Welcome to the world of sewing! I’m so happy you want to start sewing your own clothes.
With the ever-evolving world of the internet, I can tell you this much that there is an ocean of sewing knowledge out there- right on the tips of our fingers for the taking. And I know this article is just another drop in the glorious ocean.
So, my argument is that this can overwhelm someone (especially someone new to sewing) to the extent that they may not even get started.
Which is why my goal with this article is to provide you with a true actionable, in-depth guide to ACTUALLY getting you started.
By the end of this article, you should get a clear direction as to where to start, how to start and even what to start with.
Within all that, I want to also take advantage of your novelty to be able to mold you into a GOOD dressmaker of your own.
By sharing snippets of my experiences so that you can learn from my mistakes as well as take away the good bits.
Way to go!
How does one get started to sew clothes?
My thought is that if you want to sew clothes then that is where you should start.
Start – by – making clothes!
The reason why I say this (besides it being the way I started to sew clothes) is because there are contrasting opinions out there. Some will suggest to begin by making pillowcases.
While others might advise you to start by, reconstructing an old garment from the second-hand shop (thrift store).
Now, I respect their idea and understand where their coming from however I personally don’t favour these methods.
I believe it’s a waist of time and resources but more importantly can demotivate a person that’s truly passionate about ONLY sewing clothes. Because that was me!
When I started to sew I was very clear in my mind that I wanted to sew clothes and I did just that because I knew that I will not get any joy out of making pillow cases “I wanted to sew clothes!”
The best thing about this method is that by diving in head first you begin learning because the desire is being met.
= one happy learner:)
So it means I should start sewing clothes from the get-go?
How to jump into sewing clothes from the get-go
One answer. Patterns!
Yes, as logical as it may sound, you have to hear me out on this one. After learning the hard way I am someone who truly appreciates the concept of patterns (you MUST read this article; is it hard to learn to sew clothes.) You’ll understand why I believe that any beginner out there should appreciate it too.
Here’s a quiz for you. I want you to put yourself into the shoes of the two versions of people below:
Person #1: “I want to sew clothes… I’ll sew clothes from scratch!”
This will consist of you to be able to draft a pattern (garment template) from scratch.
It will involve for you to take all your body measurements then draft a bodice block (fit and fix the bodice block). Then progress onto the next step; draft out a pattern design on a new paper, then make mock-ups to ensure the fit and style is looking right. Then add seam allowances and garment ease etc… etc. Then you will have to remake a mock up to finalise the design. Make final adjustments to the pattern. Now will be the time that you can actually begin to cutout the fabric and stitch it up.
Person #2: “I want to sew clothes….. I’ll grab myself a pattern!”
Basically, you can buy the template for any garment you wanna make i.e dresses, trousers, pyjamas, coats etc… etc. Take a few measurements and get crackin’ to cutting out fabric and onto the stitching!
If you like the sound of option #2 then, welcome on board my friend!
I love the convenience of patterns. I love that once you make something from a pattern that comes out just the way you want, you can go off and make more of it in other colours and/or prints.
Exciting, exciting stuff!
That is the best part I tell you- nothing beats that.
Hopefully, by now, I was able to demonstrate the benefit of having a pattern.
Follow the 5 step formula when using patterns for the first time:
There is a problem. Not all patterns are a breeze to work with. I know many people out there who are searching for solutions (to sew their clothes) that won’t involve using patterns!
You might be one of them!
People tend to typically complain about the following in regards to patterns:
- They encounter fit issues whenever they follow a pattern and therefore have to deal with pattern adjustments. Sure! that is going to be difficult for a beginners, yes.
- They are overwhelmed by the jargon orientated patterns that keep them from getting started. Sure! you’re going to feel overwhelmed (I would feel insecure) because it’ll make me feel like this isn’t for me (as a beginner)!
So, purchasing patterns aimlessly as a beginner can hinder your progress.
Instead be strategic. I would highly recommend a beginner (someone who is totally new to sewing) to strictly stick to the recipe- the 5 step beginner sequence.
The idea is to ease you in whilst having you move a level up each time. So that as you progress through each step you are building your skills plus the best part is that it’s easier to digest any new challenges one step at a time.
Then by the time you reach level 5 in the sequence you will be ready to tackle fit issues and making pattern adjustments.
