If you've ever scoured stores for that particular clothing item you need and still can't find exactly what you are looking for, then learning how to sew your own clothing can be a real privilege and save you lots of money in the process. Every woman has had a moment when having this extra skill could have really come in handy. While the process may seem intimidating for a complete beginner, if you start small and grow from there, you'll find that learning how to sew is actually not as scary as you might think. Although it has it's challenges, especially when tackling more complex designs, once you know the basics you can work through almost any sewing problem.
Start With The Sewing Basics
Sewing is a little bit like math- you have to start with the most basic techniques and gradually build on them over time. It is very difficult to sew something more complex if you don not yet have a full grip on the basics. Surely you're asking yourself: So what are the basics? Well, start with the building block of all clothing items: fabric. For instance, get a better understanding of the difference between knit and woven fabrics; The location of the selvage along the fabric's edge and how it is used in relationship to sewing patterns; What classifies as the face and wrong side of fabric? Once you understand these basic concepts, it's a good idea to make a few trips to your local fabric store. The good new is that you don't have to buy anything- browsing is free. Do some window shopping and get your hands on a few different fabrics. Read the fabric content on the tags and see if you can differentiate between the different types of weaving available.
In addition to gaining some basic fabric knowledge, work on better understanding sewing patterns and their use. Think of sewing patterns as big stencils that form the building blocks of a garment. As we'll discuss below, understanding basic elements on a sewing pattern is essential when it comes to sewing the garment pieces afterwards. For example, having a general recognition of what a basic dress, skirt, or pant sewing pattern looks like is important for a sewing beginner. You do not have to get into the complexities of things (unless you want to), but being able to recognize where the neckline, armholes, waistline, and side seams are is important in the cutting and sewing process. In addition, learning more about darts in construction will open your eyes to various fit concepts and garment structure. Other more complex elements like princess seams, tucks, pleats and facings (to name just a few) are something you can learn later, when you feel more comfortable with all the basics. If you're just getting started, don't worry too much about knowing how to sew a sleeve or add various styles of zipper closures. Your first project should ideally stay away from any complex sewing techniques and focus strictly on cutting the sewing patterns, sewing the appropriate seams together and simple methods for clean finishing garment raw edges like those of seams, hems and armholes/neckline.
If you would like to get more familiar with sewing pattern elements but would rather not spend any money, you can look up some templates online or even borrow a few patterns from a friend that sews. To initially familiarize yourself with them, you just need to be able to read and recognize all their essential elements. Once you understand what goes where, you'll have an easier time choosing your first sewing pattern to buy.
Buy only the most essential tools for the initial project.
An initial intimidating factor for most sewing beginners is the pressure of buying all the initial sewing tools. Many beginners think they need a variety of complex tools in order to get started, thus they end up feeling increasingly overwhelmed in the beginning stages. This can sometimes push them to give up too soon. In reality, you should do quite the opposite. Always start with the simple and the very necessary tools for your first project. This will not only save you money, but also eliminate some of the confusion related to the initial supply purchase.
Think of your first sewing project as your first sewing lesson. Your biggest initial investment will be a sewing machine (if you don't already own one) and a good pair of fabric scissors. The good news is, you don't need an expensive sewing machine with lots of stitch options. Look for a sewing machine that can sew at least a straight stitch, a zig-zag stitch and a button hole. Unless you are planning on learning more about machine embroidery, you shouldn't complicate things with sewing machines featuring lots of complex embroidery options. You can buy additional presser feet for your sewing machine as you become more advanced and learn more complex finishes over time.
If you want to get a head start on the tool purchase, the following are the necessary and least expensive sewing tools/supplies you need as a sewing beginner:
A seam ripper: used for taking out stitches if you make a mistake (a must for sewing beginners).
Pins: used for pinning seams together and holding the fabric layers together during sewing.
Fabric marking pencil or tailors chalk: It is important that you have a non-permanent way of marking directly on the fabric without damaging it. Fabric marking pencils and tailors chalk (used on thicker fabrics) come off in the wash without damaging the fabric. If you are looking to save some money, you can always use leftover, dry soap pieces for marking. Check out 6 Sewing Hacks For The Creative Seamstress to learn more.
Fabric tracing paper and a tracing wheel (Optional but recommended): This is used to transfer darts and other markings from pattern onto fabric. It is a good idea to get these two items together for dart transfers and various pattern-making techniques. However, if you are looking to save some money, you can opt out of these two items for the time being and use just your marking pencil instead.
Hand Sewing Needles: Even though you'll be using your sewing machine for the main stitches, hand sewing needles are necessary both in the sewing process as well a variety of hand finishing techniques. As you delve deeper into the sewing process, you'll learn that in certain situations, basting by hand before applying the final stitch will save you the headache of having to redo it.
Find inexpensive fabrics.
As a rule of thumb, never start with the most expensive fabrics. As a matter of fact, think of your first sewing project as a learning experience as opposed to something you'll be able to wear right away. The reality is you will make lots of mistakes on your first try, but don't get discouraged! Making mistakes in the learning process is certainly a good thing when it comes to sewing. Keep in mind that it is quite normal not to fully understand the concept of fabric drape until you have had some practice and a bit of trial and error. This is a very common issue for beginners even after they have a couple of finished projects under their belt. Don't put too much pressure on yourself to pick the right fabric right from the start- always look at your first sewing try as a lesson/learning experience.
