In honor of putting the finishing touches on my first dress sale ever (!), here are some things I learned from it (as well as some things I knew previously that helped me out and some things that are just good to know in general).
Measure at least twice. Especially when you’re first starting out, it is easy to inaccurately measure. Make sure you don’t hold the tape measure too tight.
Write your measurements down. Numbers are confusing! And hard to remember! Make sure you write the numbers down when you measure yourself. Otherwise you’ll have to remeasure when you’re making the pattern (which isn’t all that bad, but writing them down just saves times!)
Keep your measurements handy. I keep mine written on a post-it note taped on the wall near my sewing area. It’s good for reference, and saves you time when you go to make things! For the most part, after a certain age, we all stop growing short of weight. So your measurements are going to stay pretty much the same. However, it never hurts to remeasure yourself every once in a while in case anything has changed.
Draft a pattern. I knew this previously (I’ve made lots of patterns before), but really, it’s super easy. Additionally, it will help you immensely with sizing, should you ever want to grade the pattern and make it into different sizes. Aside from that, making a pattern lets you make the dress again and again if you want to and really like it! If you don’t know how to draft a pattern, there are numerous places on the internet to look (I like this one) and also books (I use this one!) Both of those require you to have basic knowledge of sewing terminology and techniques, but if you’re going to draft a pattern, you should know that stuff anyway.
Over-estimate measurements when you make patterns. I will be the first one to tell you that it’s really a pain to waste fabric. So I know where you’re coming from— why make a pattern bigger than it needs to be and waste fabric? I know. It seems stupid. But would you rather waste a little fabric (not much! I’m talking adding an inch or so) and make the pattern pieces bigger, or cut them what you think is the right size and then end up with a garment that doesn’t fit? This is especially important when you’re making things for other people. If someone pays you to make something, it’s a pretty bad scenario if the thing you make doesn’t fit. With this dress I just finished, I added an inch to the bust and waist measurement, and boy am I glad! I measured the finished product, and even though I added an inch, the final one came out with the original measurements.
You don’t need an invisible zipper foot to sew an invisible zipper! I’m sure it’s a lot easier if you do, but seriously, have you ever tried to find an invisible zipper foot to buy? IT IS SO HARD. Especially if you have an older machine— I’ve had no such luck (although, I will admit, I didn’t try THAT hard, mostly because I don’t have the money). But you don’t need it! After you iron the zipper (don’t skimp on the ironing here. The more, the better), the pins are your friends. Pin it in such a way that the pins are folding the zipper open so that you can see the two lines of stitching. From there, use the regular zipper foot (that, you can’t get by without. You can’t sew ANY zipper without it, unless you hand sew!) and just go reaaaal slow, making sure you stay very close to the lines of stitching.
Always finish your seams. Not all of them. The side seams aren’t as important, but still. I usually always finish waist lines. Especially if the fabric frays easily, this can become really important.
Don’t be afraid to thrift fabrics! I was a little nervous about this to begin with. With all the other gross things you find in thrift stores, it’s easy to fear that the fabric you find will be gross, too. But if you look around, you can find really good stuff! Some thrift stores even have a dedicated fabric section, but sheets work well too! I’ve found so many good bed sheets at thrift stores that I’ve made things out of. I’ve also heard that curtains work well, but I personally have never found any that I like. Check for stains in the store and then give it a good washing when you get home (this is also good to figure out how to wash the fabric!), and you’re set!
Don’t be afraid to use other garments as reference points! Some things are hard to measure. Like really hard. Sweep, armhole height, shoulder width, and neck width are all measurements that when measuring them on yourself involve a lot of estimating and leave a lot of room for error. So, to eliminate this guessing game, get out a shirt or a skirt that fits you well! For the body measurements (armhole height, shoulder width, and neck width), you can just measure them straight off the shirt and you’ll have a good fit. And for the sweep (the sweep is the circumference of the bottom of a skirt), just grab a favorite skirt that is most similar to the style of skirt you’re trying to make, and measure around it to get a starting point.
And last, but certainly not least,
Do not over work yourself or work once you start to get overly tired. Basically, if you do this, you are doomed. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve over-worked myself and then made some mistake that’s rendered whatever I was making useless.
And that completes my list. I hope this helps!
P.s. here’s the picture of the dress. I sold it on Etsy, and come Monday it will be in the hands of its new owner!