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Episode 120

Re-run: Lay Your Foundation

You wouldn't start building a house by buying paint and picking out cabinet hardware. You'd start by creating a strong foundation. In this re-run episode, Sarai and Haley explore the first step in the Sewing by Design process: Lay Your Foundation.

Podcast Transcript

Sarai
I’m Sarai.

Haley
And I’m Haley.

Sarai
And this is Seamwork Radio.

Hi everybody. Haley and I are taking a break for the holidays, and while we’re going, we’re going to be sharing our Sewing by Design series from earlier this year. This series was really popular and a lot of people have found it helpful for building a framework around their sewing so they can get more out of it.

Today’s episode is the first step in the process. It’s all about laying your foundation. So I hope you enjoy hearing it, whether you’re hearing it for the first time or as a refresher on the concept of creating a sewing practice that makes you happy.

And by the way, as I’ve mentioned, if you’re looking for a gift for yourself or a friend who sews, we have gift certificates available right now on Seamwork.com. You can get a gift certificate for an unlimited membership for 50% off discount right now on Seamwork. And we also have gift certificates available for our in-depth Learn to Sew Clothing: For Absolute Beginners course, taught by Haley and me. You can find all of these right now for the holidays on Seamwork.com. So enjoy the episode and we’ll be back after the holidays. Happy holidays!

Welcome back to Seamwork Radio everybody. So last week, we talked about why learning to sew is hard but rewarding. We were talking talking about our Sewing by Design framework, and today we’re going to talk about that first step in that framework, which is laying your foundation. And today we’re going to talk about why sewing is so hard. We’re getting into a little bit more detail about that and some of the things that we’ve heard from all of you, and especially from our beginners out there. And we’re also going to talk about what we think are the eight key skills that you need, the kind of component skills that you need for your foundation as you continue your sewing journey, especially if you are a beginner.

So with that, we’re going to dive into our icebreaker for today, which I’m really excited about. This one is fun. The question today is, “what beginner project, no matter how ugly, still makes you smile because you’re so proud of it.” So, Haley, start us off. What is it?

Haley
Okay, so for me, this is pretty easy, but it’s kind of like a tale within a tale. So I apologize in advance. Okay. So at the end, I think it was my first semester of design school, all of our lessons and work culminated, and we needed to draft a button-up shirt pattern, and then we needed to sew it up in a plaid fabric matching all of the plaid. I was like, okay, I was living in LA. But I hadn’t been downtown to the garment district yet. I didn’t have a car at the time. And so I’m like, okay, I’m going to go make this journey to do this. And so I go downtown, and I’m in one of these storefronts. If you’ve ever been in the garment district, a lot of the stores are, like, kind of semi open air where they have, like, big garage doors that pull up, and you go in through the garage door. And so I’m, like, in this semi open air, like, market looking at fabric, and then this, like, dude walks in with a Big Gulp cup, like, full of urine, starts threatening to throw it all.

Sarai
No.

Haley
I’m barely 18. I’m just, like, such a little baby, and I am so scared that they can pee on me. And I have a full blown anxiety attack in the store. I’m like, I gotta get the heck out of here, dude. I gotta get out. I got to grab, like, the first plaid fabric I see, and I, like, buy it, just, like, panic by it. And my boyfriend at the time was, like, in his Toyota Corolla around the corner because I didn’t want to pay for parking. Anyway, like, right over, get in the car, we leave. Anyway, I look at it, and it’s hot, like, pink, like, magenta, and has, like, this tinsely thread running through it. It’s, like, totally, like, glittery, which is just, like, not my taste. And it’s this teeny, teeny tiny plaid, which is harder to match up. And I was, like, so bummed with my choice. I was excited about the project, and then I was like, oh, man, I don’t have enough money to buy more fabrics. And so I made the shirt out of this ugly fabric. And you know what? The fabric is still ugly. There was no redeeming it, but I matched up all of that plaid.

