Monday, July 01, 2013

Sewing level.. How can you tell you graduated?

I often get asked what level of sewist am I. When do you know you gone from advance beginner to intermediate? To sewing super star? If there is a graduation stage how one knows where It's stands?  

What gets me on sewing levels it's that people can know a lot different techniques and be good at none or know a few and master then with their eyes shut.  Someone can be great on setting zippers and terrible on fitting, or sew any garment as long it's made out of "easier fabrics". As each person learns differently, naming something "easy" doesn't do any good for novices confidences if the pattern isn't really easy. On the positive note, I think knowing what a pattern involve in terms of skills a very helpful way to build knowledge.

What makes a sewing level?
 How do you know where do you stand?

33 comments:

  1. I'm like you, I have no idea. :)

    I tend to base it off what patterns I can do. If I can make a dress marked "Beginner" easily, then I must be a beginner. If I can make something marked "Intermediate" with just a little bit of struggle, then maybe I'm advanced beginner...

    But then the place I've had a couple of sewing lessons considers "Beginner" classes to be sewing a cushion cover. So there I'm actually advanced, pretty much because I know how to follow a pattern and use a sewing machine.

    Sorry, that was just empty musings with no real point...

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  2. Goodness, what great questions. I think patterns often get marked 'easy' if there aren't many pattern pieces or construction steps. However, I think sewing level is more about standard of finish - so I could follow a pattern's instructions and get a finished garment but I wouldn't necessarily know how to fix it if it wasn't a great fit. IMO knowing about lots of different techniques doesn't get you up a level - it's about being able to execute them. I am definitely a beginner! :)

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  3. when I some someone's incredible garment, finished impeccably I then think I am just an intermediate. You are correct, in that even the most experienced sewer has an Achilles heel where they may be great at the technical aspects of sewing, but unable to do certain things.

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    1. I agree with you especially about that Achilles heel.

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  4. That's a great point made by Jacq C above -- the standard of finish!

    That would tend to be my benchmark for evaluating sewing expertise, yes. An advanced sewist would be someone able to execute a wide range of techniques, from "easy" to "difficult", in a wide range of fabrics (from stable cotton to finicky silks) and achieve IMPECCABLE finish. In terms of fit, an advanced sewist has a really good knowledge of the different figure variations, and how to modify a pattern to account for them.

    As for the question "when do we know we've graduated a level?": As with most skills, the learning curve is steep. You don't stay a beginner for long, as you quickly learn to figure out patterns, and get the gist of how sewing works.

    Where we stay long, in my opinion, is in the intermediate level. It does take a long time to expand our range -- working with different fabrics, picking up new techniques, and most of all, doing them over and over again until master them perfectly.

    The advanced level is when you've achieved this overall mastery, even though there is always something to learn, of course.

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    1. Adrienne, Your definition its fantastic... I feel I'm on the intermediate limbo...

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  5. I have been sewing for twenty+ years and consider myself intermediate. Why? Well, my finishing is good, my fitting is good (for others as well as myself), but I still use patterns. I don't refer to the instructions, but I like to start from the pattern pieces. For me, advanced is when you can look at a garment and understand how the pattern pieces must be drafted and how it is constructed (techniques and order of construction). Intermediate is good enough for me! It covers all the things I want to do.

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  6. I'm like Ruth, I've been sewing for most of my life but yet I could run a list of things I could do better, so I consider myself an intermediate. Personally, I think the majority of sewists are intermediates because there are so many aspects of our craft that need to be learned and perfected. In my book you are no longer a beginner, if you can read a pattern, understand basic sewing terms, and work well with a basic sewing machines. Great question!

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  7. " What makes a sewing level?
    How do you know where do you stand?"
    Trial and error. Lots of trials and less errors as time goes on!

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  8. I considered myself an beginner, even though I've been sewing seriously for three years (I learned as a child, but picked it up again to sew for my children). I think I stayed at that level because most little girl dresses are not very challenging. Sewing adult clothing is much more of a challenge, especially in terms of fit and finish. I have found that tackling a new technique is more rewarding than frustrating at this point, and I managed to make a button-down shirt for my husband (that's wearable!) and welt pockets on a pair of shorts that look pretty decent, so I decided recently to graduate myself to an intermediate sewist. I think everyone could decide on a different graduation benchmark, but those were mine. :-)

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    1. Congratulations on your recent graduation. I agree with you. Having personal benchmark its the best way forward.

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  9. These are very good questions and like most people I consider myself intermediate even after a long sewing life. I agree with Jessica that we all have different benchmarks that allow us to graduate further. I think as time passes and our skills grow we fear we're bragging if we decide to graduate further therefore the majority of sewists will stay within the intermediate bracket.