It is very possible that the fabrics you fall in love with most will sometimes be the most costly. Keep your eye on them but we encourage you not to use them on your first project. On the other hand, don't get discouraged if you have "ruined" a couple of your favorite fabrics- we've all done it! Your initial fabric purchase should be viewed more as practice material. We suggest you start with plain woven cotton fabrics. Although they do not always have the silky drape you might be after, they are less expensive and very easy to cut, mark and sew. You can find them in the quilting cotton section in large variety of prints and colors. These cotton wovens are a great start for any project and depending on the design you are sewing, quite wearable as well. If you are looking for actual practice material you can try muslin which is a plain woven cotton available in bleached and non-bleached options. Muslin is used in the apparel industry for prototypes before cutting the final garment fabric and is quite inexpensive. We recommend always using muslin to test all your sewing techniques before cutting out the final sewing patterns, especially when working with more expensive fabrics
If you are short on money, browse the fabric store first and get an idea of what type of fabric you are interested in using. If it's too expensive, take the name down and look it up online to see if you can find more affordable options. Although the content (polyester, cotton, silk etc.) is important, search by type of weaving/fabric (for example: challis, chiffon, corduroy, etc) when shopping online as this will ensure that you receive a similar one to the fabric store version.
If you like the tactile quality of physically shopping for fabrics but are weary of spending too much money on your first sewing projects, look for remnants or browse the sale section. The sale section still offers great quality fabrics but at a more reasonable cost for a beginner. Many fabric stores also offer remnant pieces. These are often rolled up and labeled with how much yardage each piece contains as well as additional fabric information like fiber content and weaving type. As a sewing beginner, you will most likely start with smaller yardage so using remnants allows you to find higher quality fabrics that will most likely fit within your project specification.
Tip: If you live close to a clothing manufacturing company or factory, they could possibly have some fabric remnants available for free. Don't be afraid to give them a quick call and ask!
Start with a simple dress sewing pattern.
As a beginner, you shouldn't spend all your resources on buying a variety of different sewing patterns. This not only adds up in cost, but it can also end up overwhelming you more than expected. We suggest you buy patterns in a single size. Commercial sewing patterns usually available at the fabric store, have to be broken down by size which can end up confusing a sewing novice. In addition, search for the most simple dress you can find, trying your best to avoid: sleeves, princess seams, tucks, pleats, and complicated darts. If you can manage to avoid a zipper on your first project, that would be ideal. However, a zipper might be a necessary closure for a non-stretch dress so you'll have to power through it even though it might seem a bit intimidating at first.
As an initial step, read the pattern and understand all of its basic elements before pinning and cutting the final fabric. It is much easier to understand all the components of a garment by reading the marked patterns than attempting to read the already cut fabric pieces alone. If you are starting with a simple dress, as is most recommended, you should be able to identify the necklines, armholes, waist area, the hem and all of its darts. In addition, it is important to understand the concept of seam allowance and be able to differentiate between the seam allowance along each edge. Keep in mind that you should refer back to your sewing patterns any time you forget what the seam allowance is, or if you're simply confused about matching the appropriate seams during sewing. For that reason, it is essential that you are able to read a sewing pattern and understand it as if it was a blue print for your garment prior to cutting out the final fabric.
A simple dress pattern will teach you all the elements mentioned above including notches and how to use them properly during sewing. Notches are something that every sewing pattern will most likely have, whether it is a very basic or more complicated garment. A simple sewing pattern will most likely only have 1 or 2 sets of notches which will make it less confusing for a beginner. If you start with sewing a simple dress and understand every step of the process along the way, you can later apply these techniques to sew most basic tops and various skirt styles.
Techniques Associated With Sewing a Simple Dress
The sewing techniques associated with sewing a simple dress encompass all the basics you need to know as a sewing beginner. Along with learning how to sew a simple seam, making a dress from scratch will additionally teach you more about drape, giving you a better understanding of fit along the bust, waist and hip areas. Since a dress often involves most parts of the human form, you will save some money by eliminating the need to purchase additional sewing patterns for a separate skirt and top. A plain dress will usually include the need to sew darts, finish neckline and armhole edges, as well as clean-finish the hem. These are the most used techniques in sewing that are almost always applicable to sewing other garments. Once you master these techniques you can move on to more complicated projects and learn additional sewing elements as you advance.
It is a good idea to start with a woven fabric that does not stretch. While in theory, knit items may seem easier to sew, it is woven fabrics that will help you understand the basics better. Non-stretch woven fabrics allow you to practice a multitude of common sewing techniques such as darts and certain seam finishes you cannot otherwise learn with stretch knits. Starting with non-stretch fabrics will also allow for a wider prince range thus offering inexpensive options when it comes to those first projects.
