What’s the most time you’ve spent on a single step?

Oh. My. God. I hope yesterday isn’t an indicator of what’s to come in 2012. I girded my loins and returned to the coat, terrified at the prospect of setting in the sleeves.

Turns out my terror was well-placed. I spent an entire day setting in and adjusting ONE SLEEVE. Seriously. (Let’s not dwell on the fact that I also had to unravel 6cm of knitting.) Finally, in the evening, my boyfriend barked, ‘Stop. Touching. The. Coat!’

I started composing a run down of everything I did yesterday, but then realised I didn’t want to bore you to death, but here are a couple of details: I realised that the ickle strip of calico wasn’t anywhere near enough to support the sleeve head, so I added some batting:

Giving no support at all

Hopefully, giving more support.

I’m not sure I can even look at the coat today. And I still have one sleeve left to do! (As well as opening up the rear windows on the bound button holes. Gulp.) I’m definitely pushing the boundaries of what I’m capable of on this make. I don’t mind doing that, but I feel so isolated! You know that saying: You don’t know what you don’t know? I definitely know I don’t know things! With no teacher to reassure me, my only learning can be from making mistakes – and mistakes can be costly with cashmere coating.

From time to time, I read the odd bit of snobbery about home sewists, but I think we’re some of the bravest people out there! How can a person tip their nose in the air at that?

What’s the most time you’ve spent on a single step in the sewing process? TELL me I’m not the only one.

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50 Responses to What’s the most time you’ve spent on a single step?

  1. Ashley0107 says:

    I made my little sister a princess dress for her 6th birthday last year. I spent hours on the thing, adjusting the pieces to her measurements, making sure there was enough ease so it would fit her for a good while, hand basting muslin to the bodice pieces so they would have a bit more body, gathering the skirt pieces oh so slowly so I didn’t snap the gathering thread, hand basting satin bias binding to the seam allowances so there wouldn’t be any raw edges to itch her, hand sewing in the zipper, and finally hand sewing yards of two different trims to the neckline and down the front princess seams.
    It was a labour of love, but the look on her face made it all worth it. And she takes such good care of it! It still fits her almost a year later (though it’s now a couple inches too short!) and stills looks great because she’s looked after it so well 🙂
    So you’re not the only one. Just think of how proud of yourself you’ll be when it’s finished 🙂
    Ashley x

  2. Jane says:

    You’re not the only one! I totally empathise with the feeling of flailing around, not really knowing what you’re supposed to be doing, the only teacher being yourself! When I made my jacket I removed the entire facing and lining and reattached it, without really knowing what I was doing…. I then spent an entire morning sewing three buttonholes, having to unpick each one and start again. Have you ever tried to remove a buttonhole?! That’s the bravest thing I’ve ever done!
    Keep on it Karen, you can look back on this episode when you’re swanning around in your handmade cashmere coat, and laugh like a maniac! x

  3. kirsty says:

    I think you are VERY brave ! 🙂 Agreed – sewing does push boundaries (and patience) especially when its just you, a pattern, thread and fabric.

    As I have not completed that many garments – almost every step for me takes ages – I am by no means the most prolific of makers !

    My longest sewing step was a recently attended 3 day sewing school – where I spent 1.5 days, yes DAYS making adjustments to the pattern. The thing was – when it came to fitting – my dress fit when most of the rest of the classes didn’t. I guess what I am trying to say is that often the crazy amount of time spent on one step ensures success !

    Keep at it – cant wait to see it finished and hope you have a very happy 2012 ! k x

  4. ooobop! says:

    I have every faith in you Karen. But I do feel your pain. The most time I have ever spent on a single step was putting a collar on a collar stand for Mr Ooobop’s vintage shirt. Not nearly as tricky as the above! I’ve realised I’ve got to push myself further this year so I’m likely to be mirroring posts like this on a regular basis… gulp!

  5. VickiKate says:

    I haven’t spent too long on a step ( but I haven’t been brave enough to attempt anything like this yet…) just procrastinated about something that scared me! And hear hear! Sewing at home and teaching yourself IS scary and takes courage! Hurrah for us and raspberries to anyone who sniffs at us!

    • gingermakes says:

      I had to laugh at your comment, VickiKate– I TOTALLY work up to a part that scares me and then I come up with all kinds of reasons why I need to put off the next step (seriously, a scary sewing task is just about the only thing that will get me to scrub my shower!). I’m glad I’m not the only one!

  6. kbenco says:

    Days, or maybe it was weeks.

