Monday, November 06, 2006

Steps to Successful Sewing Part 1

As you all have probably noticed, Miriam and I enjoy sewing and have posted quite a few pictures of our projects. Because of this, I have received questions from people asking "How do I learn to sew, when I don't know of anyone who can teach me?" or "What tips do you have for beginning sewers?" I don't claim to be an expert seamstress. Although my mom and sister taught me the basics of sewing, I have learned many other things simply by trial and error. I have come to think of my stitch ripper as my best friend! In this series of posts, I hope to answer the questions, and provide tips to start you on your way to successful sewing.

What tools to I need to begin sewing?
  • Obviously, a helpful thing to have is a sewing machine. There are many types of machines, and I am certainly not an expert on the different brands. For my 12th birthday (I think!) my parents got me a Singer sewing machine, and it has worked well. Although it is a big expense, sewing machines are so useful; you can do many different things with them!
  • Scissors - You'll need a large, sharp pair to cut cloth and snip threads.
  • Pins - These are a must for pinning patterns to fabric and holding pieces of the garment together before sewing.
  • Stitch Ripper - Like I said before, this has become my best friend. I have sewed so many things together wrong, and have had to rip the stitches out and redo it. That's one nice thing about sewing - you can take out and redo almost anything!
  • Measuring Tape - This will be used to measure yourself or others to find body measurements to get the right sized pattern, and measure patterns to adjust the length if need be.
  • Chalk - This will be used to mark the symbols on your pattern pieces.
  • Iron - Thanks to Maria Pauline for pointing this out! Without an iron, you really can't due much, for they're used to iron fabric, press seams, and do a lot of other things!
Although there are many other handy tools that often save time, the above are the real essentials needed to get started.

So, you have the essential tools and would like to begin to sew something. What now?

The first thing to do is to find a pattern. If it is your first time to sew anything, I would suggest that you find a simple skirt pattern, and learn to sew using it. Or, if you're up to it, you could start with a simple dress, although it is a bit harder. For beginners, I would suggest that you try to find something that doesn't have a zipper. Elastic-waist skirts or pull-over dresses are fairly easy.

Before you go hunting for a pattern, use your measuring tape to measure yourself. Measure and record your hip, waist, and bust measurements. Bring these measurements along if you go to a store, and compare them with the measurements on the pattern envelope. Pick the size that most corresponds to your measurements.

Walmart and other fabric stores have books of patterns that you can look through. I have also found some good patterns off of Common Sense Patterns. Their Square Neck Dress is pretty simple, and was the pattern I made my second two dresses (matching ones for Miriam and I) with. Oh - and Biblical Womanhood just came out with a simple skirt pattern, which they say is definitely easy enough for a beginner!

Once you find your pattern, the next thing to do is to find material. Search wherever you like, and have fun! I buy most of my fabrics at Walmart, and have been satisfied with the quality and selection. I usually get fabric that is 100% cotton, but feel free to try other kinds of fabric as well. I always enjoy finding fabric for around $2 a yard, but if it's something you know you'll wear for quite a while, don't hesitate to buy the prettiest fabric! Use your own judgment. Once you find your fabric, check the pattern envelope for the yardage amount needed for the size you're making, and ask the person in the fabric department to cut that amount for you. Before leaving the store, however, make sure that you pick up thread that matches your material, and any other "notions" the pattern might call for.

If you're making a dress, you'll definitely also need some interfacing, so make sure to get a yard or two of it. I now get the fusible type, which I have found to be easier to use than the non-fusible. (For those who are wondering, fusible means that it can be ironed on to the cloth, while non-fusible means it can't). Pick whichever kind you prefer, and get some. You can either get the yardage printed on the pattern, or get extra, to have on hand for other projects. If you're unsure as to the type to get, the ladies in the fabric department are usually most helpful.

Good! So you've got your pattern, fabric and thread. Before you cut your fabric, it's a good idea to wash it, and thus make sure that it won't shrink after you've made your garment. I'd suggest that you wash it on the cold setting, to keep the colors vibrant.

While the fabric is washing, you can get your pattern ready. There are three ways of getting the size you need:
  1. Cut the pattern along the line that pertains to your size.
  2. Cut the pattern out along the line for the biggest size, then fold the pattern down to your size. Or,
  3. Trace the pattern on other paper, then cut it out.
If you're planning on using the pattern again for someone else using a different size, I suggest that you do options 2 or 3. Option 1 is by far the easiest, however.

*edit* Another option that I've begun to use is to trace the pattern pieces onto the cloth with chalk. This makes it easy to cut out, and you can easily trace things from a multi-sized pattern by lifting up the pattern piece to right size as you trace it on the cloth with chalk. Just make sure you trace on the wrong side of the fabric!

Once the fabric is washed and dried, it's ready to be cut. First, iron the fabric. Then, consult your pattern as to the layout of the pattern pieces. It will tell you whether or not you need to fold the fabric, and the best way to lay your pattern pieces out. To cut out your pieces, you'll need a big space. I usually simply clear and sweep the tiled floor in my room and lay it out there. A long table or cutting mat works as well. Lay your fabric out, and one at a time, pin the pattern pieces to the fabric in the right order according to the fabric.

Once everything (or at least the first few pieces) are laid out, begin cutting. Make sure that you cut close to the pattern piece, and cut out the symbols. If there is a little arrow on the side of the pattern piece, cut a little clip out away from the pattern piece, then cut back to the piece. This will leave a little triangle protruding from the otherwise smooth edges. These triangles will be useful later in matching the pieces together. Also, mark symbols such as circles with chalk on the wrong side of your pattern piece. Be careful as you cut, for this is one thing you can't un-do!

Once all your pieces are cut out, you'll be ready to begin making your garment. Don't worry if the edges are a little jagged, or not quite straight. It's amazing how well things work out in the end! Cutting out your pieces does take quite a while... To me it's the most time-consuming and tedious work of it all! However, it has to be done.

Have fun! Relax! Enjoy finding a pattern and some pretty material! Above all, remember: sewing is supposed to be fun! If you find yourself getting frustrated at any point, take a break and come back later. It's amazing how easy hard things become after a little time away from it. Don't worry. Experiment, and have a good time!

If you have questions, I'd be happy to answer them. You can either leave comments on this post, or email me through the address found in my profile. If you comment here, you may be able to get responses from many other seamstresses better than I!

Next post: Beginning to sew, and deciphering terminology


Susan said...

This is great, Anna! What a nice reference for beginning sewers. When I taught sewing to a group of ladies two summers ago, I remember having to think through all the little prerequisites to actually beginning to sew. Through that I discovered just how easy it is to assume things or speak too technically, but you did an excellent job outlining the basics! I'm going to link this from my blog.

Anna Naomi said...

Thaks, Susan! I had a hard time writing it in some parts; it made me realize how much easier simply showing someone how to do something (like I did with Miriam) instead of trying to explain it is! And yes, I kept almost assuming that beginners would know certain terminology, then realizing I would have to make it simple. Thanks for the link! =)

Elizabeth Ellen Moore said...

This is a great post! It isn’t too technical as all.

Maria Pauline said...

I have been sewing for years and found your introduction quite nice, well writen, and informative. An iron is quite useful when sewing as well, so that might be something to mention.

Anna Naomi said...

Thanks for pointing that out, Maria Pauline! I knew I'd forgotten something. I've edited the post to include it.

thepatriot15 said...

That's great Anna! Looking forward to the next post.

Devyn Karyn said...

This is wonderful! I've sewed simple things, like aprons and pillows, and one time, a pair of shorts (Middle School Home Economics) But I never really knew how to get started. I've always wanted to try making some of my own clothes.