Esme and Patrick would approve: five need-to-know tips to get you started in dressmaking

Dressmaking fabric, pattern and scissors

If you don’t need me to explain who Esme and Patrick are, then you’re probably also a fan of the BBC’s Great British Sewing Bee. With its likeable judging duo, and colourful contestants, this programme is our absolute favourite.

If you haven’t seen it, then carve out an hour, make a cuppa and find episode 1 on iPlayer. It’s so much fun, and the ingenuity in the sewing room is breathtaking. 

Now in its seventh series, the sewing bee generates a surge of interest dressmaking for beginners every year. But without a bit of guidance, it’s so easy for this giddying inspiration to be short-lived. 

So, read on to find out how to get all the basics in place before you begin making your own clothes (or perhaps before you pick up long-forgotten dressmaking skills). 

I’ve also popped in some handy links to the Made and Making dressmaking courses I recommend if you want to remove all the guesswork.

Tip 1: Don't start with clothes

Has it been a while since you got out your sewing machine? Or are you completely new to it? Dressmaking doesn’t require a top-of-the-range machine, but, to avoid time-consuming mistakes, you do need to know your way around yours.  

So, before you begin, dedicate a bit of time to some simple craft projects, such as cushions or bags. Try out different threads and stitches, and test all the options on the control dials. You’ll soon get a feel for it all.

If you’d prefer a step-by-step introduction to every aspect of your machine, with an expert on hand to answer all your questions, then join our Get to know your sewing machine course. It’s endlessly popular and a brilliant foundation for other dressmaking courses.

Make and Making course

Tip 2: It sounds simple but…. start simple

Yes, those glamorous dresses on the Great British Sewing Bee are jaw-dropping. But in my years of teaching dressmaking for beginners, I’ve seen, time and again, how motivated people are when they simply complete something well. 

So, if you’re a beginner to dressmaking, don’t pick a project with numerous pieces, sophisticated closures and tricky tailoring techniques. Instead look for patterns made up of a small number of panels with simple fastenings. 

I tend to start people off with pyjama trousers, skirts, simple dresses or even a crossover apron. If there are kids in your life, making clothes for them is another great place to start. 

In our Dressmaking skills class we talk about how to choose the right type of garments to suit your shape, and how to work out what these are.

Tip 3: Some patterns are terrible – find out how to choose a good one

The huge choice of dressmaking patterns is exciting… and mind-boggling. It’s not just the well-known brands – there are now small, independent companies selling gorgeous designs, especially online. 

But your choice should be based on more than the design – what you’re really looking for is the depth and clarity of the explanation.  

If you’re not able to have a good look through the product itself before you buy, then be sure to read reviews. The sewing community tend to give really helpful feedback, particularly about whether a pattern is easy to follow.

Patterns, and how to choose them, are covered in our Dressmaking fundamentals recorded class – you can watch it right now. 

Get to know fabric workshop

Tip 4: Give yourself an education in fabric

The material you choose for your garment will make or break the end result. 

Shopping online gives you a gazillion options, but make sure you order samples before you commit. If you’re not 100% confident in what to choose, then finding an independent fabric shop with knowledgeable staff will help. 

But before you get to that point, here’s an easy exercise: open your wardrobe, get out the garments you love wearing, look at the care labels and make a note of the fabrics they’re made from. This should give you some clear direction.

But, once again, Made and Making can make this even easier. 

Our Get to know fabric recorded class is a two-hour session covering types of fabric, weights and stretch. By the end you’ll truly understand the appropriate uses, and potential challenges, of each. 

The best bit is that we send you a free pack of 40 different fabric samples. You can touch and feel them as you watch the video (which you can go back to as many times as you like).   The knowledge you gain will help you make the right choices again and again. It’s a game-changer for beginners to dressmaking.

Tip 5: Slow dooooooown

You’ve chosen your pattern, bought your fabric and set up your machine, now you want to get cracking! In our fast-paced world, we’re urged to achieve things in no time at all. 

But dressmaking asks you to take your time. It’s a skill that takes patience. Go with it and enjoy each stage of the process. (Unless, of course, you’re actually on the sewing bee.)

And don’t be tempted to rush past steps that don’t seem important (to you). A good pattern will set out every step needed to achieve a great result. So follow each one carefully, and tick it off as you go. You’ll know exactly where you are. 

Finally, be aware that if a pattern states ‘make it in two hours’, this might refer to the time on the machine, and not the preparation and cutting out. So don’t feel that there’s a clock ticking. 

If you’d like to work on your dressmaking project in relaxed company, with help on hand, and are local to us, you can join one of our Sew Friendly sessions at our studio near Brighton. 

overlocker sewing workshop

Ready to impress the judges? (Or at least your friends?)

Learning to make your own clothes – in a style and fit that’s perfect for you – is wonderfully satisfying. Investing some time in learning the dressmaking basics will set you up for success. 

Follow our hard-learned tips and before you know it you’ll be saying, “This? Oh I made it.”

Good luck!

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