Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Are blog tutorials to be trusted?

Just recently, I have stumbled upon a comment on one sewing blog that made me think about the quality of sewing tutorials, so abundant in the sewing blogosphere.

But first, the disclaimer: I realize, I may upset a few people by quoting a part of the comment here, but I hope the majority of you will agree that it is actually a positive thing because it triggers interesting debates on relevant issues.

Anyway, here is the quote:
It only annoys me because of the many examples of tutorials that are really popular but frankly really ill-informed. And it guts me that people searching for a tutorial on how to do something may latch onto one of these - and think it is a good way to do it when it is harder, less accurate, or otherwise flawed - simply because of who wrote it or how many hits it had had.
So, on the one hand, I agree - there are a few not-so-great tutorials, on the other hand, I think, blog readers should be aware that blog tutorials are nothing else but the author’s way to do it – try it or leave it.

Here are some clues that help me use blog tutorials successfully:

1. Check out the final result

Honestly, I have never had a problem with online tutorials. For example, I saw several ones on hand-worked buttonholes – some had more information, others were basic… But what really counted for me was the final result. Did I like the buttonhole? If yes – I tried to follow the writer’s instructions. It didn’t work out even after some practice? I did more research. 

2. Compare several tutorials, on blogs or in books

One thing I always do is look at several tutorials on the same topic and compare. With my buttonholes, I achieved the best results combining three sources, Jeffery D.’s video tutorial, Cutter & Tailor forum info, and Paco Peralta’s tutorial on his blog (the links)

3. Look for personal experience

I also feel that even if the tutorial is less accurate, you will very likely find some invaluable personal experience that makes blog tutorials so different from sewing books instructions. 

4. Look for references.

References to additional resources are always a good sign - for me, it is an indication that the writer made a research and compared different ways to do something.  

Finally, we are all learning by doing, right? I appreciate the time bloggers invest into tutorial writing, whether good or bad. So, even if I didn't like something, I would always come back and check new tutorials by the same person. 

Post factum edit :-) I also wanted to add that, sometimes, it is the blogger personality, his or her wit, or the garment they made, that inspire a reader to try out a technique - I think this makes blogs a very educative medium that helps spread the word about the craft we all love!

So, readers, what do you think about blog tutorials? Are they to be trusted? What makes a good tutorial for you? Which bloggers out there would you recommend for well-written and thoroughly researched tutorials? 

Ok, having said all of that, there is a tutorial in making on Chanel faux bound buttonholes :-) It is actually more of a review of Claire Shaeffer's technique... I will try to post it tonight, kids permitting ;-)


  1. *Sigh of relief*

    From the general description of the comment, I thought you were referring to one that I recently made on a blog in which I said that home sewers annoyed me when they posted mediocre work without acknowledging that it was mediocre and posted "tutorials" on something that they'd learned only the day before.

    (I'm not talking about your buttonhole posts. Hand worked buttonholes are notoriously difficult and you were showing examples, not tutorials as such. As I wrote on the other blog, we can all learn from mistakes, but let's acknowledge they're mistakes. It is, however, helpful to see the right (or one of the right) way to do something.)

    I also took issue with a statement the blog writer made saying she preferred sewing bloggers who don't make a distinction between experts and amateurs. That's complete nonsense. People who are true experts and professionals have spent years developing their skills, as well as studying things like drawing, anatomy, art history and many other things related to garment construction or the fashion industry that nonprofessionals simply don't have the time to learn. In terms of teaching techniques, of course they are better, assuming they are good teachers to begin with. The interesting thing is technique is not the same thing as design sense. I've had some very good teachers who I would never let pick out prints or colors for me. :-)

    Back to tutorials: I've seen online tutorials offered by people with book deals and recently picked-up sewing opportunities who knew less than I do. Who put up work illustrating techniques that looked liked they'd tried the technique the day before. I really don't like this idea of people teaching things that they haven't mastered, especially if there's some financial motive. Sorry if that's "old school."

