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Where do I begin???

2tallct | Posted in General Discussion on

Dear sewing enthusiasts,

I am in desperate need of help!  I have not sewn for myself in years, due to lack of knowledge on fitting (I am very tall and everything has to be adjusted), swayback, sloping shoulders, narrow back, you name it!  I don’t have any confidence in sewing for myself.  I learned at an early age and never really took any classes, just taught myself.  I just don’t know where to begin.  I can follow directions great and turn out a beautiful garment by just following the directions.  Any problems, forget it!

I need clothes, and I need to be creative in my life.  Should I find a school to go to?  Do DVD’s really teach you anything?  Obviously money is also a factor.  Taking local classes at fabric stores, etc. has been less than satisfying. 

I have an old Pfaff 1222e, that’s it.    Please help!  ANY advice will be greatly appreciated.  I live in Connecticut.   Thank you.!


  1. cat42 | | #1

    It can be daunting, getting back into sewing after an absence. I think the best way to begin is just to begin. Start with something that doesn't matter, like a pair of pajamas. Pajamas are great because they give you practice with lots of different things, like curves, sleeves, collars, facings, buttonholes. And they don't need to fit perfectly, either; just be roomy and comfy. Pick a pattern that buttons down the front, has a collar and short set-in sleeves, and a patch pocket on the top; front and back leg pattern (not an all-in-one leg pattern), with elasticized waist. Pick an all-cotton fabric like broadcloth or calico. Don't use flannel your first time. Be sure to prewash using the laundry soap/detergent you normally use, and using the warmest wash and rinse cycle the fabric can handle, to get shrinkage out of the way. And use a dryer, too. Then give the fabric a good press with a steam iron before laying out the pattern.The pajama top will give you a chance to practice modification for sloping shoulders and narrow back. If you have a long torso, you can practice lengthening the body too. The pajama bottoms will give you practice with the crotch curve, and lengthening the leg.If you don't know how to make these adjustments, I highly recommend a book called Fit For Real People, by Patti Palmer and Marta Alto. This book instructs on pin-fitting the pattern tissue to make adjustments. It has sections dedicated to adjustments for back, shoulder and armhole, bust, sleeve, waist and hips. It also has a section on moving darts, which comes in handy when you start to branch out with your own designs.And if you run into problems, just try to relax and enjoy the learning experience. If you get frustrated, have a punching match with your pillow, take a break, and then try again.Probably the most important rule in sewing is to pay attention to the grain line. if a pattern is cut off grain, it can negatively affect the fit. Especially if you are using a drapey fabric, or using a pattern that depends on drape. The next most important rule, is to press seams as soon as you've made them. First press it as you sewed it (don't open it out), to set the stitches. Then open and press the seam allowances as instructed in the pattern directions (open, or to one side). If the seam requires clipping, clip before pressing open.You should also get into the habit of finishing the edges of your seam allowances (I normally use a zig zag, but I use a hong kong finish for fancy or tailored seams, or a french seam for light-wieght fabrics). But for your pajamas, and when you sew a muslin, you don't need to finishd the edges until you're sure you will not need to modify the seam.Once you've mastered your pajamas, try something simple and casual. And after making adjustments to the pattern, try it first out of muslin or inexpensive calico fabric. Cut extra wide seam allowances for just-in-case (then, when you're sure from fitting that the seam is right, you can trim off any excess allowance). Mark your seamlines with a thread tracing or a chalkline. It's also a good idea to run a thread tracing (or a loose basting stitch with your sewing macine) along center front, center back, bustline, hipline. You might also mark the waistline for dresses without a waist. And mark the bust apex with a big X. For pants, run a thread tracing along the front and back crease lines as well, and horizontally across the knee and at crotch level. Also for pants, note that the hipline on the back leg tilts at an angle that depends on the angle of the center back seam)For trace lines, use silk thread in a contrasting color. These trace lines will help with fitting, by telling you when something is out of alignment (not level, vertical or horizontal).About my sewing learning curve: I started sewing when I was a child. I've always sewn my clothes because store-bought just don't fit. When I was young, my body fit pretty well with the patterns, except I'm short waisted with long arms and legs, so needed to adjust for that. And patterns needed little adjustment all the way through my 40s.But then in my 50s I gained a fair amount of weight, and my body went through other changes as well (my shoulders moved forward, my neck and chest got thick, my posture got worse, etc.). I just couldn't get patterns to fit me any more. And then I saw that book (Fit for Real People) and decided to give it a try. I've learned so much about how pattern pieces work, how shaping is made, how to use drape to work for my body, etc. And now I don't bother with commercial patterns. I made a sloper (with help from Threads articles), and draft my own patterns using that basic sloper. And if I do use a commercial pattern, I modify it based on the sloper.Best wishes to you, and have fun!

