How to Start Sewing Your Own Clothes

September 4, 2019Sarah Khandjian

Ever wanted to sew your own clothes?

I did for years! But like many people, I was intimidated by the idea of sewing my own clothes. Now, while I still consider myself a novice at best, I’ve sewn all sorts of garments for myself and have truly found a passion for it! Today I’m excited to partner with Fiskars, one of my favorite DIY brands, to introduce you to sewing your own clothes.

In this post I’ll discuss everything you need to get started and next week I’ll be sharing more details about sewing your first clothing item.

I first stumbled upon sewing when I received my first “real” sewing machine as a gift from my parents on my 18th birthday. I was 100% self taught other than the few tutorials I could find online at the time. I sewed mostly tote bags and appliqués on t-shirts. In fact, that’s actually how Sarah Hearts began! I would screen print my designs onto fabric and t-shirt patches and sew them up. I’d sell them in my college’s weekly market and in local shops. I did that for years but never attempted to sew my own clothing until years later when I visited a local fabric shop that also offered sewing classes. A co-worker signed up with me and we took a series of intro to sewing classes where after a few courses we would have a completed garment—that we could actually wear!

This basic class taught me so much. I learned so many basic skills, tips and tricks that I still use every time I sew. Many of which I’ll share in this post too. After that I sewed just a couple things here and there but my sewing machine was mostly used for sewing curtains and bags.

Fast forward several years and I found a new desire to give garment sewing ago. When I was pregnant the lack of stylish and comfortable maternity clothes inspired me to pull out my sewing machine again. I had also accumulated a good size fabric stash from the last few years of travel. I found stylish, beginner maternity patterns online and got to work. With each one I learned a bit more and gained a little more experience. Then by the end of my pregnancy I had sewn myself six dresses and a shirt!

Sewing my own clothing became the most rewarding DIY I’ve ever done.

I loved the idea of creating something for myself. You could call it selfish sewing but I like to say sewing is self-care. It’s amazing what properly fitted clothing, made for your exact body measurements can do for your self confidence. I’ve also found a passion for the process too. It’s very methodical, structured and almost meditative. And now as a crazy busy mom who is also running a business, I find it a wonderful way to get in some alone time and do something that isn’t undone (like so many things are each day). Even if I only have 30 minutes to sew, I can pick up where I left off next time.

With all that said, if you’ve ever had an interest in sewing your own clothing whether it just be a t-shirt to wear everyday or a dress for a special occasion I encourage you to give it a try. You too might find something you love!

What you’ll need to start sewing

Sewing Essentials Kit

This year Fiskars released a Sewing Essentials Kit that contains 6 basic but oh-so-necessary tools to include in your sewing kit. Some of the tools might seem like obvious inclusions (I’m looking at you iconic orange-handled scissors) while others might be entirely new to you. I’m going to go over each one in detail below in effort to help demystify the world of sewing a tiny bit. I’ve also included a few other key tools that you’ll absolutely want to get your hands on before sewing your first garment.

1. Original Orange-handled scissors (8 in.)

The Sewing Essentials Kit includes a pair of classic Fiskars scissors. Before you dive into sewing it’s so nice to have a new, sharp pair of scissors in your tool box that you only use of fabric. The reason? Cutting paper can dull scissor blades very quickly so I like to have at least 2 pairs of orange handled-scissors on hand—one for cutting fabric and one for cutting paper patterns. I just differentiate the two with a little piece of washi tape on the handle. I also highly recommend you hide them from family members who unknowingly might use your fabric scissors to cut who knows what. I speak from experience on this one!

2. Measuring Tape (60 in.)

Almost as important as scissors is a flexible tape measure because you’ll need to take your measurements. Like ready to wear clothing, sizing on sewing patterns can vary greatly from one brand to another so it’s best to always choose the size you sew based on your actual measurements. And we’re not talking Mrs. Maisel level of measurement taking, you’ll just need to measure the fullest part of bust, your natural waist and the fullest part of your hips when getting started.

