This guide has been written by Julie Bonnar of The Pattern Pages – an online resource and 2 monthly downloadable magazine for people who love to sew their own clothes.
Ever dreamed of making your own clothes? It’s a fantastic way of creating your own style, and with lots of independent sewing patterns on the market as well as gorgeous fabrics – there really hasn’t been a better time to have a go.
Julie Bonnar from The Pattern Pages shares some tips for absolute beginners. She says “practice really does make perfect, and to start with it’s all about making the most of your new and growing skills and gaining confidence as you sew. If you’re completely new to dressmaking, it’s better to make a really good job of a simple garment than a dog’s dinner of something that’s far too complicated! My advice would be to start a printed pattern that’s been created for beginners.”
Sewing Patterns Designed for Beginners
A sewing pattern gives you all the tools you need to make a garment. It’s made up of an envelope with lots of handy information about sizing, what skills you need, garment descriptions, photos and illustrations, body measurements, as well as fabric suggestions and requirements. Inside you’ll also find a set of instructions – this is your guide to making up the garment, along with the pattern tissue (the pattern template), which you’ll use with your fabric to cut out your garment – you’re ready to begin to sew!
What Comes First – Pattern or Fabric?
Reading a sewing pattern carefully will help you choose which pattern is best for you, as well as helpful advice on what fabric to buy (see this guide to choosing fabrics for dressmaking). There’s lot of new terms to get to grips with and starting to read the pattern will help you to make choices easier. For more information on sewing patterns, check out The Beginners Guide to Sewing Patterns on The Pattern Pages website.
Look for sewing patterns that suggest they’re for those just starting to sew. These patterns will use easy techniques and avoid any complex tailoring and fitting.
Most sewing pattern brands will have sewing pattern collections that have been specifically designed for newbies:
Burda has a cotton reel rating – where one reel denotes an easy pattern. This pattern brand also has a ‘Super Easy’ range of patterns too. Burda sewing patterns happen to be one of my favourite brands to sew with but are slightly unconventional where certain information that you’d usually expect to find on the instructions is on the tissue (such as layout) – so don’t go throwing away the tissue when cutting out!
Simplicity sewing patterns have several sewing pattern collections for beginners including ‘Learn to Sew’, ‘Easy-to-sew’, ‘It’s So Easy’ and ‘Sewing Patterns for Dummies’. The ‘It’s So Easy’ range has a whole section devoted to these patterns in its catalogue, which makes selection easy.
New Look sewing patterns are labelled ‘Easy’or ‘Very Easy’, and also indicate quick makes of one and two hours on the front of the envelope.
Butterick has a whole section in their catalogue devoted to easy patterns and include ‘Yes! It’s Easy See & Sew’ range. Other sewing pattern collections from Butterick, McCalls and Vogue have four ratings – ‘Very Easy’, ‘Easy’, ‘Average’ and ‘Advanced’.
Kwik Sew has the Kwik Start, Learn to Sew range for sewing novices.
N.B. Do check that the seam allowance has been included on the sewing pattern – some independent sewing patterns don’t and this will cause all sorts of problems if you think it has!
Tips for Selecting an Easy Sewing Pattern
Get to know the terminology. Check out the Every Pattern Term You’ll Need to Know guide on The Pattern Pages.
Select patterns that include the words quick, easy, simple and for beginners.
Check online to see what other people have to say about the pattern on websites like Pattern Review.
Choose a sewing pattern that has just a few pattern pieces to sew together.
Buy your first sewing pattern from a retail shop where you can get expert advice.
Make sure you buy the right sized sewing pattern. To help buy the right size, see How to Take Accurate Body Measurements on The Pattern Pages.
Beginner’s Sewing Patterns for a Stylish Capsule Wardrobe
Here are my sewing pattern suggestions for beginners:
Wonderful Skirt Patterns
The Ultimate Pencil Skirt
From The Maker’s Atelier can be made in stretch fabric, and is very easy to make. Also included within the same pattern is a woven version with zip so you can progress with your sewing skills.
Nice knit sewing patterns
The Aurum Dress is from the newest collection of sewing patterns from Deer & Doe. This woven dress is suitable for absolute beginners, and features this season’s fashionable kimono sleeve. It also has a cinched waist courtesy of princess seams plus a handy bust pocket. Wear it by itself or with leggings and boots.
Easy to sew tops
This is a kimono sewing pattern and comes from the Easy to Sew range – it is loose-fitting and great for any occasion. It comes in sizes xxs-xxl so is a good choice to learn to work with lightweight fabrics.
If you are looking for places to buy sewing patterns please search The Sewing Directory for many online sewing stores to choose from. There is a dressmaking patterns category.
Selecting the right fabric can make or break a finished garment. To begin with, the best advice is to use one of fabric type that’s recommended on the sewing pattern envelope.
Easy-to-sew patterns will recommend easy-to-work with fabrics such as cotton, plain and knit fabrics that don’t fray, aren’t too slippery and where no pattern matching is required like prints, checks and stripes.
Avoid sewing patterns where you need to cut the fabric on the bias as this adds an element of stretch to the equation.
Here is a guide to choosing fabrics for dressmaking.
Search here to find online fabric stores
Choose your category below
Tools of the Trade
To start to make your own clothes you’ll need an assortment of tools:
Retractable tape measure
Small pair of scissors for cutting thread etc.
Paper scissors (for cutting patterns)
Dressmaker’s chalk pencil
Pins and magnet pincushion
Sewing needles (hand and machine)
Extra bobbins for your machine
You may also want to consider buying the following once you’ve caught the dressmaking bug:
A dress form to help with fitting
Extra feet for sewing machine once you get started
Pressing aids such as a sleeve roll and tailor’s ham.
There’s a guide to essential dressmaking tools here.
Tips for Successful Sewing
1. Read the sewing pattern several times before doing anything. I try to imagine making it step-by-step and thinking ahead to next stage. This can help to avoid sewing things wrongly together and having to unpick.
2. Always pin perpendicularly in the seam allowance as you go. Pins are really easy to remove as you sew and pinning fabric pieces together before you sew can also help you see how things fit together.
3. Watch technique tutorials online.
4. Join a Sew-Along. Many sewing pattern companies have started doing Sew-Alongs when they launch new sewing patterns. These guide you through each step/process over a period of time so you get the best results from your pattern.
5. Invest in some good books to explain techniques and garment construction.
Three of my favourite dressmaking books
1. Claire Shaeffer’s Fabric Sewing Guide is a great encyclopaedic guide to the selection, wear, care and sewing of all fabric types.
2. Sewing 101 – Workshop in a Book starts at the beginning from choosing tools to learning techniques and comes with a DVD.
3. The Complete Photo Guide to Clothing Construction by Christine Hayes is an essential reference book for construction techniques from how to sew a zip to shaping garments with darts and princess seams.
Burda, Simplicity and New Look patterns, www.simplicitynewlook.com
Butterick, Kwik Sew, McCalls and Vogue patterns, www.sewdirect.com
Tilly and the Buttons, www.tillyandthebuttons.com
The Maker’s Atelier, www.themakersatelier.com
Christine Haynes, www.chirstinehaynes.com
Victory Patterns, www.victorypatterns.com
Take a look at our Ultimate Listing of Independent Dress Pattern designers to start selecting your next pattern! We also have lots of great dressmaking advice in our techniques section, and free dressmaking projects in our free projects category.