Stupid sewing mistakes and how to avoid them

I’m going to front up. I make a LOT of silly mistakes when I’m sewing. Here are just a selection I’ve made in the last six months, and some tips on how to avoid making the same ones yourself.

(If you’re creative enough to invent your own stupid mistakes, you’re on your own. But please do share them to help the rest of us!)

  1. The time when I sewed the darts on the outside of the shirt
Close-up of a back dart in a blue shirt
They’re nice darts, granted. But most people prefer them on the inside.

This happened just this week. I’m attempting to make a shirt (my first one, so that’s the first red flag) and sewing a hopefully wearable toile from some blue polycotton. The right and wrong sides look exactly the same, and I was too lazy to mark them up with chalk (cutting corners – second warning sign). Somehow the darts have ended up on the outside of the shirt rather than the inside, and I have to painstakingly unpick all those tiny stitches.

2. The time when I sliced through the actual garment with my overlocker, rather than just trimming the seam

Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 16.35.42

This is actually the second time I’ve done this. Again, I was trying to do something I’ve never done before – sewing up a seam containing a ribbed cuff, and I was too lazy to baste it first, because that would have meant unpacking my sewing machine as well as my overlocker… you can see where this is going, can’t you? The overlocker chewed up the ribbing and sliced through the leg of the pyjamas. Fixable, but they are on the small side.

3. The time I sewed all the seams with the wrong seam allowance

P1120464
This T-shirt is languishing in my alterations pile

Or, why you should stick to one project at a time. Flitting between two similarly coloured jersey projects on my overlocker, I foolishly applied the Ottobre seam allowance of 7mm to my self-drafted T-shirt pattern (seam allowance 10mm). Sounds trivial, but the shoulders look downright weird, and because I stitched all the seams before I noticed, I can’t face unpicking all the overlocking to fix it.

You can never eliminate all the mistakes from your sewing. But from my howlers I’d say:

  • Don’t multi-task; no one’s as good at two things as they are at one
  • Don’t buy fabric that looks the same on both sides unless you’re prepared to mark it up
  • If it says tack/baste, just do it
  • If all else fails, read the instructions!

Have you had any sewing mishaps lately, or is there one that’s haunted you down the years?

Fairfield shirt toile – number 1

Two blue striped and checked shirts laid one on top of the other to compare size

After the epic woman v fabric battle that has been constructing two pairs of blackout curtains (30m of fabric, small cutting table), it was time to get back to making something a bit more manageable.

I haven’t done much unselfish sewing recently (unless you count the curtains) and I wanted to try making my first shirt. So I decided to combine the two and make a Thread Theory Fairfield shirt for Mr Wardrobe.

The Fairfield sewalong has really clear instructions for taking measurements so we measured him up and I began making a toile (muslin) from an old striped cotton bedsheet.

This pattern uses lots of enclosed flat-felled seams to give a neat finish on the inside of the garment and these were new to me, so I spent some time working out how to do them accurately. As suggested in the sewalong, I didn’t bother with interfacing, buttonholes, the second collar stand or the second yoke piece for a toile, and I didn’t even attach the second cuff.

I’d been feeling fairly confident about taking on a shirt until I watched the final of The Great British Sewing Bee – where the contestants made a man’s dress shirt for their final pattern challenge. Luckily this one doesn’t include six rows of pintucks, although the tower placket isn’t the easiest thing to get your head around if you’ve never sewn one before. The sewalong is really clear, so I’d recommend this pattern to any non-beginner sewist wanting to attempt their first shirt.

I sewed up a size M, which matched Mr Wardrobe’s measurements, but when he tried the toile on, it wouldn’t meet across his chest! In fact, it came up a whole size too small. So I initially suspected I’d made a mistake with the measurements.

Having compared it with one of his favourite RTW shirts, I think I’ve worked out why it was too small.

As you can see here, the toile is probably around 1/2″ narrower at the underarm seams, typically the widest point of a man’s shirt – and the place you would take a chest measurement to determine the pattern size.

Mr Wardrobe’s widest point (in blue marker pen) is 1/2″ higher up this, in a spot where it’s almost impossible to measure the circumference. And when you look at the shoulder seams, they’re significantly narrower on the toile than on his favourite RTW shirt, making the whole upper chest area roughly a size smaller.

