We asked you another question on @SewOver50 in October-which were your favourite go-to, never-fail, T-N-T T-shirt (tee shirt?) patterns and naturally you came up with a veeeeerrrry long list. I’ve trawled through them all and simply listed them here with a link (if I found one) for each so you can check them out for yourselves. As blogs go, it’s a bit of a dull one but you might it useful and maybe find your next new favourite pattern amongst these. Needless to say there are probably another one or two hundred more patterns which you think ought to be on this list!
I’m not recommending or endorsing any of these patterns personally, they have all been suggested by you, the enthusiastic followers.
The @sewover50 account is nothing if not helpful. When Cathy messaged Judith and Sandy recently she said she was ‘nearly 60, keen as mustard, but where do I start?’ Well she picked a very good place to start…hold on, that’s the Sound of Music but you know what I mean.
So Judith and Sandy turned it over to you and you really didn’t let us down (as if you ever would…) I’ve trawled through all your comments and collated as best I can all the wise and helpful advice you’ve contributed here. I’m not sure how coherent it will be but here goes…
First up is simply get to know your machine-assuming you have one [choosing a machine is a whole other post] if possible have a lesson on it at the shop you bought it from, definitely look through the manual and watch the DVD; familiarise yourself with threading it and winding a bobbin; learn to change the needle; practice sewing straight parallel lines before moving on to curves and pivoting corners. You could draw lines onto paper and practice that way (don’t use the needle on fabric after that though, it will probably spoil your fabric by being blunt) one contributor said she taught her child by using dot-to-dot puzzles from a book-one page at a time presumably, not the whole book under the needle…. Learning to manipulate and manoeuvre fabric is something which comes in time with practice, you’ll get there and rushing won’t actually help…take your time.
Get used to ‘driving’ your machine, can you adjust the speed manually? Sometimes the foot pedal has a switch you can change. Have it on a slower setting if that’s possible, otherwise it’s all down to your foot control which again will come with practice. Make sure you’re sitting comfortably right in front of the work area so you have a clear view of what you’re sewing, do you need an extra light? a daylight lamp or a daylight bulb in an old one can be really helpful. If you have the option to leave your machine out so you can use it at any time this will allow you to sew whenever you get a chance and not have to keep getting it out and putting it away.
Gradually compile yourself a ‘stitch bible’ of what your machine can do, use pieces of plain fabric (two layers) old sheets or a duvet cover are perfect for this, then use a coloured thread so that everything shows up clearly. Even if your machine can only sew straight and zigzag it’s still possible to make buttonholes and neaten seams. If there are other feet or attachments what are they for? They might be useful as you progress, the zip foot will probably be an essential although they are usually the most basic type unless you’re buying a high-end machine. Learning a few seam finishes without an overlocker will help you make longer-lasting garments too. You might like to make examples of gathers or darts and other seam types to create your own reference resource which you can always go back to. It might sound ‘old-school’ but whatever works for you is fine.
Ready to think about what to sew? Things like tote bags, aprons or cushion covers are an excellent place to begin because they will enable you to practice sewing plenty of straight lines with a few corners and/or curves. You can include patch pockets, possibly a zip, add trims, embellishment or applique for interest. Everything will help you to become more confident using your machine. Having a bash at making costumes for kids is another great way of getting more confident, you don’t have to be so precious about the materials you use, the fit might not be spot-on but you’ll have fun exploring new ideas. Or what about accessories or clothes for dolls or toys? Kids clothes can be lovely to make but they can also be very fiddly if you’re making something tiny with little armholes for example. Stick to little T-shirts and leggings to begin with perhaps.
This brings me onto another area: you’ll find masses of free patterns online especially for simple things like bags and aprons, sewing magazines always feature these types of project along with well-photographed step-by-step guides. As you progress there are also free patterns for all sorts of other things including garments, many pattern companies will have one or two free ones which, if you’re happy with it, will hopefully encourage you to buy from them too. The Mandy Boat tee by Tessuti is only 3 pattern pieces and really simple to construct for example. With regards to fabric choices it’s probably sensible to stick to a woven fabric like cotton poplin or lawn, or a stable knit like Ponte Roma to begin with, they don’t wiggle about when you’re cutting or sewing, chiffon and slippery satin will have to wait just a bit longer. Another contributor suggested choose a pattern with no more than 5 pieces to start with, what about pyjama shorts or an elasticated waist skirt for example? A really simple dirndl skirt doesn’t need a pattern at all, just gather widths of fabric onto a waistband.
