Here I am making a note of all the useful sewing resources, tools and videos I come across so you can delve in and learn about drafting patterns, quilting, which tools to buy etc. It is random and follows my own unique interests but over time it will hopefully become very useful!
Obviously if you get stuck I am here to help. Often I can provide little sparks of support by WhatsApp message but if you need more involved help please consider booking a private class. I have done classes on dart manipulation, full bust adjustments, taking measurements, patchwork quilting, sewing a Dracula cloak, making a bumbag, and creating a bespoke baby quilt, anything really that a group class doesn't cater for, and can be a really useful investment as it is so highly focused to what you need. And when!
Supplies - what do you really need?
For sewing you will need:Fabric shears - they don't need to be expensive or fancy! Some of my favourites are the purple handled Kai ones and they're only £25 (in fact I sell them in my studio and online shop!)
* Embroidery scissors. You need these by your machine to cut threads as you go.
* An accurate tape measure
* Decent thread. For dressmaking you need either Coats Duet or Gütermann Sew All. Anything cheap and cheerful is not strong enough for dressmaking. There are other, more expensive brands out there. just make sure your thread is polyester, nicely wound so it's not fluffy and is a good consistent thickness all the way. Do not use cotton threads ever and don't use old thread or anything from the pound shop/ charity shop/ supermarket.
* Excellent quality needles - I only use Schmetz ones now. I cannot stress enough how important a needle is. Change it regularly. This too is vital. Damaged or blunt needles cause untold problems. (I sell them in my studio and online shop)
* Sharp pins. I like flat headed long ones, and glass headed ones you can iron over without melting them but whatever you use don't use ones without heads, they are annoying to remove and if you drop one inside your machine it can cause havoc! Make sure they are sharp, lots of pins are rubbish and blunt or rough! (I sell the glass headed ones in my studio and online shop)
* Something decent to mark fabric with. I love Pilot Frixion pens, they are cheap, come in a range of colours, they iron off fabric, and they work well, make a sharp mark, and last ages. For dark fabrics I use white fabric wax pencils.
* I love masking tape to mark seam allowances. Pick a colour that contrasts with your machine! (I sell purple tape in my studio and online shop)
* Stitch unpicker. You WILL need one, everyone makes mistakes, it's just the way it goes.
* An iron and something to iron on, I like the Duronic mini iron and wool ironing mat if short on space.
For dressmaking you will need:* A ruler, I use a long (24") quilting ruler as it is really helpful to have a see through ruler with inch lines, and angles, and 90 degree corners, marked on it. A yard stick or other long ruler could work too. A French or dressmaking ruler is also useful if you don't like marking curves freehand.
* Tape to stick pattern pieces together. Clear tape is preferable and especially the kind you can write on. Actually I have just started using glue and it is SO much quicker. I use a funky yellow Japanese glue I bought in the Tate and it is great.
* Paper scissors
* Fabric pens/ markers in different colours (see below in the dressmaking section too)
* Pattern weights - you can buy some funky ones or make your own or use cups of tea or tins of beans or pebbels etc
* A rotary cutter. I prefer this to fabric scissors when cutting patterns, it is quicker and more accurate. Get one with a retractable blade as it is WAY safer
Sewing machines, and a review of my own favourite - Janome 6700PYou obviously will need a sewing machine. I have very strong feelings about some of the brands I seem to forever be fixing (looking at you Singer and supermarket machines!). They aren't even really cheaper than good machines and they are often frustrating to use and don't last at all. Buy a machine from a proper shop, stick to a reputable brand (in my opinion you cannot go wrong with a Janome or the John Lewis own brand (made by Janome). Machines from the 1960s or before are often wonderful, strong, metal bodied, sturdy, and Berninas are some of the best machines out there (NOT Bernette though, I haven't met one I liked yet). Do not be tempted by a myriad of stitches you likely won't use, and don't pick one up along with your cat food and wine from a shop that isn't a sewing machine shop. Do not buy second hand on Ebay, I cannot tell you how often people bring an Ebay machine to me as it doesn't actually work. Go to a shop such as Regent Sewing in Ilford where they can match your needs with the perfect machine and where you can try them out as the "best" machine is also often a very personal choice.
