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Practice will make you as happy as this cat.

Yesterday was #difference day in Pinsent Tailoring’s #modernlessmarch challenge, and while I’m not participating, finishing up a cap order yesterday got me thinking about what makes a difference in what I make.

I fished out the very first cap ever made, and here’s what’s made a difference:

1. Practice. Make more things. Make practice pieces. The more you sew, the better you get. That is the only way to get better.

As with writing, “butt in chair” is what will make a difference, and there is no short cut.  But the more you sew, the better you get.

2. Materials. Buy the best materials you can afford. This first cap was made of linen from JoAnn’s, while the most recent cap is made of linen cambric from Burley & Trowbridge.

Selecting the right material for the task is critical, and higher quality materials will give you a better result. Silk and linen will give you very different results (yes, silk caps are a thing. They show up in inventories and ledgers in the Carolinas). Even poor and working-class women’s caps were made of finer materials than we can typically get today, so for caps, you are looking for a fabric that combines fineness of weave and thread with crispness.

Cap the First was made nine years ago, while Cap the Recent was finished this week. The first real cap breakthrough I had was in 2016, with the Cap of Floof, made with a finer material that allowed me to make smaller seams and successful whip gathers for what felt like the first time.

Lance needles: the best I’ve used.

3. Tools. The smaller the needle, the smaller the stitch. You want to use the smallest needle you can (different sizes are appropriate for different fabrics; thicker fabrics need longer needles). It can take time to get used to using a smaller needle, but the practice (see point 1) will pay off. Appropriate thread (finer for finer fabrics), a thimble, and sharp thread snips will make your work easier. A good iron is another necessity, and while you can substitute a rolled towel for some pressing forms, tailor’s hams and sleeve boards also make life easier and sewing smoother.

All of these things take resources, whether time or money, but the rewards are worth the investment.