The Savvy Sage of Sewing Stimulation

Sewing is Like Traveling on a Line

So what in the world does this mean?  It means that sewing is a process.  It’s like learning math – you must learn that 2 + 2 = 4 before you can learn that 4 x 4 = 16.  It’s that simple.  And yes a lot of people think math is hard, but if more folks would treat it like a process it would be a lot easier for folks to handle.   I look at it as if this were a trip I’m taking.  I have to travel from Albuquerque to Bakersfield, is easier to go through Gallup than it is to go through Philadelphia – you can do it, it’s just a long, round-about way to go.  That’s exactly the way sewing is.  You can insert the sleeve into the front and back, then sew up the shoulder and side seams, but it’s extra work that makes it harder.


So why is this helpful to know and even better why should we care?  This goes toward good time management of your garment.  And although a lot of us may feel that our most valuable resource is money, it’s really time.  Time is irreplaceable – always.  Money is replaceable, therefore time is your most valuable resource, so if you can cut the time it takes to make a garment, then it becomes more economical for you.  It also grows to be a project that you will be more readily to repeat – IOW, if it takes you 3 hours to make a pair of leggings, then next time it will take you 2½ hours and the next time even shorter, till suddenly it takes less than an hour to cut and sew up a pair of leggings.

How do you get to that sort of time efficiency?  Two ways:  1.) Making sure your process is in the most effective and 2.)  and experience.  That means that you layout and think about the process of assembly in such a way so as to maximize the use of your time, and you don’t sew the sleeve to the front and back before the sewing the shoulder.  Although that’s a simple explanation, there are times when it’s not so simple until you begin to look carefully.

There are many ways to assemble this garment, but there is also one way that is time-efficient and much easier.

Here are the pieces numbered, and one thing that’s helpful to know is that the pieces are number in order or assembly.  So instead of sewing #3 to #2 and then fitting in #1 into that corner, you sew #1 to #2, then #3 to #1 & 2.  Then you sew #4, #5 and #6 together and sew all those pieces together to the upper side of #3.  When you do that you basically have 3 pieces:  the lower part (#1 & 2), the middle part (#3) and the upper right part (#4, 5 and 6) and sewing these three pieces together on either side of #3 is easy peasy, instead of trying to meet and match all those corners perfect.

Looking at the back, you essentially do the same thing, but since #4 has already been allotted a number as have #1 & 2, the order looks a little confusing.  But it’s really not, in numerical order you do #1 & 2 first then #7 then attach #8 to #4 and attach that to the other side of #7 and you’re done.

This pattern makes my point in spades about how sewing is preeminently a process from one step to another.


Now take that to its logical conclusion, say you have a set of steps 52 steps long.  The steps each one is explained in detail, but because it’s so much longer than Butterick 8267, it’s considered difficult.  In reality, it isn’t.  It may appear more complicated, especially if you look through the steps, but it more depends upon the detail and explanation of each step as to whether or not it’s hard or not.  There are several sewing processes that fit into this category like the French quilted jacket – it appears hard and is considered the penultimate sewing challenge, however following the progression of steps, and suddenly you’re finished.  The part that makes it look so hard is that there are many, many steps.  They aren’t hard, but if you skip a few, then it becomes incredibly difficult.  Another is a set-in sleeve.  There are many steps, and taking them one at a time and the process becomes not only easy but understandable.  Sometimes though in instructions, steps are missed, and for me what’s worse is that the reason for the step is completely disregarded or left out.  This may sound like superfluous information but the fact is that when you understand the reason for the step, not only are you more likely to stay on track, but you begin to understand what the whole process is and how each step plays into that look.

I’ve been writing new products for the Resource Center and one of the things I go into detail on each step is the reason for the step as much as how to do the step.  Sometimes those are the same and the one explains the other.  Here’s an example.  Altering an armscye is one of the most difficult things you can do – as a matter of fact, it’s really considered the most difficult alteration on the bodice pieces.  When you know that, then you understand why most pros recommend you start with your shoulder measurement.  Because when you do, the other alterations to make the chest, bust, waist bigger, smaller or different, are so much easier than altering that dang shoulder.   Many alterations are made on one axis or another – like adding space to a skirt seam is adding on the up and down axis (usually that’s called the X-axis).  While adding length to a pair of pants is altering along the side to side axis which is usually referred to as the Y-axis.  But when you have a curve that is on both the X and Y axes, you usually don’t alter one but have to alter the other and this gets very confusing and very difficult to do.  That’s why an FBA that alters on the Y-axis alone is so much easier than altering on both axes.

