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Episode 80

Choose Your Adventure

What is "choose your adventure" for sewing? In simple terms, it's niche sewing. Sarai and Haley discuss how a beginner mindset can help you become more advanced as you combine different resources in order to become your own teacher.

In part six of the Sewing by Design series, Sarai and Haley talk about how to “choose your adventure.” What is “choose your adventure” anyway? In simple terms, it’s niche sewing, and it helps you continually grow and advance your sewing skills, so you keep having fun and staying motivated.

We have found that through persuing niche sewing interests, you can keep engaged in the beginner mindset that help you to love and appreciate your craft. In this episode, Sarai and Haley discuss how a beginner mindset can help you become more advanced, how to go about tackling a skill you’ve always wanted to learn, and how to combine different resources in order to become your own teacher.


Podcast Transcript

Sarai: Welcome back to Seamwork Radio. Today we’re talking about how to continually grow and advance your sewing skills so you keep having fun and stay motivated. So this is the last part of our series on our Sewing by Design framework, and we’re going to cover how a beginner mindset can help you to become more advanced, how to go about tackling a skill you’ve always wanted to learn, and how to combine different resources in order to become your own teacher.

So we’re going to start with our icebreaker for today. And this one comes from Betty K. Betty is one of our favorite people in the Seamwork community. Shout out to Betty. Love you, Betty.

Betty asks, what is your fantasy? Make something you wish you could make. Don’t know if you ever could due to lack of skills, tools, fabrics, resources, time, sensibilities, something you dream of making some day. So what do you think, Haley? Fantasy time.

Haley: I know, okay. Something that I love making is formal wear. I used to make wedding dresses for people. I love sewing a fancy dress for obvious or maybe not obvious reasons. To me, it’s obvious I don’t have a lot of occasions to wear fancy dresses. And so it hurts my heart a little bit that I don’t get to make stuff like that. I used to be able to. And I think my fantasy make is like—kind of a big sewing regret of mine—is that I didn’t make my wedding dress. I wish I could time travel. My fantasy is time traveling so I could go back in time, kick myself in the butt and say, don’t be lazy, make your wedding dress.

Sarai: I don’t think you should beat yourself up too much about that.

[Both laugh]

Haley: Well, I’m going to.

[Both laugh]

Sarai: Yeah.

Haley: So just like fancy things. I love a bias-cut gown or working with lace or like, engineering a bustier into a gown. I just have so much fun doing that kind of stuff.

Sarai: Yeah, that’s fun. That’s so rewarding. And it’s so fun to play with those materials, too. I wish I had more occasion to wear fancy things. Also, I think that mine would be kind of in the same vein in that I don’t think that I would wear it, and that’s the main reason why I don’t make these things. But when I was young and I first got into sewing, I really liked historical costuming. I didn’t have a lot of occasions to make them. But if there was like Halloween or if it was a special event or something where you can make a costume, I’d love to make historical costumes and learn all about the fabrics of the era and the different styles of the era. And I’m a big history person, so it offers this connection to the past and the real lives of people in the past that I think is so interesting. And there’s not a lot of reason to make, you know, a Victorian gown or whatever. But it is a really cool process. And I really love going to places that specialize in historical costuming materials. Like where I grew up in LA, there was a store called—and maybe it’s still there—called Alter Years that specializes in historical costuming supplies.

They had all of the historical patterns, like past patterns and all of those kinds of things. And then they also sold corset boning and all kinds of cool stuff. And then when I lived in Berkeley, there’s a store textile Museum there called Lacis, and they sell even more of those things, plus, like, beautiful trims and laces. And it’s really cool. And so that’s the kind of thing that I wish I could do. And what came to mind as a particular project, I have this book that I bought at last when I lived in Berkeley, and it’s a book of patterns from the 1930s. They’re scaled down so they fit in a book, and so you have to scale them up yourself in order to make them. They’re all taken from real garments, so they’re all taken from historical garments.

