Not Another Place Mat, Please

My new domestic dream: sewing clothes.

It was bound to happen, but I’m bored with my sewing. All the latest sewing books seem to rely so heavily on pillows, place mats, handbags, aprons and throws. Okay — I get it. They are simple and fun, but jeepers. How many pillow cases does one girl need? {How about one?}

So, my domestic resolution for 2008 is to learn the tricks and trade of clothing sewing. I know it is a different beast all together than the myriads of purses I’ve slapped together over the years. I’ve only ever sewn one garment, my Barcelona skirt, and it is two sizes too big even after I eat a heavy-carb breakfast. In other words, darts? No so sure how to do those.

Minus the hat, I love that dress

You seamstresses out there — are there any books you recommend that cover the basics of clothing sewing? I am going to tackle the lovely Anna Tunic first with a cheapy cotton print from JoAnn’s, but I have dreams of wearing one of these lovely prints for Easter.

I’d love any advice you’ve got.

31 Replies to “Not Another Place Mat, Please”

  1. I know you can do this!! Maybe a sewing class at a local community college… or try Sew U or Sew Everything Workshop – the books concentrate on clothing, not household goods. Can’t wait to see your projects 🙂

  2. I have two basic sewing books a Vogue from the 70’s and a McCalls from even earlier but they all have basic sewing instructions with pictures. If you go to half price books stores you can find some of those old ones. Darts are easy really. I can take pics of doing a dark and send it to you its about 3 steps. Plus all of the sewing patterns have instructions on how to do those, do you have any for clothing? Not sure if Amy does in her patterns tho but regular patterns do.

  3. Also, I forgot love that new Amy Butler fabric you had linked to, I didn’t know about it and its exactly what I’m looking for except I’ll have to wait until the spring. I’m redoing my great room and want to use some mod fabrics in there.

  4. Hi, I have been lurking for a while, enjoying all of your adventures and had to pipe up on the sewing clothes thing. Just be prepared for your first project to not be quite wearable (it might be but it might not). You are pretty handy with the crafting though so I bet you do just fine.

    I had to laugh about the pillowcase thing though because my MIL sent each of my kids (3) twelve pillowcases for Christmas (one for each month). Yes, that is 36 pillowcases… so we don’t need any more pillowcases. Ever.

  5. No advice re. clothing, but I totally understand the feeling. It’s nice to feel challenged and to learn new skills….I can’t wait to see what you make!

  6. I’ve haven’t successfully sewn garments since the wrap around skirt I attempted in an 8th grade Home Economics class in 197…well, let’s not go there. Just say it was a long time ago.

  7. Yay you bought one! I can’t wait to see this finished. I’m really wanting to try one of these patterns. Perhaps I’ll buy one too!

  8. Long time lurker, but I’ve been sewing since I was a child and my mom helped me make Barbie clothes. I took two semesters of sewing in high school in the mid-80’s and used a how-to book from Singer as a textbook. I recently gave my copy to my sister when she decided to start sewing, but the new version (updated in 1998) is called “The New Sewing Essentials (Singer)”. It’s a paperback book and is available at It covers all the basics, as well as some advanced techniques, and I think it’s the absolutely best book out there to have for reference. As a beginner I had no trouble understanding what they were telling me to do and it’s illustrated with pictures as well.

    Good luck!

  9. I can’t wait to see what you create! I started out sewing clothes and when my kids (4) were little I used to make all of their clothes from vintage sewing patterns. I also did very complicated Halloween costumes…I was quite the little over achiever. Even though I made all of those things, every little imperfection really bugged me. No one could tell, but I knew I had improvised on a step and it would kill me. My advice, don’t be a perfectionist. As long as it sits well and is nice looking, it doesn’t matter that you didn’t master the technique the pattern was demanding. (Can you tell I’m a little bitter?) I recently got back on the wagon and made my daughter’s first communion dress and my other daughter’s prom dress. Next stop – recycling a ball gown to wear to our fancy work dinner dance. Wish me luck!

  10. The best class I took was in 7th grade (mandatory back then…). Can you check out the curriculum at the local jr. high?!?

    I love making dresses for myself. I made one dress four times with four different fabrics. It’s fun to know no one else will have your same outfit!

  11. I love that Anna tunic – I think I will follow your lead and make my first one using some inexpensive fabric. And I bought a copy of Sew U last summer and found it to be helpful – I made a couple of skirts using the book, but it also gives instructions for pants and shirts, although I haven’t tried those yet. Can’t wait to see how your tunic turns out!

  12. 2008 is the year of garment construction for me! I’ve already started working on Amy’s Lotus Tunic but have a sewing machine situation to settle. That should be resolved real soon and then I’ll share how the tunic turns out! My focus will be sewing clothes for my kids so that I can learn more about garment construction from “small” pieces. That is, after all, why I chose to start sewing!

