Start with an idea
Before heading out to get buy tools and materials, do a bit of research. What kinds of projects are you interested in? Do you want to make something wearable, a gift for a friend, or maybe something to decorate your home? What kinds of techniques do you already know, or do you need to start with the basics? There are so many different patterns and fabrics and notions to choose from that it’s easy to get overwhelmed if you head straight for the local craft shop. Start with a bit of brainstorming, and keep track of the ideas you like.
Take your measurements
Whether you’re planning on making curtains or a dress, it’s important to start with accurate measurements. In fact, when it comes to making clothing, you won’t be able to even select a pattern until you have a good idea of what size pattern you’ll need. If you’ve never taken measurements for sewing before, here’s an excellent tutorial that walks you through step by step. If you’re taking measurements for yourself, it’s a good idea to ask a friend or family member to lend a hand so you can be sure the measurements are as accurate as possible.
Find a pattern
Once you’re armed with your ideas and your measurements, it’s time to get some guidance. For more complicated projects like clothing, stuffed toys and dolls, and items with complex shapes like slipcovers, it’s always a good idea to use a pattern to cut out your pieces. Commercial patterns will also come with instructions on how to assemble the pieces, recommendations for the types of fabric that work best, lists of how much material you’ll need, and any additional tools and notions that will come in handy. Even for straightforward projects like curtains, it’s a good idea to do a bit of research and get some guidance. A lot of sewing is trial and error, but they don’t all need to be your errors! Learn from sewists who’ve already been there and done that.
Check your skills
Patterns typically come with instructions on how to assemble your project, ranging from matching up pieces to inserting zips and adding buttonholes. Before you begin, read through the pattern thoroughly. If you come across any techniques or tools you’re not familiar with, decide whether you want to proceed or choose a different pattern. It might be an excellent opportunity to learn and practise a new technique, but if time is of the essence, don’t risk it! Stick with something you know you’ve already mastered.
Assemble your materials
You know what you’re creating and how you plan to create it. The next step is to make sure you’ve got all your materials in one place. Read through your pattern and make sure you’ve got everything you need. Pay close attention the the yardage requirements for fabric. These can be different depending on the size of the pattern you’re cutting out, whether you’re using a “with nap” layout or not, and how wide your fabric is. Also be sure to note the fabric requirements. If your pattern recommends using a stretchy knit fabric, a garment made using a woven fabric likely won’t be wearable! While your pattern will also list the notions you’ll need, such as buttons and zips, it may not include things like new sewing machine needles, straight or safety pins, marking pencils, and an iron and ironing board for pressing your project as you work. These basics are an investment you will use on a daily basis if you continue sewing, and it’s well worth it to make sure you’ve always got them on hand.
Prepare your fabric
How you prepare your fabric will depend a bit on what type of fabric it is, and how it should be treated. Organza and chiffon can typically be rinsed and hung to dry, while silk might be irreparably damaged by being soaked. Check the care labels on the fabrics you purchase and make a careful note. It will be important not only for preparing for your project, but also for providing care instructions for your finished items as well.
Once your fabric has been treated to remove any unnecessary sizing, and, if necessary, preshrink the fibres, it’s ready to square up and mark for you pattern. The easiest way to square up fabric is to use a large, gridded cutting mat. Set one corner of your fabric on the corner of the mat, lining up the weave with the horizontal and vertical lines of the grid. The fabric may need to be stretched and re-shaped slightly to force the fibres into the proper alignment. This step may seem tedious, but it’s worth it. Squaring or “truing” up the fabric means that the fibres are precisely in alignment, which helps pattern pieces to hold their shape better and gives you a more polished finished look.
When preparing to cut out your pattern, be sure to mark all the helpful landmarks included on the pattern itself. This includes notches, darts, gathering points, buttonholes, seam allowances, and more. Having all of these marked on your fabric in tailor’s chalk, washable fabric pencil, or disappearing marker will make it much easier to work on your project without constantly needing to refer to the pattern to decipher a bit of instruction.
Time to cut and sew!
Whew! It’s finally time to get started on this project for real. Cut out your pattern pieces and assemble, being sure to follow the instructions provided with your pattern, especially if you’ve never made it before.
Don’t be afraid to practise
Even the most experienced sewists know that practise is an important part of every project. Always test out your sewing machine settings on scraps of your fabric before starting in on the real thing. For more complex projects, it’s a good idea to create an entire practise piece using inexpensive fabric of a similar weight and drape, especially if you suspect you might need to alter the pattern for a perfect fit. These practise garments, called “muslins” or “toiles” are commonly used in professional fashion design, so take a hint from the pros—practise makes perfect!