Curvy women often ask me about sewing their own clothes. Sometimes they can’t find what they want in the right sizes, and sometimes they are creative people who want to express themselves through fashion. I thought you might like to listen in on some common questions and my honest answers.
Do I have to go to school to learn how to sew? No. In fact, most sewists are self-taught. If you can follow directions carefully you can learn to sew just by using patterns. That said, taking a class at a local community college will speed up your learning process by a lot. You also have the benefit of getting your questions answered in person by an expert. Craftsy is a great idea if you’re computer savvy and can learn by watching videos. Click here to check out a class for beginners on Craftsy. The classes are reasonably priced and you can access them any time you want.
Will the clothes I make look like I got them at a store? Probably not at first. You will eventually learn how to modify the sewing patterns so they fit your shape. In the beginning, you will have more success if you make clothing that isn’t fitted. Try a boxy unlined jacket or a garment that doesn’t have a zipper, collar, button plackets, or more intermediate features. Butterick, Simplicity, and McCall’s are best if you’re brand new to sewing clothes. Buy patterns at JoAnn’s when they’re on sale. You can save a fortune if you are patient. Buy “very easy” level patterns to start with. FYI: Don’t be surprised if the pattern that fits your measurements is much larger than your usual size. Sewing patterns have totally different scales. I recommend these easy patterns for curvy beginning sewists:
- Butterick 5301. So, a set of scrubs probably isn’t what you had in mind when you wanted to make clothes, but this is an excellent place to start to learn the basics. You can use really fun cottons from the quilting department and they make great pajamas.
- Simplicity 4789. (Avoid the dress or jumper until you’re ready to try a zipper.) Use a woven fabric in a solid color or small print pattern. Avoid knits in the beginning, trust me.
- McCall’s 5640. This is a fun pattern with lots of cool options. Try this if you are ready to attempt gathers. That’s the only tricky part on this one!
- Important Note: Save yourself a giant headache and DO NOT BUY DOWNLOADABLE PATTERNS. You’ll have to print out lots of pages, tape them all together, and then cut them out. It’s crazy and not worth the immediate gratification and discount!
What kind of equipment do I need? You need a decent sewing machine. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. Buy your sewing machine at a real-live store instead of online. That way you can get immediate assistance and repairs if they’re needed. Don’t borrow or buy a used machine. It may have problems that will frustrate you beyond belief, and you’ll have no warranties to fall back on. I recommend these relatively inexpensive machines for beginners:
- Singer 4411. It might be a little loud, but this is a sturdy and simple non-computerized machine great for beginners. It’s also reasonably priced. Don’t use the needles that come with this machine–get new ones. Read the directions and practice threading this machine. It can be tricky the first few times, but you’ll get the hang of it. After that, you’re all set. This one should cost about $150.00-$200.00 in a store.
- Janome Magnolia 7318. This is a great machine for beginners because it’s simple and easy to use. It should cost you about $250-300.00 in a store. It’s not complicated or fancy, but it’s very good quality.
- Brother Project Runway CS5055 PRW Electric Sewing Machine. This is a fancier machine with more capabilities, but still very reasonably priced. Spend about $150.00 on this in a store.
You’ll also need:
- Good scissors (don’t use them on paper) that can be sharpened when they get dull.
- A small collection of threads in basic colors (don’t buy cheap machine needles and thread from discount stores—it’ll make your machine very, very unhappy).
- A transparent ruler about 18” long (usually found in the quilting department).
- A box of at least 50 pins and a pincushion, some small hand-sewing needles, and a seam ripper.
- A measuring tape, or two if you need to tape 2 together to reach around some part of yourself.
- Fabric marking pencils.
- A good beginner’s book on sewing in case you get stumped. I recommend the New Complete Guide to Sewing by Reader’s Digest. Get this online in good used condition for $20.00 or less.
- The instruction booklet for your sewing machine.
Where should I get my fabric? Go to a fabric store where the clerks are knowledgeable and can answer your questions. If the clerk can’t help you figure out what kind or how much fabric to purchase for your project based on the pattern instructions…do not shop here. Bargain fabrics sometimes have flaws that will screw up your project. It’s not a big deal if you’re making scrubs, but you don’t want a problem if you are making a nice dress.
You can trust online shops like Mood, but I would stick to a physical store so you can get personal assistance. Let the clerk know you’re a beginner and they should be very helpful. If you want to make something with expensive fabric, make a test garment first out of cheap stuff just to make sure everything is perfect before cutting into your gorgeous Italian silk. Yes, this is really necessary.
Is it cheaper to make my own clothes? No. Honestly, if you buy good quality fabric and you follow all the important steps, you will spend a lot more money and time than you would on a mass produced garment. However, if you enjoy learning, being creative, and taking your time for a special finished product, you will love this!
You’re never too old to try something new. People who are good at making their own clothing are patient, eager to learn, creative, careful, and resilient. If you fail with one project, remember Thomas Edison’s inspiring quotes and try again.
“I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”
“I never did a day’s work in my life. It was all fun.”