There are our famous Sew4Home aprons, various scarves, a few PJ pants, helpful tutorials on basic techniques, like pleats and darts… but really – we only dip our pinky toes into the waters of garment sewing. That doesn’t mean we don’t love it; we’ve just yet to set sail with full sets of sized patterns. Options are being researched, but in the meantime, we’ve made a new commitment to partner with some of our pals in the sewing community to bring you garment-focused guest features. First out of the chute: the amazing Ms. Kim Niedzwiecki aka Go-Go Kim of My Go-Go Life. We are all so lucky to have chosen sewing and craft as our hobby/passion/addiction. The sewing community is simply incredible, made up of women and men who are the most outgoing, caring, sharing folks we’ve ever met. Kim is right up there in our top tier. She’s full of life and brimming with energy and ideas. A quilter extraordinaire, she recently entered the world of garment sewing. She’s still alive to tell the tale, and has agreed to do just that, offering up her experiences, pearls of wisdom, and encouragement for you to do the same.
Making garments was once a skill passed on to younger generations by mothers and grandmothers. My own grandmother was an excellent seamstress. In fact, I do not recall her ever looking at a pattern, yet everything she stitched together appeared to be perfect. She also did not make a mess when she was sewing. I am not as perfect or as tidy, and I am somewhat suspicious that, based on the lack of mess, elves were actually the ones creating her garments.
Sadly, I learned nothing from my grandmother’s incredible skills, and I never located those elves. That means finding my own way in the vast world of apparel sewing has been a great adventure. Thank goodness for library books, blogs, and YouTube! All of these resources have been very helpful in learning how to make clothing that is practical and beautiful.
Inspired by all of the fabulous garment seamstresses on social media, I decided to finally take the plunge into sewing my own. Before I started, rather than setting myself up for frustration and failure, I decided to make a few rules.
The initial guidelines I set for myself were:
- Make things as inexpensively as possible. The fabrics must come from my stash or something new I find on deep discount.
- Create at least one of each basic type of garment that could be worn daily.
- The patterns should be a mix of commercially produced and independent designers.
- Find help by any means possible ( Instagram friends were my Lifeline).
- Mistakes are perfectly acceptable.
With these simple rules set I was ready to play
If you have never before tried to sew your own clothes, I highly recommend starting with a simple skirt or blouse. First on my list was a skirt with pockets. When I buy pants or skirts off the rack, I always look for pockets. So the goal of mastering pockets was mandatory.
To learn this skill, I started with Simplicity pattern 1369. This pattern had been previously recommended by a friend. It was a perfect choice with simple and clear instructions, few pattern pieces, and best of all… pockets!
The pattern is written to have a gathered skirt. I prefer the sleeker look of pleats, so I spent a little time and figured out to make one pleat in the front and one on either side of the zipper in the back. I made sure to write the measurements on the pattern so I would remember for the next time I make this skirt.
One of the most brilliant tricks I learned was from a YouTube video by Zede’s Sewing Studio that explained a quick and easy way to mark your fabric. The tip was originally for marking bust darts but it also works perfectly for zipper and pocket marking. You simply place the pin through where you need to mark and run your marking tool where the pin hits. Perfect marking spots!
I found out later this is a tip that has been used for years and perhaps many of you already know it (Sew4Home has certainly shown it on several tutorials). But if you haven’t seen it before, try it. I was so happy I had found it!
I started with Colette Patterns for the independent pattern experience. Their website offers some free patterns to downland in addition to the purchased options. They also have an array of tutorials to help you create the most beautiful finished clothing.
I made one blouse using the free Sorbetto pattern, two skirts using the Ginger Pattern, and a pair of pants using the Clover pattern.
The Ginger skirt pattern includes three styles of a simple and flattering A line skirt. I made one as-is to practice, and then on the second one, I added pockets. Pockets are addictive. If I can add them, I will! After you make this skirt once, it becomes faster and easier each time. The waist is not too low and fits nicely. The hip area is fitted but not too tight.
The Colette Pattern pieces are printed on a thicker tissue paper than the commercial patterns, making them easier to handle without tearing (a bonus for me), and they are also clearly written (another bonus). Reading through, step by step, it was able to finish my first skirt in just a few hours.
