Lost Your Sewing Nerve?

A blog reader (thanks, Jen!) recently made a fantastic suggestion for a post – how to push through when you lose your sewing nerve.

A wobble can happen for all sorts of reasons:

  • You take a break and lose your mojo
  • With increased sewing experience, you know what can go wrong
  • You’ve hit a brick wall around technique and lose heart
  • Your sewing space becomes a mess and you’d rather shut the door on it all

Any of these ring bells? Oh yeah, we’ve all been there.

So, here are my top tips for addressing these four wobbles.

Wobble Number One – You Take A Break And Lose Your Mojo

Answer = Reverse Psychology

15 mins only

There’s a theory – and it’s a good theory – that regular practise is key to keeping your creative muscle toned. Writing a novel? Sit down at your desk every day. Sewing a dress? Sit down at your sewing machine every day. Just a few minutes to keep your head in the zone.

The Pomodoro technique is often used to enforce a stretch of uninterrupted activity. But why don’t you flip that on its head and use it to LIMIT your activity?

  • Turn Pomodoro on for 15 minutes only.
  • Sew.
  • When your 15 minutes are up, stop sewing. Or try to.

I’m confident you’ll desperately want to keep sewing. Mojo returned, my friend!

Wobble Number Two – You Know What Can Go Wrong

Answer = Define Failure

failure quote ii

So says James Dyson. I know. It’s hard. It’s the type of yogic calm that’s easy to sagely parrot when you have distance from your failed project. Less easy to accept failure when your home sewn dress is a mess and you’re scrambling through the dirty linen basket for something to wear. What? You’ve never done that? Liar!

Failure is a really important part of creativity, but it takes a particular type of humility to accept and celebrate failure – especially on social media.

We learn from our mistakes, so don’t let a failure make you stop. Allow it to push you to be better. You know you can be!

Wobble Number Three – You Hit A Technique Brick Wall

Answer Three = Reach Out

the village haberdashery class studio

The Village Haberdashery class studio

If you just can’t make that darn fit adjustment work, you’d better thank the skies that we live in the age of social media. I have seen this work excellently on Instagram. Sewmanju has made a whole dress, using fitting advice that she’s sought out on Instagram. You can follow one beautiful dress journey from here.

There’s a huge amount of free advice online, but sometimes you might just need to take an in-person class. I reached a stage in my sewing journey when I’d travelled as far as I could alone. I attended a couple of classes at Morley College and have also done classes with Sew Over It.

I’ve never regretted attending a single sewing class ever.

Wobble Number Four – Your Sewing Space Is A Mess

Answer = IKEA!

Depending on your perspective, I’m lucky that my sewing space is in my living room. I have to keep it relatively tidy between sewing sessions. But if you’re struggling to keep on top of organising your space, I really recommend a trip to IKEA! You’ll spot IKEA details in a lot of sewing space blog tours. From shelves, to drawers to these things:

sewing trolley

IKEA items are affordable, fun and make tidying up less of a drag.

Try, also, to keep your fabric stash behind doors that can close. I’m not convinced fabric on show really works, especially because sunlight fades fabric.

Those are my top tips! Do you have your own to share?

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44 Responses to Lost Your Sewing Nerve?

  1. Lorraine H says:

    Good morning and thank you for ‘outing’ such a topic of conversation… yes I can confirm I’m in the category of sewing wobblers at so many times…mine mainly seem to evolve around the confidence issue of ‘maybe I’ll ruin this fabric that I love’… I know I WANT to sew & wear what I plan to make in the cherished meterage I purchased …but expectation turns to wobble & my sewing capability doubt chimp kicks in… I know I can buy more if I mess up & learn from my fitting whoops etc but that’s my major sewing wobble I’ve yet to master…this almost feels therapeutic to disclose this about myself!… strange?? …have a lovely, happy day x

    • Fraggle says:

      I struggle with exactly the same issue. This year I set up my Use5 2017 challenge for myself. I picked 5 fabrics from my stash that for one reason or another I was scared to turn into a garment. I then told my husband that if I haven’t started making something with all of them they’re going on the fire on New year’s Day 2018. I have so far used 4… just one to go, and I need to get started ASAP!
      It really helps me to know that if I don’t at least try I won’t have the fabric in a years time. That way there’s no saving it for the right pattern or for when my skills are good enough etc… I know for myself that those excuses could last for decades… I don’t want to get arthritis or go blind before I actually do something with it, so now is the time. If you are wondering I am going to challenge myself to Use5 2018 too ๐Ÿ™ƒ

  2. Eliz~ says:

    I have a saying on my wall- There are no mistakes in crafting, only opportunities to embellish. :o)
    But I wobble over and over about sewing I think I’ll make something that doesn’t turn out. So I have to “talk” to myself and push myself. I end up very happy when done.
    I think seeing so many great sewist blogs has intimidated me, and I need to get over it.
    Great post! I don’t feel so alone.

