Archive for February 2013

Learn to Sew – Advanced Beginners

February 23, 2013

Once you have some familiarity with using a sewing machine and patterns, there are many possible sewing skills to learn, and many possible paths to learning them.

My thoughts on learning to sew started as a reaction to the book ‘Dressmaking’ by Alison Smith, so although I don’t think that is at beginner level, I do mention it.

My previous post in this group was for complete beginners. There’s another post on what helps you learn.

These are the guides I still think of rather than forgetting after a first look. (Or being disconcerted by/ rageous about all the errors !) I prefer lots of pictures, detailed instructions, videos, and gentle guidance through a set sequence of learning projects, so my choices won’t suit everyone.

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Go your own way with the help of a reference book

If you want to follow your own choice of projects – add to your skills by using easy patterns with clear instructions.

There are several groups of patterns specifically for beginners. Easiest :
Kwik Sew Kwik Start.
Simplicity ‘Learn to Sew‘ patterns.
(P.S. In my opinion and from what I”ve seen of them, Simplicity ‘Learn to Sew’ patterns are better than McCall’ ones. Simplicity and Kwik Start patterns have special instructions with extra help for beginners.)

A little more skilled :
Simplicity ‘It’s So Easy‘ patterns are more trendy casuals.
Beginners’ patterns from styleARC for modern classics.
Shapes patterns, more ‘arty’ styles from Sewing Workshop/ Cutting Line.

Several pattern companies rate their patterns for level of difficulty. And have detailed on-line sewalongs with photos in their blogs for extra support.
Sewaholic patterns are very popular.
(Beware patterns labelled Very Easy by Vogue, and Easy by McCall’s. They’re just ‘easier’ !)

There are also many easy patterns which don’t have special help with instructions, such as ‘one dot’ patterns from European companies like Burda Style (more trendy) or Ottobre (soft casuals).

Or free download patterns from Hot Patterns for softer styles.

Also most patterns that can be sewn quickly, see my posts on patterns that can be sewn in less than 2 hours, Index page 8.

Search for free download sewing patterns and find multiple possibilities. Many of them are very simple, but with varying quality of instructions.

If you’re happy in casual unfitted styles, you can dress well at this level of sewing skill.

If you go your own way, you’ll probably want a general reference book for support when instructions assume you already know how to do what’s needed.

Many people recommend the Readers Digest Complete Guide. Probably not for compete beginners. Full of drawings.

Some beginners find the big ‘bibles’ overwhelming. Me and My Sewing Machine is a good reference book for basic processes.

The late Shannon Gifford’s beginner classes cover basic techniques by making samples. Available as e-books from Pattern Review.

Here are some specific sources for learning more sewing skills.

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Kwik Sew

Kwik Sew have a series of books which include patterns, one of them about learning to sew.

Easy Sewing the Kwik Sew way by Kerstin Martensson includes patterns very like Kwik Sew Kwik Start ones. The basic patterns, and pattern altering and sewing techniques are much easier than the ‘Dressmaking’ book. Limited but effective skills. Simple sleeves, collars, facings, casings. No darts, zips, waistbands in the Kwik Sew book, while they’re all in the first project in ‘Dressmaking’. These Kwik Sew patterns are based on the casual dartless block for tops, with elastic waists for skirts and pants, so they don’t need much fitting work. The technique illustrations are diagrams. Includes simple knits and a multitude of pattern changes for different styles.


These ‘Kwik Sew’ patterns are ultra classic, not at all trendy.
The equivalent Kwik Sew Kwik Start patterns have somewhat more current proportions, but you don’t get all the guides for making other versions that you get in the book.
tee Kwik Sew 3766
blouse Kwik Sew 3475
pants Kwik Sew 3314
straight skirt Kwik Sew 3765

The book and patterns do assume you already know how to use a sewing machine, the basics of fabrics types, pattern layout and cutting, etc.

