How to build sewing skills if you’re an absolute beginner


Today, I’d like to talk to all the beginners out there.

I know how disheartening it is to be a beginner at something. Often when you’re learning something new, your imagination and taste greatly outpace your actual skills.

You know when something looks wrong, but you aren’t at the point where you can fix it. Not yet. This can be highly motivating, but it can also be incredibly frustrating.

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.”
-Ira Glass

The good news is, things are getting easier.

The evolving world of sewing

Here’s how I used to pick my sewing projects:

Head over to the big chain fabric store. You know, the one in the strip mall that smells overwhelmingly like christmas half the year.

After a quick browse through the 50% off section, I’d head over to the pattern table, where the stacks of massive pattern catalogs lived.

Usually, there’d be a few other bored-looking ladies there rifling through, and at least one frustrated bride-to-be with her mother, horrified by the massive leg-o-mutton sleeves she was being presented with.

I’d sit down and start browsing, ever hopeful that I’d find something I could work with. I’d stare and squint, and try to imagine the clothes in better colors, different fabrics, and on less generic looking models.

Finally, I’d settle for something I thought I could work with. I’d totally ignore the skill level indicated by the pattern, and only kinda-sorta pay attention to the recommended fabrics.

As you can imagine, this was not a recipe for awesome. Oh, occasionally I’d get lucky and make something work, but more often I got in over my head and had to do some slapdash sewing to pull the whole thing together.

The indie revolution to the rescue

These days, the new sewist has many more options. In addition to those phone book sized pattern catalogs, there are amazing indie pattern companies to choose from, many of which make a point of guiding and helping newbies through blogs, tutorials, and sewalongs.

There are also wonderful independent shops to buy from, and classes both in person and online. The sewing world has exploded with options.

But that’s only part of the story. Though we have better options nowadays, I don’t think it’s necessarily easier to know what to sew, especially if you aren’t experienced. It’s still way too easy to get in over your head and lose all confidence.


Pick your skills, pick your project

Here’s my simple tip for the beginner to become a competent sewer in no time:

Learn at least one new skill with each project.

Your skills need to build gradually over time, and the best way to do that is to focus on learning something new with each project you try. Think of it as giving yourself little assignments.

It does require some advance planning and research, but you’ll come out of each project with stronger skills and probably something you like a little better than the chain store special.

A true beginner sequence

To give you an idea of what I mean, here’s a sample sequence of patterns and projects I’d recommend to a complete beginner, and the skills you’d learn.


  1. Make a pillow. So easy, and you don’t need a pattern. You’ll learn how to cut and sew with seam allowances. And you can use almost any fabric. Plus you get to look at it every day (I should make more pillows).
  2. Make a Sorbetto top. This free pattern has only two pattern pieces and will help you learn to use bias tape, a very good skill to have. No zippers or other closures are needed.
  3. Make another Sorbetto. This time, try making your own bias tape, if you’re feeling adventurous.
  4. Laurel. Now you’ll use those bias tape skills once again, while also installing a zipper.
  5. Ginger. With this aline skirt, you’ll be putting in a zipper once again, and also installing a waistband.
  6. Macaron. Try installing pockets, facings, and doing a bit of topstitching.

You can go on from there, maybe choosing a project with buttons, like Zinnia or Hawthorn, moving all the way up into outerwear.

If you find a project you like and want more practice, make multiples! Laurel is a great choice for this (as is Moneta for the knits-inclined) because there are so many options and things you could try.

Become a sewing detective

The best sewists (or knitters, or artists, or ceramicists, or writers…) I know are intensely curious.

Sure, it can be discouraging to not be great at first. But by picking projects based on what you’ll learn instead of just the best-case-scenario fantasy outcome, you will never really be disappointed. You’ll always be learning something new that you can apply again.

When you feel over your head, the next step isn’t to give up – it’s to learn more! Is there a tool that could help you? Is there a technique you’ve never heard of?

