Archive for the ‘learning to sew’ category

Skirt Sewalongs – written

July 20, 2013

Thinking of sewing a skirt as an ‘advanced beginner’ project ?
Or looking for help with constructing your own 6-gore skirt pattern ?

Good sewalongs are a wonderful source of confidence and useful information.
Of course it can be extra fun if you sew along at the time of issue, but they remain a useful source of information later.

There’s a big selection for skirts – so many I doubt I’ve found them all.
I’ve tried to group them according to style elements and difficulty.

These are sewalongs with detailed step by step instructions which supplement the pattern.
I haven’t included sewalongs which are mainly encouraging chat. There are many of those at Pattern Review and Sawyer-Brook.

And this got so long I’ve divided it in parts.
Some people like written tutorials with photos. Those are free.
Some people like video demos. Those are pay-for.
Some people are strongly one way or the other. Personally I like both, video to be sure what to do, written so I haven’t got to remember.

This post lists free on-line written tutorials with photos.
Here’s a post with links to skirt sewalongs with video demos (not free).

I haven’t read through, let alone worked through, all of these. So no guarantee of quality, ease of understanding, completeness. . .

Photos are not all equal. I have a commercial pattern with the garment sewn in heavily patterned fabric that looks the same on front and back sides, with stitching in closely matched thread. Impossible to see anything at all. I don’t think any of these sewalongs fall in that trap.

All include zips unless otherwise mentioned.

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Beginner wrap skirt with waistband and ties

Tilly and the Buttons Miette skirt
wrap skirt with waistband and ties, no zip or buttonholes
download pattern and sewalong

Or here’s a ‘draft it yourself’ sew along for a wrap skirt from Sew Mama Sew.
A bit difficult for most complete beginners.

No bought pattern needed, and no zips, but these are not easy techniques for complete beginners.

Tilly and the Buttons skirt gathered to waistband, with front button opening, pockets

Tilly and the Buttons skirt with shirred waist

Draft your own pattern for contoured waistband and skirt gathered by shirring
sewalong from Sew Mama Sew

Pencil, a-line, gored skirts

Similar instructions apply to many other styles which just vary in number of seams and shape of pattern pieces, such as gored, flared, tulip, trumpet shapes.

Basic pencil skirt using any pattern,
such as McCalll’s 3830 classic tissue pattern.
sewalong from Tuppence Ha’penny

Burda Syle Jenny skirt with wide waistband
download pattern
sewalong from A Fashionable Stitch

Colette Patterns Ginger skirt, a-line with shaped waistband
tissue pattern
sewalong from A Fashionable Stitch

Sewaholic Hollyburn skirt, 4-gores and pockets
tissue pattern
sewalong from My Messings

Contour waistband or yoke with fullness below

Simplicity 2226
tissue pattern
links to all the sewalong steps at the top of this post from Noodlehead

Sewaholic Crescent skirt
tissue pattern
for sewalong scroll to 2/3 down this page from Sewaholic

Burda 7342 flared bias skirt with lined yoke
tissue pattern
supplement to instructions, from Fashion Sewing Blog


BurdaStyle Marie skirt
download pattern
scroll to 2/3 down the page for links to the sewalong steps from Stitch in my Side

Butterick 5756
tissue pattern
supplement to instructions, from Fashion Sewing Blog

Simplicity 2117
tissue pattern
supplement to instructions, from Fashion Sewing Blog


Jennifer Stern Ribbon bias skirt with central seam.
The image isn’t clear, so here’s the Collete Ginger skirt in a bias version.
Jennifer Stern’s tissue pattern and tutorial (half way down), with advice about sewing on the bias.

Draft your own pattern for a circle skirt
pattern drafting and sew along from Elegant Musings

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With many thanks to all the people who have done all the work of preparing these sewalongs.

A few comments on how to choose between the possibilities in my second post, on video demos.

