Sewing School: Picking Your First Sewing Pattern (Or, I Want THAT One!)

Note:  We interrupt the daily feed of regularly scheduled activities (eating, wearing, and shaking of my boom-ting for healthful purposes) to bring you the very first in Sewing School, a series of posts on how to start sewing.  This post features no food.  But I guarantee that, if you sew, you will get hungry and think of food.  Or eat food while wearing the stuff you sew.  Or, if you really get into it, forget to eat because you love sewing so much and can’t stop until you finish your showstopping item.

Comments and suggestions from sewers experienced, new, aspiring, or McQueen-esque are welcomed and wanted.

_______________

I’ve been sewing for a long time, though by no means would I consider myself an expert.  Watch me attach facings or hurl expletives at the buttonhole attachment on my machine and you’ll see the kind of seamstress I really am.

However, I’ll gladly deal with facings and buttonholes if I’m making something I absolutely love–and so will you.

The trick to starting is to find a pattern for sewing something you actually like and want to wear.  It may be really easy to make a cushion cover, but unless you actually want to use it, you’re not going to feel as inspired to sew it.  Nothing against cushion covers, though–and if you do make one, make one for me too because I can’t make myself sew one.

So, onto patterns:  pick something you like and would actually wear.

You probably want to find something that isn’t too fitted to avoid dealing with finicky measurements, raising and lowering waistlines, etc.  By no means am I advocating that you make  yourself a muumuu.  Though, if you want to make yourself a muumuu, go right ahead and rock it on your own bad self–but no need to send me one.

For men, a good starting pattern might be a simple button-down shirt.  I don’t sew for men and I’ve never made anything for my man (which is why I cook with guilt), but I assume that a simple button-down shirt would be the easiest thing to make (bar buttonhonles, which would take a bit more work but are not inordinately difficult).

For ladies, I’d go with a skirt or a tunic-type top, maybe even a tunic-like dress that could be cinched at the waist.  These things don’t require lots of fussy fitting.  Basically, if it can be bought in a small, medium, large, etc. at the store, it’s a good bet it will require minimal fitting–and therefore minimal frustration for the beginning sewista.

“Pattern Suggestions, Teacher!”, I hear you ask?  But of course!

We can go with something like this skirt (Simplicity 2451)

Or this skirt (Simplicity 2606), which I admit has what appears to be an elastic waistband (that can be covered with a nice belt in these fashionable times):

Or even this gorgeous Burdastyle skirt (the Michelle skirt), which you’ve seen plenty of times on me, as here?

The good thing about all three skirt patterns here is that, even in the case of the slimmer tulip skirt (Simplicity 2451), the only place where you need to 100% ensure that it fits properly is around the waist, because they all float outwards from the waist to accommodate all shapes so you don’t have to worry about how it fits on the hips.

If you are blouse-inclined, something like Simplicity 2892 might be a good start.  Just ignore the hideous billowy main picture (unless billowy is your bag-it’s just not mine) and check out the sassy belted options, which would look adorable with a pair of shorts (if going casual) or a sharp pair of jeans or pencil skirt (for more glamour):

Or even something like this:

Of course, there’s nothing to say that you can’t go for a dress!  If you do, I’d suggest trying your hand at something with the same basic lines as the tops above, such as the Burdastyle Anda Dress or something like this:

Now, don’t let me be a bossy madam and tell you exactly what you should or shouldn’t be sewing; if you cannot live a second longer without trying to sew a fitted-body dress as your first dress, or a frothy and ruffled and flared cupcake of a blouse, by all means go right ahead.  And if you feel the need to make something with a slinky knit, more power to you (and make sure the pattern is labeled “for knits”).

But there’s a method to my madness advice.  The reason I’m pushing suggesting the looser, more forgiving patterns is that they are more loose for interpretation and more forgiving of beginner gaffes than items where you need to worry about the placement of the waist or the exact alignment of the pattern’s darts in relation to your very real, um, assets.

In all honesty, the most important things to keep in mind about the pattern you pick for your first sewing foray is that it should be something you can conceivably make, wear, and feel like the coolest girl (or man) on the block for putting together.  The easier the pattern, the more you’ll enjoy your first sewing project–and the likelier you are to sew again.

My true agenda is now revealed:  I’m out to make converts of all of y’all.

___________

So, ready to start looking for patterns?

  • Check out SewingPatterns.com, which is my undisputed number one, cheap pattern mecca.  It carries a HUGE variety of the  big four pattern makers (McCall’s, Butterick, Simplicity, Vogue), available for delivery by mail or–my lifesaver–by download.  Trust me, this site’s downloadable patterns are what keep me in sewing fun now that I live in Trinidad and having mail sent from abroad is impossible without having it stolen unreliable.
  • If you want to see the patterns from SewingPatterns.com in larger detail, you can always search for them on PatternReview.com (where you can buy them too, if you’re into paying a bit more than on SewingPatterns.com)
  • Of course, you can also search directly on McCall‘s, Simplicity, and Butterick‘s sites, where patterns will be full price.

