I am a self-taught dressmaker, and have been dressmaking for some time now. I have learned so much – YouTube, Lorna Knight’s Dressmaking Bible and other books have been invaluable sources of information, but some things can only be learned through experience. So here’s 4 lessons learned in dressmaking (the hard way).
1. Press, press, press
At first I was so excited to get an item finished that I would race through all the steps without pressing anything. I would start by pinning creased pattern pieces to un-ironed fabric. Other unpressed bits included seams, darts, facings and sometimes pleats. Yes, I am ashamed of myself.
Unsurprisingly I got shabby results without fail, leaving me disappointed with a dress or skirt that I thought I was going to be in love with. And it was all my fault. Not so deep down I knew that avoiding pressing was a bad idea but I let my impatience get the better of me.
These days I make sure I press absolutely everything. Good pressing means garments are cut out and constructed accurately, and seams are crisp, which effects the fit and the drape. By taking an extra few minutes to press everything I get a much more professional and pleasing result.
Patience is a virtue that pays off.
2. Pattern markings – don’t ignore them
I was taught that pattern markings should be transferred to the fabric with tailor’s tacks, which, I agree, is the ideal way to do it. But urrgh… yawn! Chalk markings do just as well in my opinion, as long as I mark them accurately and am careful not to brush them off. This saves me so much time.
3. There are no failures
I have found that sewing skills are learned by trial and error. Some things just turn out pretty dire, despite my best efforts and it’s easy to get disheartened. I used to get very upset when this happened (*throws dress across room* “I’m never sewing again!!”)
Now I take a much more positive approach. If I end up throwing something away after I’ve made it because it’s rubbish I no longer view it as a waste. Why? Because it will have taught me something. Sometimes I even note down what I’ve learned so that when I come to use that technique/work with that fabric type/use that pattern again I won’t make the same mistake twice.
Which brings me nicely onto my next point.
4. Don’t get carried away with costly fabric
A new pattern can be so exciting! Especially when I find the perfect fabric for it… It’s going to look so amazing! I can just picture it in my head in all it’s perfection! Sure, it’s £20/m but decent quality fabric means I’ll get lots of wear out of what I’m making, and it’s so much nicer to the touch than cheap fabric. And did I mention how AMAZING its going to look? I just can’t live without that print…
High expectations are dangerous at the best of times, but when there’s a big cash investment the pressure to produce something perfect on the first go can really throw me off my sewing game. Nine times out of ten the garment doesn’t turn out as I imagined, the sizing comes up too small or, whoops, I cut a bit I definitely should not have cut.
Of course, many dressmakers make up a muslin toile of a new design or pattern, but that always seems a little wasteful to me. So my middle ground is making a toile from cheap fabric that I like. Then, if it actually goes well I’ll end up with something wearable as a bonus.
Usually, though, I discover the pattern needs altering, that I want to construct it slightly differently, or sometimes I just make something that turns out to be rubbish (because life). And if I’ve only spent about £12 on materials instead of £60 it’s really not the end of the world.
Then I can go in with the better quality fabric I’ve fallen in love with once made any important changes.
It’s worth noting, though, that I have received so many compliments on garments I’ve made from cheaper fabric. So why pile on the pressure by using something expensive? No one else cares how much your fabric cost – why should you? Ker-ching!