A Look Back: 2021 Sewing Top 5

It seems like a lot of the annual wrap-up posts have just barely started happening (at the time of writing), so maybe the Sewing Top 5 isn’t as much of a community thing as it used to be, especially now that the Sewcialists have retired. Last year I didn’t really do any sort of proper wrap-up sewing post for the year, whereas in 2019 I went all out with graphs and charts and images… So this year might be sort of an in-between. Not a nothing… but also probably not the all out sewing analysis extravaganza that was 2019.

Anyway, I did actually manage to do more sewing things than I realized this year, so let’s hop in to the review:

Sewing Output

In 2021 I made:

  • 5 Tops
  • 2 Pants
  • 0 Jumpsuit
  • 0 Skirts
  • 0 Dress
  • 0 Coats/Jackets/Capes
  • 0 Sweaters/Cardigans
  • 0 Athletic Gear
  • 2 Sleepwear
  • 0 Costumes/Cosplay
  • 2 Accessory
  • 0 Home Dec/Crafts
  • (2) Refashion

TOTAL: 12 Items

Twelve isn’t a terribly large amount of garments, but I will say that I did put in a lot of work to get out garments that I enjoy and largely wear. So, I’m ok with the quantity being less because I know the quality of what I’ve made is a lot higher than in the past. It’s a trade-off I’m willing to make at this point, especially since there really wasn’t a lot of places to go and wear a lot of things anyway.

Pattern Brands I used in 2021:

  • 1 Burda (Non-Magazine)
  • 5.5 BurdaStyle Magazine
  • 0 Butterick
  • 0 McCall’s
  • 0 Vogue
  • 0 KwikSew
  • 1 Simplicity
  • 0 New Look
  • 1 My Image Magazine
  • 1 Patrones Magazine
  • 1.5 Other

Obviously, BurdaStyle Magazine (and the other non-magazine Burda patterns) are still my go-to when it comes to choosing sewing patterns, though I did dip into some of my other stash patterns as well. I think Patrones might surprisingly be gaining on Burda though – most of my recent sewing plans have been from their pattern collection, and none of my Burda patterns have been chosen from any of the magazines this year. I actually hit quite a range of Burda’s, pulling designs from 2004, 2006, 2009, and 2017. I have often said that 2004-2014 were the golden years, and I maintain that assessment (though I will also admit that there have been good individual issues up through 2020; for me, 2021 is a bit of a different story).

Top 5 Skills Acquisitions

Hmmm… this something of a challenging category for me, because I don’t feel like I was intentionally pushing my personal skills much this year. But I think we learn something from every project, so I’m sure there are a few things…

(5) Hand Sewing. It’s not exactly that I didn’t hand sew before, but I will say I made more of a conscious effort to learn about different hand sewing stitches and when to use hand sewing as opposed to machine sewing for different situations. I think I still need to practice more, but I am definitely growing to appreciate hand sewing more than I have in the past.

(4) Fit Alterations. Although I would say I have a big fail rate with pattern alterations, I also think I’ve had some big successes as well. I think I’m finally at a point of accepting just how many alterations I need from a printed pattern, and I’m also able to make that assessment before doing as many test garments, though this too comes from trial and errors this year. I do think we learn more from failure than success, so I think that many of my failures in fit alterations also means I have learned a lot and that it can still be part of my skill acquisitions this year.

(3) Embroidery Digitizing. I have resumed my online classes, and have practiced on a few sample projects. I also took a commissioned project to make some patches, which included rather small Chinese lettering. I was super pleased with how these turned out, and I definitely think it was a “level up” moment when I was able to fix the pull compensation issues that were leading to bad registration in the initial design.

(2) Pattern Drafting. My self-drafted pants pattern turned out so well! I’ve ordered a few drafting textbooks so I can maybe push this skill more in the new year.

(1) Patience while Teaching Sewing. I’ve been helping my sister learn to sew. She’s very different from me in terms of temperament, and much more likely to rage-quit a project. Helping her learn to use the sewing machine and think through steps of a process has led to her having a new dress that she sewed herself! She also has made a new skirt that she wears a lot, though I did help her quite a bit with the finishing techniques. It’s weird to think how many skills I have acquired over the years (zippers, buttons, seam finishes, etc.) that she is just starting to learn. But I think she is finding new uses for her skills and is starting to understand what parts of sewing she enjoys vs. what she doesn’t. There has been a lot of patience required in the teaching, rather than just saying “let me do it myself,” but it has been a good experience and a good reminder of how many skills go into making clothes!

