Sunday, February 8, 2015

Becoming a Discerning Tutorial Seeker, NLS #12



Over the past year one topic reappears in various forms on the sewing social media network. However, it is more of a characteristic of all social media. How do you know who you are talking to, reading, following, believing, admiring, and learning from?  Just who is at the other end of your keyboard? In the sewing network it can take the form of highly experienced sewists and totally inexperienced sewists all eagerly and passionately sharing their love of this craft and that will keep it alive and thriving for a long time. Over and over, however, I keep getting  asked the same question. How do I know that someone whose blog I follow and enjoy knows what they are doing if I don't know much myself? Should I consider this person an authority? How do I know if their technique is good technique?

I, like many, have thrown my hands in the air with the answer, "you don't know".  With the internet, anyone can claim to be an expert. Anyone can do a tutorial on sewing technique. Anyone can be "certified" and anyone can "certify" someones patterns and skills, (big eye roll on that one!).  It's just the nature of this incredible internet. Sure, you can dig a bit and just maybe find their credentials, if there are any. You can do some age discrimination and assume the older the sewist the more they know and vice versa, which is so so wrong and not necessarily true. . It's a real conundrum for the new sewist looking for quality information and guidance.  This has bothered me for a long time as I really want our newer sewists to have the best information and guidance possible., Many new sewists are at a time in life when budget constraints prevent them from taking classes. Then I had to make the zippered pockets on my bag. ....Huh?

I have been sewing a long time but love that I can go on the web and research how to do something. I needed to put zippered pockets in the bag I am currently working on. Sure, I've done it many times but I am always up for a new technique. So I googled and pinterested and started reading loads of zipper pocket tutes before starting on my own. Never hurts to be well informed and I love to try new techniques.  As I wandered this landscape of thread and zips I found, as one often does on the web, good and bad info. But many years of sewing have made me able to tell the difference. My bench is deep. But newbies are sitting on the edge of that bench and trusting that the coach , unlike Pete Carol, will give them the best play to get the job done.

Eureka moment! From all this researching I started to see a pattern developing  that could actually help anyone, newbies in particular, to  know if their teacher/ tutorial maker knows what they are doing. Certain attributes kept reappearing, enough to see a pattern on the  tutorials. It was enough of a reappearing trend to pull some  points that will let someone know every time if they are dealing with a teacher who has the skills to teach  and provide  solid quality sewing information. It's really a simple checklist and one to keep handy as you seek out technique on the web. Here we go.



1. Check the pressing.
       In the tutorial instructions is the teacher/blogger telling you to press your seams, your garment, your edges as you sew, when you finish?  There are tutes on the web for sewing details that lack any instruction to press the garment edges, seams and finished product. The results show pressing or lack thereof  to an experienced sewist but to an inexperienced one you just wouldn't know and would expect that the finished product is supposed to look the way it does. If there are no pressing references in the tute anywhere, this person  does not know how to sew, sorry, but true. Move on to another tutorial for the technique you are researching. All sewing details, collars, pockets, hems, and all seams have specific pressing as part of technique to make them look professional. Sewing is Pressing. Look for pressing instructions as part of the tutorial.



2. Use interfacing
     In my zipper pocket research, very few tutes showed the use of interfacing.The best  looking pockets did. Interfacing is used in collars, cuffs, buttonholes, zippers, pretty much someplace, somewhere on each garment. If the tutor consistently does not use interfacing in constructing various types of garments, they don't know how to sew well enough to be teaching. Interfacing isn't necessarily fusibles and hair canvas.  Self fabric and silk organzas are just two other fine options, but, it is there and referred to. No interfacing references, find another tute. Knits are excluded here. Knits have different rules but nearly any non knit garment has some type of interfacing somewhere. It's a rare destructured garment that doesn't.  Look for interfacing used in construction of wovens. This applies to children's wear as well as adult garments.