And there’s a pattern in there for a 1930 silk jumpsuit. It’s intended to be made in silk, and then it has lace trim at the bottom. I think it’s got, like a crossover kind of wrap bodice, and it’s got lace all along the V-neck. I think it has a matching robe or that might be a separate pattern that kind of goes with it. That’s also silk with lace trim. And it just looks so cool. And I’m sure it would be absolutely gorgeous. It would be stunning. But when would I wear that?

I’m definitely a flannel pajamas person. I don’t think that I would just be laughing around the house and that and then two, it would be pretty expensive. It would be a lot of silk to buy for something that you’re not really going to have much use for. So I think the theme here is making things that are really exciting to you, but maybe it’s not always feasible. Yeah. I love silk, though. I really love silk, and I feel like it’s one of those fabrics that it just makes me happy. And I wish I had more opportunity to wear beautiful silk things, but I don’t really not these days.

Haley: I know. Me neither. We will have to throw a party someday where we can all make our fantasy makes and we can all hang out and eat cookies and drink wine in our fantasy makes.

Sarai: That would be fun. So thank you, Betty, for that question. That was really fun to think about. And if you have an ice breaker question for us for a future episode, we have a thread on the community. So if you’re a Seamwork member, you can go to Seamwork.com go Icebreakers and you’ll be able to find it there and add yours, and we will hopefully include it in a future episode.

So our topic for today. As I mentioned, last few weeks, we’ve been sharing our Sewing by Design framework for thinking about sewing. And last week we covered Find your Fit. And this week we’re talking about the next part, which is also the last part—choose your adventure. And just as a reminder, this isn’t intended to be a linear process. These are more components that go into your sewing process or your sewing journey. And this is kind of the part where you get to branch out and really think about how you can keep your sewing fresh and interesting over the long haul. So, Haley, do you want to talk a little bit about what we mean when we say choose your own adventure?

Haley: Yeah, totally. It’s, like, incredibly broad. So once you’ve kind of tackled the more foundational sewing challenges, like growing your skills and fitting, and designing your wardrobe, I think this is where sometimes people can get a little bit bored with their relationship with sewing.

It’s almost like they need to date sewing again. They need to go back to the dating phase and become a beginner again. To rekindle that magic. And a really great way to become a beginner again is to explore something that we’ve talked about in the past on the podcast as niche sewing. We have an episode about it. You can listen to. It’s called What You Can Learn From Niche Sewing, and we’ll link that in the show notes.

And the idea is to keep finding ways to learn and try new things. And like I said, rekindle that beginner excitement with sewing. So Sarai is going to share a whole bunch of tips for how to start and how to get that beginner joy thriving again.

Sarai: I really liked your metaphor about dating sewing again, because it is sort of like anything that you pursue over a long period of time can become this way, like a marriage. When you first start dating somebody, everything’s fresh and new and exciting, and you want to try all the things, and then when you’ve been with somebody for 10, 15, 20 more years, you have to find new ways to see them anew and see them the way you used to see them. And I think that’s true for your creative pursuits as well. So that’s a fun metaphor.

Haley: That metaphor just came to me, so I’m, like, quite pleased with it.

Sarai: Brilliant, brilliant. So we’ll start with mindset, and the first thing that we want to mention is just the mindset that you want to take here is that of a beginner.

So we covered this in the previous episode that Haley mentioned on niche sewing. But taking on that beginner mindset again is what will really spark that renewed joy that you felt for sewing earlier on when you were first getting into it. And being a beginner is really, really fun and that’s where you see a lot of progress when you’re a beginner. And I don’t know if I mentioned this in the previous episode, but me personally, one of my other hobbies is I like to lift weights, and they always talk about newbie gains. So the first year or so that you’re lifting weights, you progress really rapidly. You start putting on a lot of muscle. You start getting stronger really quickly. It’s called linear progression. You just build up every week. You’re lifting more weight than you did the week before. And then you get to a certain point, and it starts to drop off, and you can no longer progress linearly. You have to find new ways to keep progressing, which involves variation.