Do you like this sort of extra sewing guidance 😀

I hope you’re pleased with what you make.
If not – what did you learn from the process, about sewing and about your preferences 😀

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Patterns and links available July 2013

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Favourite books – sewing

June 29, 2013

Chosen your style and lovingly crafted your pattern ? Now on to making the garment.
Here are some favourite books on sewing technique.

Previous favourite booklists were on the books I keep by me which are about :
Style and wardrobe
Pattern altering
Pattern drafting, Fit

Several limitations on my sewing book list :
– Many beginners sewing books have a lot on home dec. Square shapes, simple to sew and fit – easy cushions/ pillows and curtains/ drapes. But except for patchwork that doesn’t much interest me, so I don’t notice those books.
– I like learning by being guided through a specific sequence of projects, carefully chosen to introduce new skills. I know many people don’t like that. You have to be willing to make things that aren’t your ideal choice !
– I love wardrobe pattern books. But there are many with patterns for dresses, which I don’t wear. So I haven’t got those books.
– Books on tailoring – none of those either as I don’t wear structured clothes.
– There also are many more advanced books on embellishing clothes, sorry I’m not expert on them.
– And I’m no help when it comes to the best guidance on specialist techniques like sewing lingerie, or advanced and couture technique.

So this sewing booklist is like my other lists – very affected by personal preferences. There are many books which are much loved by other people and have good instructions, but which I don’t mention.

As we all have different styles of sewing and learning, there’s no guarantee these will work well for you too !
I like project based books for learning, though I also really like videos demos for the practical aspects of sewing, to feel secure that I know what to do (see right hand menu). I can learn from good books, and like to keep them by me for a speedy easy-access reminder.

There are several other books I like, but these are the ones I return to more often.

– – –

Complete beginner

Little Course in Sewing
Gentle lead-in with project sequence for hand then machine sewing (not much on clothes)

Kate Haxell Me and My Sewing Machine
Basic sewing machine processes, For reference, not project based.

Jane Eayre Fryer The Mary Frances Sewing Book
This is the 100th anniversary edition with patterns included for 18 inch dolls – hand sew a sequence of early 20c styles.

– – –

Advanced beginner, project based instructions

Kerstin Martensson Easy Sewing the Kwik Sew Way
Simple basic wardrobe – full size traceable patterns included for tee, dartless blouse, 2 skirts and pants with elastic waist, with simple instructions for pattern alterations.


Kay Whitt Sew Serendipity
3 basic full-size tissue patterns included. Variations with ideas for fabric combinations and added trims. Instructions have hand drawings in the style of this illustration. A bit more advanced than the Kwik Sew book (includes zips, trims).


The next book is full of embellishment ideas. There must be hundreds of books with little crafty projects, most of which don’t appeal. This town has good libraries and bookstores so I can check out many of them (sadly no full-scope fabric shop !). So I know only a very small number of these books are to my taste. This must be a very individual matter, so there’s no guarantee the ones I like will suit other people.
For some reason I do return to Get the most from your sewing machine by Marion Elliot, inspires me to have fun with my sewing. Being inconsistent, I don’t actually use the projects in this book. But there are so many suggestions for other things to do with the techniques.

out of print

Garments for beginners
An alternative to the Kwik Sew book. Project sequence of similar garments, though no patterns included (and these days there’s no simple wardrobe pattern for wovens). Simple jacket and vest but no basic blouse. A bit easier than the Kwik Sew book as it doesn’t include collars or pattern alterations. The advantage is this has photos of technique, which I prefer.

Patricia Moyes Sewing Basics
A technique book but organised by type of garment, e.g. all the techniques you can choose between to make pants. No jacket linings or notch collars. More advanced than the Kwik Sew and Kay Whitt books, photos and line drawings.

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Intermediate – wardrobe pattern books

Alison Smith Dressmaking
12 basic patterns supplied for classic styles, with 19 simple pattern variations, excellent detailed technique photos. Could be used as a project sequence. Patterns have to be enlarged from squared diagrams, or downloaded.