    Ann Rowley on Stitchers Guild has amazing sewing techniques.
    Here is a set of photos and instructions where she uses a wrapped technique to make a beautifully supported shoulder

  7. Oh I feel your pain. I hate setting in sleeves. And I have certainly spent all day on a single pattern step so you are not the only one! I have to keep reminding myself of the number of hours I expect to wear the garment for, which usually puts the sewing time firmly into perspective. You know it’s worth it.

  8. Suze says:

    I spent 8 hours stitching on a lace panel onto a bridesmaid’s dress I made last year. I was VERY close to tears by the end of it. And then, the next day, I did the same thing to bridesmaid’s dress number two. That only took 7 hours, because I “knew what I was doing”. You are most definitely not alone! Your coat will be beautiful though, and you certainly won’t regret the time spent.

  9. Suzy says:

    I totally feel your pain! Set in sleeves are not easy. But don’t give up, think that in the end you’ll have a fantastic far superior than RTW outfit to wear and you learn lots on the way. But do take breaks when things start to go sour. In many occasions I continue on and because I’m so frustrated I end doing a mediocre job.

  10. Marie says:

    Karen, you’re brave and you must carry on – that second sleeve is going to be so much easier to set in than the first one as you know what you’re doing now! And, no, you’re not alone! For my first ever dress (not even a coat or something equally as hard, just a simple dress) it took me an entire evening to get the sleeves right. I ripped them out about five times, finally thought I had it right so I clipped the inside edges, only to discover the sleeves were still upside down :o( So I had to take them out again and sew them in the right way…which was way hard with clipped edged. So I think we all feel like we’re clueless sometimes, but I know you can do this!

  11. Michelle says:

    Oh God – don’t ask me. I would have given up after an hour!

  12. I was wincing at that pulling 6 inches of knitting back *shudders*. That would have been bad enough in itself…I spent a long time correcting something on a jersey dress the whole time thinking “erm aren’t hobbies supposed to be fun!”. Now I know your tenacity will mean success but also …TIME OUTS are a good thing. Come back to it fresh. ALso.. you know ,so what if it all goes horribly wrong (not that it will) it’s just fabric, it’s ok, What’s the worst that wlll happen?

  13. Louise says:

    4 hours to put in my first invisible zip! I had books out, tutorials and I still managed to repeatedly put the thing in the wrong way! I’m still a little nervous when I use one now and I’ve never even tries a hand picked zip although its on my list……

    • Hey, Louise – I think you’ll have a pleasant surprise with hand picked zippers – they can be easier than invisible zips. I suspect the key to a good invisible zip is investing in an invisible zipper foot. I did last year and it’s made a big difference. They’re not cheap, though – about £30.

      • Molly says:

        Prym do an invisible (concealed) zipper foot which comes with attachments for different machines. Its plastic but only cost about £7 off ebay. Mine is still in the packaging (over 18 months since I bought it), I do my machine stitched zippers by hand-basting in place, sewing with the regular machine foot using a left/right needle position (I can choose from 19 positions making it easier!), suturing shut with basting thread and then pressing the life out of it (and topstitching as an extra option), its a quick and accurate process.

  14. Thank you all for the TLC!

  15. Abby says:

    Yesterday, I finally finished fitting a 50s dress pattern. It took me three days. And I mean, like 24 hours all together. I tissue fitted, moved darts, adjusted, adjusted, adjusted, made 3 muslins, trashed it all, and started from scratch again. I think all told, I have already sewn this dress (in muslin form) 12 times, and I haven’t even cut into the fashion fabric yet! This vintage pattern was way more difficult to fit than I ever dreamed it would be. I never considered just how much those 50s foundation garments changed the shape of the “average” woman’s body.

  16. Claire says:

    I bet the next sleeve goes together much more quickly (knock on wood). I spent way too much time trying to sew in an invisible zipper a few days ago. I kept stitching over the teeth of the zipper, but couldn’t see what was happening because everything was hidden under my invisible zipper foot on my machine. And when I would go back to fix it, I would get it right for about an inch and then sew over the teeth again. Arggh!
    And then there’s my honey cowl that took a year to make! Thankfully, that’s with many breaks, but I still unraveled that sucker at least five times.

  17. Claire says:

    Oh, and here’s something funny I forgot to add. My husband scolded me after I was fuming over my zipper for an hour, and told me I shouldn’t sew if it was making me mad. But I think getting frustrated is a critical part of hand-making! Why would we continue to do these things if they were easy peasy? It’s the challenge that keeps us interested, I’m sure. And it’s also nice knowing we’re all in this together, even in our separate hair-tearing struggles.