I drafted the pattern myself. It looked professional. I’d only been sewing for a few months at the time, so when I think back on it, I’m genuinely impressed with myself, but just, like, horrifying on so many levels.

Sarai
Oh, my goodness. I can just picture you, like, throwing cash at them. Like, Get me out of here.

Haley
A little scared baby.

Sarai
Oh, my gosh, yes. I feel like maybe when I was 18, that would have been scary to me too. But having lived in cities for most of my life, yeah, I’ve experienced that more than once.

Haley
Like, the person I was that first year was, like, an entirely different person than the person that LA spat out years later.

Sarai
Oh, wow. Well, I’m proud of you. Thank you for sticking with it, especially if it’s a small plaid. I can imagine how hard that would be if you were only a few months into sewing.

Haley
Oh, my God, I cried so much making it. It was so hard.

Sarai
Oh, man. That’s a badge of honor. Those projects you’ve made through tears.

Haley
Totally. It just makes it so much worse that it was, like, still ugly. Like, at the end of the day.
Just so totally ugly.

Haley
But I’m still proud of it. I don’t care if it’s ugly.

Sarai
Yeah. There’s more important things than what it looks like. Sometimes it’s all about the journey, the story you get.

Haley
So take us on the journey of your ugly, proud moment. Okay.

Sarai
I don’t have a story like that, but when I think about something I made early on that was ugly but I’m still proud of, I had this skirt that I wore all the time when I was in high school. I learned to sew when I was in high school, and as I mentioned in the last episode, my grandmother taught me the basics of sewing, but a lot of my sewing knowledge was self-taught, and I didn’t really have a very good concept of what would look good on me, I think. Or maybe I just didn’t care. I don’t know. But I made this skirt. It was a mini skirt, and it was purple velveteen, so, like, cotton velveteen, as you know, which is kind of, like, pretty stiff fabric because of the nap on it. It’s usually pretty stiff. So it was cotton velveteen, and it was purple. It was a color I heard somebody describe once, not reference to the skirt, but as a Wizard Purple. Describe it as Wizard Purple. So it was a mini skirt, and it had an elastic waistband on it, like a pretty thick elastic waistband. So, you know, a stiff fabric like that elastic waistband, Wizard purple. Already. It was not the classiest, but then I also put this trim on it that was like if you know those trims that are maybe like an inch and a half or so of organza, it was like black organza in a flounce with the wire on one end, so it really sticks out. And I sewed that onto the hem of this ugly skirt.

And so I wore that skirt all the time, and I would just wear it with, like, band T-shirts to school all the time with my combat boots, and that was a look. So looking back, it was incredibly ugly. But I’m still proud of it because I made it myself. I made it exactly the way I wanted to make it. It was definitely, as Tim Gunn would say, a lot of look. But it was mine at that time, and I loved it. I wore the heck out of it. I wore it all the time. And I think that’s something to be proud of. Like, any time you make something that you actually get a lot of use out of and that you actually love, I think that’s something to celebrate, and I think that really helped.

We talked last time about the things that kind of fuel your sewing momentum. That was one of those projects for me. That was one of those things that made me want to sew more because I got so much use out of it. So if you make something ugly, it could still be very worthwhile.

Haley
Yeah, you might be talking about it with a friend and laughing about it years from now like we are. It will serve many purposes in your life, your life. You’ll learn something from it, and you’ll get some laughs.

Sarai
Yeah, I think the important thing with that one is I didn’t think it was ugly at the time. Yeah. Just looking back, that’s true. But I also didn’t care. I was willing to take some fashion risks when I was 17 years old.

So that ice breaker came from one of our members. And if you would like to contribute an icebreaker, you can head over to the Seamwork community if you’re a member, and go to the podcast topic there and let us know if there’s an icebreaker that you’d like us to talk about in a future episode.

Haley
Yes, we’d love to hear them. You guys have such amazing icebreaker questions. I love them. It might be my favorite part of the podcast. I don’t know. It’s true.

