Life of Johanna / Sewing cardigans

Seven sewing mistakes I did as a beginner sewist


Back in 1991 I tried to make this top in a woven fabric

Aah, sewing mistakes. I’ve done so many over the years, and I’ll admit that I sometimes glance a bit enviously at fairly new sewists who seems to already have figured out what has took me years, or even decades, to grasp. I like to blame it on the internet, or the lack thereof, when I began my sewing journey. Compare that to nowadays when you can google everything and find tons of great sewing tutorials and tips.


But when I started back in the 80’s sewing information was scarce and many in my parent’s generation had dismissed the sewing tradition of past generations and moved on to more modern interests. Especially information on sewing with knits was nearly impossible to find, at least here in Sweden.


So I thought I should fess up and share some of the (many) sewing mistakes I’ve done over the years!


1. Woven and knit fabrics are not interchangeable

I’m sure some of might think “duh!” right now. Well it took my years to figure that seemingly easy principle out!
Some examples of those failed attempts

  • Trying to make fitted a draped wrap top in woven rayon (hey rayon feels soft, so why not!)
  • Making a cardigan in woven jacquard wool (a wool fabric with a pattern that looks like a knit equals a sweater fabric, right?)
  • A fitted raglan sweater using a woven wool mohair fabric (if it’s mohair, it must be a knit, never mind that it has zero stretch…


2. Don’t try to make a garment smaller by skipping the seam allowance

While the sides will be smaller, I failed to understand that all curves, such as the neckline, crotch and armscye will actually be bigger if you don’t add seam allowance. Took me a while to figure that out!


3. I am petite and need to adjust my pattern accordingly

What, me, short?!? And to add to this issue, the difference between my waist and upper hip/tummy is 20 cm (8 inches) and if I don’t shorten the bodice, the smallest part of a fitted garment will end up right on my tummy. Took me years to figure out why garments were so tight over my abdomen.


4. Regular sewing machine stitches won’t work when hemming stretchy knits

I’ve tried to hem rib and lycra knits using regular zigzag stitches and even straight stitches (!). You can imagine how awful that looked, it was a wobbly, twisted, stretched-out mess to be exact.


5. Interfacing and fusibles are actually very useful, don’t skip them

In the beginning, for some unknown reason, I only used them for waistbands and cuffs, thus my button plackets, collars, pockets and fly shields all looked shapeless and wrinkly.


sewing mistakes

A fabric I will never work with again, a shapeless rayon/cotton rib knit

6. Some fabrics are just not made for sewing. Skip them and move on

Here is a list of common offenders:

  • Soft rib knits without lycra that won’t recover when stretched out
  • Loosely woven fabrics that will fray like crazy when you are sewing and then grow to become a shapeless sack when you are wearing the garment
  • Fabrics that repels and breaks all kind needles, thus making it impossible to make proper stitches


7. When something goes wrong, analyze and learn from it

That was so not my modus operandi for many years, instead I just repeated the same mistakes over and over, not understanding why I got the same bad result!


Do you have any sewing “aha-moments” that you wished you’d figured out faster?


  • xandra
    October 6, 2016 at 9:15 pm

    Interessante. Thanks for share your experience.

    • Johanna
      October 8, 2016 at 7:28 pm

      You’re welcome!

  • frifris
    October 7, 2016 at 5:34 pm

    Haha, must admit that up to your very article I never realized that leaving out the seam allowance makes the neckline etc etc bigger… duh! Never really thought about that. Oh my.

    It took me years to realize that it is much better (balance and all) to adjust a skirt pattern not in the end by simply raising the seamline in front, but instead at the waistline (usually my front needs to be shorter than the back, because of my pronounced behind and bad posture). Even though there a many books on fitting, I guess I was too often just too lazy…

    Good post!

    • Johanna
      October 8, 2016 at 7:40 pm

      Lol, it’s comforting that I’m not alone in making this logical fallacy 🙂 As for your fitting aha-moment. I gone through a lot of similar things, in the moment it just feels easier to not do the research and just go by intuition. But I’m really working on that at the moment, trying to be more mindful and do some research before I do stuff

  • Kyle D Burkhardt
    October 8, 2016 at 2:01 am

    I remember trying to sew a red knit fabric and getting frustrated with skipped stitches–I had no concept at that point of using ball point or stretch needles for knits.

    I also remember using a really stiff polyester to make a tunic style dress, and it stuck straight off my body. It was in a blue stripe and my friend said I looked like a hot nurse. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

    • Johanna
      October 8, 2016 at 7:43 pm

      Yes, ball point needle was not something we learnt in school and if it was in sewing books, I think I must have skipped over that chapter! Took me ages to figure that one out too. And I love the the hot nurse story 😀

  • Rikki
    October 15, 2016 at 3:43 pm

    Lol! Reading your post brings back memories of starting mulitiple projects, only to get discouraged, lose interest and toss it. Also picking out totally inappropriate fabric for a project, lol! I made so many mistakes as a rookie! I just came across your videos yesterday while searching for fly zipper instructions. I had been watching a video that made it a lot more complicated that it needed to be. I was so impressed that you explained the zipper application so clearly in just about 3 minutes. I hope you’ll do the seamstress tag, I noticed someone else asked you and you indicated that you may:)

    • Johanna
      October 16, 2016 at 9:58 am

      Yes Sewing is not always an instant gratification thing for sure, behind every great finished project there is probably a lot of struggles along the way! And choosing the wrong fabric is such a heart breaker because there is really no way to salvage that project, so I’m learning to not be so stubborn and just toss those in the bin and move on the next project 😀
      And thank you for the kind comments about my zipper video, I really tried to boil it down and make it clear, and it makes very happy to hear that you found it helpful!


Leave a Reply