Sewing – Dressmaking


Sewing is an Art

Sewing quite properly spoken, is an art, a art in the form of creative expression.

The creator of a garment, who sews it all their self, finds the same relaxation and release that a painter discovers in his canvas, or a writer in his manuscript.

But sewing happily, is a practical art, and those who learn to sew are discovering a new use for their hands and leisure, the satisfaction felt in creating a garment is a experience they will desire to repeat again and again.

As the weeks go by I will endeavor to add some helpful hints and practical suggestions for cutting, sewing. fitting, also how to handle and the treatment of different types of materials etc.

The question that is often asked – What should I select first the pattern or the fabric?

The pattern is the first choice, as it will have the required yardage or meters required for the garment, as it will suggest the materials most suitable for the particular style you are wanting to create.

Correct Measurements for Pattern Buying.

Get your correct measurements for pattern making or buying, for the end result to be perfect, you will not regret it, as it is so easy, as a beginner to have a failure, if you do not have the correct measurements.

How to get correct size when buying a pattern.

When buying patterns for ladies dresses, blouses, coats or underwear like camisoles etc buy, by the bust measurement.

Do not get a bigger size for a coat or a smaller size for underwear, as the pattern has the necessary allowance around the bust for each particular garment.

For skirts, shorts, trousers etc buy the pattern by the waist measurement, if the garment is fitted loosely around the hips it is best to buy by the hip measurement, as it is easier to alter the pattern at the waistline than at the hip.

How to take Measurements.

Bust – Pass the tape around the fullest part of the bust, about 1″, 2 1/2 cm’s below armhole and a little higher in the back.

Waist – Draw the tape, quite snug around the natural waistline.

Hips – Take the hip measurement, about 7 “, 18 cm’s below the waistline, not too snug.

Front Waist Length – Measure from shoulder at neck, down over the bust, to the waistline.

Across Back – Measure across back between armholes, 4″, 10 cm’s below neck.

Back Waist Length – Measure from the base of the neck (nape) to waistline.

Center Back Length – Take the measurement from the base of neck to the desired length.

Skirt Length – Take the measurement at the side, from waist to the desired length.

Arm – Measure around fullest part of the arm, about 1″, 2 1/2 cm’s below armhole.

Overarm Length – Measure from where the sleeve joins to armhole at the shoulder, down to the elbow, to the wrist.

Elbow – Pass the tape around the elbow, with the arm bent.

Wrist – Measure around the wrist, not too tight.


Most fabrics these days are preshrunk, it is wise to check before buying.

If not preshrunk, it is advisable to obtain a little more material. as woolens will shrink about 2″ to the yard, (5 cm’s to the meter), cottons and linens about 1″- 3″ to the yard (1cm to 7 cm’s to the meter).

By making sure when you purchase that it is preshrunk can save you a lot of trouble, in the end, it pays to buy carefully.

If you are not sure whether it’s preshrunk, buy a little extra  fabric and wash it before starting cutting the pattern out.

Metallic fabric should be pressed very little and only with a warm iron.

Do not dampen the press cloth as this may cause material, to tarnish.

Remember that fabrics requiring matching of stripes or checks require extra fabric.

In order to have stripes match at corresponding seam edges, you need to place the pattern on the material with corresponding notches on a definite stripe.

If material, has a one-way striped design, pattern pieces must be laid all in one direction.

Velvets pattern pieces, should also be laid in one direction, as if not it will have shading to the finished garment.

In most cases if it’s for a male garment (like trousers) cut with the nap of the fabric going down when you run your hand along the fabric.

As sewing is an art all care is needed, to have a finished garment completed to the pattern requirements and your satisfaction, so as you would be proud to wear it, as a painter is to show his canvas of work to the public in an art gallery.

Fabric and Patterns


Image courtesy of Sicha Pongjivanich at

Altering Patterns.

Before you lay the pattern pieces on the fabric, if you need some alterations done, here are a few to help you out.

Shorten the Waist.

Pin pattern pieces together at underarm and shoulder seams, and try to determine the necessary reduction in length.

