You’re a beginner sewist, and you’ve decided to learn how to sew your own clothes. So far so good. But, where do you go from here? It’s easy saying you want to sew clothes, but where do you start?
This step-by-step guide will show you what you need to know to start garment sewing from scratch.
From choosing equipment to taking your first stitches, read on to learn how to sew clothes with our step-by-step beginner’s guide.
Equipment You Will Need
The equipment you need for sewing clothes is essentially the same as for any sewing task. Let’s take a look at some of the items you’ll need in your sewing area.
A sewing machine is the first thing you’ll need to purchase, unless you intend to sew your clothing by hand. There are a range of entry level machines available that are ideal for beginners.
Choose one with straight stitch and zigzag as a minimum. Both stitches will enable you to complete any sewing task and are the only ones that are essential.
An automatic buttonhole, removable free arm, and a selection of sewing machine feet are also good to have.
The main thing your sewing machine needs is room for you to grow. It needs to have the basic functions and a few extra features to help you expand your knowledge of sewing.
Once you have your sewing machine, grab some scrap fabric and play with it. Learn how to thread it, change the bobbin and sew in a straight line.
Getting to know your machine before you embark on your first project will save you a lot of time in the long run. It will also save you from becoming frustrated with your machine and giving up on your sewing.
Good quality scissors are an absolute must for your sewing box. They will cut fabric accurately, neatly, and will last you a lifetime.
You’ll need a couple of different types of scissors. A pair of fabric scissors with ergonomic handles will help make cutting a breeze. Some snips or small scissors will handle loose threads and pinking shears for tidying raw edges on your fabric.
When it comes to choosing thread, you need to make sure it’s suitable for using on a machine. You also need it to match the color of the fabric you are sewing so your stitching doesn’t show.
If you want to make a feature of your stitching, select a contrasting color or a different shade of your main color.
Some sewists recommend you match the thread to the fabric. So for a cotton fabric, you’d use cotton thread. This isn’t really essential. Sometimes it can prove difficult to do, particularly if you don’t know if your fabric is a cotton blend or 100% cotton.
For most sewing projects, an all-purpose thread will suffice. They are usually a polycotton blend or made from 100% polyester. Strong, durable and flexible enough for all fabrics whether they are woven or knit, an all-purpose thread takes the headache out of thread selection.
Concentrate on learning to sew. You’ll soon pick up the intricate differences with thread as your sewing skills improve.
Sewing specific rulers come in handy when you need to alter your sewing patterns. A french curve ruler will help you alter curved edges like sleeve tops or armholes.
A straight ruler will help add or reduce the length and width of straight edges, such as leg length or even the size of your hem.
Marking your seam allowances are another great use of sewing rulers so it’s well worth investing in a set.
Pins, Clips, and Pattern Weights
Whether you use pins, clips or pattern weights, you will need something to hold your fabric while you cut and sew it.
Pattern weights are ideal for holding tissue pattern pieces to fabric. They don’t mark delicate fabrics and they don’t tear the pattern.
Clips and pins can be used to hold your fabric steady while you line up your pattern notches. They can also hold your seams together while you sew.
Always remember to remove both before hitting either with your sewing machine needle! Sewing over clips or pins will break your needle and damage your machine.
Needles come in two types. Hand sewing needles and sewing machine needles. Neither are interchangeable and you will need both in your sewing basket.
Even if you intend to machine sew your clothes, you’ll find some places will need to be hand sewn. Depending on the finish you are looking for, you may need to use hand sewing for hems. If your machine doesn’t have a button foot, you will have to hand sew your buttons on.
Hand needles come in packs of different sizes. Which one you use in garment sewing depends on your preference and the thickness of your thread. The larger the eye of the needle, the thicker the thread you can get in it.
Sewing machine needles come in a variety of sizes and types. There are needles for jeans, knits, stretch fabrics, leather, twin needles, and topstitching. Each one has a specific purpose. A jeans needle for instance, is a large needle, designed for going through thick fabrics. A twin needle is designed to sew two rows of straight stitches and gives a decorative effect.
For beginner sewing with your machine, all you really need are universal needles. These come in a pack of different sizes ranging from 70/10 to 110/16. The smaller the number, the finer the fabric you can use it on.
Universal needles can be used on any fabric and are an all-purpose needle.
A flexible measuring tape is an essential piece of equipment. It helps you measure your body against the pattern pieces for an accurate fit.
Even experienced sewists sew the cuff shut on a sleeve sometimes. That’s why one gadget you will find in every sewist’s work box is a seam ripper.
Safer than trying to take out stitching with a pair of scissors, the sharp edge of the seam ripper is just the right size to remove them without damaging the fabric.
Pattern tissue comes with markings. These markings need to be transferred to the fabric. They help with lining up the different pieces when sewing. To mark them on the fabric, you’ll need either tailor’s chalk or a fabric marker pen.
