes in a couple of different lengths, so you get to play with some design options. And there's lots of mix and match aspects like pockets and tie belt that you can leave on or take off to kind of customize. That is really great. Definitely a more involved project for our absolute beginners, but great if you're feeling up for a challenge.

The Madhu top is also wonderful. It has elastic. The neckline, it's a little crop top, has kind of a peasant style to it with a beautiful scoop neckline, and it's fitted with elastic, so you don't really have to overthink any of the fitting. You just have to let the elastic do all the work for you. So it has an elasticized neckline, sleeve cuff, and hem, and it's really cute and kind of 70s inspired and just really kind of accidentally.

Great for absolute beginners, those are all great choices. So, moving on to our true beginners. So that's the next category. So these are the folks who maybe have done a little bit of sewing, have done some projects, and just want to practice some new skills. So projects that introduce one to three new skills are great. We talked about this in the last episode, so I'd give that a listen if you haven't already. But things that introduce one to three new skills, no more than that, are a great way to kind of slowly and intentionally build skills over time. Again, choosing projects with mostly more loose, relaxed shapes are great. You can also introduce a little bit more shaping now and kind of get the hang of how shaping works, how things like darts work, and get a little bit more of a feel for that. I think it's a great idea to return to skills that have challenged you in the past. So if you've made a couple of projects and there's something in particular that you found challenging, maybe it was sewing a curve or sewing a corner or something along those lines, finding a project that's going to let you practice that skill is really helpful.

And another thing you can do is revisiting projects that you've already made, but trying them in a new fabric. So if there is something that you've made and you understand how it's put together, you understand the skills involved, but you want to try something that's a little bit more difficult to sew so that you can get a hang of working with some different types of fabrics, that's another great way to build your skills. So it doesn't have to necessarily be the pattern. It can also be the fabric that introduces a little bit of variability into your sewing. So what are some ideas for patterns that a true beginner can sew?

We have a lot of really good options for true beginners in our catalog. First, I would recommend the Georgia dress. Georgia is a shift style dress, and it has darts, a set and sleeve and neckline facing, which are going to be the skills you're going to be practicing a little bit. There another option for a different style dress with a little bit different silhouette would be Benning. Benning is a midi length dress with a tiered skirt, a cut on sleeve, and a V neckline. So you're going to be, again, practicing darts here and a neckline facing, but you're going to get to play with some gathers and mastering that skill. Another pattern I really like would be joss, the joss pants. These are an elasticized pull on woven pants really, really great for summer, and they look fantastic in linen. I have a pair that I just absolutely love. I think that there's a little bit of, like, a puzzle that goes into making pants. I've taught people how to make pants many times before, and there's always this AHA moment like, oh, that's how you do it. And I think that that's really fun to start to wrap your mind around.

A third dress option we have is the Mica dress. Mica is kind of caftan inspired. This really, like, chic oversized dress with a nice plunging V neckline and some high side slits. I think that it just totally encapsulates that, like, coastal grandmother chic thing that's going on right now. Trend alert. And then there's two skirt patterns that I really recommend. The Jenna skirt, which is a gathered skirt with an elastic back in the waist, but it's totally flat front waistband. That's really great for practicing those waistbands and gathers. And then the Laura wrap skirt. The Laura wrap skirt is cut on the bias, so you'll get to practice a little bit there. But otherwise it's a lot of kind of straight line sewing. So a great place to introduce. Mix in a little bit of familiar with unfamiliar there. And it's a wrap skirt, so it's totally adjustable so you don't have to fuss with fitting.

Yeah, that's a really fun one, and I've made that one with some really fun adjustments, like adding ruffles to it, which is also kind of a cool thing you can try.

That brings us to our advanced beginners. And here you want to focus on really leveling up your skills. We recommend focusing on the bridge skills. So those are things like closures, working with knits, bias, tape finishes, fitting. So those are kind of the slightly more advanced skills that don't fall into necessarily that 80 20 category of things that you absolutely need as your foundation and sewing, but are things that you can build on top of those skills. So, again, you want to continue building one to three new skills with each project and really focus on adding them with intention and adding them in a way that it's going to enhance your sewing practice based on what you want to learn and what you want to sew. So if you're really interested in fitting, maybe you go a little bit more in that direction. If you're more interested in learning how to sew with knits, maybe you go a little bit more in that direction.

So you can kind of start to play with it a little bit. Now that you have a good idea of the basics, you can really just make a list of the skills that you want to learn and focus on those first. So one of the things that we often recommend is creating a learning plan for yourself with your own goals in mind. So what you're specifically interested in mind, and if it's something that you're not interested in, you can leave it off. If you're not interested in sewing with knits right now, if you really just want to focus on wovens, you don't have to build that skill right now in this phase. You can leave that for later. So it's a great way to start kind of customizing your sewing practice and really thinking creatively about what's important to you and the kinds of clothes that you want to sew and what's going to fit into your life, what's going to fit into your wardrobe, and what you're excited about actually making. Hilly. Want to share some good ideas for projects for advanced beginners?