  3. helen says:

    I find that breaking your garment down into manageable chunks work for me. I’m currently sewing a shirt which is taking ages as my sewing room is a mess and I lose focus!
    So I set myself the task of sewing the back yoke one evening, then maybe sewing the sleeve plackets the next evening. It works for me and I find the actual task doesn’t take a long as I think it will and the project moves on.

  4. Elena says:

    Actually, I find it important to keep my fabrics out on open shelves so I can see every day just how big my stash is! It does not altogether stop me from buying more (in particular when going to places like the Knitting & Stitching Show), but it helps to match up fabric with ideas. So when I get a stroke of inspiration for a brilliant new dress cut, rather than going online searching for fabric for it, my eyes wonder over to my shelf and more often than not I go “oh, that material would work beautifully! I wonder whether I have enough?” – which opens another can of worms, but that’s a different topic. ๐Ÿ™‚

    As to fabrics fading in bright light – yes, that can happen. But my shelf is in a North-facing room on a side wall facing West, so it never ever gets direct sunlight, and lowering the blinds a little prevents it even from getting much diffused light. No problems with fading so far (it’s been 10 years).

  5. Katie M says:

    I often get stuck starting when I have a huge pile of alterations & mending to do. I feel like I shouldn’t start anything new until I’ve dealt with it first. But I don’t want to do the mending, so I never get started. Occasionally I force myself into action by saying “if you do the alterations/mending on those three things, then you can cut out your next project”. If I have a new pattern I’m especially excited about it really helps.

    When I get stuck on technique, I watch a load of YouTube tutorials and read blogs until I feel like I know what I’m doing, then I procrastinate and hesitate for a bit longer, then I just plunge in. I’ve made loads of mistakes, and my unpicked is truly my most used sewing tool.

    I’ve also started my own Sewing Social group recently, which has spurred me into action. Between teaching my newbie sewers, I manage to get a bit of sewing done for myself. I’ve nearly finished a pair of Sew Over It shorts – I bought the pattern when you first started blogging about it!!

  6. Debra says:

    I read the list of wobble reasons and thought, ‘yeah, all of the above’. I like your reverse psychology idea, I will give that a try. I don’t post much on Insta because I sew a lot of fails but you’ve inspired me to go and post the latest one and ask for some help.

    I like having my fabric visible because I am really trying to stop buying more fabric and to sew my stash. Being able to see my stash helps me to remember what I have and match it up with my latest project. I have my fabric in clear plastic boxes but, like your other commenter, my sewing space is north facing and the boxes don’t receive direct sunlight.

    • didyoumakethat says:

      Interesting! Looks like I may be in a minority for keeping my stash behind doors.

      • Abe Drayton says:

        I have enough clutter visible out and about in my dual duty studio (sewing and music) so I also keep my stash behind doors. ๐Ÿ˜› I don’t need more visual clutter!

      • Kathy Lynch says:

        No, I’m with you Karen. I live on the coast in sunny Brisbane, Australia & leaving fabric out here would be a disaster. Storing it in a cupboard surely helps keep it dust free too. Hmmm, maybe I need to dust more often……

      • clear boxes for me, but in cupboards or otherwise screened. It’s not just sunlight, but pets, dust and MOTHS that worry me…

      • Fraggle says:

        Nope in a (huge) drawer here… but I have a list of all my fabrics showing measurements and whether washed and I take that everywhere. That way if I come across a fabric shop I can at least glance through my list to check that I don’t have anything similar ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Robin says:

      I use cloth cubes that are stored in open wire cubes that you assemble yourself as a wall unit in whatever configuration you desire. The sun is eliminated and dust is minimized, but I still have access to easily play with my fabric. Also, the cloth cubes (about a foot in diameter) limit how much of a single kind of fabric it can hold which keeps my buying a little in check.

      I have also collected cardboard sleeves from the fabric store from used bolts and this helps with fabric I don’t maintain in the cubes, but sun and dust are still a problem. So time to cut back!