My own very favourite sewing machine deserves a mention here. It is a Janome 6700P and it is an absolute work horse. I have had it for 2.5 years and use it almost every day. It can sew a fast straight stitch like an industrial machine, it even has a dedicated straight stitch stitch-plate. It has a large bed (11"?) to handle even king size quilts. It is fast, accurate, reliable. It embroiders like a champ. It is heavy and durable. It has remained a favourite in the sewing community and the reviews consistently rave about it. The only thing I have found not as strong as I would have liked it is the plastic drop in bobbin case, I have already had to replace it and now this one got damaged when a needle got stuck when free motion quilting. I don't understand why high end machines use a shitty plastic bobbin case but there we are. I guess it is useful to be able to see how much thread is on your bobbin and an old machine I had which used a bobbin thread sensor was a disaster as it read it incorrectly all the time and would not work if it thought the bobbin was low on thread. These bobbin systems are my pet hate but I guess spending £40 replacing the case every couple of years isn't too awful! But other than that it really is the best machine I have ever used, it comes without the prima donna temperament that lots of high end machines come with which is great. It comes with a hefty price tag and is definitely more geared towards professionals but if you have the space (she's a large girl!) and money you cannot go wrong with this beautiful beast of a machine. I bought mine from Regent Sewing in Ilford, they are on 020 8478 0669. Or talk to me as I should be able to get you a discount (this goes for all machines they stock!)
Do I need an overlocker?
Pressing mattersIron When sewing you will need an iron. I have both a large steam generator (a Polti I love) and a full size ironing board and a small portable one (Duronic) and a wool pressing mat.
Pressing cloth I use a piece of plain white sheeting between my iron and my fabric especially if I am ironing on tricky fabrics or adding bondaweb or am not 100% sure my iron is clean. Better safe thansorry!
Tailor's ham A tailor's ham is useful for pressing darts or curved seams as it can be squashed into any curve which an ironing board can't do of course.
Here is how to make one: cut two ovals out of some funky fabric, it needs to be a natural material so it doesn't melt when you iron it, but whether that is linen or wool or cotton or canvas is neither here nor there. I would stay away from texture so you don't iron ridges into your garments! Don't forget to add a decent seam allowance. You can make a few in different sizes if you want. I have a small very solid one and a larger floppier one, and they are both useful. I also have a sleeve roll which is basically the same thing but in a different shape! The sleeve roll will be much longer than it is wide, and each piece should be around 10cm wide, bigger if you just want to use it for adult sleeves. Rounded corners are easier to sew and use, you can use a mug or jar to draw rounded edges around! Sew the two fabric pieces together right sides facing, leaving a big enough gap to turn. Make sure you back stitch at both ends! Turn right side out and stuff very densely with saw dust, rice, wood shavings, anything that can take heat and can be molded into shape. Stuff it more tightly than you think is possible! Then hand stitch the opening shut. I enclosed a loop in the seams so I could hang them up. To do this cut a length or ribbon, fold this right sides out and line the raw edges up with the raw edges of the fabric before sewing all the way round. The ribbon faces inwards as you are sewing which feel counter intuitive but it means it will turn out with your fabric and face the right way out!
You can get all manner of pressing tools such as a clapper and a sleeve board (a teeny ironing board, I highly suggest investing in one) but rather than buy everything before starting, just start sewing and make do and see what you really feel you cannot do without.
Measure, find your size, adjust size and cut pattern* Take accurate measurements. There is NO point cheating here as you will just end up with clothes that don't fit. Make sure you measure over only things like underwear, leggings, a t shirt. Not jeans or jumpers etc. And larger people are advised to measure when sitting down as larger bodies spread when sitting down and you don't want to make well fitting jeans only to find they no longer fit when seated! Please check out Cashmerette's tutorials as they really are so helpful https://www.cashmerette.com/pages/tutorials-sewalongs#shopify-section-tutorials
* Bust – Measure across the widest part of your chest, across your nipples. Don't pull the tape too tight and make sure it lays flat across your back.
* Waist – your waist is either at the narrowest part of you or if you don't have a noticeable indent it is where you crease when bending to the side.
* Hip – This measurement is taken across the widest part of your bottom, whether that incorporates your padding on your hips or your bottom or both. It is not taken on your hip bone level but generally much lower down
The following measurements are less common but can be very useful:
* Upper bust – take across your chest above your breasts/ under your arm
* Upper hip – this is measured around 2-3″ below your waist and is useful when making trousers and skirts that finish above the hip. Again make sure you keep your tape measure straight as you go around your body.
* Neck – If you make any garments with a collar knowing your neck measurement is really useful. Measure all the way around your neck above your collar bone.
* Shoulder – A helpful measurement if your shoulders are wider or narrower than the pattern. Measure from the point your shoulder meets your neck to the top edge of your shoulder.
* Arm – measuring the full length of your arm from the top edge of your shoulder to your wrist is useful for sleeve and cuff adjustments.
* Wrist – measure around your wrist just above your hand, it is useful to know this measurement to make changes to sleeve hems and cuffs.
* Front bodice – Measure from your clavicle (where the two bones meet at your neck) to your waist, down the centre front of your body (avoiding the bust). Useful for making changes to the length of bodices.
* Back bodice – Measure from your nape (back of the neck where the skull meets your neck) to your waist down the centre back of your body.