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  10. i have wondered about this too. since the first real project i made was a lined dress marked "easy" (and i know a lot of people consider lining to be difficult - quite a few sewlutions seem to be in this area) i am very confused! i guess i am somewhere between advanced beginner and intermediate. i can follow a pattern, make fit adjustments, put the garment together and finish reasonably well. i've made bound buttonholes and welt pockets. i would guess i would have put myself as advanced beginner but maybe tipping over into intermediate? to me, advanced would be pattern drafting/ making major changes to a design, and determining my own construction method and order (which i guess comes with experience)

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  11. I think of myself as intermediate: I have some good skills, but definitely have loads left to learn and perfect. I promoted myself after I finished a few really challenging projects that involved mastering new skills. That said, I'll probably be an intermediate for the next 20 years. ;-)

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  12. Great questions! I just started sewing a year ago and I can already see a vast difference in my skills. I think I can consider myself an advanced beginner - I can insert zippers pretty well and make great buttonholes with my machine. I can grade patterns to fit my hips and I can sew with slinky knits and shifty poly. I can line up stripes pretty well. I'm working on fitting a pair of pants right now. I just love sewing since there's always something new to learn. There's always a challenge to meet. I'm not sure when I can say I've graduated to intermediate but I do think I am getting there :)

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  13. interesting question. I would categorize myself as advanced. Not based on what patterns I make but on the techniques involved. I have the fortunate circumstance of starting when I was around 8 years old, and learning many advanced skills along the way. So my advice to intermediate sewists is stretch yourself, try new things, practice the steps separate from sewing a specific garment.

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    1. One day I hope to have the pleasure to learn from your classes...

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  14. I think it has alot to do with confidence, I personally have a an up and down journey with. I also find that making clothes that really suit your shape and personality can build upon that confidence.

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  15. I know what you mean. I'm not sure what 'level' I am, but feel beginner, for sure, as there is SO much I do not know. And, I've only been sewing for 6 months now. But, having it as an obsession helps to learn a lot. :)

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  16. all i know is, every time i think i've graduated, i do something completely hairbrained.

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  17. I guess I am an intermediate.. However.. there are times, I feel that I am a beginner.. Just depends on the day and what I am sewing. Even though I have sewed for years, I think in the early years, I avoided the "hard" things/things I didn't know how to do?"
    Great Post Rachel.

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  18. I'm definitely a beginner, even though I've made some items that seem to look intermediate after they are finished. Every time I think I'm progressing, I have to knock myself back when I reach for that seam ripper after a silly mistake...

    If anyone wants to join my Facebook sewing group for beginners, "Stitch Once, Rip Twice" we'd love to have you! We just finished a pencil skirt challenge today and will pick out the next challenge this week. :) Here's the link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/stitchonceriptwice/ and some info: http://vintagezest.blogspot.com/2013/03/announcement-stitch-once-rip-twice.html

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  19. I think I'm along time advanced beginner I don't think in levels because like you say we all learn differently. I was a much neater sewer when I was 18 without overlockers etc. But I have gathered lots of knowledge which is wonderful and I wish I knew all this when I was younger when I was sewing clothes for myself...I'm still a learner LOL so many sewing blogs and creations to see...

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  20. Love your post and totally agree. I consider myself an advanced seamstress, but know I have so, SO much to learn.

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  21. What a great post Rachel! I always say I´m an advanced beginner. A "lucky" advanced begginer. I usually don´t have fitting issues with most pattern brands, I don´t master any technique at all, and try many. I evolve with every proyect, but I know that I would never be an advanced seamstress. Too much to learn!

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  22. This is a great question! I think it's a tough call, really ... I had to think about this when I was helping a friend launch a sewing cafe and we chatted about the different levels to label the classes.

    One of the hardest issues with determining this is that there are so many techniques and areas of sewing. A great example would be that there is a long-running sewing group near me that I've done some classes with. Many of the women there have been sewing for longer than I've been alive, but have commented on relatively simple clothes I've worn that I've made that they wouldn't know where to start, as their area of expertise is in embroidery (some of their work is seriously WOW) or patchwork, or a combination thereof. I don't think that because they've never done a hand picked zip, they're not advanced stitchers and I certainly don't think that because I've done that technique and they haven't, I'm a more advanced stitcher. A similar thing came across on the Great British Sewing Bee with the guy (Was it Mick?) who made those amazing 18th century costumes but had only ever sewn one zip before. So, I suppose I'm saying we can't be prescriptive and have to remember that if we're sewing for fun, then we're sewing what we want - if that means someone never makes trousers, but could make a couture Chanel-style jacket, then that doesn't take away from their area of expertise.