Anyway, back to the issue of the day. Today we’re talking about the laying your foundation portion of the Sewing by Design framework. Sarai and I and all of us at Seamwork have spent a lot of time talking to beginners. We’ve been beginners ourselves, and we’ve actually done surveys with a lot of beginner sewers. And, you know, it’s really, like, solidified for us that sewing is hard. There’s no denying it. Sewing is hard. So we wanted to talk a little bit before we get into the laying your foundation of Sewing by Design, talk about the things that people get kind of hung up on that they struggle with the most in the beginning of their sewing journey. I think a big thing is that today, not a lot of—before people learned how to sew from family or they learned how to sew in the home ec class, it was something that was like a norm, a skill that was taught to people. And today, lots of people don’t have the benefit of having that mentor, a friend, a family member to teach them.

So you’re kind of like grabbing on to these skills at random. I’m making a pleated skirt. I got to figure out pleats now instead of going through things in a more methodical way. And so it can be kind of hard when you don’t have that guidance to identify what those beginner skills truly are. And because of that, it’s hard to choose projects because you don’t really know what’s hard and what’s easy. And as many, like skilled sewers will tell you, just because a pattern is minimalist in design does not mean it’s necessarily easy to sew. Easy and simple are two totally different things.

Sarai
Yeah, definitely. I think that’s a really big sticking point for people. And it’s one of the things that we’re really trying to address with this part of the framework, which is just knowing what those beginner skills are and what projects and what steps you can take to cover those skills and get better at those skills before moving on to something more advanced. And when you’re beginner, you don’t even have a concept of which skills you should learn first, which you need to learn next. So that’s a big part of what we’re trying to develop here.

Haley
Yeah, and it’s something that we can provide for you. Maybe you don’t have a family member or neighbor who can teach you how to sew, but we can be your Internet neighbors and be your mentors in a way and provide you with a framework so that you have like, a sequence of skills to move through that will teach you to so in a way that removes, like, a lot of the guesswork of figuring it out on your own.

In addition to that, terminology can be really difficult. There’s a lot of jargon with sewing, and, you know, when you read through, like, one step in sewing instructions, you might come across like three different words you don’t know. So it’s just a lot of terminology to use.

Sewing costs money. Fabric costs money. Patterns cost money. People are really afraid to make mistakes to feel like they’re wasting their time, their money, their fabric. And that’s a really big roadblock for people. And I don’t blame you because that is really frustrating to feel like you’ve sunk time and money into something that just is not working out.

Sarai
Yes.

Haley
In addition to that, people are afraid of their sewing machines. Or maybe they don’t know where to even start with buying a sewing machine. Sewing machines have a lot of anxiety attached to them.

And then on top of all of this, there’s so much information about all of these things that I just rattled off and it’s just so hard to figure out where to begin with it all.

Sarai
Yes. I think that’s such a big part of it, especially with the Internet these days. And there’s just so much information out there between tutorials on blogs and YouTube and all kinds of stuff that you can find on Pinterest everywhere. How do you know where to start? And even if you get a book or something like that, it can be difficult. As we were kind of researching this and thinking about different methods that people use to learn how to sew, I got a lot of learn to seow books from the library and, you know, they’re all great. They have so much great information in them. One in particular was just so vast, it was how to learn how to sew, something like that. But it was like everything you could possibly want to know about sewing was contained in this book. It was great as a reference, like a fantastic sewing bible. But if you bought this book in order to learn how to sew, I think for me at least, it would be really, really intimidating and it would take a long time to kind of figure out where to go to get from point A to point B.

Haley
Totally. Yeah. I mean, a lot of books like that, they don’t necessarily run through a sequence of skills that you should acquire in a particular order. A lot of times they’re just more organized in a way that makes them easy to, like a dictionary, easy to find the skill that you need to brush up on or learn about.

