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Episode 119

Re-run: Sewing by Design

Your sewing practice is like a house. Once you’ve built it and moved in, you can decorate it how you’d like, get into comfy clothes, and unwind in your own personalized creative space. Sarai and Haley explain this metaphor in this re-run episode.

Seamwork Radio is taking a break for the holidays, so we’re re-airing our popular Sewing by Design series. We came up with this framework to make your sewing practice more FUN. Over the next few weeks, Sarai and Haley will introdice you to all 5 layers in the Sewing by Design framework.

Podcast Transcript

Sarai
I’m Sarai.

Haley
And I’m Haley.

Sarai
And this is Seamwork Radio.

Hi everyone! Haley and I are taking a break for the holidays and while we’re gone we are reshaping our SBD series from last year. This series was really popular and a lot of people found it really helpful for building a framework around their sewing so they can get more out of it. I hope you enjoy hearing it, whether it’s for the first time or as a refresher on this whole concept of creating a sewing practice that makes you happy. And by the way, if you’re looking for a gift for yourself or a friend who sews, we do have gift certificates available at Seamwork.com. You can get a gift certificate for an unlimited membership with a 50% discount right now on Seamwork. And we also have gift certificates available for our in-depth, Learn to Sew for Absolute Beginners class, taught by me and Haley. You can find all of these now for the holidays on Seamwork.com. Enjoy the episode and we’ll be back after the series is over in January. Happy holidays!

Hi, everybody, and welcome to Seamwork Radio. Today we are talking about a framework that we’ve been working on called Sewing by Design. And we’re going to cover what it is and tell you a little bit about why we think this process, this framework of sewing by design could really help you. We’re going to be covering this all month long, actually, and probably into next month even, so expect more about this. But today, I just kind of wanted to introduce the concept to you and tell you a little bit about it. So we’re going to start, as usual, with an icebreaker. And today our icebreaker is “what’s a sewing skill that intimidated you for a long time?” So, Haley, what’s a sewing skill that intimidated you?

Haley
Okay, this is easy. So I think that the sewing skill that intimidated me the most for the longest time is sewing knits. So I didn’t sew with knits until I’d been sewing for, like, at least two years, and I think it intimidated me because I had this instructor who was, like, a real hater about knits. She just, like, was always talking smack about them and how hard they were to sew with. And then finally, I decided, like, screw that. I’m gonna make a T-shirt. And I made a T-shirt. And it was so much easier than I had anticipated. I had done so many things at that point. I had made, like, tailored shirts and sewn with silk and on the bias and all sorts of things, and I was like, really? This is what I’m not feeling really confident about for some reason? And I haven’t looked back since. I love sewing with knits now, so it was definitely more of a mental block than anything.

Sarai
Yes. I think I kind of felt the same way about knits for a long time early on with sewing, because it feels so different from sewing with wovens, and you kind of feel like, oh, I need some extra equipment. I can’t do it without a serger. I need this, I need that. And it is different. But once you learn the basics of it, it’s actually easy and flow faster than sewing wovens.

Haley
Totally.

Sarai
I think probably a lot of newer sewers probably feel that way. Yes. I think for me, something that I would say intimidated me for a long time and maybe still does is making jeans. I think it’s because I realized that a lot of the fit and a lot of the quality of the jeans is really dependent on the fabric. And so if you don’t have exactly the right fabric, it can really make or break your jeans. You can put a lot of work into creating them, and it still could not work out just because the fabric is not the right quality. So that’s something that has always intimidated me a little bit. It just seems difficult to find and source the fabric that’s going to make it a really, really successful project. And I’m pretty picky about my jeans, so that might be part of that too.

Haley
Well, and the thing about obstacles that involve fabric and sourcing is that in lots of ways, it’s a little bit out of your control. There’s, like, things you can do to get a little bit more control over the situation. But ultimately a fabric is going to do what it’s going to do, and lots of times you don’t know what that is until you finished the project.

Sarai
Yes, that always makes it hard. It’s a little bit nervewracking, I think. Anything to do with fabric and materials, I think that can be nervewracking. I wanted to talk about this because I just feel like a lot of people, when they come into sewing, or even when you’re more of an intermediate sewer, you have those things that are kind of blockages. And that’s one of the reasons we wanted to talk about this framework today, because I think there are ways around those blockages if you have kind of an intentional way of approaching your sewing.

