10 Lessons I learned in my First Year of Sewing Clothing

As of the beginning of December, I will have been successfully sewing my own clothing for a whole year!

To put it nicely my sewing skills (and my photography skills!) have increased drastically in the past 52 weeks and I have learned so much along the way. I have also had so many amazing opportunities to push myself farther than I ever thought possible and found a vibrant and strong online community of people who are frantically sewing their clothing as well that I have been able to lean on for support and encouragement along the way. It hasn’t all been a super fun ride, however.

I have had some major set backs, some major fails, and some major learning opportunities, all of which I am grateful for looking back, but they were all major low points in my sewing journey at the time. But in an effort to help you avoid the same disasters I had, I want to share the 10 biggest sewing lessons I learned over the last year. 

  1. Buy the right needles! – “universal” needles is the biggest lie the sewing industry has ever told me. Sewing knits? buy a stretch needle. Sewing quilting cottons? Buy a woven needle. trust me it makes all of the difference and is worth the couple extra dollars
  2. Speaking of needles, you need to change them! – I cannot tell you how many nights i sat cursing at my sewing machine for acting up, checking every setting and re-threading a dozen times, only to realize a half hour alter than it had been weeks since I had changed my needle. The moment I changed the machine was back to working just fine. I get about 30 hours of sewing time per needle but that is probably a personal thing and will very from person to person.
  3.  Stretch requirements are not a suggestion – Seriously. They’re not. They’re important to making sure you can get your beautiful new creation over your booty.
  4. Suggested Fabrics” is also so not a suggestion – Do yourself a favor and us what type of fabric the pattern you are following recommends, at least until you are a world-class seamstress and know every fabric and every possible alteration ever (which if you manage to accomplish, kuddos!). This is especially important when it comes to knit vs woven fabrics because knit fabrics stretch, and the patterns that call for need that stretch, wovens dont. Mix those two up and, once again, it’s not going over your booty.
  5. Indie patterns are easier to learn from than “big 4” – My first clothing projects were patterns from “Big 4” companies (Simplicity, Butterick, Vogue, McCalls) and to say they didn’t end well would be an understatement. The ease was all wrong,t he patterns were hard to follow and the instructions were rubbish. I became discouraged with sewing clothes really quickly. Then I found online PDF indie patterns and literally all of those things were changed. PDF patterns usually come with the support of a large Facebook group dedicated specifically to those designers patterns and that truly makes all  of the difference. You can ask for pattern advice, fitting help, pattern suggestions, literally anything related to your project and it is a really huge confidence booster.
  6. Your measurement change daily – This was one of the hardest lessons for me. When sewing clothing it is really important to go by the size chart of a pattern, especially the first time you make it, but your measurements are going to change almost daily. When I first started out measuring myself every other made me acutely aware of my body and not always in a good way. Over time, however, I have been able to “average” my measurements and now I really only check once a month or so but I still make a point to check regularly. 
  7.  Make the freakin’ muslin – Just do it. Especially when you are new to sewing clothing. Do not make your first make from any pattern in “good fabric”. Make it in a fabric that you arent going to cry over when its the wrong size. I know it takes more time, I know it can feel wasteful but if you dont want to be disappointed later, just DO IT! Trust me its heartbreaking when the garment doesn’t fit right and you dont have enough fabric to remake it. Personally I get a lot of my muslin fabric from Walmart and have never regretted it.
  8. Fabric quality is important– You’ll find your favorite places to buy fabric in time but there is quite a learning process in reality. While I do get quite a bit of fabric at JoAnn’s I have found much better quality fabrics from many online boutiques (Knitpop is still my forever favorite, but So Sew English, Sly Fox Fabrics, and Bow Button fabrics are also all amazing) and it takes time to learn what “quality” really means. Until then don’t be surprised if you order something and it ends up being completely different quality or feel wise than you expected, those descriptions can be deceiving!
  9. Take care of your machines – Through my years of sewing with quilting cottons almost exclusively on my machine I never had to do any maintenance on it, I never even lifted the lower plate to clean dust out from around my drop in bobbin! A few months of sewing with knits, suedes, and velvets and that all changed. Apparel fabrics create so much more lint than thinner cotton fabrics and therefore are much harder on your machine. Learn to care for your machines, and take the time to do it, and all of your sewing will be so much easier!
  10. You really can do it, it just takes practice! – Sewing clothing is scary, and it’s not always easy, but it is so worth it and I promise that you really can do it. Sewing my own swimsuit was terrifying but the challenge pushed me way out of my comfort zone and I learned so many new techniques and so many things about my machines that I have been able to use to make every other sewing project that much easier. so take a chance, and sew something out of your comfort zone!Phew, that was a lot! But hopefully something I shared can keep you all from making the same mistakes I made over the last year. Feel free to add any of your first clothing sewing lessons in the comments below!
Continue Reading

