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my “home-made” garments

michellem | Posted in Gather For A Chat on

Hello all,

I am new to this forum.  I have one comment to make.  I have sewn since I was 10.  My garments don’t seem to match quality, artistically made garments.  What are some tips that make homemade look couture?



  1. HeartFire2 | | #1

    1. Quality fabrics
    2. correct fit
    3. sewing techniques
    4. linings and underlinings even when the pattern doens't call for them.

    you didn't mention how long you have been sewing only that you started at age 10.

    Edited 10/18/2006 12:52 am ET by HeartFire2

    1. michellem | | #2

      As for how long I've been sewing, I am 48.  My mother sewed but she never really could sit down with me and teach me quality sewing.  ADD, I guess.  We both still work away at it but are usually dissatisfied.

      I was curious if I should take a course or something.  I have tried to find seamstress's  in this area, for some help.  They seem far and few between.

      We both read threads from cover to cover.  I love the real lessons in the magazine.  I don't want to make crafty sewing projects.  I want to learn real garment making and design.



      1. HeartFire2 | | #3

        MichellemThe best class I think you could take that would really really make an improvement in the way your garments turn out is a class with Susan Khalje. http://www.susankhalje.com you don't have to be making special occasion gowns in the class, everyday wear is fine. The class is expensive but worth every penny of it.

        1. ctirish | | #22

          Expensive, I go to the site and she is having one in Paris.. I would love to go to a class in Paris.  jane

      2. Beth | | #4

        Your goal is high quality garments. That is mine too.Have you ever tried imitating techniques in "Threads"? What I've done is try out techniques on scrapes of fabric. I have found this helpful and enlightening. Also, I read to learn, not only "Threads", but books. If I need to go over the material more than once, then I do. If your garments aren't turning out the way you want, sit down, analyze why and go from there.I know of no way to improve skills without work and concentration. Well, maybe when I was young information just flowed in like a river. NOt anymore.Beth

        1. SewNancy | | #6

          I have to agree, that the more you sew the better you get, but only if you push yourself to sew more challenging things and practice anything you are unfamiliar with ahead of time. A few good books will help you to. Sandra Betzina's Power Sewing is a good start. From there I would take a look at Claire Schaeffer's books, especially her book on couture. Also, her patterns for Vogue are a great place to learn how to tailor. She has a very nice new jacket and her instructions are superb and well illustrated. Her instructions for pants are great, with a choice of either couture or rtw techniques. Make muslins to get great fit and don't scrimp on terrific fabric. Jo anns and Hancocks do not have wonderful quality fabric. If you are not near a major city, try some of the online fabric sites for great fabric.

          1. user-216453 | | #16

            Hi, another great book for fitting is "Fitting Finesse" by Nancy Zieman. I've really learned alot about proper fitting and it's a really original way of doing it. In fact, I have been able to sew dresses and blouses for a friend who has a very large bust and is quite slim below, with only a 3 inch difference between waist and hip. My latest dress (princess line) fit perfectly on her, with no tugs or pulling. Here's the best part: I live in Canada, she lives in Costa Rica, and I did all this with just her measurements, no personal fitting at all. Perfect fit, long distance! The dress curved around her bust perfectly, and came into her waist and past her hips beautifully. No sags or poufs or straining anywhere. Try the book and follow her instructions exactly; you'll be so pleased with the results.

          2. Beth | | #20

            Congratulations! Fitting well is more difficult than actually sewing a garment. IMO
            I have been wondering if Nancy Zieman's book would work.I've seen her video and read her book. I'm using a size 8 pattern. It does match Nancy's recommentation for pattern size using above-the-bust measurement. Did you have a problem doing multiple alterations?

          3. user-216453 | | #26

            Hi Beth. No, multiple alterations were not a problem at all. I have found that princess-line garments fit the best when you are making major alterations. I did make her a blouse that had darts, though, and it fit beautifully as well. I also had to shorten the darts to meet the proper point on her bust. I measured her all up before she left and now she just sends me her current bust, waist and hip measurements.

            Just follow Nancy's directions exactly, and it will fit right. She does have instructions for multiple changes in the book. The beauty of her system is that you are fitting to the frame of the body so the neck and arms will be perfect, and then adjusting out (or in) to fit the bust, waist and hip. That way, my friend can lose or gain a bit of weight and the neck/arms still fit right and don't gape or pull. The pattern I was using actually said right on it that the bust must measure 2" greater than the actual body, so I did extra measuring for it after I did the adjustments, but that's the only pattern I've ever seen that insisted on that close of a fit.

