Making your own clothes can be great fun. It also gives you the opportunity to make something original and more ethically sound than the mass produced clothes of the high street. There is also something really satisfying about getting a compliment on your outfit, knowing that you have made it yourself.
However, if you want to avoid that ‘handmade’ look and give your garments a really professional finish I recommend that you follow these useful tips. A huge amount of it is to do with the preparation so make a checklist before you start.
Select the right pattern for you.
When you go shopping for clothes you know which styles and shapes suit your figure. Use this knowledge when selecting a pattern. (There are even some brands out there that design specifically for a particular shape such as the Sewaholic patterns for pear shaped women.) Don’t be influenced by the models in the pictures unless they really are the same size, shape and colouring as you and don’t be swayed by the fabric they have used. Just because you don’t like the colour, the pattern may be right. Having said that, patterns that show photos as well as drawings are great. So often the drawing on a pattern envelope is elongated to make it look elegant and stylish and in reality the garment (or you) may not come out like this.
There are tips on choosing the correct sewing pattern for your body shape here.
Once you have chosen a pattern that is right, think about the fabric that you are going to use. Most patterns give you a list of recommended fabrics. It is advisable to stick to fabrics with a similar feel to this list. Making a dress that is designed for a soft floaty fabric like chiffon will look bulky and uncomfortable if you use stiff cotton. Similarly, a pattern designed for fabric with lots of body will sag at the seams if you use something too light. If you are using a fabric with a large design I really recommend buying extra fabric and matching the pattern of the dress. Top end brands regularly use this technique as nothing screams cheap like a miss matched pattern.
Read the pattern instructions thoroughly all the way through, then read them again. Make sure you understand each step that is needed. If there are any bits that you don’t understand why not try a quick tutorial before you begin. There are lots of sewing tutorials online or you can ask a more experienced sewing friend to give you some advice. Here’s a guide to understanding sewing patterns.
Wash your fabric
Before you start cutting your fabric, wash it in the same way you would once the garment is made. This way you can see any shrinkage in the fabric, see if the feel and drape of the fabric changes after any dressing has been washed out and finally test it for colour fastness. It is so disappointing to work for hours on a garment only to ruin it in the first wash.
Use the right needle
Make sure you use the correct machine needle for the fabric you are sewing. Firstly, think about the type of needle you require and then the needle size.
Sharp point needles: These slim needles create a nice even stitch and little puckering. They should be used when sewing woven fabrics such as cotton or linen.
Universal point needles: These are a little bit wider than the sharp point needles and have a slightly rounded point that slips easily through knitted fabric while still being sharp enough for piercing a woven fabric. These are the most versatile needles and can be used with a large range of fabrics.
Ball point needles: These have a rounded point that is perfect for sewing jersey or stretch fabrics. The rounded needle slips between the threads of the fabric ensuring that it doesn’t snag.
Find a full sewing machine needle guide here.
Needles come in sizes which range from 9 to 18, with 9 being suitable for fine lightweight fabrics such as voile or organza and 18 for the heaviest fabrics like denim or canvas.
Most importantly, change your needle regularly. I change mine before I start each project. Always replace dull needles. Blunt needles can cause snagging, missed stitches and snapped needles.
Iron your project regularly. When ironing seams, iron them closed before you iron them open. This will give you a sharper finish. Use an ironing ham (or oven glove) to prevent burnt fingers. I find a wooden orange stick (as found in manicure sets) is great to push out corners to get a really smooth finish.
Before you hem your garment leave it hanging on a dressmaker’s dummy (or padded coat hanger) for 24 hours. This will let the full weight of the fabric settle and drop and help prevent wavy hems.
Lastly, make sure you enjoy your sewing time. It should not be rushed or done when you are tired or in a bad mood. Sewing should always be a pleasure. Even when it is challenging you are learning something new.