What is Your Skill Level?

The longer I sew it seems the less confident I am in my skills.  That is silly I know, but…..How do you evaluate your sewing skills?  When my daughters were in 4-H and exhibited their clothing in the county fair, we had to evaluate each item.  Was it a beginner or intermediate level or was it a project that could be labeled advanced?  I think this was as difficult for me as it was for them.

Now as adults this comes up again.  Some designers have divided their patterns into groups, so you know when looking at them what to expect. As someone who was trained sewing all different mediums it sometimes surprises me to read posts by people who are terrified of sewing zippers.  Or who absolutely won’t sew with knit fabric, because they imagine it to be too difficult.  If you are a tester for a designer, you will know they frequently want you to evaluate your skill level.  Every pattern is not for every sewer.

We all have things we prefer to sew and fabrics that we prefer to sew with.  I think we need to challenge ourselves every now and again or how will we ever get better?  Today we will explore some basic parameters for setting your sewing level.

Note: Rachel and I found this an interesting conversation, and would love to hear what your opinions are. This is meant to be positive and interesting not to down grade anyone’s skills!

Beginner Sewer

If you are venturing into the sewing world and choosing your first pattern, these are things to keep in mind.  You should be able to follow simple instructions.  Know how to read your pattern.  Be able to find your yardage and know what fabrics your pattern is designed for.  Know which direction the grain line goes on your fabric and know if there is any stretch and which direction that goes.

You will be able to sew a straight line and place a gathering stitch.  Making casings and inserting elastic for a waistband should be a piece of cake.  To ensure the best result for your project, it is advised you sew with a woven fabric.  One that has no stretch and a  straight grain. These kipper capris are a perfect example.
kipper caprisNo worries about the cuff.  They are sewed on with a straight stitch.  No gathering is even involved.

Confident Beginner

Building on the skills we have already developed it is time to add a zipper or maybe make a button hole.  Todays newer machines make great button holes.  All you need to do is set it up and step on the pedal.  Now is the time to try pleats to dress up your garment instead of just simple gathering.  You may even want to try sewing on some knit fabrics.  Experiment with different fabrics and maybe mixing and matching fabrics.  Add box pleats: tutorial and patternThis little tunic combines two fabrics and also gives instructions on putting in box pleats.


Now we will put on our big girl pants (you know the kind with buttons, and zippers, and double needle stitching)!  I feel that an intermediate level of sewing is something that we evolve into.

It is more like climbing a hill than climbing a step.  Over time as your confidence grows,  you add skills.  You add different fabrics to your repertoire and learn how they behave.  Maybe a pair of wool pants, or a sweatshirt, or fleece footie pj’s.

You attempt different seam finishes.  French seams and rolled hems.  Add bindings rather than simple facings.  Add piping to a pocket edge instead of a flat trim at the skirt edge.  You may choose to make your own bias binding to add contrast to your garment, or a self bias to match that top.

You are even confident enough to be able to adjust a pattern that almost fits but has some problem areas.

shorts 2These shorts are made of a heavy denim and have flat felled seams.  The front pockets are standard jean pockets with an added coin pocket on one.  The leg is slightly modified to allow more wiggle room.

Great girls dress up clothesThis fun princess play dress is made with satin and has a tulle under skirt.  Also equipped with ribbons so the skirt can be tied up and give it a scalloped look.  This is a perfect example of multiple techniques that need to be mastered.  Choose your own example of a new skill and build on it.


This is the tough one for me.  I have trouble telling anyone that my sewing skills are advanced.  In my brain, I know that is silly.  I think part of it is what we tell ourselves advanced is…..”I can do it all and teach you a few things too.”  Well who am I to say I can teach you anything.  YIKES!  That seems presumptive to me.  So now to MY definition of an advanced sewer.

Now we move to complex garments.  You have already added skills to your base.  You are getting used to sewing with knits and wool and special occasion fabrics.  You can do all kinds of seam finishes and line your garment.  You’ve made a reversible garment.  Time to move on.

Make a man’s or woman’s dress shirt.  Construct a two piece collar.  Make your front placket using your fabric on the bias.  Put in the back yoke and a placket in the shirt body.  You should be able to make a long sleeve with a cuff and a button placket.  You can make a suit jacket or a coat with a facing, lining, collar and buttonholes.  AND……..it fits and does not look “HOMEMADE”.

I hate that term, by the way.  You can always tell when people  don’t sew.  They say “Oh thats homemade?”  Grrrrrrrrrr.  You may even make a bridal gown for your sister or your daughter or yourself.  When the time is right venture into embroidery.  I must admit my machine embroidery has been limited, mostly because the set up is time consuming and I just want to DO IT!

Berkshire BlazerThis Berkshire Blazer is a perfect example of outerwear.  A wool jacket with a nice fuzzy lining.  O wore this through the entire winter.  He does not like coats, so this was a win for us!

The Ethan, Boys dress shirt pattenThis goofy pic of O shows the front placket and the sleeve plackets (kind of).  When I made this Ethan Shirt , I made it a little big because we wanted him to be able to wear it for a while.  And he did!  It was a hit throughout the fall and winter.

I think the last horizon is pattern drafting.  I have drafted for a while and recently we have moved into pattern making.(affiliate)  Although drafting something for yourself or a loved one is not too intimidating, drafting and grading for others is fun but also a bit nerve wracking.

There are many other things that could be featured, but I think you get the idea.  So how do you rate your skills?  Do you tend to underestimate yourself when talking to others?  Is there something that you are avoiding?  Are you someone who just dives in and even though your project may not be perfect you are learning as you go and perfecting your skills?  I tend to dive in…..no pain no gain as the saying goes.

Happy sewing, Donna


{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Pam @Threading My Way September 22, 2014, 6:54 am

    That’s a hard one, Donna. I’ve sewn everything you’ve mentioned, but some of it not for a long time… wedding dress, bridesmaids dresses, lined suit. Could I still sew them? I’m sure I could, but I’d have to read the instructions VERY carefully to come up to speed and I’m sure I’d make lots of mistakes. I’m only just starting with pattern drafting and at this stage, only a few very simple things for kids. What level does that make my sewing skills? I don’t know. When asked, I usually say Intermediate. The more you know, the more you know you don’t know. There’s HEAPS I have yet to learn!!!

  • Amy Mayen September 22, 2014, 12:22 pm

    I feel very comfortable calling myself intermediate…but there are still intermediate things that scare me. how does one ever presume to be advanced? I’ve always liked sewing because you can never learn all there is to know. “Advanced” should be called “not scared to mess up anymore”! Great post!

  • Stephanie September 24, 2014, 3:23 pm

    I think FIT is advanced. I am honestly not super picky on fit (lazy? probably) but wouldn’t have the foggiest idea on how to mess with it if I didn’t. I consider myself intermediate – there isn’t much I wouldn’t feel comfortable trying/googling but definitely not posting any tutorials on how to do techniques, etc. any time soon!

  • Robin May 23, 2019, 1:03 pm

    I’m a beginning sewer. No matter how many times I read a pattern, especially one not made by a name brand company, I have some trouble. Straightening the grain line on a piece of fabric, or/and having to stretch it was a nightmare to learn. And material. The first thing I made used polyester material. I almost decided to never sew again during that project. Zippers, French and flat felled seams? Easy. Everything I’ve learned has come from the internet, complete with opposing opinions on how to do something and confusing instructions. It’s taken me incredible amounts of time sifting through information to find out what is correct, who presents information in a simple to understand manner, and what is best for me at this point in time. Perhaps it is because I am 66 years old, but none of this seems as easy as I thought it would. But I love it. So much.

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