Dressmaking can be a great hobby that can also help sewing enthusiasts save a lot of money on new garments. In order to get started with this activity, it is essential to gather a few basic supplies. Fabric is naturally the most important, then come patterns and haberdashery, which refers to everything apart from fabric that is required to complete sewing projects, including buttons, elastic, ribbons, and the like.
Sewing requires some basic training, attention to detail, and a certain degree of patience. Successful dressmaking is all about impeccable hems and excellent fits. While these goals are not easy to achieve for beginners with little to no training at all, there are a few considerations that can help anyone succeed at simple beginners' projects.
It is important for any aspiring dressmaker to learn how to take measurements properly and how to select the right kind of fabric for each particular project. Whether dealing with a party dress or a simple everyday outfit, understanding the ins and outs of fabric is one of the keys to successful dressmaking. Some fabrics have more body, while others have a tendency to shrink; some require the use of a special sewing machine, while others can be sewn by hand. Learning a few tricks can go a long way when it comes to carrying out simple dressmaking projects with success.
A Beginner Dressmaker's Guide to Fabrics
Choosing the right fabric can be quite challenging for beginners. There are three important concerns that need to be taken into account: texture, weight, and drape. If the fabric chosen is too stiff or too slippery for the design at hand, this can be a source of failure. Stiff fabric can make the wrong dress design look boxy, while soft, slippery fabric can be very hard to manipulate for beginners.
The best way to choose fabric is to get a feel for it by holding it in one's hands and even wrapping it around one's body. As a general rule, a light to medium-weight fabric can work well for common dresses. On the other hand, while sheer or slinky fabrics may be enticing for fancy dresses, they can be very demanding for beginners and should be left to advanced dressmakers. Basically, no matter how beautiful fabric may look on the bolt, if it does not fit certain basic requirements, beginners should stay away from it.
Common Fabric Types
Common fabrics can be either woven or knitted. Additionally, they can be classified into three categories, depending what they are made of: animal fibres, plant fibres or man-made fibres.
Common Dressmaking Fabrics
The list of synthetic and blended fabrics available on the market is nearly endless. However, learning about the main natural and man-made fabrics can give beginner dressmakers some basic ideas about what to look for when choosing fabrics in general.
A versatile fabric made from natural fibres
Can be found in lightweight to heavy forms
Commonly cheap, it is often used in everyday garments
Denim, corduroy, and many other common fabrics are made from cotton
The result of knitting fine cotton thread
Stretchy and comfortable
More difficult to sew than woven fabrics, it is the preferred material for common T-shirts.
Easy sewing, woven fabric made from plant fibres
Commonly used in summer garments
Can be pricey and tends to crease heavily
Woven fabric made from animal fibres produced by silkworms
Shiny and slippery, which makes it difficult to sew
A favourite for luxury underwear and fancy dresses
Either knitted or woven
Expensive fabric that often requires dry cleaning
Polyester is woven from man-made fibres, lightweight and very crease-resistant
Polycotton is a cheap blend of polyester and cotton
When selecting linen, cotton or silk, one must always consider how often ironing might be required. On the other hand, fabrics that require dry cleaning can also be a hassle. It is also important to consider that some fabrics, such as scratchy types of wool, are going to need a lining. The same is true of some sheer, translucent fabrics.
Dressmaking Fabric Tips for Beginners
The golden rule for people who are learning the dressmaking craft is to choose fabrics that are relatively easy to sew; for example, cotton, firm knits, wool, and denim. Likewise, they should stay away from difficult fabrics, such as velvet, leather, and satin.
Another valuable tip is to choose plain colours and small prints, as matching up large patterns can be quite a challenge. Fabrics that do not require special seam finishes should also be preferred.
As a rule, anything that is affordable and easy to sew can work. To avoid ruining the material, it is best to choose a woven fabric that is not slippery or stretchy, which can make sewing very hard. This piece of wisdom can really encourage the choice of either cotton, linen or a blend between both. Knitted fabrics such as silk or cotton jersey should be avoided until one has a little more experience.
Heavy fabrics should also be avoided, as they can be very difficult to manipulate. Bumpy and ridged fabrics, such as corduroy are not recommended for beginners either.
Taking Measurements for Dressmaking
Taking measurements properly can make a big difference in dressmaking. To ensure this, it is important to measure over the top of underwear, which should preferably be similar to the underwear one intends to wear with the garment once it is finished. This can make a huge difference in the case of tightly fitted dresses and evening wear.
When measuring the bust, it should be done around the back, going round its fullest section, while keeping the measuring tape parallel to the floor. The waist should be measured at its narrowest section, commonly right above the belly button. In all cases, the tape should fit snuggly, but not too tightly. In the case of the waist, one should be able to slip one finger between the tape and the body's surface.
The hips must also be measured at their fullest part, and one should be able to fit two fingers between tape and skin, for the measurement to be right. If the garment in process requires other special measurements, it is a good idea to get some extra tips to get them right, as each body part measurement has its little tricks. Finally, when in doubt between two sizes, the larger size should always be selected.
Fabric Preparation, Cutting, and Sewing
It is important to wash and iron fabric before cutting. If the fabric is known for shrinking, it is best to pre-wash it and know what its new size is going to be. While professionals may be ready to cut the fabric after these two simple steps, beginners should do a test run using an inexpensive fabric. This way, they can learn what problems they may encounter before actually cutting into the real thing.
In order to cut the fabric, it is necessary to pin the pattern pieces onto it, for more accuracy. Once the test run has succeeded and the pattern pieces are pinned right, it is finally time to cut the fabric.
After the fabric has been cut into the right shapes and sizes, it is time to sew. It can be a challenge to try to keep fabric smooth during the sewing process. Using pins is the best way to do it; the different layers of fabric should be pinned together, using one pin every couple of centimetres. This can safely prevent fabric from shifting. Likewise, it is important to keep the fabric smoothed out at all times.
Dressmaking is not rocket science. Provided one has a little patience and a few basic skills, almost anyone can do it. The first step for successful dressmaking is fabric selection. Although sheer, slippery fabrics can be very attractive, beginners should stick to fabrics that are easy to manipulate and sew, such as linen and cotton.
When cutting a suitable fabric, it is best to pre-wash and iron the material, and do a test run using a cheap fabric. It is also important to pin the different layers of fabric together before sewing, to avoid sewing them at the wrong spots.
Accurate measurements also play a big role in dressmaking. Measuring tape can never be too tight, and when measurements fall between two sizes, the larger one should always be preferred. A good fit is an essential part of dressmaking, and taking the time to get measurements right can make all the difference. Finally, it is always advisable to choose a simple project and a hassle-free fabric to avoid running into troubles that might be beyond the beginner's skill.
Provided one finds a simple project with clear instructions and well-designed patterns, dressmaking can be a lot of fun, even for people who have never tried it before. Ideally, it is preferable to choose a fabric that requires no special seams, and which has a clear-cut design that is easy to understand and carry out.