5 Ways To Make Everyone Think You’re a Sewing Pro

5 ways to make everyone think you're a sewing pro. On the McCall Pattern Company blog.

Just think, with a sewing machine, a pattern and some fabric you can actually make your own clothes. Being a beginning sewer is exciting and empowering as you learn how to sew a wardrobe that’s uniquely you. It can also be really frustrating when you’re trying as hard as you can but keep churning out things that look “Becky Home Ecky,” an insult Michael Kors used to toss at struggling designers on Project Runway.

Relax, making clothes that look as nice as better RTW is within every beginning sewer’s reach. All you have to do is follow these five tips:% Ways to Not Look Like a Beginning Sewer

1) Know what fashion styles work best for you.

Just because you now have the ability to make your own clothes—which makes you a super-cool human being—doesn’t mean you need to turn into a DIY fashionista queen. Remember that while sewing may be your new passion, it does take time and money. Before you even think about sewing the latest fashion trend (ooh, culottes!), head to the store and try it on. Or search online and see how it looks on people with your body type. Think of all the time you saved but not sewing something that was going to look terrible on you no matter how well you made it.

5 Ways to Keep From Looking Like  a Beginning Sewer

2) Choose a fabric that makes you look like a pro.

Beginning sewers often feel their nascent sewing skills aren’t worthy of better fabric, so they limit themselves to low-cost fabric. (We don’t mean good fabric at affordable prices. We mean poorly-manufactured fabrics that are priced low because the quality is low.) One, cheap fabric will always look like cheap fabric, even if you sew well enough to meet Patrick Grant’s approval. Two, better fabric is a pleasure to sew with, and will help you be a better sewer because it will cause less frustrations at the sewing machine. Cheap fabrics fray easily, snag frequently, pill when washed, and are often printed off-grain. Three, better fabric can make the simplest of designs—an elastic-waist skirt, for example—look like expensive designer RTW.

5 Ways to Keep From Looking Like  a Beginning Sewer

3) Test the details first.

As a beginning sewer you’re going to have a lot of firsts: first zipper, first pocket, first buttonhole, etc. Grab some scrap fabric and practice sewing these details before you begin working on your pattern. Be prepared: You may need to test-sew several versions before you get it right. Only after you’re satisfied that your imaginary sewing teacher would give you an A+ should you attempt sewing your first [insert scary new sewing technique here] in the garment you’re working on.

basting stitches blog

4) Baste for greater control.

Sure, pins are perfect for holding things together and we use them all the time. But when you want to have real control at the sewing machine and achieve perfect stitching the first time, baste your garment pieces in place. Hand-stitching secures your fabric much more precisely than pins do, and it doesn’t come out like pins can. Sure, it may take you a little longer to baste rather than pin (though not much), but you’re so much less likely to need to rip out your stitching and try again. Use a thread for basting that pulls out of your fabric easily, like a silk thread.

5 Ways to Keep From Looking Like  a Beginning Sewer

5) Press for perfection.

Nothing screams “beginning sewer” louder than a garment that was sloppily pressed during construction. Invest in a good iron with steam and high heat, and pick up some pressing tools such as a tailor’s ham and a wooden point presser. Then follow the pattern’s directions and carefully press seams and sewing details at every juncture, not missing a single step where pressing is called for. The result will be a crisp-looking garment with sharp details.

 

Five ways to make everyone think you're a sewing pro. On the McCall Pattern Company blog.

We’ve been sewing since 1863.

70 comments
  1. I’m in total agreement of letting your fabric do the heavy lifting especially if you’re a beginner sewer. What’s more, you’re more likely to keep sewing if you have successes otherwise known as garments you actually wear as opposed to skirts, tops, etc. that just hang in the closet or get stuffed in a drawer.

  2. I agree 100% about pressing! Good, diligent pressing can make up for a lot of little sewing sins!

  3. I agree with your suggestions, but I take issue with the cheap fabric tip, not because you aren’t 100% correct, but because many of us are on strict budgets; I mean strict with no leeway.