We also suggest that your first sewing project is not a maxi dress as this is not only costly but it can lead you to other challenges such as limited space for laying out the fabric and cutting your sewing patterns effectively. As mentioned above, your first go at sewing will almost always warrant some mistakes so using less amount of fabric at a lower cost is always a safer choice. Lastly, stay away from sewing styles with sleeves if you can. Sewing a basic sleeve takes some background knowledge and can be extremely overwhelming for a sewing beginner.
The following are simple (but necessary) sewing techniques you'll learn by sewing a basic dress:
- Laying out your fabric correctly for cutting.
- Pinning and cutting your sewing patterns.
- Transferring markings from the patterns onto the fabric pieces (notches, darts etc.)
- How to sew and clean-finish seams.
- At least one method for finishing a neckline edge.
- At least one method for clean finishing armhole edges.
- Technique(s) for clean finishing the hem.
- Practice using basic sewing tools, including your sewing machine.
- You may also learn essential techniques used to facilitate the actual sewing process: Basting, ironing each seam as you sew, applying interfacing, staystitching, understitching etc.
You can apply all of the sewing techniques listed above in the construction of most garments.
Using online resources.
While there are unlimited free resources and tutorials online, knowing where to look and what to look for can prove to be somewhat of a challenge for a sewing beginner. As a first step, try to be specific in your search keywords as to avoid the need to filter through a lot of general information you might not understand. Sometimes however, trying to find the best beginner sewing resources online will entail you to browse through some unfamiliar territory. Avoid this by searching each individual step at a time. The process of learning how to sew is one that requires step by step transition through each stage, so focusing on a single technique until you really understand it will save you some headache in the long run.
A few simple Google searches will lead you to some great free resources both in text and video form. Anytime you feel confused about a term or phrase, be sure to look it up even if it may seem unimportant to you. Assuming you are starting with sewing a simple dress, divide the project into multiple small tasks and tackle each one at a time. Make sure that your internet searches focus on the specifics of each task as opposed to a general guideline for sewing the entire dress. For a example, start right from the beginning by searching "how to lay out the fabric for cutting"- this will additionally teach you a few things about the fabric's selvage edge and the direction of the grain line. Next, you may focus on how to pin and cut your sewing patterns. You'll find that if you concentrate on each stage of the process consecutively and allow for enough practice and time to understand each step, the most appropriate online resources will become easier to find.
Here are a few suggestions for what to search online as a sewing beginner:
- How to cut a basic sewing pattern
- What is cut on fold and how to cut a sewing pattern on fold.
- What are darts and how to sew a simple dart.
- How to sew a seam.
- How to finish raw edges of seams.
- How to finish neckline and armhole edges.
- How to clean finish a garment's hem.
- How to transfer pattern markings to fabrics.
* Look up each sewing term individually as you come across it. This will help you understand it in the context in which it is found thus making it much easier to remember.
Try the Learn To Sew Box
If you enjoy an all-in-one solution to getting started, you may want to give the Learn To Sew Box a try. It teaches you how to sew a simple A-line dress from scratch, and includes simplified sewing patterns in your size, your choice of fabric color/print and all the simple tools necessary to get started. In addition, a simple step-by-step visual guide will efficiently get you through the sewing process. Many beginners often get overwhelmed with the amount of information out there. Browsing the fabric store for the right fabrics and tool is no walk in the park either, especially if you are completely unfamiliar with at least some sewing basics. If you feel a bit nervous about where to get started, the Box might be a good option for you.
To start with, the sewing patterns provided in the Learn To Sew Box are very simple and labeled appropriately for sewing beginners. They are also offered in your choice of size which eliminates the hassle of having to break down commercially available sewing patterns by size, as is often the case. Additionally, the fabric, available in two prints and a solid color, offers great drape for a classic A-line dress allowing you to actually wear it once completed, if so desired. As mentioned above, the best way to start is with only the basic tools. The box includes a seam ripper, matching thread, water soluble marking pencil and pins. You will also be able to use the custom-made double folded binding to clean finish the raw edges of the armholes and neckline while simultaneously learning how to apply it correctly in the process. Having a concise guide that takes you step by step through the sewing process, from cutting the fabric to finishing the garment's raw edges, allows you to lay out the building blocks for more complex techniques as you progress.
Expanding gradually into pattern-making and additional sewing techniques.
Being eager to learn to sew more complex items and draft your own patterns is every sewing beginner's dream. Realistically, that might not be fully possible right from the beginning stages. If you are just starting out, don't try to tackle complex sewing techniques until you feel truly comfortable with the basics. Move on to the next stage only when the basics start to feel boring to you- Using this simple concept will ensure that you're not getting ahead of yourself and becoming unnecessarily overwhelmed.
Once you've gotten all the basics down, get more familiar with pattern manipulation techniques like the slash-and-spread method or shifting method. Don't be afraid to experiment. At this stage, you should invest in some practice material and try your hand at more complex sewing techniques. Once you get familiar with drafting your own sewing patterns, use the pinning and cutting method you already know to test them on fabric. Moving into more complex territory will entail making a lot more learning mistakes but will also feel extremely rewarding. When it comes to mastering the art of sewing, persistence and patience always pays off in the long run.
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