(P.S. There can probably never be one sewing book that’s ideal for everyone, as we all have different clothing and learning styles.
The patterns in The Great British Sewing Bee book by Tessa Eveleigh are prettier, and it includes beginner projects and home dec.
But the technical instruction in Alison Smith’s Dressmaking book is very much better. And it goes 3 sizes bigger.)

I also enjoy the style of Japanese sewing books, available from Simply Pretty.
Slouchy crafter casual.
Very visual presentation of technique. Full size traceable patterns included, though usually only small sizes (Extra Large has 38 in. hips !) I have several of these but none stands out as ‘the’ one. Several have been translated into English but none of my favourites.

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Intermediate – Pockets

A specialist little group. Apart from changing fabric or trim, changing pockets is the easiest way to make the same pattern again and make it look different. There are several out-of-print books on sewing them.

Patricia Moyes Just Pockets
Claire Shaeffer Sew any patch pocket
Claire Shaeffer Sew any set-in pocket

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Intermediate – reference books on general technique

Cole & Czachor Professional sewing techniques for designers
High-end RTW boutique sewing. Mainly written instructions, so not for beginners.

Sandra Betzina More Fabric Savvy
Practical details of needle sizes, stitches, threads, technique. for sewing many fabrics.

out of print

Threads magazine Easy Guides (Sewing Companion Library)
Full of information and inspiration.

Vogue Sewing Book 1970 edition
Vogue Sewing Book 1982 edition
Famous tomes.

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Other media for advice on sewing ?
There are a lot of suggestions for on-line videos and DVDs in my posts on learning, if you prefer demos to books (see Index page 8). And many links in the right-hand menu.

I also collect 19C sewing books so yes, I’ve got many sewing books I like !

Hope you find pleasure, supportive guidance, inspiration that is right for you 😀

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Links available June 2013

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Pyjamas, beginner skills

May 25, 2013

Pyjama pants are often suggested as a beginner sewing project.
And continuing with the theme of comfortable and classy loungewear – what about high quality designer versions?

Of course there are couture pj pants available from luxury lingerie companies – enjoy being stroked by silk charmeuse and lace.
A skilled hobby sewer could make those. But definitely not fabrics for easy sewing.
How about simpler than that !

Here are some comments on pyjama patterns and sew-alongs for beginners.
And on using the same skills to make simple elastic waist pants.
(I haven’t included patterns for knits, or with very slim legs.)
And on the further skills needed to add a simple top.

– – –

Pyjama pants, beginner skills

Hmm, for pj pants the easiest possible garment sewing skills needed include :

take body measurements
choose size of pattern
identify fabric and notions requirements
prepare fabric
understand pattern symbols
lay out and cut pattern
sew straight and curved lines
sew leg seams
arrange legs together so can sew crotch seam
finish seams
press seams
press to shape casings and hems
pin/ tape/ baste seams, casing and hems to hold in place while sewing
sew casing (cut-on casing is easiest, then a separate casing)
thread elastic through casing
join ends of elastic
close casing
or make eyelets, make and thread drawstring
machine sew hems

No wonder some people find it daunting to learn to sew, and need to work up to all that slowly. In 4-H sewing classes, pj pants are what children make only after a year of sewing small projects which gradually introduce all these skills. I think it’s a bit pressurised to expect all adults to be comfortable with jumping into such a project as their first item.

But anyway that’s a separate topic I dealt with in my post on learning help for complete beginners.
Which includes some places you can look to for help with learning all those skills.

And once you can do all these things, a huge range of other sewing projects open up and become possible 😀

– – –

PJ pant sew-alongs

These are sew-alongs with specific instructions which give more information than in the pattern.
(There are also several ‘chat and encouragement’ style pj sew-alongs, but I haven’t included them.)

These sew-alongs use specific patterns, but the pj pant style is so general any similar pattern would do.
(Making the tops requires another range of sewing skills, comments later.)

Free written sew-along with photos

from Did you make that.
She used Simplicity 2721, now oop and replaced by Simplicity 2116.