Now, I don’t want anyone reading this to assume that I don’t support Vogue, Burda, or Hot Patterns, or even the beautiful and creative designs by small pattern-maker Colette.   I just find that the instructions in Simplicity, McCall’s, and Butterick are incredibly easy to follow (even when patterns aren’t marked as easy, which most of the ones I’ve picked out are) compared to the instructions provided by Vogue and Burda (the latter of which makes instructions for even the easiest of designs so complicated that it makes my eyes cross), and I haven’t yet made anything from Colette or Hot Patterns.

So, though the McCall’s/Simplicity/Butterick patterns may not be Project Runway-worthy, they will sew up nicely and provide a great base for some beautiful fabrics, which we’ll be talking about soon.  But I’ll give you an idea… think pretty, think cotton.


In Which My Sewing Obsession Might Require Critical Intervention

I wish I didn’t need to sleep (or work, for that matter) because all I want to do is sew.

I don’t know if it’s a byproduct of time away from my sewing machine, or if it’s the natural result of having ticked various important must-buy items off my wardrobe list (shorts! cute well-fitting shorts! more specifically these, these in white and navy, and a version of these cut to above the knee), but I am just exploding with sewlust.

In the last twenty-four hours alone, I have:

  • paused recorded TV shows and gone up close and personal to the TV to observe the detailing of a particularly foxy item of clothing
  • trawled the Big Four patternmakers (McCall’s, Simplicity, Butterick, Vogue) for blouse patterns–and found none to scratch my itch
  • daydreamed about three or four dresses that I have that can be DIY’d into something else
  • decided that I will take the dark orange lining off the curtains given to me by the Most Fabulous S and use them to make something special and new
  • imagined the dangerous combination of envy and aggression suffered by my sisters should I arrive with a suitcase full of gorgeously-sewn tops, dresses and skirts on my next visit home (and decided that it would be worth it to set the reaction off, even if it means Little A doesn’t let me ride her bike Priya this time)
  • threatened to nip, tuck, shorten or slash every item of clothing I’ve touched

This bout of sewmania is actually a bit scary.  It’s making me contemplate things like freezing my bank cards and asking Mr. L to hide the car keys so I can’t drive (and therefore be tempted to visit my fabric store).

The only solution, of course is to sew things that somehow appease the sewing beast within, such as gorgeous applique tops a la Frocks and Frou Frou, Or, in a potential sewing binge brought to you by lengthy gawping at Anthropologie’s website,  a strapless blouse like the Anthropologie Salitre top, in a big bolshy print or, heaven help me, stripes:

Or this gorgeousness, the Anthropologie Tiny Tucks blouse, in a ditsy (small flower) pattern and airy gauzy cotton, made by fingers of mine that, in making this top, will learn how to do tucks properly:

Or maybe even Anthropologie’s chambray tunic, in a bold solid color or something plaid, to go with my new and shameful love for leggings:

Or even going a bit nautical on something like this Anthropologie Striped Pursuits top–it’s the only way I can get nautical without nausea:

And, because (dresses aside) a girl can’t hide live in shorts, blouses and leggings alone, I’d just have to make a knockoff of this Anthropologie Pollen Promise skirt, but more mini than that because I’m feeling a bit exhibitionist about my running/swimming legs these days:

Sigh.  Not enough hours in the day.

But…..  In the hours of the day that I DID have today, I wore one of my favorite dresses (which I’m tempted to hem up by a couple of inches–see what I mean about being a sewphiliac?):

Performing bird calls--or something--in the not-so-gentle breeze

Put away some great eats:

French toast with softened cinammon apples and syrup--note still-high level of treasured maple syrup, brought home from the States in January

Last night's taco-seasoned lentils in burrito bowl--delicious despite under-ripe tomatoes and forgotten tortilla chips (which I left on the kitchen counter)

Awesome shrimp-squid-chicken Singapore noodles, ginger-garlic Chinese vegetables, and Hoegarden beer, plus questionable (read: gross) egg roll

Oh yes, and I swam too–30 very relaxed laps in a new, very sleek and funky tankini fit for lounging in a pool chair with an icy daiquiri in hand after the swim (reality check:  I gulped down a bit of water before rushing back to the office, but it was still great.)  I might not have all the time in the world to sew myself a new item each day, but I’m pretty lucky to have a nice pool 200 feet from my desk–and the hot weather to enjoy it year-round.