I also really liked the way Colette Patterns finishes the waistband. It is brilliant! The final look is very clean, and there is no need to hand sew a hook-and-eye at the top. Once the waistband is on, you are done!
With skirts under my belt (hee — pun intended!), dresses were my next focus. The sewing difficulty level was much higher with these than I expected, but I powered through. My first projects were both made from commercial patterns.
McCalls Pattern M7117 is a wonderful pattern. This pattern has the great feature of bust cup sizes to make fitting so much easier. It took me a few days to finish this dress since I hugely underestimated the length of time needed to cut out the skirt panels. The pattern is well written with good steps and accompanying photos.
I also made New Look pattern 6447. This pattern did not have pockets but being a thrill sewer, I added them into the dress. This dress also did not have the bust adjustment of the previous pattern. Because of this, I made a practice bodice first from scrap fabric. This is called “making a muslin” in the world of garments because these test sews are most often done in this inexpensive fabric. By making a test bodice first, you can determine what, if any, adjustments need to be made before cutting into your fabric. As you become more confident with your skills, you will happily be able to take what you have learned from other patterns to make everything just as you prefer. It is pretty cool to be your own fashion designer.
My last efforts were tops. I made a few different styles from both commercial and independent companies.
My favorite is the Shoreline Boatneck by Blank Slate Patterns. I highly recommend this pattern to everyone. Beginners will love how easy it is to make. Experts will love how fast it is to put together a lovely top. This may just be my most favorite pattern ever! When the pattern is delivered to your email, it’s accompanied by free online tutorials for some of the techniques you’ll use to make the top. I was very impressed that everything I needed was provided and I did not have to do any additional online research.
I also made another blouse using a reprinted retro pattern: Jiffy 1364. This blouse was very easy top, featuring bias tape around the arms for the sleeveless option (you can also add sleeves). This was my first time using bias tape in garments. Bias tape is a breeze to use once you lean how and the finished look is well worth the little bit of extra effort.
As a beginner myself (though now thoroughly addicted), here are my tips for keeping the experience of garment sewing fun and fashionable:
- Have the right tools on on hand. Marking tools, scissors, the correct needles for fabric and good sharp pins will help you be much more successful and much less frustrated.
- Make sure to read not only the fabric requirements but the notions you will need to complete the garment. Interfacing, thread (I use Aurifil 40wt for my garment construction), zippers, and bias tape are all items that you could possibly need to finish your garment.
- Know your sizes. Patterns are not the same as your off the rack size; they are based on your measurements. Measure yourself and remember that size is only a number, not a judgement. You are size BEAUTIFUL!
- Read all the instructions before cutting into your fabric. If there is something you do not understand, you can ask friends or look it up the answer online.
- For more fitted patterns and especially when you are making a more advanced pattern, create a muslin (as mentioned above). There are many good classes, books and tutorials on proper fitting. People are all different sizes and shapes. For my garments, I needed to make small bust adjustments and adjustments for a long waist. Once you have figured out how to do these adjustments, your items will be customized to your shape and will look fabulous!
- PDF patterns have to be printed then put together. Washi tape or painter’s tape is your best friend. You can use it to tape the pattern pieces together and if you mess up, you can easily remove the tape and try again. An added bonus is that both tapes are useful other places in your sewing room. Washi tape for the WIN!
- I did find that independent designer patterns were more clearly written – in a way most people could easily read and understand and/or figure out the steps with the images provided. On the other hand, commercial patterns seem to be written more for people who already know how to sew garments. If you’re beginning to sew or need a refresher in garment sewing, I recommend starting with independent patterns.
Learning more about garment sewing helped me to appreciate how much work goes into everything I wear. Even my nine-year-old remarked on how much time and effort must go into every piece of clothing. Most children never see what goes into making the clothing they wear. It was a great life lesson for both of us.
Garment sewing has helped me in my other sewing projects. The exposure to a different type of sewing seems to have given me a new perspective. I feel more confident to try new things, which is kind of exciting! If I can do this, you can too! Just take that first stitch!
I sew something almost daily! You can follow my newest sewing adventures by visiting: