Thursday, May 3, 2012

{Sew} Get Started: Garment Making Basics

Dress I made using the Serendipity Studio Monique Dress sewing pattern

Welcome everyone to another {Sew} Get Started tutorial! Today my lovely friend Sara is going to take us through the basics of making garments which is an area that I know a little about, but don't have too much experience in. Sara seems to be able to turn her hand to all sorts of sewing - quilts, purses, bags, dresses - and each project as gorgeous as the next! She has a really great blog, Sew Sweetness where she does lots of pattern reviews, as well as tutorials and lots of interesting events (some of which I have been lucky enough to contribute to). She has just announced a great new fun event running for the next two months, designed to get people sewing purses/bags for the summer - pop over and check it out!

This tutorial is part of the {Sew} Get Started: Beginner Sewing Tutorials series. To go to the master page with a full list of tutorials and links to past tutes, please click on the link.

FairyFace Designs

So, Sara, it's over to you!

Hello everyone! I am extremely excited to be guest posting on Fairy Face Designs today! My beginner topic is on Garment Sewing. I am not the most seasoned garment sewer on the block, but hopefully some of the things I have learned along the way can help you get started making a dress or top of your own!

Size chart example from a Colette Patterns garment

1. Choosing Your Size Sewing patterns will all be different as far as sizing goes. Some list size descriptions (small, medium, large), some size numbers (2, 4, 6), and others will list European measurements (34, 36, 38). The best way to find your size is to take a measuring tape and measure loosely around your hips, waist, and bust. My recommendation for measuring your chest size is not to go with your usual bra size, but to actually measure around yourself, wearing the bra or type of bra that you plan on wearing with the finished garment (for example, if it is a strapless dress, you will want to actually wear a strapless bra for the measuring). After you have found your measurements, refer to the table on the back of the pattern that lists the measurements for hips, waist, and bust to match up what size you should be cutting for the pattern pieces. If you are in between sizes, go with the next size up, because you can always take your garment in, but it's really hard to add fabric if your garment ends up being too tight that you can't sew it together or get the zipper in!

2. Finding the Right Fabrics After you have chosen your pattern, now it is time to select your fabric! If you have never sewn clothing before, I would suggest staying away from slippery or sheer fabrics; they can be somewhat challenging to sew with. Many patterns will list suggested fabrics on the back. Keep in mind that different fabrics drape differently, which means that they will fall in a different way on your body. For example, chiffon fabric will be very clingy on the body and usually fall straight down, whereas a decor weight will be more stiff. Especially if you are going with a more expensive or directional fabric, it might be a good idea to lay your pattern pieces out on another bit of fabric that you already own, to get an idea of what you will actually use to make your garment.

From Susan of Living with Punks:

3. How to Transfer the Pattern to your Fabric
Cut the tissue (or paper) pattern pieces out. I usually leave all the sizes intact, rather than cutting my size out. Most patterns will also illustrate a cutting layout, although I tend to make up my own layout in order to be frugal with fabric or to fussy cut certain areas of the print. There are several ways to cut the fabric out using your pattern pieces. Some people pin the pattern pieces to the fabric, then cut. My grandma uses carbon paper and a small roller to transfer onto the fabric, then cuts. I use pattern weights (i.e. scissors and quilting ruler) on top of the tissue and trace around the pieces with an invisible fabric marker. Another important thing to mention when cutting the pattern is to also make sure to transfer any marks from the pattern pieces onto the fabric. This means any darts, notches, etc. This will help you later because you won't have to constantly refer back to the pattern pieces once you've cut your fabric out, you can just put them away and be done with them.
From Gwen of Gwenny Penny:
4. How to Begin Sewing
Most garments will be made with a 1/2" or 5/8" seam allowance (although I have seen some garment patterns, mainly made with quilting cotton, using a 1/4" allowance). This is usually noted at the beginning of the pattern. It is really important to use the correct seam allowance because your finished garment may not fit if you don't. If you commonly sew with a certain seam allowance, rather than eyeballing it or using the edge of your presser foot, you might consider putting a strip of painter's tape on the bed of your sewing machine, measured to the desired distance from your presser foot.

This is what a dart looks like from the wrong side of the fabric: basically like a triangle

5. How to Sew a Dart Sewing darts in your bodice (that is, the top area of your garment) is a great way to get a fitted piece of clothing that is tailored to your body. Loose-fitting tops and dresses are certainly easier to sew, but they also won't give much definition. A dart is a v-shaped imprint on your pattern piece, which you will transfer to the fabric. Sewing a dart is not necessarily difficult; with the fabric right sides together, you match up the two straight lines, then sew on top of that line. The problem some people have with darts is that once you sew them for a garment, they may or may not be the right length of dart for your body. For example, I don't think I've ever made a dress pattern where I didn't have to slightly alter the darts. There's nothing wrong with the pattern, it's just that when you sew something for yourself, you want it to fit you more or less exactly, and so, chances are you may need to adjust the darts. This can be accomplished by trying the bodice on, pinching any extra fabric in, and maybe using pins to mark places where you need to make a change. You can also baste areas where you are considering a change, so if you haven't gotten it quite right, it's easy to take the threads out and try again. Sometimes I spend a half an hour adjusting a dart. It's nothing to get frustrated about, just put it down and come back to it later.