I won’t lie, I know failures can be frustrating. But they’re also inevitable, and the best way of improving quickly.

If you’re trying to improve your skill set, the important thing is that you push yourself just the right amount. Give yourself some assignments that are easy enough to make you feel good, and hard enough to make you improve. Every time.

Do you have any tips for beginners trying to build up their skills?

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Video: Installing an elastic waistband on Myrtle

Today, I’m going to show you how to install the elastic waistband on Myrtle. Watch the video and follow along with the photo tutorial and you’ll get it.


Here’s the short version:

The method we’re using here creates a little flap at the waistline, which you can fold over a circle of elastic to create a casing.

There is one thing to keep in mind.

The method shown in the video is designed for knit fabrics, because they stretch and are much easier to ease into place.

If you’re sewing with a woven, I’ll talk about a simple variation that’s a little easier with non-stretchy fabric. It results in a slightly shorter bodice, so if you are long waisted or tall, you may wish to add some length to your bodice when making Myrtle in a woven fabric.

Start by assembling the bodice and the skirt as instructed in the pattern. You should have the bodice and skirt completed before you start the rest of this tutorial.

Attach Skirt to Bodice


1) Sew skirt to bodice. With right sides together, align the skirt with the bodice at the waist, matching the fronts and backs at the waistline and aligning the side seams and notches. Pin, then stitch the bodice to the skirt.


2) Sew a second waistline seam. With right sides together, stitch the bodice to the skirt again, stitching 1 3/8″ from the first seam.

If you are using a knit fabric, use a narrow zigzag stitch for this (with a width of 0.5mm).

If you are using a woven fabric, use a straight stitch.


You can use masking tape to mark your sewing machine at the correct distance for an even seam allowance.

Create elastic band


3) Measure out your elastic. Measure a length of elastic to fit around your waist, unstretched. Add an extra 3/8″ to each end for seam allowance.


4) Shorten the elastic. Trim 2-3 inches from the length of elastic. This should create some negative ease. Wrap the elastic around your waist to check for fit, and trim more if you’d like it to be tighter.


5) Create a circle. Join the elastic in a circle by overlapping 3/8″ on each side and zigzagging each end into place.

Encase the elastic


6) Pin elastic in place. For a knit dress, align the edge of the elastic right below the second line you stitched on the skirt. You will have to stretch the elastic a little in order to fit the waist. Pin the elastic in place. You should have a flap of fabric above the elastic.

For a woven dress, do the same, but pin the elastic ABOVE the line of stitching instead of below. In this case, the flap of fabric will be BELOW the elastic.


7) Fold the flap over. Take the 1 3/8″ flap and fold it over the elastic to cover. Pin the flap to the dress, removing pins from the elastic as you go.

So, for a knit fabric, you’ll be folding the flap down and pinning it to the skirt.

For a woven fabric, you’ll be folding the flap up and pinning it to the bodice.

The reason for this is that the flare in the skirt makes sewing the flap down a little tricky with non-stretchy fabric.


8) Stitch flap. Stitch the edge of the flap to the dress, stretching the elastic as you sew. Stitch just through the flap and the outer dress, don’t catch the elastic in your stitching.

For knit fabrics, you will again use a narrow (0.5mm width) zigzag to do this.

For woven fabrics, use a straight stitch.

This step can be a bit fiddly, because you are stretching everything to fit as you sew. Take it slowly, check for puckers, and don’t be afraid to rip some stitches and redo if you need to.



9) Adjust gathers. Turn the dress right side out and adjust the gathers to be even.


10) Stitch in the ditch. To secure the elastic, stitch in the ditch at each side seam. This will keep the elastic from twisting or sliding, and help maintain the evenness of your gathers over time.

Let me know if you have any questions!

Reminder: 15% off Myrtle ends today (+ weekend reading)


Just a quick reminder that the 15% off on Myrtle ends tonight! Pick up your copy here.

