Sunday 17 February 2013

What I would recommend to beginners

Rather strangely, over the last two weeks, four people (you know who you are) have asked me about starting to sew, and have shown a genuine interest in dressmaking. Most, if not all of them have already own a sewing machine, but have generally limited their use to making cushion covers so far. These conversations get me extremely excited, but I never feel like we have enough time and space (at my mother-in-law's wedding, or at work) to discuss such a big and interesting topic, and it's never as easy to share the useful resources by chatting. So here it is, as promised, the blog post for what I would recommend to beginners. 

Where to start? Making your first garment will seem like a really daunting task. I remember when I started dressmaking a couple of years ago - so many questions overwhelmed my little brain. Should I make a top/skirt/trousers/jacket/dress? Do I buy fabric first or should I pick a sewing pattern first? What size do I choose? Do I need any other tools? What do all these markings mean on a sewing pattern? and how do I read the instructions? 

I am not going to attempt to answer all the answers here - instead, what I would suggest is getting a couple of helpful books. What you need is something that will not only teach you the basics, but also continue to provide great insights as your skills develop. 


Here, I would strongly recommend 2 books to give you a head start on dressmaking:

The Dressmaker's Technique Bible is one of my favourite sewing books of all time. As the title suggests, this book is largely about sewing techniques, and indeed, this is my "go-to" book every time I come across a new technique. For example, I did a lapped zip recently, and after reading the sewing instructions from the pattern (which was clearly written), naturally I turned to the "bible", where the technique was beautifully illustrated by a series of pictures (in colour!), and some wonderful tips (eg how to sew past the zip tab). I referred to it for the handpicked zip, too. 
In addition to sewing techniques, this wonderful book also has a helpful "getting started" section, which is perfectly comprehensive for beginners. I love the "body shape guide" and "fashion shapes", as they provide a useful perspective to choosing the right pattern for you. 

What's more, I just love the spiral binding, as I can just keep it open whilst using the techniques. 

Alright, you get the idea, it's a great book, go out and get it! You won't regret it!

The next book that I think will be a good choice for beginners (and beyond) is The Colette Sewing Handbook. This is a rather new book (just over one year's old), and it is beautifully made (and spiral bound!), and of course I wouldn't expect anything less from Colette! 

It's not often that I read a sewing book from cover to cover, but with this one, I did. I was amazed by how much I could just relate to the book.   
One of the main selling points of this book is that it contains 5 free Colette patterns - and these make the book excellent value for money. I won't go on any more now, as you'll find lots of detailed reviews of this book in the blogsphere. 

Free resources
I'm sure you'll have come across this already, but Tilly has a Learn to Sew section on her blog, and is still expanding it. Go check it out!

One of the things that I love about sewing is feeling part of a huge and incredibly welcoming and encouraging sewing community. One of the first sites that I joined was Burdastyle, where I found my first pattern - the coffee date dress (there's a multisize version too)! I couldn't believe how kind everyone was, especially with my far from perfect projects, most of which have now gone to my local charity shops. 

Much later on, I joined Pattern Review (PR), and immediately wished that I joined as soon as I started dressmaking. My advice here is, join it now! It is free, so what have you got to lose? You will have access to all the reviews of sewing patterns (I always check PR before deciding to purchase a sewing pattern), and more importantly, access to the wonderful forum where your questions will be answered by sewists from around the world, ranging from beginners themselves, to professional seamstresses. 

There are also a huge amount of tutorials on the blogsphere - it is very rare where I need to find a sewing tutorial online quickly for a project, but cannot. I have listed a few below, but do make sure that you search for it if and when you come across something that you don't know. 

Easy sewing patterns - the perfect place to start
As much as I liked a challenge, I decided to start with simple projects when I started sewing, and slowly letting my confidence increase before tackling trickier projects. Please be warned that although some sewing patterns claim to be "easy" projects, they are not! Do check how many pattern pieces there are that make up the garment - as a rule of thumb, the fewer (usually) the better. 

From my own experience, these are the projects that I would recommend to beginners:

The 20 minutes skirt - tutorial here and my project here (I have made this again, but have just realised that I have failed to post my second and slightly less imperfect version). 

The Sorbetto top - FREE pattern here and my project here

Shirred dresses - my favourite shirring tutorial here and one of my upcycled projects here

McCalls 2401 - no waist seam to worry about, yet incredibly versatile - see my blurry version here and spotty version here

Coffee Date Dress - pattern for size 32 petite here, multisized pattern here and one of my versions here 

New Look 6965 - a simple top - my project here

Vogue 8278 - very easy dress and top pattern (pullover, so no zipper or buttons!) - my dress version here, and I'm just finishing a top version as a beach cover-up (will share soon!)

New Look 6457 - strapless summer dress - one of my first ever projects (it pre-dates this blog!) but you can check it out here

Simplicity 2451 - it's a simple yet versatile skirt pattern, in fact, it was rated as one of the best patterns in recent years. I've only made it once so far, but have no doubt that it will reappear on my sewing table this year. 

Ok, I think that gives you plenty to start on! Just one more note for people who may want to focus on making home furnishings, as opposed to dressmaking- I really enjoy Cath Kidston's Sew! and am sure that you will love making beautiful items for your home, and also the free bag that's included in the book (including the label!). There's also the Kindle case, the baby blanket, lavender bags and so on that can keep you entertained. 

Finally, welcome to the wonderful world of sewing! and remember, patience is key when it comes to such a fine craft - if you can give your garments the attention that it deserves, you will end up with beautiful items in no time! It is such a rewarding hobby (um, you get tangible clothes from it!) and opens the door to the best community full of so many inspiring and lovely people - enjoy! 

1 comment:

  1. Great choice of books for beginners - I'd have recommended those too!

    Just to let you know, I've nominated you for an Inspiring Blogger Award over at


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