Your level of sewing ability ?

There are many ways of assessing your level of sewing ability.
These are ones I feel comfortable with.

At Complete Beginner level you might like to focus on learning how to use your sewing machine, see machine posts 1 and 2.
At Comfortable Beginner level you can start to make items, see First projects or the Burda easy e-book.

Can you claim to be at Advanced Beginner level ?
I suggest you can count yourself as an Advanced Beginner if you can make the most basic of casual garment capsules, by making :
– elastic-waist pants,
– a cut-on sleeve top or dress,
– a jacket without front closure, such as a kimono/robe.

Here is a post on elastic waist pants,
and there are three posts in the cut-on sleeve tops series.

You might like to be guided by the instructions with these patterns :
100 Acts of Sewing. She has Creative Bug video classes for most of her patterns (pattern included), and there are full size patterns and written instructions in her book The Act of Sewing.
Or try All Well Workshop.

You can clothe yourself with these skills, so there’s no need to learn more 😀

If you are beginning to feel confident about sewing darts, buttonholes, zippers, using knits/ slippery/ thick fabrics, or doing pattern matching or fussy cutting, and improving the fit of your makes, you are moving into Intermediate skills.

What would justify you in claiming to be at Upper Intermediate level of sewing ability ?
Perhaps you can make shirts, fly-front pants, and lined blazers (here are some examples of on-line classes), or a closely fitted dress. But I think to claim this level you need to have the skills to make pretty well any pattern that is put in front of you.

I like the following criteria, originally posted by CCL at Stitcher’s Guild,1709.0/topicseen.html
(may only be viewable by subscribers to SG, included here with permission)

A contest was suggested at SG in which people could enter at 2 levels of ability :
– Beginner to Intermediate,
– Intermediate to Advanced,
and the question was – how do I know what is my level of ability ?

CCL’s reply :

I have looked at a lot of skill level determinations and don’t like any of them that are based on years.  I was thinking of something like this. . .
the idea being that if you can check off all five of the major bullets below, then you can self-define as Intermediate to Advanced and enter in that category. 
If you cannot check off all five, then you can self-define as Beginner to Intermediate. 

Made over 50 garments

Made more than 3 of the following types of garments:
◦ Jacket
◦ Shirt with stand and front band
◦ Coat
◦ Fitted dress
◦ Pants with fly front zipper
◦ Lined garment

Sewn garments out of more than 3 of the following fabrics:
◦ Lace
◦ Leather or faux suede
◦ Chiffon
◦ Silk Dupioni
◦ Boucle
◦ Wool coating
◦ Fake or real fur
◦ Taffeta
◦ Satin

Successfully used more than 4 of the following techniques:
◦ Invisible zipper
◦ Hong Kong seams
◦ Welt pockets
◦ Underlining
◦ Bias binding for neck or armhole finish
◦ Set in sleeves
◦ Bound or hand made buttonholes
◦ Calculated for turn of the cloth

Used at least 3 of the following hand stitches:
◦ Slip stitch
◦ Back stitch
◦ Catch stitch
◦ Pad stitch
◦ Whip stitch
◦ Blanket stitch

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Me – I realise I have not been very adventurous in my use of fabrics !
Knits don’t appear in CCL’s list. There are many different types, which vary in difficulty. I think the easiest knits come at the dividing line between Beginner and Intermediate.
Outerwear protective gear fabrics are another category which might be included.
I don’t write posts on fabrics as I just look at Sandra Betzina’s Fabric Savvy.

Most of the posts on this Aim for Quality site are about beginner to lower Intermediate skills.

At Advanced level ?

Advanced level doesn’t necessarily involve more complex techniques.
It is usually demonstrated by making tailored garments or spectacular special occasion gowns. Though those can be difficult criteria to define, as there are quite easy patterns for both.
What Advanced level does emphasise is having everything – all materials, every stitch, the fit – of the highest quality.

If you dream of going to this level, have a look at the Haute Couture Club of Chicago’s Fashion Shows with runway photos.
The club started with a ‘must have made a notched-collar jacket’ membership requirement, but has discontinued that !
See the post on Intermediate Classics : perhaps the Club discontinued the notched-collar requirement because it can be fulfilled at many levels of difficulty.

For inspiration, or reminders that top designers may go way outside anything wearable in real life, there are photos of all the top professional designer runway shows at

There are two easy-access teachers who aim to teach ‘couture’ sewing :
patterns from Claire Shaeffer,
and videos from Susan Khalje.
There are of course local big-city couture teachers who are just as good but not internationally known.

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For those who are just interested in me-making basic clothes for themselves – you can make an attractive casual wardrobe with Advanced Beginner skills, and can make most garments you might want to wear if you have Intermediate skills.