            Invest in a roll of "Trace-a-Pattern" or other similar product - that way the original pattern stays as-is and you can redraw a new one for that person that shows all of the adjustments. I use one color for the original and another color for the adjustments, and replace all markings. I also write the date and the person's body measurements at the time of adjusting right on it to keep track, and then put the new adjusted pattern and the original in a large zip-loc freezer bag so they stay together.

            Hope this helps! The book is worth the price; I use it every time I sew. It also has information for things like sway-back, etc, not just differences in body size.

      3. Ralphetta | | #8

        I had been sewing for quite a while and was pleased with the children's clothes I made and some of mine.  I enrolled in an inexpensive tailoring course for a few weeks offered by a community college.  Although I learned some good things about tailoring, the most valuable thing I learned was that the "shortcuts" I'd learned from my mother were a big reason for some of my problems.  My mother was far more experienced and could do things rapidly with confidence.  (She rarely basted.)  I found that taking things more slowly was worth the extra time.

        Many articles put the empasis on speed.  In my opinion, that doesn't usually produce a polished garment if you aren't a top-notch seamstress.

        Along with the other excellant suggestions you' ve received, maybe it would help to reconsider any shortcuts you are taking.

      4. Teaf5 | | #9

        The advice from other posters is great. Here's a little more, learned from many frustrations about the same issue. If you happen to have any commercially-made garments you love, try to copy them as closely as possible, matching the pattern pieces to that garment, choosing a very similar fabric, etc. I find that the sleeves and upper bodice area on most patterns are way bigger than those on my best-fitting tops, and extra fabric in the shoulder area never looks good on anyone.Also, learn to trim seams, edge stitch, and understitch; the 5/8" seam allowance on home sewing patterns is too big for any seam. You can cut it out and sew it that way, but never, ever leave it 5/8" on a finished garment, as it will pull and twist and weigh down seams that otherwise would lie perfectly flat. Edge stitching in a color that closely matches the fabric is nearly invisible, but creates a very sharp edge at armholes, necklines, and closures that looks great. On something like a vest, for example, trimming seams, understitching, and edge stitching can turn a rather clunky-looking garment into a neatly tailored one without much expertise or time. Good luck and don't give up!

        1. NewRenaissanceWoman | | #10

          I agree with everything that has been offered so far. Make sure that you sew straight seams; that edges and match points line up correctly; press as you go; in other words take some pains until you have mastered the individual skills.

          The suggestion to take a class from Susan Khalje is excellent but expensive. Local seamstresses usually don't teach lessons. Does your local school system have adult education classes, either in the daytime or evening. These classes are usually free or very inexpensive and you have the bonus of having a teacher on hand who can guide you step by step. Sewing is usually a popular subject and the schools try to get teachers who can guide you from basic to advanced techniques. It is much easier than trying to learn from a book.

          1. HeartFire2 | | #14

            <<<...snip... that edges and match points line up correctly;>>>I teach a class on how to draft a personal sloper and use it to alter the fit of commercial patterns, in doing so I have evaluated many commercial patterns, their match points don't always match up. Their darts don't always point to the bust point, and the matching seams (ie - front side seam and back side seam) are not always the same length! I was really surprised when I started doing this and found so many glaring errors in the pattern drafting. So, if you find things are NOT matching and they really aught to, go back to the pattern and measure the lines etc.

          2. nance | | #17

            i've just gotten interested in slopers even though i've been sewing for 45 years (egads!) i've just read the article in threads newsletter on slopers. i have a question that maybe you can answer since you teach a class on slopers. in the article it shows how to match your sloper to the pattern to come up with the sloper the pattern was made from and then alter it to your personal sloper. sounds great, haven't tried it but what about the sleeves if you alter the armhole? sleeves have always been a mystery to me.
            and i totaly agree with your perspective on pattern markings. especially some of the new patterns. they are so attractive on the envelope but when you get to the tissue, it can really be bad news.

          3. HeartFire2 | | #18

            First, I usually tell people to try very hard not to have to mess with the armhole, that being said, sometimes you have to. it depends some on what you need - does the sleeve need to be wider for a shoulder? slash the sleeve from the shoulder point diagonally to the elbow point on both sides and spread the top( this is for above the underarm- the shoulder area) if the whole upper arm needs more width you can slash it vertically and just make it wider.If the armHOLE fits, you don't necessarily need to alter that, (but for a large shoulder it will probably need to be larger.There is so much bias and ease in a sleeve head (the bias is at the underarm) that even if you add length to the sleeve head seam you can ease it into the same opening.If you do enlarge the armhole on the front /back pattern piece, try to add the length to the sleeve at the underarm.I hope this wasn't too confusing

          4. nance | | #19

            not confusing at all. thanks for taking the time!

