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Episode 88

Tips for more playful sewing

Sewing is such an involved hobby, and with all the possibilities for mistakes, sometimes you can take it a little too seriously. That can kind of suck some of the joy out of sewing. Here are creative ways to make sewing more playful.

Have you ever been sewing and suddenly felt like you weren’t having the most fun? You might be fighting your perfectionist tendencies, or your attention might wander mid-project, and then you make a mistake. Or maybe the fear of messing up keeps you from even starting. No matter your feelings, there are ways that you can make your sewing practice a little more fun.

Some of these tips are about your mindset, and some of them are about your actual sewing projects. You’ll hear a lot about mindset here at Seamwork, and you might be wondering, why does that even matter, and how does it affect the clothes I make?

Podcast Transcript

Sarai
Welcome back to Seamwork Radio. So today we’re talking about how to make sewing feel fun and and playful. We’re going to cover how to plan your projects, how to have fun when you need to have fun, how to improvise more when you’re sewing, and how to approach each project so you don’t lose your flow.

All right let’s get to our icebreaker today. This one came from Deborah D. And Deborah says, I’d like to hear about people’s best sewing saves for mistakes that they made when garments sewing that they had to somehow miraculously turn around to make a garment work. As I am a perfectionist of the highest order, I don’t tend to have any that don’t involve recutting pattern pieces or repurchasing the same fabric to remake or making the garment in another fabric. I prefer crafts with raw materials are reusable. I’ve been known to unravel entire sweaters numerous times if I don’t like the final result. That’s a great one. Deborah.

What about you, Haley? Do you have a good sewing save?

Haley
I mean, I’ve definitely ruined and saved many projects. Most recently, I made maybe, like, back when this pattern first came out, the Ruth dress that we have. It’s a cute little wrap dress. I made it. I liked it. I probably should have made a muslin because the bodice never fit me quite right. I wore it a couple of times, and it just hung out in my closet. But I loved the fabric. And last spring, I hacked the bodice off and sewed a little waistband on it and made a wrap skirt. Then I took the bodice scraps and I made a ridiculously huge scrunchie and then cut up the larger bits of the bodice to save for, like, pocket linings.

But then I ended up wearing that skirt all summer long, like, heavy rotation in my wardrobe. And that was a really good sewing save. I think I’m always kind of most successful when I try not to be too married to the idea that I had when I set out. Like, you know, I wanted to make a dress with that fabric, it didn’t work out. I probably would have just frustrated myself way more if I had stayed true to the dress idea, but instead turned it into a skirt.

It was like one of those things that took all of a couple of hours to do but had the biggest impact. So you can hold on to the perfectionism, but maybe be a little bit more forgiving with the concept.

Sarai
Yeah.

Haley
My advice for Deborah, if she’s looking for it.

Sarai
Yeah. It’s amazing because sometimes when those things happen, it’s like maybe an hour of extra work or something like that to actually have something in the end that you get to use. I don’t know. Sometimes it seems like it’s going to be a big project to change this into something completely different than what you’d imagine. And it’s really not that much work, considering how much work you put into it to begin with.

Haley
Totally.

Sarai
Yeah. The one that came to mind for me is I’ve had a couple of projects over the years where I’ve accidentally cut into the fabric at various stages of sewing. And I remember one it was a skirt I was making. This is a while back, the skirt I was making, and it was completely done. I was just cutting off some of the loose threads in the end, and I ended up cutting right into the front of the skirt, the actual fabric. And it was so frustrating. So what I ended up doing was I didn’t want to just have, like, this mended hole in the front of my skirt. So what I ended up doing was I did mend it, and then I decided to put some patch pockets on the front to cover up the area where the hole was. And that worked out perfectly. It had these two really cute patch pockets in the front. They are really functional because everybody knows pockets are awesome. And you would never know that there was a hole in the skirt or bending in the skirt. So it worked out perfectly. And I wore that skirt all the time.

