I’ll admit it. Sewing sometimes intimidates me. I love it, of course but sometimes when I’m looking at social media—blogs, Facebook, and Instagram—I imagine that I’m the only person who doesn’t know how to do needle-turned appliqué or curved piecing.
Some Moda designers admit to feeling intimidated on occasion. Alma Allen of Blackbird Designs finds that deadlines help her. “They mean I have to conquer the problem and get me moving,” she says. “Most of the time I think, ‘Why was I so worried? Turns out it was very simple.”
Jen Kingwell, hand-stitcher extraordinaire, says she’s intimidated by her sewing machine. “It has bells and whistles and I use it mainly to stitch on bindings,” she says. “I envy people who can stitch complex blocks on their machines!”Amy Ellis says that sometimes the sheer volume of sewing she must accomplish is enough to intimidate her. “But I always break it down into small tasks and get started!” she says.
Lisa Bongean of Primitive Gatherings says sewing doesn’t intimidate her because she loves learning new things. “I look at it as an adventure—I may be good at it or I may not be. I may love it or maybe not so much, but the point is always to push yourself into discovering something new, and sewing/life will never be boring.”
Jane Davidson of Franny and Jane says she’s never intimidated because “I don’t place an emphasis on perfection when challenged to learn a new skill. I give it a go and keep trying until I’ve confidently grasped the concept.”
And Brigitte Heitland also loves a challenge. “I am eager to try new techniques and it’s thrilling to create new experiences,” she says.
Other Moda designers make the point that not every technique works for every person—but you won’t know until you try. Pat Sloan remembers being intimidated by appliqué in her early years, when the only appliqué she’d seen was Baltimore Album quilt blocks with teeny-tiny pieces using needle-turned or ‘turned-under’ techniques. “I didn’t want to do that type of work,” she says. “But I got over it because I desperately wanted to recreate my drawings as appliqué and a friend told me to stop whining and make simple shapes. She taught me needle-turn appliqué and it was life-changing and I’ve never looked back.”
Appliqué also got the better of Joanna Figureroa, at least at first. “I tried needle turn appliqué over and over again and couldn’t perfect it, so I stopped trying and found another way that works for me,” she says.
And Jo Morton seconds the notion that there’s more than one way to face down an intimidating task. “We are all wired differently, so we all work differently,” she says. “So many things can be accomplished in a number of ways.”
One way to vanquish intimidation is to take a class at a local shop.
“If something intimidates me I know it’s just because I don’t yet understand the technique behind it,” says Vanessa Goertzen. “The best thing is to find a good teacher and dive right in. Most of the time I find that what appears challenging isn’t really the case once it’s broken down.”
Another option is to make the Internet work FOR you instead of against you.
“Whenever I’m uncertain about a sewing technique—from Y-seams to sewing zippers and everything in between—I’m never too far from someone who knows much more than I do and I don’t even have to leave my chair,” says Kate Spain. “YouTube is my live-in sewing tutor…available 24/7! I’m grateful to everyone who takes the time to post clear and helpful videos!”
If you’re feeling intimidated, remind yourself that it’s only fabric. If you make a mistake, you may have to throw a bit out, but chances are you’ve got plenty more. If you’re unsure of whether something will work, first test your pattern with some inconsequential pieces of fabric before you cut into the very last bit of something really special.
And finally, remember: It’s okay to make mistakes!
“My approach is to dive right in and see what happens,” says Corey Yoder of “If it doesn’t go as well as hoped, give it another whirl. Mistakes are not failures, they are simply learning tools to success.”
Sherri McConnell walks everyday by a quilt hanging in her hall that reminds her of the value of learning. It has a lot of applique’ circles that aren’t so beautifully done—I hadn’t learned about “Perfect Circles” templates yet,” she says. “But I wouldn’t have that quilt if I’d waited to make it until I was more accomplished at appliqué…and I love it. Plus it’s represents part of my quilting journey.
Not only are mistakes the way we learn, they’re frequently the starting point for creative thinking.
“What’s the worst that could happen?” asks April Rosenthal. “Worst chance, you’ll end up with something different than you expected, and you’ll have a chance to strengthen your critical thinking and improve your skills. Try and figure out what you can do differently next time, and how to make your “mistake” work. Some of my best designs have come from playing with something that I didn’t plan.”
In my case, I was intimidated not so much by a technique as a machine—seven years ago I bought a serger, thinking I’d make tablecloths for a wedding reception. I quickly realized that it was cheaper and more practical to rent tablecloths and so I relegated my serger to the closet, where it stayed because I had heard that threading sergers was super-hard.
Then, about three months ago, I got out my instruction manual, watched a few YouTube videos, and lo and behold, I threaded my serger…and then I sewed with it! Since then I’ve made pillowcases, baby bloomers, and tee shirts. I’ve even figured out how to change thread colors. I feel like Superwoman!
How about you? Do you have something that intimidates you, or something that USED TO intimidate you but doesn’t any longer? Share your story!