You’ve got to introduce more variation. And it’s the same thing with sewing. You start off as a beginner and you see all those quick gains, and you start learning all these new skills, and then eventually that’s going to drop off. And that’s when you need to consciously and intentionally bring in more variation so you can get that beginner feeling again and that beginner growth again. So that’s one thing is embracing that beginner mindset.

And then the second one is to aim for enjoyment. So that’s something that sometimes can get lost when you’re really striving to build new skills and get better at something, which is just that pure joy. And the whole reason that you are doing it in the first place is because it’s fun and because you want to make cool things and just enjoy the process. And it’s the time that you have set aside for yourself and for your creativity. There’s lots of reasons that you might enjoy sewing. So just get in touch with those again. And that’s going to really help you to figure out where you want to explore. And that’s the next part. So after you’ve kind of thought about the mindset and you’ve kind of embraced that beginner mindset again and thought about how you can enjoy your sewing again, the first thing that we want to recommend is that you explore a niche.

And so like we said, we talked about this in a previous episode, but the key is really just to find a niche that excites you right now. And that is really interesting to you right now. And that might change. Maybe once you’ve kind of gotten into it for a little while, you might want to choose a new adventure and try something different. But just think about what’s going to get you motivated and really into that learning mindset again at this moment in time. And so some examples might be making bras or maybe trying to make swimwear, if you’ve never done that before, maybe something that’s not even traditional sewing, like making shoes. Or it could be sewing with leather for the first time or doing costumes or trying out tailoring, making some tailored garments. There are all kinds of things that you could experiment with. And if you just find something that’s really interesting to you right now, that’s going to really help you to have that fun and excited spark again. So that’s the first part of exploring a niche, and then the next part of exploring a niche is finding someone who is an expert in that area that you can follow.

Because if you can find somebody who’s really great at this and who has really spent years or maybe decades diving deep on this particular area, not only are they going to provide you with inspiration that you wouldn’t have found otherwise, but they are going to be able to show you all the skills that you need to learn in order to master that niche.

So I’m curious, Haley. I have some experts in mind who have helped me with this on my sewing path, but who are your favorite experts in certain areas?

Haley: I like to dabble in bra making here and there when I’m feeling a little bored and sewing. So I’ll do a fun little, like, lingerie or bra project once in a while. And someone I love following on Instagram and I learned a lot from their posts and their stories is Emerald Erin. She makes, like, a truly prolific amount of predominantly bras, but also lingerie. And she’s always doing these really interesting deep dives on different pattern alterations she made or accommodations that she’s made for different kinds of lace or trim or notions. And I’m just, like, really nerdy and could just watch that kind of stuff all day long. And I get so much enjoyment and knowledge from it. So they’re one of my favorites.

I also really like Klum House. They’re here in Portland, and they specialize in bag making. And I think that they do, like, a terrific job of making bag making really accessible to people while still not dumbing it down. You still get to make this really impressive thing in this just, like a very approachable way. So those are like two people that in the niche sewing world that I am very inspired by.

What about you?

Sarai: Those are the areas that you get to play with a lot of really fun notions, too.

Haley: Yeah.

Sarai: Bag making and bramaking.

Haley: I’m a notions girl. I love notions.

Sarai: Me, too.

Haley: And I’m just, like, very tactile. Like, I love I get so much tactile enjoyment from sewing. And so exploring niches where I get to do that kind of thing is always really fun for me.

Sarai: Yeah. One of the things I like about bra and lingerie sewing is you get to pair different materials together in fun ways, like lace trim with your main fabric and your different notions. And so it’s so fun. You can really get deep into the design process well.