courtesy of craftsy.comt


3. Look for wonky
    Another glaring bit of evidence of skill that warrants your lack of  trust in the ability of the teacher is Wonkiness.  What's Wonkiness? Asymmetry is the big girl word but the ones we all understand are "just sloppy sewing." Back to my zipper research - there were tutes that had zippers messily on the diagonal across the pockets instead of lining up evenly and straight across the zipper "hole" with just a little more effort.  There was uneven topstitching with one side being a quarter inch wide, another an eighth of an inch wide. There were pockets that on one side had the pocket bag sticking  nearly a quarter of an inch out in spots  and on the other it was neatly hidden as it should have been all around. Look for pockets that are not set equidistant on the garment, are different sizes, collars that don't match in the front and  are different sizes,  buttons set way off center, etc. This button thing is a biggy. I've seen garments where not bothering to fit is simply overcome by moving the buttons over three inches and the buttonholes stay where they are.  Seriously, did you just feel one side off the bodice shrink? Buttons are not a fitting tool unless it is a small bit, not three inches. Really look closely at the garment in the tutorial and others the teacher has made. Are things "even"? Do they match as the above pockets do so well? Are they mirror images across the garment if they need to be ie, pockets at the same level and size? Is the installation of the detail neat and symmetrical if need be?  Is there an effort to match prints and plaids? If not, this is not the tutorial or teacher for you. The sloppiest, and it was really awful, zipper pocket I saw was from a BIG handbag designer. She is great at design, not so good at construction and a newbie would easily assume that someone of her stature would know how to do a required technique for her product or hire someone who does. It seems not necessarily. We are all blessed with different skills, hers is in design, which brings up another thought. If you are looking to be inspired,  look for great design and use of fabric and don't worry about technique. We all love inspirational blogs.  If you are looking to learn technique dig deep into the blog's bowels and check out how the details are handled.  If it looks wonky or sloppy, find another tutor. There are many ways to do the various tasks of sewing, none of which include sloppiness and unevenness. If the tutorial shows the finished product as uneven and not mirror imaged, they are not skilled enough to be teaching you. Move on. Again, this blogger may have other admirable skills but you are checking them out to see if they know enough about technique to teach you.


4. Completed photos


photo courtey of Craftsy.com
I was amazed in my zipper tute search at the amount of tutes that DID NOT show a photo of the completed result. Funny coincidence, these were the same tutorials that showed sloppy construction with no pressing. Did the blogger know that the completed product was sub par and therefore did not show a picture of it? Pretty dishonest, IMO. Did they do this tute just to fill up blog space and maintain Adsense affiliate obligations at the expense of your knowledge? You have to wonder. Personally, I would at least rather see a finished picture of a bad execution than nothing. Really, these tutes are out there. If you are proud of your construction, you want it out there and will gladly put up pics. You have to wonder about someone's skills when they don't photograph the completed task. Look for a photo of the tutorial's completed project. You would be amazed at how many are missing. That's very telling, IMO. 


In summary, if you are trying to judge if a teacher or tutorial has the chops and can teach you good technique,  look for:


-Pressing instructed throughout the construction
 process, well pressed completed garment  

- Symmetry of detail and construction, details are                           equidistant and mirror image when needed, no                             sloppiness. Prints and plaids match or at least 
  come close.

-Interfacing, even if self fabric or other, used in              construction with woven fabric .  
                                              
 -Pictures of the completed task

It is easy to cast broad strokes here, I must admit, but this is based on what I have found in internet searches for various sewing techniques. But I do have a caveat of kindness here: like our bag designer, every sewist has different strengths. Appreciate those strengths.  Understand that as you visit your sites. Some are great at sewing with knits, others at tailoring and others at heirloom sewing. The examples go on an on. No sewist is going to be great at everything. But keep in mind these suggestions as you search.

Even if they are not your usual type of blog you enjoy reading, find one or two who  do employ the above rules and follow their blogs. Read along as they make their projects. You will start getting a more educated eye and pick up skill, if only by osmosis and that's fine. While you may not be at their skill level or even find their blogs interesting, you will learn what to strive for in your own efforts. They can be your go to for good info when needed. Look for a search engine on their blog, an email address and or a tutorial tab. Comment and ask questions. Most skilled sewists are more than happy to help you on the side through email when you need it. These blog relationships are priceless to all of us but even more critical to the newer sewists among us. I hope these tips help you as you continue on the wonderful journey of sewing. Develop those cyber relationships for a solid resource as you gain your skills.


Happy Sewing!
Bunny


52 comments:

  1. Talk about wonky! I am having a hard time getting blogger to do the layout I want on the last "rules" part. Thanks for your understanding.

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  2. Brilliant post, thanks Bunny! While I've discovered lots of helpful sewing advice on the internet, I've also encountered some serious flaws while reading tutorials and/or pattern instructions. You've outlined some very valuable tips for those that may be less experienced. Fortunately for myself, I've been able to navigate myself out of muddy waters, but I do feel for those that find themselves stuck due to inaccurate information!