P4P Brunch Blouse: New Pattern Release

Ready for another new pattern release!?

This is the pattern I didn’t even know I needed until I had it but boy, oh boy was I in need of it! What pattern am I talking about, you ask? Well the new Patterns for Pirates Brunch Blouse of course!

In case you missed it, I had a pretty adventurous time sewing a dress made out of a beautiful woven fabric a few months ago that made me a bit nervous to take on this project, but the style was so cute and I already had the fabric (a silky print from JoAnn’s) in my stash so I took the leap and made another dress, this time with much better results!

Now don’t get me wrong, I still love me some good knits but sometimes I have a hard time getting a good “dressy” or “professional” look from my beloved and oh so comfy Double Brushed Polyester or Cotton Spandex blends. Wovens, however, lend themselves much better to a dressy and professional look but of course can be totally casual too (it’s all about that styling!). 

Continue Reading

Pattern Hack – Flannel Grandpa Cardigan

One of the things you learn very quickly when sewing clothing is how many different types of “apparel fabrics” there are and how many different fabrics fit into the categories of wovens, knits, linens, etc. The next thing you learn is how incredibly important it is to stick with the “right” fabric for any given project or you can easily end up with a bunch of wasted time, energy, fabric, and money, crying on your closet floor wishing you would have just followed the instructions. in the first place.. (Please tell me that’s happened to someone else too so I feel a little less embarrassed right now.. No? Ok then… )

Knowing all of this though, I broke all the rules last week when I made a knit cardigan pattern, the Patterns for Pirates Grandpa Cardi, out of a woven apparel fabric with absolutely ZERO stretch. It was a lot of work and quite the process but the end results made it so worth it!

Continue Reading

Fall 2017 P4P and M4M Capsule Contest

Whoo buddy has this project been an adventure!

In case you aren’t in the Patterns for Pirates or Made for Mermaids pattern groups on Facebook (which is silly because OF COURSE you are right??) the fall 2017 #sewminicapsule contest is just wrapping up.  You can read more about the contest here, but basically the point is to use the patterns from those designers only to make a mini capsule wardrobe. I talked a lot more about the process of planning such a capsule in a previous post (which you so should go read if you struggled at all with planning a capsule wardrobe!) and wanted to share the fruits of my labor, if you will, the product of my efforts, and the rewards from my sewing struggles, my 2017 mini fall capsule wardrobe!!

Lets start with a quick break down of all my nine pieces! You’ll see they are all very simple and go really well together, which is the magic of all of the planning we did previously (see what I did there??). This is literally my perfect casual fall wardrobe and I am so beyond smitten!

Continue Reading

Made for Mermaids Mama Nina

Ever get so excited when you see a pattern that you immediately think of about 500 different ways to make it and then conveniently forget about everything else you have to do to make them all all, including things like laundry and eating?? No? Just me? Well then..

Moving on…

Made for Mermaids newest pattern, the Mama Nina, just released and it is actually the pattern I have been waiting for for my entire life! Dramatic I know but that is honestly how I am feeling right now.  I was lucky enough to get to be a tester for this pattern and I have already made a couple different versions, all of which I am IN LOVE WITH!

Continue Reading

Planning a Me-Made Capsule Wardrobe: Fall 2017

UPDATE: SEE how my fall capsule turned out here!