Sometimes just need, like, a little bit of a few creative tricks in your back pocket to keep in mind when disaster inevitably strikes or some tricks in your patch pocket, you know. In your patch pocket. In your front patch pocket. Thanks for the icebreaker, Deborah. If you have an icebreaker for a future episode, you can share it with us. If you’re a Seamwork member, you can go to Seamwork.com/go/icebreakers and there’s a thread there and you can post yours and we’ll probably use it on a future episode.

I also wanted to share. We had a follow up to an icebreaker from a past episode from Gwen, and I had to share it because I thought it was so funny. In a previous episode, I talked about singing to my cats, the Simon and Garfunkel the sound of silence by singing it in Meow in their native tongue. So Gwen posted a follow up to this. She said Sarah mentioned Meow singing Simon and Garfield. She meant Simon and Garfunkel, but she said Simon and Garfield. Simon and Garfield are her cats. We have two highly anxious cats we are trying to introduce. We play music to calm and distract them when they’re in the same room together.

The day I listen to this episode, my partner put on Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest hits. I told him about the podcast and we proceeded to Meow sing through the whole album. The cats were so stunned they forgot to chase each other. So now we Meow sing every time we do free roam together. Works like a charm. I’m so glad I could help Gwen. I might have a second career as a cat behaviorist? I’m not sure.

Haley
Yeah. You know, Seamwork Radio for inspiring your sewing and your cat parenting.

Sarai
So just a hot tip, everyone. If your cats are having some kind of anxiety, try Meow singing to them an entire album of Simon and Garfunkel. I love that it was the entire album, too. That really add something to it, commit it.

Haley
And if anyone else has success with this, please let us know.

Sarai
Please let us know if your cats were also stunned, because this is like two for two. My cats are stunned. Gwen’s cats are stunned. I want to know, does this work on all cats, or is it only some cats?

Haley
I hope so.

Sarai
All right. That was the perfect start to this episode. So we’re going to talk about how to make your sewing feel fun and playful today, because I think sometimes sewing is such an involved hobby and there’s so much to think about, so much to learn, and there’s so much challenge involved that sometimes people can end up taking it a little too seriously and that kind of can suck some of the joy out of it at times for some of us, especially if, you know, like Deborah mentioned, if you have perfectionist tendencies, I have those tendencies as well. I find this in many aspects of life that it’s very easy for me to suck the joy out of things that I really like by trying to get them right or trying to do as much as possible or learn as much as possible or hit some kind of goal that I’ve set for myself. This is something that comes up a lot for me. So I really identify with this issue, and I think it’s so important to step back and just remember why you do this and that it is supposed to be something that brings you joy and it’s just something fun to do with your time and your creativity.

Sarai
So I’m really looking forward to talking about this. So I thought I’d start with, we got a comment a while back from Seamwork member Cathy, and she said recently “when talking to a friend, I liken the difference between the DIY sewing I used to do and my new pursuit of making clothes by following a pattern as the difference between cooking and baking. Like cooking, upcycling, hacking, and DIY sewing can be very improvisational and allow for a lot of choices and creativity, whereas baking and sewing from patterns is all about very precise measurements and following instructions exactly.” And then Cathy goes on to say, “I feel like I’m losing some of my sewing mojo because of it. Any tips on how to still feel the joy of improvisation and creativity while learning the basic and necessary skills of dressmaking?”

I thought this was a great question, and I really like that metaphor she used between cooking and baking as somebody who likes to do both. And I do think baking can be a little bit improvisational too. At least my baking is. So I think this is a really interesting topic. So I thought I’d start by asking you, Haley, when do you feel the most creative and the most joyful around sewing?

Haley
I think it’s definitely when I’m deviating from their recipe a little bit, to use Cathy’s metaphor a bit. When I’m hacking something or veering off of the instructions and doing things a little bit different, construction wise, it feels really creative and like a fun puzzle. But I think that’s because I’m also in a different place in my sewing journey and I have a lot of those foundational skills in place, so I can kind of go, like, offroading with it a little bit.