    If we accept that, maybe we still need more tiers, like complete beginner (first few projects, still learning how to sew a curve and a straight line), beginner (have made some simple clothes and starting to try out more techniques, sewing your first few zips, perhaps), advanced beginner (an area people probably inhabit for a long while, where you can sew a lot of the standard patterns with a little reference to books and can handle some fitting issues), intermediate (getting more into fitting and trying out more of the different techniques out there, like maybe welt pockets, piping, starting to draft patterns if that's an area of interest, not referring to books so often anymore, good finishing techniques, etc), advanced (Able to make complex designs, usually without reference except for less commonly used techniques, perhaps getting into areas akin to tailoring and that high level of finish).

    Personally, this question is very timely as I feel I'm at the tipping point between advanced beginner and intermediate. I've recently finished a corsetry and bra-making course, which I got a good grade for, and it's taught me so much in the last 9 months, so my skills have improved massively and I've tried lots of new techniques (such as drafting a pattern and working out my own order of work). Now, some would consider this advanced work, but I've never made a pair of trousers or done piping (as well as several other techniques), and I do still sometimes check back to books for reference on some techniques. So, I still feel a bit borderline.

    Anyway, sorry for the long post - you really got me thinking!!

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  23. Great post Rach and very interesting comments too.
    I don't think I'll ever consider myself "advanced" - there is so much to learn and master!!
    I've been sewing for 2 years, I'd consider myself an "advanced-beginner"...????

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  24. Great post Rach and very interesting comments too.
    I don't think I'll ever consider myself "advanced" - there is so much to learn and master!!
    I've been sewing for 2 years, I'd consider myself an "advanced-beginner"...????

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  25. *** Where did my comment go? ***

    Take two!

    Great post Rach and very interesting comments!

    I don't think I will ever consider myself an "advanced" sewer, there is so much to learn and master!

    I have been sewing for 2 years, I consider myself an "advanced-beginner".

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  26. I dont know why I find this subject interesting to discuss and read about, cause I've never thought about recognizing my sewing level or anything either. Im self taught and have just done what I feel like without give any thought about if its hard or easy.. in my early sewing days I used to make (mostly) skirts without any pattern but just what I wanted out of my head.. I had to make my own solutions and it was fun, but everything took a lot of time and I never knew even what kind of garment I would end up with haha. Later I realized how easy it was to "just follow a pattern" with finished parts and instructions.
    I guess if I should try to put a label on my sewing grade it would be somewhere around the intermediate, I have made a huge step latest year in making a better finish on the garment, know a lot about different fabrics/materials and often work with more difficult fabrics (probably often worked with to difficult fabrics for my ability). On the other hand I be aware of myself lacking this basic sewing knowledge from time to time =P

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  27. This is an interesting subject. It wasn't until I started teaching that I really recognized how much I know, not that I'm an expert but I can definitely teach some the basics or even slightly more advanced techniques. There are some things I'm more competent at than others. Like I'd feel comfortable teaching someone to sew a swimsuit but probably not an underwire bra.

    I think I had an epiphany at one point where I realized that while I certainly don't know everything there is to know about sewing I am completely capable of *learning* any technique which meant I was no longer afraid to try something new or difficult. It's pretty liberating, actually. I can pick up an advanced pattern and even if it takes me a while to finish I know I can do it, and I can always look up tutorials online if I need help. ;)

    I personally think of "advanced" as coture level sewing, fitting and finishing so for that definition I'd still probably consider myself an intermediate level sewist.

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  28. This is an interesting subject. It wasn't until I started teaching that I really recognized how much I know, not that I'm an expert but I can definitely teach some the basics or even slightly more advanced techniques. There are some things I'm more competent at than others. Like I'd feel comfortable teaching someone to sew a swimsuit but probably not an underwire bra.

    I think I had an epiphany at one point where I realized that while I certainly don't know everything there is to know about sewing I am completely capable of *learning* any technique which meant I was no longer afraid to try something new or difficult. It's pretty liberating, actually. I can pick up an advanced pattern and even if it takes me a while to finish I know I can do it, and I can always look up tutorials online if I need help. ;)

    I personally think of "advanced" as coture level sewing, fitting and finishing so for that definition I'd still probably consider myself an intermediate level sewist.

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  29. Haha, there should be a sort of graduation for sewists! We could all get little diplomas and applaud :)

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