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Ten ways to ruin your sewing


There are a thousand ways a sewing project can go wrong, though most of them stem from a few root causes: carelessness, bad materials, the wrong tools. As I was sewing this weekend, I started to think about the problems that have most often come up and ruined a sewing project for me (and others I know); if not the result, then at least the experience.

1) Stupid self-imposed deadlines. How many times have you looked at a relatively simple sewing project and thought, “Oh, I’ll knock this out in an afternoon,” only to become frustrated when the actual project seems to go on forever? I used to pressure myself to finish, staying up all hours and rushing through things to get it done. But seriously, WHY? This approach sucked all the joy out of sewing. Nowadays, when it comes to my personal sewing projects, I put it away when it stops being fun.

2) The wrong fabric. The biggest culprit for most has to be quilting cottons in garments that they just aren’t meant for. They are so darn cute in the store, but unless its the right project (and there are those), can leave you feeling that your new skirt looks a bit “Home Ec,” as Tim Gunn might say.

3) Inaccurate cutting. Few things are as frustrating as seams that don’t match up, or a dress that comes out two sizes larger because of sloppy cutting. I recommend either a rotary cutter, or using pattern weights to hold your pattern in place while you trace it onto the fabric, removing the pattern, then cutting with a good pair of sewing shears.

4) Winging it on a new technique. Let’s say you’re sewing a jacket for the first time. Most pattern instructions, no matter how thorough, aren’t likely to teach you all the techniques that would make your jacket really awesome. Relying only on pattern instructions for tricky new techniques and winging it is a difficult way to learn (but oh so tempting). This is where a library of just a few reference books, sewing magazines, and the internet will make your life so much easier, and your sewing so much better.

5) The wrong thread. Cheap thread can ruin your day pretty fast. Save it for basting.

6) Expecting every pattern to fit “out of the box.” It’s a rare person that most patterns will fit without adjustment of some kind. Sewing patterns (and ready to wear) are made for a statistically average body, and chances are high that that body is not yours. I know it’s not mine. Learning to make the adjustments you need is just a fact of sewing life.

7) Pattern alterations without testing. I say, if you’re going to alter a pattern in a major way, especially for fit, take the time to make a muslin. Even just a partial muslin can save so much heartache.

8) Treating all fabrics the same. Different fabrics need different kinds of handling, different threads, different needles, and some benefit from stabilizers. I recommend a book such as More Fabric Savvy by Sandra Betzina or Claire Shaeffer’s Fabric Sewing Guide.

9) Not pre-washing fabric. Speaking of fabric, few things are as frustrating as shrinkage when you’ve spent hour and hours on a dress. I always pre-wash my fabric in the same way I plan to wash the final garment, sometimes multiple times.

10) Being dishonest about your measurements. This goes for buying ready to wear too, in some ways. But not being honest about your own body makes it nearly impossible to get a good fit. And without that, it’s pretty hard to be happy with the outcome. It’s not worth the heartache, so respect your body the way it is and learn to fit it the way you want.

Ok, your turn! How do you sabotage your own sewing? Or have done in the past (since hopefully we learn our lessons… sometimes)?

{image above: Tears go to heaven by Rita_Lee}

Sarai Mitnick


Sarai started Colette back in 2009. She believes the primary role of a business should be to help people. She loves good books, sewing with wool, her charming cats, working in her garden, and eating salsa.



August 3, 2010 #

I feel really naughty – I’ve done (or in fact regularly do) about 8/10 of those things. Oops.


August 3, 2010 #

Ha, I wouldn’t be able to write about these if I hadn’t done them all!


August 3, 2010 #

How do I sabotage my own sewing? By not sewing. Better to make mistakes, then not venture out at all in front of the sewing machine…


August 3, 2010 #

So true! But you can also make so many easily avoided mistakes that you are turned off from sewing all together. I think we should be fearless about sewing, but also fearless about learning.


August 3, 2010 #

Mistakenly buying the wrong size pattern and then convincing myself that I can make major sizing adjustments just by cutting everything a bit smaller… Hours wasted, tempers lost, fabric bought and hurled into the bin. But everyone learns the hard way…


August 3, 2010 #

Me too, M! I get scared! I don’t know even know why. If it goes wrong, it’s not the end of the world, I guess….is it?