Top 5 Sewcializing Events

I didn’t think I’d done a lot of “sewcializing” this year, but actually I can think of enough events to fill out my top 5:

(5) Interacting on blogs and social media. I’ve generally stopped posting on Instagram, but I’ve still been reading a lot of blogs and enjoying interacting with everyone who comments here. It’s nice to know that, pandemic or no, this type of communication and community interaction hasn’t changed.

(4) Embroidery webinar hosted by Sewstine. This was a great webinar to see how she researches and digitizes historical embroidery designs to create her amazing embroidered costumes and accessories. Even though it was a remote webinar, it still felt really cool to be part of the audience.

(3) Color seminar hosted by Rene from Miss Celie’s Pants and her sewing guild. It was really great to be part of even an online event with other sewists that I’ve followed for years. It was just after I got my second COVID shot, so I was sort of dying in bed during the presentation and not looking so fabulous on video as many of the other presenters, but it was still super fun to be part of the group!

(2) Pattern Review Sewing Bee! I love the Bee even though this year it really was a struggle for me in terms of timing and challenges. I made it to the second round, which started the day I got my first COVID shot, and I barely finished my jeans up-cycle project in time. It was honestly for the best that I didn’t advance, but I really enjoyed seeing what everyone made who did, and I really enjoy participating on the message boards for that contest.

(1) Sewing days with my sister! It’s been super fun to have another seamstress/crafter in the family, and to plan projects and talk about sewing patterns and sewing plans. I hope she continues to enjoy sewing and that this can be a shared hobby for many years to come!

Top 5 Misses

Since I’ve only made 11 things this year there isn’t going to be much of a margin of error between the top 5 and bottom 5 (though one of them was a collection of more face masks, so I don’t think that really counts). So really I think this is more of a ranking of items from worst to best for this year, and some reflections about why something might be in the top or bottom.

(5) Mini-Wardrobe My Image M1464. I think this top had a lot of potential to be great, and in theory fills a wardrobe need, but it really ended up being a fabric fail. The grey knit just doesn’t have enough stretch for a top and would have been much better as a sleeveless sheath dress or pencil skirt, where a bit more structure is desired. I think the pattern was ok, though honestly the fit was not as good as many of my Burda patterns for similar tops. I never reach for this top and doubt I’ll be wearing it often in the future either unless I lose some weight and it becomes oversized on me because it’s just not comfortable.

(4) My white lace Burda top. This top was made to wear under a blazer, and I actually do really like it in that context, but I don’t find that I’d wear it in any other way. It’s really not my favorite shape, and I’m not a huge fan of sleeveless tops on me. The construction is quite good and I live the fabric, but overall it’s just never going to be a wardrobe favorite.

(3) The Sewing Bee PJ pants. The only reason these are so low is because the elastic waistband stretched out and I haven’t had the desire to replace it in a fabric in which it is going to be such a pain to unpick stitches. Since I didn’t get a lot of wear before the elastic died, I can’t really put this garment higher on the list.

(2) The Sewing Bee PJ top. I still love the colors and the design, but I don’t really love sleeping in this sort of polyester fabric? I think this would have been fun for like a New Year’s pajama party where there could have been a reason to wear “dressy” PJs, but I don’t find myself wearing to actually sleep in. Probably I would have felt different if I had used real silk, but it’s hard to know as I’ve never had silk pajamas before either.

(1) The Mr. Darcy white shirt. This is another case of a fabric fail. I love the style, but the fabric is just so thin that you really can almost see through the shirt, and it wrinkles like crazy, which is not ideal for traveling. I haven’t worn this top much, but I do have plans to make another version in a more opaque fabric, which could hopefully lead to a more favored version in the future.

Top 5 Hits

My top 5 sewing hits are really just a completion of the countdown started in my sewing misses. I will say that my #1 hit for this year is definitely something that will be a long-time wardrobe favorite though, so that’s super exciting!

