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Tips for a Dressmaking Newbie….from Learn to Sew’s Kirsty Mackay

I was over the moon when I found out that I had won the Best Newcomer category in the Simplicity Sewing Challenge 2016.

This prize was awarded for my Alice in Wonderland skirt from Simplicity Patterns New Look 6346 – which I loved to make, so when Simplicity asked me to share my tips for newbies looking to create their first make, I of course said yes!

Here are my top tips for first time stitchers…



TIP 1:  Write Down Exactly What You Need

When you are a beginner to sewing, reading the back of a pattern envelope can be quite a daunting experience.

To ensure you gather everything you need to get started, I find it very useful to write out the essential points in a notebook.

I have a dedicated sewing pattern notebook and my notes go something like this:

  • Date: 12-01-2017
  • Pattern Number: 1363
  • Size: S
  • Style Option: A
  • Fabric Type: Crepe de Chine / Cotton Lawn
  • Fabric Length: 45″ 1.75 yd /// 60″ 1.5 yd /// 115cm 1.6m /// 150cm 1.3m
  • Interfacing: 0.6m of 51 – 64cm lightweight fusible such as Pellon
  • Notions: thread & 2 x 0.5″ buttons


I find it easier to have it here in the one place, because I have double checked for accuracy as I copy out each item. If I start to order the fabric or other bits and pieces directly from the pattern envelope I feel it would be easy to accidentally choose from the wrong size or style.




TIP 2:  Measure Yourself

During the process of copying out the essential pattern envelope details, I also measure myself, just to double check that my measurements haven’t altered. Sometimes the pattern sizes slightly differ from one another as well. For example, using the Simplicity 1363 pattern I would be a size small, but for Simplicity pattern 1540 I would be a size 12.


You can also use your common sense here too though. Think about the garment you are making, if it is a top, then the hip measurement is not so relevant, so if your upper body measurements fit best with size S, but your hip measurement would bring you into the size M, you should go with the S, unless you want a loose fitting top.


Tip 3: Learn about Fabrics

I’ve found that learning about fabric types and how they look and feel is a very slow process, as it’s hard to imagine how a fabric feels until you see it in real life (rather than on a computer screen or magazine).

However, once you can correctly imagine how a fabric will look, it really helps you choose appropriate fabric for your project. At the beginning, I only used polycotton or cotton for everything I made. I am keen to get good at making coats and jackets, so I’ve tentatively started to try boiled wool and thicker suiting fabric. There is a wide variety of fabric types to choose online and it can seem more cost effective than buying locally, however, it is far easier to visualise a finished garment and learn about fabrics by actually going into a fabric shop and feeling them for yourself.



Tip 4: Make a Toile

A toile is a practice garment made in a completely plain fabric like calico. Its purpose is two-fold. Firstly, it allows you to see exactly how the item fits your body shape, without the distraction of fabric patterns or colour. Secondly, it gives you a dry run at making up the entire garment, so if you make any mistakes, you can be sure you do it correctly when you come to make up your actual garment. As a beginner I find making a toile tremendously helpful. It is more time consuming, but it’s worth the extra effort. I am short, so I usually have to adjust the pattern length for an accurate fit and making a toile gives me a second chance at the perfect fit.


Tip 5: Take Your Time

Sewing should be an enjoyable pastime and if you start to put pressure on yourself to race through a project, you’ll undoubtedly make silly mistakes that will annoy you and leave you feeling disappointed with the final result. Tackle each step with full concentration and really take your time to get everything right the first time. Ensure you have all the tools and items you need stored together, so that you can work efficiently without having to waste time searching for something.



Good luck!

Kirsty Mackay – Learn to Sew