Frustrated…and thoughts on being self-taught

Working in bridal is a mixed bag for me. Most days I have clients coming in telling me and my boss how happy they are with the alterations and custom garments we make for them. What sadly sticks out are the people who come in demanding the moon. On one hand, I wish I could remind them that stressing your seamstress out is not going to produce great results. On the other, I get really frustrated and my confidence gets shot and I tend to blame the fact that I’m a self-taught stitcher.

As some of you know, my degree is in theater and post-modern dance. I took one costuming class and to be honest, the lighting class was more interesting to me at the time. I put my time in the costume shop but the scene shop with all the power tools made my heart sing.

Clients tend to want to know of my credentials. No. I don’t have a degree in fashion design. No. I didn’t start sewing for Barbie when I was a little girl. No. I haven’t always wanted to do what I’m doing right now. I started fitting and sewing garments 9 years ago, if that. After a lot of frustration, I got hooked. I liked the challenge and buying store bought for the postpartum body I had at the time was downright depressing.

I kept doing it.

I kept learning.

It got more and more interesting.

I liked the math.

I liked helping others get a clean fit.

Fast forward and all of a sudden, I found myself interviewing at the dress shop I work at now, clutching my handmade garments. The best of my work for my soon-to-be-boss to carefully inspect as I sweat the things I wish I had done different. I had a corset, a Victorian jacket, a lined dress. She knew I didn’t have formal training but she was impressed. Finally some validation! Validation from someone who had a fancy degree from FIT in New York. Someone who had worked with big names I even knew about.

So, when clients come in and don’t know how to sew and criticize my sewing, I shouldn’t let it bother me. But it bothers me. I should be better. Their garments should be perfect. The fit should be perfect. That’s my thing! Fit is my thing!

But sometimes it’s not perfect. And they zero in on the imperfections. The imperfections my hands have created. My self-taught hands. My measly, single mom-ish hands. The doubt sets in.

I don’t think these clients know how deeply I’m hurt when they belittle my work. Constructive criticism I can handle! Please! It’s not easy to swallow all the time but I want to keep learning and perfecting my craft. Fine tune me! It’s the rougher clients, the harsh clients, who don’t hear the way their own voices sound that burn.

Being self-taught, this means I have no day off. I don’t take a break. If I’m not called in to work, I still put in an 8-12 hour day. I fine tune myself.

For the rest of the year, I’m fine tuning my jackets. I’ll be making the Blank Slate Patterns Basic Blazer for my 7 year old son, the Blaverry Decklyn Jacket for my 9 year old daughter, and several fitted jackets for myself, with muslins for all three of us! Yes, even my kids.

I checked out a couple of Kenneth D. King videos from the library on fitting the upper torso and fitting jackets and I’m going to be studying those while I do my fittings.

I will not let the set backs of mean clients keep me from learning, sewing for myself or for others. I want to learn how to deal with people like this better but for now I’m an employee hiding out in the back.

26 thoughts on “Frustrated…and thoughts on being self-taught

  1. brendaintheboro says:

    please do not let mean spirited people pull you down. What does it matter that you are self taught – wasn’t everyone years ago. it takes passion to teach yourself , rather than sit in a class. Self teaching requires much more discipline . You are doing great , otherwise you wouldn’t have been employed. Go girl and do your thing

  2. sewlittletimeblog says:

    i agree that it doesn’t matter if you are self taught. think how many garments you have sewn in that time! i can see it from both sides – you are sewing for money and clients want everything to be perfect and least said about bridezillas the better! but the important thing is that you are still improving and understanding the areas you want to develop. big hugs for what sounds like a crappy day!

  3. All Patterns Heather (@KnitNBee) says:

    Hey baby, don’t feel down on yourself about being self taught. You are always trying to do your best and that’s what’s important. Even people with fancy degrees can’t be perfect 100% of the time. It’s just human nature.

    I do like your plans for fine tuning pattern because all of us can get better at something. It sounds like a fun way to work on your skills. Keep learning, keep growing and remember that you’re awesome.

  4. Sarah C says:

    You are amazing and your work is amazing!! I can tell you that even with a “fancy” degree I still get the same super harsh comments from customers. What I have found is that most don’t understand the mechanics behind construction and alterations like you and I do. Just because you have a degree doesn’t mean you are automatically great at what you do. You still have to have a passion and a drive to keep perfecting your skills otherwise you are dead in the water. You have that passion!! Don’t let go of it! Don’t let others diminish that drive in you!

