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Dressmaking for Beginners

Dressmaking for Beginners

Dressmaking for Beginners

With very few exceptions, we all wear clothes and have drawers and wardrobes full of them. Very few of us know the person who made our clothes, or even which country they were made in.  In this post we look at a few of the basics of dressmaking for beginners.

There is something magical about having the skill to construct your own clothes in the 21st Century. Dressmaking as a hobby is growing in popularity around the world, especially in the UK, for a number of reasons.  Whether it’s a simple T-shirt, kids PJ’s, a pretty summer dress or even a pair of knickers, making your own clothes is a hugely rewarding skill/craft that few people ever take the time to learn. Crazy when you think how huge the fashion industry is!

There are thousands of patterns available to buy from big pattern houses through to small independent designers. Patterns for every garment type that we can adapt to fit perfectly to create a unique style.  You just need to learn the basic skills to start sewing your own clothes and Sew Now is here to help get you started and share patterns with you each month in our inspiring sewing magazine.

Who made your clothes?

There’s an ethical angle to sewing your own clothes too, especially if you also source your fabric carefully.

Most of our clothes are made by anonymous, low-paid seamstresses working in factories on the other side of the world.  Each garment maker sewing a seam here or a button there on huge assembly lines for the throwaway fashion industry.

If the above ‘Mini Fashion Protest banner’ gets you thinking a little deeper, find out more about the ‘Love Fashion – Hate Sweatshops’ campaign over at The Craftivist Collective.

When you make your own clothes, you start to look at every garment in your wardrobe with wonder as you begin to understand how much skill and time must have gone into every stitch, dart and hem of those jeans, or that jacket that cost just £30!

We’re proud to be part of the growing, global community of dressmakers. People who love to sew their own clothes, whether to make a unique statement, for ethical reasons or just for the buzz of saying “I made this”.

With some determination, some advice and a few lessons, you could slowly transform your wardrobe into #memade fashion! (or maybe just learn how to sew your own knickers to start!)

How and where do I begin making my own clothes?

Sew Now is a sewing magazine dedicated to beginner and intermediate sewing.  We handhold you every step of the way with the sewing projects and we have a team online to help if you get stuck. Just ask us on our Facebook page!

tools needed to start dressmaking

Dressmaking for beginners: Tools you need to begin dressmaking

This is by no means an exhaustive list. The following are essentials you’ll need to get started.

  • Sewing machine (see below)
  • Thread
  • Sewing machine and hand sewing needles
  • Pins
  • Tape measure
  • Scissors, for fabric, for trimming thread and for cutting patterns (that’s 3 pairs in total)
  • Ironing board and iron
  • Seam ripper
  • Dressmakers chalk for marking out patterns

Dressmaking for beginners: Buying or borrowing a sewing machine

Fairly obvious, but to start with you will need a basic sewing machine if you don’t already have one.  We would advise asking friends and relatives if they have a machine you could borrow before you invest in a machine.  Often people have sewing machines lurking in cupboards that they used once to sew a pair of curtains 20 years ago.

There are many sewing machines available secondhand (although you may need to get them serviced). If you’re after a bargain there are plenty of affordable entry-level machines in supermarkets and department stores.  In issue 13 of Sew Now, you’ll see advertised the Singer Fashion Mate which is a perfect beginner sewing machine for dressmaking from less than £150.

singer fashion mate

Don’t stress about needing overlockers/sergers yet. Yes, they are very useful, but you need to get skilled up on your sewing machine first. #babysteps

Dressmaking for beginners: Master your machine

In every issue of Sew Now we have a ‘Master Your Machine’ and ‘Basic Stitches’ handy guide printed at the back.  No matter what your machine, it will have the same basic makeup so it’s easy to learn what all the various buttons and levers do. Machines almost all come with numbered arrows to show you how to thread them (and usually have extensive instruction booklets) but if you get stuck there are plenty of youtube tutorials to get you started.

