Beyond the Beginner – Guide for Beginners

  • By: joleenllorence
  • Date: August 21, 2022
  • Time to read: 4 min.

How do you stop being a beginner sewer?

The question turns out to be more complicated than it initially sounds. How do you define a beginner? If you’re not a beginner, what are you instead? And how do you define that?

What is a beginner?

Is it about how long you’ve been sewing? The type of thing you sew? Is it the quality of the finished item, how much you rely on the pattern instructions? Is it being able to design things yourself without a pattern?

Or is it about confidence?

Calling yourself a beginner

I described myself as a beginner for a long time. I’d been sewing for over ten years, I’d made clothes, adapted patterns. In fact, I was still calling myself a beginner when I started sewing my wedding dress…

Wedding dress: maybe not a beginner project…

It was about this time, when I was inserting boning into a dress where I’d modified the pattern, that I realised the problem was with me. I wasn’t really a beginner, but I still thought of myself that way, because I didn’t have the confidence to say, yes, actually, this is something I can do.

I didn’t feel comfortable saying I can do something that many other people can’t. I felt as if I was boasting. Of course, I have no problem with other people telling me about things they can do that I can’t – I’m suitably impressed at those who can run marathons, speak fluent Italian, play the cello. (I’m even more impressed if they can do all three, especially at the same time!)

And some part of me thought that the only alternative to being a beginner was being an expert. And I certainly wasn’t that.

So eventually I settled for a different description, one that makes no demands on me, but equally doesn’t denigrate what I can do. I’m not a beginner, but neither am I an expert, a teacher, or an artist.

I’m someone who sews.

How to stop being a beginner

So how do you stop being a beginner and start being just someone who sews?

The answer is simple: sew.

If you sew things, no matter the type or the quality, then you are someone who sews. It’s that simple.

You don’t have to call yourself a beginner. You don’t have to achieve some mythical level before you get to call yourself something else. You can start calling yourself something else right now.

Calling yourself someone who sews makes no claim about expertise or ability, it doesn’t draw attention or importance. It’s a statement of fact: this is part of me, it’s something I do.

But it’s also not devaluing what you do. It’s not hiding behind words, pretending it’s not important: “Yes I made it, but it’s nothing really, I’m only a beginner.” It’s not making excuses either: “I couldn’t possibly make that, I’m only a beginner.”

So you can stop being a beginner right now. Be someone who sews instead.

The real question

Of course, that’s only half the story. What you call yourself is important, it affects the way you view yourself and what you think you’re capable of.

But the real question isn’t “how do I stop being a beginner?”, it’s “how do I improve my sewing?”

The answer is both simple and complex.

The simple answer you’ve seen before: sew.

Yes, there’s more to it than that. But not that much more – you can’t improve without sewing. And it’s pretty difficult to continue sewing without improving.

This is good news. You can do this – because you’re someone who sews.

The complex answer addresses the slightly different question: how can I best improve my sewing. This depends on where you are now, where you want to be, how much time you have, what kind of things you like making, how you learn best…

But the answer is still to sew.

You could practice a single technique in isolation; for example inserting a zip between two squares of fabric. Or you could tackle a series of projects, all of which have zips. You could take a pattern, and make it again and again each time adapting or including a new technique. You could take a course, or follow steps in a book. Or you could just tackle any project you like the look of, and learn through trial and error.

Any (or all) of these can work. Some might work better for you than others, but it’s all sewing.

So, how to stop being a beginner: sew, take risks, make mistakes.

Be someone who sews.

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