As a sewing instructor, I’m often asked “How long it will take to (for me) get good at sewing?”
Often, my students want to produce their own fashion collection or start a clothing label. Other times, I have students who have incredibly high expectations of how good they SHOULD be already. They get frustrated with themselves for making mistakes. It’s really hard to look them straight in the eyes and tell them the truth. I usually try to redirect their thoughts towards finishing their current project.
The real answer to “how long does it take?”, lies in their individual commitment to the PRACTICE.
I’m really good at Sewing. I mean REALLY good. My specialty lies in understanding garment construction and how things are put together. I can take a look at a garment and write the instructions from start to finish, without having taken the garment apart. I can sew like the garment came out of a factory or even a couture house. It’s not because I’m some kind of phenom. It’s because I’ve been practicing my craft for over 40 years now. Malcom Gladwell popularized the idea of achieving mastery by doing something for at least 10,000 hours in his book, Outliers, The Story of Success. And I think he’s got something there.
My being good at understanding construction, came from many years of reading pattern directions and the gradual understanding that there was a standard practice and process for each different kind of garment. It came from making garment after garment and from studying the instructions meticulously to make sure I did everything right. Then, going to fashion school to learn more about sewing and pattern making. And then getting jobs in the fashion industry where I saw how the factories produced clothing, what they could and could not do and then spending endless hours making technical sketches that would allow the vendors to create the garments just the way we wanted them.
But it’s not just the 10,000 hours of work on something. It’s the commitment to the process of learning as well as curiosity, passion and innovation. The PRACTICE. Just like any sport or skill, the more you practice, the better you get. And when passionate about something, people tend to stick with something even when they are struggling. And struggling is part of the process.
My friend Pauletta, with whom I shared the love of sewing and conversation around the topic, once told me that for her, sewing was a practice in patience. Being a practicing Buddist, I knew that her approach was through mindfulness and being aware of her feelings and thoughts while she was doing something. That mindfulness allowed her to make mistakes, experience them, learn from them and move on. And it was a fantastic approach! She made some of the most beautiful garments I have ever seen, all while becoming a more patient and peaceful person.
I can’t say I’m as patient or as peaceful as Pauletta was, but I do have a lot more patience than I used to. And that came with years of work and understanding that mistakes and learning were part of the PRACTICE.
If you want to get good at sewing or any craft for that matter, keep it up. Do it regularly. Some of your projects will be amazing and some will be crap. That’s part of the process. Try to learn something new from every project you make, even if you make the same thing over and over again. There is ALWAYS something new to learn. Try to analyze what went wrong and what went right. And when you get stuck, enlist the help of someone who knows more than you. It could be a teacher or a friend. Try to let your failures motivate your forward instead of discouraging you. There is always more fabric right around the corner. Or in your stash. Or in your friend’s stash.
You can do it!
Jennifer Serr is Owner and Lead Instructor at The Sewing Room. An Alameda mom with over 20 years in the fashion industry. Jennifer is also Owner and Lead Designer at Bonjour Teaspoon Patterns – A sewing pattern company specializing in “Classic Style for the Modern Girl & Her Doll”. She is also AUTHOR of the Book Sewing Camp Power.