Monday, February 20, 2012

{Sewing for Beginners} Five Golden Rules

Continuing my Sewing for Beginners series, in my efforts to convince you all that sewing really isn't as hard as you might think, here are my five golden rules.

1. Follow the instructions step. by. step. Sometimes - especially on vintage patterns - the instructions can seem vague, or make assumptions about your level of knowledge and ability. Read and re-read them before you start. Sometimes you might wonder about the point of a particular step, but its neccessity will usually become clear later in the construction. Making a muslin is a great opportunity to practice techniques as well as improve the fit of a garment. Take your time. Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither - unless you're a pretty competent seamstress - is a dress. I can take a week or two to finish a dress - longer, even. But that's fine. As hard as it is, try not to let impatience to see the project finished compromise your work.

2. Your iron is your best friend (after your sewing machine). Pressing seams and darts makes an immeasurable difference to the professional look of the finished garment - honestly. I'm super lazy and will generally take short cuts wherever possible, but I have my ironing board and iron sitting out whenever I'm sewing so I can give each seam a quick press before I sew the next one.

3. Believe you can do it. A pattern with tucks and gathers and drapes and topstitching might seem daunting, but take it one stage at a time, one instruction at a time, and it's not really so hard. Practice makes perfect with techniques you're not sure about like gathering and topstitching.

4. Don't fixate on perfection. One of the things that initially scared me when I wanted to start sewing was seeing all the hundreds of tutorials about getting a perfect fit. It seemed like such an undertaking, with so much to learn - how was I ever going to make a dress that fit me if there was all this to consider? Eventually I plucked up the courage and jumped straight in with my first project, making it up as the pattern (which was too big for me), then simply taking out about two inches from the side seams to make it fit. It's not perfect, but it still fits me a whole lot better than a high street garment. Since then I've learned about Full Bust Adjustments and pattern tweaking, and now fitting issues make much more sense to me (though I'm still only really starting out in the complex world of proper fit). What I'm saying is although the pursuit of perfection is very noble, it doesn't really help the beginner to get stuck in. Which brings us to...

5. Don't be afraid of mistakes. The seam ripper is your friend. So the seam allowance got caught up in your stitching and left a huge wrinkle? Or upon completion you find you've made the waist size too large? It really is no big deal to unpick the seam and re-sew it. Fixing sewing errors takes less than ten minutes in most cases - rarely longer than half an hour. Cutting mistakes are harder to fix, but can usually be avoided with planning.

Following on from this, since I seem to be accidentally launching a campaign to get people sewing, I was thinking about running a beginners sew along: Something simple like a 1950s dress, possibly Folkwear's 50s pattern. Since I'm trying to encourage beginners to jump in, there won't be a muslin stage, but I'll try and cover basic adjustments. If you're interested or have any suggestions, please let me know!


  1. Thank you very much for this post! I recently bought a sewing machine and I've been practising with it making cushions and other simple things. I bought it in mind of making my own clothes though, so these kind of posts are very helpful. Thanks again!
    R xx

  2. I am not a beginner but neither am I a seamstress so if I can Id love to join in on a 50s sew along.I have been wanting to sew some 50s dresses but yep been daunted.

  3. excellent tips!! When I sew, I think I use my iron more than my sewing machine! :P

  4. I think I need the first tip tattooed on my forehead :p I have a tendency whilst sewing, if everything is going well, to decide that I know far better than the pattern (with a total of ...erm, 4 successful projects and about as many failed ones behind me) and start making it up as I go along. Not a good idea :p xx

  5. Good stuff! I get caught into the perfection thing, I really love when a garment is pretty on the inside and it takes me a while. I love my iron, use it to mold everything and then sew. These are wonderful tips, thanks for sharing.

  6. Good tips especially the ironing, that is so important.

  7. I've been sewing for absolutely years and years, applique, patchwork, household items etc etc but apart from making dolls and their clothes and my own cotton petticoats, I don't dress make. I have used patterns, read umpteen books, I understand the basics, the theory etc, it's just that I have one hell of a mental block about fit, because I am only five foot and have a big bust for my frame.
    I hear what you're saying though. I would give anything for a class but there just aren't any near me, and when I say near me, I mean there's nothing for a couple of hundred miles!
    I also have the numerical equivalent of dyslexia so I find it hard to work out adjustments etc, it all starts to trickle out my ears, I get on better for actaully being shown something.
    I recently had a favourite dress copied to a pattern of my exact size, to see if it would get me going but so far have only cut out the bits. Must get on with it!

  8. I would love you to do a sewalong.I've had my machine since christmas and have made one great skirt and one disaster.
    I had always thought that making a dress would be way out of my league. Thankyou for making me think otherwise.

  9. Thank you for tips!!!!!!!!


I'd love to hear your thoughts!


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