    I don’t have this, yet, but hear it’s the best to teach you all you want/need to know about sewing! Vogue Sewing,

    I’ve also heard that the Better Homes & Gardens sewing book is similar to the Vogue Sewing book in all the useful information it has. Here’s a link to a cheap one but am not sure if this is really the one,

    I just picked up a Singer book, “Dressmaking Course in 8 Easy Steps”, published in 1961, from the second-hand for $1.50!!! It looks very simple and clear to understand plus the illustrations are fantastic!

  13. I am so with you. And I think my friends are done receiving aprons, placemats, napkins etc as gifts. I used to sew alot more clothes when I was a teenager – skirts, shorts, shirts. Now it sends me into a panic.

  14. I don’t have a book to recommend, Kelli. Sew U seems to be the one your commenters talked about most so I ought to look at it myself, too. I just look for a pattern I like and go for it, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t–mostly due to my unrealistic size expectations at times as maybe my diet is too consistently rich. The Amy Butler pattern you are talking about looks like a good one for you to work with and there’s always help just an email away from any number of your “virtual” friends.

  15. I have tried sewing clothes…a skirt turned out great (elastic waist, no zipper) a top looks good on the hanger, but doesn¬¥t fit and after numerous attempts I finished a pair of yoga pants and they¬¥re great. I don¬¥t want to talk about the garments that have ended up as pillow cases in the end. Burda magazines are great but I think they¬¥re available only in german.

  16. Kelli,
    Your blog is inspirational, informative,and entertaining. My journey with sewing began in 1967. I recommend that you make a muslin of your garment. The muslin will help you work out any fitting issues. I am sending a link that speaks to the importance of making a muslin for fitting.
    You can also get good fitting and construction information from Threads magazine.
    I look forward to seeing your garments.
    Stitch in Peace,

  17. I so understand where you’re coming from here, it’s why I got back into knitting.
    I started dressmaking in my teens and have to say I get tempted every now and then but I’m always disappointed with my efforts. Fit is always an issue so I think Candace’s advice to make a muslin mock-up is really important.
    Anyway, good luck to you- you’ve certainly got a great sense of style- those fabrics are gorgeous. And I love that you’re making an Easter outfit!

  18. Definitely try Sew U! It’s a Built by Wendy book (and she makes other patterns too that are easy to find at JoAnns) and she lays out the basics of sewing clothes. It comes with a pattern for a button-down shirt, a skirt and pants and then she gives you different ways to change the pattern and jazz ’em up. To be honest, I’ve only tried the skirt pattern but I use the book as a reference all the time. (Her size chart is a little off so make sure you take your measurements and line them up to the chart rather than just guessing!)

  19. Have I got something for you!

    I actually have a double! Simplicity’s Simply The Best Sewing Book. I’ve been sewing forever, but I don’t do it constantly, and since I can’t be calling my mom every time I need help, I found this and it usually can answer the questions I have. The pictures (and easy patterns) are a bit dated (1988) but the information is still up to date. I’ll be happy to mail it to you. I’d send it with some fabric, but hubby has taken over my room, and I can’t get to that part of it at the moment. 🙁

  20. okay… this is pretty cool.

    burda magazine is awesome, but their free pattern hip funky website is even awesomer. it’s at, they have huge amounts of how-to’s and an online encyclopedia of sewing terms… and best of all, tons of free patterns, from the simplest one hour dress to an expert winter coat. really, you must go. i’m there as oonaballoona. (i’m the one letting all my seams out due to lack of foreman grill 🙂 glad i made you laugh!)

  21. I hear you, since I’ve recently done pretty much the same thing – fewer bags, more clothes. I didn’t take lessons or read a book – I don’t have enough patience, I think – but I started with an easy pattern (Simplicity 4036- basic A-line skirt.) The hardest things, I think, are figuring out what size you are (since its very different from the RTW sizes) and figuring out how to read a pattern. Good luck – the Simplicity patterns are 5 for $5 at Joanns till tomorrow, I think.


  22. Kelli,

    Try patternreview I believe they are offering beginner online sewing classes – I’ve just taken the Build a Better Tee Shirt class- the information is great and I like not having to leave the house and lug all my gear.
    There are tons of sewing blogs, some that I really like are Miss Celie’s Pants Stacy Sews and Diary of a Sewing Fanatic.

  23. Definitely try Sew What Skirts! It helps you draft a pattern based on your measurements and shows you how to translate that pattern into different styles.
    Another tip is to actually measure the pattern pieces prior to cutting to see if it will fit your size. Sometimes pattern makers put too much ease in a pattern.
    Good luck!!

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