The only DIY pattern alterations in this book are making different lengths and adding some facings. There are different necklines marked on the patterns. But the book does show that you can make a large range of styles using just these simple pattern changing skills.

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More videos

There are free classes at Craftsy on making simple bags.
Start with a drawstring bag and bucket bag, then make a reversible tote and zipper pouch.

HipLine Media have DVDs on making simple bags and quilt. Their DVD on learning to sew has a good sew along on making pyjamas, but the introductory material on basics is poor, just talking heads.

If you’re looking for help with a specific process, there are detailed YouTube tutorials from FashionSewingBlogTV. Pity there isn’t an index ! Easiest to access them through her many sewalongs.

I have seen some other DVDs and didn’t think they were good enough to justify the effort of finding what you want when there’s only a minimal menu.

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Serger/ overlocker

I haven’t got a serger so can’t say much. But when I was looking for information about them, I did like the Palmer-Pletsch Serger Basics DVD. The exercises look good for understanding what’s going on. (I couldn’t make head-nor-tail of the associated book.)

There are video classes at Craftsy on Beginner Serging and Creative Serging.

Of the books I’ve seen, Simplicity ‘Simply the best‘ has the most specific guidance on using a serger for all the processes in making clothes.

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Less easy

There’s no clear dividing line between Beginner and Intermediate.
I put most garments that need zips and fitted sleeves at a higher level of skill.

The first Threads magazine Teach yourself to sew DVD is more advanced than the Kwik Sew book. Make a skirt and jacket using darts, gathers, zips, waistband, skirt lining (Simplicity 2424 jacket, Vogue 8464 skirt). Nothing on pattern making.


In my opinion, many patterns labelled ‘Easy’ are at the top of this level or above. And most Very Easy Vogue patterns are actually Intermediate 😀

Each item you make that’s a little different, you add to your skill. At Intermediate level you can deal with anything that isn’t too structured or fancy. A variety of fabrics, sleeves, waistbands, collars, zips, pockets, plackets, yokes and pleats, plus easy dress and jacket linings.
Next post in this group has some comments on learning these intermediate sewing skills and above.

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There’s no way any one person could know about all the possible sources on learning to sew – a bit like independent pattern companies, they’re spreading wildly!
And different types of learners prefer different types of support.
These are just the ones I’ve seen and kept.

Hope you find what you enjoy learning from, and which gives you ‘I can do this’ confidence 😀

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Links available February 2013

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Learn to sew – complete beginners

February 16, 2013

I seem to collect wardrobe pattern books and review them. I started reviewing ‘Dressmaking’ by Alison Smith. That started off so many thoughts on learning, my comments expanded into 5 posts. Perhaps that is a bit much !

The ‘Dressmaking’ book is supposed to be a ‘complete step-by-step’ guide to sewing. I don’t think it would be good for beginners. And it’s not for advanced skills. I do think it’s very good for intermediate learning, though it doesn’t cover anywhere near everything ! More on that later – first a couple of posts on help for beginners.

These are my own levels of sewing difficulty. I don’t know any generally accepted list of skills !

(P.S. Many books for beginners, with patterns included, have been published since this post was written. Sorry, but I haven’t been able to keep up with them all, so can’t comment on quality.)

Allow for what you’re nervous about

It takes time to build confidence in all the skills needed to make garments. Fabric knowledge, pattern symbols, layout, cutting, marking, pressing, fitting, pattern altering, as well as sewing. It’s a wonder we ever learn it all.

These are guides I get on with. As we all learn best in different ways (see my post on what helps you learn) they may not be to everyone’s taste. I like many pictures, much detail, easy beginnings and gentle progress. And videos.

Some people are intimidated both by using a sewing machine and by commercial patterns. I’ve called them ‘timid’ complete beginners.

And some people are happy to try anything with good instructions. Most books on learning are aimed at them.