If the up and down (X-axes) is the blue line and the side to side (Y-axis) is the pink line, and the black line is the original armscye, then when you add space into the along the blue line, but not the pink line  then where does the cur separate from the black line and where does it reconnect?  It’s hard to tell, and this is exactly why this is so hard to do.  Even if you don’t grasp this concept forever or even past your next breathe you understand that there’s a good reason for starting with your shoulder (or right underneath your chin/chest) measurement.  This ensures that you don’t have to alter this dang thing which saves you a lot of time and effort – and you know how valuable I think your time is!


So when you see long instructions or many-stepped instructions, don’t shy away from them.  Most often they are not only complete but taking it step-by-step means you are closer to success than something that takes only three easy steps!  Well, it might take 3 easy steps, but the lesson does that by leaving out the other 30 in between!

Sewing in a step-by-step process is like traveling with a map that will help you get from Albuquerque to Bakersfield without having to go through Philadelphia, but you will get to see Gallup!

  1. Love detailed instructions! Love actually learning. Thanks for covering MORE THAN “beginning sewing” information

    • My pleasure – this is my favorite thing to do and to also stretch you all. Sometimes that seems intimidating, but it definitely makes you grow!

  2. Excellent article! I’ve always liked Vogue patterns for that reason, especially when you are attempting something you haven’t tried before.

    • Yeah, Joanne – the Vogue patterns used to be very good, and that’s what I learned on. However, I’ve noticed in recent times that they either aren’t as well-proofed or aren’t as well-designed with major flaws in drafting or layout. Some of these are very basic, and some are very technical and often only visible or noticeable by experts sewists. This really beefs me cause if you’re not an expert you don’t see it and sometimes not even after you’ve made up the pattern in the fashion fabric, and after using the expensive fashion fabric and time to sew it up, the sewist is so discouraged, that it’s enough to scare one off sewing forever. I’ve seen a lot of these in class and had I not been there to see the fault, the student would have been tearing her hair out. Hopefully, Vogue is getting better about this (I haven’t tried them lately because of this), and I hope you haven’t had any experience with this, but it really does break my heart, cause Vogue used to be a go-to pattern and guaranteed not only for correct layout but excellent design making it easy to assemble.

  3. Love reading your articles! I purchased a system which taught me how to map my body out so I have a well-fitting sloper. I also have broken that sloper down into princess seams. My biggest problem with the system is when I want to make something, if I do not know the order in which to make it it takes me a tremendous amount of time. So what I have begun to do is purchase patterns along the lines of what I want and I use the instructions even though I do not use the tissue patterns at all! At least I’m getting a well fitting garment anymore! Thank you for this article.

    • Chirs – basically the traditional (and most often used) is this order: 1. front, 2. back (yoke and then back if there is a hoke), then if included: 3. collar band, 4. collar, (if included) 5. sleeve placket (or any sleeve slit, to place the cuff closer in the back of the sleeve showing the button to the side, and not using the underarm sleeve as cuff closure) and 6. cuff, then finishing. And truly after you do a couple of garments this assembly progression get easier to understand. Now if you have more intricately designed patterns, that still holds true, but you may have several pieces for the front, several for the back, for the sleeve or for any large pieces with the assembly still following the above list. It’s so fabulous you have a sloper that you can design from, and so fabulous that you can fit yourself, with a whole lot less hassle than having to add fitting to the assembly.

  4. Fabric and patterns have 2 dimensions, the x (length) and the y (width or circumference) axis. Bodies however have a 3rd dimension, depth (z axis). Pattern alterations, such as the one in your example of the underarm, which involve the body’s depth are the most challenging and in my experience sewing for myself can only really be worked out in a muslin or toile. It’s the only way to figure out where that new armhole curve should be. Your advice of choosing a pattern size which helps you avoid these challenges is helpful.

    Thank you for your thoughtful and thought provoking posts.

    • Susan – you are so right. In design school students spend a whole year on flat-pattern design (2-dimensions), then another year with draping (3-dimensions). And basically what we sewists do is turn 2-d into 3-d, and that’s why it’s so hard for quilters, who are working in 2-d, to go to sewing……but it’s not impossible, as a matter of fact, in my mind they have most of the rules, regulations, and techniques learned already. But it is the fitting that really bothers us, and if we can make that a little easier by fitting the really hard part first, then fitting the other as we go along, it makes so much more sense.

  5. Thank you for this. Makes a lot of sense.

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