So you’ve got the machine and you’ve got the pattern and now you need to sew it. You don’t need masses of equipment to start off with but I would suggest that you invest in decent quality pins, scissors and a tape measure for starters [I’m set in my ways here because I never use rotary cutters or weights]
Look out for classes locally-is there a fabric shop nearby? what about a college offering part-time courses? There are so many online tutorials that you could learn entirely via the internet and never pay a penny. There are also specific online courses which you can pay for, these are probably of a higher quality and consistency as a result, whichever you opt for you can access them at any time wherever you are in the world. Many indie pattern companies create sewalongs for their patterns so you can follow at your own pace, Closet Case and Tilly and the Buttons are just two for example. Others like Sew Essential, Stitch Sisters and GuthrieGhani (all in the UK) have created easy to follow tutorials, often for specific techniques and processes which can be really helpful. That’s all online but there are plenty of excellent books to help, a really good one is the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing which has been in print for years but has such clear illustrations and instructions that it’s useful as ever. It covers SO many different techniques and examples of garment and fabric types, many that you’ve probably never even heard of! Seamwork magazine and Tilly’s book ‘Love at First Stitch’ were also suggested as excellent sources of clear, concise patterns with instructions, there will be many others which might be equally useful.
Other sources of support and advice (apart from SewOver50 obviously!) are Facebook groups-McCalls patterns have one which offers ‘massive global support for fellow sewists of all abilities’, there are area-specific ones too which you might prefer if they are more local. These forums could be especially helpful if you live miles from anyone else who sews. If quilting or patchwork are more what you want there many groups or guilds for these, I was also told about the American Sewing Guild and the Australian Sewing Guild.
If you like Instagram try using a specific hashtag for a pattern #lbpullover #wikstenhaori for example. You’ll get to see what it looks like on real people of all figure types which can be so helpful before you start. There are loads of SewOver50 ones too including #so50dresses, #so50tops or #so50visible for example. Or listening to a podcast like Love to Sewwhile you sew can be both entertaining and informative.
Another suggestion was to take a good look at the ready to wear clothes you would buy to see what the fabric is like, does it drape well or how has it been cut, or does the style even suit me? These days you can try things on and take sneaky photos in the changing rooms so that you’ve got a clearer idea when you’re planning your makes. It’s also a really good idea to make a ‘toile’ or ‘muslin’ so that you don’t spoil your ‘good’ fabric with errors that can’t be rectified, why not use a old duvet cover or sheets? It’s always a good idea to make a toile in a fabric which is similar to the fashion fabric you intend to use. This is because all fabrics behave differently with different properties which might not work appropriately. Make sure you read the pattern envelope carefully for fabric-type advice, or ask in the shop where you’re buying it; get a sample from online shops to avoid costly mistakes.
As you improve you could treat yourself to a complete sewing kit which include everything you need-pattern, fabric, trims, notions etc to make a project, or what about a subscription box?
What about trying refashioning? Take an old or unloved garment and reinvent it as something new. Or you could unpick a worn out garment to make a pattern from and recreate it in new fabric.
Don’t forget that sewing and fitting are two different things and there’s no quick and foolproof way to learn either, it just takes time. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the size you buy in the shops is the size that you cut out-check your own measurements! Better to cut a little big and take it down than try to add extra (the voice of bitter experience!!) You will make mistakes but don’t beat yourself up over them, do a step at a time and don’t worry about step 7 or 11 or whatever until you get to it. By all means browse through the instructions before you start (especially before you cut anything out though!) to familiarise yourself, gather your favourite books or other information if you’re going to need clarification of a technique. Above all, enjoy the process, this is your time and you’re investing in yourself even if the project isn’t ultimately for you. Don’t be put off by those who finish projects quicker than you, they’ve probably been doing it for longer than you. Blanca of @Blakandblanca said “thoughtful making gets the best results” and I agree. Even those of us who have sewn for decades were beginners once and I certainly still make mistakes, to quote Einstein (approximately) “a person who never made a mistake never made anything” or something like that.