    PS Your layout looks just fine!

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    1. Thanks, Sue. Sometimes the words are wonky on my home computer then when I check at work they are perfect. Good to know yours looks OK. Thanks.

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  3. Good advice. But sometimes I think experienced sewers forget to say "press". They just assume that everyone presses their work after all their steps...its like telling me to breathe while working. I've found some really good tutorials where I have to remember to press myself.

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    1. I think if you are clearly an experienced sewist and your work looks pressed and professional it's assumed that it has happened by those who know. However, if you are putting out a tutorial, to teach others a technique, I think it needs to be mentioned as part of the process. Thanks for your comments.

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  4. Great stuff! It bugs me too that so many inexperienced sewists with an excellent grasp of social media and how to make their blogs beautiful get listened to when many, many of my favourite websites and blogs look like they were built in 1992. These tips hopefully well help people to know what actual substance to look for!

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    1. O, my! Hope mine doesn't look like 1992. It definitely won't ever have that turquoise polka dot vibe but I do try to change it up about once a year. thanks for your comments, Mrs. C. Love your blog, BTW. It's new to me and I enjoy your "performer" perspective!

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  5. Thank you! As a beginner-ish sewist this is an issue I think about a lot. It irks me no end that there are total beginners who lose their enthusiasm over sewing because the tutorial they read online doesn't give them good results. I actually saw a sleeve-setting tutorial the other day where the resulting garment had puckers all the way around the sleeve and a few in the armhole! Jeepers.

    Your list is spot on - I'd add the loose category of 'qualifications' as well. Did this person study sewing or design? How long have they been sewing for? Do they work in this field or are acknowledged as as expert? I know that at my skill level I don't have any place offering tutorials in techniques I don't understand and I wish others would realise this too. What I don't want as a newbie is to be taught bad technique or worse, be buying patterns from someone who has been sewing for less time than I have! /rant

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    1. You are totally right about qualifications, but they seem to be a topic that fails to appear on blogs where the tutor is really quite inexperienced and untrained. Myself? Not a design school graduate, but sewing incessantly for over fifty (cough cough) years. I've taken a lot of classes too. I have a whole thing in the "highlights" tab on my mentors.

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    2. "Your list is spot on - I'd add the loose category of 'qualifications' as well. Did this person study sewing or design? How long have they been sewing for?"

      I recently saw a post for classes. Out of curiosity, I clicked to see the teachers' qualifications. Enthusiasm was listed, without any discussion of classes taken or even the number of years the person had sewed. And of course, some people can sew sew sloppily for a lifetime.

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    3. Wouldn't it be great if enthusiasm meant we had actual skill? Think I should try that on my next job resume!

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  6. Thank you. I commented yesterday when I saw this was coming up. Very interesting. I realise that I do actually discriminate by some of these criteria. I try to be neat and accurate, though I don't always manage, but I have long recognised there is no help to be had for me in a blog where the blogger demonstrates a worse technique than mine!

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  7. This is spot on Bunny! I'm also so sick of seeing "tutorials" with sloppy workmanship teaching technique that is equally poor and with sloppy results. I hope that more of the newer sewists will begin to recognize these substandard tutorials and strive for higher standards and follow tutorials written by someone that actually knows what they are talking about and have good results. there are way too many slick blogs with poor technique.

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  8. Right on all counts, Bunny! And we have to ask ourselves WHY are these "experts" making so many tutorials that are sub-standard? Do they have the need to push and push their fan base, make dubious "original" designed patterns and offer free stuff to keep the readership up? If the "expert" leaves out pressing and interfacing, she is doing everyone a disservice and the end product will show it.Thank you for pointing out what is missing and what we all should be looking for!

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  9. I just want to underline here that we all have different gifts. I have seen some really bad tutes done by some bloggers who have a great eye for design and color. I don't want us throwing out the baby with the bath water here. Just be aware of what you need for a good tutorial source.

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  10. Great post, Bunny! I always follow your blog with interest, and appreciate that you try to disseminate helpful tips and tools to help beginning sewists improve!

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  11. Thanks for this! I am thankful for all the info out on the web as a 'self-taught' sewer. I always, ALWAYS check with my "faves" first and see if they have a tutorial for what I'm looking for. Next I will read several and find similarities/differences in their technique, look at the final result and decide which tutorial (or mix of tutorials) to use.

