mistakes: holly from hamster and the bee

Hi again! Holly from Hamster and the Bee here! I hope everyone had an awesome and productive Kids Clothes Week. There were so many amazing garments, I couldn’t pick a favorite if I wanted to! I find that my most successful projects come when I challenge myself, and walk away with new knowledge. So I’m back today to talk to you about sewing mistakes, challenges and straight up fails. I don’t know what my fellow contributors have to share with you later this week, and my challenges today may be only mildly directly related to sewing. But I think they’re probably familiar to a lot of people and I hope you find them helpful!

I’m going to start with my second biggest struggle, which is choosing the right fabric for the project. Even though I am a textile designer by training (or maybe specifically because of it?) I’ve had an uphill battle with fabric selection. I’ve done a decent job of choosing fabric for clothes for my kid – of course there are items I’ve sewn that she won’t wear (“that’s the wrong pink, mama”) and I’ve upcycled some sheets and garments whose seams ripped shortly after the first wearing due to age – but in general, if I pick something that doesn’t itch and is the right color or pattern, it’s a win. But when it comes to sewing for myself, phew, I’ve made some awful choices!

Part of the problem is that I am so drawn to brightly colored and fun printed fabrics, like the ones you’d chose for your kids, that I choose them for my own clothes…and then I never wear them. The perfect example is this Amy Butler Anna Tunic sewn up in the Rabbits and Racecars print by Heather Ross on cotton/linen canvas, that I made in 2009. For the record, as far as I’m concerned, Heather Ross can do no wrong – her prints are lovely, always. And in general, this thing is cute on it’s own. But it just doesn’t feel like me, it’s ill-fitting and I’m so self-conscious when I wear it (because I’m wearing trucks!) that I just don’t.

racecars_web

This problem isn’t always limited to the wrong pattern or color. Most of the time I struggle with choosing a fabric with the appropriate weight, drape or body. I made this dress in 2012 (affectionately named Charles), and while it was generally a success and I wear it fairly frequently, the fabric choice was not right. It’s an organic cotton canvas, and shortly after ironing, it just falls flat. The fabric is far too heavy and casual (better suited for a bag than a dress) and it doesn’t have the body that I had envisioned for this garment.

charles_web

So while I am still struggling with fabric selections, I have improved. Here’s how:

a)    I’ve narrowed down my color and print pattern options when selecting fabric. I started seriously thinking about what ready-made clothing I buy, and what colors are already hanging in my closet when I’m shopping for fabric. It seems that I wear green, blue and grey most often, which led to sewing myself A LOT of grey clothes. But you know what? I wear them. Often.

b)   I followed the Wardrobe Architect series on Coletterie. I only managed to complete a few of the exercises in the beginning of the series, but it really spoke to my decision making process (I buy pretty fabric, not useful fabric!), and got me thinking a lot about which fabrics I actually like to wear, what style of clothing I like, and what silhouettes work well for me. This has helped me not only chose appropriate fabrics for my garments, but appropriate patterns as well.

c)     Practice, by sewing more and more for myself, and pushing myself to make something wearable above all.

All of these tips can apply to sewing for kids too. What do they love that is already in their closet? What colors are their favorite clothes? What style or fit do they like the most? You can use the answers to these questions to inform your pattern and fabric choices, and then practice by sewing for them as often as you can.

So once I’ve chosen the right fabric and sewn a great garment, I run into my number one biggest challenge – taking photographs.

I know that this isn’t exactly a “sewing mistake”, but photography is what enables us to share our work with this amazing community! Obviously we all have different standards and priorities, but certain things are needed in order to share your work, and for me that’s well-lit and focused images. Let’s set aside the amount of work it takes just getting the kids into the clothes and convincing them to stand still, where you want, for as long as you need (everyone’s using bribes, right? Please say yes.) You still have to find a location with good lighting and the right background, you need to adjust the white balance, shutter speed and what-not, plus download the pictures and edit them. Forget about including props. I mean, seriously?! This is an incredible task.

lottie_light

 lottie sweater 

Good photography is the number one reason why I have not participated in every Kids Clothes Week season in the past, or why I blog so sporadically. I live in a rental house in rural Maine, with oddly placed windows and even more oddly colored walls (that we aren’t allowed to paint). Living someplace so far north (read: cold) makes it really hard to take photos outside for many months of the year, unless I’m going to start sewing winter coats all the time, and the low winter sun makes the indoors especially challenging during those months.

150214_space_web

 see that ironing board? that’s the one space in my home that is suitable for taking photographs. (and that blue tape on the floor is a house-wide board game!)