Sarai
Yeah, I get that, too. I think for me, when I feel the most creative and joyful around sewing is the part where I’m actually planning and thinking about what I’m going to make and what skills I’m going to incorporate, what new techniques. Right now I’m really into learning about more heirloom sewing and how I can incorporate those types of techniques into my everyday sewing. And that’s really fun. And I’ve been buying all these old books from the 80s and 90s on heirloom sewing and looking through them while I drink coffee and just thinking about how I could use some of these techniques with maybe some of the patterns I already have. And that part to me just feels like really fun and really joyful. So I get a big kick out of that and then just planning out what fabrics I’m going to use or what fabrics for my stash. I could use putting things together that’s really fun for me. And I think that’s like a big part of the joy of sewing in my life. It’s that design part of it.

Haley
I’m curious about the flip side of that. When do you feel not so joyful about sewing?

Sarai
I think when I feel not so joyful about sewing is it bumps me out when I have half-finished projects or projects that have just been sitting around for a really long time and I can’t get motivated to finish them for one reason or another, either because I’m stuck on something or I’m just not as excited about it as I used to be. I also find just more generally in life, there are times when life gets really hectic and busy, and sometimes sewing provides a really cool break, a respite from everything else that’s going on in my life. But again, kind of getting back to the headspace thing of it, it really depends on how I’m approaching it, because sometimes sewing or any other hobby or any other creative endeavor can also just feel like another item on my to do list and another thing that I’m supposed to be doing that I’m supposed to be enjoying this. I’m supposed to make time for this. I started this project. Why haven’t I finished it yet? I start putting pressure on myself, and a lot of that comes down to my own brain and, like, how I’m framing things rather than the actual anything about the external circumstances or sewing itself.

Sarai
It’s just more like I’m stressed out, and so I’m putting that stress into everything that I’m doing. What about you?

Haley
Yeah, I think you really hit the nail on the head. For me, my least joyful sewing moments are definitely more related to my mindset than anything else. I would say that when I get stuck in a mindset of sewing, like being hyper focused on the end product rather than the process, I feel like I’m going through the motions of sewing and not really fully enjoying myself, and that really diminishes the joy for me.

Sarai
Yeah, I feel that way, too. It’s amazing how much of it just comes down to your mindset in all things.

Haley
Really, which is why we talk about it in every single episode. Do you improvise in your sewing at all?

Sarai
I would say I do a little bit. I guess it depends on how we define improvise. I feel like I often have ideas for improvising on my projects before I start actually, like, cutting or sewing, so I’m always hacking things, like, constantly. I don’t even remember the last pattern. I just sewed without changing something pretty major about it, either making it, turning it into a maxi, or adding some huge detail that makes it look totally different. That’s also, I think, a big source of the fun and joy of sewing for me. I think that’s where my improvisation comes in, not so much when I’m actually sitting down at the machine and sewing. By then, I think I have a pretty good idea of what I want to do. It happens from time to time, but I feel like that’s where my improvisation comes in. What about you?

Haley
I definitely relate. I’m a big pattern hacker. I love changing things up. I feel like pretty much incapable of making a pattern, like, out of the envelope or off the printer. I guess now I sew more PDF patterns, but I’ll leave a little bit of room for improvising. I definitely sow things the way I want to and not the way the instructions advise me to a lot of the time, which can be a good or a bad thing. I’ll do little things kind of like planned improv on my sewing. A good example is I recently sewed a sweater, and I was kind of undecided about whether I liked the cuffs or not, or if I just wanted to hem the sleeves. And so I lengthened the sleeves before I cut it out, kind of assuming that I was going to just hem them. And then I cut out the cuffs, too. And then I knew that when I tried the garment on, before I hemmed and finished everything. If I didn’t like it without the cuffs, I could just hack those few inches off and then sew the cuffs on. So I’ll leave maybe some flexibility, I would say, for myself, mid project so that I can make those last minute changes, which can be kind of nice and make you feel like you have, like, not all of your choices are laid out in front of you.

You have a little bit of wiggle room.

Sarai
That’s interesting. That’s like planning for improvisation. Just kind of interesting.

Haley
Yeah, totally. That’s actually kind of a good tip that I don’t think is in our list of tips that Sarai is about to kick us off with.