  5. Elena Knits says:

    I’m so sorry to read this. Sadly there are a lot of cruel people not thinking twice about what they’re saying. You should not listen to them, but I know you do because you are a perfectionist, you never stop learning, you work hard, and never give up. But they are just ignorant, poor them. I’d be honored if you were making something for me. You are a mom but also so many more things. I became attracted to your blog because I liked what I saw, your ideas, your sewing and your nerd side. Don’t let anybody put you down, you’re far better than them. Un beso

  6. Andie W. says:

    I think the sting would still be there if you went to FIT in New York. It would just be supported by the ego of having all that education. But there are definitely different and better for you places to learn. You rock at sewing and fitting. There is nothing wrong with 9 years self-taught experience except that some jerks place more importance on institutionalized learning vs. on the job or experiential learning.

    I say develop an ego about your 9 years of experience and your on the job experience. If they use that tone, puff yourself up with that ego and be confident that you can do it.

    You rock.

  7. Splinters&Stitches says:

    Don’t let ignorant people get you down. If they could do it so much better, they wouldn’t be there heckling you. Self taught or no, you wouldn’t have gotten the job if your skills weren’t up to snuff. Keep doing your thing, girl, you are doing great! 🙂

  8. joostdecock says:

    Dude, some people are just dicks, don’t let it get to you. Then again, I totally get it though, the more you learn, the more you real I there’s so much further you have to go to reach that imaginary place where everything you do is perfect.
    For what it’s worth, I think you’re ace, and you are a great and inspiring seamstress.


  9. Karen Lyon says:

    Leila, self taught is not ignorant. You learn things the hard way (i.e. trial and error) why something will not work. The degrees come from being taught DESIGN, sewing is the finished product. Seamstresses and tailors are usually taught their trade in just such a shop as you are currently employed. There is a difference between the two fields. Don’t beat yourself up over some demanding biddy or idiotic young thing wanting Dior design for pennies. Check out “Fit for a Queen” blog, Mrs. Mole also alters bridal and formal wear for people who are so ignorant, they think you can produclet out 5 to 6 sizes worth of fabric from a quarter inch seam allowance. So try not to sweat the small stuff, and if some ignoramous is being nasty, be sweet as candy back, it makes them look like sob’s and gives you a modicom of your own back without descending to their level.

    Date: Fri, 29 Jan 2016 05:00:28 +0000 To:

  10. Tanit-Isis says:

    Bah, customers. Sewing professionally is such a mixed bag (and one of my historical costuming books has a quote from the 1700s saying the exact same thing) it’s bad enough making presents! 😉 I think almost ten years of working at your craft is enough of an apprenticeship for pretty much any job—but I totally understand the self-taught inferiority complex, too. 😉 it’s that eternal trick of trying to remember the good and let go of the bad, I guess, when somehow our brains always want to do the opposite. 😛

  11. maevef2014 says:

    You are doing a brilliant job Leila. Don’t mind a few grumps. Your determination is opening so many doors and your highly qualified boss obviously has faith in you. I am self taught and sewing more or less since I was 10 and until 6 months ago nearly hid this fact – since I started the fabric shop I have has loads of orders for dressmaking and am enjoying it and have more confidence in me now then I did doing the job I did for nearly 20 years with a degree and other qualifications. I’m sure I’ll meet a few dissatisfied customers and have days like yours but look at the big picture – we are happy in our work (& broke😣)..

  12. Becky says:

    I think we all tend to be hard on ourselves. I often feel like such an amateur, despite the fact that I was one of those kids who started sewing for Barbie and never stopped. There’s always room to grow and learn more in this craft, but for what it’s worth, I and many other people in this community think that your work is fantastic. Please, don’t let the Muggles get you down.

  13. prttynpnk says:

    Its so easy to point at flaws we see and forget that we don’t have a clue how to do it ourselves- I’m thinking about myself watching figure skating- from my den where a graceful landing involved not dropping my chips. But oh, I can roast those gals if their ankles wobble! We all need to turn our critic machine down sometimes and just appreciate good efforts and heart!

  14. Brooke says:


    First off, I don’t think 95% of the people I work with in film and theatre have fancy degrees (if they do, most times they aren’t using the degree they have). Skill is something you only learn by doing, and school rarely has time to teach that. I was just a theatre major who happened to know how to sew. That meant I was usually just the one pretending to know what I was doing. I don’t really feel like I learned anything until I started sewing professionally.

