When you pick up sewing you can easily get intimidated just by looking at pattern descriptions: Beginner, Advanced Beginner, Confident Beginner, Intermediate, Expert, etc. Why bother? Of course, if you don’t know (yet) how to sew a straight seam maybe don’t start your journey by making a fully lined coat. With patterns my advice is (with a few exceptions): Just do it already!
For sewing in general though, and for producing more satisfying results I have a few tips for you. All learned the hard way…
Adjustments and reality check
Wait! What? Adjustments, when starting out? Are you kidding?! No, I am not. When you start out with sewing you think you can – like in RTW – cheat with sizes. “Maybe, I can squeeze into this…”, “I will loose weight soon”, “I am always a size (fill in the blank)”. I am soooo guilty of this. That number seems to hold an enormous amount of power over us it’s insane. JUST A NUMBER! If you fall into that whole of vanity sizing you will never achieve a good fit and a garment that makes you feel beautiful. Because instead of doing what you set out to do (a fitting and unique piece of clothing) you fall right in line with RTW brands.
So, measure yourself regularly. Keep your measurements at hand (I store mine in my Bullet Journal and on my cloud) and use your actual measurements to pick your size. Always, always check your measurements to the finished garment’s measurements as well. And then, it’s time to adjust. I am not talking about Full Bust Adjustments or such things (yet!), but simple ones like “Am I taller or shorter than the pattern suggests”? Do I have long arms? Those are the easiest adjustments to make and most patterns have a the lenghten/shorten line to accommodate for your height. It’s the easiest thing and it will get you better results instantly!
What’s there to say about cutting, it’s pretty straightforward right? No, it’s not. Not if you want a garment that fits. When cutting out fabric there are multiple things to consider and a few methods to go ahead with. What you really should not do (and I did that a lot in the beginning *sadface*) is just laying the pattern piece on the fabric and cut around it with whatever scissor you have at hand.
First of you need to make sure that your pattern pieces do not move while you cut your fabric. For this you need either pins or pattern weights. If you pin, make sure your pins are suitable for the fabric you’re using. More often than not pins will distort the fabric, pull threads or make the whole piece very wobbly. For this reason I personally prefer pattern weights to pins (but there is nothing wrong with pinning, relax). Secondly when you cut out your fabric with scissors, inevitably you’re moving it around quite a bit. This again will distort your fabric pieces, grainlines, etc. To minimize shifting and movement choose good quality and supersharp scissors.
Alternatively you can use a rotary cutter and a cutting mat. A tiny con with using a rotary cutter is you tend to slice off the tiniest pieces of your pattern while cutting out and by that change them every time you use the pattern. Just something to keep in mind. I use both scissors and rotary cutters depending on the project I am making. But the lesson to take from this: DO NOT USE YOUR CUTTING TOOLS FOR ANY OTHER STUFF just for fabric.
Ugh. Yes, I am with you. I hated it and it’s still not my favorite job. But pressing actually takes your garment from looking homemade (not in the good way) to spot-on! So:
Press your fabric BEFORE cutting out.
Press every seam as you go (yes, you can batch press them, but only if you are not sewing or attaching something on an unpressed seam)!
Take your time while pressing and actually press, not iron or glide over it.
Use steam to adjust/mold pattern pieces to curves before you sew them (e.g. sleeve heads).
Press your hems before you sew them. No discussion.
You can even press your pattern pieces (if you used pdf patterns and scotch tape, don’t iron over it please) if they have a lot of creases.
Press your homemade garments after you’ve washed them and give them the care they deserve.
Now let’s talk about your setup. Whether you have a designated sewing space or have to setup your machines for every project, there are a few things you might want to consider. Make sure to use your time as best as you can. So, no paperstuff or other things (like toys, dishes, etc.) should clutter up your workspace. It’s not creative (away you fiends!). Allow yourself to work in a relaxing environment. Put on some music, podcasts or tv (if that relaxes you). Make sure you have good lighting and a adequate chair. When I sew I constantly forget to drink, eat or even sit straight, so it’s important to work in conditions that will ensure you do not harm your health (sounds dramatic I know).
If you have a sewing space and you know what you want to sew up next, why not already take the pattern out for inspiration and thread your machines? A propos machines. You need to clean them at least once a month and oil them where necessary (read your instructions). Make a habit to clean your workspace after sewing. Just five minutes will do wonders (1. pick up all the threads on the floor, 2. pick up all the fabric scraps that are unusable, 3. fold the fabric that is still usable and put it away, 4. rethread your machine for your next project).
When starting out you can’t wait to finally finally try on what you’ve just made. This often will lead to mismatched zippers (still doing that btw) or crooked hems. Take your time. Let the garment hang over night and finish the hem in 10 minutes the next day. Do not plan projects to wear on the same day or weekend (it’s hard I know, I still fall down that rabbit hole every once in a while).
Don’t sew something because it’s all the rage in the sewing community right now. Think about your choice. Do you really need it right now? Will it make your life better? Do you have all the supplies for it? Can you use this pattern multiple times? Are you learning a new skill? Can you wear it to work? For this purpose I designed (hem, hem) a flowchart to guide me. To me it’s helpful but it probably won’t solve all your problems in making the right choice.
Do your research before you choose a pattern. If you are unsure about the style or how this piece of clothing might look on you, try searching the hashtag for the pattern on instagram. You’ll find real people of every size and shape for reference. Usually people in the community are also very helpful. If you are unsure about something, ask for help.
And lastly, if you’ve made your garment. Do a small debriefing. Sounds very military-ish, I know, but it works. Think about what’s good and what needs improvement concerning the garment or your skills. More often than not, we are either so burnt out after sewing or so elated with our makes that we don’t think about the next time. We barely get it together to clear our workspace and put away the pattern. Make notes of the adjustments you need to make (put a date on it) and at least store it together with the pattern. I make the adjustments directly to the patternpieces if I am sure I want to make another one in the near future. I have a Zoe dress from Sew Over It that is ok, but needed adjusting around the bust and neckline. So after I finished the first dress I transferred the necessary adjustments to the pattern and am therefore ready to go for the next one (I already have the fabric as it’s just such a great dress).
There you go, I hope it helps!
Happy Sewing, Nadine