Sunday, 9 August 2015

How To 'Get Into' Sewing and Dressmaking...

Often when I post links to my blog online, usually on Facebook, or when I flaunt my creations around the office, I'm asked how I got into dressmaking. I hear all too often from people who have always wanted to make their own clothes, but just don't feel 'clever' enough, or don't know where to start, or a bad experience in A-Level Textiles class put them off for life. It's like dressmaking is some secret skill that you don't just 'pick up', and that you have to have all the knowledge in the world before you can even start.
I have to admit... I was the same. For years I had been wishing that I knew how to make my own clothes, that I could just do it, but I was afraid to start. But really, since starting sewing again nearly a year ago I've discovered that the only skills you really need to get started are patience and perseverance.
'Scuse the face, I was tired.

Back in January of this year I "picked up" dressmaking. In that I'd finished my quilt and a couple of little projects and decided to myself "right, now I'm going to make a dress". I'd bought my first sewing magazine with a free pattern, and figured I'd just buy the fabric and make the dress.
I've been luckier than some with starting as dressmaking is in my blood. My Grandmother made clothes for M&S, and then taught my mother who spent the 70s and 80s making her own clothes. My mum had recently bought a new sewing machine, and as I am currently living at home I was able to borrow it. For the most part I was stubborn and refused guidance throughout the first dress, but my mum was on hand to help me figure out the most basic skills in sewing which I lacked. That dress took about a month or two to finish, but I still wear it now...
So I thought I'd run down my six top tips for starting this brilliant hobby, I hope they help you eliminate the fear and just go for it!

1. Your First Pattern Should Be A Real Challenge
I've read a lot of these kinds of articles where dressmakers recommend picking something simple so that you don't lose confidence by making mistakes. I disagree, we learn by making mistakes and picking something difficult in the first instance will make everything else seem more manageable and logical.
My first dress, the one picture above involved a bodice with princess seams, darts, set in sleeves, front facing, a zip and then a full skirt. The princess seams baffled me, but from that I learnt about 'easing in', which also taught me in turn that dressmaking is not just shoving two pieces of fabric together and sewing. The front facing was a totally different notion to me, it was something I didn't even know existed, and we still don't talk about zips... Though I have a zipper foot now, so life's a bit easier. Tip 1 (a) - get a zipper foot.

2. Get A Book.
If you live in Britain, you'll know that The Works is a gold mine for cut price books, and because of how popular sewing is becoming they currently have a much more comprehensive craft section than ever before. I got this one for about £4 I think, but if you don't have access to this shop you can easily get one online and it's worth investing. It'll become your bible. Don't forget that a quick Google search will also answer most questions too, and there are plenty of sewing tutorial YouTube videos. 

3.  Just Do It.
No, I am not sponsored by Nike, but the sentiment in their tagline works here. A lot of the time the problem with doing something is getting started, and so we put it off longer and longer and it never gets done, that dress never gets made, and we are left with the never knowing of how that dress might have looked. Find a local fabric shop, or look online at a website such as Minerva Crafts, pick something you fall in love with and just start. Though I recommend cotton, stretch fabric is a nightmare and will make you hit things this early on.

4. No Machine? No Problem!
Bertha has now been upgraded
but is still loved.
Using your bible (see tip 2) take the time to learn some basic hand stitches - running stitch, back stitch, slip stitch. Sure, I love my machine, I love rarely having to hand sew anything and I love the power old Bertha 2 gives me;  but it's not VITAL. My mum hand sews everything and more often than not it looks just as, if not even more professional. If you're adamant on getting a machine but are lacking the funds see if you can borrow one from a friend or a family member, or find a cheaper model online to get you started, but don't let not having one hold you back. After all, they didn't use machines in the days of Yore.
ALSO - fun fact! Even though I sewed the patches to their fleece components, the patches and bias of my t-shirt quilt were all sewn by hand.

5. Get the Right Tools.
You needn't spend a fortune, but getting the basics is key to success and preventing crisis'. Make sure you have the following tools in your stash, and preferably a pretty box to keep them in...
A seam ripper - for those welcomed mistakes (or learning curves as I prefer to call them)
Fabric scissors - NOT FOR PAPER.
Paper scissors - NOT FOR FABRIC.
Hand sewing needles - for practice. You can get these at most supermarkets.
Pins - good quality ones please, if they're not sharp enough they'll damage your lovely cotton. And then you'll cry.
Tailors chalk or pen - for marking darts and other bits. If you wanna go upmarket you can get a tracing wheel too, but I'd always have tailors chalk as a back up.
A tape measure - to measure yourself, and others, and random things just for fun.
A selection of threads - get a bunch of your favourite colours, and also black and white ones, you always need a back up.
A pin cushion - or EVEN BETTER! Make one! You are a crafter now after all.

6. Be Brave.
My first dress, and I sat there staring at
all this for a good amount of time.
OK, it sounds like an odd thing to need to be brave about, but it really can be a little daunting when you cut out all the pattern pieces and lay out the fabric, having never seen a lay plan before, never mind used one. The key is to take it one step at a time and follow the instructions. Remember that you're meant to be having fun, you wanted to do this, make whatever you did. Taking things slowly and bit by bit will allow you to learn and not get overwhelmed. And remember, if it doesn't work out the way you planned that's ok, no one's first dress/project is in any way perfect!

Please share your first or most recent projects with me, or any tips you have for new starters on here, Twitter and Instagram, and I shall speak to you soon!

Much love,

Kat xx


  1. Regarding your first point, the first dress I made when I took up dressmaking again was a silk dress with chiffon sleeves. Just dove right in! The dress is not perfect in any way, but it is beautiful. Even if the first project can be simple, I'd suggest getting cheap fabric and work on techniques, while still learning a bit about fabrics and fit. I really don't have any good tips to pass on, nobody has ever asked me so I haven't thought much about it.

  2. Love your advice here! As a newbie I agree with everything you have said! Really enjoying your blog,

  3. Wonderful advice! If anyone on here is a new to sewing like me and need a good machine I found fantastic prices at