August 3, 2010 #

I’m a culprit of the self-imposed deadline, gets me every time. I need to learn to slow down and enjoy the craft of making something unique that I can share with the world.

I’ve also ruined a few almost finished garments from the “alterations w/o testing”, mainly b/c I didn’t want to take the time to test since I had to meet that self-imposed deadline :). Thing is, every time I’ve tried an alteration I’ve learned something, so I’m not sure that one is such a bad thing. To be honest, I’ve been lucky enough to make this mistake on projects using “deal” fabric. I’m sure once it happens on silk I’ll be less stoic. ;)

Great post!


August 3, 2010 #

Ashley, I’m with you — the self-imposed deadline gets me every time! Then I miss it, get bummed out and don’t finish the project…hmm, how is that rewarding?!


August 3, 2010 #

“Winging it on a new technique”! OMG, have you been hanging around my sewing room? I am so impatient sometimes and cannot slow down enough to learn, before trying a new technique.


August 3, 2010 #

Inaccurate cutting and winging it on a new technique are my big fails. I tend to think “I’ll even up that seam-allowance when I sew the seam”… which works all right for minor deviations, but not great when the entire SA is random and wavy. And while I often read a lot about techniques, I tend to forget (or be too impatient to) re-read up on them right before I use them.

Also, making ill-thought-out pattern alterations with disastrous consequences! The only thing worse than a total wadder is a total wadder where you don’t know if it’s the original pattern or your own alterations that made it go belly-side up.


August 3, 2010 #

The thing that gets me the most is when I skip fabric markings because I’m too lazy. I don’t mark the gather spots, I just guess, I don’t make the little Vs because I don’t want to bother. Sometimes it turns out fine. Sometimes it looks really shoddy.


August 3, 2010 #

All of those are so true! My biggest one is #1… the self imposed timeline. :P I have gotten much better about it though…

Gorgeous Things

August 3, 2010 #

Oh, I so hear you! I did a post on this a while ago. You can see it here:

I’ve made just about every mistake possible. I try to learn from them, but I don’t always succeed!


August 3, 2010 #

I have done pretty much all of these, but as a newish sewer (I did sew when I was little) I feel that every time I sew I learn something and improve my skills. It’s those times that the project is not savable that is very frustrating.


August 3, 2010 #

fatigue. nights are quiet in my house. but by then i’m tired and prone to stupidity.


August 3, 2010 #

I’m too easy on myself. I’ll blythely think, hey, it’s about process not product. But then “process” just ends up being a way to rationalize being lazy.


August 3, 2010 #

oh well,my main mistake is having my 6 year old kid around wanting to play “school” or “hospital” or “poney farm” or whatever else, and thinking i can manage sewing + pretending to be teacher/nurse/poney…
After ruining a couple of projects, I’m pretty sure now that i can’t.


August 3, 2010 #

Bingo! I think you’ve captured 90%of the source of sewing problems.


August 3, 2010 #

I have done all of these! Such heartbreak! If you ever publish a book this post needs to be the first chapter. I wish someone would have told me this when I first started sewing.


August 3, 2010 #

I have learned, after my first attempts at sewing a wardrobe and pretty much not liking or wearing anything I made, two things:

1. Take your time. This is my biggest saboteur. I wanted so badly to see the finished project, that I wasn’t enjoying the process and making sure what I ended up with was worthy of the time and effort I put into it.
2. Press everything! I now press every seam and every step of the way. It’s my best trick for going from “home ec” to “wow, you MADE that!”

Thanks for all the tips!


August 3, 2010 #

I’m with FITZ. Fatigue is my worst enemy! It’s late at night I do the dumbest things… like sewing pieces back-to-front. Or the wrong pieces all together… The seam ripper is for the sleeeeeepy.


August 4, 2010 #

I just posted this to my facebook page. I’ve started doing sewing days for my friends and the things that have gone wrong are due to some cobination of the above…not to mention – been there, done that myself! I’m amazed at my perseverance in sewing when I think back about how I’ve sabatoged myself so much in the past. Lately, I’ve been forcing myself to do it right and I’ve been so much happier with the end result. My main offences are self-imposed deadlines and, like Elizabeth, not marking.