    My tip is to head for the remnant bins and end of roll fabric where I recently got 4 yards of silk/cotton for $6.80/yard…marked down from $22. It was still a stretch, budgetwise, but I’ll get something that emulates $1000+ Chanel cruisewear 2015 – for $30, taxes in.

    1. Great suggestion SunGold! I 100% agree with tip #2, not to buy cheap fabric, but to find top quality fabrics for ‘cheap’ in the remnant bin is a total win. I’ve also found ‘expensive’ fabrics at thrift stores for really great prices!

    2. Hi! Don’t take issue, because we’re on the same page. Good fabric at low prices is a win-win! That’s exclusively what I buy. I was meaning fabric that is of a lesser quality, and therefore inexpensive to buy. Poorly manufactured fabric is something to be avoided, I think we can all agree on that. I see a lot of really nice fabrics coming out of Jo-Ann Fabrics and Hancock’s these days, and they’re great for beginning sewers.

  4. Awesome Awesome post Meg! I share it with all my sewing groups!

  5. I’ve always said that my iron is my most important sewing tool, but I totally agree with all 5 tips. One additional tip: don’t give up! Even experienced sewers might have trouble with a new technique or their end product is (ahem) less than spectacular. Rip out or re-work or throw away if you must, and keep sewing!

  6. I am a seasoned sewer: this information is GREAT!

  7. i would agree with all of the above and will add another which has helped me enormously . I was given a set of pattern weights . Ones that weigh about 2 lbs each . They are so great for controlling fabric when I I am pinning a pattern onto a tricky fabric they are fantastic when cutting out as they don’t allow problems which happen as the scissors inevitably lift the fabric as you cut out . The other tool which is so great at creating exactitude when cutting out is a rotary cutter and a large mat . I also have a vast library of Threads magazine which ha s taught me so much about basic techniques . They are such a great resource for the beginner .

  8. Very good tips and tips that never get old. Loved it.

  9. I bought some crepe backed satin for my granddaughters winter formal and it was SO difficult to cut. It slid away from the scissors unbelievably. When it came time to sew a ‘bridal hem’ on the bias cut long skirt I had an aha moment. Since the foot on the machine requires an even cut to feed properly, I thought of the butcher paper I use in quilting. Ironing the shiny side down in 2″ strips where I needed to cut the hem worked great. Then just peeled it off and zipped it through the foot in no time. I wished I had remembered the butcher paper when I first began to cut the pieces out. Minnie

    1. I shuddered when you said crepe back satin, and then I almost fainted when you said bias! Good call on the butcher paper!

  10. My best friend is a seam ripper and I have been sewing for years.

  11. I think the tip on pressing is so important, make sure you press open each seam and the garment as you put it together. It will relax the stitches and fabric and give it a professional look.

  12. I agree with all of the above. Great tips, Meg! The tip on pressing is spot on. And I also agree that when you need to have control, basting is the way to go (that kind of rhymes…)

  13. I couldn’t have said it better myself!!! I’ve been sewing for over 50 years and every point you made came with the experience, so beginners out there, listen up! It will save you years if you start now!!! Keep sewing!!!!!

  14. Great tips! I’ve been sewing for most of my life, and I have definitely seen how implementing these tips have helped, especially once I got past my teenage years and had a little more patience for working on things like making my garments look nice on the inside/finishing things correctly. (Avoiding the homemade-in-a-bad-way look is definitely a priority for me– I personally can’t stand the “Becky Home-ecky” phrase, for probably obvious reasons!)

  15. Thank you for including the old fashioned technique of BASTING, I teach my students to baste, and they constantly tell me that there a sewist who use only pins and very few at that.
    It takes me a long time to convert them to basting and to see the benefits which result from it.
    Thank you again.

    1. I just was a tester in a group and I hand hand basted. The designer said, can’t you use the machine? I was like … Ya … But.

