Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced?


By Judith on May 15, 2016
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As a pattern writer, I’m always interested in how other designers and companies rate their patterns according to ability levels.

Until now, I have been reserved about ‘grading’ my patterns.

You see, unless I know your background and attitude to sewing, it would be hard to recommend to you a ‘beginner’, ‘intermediate’ or ‘advanced’ quilting pattern.

I’ve been teaching people to sew and quilt for nearly 8 years.  I’ve seen complete beginners take on technical patterns with a ‘bring it on’ attitude and totally nail it.  I’ve seen seasoned sewists attempt beginner level techniques for the first time and have near nervous break-downs!  And I’ve seen everything in between.

One thing I’ve learned is that your APPROACH and ATTITUDE to your learning is key!

Yes of course we have different learning styles; yes of course we have our preferred techniques and comfort zones. Sometimes additional support or explanation is needed from others, and of course experience can count for something. But never underestimate the power of a mind that is open and teachable to new things. (I also find a healthy dose of patience and determination go a long way too!)

Old Spools clothed in Liberty scraps


No matter how long I’ve been sewing for, I still have much to learn.  When I try out a new technique for the first time, I become a beginner all over again!

We all have different perspectives of what these terms mean. I get ‘beginners’ in my classes who have never used a rotary cutter before, and some who have; some already know how to use a sewing machine and some don’t! Some know what quarter inch seams and fat quarters are, and others look at me like I’ve got 2 heads!  The term ‘beginner’ can be quite a broad umbrella!

Trying to define such subjective terms as ‘beginner’, ‘intermediate’ or ‘advanced’ within nebulus parameters isn’t always helpful.  For instance, a pattern marketed as ‘intermediate’ or ‘advanced’ may put off someone who has been sewing for only a short time (and yet would be more than able to complete it), or someone who has been sewing for years but hasn’t tried much variety in their sewing. Equally, a ‘beginner’ graded pattern may rob a veteran sewer of the joy of a satisfyingly quick and uncomplicated make (my favourite kind!).

I appreciate that guidelines are sometimes needed, even if they are out in the ball park somewhere! I’m not against patterns being graded (though perhaps a more informative explanation should be given about the techniques involved, rather than just the typical 2 out of 5 stars/spools/scissors rating for example.)

What I’m not keen on is someone else, like me, or any other pattern writer, telling YOU what you are capable of achieving or not achieving. YOU are in charge of your learning.

So my questions to you are these?

How helpful are pattern gradings to you?
Do you pay much attention to them?
Would you like to see more of them?
Do you find a disparity between the levels across different pattern producers?
Do you define your sewing ability by one of these categories?

I’m keen to hear your thoughts on this.  At the moment I”m reviewing some of my existing patterns and writing new ones! Your comments will help me enormously.

Thank you,


Jude xo