The reality is that at some point you will have to deal with pattern adjustments because a pattern company can only do so much. As we all have unique bodies and shapes.
Which is why you should follow the 5 step formula because with practice you will gradually start to understand how to deal with fit issues.
I don’t recall a time when I actually sat down to learn pattern adjustments because honestly; it came naturally as a by product from simple practice of making clothes.
So will be the same for you by the time you reach level 5 and beyond but in the meantime we need to start somewhere, right?
So, here it is:
Here’s a rundown of how you’ll begin to learn to sew clothes as a beginner: The 5 step Formula explained.
#1 Select patterns with a simple loose-fit silhouette.
The goal: is to warm you up by having you to get a feel of the basic structure of garment construction. This means you will learn, how to use a pattern. You’ll learn to cut out a piece of fabric. Understand seam allowances and to sew according to seam allowances. In other words, working on the core.
#2 This time try a pattern that’s similar to #1 but only now it has a facing.
The goal: You’re still establishing the core, the laying out fabric, cutting fabric, sewing and understanding seam allowances. Only, this time you’re exploring one of the typical elements of a garment. Facings because, where there is a neckline there will be a facing.
So might as well get used to sewing these!
Pattern ideas: this simple dress
#3 Try a pattern that has darts
The goal: darts are also one of the typical elements of a garment. At some point as women, we have curves and contours on the shape of our bodies. Therefore it is a good idea to familiarise ourselves with patterns that have darts.
Pattern ideas: a shift dress
#4 Now try a pattern that has one of these elements, pockets, zip, buttons.
The goal: most garments, especially ones that are stitched out of woven fabrics will have some sort of an opening. With some garment styles that have a high neckline it would be rather difficult trying pull it over your head (can you imagine!)
So getting used to sewing these elements will help you to get better at sewing different styles of clothes.
Pattern ideas: this dress with buttons
#5 Have a go at a pattern with princess seams
The goal: mastering to sew clothes of this sort of style will better your skills by equipping you for fit issues. You will be able to take a fitted pattern and play around with the pattern to fit and adjust it to a perfect fit for your body every time. Basically you’ll be a pro! 😉
Pattern ideas: how about this dress
Which sewing patterns are best for beginners?
The MUST have essential tools and supplies
At this stage as newbies we haven’t yet gained our own perspective of what will work for us and what not. Thus we can be vulnerable to getting sucked into buying anything and everything comes our way.
Doing this can quickly add up and at a later date, you will find yourself with all this stuff that doesn’t really work for you and your style of sewing.
One example I can give you now is an overlocker. You don’t really need one when you’re just starting out. They are quite pricey- it costs just as much as a new sewing machine itself!
Of course, if you’re fortunate enough to buy one then, why not? Go ahead! it will help achieve a clean finish to your garments in a simpler way.
But when you are at the beginning you really are sometimes exploring to find out if sewing is even for you and finding out that if sewing isn’t for you then the problem of owning an overlocker is a waste of space and money essentially.
Fun fact: I have been sewing clothes on and off for about 15 years now (that sounds like i’m ancient- lol) I am yet to buy an overlocker!
I’d love to own one someday for sure! but I am doing just fine without one at the moment.
The day I get one I’ll share with you all about how I chose it. But until then.
Once you’re fully into sewing you will quickly realise how your toolkit is just ever-growing. Trust me mine is till this day.
So I have come up with a list and it’s JUST the stuff you definitely will need when getting started.
List of the bare essential sewing supplies
Here’s the list of the bare essentials you will need to sew clothes.
Tip: If your reading this from a phone then take a screen shot of the list as a shopping list. You can also click on each of the items from the list that will take you straight to the product for the one I recommend.
Alternately, if you want to learn more about the tools and supplies then here’s this article 13 sewing essentials for beginners.
- Sewing machine
- Fabric shears
- A Standard paper scissor
- Seam ripper
- Tape measure
- Thread snips/small scissors
- Tailors chalk
Can I buy a “starter pack” instead?
Truth be told they’re not really any good. I was once gifted one by my dad bless him. At the time I was in my teens and didn’t have any good tools as it was and to receive that I was actually really happy. Actually, now that I think about it I would say 90% of what was contained in that box was a waste- I hardly used them!
In fact, till this day only 2 things out of that box remains with me and that’s a seam ripper and a scissor- which doesn’t cut fabric mind you, I only use it to snipping thread.
