Back in the 1970s when I was at school all the girls did needlework and cooking and all the boys did woodwork and other mysterious activities in a self-contained building to which we girls had no access. One person crossed the gender boundary in my year – Alberto Mallozzi did cooking. Good for you, Alberto!
In the year I turned twelve, under the supervision of the lovely sewing teacher, Mrs Skidmore, I created my first real item of clothing from a real sewing pattern; it was an A-line skirt with a zip and a waistband and I wore it until I outgrew it. Since then there has been no stopping me. The sewing machine my parents gave me for my 21st birthday was probably the most useful gift I ever received. Now in its third incarnation my machine would be the first thing I’d save from a fire after my children and the cat.
All these years later I never fail to be bemused by people’s wonderment when they learn I’ve made the dress or trousers I’m wearing. To me it’s second nature but it seems that to many the whole process is a complete mystery. Years ago it was economical to make clothes at home; now with the flood of cheap clothing outlets in our towns and cities, everyone can afford to be in fashion although there is a danger that you will be wearing the same outfit as 200 hundred others in your neighbourhood. Making your own outfits ensures that you will be wearing something wholly unique to you. It may cost you more than a High Street item, but you won’t see anyone else wearing one the same, and you are bound to receive lots of compliments.
So I thought I’d give a quick guide to using a sewing pattern in order to de-mystify the process and maybe inspire one or two amongst you to get creative!
Patterns can be bought online or in shops that sell dressmaking fabrics. You can browse through catalogues which look just like fashion catalogues and select the style you like in your size. For online patterns try Simplicity, New Look, Burda, Butterick or Vogue. The pattern envelope front shows you the style of garment, possible variations and styling ideas. The back shows you the garment’s back view, the body dimensions catered to, the types of fabrics that are suitable, the exact amounts of fabrics you will need to make it and any other requirements eg zips, buttons, ribbons.
Inside the envelope will be one or two sheets of Instructions which will take you through every step of the making procedure, as well as the pattern pieces (templates) which are printed on tissue paper. The instructions will explain exactly which pieces you will need to use for your chosen style, what all the symbols mean on the pattern, how to lay and pin the pattern pieces on your fabric and how to cut your fabric out. Then you will be led through each step of the construction process with easy to understand diagrams as well as text (often in more than one language). Frankly, if you can put together a piece of Ikea furniture, then a sewing pattern will be a piece of cake.
As well as a sewing machine, the following items are very useful in the garment-making process:-
- tape measure
- sharp scissors
Different patterns will need different levels of skill; start with “easy” and work your way up. Staff in fabric shops are generally very knowledgeable and this is a source you can definitely tap into. They can help you decipher the pattern envelope, guide you to the most suitable materials and probably even direct you to evening classes should teaching yourself seem too daunting a prospect.
Patterns can be used over and over again so that the initial cost gets spread more thinly with each garment made.
Like many things practice makes perfect and your dexterity and confidence will grow with time. I’ve just acquired some nice polka dot fabric and am going to make the dress above. I cut it out on Saturday afternoon. An afternoon’s work will see it finished. Here’s the outcome of the last time I used this pattern …. this time I am changing the neckline.
Pattern is New Look 6805.