August 4, 2010 #

I’m a notorious self-deadline imposer, but I’ll add one to this list that I don’t see yet:

Don’t get seduced by pretty pattern photos/drawings when a style is wrong for your body type.

I made a recent wadder dress from a European magazine pattern because I fell in love with the photo/line drawing, even though the dress skirt was the completely wrong shape for my hips and thighs.

Midnight Betty

August 5, 2010 #

Self imposed deadlines are the killers for me. When I started to make a dress to wear to my brother’s wedding, I gave myself three times what I thought I would need and it was the perfect amount of time. It gave me enough time to make pattern adjustments, make a muslin and make up the garment itself without rushing.

So from now on, when I think it will take me two weeks to make something (sewing part time), I usually allow a month and a half and it is plenty of time. Providing of course that I don’t leave it all until the last two weeks to do!


August 5, 2010 #

Gee, I’m not sure I’d sew if it weren’t for self-imposed deadlines. I’ve stayed up past 1 in the morning to finish a dress for something as simple as church the next day. Guess what? That dress ended up looking horrible, and I didn’t end up wearing it.

The “go glow and enjoy the process” approach is new to me, but it really forces me to sew for the sake of quality instead of quantity, and helps me re-think what projects are worth my time. I’d rather have sew one dress that is well-crafted and looks great on me, than a whole slew of self-made clothing items that look shoddy.

Fatigue… yep, that’s me too.


August 6, 2010 #

Sincere, and I do mean sincere, thanks for the reminders. All of these little devils have made sewing less fun–so a reminder before I begin a project is a really good idea.


October 20, 2010 #

Fiddling with small mistakes and turning them into bigger ones by ripping them out, ressewing etc instead of moving on, its a perfectionist issue. Not good.


February 15, 2011 #

Hahaha this is the best 10 most common sewing mistakes ever! I think all of us did some of those mistakes. Like being dishonest about your body measurements.
I always violate the rule about making the muslin when it comes to self constructed or changed pattern, but I always recalculate and remeasure so it always turns out great :)


June 23, 2011 #

Over the years I’ve learned pretty much all of these lessons the hard way! Haha! I’m sure this post will help others to learn these lessons without having to make the frustrating mistakes first. :)

jody deschenes

June 28, 2011 #

#1, but not so much a deadline i am trying to reach, but just trying to finish in the middle of the night…half asleep…enough said.
also, yes, perfectionism
and also, yes, falling in love with a picture/pattern and at the end thinking, omg, whose dress is this, anyway?


June 29, 2011 #

Inertia! You know, some disaster happens (you forgot to buy a zip or don’t know how to hem it just right) and you stop. Pretty soon so much time has passed that you can’t just pick up the project anymore because you’ve forgotten where you were and what the original problem was. Hopefully I’m not the only person this happens to…


July 1, 2011 #

My biggest mistakes have come when I’m sewing for other people (and there’s usually fatigue and a self-imposed deadline, too). It always starts as, “I just want something simple”, and the next thing you know, I’m creating a dress they need in two days out of not enough fabric, from a pattern that is too small for them because the pattern that they chose isn’t available in their size. And they often want me to change something about the pattern (I just combined two patterns for my sister-in-law last week). My husband walks around singing “No Good Deeds Go Unpunished” From Wicked while I grumble.

Do you have tips for making things for people who don’t sew themselves?
I know I am too soft-hearted and positive.


February 14, 2014 #

I know this sounds odd but I was watching an episode of My Little Pony with my daughter and this happened exactly. One seamstress agreed to make dresses for her friends and they were perfect but then the friends asked to make additional changes and worked the poor seamstress to death and at the end the dresses looked terrible. Eventually the friends realized they had no clue about sewing and should have left it to the expert so I think some advice would be to offer to make something, agree on anything the person wants before hand so you can tell them what won’t work, but express that you will need to maintain firm creative control because not everything is possible. Once they agree to that, don’t show them any WIPs until you’re done. If you can’t handle that, it’d be best for everyone not to offer at all.


