Thursday, April 08, 2010

My Advice on Sewing for Beginners

So recently I was asked what books or websites or other advice I might recommend for a beginning sewer. And I thought it would be cool to share this with you.

It's hard to find things that are geared towards the beginning sewer. Either that or I just have never really tried too hard to look. For books, the best one I have seen is the Reader's Digest New Complete Guide to Sewing. My sewing teacher last year recommended it and it is really good. It teaches a lot of techniques in very clear step-by-step directions from hand sewing to fancy advanced designer techniques. It is a really good resource when you can't figure something from the pattern out. If you think you might keep this up longer than one or two patterns, it is a worthwhile investment. If you are trying to teach yourself to sew from the ground up, a good book that I have is The Ultimate Sewing Book by Maggie McCormick Gordon. It takes you through sewing items from easy to complicated. They start you off sewing curtains and take you to progressively more complicated things. Personally, if I had to buy only one book, though, I would go for the Reader's Digest book.

The best website I can recommend is They have patterns on there and, even better, a lot of message boards where you can ask questions and get advice from people with more experience. A few other sewing-related websites that will help you sew your own clothes without patterns include and There are probably others, but I can't think of them right now.

I also have some of my own advice that I will offer...

If you are just starting this for the first time, it is crucial that you have someone with experience to use as a resource.

That being said, here's some more advice:
1. Get the right pattern. For a beginner I recommend a skirt or dress or something very simple marked "easy" or "1 hour" or "2 hour" pattern or something like that. Don't push it to begin with. You just want to learn to do it for the first time. If you want to try something very simple without a pattern, you can even search online for "simple skirt tutorial" or "easy skirt tutorial" and find people that will tell you how to make a skirt out of a certain sized rectangle and some elastic. That might be a good way to go. It will help you with some basic construction techniques and sort of start you on the right track. Burdastyle may have some free patterns that are easy and simple. I remember them having a dress on there that was super simple. Email me if you want me to provide details. Also, be sure you get the right fabric that goes with the pattern. Be sure if it is for woven fabric, you got woven fabric and for knits, a knit, etc..
2. Get the right SIZE pattern. Throw all your preconceived notions aside about your size. Do NOT get your ready-to-wear size. Instead, measure your hips, waist, and bust according to the fit charts and buy the size for the biggest part of your body. If you don't do this, you will have wasted time and money buying and making the wrong size. Here's an article on how to find your correct size. Just to give you an example, my pattern size was a 12 and I wore a ready to wear size 8. Now, I have no idea what my size would be, but I would still go by my measurements.
3. Consider making a test garment. Ideally, if you were going to do this the right way, you would copy the pattern size you plan to make on another sheet of paper and fit that to your body and then use that to make the correct size in a cheap fabric, called muslin (the garment is called a "muslin"). Then you would make the final garment once you've found out how well it fits. Personally, I find all this a huge pain and I'd rather make an entire garment before finding out that it doesn't fit me than try to do all that, unless I was using expensive fabric. But I still do follow most of this process when I use commercial patterns because I want them to fit. And trying to fit it to yourself is another thing altogether. But at least this helps you determine your size.
4. Start slowly. Commercial patterns in the US are, fortunately, written very clearly for the most part. When reading them try to relax and just take it for it's words. Don't try to second guess the instructions. They are not trying to trick you or tell you to do multiple things at once. The pattern almost always explains what you should do using words and visuals and if you need more instruction, you can refer to your Reader's Digest book. Sometimes they don't define a technique very clearly or they mark it in bold because they assume you know how to do it. And you can look those up in your book too. Otherwise, just try to follow the pattern literally step by step. Stay as organized as you can in knowing which piece is which, too.
5. Other than following the instructions the only other thing you need to know are these things: The first thing you do is cut out the fabric. I know this is obvious, but I actually forget about this every time until I open it up and I'm like, oh yeah, duh. Wash your fabric first before starting, then iron it (or try to lay it out flat without too many wrinkles) and pin the pattern pieces on the fabric according to the way they outline in the pattern. Be sure to transfer the markings from the pattern (the triangles and circles and squares--you shouldn't have too many if it's a simple pattern). You can do this using a tracing wheel and tracing paper (you can buy that at Joann's or other sewing stores) or chalk or some other fancy transfer thing. Be sure you mark on the wrong side of the fabric (the part you don't want to show). After you do all that, you are ready to start the pattern!

Hope this helps. Feel free to email me with any questions. Good luck!


adrian 12:15 PM  

Helpful info - thanks for providing!