How to make my own clothes: Advanced Beginner Edition?
May 23, 2013 1:50 PM   Subscribe

Spurred by the events in Bangladesh, a growing dissatisfaction with clothing quality, as well as an oddly shaped body that doesn't conform well to rack sizing, I've decided to commit to making more of my own clothing. I know how to operate my sewing machine. I know how to read a pattern. I frankenstein and repurpose clothes on the regular. I need some advanced basics to take it to the next level.

Likeā€¦ Fabric? I go into stores and am overwhelmed. Do you pick a pattern first then look for fabric or vice versa? If its the latter, how do you know how much to get? I'd be interested in buying online, but I'm terrified of ordering something without touching it. Jersey and stretchy knits terrify me. How do I learn what fabrics are best for different projects?

Where are good sources for patterns? The stuff at the fabric store tends to underwhelm, but part of it is my lack of imagination when looking at sketches I'm sure.

What about general tips and ideas? What's the sewing analogue for Vogue knitting and Interweave Knits? Any book recommendations?

I've explored some online communities/sites like Berda and looked at classes on Craftsy, but am overwhelmed. And lets be honest: It's an expensive endeavor. I'm worried about wasting money and material while I learn and refine.

Any advice is appreciated!
posted by lilnublet to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (17 answers total) 68 users marked this as a favorite
What's the sewing analogue for Vogue knitting and Interweave Knits?

Vogue Patterns.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:07 PM on May 23, 2013

Best answer: I would start with either Gertie's New Book for Better Sewing (and her blog) or The Colette Sewing Handbook. Both books are aimed at women who would like to sew clothing for themselves and have basic machine skills, but are looking to learn fabric selection, fitting, etc. Both have patterns included (and I believe go up to at least a ready-to-wear 16? check that before ordering if it might be an issue, obviously; most patterns are sized weird and a 16 from Vogue Patterns is more like an RTW 10 or something).

If you're male, try Male Pattern Boldness. Or actually regardless of your gender; it's a great blog.
posted by pie ninja at 2:10 PM on May 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have size issues (6ft 4 but 29" leg) and opted to make my own shirts for a while. I opted to start with a simple pattern, the staff at the local shop were a great help. Eventually I was skilled enough to create simple patterns of my own. It is a great hobby, enjoy. My advice is to start simple and use cheap fabrics until your skill and confidence grow.
posted by BenPens at 2:18 PM on May 23, 2013

Seconding Gertie's -- the blog is fantastic.
posted by mrfuga0 at 3:45 PM on May 23, 2013

How to read the back of a sewing pattern.

I would buy the pattern first, then go to the fabric store for the suggested fabric. Get a pattern that uses a woven (not knit) fabric for the first one.

There are a lot of sew-alongs on the web. I'll bet you could find one for any Colette pattern you liked. Tilly and the Buttons has a great Learn to Sew section.

The thing is to just jump in. Get to know your machine, know that stitches can be torn out and redone and measure twice cut once. Memail me if you have more questions. I am a beginner too, but a little further along.
posted by Duffington at 4:07 PM on May 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: It sounds counter-productive, but unless you are making a pattern you have made before, I think you absolutely must cut and sew a muslin (also called a toile) before you cut your good fabric. (If your final fabric is a NOT jersey or other stretch, you can use old bedsheets) This helps you make sure you're cutting the right size of your pattern (those measurements on the envelop are sometimes really wonky), let's you practice/identify any really tricky parts to making the pattern, and (as you get better) helps you visualize customizations you want to make to the pattern.

Mostly it saves you from cutting up your good fabric and THEN finding that the sizing is completely off or the pattern is awful or you don't like the fit at all.

Sometimes I pick a fabric first; sometimes I pick a pattern first. If I'm going to the fabric store, I have a list of the patterns I have at home, which has fabric lengths and other information on it. Even if I don't know which dress I'd want to make with the fabric, I can see generally how much fabric certain styles require. I buy a little extra (rarely more than a yard) beyond what the average fabric need is. It's not a perfect system, but it works okay.
posted by crush-onastick at 4:28 PM on May 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Spurred by the events in Bangladesh

Make sure the fabric you're buying is made somewhere you feel comfortable with. Ideally you would also know the source of the raw materials, but that may be even more difficult.
posted by curious nu at 5:02 PM on May 23, 2013

Best answer: I have learned so much from reading Trena's blog, The Slapdash Sewist. She describes things well, links to resources, and is super real about what she has to do to make shit happen.

You can start w/ a fabric you like/want and then find a pattern for it. That's really okay. Find something you want to make into something and then you can find a pattern for it. Or find a pattern for a thing you need and then find the fabric. Or my personal specialty: Find a fabric that is totally inappropriate for the pattern you want to make, make it anyway, learn a lot.
posted by Medieval Maven at 5:50 PM on May 23, 2013

A Stitching Odyssey is a great blog to follow. The blogger has a unique body shape that requires her to do a lot of improvising and she discusses her strategies often for dealing with it.
posted by Fukiyama at 6:01 PM on May 23, 2013

If you have a garment that fits you well but is worn or stained, take it apart. You will learn how it's constructed and you can use the pieces to make a pattern.
posted by carmicha at 6:14 PM on May 23, 2013

Best answer: The above suggestions are great (especially making muslins of new patterns, and Gertie's book).

