Five tips for beginner garment sewing

Going back and relearning the basics, it’s interesting the things that I do now that make sewing easier and faster compared to my first attempts at sewing.  Want to know what they are?  Got better tips and tricks?

1.  Cutting out your fabric.

Pinning your patterns pieces and using scizzors to cut them meant my first garments had odd seams.  What do I mean by odd? Slightly wavvy, never matching up exactly and very imprecise.  The best way (and admittedly, having done quilting I already had the supplies which made this simple to try) is using weights on the pattern pieces and using my rotary cutter and quilting mat to cut out the pieces.  That way the fabric never moves, it’s much faster and accuracy is guaranteed!  The only downside for this is making sure you have a mat big enough to cut your pieces without having to move the fabric.

***Hint to husband if you’re reading this – Lincraft has a giant mat on sale and it’s only $99.  AND my birthday is soon.  Just saying.***

2.  Cutting out your pattern pieces.

DON’T CUT YOUR ORIGINAL PATTERN!  Trace it.  Yes, it is a total pain in the a**e to do, but odds are you will not cut the right size, or years later you want to make another item from your original pattern and you’ve changed a dress size.  If you want to make any pattern alterations as well this means you can cut/stickytape/draw all over your traced item.  I also hang my traced pieces up in my sewing cupboard which means if they do still fit and I want to make another, it’s already out, flat and ready to go.  If you have the option, buy proper tracing paper.  I bought mine from Tessuti in Melbourne and it was maybe $15 for 10 metres?  It’s on a wide roll and it’s taken me two years to use all of it.

3.  Use a basting stitch if you’re not quite sure about a seam

Sometimes if you’re sewing a tricky thing, maybe a zip, a sleeve, a pocket.  Something you’re struggling with and a little worried about the final result, pin it, then sew the seam with a long straight stitch length like 4 just inside the seam allowance.  For example if your seam allowance is 5/8, sew at 1/2.    This way you can see if it’s puckered or wavvy and unpick it quickly if you’re not happy.  If it looks good then sew the proper seam again at 5/8 and it’s a perfect job.  The other benefit, is sometimes using pins the fabric can shift and move a little.  With a long basting stitch you can massage the fabric a little and then sew.  I prefer to do this on inset sleeves and I get less puckering.   Did I mention I hate unpicking?

4.  If you’re doing lots of sewing, get your bobbins prepared.

You’re halfway down a long seam and BAM.  Bobbin has run out.  Don’t waste time then unthreading, winding your bobbin, rethreading.  Be organised and BEFORE you start fill up two bobbins with your thread, and maybe even more if it is a colour you will sew with most of the time.  This is a procrastination eliminator.

5.  Change your sewing needle

This is by far the stupidest mistake I made when I was a novice.  I’d chuck in the towel halfway through sewing as my machine was stitches were skipping, the thread was breaking…  Anytime now I have a problem with the sewing, I rethread my machine.  Still a problem?  I change the needle.  99% of the time this fixes my problem.  Have you ever seen the IT crowd?  This is the sewing equivalent to turning it off and on again.

Change your needle before you start a new project.  ALWAYS.  A blunt needle only leads to sewing rage.

Do you have any silly mistakes you learnt from?


9 thoughts on “Five tips for beginner garment sewing

  1. Take a look at the show that’s coming up in july – I got my new massive mat for $30 from scissorman at AQC and they may be there again with a similar price

      • Nope, I’ll be back! I think we were planning on getting a group together and going on the weekend, I don’t remember which day off the top of my head, but it’s an event in the facebook group, you should come too!

  2. Thanks for the great tips! I hadn’t thought about putting weights on while cutting. Also, I think I need to change my needles more often. I only really do it when it breaks but I’m sure they get dull faster. Love the IT crowd:)

    • Admittedly, my weights are sometimes scissors, drink bottles, my lamp…anything on hand. The lamp is just stupid because one day I’ll slice through the cord. It’s inevitable. I used to have big washers (from a hardware store) which were great, but I’ve lost them.

  3. Great tips. 3 more that I’ve learned:

    1) Iron after every seam. It’s ok to be organized about this, i.e. do shoulder/underarm seams on the bodice at the same time as detached skirt pieces. Just don’t try to short-cut and attach the skirt or sleeves to the bodice without ironing. It will never look right.

    2) Try on as you sew. Its amazing how many garments I’ve made without doing this, mostly as a teenager with a very different figure compared to now, so for the most part it worked ok, but there were still a lot of things that could have fit better. One of the biggest advantages to sewing a garment rather than buying something is that you have the potential to make it fit you exactly, not just “good enough”. It’s way easier to adjust those areas that just need a little bit more/less room before the whole garment is put together, and in the end, the finished project will be worth the time invested.

    3) Blogging or joining some type of social network that allows you to post pictures of projects helps with accountability. It is a motivating factor to finish projects. It is a motivating factor to try to get things done right. It is also extremely encouraging to post pictures and have comments from others that know what you went through to get that garment from a long, flat piece of fabric, to something wearable. Looking at/reading what others have posted is also a great way to find inspiration and learn new tricks to improve one’s own sewing.

    • Do you iron to set your stitches? I’m not sure about it for wovens, but it does make a difference to knits it seems. For wovens I’ll press my seams open or to the side only.

      • I have a bad habit with wovens of just pressing the seam in the direction I’m wanting it to end up (either open or to the side), not to set the stiches at first. Maybe I’m sloppy, maybe it just doesn’t seem to make that much of a difference most of the time. You’re right about knits though; it does seem to make more of a difference on knits compared to wovens.

  4. I didn’t use to baste a lot, but now I’m making an effort to do it, because it’s so easy to unpick and the best way to try a garment. Re: tracing the pattern, this is what I usually do because I don’t want to spoil the pattern, and my weight has been known to change substantially over time – and also because, as many other women, I need to grade up or down for things like tunics, dresses or coats to accomodate for the change in size between my bust, waist and hips.
    I’ve read this interesting post by Mary and she proposes a different way to cut the pattern. I might try this in the near future.

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