Haley
Yeah, I mean, sewing is really hard. And we’ve been helping people learn how to sew and teaching people how to sew for long enough to know that people can encounter these difficulties regardless of what phase or stage they are in their sewing journey. And lately we’ve been kind of talking about like, why? Why is this so? And lots of times when Sarai and I were talking about these things, we often draw comparisons between sewing and knitting. And it seems like knitting is like the skill that not to minimize what an incredible skillset it is, but it seems like something that people are able to grapple with the learning process of knitting independently a little bit easier than they are with sewing. And that’s in my opinion, because this skillset of sewing is so incredibly vast. People have lots of different reasons for sewing. They have lots of different goals when it comes to sewing. And there’s so much information out there, and it’s hard to kind of figure out, how do you get from a) “a” being not really knowing how to sell or having minimal skills to b) being whatever your goal is.

Sarai
Yeah, and that’s why we wanted to develop some kind of a framework that could help people get through that process and really approach it in a more thoughtful and methodical way. I think what you said about knitting is true. I personally, when I learned to knit, I feel like with knitting, there are two things you really have to know in order to knit something. You have to know how to knit and you have to know how to purl. And you don’t even need to know how to purl if you want to make a scarf and there’s a couple of other things casting on and things, but those are kind of the main things and there are variations on that that you can do in order to create all these intricate patterns. But with sewing there really is kind of, I feel a lot more variety and the skills and a lot more of the motor skills that are needed in order to master those things. So for me with knitting, it was more like I want to learn how to do color work. For example, I want to learn how to do fair aisle, so I’d find a pattern that had fair aisle and then I would find a tutorial on how to do it and I would learn how to do it.

And it was pretty clear what the skill was that I needed to master to do that project. Whereas I think with sewing there are a whole group of skills you might need to master in order to get to the next level or to tackle a certain project. It’s not just one at a time like it can be with knitting. So I think that’s something that makes it a little bit trickier for people as they develop skills.

Haley
Something that we have been asking ourselves and surveying people and gathering a lot of information on is like how people learn how to sew. So Sarai, how did you initially learn how to sew?

Sarai
I learned, my grandmother taught me the basics. She taught me how to use a sewing machine and we made a pattern together the first time. Honestly, she did most of the work, I think, on that first pattern. And it came out beautifully because mostly she made it. And then after that I was kind of off and running and learning on my own. And for me there was a lot of trial and error and just kind of diving in and doing things I didn’t know how to do, which, you know, we talked about it when we talked about ambitious learners versus cautious learners in a previous episode. And I’m more of the ambitious learner. So I made a lot of mistakes and made a lot of weird stuff that didn’t really fit or wasn’t what I had envisioned and that was okay for me. But I did learn mostly on my own from that point until maybe I was a little bit older and there was more material available on the internet to learn from when I got a little bit older, but mostly it was a lot of trial and error after that. The initial basics.

What about you?

Haley
Well, I didn’t learn how to sew until I went to school for apparel design. And so I learned to sew as part of a curriculum. My trajectory was kind of set for me by someone else, by teachers and mentors. And the way that the program worked is that your pattern making and sewing classes, they were the same classes. So it was pattern making and learning how to sew side by side, which I really don’t recommend because I think it’s more helpful to have an understanding of what things look like. What does a notch collar look like on paper before you start drafting it? You don’t have any basis for your knowledge at all.

I figured it out eventually, but I think it was helpful to have people who knew how to get me from A to B, from knowing absolutely nothing to being a skilled seamstress and pattern maker. But I also attended school with a handful, about 50% of us knew how to sew, aAnd those friends that I made that helped me with all of my sewing questions in the very beginning, I’m still friends with them today. We used to text all the time. But for me it was really important to have a mentor and also have a community of people to kind of like riff off of and learn with. And those aspects were, I think, what enabled me to be able to go from knowing nothing to knowing a lot in such a short period of time.

Sarai
Yeah, I didn’t really make any sewing friends or really know anybody who sewed until I probably until I went to college. So I feel like at that point I was so much more inspired because it was just so fun to go shopping together for fabric and see what each person was making and get inspired by how ambitious she was and the different kinds of fabric that she was using, the different things that she was making. So I agree. I think having that community is just so it’s inspiring and it’s really motivating, I think.

Haley
Yeah, totally. I mean, we would like, stay up all night pattern making and sewing like multiple nights a week and sometimes we didn’t really need to to meet a deadline, but we just were having so much fun. We did anyway and just totally like just screwing around and being ridiculous.