  7. When I go through a period where I am too busy to sew, or can’t seem to get motivated, I set the goal of sewing a seam a day. I cut something out on the weekend so I’m ready to go. Sewing a seam a day takes anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes, and I can always find that amount of time. I made my first pair of jeans this way – it took a month, but I got them done!

  8. Gilly Anderson says:

    I’m definitely in the ‘behind closed doors’ camp. Unless it’s being set up for a photo shoot, in my experience heaps of fabric usually looks pretty messy, and whether or not it fades, it’ll certainly get dusty! I am aiming for a minimalist sewing area – at least on the surface. What’s hidden behind closed doors is quite another matter – and could scare the pants of an unwary visitor!

  9. Oh Karen, thank you! First of all, I love that you’ve referred to the issues as “wobbles” – they sound much less insurmountable that way. I seem to have some combination of most of them. My sewing room is still in the laundry room, creating regular piles upon my cutting/folding table, and little room for spreading out. I can fix this. As to the fifteen minutes a day – that is a brilliant (dare I say genius?) idea! I’ve been procrastinating on a pair of pants that I am determined to finish and wear. Today I’ll get the pockets sewn up and ready to attach. Heck, maybe I’ll even attach them! Just keep at it. Great post. ๐Ÿ˜€

  10. auntiedini says:

    My favourite advice is something I read (sorry, canโ€™t remember where): leave your sewing in the middle of a step. That way, you can just sit down and start sewing. That helps me avoid the waste of time with wondering where was I, whatโ€™s next floundering.

  11. I just started the Pomodoro technique about a month ago (using the traditional 25 min) and WOW I couldn’t believe how much I got done of everything! It was astonishing. It works! I went through a period of complete discouragement when 2 projects in a row were just terrible – unwearable. So I switched from wovens to knits staying with an easy pattern and it turned out so great I just kept going to make myself a second one. By the time I was finished the second one my sewing was back on track. Switching fabric types really helped me over the hump!

    • didyoumakethat says:

      Oh yes, Pomodoro definitely works. I use it for intense times in the day job when I just need to get through stuff and stop being distracted by – ahem – social media.

  12. peggyleah says:

    I do everything in what I call “units”. Cleaning house in units means kitchen and fam. room a unit,
    maybe next day guest room, bath and library is a unit, etc. Check them off. Sewing is the same.
    If I don’t break down almost everything that way, I get so “nutsy” that I can’t DO anything at all
    because I feel overwhelmed. Keeps me off medication, anyway!

    • didyoumakethat says:

      You know, it’s interesting. I used to get very frustrated by gardening. I’d hurl myself out there once a month and be determined to tame the beast in one session and always get annoyed that I couldn’t, or just end up exhausted. But since I’ve started telling myself, ‘You don’t have to get everything done in one day’ it’s helped a lot. Lawn today, weeding tomorrow! I guess the same is true for sewing.

  13. JoAnn Embleton says:

    I have also learned to give myself permission to throw a project away…..sometimes pattern and all. It is more than hitting a brick wall when it gets to this point…it is closer to hate. Then I think… I have saved enough money and time creating garments and home dec items for myself and family that were /are worn and loved and fit…that I can do this…just pitch the project from hades and get back to loving my sewing and be productive. After all, I am not running out of fabric or patterns anytime soon.

    • didyoumakethat says:

      Yes, there is definitely the odd project where you just have to admit that love has turned to hate and move on. For these reasons, I no longer force myself to finish reading novels that I’m not enjoying.

  14. Thank you so much for enlightening me about the Comodoro technique. I am going to use this at work. I don’t think focusing on something for much longer is very productive and it is a good excuse to go make a cup of tea. I have really spent most of the last couple of years with a lost sew-jo. I guess that it is a bit of vicious cycle feeling bad about not sewing makes you not want to sew for fear of failure. I have gone on a bit of a clothes buying ban to try to get my sew-jo back and force me to make some work wear before my stash engulfs the entire house. It is working so far. Xx

  15. Oh, what a great post Karen! Thanks for sharing.

    The only thing I might add to this amazing list…and stellar comments…that’s helped me is to honor the creative cycle. I used to stress myself out when I was in a sewing ‘slump’. It turned out not be a slump at all, but an unavoidable {at least for me} part of the creative cycle. Now that I know and recognize this, when it happens, I quickly turn my attentions to cleaning up accumulated clutter…I’m generally a behind closed doors fabric stasher but those new pieces I buy sit front and center…or maybe reviewing patterns or mentally creating outfits with my fabric. It’s been working for me.