          5. ixs | | #25

            About sewing well:  Don't buy a pattern with just a sketch; try to buy one with a picture, as that can show problem areas of pattern engineering.  It works, as I do that most of the time, but I've also been sewing for a long time.

            I buy lots of books on sewing with great pictures, as I have trouble visualizing written instructions.  And keep practicing, and remember, we all make mistakes; I remember doing a jumpsuit because my girlfriend said it would be flattering; I threw that sucker in the trash after I saw how horrid it was, but one has to step out of one's safe zone once in a while. 

          6. nance | | #31

            thanks i know what you mean. i decided to take marta alto's class fit for real people!! i'm so lucky because she is here in portland. it seems that my body has changes over the years(imagine that!) and thats why things don't fit like they used to.

          7. User avater
            Becky-book | | #37

            You lucky dog!!

            Take lots of notes and please try to share some of the wisdom you gain at your class!!

          8. nance | | #38

            you can get palmer pletch patterns by mcall and they tell much the same thing as in class.if you have a "fitting partner" it makes it a lot easier. i didn't, so the class really helped. the next class i want to take is fitting pants.

      5. marijke | | #11

        Lots of excellent suggestions. 

        If you don't have immediate access to lessons in your area, try catching the TV shows.  I've learnt quite a bit from watching Sewing with Nancy on PBS (although there's a lot of crafty stuff in there these days), Sandra Betzina's and Susan Khalje's shows when those were still on HGTV (they moved to DIY which isn't in our Cable package), and even occasionally from Simply Quilts.  The video extra's on the Threads page are also useful (there was one on pressing recently).  It's not as good as someone right there to guide you, but still useful to see techniques done.

        I agree that a focus on speed doesn't help one learn to sew well.  I'm pretty slow when working on a more challenging project -- and I don't work on it when I am tired and more likely to make mistakes.  Speed comes from having done something a lot and being very comfortable with a particular technique or process. 


        1. michellem | | #12

          Goodness, So much to think about.  Thanks so much for the responses.  I caught myself thinking while I read, "no more lazy sewing". 

          Thanks so much!


          1. SewNancy | | #13

            Another thought after reading the rest of the posts.
            Hand basting is worth the time. It will save a lot of time in ripping out. And try on the garment at all stages. Try it on an really look at it. Are the proportions right for you. Do the shoulders fit correctly.
            Wonderful garments fit well. Go to a high end department store and look at the designer clothing. Look at the insides and see how they are finished. Feel the fabric and take note of what kinds of clothing are in what kind of fabric. Look at the fabric tag so you know what you are looking at.
            Actually this was several thoughts. Happy sewing.

          2. suesew | | #15

            Several responses have mentioned pressing. I spend more time with my iron than with my sewing machine. Pressing doesn't mean pressing the finished garment,. It means pressing, not ironing, as you go. It makes a huge difference,

      6. Lizsews | | #41


        Perhaps you're being overly critical on yourself?  I've received a great many complements on the garments I make.  I proudly say "I made it myself."  People oh & ahh.  I don't stop & point out the hanging threads on the inside or the dangling threads at the hem that I missed cutting off.  It sounds like you've been sewing for quite a while & after a certain period of time your comfort level with sewing goes up.  The only hint I can give you is to choose a fabric that really speaks for the garmet.  If I have a knock out fabric that I've fallen in love with whatever I make with it just sings for me. 

        1. solosmocker | | #42

          A couple more thoughts that have helped me improve my skills over the years. Get out of your comfort zone. Never made a jacket? Make one! Never worked with expensive fabric? Just do it! You will have a few wadders along the way, but you will stretch yourself and each garment will increase in complexity, whether from fabric or style, and you will increase your skills each time. You will be amazed how carefully you sew expensive fabric and how thoughtful all your research will be on sewing that garment in expensive fabric. Another thing I did was to make many of the ideas up from Threads. I remember making a suit and referencing an article in Threads on Armani suits. I did it the "Armani" way, not the pattern way. You must just keep trying. Each garment will bring new expertise and confidence. Good luck.

    2. MaryAnn | | #5

      Add pressing techniques to this list.  Correct pressing during the construction process will make a tremendous difference in the appearance of the final garment.