Yes, definitely. So I'm going to give some examples, kind of based on some of the common bridge skills that we find that a lot of people want to focus on this particular part of their showing journey. So if someone wanted to really focus on closures and really get a good handle on that, then I would probably recommend learning how to sell invisible zippers. This is one of the most common types of zipper closure for something like that. If you wanted to practice invisible zippers, I'd recommend the Pauline skirt. It is a really cute paneled straight skirt with a slit and a side invisible zipper. And I think it's really just a really great wardrobe staple and has a lot of those skills that are probably already familiar with you with the invisible zip earth thrown in there to kind of spice it up a bit. If you are curious about learning how to work with knits, then I would recommend making a T shirt. I think a T shirt is a great first knitwear project because you'll be learning how to do construction and finishes. A couple of different kinds of finishes for T shirts, I love our Ryan T, which has a gender expansive drafting, meaning that we fit it on both male and female bodied people.

Or the Orlando Tea, which is a really fit kind of femme T shirt with short cap sleeves and a really cute scoop neckline. If you want to learn more about finishes and really up your game there, then I would recommend experimenting with some bias tape and bias tape finishes. I think that that is a really great skill to build. The bow top is a great kind of boxy oversized top, really fantastic silhouette on that, and it has a bias faced neckline. And that's one of those skills I think sometimes people recommend. People just jump into but it's a little bit challenging to make it look really great and really professional. So I think that's a great one for more advanced beginners to work on. Lastly, if you are really wanting to explore buttons, then I would recommend something like the Natalie top is a button up top that has a really cute little notch collar and short sleeves. Or the Sawyer skirt, which is an Aline skirt with princess seams and buttons up the center front. And both of those have quite a few buttons. So you can really practice your button hole on your sewing machine and your button sewing technique.

Yeah, these are all awesome choices.

Yes, for this one, it's definitely, I think, all about more identifying the skill and then identifying the pattern that's going to fit that skill. So those four, or I guess five patterns that are listed are more of like a framework for how to think about it, rather than hard and fast rules about what's perfect for a more advanced beginner.

Yeah, I think that's where it comes back to creating your own learning plan and really figuring out what you want to learn next, which is the fun part, I think.

Totally. And that's such a fun phase because you're really getting momentum in that phase of your sewing journey. Well, we have some really great tips here. I am going to recap them a bit. Our first tip is to identify what level of beginner there are. Absolute beginners are still learning the ropes of how to use a machine, how to measure yourself, use a pattern. True beginners can make a few projects, even if that's with some assistance, they can operate a machine, they can sew some straight lines, and advanced beginners can do the core skills for garment sewing, like curves or hems facing sleeves, those kinds of things. So once you've identified where you fall, we have some different tips depending on what type of beginner you are. If you're an absolute beginner, you'll want to stick with mostly small projects. We really recommend non garments, but you can also work with garments as well. You'll just want to choose ones that don't require any fitting or are really loose fitting. For true beginners, we recommend picking projects that introduce one to three new skills. You can listen to our last podcast episode for more on that.

You're going to mostly want to stick with patterns that have a looser, more relaxed shape, but you can start introducing some more shaping, like darts or gathers here. It's also a really great idea on the stage to return to those skills that have challenged you in the past. Let's say gathers were really tough. Try another project with gathers in them. You can also revisit projects that you've already made and have some success with, but try them in new fabrics so you can start to build your experience with different types of fabric. If you are an advanced beginner, we really recommend focusing on leveling up those sewing skills and focusing on the bridge skills like closures, knits, different kinds of finishes, fitting. These are the kinds of things that are really going to catapult you forward into that intermediate level. You can continue building these skills using that one to three new skill principle that we've talked a little bit about. And now that you have a kind of a good idea of the basics, make a list of the skills you want to learn and really start to create a learning plan for yourself. This is a really exciting phase to be in.

So even though there's a little bit less structure and what we're recommending, I think that's the fun of it is that you get to really explore your own personal direction. And if you want to make a really great pattern for our absolute beginners, we recommend our Quince Robe, which happens also to be a total freebie. You can download the Quincy Jacket pattern for free. It's really easy. It's a versatile Robe style jacket. It has two links, mix and match design details for up to 15 design variations. You can make it in, like, a huge variety of fabrics, and it's really one of our most popular patterns. You can download, goquintz. And if you liked this episode, please leave us a review. You can give us some stars, five stars. That'd be cool. Leave us a review. Let us know how you like it. We really enjoy reading them, but also it helps other people who are interested in sewing and want to listen to us chat about it to find us.

All right, we'll see you next week. I'm Sarai.

And I'm Haley.

And this is Seamwork Radio.

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