  16. I agree with everything said here and would add a few of my own suggestions that I found out after 35 years of sewing:

    Buy top quality sewing shears. There is nothing more miserable than working with cheap scissors as they go blunt quickly and cause blisters. Don’t use them to cut pattern paper!

    Pre shrink!! As a beginner I overlooked this on fabrics that had a large shrink factor and paid dearly!

    Be patient! Nothing professional looking will come of a hurried job. One makes more mistakes and sews poorly this way. Be honest in gauging the time you need for a project with the time you actually have. It took me 7 months of hand sewing to make a 3 piece Chanel suit but I was not in a hurry and it was worth it for the great results. Had I hurried and made mistakes I would have had to throw away everything; a total of about $800 of fabrics!

    Measure three times and cut once! Yes, the original expression is measure twice and cut once but sometimes three times is better.

    Don’t sew when you are tired! Many of us do it and make mistakes! Even Advanced sewers make errors when they are tired.

    1. Don’t sew when you’re tired — I love that! lol I’ve made that mistake too many times. I put my seam ripper to work and then sew it wrong again and finally give up and go to bed. The next day it always turns out just fine 🙂

      1. Been there, done that! Won’t do it again.

    2. THESE are great tips….I never understood why my mom was so persnickety about her shears until I got older and bought my first pair of good shears. Oh, now I get it!

      The most important tip is to enjoy the ride…it can take time to be “good” at this….don’t give up…start small and easy and move up from there. If you can find a good mentor, they can teach you all kinds of tips and tricks, but I’ll bet there are a lot of great youtube videos out there also that can help learning these.

    3. Measure 4 times! LOL! I always wash the fabric first, makes the grain better.

  17. Practice samples, basting, and pressing YES, but good fabric way off base. I can buy a really high quality silk charmeuse and fail as a novice sewer. Better to recommend fabrics that are easy to sew like cotton lawn, some knits, wool, etc.

  18. Excellent advice….especially about practicing a new technique first before using it on a garment. I do this all the time even on things I have done before….I always do test pieces on the current fabric just to see how it is going to act. There are many other bits of advice, but I think these are the most important basic ones.

  19. Best advise I ever received? Have your garment finally pressed at the dry cleaners. You must still press as you sew, but this last step will amaze and show the worth of you effort. There is nothing like picking up something you’ve made on that hanger, covered by the cleaner’s bag. It just puts a professional stamp on your hard work.

    1. Great idea!

  20. Your seam -ripper is your friend. All good advice.Also, avoid Quickie promotions that promise “Sew a dress in an hour”. It will LOOK as if you sewed it in an hour! Never has there an endeavor where the warning “haste makes waste” truer. Beware of deadlines. Mostly, have fun!

    1. Wow no never thought of that but as I advance on learning there is not one design I could get done on an hour. Wow. You just released me from feeling like a slow sewer.

  21. Pressing is essential to great looking garments. Also clipping those loose threads as you go is important. Nothing says poorly made better than wrinkles and bits of threads showing.

  22. Love this article!! Do you have any suggestions on where to shop for affordable quality fabric? Online suggestions would be especially helpful. Thanks!!

    1. For a really new beginner, a project with minimal fitting. An apron, nightgown or robe. Fitting can be a discouragement. I did doll clothes with my granddaughters and tote bags with my grandsons.

    2. M&L fabrics has cheap designer fabrics. Lots of variety…but you have to watch out for seconds. A lot of times they have the same that Joanns has.

  23. A rolled up piece of Denim slipped under the back of presser foot, when sewing a beginning corner on a thick denim pocket, will keep the presser foot level, & prevent needle breaking on presser foot, during takeoff. Wax your hand stitching threads to prevent snarls, And use glass head pins to avoid melting pins on your iron.

    1. There is a little plastic tool called ‘Jean-a-ma-jig’ that is for sewing over thick seams. It has a little ramp that you put in front of your seam (and presser foot) and sew up to the middle of the seam. Then stop and switch the ramp to the front of the presser foot, again, to sew down the other side. It is inexpensive and works great.

