One of the things I think can intimidate the beginner with sewing is feeling like you have to get it all perfect the first time. Unless you are joining a group that has accuracy rules, I don’t think it’s as important to get it all perfect right away. See what you can do, or feel up to doing, and then work up to it. I have enough things irritating me — can’t find the fabric I want within my budget (type, color, pattern, amount) — things like that. If I worried about every little detail, I’d never get started!
I first started using some of the commercial patterns to learn how to follow patterns and get used to sewing, and have moved on to patterns from companies that try to use more historical construction. The commercial patterns were more affordable for me to start with and for the most part kept things basic. I also stuck to some fairly simple designs so I wasn’t too overwhelmed. Now that I’ve had a little more experience, I feel more confident to attempt the more expensive, detailed, and closer to accurate patterns. I have even started learning how to draft my own patterns from information off the internet, or even by draping and shaping on my own (again, starting with some simple items). It will probably be some time before I feel skilled enough to sew something by hand. I will practice hand stitches where I can, however. Hand-sewn eyelets (even if I don’t do them exactly period accurate) have been a great way for me to build some confidence with hand-sewn stitches. I even whip-stitched a seam allowance by hand that started fraying horribly. It wasn’t perfect, but it’s doing the job just fine at the moment.
I’ve also been able to practice machine-stitched seams with undergarments for the first time. One of my favorite garments is my late-bustle petticoat. I purchased some white taffeta for it and discovered after the pieces were cut out that the edges were fraying so much that I would have to do something about it right away! I grabbed the serger that was a gift from my mother. I had not had the chance to really use it on anything but test scraps when I first got it, but I carefully went over all the edges to clean them up and protect them from further fraying. Once I started sewing, I decided to try another thing I had never tried before: french seams. Between those new things, the gathered ruffles (I’ve done plenty of those, but practice is always nice), and pin tucks, I still adore that petticoat as one of my favorite garments. It was also a great learning experience.
My first bustle gown was quite a learning experience from start to finish. I started with items that wouldn’t be seen to get a feel for how the patterns were and to prepare myself for the items that would be seen. I had spots here and there on each piece that I fumbled with, or didn’t quite know how to do a few of the details. I still received a lot of compliments, and I jokingly told friends and family that it was because I’d hidden some of the spots with trim or that there was so much to look at, no one would be staring at my mistakes unless they were really looking for them. There are even small sections on my trims where I had little mistakes. I gave it an attempt and was fortunate that the garments fit properly, most of the sewing went together correctly, and the little mistakes were not noticed by most people or were hidden by the trims.
Right now, I need to get caught up on my “to do” list, and meet some deadlines so I can wear my costumes to events with friends. The things I make may not be accurate, but I won’t be joining any re-enacting groups that educate the public (not that I wouldn’t love to, and I’m sure there are many members who are more than willing to help someone new make or acquire the required gear and clothing). I’m learning as I go, trying what I’m comfortable trying, and pushing myself just enough of out of my comfort zone. I look forward to getting more accurate with my historical garments, and eventually maybe hand-stitching my first outfit someday. I might still cheat here and there with some things that are my favorites to do, however. Regardless, I’ll have some costumes and clothing that — while I will know the mistakes I’ve made on them, or see things I would do differently the next time — I’ll have fun wearing them, and will have learned a few things and gained some confidence from diving in and trying something new.