Why should you care to own quality sewing tools/supplies:
- If you buy and use any random cheap scissors to cut your fabric out with, you could risk ruining your fabrics. Actual fabric shears are sharp and crisp they will snip through with ease. Without tugging on to the fabric fibers. GOOD TIP: Never use your fabric shears on paper as it could dull them through constant use in this way.
- Cheap thread will not only (through more and more use) create lint build up in your machine. Rather, also your garment will have weak seams as the thread isn’t strong enough.
Tips on how to choose and buy your sewing supplies
Old or new any sewing machine will do- haha! that rhymed. Just know that if you’ve decided to purchase a used machine or are adopting a hand down it’s fine to do so, however, be sure that it stitches WELL. This means it should be able to make decent stitches without any inconsistencies on the stitch line.
Inconsistencies on the stitch-line mean you will have a finished garment that has weak seams. Which won’t really be wearable. And I know this is a problem that can be solved WITH EFFORT but if the machine is too old that may come as a struggle (especially for someone new) with the absence of a machine manual.
If you are yet to buy a machine then you can have a read of this article about how to choose the best sewing machine for making clothes to find out what I looked for when I purchased mine.
Ofcourse you’ll need patterns!
- Kwik Sew
- New look
As well as them being available online, in the UK you will find these patterns available at Fabric Land and John Lewis.
I believe Joann’s is where they have patterns in America.
The rise of many individual label pattern companies
These are small individual pattern companies that are gaining more and more popularity as (in my opinion) are a bit more fresh and modern making then easier to follow than your standard ones mentioned earlier. Some of the names you’ll encounter are as follows:
How to shop for patterns in person
When I went to Fabric land to buy my first patterns I remember feeling a little overwhelmed by the pattern catalogs because there’s just so many to choose from!
As well as that there’s no form of clear instructions to guide you HOW exactly to buy a pattern. I felt like I was out of place and somewhat intimidated so I left.
After that experience, I devised my own plan on how to go about buying one. And this is what I usually do:
- Choose a pattern in terms of style. This would be through fabric Land itself or I’d go into one of the pattern company’s website directly, for example, Simplicity patterns.
- Note down the code of the pattern selected. Don’t forget to put the pattern company name before the code.
- Note down my bust or hip measurement- Not sure how? (I have an article on body measurements for pattern buying).
- Now I’m ready to go into the store. Pretty much just show the note to a staff and they’ll grab the pattern for me.
Tip: I most often buy my pattern in person when I know I just need the 1 or 2 patterns because I find shopping for only the 1 pattern online isn’t viable if I have to pay for postage that near enough sums-up to the price of another pattern.
How to shop online for patterns
Once you get to a pattern company’s website it is pretty self explanatory, with instructions on how to select your pattern to buy even though, if you get stuck I do have an article by the title “How to take body measurements for sewing patterns” in that article I show you step by step how to order your pattern.
Are there ones that are easier to follow than others?
Yes. You will find almost always with different pattern company’s they will have the mention of whether the pattern is a Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced level.
So that if you happened to like a pattern, then this is the way to check the intensity level to help you to decide for yourself if you should proceed with it or not.
If you think you’ll struggle selecting a pattern for your skill level then I highly suggest you go read my article: 100 (FREE and paid) EASY Sewing Patterns for BEGINNERS with a TWIST!
I don’t want to get technical here. I have and STILL, am finding it hard to understand fabrics because of the different compositions and names. So I’m going to keep it simple.
I have found through researching other experts online, most of them advise to stick with sewing with Cotton fabrics if you’re a beginner.
And I TOTALLY understand why that is the case. It’s when I think back to my first ever make when I was 13 ofcourse I didn’t know anything about fabrics!
What happened was, my parents (being Asian which means frugal) loved their Sundays because this meant Car Boots Sale! as I do being a child I had to swift along with them. Until one day I thought I’m going to go there and I’m going to hunt myself some fabric because I was eager to start sewing!
I believe the equivalent of this in America is known as a Flea Market.
Anyway, come every Sunday I looked forward to going to the Car Boots Sale and kept my eye open for fabrics. Until one day I struck gold!
Now that I think about it I can clearly see why it was such a horrendous experience stitching with that fabric “it was so slippery!” I couldn’t handle it!