3. Sewing Gauge (6 in.)

Before I took a sewing class I had no clue what a sewing gauge was. After sewing my very first article of clothing (a basic elastic a-line skirt) in the class I was 100% sold on using one and have never sewn anything without one since! If this tool is new to you, it’s essentially a mini t-square with a sliding gauge that allows you to measure the distance from one edge to another. What that actually means is when you’re sewing you use it to measure the distance from the edge of the fabric to where you are stitching AKA the seam allowance. It’s also handy for creating an even hem all the way around the bottom of your shirt or dress as I’m doing in the photo above.

4. Thread Snips (5 in.)

While it might seem like these are not a necessity, give them a try and you’ll instantly see their usefulness. Small ergonomic thread snips make it easy to trim long thread and tails very close to your stitching. Something you do every. single. time. you sew a step.

5. Acrylic Ruler (3 in. x 18 in.)

The kit also include a handy clear acrylic ruler. I use it to double check the scale of my printed PDF sewing patterns before printing all the remaining pages. I also use it when I’m tweaking a pattern too. Want to shorten the pattern 4″? You’ll need a ruler to measure both sides of the pattern. It’s also handy when cutting small strips of fabric because the vertical lines mark every quarter inch, making it easy to keep the fabric nice and straight.

6. Seam Ripper

The last item included in the Sewing Essentials Kit is a seam ripper. What’s this you ask? It’s an essential part of your sewing kit because mistakes happen. Like sometimes you’re sewing late at night and you accidentally sew your sleeves closed. Or you sew all four pocket pieces 5″ too low. Both of which happened to me while sewing just this week. This little tool is a sharp hook that easily tears thread. But don’t get too carried away when you’re using it. I’ve done that and accidentally ripped my fabric too! It’s also handy for opening sewn buttonholes, as I’m doing in the photo above.

Sewing Machine

You don’t need to spend the big bucks on a fancy machine with all the bells and whistles when you’re just getting started. In fact, while you’re just starting out, borrow one from a friend or family member. Chances are someone might have one that’s just collecting dust in their home. If you do decide to buy one, just look for one that fits your budget, is easy to thread, and can sew a basic straight stitch and a zig zag stitch. It’s a nice bonus if it does an overlock stitch or other finishing stitches and buttonholes but not necessary at all.

Iron + Ironing Board/Mat

I seriously never used my iron until I started sewing my own clothes. And now it gets so much use! I had no idea how much ironing was involved in sewing but it’s a lot! You iron or press the fabric nearly every step of the way. If you don’t have room for a full size ironing board you can also get away with using an ironing mat for most beginner projects.

Glass Head Pins

I thought pins were pins until I learned about glass head pins and I’ve used them ever since! The reason to invest in glass head pins is because the head, or the little round part on top, is made of glass you can iron directly on top of them. You don’t have to worry about awkwardly maneuvering the iron as to not melt your plastic head pins. Just pin wherever it’s needed and iron away!

Chalk / water soluble marker

This is for transferring the pattern onto your fabric. You don’t want to use a permanent marker or pencil for this because it could stain the fabric. I like having both as I find the chalk the easiest way to trace the patterns and the water soluble marker (meaning it disappears when you wash your finished garment) great for marking notches and other small details.

Fabric + thread

More on this in next week’s post but one thing I’ve learned is that quilting fabric doesn’t always make the best garments, so you want to look for fabric made for apparel. But I always look for fabric that has a nice drape and is soft because you are making clothing after all!

For thread, look for thread that’s 100% polyester. It will be the most durable and comes in every color of the rainbow. Generally one 100 meter spool will do for each garment you sew.

Sewing Patterns

There are so many pattern options available today! You’re not just limited to those often dated looking styles at your local craft store. My favorite patterns are from indie pattern designers, many of whom provide wonderful step-by-step photos or diagrams for each step. Most are also available online so you just purchase the pattern online, download the PDF and print it right at home.

Has this inspired you to dive into the world of sewing your own clothes? I truly hope it has! Share your experience or excitement about sewing your clothes with me and let me know what you’d love to make first!

And be sure to check back next week where I share how you can use one beginner sewing pattern to make a number of beautiful clothes plus tips that will set you up for success!

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