    Your criteria for judging the value of tutorials are good. I generally approach anything by a home sewer with some caution, although some are excellent. For tutorials, here are some sites I like:

    Otis College of Art and Design
    (Good, basic, clear tutorials)

    Mike Maldonado
    (Shirtmaking tutorials, some of which are free)

    Made by Hand: The Great Sartorial Debate
    (Jeffery Diduch's tutorials are excellent. Of course, he's an professional, so he needs to make a living and can't post them very often.)

    Cutterandtailor.com often has excellent instructions, if not video tutorials. Again, professionals only have so much time.

    I've never tried them, but these draping tutorials by Académie de Poitiers look good. They're in French, but they're very clear. I learned about them from The Sewing Divas.

    It's not free, but Claire Shaeffer's Couture Basics Workshop DVD is very helpful. At the very least, it shows things I haven't seen demonstrated elsewhere.

    Even excellent advice can conflict and be overwhelming if you have no foundation or direction. There's also no substitute for having someone experienced observe what you're doing. I try to take classes taught by bona fide experts or work with private teachers who have graduated from excellent fashion design schools and who often have lots of experience post-graduation.

  2. i think your guidelines are really sensible, marina. it's like all online research--you have to come into it with intelligence and experience and make your own judgement on how reliable the information turns out to be.

    i also completely agree that the blogger's own end result and personal experience are big advantages of tutorial posts--they are not trying to show that their way is the best way or only way, but trying to share their learning process with others who might be interested. each of us can decide for ourselves which posts we enjoy, or trust, or want to try out, and which ones don't work for us. it's one of the great benefits of being part of a growing and exciting online community.


  3. In addition to those already mentioned here is my listed of sewing geeks to be trusted :
    Ann Rowley moderates the stitcher's guild forum and has a great flickr stream :
    You must read her pearl of wisdom too :
    Tany has created a page on her blog listing all her tutorials, enjoy : http://tanysewsandknits.blogspot.com/p/tutorials-english.html
    You'll find interesting stuff here if you are looking for tailoring knowledge : http://coatsewalong.blogspot.com/
    Deutsch blogger Sigrid has created a blog displaying many tutorials from other blogs : http://www.sewingtutorials.blogspot.com/
    Debbie Cook is great if you are looking for all sorts of full bust alterations : http://stitchesandseams.blogspot.com/2001/02/tutorials.html
    Hope you'll find what you need in those links

  4. Ups I forgot to mention Kathleen Fasanella invaluable Fashion Incubator. I love her and her knowledge.

  5. Good post!

    Last winter/spring I was struggling to make my first successful welt pocket. I consulted ALL of my sewing books, but couldn't seem to get a non-puckered pocket. What finally worked for me was the method in Gorgeous Ann's tutorial (gorgeousfabrics.com). I have also used tutorials by Trena (theslapdashsewist.blogspot.com/) and Sherry of Pattern Scissors Cloth (buzzybeesworld.blogspot.com) with success.

    Often, I find that a blog tutorial will have more step-by-step photos than a book, which I find helpful (I'm guessing this is a budgetary issue). But I think that you hit the nail on the head about being discriminating about your source.

  6. @ Browser I am so happy you elaborated on the comment and thanks for posting these great resources, I haven't heard of the first two and the last one!

  7. Kids always have the best reaction in front of a candy bowl. They will pick the ones they like and savour them. They will after pick the ones they might like, try them carefully and spit ;-) the ones that do not pass the test. This is exactly how I react with tutorials, I check out my favourites, if they never wrote something about the techniques I am looking for, I search further, test, compare and test with books I have, to finally make my choice. My favourite source, Paco Peralta, in the none professionals, The sewing Lawyer. I have seen live, garments of those two and they are amazing in their own category. I do not make tutorials, I have no patience for that. I prefer to spend time sewing and showing a few steps here and there or none. Voilà !

  8. @ Clio. Thanks for sharing your links! I agree about step-by-step images. With all the respect for Claire Shaeffer's techniques, (am agonizing about buttonholes again) I could find only illustrations and no images of the real buttonholes...

  9. @ Anne-Marie - I absolutely agree with your analogy!

  10. Thank you for the criteria, this applies to so many tutorials online, not just sewing! Though that said, I love the community spirit of sewing tutorials and the online sewing world in general.