* Waist to knee – this measurements is useful for making changes to the length of skirts and shorts. Measure from your natural waist to just above your knee, remember to add on seam allowance for a hem.
* Inside leg – this is useful for sewing trousers. Measure from your crotch to your ankle, remember to add on seam allowance for the hem.
* Waist to ankle – this is a useful measurement to have for sewing trousers and maxi dresses. Measure from your natural waist to your ankle, remember to add on a seam allowance for the hem.
Assumptions about your body, proportions and fit...Cup size
UK patterns are drafted for a dressmaker's B cup* - a 5cm (2in) difference between the high bust (around the chest under the armpits) and full bust.
UK sizes 18-34 in the UK 6-34 size patterns, as well as all sizes in the 16-34 patterns and maternity patterns, are drafted for a dressmaker's D cup* - a 10cm (4in) difference between the high bust (around the chest under the armpits) and full bust.
* Dressmaker's cup size is not the same as your bra cup size, which is determined by the difference between your full bust and under bust (as opposed to high bust).
It is assuming you are 5'6"/ 1.67m. You likely will need to adjust a pattern to be shorter or longer if you are not that height. Don't just cut a bit off the bottom or lengthen it as that will only work with very simple garments! There are also assumptions about the distance between your bustline and waist and waistline and hipline, which comes in to play if you are making tailored or fitted garments in a way it won't matter too much for an oversized garment.
Full Bust Adjustment - FBAEssential if you are making something fitted or reasonably fitted AND you don't have a B cup. Most patterns are written for people with B cups and if your chest is larger than this you will just not fit into the garment properly. A FBA will create extra width and length for your boobs which we like. Make sure you have some extra paper, ideally larger than A4 (wallpaper, even newspaper will do), cellotape, a ruler, ideally something with a grid on it (I use a cutting mat and quilting ruler, highly recommended for dressmaking!), a pencil and paper scissors.
How to add interfacingPlease watch this video as I tend to do it a little different from others (I find this easier, less time consuming and less wasteful). I don't use a pattern piece to cut the interfacing. I always trace over the cut fabric and cut my interfacing a little smaller. This ensures the interfacing doesn't stick out beyond the fabric and won't mark your iron, It also ensure the seam allowances aren't too bulky.
How to pin in dressmakingI always pin across the stitch line although plenty of professionals don't. Work out what works best for you! When pinning anything apart from short lengths always pin all the anchoring points, start with the outer edges of the seams, then the notches and seams, and then finally you pin the rest in. It is unlikely anything will fit correctly if you don't do this!
How to insert a sleeveI always flat-insert sleeves now. This means inserting a sleeve without the underarm seam being closed and without the garment side seams being closed. This is WAY easier than inserting a sleeve into an armhole and sewing in the round trying not to trap bits of sleeve or create folds.
1 If any gathering needs to be done do this first 2 Pin the top of the sleeve cap notch to the shoulder seam RST 3 Pin the ends of the sleeves to the ends of the garment at the underarm point 4 Pin at the notches. Generally speaking the underam point to the first notch should fit together perfectly 5 Ease the rest of the sleeve cap in. If you have created gathers adjust them so the sleeve cap fits. If not make the sleeve cap fit by stretching the fabric carefully to make the two pieces fit. Pin across the stitch line 6 Stitch carefully making sure you don't catch any of the rest of the sleeve or garment. This is one time I often will leave the pins in as I stitch in order not to have everything move before it is secured. GO SLOW
Finishing seams In order to "finish" a seam (a term you will often come across in instrcutions), you can, after sewing the seam, either use an overlocker, a zigzag stitch or pinking shears, to neaten the edges. You can also bind the edges with bias binding but I would only recommend this if your edges are scratchy, need reinforcing a little or will be visible often, in which case it will certainly look very nice. But it is quite time consuming and possibly only for the perfectionists among us!
Stitching terminologyStay stitching Stay stitching is what you do after you have cut your fabric, and before you start stitching things together. It is a stitch you use within the seam allowance, usually about 2/3mm fromn the cut edge, along curves such as arm holes and necklines, to stabilise them and stop them stretching out of proportion whilst you are handling the pattern pieces. Be careful to stay well within the seam allowance! You will leave this stitch in and you won't want it peeping through to the right side.
Understitching Understitching is the process whereby you stitch the seam allowances to either the facing, or the inside of for example a waistband. It stops the edges rollowing to the wrong side. It is important you don't stitch in any folds or bagginess and to hold the seam allowances and the facing etc neatly and flatly together whilst stitching.
Topstitching Is when you stitch on the outside, a very visible stitch, to attach pockets, or pick out the edges of a waistband, or pocket edges, or to attach a facing to the main fabric for example. On jeans you would use a topstich thread, which is very thick and visible, and will requite some tinkering with the tension (trial it on a spare bit of fabric first!). Top stitch thread is not to be put on the bobbin!! Generally when you top stitch you lenghten the stitch lenght to 3 or even 3.5 (test to see what you would like the look of).