  18. Nel says:

    So often (or should that be ‘sew’ often) I make something (nothing as grand as your projects) and think to myself what the hell am I doing, only to find later that actually I was pretty well on the money with it and should have had a lot more faith in my own abilities. Although, ha ha, for all the times I get it right I have made some fairly spectacular mistakes (but we won’t talk about those).
    I’m really looking forward to seeing the finished thing. 🙂
    Nel @hennydesigns.blogspot.com

  19. Roobeedoo says:

    You have my sympathy, but no empathy because I avoid difficult procedures on principle… until 2012 that is.
    In 2012 I will face my dragons.
    Wassat? What do you mean it’s 2012 NOW?! aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!
    sound of footsteps disappearing over the horizon

  20. Chris says:

    Sometimes you’ve just got to walk away, google and think, then get back to it with renewed enthusiasm. Pushing away whe you’ve lost the mojo ends up with disasters like quickunpicks ripping up your fabric etc.

  21. redsilvia says:

    Oh, I’d have given up long before that! There is a good tailoring book that I used for my first coat, though I didn’t make sleeve heads {“Tailoring” (ISBN 1-58923-609-2)}. It’s kind of too much info and could make your head spin, but it’s interesting to pick and choose techniques that seem appropriate. I’m sure your coat will be fab so keep on with it. Good luck with sleeve #2!

  22. Sunni says:

    Oh you most definitely are not the only one. Especially on set-in sleeves. Prepping the sleeve and putting it in, usually takes me at least 2 hours per sleeve. And that’s assuming I don’t have to unpick it and redo because of a bubble or some other monstrous thing. With certain aspects of fine sewing, I just have to decide on one thing to do per night and many times I only get one sleeve in. I do feel though, that there is no shame in taking your time. So don’t worry about it. IT’S CASHMERE! I’m sure it will turn out beautifully!
    xoxo, Sunni

  23. Clare says:

    Your boyfriend was brave to stay in the house with you! The more frustrated I get with something, the less able I am to leave it alone. I spent several evenings unpicking and re-stitching trying to get an invisible zip to lie flat on a bias cut skirt. It was awful, I didn’t give up until I’d harmed myself with the steam iron trying to iron the zip flat while wearing the skirt. Good for you for sorting it in the end though!

  24. Stevey says:

    I have to spend the most time on fitting. I just don’t fit the ideal body in the least and EVERY pattern needs a lot of adjustments. Only I am not very good at it. Yet.
    Or the coat for my son. Planned for first grade, now finished (he’s in third now). Took me nearly two hours to put in the zipper so that the front yoke seamlines would meet because this coating was unreasonably slippery. I wanted it to be as perfect as possible. Now they are just a breath uneven and I was/am so proud of that. And that was only the zipper. I think I spent nearly 30 hours on it.
    Only thing is I didn’t measure the pattern pieces before starting out so now it’s way to large. Fortunately, kids tend to grow. He’ll still be able to wear it in fifth. Let’s hope he’ll still want to wear it then.

  25. Geogrrl says:

    It even happens with stuff you’re familiar with. I’m currently working on Burda 4859, view B (I think–it’s the very flared version anyway).

    The fabric is an asymmetrical plaid with a bottle-green background and strips in scarlet, gold, and black.


    Cutting out the pieces took some swearing, but I did it. Later I ran across this tutorial–too bad I didn’t find it sooner. In fact, I don’t know why I didn’t think of doing it this way sooner.


    I had taken my measurements–twice, and chosen the size to cut out based on what I was told by the pattern envelope. You can lie to other people about your measurements, but not your dressmaker. Especially if it’s you.

    Because of the way the skirt pieces curve, the front and back seams are cut on the bias. The sides wind up being on the straight grain. I also cut out the waistband on the bias, matching the major stripes with those of the centre front seam. I also added pockets–what use is a skirt without pockets? Oh, and I added a lining so I wouldn’t have to futz with a slip. I put in a handpicked zipper.

