The Beginner’s Guide to Making Your Own Clothes

Occasionally, I field emails from readers that wish to design their own clothes and are searching for advice on the type of sewing machine to purchase. I decided that now is the time to share my knowledge on the topic for those that have no sewing experience. Although I have no formal training and by no means am I an expert, I’ve learned a substantial amount through a mentor in Nashville and have quite a bit of advice to share.

The first snippet of advice is that anyone is able to learn how to sew and there is no need to fear a lack of knowledge. Being able to make clothes exactly as they are in the store, however, takes a lot of work so don’t expect miracles as it takes time. Have realistic expectations and learn as you go and before long, you will be well on your way. A few tips and hints to get you started:

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  1. Determine which garments you would like to make and stay committed to the cause. From there, decide on a budget for the type of sewing machine you want to buy.
  2. The type of sewing machine you purchase boils down to personal preferences, the types of garments you wish to make, and overall budget. With so many types available on the market, research thoroughly before you decide on one, keeping all variables (power, speed, size) in mind.
  3. Learn how to use the machine through classes or a friend with knowledge. If all else fails, private lessons are an alternative.
  4. Keep initial projects simple and use commercial patterns until you develop the skills necessary for more intricate clothes.
  5. After you’ve moved on to more intricate patterns, make a few test garments with cheap fabric until you have the experience to use more expensive material.

For even more detailed information about learning how to make your own clothes, there are a slew of books available on the subject. Two that come highly recommended are David Coffin’s Shirtmaking and his other book Making Trousers for Men and Woman. You also can learn a lot about the construction of clothing through deconstruction – when you buy clothes in the future, turn them inside out and inspect the seams, pockets, and lining to see how it was all put together. But the best way to learn is through experience – the more time you have under your belt sewing, the better your skill set becomes which will ultimately allow you to make clothes intuitively. The following are some of the tools that are utilized the most often:

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  • Iron/Ironing Board – you may already have one lying around, but in the future, invest in a high quality one as you will end up spending a lot of time pressing material.
  • Chalk Wheel – use to mark areas on the fabric
  • Seam Ripper – to remove seams when you make a mistake
  • Point Turner – used to rotate several types of points
  • Rulers – to draft patterns and measure during construction
  • Tracing Paper – used for pattern drafting and alterations
  • Pattern Weights – used to hold material down during construction
  • Rotary Cutter/Cutting Mat – used in combination with pattern weights to cut fabric
  • Scissors – to trim fabric and for other types of alterations
  • Flexible Tape Measure – used for fit adjustments
  • Pins – used to temporarily hold fabric in place while sewing

Now is the perfect time to begin a new hobby like learning how to make your own clothes. If you need any further assistance, don’t hesitate to contact me for help.