Some people are happy to use a machine, but daunted by commercial patterns. Suggestions for them at the end.

Some people like to start with a challenge – you don’t need my advice ! Just enjoy the process and laugh about what you make 😀

‘Drape’ without a pattern

Some people like to work direct with fabric. Including refashion charity shop finds. Currently popular but not my style.

A lot of designers work in this way, by ‘draping’ on a dress form or person (see my post). Flat pattern making is actually quite a recent development. Different people prefer the different approaches.

There are books, sites and blogs on this but I don’t know them. Nearly all the sources I mention involve a paper pattern – though some of them are very easy patterns that you make yourself.

If you want to devise your own projects but need a beginners general reference book on sewing, there’s Me and my sewing machine by Kate Haxell – good and clear on basic sewing machine skills.

Timid complete beginners

These are some places to start if you’re intimidated by the thought of using a sewing machine or a commercial pattern.

There are many on-line sewing tips and ultra simple beginner projects at Debbie Colgrove’s site. Move on to her detailed Sewing 101 course – make pillow covers and a robe (dressing gown).

Here’s another simple on-line guide by Tilly and the buttons. has a free course of on-line videos on the basics of using a sewing machine.

Prefer a physical book ? Perhaps take A little course in sewing with a guided sequence of hand and machine sewing projects. Though there are pages of needed equipment. It would be less daunting if they mentioned that the tools actually needed (very few) are listed with each project.

Or try Sew Over It by Lisa Comfort. Altering and embellishing clothes for beginners. The only complaints at Amazon are that it’s too easy !

The Mary Frances Sewing Book is fun if you’d be happy to learn by hand sewing dolls’ clothes. Shorten the garments to thigh length (about 7 in./ 18 cm shoulder to hem) if you prefer current styles. Adults are allowed to use a sewing machine, so machine sew them if you prefer 😀

I’m a timid learner myself. (The first issue of ‘Sew Stylish’ magazine had 12 sewing personalities. I recognised myself in “when will you have made enough place mats and be ready to move on ?” 😀 It’s drawstring bags I’ve got a house full of.) I know what’s it’s like to be knocked sideways by incomprehensible, incomplete or wrong instructions. I don’t know if there are any sources with no errors at all, but hopefully the ones I mention have very few.

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Confident complete beginners

For beginners who don’t need to start quite so slowly.
Most of these guides assume you’re happy to use a sewing machine.

Diana Rupp is clear and helpful in her beginners’ video class at Craftsy. Make a pillow and simple skirt with zip. Linked to her book Sew Everything Workshop.

Connie Crawford’s Studio Sewing Skills DVD leads you through practice samples (there’s even a kit of materials), then making a blouse.

Make modern doll’s clothes ? – detailed videos at Rosie’s doll clothes.

A couple of video series go from beginner to expert.

You Can Make It DVDs are detailed sew-alongs with 7 levels : elastic waist skirt, skirt with zip and waistband, simple blouse with collar and sleeves, sleeveless dress with waist seam cut from plaid, pants with fly zip, shirt, notched collar jacket. Cumulative, later DVDs assume you have worked through earlier ones. Video clips here.

The Sewing Guru has introductory videos on the sewing machine, and a beginners class on making a pillow (cushion cover) and apron.
Then sew-along videos from easier skirt, pyjamas, dress, to more difficult men’s pants, shirt and tailored jackets. Join free for a couple of days and look around the site.

Ah, those are all videos. I do like the clothes styles that the book Sewing Machine Basics by Jane Bolsover leads up to (pants, skirt, top patterns). Before that there are good sections on basic skills, then a related project. I need to be more imaginative about these projects – change the colours, and use fleece instead of felt !

Make your own patterns

Personally I find it more alarming to be expected to make my own patterns than to use a commercial pattern. But some people are the other way round.

Some people find commercial patterns daunting and confusing.
Some people find making their own patterns is more freely creative, and they feel more ownership of the result.

