When I first started sewing apparel, I had a “go for it” kind of attitude. My mother had given me the foundations of sewing throughout my childhood, including knowing how to operate a sewing machine, serger, and rotary cutter. But she had never taught me how to make apparel. To get started, I found a vintage sewing pattern that was in my grandmother’s stash, a polyester from my mom’s stash, and just went at it. It was a simple trapeze dress, and I’m not sure that I even followed all the directions. I still have that pattern, and really wish that I had traced the pattern rather than cutting it out because now, I’m stuck with one size and one to two versions of the dress.
Choose the fabric and/or pattern
Starting with fabric: I know how it is at the fabric store. You fall in love with a fabric and you have nothing in mind for what to make with it. Soon you’ll accumulate a stash and months later come back to the fabric and ask, what was I thinking? This is when you assess the fabric. What is the drape and thickness good for? If it’s a thick twill, it might be best off for bottoms (skirts, pants, shorts), structured dresses, or accessories (purses). If it’s a lightweight fluid fabric, you’re likely looking at blouses or dresses with a lot of give. Dig into the patterns you own, the patterns available through the Big 4, and the indie patterns throughout the world. Find something that speaks to both you, and the fabric. Because if there is one thing to learn from this, is that it’s difficult to force a fabric onto a pattern.
Starting with a pattern: This is a bit easier to manage, as the pattern gives you general guidelines on what fabric to be on the lookout for and a vision in mind. Again, the fabric recommendations should be taken with a grain of salt, but do not force a fabric onto a pattern. If it calls for a woven and you want to use a knit, there are tutorials online for how to do that conversion. If you’re making a blouse and it calls for a lightweight woven, do not use a super heavyweight fabric because it will not have enough give. Keep in mind the work that will go into matching patterns, plaids, and stripes when buying fabric, and the laundering requirements for the fabric. I try to take a picture of the end bolt when I buy it so I know the fiber content and the laundry instructions for later on.
This took the longest for me to understand and accept. You are your own size, and the patterns aren’t always going to fit you right out of the envelope. I trusted the recommended sizes for a lot of patterns, and often it works out. But when it doesn’t, it’s incredibly disappointing. BE SKEPTICAL OF THE SIZING. If you want it fitted, take the pattern pieces out, measure the width or length, do some math calculating in seam allowances, and calculate how much ease there is. If there’s 3 inches of ease around the bodice that is supposed to be fitted, make adjustments or select a different size. If your hips are a size 12 and your bodice a size 10, grade the sizes together. It’ll make for a much better fitted garment and a happier seamstress. There’s tons of tutorials online to do this, give it a try and you’ll be much more satisfied with what you make.
Trace pattern onto tracing paper
Once you’ve chosen your fabric and have your pattern size determined, I trace my pattern. This is so that I can make adjustments to the pattern for sizing such as a full bust adjustment, hacks to the design, or simply to keep the paper pattern intact to use a different size or version in the future. Pellon sells tracing pattern which is wonderful for this, but there are others you can use and even directly sew up and make adjustments to. Once my patterns are traced, I simply keep them in a gallon sized bag labeled with the pattern enclosed.
Organize which are interfaced, interface yardage first
I find block interfacing helpful in maintaining the integrity of the cut, interfaced pattern pieces. If I don’t block interface, I end up with either the fabric or interfacing too large and it affects the piece. To do this, organize which pattern pieces need interfacing. Lay them over the fashion fabric, and decide how much yardage needs to be interfaced for these pieces. Interface the whole piece, then cut out the individual pieces. The exception to this is collars, where the collar seam allowance is left uninterfaced to reduce bulk.
Lay, cut, mark
Finally, you can lay out your pattern pieces on the fashion fabric and cut them out. I use a rotary cutter for a majority of my cutting, and mark darts and pleats with a combination of chalk and tailor’s tacks. To make with chalk, I insert a pin into the point of the pattern piece and rub my chalk along the point of the pin on the fashion fabric. Then, follow your pattern directions and sew to your heart’s content!