Sarai
Yeah, so that’s another one I like. That the idea of leaving yourself some wiggle room to play if, you know there are certain details you may or may not want to add. You could make sure that you use your fabric or use the order of operations or something, set it up so that you can visualize things and make decisions a little bit later in your project. It’s a really cool idea. So I think our first tip is really, again going back to mindset, which is if you do feel like you’re in a place where you’re taking your sewing a little bit too seriously, or if it feels really heavy to you, if it’s not feeling like something fun and light, I think addressing that first is probably the most important thing of all, because like I said, I think a lot of it just comes down to how we’re treating ourselves and how we’re approaching the stress in the rest of our lives. And this is just something that I have. It’s something I’ve been experiencing lately because I’ve been really, really busy, and I’ve found that I just feel like every minute is scheduled.

I have to multitask constantly to get everything done, and that’s carrying over into my personal life, into my hobbies. This last weekend, for example, I had a really, really busy week all week. And then I was even dreading the weekend because I was like, I have this huge list of things that I need to do around the house and in my garden and all these things. And I had another commitment on Sunday that I had to go to, and I was getting really stressed out about it. And then I spent Saturday working in my garden, and I was outside and it was sunny and it was beautiful, and I just let myself enjoy the moment. And I realized all this stress is just coming from in my head. Like, this is something I enjoy doing. But I was looking at it like, oh, it’s something I have to get done, and I have to check it off my list. I have to do this project in the garden while the sun’s out before it starts raining. And it became so much bigger and more heavy than it really needed to be. So I think that’s the first thing is when you notice yourself going into that mindset where the things that you previously enjoyed no longer feel joyful because you just have too much to do recognize that, I think, is the first step.

And then if it’s something where you’re just kind of feeling some fear around it, maybe you’re afraid of messing up. You’re noticing those perfectionist tendencies coming up. I think that’s when you can start questioning and thinking about, you know, what’s the worst that can happen? And same if it feels just like another item on your to do list and you’re too busy, it’s sort of like, well, if it doesn’t get done, if I don’t get to my sewing today, if I don’t finish this project, is it really the end of the world? Or is this something that I’m doing? Because it brings me joy and I love to do it. So I think that’s an important question to ask yourself. And then I think another thing that’s really helpful is just thinking about why does it feel more freeing at sometimes than it does at other times? You know? And again, that goes back to maybe some other things that are going on outside of your creative hobbies. Maybe you can start looking into that, because I noticed that sewing definitely feels really fun and freeing sometimes. And then other times I just can’t get into it.

And it’s usually not about whatever particular sewing project I’m working on. So those are sort of the mindset things you can explore. Just kind of maybe starting it, noticing your attitude towards the things that you enjoy, like sewing, and then maybe branching out from there and thinking, okay, when I noticed this happening, maybe I need to take a step back and think about why I feel this way about things that are supposed to bring me joy. So that’s my big mindset learning for myself lately, and I hope it’s helpful to some of you guys too.

And then the next thing that I would like to share that has helped me is just planning a project that’s really just for fun. And if you get into this kind of mindset and you get into this space where it just feels like really not fun, it just feels like another big project that’s weighing on you. Maybe plan something that you just really enjoy sewing. Like maybe it’s a fabric that you really love working with or really fun print that makes you happy. Or maybe even making something that’s really simple but something that you’d see every day, like a pillow.

I know that I’ve been making some things for my house lately instead of making clothing, and I just love it because it’s so quick and easy. And then I get to enjoy this beautiful fabric every single day instead of just once in a while when I wear it. So that’s fun. Or maybe just making something that’s really impractical, maybe something that’s not going to be a big wardrobe staple for you, but you’re just going to really get a kick out of it and enjoy making it. I think we kind of sometimes get so focused on selling things that are very practical and with good reason. That’s a big reason why a lot of us sew. But every once in a while, maybe just throw in something that’s more fanciful and that you’ll just maybe something you’ve always wanted to make. I know on my design your wardrobe plan for the summer. One of the things that I really want to make is, like, a really pretty, sort of Victorian inspired nightgown, which is not something that I need by any means, but it’s something that I’ve always wanted is like, a really pretty heirloomy white gauzy sort of nightgown for having breakfast outside in the summer.