  2. From my Stash.... | | #7


    I will heartily echo HeartFire2's comments and support the two additional comments made by others.

     1) Correct Pressing is probably one of the most under-rated skills required to improve the finished look of your garments. Even using quality fabric (why bother to make something if you don't love the fabric?) doesn't negate the need for careful pressing with the appropriate tools. If I remember correctly, Threads had an article within the past year or so which demonstrated the difference pressing makes.

    2) Sewing with experts. By this, I mean take lessons if possible, but even following the information provided via books, CDs, and programs will improve your knowledge. Nothing  beats learning first hand with an expert. Just like other skills, we always perform better in the presence of a more talented/knowledgable person.

    3) Good tools. Use the appropriate tool for the task.

    4) Check out the construction of better quality garments. How many of us can be found looking at the inside of garments on a store floor or use their change rooms to check out the inside finishes?

    The key thing is to keep practising and learning.

    Best wishes,


  3. ctirish | | #21

    Michellem,  I tried to have my mother as a teacher when I was about 7 or 8. It wasn't a good experience so when I was 10-11 my mom sent me to Singer Sewing classes.  Still as an adult I felt like everything I made looked home-made.  I have learned a couple of lessons in the past 30 years. One is I am still not happy with the way some outfits come out. The second is to figure out how you learn best, I have to read the directions from start to finish before I even lay out the fabric. Then I have to really think about the pictures in the directions. The third lesson is I need to watch videos or TV of sewing. It keeps me motivated and I am always learning.  And I still take classes for the instruction of new techniques or skill building and the mutual support a class gives you. Plus, the instructor is there to help you when you make a mistake.

    I have several videos by Cynthia Guffey, they are not inexpensive and they are not fancy in the way they are made. Having said that I love them, she is very direct about what she is doing, she tells you why she wants you to do something a certain way. Their are so many close ups of what she is sewing you feel like you are looking over her shoulder. She believes the problems with garments not looking great is we don't  take do the adjustments for a good fit and we don't press the pieces correctly when we are sewing.  I have her pressing video, her couture skirt video, exterior seams,  princess dress video. In her skirt video she goes through the entire process, from fitting to sewing to pressing to hand sewing to finishing.  If you decide you only want to buy one video, this is a good one.

    Good luck, jane

    1. ctirish | | #23

      Hi, I just looked at the website for Susan Khalje mentioned in a note above in this thread. She is going to Paris in November with 12 students to do a class over there.  It doesn't say the class is full so if anyone can make it. Wow... to go to Paris.   Just looking at the pictures was amazing. S

      She is also having a tour of New York, similar to the one she does in Paris. It includes tours of several places  and shopping in Susan's favorite haunts and a beading class with Kenneth King and other great things, a show on Broadway, a farewell dinner.  It is from April 15, 2007 to April 21,2007. There are too many things to go through here, so check out the site.

    2. michellem | | #24

      I've thought alot about my "problem" since my first post.  I learned a lot from the comments and appreciate the input.

      I've learned that I can sew.  I understand assembly but I have taken way too many shortcuts and have accepted less then great garments.  I have a whole new outlook on my "homemade" garments.  I do want quality and I will demand more of myself in the future.

      Thanks, and I mean it!


  4. solosmocker | | #27

    One of the biggest signs of "loving hands at home " looking garments, after poor pressing, is using fabric inappropriate to the style of garment. Stick with the fabrics suggested on the pattern envelope. Know that the first fabric suggested is the fabric the designer used for the garment. I learned this from a pattern vendor a few years back.

  5. user-51823 | | #28

    i definitley support pressing as a technique too- really important. pressing tools help as well: 1) a tailors ham to mold curves, 2) that wooden thingy (tailors' block??); you follow the iron, tamping it down on freshly pressed and steamed seams. it sucks out the moisture fast, which keeps the seams crisp and flat. bulky seams can ruin a garment's look. 3) tailor's roll, looks like a stuffed rolling pin. it allows you to give a good pressing to sleeve seams and to press open seams (on the high point of the roll) while not pressing the outer edge of the seam allowance, which can leave an impression on your garment.
    be sure to use a pressing cloth when you do intensive pressing. any scrap of lightweight 100% cotton is good to protect from scorching, melting or burnishing your garment.

    good quality fabric always helps, but lovely garments can be fashioned from humble material (although in the budget range, natural fibers tend to look more "quality" than polyesthers). conversely, great fabric can be wasted with poor sewing.

    i'm curious about what specifically dissatisfies you about your homemade garments. try to compare with a good quality dress or suit and pinpoint the things that make the store bought one look so obviously better, and concentrate on those areas. if your garment doesn't look good on, but looks better on the hanger, then fitting may be the area you should concentrate on.