These are some places to start if you don’t want to use a conventional pattern. They do assume you don’t need help with using a sewing machine, or you’re happy to hand sew your garments.

I enjoy DIY Couture. Instructions for drawing garment shapes directly onto the fabric. (The ‘How to use the instructions’ section has comments on which styles are easy, which more difficult.) There’s a long review with sample pages by nouvellegamine.

These other books include making your own paper patterns by simple methods.

The hippie style Hassle-free make your own clothes book is simple and fun. A bit like DIY Couture, but you draw the shapes onto paper rather than direct onto fabric.

Sew What Bags is simple : cut fabric to measurements, or make a square/ rectangle pattern the shape and size you want your bag.

Sew What Skirts and Sew What Fleece are fun guides to simple ‘proper’ pattern making. Draw out the simplest possible patterns for skirts and other garments, based on a small number of personal measurements,

Learning to sew is a topic a bit like fit – I’ve done a lot of exploring of what’s available !
Posts to come on sources I like at advanced beginner level, and for learning intermediate skills.

There are hundreds of books on learning to sew. Some have a few minor mistakes, some are truly terrible. I’ve only seen a small sample. And it’s impossible for one book/ video to be in the best instruction style for everyone, or contain projects loved by all tastes – so you may not like my suggestions !

Good Luck for avoiding confusing books. Worth taking the time to read low star reviews at Amazon. And only believe 5 star reviews from beginners who’ve actually followed the instructions. Many glowing reviews are from people who just think the book looks pretty – much easier than writing good instructions.

In the right hand menu of my blog there are links to on-line sources of sewing demos, DVDs, and tutorials.

Getting to the level of being able to sew garments is a major achievement.
Best Wishes for finding easy projects that you want to make, and enjoy your learning 😀

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Links available February 2013

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Aids to fashion drawing

February 9, 2013

Awed by designers’ fashion drawings ?
Amazed by sewers who sketch their planned wardrobes ?
I thought it was impossible for me. So was delighted to discover this Christmas that there are children’s toys which help with this process.

Clothes shapes

Use stencils that you draw round. Fashion Angels Design Portfolio is one.


There are many books/ sets of stencils/ shapes to trace/ stickers, in several styles. Indulge your inner rock chick, dream up impossible red carpet dresses 😀

The shape you want isn’t included ? Make your own stencil.
Print the line drawing from commercial pattern information, onto “printable acetate” sheet.
Cut out the shape to make your own stencil. Not easy but it is possible.

Mock-ups in paper or fabric

There are children’s kits which are the modern equivalent of paper dolls – use templates to cut out pieces of paper in the shape you want, add glitter and trims.
Such as Paper Fashions by Klutz.

Some of these kits contain fabric rather than paper.
Or small 3-D mannequins which are easy to attach fabric to.
Such as Designed by you fashions.

These are obviously popular toys as there are multiple versions. Search ‘fashion’ in the toy section at Amazon.

Good if your focus is fashion design rather than pattern making or sewing.
Personally I prefer to make ‘real’ small clothes.

It would be fun to have a half-scale dress form, such as one from Dress Rite.
Or a quarter-scale 16 inch ‘fashion doll’ with adult body shape (not as distorted as Barbie), such as Tyler-Wentworth.
Generally I can only find sources in the US, and shipping charges are huge.

I’m making basic fitting shells for my 18″ child-shaped doll. So I can play with pattern making 😀 Also – like us – she’s not quite the same shape as commercial patterns for 18″ dolls.

Tips on drawing

Many tips on easy drawing approaches here from Threads magazine.

Fashion Design Workshop is a teen’s guide book on techniques for making your drawings look more like clothes. Lots of examples to copy.


There’s a bit about fashion drawing in the middle of this video from Simplicity.
From a designer so she makes it look easy.

The basic figure drawing which you add your fashion drawing to is called a ‘croquis’.