    I have felt like you on many occasions. And it’s usually when I am sewing for clients from home – people can be really mean! I’ve had a paycheck cancelled (which I was charged for) and multiple people not pay me in the end. I usually only know a client was happy when I don’t hear from them again, which in itself will make me start to worry and doubt I did a good enough job.

    I just have to constantly remind myself that if you’re doing things well, no one will notice. After all, you don’t think about movie editing or sound unless something is really terrible (costumes, hair & makeup either have to be spectacularly amazing or cringe-worthy to get any notice). Being invisible means a job well done. That’s why “behind-the-scenes” is such a perfect description.

    If you’re mostly having the negative experiences with people you are doing alterations for, you really need to ignore them (I know, easier said than done!). Alterations are a hell all their own and sometimes you just can’t make something perfect when you are starting with a garment that is just wrong to begin with. Add to that the personal taste and insecurities of a client, and you might just not have a chance to make someone happy.

    Please don’t doubt yourself! I’ve watched you grow by leaps and bounds in your sewing over the last few years, and believe me when I tell you that you’d be right up there with the people I’ve worked with the most! I may not live near enough to meet up for Starbucks, but you’ve got my number – call or text whenever you need to vent. Seriously! =)

  15. Linda of Nice dress! Thanks, I made it!! says:

    No matter what your education, trade or craft, whether university, tech, or self schooled, there will always be people in the world who think they know and can do better than you. I believe in doing my best, learning as many new things as I can, and being proud of what I have done! If your boss didn’t like your work you wouldn’t be there.

  16. Anne says:

    I have three degrees and they are NOTHING compared to the hours I have put into my practice. They are just letters that I put at the end of my name that provide credentials for the people who think they are important. Experience has been my best teacher; not the college degrees. People who are nasty to you are nasty to everyone and it is a reflection of their own self-importance and not about you. Your work is amazing, your blog is helpful to so many of us. Stay strong and remember that good and bad comments are all just feedback.

  17. oonaballoona says:

    brava to you for challenging yourself!!!! people are becoming less and less aware of what they put out into the world, in words and in effort. you’re amazing for wanting to put out your best.

  18. thetelltaletasha says:

    First of all, amazing post.
    I talk down to myself about my sewing and think that’s bad. I can’t imagine (right now) how it would feel to come from other people. I think it’s amazing that you put yourself out there to be challenged in that way. I admire that.

  19. sweetvanessaleigh says:

    Thank you for this. I have kept myself from pursuing sewing for others because of my fear of not being perfect. My fear of imperfect sewing and not being officially trained and self taught as well. My innate first response to your post was good for you! Don’t let those people get under your skin. It just makes me realize it is time for me to stop fearing criticism and sew for others. No one is perfect. And making mistakes is the only way you learn and improve! Thanks!

  20. vintage51 says:

    Reblogged this on and commented:
    I think the fact that you are working in a field in which you are completely self-taught is amazing!! Kudos to you. Obviously your employer recognized your talents. I worked in a flower shop for a few years and brides and their families can be some of the meanest people ever. No matter how many late hours you work slaving over a beautiful creation, they will pick it apart over every little perceived flaw. Keep up the great work, from what I have seen on your blog, you are incredibly talented. Cheers, Michele

  21. Eliz~ says:

    My daughter (she passed away) was a trained Beautician. Every client was a critic. Even the happy ones would say “well maybe next time you could do this.” argh.
    I am not trained in my profession and even after 31 years experience I’m the last asked for opinions.
    Life stinks………..a lot sometimes.
    Hug your babies make those Blazers and smile every time you see them! Your children are your best critics. ;o) I even smile when I see my youngest boys wearing elastic waist sweat pants I zipped off the machine in 30 minutes! They love them! And that makes me happy!
    I think you are amazing- no one is perfect. It’s just not possible.

    • Leila says:

      Thank you, again! Yeah, it’s true. No matter what. Everyone is a critic.

      My kids have definitely helped me see that creativity is what matters.

  22. kay says:

    Mean comments can be heard in every field, regadless whether you are an expert or a beginner. Some people are just plain mean. Your professional degrees are not a factor in determining how mean they get.

    Plus I don’t think fit is taught anywhere in regular design schools! So you are pretty much on your own learning that from books or courses meant for sewists. Kenneth King has a DVD called Smart Fitting … These are for from scratch garments.. He now also has a book “Smart Fitting Solutions” that teach the same concepts. Lynda Maynard has a craftsy video as well.

    For altering ready made clothes, Angela Wolf has some craftsy classes.

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