    • didyoumakethat says:

      Oh yes, fallow periods are key to creativity. I often do some of my best creative thinking when I’m not actually making.

  16. Fowlie Marion Rick says:

    Definitely a behind doors girl, I tend to get messy in production but like things to have a home. I do have “project” baskets on shelves in the room but they are high up on the same wall as the window. I like to use the time limit idea for cleaning so I can do fun things the rest of the time!! What makes me wobble is when my sewing schedule gets hijacked, like when I want something done and maybe I get a flue or unexpected company. Sometimes the distraction is a welcome surprise but if the reason for the project is passed, I have a hard time finishing. This also happens if I start a project but a time sensitive project crops up, hard to go back. Hence the project baskets at least they have a home. To correct my wobble I convince myself to grab a basket and finish what is in it ( basket has pattern, notions etc included) Great post!

  17. Catherine Dove says:

    My motto is “Anyone can dust but not everyone can sew.” This spurs me on to sew and I think of this when I have a finished a project. Just repeat it a few times it may spur you on to getting sewing an unfinished project.

    • Absolutely- housework is the devil’s invention! [But then, I do have a wife who quite likes cleaning lol] I like to cut out in bulk, so there’s a range of projects available at any time: fast and dirty, to long and complex.

  18. Mary B says:

    I loved your post!! That’s just what I needed to read. I would also add “Don’t be too hard on yourself”. I just finished making the cutest quilted storage bag for sewing supplies. I love the fabrics and love the design. But…..it didn’t come out exactly as I’d hoped. Some of the piecing is a little crooked. I came close to throwing it out. But, then I realized that nobody’s ever going to see it but me. And, if someone did see it, the errors aren’t that noticeable. Plus, it’s a good reminder to me to do my best & accept the rest.

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  20. Jenny says:

    Just put together my second of the three tier trolleys. I have quite a bit of IKEA but this is my fave item of theirs, ever!

  21. Tharine says:

    When I loose my moyo, I go to the shops to find inspiration. I look at what’s ‘in’ and try-on some items. 90% of the time I leave the shops knowing that I can make that….a unique version, for a fraction of the price and fitted to perfection.

    Same goes for looking at fashion blogs and vlogs.

  22. Robin says:

    My tip about about how to get and stay organized is to invest in a wall cubicle system, the wire kind you put together, and purchase as many separate cloth bins as you need to fit into most of the spaces. Leave some spaces open for your iron and other tools, current projects, etc. Into the cloth bins go the fabric stash separated by type – wool, silk, cotton, knit – and/or use, such as small pieces, scraps, etc. Fabric is very easy to access, yet it stays relatively free of dust and protected from the sun. Some bins could be used for patterns as well. This idea helps to use space vertically, and it looks nice too. I bought mine at a discount store and paid under 50 USD for a group of 13 cubes that can be rearranged when the need calls for it, or added to as well.

  23. klaugen says:

    Number one and two happens often to me, but i learn alot of my sewing fails, and the reason i stop sometimes is because the school project takes so much of my freetime that sometimes i need to stop sewing, and when i have time to sew i just take too long to get started again. But sometimes i stop sewing because i am making some mistakes and it takes my sewing spirit away..

  24. Rachel says:

    Thanks so much for that awesome post. Very timely! I’m dealing with number 2 at the moment.
    It helps to know I’m not alone in this.

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  26. Diana says:

    Great post! Reading this eases my guilt for making errors! Sometimes I get frustrated and have to literally walk away from what I’m doing. I dread making mistakes when I forget a step. I don’t have the heart to scrap a project. Depending on what you’re sewing, sometimes you can work through the design and try not to sweat it. I made a project and even posted it, I was not about to undo all my work. In the end, I thought it came out OK. Thanks the terrific read!


  27. veganmom7 says:

    Good to know Iโ€™m not alone! Mine happens when I stop in the middle of the project and canโ€™t remember offhand why I stopped. But Iโ€™ve found that if I just clear my head and sit down, I know just where I left off. And then Iโ€™m back on track in no time. It helps to do an easy win next – a dress for my daughter that takes no time and makes her really happy!

  28. Thank you so much for such inspiration.Sewing is my passion and i didn’t want to loose that.This article is really a blessing.So very simple yet effective.

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