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    1. Excellent plan and I will say it definitely shows in your sewing. You have come so far since you started and are so driven to put out a great result. Impressive!

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  12. THANK YOU for this timely post. Just yesterday I was watching a video on making a drawstring bag and noticed some "teaching moments" that were ignored, like trimming bulk out of seams and using a smaller stitch when approaching corners. Not that I'm a pro or anything, but those are the kinds of tips that can make a big difference in your work.

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  13. A few years ago I was looking for a tutorial on how to put an exposed zipper in a seam. The best one I found is on Tany's blog. She is meticulous in her sewing and her tutorials reflect her expertise. As you found this is not always the case!

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    1. I totally agree. Tany is an amazing sewist.

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    2. Many thanks to you Bunny for this series. I have been following along and learned a great deal about quality sewing and the details that make a tremendous difference in garment construction. Could you or one of the other posters provide a link to Tany's blog?

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    3. I'd like to have the link, too. Thanks.

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    4. Just click in the left sidebar on Couture & Tricot. Tany is in Portugal. She is very fluent in English and publishes each post in both languages.

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  14. Great article Bunny. As a long time sewist, and an expert, I can tell if the blogger knows what they are doing and if not I move on. It has never occurred to me that less experienced sewists would not be able to detect the blogger's lack of skill and would learn shoddy workskills. When I was learning I had excellent TV teachers in Shirley Adams, Sandra Betzina, and Angelina di Bello. As well, the patterns gave much more explicit instructions than they do today. I've always enjoyed the journey to quality rather than make it today and wear it tonight. I am enjoying your series and hope you are making a real difference in educating novice sewists.

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  15. Good points well made. WAGOLLs (What a Good One Looks Like) are always useful benchmarks for anyone looking to apply good practice.
    Morgan

    You may wish to remove thie link because the support bra making tutorial is is definitely not WAGOLL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V3GpJw5wVtA#t=528

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    1. One can also Google "sewing standards." Many organizations have put together lists describing what makes a well-constructed garment.

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    2. I don't have that link on this blog anywhere. I generally link to a handful of sewists that I know I can trust and it is nearly always in reference to whatever I am working on at the time.
      I like your idea of searching "sewing standards. Thanks for that suggestion.

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  16. Great post as usual! I was reminded of the time when teaching a class, I was asked which of my machines I would keep if I could only keep one, (referring to my various sewing machines, serger, embellisher, etc.) and without hesitation I replied that I would give up all my machines but I couldn't possibly give up my iron. I could always construct garments by hand but couldn't possibly do without my pressing tools.

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  17. Those are all good suggestions for judging the quality of online tutorials. Another recommendation: Put your money where your mouth is and go to a professional site. I like the University of Fashion, which is a subscription site. It was founded by a fashion design teacher, all the people who demonstrate techniques are experienced teachers with professional experience. The videos are very clear and there are transcripts.

    There are some free videos available for viewing and some people can access the site free if they are fashion design students or if their public library has an agreement.

    http://www.universityoffashion.com/

    Over the years, I've seen sewing "celebrities" who gave incorrect information about basic techniques such as pressing seams and top stitching. I also don't understand the impulse of beginners to prepare tutorials when they've only recently started learning the craft.

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    1. Thanks for that info, much appreciated. It will be helpful for all.

      I will say there are often many ways to skin a cat in the sewing world and I definitely understand that different sewists will have different techniques for accomplishing the same task. What I am hoping for here is to just give some benchmarks for newer sewists to use as they search the web and in their naivete, not assume that just because someone is teaching a technique they have in depth experience sewing and teaching. Often you see tutes that you can clearly tell were the first time around the ferris wheel. Having a few benchmarks to be aware of will help, at least Ican hope, can't I?

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    2. The most constructive thing we can all do in this vein is to promote the good tutorials. Pin them on Pinterest, reblog them, tweet them, post them on Facebook group pages. This habit will raise their visibility for search engines, and thus everyone's expectations.

      (Re: why are there so many: Most of us educated after 1990 were expected to make project presentations in nearly every class. I learned that if I'm stretching, a great way to learn more deeply is to commit to teaching the thing I just tried. Posting tutorials is also a great way to find internet friends and topic mentors. :) Be patient, promote the ones you think have something to offer, and try not to look a gift horse in the mouth.)

