Sewing Clothing: Tips and Tricks

I have been thinking about writing this post for a while.  It's going to be long and wordy, but if you have been wanting to get into garment construction, this might be a good spot to find everything in one place. I am certainly not an expert at sewing clothing, but I've done my fair share, made tons of mistakes, learned plenty from them and have a lot of ideas I feel are worth sharing.  I will split this post into two, with the sequel being sometime next week.

Oh, and here's my little secret:  it's some of the easiest sewing you will ever do!  I am always surprised by how impressed people seem when you reveal that you made something you or your child is wearing.  Sometimes the impressed people are awesome quilters.  Quilting is hard, you have to get your points lined up exactly, you have to measure everything perfectly, you have to baste smoothly, struggle with free motion quilting & bind painstakingly.  I don't think you'll find sewing clothing quite so particular.  With several items you can probably start and finish in one sitting!

Okay, here we go:

1.  Pattern Selection:  If you are new to clothing, do yourself a favor and start with something easy.  You can probably tackle any beginner sewing pattern, but why not be totally happy and impressed with yourself by starting with one of these.  And, why not start with a free pattern!

pajama pants:  I use Handmade Mommy's 15 Minute Pajama Tutorial

skirt:  Oliver + S has a great free pattern - the Lazy Days Skirt

didn't use Lazy Days Pattern, but pretty close
pants:  Dana has a great free pants pattern on MADE and tons of ways to modify it.

ladies top, tunic or dress: Built by Wendy Simplicity Pattern 3835 - not free, but a deal you will use multiple times


 Okay, that should be enough variety for you to pick a first project.  I'll do a round up at the end of some of my favorite patterns and books for once you really get into the groove!

2. Supplies:  Always check your pattern for specific notions, but besides fabric, you'll need a good pair of scissors (I had no idea the difference could possibly be so drastic between the cheap $8 fabric scissors I had been using up until a few years ago and a pair of Ginghers - just treat yourself, you'll never regret this purchase), elastic (most common I seem to need is 3/4" and 1/4"), freezer paper, a permanent marker and an erasable fabric marker.  Of course a sewing machine, thread and needles, too.  Size tags can be helpful.  You may not think you'll ever forget what size the skirt you made out of your favorite fabric is, but make a few more and it starts to get dodgy.  You can make a size tag with a loop of twill tape and a permanent marker, you can use my method, or browse the million options on etsy.

3. Fabrics:  WASH YOUR FABRIC FIRST!  If you quilt, this might seem like blasphemy, but you don't want that puckered effect on clothes that looks so nice and cozy when you wash a quilt for the first time.  If you used linen, you may want to wash more than once.  You do not want something to shrink after you've  sewn it.

Keep in mind that for a first project, you may want to pick a busy, smaller-scale print.  This will help to camouflage any minor flaws.  As you progress you may find that sewing with solid colors, in corduroys, linens, wovens and adding details with patterned fabrics or contrasting thread makes things more wearble, but it depends upon what it is you are making.

4.  Pattern Transfer:  So you have a pattern you purchased on that annoying tissue paper or you have a dozen computer paper pages taped together from a free PDF.  Let's get it on something easier to use.  FREEZER PAPER!  I am certainly not claiming rights to this idea, I know a ton of people that do it, and it literally changed my life when I discovered this tip a few years ago. Just grab a sharpie and place the freezer paper, shiny side down, on top of your pattern tracing all the marking for the size you need.  Be sure to label each piece with the name of the garment ("Quick Change Trousers"), size and pattern piece ("A" or "pants back").  These are labeled, it's just faint in this light.

If you read my blog, you may know that I despise transferring patterns and cutting them out.  So I take a big bag of freezer paper, fabrics and patterns with me when I go to the beach.  I have a lot of free time there, but not all my sewing supplies, so it is the perfect place to get all my cutting finished up so when I get home I am ready to go with tons of projects!

5:  Cutting:  Ah, the freezer paper eliminates the need for those pesky things like pins and pattern weights!  Simply iron your freezer paper to the fabric as indicated in your pattern layout.  You can fold your fabric right sides together if you have some pieces that immediately get joined, you'll be all set to sew.  Pants usually don't work that way, so I didn't bother here.

 Just be careful if you are cutting out two layers of fabric.  Corduroy or flannel will stick nicely together, but you may want to put a few pins through all the layers (paper & fabrics) if you have something slippery.

Cut on a flat surface.

Don't hesitate to use your rotary cutter for any straight lines - it is faster.  Just place your ruler against the straight line.

Okay, now just keep everything together until you are ready to sew.  Keep the freezer paper on, if you don't need to cut out another set, it will help keep track of your pieces.  It just peels of, and you can use it again.  It is great for kids clothes especially.  When you buy a pattern that comes in several sizes for a growing kid it can be tough to use the pattern for 12m size and still have it in good shape b the time you need a 2T.  I'm not sure how many times you can use freezer paper, but the set above is on it's 5th time at least.  I just fold them up and keep them with my patterns when I'm finished.

Okay, see you next week with some construction tips.  Of course, let me know if you have questions, if I didn't address any crucial aspects, you have a better tip than me, etc.  I'll do my best to answer you or help you find an answer!

  Thanks, Courtney


  1. Freezer paper! That's a great tip, thank you.

  2. Great post! Thank you for sharing your tips... I love the freezer paper.... Hand no idea that you can iron it to fabric like that!

  3. Courtney - You just might convince me yet! You told me clothes are easier than quilts - hmmm? I would love to find a nice casual shirt pattern to make. I think I'll put that on the list. Thanks for the nudge :)

    Karen E. in Charlotte

  4. I thought of doing my tracing at the beach - traced lots of patterns, came home and sewed the first pair of pants for our little guy - and he had GROWN! Who knew two year olds grow so fast? So all the rest of them are useless . . .

  5. thanks for these other pant links. I use Rae's big butt pattern but sadly the boy will shortly outgrow the largest size, so i've got to try out some new ones! have you tried any of the patterns from sewing for boys?

  6. wow amazing
    new follower of ur blog
    now follow my blog


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