Spoiler Alert! You start wherever you are and learn what you need to as you develop your practice. Your current skill is irrelevant because no matter what your proficiency, there is always something new to learn or improve on.
I was recently asked during a job interview for a customer service position at an independent pattern company “What is your sewing skill level?” The interview was going quite well up to this point, I had nailed some fairly tough questions about leadership, teamwork and problem solving and I had a good rapport with the panel. This question, however, threw me off partly because I find it irrelevant without sufficient context. The answer I gave was something like … it depends on the scale my skills are being evaluated on. If this scale is dependent on what I’ve learned since I first started sewing 5 years ago compared to now, then I’m pretty advanced, but on the other hand if it evaluates my ability to apply couture techniques, then I probably am not even on the scale. Suffice to say, I didn’t kill the answer, and as interviews often go, it left me feeling like I could have flushed out the idea a bit more thoroughly.
Now, your level of experience obviously matters if a sewing company is going to hire you, but the question was too broad, and a broad answer such as “beginner”, “advanced beginner”, “intermediate” or “advanced” does not provide much insight, and it left me thinking that these labels on sewing patterns similarly do not mean very much without context. I would rather see the breakdown of what skills are used in a particular pattern, what makes it beginner/advanced, is it a set in sleeve, inseam pocket, bias binding finish, sewing with knits, button placket, sleeve placket, darts, hem, invisible zipper, exposed zipper, fly? Or possibly a better categorization would be whether the garment is simple or complex in design describing the amount of details included.
For me however, the better question to ask oneself is not “what am I capable of making with my current skillset?”, but instead “what exactly do I want to make and what skills do I need to learn to be able to make that thing?” I can then refine my swing practice to include those specific skills. Like many things in life, your skill level in sewing depends on your experience level; knowledge comes first and proficiency follows.
My favourite things to sew are the things I can not buy. We all know the struggle is real for the busty bunch with certain categories of clothing; for me this includes bras and button down shirts. Finding a nice button down that fits the chest AND shoulders or a well fitting comfortable bra has proven impossible. So I’ve learned to make them. There has always been a learning curve for sure. I’ve made several shirt dresses and they range from having nice crisp collars, like the one to the left on the Closet Core Kalle Shirtdress, to this yellow Deer and Doe Myositosis with a sort of wonky collar, but a nice fitting bodice.
My bra making journey has only started about 7 months ago, but it has been by far my favourite skill that I’ve developed. I’ve spent a lot of time, energy and money fitting myself, and I don’t regret any of it. The difference between sewing your own clothes and buying off the rack is that you have power over the process, it doesn’t feel like a hopeless search which ends in settling for a fit that is just good enough. When I sew for myself I know it’s within my control to define exactly what my expectations are and to continuously improve and refine my skills to execute my personal vision.
Here is the second bra I ever made, its the Pin up Girls Classic.
And here is my best bra to date, the Porcylenne Eve.
I’m eternally grateful for the modern sewing movement which has made the pursuit of and sharing of knowledge readily available. Long story short, your skill level is always in development, just try new things because actually doing things is the only way to learn how to make the things you want to be making. Also, if you’re wondering, I didn’t get the job, my rejection letter said I was a top contender, but they went with someone who had more experience sewing their patterns. Go figure.
Trudy is a retired military pilot now pursuing creativity and garment making while enjoying motherhood.