    I was trying to finish the skirt quickly (didn’t happen) so I didn’t try on the skirt until I was ready to put on the waistband and had already sewn in the pockets. It didn’t fit. It was MILES too big. Rather than take the pattern suggestion of gathering the skirt, I used darts. I have a short torso, and an 11” difference between waist and hips. I do my best to avoid garments that gather or blouse at the waist. I placed the darts, front and back, over each hipbone (thank you, Vogue sewing). I had to make an extra correction at the back for excess fabric–normal for me. I took in 7 inches at the waist. I tried it on, Seemed to be fine. I then confidently shortened the waist band and basted it on. I tried on the skirt again. It was now a little too SMALL.

    I realized that the bias grain at front and back had allowed it to stretch prior to the waistband being added, and I had overcompensated. I took off the waistband, let out all of the darts 1/8″, and tried again. I reasoned I didn’t have to cut a NEW waistband as the old one had had such a generous overlap. I got so far as attaching the waistband and handstitching down the inside seam.

    I then tried to add the hook and eye closure as overlap was now far too small for button closure.

    Nope. The overlap was too small for the hook and eye to sit properly. If I tried to pull it in further, the zipper would start to buckle. It was also at this point that I realized the zipper was set about 1/4′ too high–just high enough to cause a problem at the waistband closing.

    I let out a silent scream and set it down. The next evening, I took off the bleeping waistband, unpicked the zipper, and started again. I’ve now re-set the zipper and am ready to cut a new waistband.

    And this was supposed to be an easy make.

  26. Sherry says:

    My longest thing to sew was when I was a newbie at my second job – double folded hems on a three tier chiffon skirt with mitred corners – I think it took all afternoon ripping and resewing! Funny thing was our work Christmas party was the next night, and guess what I got from Santa – a seam ripper!
    Maybe my tailoring sewalong will help you with setting your sleeve – there are lots of sleeve photos! http://buzzybeesworld.blogspot.com/2011/04/rtw-tailoring-sewalong-12-setting-in.html
    The post after this deals with sleeve head wadding too:
    You can do it!

  27. Jill says:

    Hi, that coat is going to be wonderful! We all let ourselves get frustrated, sometimes to the very edge of tears, don’t we? Breaks, walks, a glass of water (or wine 🙂 are what work for me. I would say, there isn’t a specific technique I’ve spent massive amounts of time on, I’m just really, really slow sewing in general!

  28. Lily Bart says:

    Oh you poor darling! I feel your pain! There is nothing worse than working on a project for ages and ages and ages! You look like you’re taking a lot of care with your coat! It’s totally worth the time and the effort. If you don’t get the sleeve right it will bother you and you won’t wear it. I’m sure I’ve spent a similar amount of time on one tiny little bit of many of my projects. It took forever to get the neckline right on my new pink velvet dress. Actually, it’s still not right… but I was so bored by that stage that I stopped caring. Bad attitude.

  29. Nikki says:

    It’s taken me around 3 days to get the fit right for the Peony bodice, the waist darts were my biggest headache!! Unfortunately for me my brain goes into overdrive until the problem is solved and everything else that needs doing takes a back seat. I’m sure the coat will be fab and will have been worth all that time and effort.

  30. Ouch! But a well-made sleeve is the sign of a wellconstructed garment, and I’m sure you’ll be grateful you didn’t hurry this! After all, you’ll wear this a lot.
    My slowest make was also a winter coat. Both in terms of time elapsed from tracing the pattern to finished coat(one year), and in terms of amounts of effective sewing-hours (def over 200). Four months of patternadjustments to begin with… But you know what? Every day when I slip it on (and winter is long here, so that will be many days) I fall in love with it again. Everytime I wear it I feel happy about how it moves and how it fits. And everytime I’m so very, very pleased with that I didn’t take shortcuts. That I refitted the toile over and over again. That I handsewed all those seams that benefited from handsewing. Because it doesn’t matter if no-one else could have told the difference, I would have.
    Oh, dear I sound a bit smug, don’t I? Sorry… just trying to cheer you up… Promise I have sewn many things where the opposite of this is true =) However, shortcuts on a partydress that gets worn once a year is a lot less problematic than those on a coat I wear daily!

  31. lladybird says:

    ew, i hate setting in sleeves. half the time, i just increase the sleeve cap enough to make them puff sleeves & call it a ~design element~ lol. so shameful!

    have you tried this method for setting in sleeves – http://www.blogforbettersewing.com/2010/10/setting-in-tailored-sleeves.html -? basically, you are using a bias-cut piece of fleece (or wool, or whatever. i used fleece because i’m a cheapass) and you stretch it as you sew it to the sleeve, which results in a perfect eased sleeve. seriously – the very first time i did it (on my lady grey coat), my sleeves were perfect & beautiful in ONE try. amazing!

    the only thing i can think of that i spent way too long on was those damn clover pants. 4 muslins & my fit still isn’t perfect! but i love them, so i trudge onward.

