Tips for Beginning Garment Sewing

I’d like to share with you some tips for beginning garment sewing!

Although I’ve technically been sewing since middle school, the large bulk of my sewing experience has been quilting. My grandma taught me to quilt and it’s been a huge way I’ve gotten to bond with her. I recently have a new-found love for garment sewing, and I just can’t stop dreaming up what my next me-made garments will be! Earlier this year I was inspired to make something with some Rifle Paper Co. rayon and made a Peplum Top which you can read about here . That project has kicked off quite a few fun, homemade garment projects!

Since making that Peplum top, I’ve also made a baby girl’s dress and a few other pieces for my wardrobe, which has inspired me to help teach more quilters (or total sewing beginners!) how to get started with garments! Let’s dive in as I walk you through the process of making this tank top!

How to Get Started with Sewing a Homemade Garment

Prep Work for Garment Sewing

The first thing you’ll want to do when deciding to sew yourself a garment are to pick out the pattern and fabric you want to use. I tend to start with the pattern, but sometimes you might see a fabric first & fall in love, and that is OK too! If you are new to sewing in general, or not as comfortable sewing garments, you’ll want to look for a pattern that is fairly easy to start off with, and I suggest checking Instagram to try to find one that a lot of people have done before! I love to see other people’s versions and look there for tips and tricks on that specific pattern! I’ve even been known to ask people questions in the comments to see how they’ve altered the original pattern or what fabric they used.

My most recent garment “me-made” is this light-weight, super comfortable tank top. The pattern can be found online for free and is called Sorbetto by Colette Patterns. There are 3 versions, and one of them even has sleeves.

Download the pattern here!

I’ve actually had this pattern on my radar for a few years and if you check out #SorbettoTop on Instagram you’ll see thousands of posts from people who’ve made the pattern! That’s how you know it’s literally “tried and true”.

Once you have your pattern picked out, you’ll want to choose your fabric and make sure you have enough. (The pattern will give specifics on how much you need and how wide the fabric should be.) There are SO many different types of fabric out there but lately I’ve been playing a ton with Rayon and Chambray, on top of my normal quilting cotton. I’ve found Rayon to be the trickiest to sew with so far but also the most lightweight and soft option, and since I live in Florida and comfort is key, I love Rayon!

I chose to make this top with a gorgeous, high quality Rayon made by FIGO fabrics and designed by Abigail Halpin as part of the Eloise Garden collection. If you have no idea where to start with garment fabrics, the pattern will likely make suggestions for what types of fabric will work best with it. I also love perusing the Garment fabrics section over at Cottoneer!

Pro Tip: You may also want to pick up some cheap muslin to make first. The muslin is used to test the size and allows you to make adjustments to the pattern to fit you exactly before sewing your nice fabric. I’ve never made a muslin but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t 😉

Getting Started Making Your Own Clothes

Now that you have your pattern & fabric, go ahead and prewash your fabric. If it’s not already, I like to rip the edges of the fabric to make it straight on grain. To do so, snip a bit of the selvage and tear along that line. I do this prior to washing it.

While your fabric is in the laundry, you can prep your pattern. Traditionally, sewing patterns would be printed on super large thin papers and put in the pattern that you buy from the store. Another newer way to get a pattern is as a PDF download. You can print it at any home printer (make sure to follow the printing directions for the scale) and then tape the pages together. It’s a little tedious but I think it’s worth it.

I like to then trace the size I want to make onto tracing paper like this one! It’s lightweight and much easier to work with than the paper itself, and you can save the paper to make another size later on!

Once you trace your size and cut out the pattern pieces you’re ready to cut your fabric!

*this is the part where you’d want to cut & sew with muslin first, test out the fit and make any adjustments, but I tend to skip that part.

Cutting Your Fabric

When cutting, there are various ways to do it. I personally like to lay out my fabric on my cutting mat, pin my tracing paper pattern pieces in place (follow the layout on the pattern!) and then use a 28mm rotary cutter to cut them out. Other people may use fabric scissors. Use whatever works for you! The important thing is to pay close attention to the grainline of your fabric. Woven fabrics will stretch across the bias but will not stretch when straight on grain! The pattern pieces will tell you which way to position them in regards to the fabric grain line.

How to handle Bias Tape for binding

As you might imagine, binding the edges of a neckline or armhole is kind of like binding a quilt, only a little trickier! Did you know you can make your own Bias Tape to match your projects out of just a square of fabric? I found this tutorial about how to take a square of fabric and turn it into bias binding and I now swear by this method. It is honestly a little confusing at first, but once I got the hang of it, it was great! I used a 12.5″ square of fabric and had plenty of bias tape to finish the neckline and armholes if the Sorbetto top. I love that I did not have to waste a bunch of fabric cutting through on the diagonal!

Marking your pieces

Many sewing patterns will require that you mark specific things on them, this one for instance has darts that should be marked. I found this amazing water-soluble fabric pen that worked like a charm. I actually have quite a few SewLine marking tools and like all of them that I have tried, but I suggest a water soluble washable marker like this one for marking the rayon fabric!

Tips for Sewing With Rayon

Ok so you have made it this far – your fabrics are cut and now they feel SO loose and slippery when you hold them in your hands. They are a little stretchy too, and it is equal parts terrifying and thrilling at the same time. Here are some tips to keep you sane:

  • Small Stitch Length: If you are using a thinner fabric like rayon, you will want to adjust your sewing machine accordingly. I like to have smaller stitches (size 2 on my machine) and I tend to go a little slower. If you are doing a basteing stitch, I like to use about 4.5 – 5 and go veeery slow so the fabric won’t bunch up.
  • Go slow: I change the max speed on my machine to about half as it normally is, that helps a ton with keeping fabrics lined up, especially if sewing around curves.
  • Use pins: I like to use more pins when sewing with Rayon to keep the fabrics from sliding around. These pins are my favorite
  • Make a French Seam: I did not know what a French Seam was until a few weeks ago, and as it turns out they are SUPER easy and eliminates the need to zig zag your seam allowance!
    • To do a French seam, start by sewing your pieces with WRONG sides together at 1/4″ seam allowance, trim it down to 1/8″, press open, and then press with RIGHT sides together. Sew another 1/4″ seam to finish it out. VOILA! French Seam! (I learned this method on WikiHow, click here for the full tutorial)

Have I inspired you to make your own garments? I’d love to know if you decide to make yourself a Sorbetto Top!

Fore more advanced sewing technique tips such as gathers/ruffles and buttons, check out these Intermediate Garment Sewing Tips!

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