There’s no need to go to Upper Intermediate or Advanced levels unless you want to. Would you love to have couture-standard clothes to wear ? Do you love to learn ever more difficult techniques ?
These are interesting and inspiring reminders of what would be involved and can be achieved 😀

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Burda beginners magazine-book

Would your prefer to start your sewing with making simple garments rather than home dec and accessories (see here for many of those projects) ?

Burda patterns have a beginner’s book with both written and video instructions, for a very easy sequence of garment makes.
This magazine-book is available as hard-copy (with full size pattern sheets) and a pdf e-book (with pdf download patterns that have to be assembled).
If you buy the e-book version save a copy of the e-mail receipt, as this has links to all the patterns and instructions.

bandeau from jersey fabric – assemble pattern, place pattern on fold of fabric, cut out fabric.

patchwork scarf – stitch fabric pieces together, straight and zigzag stitches.

basic top – mark pattern on fabric, use bias stay tape, finish fabric edges, sew single-fold hem.
(Burda magazine patterns do not include seam allowances, the marked edge of the pattern piece is the stitching line. This lesson shows how to add seam allowances, to mark the cutting line onto the fabric. This is actually the ‘couture’ way of working.
Burda envelope patterns – and most other pattern lines – do include seam allowances – the edge of the pattern piece is the cutting line, the stitching line is not marked on the pattern.)

elastic-waist skirt – wide elastic used as waistband.

cut-on cap sleeve dress – curved stitching, neckline finished with interfaced facing.

elastic-waist pants – how to assemble pants, no side seams.

open front cropped jacket with long cut-on sleeves – thicker fabric. A ‘frog’ is an easy way to add a fastening to an edge-to-edge opening.

scrunchie – use fabric scraps left from cutting out above items, or re-cycle fabric from old garments.
Also make some of the items listed in the first projects post from your scraps and re-cycled fabrics.
Or here’s a big range of items said to be makable in 5 minutes !

Sadly not an extended size range in the patterns, only body bust 80-100cm, about 32″-40″. Perhaps try Butterick 3039 for somewhat similar patterns, bust up to about 55″ – leave out pockets for first tries.

Your first make of a clothes pattern will always be a test (of technique, fit, flattery), so use throw-away fabric – muslin, old sheets, etc. But later choose favourite fabrics !

A complete wardrobe ?

You can actually make an entire ultra simple capsule using the patterns in this book : top, skirt, pants, dress, jacket. Use co-ordinating fabrics and they combine into 6 outfits. Add another top, and that makes 8 possible outfits. Make as many of each pattern as you like.

See below for many extensions to your skills, and to the styles you can make, once you’ve worked through this book.

Learn how to shorten and lengthen patterns, then you can make top and tunic from the dress pattern, duster from the jacket. Or make the jacket with short or 3/4 sleeves.

Not high fashion perhaps, but show your personal style by using your favourite fabrics, adding your favourite trims.
Celebrate that you’re on your way to great things 😀

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Moving on

Making more use of the skills you already have, with easy changes to make many more styles.

Once you’ve completed these garments, they lead naturally into more cut-on sleeve tops, starting here for patterns, fit, and variations. Change the lengths, add simple trims, pockets or gathered frills, and you can make many more items from these basic patterns while you build your sewing confidence.

There are also some top patterns which are gathered round the neckline, so they avoid the need to finish a curved neckline with bias binding, bias facing, or a true facing. See this post about first garments. Though if you have worked through the Burda book, you should not be intimidated by true facings anyway 😀

Many other elastic-waist skirt patterns use a waist casing which hides the elastic. Cut-on casings are made in the same way as a double-fold hem. Separate casings are a little more difficult. Other styling options in the elastic-waist skirts post.

Also make elastic-waist pants with side seams, so you can add in-seam pockets, see many options (also with waist casings) in the elastic-waist pants post.

And leggings can be a good first make when you want to explore sewing knit fabrics, see leggings post.

Of course Burda themselves would hope you would go on to their Burda Easy Magazine, with simple patterns and more detailed instructions than in the main Burda Style pattern magazine – a couple of the styles in each issue have videos.

On to learning more sewing skills

Though don’t feel you have to acquire more skills !

Some simple jacket ‘hacks’ :
Place the line marked centre front on the jacket front pattern onto the fabric fold, so you cut out the front without the centre front opening. Combine with the given back pattern to make a pullover top.
When you’re familiar with the pattern and feeling adventurous, there are many ways to change the pattern to add a front fastening.

Learn some simple ways of adding separate sleeves, to make a wide range of patterns possible.

