An Absolute Beginner’s Guide: Choosing Fabric

Welcome to the second week of my new series: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Sewing. Last week we talked about how to choose a pattern and this week we are discussing fabric – what to look for when buying it and how to know guess what it will look as a garment. Please chip in your ideas too!

Cambie Dress

First Things First

Turn your pattern over and have a look on the back on the back of the envelope. I am going to use Sewaholic’s Cambie Dress (view A) as an example here. On the back there is a recommended fabrics sectionwhich gives a broad category, light to medium weight woven fabrics, and then specific suggestions, linen, wool blends and cotton sateen. Clearly these are only suggestions and you can use absolutely whichever fabric tickles your fancy. So what is a light to medium weight fabric? If we say likes of denim, corduroy, velvet and upholstery fabrics are heavy weight then everything else is light to medium weight. So that still leaves you with lots of options right? Perhaps too many options!


There’s a reason why some fabrics are called ‘suiting’ and ‘shirting’ – because that’s what they’re designed for! If you’re sewing a blouse you’re fabric will, mostly likely be lighter than if you were sewing a pair of trousers. When you look at a bolt of fabric what do you imagine it being? A summer dress? A pencil skirt? A coat? Go with your instincts. You’re probably right.

Cambie Dress Product

Fabric Properties

Fabric properties are things like the weight of the fabric, whether it has any stretch, whether it has a nap, how sheer it is and how it drapes. If you are an absolute beginner I would suggest a very stable fabric – that is one with very little or no stretch. Non-stretch fabrics are a lot easier to work with because they don’t stretch way out of shape when cutting (resulting in totally warped pieces) or sewing together (which can create bumpy seams and hems).

Ok so let’s narrow it down a bit more. With the Cambie Dress you’ll need a fabric that works well with the fitted bodice, can be gathered for the shoulders and will sit nicely as a skirt. Because the shoulders straps are gathered at the front you’ll need to choose a fabric that can be gathered evenly and in a non-bulky kind of way. So what do I mean by that? Well if we went with a thick or stiff fabric the gathers would be very thick to sew through and create a puffy look like a Disney princess. So a thinner fabric like a crepe would work really well.

Unless you’re going to colour block, you also need to think about how that same fabric will drape as a skirt. Some people refer to this as the fabric’s bodyDrape or body is how the fabric falls. Fabrics are displayed vertically in shops with the end tuck in the top to demonstrate the drape. Is it stiff and unmoving or will it flutter nicely in the breeze?

Cambie Dress Grey

Fabric Design and Nap

The design printed on the fabric and the nap are other things to consider for your garment. A fabric has a nap if there is clearly an up way and a down way for the fabric. This is particularly important if you’re working with novelty prints but also with velvets, plaids and stripes. It’s important because you need to have them all lined up the right way and because you will need to match them up at the seams. Matching at the seams is kinds tricky (something I’m yet to achieve at least!) so if you’re working with a print I’d recommend something really busy with an irregular design so that it doesn’t matter which way around it goes.

What’s your best tip for choosing fabric?

Georgia Dress Unlocked

Here is my LBD Georgia Edition


Here is the final product! I’ve spent the last couple of weeks working on this number and it is finally finished. Unusually for me I did some pattern editing to get this dress to fit perfectly. From making my Hawaiian Georgia I knew that I’d need to make several changes to the real McCoy. I lengthened the bodice and straps, took the bodice in by about a centimetre on each side, and lengthened the hemline by about 10cm (this is one short dress!)


The pattern suggests using a fabric with a bit of stretch to help with fitting. This dress really does hug the figure! My first version of this was in a absolutely no stretch cotton and after making my muslin I decided I had to change to a fabric with stretch. Sorry guys (this dress was for the Monthly Stitch) but silk was not the best option anymore. Instead I used a wool blend from Nick’s Fabrics on Dominion Road. But I stuck with black like you insisted!


So would I make this dress again? Heck yes. There is something immensely satisfying about working on a pattern to make it fit you perfectly. Although I had to do a bit of pattern editing 1. this is totally normal and 2. I now have a go to pattern that is perfectly Penny sized.


Have you made the Georgia Dress? Did you make any adjustments?

Georgia Goes To Hawaii

Here’s my first Georgia Dress by By Hand London. I made this in a light cotton blend with the adjustments mentioned here. And in case you were wondering, yes the adjustments worked.

Photo 22-03-14 5 50 02 pm

I made this dress as part of the Monthly Stitch‘s March Challenge. This month you readers got to tell me what to make and you picked the Georgia in black. Because this dress is so fitted I wanted to make a toile to test out the sizing. I sewed it up in a US 12 and I was pretty much bang on. I just did my version of a FBA and resewed the bodice et voila! On Friday I’ll post the final version.

