How to start making your own clothes.

How to start making your own clothes

If I was to pull a positive out of the last two years I would probably have to say the amount of people who have had a go at sewing or reconnected with sewing. My classes since lock down ended have been full of new sewers or sewers reconnecting with skills they had stopped using.

Learning to sew your own clothing is fulfilling on many levels. Its creative and immersive. It can answer your wardrobe and style desires and fit your budget. As well as all that the mindful, considered practice can be the perfect sustainable option for your clothing needs. But where do you start?

I’ve been busy creating a small series for my YouTube channel. Talking through the first steps and key points to look out for when you start your journey. In this post I am going to cover some information about patterns and give some examples.

The starting point – a pattern

There are different ways to make clothing. Most commonly we use a pattern. Patterns are available for a huge range of styles for all the family and in all shapes and sizes. Once you buy a pattern you are equipped with a paper or downloadable template to attach to your fabric. The pattern also comes with information about what fabric to choose and what other items you will need.  For example zips or buttons. You will also be supplied with instructions for how to make the garment.

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PDF v Paper

There are a huge variety of pattern designers to choose from. I highly recommend The Foldline website when looking for patterns. Its a huge resource that cover both independent and commercial pattern designers. They also sell the patterns as either paper or pdf.

If you purchase a paper pattern you will receive the paper templates in an envelope with a printed instruction booklet. When you order a pdf pattern you will be emailed downloadable files. These usually contain a copy shop file which can be sent to a specialist printer like net printers. There will also be an A4 printable file that you can print at home. If you opt for the print at home files, look out for the test square before printing the whole pattern. Some patterns allow you to print only the size you require. The instruction booklet will also be a digital file.

Pattern sizing

A pattern designer will use a standard as a starting point to create the garment, making sure it accurately fits that standard. This may be created digitally or manually. For example when I design my patterns I design my ladies patterns to fit what I call a size 10. My size 10 matches my mannequin size which has a bust of 89cm, waist 66.5cm and hips measuring 92.5cm. These measurements are printed in the pattern instructions along with standard increments that the pattern is scaled up and down to.

The size chart will be labelled body measurements. These measurements are taken by measuring around the body snugly but not tightly. This is the best place to start when choosing your size. Measure yourself and make a note of where you fit on the size chart. Try not to be disheartened, pattern sizing is often smaller that off the peg sizing. If you are lucky and fit exactly or very closely to one of the pattern sizes you may be able to make the pattern without too much alteration. However it is worth considering things such as height and any particular fit issues that occur when buying off the peg such as full bust or broad shoulders.

Pattern ratings

Patterns are often rated by level of difficulty. However I think this can sometimes be misleading. The level of difficulty usually refers to the making process. Not necessarily the fitting process. If you do find it difficult to buy well fitting clothing in certain styles off the peg, there is a good chance you will need to make some fit alterations to similar styles when making them.

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This is Vogue 9328 which I have made. It is described as ‘Easy’. However it has a fitted bodice, for me I had to make a lot of adjustments as I have a fuller bust and with a full skirt in drapey fabric I would place this in at least an ‘Average’ bracket.

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Something like this robe from Tessuti would be a great first project. You can focus on the making process rather than fitting.

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Skirts also make great first projects. This skirt from Newlook patterns would be ideal.

Jersey or woven

These designs are both made from woven fabric. Woven fabric especially fabrics like cotton poplin are very easy to sew with. However you might want to specifically make jersey garments. Its worth noting that even though there are processes that cross over there are also some differences.

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Over the years I have developed a number of patterns for jersey fabrics some with using an overlocker in mind. However all patterns can always be made using a regular sewing machine too. One of the advantages of working with jersey is often fit can be more forgiving.

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Children’s clothing can be a great starting point. There is less fabric involved and especially when they are little they are often grateful recipients.

How to make the most of the process

Starting your journey into garment making can feel a little daunting. Joining a class can be helpful as it gives you focused time and expert advise to minimise things going wrong. My main advise whether in a class or working on your own would be to take it slowly. Savour the experience. It really is one of the pleasures of sewing to get lost in your project and creativity. Putting pressure on yourself to meet a deadline will make it feel frustrating and stressful.


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Julia Claridge

I was about 6 or 7 years old when I had my first go on a sewing machine, it was an old hand crank machine that my mum used with her patients, she was an occupational therapist. I still vividly remember watching with amazement as the tiny perfectly formed stitches were created as I turned the handle. I Grew up in the 70’s and 80’s when buying clothes was less affordable and dressmaking was an answer to updating your wardrobe more regularly. My own mother was a talented dressmaker who made most of my clothes and my sisters clothes as well as a many for herself. I soon got involved with making my clothes, I loved the whole experience of picking out fabrics, trims and a pattern to create a new outfit, then going home to make a new garment or outfit. When it came to leaving school I visited a careers advisor who asked what I wanted to do next. My answer was ..Sew! Read more...

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