Sewing apparel questions : LUSENET : Countryside : One Thread

I have done a little sewing in the past (with a B.A. in Home Ec. you might think I would have a clue, but I really don't!). Anyway, so much has changed in the decades since I last sewed anything other than curtains or tablecloths..I don't feel very confident in making "garments"!

Can anyone point me in a direction to help me find resources for making simple clothing? Instructions/patterns/how-to's? My husband's aunt just gave me a a lovely Bernette model 330 (which I presume is made by Bernina, and I will look up on the web after exiting here).

Thanks. I am kind of a bonehead, so feel free to respond as if!

-- sheepish (, September 29, 2000


Well, I have some suggestions. One is to go to the fabric store and find a pattern you like that says EASY. Those have more simplistic instructions and simple clothing lines (no darts, zippers, etc.). Also, I would look for old sewing manuals in the used markets. I find them very helpful for those incoherent directions. They have good diagrams. I have not found Singer sewing books all that helpful. Also, I have done sewing for several years and if you have a specific question, you are welcome to email me.

-- Carleen Mumaw (, September 29, 2000.

Great suggestions. I also would recommedn sticking with easier pattern brands. I personally like the way Butterick puts their clothes together. McCalls and Simplicity are often similar to each other. I would stay away from any patterns like Vogue or New Look until you are more experienced. I also think when you are first getting started that it is much easier to use patterns with sem allowances on them. A sewing machine is such a wonderful gift. I hope you have many years of enjoyment. My parents gave each daughter one in high school. We are still using them and I couldn't begin to count the money we have saved!

-- Jennifer (KY) (, September 29, 2000.

Kirsten Martennson (sp?) puts out books (I think through Kwik-Sew) that include patterns for a basic wardrobe. There is one for kids, one for women, one for men and one (if you're feeling adventurous) for lingerie. I have the one for kids clothes -- and I've got to tell you, the patterns are WONDERFUL -- and very easy to follow. Any local fabric shop will probably have them.

-- Tracy (, September 29, 2000.

Sheepish, it had been many moons since I had time to sew or took the time to sew! I found an easy sew pattern at a garage sale for like 10 cents & I got some materal at an auction way cheap----so I practiced the first time on that papern & the auction material!!!! Then the first for real garment I sewed I felt better & more confident in what I was doing!!! As it had been years since the sewing machine & I had been on a first name basics, just thought I'd share that with you for my 2 cents worth!! Sonda in Ks.

-- Sonda (, September 29, 2000.

Many sewing machine sales centers offer free lessons on a variety of topics. Of course their ultimate goal is to sell a new machine, serger, etc. You might ask around if you have one nearby.

-- Notforprint (, September 30, 2000.

My experience with sewing is that I find the perfect pattern, buy the material that looks great on the bolt sew it up only to put it on and find it's not cut right or just doesn't look right on me. I can't tell you how many things I've sown that turned out that way over the years. I could sew for my girls, no problem and the youngest body fit patterns perfectly, no altering required. I don't know about you but my body over the last few years has shifted away from the norm!! My solution: When I find a pair of pants or blouse (pretty much my wardrobe) that fits good and I like I wear the daylights out of it and when worn out I carefully take the garment apart, noting dart placement, etc. and use it for a pattern for the new one. You have to include your seam allowances, and be sure to note darts, etc. You can make a paper pattern of the garment pieces and save it for future reference. My mom could take any piece of clothing, lay it out on paper and sew up an exact duplicate of it. I've not tackled sweatshirts, etc. the material is kinda tricky with the stretch to deal with that goes for silks and nylons too. Start with your basic cottons and work up. Good luck, completing a wearable garment is almost as satisfying as canning.

-- Betsy (, September 30, 2000.

Thanks for the suggestions. I know I am in for "sticker shock" when I see the prices of patterns, etc. I still have spools of thread that say 19cents on them!

It sounds like I need to stay away from stretchy knit material. I am wondering what in the world would be a simple item to make to wear (I had thought a simple top). Guess I'll have to go to the fabric store and look. Maybe a jumper or something? Or maybe a good pinafore/apron! Something without a lot of buttonholes and zippers! I can always use another good apron I guess... I'll also start checking for used patterns at the thrift stores.

