The first part of this topic is on the initial stages of learning to use your machine, and to make simple projects from fabric.
This second half of the topic is about starting to make garments.
Sections here on :
Intro to first clothes projects.
Patterns and sizes.
Garments you can make without adding more skills.
Some easy ways of learning neckline finishing techniques, and changing simple basic patterns.
Optional for garment making :
– adding simple shaping : learn to sew darts, zippers, buttonholes.
– sewing with knits.
Moving on to making garments
Free videos and photo tutorials are helpful for what to do, and you can look at them beforehand to see if they show processes you feel ready to try.
If you’re not confident about the techniques used – get some cheap fabric similar in weave and weight to the ‘proper’ fabric, and perhaps make many samples of the new techniques until you feel confident. Then make a test garment, it may turn out to be a ‘wearable muslin’. Or it may be so awful you just need to laugh/ weep/ groan/ scream and try again 😀 These are called UFOs – unfinished objects. Or you may like to upgrade to calling it a WIP – work in progress.
For the proper garment, be sure to choose fabric in a flattering colour, and a favourite random print. Leave clearly directional prints, and textures, to later learning. It isn’t possible every time to make a garment you love to wear, but do start with a good chance. And you can learn from every item you attempt, even if it goes wrong !
And once you’ve made one of these you may be able to look through the pattern catalogs and see styles you can make using the same sewing skills (develop the skill of looking at line diagrams to see what sewing skills are used) 😀
First add-ons to your skills : patterns and sizes
The previous post has some links for learning to understand sewing patterns.
If you’re really worried about using patterns for garments, then you can sew without them, such as in this out of print book of boho styles, The illustrated hassle-free make your own clothes book by Bordow and Rosenberg.
Move on to crisper styles in Rosie Martin’s book DIY Couture.
The only other extra step you need for making simple garments using patterns is to find your size. Get it from your measurements (bust for tops, hips for bottoms), as size numbers vary between pattern companies. Try to forget all the cultural messages about measurements and sizes, no one else need know these numbers. The basic bust, waist, hip measures aren’t all that you may need to get the best fit, but they make a good start. Many of us find it’s more comfortable, easier to move, and makes us look better, to wear a garment that skims over our body rather than one that’s tight. Celebrate the self-care of making what’s right for you.
Here’s a post on finding your size from Tilly and the Buttons.
Garments you can make with starter skills
For the skills used in making the simplest garments, see the skills listed in the first part of this pair of posts.
When you can use your machine, understand patterns and how to cut out, sew and finish the edges of straight and curved seams, make straps/ ties and hems/ casings, and thread through a casing, you can make simple garments.
Elastic waist skirts, elastic waist pants – links to some easy patterns with free support videos, and some more stylish patterns without. A few up to 71″ hip. Simply change length to make mini to maxi skirts, shorts to capris.
Sussex Seamstress Selsey top, halter top gathered at the neckline by casing and tie. Up to 50″ bust, with free sew-along video.
The suggested fabrics may be slippery, and so difficult to cut out and sew. Best to use something drapey but not slippery for a first garment, such as lawn or voile.
Lengthen to tunic, mini dress, maxi (measure pattern width to check it will go over both bust and hips).
McCall’s 7405 is a similar dress.
The Wilder top from the Friday Pattern Company is not much more difficult than an elastic-waist skirt. The top needs seams, hems, and a casing. Also a strap, but you could use ribbon instead.
The dress is a little more difficult. Add gathering to your skills, also halving and quartering. And handling a huge amount of fabric – keep the weight supported on your working surface, to the left of and behind your machine.
Seamwork have a jacket pattern which can be made by someone who knows little more than how to use a pattern, cut out fabric, sew a straight-line and turn corners : Quince robe-style jacket.
The next skills you may want to learn :
– The most basic sewing skills don’t include the techniques needed to finish a curved neckline shape, a feature of nearly every top, dress, jacket, coat pattern. So that’s the next crucial add-on to your garment making skills.
– If you prefer some shape to your garments, after that you will want to learn how to sew darts, zips, buttonholes.
– Or if you love wearing knits you may want to know how to sew them.
See the last sections of this post for some possible ways of learning.
This is a copy of the section in the previous post about making the same item again until you feel confident. These are simple changes you can make to most projects :
Change fabric colour or print.
Colour block : make each pattern piece from a different fabric, or make each pattern piece from a patchwork of fabrics.
Change fabric type – though not from woven to knit. And check if the original is best made in a stiffer or drapier fabric.
Cut out from pre-used fabric, perhaps your unworn or unusable garments, or ones from a charity shop. Try to align pattern pieces ‘with the straight of grain’. Or see what happens when you don’t !
Add trims such as :
– machine or hand sewn decorative stitches.
– lace, ribbon, ricrac, fringe, pom-pom trim, fake fur strip. These trims just need to be attached with a line of stitching, test if it’s best to use straight stitches or zigzag. (Bias binding and piping are skills to learn later. Leather strips need a special presser foot and needle.)
– appliqué patches – there are ones that stick on, others need zigzagging round the edge.
Add square-cornered patch pockets.
Also for garments : with simple basic patterns, it’s easy to change the length of sleeve, top, skirt, pant legs. Many patterns have instructions for this. If you like to see detailed photos of lengthening and shortening try this post from Tilly and the Buttons.