The ‘croquis kit’ in Simplicity’s Project Runway patterns includes a fashion figure, and separate drawings of each the style elements in the pattern. They suggest you trace the style elements onto separate vellum sheets, then move them over the fashion figure to choose which combination you like.

Here’s part of Simplicity 1718.


Of course there are many books for people who want to produce professional fashion drawings. I’m just talking about having fun/ doing something that’s personally helpful !

Figure drawing

No good at drawing the human figure ? Many ways of avoiding this.
These aren’t children’s toys, they’re proper fashion designers’ aids.

Shoben Media have croquis templates to trace around.


Pose 1 – woman, straight standing
Pose 2 – woman, straight walking
Pose 3 – woman, ‘high hip’ pose
Pose 4 – man, ‘high hip’ pose

Designers use the angled poses to display their work, as they make clothes look better. But to make design details clear, or to sketch from a pattern line drawing, you need the straight standing pose.

There are many sketch pads pre-printed with croquis. The Fashion Sketchpad is an example.

Hmm – compare the Shoben model croquis with a croquis more like me (from a discontinued site showing Trinny & Susannah’s 12 Body Shapes).


Obviously sketching clothes onto a model croquis is fun for fashion designers, but not much use in deciding if a style flatters my body shape !

Designers’ croquis have long thin body proportions (ratio of 8 or 9 heads to body), the proportions which make clothes look good. But only a very small number of people have this body shape in real life.
There are free croquis from Threads magazine which have more ‘average’ proportions. They include croquis for petite and plus figures.

If you want to develop an accurate croquis of yourself, the book Fantastic Fit for Every Body by Gale Grigg Hazen has detailed instructions on making one from photos. (P.S. see the comments for several easy ways of making a personal croquis.)

You could print a croquis on tracing paper, so you can trace pattern line drawings onto a body shape.
For this, start with a straight-pose croquis like the ones above.
Check your tracing vellum will work with a printer !
Some fiddling with sizes may be necessary to get figure and clothes to the same scale. Learn to use the scaling function in your printer software. . .

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This is just a small sample of what’s available.

Some people think they can’t play with these books and kits because they’re for children. How sad. My drawing skills are definitely at childish level, and they’re just right for me.

So get out your coloured pencils and have fun 😀

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Patterns and links available February 2013

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What helps you learn ?

February 2, 2013

This time some thoughts on personal learning style. (Earlier posts on our differences in Sewing style and Fitting style).

Sewing involves many skills. Each is complex and can be done many different ways.
So it helps to know what helps us learn 😀

What is the best format for you to learn from ?

There are different ways of dealing with the world, which we have different amounts of talent for.
Which of the ‘multiple intelligences’ come most easily to you ?
– writing,
– reading,
– hands-on work,
– artwork,
– self-evaluation,
– group discussion,
– maths calculations,
– music.

What does this tell you about the best way for you to learn ?

Many years ago a gifted teacher made us learn Latin verbs by singing them to a folk tune. I can still sing them 60 years later. Not sure how I could apply that method to sewing 😀

I like to see, read, write summaries, and do exercises. I’m most relaxed about learning sewing when I have both video demos and written materials. A video so I’m secure about exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. Detailed written step-by-step instructions so I haven’t got to remember every detail. And I definitely prefer physical books to e-books and on-line courses you can’t download and print !

I gave up on a quilt course with teachers who insisted you do a painting of what you were going to make before ever starting to sew. Not for me. But perhaps you find making design sketches of clothes helps you understand what you’re making and the processes needed.

My facility with practical maths probably relates to my enjoyment of pattern making.

If you’re mainly a hands-on learner, you probably don’t often look at this wordy blog 😀 But see the right hand menu for links to sewing DVDs, on-line video demos, and on-line written tutorials with photos.