Sarai
Yeah, it feels like there’s a need for something that’s kind of between a personal guide, like an actual person who can sit down with you and something that’s a little bit more of a reference, whether that’s YouTube or a great sewing book or something that you can turn to when you have a specific question or want to learn a specific skill. That’s the part that’s a little bit challenging. And that’s what we’re hoping to address with this framework and some of the things that we’re going to be creating around it for those beginners.

So what we wanted to do is create a framework for those 80/20 skills. So if you’re familiar with the concept of 80/20 or the Pareto Principle, I think it’s how you pronounce it. I’m hoping that’s how you pronounce it. The idea is that in this context, there’s 20% of the skills that you might learn in sewing we’ll get you 80% of the way there. There are a small subset of skills that are really going to be used most of the time in your sewing, and so those form sort of the foundation of anything that you want to learn afterwards.

And we wanted to distill what those 80/20 skills really are and teach them in a sequential way so that if you are a beginner, you can develop those skills in a very methodical way. So these are skills that you would use for just about any project in the future. And that’s why they really do form the foundation. They’re really those really basic component skills.

So we’re going to talk a little bit about the mindset that you need as a beginner, and then we’re going to talk about what those eight skills are. So you want to start us off, Haley, and talk about some of those mindset things?

Haley
Yeah, totally. So something that we found is that when people are coming into sewing, they’re approaching it with a lot of fear, a lot of anxiety. And I think this comes from a place of being overwhelmed. I think this also comes from a place of sewing being really, like, foreign and different than our modern way of living. We live in a time where you can get any food you wanted to deliver to your house within a reasonable amount of time. You see a sweater you like, and you click a button, and it’s yours. And there’s this instant gratification. Sewing teaches us to really slow down. And when you learn how to sew clothing for yourself, a lot of times when people come to sewing, they’re like, oh, I want to learn how to sew because I want to make these shirt dresses for myself. I don’t know, an example. And that’s, like, a great reason to learn how to sew. But if you want to learn how to sew and you want it to stick, it’s important to shift your mindset, to appreciating the steps and appreciating the journey, as corny as that might sound, instead of desiring the finished product, because you’re going to just be disappointed time and time again if you don’t.

Sarai
I was thinking about this yesterday and thinking about how I think sometimes. I mean, I still fall into this trap sometimes, but I get so excited about all the things that I can make and all the things that I would like to make that before I’m even finished with the project that I’m working on, I’m already like, I want to rush through this. I can get to the next one. I have so many ideas. I want to get to the next one. And I think that comes from a place of creativity and excitement, and those are all really good things, but I think it also comes from a place of acquisitiveness and wanting to have more. That’s something that’s really ingrained in us. And I think that goes back to what you’re saying about this kind of instant gratification culture that we live in now, where it feels like I should be able to have everything and have it cheap and have it fast and have it, you know, and sewing is a bit of an antidote to that.

So I think when I get into that mindset, what I try to remember is to keep every project feeling special. Every project is something that’s important and deserves my attention instead of something to rush through.

Haley
Yeah, I think it’s like a really important your mindset to adopt early on in your sewing journey that, just like appreciating every step of the process and don’t rush through it. You know, like most things worthwhile, it’s going to take some time and some practice and effort if you want to be accomplished at it. So I think that’s a big mindset hurdle to overcome. You don’t have to overcome that. Like Sarai said, we struggle with this all the time, but it’s something to remind yourself of as you embark on your journey and continue on it.

Sarai
Yeah. I think this is a thread that goes throughout the whole sewing by design journey. I think it’s something that’s definitely a part of that next phase, that momentum phase. And I think it’s also a big part of Design Your Wardrobe, which is all about really coming up with designs for your real life, your real body, your real wardrobe, and what you actually want to bring into your life rather than more and just doing things as quickly as possible.

Haley
Yeah. And because of this mindset, I think that it makes failure seem or, like, unsuccessful attempts or projects seem so much more disappointing. Are you disappointed because you didn’t acquire the object that you wanted to acquire? Or what part of it are you disappointed with? Are you disappointed because you spend money into it? These are all like I’m not going to tell you what you can and can’t be upset about, but I think being really inquisitive with yourself and giving yourself the okay to fail, you’re not going to learn a new skillset, especially when as complex as sewing can be without some failure a long way. I mean, no lie, I would say one in every four of my projects just does not turn out the way that I want it to. And I don’t love it, but I’m all right with it.