Thank you to every single person who contributed their thoughts and advice on the original post, I can’t possibly attribute each one I’ve used unfortunately but I hope everyone, especially nervous beginners, will find this post useful. If there’s anything else you’d like to add you can leave a comment at the end. Incidentally, I wrote a blog post a couple of years ago where I detailed a few starter thoughts when it comes to getting yourself ready preparing and cutting out your projects. I’m a stickler for accurate cutting because if that is correct to start with, and then something goes a bit wonky, you’ll have some idea if it’s your cutting or the pattern (and there’s been a lot of talk about accuracy or otherwise of pricy Indie patterns recently!)
I haven’t attempted to put too many links in here because you’re all over the world so what might be appropriate for the UK probably won’t be where you are. Hopefully you’ll get some generally helpful ideas as a springboard though.
Trend are fashion-forward indie pattern company based in London and I’ve already used their Asymmetric Dress pattern twice (and reviewed it here) I even wore the first one for the Love Sewing magazine Sew Over 50 photo shoot too because I felt it was such a striking but wearable dress that it deserved to be seen in a national sewing publication!
The next Trend pattern I’ve decided to tackle is the Frilled Hem Top TPC5 and it’s another goody as far as I’m concerned. As well as the ruffle detail it features some interesting diagonal seam lines (there’s no side seam) The degree of difficulty is described as moderate and I’d agree with that because although the techniques used aren’t difficult you need to keep your wits about you to ensure that you’re attaching the pieces to the right seams, it could be easy to lose sight of which way up they are because the usual ‘landmarks’ like armholes or necklines aren’t so obvious. There are photographs as well as written instructions, which are fairly clear, at the end of the day it’s a simple top and so long as the ruffle goes in first attached to the right pieces then adding the back yoke and sleeves is straightforward. I hadn’t got a suitable zip, I’d thought about using an exposed metal zip but the one I had in my stash was too chunky for the weight of the fabric so I opted for a simple button and hand sewn loop closure instead.
My fabric was a very thin cotton I’d picked up from a swap sometime ago-I couldn’t really say what it is as it isn’t soft like lawn, or sheer like voile, it’s slightly more crisp like poplin but less weighty. Whatever, it’s worked just fine for this and it didn’t cost me anything!
As I was making the top at this year’s Stitchroom Sewcial I was fortunate to be able to use the industrial rolled hem machine to finish the edge of the ruffle, it’s super-quick and neat and took me about 30 seconds to hem the whole piece instead of my usual pin-hem finish which would take at least half an hour!
As I didn’t have much fabric, plus I wanted to wear it as a summer top, I cut the sleeves down to short length. I was a little concerned that they looked like they may be a bit snug on my not-very-slim arms, the bicep measurement seemed to be ok but the crown looked narrow. I decided to go ahead and insert the sleeves and actually they are just fine as you can see from the photos. As there is no underarm seam to match the sleeve to it’s vital that the shoulder/sleeve head notches are marked or you’ll struggle to insert them properly. I’ve made a straight-from-the-packet size 14 again and the fit is spot on for me with no alterations, it’s a good fit across the shoulders and upper chest area and then flares out over the hips.
There are two points in the instructions which are useful and important to follow. The first is very simple, it tells you to ’sink stitch’ (that’s what it always was until ’stitch in the ditch’ became a thing) through the shoulder seams to hold the neck facings securely in position, this is both quicker and more effective than hand stitching them down I always think. The second point is that you can’t sew the whole hem up all in one go, you’ll need to sew the centre front section, stop, move the frill out of the way and then recommence the rest of the hem. If you don’t you’ll just sew over the frill which will look terrible.
So that’s the Frilled Hem Top, it should probably take around half to a whole day to make, it took me longer because I was nattering at the Sewcial quite a lot, and then I made a super-quick Mandy Boat T-shirt using the industrial coverlock machines in between too.
The TPC5 takes a little under 2 metres of fabric, probably less if you’re making it sleeveless or short sleeves. The size range isn’t extensive, 6-16 UK sizes, and they aren’t the cheapest but I’ve been very happy with the two I have and I’ll definitely make some more variations of this particular pattern. You could create some really interesting looks by using contrasting fabrics or colours, or leave out the frill completely to show off the unusual seam lines?
Trend have a wide range of patterns now, which don’t necessarily appeal to everyone but I think they are well worth a look at because of their unusual styling and details. They may look scarily fashion-forward but if you want something which is less predictable and run-of-the-mill in a sea of ‘meh’ patterns then, in my unsolicited opinion, they are a good bet. They often have a flash discount offer too so keep your eyes peeled for them!