    And, THANK YOU to @Browser and @Marie-Noelle for their insanely great annotated lists of tutorial resource sites!

    Finally, in regards to your point #1, I wish that tutorial-developers of all stripes (sewing, photoshop effects, web design tips and tricks) would put a single picture of the final result AT THE TOP of their posts (or beginning of their videos). "THIS is what I'm going to show you how to do" would be SO HELPFUL to see at the get-go!

    Thanks again.

  11. I am reading over my comment and I am not certain the comas are at the right place. My mother tongue is French... To be very clear, Paco Peralta is a professional and the none professional but very skillfull (to say the least) is the Sewing Lawyer. I forgot... Tany is also amazing !!!! But still Sewing Tutorials, never ever replace the books I have home and the course notes I took during all the sewing courses I followed over the last 20 years. I agree Claire Shaeffer DVD is excellent.

  12. I agree Marina! I think the whole point of learning or trying something new is to see if it works for you or not. I especially appreciate tutorials from people that have used the particular method they are teaching a lot and have learned themselves through trial and error. Overall, I just think I appreciate how much time people put into preparing tutorials and sew alongs. Whether or not I decide to follow or use the tutorial..the amount of work that goes into making them is not lost on me!

  13. I have found blog tutorials to be invaluable in many of my projects. Some of the best have already been mentioned - so we all seem to self select the best ones out there. I was feeling a bit guilty when reading over Browser's comment as I recently posted a "tutorial" but I did make sure to point out that this was MY method that worked for me and was not the traditional tried and tested technique. I think it's great that we can all learn from each other and to be honest, some book descriptions assume we all know the basics whereas I think bloggers are more step-by-step.

  14. Very interesting topic! Everyone learns in different ways, so as you say we should be able to make our own decisions about what works for us and what sources of information we trust. There was an interesting panel discussion at Maker Faire over the summer about learning and making, and one speaker made a comment which stayed with me - someone who has just learnt how to do something is often much better at teaching it than someone who has known how to do it for ages and has forgotten what it's like to be a beginner. I think there's a lot of truth in this. Of course, people with a lot of experience may have a wider knowledge and a more refined technique. But they're not always the best teachers. For example, I have been taking courses at a prestigious fashion college where the tutors are so experienced that they don't always explain things that well. Also, even when I've followed online tutorials by people who have years and years of experience, I often find myself using the parts of the tutorial that work for me and finding better ways (or ways that work better for me) of doing parts of it.

    It would be different if we were working in the fashion industry and had to produce things in a certain way. But we're not, we're making stuff for the pleasure of creating, so we're free to make things up ourselves if we like!

    Ultimately, I think you're absolutely right that we can make our own decisions about what tutorials to follow. I know I'm always grateful when I see that a blogger has taken the time and the effort to produce a tutorial. Many sewing bloggers are documenting and reflecting on the learning process and spreading the love. I really don't see understand why anyone would want to discourage this. Let's just make stuff and be happy :)

  15. What a great, thought-provoking post. I am a self-taught seamstress and have been sewing for over 20 years. I often don't think of the quality of the tutorial, but rather choose the one I want based on its outcome and difficulty.

    I do, however, regularly seek tutorials from my own trusted sources: Casey's Elegant Musings, Oonaballoona, and The Sew Weekly, to name a few.

    Thank you so much for coming over to my blog today and leaving a comment on Debi's marvellous post. I am so happy that she wrote it and happy to connect and reconnect with bloggers. :)

  16. Blog tutorials can be great. People have different ways of doing things. One person might think one way is terrible, while another might think that is the best way. We don't all process things the same way, so sometimes what seems ridiculously hard, or the long way to get something done, to one person might actually be the only way another can understand it. I love seeing all the tutorials out there and being able to pick which ones I want to use. I don't pick tutorials based on hits the site gets, but rather how I think I will be able to follow it and the end results shown. Having more options isn't such a bad thing.

  17. I absolutely love the tutorials & tips & construction techniques I find on blogs - many of them are the sort of thing I just stumble across & have an "aha!" moment; others I seek out to compare against what I have in my books.