To give you a head start look out for these fabrics:
Tip: If you get stuck on what fabric to buy then when you pick your first pattern look on the envelope under the ‘Fabrics’ section. They are all the fabric types you are allowed to use for that pattern so, if you see one or two of these materials mentioned above then buy that one!
How much fabric to buy?
The amount of fabric to buy will also be on the back of the pattern envelope. To find out how much fabric to buy you will first have to figure out what size you are for that pattern also the style variation that you plan to make. These are the two factors that determine how much fabric you’ll have to buy.
The FUNDAMENTAL skills needed for sewing clothes
In this chapter I bring to your attention everything you will need to learn about HANDS DOWN! They are the core skills one must learn when wanting to sew clothes.
Learn and implement these slowly forming into good habits.
Ideally you want to ingrain these skills into your sewing style because forming these skills into a habit will put you on auto pilot (so to say) to being able to create well made garments all the time.
When I do things I like to give it my best shot for a good outcome and my philosophy is that after I tried and it still didn’t come out well then, at least I know I gave it my best shot.
Learn to use the sewing machine
A sewing machine will help speed up the process of sewing. Training yourself to use the sewing machine is one of the first steps I would tackle as a beginner.
Using one for the first time can be quite intimidating but honestly, there isn’t anything to be scared of.
The best advice I would give you is to begin by viewing it as JUST A TOOL a means to help you make your clothes.
Which reminds me actually, when I was taking my first driving lessons my dad used to say to me “don’t let the car drive you, YOU drive the car” and that theory is exactly true over here!
Apart from getting the machine started which pretty much is self-explanatory with the machine manual, there is however more to getting started using the machine.
There are some tricks and techniques for using your machine efficiently as a clothes maker that I will discuss about soon.
For now the best tutorial I found to get you started with your sewing machine is this one here.
Importance of cutting your fabrics properly
A good outcome, a well-made garment is assured when the foundation is looked after. This is what I have found through the years of sewing myself.
Hint: one-word GRAINLINE look out for that “Very important!”
Until I learned about this my clothes came out wayyy much better than what it did before. I noticed the hang/fall was better, puckers on a seamline wasn’t an issue anymore.
Overall the process of sewing the seams together was easier plus the garment looked right in the end.
Maybe it’s too early for you to understand what I mean here but I guess you are going to have to trust me on this one and take it from there:)
Firstly, what is Pre-shrinking? for those of you who don’t know.
Also known as pre-washing either way, it is where you wash your fabric before you cut it to sew up into a garment.
Now, not all types of fabric you acquire for sewing necessarily will need to be pre-washed. One example is silks.
What happens is that whatever fabric you buy it is prone to shrink the first time you wash it.
So if you come home after purchasing your new fabric and happened to whizz up a garment from it then, after you’ll have washed it from your first wear only to wear it again, you will realize that the fit is not the same or the drape or the fall.
Here’s the article about how to pre-wash your fabrics.
Neatening raw edges (seam finish)
If you go to your wardrobe and pick out a few different garments trouser, T-shirt, dress, blazer whatever it is, you will find the inside finished off neatly.
This is known as the seam finish!
There are TWO advantages to finishing your seams:
- The obvious- it’s aesthetically pleasing
- Keeps edge from fraying
Traditionally, this is done using an overlocker. However, it can be done without one so do not despair.
Read this article for how to finish seams without an overlocker.
Understand seam allowances
Everything you sew together has seam allowances.
Once you understand how they work, sewing anything together will come easily to you. Simple.
Therefore making some effort to understand them might be an eye opener especially for anyone that’s completely new to sewing.
You can laugh at me for putting this one in but I really want to help someone that truly is a newbie to sewing and get them up and running with their desire to sewing their own clothes.
So sometimes it has to go back to basics and its fine.
Watch this short video to help you understand seam allowances:)
Ironing and pressing
- Pressing the garment as you construct it will allow you to get into all of the nooks and crannies. Allowing for all areas to come out looking, crisp, clean, and professional.
- Not only that but when you sew a newly stitched seam then pressing it will assure that the stitch sets into the material which stabilises the seam.
I have written a post for this about garment pressing techniques to help you with that.
Using and Understanding paper patterns
As you will be working with patterns it’s worth doing a little bit of self education to get familiar with what the symbols on the patterns mean and which markings to cut out and which not.