Tailor’s chalk rubs off so doesn’t leave a visible mark on your garments. If you choose to use a marker pen, make sure it’s fabric specific and it will wash out! Steer clear of sharpies!
Interfacing, Interlining & Stabilizer
These three all do similar jobs but in different areas. Depending on the garment or item you are making, you’ll need to use one of them. Your pattern will tell you which one you need.
Interfacing adds stiffness to collars, button plackets and cuffs. Interlining adds body to the inside of jackets, usually between the outer fabric and the lining. Stabilizer adds stiffness to hats, bags and toys.
No project can be completed without fabric. The fabric you use depends on the pattern and garment you’re making. Pay attention to the type of fabric the pattern needs. All patterns show recommended fabrics on the envelope.
Always go for a fabric from the recommended list, as these will work best for that project. If it asks for a knit fabric, use a knit. Don’t try to swap it out for a woven.
Whenever you make a garment, you need to make a mock-up. It’s a bit like doing a test run. The mockup will help you get a good fit and introduce you to the pattern. That way, you’ll practice the tricky parts without spoiling your expensive fashion or main fabric.
Mock-up fabric can be any cheap fabric but try to keep it as similar to your main fabric as you can.
Iron and Ironing Board
When it comes to sewing your own clothes, you’ll get a better finish if you press the garment after each step.
It helps set the seams in place and smooths out any wrinkles, making sewing more accurate. Pressing also helps reduce bulk, making it easier to get the fabric under the sewing machine foot.
Pick Your Pattern
Your first sewing pattern should be simple. Try to stay clear of complicated patterns that need a lot of tailored effects.
A loose fitting garment will be ideal as you can concentrate on sewing rather than getting a good fit.
Another thing to remember, sewing your own clothes isn’t the same as buying a ready to wear garment. The sizing will be different.
There are two areas that are difficult to alter; your shoulders and your hips. Make sure to buy a pattern to fit those two points. Everything else can be adjusted. If it’s difficult to tell which size you need, check the finished garment size to make sure the pattern is the right one for you.
Reading Sewing Pattern Instructions
The pattern will give you a lot of information. There will be a set of sewing instructions that will tell you step-by-step how to sew the clothing together.
Pattern instructions have symbols showing right and wrong sides of the pattern pieces, whether the fabric needs to be right-side up or down, and if it’s fabric or interfacing. They also have diagrams showing the garment sewn together after each step.
Read through the instructions and familiarize yourself with the different symbols before you start cutting or sewing. Look at the pictures and identify what each one is showing you.
Study the Pattern Pieces
Even the pattern pieces will give hints and tips on how to sew and cut the fabric. From notches to seam allowances, all the markings you need are on the pattern.
Notches help you line up the pattern pieces. Your seam allowance markings will let you know where to sew your seams. Whatever markings are on the tissue paper, make sure to mark them on the wrong side of your fabric.
When it comes to cutting your fabric, try to keep it as flat as possible. You shouldn’t lift it to cut. Let the scissors glide across the cutting surface and keep them as level as you can. This will give you a more accurate cut and reduce a jagged uneven edge.
Most modern patterns will include a seam allowance. If yours doesn’t, make sure to check what the allowance should be by reading the instructions. Add that amount by marking it on the fabric before cutting.
Pinning The Fabric
Line the two layers of fabric together so raw edges are even. Then pin to keep them in place. You can pin the fabric in two ways. Vertically, running parallel to the edge of the fabric. Or Horizontally, with the pinhead sticking out from the edge and the rest of the pin going into the body of the fabric. It doesn’t matter which method you use, it’s a personal preference.
Make sure your pin goes through both layers of fabric. Smooth out any lumps or bumps caused by the pin so the fabric is as flat as possible.
If you are using clips, you will need to place them along the edge of the fabric.
Remember to remove both clips and pins as you sew. You don’t want to hit either with your sewing machine needle.
Sewing your garment
Keep checking the instructions as you sew and tick off each step as you complete it. This will ensure you don’t miss any.
Snip off loose threads from your seams as you go and make sure to press the seams. Your pattern should say to press open or to one side.
What your pattern may not tell you, is how to finish your seams. This is a necessary step, especially with woven fabrics as it stops them fraying. You can clip the edges with pinking shears or sew along the edge with a zigzag stitch.
If you have one, you can also neaten the edges with a serger or overlocker.
Remember to press your garment as you work. That’s press – don’t iron! Hold your iron on the seam. Don’t move it back and forth. Just press for a couple of seconds, lift and move to the next area. There’s no ironing motion with pressing. Watch the heat with delicate or synthetic fabrics.
Hopefully, this step-by-step beginner’s guide will give you the confidence to create your own garments from scratch. Accurately and with a professional-looking finish.