-- sheepish (, September 30, 2000.

Sheepish, Walmart doesn't have the biggest selection of patterns, but I think they are 50% off the list price. Does anyone else know for sure? BTW, do you mean simple as in easy to sew or "plain"? I have a "plain" source that has what looks like a nice pattern for a canning apron.

-- Jean (, September 30, 2000.

Sheepish, After not sewing for myself for some years, I tried an easy jumper pattern. It turned out okay, not great, just okay. And I used to sew for a living and have done some really beautiful clothes for my daughters. So no I'm making clothes for my toddler granddaughter instead. Next, I'll make myself a nightgown and robe. Can't go very far wrong there. Look around for pattern deals. Our local stores always sell the patterns for 50% off. Hancock Fabrics has a special right now. For the month of Oct. they are selling different brands at different times for 99 cents to 1.99. Good luck and remember, on a homestead, you are seldom posing anyway. Or, as my Mom said, "It will never be noticed on a galloping horse".

-- Cheryl Cox (bramblecottage @, September 30, 2000.

Jean, simple as in "easy", I guess, although I am a pretty simple dresser anyway and simple, as in style, color, works too! Cheryl, oh yeah! A bathrobe!! Great idea. I have made one before for, hmmm, I think my spouse. My brother ended up with it for some of those long things with a hood on it. Gee that must have been in the late '70s. I think that was really the last time I sewed apparel. Thanks for triggering my memory!

The nearest Walmart is about 20 miles away, so next time I plan a trip that way, I'll check out the patterns. Not sure where there's a Hancock fabric around..but I'll check it out. Thanks!!

-- sheepish (, September 30, 2000.

Also look for JoAnn's Fabrics. I think they are pretty much nation- wide, though you mught not have one close to you. When you find a fabric store, if they mail out sale fliers, get on their mainling list. JoAnn's almost every month has one brand or another of their patterns on sale for 99 cents, but sometimes it's only for a day or two, so you need the fliers to plan your shopping trips. Do your first garment from inexpensive material and you won't feel so bad about the inevitable mistakes. Also, be mentally prepared for ripping seams out if you do make a mistake -- my mother always said (and I got tired of hearing it, but it's true!) "If it's worth doing at all, it's worth doing right.". The idea of using a garment that fits for a pattern is excellent, as we aren't all shaped like the "normal" figure that the patterns were made for. Relax, and have fun!!

-- Kathleen Sanderson (, October 01, 2000.

Thanks, Kathleen! I will check out JoAnn. I am used to backing up a lot while knitting, so I guess ripping out seams will come naturally!

-- sheepish (, October 01, 2000.

Walmart is usually 50% off patterns but still pricey. I once got a catalog for amish type patterns. I think called PLAIN. Keepsake Quilting usually has some nice top patterns...piece together and not too difficult. I have been sewing for close to 40 yrs. and one class could do wonders for you. DW

-- DW (, October 01, 2000.

When I start the kids out in 4-H, they make simple elastic waist shorts, gathered skirts and sleeveless tops. Cobbler type aprons and head scarves are also easy. Vests are simple - Wal-Mart and other places have seasonal ones printed right on the fabric with instructions. I have sewed for myself for so long, I just instinctively know where to alter the patters for a good fit - lop four inches off the length, use a size larger for the arm opening/sleeve area, shorten the rise. I also use different parts of different patterns to get the look I want.

The most important thing to do to be satisfied with what you make is to know what looks good on you. I love the look of a short, hip-length jacket....on everyone else! I've learned that I look good in a straight cut, finger tip length jacket that I either don't button, or use frogs or other fasteners; a straight skirt to just below my knees - or flat front pants - NO PLEATS! I have often taken clothing apart to use for a pattern; or had a genius friend of mine cat a pattern from the outfit. If you advertise in the paper, their should be someone around who can do this for you. If your bottom is a little on the large side, try a princess cut jumper pattern - it hides a multitude of donuts!