1. Make alteration in pattern above the waistline as follows – Draw horizontal guide lines on front and back of pattern for the required amount of reduction.

2. Make tucks by bringing the horizontal lines together, and pin. Straighten pattern at side seams.

Lengthen the Waist.

As above pin the pattern pieces together to determine the necessary increase in waist length.

1. Slash across pattern section above the waistline.

2. Spread the required amount, and pin over thin paper (tissue) weight.

Note: If there is an allowance for blousing in waist pattern, this allowance should be retained when shortening or lengthening the pattern.

Altering Patterns Pieces for the Bodice

Square Shoulders – After pinning the pattern pieces together at the underarm and shoulder seams, try it on to see if alterations are necessary. If shoulder slope of pattern is higher at the neck, make a dart across front and back from nothing at armhole to needed amount at neck edge.

Sloped Shoulders – Pin pattern pieces together at the underarm and shoulder seams, try it on to determine whether alteration is necessary.

If shoulder slope of pattern is tight, at the neck, slash across front and back to armhole at shoulder.

Be sure to begin the slashes as near to the neck as possible, then spread needed amount. When spreading pattern, pin over thin paper (tissue) to hold spread in position.

Broader Shoulders – Try on pattern to see if alteration is necessary. To broaden shoulders, slash pattern from about center of shoulder down and across to center of armhole, spread necessary amount at shoulder. Pin spread over thin paper, then straighten shoulders.

Prominent Bust – After pinning the pattern pieces together at the underarm and shoulder seams, try it on to see if alterations are necessary. If pattern is too short in front, slash across front at bust line and spread necessary amount, pinning pattern over a thin piece of paper to hold spread in position.

If pattern has a side dart, make another side dart in spread. The same alteration should also be made on a pattern which has no side dart.

Prefect Figure (nice straight back).

This Figure requires extra length in front and shorter length in back, above the bust line.

The usual reduction in back is about 1/2″, 1 1/2 cm’s and about 1/2″, 1 1/2 cm’s extra allowance in front length.

To alter, make tuck in back, then slash and lengthen front.

Having trouble understanding what I’m telling you about altering patterns to fit your measurements, check out this video, it will help you understand, if you are like me I would sooner read how to do it than listen to a voice telling me how to do it.

Hope it helps.

Altering Pattern Pieces for the Hips.

Larger Hips.

First compare your hip measurement (7″, 18 cm’s below natural waistline) with measurements on pattern and if there is any difference, make necessary alterations. This applies to garments which are fitted closely at hips, that is, having about 1 3/4″, 4 1/2 cm’s ease allowance.

To alter, slash pattern from lower edge to armhole, about 2”,  5 cm’s  in from underarm seams, and spread the required amount at hipline to nothing at armhole.  Pin slashed sections over thin paper.

Smaller Hips.

Use the same method of altering pattern as described above for larger hips, but make tucks in pattern in place of slashing and spreading.

The correct amount of ease around the hips must be retained when altering the pattern: for example, if  your hips measures 35″, 89 cm’s and pattern was made for 37″, 94 cm’s hips, pattern requires 2″, 5cm’s reduction all around, or 1″, 2 1/2 cm’s from center front to center back.

For Larger Hips – Skirt only.

1. Slash pattern from lower edge to waistline, near side seam, and spread necessary amount at hips.

2. If less fullness is desired at lower edge, make a tuck at hipline. To hold spread in position, pin over thin paper.

Altering Pattern for Sleeves.

To shorten sleeves.

Make equal reductions above and below the elbow.

1. Draw horizontal  guide lines on pattern for tucks.

2. Make tucks, bringing horizontal lines together, then pin. Straighten at underarm.

To Lengthen Sleeves.

1. Slash pattern above and below the elbow.

2. Spread pattern the necessary amount, then pin over thin paper.

For Larger Arms.

The Pattern should measure about 1 1/2″, 4 cm’s more than the arm, 1″, 2 1/2cm’s below armhole.