Haley: And I feel like it kind of goes back to my desire to make, like, really fancy things that we talked about in our Ice Breaker, and it’s this very everyday way that I get to wear lace or like a bias-cut slip or use those really more fine sewing skills that I’ve cultivated over the years, but utilize them in a really useful everyday way.

Sarai: Yeah, that’s true. Well, I would say my favorite experts that I’ve learned from over the years. I mean, there are so many great experts out there. One of my favorites is David Page Coffin. He passed away in recent years, but he not only was a wonderful person, but also taught me so much about sewing for menswear. And in particular, his book on shirt making is just really incredible. If you can find a copy of that, I’m sure there are copies on Amazon. We’ll put a link to it in the show notes, but he really nerds out on every little tiny detail. And I just love that about him. We had an opportunity to work with him for Seamwork. He wrote some articles for us earlier on, and he was a real treasure. Susan Kalji also, I think, has just done incredible work in the more couture sewing end, but in particular, she published a book many years ago on bridal sewing. I think it may be out of print, I’m not sure, but I had a copy of it, and it was so incredible. It dealt a lot with sewing lace and all the various ways that you can sew lace, matching up the lace patterns and really getting into those very fine details.

And it was just an amazing book. I think it was probably published in the 90s, I want to say, because I’m remembering the photos in it and what it looked like. So it must have been the 80s or the 90s because the styles are very much of that era. But the information is absolutely priceless. So I think discovering those experts in the field is just so Motivating and Haley, you mentioned a couple that are more modern experts that are working. You follow them on social media and they’re doing a lot of new things now. And the people I mentioned have been doing this for years and decades. Even so, there’s all different kinds out there and all different areas and niches that you can look into. So social media is one place you can look, but you can also look for books on Amazon, in magazines like Threads. A lot of incredible people write for Threads magazine, so there’s lots of ways to discover them.

The other thing that I want to mention after you’ve maybe found some experts is gathering inspiration. So I think this is really, really key to getting your motivation going, which is what would you really love to be able to do or be able to create?

And I think having that in mind, it doesn’t necessarily need to be a single project or end goal. But if you could create maybe a Pinterest board or something like that, that has some examples of the kinds of things that you would love to create some day that can be really motivating because if you just have kind of a vague idea in mind, like, oh, I’d like to learn to maybe sew a bra someday. That’s one thing. But if you can create maybe a mood board or gather some inspiration of some beautiful bras that you would love to be able to create something similar to, then I just feel like that is such a powerful way for you to kind of envision what the end goal of learning this skill would be. For me, that’s really motivating.

So the next thing and sort of final step is to create a learning plan. So once you’ve found the niche that really speaks to you and you’ve found people who can teach you or resources that can teach you, and you’ve found the motivation and the inspiration you need a learning plan. So the first step of that is to gather up your resources so that could be classes, that could be books, maybe start with one just to get kind of a sense of the whole skill and then identify the component skills that you’re going to need in order to master this area of sewing.

So a book or a class can be really helpful here. If you, for example, want to master tailoring, you could get a book on tailoring, read through it, see what all those skills are that you need to learn, and then maybe make a list of what the skills are that you’re going to need to build in order to get to whatever final end product that you’d like to create, and then plan a series of projects that help you to build those skills intentionally. So it’s possible that maybe you could leap right into making an entire suit. Maybe that’s something that if you have enough skills built up, you could do that. If you don’t feel confident in doing that, what are the component skills that will get you there? And then what smaller projects can you do along the way in order to build those component skills? And that’s something that we often recommend is breaking your big goals down into those component skills and figuring out how you can create smaller wins along the way to get you to that place that you want to be eventually.

So that’s our process. Haley, do you want to recap for everybody what we talked about?