    1. SewistKitty | | #2

      If you have an American Sewing Guild in your area you might consider contacting them about instructors. I am currently teaching ASG members to sew for free. Generally Joann's and Hancock's in our area do not have basic sewing lessons. If you have community colleges or a university in your area some of them offer moderately priced courses as part of their continuing education classes.I like "Basic Sewing" published by Taunton Press as a very easy to follow book for newbies.
      Making pajama bottoms is our first project in my sewing class. I would suggest making a few pairs to build up your confidence. Evaluate each in front of a full-length mirror for fit as you probably will be making changes to each version. As you are tall as I am I routinely have to add length in the legs wherever there are adjustment lines. I use lined notebook paper or graph paper, ruler, pencil and scotch tape to add length. First you carefully cut on the adjustment line. Then decide how much you want to lengthen the legs. Use the pencil and ruler to measure on your paper the amount to add. Be sure to add a little extra paper on each side of your addition. Use tape to put the paper in between the cut-up leg sections or at the bottom if it is for hems. Don't forget to do both legs. Hope this helps.

  2. user-51823 | | #3

    well, one CAN have too many pajamas, LOL. if you need clothes, start out with a simple loose tunic top in a style that will work for summer; sleeveless, short sleeve or long sleeve rolled up (with french seams on sleeves). can you do a french seam? they are simple and add a nice finish to a garment. usually fitting is not an issue with tunics . do a pullover with no closures for further ease. make some easy elastic waistband pants, capri length, to go with the tunic (preferably in a solid fabric that will go with shoes you already have; maybe a lightweight black, navy or khaki cotton).
    personally i think if you were able to make a decent garment before, you don't need books or classes. no one is sneaking a peek at the insides of your garments and grading you.
    but check out some books at the library if they'll get you over the confidence hump.
    best wishes. you'll do fine! (and please post pics if you feel like it)
    "...lost in an orchestral maelstrom of lunacy..."

    Edited 6/27/2007 1:05 pm ET by msm-s

  3. Ralphetta | | #4

    Yes, DVDs can be very helpful.  There are some things that can't be clearly illustrated in still photos.  There is a current Thread started by the editor, it's listed as something like.... Do you think it would be a good idea for Threads to produce DVDs?  People have responded yes and many times have mentioned specific DVDs that they have been pleased with.  If you read that recent discussion you can get some good recommendations.

  4. fabricholic | | #5

    Have you tried any of the books on altering patterns, such as "Fit For Real People"? If you follow directions easily, that would help you a great deal, I would think.Marcy

  5. Pattiann42 | | #6

    I learned to sew in jr high (too many years ago) and the rest, as they say, is history!  Self taught, so this will be brief:

    If you have not already done so, stitch a bit with the sewing machine, using the functions that you most likely be using, straight stitch, zig-zag and blind stitch to see if there are any noticeable malfunctions.  Take the samples you have stitch and the machine to the nearest dealer and asked to have it serviced.  Unless they are aware of any problems, they will most likely just do a routine tune-up.

    I have always based size of pattern on the size that best fits me in ready to wear - inexpensive -  not designer as they use the feel good factor in that they let the wearer think they are a size 2 when they are really a size 12 (exaggeration here).

    I also know my measurements so I can compare them with the size chart on the pattern envelope and select the size that I think will give me a good fit.

    Now, best of all - the big 4 (Butterick, McCalls, Simplicity and Vogue) are usually on sale somewhere, either Joann's or Hancock Fabric.  Those are the only two stores poor me has to shop at.   So you don't have to spend a lot while you are in the testing stages. 

    Select the simple lines to begin with, then as you become more at ease with the process select the patterns with more design features.

    Cotton and cotton blends at first.

    Good luck and happy stitching!

  6. solosmocker | | #7

    You have gotten some excellent advice. I would just like to welcome you to the board and congratulate you on returning to sewing. I have the opposite fit dilemma so can sympathize with the difficulty of finding ready to wear. I have gotten great lessons in the book Fitting Finesse by Nancy Zieman. It teaches you how to buy the right size pattern and how to make the adjustments. Once you do that you will automatically make the same adjustments on every pattern from that particular company. I have a lot of sewing books and have found that one clear and easy to understand and implement. I second the need to make a "muslin" out of cheap fabric. If you have specific fit issues take a picture. Post it here and some of the fitting experts can walk you thru what you need to do to "get it right". You will find the knowledge and experience here are yours whenever you need them. Again, welcome aboard.

  7. ctirish | | #8

    Hi, I live in CT, and there is hope so don't give up. There are several places that have lessons and we have a state ASG group as well as neighborhood groups. Where do you live in CT? I am just south of Hartford and we have a neighborhood group that meets in Manchester although I think we are done for the summer. Let me know where you are we can always chat on the telephone or get together if you need help. jane

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