After a few years of occasional refashions of Goodwill clothes into costumes for dress-up parties, I moved to Los Angeles and settled dangerously close to its glorious Fabric Distric. Not knowing the next thing about sewing, I'd venture down there, buy anything that looked pretty and cost under $5/yard, then stash it away and promise myself to learn how to sew. Soon. Really soon. Any day now. For reals this time. This went on for about 3 years. 
Eventually I ran out of storage so in April I decided that either I'm going to get serious about all this or I'll have to be a grownup and donate my fabric to a more loving home. So I found an Intermediate Sewing class of three 5-hour sessions at the community college (there was also a Beginners class on how to use a sewing machine and make a pillowcase, but since I had played enough with my Brother I wanted something a bit more challenging).

So bright-eyed and bushy-tailed I walked into my classroom on a Saturday morning to have my little sewing soul crushed. 
You see, my instructor knew what's best for me. No ifs ands or buts. Everyone in the class, but me, had taken her Beginners class, made their pillowcases, and thus proven their worth. I tried to explain that I already knew some basics, holding up the furry skirt I made without a pattern as proof. I wanted to learn how to read patterns and make something a bit harder than rectangles. She glared at me and began to show the class how to read a pajama pattern. I asked what a grainline was. More glaring. I was told that my questions indicated I didn't know basic basics and should have taken the Beginners class instead.

Halfway through the 1st class I was convinced that I don't know anything, that I need to sew a market bag "to fill the many big holes in my basic knowledge", and that everything else I thought I wanted to do would have to wait. I was also convinced that she hates me. 

All my life I had been a good student and, though I was never a teacher's pet, I always felt respected. I wondered about all the kids who were convinced that "the teacher hated them". Randomly, just a week earlier I was reflecting on my own students and how awful it must be to want to learn and feel like your teacher hates you. "So glad that I am done with school (after 22 years of it lol!) without ever experiencing this!" And then BAM, there I was in sewing class, age 33, feeling like my teacher totally hates me! Snippy remarks, sighs and glares, less time spent on my station, no words of encouragement while others got them constantly, etc. 

Things didn't improve much for the remaining 2 classes. I did make a market bag that I quite like actually (though I did manage to sneak in a lining, against her admonitions to follow her simple pattern). 


My next project was to be a basic A-line woven skirt, nevermind that I never wear such skirts. Ever. I bought some overpriced cotton from the store she recommended (I didn't know any better!) but could not bring myself to get an A-line pattern. So I bought this McCalls yoked skirt instead. I'd always wanted to learn how to make yokes, though I didn't know that's what they were called. My teacher wasn't pleased that I'd gone off her script again. But I had sent her a forceful email with a list of things I insist on being taught and my resolution to not spend any more class time on the market bag. My very own Declaration of Independence. 
Unexpected power struggle with sewing teacher: win!

The 3 classes ended just in time for me to finish my muslin and find out that Big 4 patterns fit ridiculousy. Lovely.

I was SO OVER IT ALL! I liked and wore almost exclusively knits. But "knits are not for beginners". Neither were any patterns more complex than A-line skirts, which I don't wear. I didn't know what to do! Desperate, I emailed my friend Seamstress Erin to bemoan my discouraging class and my absurd muslin (btw you'd think my teacher would warn us about the well-known ease problem of commercial patterns). Erin gave me three pieces of what I now know was fantastic advice, which went something like this:

1. Sew what you want! What your teacher told you is bullshit!  Don't sew things you hate just because they're easy, because then you'll never wear them and then you'll never want to sew again. If you like knits sew with knits. If you like complex patterns, try them. Jump in, and if it works it works. You'll still learn, it will just be the hard way. 

2. Join Craftsy and watch their free classes. Sign up for a few paid ones. You'll learn a lot and you'll always have them.

3. Try indie patterns. They're more expensive but they fit much better than the Big 4, and the sewalongs and the online sewist community are extremely helpful.

And they have been. I am so so grateful to Erin for pointing me towards the light. The light that fixed my broken sewing soul. :)

If you ever took sewing classes, I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences! There ARE tons of basics I still need to learn and Craftsy, youtube, and sewing blogs can only take me so far. For example, I just can't seem to figure out the Anna dress by By Hand London! After learning that I have (and fixing) my forward and rounded shoulders, rounded upper back, torso that is bigger in the font than back, sway back, and big ribcage, I still don't have the fit right! I am on my 5th muslin and I keep getting a weird vertical fabric indentation in the chest (as if the fabric is "falling" between my bewbs). I've tried everything, even bought Fit for Real people. 

So things like that make me think that I really really do need to take another class. But I'm scared! It's not just a potential waste of time and money. I'm scared I'll get crushed again! Then again, may be I've grown resilient. I did make jeans on my first try. *walks away singing Nothing's Gonna Stop Me Now*


12/01/2014 7:13pm

I laughed at your story about the crazy sewing teacher. We've all had them along the way. I would say take a look at Burda patterns. There is no ridiculous ease built in, they end up fitting a lot more like RTW. I have seen such inconsistent pattern engineering of indie patterns I have a hard time spending $16 to have to redraft the whole thing when I get it home. But with Burda, the drafting is excellent (I'm guessing German engineering??). The instructions are for crap, so maybe find a good clothing construction book and refer to that? Good luck, the more you sew the more you'll know how to sew. It's stupid but it's true!

12/06/2014 3:00am

Wow, she sounds like a real witch! I did go to a beginners class, but we were making a dress which would at least let us learn new skills - zips, gathers, pockets, etc etc, but still there were things there that just didn't seem right ("you don't need to mark all of the little marks that the pattern says you should mark - just lay the pattern over again when you need to work out where pieces are meant to match up..." err...nuh uh!). I'd much rather make some tailor tacks at the beginning than keep messing about with fragile patterns!

I'm glad that you got your sewing mojo back though, and remember that the answer to fitting queries may be in future makes rather than elsewhere. Looking forward to your next posts!


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