Every beginner needs to start somewhere. Here is your guide to start sewing.
The basic sewing machinery, gadgets and accessories that you'll need to get started
If you are thinking of starting to sew, you’ll need to invest in basic sewing machinery, gadgets and accessories. Your basic sewing kit should contain the following:
There are many cutting tools from which to choose, but a pair of dressmaking shears is the best way to go. Shears are different from scissors in that they have two differently sized handles, offering better leverage when cutting long, straight edges. The asymmetrical handles are bent upwards, so that the fabric stays flat on the table during cutting. Lefthanded shears are also available. The length of the blade can vary from 20 to 30cm. It’s a wise idea to invest in good quality dressmaking shears as they will last forever; cheaper scissors often break in half at the joint. Some dressmaking shears, known as pinking shears, have a serrated edge on the blade that helps control the cutting of lightweight fabrics.
Buy good quality equipment to ensure that your measurements are precise. You will need a tape measure 150cm in length, with metal tips and preferably one that has the numbers in centimetres or inches printed on both sides. Try to choose one that is the same width as a standard seam allowance (1,5cm), which will be useful when you have to keep a constant measurement for seam allowances and hems.
Marking certain parts of your work is essential to ensure that things like pockets and darts are placed correctly. Choose one of the following:
1 Tailor’s chalk is ideal for marking most fabrics, comes in either a square or triangular shape and is available in a large variety of colours. The chalk easily brushes off fabric. A chalk pencil is also available and is easy to handle.
2 A water or air-soluble pen resembles a felt marker pen. Marks made can be removed from the fabric with a spray of water or by leaving it to air-dry.
3 A tracing wheel and dressmaker’s tracing or carbon paper are used together to transfer the markings from a paper pattern onto fabric. TIP If you opt for a pen or a tracing wheel and carbon paper, test it on a scrap of fabric to ensure that the mark made will not be permanent.
Needles and pins
Select sewing machine needles according to the type and weight of the fabric to be sewn and the thread used. Needles vary according to the type of point and thickness of the needle – the larger the number, the larger the needle. For example, 60/8 universal needles are used to sew finer fabrics such as silk, 80/12 for medium-weight fabrics such as cotton, and 90/14 for heavyweight fabrics such as denim. Needles are sold in packs of five.
1 Hand-sewing needles are classified by the shape of the eye, the length and the point. Don’t spend too much time worrying about what size or type to get – make it easy on yourself by buying an assortment. There are convenient packages available that contain several different types of needles.
2 Dressmaker’s pins are similar to household pins in shape and thickness but are slightly longer. Pins come with flat heads or round plastic or glass heads. Ensure that the pins are thin and made of stainless or nickel-plated steel, or rustproof brass.
3 A pincushion will keep pins clean and sharp. Choose a fabric cover – a foam cover may blunt pins.
A sewing machine is your major investment – even if it’s second-hand. Shop around carefully and check what different brands and models do and how well they function. The sewing machine doesn’t have to have the latest electronic gadgets, in fact, zigzag stitching and automatic buttonhole features will see you through most of your work. Prices vary according to the brand, model and its capabilities.
(These are really for the experienced or committed dressmaker.)
• A cutting mat is used in conjunction with your dressmaker’s wheel when transferring patterns onto fabric.
• A sleeve board is actually two ironing boards attached one on top of the other. They are designed for pressing small or slim areas such as sleeves that do not fit over your regular board.
• helpsA dressmaker’syou to make dressa perfectlyform or fitted dummy garment. If you wish to continue dressmaking or if you intend starting your own business it is definitely a good idea to invest in one. The basic dress form is fully adjustable for bust, waist and hip measurements and it comes on an adjustable stand. This means you can set each section of the model to your own measurements as well as to your correct height.
• An overlocker will reduce your sewing time, and it also produces a professional finish as it stitches the
seam, trims it and binds the raw edge, all at the same time. Overlockers are especially useful when working with stretch knits, sheer fabrics and fabrics that fray easily. For example, a machine with three or four threads will give your seam a bit of stretch. This is a great way to protect the seam and to make sure that it doesn’t come loose or unravel. However, keep in mind that an overlocker isn’t essential for everyday use or, for example, sewing bedding or curtains (when you can use your zigzag stitch on your sewing machine). But it will come in handy if you’re selling clothes and want a professional finish. There are many overlockers from which to choose and, like sewing machines, their prices vary according to the brand, model and the overlocker’s capabilities.
Your work area
Whether you’re using a corner or a whole room, you will benefit from having a dedicated sewing space. Keep the following in mind when setting up your area:
The most important pieces of furniture are your sewing table, a cutting table and a comfortable, adjustable chair. Select the largest table top that your space can accommodate, ensuring that it is the correct height for you and that the counter’s surface is smooth and durable. Make your own table by using an old door and two trestles – you can get these at any hardware store selling timber.
A pegboard mounted on the wall near your cutting table is ideal for hanging scissors, rulers, rotary cutters and so on. Make your own by buying masonite with punched holes (available per metre at most hardware stores).
Plan your lighting carefully, keeping in mind that you need general lighting to illuminate the room and task lighting such as lamps to highlight the work areas. Always check that lights don’t shine down on your head, which will create shadows on your work.
Create a peaceful, creative ambience in your work area by making sure that the walls are painted in pastel shades. Dark colours absorb light and light colours reflect it. If you plan on using dark colours, you will need more lighting in your room.
You will need a place to iron your projects as you work. Make sure the room has an electricity point to plug in your iron and that there is sufficient space for an ironing board.
• Invest in one pair of dressmaking shears and opt for an ordinary pair of scissors for cutting out patterns. Cutting paper dulls shears, which makes it difficult to cut fabric.
• Trimming scissors are used for more delicate cutting and trimming and range from 10 to 15cm in length.
• Invest in a seam ripper. Mistakes happen. This makes this handy tool your best friend. It has a tiny extended blade at the end, with a protective cover that can be removed as needed. Slide the small cutting blade at the base under the stitch to cut the thread. Various sizes are available to cut through light to heavyweight fabric seams.