      1. At FIDM they taught us to put the “Jean a ma jig, or Hump Jumper” BEHIND the presser foot to level the foot, when running over thick seams, to prevent needle breakage. A rolled up piece of Denim, can be slipped under the back of the presser foot, if your machine doesn’t come with the hump jumper.

        1. You are right. I was reading this while tired and got it confused.

  24. I just love ALL the advice here. I have recently learned that after waxing the thread, it helps to run a warm iron over it before beginning to hand-stitch. This will help it slide through the fabric even more easily.

  25. You don’t want to iron nice satiny fabric after running it over your waxed thread though, yikes! (Learned the hard way, lol!). Put a scrap of fabric folded around the thread under your iron.

  26. About pressing – really, really important, and I learned a long time ago the trick of first pressing the stitching as it is sewn – i.e., flat, before pressing it either open or to one side. It relaxes the thread first and makes all future pressing not only easier but much more neat and accurate!

  27. Always make sure you are using the right needle/pins for your project and change often!

    1. Yes, the right machine needle for the job is a lesson I learned the hard way! They do get dull and need replacing too!

  28. These are fantastic tips. I would like to add that you don’t have to be perfect to be wonderful and that goes for your clothes. You do get better with time and practice but sometimes things just go wrong and I see that as an opportunity, in other words, the perfect place for a pocket or an embellishment (to cover up the mistake). My favorite sewing motto has two bad words in it so I can only say the middle word is ‘that”. And what I tell people all the time when they find out I sew my clothes: “just because I can sew doesn’t mean I’m good at it but I don’t let that stop me. And no, I won’t hem their pants. That’s what liquid stitch is for. Even if you’re not great, do it anyway. There is joy in the doing. If push comes to shove, find a talented seamstress to give you a few lessons – you’ll be amazed at all their tips and tricks. I’ve also gone to the fabric store with project in hand and they’re very helpful too!

  29. Love tip #3!
    I would add:
    Understand your sewing machine and test your tension on scraps.

  30. Wonderful! Love these tips! Most importantly pressing is a must! I especially like trying out patterns or self made patterns on cheaper fabric see if the design works so I don’t worry as much about the cost if it doesn’t turn out. I definitely love the challenge of modifying clothes as well, especially maternity wear!

  31. I tell my students at least once a week that the difference between something just done and something done well is pressing. One of my mantras my students know well.

  32. What brand of iron does everyone recommend?

    1. I just got my Olisio. You will find and and bad I think on every iron. I had the gravity fees, great iron but to heavy for my right arm. Now. I’m loving learning how to press with the Olisio I got from joann it has same power watts as the yellow one 1800.

    2. I have a Teflon. I have found any iron with a wattage of 1700 or more to be good. Anything less I have been unsatisfied with.

      1. Hmm…I might need a new iron!

  33. Great suggestions! A couple of other things:
    1. Read through the pattern and ensure you understand it before beginning.
    2. If your fabric is unsuitable for the pattern, the final result will be disappointing.
    3. Try on clothing styles in a store to see what looks good on you. Then choose patterns based on this.
    4. Continue to learn. I have been sewing for 42 years and I’m still picking up new techiques.

  34. Thanks for reminding me to do a practice run on details with scraps. I’m working with nice handkerchief linen and want to do two welt pockets for the front of the tunic and haven’t sewn them in at least ten years. Review time before slashing into the front of that tunic!

  35. Loved reading the blog. Once the pattern is the right size after maybe altering to fit. I always iron the pattern onto the fabric, this keeps it stable whilst pinning. Learnt this from my mother. I am lucky I can get to a silk wholesaler and I buy random bags – ends – sometimes lucky and can get a dress out of them, use what I can and pass on to quilting friends.

    1. Thank you for the iron-the-pattern-on-the-fabric tip. I had not heard of that but I need all the help I can get as pinning is very hard on my back with scoliosis now that I am in my late 70’s.