I'd stay away from knits and slinky fabrics for a while, until you get used to your machine. Hit the bargin table for some poy-cotton and make a jumper or two - if they don't look good enough for town, put big pockets on them and use them in the house or garden. Don't be surprized if it takes you a long time to finish the first few garments - I don't care if the pattern says it is a 2 hour garment! I get the most for my time when I sew dress clothes, rather than casual wear - since the prices on dress clothes are so high. I sew mostly casual wear though; so that I can get the colors/patterns that look good on me.

Good luck with whatever you try to stitch - and remember - SAVE THOSE SCRAPS! (They're addictive!)

-- Polly (, October 01, 2000.

I think it is great that there are still women who sew! It is almost a forgotten art. I would suggest you take a class in sewing. They are offered where I live in the evenings at the public schools for adults. I took one many years ago and it was a great help even though at the time, I had been sewing for years. Do start out with something simple, a gathered skirt, apron, or a simple pull-over top. Good luck!

-- bwilliams (, October 01, 2000.

I would think that it would be worth your while to learn how to do a few classic "high-end" sewing techniques like welt pockets and invisible zippers well. Also a few couture finishes for edges. Then, no matter how plain or simple your appearal is, it always looks polished and professional. Most of these types of techniques are a little tricky at first until you do them a few times and then they're second nature - do a few practice ones on toys or doll clothes, so that less than prefect effects are not an issue, then try them out on a vest or other small piece so that if you are still a little shaky, you've not invested a lot of fabric or wardrobe in a mistake. After you've gained enough confidence to do them passably well, you'll find that the pride in mastering "quality" sewing as well, as the look of the finished pieces, will pay you back more than in full for the effort expended in the learning process. Any "home couture" book from the library will have a whole lot of these types of skills in them and you can pick and choose which will create the greatest pleasure and satisfaction for you given your style and the style of garments you will be making. Make a copy of the instructional pages for reference in case you get a little disoriented during a sewing session, or simply forget how to do it. I keep all such "help" in a binder with notes, sketches, ideas, and other such paraphenalia derived from past experience.

-- Soni (, October 01, 2000.

You guys [ahem!!} are sure the best!!! Thank you! This is also bringing back a lot of memories! I remember the first thing I ever made was a "bishop" apron (it wasn't particularly religious that I remember, so don't get the name at all!) in 7th grade. It was green and the fabric I selected was so off grain that it's a wonder it ever made it to the finished product. I must admit, it was AWFUL!(I HATED Home Ec!!!) Then we made a gathered skirt, which at that time, looked like H-E double toothpicks on me, as that was during my "chubby" phase (which lasted through most of high school!)These days, I'm pretty angular. IN other words, I would love to have to use darts! (check out the Victoria's Secret commercial on teevee...yes, I have been watching the Olympics! My husband and I howl over the idea of radical cleavage! Sheesh!!!) anyway...

I love the idea of getting a couple of "couture" finishing touches. First I think I should learn to thread the machine, keep my fingers away from the feed dog, and remember that just because I was such a lousy sewer (pronounced: SO-ER!) in Jr. High, doesn't predict that I'll be a sewing loser in my late 40's! But I think it's a great idea.

I can't wait to start. You are all "sew" inspiring. I thank you!!!

-- sheepish (, October 01, 2000.

Sheepish, was laughing when I read your "tales" of home-ec, as it brought back memories. When I took it, we were going to be making a dress. So, I tell my mom that she needs to get me some fabric. Alls well, right? Well, all the other girls show up at school with these pretty little small floral patterns and what do I have? Black and white "large" stripe! (it was cheap). Hard to sew in the first place, lining up those stripes, and I looked like a referee when I got done with the dress! All I needed was a cap and whistle to go with it! Ahhhh, the joys of youth....

-- Annie (, October 02, 2000.