If necessary, slash through pattern from cap to lower edge, and spread needed amount, forming darts to flatten pattern, and pinning to a thin piece of paper to hold spread in position. Add to top of cap the same amount as width of darts. Cut armholes of front and back bodice a little deeper to fit increase of cap.

Narrower Shoulders.

Reduce width of pattern at shoulders by making a short tuck in front and back of bodice.

How to Shorten Waist with a Deep Armhole Sleeve.

This style has a deep armhole and alterations, if necessary, should be made as follows.

Make tucks across front and back bodice at armhole, making corresponding reduction at top of sleeve to nothing at lower edge. To shorten sleeve, make a tuck across pattern at elbow.



Image courtesy of tiramisustudio at

Cutting Hints:

When making your first garment select a simple style, and material that is easy to cut and sew, preferably with all over design, so pattern pieces may be laid up or down on the fabric grain.

Lengthwise striped material, depending on the style of garment,  some pieces are to be cut lengthwise and some can be cut crosswise.

It is advisable to place the larger pieces lengthwise. (which gives slenderizing lines) and the smaller pieces, such as pockets, belts, yokes, etc crosswise for trimming purposes.

Before cutting the garment, press material and tissue pattern to remove all creases.

Most important of all before starting to lay pattern pieces on, straighten the ends of fabric by tearing across, or if it does not tear well, cut on line of a drawn thread, so all pieces of garment will hang evenly, in finished garment, (not one side of the skirt higher than the other), very important.

Compare your measurement with those given on the back of  pattern envelope, and if necessary, adjust pattern before cutting garment according to instructions  given. ( I will be adding  more information on altering patterns in next article ).

Place pattern pieces on the material with the grain-line arrows parallel to the selvedge.

If using patterned fabric, and wanting both sleeves looking alike in color and pattern, cut one sleeve first then turn the sleeve over and match up the pattern and cut the second sleeve, that’s paired up.

Cutting a one way pattern design lay all pattern pieces one way (from top to bottom) so that the design in material will run in one direction. (do not reverse from bottom to top of pattern) especially in skirt pieces, you will require a little more fabric with a one-way pattern design.

Cut the pattern and material together, do not cut off the margin of pattern, before laying the pattern on the material, the margin falls away, as you cut through pattern and material.

When cutting in the notches, be sure that they do not exceed half the width of seam allowance, if material ravels easily, cut notches outside of the seam allowance, while cutting out the garment.

Clipping curved seam edges necessary on circular skirts, flounces etc clip seam allowance at close intervals to within about 1/8″ inch 2 mm of a meter of sewing line, clipping the curved seam edges of a skirt will allow the flare  to fall in soft folds.

Clipping a corner

Clipping a corner to within two or three threads of the seam line, this is necessary for seam edges that have to be turned in, as for a lapped seam.

Sewing Hints:

When joining underarms seams, work from the armhole down.

Join Shoulder seams, working from the neck outward, to armhole.

For sheer materials, stitch seams over a strip of paper. This will prevent the material from pulling, then remove the paper.

For stitching velvets, or other pile material, loosen the tension on the sewing machine and lighten the pressure of the presser foot. Sheer materials require a light tension.

Stitch all cotton, linen and dull woolen materials with mercerized thread.

For silks, rayons and woolens that have a sheen, use silk thread.

All sewing threads should be a shade darker than the material.

Press each seam as it is stitched, do not leave all the pressing till the garment is finished.

After curved seams are joined, clip the seam allowance to prevent the material from drawing.

To prevent edges from stretching, such as necklines, armholes etc, make a fine running stitch or machine stitch close to the end.

My accomplishment in 30 years of Sewing and Dressmaking.

I first started learning by correspondence, working in factories, etc like underwear, nightwear, pajamas, slips (which everyone wore under their dresses in the 1960-80), outer wear, pattern grading, by hand on cardboard not a machine, cutting small and large lays of garments for factory production, and finally using a Computerized Gerber Cutter at Classic Manufacturing, until March 16 2002, when the factory closed down in Taranaki and was moved to Auckland NZ .