She also links to instructions for drafting your own pattern, but I find the instructions incomprehensible. Instructions in Sew What ! Fleece are much better.

A bit difficult to find Did You Sew That’s sequence of sew-along posts, so here are links.
Intro and pattern
Cutting out
Sewing inside leg seam
Sewing legs together
Elastic waistband
Final versions

There’s another pyjama pants tutorial using slightly more skills (side seams, buttonholes), from Stitch and Boots.
It uses Simplicity 5314, a pattern for larger sizes.

On-line video demo

Free detailed sew-along.

Free short video on elastic-waist pants from Simplicity patterns.
see right side menu with this for many more video tutorials.

Craftsy video class on making pyjama pants, pattern included (not free).

from the Sewing Guru (not free).
He uses Simplicity 3971, and adds fly opening for men.



Pajama Party from Hip-Line Media,
uses Butterick 6837
Similar style to above, pattern includes robe.

This DVD has good sewing demos, though they don’t mention they serge the seam finishes. And the intro on what you need to know before you start sewing is poor, just talking heads.

– – –

Designer pj patterns

I don’t know of any designer patterns for pyjama pants, unless you count Cindy Taylor Oates’ booklets for fun styles. Start with ones without the added cuff.

Cindy Taylor Oates Sew Easy Pajama pants


Pajama Party
Multi-fabric styles, includes camp shirt pj top.

P.S. Toni-Maree has pointed out the new Sewaholic loungewear pants pattern.
Here are Tasia’s comments on her pattern.
And on not using contrast fabric.
She isn’t doing her own sew-along, and refers to the Did You Make That one, which I mentioned before. Karen of DidYouMakeThat has added special instructions for :
Preparation, including grading this pattern if you’re not pear shaped.
Making the belt.
Piping and side seams
Inside leg seams
Sewing the crotch seam
False fly and buttonholes
Attaching the waistband
Waistband, hems, and done
Many extra processes, so a pattern for advanced beginners.

Speedy elastic waist pant patterns

Once you’ve made a pair of pj pants, what more can you do that makes good use of the same skills ?
Celebrate what you can do before moving on 😀

Of course, make some elastic waist pants – just needs a slight change of fabric, and perhaps less looseness (ease) to the pattern.

I have the sort of body shape (indented waist and prominent high hips) which doesn’t look good in elastic waist pants. But there’s often no need to reveal the waist area, especially in winter. Simply keep your waist covered with your top or layer, and no one will know your pants add lumpy bulk around the waist 😀

There are many many plain elastic waist pants in suit/ co-ordinate/ sportswear patterns from the major pattern companies, with tops requiring various levels of skill. I’ve just picked speed patterns.
These patterns all claim to be sewable in 1 hour – means they’re simple, but don’t expect a beginner to sew that fast !
Butterick 5153 – one-seam pants, for women, men, children, various lengths.
McCall’s 6568 – 3 lengths, 2 leg widths.
McCall’s 5889 – oop slouch pants with wide hips, tapered legs.

If you’re looking for a slimmer-leg pattern try McCall’s 6843 (not 1-hour).

Designer simple elastic waist pants

There may not be many designer pj pant patterns, but there are several for elastic waist pants. Here are a couple of examples.

Sewing Workshop Ikina pant


Sewing Workshop Valencia pant


(Jackets not for beginners.)
Her other pant patterns have more style elements. I agree with her that if you’re wearing one of those over-sized jackets, adding eye-attracting detail to the pants would both look a bit over the top and drag the eye down to look fattening.

– – –

Add a simple top

Move on to consider yourself an ‘advanced beginner’ 😀

This pattern has more of a beginner top : Sewing Workshop Hudson pant.
For the simplest pant sewing, leave out the ankle shaping darts.


Adding a simple top may involve another set of skills :

add pattern markings to fabric
– interfacing
– stay-stitching
– clip, notch, grade curved seams
– under-stitching
– top-stitching.
make bias binding
– cut bias strips
– join bias strips
– press binding folds into shape.
bias bind an edge
– facing
– over edge
sew together different shape curves
add simple sleeve

Making a camp-shirt style pyjama top adds further skills:

buttons and buttonholes
patch pockets.