I have just taken up sewing again after a hiatus of about ten years. My parents had bought me a sewing machine as a high school graduation present and I was so pleased. That thing has served me in good stead through a lot of sewing projects. About ten years ago it started having problems and several visits to the repair shop didn't solve the problem so I was without one for about ten years. I finally decided that I really missed sewing and bought a new one. I am having a ball. I am making clothes, home accessories and I have taken up quilting as well. I did get a shock when I saw how expensive patterns were but I have learned to get on the mailing lists for sales from Joann's fabrics and Hancock fabrics. Don't pay any more than two dollars for a pattern. Wait until they have them on sale. JoAnn's had a sale on McCall's of five for $5 over the Labor Day weekend. I went in ahead of the sale day and wrote down all of the pattern numbers I was interested in. Since there was a limit of one set of five per person, I took my girlfriend with me and even though she doesn't sew, she bought five more patterns for me so I got ten patterns in all. Make sure you go when the store first opens on the first day of the sale. Otherwise, your size may get sold out. Some of them were for clothes and some were for home assecories including one that was to make covers for your computer, monitor, printer, etc. I thought they would be great to keep the dust off of our two computers at home. If you get the flyers you can plan ahead like I did and really take advantage of the sales. Since the regular price is from ten to fifteen dollars, you have to get them on the bargain sale days. I know Joann's has patterns on sale frequently, at least once a month, although they may alternate which brands they are. Getting the flyer is a necessity. In fact JoAnn's is having a sale on Buttrick patterns some time soon. It is either this week or next. As soon as I find the flyer, I'll let you know for sure.

I would recommend that you start with something simple so that you don't get frustrated. I realize that it is getting cold now but you might be better off starting with making something for summer such as a pair of shorts with an elastic waistband or a simple skirt. These could be made of cotton which is easy to work with. It is also cheaper to learn on if you make mistakes. Keep your eyes out for fabric when you visit yard sales. An apron is a good idea because it teaches several techniques which would include hemming, pockets, gathering and straight stitching. It was one of the projects I made as a girl when I was first learning to sew. A simple drawstring bag is another thing that is easy and you could use some heavier fabrics like courdaroy to see how it is to work with them. You could make Xmas tree ornaments out of felt if you wanted. Felt is very cheap and you could do all kinds of fancy stitches or buttons with buttonholes or whatever you wanted to help you learn how to do those things before you do them on a garment. My first real clothing was a gathered skirt (I know I am dating myself), my second was a sleeveless shift. Luckily I was successful with all of these so it really got me interested in sewing. It helped that my Mom was an excellent seamstress and helped me over the rough spots particularly when it came to cutting out the pattern. I always hated that part but she would walk through it with me so I learned to do it myself.

Feel free to contact me privately if you would like any advice on a specific sewing project or any difficulties you encounter. I so enjoy sewing that I would love to help someone else learn how much fun it can be.

-- Colleen (, October 02, 2000.

Hi Sheepish, I don't sew much clothing any more because I can find anything I need much cheaper at garage sales. Having said that- I love to sew for my daughter who needs quality business suits. Nancy Ziemen (Nancy's Notions) has really good books on everything from quick to tailoring. I especially like the one on fitting called "Fitting Finesse" . Once you learn to adapt patterns you don't need very many of them. You can find her on line, too.

Our library has patterns that can be checked out for free. And you can buy fabric on line although I haven't done that yet. My philosophy on learning something is to pick what I WANT and take however much time it takes to do it. I would probably choose a nice vest pattern, lined, welt pocket and one button hole. Like Soni said, learn some good stuff. (The first thing I knitted was a fisherman knit sweater with set in pockets, cables, sleeves, zipper and lining. I sure learned how to knit!) Polar fleece is an easy fabric to start with. It doesn't ravel so button holes are a snap and no seam finishing is necessary. The drawback is that it will get your sewing machine full of lint. You have to learn to clean it all out.

-- Peg (NW WI) (, October 02, 2000.

Once you get a little more proficient at sewing, you might look into the Lutterloh (sp) system of pattern making. The patterns are all drwn out in miniature and then sewing engineers calculate the measurements needed for each person to re-enlarge the pattern to their own specific measurements. It's easier than it sounds, basically a connect the dots kinda thing.

It's a bit expensive at first, until you add up what you would pay for all of the patterns in the system that you'll use, plus the different sizes you'd have to buy of each one, if you sew for more than one person. The starter book has hundreds of patterns of all types of clothes from formals to sleepwear, and the supplements contains tens, maybe a hundred, in each. They have a men's supplement, kid's supplements, as well as standard women's clothes patterns. There are kid's and men's patterns in the basic book, too, but not oodles. Also, the necklines and sleeves are somewhat interchangeable with each other for many of the patterns. You also get a set of pattern making tools, and other introductory doo-dads and discounts.

