General, Making Things, Sewing, Uncategorized

How I sew clothes with no special supplies aside from a sewing machine

It would appear the novelty of my having a sewing room hasn’t worn off yet. I came home from work last night, tired as hell, but after a hasty cabbage filled supper I immediately wandered into my sewing room. I think my intention was cleaning up the space a bit, since the mattress for my daybed in there is arriving tomorrow, but instead I came across a swath of old yellow polkadot fabric. Well, that would make a cute skirt, amirite?


TA DA! Only took about 30 minutes. I’ve had different people ask me what my “pattern” was, which I do not have. Everything I have sewn to date has been winged. But I do have a general broad-strokes process.

Note: this process assumes that I already have fabric I want to work with

Step One: Assess the amount of fabric I have to work with

ariel.pngThis whole “assess the fabric” is entirely unscientific, and I look sort of like Ariel with the sail. This step would be a lot easier if I just had a damned dress form, but I don’t, so I have to use my own body. I open up the whole piece of fabric I have to work with and sort of wrap it around my body in different ways. I have a full length mirror in my sewing room, allowing me to better see how all my various wrappings, gatherings, and floofing abouts actually look.

  • Does it fit all the way around my body? One thing I always check for is if the fabric were to be sewn into a tube whether I could fit my whole body inside that imaginary tube without stressing the seams.
  • Does the fabric have any stretch? What direction is it the stretchiest?
  • Is there slack, especially around my hips? How much slack?
  • Is there another direction I can wrap it that gives me more slack/length?
  • Is this fabric really drapey and flowy or is it a more stiff fabric?
  • Can I see my clothes through the fabric and therefore will my underpants be visible through it?*
  • Do I have any other fabric kicking around that might work well with it?
* this is only slightly relevant because I never wear dresses or skirts without some sort of biker short underneath. 

Step Two: Decide what type of garment the fabric is destined for

I had enough of this albeit ugly fabric to make a dress, a skirt, and a top! The top sorta sucks, but the skirt in particular I get a moderate amount of use from.

After all the messing about from step one I have the info I need to decide what I want to make. My decision process is not complicated or special. I just do whatever looked the best during my Ariel “throwing the fabric on my body until I can kinda sort invision something that would look okay” process.

If there is a lot of fabric and there is stretch, good choices are:

  • maxi-dress
  • maxi-skirt
  • pencil skirt
  • flouncy a-line/skater skirt

If there is a lot of fabric but NO stretch

If there is not a lot of fabric but it is stretchy:

  • pencil skirt
  • mini-skirt
  • pair it with another fabric and use the fabric as a stretch waist/top
  • pair it with another fabric and use the fabric a stretchy panel in a shirt to give it some movement and comfort


Step Three: Cut and sew!

Time to dive in and do it! Sew things and see how it looks! I recommend frequent breaks to “try on” the garment, or at least hold it up against your body to see how it kinda sorta is looking.

Actually, if this is an unfamiliar fabric you may want to cut a bit off and sew it. It is important to know what kind of stitches to use when. For example, you’re reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeally going to want to use a zig-zag stitch (or some other stitch that works with stretch) if you’re sewing with knits or fabric’s with stretch.

In the case of my yellow skirt I made last night, I cut the skirt out into 8 rectangles, and then cut those rectangles into identical wedges so that it was about 2 inches wider at the bottom than at the top so that when I sewed them together it created a bit of an A-Line.

Step Four: Make adjustments.

There are ALWAYS adjustments. My adjustment period is usually the longest period of my whole garment sewing time, a huge part of it being my putting the garment on and pinching/folding/draping it different ways until it looks better and then pinning it, taking it off carefully, and sewing. Frequently adjusted things for me are:

There was a “Buy one, get two free” sale at Fabricville… I took advanage of it. I wore these skirts constantly and got a lot of compliments on them.
  • adding darts to give a bit of shaping and better fit. When I made my pencil skirts I had to add darts at the waistline for all of them.
  • redoing the hem
  • bringing in the waist (I perpetually make my waistbands too big and loose.)
  • adjusting the bodice of a dress to fit around my breasts and look better in that way.
  • Using my seam ripper and taking entire pieces off/apart and sewing it again.

Step Five: Assess the final project.

  • My normal thing is to put it on. Look at it in the full length mirror. Does it look passable? Cool.
  • Try sitting down. Does it pull or get uncomfortable? No? Cool.

    This is me, last night, trying it on as a full outfit to see if I liked my skirt. I did! And I liked the outfit so much that I am wearing this exactly today. 🙂
  • Time to go model it to my husband. What does he think? If he complains about the colour or pattern I ignore him, but sometimes he has issues/complaints about certain elements that are easily fixed and often very good suggestions.
  • Try it on as part of an outfit, complete with shoes and accessories. Look good? Cool.


If after all this it is terrible or weird, well, there you go. Sometimes it can be salvaged, but sometimes it is just… done. And that’s fine. I am a strong believer that even failed projects have value if only so that you can learn what NOT to do. I have had many failures. In general I keep them because the fabric can often be reused or re-purposed, either by disassembling it using my seam ripper, or just cutting it up. Or sometimes I just keep it to remember how effing ugly something turned out. 🙂

This is why when I’m experi-sewing I use inexpensive fabric. I don’t want to get upset if I end up making something horrible because of all the wasted money. Once I get better or more confident I will invest in better fabrics and be more careful.

But that’s it! That is all it takes!

I’m going to soon start trying to make some fitted tops. I fully expect the first few to be disasters. 🙂


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