And thank you to everyone who ordered the pattern, especially to those of you who opted to get an early peek and managed to keep it under your hats. I’m amazed at how well it all worked, and I’m looking forward to more advanced peeks in the future for our patterns.

You guys are the best!

Weekend Reading:

If you enjoy these links, be sure to follow me on twitter, where I post interesting reading and ideas throughout the week!

How to sew Myrtle in a woven fabric


If there’s one thing I like best about Myrtle, it’s that it is one of those rare patterns that can be sewn in either knit or a woven fabric.

The reason for this is the ease and drapey fit. Myrtle is designed so that shaping comes from the comfortable and stretchy elastic waistband, rather than the tight fit of the fabric.

While the pattern instructions that come with Myrtle are for knit fabric, switching to a woven is super easy. In this post, I’ll summarize the few changes you’ll need to make if you’re using a woven fabric.

And to make things super clear, you can download a free complete extra set of instructions for woven fabrics. This walks you through every step in the process, but assumes you’re using a woven fabric rather than knit.

(If you buy the digital version of Myrtle, you’ll get this automatically with your download as a bonus.)

Woven fabrics you can use

Myrtle works well in fabrics that have a bit of drape to them. You want the neckline in particular to hang well, rather than stand away from your body too much.

You have a wide array of fabrics to choose from. Here are a few that I think would be particularly lovely:

  • rayon challis
  • silk or rayon crepe
  • lightweight linen
  • light chambray
  • seersucker
  • wool crepe
  • cotton lawn (choose one that’s not too stiff)

For this sample, I used a vintage silk crepe. For the blue and white sample we showed yesterday, we used a light silk twill.

If you have a dressform, try draping some fabric on the form to see how it hangs. It’s very easy to replicate the look of the cowl with some quick draping, and you’ll instantly have a good idea of what the dress will look like.

Extra supplies you’ll need

There are just a few extra things we’d recommend for making Myrtle in a woven fabric:

  • 1 yard of 1/4 inch double fold bias tape. This is for finishing the back armholes and back neckline. While these curves can just be turned and hemmed in a knit fabric, wovens are not as flexible and should be finished with bias tape as a facing instead.
  • Universal needles. You don’t need a ballpoint needle if you aren’t sewing knits, so grab a universal needle. Be sure to match the needle size to your fabric.
  • Fusible interfacing. This is just for interfacing the shoulder tabs if you are making them, so a small scrap will do.

Stitching and finishing


The most obvious way this pattern is different in a woven is that you don’t need to use a stretch stitch. You can do all the seaming and topstitching with a straight stitch.

Since you won’t be sewing this with a serger in a woven, you will need to finish all of the raw edges after sewing each seam. And of course, you’ll need to press them as well. Stitch, finish, press, just like you do with most woven garments.

Here, I stitched with a straight stitch, then finished the edge with a serger.

Finishing the back openings

For knit fabrics, the back armhole and back neck are finished by simply turning and hemming. Unlike wovens, you can hem curves this way with knits if the curve isn’t too severe.

For wovens, you’re better off using bias tape. You can either make your own bias tape from the self fabric, or use pre-made. Since it will be on the inside of your garment, a pre-made bias tape will often be just fine.


When the pattern instructs you to finish these areas, begin by pinning the bias tape along the edge, right sides together with edges aligned.


Stitch along the first fold line.


Fold the bias tape to the inside of the garment, folding the bias tape in half to enclose the raw edges.


Edgestitch the bias tape in place. Notice that the folded bias tape is acting as a facing, not a binding. It’s turned all the way to the inside rather than wrapping around the edge.

Use this same technique on both the back neckline and back armholes.

Another cool thing about this pattern is the way the front bodice is self lined, so you don’t have to bind anything in a complete circle. This makes binding much, much faster and less fiddly.

