10 Top Tips For Getting Started In Sewing

10 Top Tips For Getting Started In Sewing

So – you’ve just watched The Great British Sewing Bee and like so many viewers thought “Oooo, I wish I could do that!” Well, take heart – sewing is accessible to anyone, and apart from a sewing machine and a few other bits and bobs, it’s so easy to get started. Here at The Cotton Mouse we help would-be sewers to take those first steps all the time – so read on for our Ten Top Tips!

1. What to sew as a beginner?

There are so many options here, and it depends what has caught your imagination. If you have never sewn before, patchwork is a great way to start – it can be as simple as squares machined together, and before you know it you have made a cushion cover. You don’t need to splash out on a pattern, and you only need small pieces of fabric. Our fat quarters are a great way to get some beautiful co-ordinating pieces.
Of course, one of the main reasons people start sewing is to make clothes for themselves or others. And with the right choice of pattern and fabric, you can create some amazing and unique pieces right from the start. It’s also easy to make simple soft furnishings such as curtains, and often much cheaper than buying them in the shops. 

2. What equipment do you need to start sewing?

You really don’t need much to get started. Obviously if you are going to machine sew, you need a sewing machine – but these start under £100 for simple models. There is no need to have all the fancy stitches, or a computerised one- so long as it goes forwards, backwards and can do a zig zag nothing else matters at this stage.
Other key things are a good pair of scissors, and it is worth spending to get something that will last. Just remember to use them for fabric only - rinding bacon will do them no good at all! A pair of little scissors are handy, and you’ll need some needles, pins and probably a stitch unpicker (the occasional mistake is inevitable!) and a tape measure. All of these are very cheap to buy – so you can get all the essentials without a great deal of expenditure. And whilst it’s lovely to get a gorgeous sewing box for it all, that’s something you can manage without as you start. You’ll need an iron and ironing board though. 

3. Choosing a pattern

If you are doing patchwork, this can be really easy – all you may need is a shape cut out of an old cereal box to draw round repeatedly. Have a look at different patchwork patterns on-line or in a book to get ideas of the multitude of variations – but start simple!!!
If you have decided to dressmake, then choosing the right pattern is absolutely key. If you are just starting out, then go for something really simple – pyjama trousers with an elasticated waist are a great one, or an easy top. Most patterns will state the degree of difficulty, so make sure you go for ‘Easy’. At this stage, opt for something that isn’t very fitted -so tops or a dress with a loose fit are great.  Most patterns include several variations on a theme, so you can re-use time and again but creating different looks. I love Tilly and the Buttons which we stock in the shop.

4. Choosing the right fabric

Choosing the correct fabric is absolutely key, and can make the difference between a successful, easy sew and a complete nightmare! As a beginner, avoid anything stretchy, slippery, or that will fray badly. Something like cotton poplin is great as it handles well, and will stay put when you iron it. Stripes and checks can be challenging, as ideally you need to match the pattern up across different pieces, which can be a tricky skills. Plains or small florals are great for starting out. You could write a whole book on the pros and cons of different fabrics and which are good for different garments. Our advice is to ask for help – if you come into The Cotton Mouse we are always delighted to hear about your intended project and will suggest different fabrics that would work well and give you the best result- alternatively message us on instagram @thecottonmouseclitheroe.  

5. Choosing the right size

Dressmaking patterns always include multiple sizes within the same pattern, and you’ll need to cut out the right size for you. They are sized the same as clothes (10, 12, 14 and so on) but don’t just automatically assume that if you usually buy a 16, you’ll be a 16 on your pattern. It can vary just as off-the-peg clothes will vary. Take your measurements and check the size chart first. Before you start cutting out the paper pattern, it’s worth making some comparisons. For example, if you are making a top, take a top you already own and which fits you well, and measure armhole to armhole. Compare this with the pattern pieces to get an idea of whether the fit will be similar. Don’t forget though that pattern pieces will include a seam allowance (typically 1.5 cm) so you’ll need to deduct this. If in doubt, and you seem to be between sizes, go for the larger size. It can always be adjusted to make it smaller but it’s very hard to make something bigger!!!

6. Cutting out the fabric

This is the bit I hate doing – I always just want to get sewing! But if you cut out really accurately it will make sewing so much easier, as pieces will match up properly. It’s worth spending time to iron your fabric completely flat before you start, as any wrinkles will distort your pieces. Whilst it’s lovely to have a cutting table, most of us just don’t have the space, so cutting out on the floor is fine – just banish any pets first, especially ones with muddy paws!
The pattern will have a cutting layout that shows you how to place the pieces, especially any that need to be cut on a fold of the fabric; they will also have an arrow that needs to align with the grain of the fabric.
On Sewing Bee you will see them using weights to hold their fabric, but I’ve always used pins to make sure the pieces stay firmly in place as I cut round them. 

7. Learning the basic sewing skills

You’ll need to learn the basic skills to construct whatever you are making but there are many ways to do this. Here at The Cotton Mouse we offer beginners lessons, but you could also buy a book or there are thousands of videos on You-Tube. A good dressmaking pattern will have clear instructions that will take you through stage by stage. Get some scraps of fabric for practising, before you start sewing with anything more expensive.

8. Make it again

One of the expenses of dressmaking is buying your pattern, but if your make has been successful (and I’m sure it will!) then make it again and you’ll really start to save. Even if you make exactly the same design, a different fabric can give a totally different look. And it’s so easy to make variations such as skirt length or sleeve length, without making things any more technically difficult. Make sure you fold up the pattern pieces carefully once you are done so they are ready for re-use. 

9. Wear it with pride

There is nothing better than wearing your new outfit and when someone compliments you on it saying “Oh, this – I made it myself”. They will be so impressed and you will feel amazing!!

10. Jump in!

It’s always easy just not to get round to things – we never have enough time! Or to persuade ourselves that it would be too hard. Sewing really isn’t – as long as you choose the right project, it’s accessible to everyone and such a fantastic way to relax. I often go ages without doing any sewing, but as soon as I start making I wonder what took me so long. So just give it a try – when you are out rocking your first creation, you will be so glad you did. If you are local, just come into The Cotton Mouse and we’ll help you get started.
Go on – you CAN do it!!!

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