While I don't claim to be any kind of expert at sewing or refashioning, I have a couple of years experience now and i've learned a few things along the way that could have helped me quite a lot when I was first starting out. So, here are my top ten tips for those of you reading who are just starting to get into sewing clothes from scratch or upcyling and refashioning existing clothes.
1. Start Small
Do yourself a favour and don't make your first project a silk and lace ballgown sewn from a vintage 40's paper pattern. Grasp basics like how to sew different seams, and how to make things larger and smaller first, and get to know how garments and materials behave before taking on anything more ambitious.
2. Tear It Up
Sounds strange, but it's not just for the fun of it! I found it very helpful when I was first starting out to take some old and unwanted clothes apart at the seams to see exactly how they fit together and use the pieces to get a sense of how to understand patterns for similar clothes.
3. Use What You Have
It's always tempting to rush out and buy a massive stack of gorgeous new materials from your local craft store, but starting out with old/unwanted/ill-fitting/thrifted clothes and materials means any initial mistakes that may be beyond saving won't be too terrible. Actually, on that note...
4. Mistakes Will Happen
The first time I tried to sew a seam, I sewed straight and neat and just how I wanted it. Well almost - it was also sewn right it to the shirt I was wearing and I had to sit there for almost twenty minutes, topless, undoing all of my work. You'll have to unpick many a stitch before what you're making starts looking like something you would be happy to wear, but be persistent and make a point to learn as much as possible from your mistakes.
5. Acquire (Essential) Tools
I put together a post a while back on sewing tools that I found were very useful, but really, it can be as simple as some good quality needles and threads and some good, sharp scissors. Once you've begun to use these regularly, you'll find that there are many other tools which can save you time, but buying every single sewing tool all at once in the beginning probably isn't going to help you learn to use them any quicker.
6. Learn, Learn, Learn
There are countless tutorials, instructional videos, hints, tips and inspiration posts on the internet, so start making use of them. Find a tutorial you like the look of, then follow it 100% exactly as described the first time you do it. If it turns out good, then start looking at ways to change and personalize it in your own way. Also, don't forget your local library will very have some excellent books available that you can make use of. You should always be aiming to learn new things that inspire you and enthrall you.
7. Challenge Yourself
Once you've learned how to do a basic thing really well, move on and expand on it! If you've made a skirt, have a go at making a dress. If you've learned how to install a zipper, have a go at making buttonholes. Keep pushing yourself to try new things and you'll see progress in your work much quicker.
8. Ask For Advice
By documenting and sharing your progress with others, you have the chance to get invaluable feedback from people who have been sewing for a much longer time and are likely more confident in their work and their ability. Don't be afraid to ask for advice on how to improve upon something, or make a process easier, as you might just learn something that you wouldn't have been able to read in a book or online tutorial.
9. Make It Your Own
One of the main motivations I had for starting to sew, alter and change my own clothes was the wish to have more to wear that were completely unique and different to anybody elses. With this in mind, I think learning how to alter and draft your own patterns and come up with fresh ideas is key to becoming comfortable in your own ability.
10. Have Fun With It
There's going to be disasters and frustration and wasted time and effort, but I've found learning how to sew has been a really rewarding process overall. I'm always learning new things and improving upon things, and it's all worth it for that sense of pride when you're able to answer that question of where you got that gorgeous skirt from with 'Oh this little thing? I just whipped it up last week in my spare time'. Enjoy learning more about fashion, sewing and your own personal tastes and just generally enjoy what you do. Because if you're not loving it, then what's the point really?
I hope this post helped someone out there! Can you just barely hold a needle and thread, or are you a pro at sewing and altering your own clothes? Do you have any other helpful hints and tips for beginners who are just starting out at refashioning pre-loved garments, or did you yourself feel these tips are something you can benefit from? Let me know below!
- Natalie XOX