The Sewing Guru and Hip-Line Media pyjama video sew-alongs mentioned before show you how.

Making a simple top from knit instead of woven fabric involves yet another skill set, such as :

sew stretch seams using the zig-zag stitch.
sew stretch hems using a double needle.
attach rib bands to other knits.
use a serger/ overlocker.

Some sources of guidance for learning these skills in my post on help for advanced beginners.
And here’s my post listing sewalongs for knit tops.

For simple patterns for tops and layers, which claim to have easy beginner instructions, look at :
Kwik Sew Kwik Start
Simplicity It’s so easy

There are patterns for knit top/ camp shirt/ elastic waist skirt and pants, plus many simple variations, in Easy Sewing the Kwik Sew Way by Kerstin Martensson.

Some ‘beginner’ sewing classes start with a fitted-waist skirt with darts, zip, waistband. For a timid learner like me, those are a long way along the sequence of skills development !

Here’s a pdf of the beginner skills I’ve mentioned :

Learn at the speed which is right for you to develop confidence at every step.
You’re getting to ‘intermediate’ level when you can sew many types of seam, seam finish, collar, sleeve, pocket, buttonhole, zip, placket, lining, embellishment. . .
It’s amazing what we can learn to do 😀

– – –

Do you enjoy making and wearing elastic waist pants ?
Pyjama sewing – doesn’t matter if you make mistakes 😀

How about upping your skills a little further by making slightly more interesting designer elastic-waist pants with added style details ? (pockets, vertical decorative seams, shaped legs) Another post to come ! (now here)

– – –

Patterns and links available May 2013

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Intermediate skills and beyond

May 4, 2013

I wrote a specific post reviewing the ‘Dressmaking’ book by Alison Smith, its pros and cons for learning to sew at intermediate level.
I like project based learning and detailed guidance, so that book suits me well.

This post suggests some other routes to learning at intermediate level, with notes on learning beyond that. The possibilities are near infinite, if you enjoy learning and using high levels of skill.

At this level, many of us get more interested in fit, or making our own patterns. This post is just about sewing skills. See Index page 2 for posts on fit, and Index page 3 for posts on pattern making.

– – –

Additional intermediate sewing skills

The ‘Dressmaking’ book just has patterns and techniques for classic styles and standard woven fabrics.
Here’s my pdf listing the skills covered in the projects :
31 projects.A4.pdf
31 projects.USletter.pdf
Might be of interest as a general guide to developing skills at intermediate level.

Here are some possibilities for learning about other skills and fabrics.

For an easy guide to patterns and sewing techniques for knits and fleeces, see Meg McElwee’s Craftsy video class.

Look at Sandra Betzina’s book More Fabric Savvy for guidance on sewing many fabric types.

More on interfacings, and other classic garment techniques, in DVDs from Palmer-Pletsch on band collar shirt, notch-collar jacket, jeans.

There are brief comments on learning to use a serger in my post on sources of advice for advanced beginners.

I think many ‘Very Easy’ patterns from Butterick-Vogue are at this level. Plus ‘Easy’ patterns from the Big 4, and ‘two dot’ patterns from European companies.

– – –

Making your own way in learning at intermediate level

Most people develop their skills at this level simply by making clothes. Which is why people get upset when pattern instructions are poor.
Pattern Reviews are well worth looking at, as they have a section on the quality of the instructions.

To support this learning, we need a good general sewing reference book.
Many people like the Readers Digest Guide. Full of illustrations – drawings.

My favourite technique book is Cole & Czachor Professional Sewing Techniques.
Aimed at the quality in high-end RTW boutiques. Many more techniques than in the ‘Dressmaking‘ book by Alison Smith. Not for everyone, and not for beginners, as it has detailed written instructions with few illustrations.

