I can never resist reading articles like "The Ten Best Cities For Raising Kids," "The Ten Best Retirement Locations;" "Ten Ways to Fold Socks." So here's my own list. The ten most memorable things I've learned about sewing during the ten weeks I've been doing it.
1. Fabric choice is as important as sewing skill
I learned this from clicking through the pages of PatternReview.com. The most fascinating aspect of this web site to me at this point in my studies is the variation in appearance of garments made from the same pattern. One thing that caught my attention immediately was the effect of fabric choice on the appearance of the garment. To pick a random example, take a look at the 5 reviews for Vogue Pattern # 8472, which reviewers have made using fabrics ranging from demure black linen to floral patterned cotton with contrasting neck and arm bands to striped ticking.
2. Read everything printed on the pattern pieces, instruction sheets and pattern envelopes
Whether it's a chain saw or a desk-top computer or a sewing machine, I usually like to jump right into setting up and using gadgets, and I'll only read instruction manuals if something goes wrong. But I've found that commercial patterns contain a treasure-trove of information for the baby garment-builder.
3. Transfer construction guides such as dart lines to the fabric as part of the cutting out operation.
I've found it's easier to deal with transferring guides at the point in time when the fabric and pattern are spread out on the cutting surface. That way, you can put the pattern pieces away after cutting, and there is less risk of damaging the pattern or losing parts of it.
4. I'm sure most people will roll their eyes at this one. What idiot wouldn't know this as a matter of common sense: avoid removing more than one set of pattern pieces from their envelopes at any one time.
5. If you screw up a seam, rip it out on the spot. Don't keep going, hoping that maybe it won't show too much when the garment is finished.
6. This is especially for beginners like me, but I suspect it continues to be useful even for experienced people: when using a pattern for the first time, make a practice garment out of cheap fabric that is similar in weight to the fabric you're using for the final garment.
This way, you can make the mistakes on the practice fabric, and by the time you get to the more expensive fabric, you'll know all the pitfalls of the pattern-fabric combination. You can also fine-tune the fit while working with the practice fabric. For example, when I made the Perry Ellis skirt in muslin, I discovered that the skirt was a bit loose at the waist and tight at the hips, even though the measurements on the pattern envelope matched my measurements. Either my measurements are off a bit (definitely a possibilty) or patterns in the exact same size differ from each other. Or both.
7. If your sewing machine starts doing weird things, check to make sure it's put together and threaded properly. The little thingees on the machine that you pass the thread through are there for a reason. If you miss passing the thread through even one thingee, the top thread won't loop properly around the bottom thread, and your stitches come out all wrong, or don't come out at all.
8. You have to take the stretch into account when you're working with stretchy knits.
9. You can find some fantastic prices on fabrics at certain times of the year (I'm not exactly sure yet when these times are, but there have been some really good deals online the last coupla weeks).
If you want to use nice fabrics without spending a fortune, buy up a lot of fabric when it's on sale. I've found that fabric requirements for most types of garments fall within a certain range. For example, most jackets can be made from 3 yards of fabric that's at least 45 inches wide. Almost any shirt can be made from 2.5 yards. And so forth. To be safe, I often buy 3 yards even when I'm planning to use the fabric for a shirt. When the fabric is on sale for $2.99 per yard, the extra half yard is not going to break the bank.
10. Having a decent steam iron makes a HUGE difference.
Also a tailor's ham and sleeve board are as important as having a sewing machine. Maybe more important. After all, it's possible to make a garment completely by hand, but it's nigh impossible to come out with a good finished garment without pressing the seams.