Through trial and error, I have found one spot with a normal colored wall and just enough space and somewhat decent lighting that consistently works for photos in my home. And by consistently, I mean that on a sunny day in the winter, between 3:00 and 4:00 PM, I can take a few pictures. Sometimes, an overcast day between 12:00 and 12:30 works. Sometimes.

I’ve started a Pinterest board, just for photography, where I save all the tips and tricks that I inevitably end up googling at the end of a bad shoot. I’m lucky enough to have Adobe experience, and have made Lightroom and Photoshop my best friend. And I practice a lot – I probably end up using 1/10 of the photos that I take.

I aspire to gorgeous, backlit photos of my child in a field of wildflowers, donning her spanking new dresses. But for now, I’m really pleased with the quality of the photographs I’m currently taking, after three years of practice. I’ve accepted an off-white background as part of my look, and I’m happy that our shoots are less painful now that I’ve got a tried and trusted location and a time of day that works. I haven’t yet made the same strides in photographing myself in the clothes I’ve sewn, but I’m working on it!

I hope that you found some of this information helpful, or at the very least you feel less alone if you’ve had some similar stumbling blocks. It’s hard to talk about failures, or admit to things you’re not great at – I’m sweating a bit over here! But this is such an amazing, supportive community and I’m super happy to think that I might have helped just one person to feel great about their work!

What are your biggest sewing mistakes or challenges? Share in the comments and let’s help each other out!

This article has 10 comments

  1. inspinration

    Thank you for this great post! I especially liked the part about making pictures, I just recently decided to step up my game in that department, before that I did not realize how important good photo’s are! I accepted that making quick pictures the next morning is just not the way to go.

  2. treen

    I like that you’ve chosen these items to discuss as your “mistakes” instead of having to resew the same lining 5 times because you keep messing it up (which I have done). Choosing the right weight/drape of fabric for a pattern is harder than it looks, especially for new people like me who have not yet ventured beyond quilting cotton for making everything. (Fortunately, I’ve been pretty lucky in my pattern choices so far – nothing has bombed (yet) with the quilting cotton.) And photography – I don’t even own a camera. My pictures are all shot with my phone, so shutter speed and all that is totally irrelevant to my situation. I’m still trying to figure out how to get the stupid thing to even be in focus consistently – forget lighting and all that. 

    All that said … I need (yes, NEED) the details for this house-wide board game you mention. I’m a homeschooler who is currently buried in snow in New England and something like that would be an interesting diversion for my cabin-fevered kids. Thanks!

    1. Holly

      i started my blog using just my iPhone, and sometimes i wonder why i ever moved on to a dslr!

      i’m working on a blog post about our house-wide board game, just for you! i’m hoping to come up with more ideas to share (and for us to use to get through this crazy snowy winter!)

  3. Laura

    Thanks for this post! Pictures are sooo challenging. I’m almost giving up on my daughter doing any modeling. And lighting. Argh. We live in the rainy Pacific Northwest (and nowhere in the house is right), so even if we have a sunny day to take pictures, she’ll be wearing her rainboots three seasons of the year!

  4. Lightning McStitch

    Great post! I’ve had both of these “issues” and I think I’ve moved past them. A maternity dress for me in a big, cheery Amy Butler print cured me of the idea that I should ever wear quilting cotton. It has since been recycled into a cheery dress for my daughter. Cute on a little one, just wrong on me.

    I also have weirdly off white walls and my only blank walls are back lit so I need the off camera flash to bounce some light around to avoid my own shadow in the picture. If you have a DSLR and don’t yet have an off camera flash that will be a huge revelation. Worth every cent. And, yeah Lightroom rules! (if only to crop my face out of self portraits where the clothes look fine but the expression is awful!)

    1. Holly

      i definitely think i need to invest in some lighting soon. it’s becoming the only option for a maine winter!
      i wrote a post on my own blog last week (sort of an extension to this one) about the challenges of photographing myself, where i share some awful pictures. it’s a truly daunting task.

  5. saskia

    Great post Holly! I’ve also struggled with photography. Fortunately, our house isn’t a rental, and we recently renovated the attic and repainted all walls. So I finally have a room with decent light and a nice white background. Also, last year I invested some time to find good locations in my neighborhood (within 5 minutes walking distance), and learn what the best time of day is to do a photoshoot at those locations. It’s a fun exercise to do, because you really take notice of things you didn’t see before, and it makes photoshoots so much easier. 

  6. Louisa

    I am excited to check out your pinterest board on photography. I struggle to get nice pictures of the things I sew. Since I am sewing for kiddos that I don’t have on hand for models it is extra difficult to get nice pictures.

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