With fall right around the corner, I am already thinking of fall outfits and everything else fall. Flannels, puffy vests, leggings, comfy sweaters, and pumpkin spice lattes, are all the things of my dreams right now. (Even though it is literally just starting to get hot in Minnesota but whatever!)

And after loving having a spring/summer mini capsule wardrobe so much, I have been thinking about my fall capsule wardrobe and how I want that to look. I learned so much from doing my spring/summer capsule wardrobe that, thankfully, I am able to go into my fall planning with a much more critical mindset and a few more tricks my sleeve, which of course I am going to share with you!

I have worked out a two-part “system” for planning my own capsule wardrobes, part one being “pre-planning” and the second being “planning” (original naming, I know) that makes my pieces all work so much better together and give me the most possible outfit combinations. So grab a cup of coffee or tea and settle in because this is going to be a long one! 

Continue Reading

5 Things I Learned Sewing My First Swimsuit

In case you missed it, last week I shared a post about sewing my first ever swim suit as a tester for the brand spanking new Take the Plunge swimsuit from Patterns for Pirates that I was completely in love with. Its a one piece swimsuit with about a million different styling options and was a heck of a challenge for this newbie to swimwear. Throughout the test period I made four different suits, two of which were complete goners, and I learned a lot along the way that I wanted to really quickly share with all of you! 

Continue Reading

Holy Crap I made a Swimsuit – P4P Take the Plunge Swimsuit

If you ever want a project to challenge your sewing skills just make a swimsuit (or four) on a deadline!

I was lucky enough to be able to be a tester for Patterns for Pirates new Take The Plunge one-piece suit which means for the last couple of weeks swim suits are ALL I have been sewing. The whole process of being a tester was an absolute blast though, and while it was stressful at times trying to make something perfect to photograph while sewing with swimwear fabric for literally the first time ever, I now have three new suits (one was a total lost cause) that are comfortable, fit me really well, and that I am very proud of.

Continue Reading

LoneTree Jacket by Allie Olson – A Wearable Muslin

I will readily admit that I am terrible at making muslins when I sew clothing. Most of the time when I am sewing clothing I am sewing with stretchy knits which makes wearable muslins are a little less necessary than if I was sewing with wovens (although my Appleton Dress took more than a couple of muslins to get right) so I just skip the step altogether. I really do understand how important they can be for getting the fit of a garment just right but I am impatient and still a toddler at heart so I cant get myself to take the time to make something that wont even see the light of day and waste my precious fabric.

When I recently made a “wearable muslin” of a pattern I had been coveting for a long time, the LoneTree Jacket by Allie Olson, I got  first hand look at just how important making a muslin is. Although I ended up with a decently wearable garment (and I have worn it many times!) there are so many small changes I would make to this jacket to make it fit just right that I could have already done if I just would have taken the time to make a muslin… 

Continue Reading

CWE: Sewing for my Shape (The Cashmerette Appleton Dress)

Fit is everything when it comes to clothes. Even the most expensive clothes can look incredibly cheap when they are ill fitting. I have said it before and I stand by it, making your own clothes is the best way to make sure you get the perfect fit for you and your body. Utilizing a good tailor can help too though 😉  Style, however, can be just as important and can be even more challenging than finding the perfect fit.

Knowing your “body shape” is the first step in trying to determine what clothing styles are going to work for you. We all know bodies that come in a wide ranges of sizes, heights, and proportions of course and that, no matter what, those bodies are all beautiful but knowing which basic “shape” your body is can take a lot out of the frustration out of picking what to wear. There are a lot of different websites that already explain how to determine your body shape, including this one and this one, so I won’t go into the procedure or the math of determining body shape here but I will caveat this with saying these are very vague categories and, even within the categories, there can be a wide range of body types. For example, I consider myself a “full hourglass” meaning I have the general proportions of an hourglass figure but I still want to, and need to, include the fact that I have a large chest and a big booty. Those are all important things to consider when I look at style lines in clothing and proportions of garments and just saying ” I am an hour glass” would give me the guidance I really need.

Continue Reading