    I totally agree with your criteria Marina, but then I am the sort of person who wants to find 17 different ways to do something, & then figure out what works for me. That is, when I'm not just diving in to a project & try to figure it out on my own....

    I also agree that the beginner is often the best teacher, and I would never turn my nose up at a finished product that is less than stellar, if the technique had something of value to me. I actually posted a number of techniques (clearly stated as "my way of doing it") from a beginner's point of view (I'm most definitely still learning!), and a lot of what I've posted contained info that I couldn't find in ANY book....it was just too basic, apparently, & something that "everyone should already know". I didn't know....and based on emails & comments, neither did a lot of other people.

    I'm just in awe & appreciation at all of those who blog & review are so willing to share - experts & beginners alike - kudos to everyone who takes the time to do it! :)

  18. Great great post!
    And great answers from your readers.
    There is no "one way" of doing things and methods will differ if you are looking for couture or high end RTW or home sewing methods. Finding what works for your particular project is what you need.

  19. A post to reflect ... I believe in the "law of supply and demand." It is true that there are many online tutorials on the same thing, I just take the knowledge they already offer and there is no rule or varemo to "judge" if this is good or this is worse ... I think that depends on the person who is collecting the knowledge, I mean ... what is good for me may not be enough for someone else with a different level than my knowledge, everything is relative.

  20. Marina:

    I'm glad that I was able to introduce you to some new sites and have enjoyed the discussion.

    To sew takes a great deal of time and organization. To sew well and write a blog even more. I admire the effort I see and even though I do tend to have more confidence in tutorials written by experts or people with a lot of sewing experience, I bookmark everything, because, you never know. Sewing blogs are especially helpful to me for learning about good sources for fabric and notions, locally and online.

    My comment was directed primarily at an attitude I see in places on the web that professionalism (or at least acute attention to detail) doesn't matter, because "Aw, shucks, we're just a bunch of home sewers, just foolin' around." Some sewing blog authors clearly want to be taken very seriously and believe themselves qualified to teach others despite fairly limited experience. To use an analogy, if you were studying a foreign language, who would you prefer to have as a teacher? A bright friend who's studied the language for a year, or someone who is fluent? The teaching of sewing, as with languages, is usually done best by someone with experience who can put the lessons in a context. Things come up that are beyond the understanding of someone who's a neophyte.

    The Cutter and Tailor forum allows nonprofessionals to participate to an extent and professionals will respond to questions and critique work, but the introduction to the forum specifically warns that it is not a home sewing blog and that people are not going to fawn over you just because you completed a project. They will, however, give constructive criticism. For tailoring, they also prescribe a particular progression of projects starting with skirts or pants, moving on to vests (waistcoats) and finally ending with jackets. This progression is one that I have seen in tailoring classes I've taken and skills are taught in this order because if you haven't mastered the fundamentals you won't be able to sew well enough for the next step. A surprising number of people new to that forum have a problem with that policy. They want to sew jackets even if they're not ready. Merely wanting to sew a jacket is not sufficient, they want you to be able to sew it WELL.

    It's fine to "make stuff and be happy" but if your tutorials demonstrate that you have little background, you shouldn't have a problem with some people not taking you seriously. Again, the tone of some blogs indicates a desire to be taken quite seriously.I've seen the word "movement" alluded to. :-) There are in fact better and worse ways to do things and there are standards for good work, which even people sewing for themselves should try to meet.

    Again, don't get me wrong, I enjoy many home sewing blogs, including Tilly's. But sometimes I wish some sewers' sewing "journeys" would include a trip to a good adult sewing class or some expert tutoring. (Tilly is taking what I think is her second pattern making class, so this obviously doesn't apply to her.)

    But, as one of my sewing teachers said, to a class of adult students, "If it were really that easy, everyone would be doing it."