And it’s just like, it’s very whimsical and fanciful, but it would bring me a lot of joy, I think. So incorporating some of those things can be really fun and bring some of that spark back.

And then I think related to that is just the idea of mixing in some smaller, easier projects once in a while, because it just makes sewing feel like it’s not such a big deal if you have some really simple, easy things that you can make. And it’s not just all about these large-scale projects or completing your wardrobe, but just making something that’s really quick and easy and that you’ll get a lot of wear out of. Like, I have a scrunchie I made, like, a silk scrunchie that I made a while back, and we have a YouTube video on making scrunchies if you want to try this, because I think they’re such a great scrap busting project. We’ll link to it in the show notes, but I have a scrunchie, and I wear it, like, almost every day, not in my day to day, but when I have to put my hair up before bed or when I go to work out or anything.

I use a scrunchie constantly, and it took probably like half an hour to make. So I think some of those projects we can easily overlook, but they can really bring a lot of joy to the actual sewing, and you actually get to use them. So I think those are some tips for planning out some projects that will make you feel happy about sewing. Again, if you’re feeling in a rut.

Haley
Totally. I think it’s so appropriate that your tips are the mindset tips and the project planning tips, because that’s like the Sarai bread and the Sarai butter.

Sarai
That’s my wheelhouse. Yeah.

Haley
Well, I have a few tips to add to that. I think a big thing is kind of starting to identify, too, where you feel confident, improvising, and where you don’t feel so confident, improvising. And the more of a foundation of sewing skills you have, the easier you’ll probably find it to improvise more frequently in your sewing we talk about the 8020 rule from time to time on this podcast. And if you’re not familiar with that, that’s the concept that 80% of your outputs come from 20% of your input. So really that core 20% of your sewing skills are going to get you 80% of the way in most sewing projects. So if you’re feeling like a little bit more uncomfortable improvising, then focusing on that 20% so that you can get there will really help you. And you can do this in really kind of low pressure ways. I think series idea of mixing in some home deck kind of projects or accessories can be really great because you get to practice things like top stitching or putting in a zipper or adding elastic or gathers to something. And it might seem, I don’t know, they might seem really simple at first glance, but all of those things are skills that you need to sew garments.

Haley
So kind of like tricking yourself into learning some new skills that way can be a really great way to build that foundation for yourself. Another thing that I always recommend. And when I taught in person sewing classes, I would always tell people to go home and sew the same project again. So if you make a gathered skirt in my class, go home and make the same skirt again. But that next time you sew it, try to have a little bit more fun with it. Use a fabric that you’ve never used before, or maybe like a really impractical fabric, like, I don’t know, use tool, use something a little bit more exciting to you. Add like a funky patch pocket, do your thing. I think that the practice of repeating those familiar skills plus like the little secret ingredient of fun is really powerful when it comes to feeling a little bit more of that sowing joy. And it helps you to get to that flow state. I think because entering the flow state and sewing, in order to do that, you have to have that good balance of challenge and familiar skills, which kind of leads me to my next little batch of tips, which is learn to practice strategies that will help you avoid losing your sense of flow when you’re sewing.

So if you start a new project and it has a new detail or a technique that you’ve never used before, you can do your research beforehand so that you’re not like mid-project panicking about how to sew a lapped zipper. You can do your research before, read a couple of tutorials, find the method that makes the most sense to your brain. You can even cut some sample pieces and practice it beforehand. And I think going into a project kind of armed with that information and that practice removes a lot of that stress from the situation. And then you don’t have that, like, I don’t know, I do this all the time with buttonholes. I know how to sew buttonholes, but they’re so annoying they can be such a pain right now. I literally have like a cardigan sitting like two feet from me that I sewed. All of it needs buttonholes and buttons, but I’m like, oh God, I don’t want to sew buttonholes, so I never pick it up. So many people feel that way about buttonholes speed bumps. It’s my machine. It has an okay buttonhole function, but it’s not like the best.

I think it’s also because it’s a little different on every fabric. Anyway, my little detour about buttonholes.