So I’m going to need to make a second toile, in a size L. Judging by the first one, I think there are going to be some other adjustments to make at that point (shortening the shoulder seam, shortening the sleeves, narrowing the waist and potentially a forward shoulder adjustment as well), but I’ll have to wait and see about those.

Having fallen in love with the fabric Morgan used for one of the promotional images (the casual version in these pictures), I’ve been hunting for something similar for sale in the UK. Draper’s Daughter probably has the loveliest selection of linen and chambray shirtings I’ve seen online so far, but if you can recommend some other options, I’d love to take a look.

And I hope to have a better-fitting version to show you – on the model this time – later in the summer!

T-shirt fail

I was hoping not to add to the Sewing Blunders category this year but this one definitely qualifies. A real-life case of pride coming before a fall. Or a fail, in this case.

I was so pleased with my self-drafted boat-neck breton top that I’d thought I’d quickly sew myself another T-shirt from the same pattern. This time I used the scoop-neck variation and some substantial beige cotton/spandex jersey I bought from the Fabrics Galore stand at Sewing for Pleasure.

But as you can see, it’s looking a bit sorry for itself.

Here are the mistakes I made:

  1. I forgot to trace the scoop-neck cutting line from the fabric onto the pattern so I did it after I’d started sewing, but obviously not very well as it came out lopsided.
  2. I didn’t take a large enough seam allowance when I attached the sleeve pieces with my overlocker, so the shoulders came out too wide, and don’t even match each other.
  3. I serged the raw edge of the neck opening before adding the neckband – accidentally taking too much off, meaning that I definitely can’t bend forwards in this top.
  4. My attempts to use up some cheap thread I had lurking in my stash rather than make another trip to the shops (I know, I know… ) backfired spectacularly when my twin needle chewed up and spat out the hem.

t-shirt fail

I tried to fix all these mistakes by giving the top a really good press, but it actually made things worse because I accidentally turned on the self-clean function and the iron spat dirty water that stained the back neck.

Unlike previous blunders, these mistakes are down to carelessness and rushing rather than ignorance, so I suppose you could say I’m learning. Onwards and upwards, hopefully.

Have you had any disasters recently?

Unpromising beginnings

Photo of two pattern envelopes, McCalls 6007 and Vogue 9188.

I have something to confess: my first three makes were disasters. Here are the sorry details – and what I learnt from each one.

Disaster 1: I was too ambitious.

I started sewing when I was 14 – I was overweight, and I couldn’t find any shorts in Topshop that looked good. So my ever-helpful Mum suggested I try making my own. She was a keen sewer in her teenage years, and offered to help. But with a teenager’s attention span, I got distracted and gave up half-way through. Sadly I binned the remnants shortly before bold florals made a fashion comeback.

Photo of two pattern envelopes, McCalls 6007 and Vogue 9188.
The patterns for my first two disasters: McCalls 6007 and Vogue 9188

Disaster 2: I ignored the fabric suggestions for the pattern.

Disaster number two was supposed to be my prom dress. I’d just seen Before Sunrise, and fallen in love with Julie Delpy’s slip-dress-over-T-shirt look. So for our prom (read: school disco), I wanted to wear a slip dress – but in burgundy velvet. No, I’m not sure why either… Ever tried making a spaghetti strap from velvet? Not a smart idea. Again, my poor Mum helped me get started. And again, I consigned the half-finished garment to a drawer. Years later, I cut it up to make a cushion. But I still have the pattern, and I occasionally wonder about using it to make nightwear.

Disaster 3: I cut straight into my fabric without making a toile first

The third one was  a bootcut trouser pattern c.2001. I had a suitable fabric, but I didn’t know how to shape the pattern to fit me other than lengthening the legs. So I ended up with excess fabric at the front, and not enough room at the waist, giving me that second-trimester-but-trying-not-to-let-on look. Oh dear.

It was after that that I started reading up on fitting, and things have improved in leaps and bounds from there. But occasionally I do still have a disaster, and when that happens I’ll try to share it here for you to laugh at and learn from.