(5) My sewing Bee jeans up-cycling jeans! Even though I didn’t advance after making this project, I am still really proud of being able to make a whole pair of re-purposed denim jeans in a week, especially while feeling the effects of my first COVID shot. These jeans are certainly a look, but I totally wore them around for several months after making them. I’ve since got some more mild jeans which have become my go-to running an errand pants, but I still pull these out once in a while. I’m still really proud of the pockets and topstitching details which aren’t so obvious from the distance shots, but really make me pleased with the sewing skills and techniques I put into the construction.

(4) My knit white top from my white shirt summer. I haven’t had a lot of occasion to wear this top yet, but I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. I really like the neckline and cut-on sleeves, and the draped fabric. I think I’d really love to modify a version and make it in a different color that I’d be more likely to wear the rest of the year.

(3) My Sewing Bee jeans up-cycling hat! This is honestly a surprise third for me because I’m not exactly a “hat person” but I really do love this hat. The shape is cool and I really liked being able to re-purpose old denim for this challenge. It’s gotten a surprising amount of wear.

(2) My blue Simplicity 3536. This is a bit of a cheat because it’s a pattern I’ve sewn before, though not this particular view. I seem to go back to this pattern continually when I need something quick and satisfying, and it always seems to deliver. I haven’t worn this top a ton, but mostly because I haven’t been going a lot of places that warrant this sort of a blouse. I hope it’ll get more use in the new year though.

(1) My “Better Late Than Never” pants! Because these were a mash up from a long-planned Burda trouser pattern and my self-drafted pants block, the fit is amazing and they are soooooo comfortable. It was a bit sad that I missed having them ready for the Pattern Review trouser contest deadline, but I am still so happy with this project despite that. I have been on a hybrid remote schedule for work, and more often than not these are my work in the office pants. I love the fabric, I love the fit, and I love that everything came from deep stash materials. for construction. I’ve worn them a lot and I’d love to make another pair or two.

Top 5 Reflections

Well, since I did my decade retrospective series, Sew, Wear Are They Now this year, I think I actually did a lot of reflection about my style and sewing habits and sewing goals. Now that it’s been a few months since wrapping up that series, I definitely have a few thoughts heading into the new year.

(5) I really only wear comfortable clothes. I just don’t have the time or patience to put up with fussy garments anymore. Anything too tight, low, or scratchy is just not going to cut it. It probably means a higher “fail” rate than I’d like, and it for sure means that I have a lot of old dream sewing goals that I need to abandon, but it’s definitely a useful insight for planning future projects.

(4) I don’t need as many clothes as I think I do. Or at least, I don’t need that many clothes yet. It seems that delta and then omicron have continued to make the pandemic a thing, and my on-site vs. work-from-home status is in constant flux, and likely will continue to be so at least through part of 2022. So, my mid-year stress about lacking return to work clothing hasn’t really come to fruition, and I think I can get a few more garments sewn before we get to that point.

(3) I have too much fabric. I mean, ok, sure. This isn’t really a revelation, but I do think that I need to really make more of an effort to off-load some of it in the next year. I have more than I’m legitimately able to sew, and at this point I’ve got a much more refined personal color palette. I’d love to be able to sew my stash down to a manageable level, but, the reality is I should probably look at faster means of reducing the volume of fabrics in my life.

(2) I should focus on sewing with higher quality fabrics. Now, this statement needs a lot of qualifiers as “high quality” doesn’t necessarily mean “expensive.” Additionally, this is only a note to self and not a general commandment for sewing people in general. This is also in no way meant to be gatekeeper-y; of course you should sew with what you can afford and what makes you happy. However, when we consider the crossroads of time, money, and skill, I think I’ve reached a bit of a turning point. At the start of my sewing journey, I had a lot more time, but a lot less skill or money. I had a fear of “wasting” good fabrics on bad projects, so I sewed with a lot of cheaper materials somewhat intentionally. It was good, because it let me experiment and learn new skills in a low-stakes way. But when I look at my sewing projects this year, the majority of fails come from fabric choice. At this point, I’m generally pretty happy with my construction, and now that I have a “grown-up job” I’m not as stressed about money. I’m definitely in a very different place than I was a decade ago, which I suppose is to be expected. But it also means that since my limited resource now is time, I should focus my time on making things that I really love and want to wear. Life is too short – I need to use the good fabric.