  36. A few things missing (in my 40+ years sewing fun), are to never buy cheaply made thread! Why spend time and money on any project only to have thread rot. Also your sewing machine will thank you if you use quality thread! You also want high quality machine needles! (my faves are Schmetz). And never skip interfacing when called for. Pressing properly and trimming or grading seams are a must for a professional look! Take your time, enjoy the process, don’t sew when tired, and wear eyeglasses! Twice, I’ve had the shard of a broken needle end up in my eye! Happy Sewing!

  37. I think one thing that is pretty important that was overlooked is in buying the pattern itself. When buying the pattern buy it by the measurements NOT by the sizes. Most often the size is not the same size as the one you buy when you are buying off the rack. I made this mistake as rookie and made a couple really nice pieces that turned out too small because I bought the wrong sized pattern.

  38. GRACIAS!!!! es para mi muy afortunada encontrar esta pagina tan profecional en su contenido, también quiero saber que significan algunos vocablos como alcantarilla,imagino que cuando hablan de presión y calor, es el planchado o uso de plancha mil gracias por estos consejos tan útiles en nuestro arte u oficio

  39. I’m new to this blog and have been sewing for just a couple of years, so am still keen to learn. Could someone please tell me what butcher paper is? I don’t want to miss out on good advice because of the differences between British & American English. Would it be similar to what I know as greaseproof paper? Thank you.

    1. Yes, Jennifer, I believe butcher or freezer paper in the States is grease proof paper. It is usually white, with a thin wax or plastic coating on one side. When you press the coated side onto your fabric, it temporarily sticks. It’s very easy to remove and is handy for many applications.

    2. Butcher paper in the U.S. is paper on one side, with a very thin plastic coating on the other. Try your grease proof paper on a scrap. It should stick to the fabric but peel off easily with no residue. If it doesn’t, you may be able to purchase the butcher paper from one of the quilt shops or websites, maybe Connecting Threads or one of those.

  40. Great information and ideas many thanks

  41. Hi, I have been sewing since I was 10. All of this is great advice especially pressing and using you body measurements to buy your pattern. I have several new patterns to use. I am going to make them in muslin first, including the pressing and interfacing, to see how the pattern fits me. I agree also with using the best fabric. Two other hints that I think are important is to use the “with nap” pattern layout. To my mine, fabrics today can shadow like corduroy so this layout makes sure there should not be a difference in how the garment looks. Good scissors are a must. Poor scissors will chew the fabric. Seriously, get a small lock to lock the handles to keep kids from using them. There is nothing like making something that you love.

  42. The biggest dead giveaway to a homemade garment is if it doesn’t fit you perfectly or hang right on your body. Take a class in how to make your patterns fit your body type. Learn how to make a bodice and pant sloper that you use for everything you sew. Make sure you follow the directions for laying out your pattern on the fabric and the grainline. Sew projects that are at your current skill level. Don’t custom sew a suit if you are not really good at the basics of a simple blouse or pants. Make a test run for a project that is challenging or is very expensive fabric. That makes good use of those cheap fabrics! Yes, pressing as you go is very important.

  43. I am a brand new sewer and appreciate the tips. How do you make the seams looks so beautiful? Must I buy a serger to achieve that result? Are the inexpensive sergers any good? Thanks!

    1. You can overcast the seams with your zigzag. Don’t pull the fabric when you sew; as that causes the thread to stretch and when relaxed it puckers the fabric.

  44. Just thinking that we should refer to seamstresses as sewists instead of sewers. Looks nicer. And we are nice! Lol

  45. Invest in a walking foot, it really makes a difference when sewing knits or slippery fabric!

    1. YES! Since I purchased my walking foot/ evenfeed foot, I hate sewing without it on anything.

  46. Pressing is not always possible. A lot of fabrics, especially those with stretch, are not supposed to be ironed or pressed. So what are we supposed to do? You

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