    Edited 10/25/2006 3:38 am ET by msm-s

    Edited 10/25/2006 3:39 am ET by msm-s

    Edited 10/25/2006 9:45 am ET by msm-s

    1. ctirish | | #29

      I agree, there are a couple of videos out there just on how to press your garments when you are sewing. It makes a huge difference on the final outcome of a garment.  My mother always used to tell me to press and I would say, I don't need to press so much. Well, her clothes always looked like custom made and stunning, so I learned my lesson.

      We can never find the time to do it right the first time, but we seem to find the time to do it right the second time.          jmh

    2. mygaley | | #34

      Good advice and thank you for it. I'd like to add my favorite pressing tip: when pressing satin or any smooth silky fabric I use a satin scrap pressing cloth and the results are "as smooth as satin". Galey

  6. HeartFire2 | | #30

    one other issue with many of the patterns on the market these days - ESP the 'fast & easy' are that they are rather shapeless! There is not much design interest or fitting to them so they look 'cheap'. Find a pattern that has a bit of design interest and is fitted.

    Look at what's in the stores and looks good on you, then try to find a similar pattern. It's very interesting - Chico's garments for the most part are rather shapeless but they use such interesting fabrics that you tend to not notice the boxy shapelessness (is that a word?)

    1. stitchintime | | #32

      I agree with your assessment of "fast and easy" patterns.

      I also think some of the finishings they put in patterns leave a lot to be desired and make me feel like I'm wearing something homemade. Sort of a home sewer's version of haute couture which is neither haute couture nor an industrial finish. I often copy RTW finishes to do away with the homemade feeling. I remember my daughter telling me many years ago not to put a hand sewn hem on a skirt I made her because that was a dead give away for homemade.

      1. HeartFire2 | | #33

        Its funny how we come full circle. the 'blind hem' stitch on a home sewing machine yells 'home made' to me, and in Haute Couture, hems are finished by hand. Usually with a catch stitch or a blind catch stitch, and you really can put up a beautiful hem by hand, so that's what I do now. In haute couture, raw edges are overcast by hand, not serged, linings are put in by hand, not bagged.I have learned to put zippers and sleeves in by hand and they look so much better than by machine (depending on the fabric). My garments have much more hand work these days and I'm proud to wear them.

    2. Ralphetta | | #35

      You've hit on something I rant about a lot.  The pattern companies put too much emphasis on 2-3 pieces and trying to convince new sewers that solves all their problems.  Unless you are really good at altering the pattern before cutting things out you get left with no way to tweak the garment to fit with so few seams.  Also, they leave out interfacing, facings, etc., all the things that keep a garment from looking home-made. 

      A dress with princess lines takes more time to cut out...but it gives you all sorts of places to "fix" it.  (That is important for a beginner who doesn't know how to  alter the pattern beforehand.)  I have vivid memories of trying to make a vest when I started out.  I struggled with what seemed like miles of bias tape around the edges.  Since my sewing wasn't too steady, it looked really "home-made."  Not too long afterward I encountered a vest pattern that was fully lined.  I was thrilled at how easy it was and how nice it looked.

      I often wonder, who on earth  decides what is fast and easy???  What are they thinking?

      See...I told you it's a pet peeve.

  7. solosmocker | | #36

    I just wanted to add that I am a big fan of Fitting Finesse as well. With the lessons in this book, and they are easy, I finally got clothes to fit my unique shape correctly. I highly recommend.

  8. Rayna | | #39

    I love to watch good sewing videos and like attending sewing expos, seminars, and classes.

    I highly recommend the Islander Sewing System videos featuring Margaret Islander. They have excellent RTW "shortcuts" as well as couture techniques, and my sewing improved tremendously. (I am also partial to books and videos from: Nancy Zieman, Judith Rasband, David Page Coffin.)

    If you would like to easily draft an excellent fitting pant pattern, get "Pants, Etc!" DVD and Book at http://ww.islandersewing.com . The very first pair of pants I made (years ago) were excellent in fit in spte of very cheap, thin fabric. I received many compliments until I "outgrew" them :) I think you will find the drawing/drafting instructions simple to follow. 


    1. SewNancy | | #40

      I have seen Margaret Islander on Sandra Betzina's show and she was always very good. I have never purchased any of her books or videos so its good to hear a positive review.

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