Monday, December 21, 2009

The semester in review, part 2: the important stuff

In part 1 of my semester review I wrote about what I needed to know for my final exam. All of that will be useful as I progress through school, but some of the other things I learned this semester are much more important. I did not take this class for the credits; I will not be transferring them to UW-Stout. I took this class to confirm that this field is the right one for me and to gain a little experience before I start my studies in earnest. I now know that I chose a good major. I love sewing. I am excited about my upcoming studies at Stout and my eventual career in the apparel industry. The lessons taught in class were important, but the other things are learned are what really matters most.

Experience counts - Practice, practice, practice. What is difficult at first becomes easier over time. Sew a lot and your sewing will improve. Complicated procedures become easy with experience.

Muslin is cheap - Play around with it. Sew stuff. See what happens. Make stuff in muslin first to learn how to do it. Big mistakes in muslin are no big deal, but big mistakes with expensive fabrics may make you cry.

Sewing requires a lot of attention - If you become distracted as you sew you will probably need to rip out some stitches. Pay attention. I often listen to my iPod as I sew. Classmates are more distracting that music.

Mistakes happen; it's OK - My seam ripper may be my most important tool. I tell myself that every mistake is a learning experience. It is a good idea to have some extra fabric. Remaking a small piece is sometimes easier and less time consuming than ripping out stitches.

Sergers can screw you - A mistake on a serger can cut your fabric. Stitches sewn in error can be torn out, but cut fabric may be beyond repair. A lockstitch can put a needle through a finger; a serger can cut off a finger tip. Sergers are fun, but please be careful.

Don't sew angry - Sewing angry as just as bad as sewing distracted. Relax. If I make a small mistake I deal with it and keep going. If I make a big mistake, or if I continuously make the same small mistake, I will stop work and take a small break. I leave the lab and eat a bag of Skittles. After I calm down I can think about what I learned from my mistakes, and hopefully they will not be repeated.

Press everything - Press your fabric before tracing your pattern pieces, after you cut them out, and again before you sew. Press open seams as soon as you finish sewing them. Press everything, then do it again. This brings us to my next point...

Irons are hot - We all know this, but it still needs to be mentioned. Be careful, but no matter how careful you are you will still occasionally singe your finger tips. First degree burns are part of sewing. Stop complaining and just deal with it.

Industrial machines are fast - I learned to sew on a home machine. At the start of the semester industrial machines intimidated me, but now I love them. I need a lot more practice, but I will eventually become adept.

Work at your own pace - We have deadlines to meet, but if you go too fast you may screw up. It is better to spend a few extra seconds sewing slowly than minutes making repairs.

Machines have personalities - I am not referring to the differences between different makes and models. Every machine is different. Find one you like and try to use it as much as you can. I used a few Juki DDL 5530N machines at school. One of them is my favorite machine in the lab, one I hate, and the rest are OK. If you are using a machine for the first time you should spend a few minutes getting used to it.

Sew on a piece of scrap first - Before starting work you should test your machine on a piece of scrap fabric. The machine may not be threaded correctly, the tension may be off, and there may be other problems. The scrap should be the same type of fabric that you will be using.

Watch your bobbin - No matter how much thread you think you have on your bobbin you really have less. It is not fun to have a bobbin run out of thread halfway through a seam.

Help your classmates - Maybe someday you will be on Project Runway, but until that day comes you should not think of sewing as a competition. We are all in this together. All of us need help at times. Today you help a classmate and tomorrow someone helps you. Play nice.

Watch your tools - Share your tools and supplies with your classmates. Sooner or later you will need to borrow something from one of them. But keep an eye on your stuff. You will spend a lot of money on equipment; try to not lose things. This semester I had to replace a clipper, a seam ripper, and two rulers. They were not stolen, I just left them behind. Write your name on your stuff.

Pins are your friend - There is no such thing as too many pins. Difficult seams become simple with lots of pins. It is easy and quite tempting to sew over pins, but you should not do it. You can usually get away with it, but the first time your needle hits a pin you will understand. Keep the pins away from the seam line if you are using a serger.

Don't give up - Some things are easy, some are not. Ask questions, seek help, and keep trying. Even the most difficult tasks become easier with experience.

Sewing is fun - You should enjoy what you do. You need to love sewing in order to devote enough time to it to become proficient. If you hate to sew this might not be the right career path for you. Perhaps you are better suited for a different area in the fashion industry, or perhaps a different industry entirely would be best for you. Fortunately I find sewing to be exhilarating and enjoyable.

I learned a lot of other things too, but these were the ones that came to mind as I wrote this blog entry. The two most important pieces of knowledge I gleaned are the first and last ones mentioned: Experience counts and sewing is fun. Tasks that at the start of the semester seemed impossible are now easy. I am confident that as I take more classes my skills will continue to improve. This was one of the most the most enjoyable classes I have ever taken, and I am excitedly looking forward to my future in fashion.

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