Thursday, 20 March 2014

Sewing Experience, Level & Category

My blog description is "Challenges and triumphs of a beginner sewer*..."Over the last few weeks quite a few people have commented either on my blog or in person that I'm not really a beginner sewer any more. I'm not sure when this change occured, if at all, but I guess it might have been after making Tim's Albion Jacket.


I've only been sewing for aprox 18 months and I guess if I had to describe my sewing skill (or lack there of) it would still be a beginner sewer who dabbles in intermediate and advanced patterns. I'll give anything a go and I like challenging myself but, obviously, I have  much more to learn about sewing than what I know already! And while I might have intermediate skills in one particular area or technique I haven't even learnt the names of many other important sewing techniques. So, for me, my blog description and about me section still hold true, but others might disagree.

So, how do you know what level sewer you are? Do you feel the need to label it at all? Tim says that I'm over thinking it and I shouldn't need to label my skill level at all. Perhaps he has a point? Except that sewing patterns, classes and books are often prescriptive of certain levels so you can identity whether they are appropriate for you or not. But then again I wouldn't hesitate to make patterns, take classes and read books beyond the beginner level. 



Leimomi from The Dreamstress has a great post on this topic and came up with the following rating scale which I think is useful. It's objective and there's no terminology to either daunt you (e.g. advanced) or hide behind (e.g.beginner). On this scale I'm somewhere around a 5 and a 6. 
1: is an absolute beginners course, for someone who has never been on a sewing machine before.
2: you’ve made cushions or something similar, and know how to set zips and make buttonholes.|
3: you can follow a simple sewing pattern.
4: you’ve moved up to more complicated patterns with linings.
5: you’re ready to start making adaptions to your patterns to suit your taste and to fit you better.
6: you’ve begun to draft your own simple patterns and making up moderately difficult patterns
7: you’re beginning to play with draping, and trickier fabrics
8: you’re working your way up to difficult fabrics, evening wear, tailoring and tricky fitting issues

9: you’re making your own patterns, and working with couture techniques.
10: is for someone with experience in pattern making, couture sewing, and advanced fitting.
(source)




Finally, I know lots of seamstresses have a problem with the word sewer and it's association with plumbing. I admit it's not ideal. But as a beginner sewer I never felt that I could call myself a seamstress. To me, that feels like a word reserved for people who know what they're doing, perhaps have formal training, and maybe even make an income from their skill. Thus, I will continue to be a sewer for the time being. 


I'd love to know if others feel similarly about rating their skill level or perhaps you don't bother? 

24 comments:

  1. I have seen the term 'sewist' around a bit lately (as an alternative to sewer) but it seems a little awkward in the mouth to me?!

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  2. I think the only place that really pigeonholes you into a "skill category" is pattern review. I don't think I had to define my level anywhere else

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    1. Fair enough. Perhaps I use it to classify myself more than you feel necessary.

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  3. I would say that I'm a beginner beginner to the power of 1,000,000. The definition is useful for choosing sewing patterns/classes like you say but probably not much else other than a self esteem boost (or fail). On that list you put up, I'd say that setting zips and make buttonholes should be further along in the list. They are quite tricky and I'm not there yet. I think you are WAY beyond beginner now - the stuff you're making is so wonderful & complex.

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    1. Thanks for your point of view Mel. For you is seems like following a pattern isn't the tricky part it's some of the techniques involved. So 1 and 3 are manageable but 2 is a bit scary?

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    2. yes...buttonholes/zippers are up there with linings in terms of freak-out factor for me!

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  4. There is definitely a problem with skill 'labels'. I signed up for a sewing class recently that was called 'Intermediate Sewing'. Little did I know that this intermediate class meant that the students had already done 5 weeks of beginners and made an apron - that is all..... needless to say I found the class way too easy and pretty much a waste of time :( Clearly I should have checked.....

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    1. I totally agree with you. That's how I felt about my thread den course. it didn't give me the advanced knowledge I was seeking. but again perhaps what once persons perceives as intermediate is another person advanced or beginner? While I call myself a beginner I now know that when it comes to classes I'm actually much closer to advanced.