Serged Seam

6. How to Finish Raw Edges Patterns may or may not (especially commercial patterns) tell you when you need to finish a raw edge. For example, say you have just sewn the bodice of a garment to the skirt. That is going to leave you with a raw edge, right? You really don't want to leave any raw edges in a garment, because when you wash it, it's going to be a mess. There are several ways to finish a seam. If you are making a skirt, you can use a french seam. A french seam is when you sew your fabrics wrong sides together (say, with a 1/8" seam allowance), then flip them over and sew them right sides together (with a 1/4" seam allowance). That second seam will seal the raw edge inside, leaving you with a finished seam. Some fabrics can be finished with pinking shears. I made a decor-weight skirt last year, and yes, I did finish the seams with pinking shears. It worked out great. Another way to finish raw edges is with either a zig-zag stitch or a serger. Before this year, all of my seams were finished with a tight zig-zag stitch. It is not as pretty as a serged seam, but it does the trick.

7. How to Adjust Size Many people make a muslin of their pattern pieces before they move on to the good fabric. A muslin can also be made with cheap fabric, like a thrifted sheet. You don't necessarily have to sew up the entire pattern with your muslin, just mainly any areas that might need a sizing adjustment (like the bodice). I am too lazy to sew a muslin, so I take my chances. The biggest piece of advice I can offer in garment sewing is...TRY IT ON. Sew a step or two...try it on. Pin if you must. Try it on, try it on, try it on. There's nothing worse than getting all the way to the end, then realizing that an area of the dress that you made doesn't fit right and you have to rip the whole thing apart to fix it.

Hemmed bottom of dress
8. How to Hem You will most likely need to hem a garment, whether it is a top or skirt or dress. I have made dresses with a couple different styles of hem. I have serged (or zig-zagged) the bottom of the dress, then pressed up 1/2" and topstitched. Usually, I will press, then press again, and topstitch. That hides all the raw edges nicely. I also have two different hemmer foots that are new feet to my stash. One is 1/8" and the other is 1/4". The smaller hemmer foot is better for more lightweight fabrics. The 1/4" foot is definitely more easy to use, and suits my needs a little bit better. The hemmer foot eliminates the need to press, press, and topstitch. It curls the fabric for you and creates the topstitch at the same time. A nice little time-saver. My recommendation for deciding if you need to trim fabric before you hem is to wear the shoes that you would wear with the finished garment (mostly with a dress or skirt). Stand up straight, look in the mirror, and mark with a pin how high up you would like the garment to fall. Before cutting any length off, make sure to factor in the seam allowances of the hem.

I hope these basics have given you something to think about in sewing up your first garment! Thank you to Sarah for having me! :-)

Thanks Sara! Remember to add any garments you make using Sara's tips to the Flickr group, and don't forget to pop back next week for the last of the guest posts in this series, where Kirsten will show how to make a gorgeous mini quilt.


Helen said...

Thank you so much for this post - lots of really useful tips. I would love to have a go at making some clothes but am a bit scared so I found this very helpful.

Canadian Abroad said...

Some fabulous useful information in this useful guest post. Thank you!

KristyLou said...

Perfect timing as I am sewing up my first dress for myself this weekend! Thanks.

Shelly said...

Thank you for this guest post, and a lovely guest she is. Sara is always a delight. Wonderful tips and explaining. I understood every word, now to just make one. yikes!

Leanne said...

This is a very helpful tutorial, thank you.

Katy Cameron said...

Great advice! Being of the, err, rather more generously endowed top half, I always make a muslin of that. I can't quite decide if I have an odd shaped bust, or if the manufacturers have an odd idea of a woman's shape, but it's invaluable to avoid a baggy bit at the top!

Annabella said...

Great advice and love the dresses!

Mrs Flying Blind... said...

Pinned for a brave day!

Prof. S (the enchanted bobbin) said...

What a great primer!

If I can add just a word of advice, based on my own experiences (and fitting woes, and several dresses made carefully only to be donated to the charity shop because they didn't fit)...and I should say that I'm no pro, just a curvy woman who would like to able to make some clothes that fit (!).

If you are larger than a B-cup (or C-cup in the case of Colette patterns), you'll get the best results by using your high bust measurement when choosing a size for the upper part of a dress pattern. In my case this means going down two (TWO!) full sizes -- and then I have to adjust the darts with an FBA (full bust adjustment). The Palmer book _Fit for real people_ is super informative about this, and about the ways in which commercial patterns are drafted.

I was originally taught to use the full bust measurement, which would put me squarely in an 8 (Nth American/Colette sizing) or 14 (Simplicity/Vogue/McCalls/Butterick sizing)...seemed pretty straightforward. But the dresses I made this way were all wrong, I couldn't move my arms about, necklines were often too wide, there was way too much fabric along my upper back, I couldn't figure out what the problem was. (And as Palmer notes, it's really hard to adjust the shoulders and back DOWN, much easier to start with the right size for your shoulders and rib cage, and then make allowances for the girls! I'm a 30E bra size, some allowances are needed.) An even better option is to use one of the patterns that has A-B-C-D cups already drafted....

I hope that helps someone out there! Happy stitching.

Kitty said...

Oh my goodness!! Those dresses are gorgeous. I recently bought this pattern myself and actually found your blog through googling for pictures of finished dresses.

May I ask where you got your fabric?? I'm always looking for fabric with large prints for dresses like the typewriter fabric you used and I can never find such cute/retro-esque prints in such fun colors!
Much appreciated. [=