Sarai
I think this brings us to kind of talking about how we kind of get better over time. Not just how we learn to sew, but how do we actually progress our skills over time. And I think in the beginning when I was learning how to sew and like I said, everything was very experimental and I was just trying different things and I would do things completely the wrong way because it made sense in my head at the time. And then I think once I became a little bit more studious about it and actually started buying books and talking to people about it and learning actual techniques and trying to get better, that was when I learned so much faster. And if I had combined that spirit of experimentation with the more methodical approach to learning, then I would have gotten to where I wanted to be a lot faster.

Haley
Yes.

Sarai
I don’t think the two things are mutually exclusive. I think you can do both.

Haley
Yeah, totally.

Sarai
So I wanted to talk about this framework that we’ve developed at Seamw that is really, I think, going to be helpful to a lot of you, no matter where you are. If you’re a beginner sewer or if you are a more intermediate or even more advanced sewer, as a way to kind of contextualize and think about your sewing progress and make it a little bit more intentional. So it’s got basically five layers to it, and I’m going to explain what those layers are. They aren’t really steps per se. The first two are steps in a way. The first two have an order to them, the others a little bit less so, and I’ll explain what I mean.

So the first layer here is your foundation. So we’re calling this layer foundation. So if you think about it like a house, I think, Haley, you came up with this metaphor and I love it. I think it makes a lot of sense. So if you think about building a house, when you build a house, you’re not going to start by kind of picking out furniture or deciding what wallpaper you want. I mean, those are all fun things to think about for the future, but that’s not what’s going to get your house built.

So what you need to start with is your foundation. You need to figure out where you’re going to build your house and you need to pour the foundation. And so that first step of laying your foundation are those core skills that you really need in order to build over time. In our next episode, we’re going to talk about what we think those core skills are, and we’ll kind of go through them, but those are the things that are really going to help you to sew whatever you want in the future. If you have these skills, then you can build on those skills and improve those skills and add to those skills in different ways in order to become better at sewing. So that’s your foundation.

And then the next step, this is the one that I think a lot of people don’t really think about. This is sort of the frame of the house. So the next step after you build your foundation might be to build the outer walls of your house. The outer walls and the roof, right? So this is sort of your container for the rest of your sewing practice, and we’re calling this building your practice.

So this is the part of sewing where you’ve got your basic skills down, but at this point, what you really need to do is build momentum around your sewing. And this is actually the really fun part, I think, because this is the part where you get to try some different things, but you also get to think about more of the mindset around sewing and what you want to get out of it and what you want your practice to be. Like, whether you want to make a ton of stuff or if you want to have a more considered wardrobe in the future, if you want to make sewing kind of a self care practice and have it be something that is kind of your special me time. You know, some people, that’s what’s really important to them about sewing. So this is the part of your journey where you’re making sewing really fun and really enjoyable for yourself and just kind of falling in love with it. And I think that’s really important. I think that’s something that people don’t really consider. They just kind of want to get to the point where they’re making stuff that they want to make.

And I think it’s really helpful to kind of step back and figure out what is going to make you really happy with your sewing and keep you going. Don’t you think so, Haley?

Haley
Yeah, I think this stage is all about finding the purpose that sewing fulfills in your life and practicing those skills that you established in laying your foundation. Cause in laying your foundation, those are a lot of we’ll talk a lot more about this next week, but these are the component skills that you need for pretty much any project, and you got to put those into practice in this stage. And also, just like Sarai said, build that momentum. Because in our experience, that is once people get to that momentum phase and they’re showing that’s when it sticks, yeah.

Sarai
You got to make it fun for yourself. You got to make it something you look forward to and kind of figure out what it is you want out of your sewing in the future. I think so far, we’ve laid this foundation of the house. We’ve built these walls for the house. So this is the point at which we can start kind of filling in the rooms of the house. And so while the first two steps were linear, you know, you start with linear foundation, then you build those walls. The next steps are things you can kind of choose your adventure on. You can kind of pick and choose which of these is most important to you and what you want to pursue. And you might not pursue all of them, or you might pursue some of them more than others.

So the first one is design your wardrobe. And as many of you know, we have a program within Seamwork called Design Your Wardrobe, which is all about helping you to pinpoint your style and develop some looks that work together for you and for your life that really fit who you are and create a sewing queue out of those.

And that’s something we’ve been teaching for a few years, and it’s super, super popular. People love it, and we’re always trying to improve it. And every time we run it, we do something a little bit different with it and it’s just a really great program. But what we found is that that’s a really vital part of sewing for a lot of people. And I think it’s something that a lot of people have found missing from their sewing practice in the past.

