Quite a few of you pinged me on social media after my post earlier on this week telling me that you were just starting on your handmade wardrobe journey AND you really really wanted to sew more of your clothes. As I said in the last Sewing 101 post, I've observed a couple of good friends start the journey towards a handmade wardrobe over the last few years, and there have been a couple of common "mistakes are how you learn" type moments. So to save you guys a little time here are my top four important pieces of advice before you start.
As always - these are just my suggestions. They may not work for you or you may think they are a load of rubbish. Feel free to comment!
1. Fabrics are the key to making beautiful things with simple sewing.
The reason that all those tops are so lovely and I love them, is that all of them are made from lovely fabric. Simple clothes only work if the fabric is lovely, as it is all about the shape, the drape and the print.
Take the time to find fabric that is a good weight for clothes. Feel the fabric of your favourite tops in your wardrobe - this will give you an idea of what you like. For tops I generally use 100% cotton or 100% linen or a blend. Depending on what you are making look for something a little lighter than a quilting cotton.
Here is the mistake that often gets made - Your fabric doesn't need to be expensive, but it does need to not be a quilting cotton. A common mistake is to look at all the pretty quilting fabric on the shelves and decide they will be just the thing for your first project. Quilting cottons are lovely but they are made for quilting not clothes. When you are quilting you don't want the fabric to move; you want it to be stable. With clothes you are often looking for drape and movement. Not always but often and generally that is true of tops.
I buy Liberty Tana Lawn sometimes and for those of you going "it's lovely but sooo expensive just remember that for a Wiksten Tank made from Liberty you need to spend about $30. $30 and then you have a Liberty tank. You can't argue with those maths.
Fabrics that are good to start with include any kind of lightish cotton - a voile, a lawn, some kind of shirting fabric, a light chambray can be lovely, or even a double gauze. Cotton is good because it is relatively stable (unlike linen) but it isn't slippery (like silk).
2. Good seam allowances are the train to happiness!
I talked about this in detail in Step 1 of the first Sewing 101. But this really is the key so take your time to work out how to do this.
3. Buy patterns from good INDEPENDENT companies
I wrote a post last year that talked a little about how we used to be surrounded by people that made. That making was part of life for many people. And that there were people around us that had skills we could call on. Which meant that pattern companies didn't need to put as much info into their patterns. Many old school pattern companies still write patterns like this. They assume that you know what you are doing. Which is fine when you do, but not so fine when you don't.
Independent pattern designers have changed the game in terms of how patterns are written. They are writing patterns that are well written and teach you things as you make. They generally also have lots of diagrams.
Some suggestions for independent pattern companies include Collette, Grainline, Tessuti, Wiksten, By Hand London, Made By Rae, Liesel & Co, Megan Nielsen - all of these companies are thoughtful about how they put together a pattern and go through it step by step.
There are many other new independent designers popping up but as I haven't used them I don't want to recommend their patterns. I know you guys will have more (that you have tested) so please add them in the comments and I'll update the post with your suggestions.
And then there are the Japanese pattern books. However, while I love them and use them regularly for kidswear, they assume a lot of knowledge and are probably better after you have built up your confidence a bit.
4. Little things make a big difference
So now for some simple tips that will make your life happier - newbie or not.
- Trim your threads as you go. This one is a little life changing if this isn't something you already do! I keep a little bowl right next to my machine to put them in.
- Iron your seams as directed. This makes a big difference to your outcome.
- Use a new needle for each (major) project.
Another tip (that is a little tricky to explain) is to think about flow. Read ahead in your pattern and figure out whether you can gather your steps together. Pin as many pieces together as you can when you are pinning, so you then have a pile of things to sew when you sit at the machine. Sew them all before heading to the ironing board. Do your ironing all in one go and then do your next load of pinning. For me, this makes the whole process feels more focused and simpler, rather than the up down up down up down of following the pattern instructions.
Modeste made a couple of good suggestions in the comments of the last post -
- Ignore all the 2/3hr thing. It will take as long as it takes - so true!
- Do a muslin in a fabric that has a similar drape to the fabric you plan on using - I totally agree but I don't do it very often. For any given pattern, my first muslin is often my first wearable version. I just make it in a fabric that is not a favourite.
Next up in sewing 101, I'll start talking alterations. In the mean time - do you have any advice for newbies?