Making marks The picture to the right shows the most common pattern markings. If you find a marking you cannot figure out then please do a google search. Notches especially are often marked with different symbols by different designers. I prefer a triangle notch myself! find they are the easiest to find on the edge of a garment, whereas a cut closes up again and it will be hard to find it again later when you need it.
Notches are usually cut into the seam allowances, ensure you don't make them deeper than this. If you are using a fabric that frays a lot or is otherwise unstable pls use a marker or thread to mark the notches. All marks made away from the edges need to be made with a removable marker, chalk or thread. Please test anything you're using especially if marking on the right side of the fabric such as buttonholes.
The photo below shows my favourite marking tools from left to right: Prym chalk wheel, Pilot Frixion rollerball, wax pencil, chalk retractable pencil, chalk marker. Some are better than others, and some of it is personal preference. I love the Frixion pens as they are cheap, long lasting, and accurate, easy to find everywhere too. But they don't work on dark fabrics, for those I use the wax pencil, or chalk pencils.
AWAYS test your markers if using on the visible side of fabric. Some will leave a faint mark on certain colours and some won't come out of certain fabrics at all. If in doubt do like a tailor does and mark with thread. better safe than sorry!
Creating a good fitCreating a good fit is something I am passionate about.
It is important to know when to stop though and not over-fit. You are not going to stand still in your clothes so enough is often enough.
There are some excellent online resources for getting a good fit but often learning in person is the best way to learn, so come to me!
Making a toileI make a toile if I am making a complex garment, have made extensive adjustments, or don't know the company whose pattern I am using and am unsire of their fit. A toile consist of the basic stitching for fit, without any finishes. If I am pressed for time I may just do one half of the bodice or shorts instead of full length trousers...
pattern resources for larger bodiesCashmerette are the bomb. Their main designer is a larger woman and she just gets it. Too many designers scale up everything but don't get what actually happens to bodies when they are over a certain size. Rolls, back fat, droopy breasts, these are usually woefully ignored by skinny designers. I HIGHLY suggest the book "Ahead of the Curve", written by the Cashmerette designer Jenny Rushmore as it is truly excellent for pattern adjustments etc. https://www.cashmerette.com/pages/tutorials-sewalongs#shopify-section-tutorials
I am passionate about helping everyone achieve a well fitting wardrobe and my dressmaking classes focus on fit and adjustments to help achieve this.
PDF patterns and copyshop printingMore and more companies are offering PDF patterns only or at least as a second alternative along side printed patterns. It does away with shipping costs and I see the benefit of that. However if you have ever printed a pattern at home and after printing 63 pages then had to trim all the edges and tape them al together you will hear me when I say I detest printing at home. The cellotape makes the pattern hard to store and it's is massively time consuming to put it al together, plus the colletape doesn't last and starts peeling away or gets crispy after some time. So having the option to email or upload your PDF pattern to a dedicated printer who then prints ot off at A0 and posts it back to you is to me the only way to go with PDF patterns. There are more and more companies offering this service, some cheaper or easier to use than others, but I think I have now found the cheapest/ easiest/ best, and they are local-ish too. CLC Essex (https://www.clcessex.com/sewing) seems to have the personal touch and professionalism just right. You pay for the pages you need (most PDFs will have an A0/ copyshop option and will tell you how many pages they are each), you then email them the links and a few days later you have the patterns in your possession, all neatly folded into an A4 box. It cost me £1.50 per sheet for a print out, lots of others are 2-3 times as much as that! They also can print A4 instructions in booklet form, sell you dedicated large pattern envelopes etc. Their range is constantly extending so give them a try.
If you buy a PDF pattern from the FoldLine website you can add a printed copy to your basket at the same time and they will send you the print out without you having to log in to a different website etc. They are a little more expensive but for a lot of us well worth it
Pattern hacking and creating your own patternsPattern hacking Patterns are for some people just a starting point. You can easily adjust the pockets, lengthen the sleeves, redraw the neckline, move darts. But you can take it even further and splice a nice top on to the perfect skirt to make a great new dress pattern! You can have a go or we can do this together in a one to one class
Drafting your own patterns I found this incredible blog where two women have set out how to draft your patterns! There is SO much stuff there, unbelievably generous of them to have out this together. Here we go: http://www.ikatbag.com/2010/11/drafting-epilogue.html
I don't draft patterns from scratch but know how to alter sleeves, necklines, hems, side seams, facings, pockets etc. I do know how to draft a block but I won't be the best at teaching you.
Fabric shops I loveThis is not an extensive list as there are way too many for me to list here. These are just ones I use quite a lot. I use Ebay quite a lot too...