I would also say that my sewing was revolutionized by getting a dress form. Other tools that have helped me a lot--before I had a hem marker trying to get hems right without someone to help me was pretty hit or miss, and curved pattern rulers have made it easier to resize patterns to fit my particular quirks.
posted by padraigin at 7:38 PM on May 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: As to learning about fabric (to perhaps feel more comfortable ordering online) I've read some great recommendations on these swatch books.

I sometimes find fabric I've ordered online is not quite suited for what I initially intended it for - but it doesn't go to waste - eventually the right project comes along.

A lot of wonderful sewing blogs emphasize customizing and fitting patterns - which can be helpful, but also sort of intimidating. Most of my often worn clothing isn't terribly fitted - think tshirts, leggings, simple skirts - so maybe think a bit about clothes for your day to day life (what you actually end up wearing) as opposed to the more fanciful end of the sewing spectrum.

I recommend Cake patterns for some simple but customizeable basics as well - they are designed to help everyone get a good fit with a minimum of fuss.

And, of course, have fun. Most of what I wear I make myself and it is fun and rewarding.
posted by hilaryjade at 8:42 PM on May 23, 2013

Best answer: I did a pattern making course at the local community college (Which won't help you unless you live in Sydney). There are books though. I found it eye opening to go from measurements to a garment. It uses up quite a lot of butchers paper and calico, but neither are very expensive.

Pattern Review can be a good resource, (though the website design could do with some serious updating). And The Great British Sewing Bee (all of it is on YouTube) is pretty inspiring.
posted by kjs4 at 9:02 PM on May 23, 2013

Best answer: I've had great experiences with Craftsy's online courses (sounding like an ad for them, but it's true). They do discounts pretty regularly. The Couture Dress course is pretty wonderful for learning about muslins and using patterns - it comes with a Vogue dress pattern.

Also, this is backwards: "most patterns are sized weird and a 16 from Vogue Patterns is more like an RTW 10 or something"

It's ready-to-wear that's sized weird, which is especially obvious when, like me, you're in your mid-30s and have been sewing all your life, so you know your measurements haven't changed in 20 years, but the sizes you wear from stores are all over the place and keep getting lower. Take your measurements accurately and compare them to the Vogue/Butterick/McCall sizes: you'll likely find yours, or you may have a bust in one size, waist in another, hips in yet another. If it's the latter, no worries, this is pretty normal and accounted for in patterns with places for you to adjust. As long as you know your measurements, their patterns will be pretty true to that, with ease (extra) added for movement.

Nthing to look for fabric from responsible sources! I get a lot of my cottons from eQuilter, which is a family-run business that's really on the ball when it comes to social responsibility. Quilting cottons make for beautiful sundresses, too!
posted by fraula at 12:52 AM on May 24, 2013

Best answer: Great decision. Yes it can be expensive, yes you will make mistakes, but if you want to detach yourself from fast fashion, this is the way ahead. Here are a few thoughts on getting started.

Persevere with Burda patterns if you can. I know it's daunting, but I learned a lot more about pattern cutting and alterations transcribing patterns from PDF's and magazines than I would have done if I'd stuck with readymade patterns. The community is a mine of inspiration.

By all means read the fabric recommendations, but also start looking at high-end clothing for fabric selections. This will give you a feeling for what great quality fabric looks and feels like, and what sort of materials will work on which project. Buying online, I've had some lovely material from Gorgeous Fabrics.

Get into the habit of making muslins (mockups) from cheap fabric. You will quickly learn about your body shape and how to make adjustments for it. If possible, make muslins in fabric of equivalent weight and texture to the end product.

A tailor's dummy is well worth the expense and the storage space.

If you want to sew knits, buy a serger. If not, ignore them and concentrate on woven fabric.

For the rest, the Reader's Digest Guide to Sewing has almost all the information you will ever need. (This is the edition you want, I've read that the New RDGTS is not as good!)
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 3:33 AM on May 24, 2013

Have you seen Hot Patterns? I am very much more of a novice than you, but these patterns are fun and they regularly post how-to videos, with sewing tips and fabric tips.
posted by jillithd at 2:00 PM on May 24, 2013

Online, swatches of fabric can usually be ordered, and you can make your final fabric decisions with fabric in your hands.

I frankenstein and repurpose clothes on the regular.

If you don't care for certain things about a commercial pattern you can frankenstein that up too!

Start with cheaper fabrics, save the expensive silks for later.

If you know someone with small children, you could learn by making them outfits with the fabric from things like men's XXL shirts from the thrift shop, that would save you a great deal of money on fabric while learning.
posted by yohko at 3:03 PM on May 24, 2013

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