How to Start Sewing Your Own Clothes

I get asked these kinds of questions a lot: “How did you learn to sew?” “Where do you get your patterns and fabric from?” “How can I start sewing when I’ve never sewn before?” So, I thought I would write a post for you to answer all of these questions and more! In this article I’m going to be sharing how I got started sewing, what supplies you need to start sewing, where I like to shop for patterns and fabric, and my top five tips for beginners. There’s also a video version if you’d prefer to watch rather than read. Let’s get started!

Watch the Video

My Sewing Journey

My mom was a big sewer, and was always making clothing for my sister and I as we were growing up. She made our halloween and dance recital costumes as well. So I was exposed to sewing from a pretty young age. I also remember taking lessons when I was in elementary school. After that, I just took the normal home ec/sewing class in high school.

I don’t think I really made a lot of clothing back then, but I did learn a lot of the basics, such as how to thread a machine and that you always need to backstitch. But I didn’t start actually sewing my own clothes up until about a year or two ago.

I don’t want to discourage you or for you to think that you need to have a lot of prior experience to sew your own clothes. These days, I think it’s easier than ever to start sewing with all of the online resources out there! Anyone can get started at any level, and once you get a handle on some of the basics, it’s actually quite easy.

Supplies You’ll Need

The first thing you’re going to need is pretty obvious: a sewing machine. I use my mom’s old Singer machine (I think it’s older than I am) and it works great. I actually don’t have a very good handle on what’s available in the market these days and what’s good, so unfortunately I don’t have any recommendations for what kind of machine to get. But, I do think they are probably quite a big investment. If you’re on a budget, I’d recommend seeing if you can borrow one from a friend or family member, or maybe try to pick one up secondhand.

Aside from that, a basic list of supplies that I regularly use includes:

  • Fabric scissors
  • Pins
  • Ruler or measuring tape
  • Stitch un-picker
  • Safety pin or bodkin
  • Fabric chalk
  • Iron

You’ll also need notions depending on your pattern; some patterns call for buttons, elastic, bias tape, etc. A lot of these things can be purchased from your local thrift store, which is a great way to re-use what others don’t need anymore as well as save yourself a lot of money.

One final thing that I also do is keep a sewing journal. For each piece I make, I record the pattern, what fabric I used, and any notes such as adjustments I had to make, mistakes I made, or what I might do differently next time. It’s a great way to keep track of my makes and help me remember things in case I come back to a pattern and make it again.

Patterns

When it comes to patterns, when I was growing up, there were a few big companies that sold through my local fabric store – companies like Butterick, McCall’s, Simplicity, and Vogue. They are still around today, but these days there are also so many options with smaller, independent pattern designers. I mostly use indie patterns because I just feel like they’re a little bit more modern and I think it’s good to support small businesses.

One resource for patterns that I used a lot when I was starting out (and still continue to use) is the free patterns at Fabrics-Store.com. They have so many great, quality patterns that are beginner-friendly, so you don’t have to invest a lot of money upfront to practice. They also have a great glossary of sewing skills and techniques on their blog, The Thread. I’d highly recommend checking them out!

Other pattern companies that I like include (but aren’t limited to):

There are so many great options available out there, and it’s so much fun to explore them all. But hopefully this list gives you a good starting point!

Also, here are a few specific patterns that I think would be great for a beginner:

Fabric

I mostly buy fabric online, just because I think it’s easier to find sustainable fibres (like linen, cotton, hemp, etc). The last time I went into my local big-box fabric store, I didn’t see much in the way of 100% linen, and the ones they did have were very expensive. A lot of smaller companies ship worldwide and have a really great selection of fabrics to choose from.

Some companies that I like are:

When it comes to fabric, I like to go with woven fabrics like linen or cotton just because I find them so much easier to sew with. They don’t have a lot of stretch and won’t slip around as much while you’re sewing them, so they’re great for a beginner.

Especially when it comes to clothing, sewing a more loose, flowy linen garment is a lot easier than trying to put together a tailored piece like a pair of denim or a structured, button-up blouse. Plus, linen pieces are in my opinion very in style these days! And because linen is a fully natural fibre, it will biodegrade so it’s more sustainable and earth-friendly.

Fabric can be expensive, especially if you need a lot of it for a big project. But just the same as with notions, you can definitely pick up scrap fabric from your local thrift store and use that to practice while you build your sewing skills.

Some sewists even make what’s called a toile or muslin, which is basically a test-run of a full pattern using scrap fabric. This is helpful especially for more complex patterns because it helps familiarize you with the steps as well as lets you see if there are any adjustments that need to be made to end up with a perfect finished garment. In any case, I’d definitely recommend shopping for scrap fabric secondhand while you’re learning to save money.

My Top 5 Beginner Sewing Tips

  1. Start simple. For your first project, I’d recommend a pair of loose, elastic-waist pants. I think one of the first things I ever made was pyjama pants. This is a great way to practice, because if they don’t turn out that well, you’ll just be wearing them around the house or to sleep anyway, so it doesn’t really matter!
  2. Practice on scrap fabric. Like I mentioned before, test out your machine and a few different stitches or techniques on scrap fabric first. This will help you get a feel for things and won’t waste expensive fabric.
  3. Read through the entire pattern before starting. This is a really great habit to get into to help familiarize yourself with all of the steps and techniques in a pattern. I do this before even cutting out my pattern. It gives me a good sense of what I’ll need to do, and helps me think of any adjustments I might make as I go.
  4. Try on your garment as you go. Each time you sew a seam or complete a step, quickly try on your clothing to make sure the fit is right and how you want it. It’s much easier to make adjustments (like letting a seam out or increasing a seam allowance) as you’re doing each step as opposed to after the fact when your piece is completed.
  5. Finally, go slowly and enjoy the process. Don’t rush and do try to be as careful as you can, but know that mistakes are going to happen – they happen to me all the time! But you can just unpick them and try again, it’s all part of the learning process. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself and just try to have fun, because at the end of the day, that’s why we’re sewing in the first place.

Ultimately, my recommendation if you want to get started sewing today is to pick a beginner-friendly pattern, pick up some fabric from the thrift store, get your hands on a sewing machine, and give it a try! In my opinion the best way to learn is by doing.

There are also so many great sewing how-to resources out there. A couple that I like on YouTube are Stitch Collective and The Fold Line. Any time you have a step that you’re not quite sure how to do – even just threading your machine – do a quick search and I’m sure you’ll find what you’re looking for.

I hope these tips have given you the confidence you need to take the first step in sewing our own clothes! If you have any questions that I didn’t answer, let me know in the comments below. And, please also let me know if you enjoy the sewing content! Sewing is such a big hobby of mine, and I would love to share more of it with you alongside my other slow fashion, capsule wardrobe, and simple living content.

Thanks so much for reading,

Emily Lightly

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How to Start Sewing Your Own Clothes - Emily Lightly

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  • Ahhh I wish I had this concise list of things to know when I started sewing! I randomly decided I was sick of paying an arm and a leg for clothes that didn’t fit me well or weren’t quite what I was looking for about 2 years ago and bought a Brother machine from Amazon. Sewing is so much fun and now I can either make all of my own clothes or buy secondhand and make them fit me better. It’s such a great skill to have!