Saturday, March 19, 2016

What to include in a sewing tutorial

I am an avid consumer of free online sewing tutorials.  I have over a thousand of them pinned, and I have sewed well over a hundred of them (at least in my estimation).  These tutorials basically taught me to sew, and the tips and tricks included in them helped me hone my craft.  I adore how bloggers are so generous with their time and creativity as to publish these tutorials for free, and that certainly inspired me when I created my own tutorials to share.

Some tutorials, however, are written better than others.  Those tutorials include certain pertinent pieces of information without which any sewing project can fail.  It feels slightly creepy to criticize other bloggers' hard work -- especially work done without any expectation of remuneration or critique -- and I certainly don't mean to indicate that anyone has written a "bad" tutorial by not including the following information.  That being said, here is what I have found to be extremely helpful in a sewing tutorial.

1.  FINISHED DIMENSIONS, or at the very least a photo of the finished project with another identifiable object next to it for scale.  For every tutorial that neglects to include this information, there is always someone commenting on the post requesting the dimensions.

  • FABRIC -- the more specific, the better.  It doesn't help to just write "fabric".  That's obvious.  Virtually all sewing projects need a certain type of fabric, though.  You're not going to make a zipper pouch using tulle, and you're not going to sew a blouse using duck cloth.  If bulk is an issue in the project, recommend a lighter weight quilting cotton so the reader doesn't get 3/4 of the way through the tutorial only to find that denim isn't going to work.  If you truly believe that the weight and type of fabric doesn't matter, then say that too.  
  • NOTIONS -- listing something like "sewing machine" is probably not necessary, but being detailed in the exact size of grommet or size of D-ring will help when a reader is trying out a tutorial for the first time.  Not everyone needs to know the exact brand of elastic being used, but it helps to know the width, type, etc.  If it is a specialty notion, including a link to a place to buy it or showing a photo of the packaging helps a reader find it in the store (or online).  
3.  SEAM ALLOWANCE.  Whether it is a notation at the top stating "use 1/2" seam allowance throughout" or an indication within the directions of what seam allowance is needed at a particular step, this is a crucial piece of information.  It does make a huge difference whether you use a 1/4" or a 1/2" seam allowance.  Even if the finished product isn't a garment with fit issues, different seam allowances can cause very varying results in terms of finished dimensions, and the pieces may not fit together correctly.  Sometimes I am searching to make a bag or pouch in an exact size to hold a particular item.  If my finished product isn't big enough because I had to guess at the seam allowance, it's going to be a huge bummer.  I can usually guess that if the tutorial came from a blogger who likes to quilt, she will likely mean that a 1/4" seam allowance is necessary.  For non-quilting bloggers, seam allowances can sometimes be as wide as 5/8" (which just seems ridiculous, but I guess this is common with garments?).

4.  INTERFACING.  It is NOT helpful to simply indicate that "interfacing" is necessary.  There is quite a wide range of weights and types of interfacing.  There is a huge difference between featherweight and ultra heavyweight interfacing.  Give at least a weight designation -- lightweight, medium weight, ultra heavyweight, etc.  Better yet, give the brand and number designation for the interfacing (i.e., Pellon 70).  What Pellon calls heavyweight interfacing might be different from what you consider to be "heavyweight", so it's not a bad idea to get as specific as possible.  The awesome thing about blogs is that they are accessible to and read by people all over the world.  Differences in terminology can happen across cultures and languages, and it's easier to try and find the equivalent of what the tutorial author calls "lightweight" if I also know the brand and number designation for the type of interfacing used.  

5.  ORIENTATION OF PRINT.  Sometimes the original tutorial uses fabric without a directional print.  That's totally cool.  However, if I want to use a directional print for the project I need to know which way it should be facing on each piece cut for the pattern.  It's extremely frustrating (and wasteful) to later find I have to recut the fabric with a different orientation so the print won't be upside down or sideways in the finished product. 

6.  PHOTOS.  Virtually all online tutorials include photos, but I can't make a list of the necessary aspects of a tutorial without adding this to the list.  I especially appreciate the sewing tutorials that have photos at critical stages in the process so I can compare my real life project to the author's project at the same stage of development.  This helps with troubleshooting and gives me a strong sense of security.  I never could have taught myself to sew using only written directions!

All that being said, it is fun to see the different styles people have when drafting tutorials -- what information he/she deems pertinent and just how many assumptions are made about sewing knowledge.  I probably explain too much in some of my tutorials, but I'm always imagining my audience to be like me -- bumbling my way through learning to sew, one tutorial at a time.  To be honest, a lot of the reason I write my tutorials is to record for myself how I made an item, but most of the reason is to give back to the sewing community that taught me so much!


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