Sarai
Yeah. Kind of the price you pay for doing it yourself.

Haley
Totally the price you pay. Anyway, that’s my really long intro to mindset that I think is a constant practice and introducing to beginner sewers early on is going to make the journey a little bit easier.

Once we kind of like establish our mindset, our goal mindset there’s eight key component skills that make up that 80% that Sarai was talking about. The first component skill is to know your tools and material. You can’t really accomplish anything without knowing your tools or knowing your materials. And this includes your sewing machine. This is a big hurdle that people have to overcome and it’s one of the first things that they really need to start feeling a little bit more confident with acquiring those tools and then materials. As far as fabric goes, this is really like a lifelong part of learning how to sew. But starting to build that basis of knowledge with fabric right from the beginning lays a really good foundation.

From there, we have read your map. What’s your map when you’re sewing? It’s the pattern. And learning how to read patterns and use patterns is a really important step to learning how to sew your own clothing.

And you know, your pattern when you’re sewing a commercial pattern is one of the most like valuable tools you have. The person who’s developed the pattern has sewn it countless times and knows the ins and outs of it. And learning how to read and also trust that information is super vital for successful projects.

Sarai
I think this is something that I really struggled with when I was just learning how to sew, was understanding the pattern and why all those markings are there and how to use them. I think that’s something that if you don’t have somebody to show you, a little tricky.

Haley
Yeah, it’s really tricky. And on top of all of this jargon that we talked about that sewing has, it also has literal symbols and little tiny hieroglyphics you need to learn along the way. OK. So I’m learning this new language and I’m learning a visual language on top of that. It’s something that definitely is a lot easier when you have someone holding your hand through the first few patterns. For sure.

Cutting and marking. In my time teaching in person sewing classes, I will tell you that this is the thing that people really struggle with in the beginning and is really slow going, but there’s lots of tips and tricks to make it a lot easier. And understanding those from the beginning and working smarter and not harder, only going to better your journey.

And then we get to the actual sewing part we weren’t going to like not sew. We have all of the seams and this includes things like straight seams, how to sew corners, curved seams, finishes, pressing techniques. A lot of information is distilled down kind of into the humble seam.

From there, adding fullness. This can be in the form of darts, gathers, tucks, etc. And just understanding what fullness is and why you need it to create garments that are three dimensional is really important.

Sarai
I think that is something that is so fundamental to how clothing works that is kind of hard to understand. How a dart, for example, creates fullness in a bust, for example. I think that is something that eluded me. And nobody really teaches you when you’re first learning how to sew, but it’s actually how clothing works. It’s how a two-dimensional shape becomes a three-dimensional shape in a lot of ways.

Haley
And I think that this framework is kind of touching on these, really. We’re not just taking you through a list of skills that you need to know. We’re taking you through a framework that’s going to help you understand the way that clothing functions, so that when you, later on down the line, when you start your fitting journey or you are designing your wardrobe, you understand the elements that make a garment fit. You understand the elements that add interest and the detail and style that you enjoy. And just having a better grasp of what these features are and how they work is really important.

Adding fullness really flows nicely into our next skill, which is installing a sleeve. This is something that a lot of people really struggle with in our surveys. People talk about time and time again. Sarai was sharing with me that a person recently wrote something about how they didn’t understand how the cap was larger than the armscye, and it really underlined something that more intermediate or advanced sewers might take for granted. That like, oh, wow, the concept of easing in a sleeve, not just how to do it, but why do you even need to do it in the first place?

All of this kind of stuff.