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  5. Yeah I've thought about this a lot over the 4 years that I've been sewing. It's funny to me that in my head I consider myself an advanced beginner and yet I'm somewhere up around 9 on that list because I'm making my wedding dress which really does call for couture sewing techniques.

    I guess for me the distinction here is that my advanced skills are very, very specific. I can fit a boned and lined bodice quite easily now but pants and jackets frighten me.

    I think labels are only helpful in a structured learning environment. Once you've learnt every single basic thing there is to know you would feel comfortable calling yourself intermediate. Whereas most of us who teach ourselves will always have gaps not matter what level we're at.

    It's a tricky one! But I'm quite happy to stick to the term advanced beginner until proven wrong (by being too awesome for that term one day!). So let's both be advanced beginners hey?

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    1. Such a great comment, Thanks!
      Yes I'm quite happy being an advanced beginner or a beginner with conditions haha. but I really think it depends on the setting like you were saying. If we're talking home sewers who hem curtains, pants and repair holes in jeans than my skills probably are pretty intermediate. But when we're talking pattern makers, people who sew for a living and even bloggers than I feel I have a world of knowledge to gain.

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  6. My skills are up there amongst 4, 5 and 6 (linings, adapting patterns, adjusting fit, draft own simple patterns) BUT I have never set a button hole haha.

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    1. haha! but I know if you tried you could conquer it pretty quickly. Its really not that hard. Although hard enough that I envy people with automatic buttonhole functions on their machines.

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  7. Last year I did a pattern making course at a community college. I've sewing for ever (I'm ok with being called a sewer).

    The teacher asked why I was there as the group had lots of newbies who didn't sew but wanted to learn how to put their design into a pattern for sewing.

    I learnt a lot in 6 lessons. She was very accommodating with my wanting to develop at pants block even though it wasn't in the course outline. So I now have a skirt, bodice and pants block. She even gave me a men's shirt and pants block too.

    So on a scale of 1 to 10, I'd say I sew a lot and will tackle anything:)

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    1. Yes, I think sewing classes at all levels attract a very mixed bunch of people. Its so good you were able to get so much out of that class and that the teacher was accommodating of your knowledge.

      I like your scale a lot!

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  8. I think I'm at a level 6 in terms of sewing ability, but being the child of a pattern maker I'm much more confident with adapting and drafting than I guess is usual. Doesn't worry me how I classify mself though - although I can see a huge improvement from what I originally started making and what i can wrangle now. It's satisfying.

    As for labelling - I like sewist. I don't like sewer, and seamstress seems so polished. Sewist seems like a hobby kinda name for it.

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    1. I'm not sure why but I just not love 'sewist'. Maybe it'll grow on me.
      I'm not to worried about where I sit but more about understanding what these labels mean and why or if they're important.
      Growing up with a pattern maker for a parent much have been really interesting!

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  9. I think the scale you've included is good but it's a bit more complicated than that; what if you're using more difficult fabrics and experimenting with your own designs/patterns but aren't using tailoring techniques and only some couture techniques - are you higher up in the scale or is doing some of the things sufficient as opposed to all?

    I like the term "enthusiastic beginner" for some things, but I think you're beyond that. Intermediate is a nice 'middle ground' I think, if you have a strong grasp of a range of techniques but still have plenty of gaps (that you may or may not wish to fill in)

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    1. Well its lucky your human or Captcha would have really annoyed you :)
      I agree that the scale isn't perfect. You might be capable of higher tasks and not lower ones. Yes enthusiastic, confident or efficient beginner are great terms! I think I'm all of those things. thanks for the great comment :)

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  10. That is an interesting classification Elizabeth. To me, this has more to do with how I feel about my progress. I call myself a beginner, too. I am an adventurous beginner, and am not ashamed of that. There are some things I am good at, while there are things that are well above me at the moment. And that sits fine with me. It excites me thinking just how much i cam still learn :)

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    1. yes, I love adventurous beginner! I feel that I am the same. It is a wonderful feeling to know there is so much to learn about sewing. If I was done learning than I'm sure it wouldn't interest me nearly as much.

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  11. Great post! Not really up to the adaptations stage yet so I guess I'm about a 4. So exciting that there's so much more to learn though!

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    1. it is isn't it! Learning is what spurs me on. That nervous feeling before you try something new and the feeling of confidence and being proud when you finally get it!

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