  21. Good post for thought! I also appreciate the time people take to make tutorials, even if I don't think they're the best way. Like Jilly Be, I've had these "a-ha moments" reading others' tutorials. Even if the majority of it is different than the way I'm wanting to go at it, there might be something in the person's process that teaches me "why" something works a certain way. Hidden gems of other's discoveries! It's unfortunate, too, that great content may get hidden behind poor pictures or perhaps a confusing teaching style. But this being the internet with an increasing and overwhelming amount of information good, bad and mediocre, part of the whole beast of our time is learning how to discern rather than trusting everything. Critical thinking... I don't know if there's a danger of latching on to one way--the more someone grows, the more does the insatiable curiosity to discover improved ways. I like seeing tutorials by newer sewers, because they are experimenting with teaching as much as they are experimenting with technique. Teaching gift and skill is unique from sewing and also needs its own special encouragement ;).

  22. That is a very astute observation that a beginner can often explain a concept better. It makes sense. I started writing "tutorials" for myself, in my day job, to keep track of my work (to refresh my memory for the next time I encountered similar challenges) One day I had an epiphany- that I should snap photos of my sewing and capture processes on my blog. I do it to remind myself how I did something and if readers like what they see, it thrills me they might learn something.

    When I read tutorials on blogs, it is almost ALWAYS for entertainment. It is like faux sewing for me. Maybe I am at work and I'd rather be home sewing, so I peek at a blog and check out someone's hand-worked buttonholes (great example, eh?). It is fun to look over another blogger's shoulder to see what she is working on. I have been sewing a very long time, but I have never done hand-worked buttonholes.
    Thankfully there is still a LOT to learn. Another reason to love sewing.

    My sewing has improved a great deal since I started blogging (and I mean that as one who writes and reads blogs)

    Thanks to everyone who takes the time to blog and to post well-reasoned comments! I love it :-)

  23.  Tilly I agree that with your comment "that people
    with a lot of experience may have a wider knowledge & a more refined technique,
    but they  are not always the best
    teachers" "Where tutors are so experienced that they don't always explain
    thing that well".  
    Introducing my daughter and grand-daughter to hand sewing and machine sewing
    basics, I became aware just how difficult it is to pass on knowledge that one
    takes for granted - I do not see evether of them very often.  Simple questions meant that I had to delve into the
    depths of my psyche because I had forgotten the essential building blocks that
    I had perfected over the years (my skill level is quite basic and confined to
    easy to make dressmaking and crafts).   My hands just seemed to know
    what to do without me really having to think about it!  How bizarre is
    that?  Same with knitting too actually!   And,  have you
    ever tried to give someone a recipe of something that you have made so many
    times that you "just throw it together"?  It’s a
    I had to put myself in the position of being a complete novice even when
    explaining the basic functions of the sewing machine and basic stitches.  
    Rather like learning to drive when sitting in the driving seat for the first
    A truly accomplished and patient tutor/teacher  that has the  skill
    to recognise that is it is not just about teaching but about be able to connect
     the student to the subject matter, 
    no matter what it is.  It makes learning a joy and the student  just
    wants to know more and can't get enough.    A teacher has blank
    canvas with which to craft a master craftsperson. This takes time and
    patience to watch a student make lots of  mistakes turning those mistakes  into opportunities for: 
    exploration,  a understanding of how to do things in a better or a
    different way and for creativity.   The best teachers are those that keep
    learning from their students.
     The extended family where women's skills are learnt from mothers, aunts
    and grandmothers, is becoming the thing of the past.  Modern  families where children live far away from
    their relatives (or may not have any nearby kin)  mean that so many skills like sewing, 
    knitting, cookery,  that were learnt by being  beside someone
    (knowledge passed on by osmosis) are becoming lost from generation to
    generation.  The internet is a cool, superb tool to bring
    together people in a fragmented modern society for women to share their
    knowledge with other women.  It can only make the world a richer
    I am so grateful for being able to use people's blogs and tutorials to enhance
    my knowledge in all things not just sewing and knitting.   I use a
    combination of online tutorials that are well illustrated and explained
    clearly - having tips of "be careful" and "how not to do"
    clarification helps.  I like to spend time researching ways of doing
    things and find both the good and not so good blogs and tutorials give me
    perspective and opportunity to choose and apply knowledge that best way
    that suits me and what I want to achieve. 
    Thank you to everybody that is willing to share their knowledge freely for the benefit or womankind - I am forever grateful to you all. 

    My signature is always:  Teach a girl/women and you teach a family and a
    White Mist  xx

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