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What helps me become better at sewing

Carving out the time to actually sew is one of the biggest obstacles I face to achieving my sewing goals. Some weeks, the days just roll by and I let the excuses pile up. I’m so tired after working all day, I just want to veg out on Facebook and watch TV. How can I get anything done when it’s so dark and late anyway?

I do have a few motivating factors though.

  1. Exercise
    I have more energy if I’m riding my bike constantly, I have to admit that. I recently took a week off work to hang out with my parents while they visited, riding my bike a total of hardly at all kilometers the entire time. By the time I had to get back into my daily 12km commute, I thought something was seriously wrong with body. At nights when I hadn’t moved much during the day, I felt plain awful. I wanted to sit on the couch. I panicked that pregnancy was making it too tough for me to do anything. Then, after having a solid week of biking behind me again, I felt normal. I didn’t want to simply wallow after work; I had energy again and was motivated to sew, and therefore, it helps me get better.
  2. Terrible TV
    I seem to have blown through all decent sources of entertainment at the moment. I don’t mean terrible TV like, so-bad-it’s-good, guilty pleasure type shows. I mean, “No, this blows. I have no interest in continuing to watch this.” I used to watch so many Korean dramas (I even briefly held a job as a paid K-drama blogger), but I finished one that was meh, and couldn’t hook myself on a new series. For a few weeks I was so stoked on the Misfits, and then I hit Season 3. One episode in, I was done. Same with Orphan Black and Orange is the New Black, what is it with the third season? And with no motivation to watch TV, I turn to sewing.
  3. Band practice
    If my husband is at home, I prefer to be in the same room as him. Usually that means on the couch, watching TV. A few times he has read a book in the bedroom while I’m on the sewing machine in the same room, but I’m self-conscious about bothering him, or keeping him awake once he’s ready to turn in. Luckily, his weekly band practice, or another night or so per week that he might spend out with friends, gives me alone time to sew with no regrets. I know, a wild and crazy life I lead.
  4. Getting prep work out of the way
    I usually try to knock out the prep work on a bunch of projects all at once, so for an entire week, every evening I’ll print and assemble patterns. One weekend I’ll cut fabric for a few projects. Then I can start zipping through the sewing portion without dealing with the drudgery of prep work. It’s so great to clip the final threads on a new piece of clothing one night, and know I can just get started on another one the next night.
  5. Finishing projects
    There is nothing like the satisfaction of successfully finishing one project to get me excited about diving into another one!

What gets you motivated to sew, or your preferred hobby?

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Agnes top

The first moment that I suspected I was pregnant, my husband noted that he could see I was already showing. I felt immediately self-conscious about my pudgy midsection at work (especially after a co-worker remarked, upon hearing my news, “Oh! I noticed you were gaining weight…”), but all of my clothes still fit fine. I realized that my body-hugging, stretchy silhouettes actually backfired for me in these weeks; my baby looked like a food baby. My bump was merely a slight bulge. I fell back on looser shirts with tight jeans and drapey dresses.

Agnes tee (pattern by Tilly and the Buttons), made by Small Bobbins

In preparation for what I was sure would be an upcoming craving for stretchy, forgiving clothes, I signed up for Tilly and the Button’s online workshop for sewing jersey tops. I started with the included pattern, the Agnes top. My measurements when I started (15 weeks pregnant) didn’t turn out to be much different than my usual ones, but I cut a size bigger in the waist anyway. I cut the most simple pattern to start; curved neckline, plain sleeves, no ruching (for now).

Agnes tee (pattern by Tilly and the Buttons), made by Small Bobbins

It took me several weeks to finish the top. Did I mention I’m still a slow sewer? This reason, plus my amateur sewing skills, mean this is not a top that I’ll wear out in public.

Agnes tee (pattern by Tilly and the Buttons), made by Small Bobbins

First: the neckline, ouf! It gapes a bit. Second: it’s too short. The bump is only going to make it shorter. Third: the armholes are tight. I think? I don’t know enough about fitting, but the shoulders and armpits are uncomfortable. I’m not sure how I would fix this for my next version. Fourth: the sleeves are too short and a bit tight.

Agnes tee (pattern by Tilly and the Buttons), made by Small Bobbins

I’m glad I used a cheap jersey for my first attempt. It’s not ideal; it has enough stretch as indicated for the pattern, but not a whole lot. It’s not incredibly soft, and the color is plain. At only €2 per meter though, it seemed like a perfect choice for a wearable muslin. I have a softer, stretchier light pink jersey that I want to try for my next version. I will definitely lengthen it a few centimeters, plus attempt a maternity hack (using Zoe’s tutorial), and maybe go a size up in the… armpit area? Or perhaps using a stretchier fabric will make the arms more comfortable anyway.