I also refer to one of the old Vogue Sewing Books. First issued in 1970, I have the Vogue Sewing Book 1982 edition. I can remember the awe with which I bought it when I got a better job, as it seemed hugely expensive at the time it came out !

It can be worth finding the old Singer Sewing Reference Library series, books full of photos.

There are notes in my post on learning help for advanced beginners about video series which go from introductory to more advanced.

If you like the style, Cutting Line patterns by Louise Cutting are noted for their quality instructions. She also has DVDs with Threads magazine (download or view on-line versions from the Threads magazine site).
And Sewing Workshop patterns by Linda Lee have a Sew Confident course of written tutorials. She also has video classes at Craftsy on sewing knits and silks.

Many other interesting video classes at Craftsy.
And pdf classes with support videos at Pattern Review.

Threads magazine has their technique content on-line at their magazine site.

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More advanced skills

Many of those books and links help you develop skills well beyond intermediate level.

I don’t aspire to make beautifully tailored jackets or couture, though I greatly admire and enjoy looking at the work of people who do. I prefer learning more about pattern altering to make my own styles. I used to think I ‘ought’ to learn tailoring, but now realise it isn’t my style for sewing or wearing.

You can be very well clothed without going beyond intermediate skills. You’ll need to move on to more advanced sewing skills if you like something structured – tailored classics or edgy jackets. Bound buttonholes, welt pockets, sleeve headers.

For tailoring guidance, see my post on sources of blazer sewing advice.
There are many links to jacket tutorials in the menu at blog Easy Jackets

I am interested in other more advanced skills.
Complex draping.
Slippery, lacey, heavily napped or sequinned, loosely woven, ‘performance’ protective fabrics.
Appliqué, quilting, machine embroidery, heirloom and other surface embellishments. I learned most of what I know from Quilt University, but sadly that is closing down at the end of this year. There are dozens of craft sites and embellishment books. Here’s a post with some links on piecing and embellishment.

Butterick-Vogue ‘Average’ patterns are at this level. And ‘three dot’ patterns from European companies.

– – –


Once you move into learning couture skills the sky’s the limit. Hand-worked support for tailoring and special occasion wear. Rich hand-made embellishment. Exotic fabrics. Multiple pattern pieces.

Look at the couture collections at for eye-popping awe.
Some companies, like Chanel Savoir Faire, have videos on the techniques used by artisans with a life-time of experience. The most recent is a dazzling one on hand sewn embellishment. Notice how slowly every move is made – the intention here is supreme quality, not maximum speed and minimum cost.

Many sources of advice. Some easy to find starting points are :
Susan Khalje’s Craftsy video course on a dress.
She’s developing video classes on other garments on her own site.
Claire Shaeffer’s Vogue patterns for jackets and pants, which include 2 levels of technique – high end RTW and couture.
Marcy Tilton’s embellishment DVDs (scroll down left side).
A Challenging Sew has.written sewalongs on couture garments.

Search ‘couture’ and ‘tailoring’ at Amazon for books on how to achieve these effects.

This is the level for people who love the challenge of Vogue ‘Advanced’ patterns or Burda ‘four dots’. And the articles on technique in Threads magazine.

– – –

Most sewing skills are ‘craft’ skills, best learned by demonstration and guidance from an expert. Now sewing is rarely taught in school, it’s good to see the development of on-line and DVD video resources.
There are many links to on-line sources of advice and DVDs in the right hand menu here. (Click on red header if the menu isn’t showing.)
I like to learn from videos supported by books. Some people are good at remembering demos. Unless the video segments are short, I need a good reference book to help with remembering the details.

I’m happy with sewing at intermediate level.
I do prefer sewing slowly and I like quality, but these attitudes can be applied at every level of difficulty.

The higher levels of attainment are not for me to work towards for myself. But I do enjoy looking at and being awed by the marvellous achievements of people with these high levels of skill.

No one develops all these skills overnight. But they can be very rewarding to learn and use, if that’s what you’re interested in.
Have an exciting time if you enjoy learning 😀

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Links available April 2013

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