So Design Your Wardrobe is all about creating the wardrobe that you want that really speaks to you and it’s really helpful for your sewing if this is something that’s interesting to you because it helps you to create things that you actually are going to get use of and you actually want to wear. So that’s something that you could pursue after you’ve kind of built your practice out. I just love Design Your Wardrobe. I love every time we run it. It’s so fun to see what people come up with and what people make and how inspired they are.

Haley
Yeah, I think that everybody who, everyone I’ve met who takes up sewing, takes up sewing because they have some kind of interest in clothing and the aesthetics of style and all of that. And once you have really established the foundation for your house and the frame for your house, then you get to really have fun identifying the what all of that looks like, now that you have that important framework to contain everything. And regardless of whether you participate in Design Your Wardrobe or not, I mean, I think you should because I think it’s really cool. But you do you. That process of finding your personal style and then figuring out how to make that a reality is a really important step for a lot of people in their sewing practice.

Sarai
Yeah, like you said, there’s a lot of ways you could go about it. You don’t need to do the Design Your Wardrobe program, but I think it is a step that you might want to consider if having an intentional wardrobe is something that’s important to you. And I think it is for a lot of people who sew.

So the next kind of room in your house that you could focus on, and this is one that I think is big for a lot of people, is find your fit. So fit is a huge topic and it’s something that a lot of people come to sewing because they want to get a better fit or they can’t find clothing that fits them at all. So I think fit is a really essential skill for a lot of people. And why we call it Find your Fit is because I think it can be really overwhelming to look at all of the different options out there in the home sewing world when it comes to fit. And there are just so many adjustments you can make. And I think a lot of people struggle with that because they will make a muslin or they’ll be trying to fit something and there are just like hundreds of different adjustments they can make and how do you decide which adjustment you need to make.

And so with Find Your Fit, we really are trying to boil down fit to both a process that you can follow, a simple process. It’s just step by step in order to diagnose your fit and really understanding what those basic adjustments are, those kind of three—there’s only really three types of adjustments you need to make and what those are. And Haley, you cover this in our how to Fit with Confidence class, and we’re working on more fit material as well. But you want to talk a little bit about kind of the theory around that?

Haley
Yeah. So, like Sarai said, there’s kind of when you really distill it down, there’s only really three types of adjustments that are necessary to any pattern, and that is adding width, adding length, and adding fullness. And so the class that I taught with Seamwork, I talk to you, take you through this framework of sewing a muslin, diagnosing your muslin, really learning how to read your wrinkles, and then how to make those adjustments. I think in the home sewing world, we get caught up in a lot of, like, the nomenclature of, like, full bust adjustment, round pubis adjustment—I just think that one’s funny—broad shoulders.

Sarai
It’s an obscure one.

Haley
It’s an obscure one. It gets a lot of airtime in the sewing world, I’ve noticed. But anyway, it all gets very, like, convoluted. And I think all of those adjustments are great, and some I recommend them to people sometimes because it is kind of a good way to really be specific and distill something down. But I think a great starting place is to, like, drop all of that nomenclature and just learn how to read wrinkles and make really basic, simple adjustments. That’s what I teach in the Fit with Confidence class, and that’s the place that I recommend that everybody start with. I think it’s a really good place to start when you’re starting your fitting journey.

Sarai
Yeah. And I think another part of this is and the reason that we called it Find Your Fit is because oftentimes, once you discover some of those common adjustments that you need to make, you can more quickly diagnose future garments that you make, too. Because you know that it’s common that I have to make this certain adjustment just because I’m not the perfect median size in this particular area or because I have one shoulder higher than the other or whatever it happens to be. And so, finally, finding those things that are really most important to you and to your body, I think is a big part of the fitting process that we cover.
Haley
Totally. And I feel like people don’t believe me when I say this, but your eye will eventually know, when I print out a pattern, a pants pattern, and I look at it without even measuring the thigh, I can visually tell, okay, I need to add more room in the thigh. Of course, I confirmed this with measurements and real life math. But by looking at a pattern, I can see. And once you start sewing for yourself for long enough and paying attention to these things, you also will be able to see that. And hopefully that’s something that we can teach you. But we have the Fit with Confidence class and we’re also adding new fitting tutorials to our classroom every other month now. So that is a part of the Seamwork universe that can really help you to find your fit.