The online workshop itself was helpful, it’s essentially a series of detailed sewalong videos. I don’t know if I necessarily feel more comfortable about the idea of sewing jersey tops in general, but I like having the videos to reference for the next version of the top that I’ll make. I do wish it included more tips for sewing with jersey in general, it is very focused on the Agnes top and going through the construction steps of this particular pattern. For the price, I expected more troubleshooting and advice that went beyond the one pattern. The pattern itself is a great basic top (I’m assuming, once I practice more), that I think I’ll get a lot of use out of in the future.

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my slow start

It’s the curse of being a beginner. I truly suck at sewing at the moment. Not only sewing, but also taping together PDF patterns, tracing them, cutting them, cutting fabric (gaaaah! the worst part for me), fitting, sewing without snagging something every fifteen seconds, and doing anything at any sort of reasonable pace. I read blogs that mention “quick sews”, “only took me three hours from start to finish!” and I can hardly believe it. I’ve managed to pin a hem – terribly, mind you – in three hours.

My husband has to remind me of Ira Glass’s advice. I just have to get through this terrible stage and (oh gosh, I hope) then I’ll get better. Little (baby) steps at a time.

What are some of your tips for completing projects more quickly? Not just sewing, but the whole process: organizing projects, printing/cutting/taping PDF patterns, tracing, cutting fabric, and then finally sewing?

I’ve heard that getting all of the prep work out of the way can make the project seem like it’s moving faster, so all fabric should be cut and organized before you dive into the actual construction. Also, taking the project in small, consistent chunks, trying to set aside a bit of time every day to sew, seems like a good way to make progress.

For now though, I probably just need a lot more practice.

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Silhouettes I Love

As I embarked on the idea of a handmade maternity wardrobe, first I spent too many hours scouring the internet for any tutorial for DIY pregnancy clothes. Even anything that somewhat suggested, “Hey, this could fit a pregnant woman” went onto a packed Pinterest board. Then, I looked at my exaggerated collection and realized that it’s a good idea to figure out what silhouettes I liked best and wanted to replicate.

I don’t consider myself one of the lucky ladies who looks effortlessly chic in a slouchy white tee and jeans. I end up looking more like, “I put in zero effort to look this frumpy in my white tee and jeans.” My pregnancy body pushes my frump scale up to 11, so I gravitate towards more feminine, fitted silhouettes when I imagine my dream maternity wardrobe.

I work in a pretty normal office building for a tech company. It’s mostly dudes (and mostly engineer-types who wear t-shirts and jeans on a daily basis), but the ladies who are around tend to dress stylishly. I know I’ll feel more confident if I feel like I look good in my clothes, so part of my plan for a handmade maternity wardrobe includes attempts at cute work clothes.

To supplement the clothes I make (or give into buying), I plan on buying some skinny belts (a few different colors to mix it up) and maternity tights. I already have a decent stash of jersey and different elastics; that’s the foundation of a maternity wardrobe, after all.

Fit-and-flare/skater dresses

maternity dress inspiration

I find these types of dresses super flattering to begin with, but the idea of a fitted bodice that flares out from the waist (maybe somewhere between an empire and a natural waist) really speaks to me.

Crop tops over dresses or high-waisted skirts

maternity dress inspiration

I already know that jersey skirts and dresses will be my friend. Crop tops seem to be good way to mix and match outfits, or jazz up some basic, solid-colored skirts. Plus, already thinking ahead, nursing-friendly?

Loose, button up shirts with skinny jeans

maternity dress inspiration

This is a good outfit idea, assuming I will be able to figure out a pants situation. I don’t imagine this will be a sustainable solution in the last few weeks (and if this baby will be anything like my first, I will have one big bump), or else the shirt will just look like a tent. Tent shirts, I have to admit, work for some people. Not for me. Maybe then I’ll switch to tunics.

Body-con dresses

maternity dress inspiration

Once my belly finally becomes truly obvious, I will be happy to rock clingy dresses that hug all of my new curves.

Belted tunics and leggings

maternity dress inspiration

I spent my last few weeks before my son was born living in a rotation of three tunics and maternity leggings. This time, I’m looking at styles that will give more waist definition.

What are your preferred silhouettes? Either pregnant or not, it’s a good exercise to define your style!

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