Sewing tips

Thinking of getting into sewing? Here are some tips for newbie sewists

Chances are, those of you reading this blog already know a thing or two about sewing. However, once in a while when people find out I sew my own clothes, they tell me how they would like to learn as well, but find it too intimidating. So I thought it might be useful to put my pitch for sewing as the perfect hobby into writing along with some tips for beginners. Grab a cuppa, sit back, and relax, because this might take a while.

Why pick up the needle and wire up the sewing machine at all?

First of all, because mastering the craft of sewing allows you to create the wardrobe of your dreams, with patterns and fabrics you love and a custom fit. The stronger your skills grow, the more confident you become in hacking patterns to be able to create anything your mind dreams up.

Sure, it will take time before you become a confident sewer and can identify and correct fitting issues, but that doesn’t mean you won’t create and enjoy your own bespoke pieces of clothing from the get go. It’s all a learning curve, I’m still learning too!

Secondly, the process in itself is incredibly rewarding and relaxing – working with your hands, spending hours cutting, pinning and sewing, completely forgetting the time, and ending up with an item of clothing to wear is simply wonderful!

But a word of warning – it will not save you money. Fabrics, notions, sewing machines, patterns, and your time – it all amounts to quite a bit of cash. Like most hobbies, you have to invest in it. And believe me, you will be rewarded (and will possibly develop a fabric-buying addiction as a side effect)! Besides, due to the time and energy you invest in making it, you will cherish your handmades much more, and as a bonus you will know exactly under what conditions they were made a who made them, which is hardly possible with a cheap ready-to-wear top.

So what should you know before you start?

1. Sew what you’ll actually wear

A lot of tutorials for beginners suggest you start by making a cushion cover or a canvas bag. This may be a good idea if you have never held a needle in your hand, but if you have no need of either item and will get no joy making it, it will only put you off. So why make it at all?

The first thing I made on my grandmother’s old machine was a satin wrap dress. It didn’t turn out great, because of the choice of fabric and the sparse Burda instructions, but it was wearable and I was so proud I made it! Nowadays, however, indie patterns have instructions so detailed they basically hold your hand, so choose a simple top or skirt and start there!

2. Forget Burda for now, go indie

When I started, my only source of patterns was the Burda style magazine. While they offer great patterns, their instructions assume you have some knowledge of garment construction and can be confusing for beginners. Not to mention the mess of lines on the pattern sheet. So do yourself a favour a give Burda and commercial patterns (from the big companies like Butterick, McCall’s, Vogue etc.) a miss for your first couple of garments. Instead, choose a pattern from an indie company, because their step-by-step instructions are usually impeccable and if you have trouble, you can always e-mail them and they will usually try to help.

If you are new to the world of indie sewing patterns, explore the Foldline, which is basically a database of sewing patterns and also a shop. You can use their filters to specify you want an indie pattern and even the type of garment and shape you are after. You have lots of options, for example Tilly and the Buttons, Sew Over It, By Hand London, or Helen’s Closet, to name just a few.

If you prefer books, I would recommend Tilly’s Love at First Stitch which helped greatly to popularise sewing again. She also has a great book to get you started on sewing with knits.

3. Get involved, get inspired

There is a huge sewing community out there and it’s a pretty inspiring place. Just hop onto Instagram and browse hastags such as #sewistsofinstagram, #handmadewardrobe, or #indiesewing to discover sewists to follow. All the indie pattern companies are also there and you can look up the hastags for their individual patterns to see them made up from different fabrics and worn by makers of all shapes and sizes.

Youtube is also a great source of inspiration, with a myriad of sewing vloggers sharing their fabric hauls, plans and makes. You can also find lots of tutorials for techniques, fitting, and sewalongs for specific patterns out there.

Facebook sewing groups are also a great place to be to share your makes and ask for advice. Try The Fold Line Group, for a start.

So get on there and explore – the sewing community is generally incredibly kind and friendly!

And if the virtual world isn’t enough, find a sewing buddy near you. If you don’t know anyone who sews, look up your local fabric shops and see if they have any classes on, that’s great way to meet like-minded people, while also helping you start your sewing journey, if you don’t feel like going it alone.

4. Fabric is everything

I know how tempting it is to go for the bright and colourful quilting cottons that populate most of the fabric store, but believe me, they are not particularly suited to most garments.

Choosing the right fabric can be tricky, but pattern designers always suggest specific types you should use, so try to follow their advice. If you are unsure, you can always ask for recommendations in your local fabric shop – I’m sure they’ll be happy to help.

Also, some fabrics are trickier to work with than others, so try choosing a first project that requires more stable fabrics like cotton lawn, which is a lightweight cotton suited to tops or summer dresses, or cotton twill, perfect for skirts, dresses and trousers. If you’re starting with jersey first, try more stable knits like ponte, cotton jersey or sweatshirting.

5. The iron is your best friend

I started sewing in my bedroom in my parents’ house. The iron and ironing board were upstairs while my room was downstairs. Needless to say, I was often too lazy to lug it all down the stairs and tried to make do without it.

Do not be lazy like I was! Iron your fabric before you cut out you pattern pieces. Press your seams as you go. This is absolutely essential for getting professional results. So have you iron and ironing board ready next to your sewing machine. Believe me, you’ll use it loads. I never even put mine away now.

6. Change your needle

Be honest, when was the last time you changed your sewing machine needle? Is the original that came with the machine still there? Not a good idea. Like all sharp things, it blunts with use. Opinions vary – some say to change it for every new project, others after each 8 hours of use… Chances are that if you are having trouble with your stitches, a blunt needle might often be the culprit.

Also, different fabrics require different needles. Always use a stretch needle or ballpoint needle for knits, and a fine needle or microtex needle for fine fabrics (the lower the number, the finer the needle).

Jennifer Lauren Pippi pinafore

7. Keep your pins out of your mouth

This is just friendly advice. Do yourself a favour and don’t develop this bad habit of so many sewists of putting pins in your mouth. Get yourself a magnetic pin dish and keep it right by your sewing machine, and a wrist pin cushion to use when you’re not at the machine. And read the horror stories of people accidentally inhaling pins when holding them in their mouth. Really not worth it, guys!

8. Do not skip staystitching and understitching

Sewing a garment together doesn’t just involve sewing up all the seams. Often there are extra steps you need to take, for example to prevent the fabric from stretching (staystitching), when the piece is cut on the bias, or to prevent the underside (your facing or lining) from showing (understitching). These are essential steps in the construction, so be sure not to skip them. Burda and commercial patterns often omit these in the instructions, assuming you will know when to staystitch and understitch, so keep that in mind.

9. It doesn’t have to be perfect

Don’t beat yourself up if you’ve misaligned your seams, your invisible zip isn’t so invisible, or your garment simply didn’t turn out as great as you imagined. You can always pick up a seam ripper and redo it, or make alterations to fix what doesn’t look right. We all make mistakes. Even if it cannot be fixed, chances are, you will be the only person to notice that mistake.

Even if, in the end, you decide the finished garment doesn’t suit you, that’s ok too. You can always donate it, or take it apart and refashion it into something else, use parts of it for smaller scrapbusting projects such as a quilt, or for a toile (a mock up of a pattern to try out the fit). Or save it, along with any offcuts you accumulate, and once you have enough, cut it up as well and use it to fill cushions or poofs.

Sew Over It Kitty dress

10. Have fun!

Because that’s what it’s all about. Sewing is here to to bring you joy, add creativity to your life and enable you to make something beautiful and something which is totally you in the process. So go wild with fabric choices, experiment with patterns, and see where it takes you.

Until next time


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