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The next steps, when you’re a ‘confident beginner’
Learn to finish a neckline curve
Here are some of the many starter garment making possibilities which introduce sewing a garment neckline :
All Well Workshop have a capsule of simple basic pdf patterns (boxy top, pants, jacket, body bust 32″-62″). These have detailed sewing instructions. Simple ‘hacking guides’ for changing the basic pattern to make other styles, several more than in the style sketch. Fabric facing strip neckline finish on the top, bias binding or neck band on the jacket.
Some supplements :
Instructions just say ‘finish seams as desired’ so see the seam finishing post.
If you want to cut and fold your own bias tape, rather than buying some, see the bias tape post.
All Well Workshop is one of those pattern companies which is not mentioned at Pattern Review but is enthusiastically recommended by people who are new to making clothes.
See instagram #allwellboxtop for many people looking delighted with what they have been able to make.
Another of these ‘easy sewing’ companies is Sonya Philip’s 100 Acts of Sewing patterns (body bust 32″-56″), which have bias facing strip necklines. The most basic patterns are for tops with cut on or separate sleeves, skirt, and pants. Sonya has video classes about making several of her patterns (pdf included) at Creative Bug.
Similar casuals – top/dress, pants, jacket/coat – with many hacking ideas from Tropical Research (body bust 30″-44″). Pdf patterns and YouTube support videos. Both conventional facing and bias strip facing neck finishes. Visually attractive instructions, a little more difficult than All Well Workshop. Some of the options use more difficult techniques.
One thing which is a little confusing at first :
he says of fabric . . right side and left side,
instead of . . . . . . . . right side and wrong side.
You can now make a variety of simple tops, skirts, dresses, pants, jackets.
Amazing, a basic wardrobe – the clothes may not have any shape, but hey 👍
Add shaping – learn darts, zippers, buttonholes
And if you prefer skirts and dresses
Shaping needs some more sewing skills : darts, zippers, buttonholes : techniques which some sewists find too challenging.
If you don’t want to learn these techniques, enjoy wearing a boxy fit 😀 Straight cut garments made from knits (see later) or drapey fabrics can mould to your body as you move. The majority of us haven’t got a feature waist anyway.
More closely fitted and shaped garments made from woven fabrics need to include darts to shape them, and zippers so you can get into them.
Or instead of zippers in an opening, learn to sew buttons, buttonholes, button bands.
You can hack your pullover top patterns to add button bands : photo instructions from 100 Acts of Sewing.
Sew Over It patterns have an e-book which is the next step after their complete beginners e-book described in the previous post. Their Beginner’s Guide to Dressmaking e-book shows you how to make an a-line skirt, shift dress with length and sleeve options, and Tee (body bust 31″-58″, pdf or copy shop patterns included). Somewhat more complex techniques than the All Well Workshop patterns. You learn to cut out a bias skirt, add darts, invisible zip, waistband, conventional facing neckline finish, back neckline slit, fitted sleeve, as well as working with knit fabric.
SOI also have a video class with the same title, which makes a straight skirt and the same dress, plus a circular skirt. Adds the same skills, except for making a Tee. There are video classes on making a tee in their Stitch School, conventional tee, raglan sleeve tee. Or see the next section, on knits.
Wearing knits is the most comfortable casual option for many people. But cutting and sewing stretch fabrics are a little more difficult as the fabric moves around. Also the stitching has to stretch with the fabric. Most people find it easier if they know a bit about sewing non-stretch fabrics before moving on to knits.
It can be very quick to sew knit fabrics on a serger/ overlocker. But those are an expensive purchase for beginners, and not at all necessary. The classes listed here all teach sewing knits on a domestic sewing machine.
Making leggings can be the easiest introduction to sewing knits, see this post on leggings.
Like to wear all knit fabrics ? There are many simple patterns for tees, sweats, joggers, hoodies.
I think it’s easier to start with fleece, interlock, sweat shirting : they’re more stable than jersey. As you get more confident – the more stretch and recovery there is in a fabric, the closer you can make the fit.
For starter guidance on sewing knits, there are many classes, such as :
Video courses from Creative Bug.
At Craftsy, Meg McElwee of Sew Liberated patterns has a video course on making a knit wardrobe.
Sew Over It patterns have video classes in their Sew Over It Stitch School.
Again remember – if one method doesn’t give a result you’re happy with – try another 😥 ♥️ 👍
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When you can do any of these you’ll be well into Advanced Beginner territory 😀
McCall’s and Simplicity patterns both have ‘Learn to Sew’ pattern ranges, but they’re definitely for Advanced Beginners.
Similarly with Butterick and Vogue patterns labelled Very Easy – many of them are not ! Daunting for early beginners. Leave these until you feel confident 😀
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At first I ended this post with a list of the many ways of moving on to yet more learning (see links to Technique Index pages above header).
But with sewing, the list of things you might learn is almost infinite. For some people that is the attraction, but not for everyone.
Do allow yourself to dally, don’t push yourself along faster than you feel comfortable with. We all have our own speed of learning, from people like me who spend a life-time making drawstrings bags 😀 to people who make their wedding dress without a pattern as their first ever garment !
Rather than forcing yourself to rush on, I think it’s more important to celebrate that you can make a simple complete wardrobe with the skills you already have, also many accessories and home dec items (see lists about half way through the first post).
Enjoy wearing and using what you can make. No need to learn more, unless you want to 👍 😀 👍
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