The Savvy Sage of Sewing Stimulation

From Beginner to Beyond – Choosing the Project

OK – let’s jump right in…..First Project on your road toward advanced sewing.  Most of the time I recommend a Shirt or Top pattern, depending upon the time I have in my classes, I really like to start with a shirt that has a collar stand/band, collar, set-in sleeve, front placket, sleeve vent/house-top placket and either a two-pieced sleeve or a sleeve with back not under seam.  There’s a lot to learn here and it’s not so difficult that you can’t learn it, plus it’s a fabuous show-off for your first item.

As a side note: Although choosing the project involves the selection of fabric and pattern, let’s deal with the pattern part first, then fabric next.

You will be tackling some techniques that you are going to have to learn sooner or later, so let’s get to them.

  • Do FBA – learn it….if you need it you’ll have to learn it and don’t avoid it. Anything above a 36B can benefit, but if you’re into anything larger than a 40, you must have it. It’s magical – use it!
  • If there are any other alterations you need to make, take this opportunity to learn them and do them in this project:
    sway back alteration
    height (from bust to shoulder is different than bust to waist and it may be different in front and back)
    sleeve length
  • Take this time to learn details…collar, collar stand, button holes, set-in sleeve.

Since you’re basically learning techniques and some fitting skills, don’t try and get too difficult with the fabric. Choose something classic and useful – it’s really fun here to start with a white blouse (unless you have a plethora of them already in your closet).

First place to start is size selection:  Choose a size that is closest to your shoulder measurement.  The shoulder measurement is a pretty good indication about your size, but also this is the most difficult to alter.  Think about trying to move that armhole in and out, and you’ll see what I mean.

See?…as you bring the armhole in or out on the bodice, it gets larger (in) and smaller (out) and the same of the sleeve head, which now has to match this new altered armhole.

Let’s just not go there unless we absolutely hafta, so get a measurement that matches your shoulder the best.

A good pattern company

In my classes that I took with my teacher, Vogue was the hands-down pattern standard.  They also had the designer patterns and they were marked beautifully.  All Vogue patters had shoulder, bust, waist and hip when available (obviously a blouse didn’t have hip, nor did pants have bust).  They were marked so well, you really didn’t need the instructions and my teacher was fond of saying that the instructions just confused a person, so she never taught to use them.  This is also freeing as you will discover on further down the road.

Today those older Vogue patterns are still good, but Simplicity, which belies its name, has many fine basic patterns that are not only wonderful to learn with, but are equally as wonderful to fit with.  They have a line of “Amazing Fit”, “Project Runway,” and even “Threads” patterns that are simply fantastic to use as great classic styles that in the process of making them up will teach you a lot about fitting.

Note here:  If you do not subscribe to Threads, do, it’s one of the best sewing magazines out there.

Additionally, there are now some European pattern companies that are good:  Burda, BurdaStyle (through the site or their magazine), Knipmode, Ottobre (although mostly kids’ patterns) and Marfy.  Some of these have English labels on their patterns and some do not, but even if they do not, this is an excellent exercise because in these you will learn to look for certain markings and figure out the translations just by the location of the markings.  Even if you don’t know the Dutch, Italian or German, you’ll know what a center front marking looks like and to mark it.

Some markings to look for as standard on a good pattern are:

  • Shoulder (at neck and armhole)
  • center front (a must – puhlease)
  • center back (duh!)
  • waist
  • front sleeve/armhole
  • back sleeve/armhole (not a must, but nice)
  • end of zipper
  • drop from base of neck at center back neck (not have to, but nice)

Without these, you’re basically lost.  Any other markings are sweet, but not as mandatory as these.  If you don’t have them on the pattern, measure to find them.  The waist is one of the most important markings and if you don’t have those on your pattern, mark it – measure from CB neck to waist, CF neck to waist, underarm to waist, shoulder front to waist across bust point, and mark all this on your pattern.  Then remember the pattern company and pattern and note that you had to do their work for them.

One more group of patterns to consider are the Independents….there’s a lot here to consider and each group of Independents have their own specialty.  HotPatterns and Christine Jonson are both heavily into knits;  The Sewing Workshop and Purfection specialize in art to wear, and there are many others that are general patterns.  This is a fun excursion to delve into once you have your style and taste set.  I really adore the creativity and fun that these independent pattern companies display.

I’m not going to go into detail instructions here, as this is just an outline.  And I do teach classes in this and giving that away for free isn’t fair to my paying students.  This outline takes you though, through a good solid path toward improving and advancing your skills.


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