1. You don’t need all the ‘stuff’
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking, ‘I’d be better at sewing if I had an overlocker.” “If I had those fancy scissors, I’d be able to make better clothes.” “I can’t make a dress because I have such a basic machine.”
Mastering sewing is the same as with any new skill. Take your time and practise, practise, practise. You can have the best sewing machine in the world, but it’s not going to give you magical sewing powers (although, can you imagine?!).
The basics are all you need to start. A sewing machine, decent thread (don’t scrimp here, cheap thread sews horribly), scissors, pins and the will to learn!
2. Use inexpensive fabric, but nothing too cheap
When you start sewing, you’re probably unlikely to dive right in to using £25 per metre fabrics. However, using bargain-bin fabric isn’t always the best place to start.
When I got back into sewing, I was using horrible cheap materials; although I was developing my sewing skills, the quality of the final garment was limited because of the fabric choice.
Try to go somewhere in the middle. Inexpensive but decent quality means if it goes wrong, you’re not drastically out of pocket, but if it goes right, you’ve got a beautiful handmade item.
You may also find that you apply more effort if the fabric is nicer. If, like me, you switch to a “it doesn’t matter if it all goes wrong because it’s only £2 per metre” mindset, you’ll be limiting your development because you won’t concentrate or try as hard as you could!
3. Try on ready-to-wear clothes
If you’ve fallen for a pattern that’s a new style for you, see if you can try on a similar ready-to-wear garment before you buy that pattern.
Dressmaking takes a lot of time and resources, and to invest that in a style that doesn’t suit you is so disheartening (we’ve all been there). This also applies to prints and colours; if you’ve never worn florals, don’t invest your efforts unless you know that print will suit you. If you’re able to, head to the shops and try some clothes on. It means zero commitment and minimal effort that will save you taking a risk with your time and materials.
4. Learn to fit to your shape and proportions
You can learn to sew, but altering patterns to your shape is another skill. Although we’re making our clothes, the patterns we use are drafted to a standard model.
Take the time to learn how to make the adjustments needed to make clothes fit your body. I could never wear shop-bought dresses because the waistline would sit too high. Sewing patterns are the same, so I always add 2cm to the bodice length. This one skill alone has made such a difference to my sewing projects.
Try on your clothes and see if there are any common themes; do the bust darts sit in the wrong place? Are the upper arms always a bit tight? Does the neckline always sit loose? Identifying fit issues is the first step, then take to YouTube and sewing guides to learn how to make adjustments to your patterns. This will seriously up your sewing game.
5. People will ask you to sew for them
It’s inevitable. As soon as people know you sew, they’ll ask you to sew for them. For free! If sewing is your hobby, purely for your personal enjoyment, just say no. I recently saw someone compare it to gardening. You wouldn’t ask a keen gardener to grow you some flowers, or to come and weed your garden. Sewing is no different. It’s perfectly fine to say, “I just sew for myself”, or you could hit them with “Yes I’d love to, but the materials will cost you £80 and I charge £25 per hour.”
Bonus tip: Everyone makes mistakes!
This one may need saying on repeat! It’s unlikely you’ll instantly be amazing at sewing. There will be frustrations. There will be mistakes. It’s a cliché, but every mistake really is a learning opportunity, it just might not feel like it at the time! Sometimes it’s necessary to step away from the machine and revisit it with fresh eyes.
It’s also so important to ask for help! YouTube and Instagram (and of course, this website’s Learn to Sew page) are your friends. If you have a hurdle you can’t get past, someone will be more than happy to help; the sewing community is truly brilliant, so just dive in!