The Sew Over It Beginner’s Guide to Dressmaking is much more advanced than the Burda book : skirt with waistband and zip, dress with separate sleeves, and tee. Body bust sizes 31″-57″. Advanced beginner level. Something to move on to if you feel it’s what you want to do.

Being able to make many pocket types is an easy way to make patterns look very different.

Add zippers, darts, and buttonholes to your skill set, and you will be well on your way to being an Intermediate sewist.

Some more advanced video classes

If you like to learn from a class, rather than searching the internet for tutorials, it’s best if you can find a source of further classes which is like your style, so they help you to make clothes that you want to wear.

If you like Sew Over It’s teaching style you can move on to video classes for making classic shirts, pants, blazers as well as dresses and coat.
As those garments are classics there are many more sources for learning how to make them, some listed in this Intermediates post.
Some but not all of SOI’s classes are gender neutral. For others, the making techniques are gender neutral, even if specific patterns are not. See this rather dated list of sources of patterns for men.

There’s a much more expensive series of video classes from Sew Liberated patterns (pictures there of what will be made if you follow all ten classes). The extra cost pays for excellent detailed guidance for slow sewing, and some personal support. There’s a challenging technique in each class, but you can skip it the first times you make the garment. These garments are more arts-crafter in style than the Sew Over It ones. Definitely not gender-neutral patterns, though of course once learned the techniques can be used to make anything. The first garment is pj pants, then add many techniques in eight progressive classes, finishing with a coat.

For more ‘girly’ styles, one possibility is Tilly and the Buttons – she claims to provide patterns with extra easy instructions, many skirts and dresses, and video sew-along workshops.

The important thing is to start sewing 😀 and only move on to learning more skills as you feel ready for them. As the first projects post shows, there are many things you can make, whatever your skills.

Stop and celebrate everything you can make, whatever stage you are at in your learning process. There’s an infinite number of possible sewing skills to learn. You can choose to stop at Advanced Beginner level and happily make clothes, accessories and home dec items in easy fabrics, without zips, buttons, darts, or a close fit. At Intermediate level you will have the skills to make most clothes you might want to wear. Or you can go up to Advanced level and make tailored jackets or coats and glamorous special occasion gowns!

Choose your own special level of enjoyment 😀

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Cutting out

Several methods, so try them to find which you prefer.

Rotary cutter or shears
The big choice is between cutting using shears or rotary cutter.
I have shaky hands so can’t use a rotary cutter without a ruler.  I can understand why rotary cutters are much loved by people who sew unstable fabrics, as rotary cutting doesn’t move the fabric while you’re cutting. But I can only use a rotary cutter with a ruler, for cutting patchwork pieces.
And I find it very satisfying to use quality scissors.

Best not to use a rotary cutter until you’re sure you have good control of your hand. So you don’t find you have wavered off the line intended, and ruined your fabric or seriously injured yourself ! Never move a rotary cutter towards your other hand – that blade is sharp !

Also because of my shaky hands I’m a pinner, I don’t just use pattern weights. I use pins about every 4″/10cm, more round a sharp curve.

Use of shears
Keep your best shears for cutting fabric only, as cutting paper will dull them.

Shears have kinked handles, so you can run the lower edge along on the cutting surface. (Scissors have symmetric handles.)
– some people like to cut with the pattern to the right of the blades, some with it to the left. Try both and see which feels most natural and comfortable, which helps you get more closely to the pattern edge.
– some people love the swish you get from completing the cut stroke. But many people, me included, find we get a much smoother cut line, no jags, if we stop cutting just before getting to the tip of the blades, then moving the shears along. Takes longer, but I get a better result.

I often find it’s worth the extra work of drawing round the pattern onto the fabric and then cutting on the drawn line. I get a better result than when trying to follow the edge of the paper.

Patterns show cutting line or stitching line ?

The edge of ‘home’ sewing patterns marks the cutting edge, and you find the stitching line relative to the cut edge.

The edge of ‘couture’ patterns marks the stitching line, and you find the cutting edge relative to the stitching line.
So the ‘couture’ method uses a pattern without seam allowances. Draw round the pattern, so you have a marked stitching line. Then draw a second line outside that, to mark the cutting line.
Couture patterns do this so you can mark any width of seam allowance. Narrow seam allowances are good around curves, such as a neckline, as less trimming is needed to get a good result.
Wide seam allowances are good along main seams, as you can use them for fitting, either fitting during construction, or if you want to ‘let the garment out’ to make it larger later in the garment’s life.

Cutting layout

Here’s a comprehensive guide from Threads magazine about fabric layouts, including aids to cutting out slippery shifty fabrics.

And here’s a post about how and why sewing makes so much use of cutting folded fabric.

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