Sarai
That was from our beginner survey. And one of the respondents there said that they didn’t understand why you’d have to ease—I don’t know if she used that word, but ease in a sleeve and thought that that just meant that the pattern wasn’t well designed because they didn’t fit together perfectly. Not understanding that that ease on the sleeve cap is often not always, but often vital to be able to move your arm. So it’s those kind of basic things that if nobody has taught you the why behind it, then you’re bound to think that there’s something wrong, maybe something wrong with the pattern or something wrong with you or something wrong with your technique. So I think it’s really important that it’s not just a matter of how to do it, but how it works.

Haley
Yeah, absolutely. Next, we have adding closures buttons, button holes, zippers, even elastic casings. All of these different things that allow us to pull on our garments and get them to fit over our bodies.

And then lastly, finishing the edges. So things like bias tape, facings, all of these kinds of things that give our hems, of course, that give our garments an actual, clean, professional type of finish.

And this is just eight skills. But when you really think about it, these are variations of these skills that you are going to be using for so much of what you sew. We said 80/20. But honestly, I have a feeling that this will get you through many, many projects at least 90% of the way.

Sarai
I say 92.

Haley
92? Okay, we’ll have to agree to disagree then.

Sarai
Haley says 90. I see 92. Yeah. So we are working on a special project around these skills that we’re going to be sharing with you all pretty soon. We’re just really excited to dig into this a little bit more in the future, because I think this is going to be really helpful for those of you who are more at the beginning of your sewing journey. And even if you’re not, this is kind of the component skills that you have to revisit whenever you’re brushing up your sewing skills or adding to your toolkit of sewing skills.

Even if you’re more intermediate, there’s always new things you can learn about, things like closures or sleeves or fullness if you want to learn more about fitting, for example, like Haley mentioned. So I think having this framework in place and really being able to share it with you all is going to be super, super helpful. So we’re really excited about that, and we’ll share more about that in the coming couple of months.

So to recap, I’m just going to recap those eight skills that Haley covered. They are knowing your tools and materials, reading your map, which is your pattern, cutting and marking seams, which includes stitching, finishing, and pressing. Adding fullness, installing sleeves, adding closures, and finishing your edges.

So that is our layer foundation portion of the Sewing by Design framework, and we hope you enjoyed hearing about it. We’re really, really excited to dig into this even more. And in the next episode, we’re going to cover the next phase of the Sewing by Design framework. So hopefully you’ll be able to join us then and learn a little bit more about how to build momentum and have more fun in your sewing practice by building up that practice. So I’m really excited about that.

And if you want to learn more about this, we have some beginner classes and tutorials on the Seamwork site. If you go to our classroom, we have one called Learn to Sew with Bo. You can check out. We’ll be adding to these in the future as well. But as I said, we’ll be talking a lot more about this portion of the framework in the next few months, so stay tuned for that.

And if you liked this episode, please consider leaving us a review. We would super, super appreciate it. We love reading your reviews. They’re really, really motivating for us to keep our momentum going when it comes to the podcast.

So I wanted to read one of our new reviews today. This is just such a nice review. This is from somebody called Little Gigi on the Prairie, which is what a great name.

Haley
Love the name.

Sarai
So little. Gigi says it’s a little bit of a longer one. “This is truly my favorite podcast I discovered a few months ago and have listened to every episode. At the risk of sounding a little nerdy, knowing that a new episode is being released makes Hump Day that much better. I would listen to this podcast even if I wasn’t a source, because the episodes are just so positive and inspiring. Thank you for the time you spend creating such quality content. It is very much appreciated. Smiley face.” So thank you so much. That is just one of the sweetest reviews that I think we’ve gotten. It is so nice to read, and we read every single review that we get.

So if you would like to leave us one, we would definitely appreciate it. You can leave us a review on Apple podcasts, and you can also leave us a rating and subscribe there, or you can subscribe on whatever podcast app that you choose, and we’d love to have you along on this journey as we continue talking about sewing by design and lots of other topics in the future. So thank you so much.

Sarai
We will see you next week. And for now, I’m Sarai.

Haley
And I’m Haley.

Sarai
And this is Seamwork Radio.

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