Play with the stitch selector, choose stitch width and length and start to get a feel for how the fabric moves through the ‘feed dogs’ as you sew.  Nothing beats practice, so take the opportunity to mess around with any fabric scraps before starting on any projects.

reading a sewing pattern

Dressmaking for beginners: Reading a Sewing Pattern

Sewing patterns are very daunting to look at for beginners, but most come with explanations of every step.  Grab yourself a hot drink and take an hour to read through the pattern step by step before you begin.  Patterns include helpful information sheets, especially those aimed at beginners.

Over the next few weeks, we will be going step by step through everything you need to understand about reading a sewing pattern.  We’ll be looking at the following:

  • Pattern Cutting lines
  • Layout Diagrams
  • Grainline
  • Fold Line
  • Darts
  • Notches
  • Lengthening or Shortening Line
  • Circle Dots
  • Button & Button Hole Placement
  • Tucks and Pleats
  • Sewing Pattern Abbreviations

Follow our page on facebook to keep up to date with these handy sewing guides as they are written, and use the cheat sheet over on the Pattern Pages for a quick explanation of sewing pattern terminology.

Dressmaking for beginners: Choosing a Pattern to Sew

Start simple! Don’t try anything too complicated that will leave you frustrated and confused. The patterns that come with Sew Now are all aimed at beginner sewing, we won’t include anything overly complicated.

sew now issue 8

Sewing magazines are an amazing resource for beginner dressmakers.  We always feature a free pattern cover gift and sometimes two! The beauty of buying a magazine pattern is that you know there will be lots of other dressmakers sewing up the same pattern.  The editor and team are on hand to help too, if you get stuck. You also get all the patterns inside and loads of fabric inspiration and helpful sewing advice.

Many beginners don’t realise that it is possible to preserve a sewing pattern by tracing out the size you need and keeping the original.  This means you will be able to come back to the pattern and make it in different sizes if needed (in case you shrink, grow… or just get it wrong first time!)

Buy back-issues of Sew Now from Craft Stash which also has a huge selection of Sewing Patterns, including plenty of beginner patterns. Get a real bargain with our older issues, some from just £3 and they include Simple Sew or Butterick pattern gifts too!

Look out for the words ‘Beginner’ or ‘Easy’ when browsing through patterns, our big sister dressmaking magazine Love Sewing shared this helpful list.

Easy Sewing Patterns from Big Brands

SimpleSew – the brand behind many Sew Now Cover Patterns

Jaycotts easy sewing patterns

Simplicity – It’s So Easy patterns 

McCalls – Patterns designed for the beginner

KwikSew – learn to sew patterns

Burda – Novice sewing patterns

Sew-alongs and video tutorials

A godsend when you get stuck! Look out for patterns which have been featured in Sew-Along’s or have accompanying video tutorials when you are starting out. With sew-alongs as with magazine patterns, there are many dressmakers following the construction process and asking questions along the way.

choosing fabric for a sewing pattern

Dressmaking for beginners: Selecting fabric type and quantity for your sewing pattern

The pattern will advise you which fabrics to use and how much you need as in the example above where lightweight woven fabrics like crepe, faille and satin are recommended. The table then shows the amount of fabric needed.  So for example for size 14, sewing up view B if you buy a fabric which is 45 inches wide you will need 3 1/8 yards of fabric.  If you need that converted to metres, just google it!

For beginner dressmaking stick to patterns that don’t need precise pattern matching to look good.  Steer clear of stripes or very large patterns. We also make fabric suggestions with all of our featured patterns and sewing projects in Sew Now.

choosing fabric for sewing patterns

Before you cut into any expensive fabric, sew up a voile (a test garment) in an inexpensive fabric to test that you are cutting the correct pattern size. It will be worth the time and effort as you can then sew with confidence when you get started on your chosen fabric.

Be sure to tag us over on Instagram with #sewnowmag when you finish your first garment! We’ll be cheering and offering congratulatory biscuits and hot tea!

See more Dressmaking for Beginners tips on our Pinterest board

About Hilary Pullen

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