If you are looking to make fitted patterns for yourself or for others, this is a great system. It's really easy once you get the hang of it, although I still forget to add the seam allowances now and then, having been weaned on store-bought patterns.

-- Soni (, October 02, 2000.

sheepish - I learned how to sew BEFORE Home Ec, and it's a good thing because they couldn't teach ANYTHING. Half the machines were broken and those that weren't used a knee pedal (*shudder*) and constantly jammed. Based on my Home Ec experience, I would have thought sewing was impossible. But I made my own pants suit (including jacket) for the first day of ninth grade.

I agree with everything Polly said. Take a class if you like having a teacher. Or use a good book. I like the Reader's Digest Sewing Book. Patterns are kind of expensive, but they often have sales. And you need not stay away from buttonholes. It's pretty easy to find someone to make buttonholes - try your local cleaners or fabric store. Personally I think I'd try an elastic waist skirt for starters - when you actually wear something that you made the first time, and it looks good, you feel so proud and confident.

Good luck.

-- Deborah (, October 03, 2000.

I'm kinda of thinking about making a fleece long skirt! And then graduate to fleece bibs! (guess it's getting colder). Great ideas from you all. Thanks again!

-- sheepish (, October 03, 2000.

I live in a country where it is difficult to get patterns. Is there any website with patterns online.

-- Chido Mushambi (, June 04, 2001.

I haven't a clue about it being online, but I do get both Simplicity and Butterick magazines in the mail about 4 times a year, in it are huge discounts on patterns. I sew wedding, prom and party dresses.

A biggy that most folks forget is needles. Did you know that you sew with different needles in your machine for different kinds of fabric, knits (yellow)vs woven (red) and for weights of fabric, changing to a higher number for heavy material like denim and a lower number for chiffon? Most folks blame the machines tension for the skipped threads and puckered seams when all the while it was the wrong needle in their machine to begin with. Most bigger material stores have pattern fitting classes that are all day on Saturday. You can also purchase this on video. Here in the Houston area Hancock Fabric's carry the tapes and have the lectures once or twice a year. Vicki

-- Vicki McGaugh TX (, June 04, 2001.

question what are things can i finf\d to msake projects on wool and cotten

-- Justine Georgia Hicks (, September 07, 2001.

Sheepish, I would go to the local library and see what they have in the line of educational books on altering patterns, or even designing your own patterns. Those books made me a whiz at sewing.

-- daffodyllady (, September 07, 2001.

Nancy's Notions has a website with lots of free patterns for smaller projects, including scarves.

If you need cheap cloth to practice on, you could always get sheets at a thrift store or garage sale to practice those couture finishes or try out those tricky directions.

Jasmine Hubble has a couple of good books out--Sew and Go and Sew and Go Baby. She also runs Birch Street Clothing, which has lots of interesting patterns--many reversible for kids. The instructions on the patterns are not always easy to follow, but for the most part are well written.

Another option when buying patterns--try to look for those that are multi-sized, and make pattern pieces for each size instead of just cutting out the one you need. Your older kids might like a jacket "just like Mom's or Dad's". If you get one pattern for a shirt and you want to make it in several fabrics, make a copy of the pattern in felt--it will last a lot longer, and doesn't slip around on the fabric. Roll in a tube when done with it.

Mary Mulari has some good books out, and another book that is great for those who like to dress up a bit is Pattern-Free Fashions by Mary Lee Trees Cole. Some really old books (probably out of print but maybe at your library) are Hassle-Free Clothing and Son of Hassle-Free Clothing--very 60's and early 70's clothing oriented (never thought those fashions would come back, but they did lol), but good chapters on measuring properly to make your own clothes.

Then there is always making a pattern from something you already have that you like but have worn out and can't find another. There are books on the subject of making patterns from finished clothing, too.

You might also find some classes through your local community education/parks and rec or 4-H club or University Extension/Master Clothier type program.

Last but not least, try

-- GT (, September 07, 2001.

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