At Urban Thrift, we have tons of vintage sewing patterns. Using a pattern is a great way to put your own twist on a garment, because you have complete control over the fabric and fit. Creating a skirt, dress, shirt, or pants may seem more complex and daunting than the DIY projects we’ve explained before, but don’t worry: here are a few of our most helpful sewing tips to make the sewing process go smoothly.
The first thing to know about a packaged pattern, especially if it is older, is that the sizing will probably not be the same as the sizes in modern stores (and even these can vary greatly). On the back of a pattern’s package, there is a sizing chart, and you should consult this to determine which size and markings you should follow. The chart lists measurements and the sizes that they correspond to. Use a soft measuring tape, and have someone else measure you for the most accurate results. If you are between sizes, it’s usually a better idea to move one size up and then take the garment in or shorten it at specific points.
When choosing fabric, there are a few things to be aware of. Patterns usually specifiy in the instructions how much fabric you will need to make the project, and they occasionally provide some hints for the type of fabric you should use as as well. There are also a few terms you should know when it comes to fabric. “Grain” is the direction of the weave of the fabric. Depending on the fabric, this might be very prominent, or you might have to look quite closely to see it. Additionally, some fabric is slightly different in texture or colour from one side to another. If this is the case, it is important to make sure that the correct side is always going to be the outside of your clothing.
Similarly, while reading the instructions, you might come across references to the “nap” of fabric, including arrows telling you to lay the piece of the pattern in relation to the nap, or perhaps even a different estimate of how much material you will need if you are using fabric “with nap”. The sort of material these instructions are referring to are the types of cloth that are different depending on how it is oriented. For example, velvet has a fuzzy texture that tends to be brushed in one direction, giving it a sheen. If the fabric is turned in such a way that the “brush” is pointed down, the cloth has a silvery sheen to it. Turn the fabric 180 degrees and it catches the light in a very different way, giving it a darker look. Corduroy and printed fabrics are the same way. With fabrics like these, it is important that when the final product is assembled, the nap all points in the same direction.
To give a better illustration of why this matters, and common mistakes people make with regards to the pattern or orientation of the fabric, let’s imagine you’re making a dress or shirt out out fabric patterned with your favourite cartoon character. The first mistake is simply ignoring the nap and treating it like every other fabric. You could very easily end up with the characters right-side-up on the front of your shirt but upside down on the back. Second of all, when making more complicated outfits that require many small pieces of fabric to be cut, many people like to arrange the pieces in the most efficient manner possible. To do this, they may shift and orient the pattern pieces so that when they cut everything out, they will have wasted as little fabric as possible. (Think of when you’re making cookie-cutters on rolled out dough: often it’s more efficient to place all the cutters close to each other so you don’t have to keep rolling it out). This is a terrible thing to do with patterned fabric, because, for example, if you turned the bodice sideways on the fabric, when it’s right side up the pattern will be sideways. If you’re working with plain fabric, by all means, squish everything together in the most efficient way possible. But if you’re using fabric with a nap, you don’t want to accidentally end up with a piece with a pattern that is going every which way.
Cutting the Fabric
So far, we’ve given a quick overview on how to work with measurements and fabrics. Once you’ve got this figured out, you’re ready to begin cutting the pattern out and assembling the final project.
The first thing to do with your paper pattern is to cut it out and pin it to the fabric. This is where the sizing and measuring that we mentioned in the first section comes in. You will have to cut the pattern on different lines depending on what size you chose.
You will most likely notice various lines on the pattern. The overall shape of each piece is usually outlined in a solid line. Inside of this line, there is a dotted line. D0 NOT cut that dotted line, no matter how much it reminds you of the elementary school days where cutting dotted lines went without saying. In this case, the dotted line actually indicates where you will be sewing, and the space between the two lines is the seam allowance.
Other symbols that you might see on the pattern are long lines that indicate which way the fabric should be put in relation to any sort of pattern or design on the fabric. There are also little triangles that come out from the pattern. These tabs indicate how one peice of the garment should join to another. You don’t have to cut out the little triangle if you don’t want to: instead, lightly mark to pieces that are supposed to go together with chalk. Once you have all of your pieces cut out, it is time to follow the instructions of your particular pattern to assemble the items.
Pinning and Sewing
It is usually best to pin things together before you sew. Some people also prefer taking the additional step of loosely sewing things together by hand before using a sewing machine to do the final stitching. The first set of stitches is loose and easily pulled out after the second stitches have taken their place.
Sewing machines aren’t absolutely necessary for making clothes, but they do allow you to finish projects much faster. They can also be far neater, especially when compared to the hand-sewing of someone who is just starting out. When deciding on using a sewing machine or stitching by hand, it’s a good idea to take into account your skill and the complexity of the project you’ve undertaken. If you are sewing a larger item, it would be very labour-intensive to do it all by hand. On the other hand, small and delicate projects like plushies and hats can sometimes be completed more effectively without a machine.