Another tip for making sure that you stay in that flow state is to read the instructions from start to finish before you start. When my grandma taught me how to Bake, this is what she told me to do, and I still do it with every recipe that I make is I always read it from start to finish, so I’m never like, caught off guard by something. Everything feels kind of familiar as you’re working through each step, and then that gives you the opportunity to again go and research those things that don’t feel as familiar to you so you don’t have to do it mid project. Another great resource for this can be watching sewalongs before you actually sew the garment. We have a whole library of sewalongs if you’re a senior member that you can follow along with, and I’m a big fan of watching them before I sew. Not kind of like side by side with sewing because again, it gives you kind of the benefit of repeat sewing project without the extra fabric and work.

Sarai
That’s a great tip.

Haley
And then my last tip is kind of related to, well, it is related to sewing. Again, get your notions all set up before you start sewing, so get everything out and ready for you. Make sure that you have all of your thread, your notions that your space is cleared and prepped for cutting and sewing so that you’re not like having to stop every 15 minutes and kind of like find something or reorganize your space so you have enough room to do what you need to do. I think that sewing overall just always feels more relaxing and more joyful to me when I feel like the act of sewing is the only thing that I have to focus on.

Sarai
Yeah, those are awesome tips. So to recap all of our tips for you today, we had quite a few. We started with talking about mindset and really kind of expanding from feeling maybe some stress around sewing and looking at maybe some impacts from the rest of your life and how that’s kind of changing your mindset around sewing or any other creative hobby. And then I talked about planning projects so that you’d have more fun. I talked about planning something that you just want to sell for no other reason than you just want to sell it and mixing in some smaller, easier projects as well. So that’s on the project planning side. And then Haley talked about more on the actual sewing side. So on the skill side of it, making sure that you have those 8020 skills in place so that you feel comfortable improvising. And then she also talked about repeating projects, but then adding in new ideas and new techniques with maybe a project that is tried and true for you. She also talked about reading your instructions from start to finish or watching a sew along from start to finish before you actually make the pattern yourself.

Sarai
And lastly, in order to not break your flow, we talked about miserable plus and making sure that everything’s in place for you so that you’re just ready to go when it’s time to sew. And you can just enjoy that flow state and enjoy sewing instead of having to break your concentration and go looking for things. So those are our tips for making sewing feel more fun and more joyful. I hope they’re helpful to you. We have some other resources if you’re interested. We just did a series recently on sewing by design, which is our framework for approaching sewing. And it can be helpful to just if you want to listen to that, it can be helpful to see where you’re at with your particular goals to help you kind of define what would be fun for you, what would be something that’s exciting for you depending on where you’re at in your sewing journey right now, we also have a series of videos on YouTube that you might find really interesting if you’re looking for some of those really fun, quick and easy projects. It’s called Eight Weeks of Mindful Making, and it covers a whole bunch of really cool, short, easy projects that you can do.

And you can find that on our YouTube channel, which is at youtube.com/seamworkvideo. We’ve got a bunch of other great videos up there, so if you’re not subscribed to that channel, be sure to check us out there. And the last thing I want to mention is another tool that can help you kind of define your goals. And what’s important to you right now is our sewing quiz. So it’s a free quiz on our website and it helps you to learn what type of sewers you are based on your unique goals and personality. So it’s really based on what your goals are in this moment. It can change over time, and it can be really helpful just to kind of figure out what’s important to you right now and help you to create projects or sewing practice that feels good for you as a unique individual. So there are lots of suggestions at the end of what you can make or classes and so alongs that you can follow along with depending on where you fall. So it only takes a couple of minutes. You can find it at seamwork.com/quiz. Take it there and hopefully that’ll help you out as well.

If you like this episode, be sure to leave us a review. We love hearing from you all, so if you listen on Apple podcast, you can leave us a review there. Spotify now has reviews. You can leave a review on whatever podcast platform that you’re currently listening on. So with that, we’re going to sign off for today. I’m Sarah and I’m Haley and this is Seamwork radio scene work.

Sarai
Visit our YouTube channel.

Speaker 3
Which is called Seamwork video.

Sarai
We love hearing from you, so let us know if there’s a topic or a personal story that you’d like us to cover. Thanks for listening to Steamwork radio.

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