March 6, 2012 #

I sabotage my sewing when I’m not concentrate and I sew wrong parts of the project and I have to do once, twice or other many times the same stitch…


September 17, 2012 #

When I was in college, I decided to make a dress the night before to wear to church the next day. I used (attempted to use) pinking shears, yes I said pinking shears to trim the seam allowance around the collar. You guessed it, I cut the bodice, which fortunately was under the collar, and not noticeable, but how frustrating to spend all the time on the garment, and then make a silly mistake, because I did not take the time to trim the seam allowance the right way. Never did that again!


January 8, 2013 #

I learned many life lessons through sewing, and it has helped me develop a better understanding of who I am as a person. Before, I made dresses out of ridiculous attic-stash fabrics without a pattern, thinking that if I traced a t-shirt onto a bedsheet, I could add a few lines of stitching here and there, and it would all magically transform into a ballgown. My creativity got the best of me in my childhood, and after many years of learning, broken needles, jammed sewing machines, and ruined bedsheets, I understand that sewing is a delicate process that must be handled accordingly. After I had disastrous results with the *final* fitting of my self-made prom dress, I realized that measurements and shaping do matter, but they should matter only to the person wearing the garment for the purpose of a proper fit. Although that dress cost me $0.00 in monetary terms, the experience cost me much more emotionally than was needed. I ended up having to tear out and replace the invisible zipper a total of 11 times due to thread overlap, added an emergency four inch gusset to each side of the bust, rip out and redo the placement of the invisible handsewn couture-finish draping tacks and had to take up the skirt 8 inches, all occurring 6 hours before the event. This was all because I insisted that I was a size 8 in clothes, so I had to be a size 8 on the pattern (I was actually a size 12). I think the stress-free solution to sewing is a great big time window to allow for the multiple redos and alterations that will no doubt have to be made for a perfect fit. Although I still use bedsheets for sewing projects, they now transform into muslins and bag linings instead of haphazard garments.


January 17, 2013 #

Being seduced by the latest pattern/lot of fabric that I’ve got and completely forgetting about the growing stashes I have at home! This year I am trying to use up some of what I’ve already got!
Buying fabric in the wrong colour because its on sale … and then having to give it away because it doesn’t suit me. And not knowing what colours suit me….making ups garment and wondering why I never wore it…I have a bit more of an idea now ( after a recent destash).
In the early days not lining things that probably would have looked better lined .
Not researching whatever I am about to make – nowadays I usually have a look around to see if anyone else has made a particular pattern and if they found a better way to do part of it. I use Pattern Review a lot for this. A dressmaker once told me that pattern instructions are often kept brief or done in a particular way/ order to save printing space, even if its not the best method.
Sewing when tired… I now know when to just pack it away!

Lady ID

February 21, 2013 #

Forgetting to prewash fabric is so annoying for me but so is prewashing because the dryer rumples the fabric :( I work with a lot of cotton so you know most of it shrinks.


August 13, 2013 #

When I taught sewing, I often had people come in who had done a bit of experimental sewing before, but were there for a specific project. Experimentation is good – I have done a lot of it during my 50 years of sewing. But having some tried and true guidelines about what works and what doesn’ t work – such as a good sewing book with methods, etc. explained – is necessary. Every good sewer I know has at least one good book on sewing.
A case in point. One adult sewing student showed me that when she cut out her patterns she just cut on the largest size line with PINKING SHEARS!!! Then, she said, she didn’t have to trim or clean up her seams after she sewed them, because it was already done. !!!???!!!
Needless to say, I explained to her how inacccurate her size would be by guessing where to sew the seam, how (thereagain) inaccurate fitting the pieces together would be, and how after sewing the seam, her seam still needed some cleaning up as it was so big. It took a while for her to believe me.
Could work for sewing something like plain curtains or Halloween costumes, but not for clothing or patterns with many pieces.

Karen S.

January 10, 2014 #

My big mistake is to wait too long to start a project with an actual deadline. This results in me staying up all night sewing the dress I need to wear for a friends wedding. I’m tired and make foolish mistakes and end up hemming my dress in the car on the way to the event.