Photo 22-03-14 5 51 16 pm

So why are these photos in monochrome? No I’m not trying to get arty! Lighting was a mare. Have you made the Georgia Dress yet?

Friday on the blog: the Georgia LBD

An Absolute Beginner’s Guide: Choosing a Pattern

Welcome to my new series An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Sewing. I don’t claim to have all the answers but I will hopefully provide new sew-ers some with some ideas for your new endeavour – being an awesome seamstress. Every Monday I’ll post my thoughts on a given sewing topic and I encourage you to comment on the posts if you’ve got some advice too! So today’s topic? Choosing A Pattern


Start Simple

One of the big pull factors for getting into sewing is the ability to make amazingly fashionable clothes and half the cost of buying them. The risk with jumping in at the deep end though is the bitter disappointment of spending $35 on a DKNY for Vogue pattern only to discover that the garment is very complicated to put together.

The Big Four pattern companies (Simplicity, Vogue, Butterick and McCall’s) all provide “sewing ratings” that rank the difficulty of making that pattern. There are four ratings – very easy, easy, average and advanced – so my advice would be to go with a very easy or easy pattern. You can also ask to read the instructions in the shop before you buy your pattern. Once you pick you pattern number from the look book ask the sales assistant for the envelope so you could look at the instructions while you’re standing at the counter. This will give you an idea of how many pieces the pattern requires as well as how many steps it is to complete the garment. Trust me this isn’t weird!


Choose a Modern Pattern

Starting simple also means starting modern. It’s pretty hard to miss the 1950s vintage renaissance currently happening, particularly in the field of sewing blogs. But I would caution new sew-ers against learning to sew using vintage patterns. Vintage patterns instructions assume that the reader has a lot of sewing knowledge so it’s not uncommon to read instructions like “insert zipper” or “finish edges” without enlightening you with the details. You’ll be left asking but how? Most, if not all, modern patterns break every step down.

The other pit fall with vintage patterns is that they the vast majority of them only come in one size. Nearly every pre-1970s pattern, and even some 1970s and 1980s patterns will only have one size option. This means that it can be very difficult to grade up or down if your measurements aren’t exactly the same as their sizing charts. My experience of buying vintage patterns is that I’ve only ended up sewing the ones that are my exact sizing, the rest are untouched.

If you really want to learn to sew using a vintage patterns I’d suggest using the modern reproductions of Vintage Vogue Patterns. I presume they’ve updated the instructions for the modern seamstress – perhaps someone could confirm this for me?


Try a Skirt

When you’re learning to sew the less pieces a pattern has the better. Skirt patterns usually have four pieces – the front, two back pieces and a waistband. This is important because it means it is easy to adjust if the sizing is not quite right by taking it in or letting it out down the side seams. If you sew an A line or circle skirt the only part that needs to be fitted is the waist which is even easier. Some good beginner patterns are Sewaholic’s Hollyburn Skirt and By Hand London’s Charlotte Skirt.. Next Monday I’ll be making some suggestions on choosing fabrics.

My final piece of advice on this topic – don’t go for trousers! Which patterns would you recommend for beginner sew-ers?

Pantone Colour of the Year

pantone colour 2014

It is 2014 and Pantone has declared, as it does every year, the Colour of the Year. This year’s it is Radiant Orchid. If I’m quite honest I’ve got to say this colour doesn’t do much for me – either when I think about clothes on me or for home interiors. I think I’m much more attracted to ‘strong’ colours, if I could call them that. I mean jewel tones and dramatic bold colours. Just me…?

What do you think?

Radiant Orchid Examples

Images courtesy of Pantone:

In 2014 I Will

I once went to a course on goal setting. The speaker told us that in order to achieve our goals we must start the sentence by saying “I will”. Apparently by stating that something is going to happen it is more likely to happen. So, what would I like to do this year?


Build a wardrobe – I flit and float between different garments without really working on building a wardrobe which means I end up buying clothes to fill the gaps and buying fabric anyway. I will find the gaps in my wardrobe and fill them with my own sewed clothes.

Blog more, blog smarter – I really enjoy blogging and being part of a community of likeminded people. In 2014 I will blog more.

Work with difficult fabrics – this will mean I’ll have to get to grips with working with difficult fabrics. Kristiann had some great tips which I will have another look at before beginning. I will be brave and work with light floaty fabrics.

Expand the pattern shop – I’ve really enjoyed running dresses & me and this year I’d love to see it grow. This year I will bring in three *big* indie companies.

Knit something interesting – I know I said this last year but I’d love to knit. In 2013 learnt to knit four purl four but to be honest I found this too super boring to make a whole scarf! In 2014 I will make a jumper.

