With The Sewing Bee back on our screens, many people may feel inspired to start sewing. I’ve put down a few bits of useful advice for beginners or those who’ve had a long break from sewing and might feel they need a bit of a refresher…

Choosing a pattern

Many of the patterns out there are classified as ‘easy’ or ‘very easy’, but to make sure they are truly suitable for complete beginners, I have a few extra words of advice. Look to see how many pieces there are to the garment: a T-shirt pattern with 3 or 4 patten pieces will be much quicker to make than a ‘very easy’ dress that has several pieces or a lining.

I once had three friends come to learn to sew together, two of them had very simple shift dresses with bias faced edges, and their friend had chosen a pattern also described as ‘very easy’; but the third ‘very easy’ pattern consisted of a gathered skirt with side pockets, a panelled bodice, and was half lined. Although it technically wasn’t a difficult dress to make, she was disheartened by her slower progress compared to her friends.

To find out how many pieces there are to your pattern, have a look inside the envelope at the instructions. Very near the beginning there will probably be a list of pattern pieces. If you choose a pattern that is both ‘easy’ and has few pieces, then you’ll have a finished garment much sooner.

A few of my suggestions for beginners patterns

PJ bottoms — Kwik Sew 2811 or McCalls – 6848


T-shirts Butterick 6214 or Simplicity 1316


Skirts Burda 6904 or Colette- Ginger Skirt

burd6904_esb  collette
Dresses — Vogue 8996 or Christine Haynes Pattern- Emery Dress


Kimono/Jackets — Simplicity 1108 or Vogue – 9115


Choosing a fabric

Many of the patterns in the ‘easy’ section are there because they are designed to be made from stretch knit (jersey) fabrics. With a little experience, making clothes from jersey can be a super-quick, and a very satisfying way of making everyday clothes.

I wouldn’t, however, recommend that a beginner go straight in with jersey unless they’ve had some help choosing the right type.

Jersey and knitted fabrics are great when everything goes right first time, but they don’t respond very well to being unpicked. If you are keen to get stuck straight in with a jersey, then look out for slightly more stable fibres, like a cotton with a 3% elastane or even a Ponte di Roma jersey. Steer clear of the floppy, drapey fabrics just for the moment.

The easiest fabrics for a total beginner are the craft weight cottons, lightweight denim, linen, and linen mix. Also, think about the design or print on your fabric. A printed fabric can be great for beginners, but try to choose one that has an all-over design, like a spot of floral, and avoid stripes, checks, or designs that need to be matched; there’s plenty of time to get more adventurous when you have a few easy-makes under your belt.

My advice would be to choose a fabric that you can actually wear! This may sound obvious, but it’s amazing how often people come to see me for lesson with a fabric they don’t even really like. Whilst it’s a great idea to practise on cheaper fabrics until you’re more confident with the techniques, there’s no point investing all that time into a project if you know you’ll never wear the finished article.  

Get lessons

Obviously I’m biased, being a dressmaking tutor and all that, but I really can’t emphasise the importance of learning the basics, properly.

Things you can expect to learn in a class (but not all in one session!) —

Understanding the grain of a fabric (and straightening before laying out your pattern).

Measuring yourself accurately.

Cutting a pattern according to your measurements.

Getting your pattern cut out economically.

How to mark up your fabric accurately from the pattern.

Threading up a sewing machine correctly.

Choosing the right needle/thread/interfacing for your project.

How to make adjustments to a garment to get a good fit.

Altering your pattern so that you can use it with confidence in the future.

Really the list is endless!

I’ve been sewing for over 25 years, and I still have more to learn, so I attend specialist workshops whenever I can to broaden my sewing and textile knowledge. I recently attended a speed tailoring workshop, and I am booked onto a bra-making course later this summer with my bestie — super excited about that one!

I know this may seem like a huge amount of information, and for that I’m sorry, please don’t be put off. Just remember to ask for advice and choose what you love, and you’ll be making your own clothes in no time!

If you’d like to come along to one of my classes then get in touch here. 

In summary, I can whittle all these words into three main points:
  1. Choose a pattern that’s ‘easy’ or ‘very easy’, has only a few pattern pieces that can be made from a woven fabric.
  2. Choose a fabric that’s suitable for your pattern, is not too floppy/stretchy, or heavy, and that is either plain or has an all over design that won’t need to be matched at the seams.
  3. Have lessons — look around to see if you can join a class near you. If you are in doubt of what you’ll be getting, then why not use my checklist and ask the tutor whether they’ll cover these skills to find out what you can expect to learn in class.

I hope you decide to take the plunge and give sewing a go, I’d love to see what you make!

Happy sewing! Bx

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