Guess what you still may not understand just from watching a few tutorials until you practically start using one yourself.
So I wouldn’t waist too much time trying to figure out what every detail is without getting started to fiddle around with one yourself.
There are two very good videos I found that can help you get started.
1. If you want to learn how the enveloped tissue paper patterns work then here’s the link to a YouTube video I like for that.
2. If you want to learn how a downloadable PDF pattern works then here’s a good video for that.
Tip: It’s still worth watching video #1 because that one goes more into detail about what all the symbols mean.
BONUS: 7 Tips for how to get better at sewing
In the last chapter I want to leave you with some bite size tips so that you can start to reflect over them in your free time.
These tips can help you on a deeper level for you to not encounter frustrations and let downs in your new hobby of sewing.
The truth about sewing is that you have to be patient and the only way to break through the journey is through practice.
#1 Create a good sewing set up
The reason why it’s important to create a good sewing set up is so you can help yourself to keep sane and by the end of it have a beautifully finished product.
Now, it doesn’t mean you will have to have a whole sewing room set up for your sewing (ofcourse it’s ideal) however, that’s not possible for some of us who live in a small apartment.
Like me over here!
Either way my solution works for all.
From experience. What i do is I do all my work on my dining table.
The trick is do the cutting on one session then clear up. Then do the sewing session on the next with the set up of pressing on one side and the sewing on the other side.
Anyway I have included all about how this works in my FREE Guide so I wont go into it now.
#2 Enjoy the process
Yeh. Enjoy the process of having to re-do a seam!
My secret is I switch off the sewing machine and come well away from it.
Make myself a cup of coffee (love me coffee) and put my headphones on with whatever I fancy listening to that day and throw myself on the couch AND (don’t forget) the seam ripper.
I simply undo the seams. Swiftly as though on auto pilot.
Now this has become an excuse for me to take a moment to ‘chillax’ when I’m on a sewing job.
Love it now!
#3 Press seams and finish seams as you go along
Read the article 13 must know garment pressing techniques.
I wouldn’t say to sit down open a glossary page and memorise all the sewing terms, no.
That’s just ridiculous.
My tip is to read beginner freindly sewing books at your pass time.
I realized that what I was doing unintentionally was in fact learning by doing this.
What happened was I was getting familiar with the different sewing terminology and what that did for me was that whenever I had any questions sewing related; I knew how to word it when I googled my queries!
That’s true for any industry really, but trust me your doing yourself a favour by familiarising yourself with the jargon.
So read books!
This book is one of my classic that I go back to that’s beginner worthy.
#5 Sew alongs
You my freind are so lucky to be learning to sew in this era. The much needed help is now just a press of a button away. There are many kind soals out there that have taken their time to show you exactly step by step how to sew a particular pattern from start to finish. Known as a ‘Sew Along’ video.
If you really get stuck on a pattern try YouTube you might find yourself a sew along video available to follow along with.
How much better can it get!?
What you can do is if anytime you have a pattern on your hands that you find quite tricky to understand, hop over to YouTube and type in the pattern name and code with the word “Sewalong” after it.
Now, I’m not guaranteeing that you’ll find a tutorial every time but it’s Tip worth trying, who knows it might work!
#6 Handle it gently
Fun fact, I am heavy handed when it comes to the kitchen. I happen to spill and splatter stuff everywhere! Creating mess for myself all the time (I let you in on a secret- I hate being in the kitchen!)
A similar thing can happen with sewing. When we handle our fabric we must keep a gentle hand. When we cut out our fabrics there tend to be certain areas of the cut pieces that become prone to stretching.
We must avoid that happening because it’ll only get messy for us when we go to sew up that area we’ll experience aligning issues or the finished product can get puckers in that area.
What can you do?
Whenever you handle your sewing projects that have just been cut for sewing try to handle it by simply holding rather than fiddling much by pulling on it.
#7 Make Mistakes
I hope I was able to cover all the questions you might of had when you came over to this page if not I would love to help you with whatever that’s bothering you related to this topic. If so feel free to leave your queries in the comment section below and I will get back to you.
Otherwise for now it’s time for you to get started with your new found hobby of sewing and to further simplify things for you I decided to give away a FREE Guide to help you take this on and see it to the finish line.
You will cut and sew up your very own garment all by yourself within just a few days by following my Cutting & Sewing Roadmap!