    • Oh, thank you for that link! I have learnt so much with this make, but it’s almost made me hungry to learn even more.

    • Clare says:

      I was going to suggest that (not that it’s very helpful after the fact, sorry Karen :)) But I also had great results from using a sleeve head (and I am usually the one cursing at my sleeves when I try to do them using gathers!)

  32. Cathy says:

    !994, my wedding dress, right sleeve. From a pattern but I just couldnt get it- it took me about 4 hours and more tears and swearing …well than has been in my life excepting childbirth! I have to say that the second sleeve was much easier!
    That doesn’t help does it?
    Nor does it help to say I have never set a sleeve in since!

  33. CarmencitaB says:

    I feel for you, unfortunately, or fortunately we’ve all been there, you are not alone. I am constantly reminded I don’t know anything about sewing, which makes me want to learn more.
    I spent a day doing a lined vent recently and you know what? I’ll make another one just to make sure I understand the technique fully.
    You will love this coat and we all can’t wait to see it

  34. MrsC says:

    Argh you are so brave and clever. Did you tack/baste it in before sewing? Stupid question really but if you do it nice and fine then you can turn it out and see if it is right before sewing it on teh machine – so much easy to “reverse stitch” hand basting 😉
    As for long time, I’ve made a lot of wedding dresses with lace or fabric worth 100’s of shekels a metre, and every time I’ve ummed and aahed and freaked and pottered and planned and put off the dreadful moment when I had to cut into it. Never had a truly unreversible mistake. The worst ones are the prebeaded ones – unpicking all the pearls and beads in the seam allowance before sewing so as not to break dozens of needles!

  35. thimbledore says:

    Karen, you are not alone. I spent — no joke — 8 hours yesterday cutting out pattern pieces for my uneven plaid, princess-seamed wool winter coat. The sad part is I’ve only cut 9 of the 19 pieces of fashion fabric (though it’s much faster going now that I’ve had some practice matching the plaids). And after this, I have to deal with cutting the slippery lining. What a glutton for punishment I am!

    Can’t complain too much, though; I had SO MUCH FUN doing this tiny fiddly matching work. I’m learning a lot, even making up some new techniques to deal with the problems. And hey, at least I remembered to buy enough fabric that I can afford to make a few mistakes.

  36. Clio says:

    Welt pockets (shudder). It took me two days and lots of nerve to sew two welt pockets on trousers I was making from some beautiful Armani suiting last year. I think I’m still emotionally scarred by the experience. LOL

    I give you tons of credit for sticking with it. Usually, when I have a step that isn’t going well, I back my way out of the sewing room until I regather my mojo. I’m sure the second sleeve will go more smoothly for you now that you’ve beaten one into submission!

  37. Lily McCool says:

    At the moment I am knitting my mum an lovely green cardigan. But you would believe from reading your blog that I spent all day from about 9am to around 9pm, sewing it up unpicking it because I was happy and then sewing it up again. I was also knitting the lovely double moss stitch border onto the neck and down the left and right front sides too. My head is fried what with the all the mistakes and the ripping out and remending. But when it is finished I know my mum will love it and I can’t wait to see her in it.

  38. Molly says:

    Its been fascinating reading about other people’s sticking points. V2902 is my personal nemesis. I made a (“wearable”) muslin from stage satin (a fabric I hate working with) and after spending forever attaching the separate straps and facing (the icky fabric pulled off grain and the pieces would just not fit together) the shoulder straps were just that bit too long they kept slipping down (shiny fabric not helping). Rather than an unsightly bulge mid strap from shortening I unstitched it all, and fiddled and fiddled, refitting several times and having to realign and resew everything because the edges frayed beyond use, almost cutting new pieces. After a marathon 10 hours of faffing around, I threw the straps away and decided I would find some other way to finish it. I started this dress in the summer of 2010, I have a blog post sat in drafts from around 6 months later when I started the 10 hour strap fixing session, unfinished since the dress is too. The good news is its hung for so long in the wardrobe that the circle skirt hem has most certainly dropped and the colours (ice-cream pink and lemon (I nicknamed it my milkshake dress)) are apparently in fashion this summer – now there’s an incentive to get it finished! I will because below the strapline it is a beautiful and elegant fit (just wished I’d slotted in some boning before hand-finishing the lining).

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