Shoulder tabs


If you’re making the shoulder tabs for this dress, we recommend using a bit of fusible interfacing to give them more stability.


After you sew the tabs with right sides together, clip the corners. Turn right side out, press, and edgestitch around all the edges to help the tabs stay flat.


There’s no need to use the twin needle technique or a coverstitch to hem a woven fabric.


Instead, you can sew a simple turned hem by turning 1/4 inch and pressing, then turning again 3/8″, pressing, and edgestitching in place.

Better yet, sew a blind hem. A blind hem will give you a very neat finish. It’s my personal fave.

Click here to download the complete instructions

Introducting Myrtle, a knit dress with a fun twist!


In the summer, there’s one difference between a pretty dress that gets worn constantly, and one that languishes in my closet: comfort.

We can plan all the structured, tight, bombshell-y dresses we want, but when it comes time to actually leave the house, who wants to feel constricted? I’d rather look beautiful with as little fuss as possible.

Give me an easy to wear, flowing, goddess dress. Make it as easy to sew as it is to wear, and you have a winner.

That’s why I’m so excited about Myrtle, our third knit pattern (along with Moneta and Mabel) in collaboration with knitwear designer Alyson Clair.



Feel beautiful & stay cool

As many of you have discovered in sewing Moneta and Mabel, the very best thing about knits is that you feel like you’re wearing secret pajamas. And when your clothes feel that good, you actually end up wearing them.

Myrtle offers a different look to add to your knits wardrobe, one with more drape and ease but plenty of shape.

The draped neckline can look classic (like a greek goddess), vintage (like a cocktail dress from the 1960s), or completely modern (in simple black or white). Wide encased elastic defines the waist for a silhouette that’s flattering on a huge variety of body types.



Version 1 falls just below the knee. Version 2 is a little shorter and hits right above the knee, and includes button-on adjustable shoulder tabs that gather the shoulders a little more. Both feature in-seam pockets, a gorgeous draped neckline, and a flowing skirt gathered at the waist with comfortable elastic.

I can even see this dress lengthened into a maxi-length evening gown, or shortened into a sheer beach cover-up.


Use almost any fabric – knit OR woven!

Though Myrtle is part of our knits collection, with a few minor tweaks, you can just as easily make it with wovens. That means that no matter what beautiful fabrics you encounter, you’re sure to find plenty of ways to make this dress.


We created a free bonus set of instructions for you to download, so that this knits pattern can be made with woven fabrics like silks, cotton lawn, or voile.

Just download the free alternate woven instructions right from the shop page. Or, if you buy the digital version, you’ll get the extra instructions included in your download.



Plus tomorrow, I’ll share a few of the most important tips for making Myrtle in a woven fabric. With a few simple changes, you can make it either way. Have fun running through that stash!

A quick make with a fun twist

Like most knits, Myrtle is a quick sew (and it’s pretty fast in a woven too).

With only four main pattern pieces (plus pockets), cutting time is minimal. Just like Mabel and Moneta, you can whip this baby up in a matter of hours.

Plus, it is honestly really fun to put together. Myrtle has a clever self-lined front bodice that is cut all in one piece, folded, and sewn to help give a clean finish inside.


It’s a little like origami and so satisfying when it’s done. Of course, if you need more help getting this part right, we’ll have another in-depth free sewalong coming up in the next month (which Devon and I are planning right now).


I don’t know about you, but to be honest I spend less time sewing in the summer. So I want all my projects to be wearable, pretty, and fairly quick.

Available from XS to 3X

Like our two previous patterns, Myrtle is available in a wide range of sizes, from XS to 3X.

Check out Myrtle’s page in our shop to see the size guide and fabric requirements.

15% off through Friday!

To celebrate Myrtle‘s launch, get 15% off now through Friday in our shop! Plus, as always, free US shipping if you spend over $50.

Ready to join us in more knits fun, make something lovely and wearable, and learn a few new construction techniques?


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