ask me: sewing skills and sewing time

Hello friends!

I hope you had a wonderful weekend. We enjoyed some warm, sunny weather, and yesterday S and I went looking for a hidden garden that we pass every day on the way to school and which didn’t even know existed. Meanwhile, S is so excited that she turns 12 tomorrow! She’s planned out the entire day, from bringing treats to school to going out for sushi and ice cream after her ballet and flamenco classes. Our favorite chocolatier is even making something special for her, so we’ve promised to stop by and see him in the evening. It should be a fun day.

Today’s Ask Me questions comes from Cherie, who emailed with three queries:

1) What do you recommend for somebody who wants to go from an advanced beginner to an intermediate seamstress? I want to go from basic sewing, sewing skirts, knit tops, etc. to more advanced stuff. Any ideas on how to go about it?

My best advice here is to practice and read or take classes to help you along.

If you’re strategic about your planning your sewing, you can tackle a few new skills with each new project you tackle. For example, we’ve developed a sewing syllabus to help you along. (It really needs to be updated to include a lot of our newer patterns, which I will do as soon as I can find the time.)

Try new things, ask lots of questions (our discussion forum can be really helpful for this), and take your time. If you rush through a project you won’t learn as much from it as you would if you take your time. For example, I’ve decided to make a Chanel-style jacket using the Claire Shaeffer book and one of her Vogue patterns. This is going to be a long project because it uses a lot of couture methods that take time and are quite new to me, so I’m tackling it one tiny step at a time. There’s no way I’ll finish in a week, or even a month, especially given the small amount of free time I have for sewing. But I know I’ll learn a lot of new skills if I take my time. (Which reminds me that I need to finish sewing my muslin!)

I also really like to read old articles in the Threads archive DVD, which is well worth the price and will give you access to articles on almost any sewing-related topic you can imagine. You’ll get all sorts of great tips from this amazing resource. And finally, don’t get discouraged! Not everything will turn out as you had hoped, but it’s part of the learning process. The more you experiment, the more confidence you’ll gain.

2) What is a typical day for you like and how do you fit in your personal sewing?

So much has changed for me since we moved from New York and I gave up my studio. It took a few months to find a good work schedule, but now that I’m working from home I find that it’s important for me to exercise in the morning almost every day (a combination of running, yoga, and ballet barre) before I sit down to work. Otherwise I feel like I never leave the house and am chained to my desk!

Some days I spend most of my time at the computer writing instructions, drawing illustrations, formatting patterns, answering email, and writing blog posts. Other days I stay as far away from the computer as I can while I’m drafting patterns, sewing samples, and taking photos. My job has so many different tasks that change depending on where I am in the development cycle, so each day is a little different than the last.

Most of my fun sewing happens on the weekends, when I might trace a pattern (like I did this weekend), cut out fabric, or do a little sewing. Once I have a project cut out and ready to go, I might sew a seam or two at night when I’m waiting for S to finish her homework or her violin practicing, but I try not to get very involved in my own sewing during the week because it tends to distract from whatever I’m working on at the time. (Also, there’s just no time!) But sometimes it can be difficult not to get sucked into a project because I get excited about whatever I’m making!

3) How do you stay so slim? 🙂

Ha, ha! See answer 2, above. I really need exercise to feel good, and I like to push myself pretty hard. This year I’m focusing on Ashtanga yoga (first and second series), which is very challenging. I’m also really careful about what I eat and do a lot of cooking with strong focus on fresh fruits and vegetables, which is easy here in Madrid where we have wonderful markets. We’re not vegetarian, but I cook mostly vegetarian just out of personal preference. But chocolate and an occasional burger are always a temptation. Keep in mind that we walk everywhere here, and when you live someplace where you’re constantly active it’s easier to manage your weight, I think.

Thanks for your questions, Cherie! You can find the entire Ask Me series here, and if you have a question you’d like to submit just email it to and I’ll add it to the queue. I’ll be aiming to answer your questions on the last Monday of every month. Next month we’ll talk about fabric selection and pattern mixing.



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  1. This was fun to read! I didn’t actually realize you did so many of the jobs related to pattern design. I guess I assumed you had a team of people formatting instructions, doing the sample sewing, and taking photos now that your business has grown. The variety makes the job much more fun though!

    1. We’ve actually shrunk our business so we could move to Spain! But yes, I do almost everything related to pattern development. I like it that way, and it’s what I’m good at. I’d rather do it than supervise other people doing it, which doesn’t seem like much fun.

  2. Cherie

    Thank you, Liesl for answering my questions. It was fun to read, and I so appreciate the encouragement you gave me in amping up my sewing skills!!

  3. Martha

    I have been following you for years and had no idea you were an ashtangi. I am so pleased and happy, but I’m not exactly sure why! I love your designs, patterns/explanations, and blog posts. Best!

  4. Fiona

    Happy Birthday, S!!! And many happy returns. Sounds like a marvellous day is planned.


  5. Wanda Quist

    Has anyone made this beautiful coat B6423 in a size 16? I would love to see a picture of a plus size model wearing this coat to see if it’s practical for me.

  6. Diane

    I would like to make some bags to store some folding wood dining room chairs with cushioned seats (33″H X 17″W x 5″ D). I am thinking of something simple with a fold over flap with velcro. I guess that I will need boxed corners. Any suggestions on how to sew it and what fabric you would use? I have intermediate sewing skills.

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