Sewing Basics: Getting started

You do not need to have a huge stash of fabrics nor a dozen different sewing machines to get started on the way to becoming a custom dressmaker/draper/patternmaker. Whether you make clothes for yourself as a hobby or decide to start a home based business there are certain tools that you will need to get started. However it will not be so much or so many that it will take a long time to accumulate.

My Janome half sewing machine decorated with Hello Kitty stickers. I’ve nicknamed the machine “Kitty”.

A basic sewing machine with zig-zag, hemming, buttonhole and a few decorative stitches is all that is needed to get started. If you are on a budget, Janome and other manufacturers offer half and three-quarter sewing machines that range about $125-175 dollars. These small sewing machines have the kinds of stitches just mentioned plus the benefit of fitting into a closet or small cabinet when not in use.

Those who seek out a custom dressmaker, or who want to make top quality garments for themselves often want fine, handmade finishes and attention to fit and detail. Cultivating your handsewing skills and experience in alterations will enable you to produce garments of higher quality.

A large stash of fabric is not necessary nor always desirable. You might accumulate yards of lovely fabric for which you have absolutely no design envisioned. And then when you finally do have an idea you might not have enough fabric or you might select the fabric in the stash simply because you feel you might as well do something with it.

A supply of high quality woven interfacings, some fusibles, too, as well as muslin (heavy and lightweight), linings (poly and natural fiber) and basting and sewing threads are a better investment especially when on a small budget.

When there is extra consideration to be given for how the money budgeted for sewing and fabrics is spent it is wise to consider the purchase of fashion fabric on a project by project basis. Sketching and analyzing the style you will use first, will help you better focus on what you need when the time to buy fabric comes. Personally, I find this process much more exciting because by the time I locate the fabric I want I’m very happy with the purchase. I never feel compelled to make something out of a fabric simply because I bought it earlier when I didn’t know what to do with it and now want to feel that I’m getting something for my money.

The scissors I use most often (from left to right): Fiskars Pinking Shears and Fiskars 7″ Dressmaker Cutting Scissors. Then there is a paper scissor I use for cutting pattern paper. Last is a Singer scissor from the 1970s.

A rotary mat, will protect the surface of your worktable.

There are many pressing tools that help in shaping and finishing a garment. Two important ones to have when starting out are a sleeve board and a Tailor’s Ham.

Purchase the best quality tools like rotary cutters, scissors, tracing wheels, dressmakers tracing paper and other supplies as your budget allows. Purchasing your supplies from a professional supplier is often the best route. The sales associates will be knowledgeable and able to make recommendations if something you want is not in stock. It is also a good way to become exposed to what kinds of notions and tools are available at this level.

Purchase pins suitable to the type of fabric you use and pin at right angles to the seam line.

There are many sewists who encourage beginners to sew over straight pins. This is not as easy as it looks and it can damage the feed dog of your sewing machine if the needle should hit a pin. It also could result in an injury if pieces of the pin or needle break. Taking the time to baste the fabric in place will enable you to sew evenly and smoothly without having to be concerned about removing pins or the fabric moving around. This may add to the construction time but will result is better stitching and reduce possible harm to your sewing machine.

Olfa Rotary Cutting Blade.

Smooth edged tracing wheel, clear plastic ruler and white dressmakers tracing paper.

It is good to have a variety of cutting tools. Depending on the fabric a rotary cutter is sometimes better than cutting shears.

A good way to ensure that tracings accurately reflect the pattern markings is to lay a clear plastic ruler along the line to be traced. I recommend using white dressmaker’s tracing paper. The markings vanish when steam is used to press the seams opened. A smooth edged tracing wheel can be used at all times instead of a serrated edged tracing wheel. This will reduce the amount of impression the wheel makes upon a fabric. There are some fabrics that do better with other forms of marking. This is why it is important to not only have the right basic tools but several trustworthy reference books to guide you when special considerations in sewing arise.


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