Sarai
Yeah. And then the final phase here, the final part of this framework is Choose Your Adventure. So we had an episode a few months ago about niche sewing. I think it was in December. We had an episode on niche sewing. And this point in your sewing journey is really about finding those more specialty areas of sewing that really fuel you and excite you and keep you motivated to keep going. So that could be things like sewing lingerie, or sewing swimwear, or learning to sew, evening wear, specialty fabrics. There are so many different categories. You can learn to make bras, you can do corsets, you can do all kinds of stuff. So at this point, you’re kind of exploring and choosing an area intentionally that you want to focus on that’s going to keep you really excited and motivated. So that could be a whole bunch of different things. I think this is something that, if you think about it in this way, this kind of more intentional way, can be something that really keeps you going with your sewing for a really long time, probably forever, because there’s so much to learn.

Haley
Totally. And even within Choosing Your Adventure and these niche sewing, you have these unique opportunities to revisit laying your foundation. Maybe it’s like building an addition onto your little sewing house.

Sarai
Yeah, that’s a good way to think about it. I think a lot of people who come to sewing and who really stick with it, even just past that initial phase, are people who love learning and love trying new things and love making stuff and seeing things that they’ve made with their own hands. So I think this part is really important for the more advanced and intermediate sewers, but also even for the beginner sewers because it’s just so it’s just so motivating, I think, for people like us that love learning.

Haley
I know, just talking about it, we’ve talked about it countless times and I’m like, I’m so excited about this. Such a good metaphor. And now we have additions on the metaphor, so I’m really excited about that.

Sarai
Put in some dormer windows.

Haley
Yeah.

Sarai
It’s going to look like the Winchester Mystery House eventually with all of our skills added onto it.

Haley
Just how I like it.

Sarai
So that’s Sewing by Design, our framework that we are teaching within Seamwork. And if you’re interested in any of these things, we’ll put some links into the show notes to some of the things that we talked about. But over the course of the next five weeks, we’re really going to go into depth on each phase in a little bit more detail. So if you’re interested in this, and you kind of have been thinking about how to keep yourself motivated and having fun with your sewing, maybe you’ve felt a little blah about it, or you feel like you could learn some new skills and have a little bit more fun with your sewing. Then over the next five weeks, you’re going to learn a little bit more about each of these things and kind of see where you fall and see what might be a good next step for you. So, yeah, that said, you want to recap for us, Haley?

Haley
Yeah. So today we talked about the sewing by design framework, which we like to use the metaphor of a house. So there’s five parts to this framework. Part one and two are kind of linear. The rest are not so much. But part one is layered foundation, and this really consists of the component skills that you need to basically sew anything, which we’re going to be talking about more next week. So be sure to listen to that episode for more. After that, you start to build your practice. So in building your practice, you are both practicing those foundation skills that you established in laying your foundation, but also you’re building your actual sewing practice and gaining that momentum that keeps you coming back for more sewing time and time again and then kind of contained within building your practice, and beyond that, we have the three kind of additional things that you can do: Design Your Wardrobe, which is just identifying your style and figuring out how to build a wardrobe with intention. Finding your fit, which is all about learning how to fit and becoming familiar with your body and the accommodations that you’ll want to make for it.

And then Choose Your Adventure, which is all about niche sewing and just getting really cozy with the fine details of sewing. So this could be sewing specialty fabrics, bra, making swimwear, I don’t know, maybe cosplay, any of those things that are just really niche sewing pursuits. So if you want to learn more about this, be sure to check out the show notes we’ll link to Design Your Wardrobe and Fit with Confidence, as well as the fitting tutorials that are in the classroom.

Sarai
Yeah. So, thank you guys so much for joining us today. We wanted to share a recent review we got. We always love reading your reviews, and we’ve got a few good ones. We’re actually over as we’re recording this. We’re over 400 ratings and reviews on Apple podcasts, so we are so, so excited about that. I’m just amazed at how much the podcast is growing lately. So thank you all for listening. So here’s a nice review we have from HMO 125. And this person says, “Seamwork Radio provides so much valuable info to fuel my sewjo, endlessly inspiring. And if you’re not a Seamwork member, I highly recommend that too.” Wow. A little ad for us there with their reviews.

Haley
Why, thank you.

Sarai
Thank you, thank you. HMO 125. I don’t know when you choose your name within Apple, the Apple podcast rating system I left her of recently. It’s so funny. I left her review on a podcast recently, and I was like, it doesn’t really show you what your name is going to be. And I don’t know when I put in the name, and when I posted it, I was like, oh, okay, well, that’s a surprise. I don’t remember setting that name. But anyway, thank you so much. Really appreciate that. And if you would like to leave a review for us on Apple podcasts, please do. We super appreciate it, and it helps other people to find the show and spread the good word about sewing. All right, so that’s it for us today. I’m Sarai.

Haley
And I’m Haley.

Sarai
And this is Seamwork Radio.

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