Dressmaking for the terrified but hopeful

Updated: Jul 16, 2020

The Sewing Bee is over and I'm missing it already. This year it has been especially important for me as it provides a crafting haven from the storm outside. I've been ogling their haberdashery (I so love that word) and drooling over the 'made to measure' for years and although I've upcycled a few garments I've yet to really get down to the made to measure garment (I always put expensive buttons on a cheap mac. It's amazing the difference it makes). But 2020, with its lock-downs, social distancing and shopping queues has made me nail my colours to the mast. I know, another sea faring phrase, but I live in West Cornwall and it's obligatory here to use one water-based phrase before lunch with an added 'me hansome'.

So I've bought me a bushel of patterns. Frankly, I've no idea how many that is but I've gone a bit bonkers. I've also braved the haberdashers (I've just discovered that in America it means men's clothing store rather than a shop that sells sewing stuff!) and dusted off my sewing books. The patterns I bought, and featured in the photo are: Vogue V1312-NewLook 6449-NewLook 6005-Simplicity 1461 BB. This year I've also gone in search of some helpful websites and vblogs too, and I have found some gems to sooth the stressed beginner. So here goes.

Finding a pattern and making it fit

There is something rather wonderful and timeless about going to your local haberdashers and pulling out one of the huge catalogues of patterns. Just the names of McCalls, Butterick and Vogue (sigh) are so evocative. If you've never done it - please, I urge you, it's such a thrill. But when I started my hunt we were in lock-down so I pulled out the e-catalogue. For me the thrill wasn't as keen but is off-set by the sheer choice. I found https://www.sewdirect.com/ to be amazing as all the most well-known pattern companies are there and the choice is immense. I horded quite a few into my checkout basket before I could even say Simplicity. Then I delved deeper and I became entranced by the more niche pattern companies. Check out https://thefoldline.com/ for access to independent pattern designers and much more, and https://www.cashmerette.com/ based in America, which focuses on patterns for curves. These patterns really chime with me. As a curvy gal there is something heartening about pattern designers that understand your figure rather than those that are really designed for the slimmer woman.

Being curvy I have loved the idea of making clothes that fit me 'just so'. Previous attempts have not fitted very well, but this time I am going to tackle this on two fronts. First, I'm actually going to alter my pattern properly and not rush it. So I've been pouring over my books.

The Complete Book of Sewing by DK and edited by Betsy Hosegood is perfect if you want a step-by-step guide to dressmaking. It has everything you will need. The Sewing Book by Alison Smith is also excellent and is perfect if you want to also sew soft furnishings too.

Finally, I would recommend A Perfect Fit by Lynne Garner. I am not yet up to creating my own pattern but this book has really helped me see how I have to alter my standard patterns to fit my curves. Secondly, I am actually going to do a dummy run or a toile. Instead of using muslin I have bought a cheap sheet or two from the supermarket at £6 a go.

If I fall in love with dressmaking, and I am determined to, I would love a dressmakers form. Standard forms are like standard patterns and what you really need is one that fits your form exactly. At Threads Magazine they have some tips on making your own https://www.threadsmagazine.com/collection/9-ways-to-make-a-custom-dress-form. They look hilarious to do and I feel I need to invest in either some duct tape or some plaster of paris and some bandages. This might be a future blog!

Beginning to sew

Finally, I have been hitting the vlogs and websites looking for invaluable tips to get me sorted. I recommend:

1. For curvy gals:

The Curvy Collective https://curvysewingcollective.com/, which gives invaluable information to help sew clothes that fit and access to patterns too.

2. Tips for Sewing:

Evelyn Woods' sewing channel and her 'Top five mistakes to avoid when learning to sew' vlog at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ACKuo8jk058; and Gertie's World 'Top 10 Tips' at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZukoPrcrhuo

3. Getting to grips with your sewing machine:

April at Coolipra goes through the mysteries of sewing machines. She has a digital machine but her tips work for my very basic machine too https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oD_KpZm7OaM.

The most useful tips I have found are things you know but kinda ignore.

1. Really learn your sewing machine as it'll make your life easier if you are struggling with thread tension, bobbins and the like.

2. Get the right fabric for the pattern as it will make a world of difference. I also think it's worth going back to the books I've mentioned as they describe different fabrics and that'll help when choosing what to buy.

3. Use the right thread. I think, and I might well be wrong, but old machines were less fussy than new ones about what thread you used. I bought my machine about five years ago and it came with an array of threads which caused no end of problems and then I discovered it was more like tacking thread really. So I always buy good quality thread and match the top thread with bobbin thread.

4. Make sure you cut your fabric accurately and follow the suggested grain lines unlike my previous attempts that have resembled nothing short of mangled wrecks: notches out of sync and odd bits missed out. I get too excited at this point and rush it, which is something I am determined not to do.

5. Read and understand your pattern so you know what you are doing and why.

6. Go for a dummy run before cutting into any expensive fabric.

7. Start with a simple pattern. I have visions of fancy dresses and well-fitted shirts, but I am going to start with a basic (it still looks complex to me) pattern. So my first attempt will be the Simplicity 1461 BB, which is a tunic type top.

There are loads more tips out there and I suggest you check out these vlogs as they are made by experienced makers and are invaluable. But all-in-all have fun, but know it's going to be irritating when you sew it wrong and you unpick it for the third time (an unpicker tool is a must), or frustrating because you forgot to get the correct type of interfacing. They say you learn more from your mistakes, but I won't say that as it's really damn annoying. Good luck and let me know how it goes.

Next Craft Corner blog will delve into the The Arts and Crafts Movement.

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