One of the classes I took at The Sewing Summit was called Garment Making 101, taught by Jana Nielson of Izzy & Ivy Designs. While we didn’t do any actual sewing, I thought the class was very informative and comprehensive. We even got a little booklet of sewing tips, hand written/illustrated by Jana herself. Look how cute it is!
I thought I’d share some of the things Jana taught us, in case you’re trying to break into garment sewing and don’t know where to start.
It’s always important to keep your own body measurements (and obviously update them if you gain/lose weight). Most patterns will require you to know your bust, waist, and hip measurements.
- Bust: Measure the largest point, over your shoulder blades, with your arms down.
- Waist: the smallest part of your midsection, where you put your hands, naturally. Another student in the class suggested putting an elastic band around your hips and letting it slide upwards, where it will naturally find your smallest section.
- Hips: widest section, below waist.
Jana’s biggest tip: Don’t suck in! It may be tempting to fudge the numbers so you don’t have to feel guilty about that sandwich you just ate, but you’ll feel even worse if your clothes don’t fit! She also pointed out that pattern sizes are not the same as clothing tag sizes, so if you’re used to seeing a particular number in your tag, don’t get discouraged if you have to use a much larger sized pattern. If one of your measurements matches one size, and another matches a different size, make the larger sized garment. You can always take it in later.
Jana suggested prewashing your fabric–the same way you will wash it once the garment is done–and ironing it to make it crisp again before you sew. You should also gather all the notions listed on the pattern–things like zippers, buttons, and trim–and make sure you have bought the recommended fabric yardage for the pattern. Here’s another tip you may be tempted to ignore: read the instructions entirely before you sew a single stitch!
First you have to cut your pattern pieces, and then you have to cut your fabric pieces from the pattern. You’ll have to pay attention to which way the pattern pieces are supposed to lie on the fabric. There will be arrows on the patterns that need to line up with the grain of the fabric. You’ll also need to be extra careful if your chosen fabric has a particular pattern printed onto it–if you bought vertical stripes, you don’t want half your skirt to be horizontal! And make sure that pieces that are supposed to be cut on the fold are not cut on the selvedges or raw edges. Once you’ve laid out your pattern pieces correctly, then you can start cutting your fabric.
I wish we’d talked more about this stage, but the class just wasn’t long enough to accommodate everything I was ready to learn! Make sure to follow all directions the first few times you sew a garment, and consult a friend or YouTube when you don’t understand something. Jana also recommends actually using the correct seam allowances instead of just making up your own (guilty as charged…).
This is a section most novice sewers tend to skip over, myself included. A lot of professional sewers consider finishing even more important than the actual sewing. Make sure to:
- clip all stray threads
- iron all seams
- serge or overlock the inside seams to prevent fraying
- clip the corners and curves, and push them out to keep them looking sharp!
Jana’s booklet also included a few handy dandy how-to’s like sewing in a zipper, buttonholes, sleeves, and gathering fabric. She also included a glossary of sewing terms for sewing newbies like me–did you know the arm hole is called an “armscye?” Neither did I! Here are a few other random things I learned:
- A sewing machine needle only lasts for 8 hours of sewing (not till the end of time, like I originally thought).
- You’re not supposed to take in the back seam when tailoring for a better fit. The back seam must be straight, or else your zipper will get all wonky.
- Thread has a grain, just like fabric! To make threading your needle easier, thread with the grain instead of against it. This means you should thread the end you cut, not the end coming off the spool.
Do you have any beginner sewing tips to share? Do you follow these rules regularly?