Details or concepts

I also find an aspect of personality in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is very important in my learning – S/N. Are you happy with specific items (S), or do you prefer concepts and only understand details fully when you see how they fit into an overall scheme (N). I’m the second type of person (there are fewer of us), and teaching materials prepared by the first type of person can be difficult to cope with. If there’s no structure provided, I need to work out my own before I’m comfortable.

Specific example : here’s a list of sewing machine parts, from a teachers’ guide that has been available for some time, so presumably many teachers and students are happy with it.
Presser foot.
Feed teeth.
Balance wheel.
Thread take-up.
Upper tension control.
Stitch length selector.
Stitch width selector.
Spool pin.
Bobbin winder.
Reverse button/ lever.

Er. A list like that dances before my eyes.
I spent a while thinking out how to get it to make sense for me, and came up with :

Upper thread :
– Spool pin.
– Upper tension control.
– Thread take-up.
– Needle.
Lower thread :
– Bobbin.
– Bobbin winder.
Fabric control :
– Presser foot.
– Feed teeth.
Stitch formation :
– Stitch length selector.
– Stitch width selector.
– Reverse button/ lever.
– Balance wheel.

Ah, now I get it, of course, that’s obvious. . .

There are so many different techniques and tools used in making a garment, I can find it overwhelming. I need a brief overview of the process, which I can relate the details to.
Some Japanese pattern books summarise the sequence of sewing steps in a numbered diagram. I like to have a written list as well.


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Other dimensions of the MBTI

Another dimension in the MBTI personality scheme is whether you like (J) or avoid (P) plans. This may affect whether you like to follow a formal learning scheme. I like to have a learning plan framework to give structure to the process, but in real life I rarely follow it!

Introversion (I) and extraversion (E) are probably linked to how much you learn from self evaluation or group discussion.

The final MBTI dimension is whether you react primarily by thinking (T) or by feeling (F). Not sure how that would relate to your preferred learning style. Perhaps Ts like to read all about it first, while Fs prefer to learn by doing.

Challenges or baby steps

How much difficulty do you enjoy coping with ? I like to be guided through a carefully planned sequence of learning steps with detailed instructions. Starting from the very easiest and increasing the difficulty in very small amounts. But many people like the challenge of jumping in, having a go at making something complex right from the start, and working out how to make it as they go along.

My preferences depend on where I am in the learning sequence. I prefer very detailed guidance when I’m first learning something. But once I know how to do it then I can be very creative with thinking what to do with the process, without any further instruction.

I need the outcome of each sewing step firmly fixed in my mind, to feel confident that I can do it again. If I just sew through without pausing to acknowledge that each step is completed, I sort of lose contact with what I’m doing. It’s helpful for me to stop and take stock after each step – recognise the universal skills, what other things I can do with each process I’ve learned, and where I’ve got to in the overall construction process.

Some other pointers

I need to make multiple samples until I feel secure with a method, rather than always pushing on to something new. If I’m really nervous about a process, I set myself to make a ridiculous number of samples – 10, 20, 50 😀 So I prefer to learn by myself with my own pacing. But many people are at their best if they can get to a class and learn with others. And all the repetition which calms me would infuriate others.

I also prefer to learn a new technique within a project specifically chosen for that technique, rather than being given a list of techniques and a list of projects, and having to combine them together myself. But some people passionately dislike having techniques explained within projects rather than separately. Some books and DVDs do it one way, some the other, and it’s good to find ones with the right style for you.

Sometimes learning involves a boring stage. Rewards are good to get you through them. What type of rewards do you enjoy 😀

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Some of us enjoy a lifetime of learning new skills. And some of us are happy creating with a few simple techniques.
Each to their own.

Which of all these intelligences and personality dimensions are your natural gifts ?

(Do read the comments below, as people make many interesting points about their own learning style.)

Best Wishes for finding the type of sewing, fitting, learning that will give you the greatest pleasure and support and relaxation.
And plan to spend your sewing time that way 😀

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Links available February 2013

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