(1) I need to have a mix of serious and fun sewing projects. I mean, sure, they should all be “fun.” But I think having a mix of things that are more basic and a few projects that are more fanciful is important to keep me interested in the hobby. I get my sewjo from planning wild and fun projects, and if I’m just churning out practical garments, I’m not really inspired to plan more projects. However, if I just make a bunch of things I never have an occasion to use, it doesn’t really lead to much satisfaction either, and results in a lot of wasted materials and effort to little purpose. Finding the right balance of projects is important. I don’t think I’ve quite done it in 2021, but I have a few crafting projects I’ve been planning over the holiday break that I’m really excited about heading into 2022, so this has definitely kicked up my sewjo for the next year.

Top 5 Goals from 2020: How’d I Do?

Well, I didn’t really have any sewing goals in 2020. Honestly, I think just “surviving” was the goal from 2020, so we can check that off at least. So I think it might be more insightful to take a look back at my 2019 goals, since 2020 and 2021 really feel like some sort of weird mashed together year anyway. I did finish some of these goals last year, but not most of them, so let’s see how things went in 2021:

(5) “Finish the Forever UFO. If I don’t manage to finish it by the end of 2019, then I really want to get it done in 2020!” I actually did this in 2020 and noted it in last year’s year end review – go me!

(4) “Keep up with blog reading/community events. I’ve fallen behind and it really feels like I’m missing out on the things my friends are doing. I need to get back into the habit of blog reading again because I really miss know what is up in the sewing community!” I feel like last year I started blog reading more and that has continued into this year. I try to make sure to catch up weekly or at least monthly with my favorite blogs on Feedly. I don’t always comment as much as I’d like, but it’s fun to see who’s still sewing and what they are making.

(3) “Learn 1 new sewing skill. I’m leaning towards garment drafting or corset making. I have access to Bluprint, so I’d really like to pick a topic and hard-core watch some of the classes on there to learn a new sewing skill in 2020.” I’m going to consider this a 2021 win! I haven’t watched as much Craftsy Bluprint Craftsy as I’d like, but I did draft my own trouser block, and I’ve got some new books and tools to go further in that direction. I don’t think I’m skilled by any means, but I think at least one successful project does mean that I’ve at least learned something of a new skill. So this one gets a check mark.

(2) “Keep working on expanding skills from my 2019 goals. I think I did pretty well on starting a lot of the goals I had in 2019, but I think they were sort of open ended goals, so I still have a lot more I can do moving forward, especially in terms of learning more about digitizing embroidery designs, photo taking, and stash organizing!” I think this one is definitely more of an “ongoing project” but, I think my digitizing skills have increased this year, so it gets another check mark. There are, of course, always going to be more things to learn and do, but I will take this win where I can get it!

(1) “Sew more garments for myself than in 2019. I only sewed 4 things, so hopefully this is do-able! Really, I feel like I’m pushing back my goals from the Sew Your Kibbe challenge to the new year, but that’s ok because my goals for the new year are the same – sew myself a wardrobe that’s going to work for me!” So, in 2020 this was a fail. By the end of the year I’d finished the UFO, and made 2 other garments, and a lot of random projects and crafts for others. Oh, and face masks. So many face masks. This year, I’m happy to report this is much higher! All 11 of my sewn projects this year were for me, with only teaching/technical sewing support on two other projects for my sister. This is such an improvement over the past few years, and I think is really contributing to me feeling excited about sewing again.

So, ok, maybe it took me 2 years, and not 1 year to meet all of these goals, but they did happen, and somewhat organically. I think that means these were good goals, even if COVID did delay some of them from happening when I wanted…

Top 5 Goals for 2022

I’m feeling hopeful for 2022, and I’ve actually completed my 2019 sewing goals, so I thought it was time to make a new list:

(5) More nerdcrafting. I haven’t really done too many projects that were related to fandoms in the past few years, and I think this needs to change. Either fandom related crafts or cosplay projects would fit in this category. I have so many ideas for Wheel of Time related sewing goals, so hopefully some of these projects will come to my cutting table soon.

(4) More digitizing. I’d like to be able to finish the online courses I’ve bought, so that I can increase my digitizing skills, hopefully making the process faster and easier, with fewer wasted test-stitches. I’d also like to share more of my digitizing process on the blog if I use embroidery more in upcoming projects.