Haley: Yes. So today we talked about exploring sewing niches kind of as a way to find beginner joy in your sewing practice again. And like always, we started off with mindset and just embracing that feeling of being a beginner again and aim for enjoyment when you’re at this place in your sewing journey, because at this point, it’s all about just exploring and having fun and just keep that in mind through your new wins and challenges. Next, you’ll want to explore a niche. And the first step of that is finding a niche that really excites you right now. You can explore something different later, but let’s start with one, and that can be braking or shoemaking or costume or whatever just really gets you excited to start new. Next, you’ll want to find someone who is an expert in that area, and there’s tons of resources out there. You can buy a book, take classes, explore people on social media, explore pattern makers out there who have patterns in the sewing, but identify an expert that you kind of want to look to as your mentor on your niche sewing journey. Next, you’ll have some fun by gathering inspiration.

Make a mood board, a Pinterest board, and just collect a lot of like, even if they’re kind of pie-in-the-sky like ideas of what you would love to make, to get a sense of what your goals truly are when it comes to exploring this niche. Once you’ve done all that, you can start creating your learning plan. You can look to those mood boards to look at all of the key components that you’re going to need to achieve your sewing dreams. So you’ll identify the component skills, find resources, and then plan a series of projects that helps you to build your skills intentionally. If you feel like your ultimate goal is not quite achievable for you right here in this moment, creating some milestones and winds along the way will help motivate you to keep exploring this niche.

Sarai: Yeah, I think that’s key is just keeping that motivation going. I hope that everybody has enjoyed this series that we’ve done on the Sewing by Design framework and that you found it helpful.

We’ll be creating some other stuff to go with this framework in the future so you can learn more about it, especially if you’re a senior member. You’ll be hearing more about it because I think it’s such a helpful way of thinking about your sewing journey in a way that’s not because I think it reflects how we actually go through the sewing process, which is not necessarily from point A to point B to point C to point D. But we start with point A, maybe go to point B, and then where do we go from there? And that’s the part where it’s very individual, and it really depends on the person. And I think that’s why a lot of people come to sewing is because they want to do things in their own way. So I hope everyone has enjoyed it.

Haley: Yeah, we’ve had a lot of fun thinking about all of the ways in which we sew similarly and kind of formulating this framework that hopefully will help people think of their sewing journey and a little bit differently and maybe help them as they encounter some speed bumps.

Well, we talked about a whole lot of resources in this episode that we will link in the show notes, but probably most notably is what you can learn from niche sewing, which is a previous episode we did all about niche sewing and the many ways that it can benefit your sewing practice. So we will link to that in the show notes.

And if you liked this episode, please leave us a review. It helps other people who like the same things that we do to find us and just lets us know that we’re on track. We need a pat on the back sometimes. We have a review from Ms. Fees today. I think that’s how you pronounce it. They say, great podcast. I missed it so much during the break, but it’s back. These are great stories of human triumph and sewing provides the spice and the wonderful backdrop.

Sarai: That’s very nice. Thank you, Ms. Fees.

Haley: Yeah, I love when sewing provides the spice. That’s my favorite spice. If I was a Spice Girl, I’d be sewing spice.

[Both laugh]

Sarai: I was just going to say that. I wonder what sewing spice would look like, how she’d fit in with the other Spice Girls.

Haley: Obviously, she’d be the best of all the Spice Girls.

Sarai: All right. Thanks, everybody. That concludes our episode for today.

Sarai: Seamwork radio is brought to you by the team at Seamwork. Seamwork is an online community that supports you in creating a wardrobe that feels right for you. When you join us at Seamwork, you become part of our private community of makers and you also get access to monthly sew along classes, a library of over 200 sewing patterns, and tons of great resources to help guide you through the sewing adventure that you choose. Podcast listeners can get Half off a Seamwork unlimited membership, which means you can download as many of those 200 plus patterns as you want at any time and our community will be there to guide and support you. If you’d like to join us for half off, just visit Seamwork.com. Gopodcast 50. You can also find us on Instagram at Seamwork or visit our YouTube channel, which is called seamworkvideo.

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