Increase my lung capacity – I know this sounds a bit bizarre but I have asthma and end up in A&E almost every winter with horrendous asthma. It’s disempowering and expensive. I will to increase my lung capacity by swimming twice a week.

Learn to tailor trousers – I almost learnt to do this last year. I made a great pair of pleated shorts but the fit isn’t quite 100% right. In 2014 I will make this pattern again as tailored trousers.

Design a sewing pattern – no spoilers here but I have some ideas of patterns I’d like to release. I will design and release a pattern in 2014.

What are your re-sew-lutions?

Best of Makes of 2013


2013 has been a great year for me. Full of unexpected adventures and lots of sewing! So without further ado here are my top 5 garments for this year:

5. My Little Black Dress


This is one of my top picks for the year for several reasons. Because I think the shape works well with my figure. Because I was working with a knit fabric for one of the first times and it wasn’t a disaster. And because I can wear it casual or formal. Perfect for me!

4. My Papercut Patterns’ Pleated Pants


I love these shorts! They were a particularly big triumph for me because I inserted my first fly zipper with no drama. I was, and still am tbh, super proud of myself! These shorts are one of my favourite things I’ve sewn this year partly because I think the pleats make them super cute and partly because they are so wearable! What’s not to love?!

3. My Demin Ginger Skirt


This skirt was a dream to make. It was super easy to put together and required no alternations (except the hem, obv). Great for work and the weekend. Summer or winter. Done.

2. Julia Bobbin’s Mad Men Dress Challenge


Ok this dress was not the most fun to make but I am pretty pleased with the results. This was the first sew along that took part in. Although it was a bit of a drama *having* to work to a time schedule. However I am pleased this the result. The brocade is kinda my favourite part of it!

1. My Very Yellow Minoru


My absolute favourite thing I made this year has got to me by bright yellow Minoru jacket. I am so proud of myself for making this! Sewing with this heavy, stretchy material was difficult but I am so proud of the results. I adore this coat and wear it tonnes. It’s particularly great in spring and autumn. Delightful.

What are your greatest sewing achievements from 2013?

Plough On or Give Up?

In my last post I showed you my Vogue 8776 cape – an item that I started nearly two years ago, and only finished in August.


The truth is that I hit a road block when I was sewing it. I felt it was far too big in the neck and shoulders. So I took it in along the should seams and shortened the collar accordingly. It was only when I tried it on again that I realised that I could no longer fasten it all the way up – it was too short to reach. Imagine a REALLY BIG Nehru collar. Facepalm.

So my question to you is – when you make massive mistakes do you plough on? Or throw in the towel?

Better Late Than Never?! Right?!

A long, long time ago Melissa, Kat and Juliet – the lovely women who coordinate The Monthly Stitch announced their first theme – Capes. This was perfect for me – I had a cape crying out to be finished. I began sewing it way back when Adam ways in shorts … At least 18 months ago. I finished it in the nick of time – the night before I hopped on the plane to the UK. It’s taken me an embarrassingly long amount of time to get round to post this! Here we are:


From the top picture you can see me demonstrating, in a 1970s catalogue sort of way, the armholes and the pockets. These were by far the hardest parts for me to sew. I began sewing these when I was still using my grandmothers WWII-esque Elna Grasshopper. Whilst this machine looks like a tank it struggled to get through the four layers of felted wool required to make those seams lay flat. Many needles were broken. Much colourful language was used.


This pattern is a nice combination of fitted and loose. The front is fitted in the bust when the dome is fastened whilst the rest if the cape has plenty of easy to move about in. I didn’t get around to sewing all the domes on, just the one at the bust so I could demonstrate the shape.


This is Vogue 8776, surely out of print by now. I’ve probably said it before but I was inspired by Erica Bunker’s camel cape from a few years ago – so sassy and classy – typically Erica. I’m a pretty big fan girl! The fabric is (looks down in shame) from the (coughs) remnants basket at The Fabric Store, Newton. I was super lucky and found two bundles of this off white felted wool. Enough to make this cape and some left over.


I’ll be the first I admit that I wasn’t sure how much I’d actually wear this garment. Capes can certainly seem costume-y. It I’ve seen tonnes in the shops here in London (like this one and this one) so I reckon they’re gonna be a big thing in the next New Zealand winter.


Sewing on the Move

As everyone who reads this blog surely knows by now – I’m not actually sewing anything at the moment. Well not in an intentional pattern + fabric + time + inspiration kind of way. But I have been sewing – on the move. Specifically on the train from Edinburgh back to London. I sewed a button back onto my cost whilst wearing it. It was very cold. No judgement please. It was quite a feat.


Do you sew on the move?