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    3. Bunny,

      You're right of course, there are often many valid approaches. I suggested the University of Fashion site because at least there's no question that whatever technique is being offered is a reliable technique. Sometimes it's better to do one technique again and again until it's second-nature before trying variations.

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  18. Nice post. I've been thinking of posting a few tutorials on things I've had trouble sourcing info on. Your list definitely consists of things I look for in tutorials. I also like to cross-reference information from various sources in a search for some consistency.

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  19. Your comments, "My bench is deep." and "were the first time around the ferris wheel." appealed to me. The first would apply to many skilled persons but is not a term I've heard before. Neither have I heard the second one but it gave me a good chuckle.

    Some other criteria I use when evaluating a tutorial:

    Are the steps shown in logical sequence? Sections of the process are not left out and just show the result without showing each step.

    How is the camera work? In focus, clearly shows what is happening on the machine, i.e. no shadows. Close-ups are needed and are they understandable in the context of the process?

    Is the commentary appropriate? Concise and clear? Does it match what is happening?

    Is the commentary clearly understandable? For example, no background noise, like a TV, good diction, choice of descriptive words.

    Are other method(s) discussed?

    Are common pitfalls mentioned?

    Where else could this method be used?

    Does the presenter have a sense of humour? Not being silly but just showing a human side.

    Clear summary at the end and of course the photo of the finished product in a close-up if appropriate.

    Since we have all learned from others in the past I believe most of us know what works best for us as an individual. It is frustrating to watch several video or even still tutorials only to find they don't solve the problem we have. If at the beginning of one of these, if any of the above criteria are not met, as well as the ones you listed, Bunny, I move on quickly.

    A great topic of conversation that I haven't seen on any other blogs, sewing or otherwise! Thanks for doing this and I look forward to more comments from you and your readers.

    Barb (don't know how to post any other way than the ubiquitous "Anonymous"!

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  20. Great thoughts, Barb, and thank you. I think you could definitely present the how to class on making a good tutorial with those suggestions.! appreciated!

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  21. Bunny, what great tips and a much needed discussion! Sadly as you pointed out, unless one already gone around the sewing block a few times it is very hard to know if we should try a new technique. Yours is a great list to check off and I'm sure will be greatly appreciated!

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  22. Bunny - I agree with all your points. For me, sometimes I'm looking for design inspiration and sometimes I'm looking for technique instruction - often, they don't come from the same blog but both are important to me. As I was reading your list and nodding, I was thinking about the tutorials I've posted on my own blog...I think I'm OK, which was a big relief. I'd hate to be an example of how not to do it! :)

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    1. I doubt that could happen!
      Claire is an amazing seamstress, embroiderer and just completed her PHD if I remember right. She has been published in Threads too many times to count.

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    2. Claire - that's too funny! As many times as you've been featured in quality publications, I don't think that you have to worry about poor tutorials on your blog. LOL!

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  23. I really enjoyed this post and wish it had existed when I started sewing in 2009. After realizing that my shoulders really need a larger size than my bust, I've been digging into small bust adjustments. One that I encountered made the waist smaller as well, which I don't need! It reminded me that nagging, unanswered questions like that are a good indication to keep looking, and our instincts can help us as well as criteria.

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    1. It's always good to follow your gut. I think we have learned that the hard way in our sewing journey, at least I have.

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  24. this reminds me of a "tutorial" i wrote for a jersey tube dress a few years back. there was some sort of complicated math equation and about twenty steps for what was essentially two rectangles sewn together. i need to revisit that and put a big old flashing red warning sign on it.....

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  25. I just finished a shirt from a new to me pattern company. As I "followed" the directions all I could think about was this post. I've been sewing for 30 years and the directions were horrible. Glad I know enough to change them. I don't consider myself an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but this "designer" does. I feel sorry for any beginner that gives this pattern a try. They will for sure get the happy homemade look.

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  26. Thank you! I've been waiting for this post since the one last summer about what not to do. I appreciate these posts on what TO do more than the ones on what not to do. I'm a beginner, but I don't want to learn wrong and have to relearn!

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  27. Great post. I have seen many a fine looking tutorial only to be told, "you don't need to pre treat fabric", "it's ok if the stripes/plaids...don't match up", also, no reference to grain...No wonder these things look homemade.

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