(3) Complete more of my planned sewing projects, especially from the mini-wardrobe plans that I never completed. I’ve had the fabric pilled and ready, and so many of the patterns traced, and I still really want to make a lot of the garments that I planned for this project.

(2) Sew a new wool coat. All of my previous wool coats are in that “slightly too small” category, and while we don’t really have winter in the same way that other places have winter, it’s still good to have one nice warm coat. I’ve got fabric and a pattern and plans, I just need to make it happen.

(1) Sew a button-front shirt. This has really been my white whale of a project. Every time I’ve tried to find a pattern and adjust it in the past (and by “past” I mean as far back as 2012), it hasn’t gone well. I’ve stalled, stewed, and eventually moved on to a different project. I did the same in 2021, when I tried to find a good starting pattern for a button-down blouse, but eventually moved on to a simple knit top. But for 2022 I say – not again! I have drafting powers now, and even if I can’t find a good starting point using a commercial pattern, maybe I don’t need one if I have a book with good instructions.

2021 Final Thoughts

I feel like I came into 2021 feeling so defeated, that really everything that came out of it was such a positive surprise. I did more selfish sewing than I’ve done in years, and I really think I’ve gone back to a place where I can enjoy the process and not just the results. Granted, my sewing has definitely been in fits and spurts, and I largely haven’t had any progress since mid-fall, but I’m still happy with what I was able to learn and make this year. I don’t think this is “the best” year in sewing for me, but it’s also definitely not the worst. I think that it’s been a good year to reflect, assess, and make strides towards learning new things, even if not at the pace I would have liked. I think I’m leaving 2021 in a better place than I left 2020, and for that I am very happy and grateful.

10 thoughts on “A Look Back: 2021 Sewing Top 5

  1. This is such an interesting read! Super impressed with all the learning and techniques you’re exploring 🙂 and I would love to come along for a coat sewing series of blog posts, if you choose to go that route. I’ve found that I don’t really count the small wins, like a t-shirt or baby stuff I make for friends, but I really enjoy the fit and fabric of the things I make myself, thinking about the “good fabric life” and I’m all here for it 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I always enjoy your posts, and this one is no exception! You have done well, and those pants look amazing!! 🙂 I’m curious what embroidery machine you have – I have two Brothers, a 1-needle and a 10-needle. I’m also curious which digitizing course you bought, and what software you have. I paid for a course for my software (DIME) from The Embroidery Legend, but I haven’t done a single lesson. :-/ I have taken on a few jobs that required digitizing, and I paid a company to do it and passed the cost on to my client. Lazy perhaps, but she didn’t mind!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have a Janome 500E single needle machine. No room/money for a multi-needle right now, but it would be amazing to have one eventually. I bought the Digitizing Made Easy course – I’ve done level 1, and so far it’s really good. I use the Embrilliance software because (1) it runs native on a Mac and (2) I could buy it piecemeal, so I could afford upgrading over several years. I’ve sent out some complex designs for digitizing, but I did a recent commission from a co-worker and I am so happy how it turned out I’m sort of addicted now, even though digitizing takes a looooong time when you have something complex like Chinese lettering.


      1. That is great! Glad to hear a good review on the course – I really need to do mine!! I can definitely see me getting to a place where I like digitizing more than doing the embroidery! 😂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Always lovely to see what you have been sewing. A very thoughtful and detailed analysis of your makes and goals.
    There won’t be a post of this depth or coherence on my blog 🙂 so thank you for yours!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Loved reading your analytical post. About the stretched out PJ elastic…. have you tried sport elastic? It has channels that you can sew through and it springs back perfectly. No need to unpick the waistband. I would cut the old waistband off just below the elastic, make an elastic waistband separately and sew it on to the pjs waistline. Not sure if my suggestion is clear but I’ve done it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I love reading year wrapup posts, and while I wasn’t planning to do one myself as I’ve had so little blogging opportunity this year, I think perhaps you’ve inspired me. I could pretty much cut-and-paste your reflections as I’ve had similar realisations, although I expect my fabric stash probably isn’t as big as yours!

    Here’s to 2022 being a year of fun and useful sewing!

    Liked by 1 person

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