When I was compiling my sewing curriculum I became familiar with the Coletterie blog and found an excellent article on How to Build Sewing Skills if You’re an Absolute Beginner (The Art and Science of Skill Building). I connected with Sarai’s story of ambitious sewing adventures: getting in over her head (been there) and the frustration that ensues when things don’t go right (definitely been there). Since she seemed to speaking directly to me, it seemed wise to start with garment sewing the way she recommends: with a pillow (check!) then the Sorbetto Top by Colette Patterns.
The Sorbetto is a great candidate for getting familiar with garment sewing because it’s very basic, with no sleeves or closures. And it features exposed bias facing. I have a mild obsession with making my own bias tape. There are just so many possibilities when it comes to choosing colors and patterns to coordinate with the main fabrics, I feel like I could spend a lifetime just exploring that one element.
Since my goal right now is to learn learn learn, I made my top out of muslin to take the pressure off in case it didn’t turn out well. The thought of gambling with my treasured stash was too much to handle. I also decided not to do any pattern fitting for this project, and sewed the pattern as printed.
This really was a great pattern for getting more comfortable with garment sewing. It’s not complicated and the instructions are clear. I’m happy with my binding around the neck and arm holes, but way the finished shoulder and side seams peek out from under the bound edges bugs me. If I make this top again, I’d like to find a way to improve those areas.
And some pattern adjustments would help it fit me better:
shorten the bust dart so it’s not going all the way to the apex
lengthen the top
lower the bottom edge of the arm holes
decrease the width at the bust line to reduce gaping under the arms
The first phase of seriously improving my sewing abilities — completing the projects in the School of Sewing book — was a success. I feel much more confident about basic sewing skills like choosing threads and needles, sewing straight lines, installing zippers, hand-stitching, and the general construction process.
The next phase in my custom-designed curriculum is to work on basic garment sewing skills. For this, I’m primarily referring to The Sewing Book: An Encyclopedic Resource of Step-by-Step Techniques by Alison Smith, which came highly recommended by other sewers. It’s great for techniques, but instead of practicing techniques on plain blocks of fabric, I wanted to do some test-runs of garments.
In this spirit, I did some experimenting with the quarter-scale dress pattern from clothingpatterns101.com and the small pants pattern that came in the materials from the One Pattern, Many Looks: Pants class on Craftsy.com. After making them both half-scale and adding seam allowances, I constructed little muslin samples of the long sleeve dress and pants with side zipper.
They’re both creepy and cute at the same time. And making them was a good exercise for learning more about garment construction. Some things I learned:
For seam allowances that aren’t going to get trimmed down, such as with side seams, it’s easier to finish the edges before sewing the seams.
I need to remember to true up patterns before cutting — on the pants pattern the front and back legs were different heights and one of the legs twisted when I tried to align the pieces.
When sewing the facing for the waist of the pants, I didn’t pay attention to the front and the back in relation to the side zipper, and ended up with the front facing in the back side of the pants which made the facing a little imbalanced.
On the dress I pressed the darts to the sides, but after finishing that piece I read that they are better pressed to the middle instead.
When attaching the binding to the facing edge, I tried both the edge joining foot and the overedge guide foot, but because it had a slightly concave curve to it the foot couldn’t get up into the ditch. It was nice and even, but the guide pushed the ditch away from the needle too far.
The set-in sleeves are way to gathered at the top, so I have work to do there to learn how to make them fit better.
Neither pattern came with facing pieces, so I made my own, but my curves were off and they ended up as a large scalloped shape rather than a nice, smooth curve. That would have been improved if I had used perpendicular cuts off of the fold edge rather than curved ones.
It was great getting experience with darts and a real-world application of an invisible zipper. It was also good to do the facing pieces because it took some of the mystery out of how those pieces work. Reading about these things can be very different from actually doing them! I tend to get hung up on learning something intellectually, delaying the actual hands-on experience that digging in and making provides. My goal is to get cracking on more garments (of the normal-human-size variety) to get up to speed on fitting and construction over the next few weeks.